Marching With Caesar: Conquest of Gaul (9 page)

BOOK: Marching With Caesar: Conquest of Gaul
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“But while all we’re doing right now is drill and weapons training, the general doesn’t want us getting fat and lazy.”

 

I did not see how that could happen, but I was content to take him at his word. Calienus then went around the group, asking questions of each of us in order to learn more about them. It was in this manner that I learned the names and basic information of the men I would spend the next several years with, some of them at least. Along with Vibius and myself, there was Sextus Scribonius, the man who stood next to me when we were arranged by height. Scribonius said he came from Corduba, yet he was vague about what his father did or anything else about his family, for that matter. It was a subject that he rarely discussed, and it would not be until many years later that I would learn that he was lying about where he was from, but that is for later. Then there was Quintus Artorius, and his story was a fairly common one, not unlike mine. His father was a blacksmith and they could not get along, so after a particularly bitter argument, Artorius threatened that he would go join the Legion, whereupon his father called his bluff. It was clear to all of us that he seemed to be having second thoughts, an impression that was only reinforced as time went by. His was the nervous voice I heard in the pre-dawn of that day when we all reported. He was also the smallest member of our group, which I do not imagine helped his outlook. The two who looked alike were indeed brothers, Marcus and Quintus Mallius, and it was a common occurrence for all of us to mix them up. Before long they both earned nicknames, but until they did, it was a source of exasperation for all of us. They were sons of a farmer in the province, outside the town of Illurco and were quick to point out that there was a pretty good chance that the olive oil we were dipping our bread in came from their farm, since they had accompanied their father making a delivery to the army. The brothers decided to enlist because there was a multitude of brothers Mallius. Marcus was the oldest by a year, although they could have almost passed for twins. Both had a cheerful disposition generally, though Quintus possessed a fearsome temper, which got him in trouble more than once during our time together. Next was Publius Vellusius, who stood to the right of Vibius in our line, and up to that point from who I had barely heard a word. His story was similar to Marcus and Quintus, and Vibius for that matter; an excess of sons, with Vellusius being the excess. His father had a farm in the far north-west of the province in Nertobriga; it took him a week to arrive at Corduba and he had gotten a later start like we had, accounting for his relatively late arrival along with the rest of us. He was about as tall as Vibius, but built much more slightly, with a bristle of black hair that seemed to stick straight up, no matter how much oil he used to keep it flat. To me, he looked a bit like a bird, with the same kind of nervous movement and constant peering at his surroundings, as if waiting for a cat to come along, but he turned out to be a good soldier, though, one of the best in our Century. Finally, there was Didius, who had calmed his mouth somewhat, just not enough to suit me or the others. Despite being shorter than I was, he was built similarly to me, and indeed he turned out to be quite strong, perhaps as strong as I was, something I had not encountered before. Perhaps, if I am being honest, that is one of the reasons that I disliked him as much as I did, although if that is true it does not adequately explain the hatred the others held for him before much time would pass from this first day. Still, at that moment, we were willing to give him a chance, despite his bragging and generally unpleasant attitude. Didius told us that he was born to be in the Legions, like his father and father before him, who were great heroes in their own right, although he would outshine them, and the rest of us. I took care to hide my feelings, munching on my bread with what I hoped was a bland expression. Calienus just gave a slight grin, as if he had heard it all before, which he had. Once we were done, he told us about himself. He was 28, and had been in the Legion for ten years, but re-enlisted for the full sixteen year term that Caesar set as the length for this enlistment of the 10th Legion, all for the chance of promotion to Sergeant. He was also
immune
, having skill as an armourer, his father being one before him and teaching him his craft. That meant that he was exempt from most of the other duties, with the exception of standing watch during the night hours, when he would not have been working anyway. Calienus was in Pompey’s 1st Legion, a fact that gave him instant respect, and had been with Pompey during his short but sharp campaign against the pirates, recently returning from the war against Mithridates, which was the talk of the Roman world ever since. He fought in over thirty engagements, and was wounded four times, once so seriously that he almost died from the infection. Calienus was a hardcore Pompeian, and I sometimes wonder if things had worked out differently what road he would have traveled. But I am ahead of myself again; forgive me, gentle reader, it is the prerogative of the elderly to sometimes meander. Introductions done, with the light beginning to fade, we continued talking and asking questions of Calienus, all of which he answered with great patience. Finally, the horn blew that signaled it was time to retire, and we entered the tent to make preparations for sleep. Because it was our first night, we were not entered as part of the duty rotation, though that would change the next day when the last member of the tent section joined us. It was just as well; we were all exhausted and I think even if Hannibal himself had risen from the dead to mount an attack on the camp, it would have been impossible to rouse us from our slumber. I do not even remember lying on my cot, and in the morning I awoke in the exact same position in which I had fallen asleep, something that would become a common occurrence over the next few weeks.

 

The next morning we were roused, again before daylight, to start our day, being given just a few moments to eat what we saved from the night before, then forming up outside the tent. Pilus Prior Crastinus came striding up, with the same invisible
numen
waving the same invisible turd under his nose.

 

“Well, you
cunni
,” he snarled by way of greeting, “I was expecting half of you to be gone like the sorry specimens you replaced.”

 

This was a shock; it was the first we heard that we were not just original drafts but instead had replaced others. As we learned the story over the next few days, we were added to the Legion to replace
tiros
in the Second Cohort that failed to measure up, for one reason or another. Rather than sprinkling us into the Centuries of the Cohort that lost men, they instead consolidated by moving the men who were in our Century out to the ones that had missing men. The logic was obvious; at least, once it was explained to us. The other Centuries were all at more advanced stages of training, and dropping in a brand new
tiro
into one of them would have been a hardship that compromised the training of the other Centuries. Instead our Century, the First Century, was selected to be the one to dole out men to make a hole to fill, with members of the First Century serving as replacements for those who had fallen out. Like with most things in the army, once explained it made perfect sense. It was just relatively rare that things were clarified for us, especially as time passed. The more experienced we were, the less it was considered important to at least give us an idea of what was going on or why we were doing something; we were just expected to obey as if the order came from Jupiter’s mouth directly to our ears. Again, if one thinks about it, it makes some sense. By that time, you are indoctrinated in the ways of the Legion. In your first days, you are still more citizen than Legionary, and as part of the process, there is a certain amount of explanation that is given to you. Not much, but a little, which is more than more experienced Legionaries got.

 

This also explained why we were in the First Century, so we could have the undivided attention of the Pilus Prior, not that we were very appreciative. He marched us over to the forum, and we picked up where we left off the day before, learning the basic drill movements and commands. Over and over, with the word “
Repitate
” ringing in our ears, along with the sting of his
vitus
to help remind us, we marched up and down, up and down. The only break in the monotony was in mid-morning, when the last member of our tent section joined us, having drawn his gear and been escorted by either Sergeant Calienus or the Optio to our tent. He was introduced to us as Marcus Atilius, and he slotted into our line between Scribonius and Didius, much to the relief of Scribonius. Atilius appeared to be somewhat older than the rest of us, with the exception of Calienus, though it turned out to be more a case of hard living. When he joined us, he wore the same look as Vibius the morning before, somewhat pale and a little unsteady on his feet, the result of a particularly festive farewell party, or so we thought at the time. However, we would learn that every day was an occasion for a festival as far as Atilius was concerned. Because he was also behind in learning the basic movements, we were told to run around the camp along the
Via Sagularis
, the road that runs around the inside perimeter of the camp along the walls, while he received personal instruction.

 

When we all hesitated for a moment, confused, the Pilus Prior snapped, “Well? What are you waiting for?”

 

“How many times, Pilus Prior?”

 

This came from Scribonius, which is exactly what I wanted to know, but thank the gods he beat me to it, because it earned nothing more than a smack with the
vitus
and a snarled, “Until I tell you to stop, you idiot.”

 

With that pleasant admonition, we began to run. Being in the lead, I set what I thought would be a pace that everyone could keep up with, yet would be sufficiently quick enough not to earn a beating from the Pilus Prior. However, I miscalculated, badly. While Cyclops made Vibius and I do plenty of exercises that helped our dexterity and overall endurance wearing helmet and armor, he never had us do any running, so very quickly I found that what I thought would be a comfortable pace was putting me into difficulty. However, I was also too proud to slow down, and I continued on, trying to ignore the pain in my side and the feeling that I was breathing pure fire. Leading the way for one circuit, then two, I never looked back, now afraid that since nobody behind me asked to slow down, I was running slower than they would have had they been leading.

 

It wasn’t until I was halfway through the second lap of the camp that I heard a gasping shout, “
Eho
Pullus! By the gods man, are you trying to kill us all?”

 

Startled I looked around to see Scribonius, his face as red as our new
sagum
, the soldier’s cloak, staggering as he caught up to me now that I had slowed down. Looking over my shoulder, I saw to my dismay that the others were far, far behind, barely visible just turning the second corner of the second circuit of the camp. Scribonius, hands on his knees as he sucked in air, began to gag, making me feel horrible, and good all at the same time.

 

In between retches, he gasped, “Didn’t you hear us shouting for you to slow down? I swear that all of us were begging you to slow your pace, but you just ran along like you were Mercury himself.”

 

Despite the fact that I was breathing as hard as he was, and was fighting the urge to vomit as well, I tried to sound nonchalant as I replied, “Really? No, Scribonius, I’m truly sorry. I didn’t hear a thing. I just thought I was running at a pace that wouldn’t get us in trouble with Pilus Prior Crastinus.”

 

He looked up at me to see if I was joking, but in that at least I was telling the truth; by this time the others had joined us, and all assumed the same position as Scribonius, each of them cursing my name, my father and my ancestors. Even Vibius was angry with me, and I wavered between embarrassment and anger at the invective they were using against me.

 

Defensively I protested, “I already told Scribonius I was sorry. I didn’t realize I was running so fast.”

 

“Well, clean your ears out, damn you,” spat Didius, pushing my mood immediately to anger.

 

“If you can’t keep up, that’s not my problem,” I retorted, and he stood up straight, making a move towards me as if he had more to say, but before he could, Vibius stepped in between us and grabbed my arm. “None of us could keep up Titus,” he spoke sharply, “because you forget that you have these great long legs.”

 

That it was Vibius talking so immediately deflated me and I apologized again, this time more humbly, which seemed to satisfy everyone except for Didius, who continued to glare at me. That is when I knew that he and I were destined for trouble at some point. To make matters worse, the Pilus Prior happened to look up and saw us standing in a group, and we could hear his booming voice, over all the other noise of camp, and we jumped a little in panic.

 

“I don’t believe I told you
cunni
to stop,” he roared. “The next time I look around, you had better be running, ladies.”

 

We looked at each other, and then Scribonius said, “The Pilus Prior didn’t tell us what order to run in, did he?” Shaking our heads, he continued quickly, “Well then, let’s run with the little end at the front, that way we won’t have to worry about Pullus galloping off on us.”

 

This was immediately accepted, even by me, not wanting to draw the ire of the others any more than I already had, although I now knew that I could run more slowly without being afraid of being seen as weak. Quickly reversing our order, we started up again with Artorius leading us off. Almost immediately we could all see that while this was a good idea in theory, Artorius was so weak and slow the chances of evading the wrath of the Pilus Prior was practically non-existent. Fairly quickly we rearranged yet again, putting Vibius in front, who set a pace that most of us could follow with a moderate effort, except for Artorius. I assumed that the reason he was so far behind was that he was at the little end of our line, but it turned out that not only was he the smallest physically he was the weakest, in more ways than one. We made a couple more circuits before we heard the Pilus Prior yell at us to stop, which we did, heading back to where he and Atilius were standing. Poor Atilius, being the only focus of the Pilus Prior, already had several large red welts on his arms and legs but his face showed no emotion as he stood there at
intente
. It became apparent that Atilius had taken his personal lessons to heart, because he immediately matched us in terms of our skill level. Once more, the rest of the day was spent in drill, and it was a weary group that trooped to the tent. Sergeant Calienus joined us shortly, and informed us that we were going to be put into the rotation for guard duty, starting that night. During our
tiro
period, we would only be standing watch at night so that we could get all the training in possible. The brothers drew the first watch, followed by Scribonius and Artorius, then Vibius and myself. In this manner, everyone would be able to sleep through the night on a cot, although there would have to be some shifting around.

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