Titus Vassio A Roman Centurion's Tale; Part 2

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Titus Vassio leads his men out onto the battlefield to face a horde of six thousand Germanic tribesmen, baying for their Roman Blood.

Titus Vassio

A Roman Centurion’s Tale

Part Two

Viloxia Fort Limes Germanicus 9 C.E

Titus Vassio entered the Valetudinarium. The hospital was a dimly lit sullen place. It stank of sweat, piss and shit and blood. There were dozens of rows of bunks; several were occupied by sick and sorry looking legionarii’.

The Medicus tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at him.

‘Be still, and stop squirming, man!’ he snapped at the legionnarius bent over the table in front of him, with his bare arse in the air.

The Medicus held a long, sharp, pointed, needle in an oil lamp flame.

Titus looked at the big red, sore looking boil on the soldier’s left cheek, and frowned,

‘By the Gods, that thing looks as angry as, Vesuvius!’

The Medicus just raised an eyebrow, ‘Aye and it’s about to erupt,’ he scowled and held up the red hot needle.

Titus looked away, ‘So how is the patient?’

The Medicus just grunted and pointed to a corner where the big war-dog lounged. A bandage was wrapped around its hind quarters. Upon hearing, Titus’ voice, the dog looked up and wagged its tail.

‘Next time try taking it to the Vetenarium at the stables.’ The Medicus moaned.

‘I did,’ Titus replied, ‘he said he was not going to waste his time on some fleabag mutt, and suggested I try you.’ Titus gave him a toothy smile.

‘For your trouble,’ Titus tossed a sestercius on the wooden table.

The Medicus looked up; his expression was less than impressed,

‘So I won’t be retiring any time soon, thanks’ to the generosity of my patients.’ And then he jabbed the heated needle into the boil.

The soldier cried out and then whimpered.

‘Mars help us!’ The Medicus moaned, ‘he sends us babies instead of men, to fight his wars!’

*****

 Lucius Gaius Quintilius was the Praetor, the fort commander; he was an experienced military man in his late forties, with a balding pate and thin greying hair around his egghead. His face was as sour as a cheap scyphos of Posca vino from Greece. And his demeanour did not fall far behind that grizzled, hook nosed, drooping jowl face.

Lucius had bowel problems; he ate thirty fresh figs every morning, as advised by the Medicus, for his knotted guts and wind problems. But it did little to alleviate the uncomfortable feeling that had plagued him the last three years, and it was getting worse. Lucius rubbed at his belly and let out a satisfying blast of wind, and then reached for another fig.

 

Titus Vassio entered the Praetorium. The room was quite small; a war table with a model of the fort in the middle, dominated the space. There were piles of rolled up parchments littering the Praetor’s desk and the room was stuffy and smelled of fart.

Titus stood to attention and gave a salute, punching his chest and extending his arm out in front of him.

Lucius’ hazel eyes looked Titus up and down with disdain at being dressed in just a red toga and calagae sandals, ‘Where is your lorica segmentata, Centurion? You are standing in the Praetorium before your Praetor! Not in some back street Lupinar choosing a prostitute to spend your coin on!’

Titus kept his chin up, ‘Forgive me, Praetor, but I lost my armour at Teutoburg.’

Lucius snorted, ‘In the meantime, I suggest you see the Castrorum for a new suit of armour. The price, of course, will come out of your wage.’

Titus nodded.

Lucius took a bite of a fig and wiped a little of the juice from his smooth square chin.

‘Twenty nine!’ he mumbled in between chewing the soft fruit before swallowing it.

‘Praetor?’ Titus said.

Lucius looked up from the table, ‘Twenty nine! I have to eat thirty of these damned things a day, it’s for my wind, you know.’

Titus stood silent, thinking to himself that this remedy was not working. If the stink in the room was anything to go by. It was like a latrinae.

‘Now, our scouts say that the barbarians will be at our gates by mid-day.’ Lucius explained and pointed to the model fort to emphasise the statement.

‘Now, you have fought them and have firsthand knowledge of their tactics. Now, tell me, how in the name of Mars, did they defeat two legionarii?’

Titus took a deep breath.

‘It was an ambush, Praetor. They had cut through tree trunks, lining the forest path, and when we marched past, they pushed them over, breaking our marching lines up into smaller groups. They had the high ground of the surrounding hills. They pelted us with spears and arrows. We formed shield-walls and testudos as best we could. But they had piled up stacks of rocks which they released, rolling them down the hills into our shields and breaking the lines. And then they cast down burning bales of hay into our ranks. Finally we met them face to face, but we had taken so many loses, and many of us were wounded. What was left of us ran for open ground. We formed a phalanx, bristling with spears. But there was just too many of them.’

Titus fell silent his head bowed at the bloody memory.

Lucius listened quietly and then raised an eyebrow, ‘and yet, you survived?’

Titus nodded in silence.

‘I have dispatched riders to the other forts, informing them of this uprising, and have asked for support. In the meantime ,we will wait, secure behind these walls, picking off any of the barbarian scum that come into range of our scorpios.’ Lucius sounded pleased with himself.

Titus looked nervous, his brows knotted, he licked his lips,

Lucius raised an eyebrow and wrapped his hands behind his back, ‘You have something to say, Centurion?’

Titus cleared his throat, ‘Praetor, it will take at least four days for a relief force to march here. In that time, the barbarians will have sent their own scouts into the forests, rallying more of their tribesmen to their leader, Arminius’ call. They will swarm over these walls, or burn them down. We will not last four days under such bombardment.’

Lucius was becoming agitated, ‘Well! What do you suggest, Centurion?’ his tone dripping with sarcasm.

Titus picked up a red wooden block on the table and put it down outside the north gate. ‘We meet them outside, on level ground! We send out a manipulus formation that will force them to concentrate all of their men in front of us,’ Titus pointed at the wooden block. ‘Instead of surrounding our walls,’ he waved his hand around the model’s Vallum.

‘We do what Rome does best, Praetor! We destroy them, head on. And when they are weakened, we release the Auxiliarii cavalry from the east and west gates.  ‘We flank them, we run them down, and we crush them.’

Titus held up his hand and formed a fist, squeezing it tight.

 ‘But as you have already stated, Centurion, they have defeated two legions in the open, already, and you want to do that again?’ Lucius scoffed.

‘Praetor, we were taken by surprise in a forest, on a narrow dirt track road. They had the advantage over us. But on a level playing field, we will rise supreme. We are Rome! And they are undisciplined barbarians. We will be the victors in this outcome. But we have to move now, before they swell their ranks with more tribesmen. We must fight, now, and we will be victorious. Or we can cower behind these walls and burn.’

Lucius walked back and forth staring at the table and slapping his hands together behind his back contemplating what to do; finally he stopped by the fruit bowl and picked up a fig,

‘Thirty!’ he scowled and bit into its soft flesh.

 

*****

Titus Vassio marched out of the gates of Viloxia Fort, in formation. The sky above his head was clear and the ground beneath his feet was hard and dusty, but would soon be turned sodden, drenched in the spilled blood of Roman and barbarian, alike.

The Manipulus was a foreboding site to see. The Roman foot soldiers stood in a checkerboard pattern, each block of men consisted of three ranks of one hundred and twenty men, each.

The Hastate made up the front ranks. They were new recruits to the Roman army. Untested and inexperienced. Rome saw fit to throw their men in at the deep end; they would rise to the challenge or fall, for Rome.

Each one of the Hastate carried their large oblong Scutum shields. The shields were painted a garish red; the symbolic colour of Mars, the god of war, with four golden Eagle wings of Rome and the lightning bolts of Jupiter, King of the gods, streaked across them

Their Mars Red Sagum cloaks were draped over their shoulders.

Their chief weapon in combat was to be their Gladius short sword. It had a wide blade, designed for thrusting and leaving gaping wounds.

Behind them stood the Principi. These were Legionnarii who had proved themselves in battle. They were ready to relieve the Hastati in battle and swap ranks with them when they grew tired, or were taking too many loses.

The last rank was the Triarii. The battle hardened veterans of the army. They were there to finish off the tired and battered enemy, once they had spent themselves, bashing heads with the first two ranks.

The Triarii stood in a Phalanx formation, a formidable fighting strategy they had adopted from the old Hoplites of Greece. It was a tried and tested method, used for over nine hundred years.

They formed a shielded block of men, all carrying three Pilum throwing spears; the Phalanx bristled like the back of a porcupine, ready to skewer any that came too close to them.

 

Titus Vassio stood at the front of his Triarii. Sweat poured down his back, soaking his tunic beneath his heavy armour.

Titus mouth was dry and his brow was damp. He squinted, his brown eyes focused on the Plain ahead of him. A dust cloud billowed up into the air, yet there was no breeze to disturb it so.

But there were six thousand pairs of animal skin boots and hard leather sandaled feet belonging to the Germanic army, that poured over the hills toward them like a wave in a stormy Mediterranean sea, eager to wash them from their lands.

The sound they brought with them was deafening. They bellowed like mad bulls and clashed weapons on shield rims. They bayed like packs of starved wolves, hungry for blood. Their Roman blood.

Titus looked to his left then right inspecting his Phalanx, ‘Mandate Captate,’ he shouted, bringing his men’s attention to their sloppy formation.

The men moved as one, pulling in tight.

A couple of men mumbled close by, Titus rounded on them and growled, ‘silentium!’

He then began to call out their marching speed, bringing them around into position, ‘sin pie-dex pie. Ad aciem.’ Checking his positioning, Titus was satisfied and brought his men to a halt with a sharp barking order, ‘Consiste!’

His one hundred and twenty Triarii came to a halt with the stamping of a foot.

Titus grinned to himself with pride in his men, then shouted, ‘Pile infige.’

The men banged their pilum spear butts down into the ground and stood tall, awaiting their next order from their Centurion.

 

Lucius Gaius Quintilius was dressed in his finest armour and had come out to watch the spectacle. He had decided a bit of fresh air and the entertainment of the battle would sit well with his upset gut. It had always done him good back at the Cavia Arena Gladiatorial games in Rome. There was nothing like a good bloody gladiator fight to ease away the stresses of the day and help any digestive problems from eating a heavy lunch.

Two strapping young soldiers had carried his chair up to the gatehouse and set it on top of a platform for him, so that he would have a good view of the battlefield. Another two legionnaires stood either side of him, holding scutum shields for protection, just in case any stray arrows might try and find their way to him.

Lucius wore his boiled leather cuirass which had been lacquered white and embossed with silver rearing horses. His officers Paludamentum cloak with gold trim, was draped over his shoulders.

It was a good day for a battle, thought Lucius. The sun was out the sky was clear and his Maniple looked striking and foreboding out there on the plain. A sea of scarlet and silver.

Lucius checked the east and west gates and smiled. The Auxilarii cavalry were ready, standing next to their horses, waiting for their Praetor to give the signal for them to join the battle.

Lucius had to agree with this Centurion’s tactics. The Manipulus had drawn the Barbarian army into one place; the primitive scum were so undisciplined, they were no better than animals. Lucius had decided to take as many alive as he could. They would bring him a wealth of coin in the slave markets back in Rome. And the most fiercest of them would show off their prowess in the Cavia Arenas. Spilling their blood on the sacred sand, for the amusement of their superior, civilised captors.

Lucius Roman pride threatened to burst out of him. His blood was coursing through his veins, ‘By Jupitor’s big hairy arse! Let this spectacle begin!’ He shouted excitedly and waved his Vitis stick out in front of him.

Two Legionarii stood either side of Lucius at a reasonable distance. They were the Corncerns, the horn blowers, and they held a spiral horn looped over their shoulders. They brought the mouthpieces to their lips and drew out a long, brash note that swept over the Manipulus, down below.

 

Titus Vassio raised his shield up to his shoulder and took a deep breath, ‘Pille Tolle, Signo Sequute, Moveo!

His men picked up their pilums’ and marched forward, following the standard bearers as the formation began to move toward the baying Germanics, ahead.

The barbarians came at them, screaming with glee and holding their axes and swords and small rounded wooden shields out in front of them. They were a horde of crazed animals, spittle flew from their snarling mouths, they had painted their faces with red and ochre paint, or had simply smeared river mud onto their long, lice ridden hair, making it stand out in thick clumps.

 

Titus Vassio gritted his teeth, sucking in a deep breath between them. His ears twitched, at the cacophonous noise of the charging horde. They were like wild stampeding horses; the ground trembled beneath their feet.

And then he heard the sound he was listening out for, two short sharp bursts of the Corncerns.

‘Pila iace!’ Titus bellowed and raised his Pilum spear to shoulder height.

Ten ranks of Triari threw their pilums. The sky darkened with their numbers, casting a shadow over the heads of the Roman army.

One thousand two hundred spears whistled through the air in a high arcing glide, and then they came down to earth. A hundred or so hit the ground, short of their mark, but the rest of them fell upon the heads of the charging barbarians with a deadly accuracy.

Men fell, stumbling forward and crashing to the ground, as the pilum did their deadly work, skewering bodies and bringing them down. Those that were lucky enough to avoid the deadly pilum, leaped over the bodies of their tribesmen like antelopes and carried on with their charge.

‘Pile iace!’ Titus bellowed again.

Another pilum assault took flight, and again the spears did their bloody work, shattering upturned shields and bringing down hundreds of barbarians.

Titus gave the order one last time and again spears fell upon the barbarians to devastating effect. And then the survivors hit the Roman shield-wall with all of their savagery.

The clash of bodies was deafening. The Hastate groaned like one huge beast, their shield-wall began to buckle under the mass of stinking barbarians pushing into them, and hacking at them with axes and stabbing in between the buckling shields with swords.

One Hastati screamed and fell to his knees; his face was split like a cantaloupe by an axe blow. The axe stuck in his skull and was pulled from the Germanic’s calloused hand.

Another Shield-bearer staggered backwards as two swords ripped open his belly. His blood squirted down his legs, mingled with piss from his ripped open bladder, and his guts unravelled at his feet like a coil of pink rope.

Lucius sat forward in his chair and waved his stick at his trumpeter and barked, ‘The left flank is buckling! Send the Principi in to plug the gap.’

Lucius had been peeling an orange; he ripped a segment off the citrus fruit and popped it into his dry mouth.

The trumpets shrieked over the din of battle and the second ranks of the Manipulus moved forward lending their weight to the buckling first line of defence.

Titus felt a tinge of excitement fluttering in his stomach. He snorted like a bull; he was impatient standing at the rear, listening and watching his fellow Legionarii win the glory of battle. His hand itched; he gripped the handle of his spatha sword, tightly. He looked at his men, they grinned like wolves and their eyes reflected the same blood lust, as his.

Titus lips peeled back. He drew his sword and began bashing it on the edge of his shield and chanted, ‘Ave Romanus-Ave Romanus!’

His men took up the chant and joined in. Their blood was on fire, their nerves were twitching and Roman pride erupted with their chant, spurring their brothers on in the front ranks.

 

Lucius could not contain his excitement at watching the bloody spectacle playing out before him. He jumped to his feet and watched as the Principi moved forward taking the line.

The fresh replacement of troops was devastating to the now tired and wounded front liners of the Germanic horde.

The Principi took a step forward, ramming their shields into the faces of the barbarians. Their gladius stabbing swords, jabbed out, and dealing fatal, gaping wounds, into unprotected thighs and necks. Their scarlet painted shields dripped with the spurting blood of their enemy.

 

Lucius whacked his stick down on the rampart wall and screeched excitedly, ‘opugnare!’

The trumpeters sounded the charge.

Titus Vassio raised his sword above his head and bellowed, ‘Impetus-impetus!’

The Triari surged forward, hollering and stamping their feet. The Principi suddenly took several steps sideways, opening up a massive gap in their ranks.

Titus and his Triari surged forward, roaring with battle rage. The veterans had been unleashed onto the battlefield.

Titus stepped over the bodies of his fallen comrades, eager to get into the fight. He peered out from over his Scutum, into a sea of filthy snarling, exhausted, bloodied, Germanic faces. He grinned and went to his bloody work.

Titus thrust his shield into the body of a panting barbarian and then thrust his sword out, his arm jarred as metal sliced through muscle and shattered the bone beneath.

The Germanic screamed as his arm came away from his shoulder and his blood showered the ground like a burst wineskin spilling its precious contents over the ground.

Titus roared like a lion and sank his blood dripping blade into the face of another enemy, turning it into bloody tatters.

 

Lucius was now leaning on the wall grinning like a demented fool as he watched his army slowly push back the horde. The Barbarians were beaten; they had dared challenge the might of Rome and had paid the ultimate price for their belligerence.

Lucius clapped his hands together, ‘Corncerns, signal the Auxilarii, open the gates!’

The trumpeters gave the signal. The cavalrymen mounted their horses and poured out of the fort and charged toward the Germanic hordes in a flanking manoeuvre.

The cavalarii moved in pressing the barbarians together, they speared stragglers with their lances, or simply cut them down with sweeping swords, striking heads from shoulders, and slashing backs open, down to their bony spines.

 

The battle lasted another hour. Titus arms were aching from the relentless hacking and chopping. He had jettisoned his shield and drew his pugio dagger, and cut his way through everybody that got in his way. His armour was dripping with blood. His face and arms were covered in cuts. He had lost his helmet along the way and his left eye was swollen and threatened to close altogether from a vicious shield bash. He felt a couple of his teeth come loose.

As he stepped over the body of a fur-covered barbarian, he suddenly cried out in agony. The Germanic rolled over and sank the blade of his sword into Titus’ calf. The sword blade slid through his muscle and burst out of the other side.

Titus fell to his knees, his head was spinning from the pain. The barbarian pulled his sword from Titus flesh and grinned as he stood up, towering over him.

They exchanged glances, hate burned in their eyes for one another. Titus watched with impunity as the barbarian raised his sword ready to hack off his head.

A shadow leaped over Titus head, it growled, the barbarian screamed, his sword fell from his hand as the war-dog hit him in the chest and locked its jaws around his throat and crunched down, ripping his windpipe out.

Titus blinked and shook his head. And then he felt its hot breath and wet slavering tongue on his face.

Titus pushed the war-dog away and groaned, ‘Alright you fleabag, get down!’

The dog wagged its tail and surged forward again, almost knocking him over.

Titus managed to pat the dog on the head, ‘I am pleased to see you too, fleabag!’ he groaned and then hands were helping him to his feet.

Titus looked into the eyes of his fellow Triari. Two of his men slung him between their shoulders and lifted him up on the shaft of a spear.

‘Get him to the Medicus, quickly, before he bleeds to death, one of them shouted.

Titus nodded his head and managed a half smile.

‘Ave Romanus!’ he sighed.

The Roman legionarius nodded, ‘Ave Romanus Ad Victoria!’

Titus Vassio sighed and nodded, ‘Hail Rome, the Victorious!’

The End


Submitted: September 01, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Celtic-Scribe63. All rights reserved.

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hullabaloo22

What I really enjoyed about this, C-S, was the way that you kept this so real. Right from the start where you had the mundane boil problem, you didn't glorify like so many people do when writing about the Romans.
I loved the way you described Lucius and his almost manic blood-lust. But the best bit for me, as you no doubt know, was the timely arrival of the dog.

Tue, September 8th, 2020 10:09am

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This story for me was an exercise in showcasing the Romans. Their tactics and obvious air of superiority they must have had with their conquered lands and their people.

I have to say, I enjoyed reading up on the Romans and writing this piece, Who knows, Titus might make another appearance some time in the future, to join my cast of other characters.

I am pleased you liked it, and thanks' so much for the great feedback. It is always appreciated.
Regards
CS63

Tue, September 8th, 2020 9:34am

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