“Exercise invigorates, and enlivens all the faculties of body and mind…
It spreads gladness and satisfaction over our minds and qualifies us for
Every sort of business and every sort of pleasure.”
The first aspect of Legion life introduced to the new tiros was the march; and march they did. Ten Roman miles that first day, fifteen on the second, followed by twenty, then twenty-five on subsequent days, each with one water break prior to the final halt at the site of the new camp. Inexperienced cornicere blew ragged notes from brand new trumpets, first attempts at signaling a halt.
Many tiros, thinking a rest was due, flopped onto the ground. Centurios’ vita, and optio hastile staffs soon disabused everyone of such notions. Blows to the head and shoulders, combined with the flat side of veteran’s swords, warned everyone against a second such error. Soon all were on their feet, in ranks, arms extended, entrenching tools in hands.
“Lads, allow me to introduce you to your new best friends, friends you will get to know better than your own sword-mates.” exclaimed Pilus Prior Carfulenus stood in front of his cohort with a pick-axe in the right hand and a shovel in the left. “In my left hand I hold your mama, the rutrum and in this, your tata, the dolabra! This afternoon we dig in the castrum!”
There was a raised hand.
“Tiro Bacculus! You have a question?”
Caught off guard by the sound of his Romanized name, Baccolo now Bacculus, looked down at the rutrum in his hands, barely remembering to include Carfulenus’ proper title at the last instant.
“Prior! Where we come from, I mean here in Baetica, we call this tool a shovel and that other thing a pick.”
Legion, this a rutrum, and a this, a dolabra!
Dropped both implements to the ground, Carfulenus strode along the front of the cohort, hands clasped behind his back.
“During the remainder of the afternoon you will learn basic engineering, the art of castrum fabricare! Every day we will march. Every night we will camp! Every time we camp, we will build a castrum, which will be fortified. Are you with me so far? Brilliant! I know you will not achieve the standard expected, but in the next few days you will meet and then exceed my expectations! Do you understand?”
“Pilus Prior! Understand,” replied four hundred-eighty ragged voices of 2nd Cohort.
“You sound like a mob of fellatores,” Carfulenus barked out. “Do you understand?”
“Pilus Prior,” they shouted. “Understand!”
“Much better! Half of you have a rutrum and half a dolabra! To your front you will find wicker baskets lined up along a proposed wall, what, from this moment, you will refer to as the agger! You will dig a ditch, which you shall refer to as a fossa, piling the dirt for the agger marked by this taught string. The fossa will be fifteen feet deep and just forward of the agger, which shall be fifteen feet high! I say again, you will move the dirt from the fossa in front to construct the agger in the rear! Once the agger is packed down, you will take three of these stakes and, lashing them together in the center, make a large caltrop called a tribuli, which will rest atop the agger thusly, clear?” Carfulenus smiled sweetly.
Pullo raised his hand.
“Will we be getting a mid-day meal soon, Centurio?” Pullo asked, half in Baetica, half in Latin.
Carfulenus made a slight head gesture to Optio Balaenus who, walking up behind Pullo with his five-foot-long hastile staff, effortlessly broke the former across the tiro’s skull, stepping aside as the latter dropped like a rock.
“I will remind you one more time. We will speak to you in Legion Latin. You will answer in Legion Latin, and when you are speaking in Legion Latin, you will state rank first! Now back to business! Will there be any questions pertinent to engineering? None? Good! Remember, the rutrum by day keeps the hostiles away!
No one requested a water break.
By the third night most of the men were too tired to eat. Crastinus thanked his own native Luna Estrella as well as the Roman gods, even the Legio god Mithras, that the calone Tafoya had the papillon set up with a fire going when the 2nd Cohort retired for the evening, their section of the castrum completed to Carfulenus’ satisfaction. The centurio’s threats and curses, combined with a liberal application of vitis staffs, had failed to get the job done any faster but it was mostly right.
It was all Crastinus could do to get his personal sword mate, Pelitus, or any of the others in the octet to eat their loaves, beans, and porridge, washed down with a vile mixture of water and vinegar which Tafoya called posca acetum. A potera of cold water failed to rouse Pullo. By the third dousing he was up and about, but not much use. Only Lucco Voreno, now Lucius Vorenus, still had the strength to assist Crastinus preparing a meal of porridge mixed with slices of salted beef before serving it out to their messmates.
“It could use salt,” said Vorenus to Pullo.
When Pullo failed to answer, Vorenus repeated himself, louder this time.
Remaining silent, Pullo stared at the hobnailed soles of his leather boots.
“I thought we put you in charge of the fucking salt?”
Pullo’s uncharacteristic silence was deafening.
“Where is the salt, Pullo? Crastinus asked, his voice remaining patient, but firm.
With a furtive glance up at Crastinus, Pullo quickly cut his eyes back down to his boots.
“Lost it,” he muttered.
Even chewing halted in the octet.
“Lost it, how?” Crastinus asked, his voice remaining even.
Pullo swallowed hard, then looked up at Crastinus’, his eyes continuing their furtive movements from one member of the octet to the next, his bottom lip quivering. “I was, I played alae,” he finally blurted out, eyes returning to the area around his feet.
Bacculus threw his bowl to the ground, scattering his rations over Pullo’s legs and feet.
“Dicing! You fellator! You dripping pile of pus! Run at the mouth all the time! We take beatings because you can’t shut up, and you go dicing with our salt ration?”
Crastinus put a hand on Bacculus’ shoulder.
“Where were you dicing, Titus? Galbus and Sextus’ octet?”
“Sextus won it from me!”
Curses and grumbling broke out; the salt ration, issued weekly, was expected to last and no excuse. There would be no more for several days.
Crastinus pulled the last of his mother’s silver coins from a pouch inside his lorica, handing them to Pelitus.
“Bacculus,” he commanded. “Vorenus! Take little Pelitus here and Clustinus! Gaditicus, you and Petro go along too. Screw it; all of you go. Vorenus, you do the talking. Buy it back! Tell Sextus it’s a good deal and they’ll not get more money from us. If this is not satisfactory, tell him I cannot compare our date of rank, but am more than willing to compare height and weight.”
Six members of the octet got to their feet, clapping cassii to their heads and tying the cheek pieces.
“Pullo, not you. Take the mess kits and start washing them; then return to me here. I would have a word with you alone.”
“Alone, Crastinus,” Pullo replied.
The rest of the octet departed as Crastinus, his mother’s spoon chopping bread into a bowl of peas-porridge mixed with bacon, reflected on the training day they had endured.
“The walking didn’t bother me as much as the rest them, probably because I am used to herding mother’s cattle on foot; done it shoeless since I was a child,” he said to a sympathetic Tafoya. “It was the digging that kicked my ass! I feel it in my shoulders, neck, and lower back! Shit, my hands are blistered and bloody.”
Pullo, whose hands and feet were bloody, had sense enough to remain silent.
Like all of them, Crastinus was unaccustomed to this type of work, but it had not taken him long to figure out when digging, it was best to fill the shovel only level, like one of his mother’s kitchen spoons.
“Never fill the implement with too much dirt and a man can shovel all day long,” Tafoya asserted. “Just lift out a level shovel. It takes more returns to fill a basket, but the strain on your shoulders and lower back is considerably less, and a rhythm we can maintain all day is achieved. Our hands are another matter!” The old calo shoveled more food into his mouth.
“Tomorrow when we load the century equipment onto the wagon,” added Crastinus, “we will each finger off some grease from one of the wagon axles, smear the stuff on our feet to make these boots less abrasive.”
“Maybe later we can try rubbing the stuff on our hands,” replied Pullo, regarding the blisters burgeoning out on his feet. His own rations finished, Crastinus used the reddish camp dirt to clean his bowl and spoon, rinsing both in the patera of hot water Tafoya had placed on the fire earlier.
“Titus! That is a good idea,” Crastinus exclaimed. “I think we should do that tomorrow! Now! Let’s talk about how you are going to repay me for the salt!”
Emerging from the papillion regularly at dawn; cornicen trumpets blowing first call, the signal to rise and dress, they consumed leavings of the previous meal, broke down tents, at the end of “third watch.” On the second clarion, unit mules were loaded with octet equipment; on the third, pack staffs were slung over shoulder, ready to march.
By the midday they had trudged twenty-five Roman miles in cadences drummed by tympanistas. On the final halt, the remainder of the previous day’s bread, some dried meat with a little cheese and wild onion, when available, was consumed standing up. Castrum construction was performed by half the legion, the other half conducting training, swapping on alternating days. Physical training, running, wrestling and, when a suitable spot was available, swimming preceded weapon and maneuver drills before being dismissed to prepare and eat the final meal of the day, seated, if permission was granted. By the end of “first watch,” weapons and armor were cleaned, caligae repaired, and personal hygiene completed.
By the fourth day of training the cohorts were almost fully equipped. To the chagrin of many a tiro, especially Pullo, the wooden training rudis and wicker shield rather than a SPQR issue gladius and the metal bossed wooden scutum.
“Real side arms and shields will not be given to you,” explained Carfulenus, “until the First Spear and I are satisfied you are sufficiently competent in the use of wooden ones and can be trusted to not seriously injure each other. Once you earn our trust in these skills, the wooden rudis will remain as much a part of your personal equipment as your entrenching tools for the remainder of your service.”
Vorenus threw a rutrum-sized load of dirt directly on Titus Pullo’s back.
“Are you happy now, gambling man? Do you like your “weapons?”
Pullo threw a load back.
“Of course I do! I just want to know when do we get to learn how to use them? I signed on to fight, not to rut around in the mud and dirt like a dog!”
“Were you always a fool, or has Carfulenus hit you in the head too many times?”
File-leader Crastinus put a firm hand on Vorenus’ shoulder, but spoke to the entire octet.
“Have you failed to notice that the wooden weapons are twice the weight of the real ones? The wicker shield is three times heavier than the scutum?”
Pilus Prior Carfulenus, accompanied by Hastatus Primus Fabius, appeared out of thin air.
“Which knob shall it be, boys? Because if any of you open your mouth again, I am going to stuff one of mine in your flapping maw!” Fabius used his vitis to not so subtly indicate a more sinister use of a wooden staff carved from a wine stalk.
“Primus! Mouth closed,” shouted Pullo, snapping to attention. In a flash of an eye, and before Fabius could do it himself, the knobby end of Carfulenus’ vitis smashed into Pullo’s jaw; down he went, yet again, in a spray of blood.
Standing over the unconscious tiro, Carfulenus words were for the entire 2nd Cohort.
“No response was necessary, tiro,” he shouted. “The rest of you may dine this evening from the vertical rest!” Crastinus chest-fisted the legion salute, his lips pressed tightly together.
“At least someone in this octet can follow a simple instruction,” remarked Fabius. “Carry on!”
Once both centurios were out of hearing Carfulenus gave a gentle, but firm, nudge at the senior man’s elbow, speaking in a low but deadly voice,
“I hit them! Me only! Find someone else’s boys to seduce and defile!” Carfulenus strode away, continuing his tour of the castrum fabricare without Hastatus Primus Fabius.
Primus Pilus Petronius planned to observe the afternoon training with a mixture of anticipation and annoyance. Inwardly pleased the centurios had instilled a sense of discipline in the ranks in so short a time, he was irritated that requests for the eight-foot long training posts had not been filled. The posts were essential for effective gladius training; even when performed with wooden rudimenta.
“No matter, we will adapt and improvise,” he said to Aponius. “The men will drill without posts. If it goes as I expect, I will have the satisfaction of shutting the mouths of some assholes like Pullo!”
“There is always bitching about the spadework,” agreed the standard bearer. “But castrum fabricare will be a welcome relief after today’s march!”
“The training for the exercere cohorts is gladius and scutum attack positions one through four. They will do it until I am satisfied that they have it right! I want a good, solid, four hours of training! Go down and tell Carfulenus to give them a short water break in place after two hours, then at it again! The second two hours, pick up the pace with emphasis on draw cuts! Clear?”
“‘Number One,” answered Aponius. “Clear!”
“Tell him to beat anyone dropping out, getting sick, has a bellyache, a drippy ass, or sand in his clitoris! Flog anyone who refuses to get to his feet.”
Aponius nodded without comment.
“Punishment to be carried out immediately while drill continues. No water breaks in the last two hours! I will have the cornicere signal when I say the four hours are up and they have been abused enough! Questions?”
“‘Number One!’ No questions!” Aponius saluted and left before Petronius got any more sadistic ideas.
After several afternoons of physical training, simple march drills, in armor, equipped with wooden rudis and wicker scutum, the tiros were drawn up in close order files of eight with Pilus Prior Carfulenus standing before them.
“Many of you enlisted in VIII Legion for the citizenship,” he began. “Some of you signed up for the regular pay and the prestige that comes with wearing a baeltus. I’ll even go far enough to say some of you signed up for the regular meals! Well, allow me to disabuse you fools of such notions! You idiots are here for one of two reasons! To kill or be killed!”
He looked around at his men.
“If you pay close attention, you will get the preferred choice! Extend to the left!”
The tiros obeyed, raising their arms parallel to the ground with wicker scuta in one hand, rudis in the other. The entire formation silently shifted left, with the baseman holding 2nd Cohort’s signum and every file behind him remaining in their original position.
“Arms downward, move!” Four hundred and eighty arms weighted down with wicker and wood dropped instantly.
“Ad contum, Moveo!”
2nd Cohort pivoted on their left heel to face the left, heels slapping together to complete the movement.
“Extend ad contum, moveo!”
Again four hundred eighty pair of arms rose, and the formation repeated the process with the front rank, now the far right rank remaining in place.
“Arms downward moveo!”
“From front to rear count off!”
The men counted off as directed; all octet file-leaders, like Crastinus, were “eights” to facilitate keeping an eye on their men.
“Even numbers! Step ad contum!”
The even numbers obeyed; the maneuver putting the entire cohort into a checkerboard quincunx formation, each man at double arms distance from any neighbor.
“Pugnacitores! Post!” Carfulenus barked.
Several pair of evocatii trotted out, two in front of each century, Carfulenus walking through the ranks of the extended cohort. Two particularly ferocious looking specimens posted in front of First and Second Century.
“Decurre Cessare,” shouted the larger of the pair. “My name is Balaenus, Evocate of First Century 1st Cohort. I will be your instructor for the afternoon. My demonstrator is Sword Brother Prorsus, also Evocate to 1st Cohort.”
Balaenus gave his students a moment to notice Prorsus was armed as they were, square wicker scutum and wooden rudis, standing at parade rest, or laxare.
“There are several basic principles to fighting, which must be consistently applied, in order to defeat an opponent,” exclaimed Balaenus. “The operative word is basic! These are the minimum skills essential to survival in a fight. There are many others, which through years of practice, will become intuitive to the skilled legio! In order to produce a mirror effect, when Prorsus moves to his right you will move to your left. When Prorsus moves to the left you will move to the right. Alright you scabrous fornicators, vos servate!”
Prorsus snapped into a low crouch, feet shoulder width apart with the left foot forward, the right slightly behind; his scutum up and forward covering his body from shoulder to the knee. Both First and Second Century snapped into an identical position, with Carfulenus’ vitis “adjusting” those not in correct form, as Balaenus began his class.
“The first principle of fighting is physical balance,” he exclaimed. “The ability to maintain equilibrium and remain in a stable upright position. You must maintain your balance both to defend and to launch an effective attack.”
Balaenus made a series of pushing motions against Prorsus, the latter springing back to his original posture every time.
“Without balance you have neither stability to defend yourself nor a base of power for an attacking thrust. Prorsus! What is the first aspect of balance?”
“Balaenus,” replied the latter. “The first aspect of balance is knowing how to move to keep or regain balance.”
Prorsus amplified his voice to make sure the rear ranks heard him; remaining in the “vos servate” position. Balaenus used his rudis as a pointer.
“Feet shoulder width apart, knees flexed. Low center of gravity increases stability,” he exclaimed, pointing to the appropriate points of Prorsus’ body.
“Prorsus! What is the second aspect of balance?”
“Balaenus! Exploit weakness of your opponent’s balance,” answered. Prorsus
“The trained fighter moves his body, maintaining balance, to expose, then exploit enemy weak points,” continued Balaenus. On cue, Prorsus sidestepped to the left a few steps before changing to the right; feinting with scutum and rudis for an opening as the tiros mirrored his movements. Crastinus winked at Vorenus, and Petro, who also noticed Prorsus allowed neither foot to cross beyond the other.
“A successful fighter also maintains a mental balance to overcome fear or anger,” Balaenus continued. “He does this in order to concentrate on an attack, or to react instinctively, in defense.”
“Do not allow fear or anger to cloud your judgment,” exclaimed Carfulenus. “Killing is our business, and when you remain detached, business will be very good!”
Selecting Clustinus, Pullo and Petro from the ranks, the grizzled centurio stood them in a row against Prorsus with a whispered instruction before turning to face the remainder of the formation.
“Position is your location in relation to an opponent,” he exclaimed. “When attacked it is vital to move to a safe position where the attack cannot continue unless the opponent moves his whole body.”
On Balaenus’ signal, Clustinus made a clumsy overhand slashing attack that Prorsus dodged easily. Overcompensating his momentum, Clustinus’ torso went into an awkward twist leaving his right side exposed; an opening Prorsus exploited by smashing him in the head with his wicker scutum. As Clustinus fell senseless to the ground, Prorsus thrusted with his rudis and scored to the neck.
“As you have just witnessed, the best position for counterattack is off the opponent’s line of attack,” exclaimed Balaenus, proceeding with the lecture.
Pullo attacked next with a backhanded rudis slash to the head. Using the tiro’s momentum against him while sidestepping to the right, Prorsus’ wicker shield backhanded the rudis out of Pullo’s hand, feinting to the tiro’s face, forcing him to block with his wicker scutum.
“It is usually safe to move off your opponent’s line of attack at a forty-five-degree angle either toward or away from him, whichever is appropriate,” Balaenus barked.
Prorsus’ next shield bash knocked Pullo’s defense aside creating the opening for a second scutum strike inward to the lower abdomen just above the genitals. Prorsus made a rudis thrust to the neck; with a groan of pain, Pullo dropped to his knees, falling on his face.
“This position affords the fighter greater safety and allows him to exploit weaknesses in the enemy’s counterattack position,” Balaenus continued.
Petro followed Prorsus’ example of using the scutum, swinging his shield edge first to the head, but the veteran sidestepped again, angling his scutum to send Petro’s over his head. Inward and upward the blunted point of Prorsus rudis thrust painfully into Petro’s armpit.
Prorsus turned to face the tiros, snapping instantly to vos servate position.
“Movement to an advantageous position requires accurate timing and distance perception,” Balaenus concluded without the slightest glance at the three tiros struggling to their feet. “That is why you possess the space between each other that you are standing in now! That concludes the presentation. Are there any questions?”
“Odd numbers! Volvere,” Carfulenus barked again in camp latin. “About face!”
By the end of the first two hours of training and the water break, Bacculus wondered, deliriously, just how much of his rudis was really wood and how much scutum was genuinely wicker. His neck cloth was as sweat-soaked as his tunica. His only relief was a pair of blistered and bloody feet were so sweat-soaked that, although Crastinus’ grease salve was gone, the leather of the hob-nailed caligae was no longer stiff.
Pelitus and Petro, the two smallest men in the octet, were miserable.
“This is definitely worse than the digging and marching,” moaned the former. “My arms and calves are screaming,”
“My eyes sting!” Petro answered.
The rest of the contubernium was not much better off.
“My lips and mouth, dry as leather,” croaked Gaditicus.
“The felt pad inside my cassis is so soaked I doubt it could protect me from another bout with Prorsus!” Clustinus complained.
Only three remained on their feet, Pullo and Vorenus with a mutual hatred feeding both strength and stamina, and Gaius Crastinus who endured for different reasons.
Somehow, I will find a way to bind a strip of cloth about our heads, I must get with Vorenus! We have to find a way to soak up some of the moisture off everyone and hopefully clear our eyes. The rest of it we will just endure!
“You sound like the cunnii you are,” growled Carfulenus. “You thrust like an old man buggering a little boy for the first time! At ease, state!”
The cohort stood down from vos servate, a breathless laxare parade rest.
Walking down the sweating, dry-heaving ranks and files, Carfulenus’ visage was grim.
Where is that bastard Petronius! Real training is one thing, but this is insane! Flog the tiros who fall out? Nearly a third of the cohort is down, face first or worse! Some have shit or pissed on themselves while unconscious! Fuck him! That one legged fellator is nowhere in sight! Forgiveness is easier than permission! A few moments more of this cac and all my men will be down! Not on my watch! Carfulenus looked around at his men then barked out a command.
“Drink in place! Look to your mates!”
From a nearby hill, where no one could see him, Petronius chuckled, satisfied with what he saw and particularly pleased with Carfulenus.
“I didn’t think he had those kinds of balls,” he muttered to Aponius. “Some of the centurios cheated, but even they weren’t able to do that without giving what I really wanted from them. They all met the standards I looked for in the drill! Remember that bastard who trained us so many years ago? The one who would say we were going to march this far, run that far, swim this distance, knowing full well that we would try to cheat when we did, just to make it look good?”
“Carfulenus can be a whore-mongering dog and a drunken lout,” Aponius agreed. “But on duty he does put them through their paces!”
Primus Pilus Petronius signaled the cornicen to blow the notes signaling “stand down” and “mess call.”