I like writing historical fiction. It saves a lot of time creating the universe where the plot can develop. One can even choose a time and place that has easy parallels. Even a story that’s been told so many times it’s familiar can be fertile ground. I mean, really, what makes a good story? Well, here’s how my story starts.
A march in the countryside in the early fall is not all bad—at least in a civilized country. Ceconi looked down at the fur draped across his saddle. Won’t be that kind of winter. Good! He smiled to himself. He was tired of cold weather. And he had been as far north as civilization was allowed by winter. Since the centuria had left Naples, the countryside was mostly fallow fields, grazing livestock, vineyards, and farmlands growing wheat and olives. Ceconi could not help but think this is what a civilized countryside should look like! They passed several fields being harvested. The closer they got to Rome, the greater the possibility that they would pass through Senator Therien’s lands. Ceconi could never be sure because the Senator was still buying lands. Senator Therien was of the senate class and had been elected a Senator. Rome was divided into many classes of people along economic lines; the wealthiest was the senate class, the poorest proletarii. As long as Rome had been a republic there was a body of Senators elected from the senate class˗˗the highest governing body. But after the civil war of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus turned Rome into an empire and the Senate into a rubber stamp body. His successor was Caesar Tiberius, who had ruled after the death of Augustus twelve years before. Senator Therien was a rich man under both Augustus and Tiberius. His father owned several ships and was also a merchant. While Therien waited to inherit the business, he started farming. At the spillway of his dam holding the irrigation pond, he put in a water wheel and millstone. Soon he was making the products his father was shipping, and Therien’s scope continued to grow. Ceconi’s father, Degaust, came to work for Therien after selling him his family farmlands. It was in the shipping business that a talent for bookkeeping was unleashed in Degaust. Now he owned more land than he ever would have farming and would surely retire an equestrian, the class below the senate. Another thing about traveling in a civilized place is the condition of the roads. The centuria had made great time since disembarking in Naples. Ceconi had made the right choice in marching over the countryside rather than wait the three days before the ships left. The ships were still in Naples and it would not be long before he and his men could see Rome. And the horses needed the work since sailing from Germania. The parade grounds were on the next horizon when the mounted hunters rode back. There were two men in Ceconi’s centuria who were from Germania. They were not so good with swords, but both were great archers and used very long bows. Ceconi had not left them alone and assigned two mounted archers to be with them. His horsemen learned how to hunt in the northern forests and adopted the longer bows. The Germanians had learned to be Roman soldiers. Together they kept the centuria fed in venison and other game of the forest. They would not hunt in uniform. They usually wore leather and Ceconi allowed it as long as there were always two of them together, but today they were not hunting. To see two of his men in uniform riding up with those long bows looked wrong. Still, they earned their keep, so nothing was said. “Senator Therien has received your message.” The hunter fell in line beside Ceconi when no halt was called. “His response?” Ceconi continued to take in the countryside. “He said, ‘Tell him my guests and I await his arrival’.” “Those were his words?” Ceconi now studied the hunter. “From his mouth.” Ceconi wondered how the hunter had actually gotten to see the Senator, but thought better than to ask about it. Probably had something to do with those bows. It had been a long journey and he had other plans for the evening. Still, it did not take long to adjust. Senator Therien was not a man to keep waiting. “Take your place.” The hunter turned and fell in line with the rest of the horsemen, joined by his partner. Ceconi looked to his left to his optio, second in command, riding next to him. “I take it duty calls you away from your time with your wife?” Second looked over to Ceconi. “Let’s go find a campsite.” Ceconi spurred his mount from behind the front line and went ahead of the men. Second looked to his left at the signifer, holding the golden eagle standard of the centuria on his mount. Beside him rode the centuria’s tesserarius, Thyron, the commander of the guards and third in command of the unit. “Prepare the men.” Second sounded like he was barking. “For what?” Thyron felt a set-up. The signifer looked somewhat amused. “I’ll tell you when you get there. You’re in charge. Don’t make any decisions.” Second spurred his horse to follow Ceconi. When Ceconi crossed the creek at the bottom of the hill, he saw that there had set up sleeping tents under the tree line. A meal was being prepared in a wagon. It was basically what Romans ate on the march, a soup of whatever was brought in and bread. He saw the meat was from market and the bread was fresh. There were times in the past several years when his men would have thought this a meal fit for a King. As for now, Ceconi knew his men would be eating their best meal in months tonight. He rode up the hill to the parade grounds and saw a centuria of about eighty men practicing three deep maneuvers. They looked like they were playing with spacing, but they were moving uphill. This is the way large groups fought in open fields. I bet the centurion this commander answers to is proud of this group’s work, thought Ceconi. On the frontier the legions were flanked by auxilia, a group of regular troops mostly pulled from the peregrini. These were imperial subjects that did not have citizenship. Away from the frontier legions were almost never together in full strength but were deployed according to the local needs. There were a total of twenty-five legions in the empire. The legions were commanded by legati legionis, and these generals reported to the legatus Augusti pro praetore, or the provincial governor. The governor reported directly to the Emperor. The legions were broken up into cohorts commanded by a centurion, and cohorts were broken into as many as ten centuria, commanded by a centurion of a lower grade. This was Ceconi’s command post. In battle with a full legion, his centuria would be given a section of the battle line and the maneuvers would be like those Ceconi was watching. It took another centuria to cover the flanks. And he thought he wouldn’t have to give an order for his men to know how to take the men he was watching. His men had learned to fight and count on each other as a unit alone. The officers were behind the lines of men giving orders. Second had crossed the creek right after Ceconi and now rode beside him as the commanding officers were approached. There was one horse being held by a soldier and an officer with a centurion’s cape stood near by. He paused giving marching orders to look at Ceconi and Second riding up. “This your command?” Ceconi asked the centurion, who was well dressed with hinged armor plate. “It is.” He had a way of being a bit self-impressed. Must come from money, Ceconi thought. That’s one of the attractions of the legions for Ceconi. Deeds matter more than wealth. Ceconi acted on what he believed. “Who are you?” Ceconi asked. “I am Porticus, and we defend the southern line.” There had not been an attack on Rome from the south in years, and if the entire southern line were deployed at the same time, they would not be legion strong. But the troops there put on quite a show during certain festivals. ‘Tell your men to vacate. We will be camping here.” Ceconi turned to Second. “And who are you?” The centurion’s tone had gone from self-impressed to downright condescending. Ceconi didn’t want to take the time. “My optio might be willing to answer your questions after I’m gone.” “We are in the middle of a training exercise for our upcoming deployment. And I’m to stop it now on the word of a man I do not know?” Oh, Mithras! Now righteous indignation! Ceconi dismounted as Second looked around for signs of the rest of their company. Ceconi walked up close enough to Porticus that no one else could hear. “I’ll have this area or I’ll have your head; then I’ll have this area! Either way, when my men arrive they camp here. It’s just a matter of the order of things. You get to decide.” Ceconi stepped back and looked at Porticus as he mulled the words. The standard of Ceconi’s centuria was now visible over the hill, and a moment later the horsemen. Thyron broke ranks into a gallop as soon as he saw the group ahead. Ceconi’s centuria had about one hundred twenty men and fifty horsemen as they crested the hill. Porticus turned to his optio. “Tell the men to return to camp immediately.” Ceconi walked to his horse and mounted, looking at Second who seemed greatly relieved. “We camp here. I’ll be back.” Ceconi spurred his mount as Thyron rode up.