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Marius’ Mules II – The Belgae

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ISBN: 1907986154 (400 pp)


Marius’ Mules II has been given excellent reviews. Readers say:

“leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat”

“I hope there are more to follow”


57BC. The fearsome Belgae have gathered a great army to oppose Rome, and Fronto and the legions assemble once more to take Caesar’s war against the most dangerous tribes in the northern world. While the legions battle the Celts in the fiercest war of Caesar’s career, the plots and conspiracies against him, both at Rome and among his own army, become ever deeper and more dangerous.

——- Excerpt from Marius’ Mules II ——-

This morning, a fresh and gleaming Roman army numbering some thirty thousand regular troops, along with thousands of cavalry, mostly of Gallic auxiliary status, slowly tramped and stomped their way over the hill and toward the river and the wooden bridge that gave access to the Remi’s oppidum of Durocorteron. The sight must have been overwhelming for the ordinary folk of the tribe.

Without sending a single man across the river to the Remi, the legions, as prearranged, began to set up huge temporary camps; three in all, each large enough to accommodate fifteen thousand and the necessary gear. The men had worked hard and, within two hours, camp had been established, even before the last of the huge military column had arrived on the scene. A wide ditch and rampart surrounded each camp, and once the baggage arrived, a defensive palisade was formed of the sharpened stakes that were carried in the wagons and could later be undone and stowed for reuse.

The show must have been mind-boggling for the locals. Certainly, by the time the camps were complete, in the late morning, the number of native men, women and children watching them intently from across the river had grown to number in the hundreds. Caesar had deliberately kept the army from interacting with them; every centurion and optio had their orders. Whether these Belgic folk shouted disparaging things at the men, or even enticing ones, the soldiers barely glanced at, let alone acknowledged, them.

The afternoon had set in with the legions setting watches and passwords, creating their temporary workshops, mucking out the horses and all the regular daily camp duties. Everything the general did here was designed to both worry and impress the leaders of the Remi.

And it must be working. For now, as the sun began to sink from the sky and afternoon began to give way to evening, many of their civilian observers had become bored and left, but a number of well-dressed and armed warriors had taken up stations on the far bank and the bridge. Fronto stood on the rampart of his camp and watched them with interest. With the quality of their armour, they were likely the chieftain’s own men. He was just wondering how long they would watch before trying to force some sort of interaction, when a commotion began up the hill in the centre of the town.

From here, Fronto could see up the main road between heavy, low buildings and scattered oak trees. Up there must be some kind of centre; perhaps a marketplace even? And something was happening there. Between the branches and trunks of the trees he could see light; the flickering light of many torches. The legate dithered for a moment as to whether to alert the command, when a noise like a bull being castrated sprang up on the hill.

Fronto jumped slightly at the sudden cacophony, before realising it was supposed to be music; a fanfare presumably. And there was movement high on the hill.

He reached across to the legionary next to him on the bank.

“Leave your weapons here. Get to the principia as fast as you can and inform the general and his staff that we’re about to have guests.”

The soldier saluted and turned, dropping his shield and pilum, and ran as fast as he could toward the rear of the huge camp. The three fortifications had been carefully placed in a horseshoe around the near end of the bridge, such that each rampart was the same distance from it. The central camp, that of the Ninth and the Tenth, also accommodated the senior staff.

Fronto watched with fascination from the rampart as a procession of sorts began to make its way down the main road of the oppidum toward the Romans. The group numbered around a hundred and at first glance appeared to be some sort of strange parody of a Roman military column. As they got closer, Fronto gradually picked out more detail, though the awful noise was setting his teeth on edge and forming the beginning of a headache.

First came four men blaring out ‘dying goose’ sounds through tall bronze horns with flared ends shaped into the likeness of wolves. Behind them came four more with a horrifying instrument that involved the squeezing of some sort of bag. The resulting noise sounded like a deflating ox. Fronto stared at them with a strange mixture of horror and amusement. Behind the ‘musicians’ came the standard bearers. No flags here, just poles with bronze animals on them; boars, wolves and bears. And behind that was a crowd of warriors in their ceremonial gear, Fronto presumed, surrounding two well dressed tribesmen on white horses. The warriors on either side of the column lit the way in the dusk with burning torches.

The Remi probably thought it was impressive. Indeed, it might have been impressive if it weren’t for the deflating animal sounds. Fronto, trying to keep his men in position with a straight face, had to bite his lip gently to refrain from sniggering.

Suddenly the worst of the noise stopped. Fronto breathed deeply in relief and then realised with horror that it was only a moment’s grace. The airbags were now empty and the musicians re-inflated them with a sound like a hundred men farting in a cave.

No amount of lip biting could prevent the laugh that came then and, even as the players began the full blare of the awful noise once again, all around Fronto on the rampart men burst out laughing. Indeed, as he listened carefully over the cacophony, he was sure he could even hear men laughing at the other camps.

He gave them a few seconds of laughter, but this sort of thing looked bad, even if it was his own fault.

“Silence!” he bellowed along the line, and the men of the Ninth and Tenth Legions fell quiet and straightened themselves.

By the time the Belgae had reached the bridge, the staff were approaching Fronto’s position inside the camp. Caesar, Sabinus and Labienus climbed the slope with long strides and stopped next to the legate of the Tenth.

“What is the name of Charon’s teeth is that noise?” asked Sabinus, a horrified look on his face.

Caesar smiled at him.

“Ceremonial music. I’ve heard those pipes before at Celtic gatherings. Aren’t they awful?”

He turned to Fronto.

“Pass the word along here and to the other camps as quickly and quietly as you can. I want silence from the men. Not a word or movement. In fact, tell the other legions that their officers are to remain in their camps.”

Fronto frowned.

“Are we not going out to meet them? I thought they wanted to be our allies?”

Caesar shook his head.

“I don’t know how trustworthy they are, and this is our first show to the Belgae. We want to be as powerful and impressive as Rome can possibly be. I want word to spread from here. If we can make the Remi tremble and fall in line, then it’s possible other tribes of the Belgae will follow suit. Every tribe we can frighten into submission means less warriors the leaders can call on against us. This is the time for a show of strength, not diplomacy.”

Fronto shrugged and gave the word to two of his tribunes who began to make their way along the wall, passing on the details.

The noise was becoming unbearable now that the chieftains’ party had reached the near bank. There was a brief pause then; trying to decide where they should go, Fronto guessed. The two men on horseback consulted for a moment and then the column moved on, heading for the central camp. As they approached, finally reaching a position where the men, their night vision blinded by the guttering torches, could make out the Roman installations, Caesar stepped back from the wall, gesturing for the other officers to do so.

As Fronto dropped back down the slope, he raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Let them be challenged by the guards as though they were nobodies,” the general smiled.

“Do we open the gate?”

“Most certainly not.”

Fronto frowned. As the officers waited behind the stockade, they heard someone address the legionaries on guard in the strange language of the Celts.

The guard, drawn tonight from the Ninth, answered in clear Latin.

“Approach and be recognised.”

There was a long pause and some heated discussion in that odd language again. The centurion at the gate took a deep breath.

“For the last time, advance and be recognised!”

As the squabble among the visitors intensified, the centurion called along the walls: “make ready!”

Two dozen men on the embankment turned sideways and raised their pila into the discharge position. The argument among the Remi intensified and finally a voice called out in intelligible Latin.

“Friends. Remi are friends of Rome. We must see your commander. Bring your commander.”

The centurion turned to look at Fronto and the officers nearby. Caesar made smoothing motions with his hand and put a finger to his lips. The centurion and his men stood silently.


Caesar tapped Fronto on the shoulder and leaned close to whisper.

“Go tell him we’re too busy to see him tonight. We’ll visit him tomorrow when we have more time.”

Fronto stared, unsure whether to smile or not. It all seemed so childish, somehow.

Taking a deep breath, he climbed the embankment slowly. When he reached the top, he looked down at the assembled warriors and tried not to laugh. They looked very uncertain and, having lost the impetus of the parade, were now milling around aimlessly below the stockade.

“Greetings to the Remi” he called. “Unfortunately, we do not have time to consult with you at the moment. Please return to your village and we will call on you as and when the opportunity arises.”

The speaker on horseback seemed to inflate as though he’d explode. Fronto couldn’t quite see in the bad light, but would be willing to bet the man’s face had gone red with rage. The man raised his hand and pointed at Fronto, opening his mouth to speak, but the legate had already left the wall without waiting for a reply.

As he returned to the staff, Sabinus was rocking with silent laughter. Labienus bore a wide grin and even Caesar greeted him with an uncharacteristically genuine smile.

Patting Fronto on the shoulder, Caesar chuckled.

“Well I wanted to make them feel inferior, but that surpassed all my expectations. I hope you haven’t pushed them so far they get angry instead of frightened!”

Sabinus grinned, taking a deep breath.


Fronto shrugged.

“It hasn’t even got a stockade.”

“But village?” Sabinus laughed again. “It’s the capital city of their tribe, and you just called it a village. And turning your back on his answer? Good grief, man!”

Fronto shrugged again.

“To hell with them.”

Leaving the baffled and irritated Remi outside the gate, Caesar and his staff strode off toward the principia. Fronto smiled at the centurion.

“Let’s not be too mean. If they’re still there in an hour, take them out some cheese and bread.”

As he walked off to catch up with the general, he could hear the centurion chuckling behind him.


Written by SJAT

January 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm

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