Tales of Ancient RomeBy: S. J. A. Turney
“Well, come down from there and gather your equipment quickly. Four men is better than none, I suppose, though I was expecting the full numerus.”
It was Forgais’ turn to frown.
“Sir?” he repeated once more.
“The general Magnus Maximus had ordered the withdrawal of our forces. The prefect at Aesica sent me to fetch your unit. Be proud, commander. We travel to Rome to make an Emperor.”
“But the wall?” Forgais gestured to the small fort around him.
“Leave it for the farmers; we have higher concerns now. I shall expect you at Aesica within the hour.”
Without a further glance, the officer turned and rode back out through the south gate, his guard of four men following obediently. Forgais stood silent, his eyes wide and angry, breath frosting in the air. His gaze took in the milecastle with its twin barrack blocks, stripped of bunks yesterday to provide the timber to reinforce and bolster the north gate. The bodies of the numerus, laying where they fell, mute witness to the proud defence of… what? A wall that some Spanish ponce in a fur hat had decided was no longer important if he had a chance at the purple?
He realised the others had paused and were watching him, waiting for orders. Even as they stood silently, regarding their commander, the hail of arrows began again, the very first one taking Saturninus through the eye and plunging him over the edge to the ever-increasing pile of their fallen companions.
“What do we do?”
Forgais turned to Finn and shrugged.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t care what the commander at Aesica says, Gratianus is my Emperor, not Magnus Maximus or any other would-be usurper. I intend to follow the orders of my emperor: hold the wall.”
The hail of arrows slowed and ended.
“Ready for the ladders, lads!”
Cries of rage, defiance and pride rang out, enveloped quickly by the shrouding mist.
Gaius Postumus turned over in his bed, snorting and pulling the cover tight up to his throat. What a lovely dream. He knew it was a dream, for sure, but continued forcing himself to stay that little bit more sleepy, prolonging the night time images as long as possible. Half a sow turned on the spit, fat dripping down into the fire and sizzling with a delicious smell. Probably wine. Those goblets looked like wine goblets. He wondered who was holding the party, since he seemed to be the only guest. Why so many goblets and so much food just for him.
Finally, the messages from his frantic and overactive nostrils won through a passage into his gluttonous brain, and Postumus’ right eye flicked open with some difficult, the sticky sleep still trying to hold it shut.
His eye closed again and a satisfied smile crept across his face. Of course there would be smoke. You couldn’t roast a hog without there being some smoke. He would have to tell Safranius how delicious it was in the morning.
The eye flicked open again.
In a fraction of a second, before even the left eye could join its fellow in wideness, Postumus was out of the bed and frantically panicking, spinning this way and that and waving his arms, achieving entirely nothing.
He stopped, trying to remember his training through the combined fug of sleep and panic. As one of the vigiles, the fire-fighters of Rome, Postumus had been trained well and trained hard for months in every aspect of his duties. It had been said, even by his mother, that his head was so thick that not even basic concepts could pass into it. Hurtful and untrue, but he had to sadly confirm that at this very point, standing in his room on the second floor of the insula that had been allocated as the headquarters of the Second century in the Fourth cohort of vigiles, he couldn’t even remember his name without concentrating really hard.
Safranius would kill him.
The heavy pall of roiling smoke was coming under the door to his room in puffs. That meant it must be coming up the stairwell.
Postumus slapped his hand over his face. Idiot. His had been the simplest duty of all, tonight. The rest of the century were absent. Half of them were asleep in their own homes, it being their week off-duty. Many of the others had been given special leave to go to the Lucaria festival. The rest would be out patrolling the streets, watching for signs of fire or for acts of criminal behaviour. Safranius would be leading the first patrol.