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Marius’ Mules III – Gallia Inv.

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ISBN: 1908481447 (446 pp)


Marius’ Mules III has been given the best reviews yet. Readers say:

“Its plot grew and twisted as the book progressed and i enjoyed every page”

“has brought the history to life”

“a fantastic historical journey”


It is 56bc. As Fronto and his friends winter in Rome and Caesar in Illyricum, trouble is brewing in the north. The tribes of Armorica, driven to desperate action by the harsh rule of Crassus, raise their standards in defiance of the Roman eagle, causing a chain reaction that threatens everything the legions of Caesar have achieved. Can the general’s commanders stamp out the fires of rebellion before the whole of Gaul is ablaze?

Meanwhile, in Rome, the conspiracies against Caesar take an unexpected turn, plunging Fronto and his friends into a world of crime, violence and intrigue that threaten everything the legate cares about. The city is in turmoil and the republic is teetering on the brink of disaster.

In a year that takes the legions and their commanders to the heaving Atlantic Ocean, the treacherous valleys of the Pyrenees, and the seething underbelly of the greatest city in the world, everything is about to change for Marcus Falerius Fronto.

——- Excerpt from Marius’ Mules III ——-

‘It is the third day before the nones of December and we are feeling the first morsel of security in months. On the orders of the general I left Titus Labienus and his command at Nemetocenna and brought the depleted Twelfth Legion into the mountains above Cisalpine Gaul, a territory only nominally Roman, plagued with bandits and antagonistic Celts, in order to secure a trade route across the mountains.

Our task has not been an easy one. Indeed, this is the first time I have had the leisure and reason to make report.

Upon arrival in these unforgiving valleys, once we had departed from friendly territory and lost sight of the Geneva Lake, we immediately encountered opposition in the form of the Nantuates. It causes me to shake my head in wonder when I remember that these men were raw recruits less than two years ago, hastily trained and armed for campaigning in the very lands that we once again occupy. Two years of brutal warfare against Gauls, Belgae and Germans have left me with tough, if relatively inexperienced, men at every level, but all too few of them. By the time we had reached Geneva we had lost another fifty men or more of our already woefully understaffed legion to their wounds and the increasing cold of the mountains.

Despite promises of reinforcements from Cisalpine Gaul, we have seen or heard no sign of relief and have carried out the orders to take and hold this vital mercantile pass with a legion so diminished we would not be able to form three complete cohorts, let alone the full ten. Our numbers are down to a little over seven hundred, including my officers, some of whom have only been soldiering for two years, due to the high death toll last year and this small but costly campaign. Even with the cavalry ala that accompanied us, we are terribly reduced.

And yet we have fought on for more than two months. The valiant and rapidly diminishing Twelfth have pushed back and contained the Nantuates, reducing three of their fortresses to ash and rubble, have forced the Seduni back deep into their lands and reduced their strength, and lastly stormed the main strongholds of the Veragri, breaking the greater part of local resistance. Only three days ago did we stop for the first time to take account of our accomplishments.

The three tribes we have subdued here sent emissaries seeking peace and I have never been more pleased to be able to grant a request. Our men were close to breaking through exhaustion, numbing cold and the unsettling odds. But we have agreed terms with them all. The Seduni, who are the most distant of the three, have sent us hostages as a sign of faith. The Nantuates have done the same, but there was something about the way they spoke that has left me unsure of their fidelity and so I settled three centuries of men, which was all I can truly spare, among the Nantuates under a veteran centurion with orders to fortify and keep in contact with riders.

I then brought the rest of the army to the centre of this hornet nest: the town of Octodurus in Veragri territory. Here we are fortifying our own position and preparing to send out patrols and set up a line of signal stations in both directions across the pass, to the north through our garrison among the Nantuates down to the fort at Pennelucos by the lake and to the south as far as the fort at Eporedia in Cisalpine Gaul.

It is my dearest hope that within a few weeks we will be settled, fortified and beginning to trade and work with the local tribes rather than having to watch them for signs of trouble and increased banditry. When we have signal towers and watch stations we will be in a position to say that the pass is truly safe for merchants, but at this time I would still strongly discourage any civilian from trying the route, even with armed escorts. It will be some weeks at the least before we can claim the pass is safe. Indeed, I still feel uneasy in myself; a sentiment that is echoed among the men, though they try not to show it.

I will make further report when we have the signal system in place and have set up good lines of trade and communication.

While I do not wish to speak out of turn, I would urgently request that emissaries are sent to Caesar in Rome or Illyricum, wherever he may be, with a request for reinforcements. Without them, the Twelfth remains in dire straits throughout this damned winter.

My courier and his escort will need food and shelter upon receipt of this report and will stand by to return to Octodurus with a reply at your earliest convenience.

For the senate and the people of Rome.

Servius Sulpicius Galba, legatus of the Twelfth Legion.’

Galba furrowed his brow as he re-read the last paragraphs for the fourth time. It was delicate. With the general away involved in politics either in Rome or across the sea, their closest senior contact was the camp prefect of the Tenth’s garrison fortress at Cremona. While Galba theoretically outranked the man, Piso was the de facto senior commander in the whole province of Cisalpine Gaul and therefore the immediate step between Galba and the general.

To suggest that the general had been neglectful or deficient in some way in not providing the troops that he had promised almost half a year ago would not be, Galba was sure, a good career move. Still, something had to be done. The Twelfth barely had enough men to keep Octodurus quiet, let alone the entire pass that led from the eastern end of the Geneva Lake all the way across the Alps and down to Eporedia in Roman territory.

With a sigh, he nodded at the last few lines, his mouth turning up at the corner as he noted once again ‘For the senate and the people of Rome’ when the whole campaign was clearly ‘for the glory and purse of the great Caesar’. Fronto may be an outspoken lunatic with plebeian tendencies, but there were times he nailed the general to the wall with a well chosen description.

“Shame I couldn’t get away with that…”

“I’m sorry sir?”

Galba blinked. He’d forgotten the cavalry decurion was there.

“Oh, nothing. Just talking to myself.”

Taking a breath, he snapped the wood-encased tablet shut and sealed it with the wax from one of the three candles that lit the room’s murky interior, plunging the seal of the Twelfth’s commander into the liquid and watching it harden instantly. For a moment, he frowned down at the mark of the bull with the XII and sighed. If they didn’t get more men soon, this letter may be the last time that seal was ever used. Shaking the gloomy thoughts from his head, he reached up and passed the tablet to the cavalry officer.

“This goes into the hands of Prefect Piso at Cremona and no other. Do not be fobbed off at the gate with a promise to deliver it. Understand?”

The decurion nodded.

“Yes, sir. I have assembled a turma of men for escort. I realise that leaves you with diminished cavalry, sir, but the pass is very dangerous.”

Galba nodded.

“I’m aware of the situation, decurion. One turma of cavalry will hardly make or break our position here. Just get this report to Cremona and don’t come back until you have a reply… preferably a good one with an offer of help.”

He smiled at the man. A little encouragement wouldn’t go amiss. The valley was still home to many bandits and pockets of resistance that had not surrendered with the main tribes and the journey would be dangerous.

“And make sure they feed you well and soak you in wine when you get there. On my orders, yes?”

The decurion grinned.

“Count on it, sir.”

With a salute, he turned and left the building, tucking the wax tablet away into his tunic. Galba sighed and leaned back in the chair. This room smelled of badly-cured animal skins, burned meat and a tightly-packed family group who had clearly eaten too many vegetables.

Trying not to picture what might be lurking in the dark corners of the room where he’d not yet had the courage to prod and examine, Galba stood and turned to follow the trooper through the door.

Outside the house, the street sloped gently down toward the river that cut Octodurus in two. It was the most unusual Celtic settlement Galba had ever seen. No hill fort here, with high walls and a central gathering place at the summit. Here, the Veragri had been at the mercy of the vertiginous landscape. Octodurus lay on almost flat land at the head of a ‘Y’-shaped valley, in a commanding position and bisected by a river. The view down the street was truly breathtaking, not for the town itself, but for the enormous mountains that rose up like unassailable walls to either side of the valley and at the spur rising like the prow of an upturned trireme between the valleys.

Climbing those mountains was an epic journey in itself, as the scouts that he’d sent up there yesterday had verified when they returned late in the evening, exhausted, scratched and bruised. Since the legion had arrived here two days ago, the town had changed beyond measure. In an effort to preserve a level of reasonable trust and acceptability with the Veragri, Galba had allowed them to keep the lower, flatter half of Octodurus for themselves on the other side of the river, across the single bridge that joined the two halves.

The Twelfth and their cavalry counterpart had taken control of the so-called ‘upper’ town and evicted the natives, forcing them to take up residence down the valley. The better of the squat stone and timber buildings had been requisitioned as the headquarters, armoury, store, watch office, and the various senior officers’ quarters. The town’s granary lay on the far side of the river, but the men were busy converting a building on high ground to do the job. The rest of the structures had been divided up among the men as barrack blocks.

The situation was hardly perfect and it would take days or even weeks before the buildings were clean and comfortable and serviceable as fort structures. Galba glanced back over his shoulder once more, narrowing his eyes at the dark corners of the house with their piles of unknown objects. The idea of burning the damn thing down and building a new one was appealing. It would take weeks just to get rid of the smell in there.

A voice surprisingly close by cleared its throat and Galba grimaced as he jumped a little in a very unprofessional manner. Whipping round to see who had been lurking at the corner of the legate’s quarters when they should have been busy working, he was relieved to see the battered and worn figure of Baculus, the primus pilus, sitting on a large half-buried block of stone and tapping his bronze greaves with his vine staff. His helmet lay on the grass beside him.

“In the name of Jupiter’s balls, do you have to sneak up on me like that?”

Baculus raised an eyebrow and Galba chortled at himself.

“You startled me. How can a man like you be so quiet?”

The primus pilus started pulling himself respectfully to his feet. Galba waved the man back down and wandered across to take a seat facing him on a similar stone nearby.

“Sit, man. You’re still supposed to be on light duties at best. The medicus keeps telling me that you’re a long way from healthy again and that you’re overdoing it. In his opinion you should be back in Rome for the next season recuperating.”

Baculus shrugged.

“Too much to so, sir. And you’re already under-staffed. Frankly if I wasn’t here, the whole collection of adolescents and near-cripples that pass for the officer class might just collapse into a blubbering heap.”

Galba frowned.

“Harsh, centurion, don’t you think?”

Baculus curled his lip and waved his vine staff expansively at the town around them.

“Respectfully, sir, there are four officers left in the legion that I would consider veterans. Apart from myself there’s Herculius, who’s damn near due for retirement, and Petreius who suffered a blow to the head at that hill fort with the rolling logs last month and keeps forgetting words and misplacing things. There’s the one tribune left who’s good but exhausted from having to perform the duties of several men. Other than that, the entire officer class is filled with centurions who’d been immunes legionaries with perhaps three years of service in other legions before being drafted across to us, or even green recruits who couldn’t have told you one end of a gladius from the other two years ago.”

He sighed and settled back on the rock.

“Don’t get me wrong, legate. They’re good lads, all of them. They’ve fought like monsters through this campaign, despite their youth and lack of experience, and they’ll do whatever you ask, they’re so damn loyal to the banner. They’ll be an excellent cadre of officers in time; best I could ask to serve with. But that’s at least two or three years of campaigning away yet. They’re trying hard, but they’ve just not got the experience to carry out this sort of operation without older, steadier hands holding them in place.”

Galba nodded and stretched his arms out.

“Good job they have you to advise them, then.”

The two men fell silent for a time, nodding, until finally Baculus raised his face and cast a meaningful glance at his commander.

“I assume you’ve put a fairly urgent request for men in that report, sir?”

Galba nodded.

“Couched it in the best terms I can, but you know as well as I that, even if we get these reinforcements, they’ll be raw and untrained. We’ll be very lucky indeed if the command in Cremona can rustle us up a few veterans who are bored of their retired farming lives and feel like taking up the stick again.”

“Indeed. But at least it would give us a little more manpower.”

Silence descended again for a long moment.

“How are the works coming on?”

Baculus looked up again at his commander and leaned forward, his hands on the end of the vine staff, standing point down in the turf.

“Getting there. They should be basically ready by noon or mid-afternoon tomorrow. We’ve got the ditch and breastworks complete around the west, south and east sides, and the palisade is being produced at the moment. I’ve got the men working in shifts cutting timber on the valley side and working on construction, and they’ll continue through the night. If everything goes according to plan, the gates and palisade should be up not long after first light. I’ve got them planning towers, lilia, a fortified bridge and various other things as well, though.”

He narrowed his eyes.

“We may have these bastards officially subdued and hostages and all that, but I wouldn’t trust any of those carrion-feeding dogs further than I could spit one. I won’t be able to relax until I have at least three levels of defence between us and them.”

Galba sighed and leaned back.

“I know what you mean. Things are theoretically quite settled here and yet I just can’t shake this impression that something is going on that we don’t know about.”

“It’s like that with Celts, legate. After all, Caesar’s conquered them twice and they still rise up and complain. They just won’t stay conquered.”

That last comment drew a throaty laugh from the stocky, barrel-chested legate.

“I wouldn’t say that too close to the general.”

Baculus reached down to the hardness on his chest and stroked the shiny phalera and golden corona decorations that hung from the leather.

“You think he’d take these back?” the grizzled veteran grinned. “I’d hate that, having just become accustomed to the extra weight.”

Galba laughed and scratched his chin.

“We’ll see soon enough. At least we’ll have the defences up soon.”

Baculus nodded again.

“I wish we still had Calvus or Ruga with us. The few remaining engineers we’ve got don’t have between them half the experience of either of those poor sods. Still, as you said: we’ll see soon enough.”


Written by SJAT

November 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm

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