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A Day in the Life

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  • A Day in the Life

    This is the first part of my second CIV based story. I haven't gotten any farther than this, so it might be a while before I get the rest done. Hope you like it!

    A Day in the Life

    Five hundred Roman citizens were slaughtered when the local barbarian tribes overran the silk colony at Chult. There was no provocation, and absolutely no warning. The natives just swarmed out of the jungle one day and started killing. When it was finished, seven men and women slipped away from the massacre and fled along the Silk Road back towards Rome. Four died of their wounds on the way. One fell victim to fever before they reached the plains. The two survivors struggled on until they reached Roman territory.
    By the time they reached the Eternal City, their news had preceded them. They found the capital in an uproar. Merchants screamed bitterly about the loss of gold the kingdom would suffer without a steady flow of silk. Noblewomen screamed even more bitterly about the cruelty of a world without soft silk garments to wrap around their delicate figures. Even the commoners muttered darkly about the insult to the Empire. Naked jungle savages killing hard working Roman citizens? It was intolerable.

    The surviving colonists were brought before Caesar himself, where they poured out their tale of woe. My cousin Thracius is one of the palace guards, and he had the good fortune to be present during the audience. Later he told me that the Emperor flew into an absolute foaming rage at this affront to the Roman civilization, and swore an oath to exterminate the barbarians of Chult and turn the land into a Roman province. Since a simple band of workers was not enough, Rome would found a new city on the outskirts of the jungle itself. A true city could support a strong enough force to wipe all traces of the barbarians from the land. With the natives gone, Roman workers could grow their silkworms in peace, and soon the merchants would be happy, and the noblewomen could adorn themselves with as much silk as they could afford. Caesar decided to send a single maniple of VII Legion to establish an outpost in Chult. The remainder of the unit would follow later, along with settlers to build the city.

    “So we’re here fighting the heat and insects and fever just so fat merchants can grow even fatter, and spoiled noblewomen can wear their pretty little tokens?” Cassius grumbled. He was new to the Legion – only seventeen years of age and not yet blooded.
    Gnaeus, my optio, chuckled and gave the boy an affectionate swat on the head. “No, my poppet,” he said. “We’re here because this is where the Emperor decided we needed to be.” Gnaeus was the exact opposite of Cassius. A tough, scarred veteran who had spent nearly twenty years fighting as a Legionnaire, he was one of my best and most trusted men. Absolutely merciless in battle, there was no one I would rather have guarding my back.

    “Besides,” Gnaeus continued. “What did you think you’d be doing when you joined the Legion? Polishing your armor and marching around Rome looking gallant and handsome? Fighting off hordes of lust crazed women who are all dying to get their hands on a real, live Legionnaire?” He laughed even more loudly, displaying a mouthful of empty space broken by a few, isolated teeth. Those missing teeth had been lost in the Battle of Athens fourteen years ago, when a Greek hoplite smashed the edge of a shield into his face. Gnaeus liked to brag that while the shield was in his mouth, he had bitten out a hunk of metal and spat it right through that hoplite’s eye. Of course, you had to get him good and drunk before he’d even talk about that battle. The Legionnaires who survived were still angry about it today. Three days of bloody, bitter hand-to-hand fighting through the streets of the Greek capital drained the lives of nearly half the attacking Legionnaires.

    When the battered Legions finally broke through and stormed the palace, the city fell into our hands and the Greek king Alexander was forced to crawl to Caesar and beg for peace. No one thought we would actually end up keeping Athens, but the Roman people were sure that Caesar would wring a might ransom from the Greeks. I was only a child, but I still remember how infuriated my family and neighbors were when the Emperor handed the city over for some vague promises of future trade commissions. The war was over, and the veterans were left to wonder why they had fought so hard and successfully and yet Rome had nothing to show for it.

    An older legionnaire named Cornelius joined Gnaeus in his laughter. “Aye, lad,” he said. “If you were looking for women when you joined the Legion, you’d be well advised to lower your standards a bit! The only woman you’re likely to find around here is one with a tattooed body, filthy hair, and a bone in her nose! And she’d likely claw your manhood off if you tried to bed her!”
    Cassius glared at the older men and muttered angrily. “I’d not lay a hand or anything else on these savages wenches! Unlike some here, I prefer women who’ve actually bathed once or twice in their lives!”
    Gnaeus and Cornelius laughed even louder at that.

    “Don’t worry, lad,” Gnaeus said with a wink. “If it gets too lonely for you down here in this dark, scary jungle, you just snuggle up next to old Cornelius here. He’ll make sure you stay warm and safe at night!”

    The entire patrol roared with laughter, none louder than Cornelius himself. Cassius face grew bright red, and he clenched his fists angrily. I swallowed my own laughter, and stood up next to them. If I didn’t ease the tension, the boy might do something foolish and get a pounding from one of the veterans. Neither Gnaeus nor Cornelius would do any real damage to him, but it would embarrass him even more and leave him angry and hurting. A good brawl was fine when safe in the barracks at Rome, but in hostile territory there was no room for fighting amongst ourselves. Here in Chult there were plenty of people more than willing to fight us, and even though we had not seen a single sign of them in the three weeks since we had established a base camp, I knew they would find us, eventually.

    “That’s enough!” I snapped, forcing an angry tone into my voice. “Its not enough that the barbarians can hear your armor rattle from a couple of miles away? Now you guys want to throw a party and invite them in? Why don’t we just light a nice bonfire here, in case a few of them can’t hear all this noise?”

    The men grew quiet immediately, and several of the older fighters blushed in shame. All of them stared fixedly at the ground, unable to meet my eyes. I nodded slowly in approval.

    “I know we haven’t seen anything of interest these past few weeks, but you might remember that five hundred Romans died a few months ago in the very spot we built the base camp on.” I paused for a moment to let that sink into them. They understood all too well, I could see. Lesson learned; now I needed to take some of the sting out of the lesson.

    “Besides, Cornelius,” I said with a smile. “We’ve all seen Cassius in the baths. He’d be a bit too much man for you, I’d have to say.”

    Cornelius snorted, and the rest of the patrol laughed again. This time Cassius joined in with the rest. Gnaeus gave me a sly wink; he understood and approved of what I was doing. When I had taken command of my Century six years ago, I had been an arrogant and unproven officer. Gnaeus had patiently taken me in hand and molded me into an effective leader. He had also knocked that arrogance out of me by inviting me to a private training session where he proceeded to thoroughly thrash me with spear, sword, and bare hands. It was a humbling lesson, but a necessary one. Since that time our relationship had grown from mentor and student to older and younger brother.

    “Alright then,” I said as the laughter died down. “That’s enough of a rest. Lets finish this patrol and head back-“


    The sudden echo of drums interrupted me, and brought every member of the patrol to his feet in an instant. There was a rustle of metal and leather as helmets were hastily slapped into place, and iron broadswords drawn.


    Gnaeus was beside me before the echo had died away, his eyes intently studying the jungle around us.

    “What do you think?” I asked quietly.
    He shook his head doubtfully. “Hard to tell how close they are, but sounds like the noise is from the south. But I’m not even sure of that, to be truthful.”

    I took a moment to study the terrain. We stood in a fairly good-sized clearing, ringed on all sides by the thick jungle. The center of the clearing was slightly elevated, and that is where we had stopped to rest. Base camp lay a few miles to the north, and could only be reached by moving along slender animal trails. Most of the way back would be single file only; I did not like the thought of fighting a moving battle along those trails.

    “Suggestions?” I asked. “Do we stand, or move now?”
    Gnaeus thought for a long moment, then grunted. “The next decent clearing is a good mile or so away. For all I know, they could be close enough to hit us on the way. I would say we stand here for a time, and see what happens. We know they can kill helpless, unarmed civilians. Why don’t we see how they react to Legionnaires?”

    I couldn’t help but smile at his words. For all his cunning, Gnaeus loved a good fight, and he was justifiably proud of the Legion’ fighting prowess. Still, there were only thirteen of us on this patrol, and we had heavy infantry only. No skirmishers or scouts had joined us . . . I cursed softly under my breath. I had asked the Primus pilus in charge of the cohort to send stronger patrols out in this initial stage, but Vitus was new to his command and the Legion itself. He had a tendency to view any suggestions as a threat to his authority and a personal challenge. So here we were . . . a small force in the middle of a hostile jungle that contained an enemy of unknown strength.
    I exhaled deeply and smiled at Gnaeus. “You’re right,” I said. “The Legion doesn’t run from barbarian drums. Form them up – you, Cassius, and Faustus in the center.”

    Gnaeus nodded and started barking orders. With the perfect discipline typical of the Legion, we formed an outward facing rectangular box with ten on the line and three reserves in the middle. Those on the outside would use the sword, and the reserves carried our only spears so they could thrust over or between those of us on the line. Then we settled in to wait, alert for any activity among the trees surrounding us.

    The day grew hotter, and time seemed to drag slowly. Clouds of insects swarmed around us, and our bodies slowly grew soaked with sweat. The stench of rotting vegetation filled our nostrils, and the only sounds were the eternal buzzing of the insects and the occasional cry of a bird. The drums boomed a few more times, but seemed to be slowly moving away from us. Then there was a long stretch of time with no sound, and I was on the verge of ordering a break in formation when the jungle around us suddenly seethed with motion, and a horde of savages burst forth and raced toward us.

    They howled like wolves as they came, and in the few seconds before they reached us I had ample opportunity to study them. They were mainly short, squat men with black hair and copper skins. Their bodies were covered with symbols painted in bright yellow and red, and they were naked except for a few bone ornaments. They carried crude stone axes and wooden spears, and had no armor of any kind. Then they were upon us, and the time for watching was over.

    Their initial rush of bodies hit our wall with an audible clash. The nearest to me came in swinging a tremendous overhand blow, his face twisted in a wordless scream of hate and bloodlust. That stone axe clanged off my shield, and snapped in half from the impact. As the barbarian stood there gaping at his ruined weapon, I cut him down with a single stroke. Then the next one was upon me.

    That first encounter was repeated over and over, all around us. The barbarians attacked with admirable courage and enthusiasm, but their weapons were practically useless against our iron armor. They came in waves, and fell before us like so much wheat before the scythe. It was sheer, mindless butchery and it only ended when their dead were piled so high around us that no others could reach us. The remainder reluctantly retreated to the edge of the clearing and stood watching us. It was impossible to tell how many there were, but I counted dozens in the clearing alone, and more could be seen drifting in and out of the trees.
    Gnaeus stepped up beside me and handed me a water skin. I drank thirstily, and then handed it back to him. He was barely breathing hard. Just another day in the Legion . . .

    “Casualties?” I asked. I could see at a glance that there were no Romans among the dead.

    “A few minor wounds,” he answered. “Nothing serious. Everyone is still able to fight or move.” He gave me a significant glance. “We need to think about our situation, Marius. Its late afternoon now, and I don’t think they’re likely to quit just because the sun is going down. We can handle them easily in the light, but I don’t care to dance with them in their jungle at night.”

    He was right, of course. We had no way to signal our brothers back at camp, and no one was likely to come looking for us until tomorrow. If the barbarians persisted in their attack, we would have to chance a breakout at some time.

    My thoughts were interrupted by a flurry of motion, and a shower of missiles suddenly fell upon us from the surrounding masses. Having failed at hand-to-hand, the barbarians had decided to try us from a distance. They hurled their wooden spears, a few clubs, and some strange wooden triangular weapons. None of them had any more effect than in the hand-to-hand fighting, though one thrown club did thump my helmet pretty soundly. Despite my contempt for these ignorant savages, I was impressed by the force of that throw and found myself grateful for the skill of the Roman smiths who had forged my helmet and armor.

    After a few volleys, the barbarians halted the attack and simply milled around the clearing in confusion. For all their ferocity, they clearly had no stomach for another frontal assault after the beating we had given them on the first attack. Still, I felt that we should prepare now while we had time. Eventually they would work themselves up enough to charge again – I had fought other barbarians before, and I knew how their simple minds worked.

    “Gnaeus!” I called. “Detail a few men to build us some makeshift fortifications. Might as well put all these bodies to good use.” Gnaeus chuckled at that. “Have them leave one side open facing north. If we need to break quickly, I want us at least pointed in the right direction.” My optio saluted and turned to carry out my orders. In an impressively short amount of time, the barbarian corpses had been stacked to form a thigh-level semicircular wall around us. A grisly barrier, perhaps, but in battle you do what you have to do in order to survive. I then set three spearmen at the mouth of the northern opening.

    As the wall of bodies grew around us, the surviving barbarians became more incensed. Several of the bolder made short, mock charges, shouting what could only be insults as they came. Though each turned away before making contact, I saw that they were creeping closer to us each time. Behind these forerunners, the other savages were shouting and stamping their feet, working themselves up for an attack. It would not be long before they came in force.

    “Gnaeus,” I said. “Rest the men, and pass the word. They will attack soon, and we must be ready. After we beat back their attack, when they start the retreat, we will sortie in force. We move in two files, side by side. I want you and Cornelius in front – I’ll bring up the rear with Cassius. He’s young enough to drag me along when I start to get tired. Hit them hard and cut through them, then keep going to the next clearing. When we reach that, we’ll form another square and rest, then reassess. Also, when we get to that clearing, have a couple of men ready to grab a few pieces of wood. We’ll build a quick fire and try to signal the camp.”

    Gnaeus started to protest, but I waved him silent. “The natives already know where we are – smoke won’t hurt us now.” He nodded reluctant agreement. “Also,” I continued, “no one is left behind. If too many fall before the clearing, we stop and fortify where we are. If we can’t move on, you’ll find me a volunteer who will try to make it back to the camp and return with reinforcements. Any questions?”

    “No sir,” he said. “Sounds like our best chance to me.”
    “Good,” I said. “Have the men drop all excess equipment. Weapons, armor, and water only. If the spears get in the way when we reach the jungle, then leave them. That’s all I can think of. Lets move.”

    Gnaeus passed the orders along, and the men prepared. I stood behind the spearmen, shield and sword ready. The wait turned out to be a short one, as the barbarians quickly worked themselves up and came boiling against us.

    A few tried to come over the wall of corpses, but were easily repulsed. Most hurled themselves against the spearmen, and the first to reach us died immediately. Those behind pushed forward, though, and the weight of the press forced the spearmen back to the second rank. I stepped forward with two Legionnaires beside me to hold the front, and the spearmen reformed behind us.

    As the screaming mob swarmed against us, I cut and chopped and slashed wildly. They fell all around me, but there were always more waiting to step forward and die. Blood pounded in my ears, and my breath came in gasps, but they pressed us too closely for relief.

    After what seemed like hours of fighting, a thrust spear slipped past my shield and gashed my bare sword arm, bringing a flow of blood. It was a minor wound, but over time it would sap my already depleted strength. I killed my attacker before he could recover from the thrust, then in a sudden burst of strength stepped forward and cut down the next two savages. Those nearest me shrank back from the fury of my attack, and that slight pause allowed another Legionnaire to step forward to take my place. Before I retreated, I helped clear space for the men who had stood beside me, and then we were in back and a fresh trio held the first rank. I sank to the ground, exhausted, and drank deeply from a water skin someone handed me. All three of us were bleeding from superficial wounds, but still we had not lost a man.

    The sounds of fierce fighting continued for a time, and slowly I regained my strength. Then there was a sudden lull, and Gnaeus appeared beside me.
    “They’re stopping to clear away some of the fallen,” he said. “The north opening is too clogged with bodies for them to get to us.”

    I rose slowly, and surveyed the area. There was a fresh, rough wall of bodies where an open lane had recently been. I saw that most of the remaining enemy warriors were resting beyond the barrier, while a few worked to clear a path. They obviously believed that we were determined to stand fast, and had no fear of a counterattack. They would soon come to regret that decision.
    Last edited by KnightSabre; June 8, 2002, 09:56.

  • #2
    huge eye strain, space it out a bit more, but pretty good!


    • #3
      Good detailed description. I'm looking forward to the next installment.
      Here is an interesting scenario to check out. The Vietnam war is cool.


      • #4
        Civman - sorry about the eyestrain! I'll edit it and try to make it a little easier to read!