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2ND EDITION - NEW OPENING




647 Ab Urbe Condita (After the Founding of Rome, 107 BC),
Southeast of Burdigala, lands of the Aquitani, free Gallia


Beloved husband, I am overjoyed to tell you we now have our
long-awaited son. Our girls are excited about their little
brother and are giving me a hard time when I want to keep
little Lucius to myself. We have many letters of congratulations coming
in every day, most addressed to you, the former consul. People are happy
for you that you and your forefather’s name will carry on. The boy and
I are in good health, and we all miss you terribly. I pray to the gods
every day L. Cassius Longinus will finish this ugly business soon and
bring you home to us.


   With tears in his eyes, Lucius Piso rolled the letter back up
to store in the document bag hanging off his saddle. He
straightened, seeing his friend Cassius riding over across the
valley. I need to be careful to keep my disgust from showing.
   “He is coming for a visit,” legate Piso told tribune Marcellus,
his young aide. “I knew the Senate had to act with the Germanic
Cimbri and Teutones people crossing over the alps, but tell me
again why they put our friend Cassius Longinus in overall
command?”
   “They could not pass him over as this year’s senior consul,
could they?” Marcellus answered. “And you can’t fault him for
making haste with our three legions. Well, at least he did once
the Helvetii tribes came out of their mountains to join in the ruin
of southern Gallia and our Roman province here.”
   “And so far, so good. We divided the Helvetii and chased
after this Tigurini canton for weeks into this wild hinterland. Yet,
they just keep running, and our discipline keeps declining. My
legion is the only one still bothering to march in tight formation.
And his complete lack of caution, even declining my offer this
morning to send our scouts?” Piso shook his head, realizing it
was time to turn his horse to face the newcomer. “Salve, consul,”
he shouted as Cassius reined in.
   “Greetings my friends. See, the fortifications they built
overnight look ever more chaotic the closer we get. I declare them
ripe for the taking,” the consul continued, grinning ear to ear.
   That’s exactly the problem. This feels too easy by far. “Do you want
me to continue as the left flank? Or are you allowing me to march
my men around the hill to hit them in the rear?” Piso asked.
After a short hesitation, Cassius shook his head in reply. “No
need, dear friend. Our men are the better fighters. Once our front
ranks hit them their warriors will break.”
   By Hades, why do you have to be so cocky? We’re not invincible.
“May we at least use some of the lighter artillery to soften them
up first?” Piso asked.
   “Good idea, I’ll give word. Once our heavy bolt-throwers
push their missiles into their low palisade walls we’ll see them
scramble to safety, mark my words. I want your men to be ready
to pursue once that happens. Show no mercy, we need to get as
many of them as we can, so we have less to fight later.”
   Piso held his tongue about his friend’s carelessness. After all,
their own forces seemed like a tidal wave eager for a chance to
get at the enemy. He sighed. Let him have his moment of glory, the
situation seems obvious enough.

   Loud shouts rang out from the side. A good number of
Tigurini warriors surfaced from what must be a low creek bed.
Their war cries only the beginning, many more appeared from
around the side of the hill, all adding to the din. Piso pointed
forward. “And now they’re attacking from the hill as well,” he
added. Tens of thousands of Celtic warriors pushed through the
various openings in their palisade walls and careened toward
them. “No longer cowering in fear. This was well-planned.”
More enemy warriors made it to the third legion on their far side.
And there it is. Still feeling self-righteous and arrogant, dear Cassius,
invincible like a Greek Titan of old?

   “They have us from three sides, and they have the numbers.
We need to get back to camp, now,” Cassius finally added.
   “I agree, that is the only move we have left,” Piso answered,
guiding his horse to the side towards his legion’s signalers and
cohort prefects. “Blow the command for retreat,” he called. He
looked back as his old friend rode away and put his fingers to the
side of his helmet for a mock salute. Maybe I will be able to forgive
you at our next reunion, be that in camp or on the fields of Elysium.

   As far as Piso could see, the legionary lines were in disarray,
entire cohorts turning to run for their lives, the enemy breaking
through in masses. He looked back to the Roman fort they had
left only an hour ago, so close across the valley, yet so far out of
reach. The rumble of many thousands of horses drowned out the
noise of slaughter and the cries of people dying. The Tigurini
cavalry cut right between the legions and their camp. They are too
many, this is already over.
   He put his hand on the small bag containing his wife’s letter
and hung his head. He closed his eyes, ignoring the stench of
fresh blood wafting across the battlefield, the clanging of
weapons on metal or wood, the screams of anger or pain. I will
watch over you all from the Elysian plains, my loved ones, though you
might curse my name with Cassius’ over the dishonor I brought to you
and to Rome.

   He pulled his long cavalry sword from the sheath. His legions’
First Cohort stood solid as a rock amid a raging sea, their lines
tightening into a small square. He nodded and waved to his
officers and signalers. “Command a square formation, to be
centered on the First Cohort.” He kicked his mare’s side to follow
them to the space that would become the center of the square.
Maybe we can hold out a while longer, but I have little doubt this is our
last stand.



***

“I can’t believe you did it. Well done,” Divico’s father shouted
at him from twenty feet away. Divico just smiled in response, for
the first time in his young life truly content. You screamed at me for
my impertinence two weeks ago when I challenged you for leadership in
front of the council. You called me a young welp barely weaned from
my mother’s teats, and yet here you are, congratulating me when you
would have kept running forever.

   He swung himself out of his saddle and looked down at one
of the Roman leaders sprawled out on the ground in front of him.
The man was twice his age yet had fought well. He admired the
Roman’s sword skills and honorable death.
   On the field of battle, warriors pushed each other in their
excitement, cutting enemy heads as trophies and searching
bodies for loot. Divico shrugged. Let them do as they please. They
followed me to victory today; they deserve that and more.

   Enjoying the sensation of sweet triumph and his new-found
standing within the Tigurini, he didn’t miss the glances of the
men around him. Most smiled at him happily, some showed
genuine awe, all shouted congratulations. He looked down at his
sword, realizing it was still coated in blood. Bending down, he
cleaned it on the tunic bottom of the Roman officer before
sheathing it. His eyes turned to the fortified Roman camp across
the valley and he raised his hand to garner attention from the
many warriors and chieftains lingering close by. “We are not yet
done. Some Roman dogs made it back to their fort. Let’s go and
knock on their doors.” The declaration was greeted with a loud
cheer.
   “I feel like we should be generous, maybe we’ll let them and
their slaves live if they hand us their possessions and supply
train.” He mounted, receiving giddy and roaring laughter in
return. That and the loot of the dead will easily help our people through
the winter. Now we can go back home to our mountains like the proud
victors we are.

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