The Eagle's Landing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Short introduction into the world of Roman Fiction based in part on fact.

Submitted: April 22, 2010

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Submitted: April 22, 2010

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The Eagle's Landing
 
 
"It is 54 BC and our Empire has expanded into the four winds by amounts we would never have dreamed about a mere century ago. But now we are faced by a new threat, an impudent island, Britannia has defied Rome and so us; this threat cannot go unpunished. My fellow consul Julius Caesar has assembled his armies and is preparing as we speak the destruction of this island in the name of Rome. In Gaul he triumphed, crushing the hordes that faced him, in Pontus he destroyed the threat to our very existence, Veni, vidi, vici, he came, he saw...and he conquered, and now I, Pompeius Magnus as fellow consul to Caesar and during his absence have the power to permit such a war, decree we lend him our support in the name of Rome."
 
 
*** 
 
 Octavius was just seventeen when he was captivated by the eagle of the legion XV of the Roman empire, and just eighteen when he saw first blood at the start of Caesar's campaign to secure Gaul. He remembered the howl of the hordes of barbarians seemingly running directly at him, the icy fear that gripped him before the shout of his Centurion 'Release Pillums!'; the scream of the enemy as hundreds fell and the inevitable impact of bodies hitting Roman shields. Then the wild stabbing as the battle for survival began. The Roman lines had held as the mass of barbarians heaved at their shields. The first line of Gauls were hemmed in so close against the wall of Roman shields in front and their own kinfolk behind, that they could not effectively wield their huge battle swords and axes. Octavius remembered the carnage as the Roman short swords, suited perfectly for this style of warfare, stabbed forward against the now defenceless enemy. The seemingly endless horde was cut down one line at a time with mechanical precision until they could take no more and turned to flee. He had not taken pride in so much killing, but it was a life he had turned his attentions to and his mind was steeled against the horrors to come.
 
It had been fifteen years since he had become a legionary of Rome, all spent fighting in lands unfamiliar to him; with just one decade to go until the end of his service. He had survived winter in the harshest conditions known to Rome and come out the stronger for it. Yet still he wondered if it was all about to end as he sat on the barge destined for an island shrouded in legend. He did not know what would face him, but he had heard stories of untold horrors that awaited legion XV and its five thousand men. The ship creaked, groaned, rocked and rolled over the waves, horses whinnied and neighed, whilst men spoke in hushed voices or checked their swords and armour. New recruits sat shivering and the older veterans looked for some sign from the gods; anything, from an eagle swooping around the ships to a poor throw on a dice.
Octavius however stood on deck staring out into the mist trying to catch a glimpse of the terrain to come, ever practical never failing to give a facade of strength and security to all who observed him. He was fortunate, born into a moderately rich family, coupled with his fathers insight to prepare him in the Roman fashion, meant that he now held the rank of Centurion. He commanded the second century of his cohort. From his cohort of a good eight hundred infantry he commanded the second best century available to command, one hundred of some of the finest men to be found in the Roman army. Reinforcements from Rome had neither come nor been expected, so he had recruited new units from the captured provinces in Gaul and trained them himself until they would march a full day with armour and kit and still stand and die by his side grimly with discipline and honour. Although few of his men may have realised it he was proud of his unit and after a long winter of discontentment he almost wanted to once again feel the rush as he was faced by a new enemy the thrill of a new enemy to test his men. He did not take pleasure in suffering, but it was his profession and he had be raised to kill for Romes glory since he could barely walk. 
 A trumpet fanfare sounded, land had been sighted and a blazing fire cut through the mist. Clearly the Britons had been expecting the invasion fleet. Octavius shouted an order "Flavius order the men to ready themselves for battle I want us out on the beach and in testudo formation at the double, I want to show the entire legion how well we can form a shield wall under pressure!"
"Yes Sir," the Optio snapped a salute and started shouting orders to the men.
 
Octavius checked his kit one more time his gladius in place on his right side and two purgios easily reachable by his left hip. As a centurion in a ceremonial procession he would not have carried a shield but this was war and he had no intention of being amongst the first to die; so hoisted his shield up and checked that it had the two standard issue pillums clipped in place behind it. Satisfied that he was prepared as fully as his kit allowed he looked back up at the beach.
  A professional glance revealed that it was a poor place to land, the beach led onto a steep incline and then a hastily erected barrier of rock and wood, then beyond that smoke, clearly a civilisation of some sort. He had little time to ponder on this because at that moment he was thrown forward as the boat ground to a halt some fifty metres short of the coast. Octavius jumped over the side straight into the green sea which immediately enveloped him from the torso down. Forcing away the desire to shiver he began wading determinedly towards the beach. His men were already following suit, and a similar scenario was being acted out by the five thousand combatants of XV. In a rough formation his men followed in line with him full kit on and shields facing the shore. 
 
He was not overly worried, he was part of the Roman army - the most effective killing force in the known world! He doubted a handful of poorly trained barbarians would change that. But then a shout started a chain of events that would change his view for the rest of his life. 'Sir over the mound,' Flavious on his right shoulder informed him. Octavius looked with interest that quickly turned to dismay A host of men appeared at the top of the hill. Spearmen swarmed on either flank and axe men stood tall and strong at the front line. Despite much of legion XV having landed and in a relatively structured battle line stretching the few thousand metres of the landing bay, they were separated from the other two legions under Caesar's command by twenty miles of sea. 
 
"How many do you make it?" Asked Octavius
"I'd say at least twenty thousand in sight at the moment,' Flavious answered 'Only the gods know how they gathered so many together I heard this island was just a mass of warring tribes"
"I heard much of the same, still, may as well earn our pay now that we're here. I'd rather die here one hundred times than back at sea"
"I don't think we'll be doing the dying today," Flavious smiled grimly.
"What I want to know is how they knew exactly where we were going to land" 
"Must have got word out from the Gauls"
 
Octavius knew his second in command had been born to battle, having fought since he was just fourteen, having had little choice when his village was raised to the ground by Hannibal's invasion, a man to be feared on the battlefield and valued as an ally. Octavius trusted his judgement.
Presently a complex fanfare sounded and the Roman line started to advance up the slope that had looked so much more gentle from a distance but now worked the legions legs into action. No emissary was sent forth to try to administer peace with the Briton's. Even on the Island it was known that any force that opposed Rome was, by it's own free will, declaring war. The Britons were close enough now for Octavius to make out various battle standards. One was lifted high, and as it did so the sound of hundreds of arrows being released was heard. Octavius roared "Testudo," and his century rippled as shields were hastily throw up. A shadow cast over the legion and Octavius braced himself as arrows suddenly thudded into the space above his head. A few cries sounded as the barrage found gaps in the hastily formed wall, but eventually the barrage stopped and the order to advance sounded out along the line echoed by Optio's long schooled in the ways of the battlefield.
 
The march continued slowed in formation, still making steady gain towards the waiting Britons. It took time and Octavius noticed his century had not come this far unscathed, he guessed around one in ten would have been hit rendering them useless, but now finally he felt he could take his revenge. The Roman line had reached pillum range and could now unleash it's own barrage of steel tipped death upon the enemy hordes. Down the line centurions gave the order and Octavius un-clipped one of his pillum and steadied himself before roaring, "unleash hell lads!", and his men did. They threw their weapons deep into the British lines, shields were rendered useless and even the best armour was pierced. Scores of tribesmen fell, their hope of a glorious death smashed in one moment of lethal roman reckoning. Impetuous and calmly, Octavius reached for his second pillum as the enemy lines began to surge forward, he selected his target, a tall blond man six foot tall and wielding a double headed axe, undoubtedly deadly in close combat but undefended now when it mattered, Octavius hurled his pillum forwards with all his might and it sailed almost elegantly, innocently, then dropped all pretence and hit it's mark, piercing the man's armour and hurling him back, even if he had survived he would now be trampled by his own countrymen as they strived to reach the Roman lines. "Points front!" he ordered and his men obliged, sharp points filling every inch of gaps between each mans shield.
The Britain's were within five metres now, Octavius took a firm stance one leg back his other facing the enemy his shield front and his sword ready, held low as he had been trained, firmly in one hand it's point steady, lethal, waiting. The world slowed and as in the past the centurion's heart slowed, he thought of his home, images of his son who must now be almost a man perhaps preparing to join the legions himself, he thought of his wife, god did he miss her, and finally he thought of the men around him, a hundred stories ready to end one hundred more. All this happened in a moment. As reality returned, he looked over his shield and saw a body bearing down on him, he smashed down his shield breaking the enemy warriors unguarded feet and thrust into the mans stomach twisting and withdrawing constantly aware of his men to each of his sides perfectly in line. He stepped forwards hurling his weight behind his shield straight into a sprinting barbarian who was taken completely off balance, immediately dispatched by a quick thrust to the throat.
Octavius felt his men behind him pushing him forward, he felt the adrenaline rush take him. Smash stab recover. Smash stab recover. He chanted in his head, merciless, a killer, a legionnaire. He felt invincible with every step he seemed to grow in power, but then something changed. For the second time that day a shadow came over the legion but this time Octavius had no time to raise his shield without exposing himself to the blades of the barbarians ahead and howled in agony as he realised he had seen his wife and son for the last time, it was the end of the line. He battled on throwing himself forward hacking at any enemy in reach but then it hit him, an impact to his throat, painless, yet the end, as the world faded away and he breathed his last breath, his last conscious thought was of the life he could have lived and so, as countless millions before him had died so did Octavius, 'centurion of Rome, father, husband, forgotten'.
 

 


 



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