READ: Chapter 11 – FIRST SPEAR RUDIMENTA – By Brent Nielsen.

Chapter Eleven

“…the Provost Marshal can punish corporally, then and there, any person below the rank of NCO who in his view, or that of any of his assistants, commits any breach of good order and military discipline. Punishment not to exceed 30 lashes…and to be inflicted with the regulation cat.

Field Service Pocket Book 1914  

“What are the bugles blowin’ for?” said Files-on-Parade.

“To turn you out, to turn you out,” the Color Sergeant said.

“What makes you look so white, so white?” said Files-on-Parade.

“I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch!” the Color Sergeant said.

Danny Deever,

Rudyard Kipling

 

It was well into the evening and deep into the first watch when Cotta heard a knock on the fore post of his quarters. The tesserarius, responsible for guarding the Praetorium, announced Primus Pilus Petronius and Pilus Prior Carfulenus were without, requesting permission to speak.

“Very well, come,” answered Cotta with a gesture of dismissal, assuming the First Spear had more promotions to discuss.

Removing helmets, Petronius and Carfulenus entered, expressions indicating business more pressing than promotions. Cotta regarded his captains for a moment before granting permission to speak.

Halting in front of his field desk at stacio and saluting rigidly; to Cotta’s surprise, rather than standing at ease, both men shifted stiffly to parade rest, their bronze crista transversa held in the crook of the left arm, the pointed end of the vitis inside the right armpit at a ninety-degree angle, feet shoulder width apart. Cotta struggled to remain casual, something was definitely wrong.

“‘Number One,’ proceed!” Cotta remained seated at his desk, wearing a quilted jersey over his tunica and calf-high officer’s boots. Immediately behind him, a wooden stand supported pteryges kilt, muscle curraise, a crested galea helmet and his side arms. He feigned a sleepy yawn, remaining mentally on high guard.

Before Petronius could say a word, the Tesserarius returned.

Dominus! Tribune Caius Iulius requests permission to speak.”

 Tribune Caius entered, his helmet already in the crook of his arm, taking position immediately to the right of the two Centurios before saluting. Cotta gave the binding around the Tribune’s forehead a casual glance before looking, quizzically, at Petronius and Carfulenus.

“‘Number One,’ you were here first! Proceed!”

Dominus! We must report an incident!”

“Alright! What kind of incident?”

“A brawl, Dominus! It has been broken up. No one was seriously injured, but there were serious breaches of discipline and corporal punishments are called for,” Petronius answered in staccato.

“Since Pilus Prior Carfulenus is present I must assume the 2nd Cohort was involved. Pilus Prior! How many?” Cotta began shifting papers and tablets on his field desk nonchalantly, striving mightily to collect his thought and control a mounting anger.

Dominus! Ten, twenty – possibly a few more, 2nd Cohort men only, and all culprits are in the same Century and under arrest,” answered Carfulenus, his eyes locked on the wall behind, anything but the face of his commanding officer.

Pilus Prior, what Century and who leads them?”

Dominus! Second Century under Crastinus, Galbus and Vorenus.”

The contents of Cotta’s busy hands slipped back to the desk, and he looked immediately to Petronius.

“‘Number One,’ did I not this very afternoon approve Crastinus for promotion to centurio rank, advancing Galbus and Vorenus to Optio as well? Are they neglecting their responsibilities already?” he demanded.

Dominus! Requesteth permission to speak,” asked Tribune Caius, out of habit, in Latin. “Dominus, t’was not Crastinus fault; he was not with his unit.

“Cousin! Err – Tribune,” Cotta barked irritably. “We use a castrum vernacular here!  Speak so the Centurios can understand! What was your involvement in the incident?”

“I accompanied Centurio Crastinus after he toured the mess octets to check on his men seeking treatment in the Valetudinarium. While at the camp hospital a Medico insisted on treating an injury I received during today’s training. Crastinus remained with me until treatment was finished. He could not be in two places at once! If he was not present at the time of the brawl it is I who am to blame. I take full responsibility.”

Cotta stood, looking straight and deep into those deep blue, nearly black, eyes. The sincerity in his cousin’s voice was genuine, and Cotta well knew his reputation for veracity.

Tribune, you do understand mitigatio and extenuatio have no bearing what-so-ever under Legion Regulations? Do you also understand, that for better or for worse, officers do not interfere with centurios enforcement of discipline? Primus Pilus Petronius and Pilus Prior Carfulenus are simply paying me a command courtesy by coming here this evening?  A command courtesy that makes me honor bound to concur and approve their decision, whatever that may be?”

“I understand!”

Cotta addressed the centurios without acknowledging his cousin.

“Number One!’ Are there any other names I should know before punishment is carried out?” Cotta’s eyes remained locked on Tribune Caius,’ admiring the steady return. Petronius gestured for Carfulenus to answer, the latter snapping to attention, swallowing hard before he spoke.

Dominus! There are two in the Century who started the scrap! They are assigned to the same contubernium.  They have issues they refuse to resolve and cannot work together in the same unit.”

“Describe ‘cannot work together,” demanded Cotta, finally breaking eye contact with his cousin.

Dominus, they are as two pups in a litter, fighting for the same teat!  Both possess leadership potential; excellent fighting skills, and with such exceptions as we had tonight, they follow orders. Where they differ is their leadership style and both rub the other the wrong way.”

“How do they differ, Pilus Prior?” asked Cotta, knowing his advocate cousin was already preparing for a rebuttal.

“Vorenus is the more deliberate of the two although every bit as determined to succeed,” explained Carfulenus. “He thinks before he speaks, plans before he acts. He doesn’t take long to do it, but he organizes and then executes, and everything he executes works. He speaks sharply only when he needs to; the men listen to him and follow because they know he is right.”

“Carfulenus speaks the truth,” added Tribune Caius. “It was Vorenus who came up with the solution to beat the veterans today!”

“What of the other?” Cotta demanded, acknowledging his cousin’s remarks with a hand gesture.

“If Vorenus is analytical; Pullo is more brash and impulsive, prone to action first, thinking later and – eccentric remarks,” Carfulenus answered. “He is not a deep thinker! I don’t know if he thinks to clean his ass when he craps, but he draws from the hip and what happens when he acts works just as readily as whatever Vorenus takes two seconds to dream up! The men in the cohort follow him as readily as they do Vorenus, and there is the problem of the “push me pull you” effect! Myself, I would go into battle with either of them, but I would honestly send Pullo to Clinicus Cordis for mental examination were he ever to approach me with any remote resemblance of a plan!”

This description of Pullo’s leadership techniques manifested into a strong desire to kick Carfulenus in the shin; a yearning Petronius successfully resisted by interrupting to more accurately describe Pullo for their Commander.

Dominus! It was Pullo who arrived, tied ass backwards on the horse when we mustered them in Cordoba

Cotta mused back to the not so long ago day, nodding in the affirmative.

“I remember him! The one who sings that disgusting song about masturbatio?”

Dominus! That would be Pullo!”

Cotta returned to the seat behind his desk, indicating Carfulenus should continue.

Dominus, I have flogged Pullo ‘spot on’ more than anyone else in the cohort, but he continues his ways and the men worship him for it,” Carfulenus extolled. “They follow Pullo because they want to see what he will do next! He can persuade anyone to do anything! Really, anything, and then convince anyone who follows him he possesses a brilliant idea!  The man improvises, he adapts, and he reacts! Is Pullo as good a man as Vorenus? I cannot decide! All I know is both leadership styles work and the men follow them both. Pullo is slightly more adored because of the songs and jokes, but he is not the better man and the conflict between them will eventually tear the 2nd Cohort apart!” With nothing more to say, Carfulenus returned to parade rest.

“It was these two who started the brawl?”

“They hate each other’s guts,” confessed Petronius.

“That bad? Give it to me straight on! No more honey coating! And don’t piss on my back then tell me it is raining!”  Cotta’s face wrinkled fiercely from the bridge of his nose to the middle of his forehead. Carfulenus returned to Stacio before he answered.

Dominus! I hate to have to choose between the two, but there is no room in 2nd Cohort for both of them!”

Petronius glared in disgust, but Carfulenus had finally provided the answer he wanted to hear and so offered his own opinion.

Dominus! Tribune! Pullo and Vorenus tried to kill each other tonight. They could have disgraced the Standard and the Legion! Given half the chance each would eat the liver of the other! I must make an example of everyone involved to prevent a reoccurrence of this breach of discipline. Then I will move Pullo out of 2nd Cohort!

Cotta rubbed his chin for a moment.

“‘Number One!’ For the Tribune’s personal education, explain in detail what you plan to do, who will administer said punishment, and how will it be delivered?”

Tribune, there are two types of corporal punishment in the Legions. On occasion we administer the vitis; the “spot on” correction for minor infractions, inattention- general idiocy.”

Tribune Caius nodded slightly, thoroughly familiar with Centurios and the attention gaining use of their short knobby staffs.

“The second form of punishment is reserved for more serious breaches of discipline where proof of guilt is observed and found detrimental to good order and discipline, calling for more severe action! When a perpetrator is found guilty, the entire Legion stands in a hollow square to witness punishment administered by the closest ranking superior to the culpae using facine rods. If that man doesn’t lay on hard enough the strongest drummer in the cohort will beat him!”

“‘Number One!’ Is there any medico supervision provided for this?” Tribune Caius inquired.

Clinicus Geris Cordis will be in attendance and is authorized to stop punishment at any time!” Petronius replied. Cotta turned to his cousin.

Tribune, if Clinicus Cordis feels he must stop punishment to preserve life, the guilty man will be taken to hospital until he recovers,” he added. “Whether in hours or in days, once the son of calamitas is healed, he will be hauled back to receive the remainder of his punishment!”

“Everyone is paraded for the punishment?” Tribune Caius asked.

“The Legion is always paraded to witness such a punishment,” Petronius spat in disgust. “It is a dreaded sight to see a man’s back reduced to bloody pudding, but it reminds his messmates to think twice before following an idiotic example!”

Tribune Caius’ face successfully disguised his horror, but his eyes gave him away.

Tribune, there are few centurios who rise to their rank without marks of the rod or the vitis on their backs,” Carfulenus added, pointing over his own back. “Generally speaking, the average legio receives at least fifty strokes total for various reasons during their sixteen years of service!”

“‘Number One,” Cotta demanded. “What else do you plan to do?”

“Flog with facine rods all culprits from the 1st and 2nd contubernium, First Century, 2nd Cohort,” Petronius answered. “Punishment to be administered in traditional manner! After formal punishment, Pullo, the big stupid one with a mouth he is unable to keep shut, will go to whatever cohort I can convince to take him!”

“‘Number One, I have a simple question for you. Would you have Pullo on your left? What about Vorenus?” Cotta ignored both Tribune Caius and Pilus Prior Carfulenus.

Dominus, I would have either man to my left or right in a fight.”

“What if they stood in front of you?”

Dominus, in front, or behind! It is all the same,” Petronius answered evenly. “I don’t want them hung or thrown out of the Legion! I simply want to break them up and disabuse the 2nd Cohort from acquiring a very bad habit!”

“Carfulenus! You agree?”

Dominus, I concur with the First Spear!”

“‘Number One,’ I have heard enough!” Cotta held up his hand indicating further debate was over. “You want them flogged and separated into different cohorts; do so, and I concur. You want their strengths and weaknesses to put to a more positive use? I agree to that as well!”

Dominus! That is my answer to the issue! Give each of them a good taste of the rod; then separate them! Once in different units, if they can continue to compete against one another without the cacca I witnessed in the castrum tonight, I believe it is the best solution!”

“‘Number One,” said Cotta. Please inform the Tribune who will administer punishment!”

Dominus! Tribune! Punishment will be administered by Optio Galbus and Pilus Posterior Centurio Crastinus,” answered Petronius looking directly at Tribune Caius whose face remained unfathomable. “It should be an educational moment for everyone!”

“‘Number One!’ Who issues the commands of execution?”

Dominus! The Praefectus Castrorium or anyone you chose!”

Cotta turned to his cousin.

Tribune Caius! You will issue the commands as acting Praefectus!  You are all dismissed!” Cotta’s chest salute precluded any further discussion until they were out of the Praetorium and the hearing of officers.

“There will come a day when you and I will wish Vorenus and Pullo ended each other’s lives, but not tonight! No, not tonight!” Petronius whispered to Carfulenus.

*

The cohorts assembled in a three-sided hollow-square with the Commander’s rostrum at the open end. The units were formed up from right to left with the 1st through 4th Cohorts posted on the right, the 5th through 7th Cohorts were posted at the bottom center and the 8th through 10th aligned on the left with the Cornicens and Tympanista musicians to their left, everyone facing inward. The odd numbered prior centuries of each Cohort stood left of the posterior even numbered centuries to afford every man in each unit a view. Each Century was aligned to the right in ten eight man files numbered in ascending order from right to left.

The polished metal of their equipment shined under a brilliant sun just setting in a cloudless sky. Horsehair plumes attached to shining bronze helmets fluttered in a warm, gentle breeze. A Pilus Prior Centurio and Vexillarius stood in front of each Cohort.

To the immediate front of 1st Cohort, Aponius stood dutifully, holding the sacred standard, just behind Primus Pilus Marcus Petronius who grimly surveyed the assembled Legios.

Tribune Laticlavius Cotta took his place atop the rostrum and signaled to Tribune Caius Iulius standing in the very center of the hollow square to read the Legion’s regulations and the punishments for breaking them. Cotta head-gestured to Petronius, who made a similar gesture to the Musicos. The Cornicens blew a signal on their instruments followed by a drum roll.

Infractii! Post,” barked Tribune Caius.

Milites Procedite,” bellowed Carfulenus. Followed by Gaius Crastinus, Galbus and a file of twelve men dressed only in tunica and boots, he led them marching at right angles to the tempo of the Tympanista to the center of the hollow square.

At a previously marked spot Carfulenus ordered, “Column Left!” The twelve made a sharp turn, then continued until he ordered, “Left Face!” then, “HALT!” in Latin, and the drum roll ended at once.

“Extend to the left! Move,” Carfulenus barked again.

Each of the twelve shuffled to the left, at double arm’s distance apart.

“Arms downward move!”

Their arms slapped to their sides in preparation for the next order.

“Strip!”

Tribune Caius Iulius read the names, the charges and the punishments for each legio. The Infractii removed their tunica and breechclouts then stood before their fellow legios, naked, but for the caligae on their feet.

“Drop!” Carfulenus ordered.

The twelve dropped to their knees, hands on the ground, heads up, so their fellow legios in the cohorts could not help but watch their faces during the ordeal.

Carfulenus pulled a rod twice the length of his forearm and as thick as his thumb from his belt and handed it to Galbus, then walked in front of the punishment line and bent to place a short wooden stick in the mouth of each man.

“Bite down hard, lads! Bite down hard, and concentrate on not fouling yourselves, and for the love of Mithras, don’t get hard!”

No one thought Carfulenus was funny.

Tribune Caius finished reading the punishment orders, and Cotta nodded his head.

“Lay on!” Tribune Caius barked the dreaded order.

The Tympanum changed their beat to a much slower tempo, setting a rhythm for the stroke of the rod.

Five of the Infractii belonged to Galbus, who performed his duty quickly and with a degree of conviction that surprised Crastinus.

Crastinus was still wondering if he could really do his duty when Galbus handed over the rod. Taking the instrument in his hand he could taste bile rising in the back of his throat then looked over his shoulder at the two drummers with rods in their hands. He spat on the ground then turned and positioned himself over the exposed backside of the first man.

Crastinus remembered Carfulenus’ earlier warning about showing any mercy.

“Legion musicos are prepared to take over should either of you fail to demonstrate the proper enthusiasm for your duty,” his voice grim with a scarred hand on Crastinus’ wide shoulder. “You won’t be doing your messmates any favors if you don’t lay it on proper!  If you are relieved, the punishment will go on, carried out properly by someone that doesn’t give a cac about ‘em!  Worse, the mentula who takes over could be someone who enjoys it but ain’t so careful where the rod lands! Believe you me it’s sort of comfortin’, having a friend do it! I can’t say it any better ‘n that!”

Crastinus later had difficulty in remembering the sounds and comments Sextus and his messmates had made each time Galbus brought the flexible green rod down on them, striking hard across their backs while carefully avoiding their buttocks.

Crastinus knew the names of the men in Sextus’ contubernium, and watching them had been difficult enough; But now, standing over Pelitus, drawing the rod up over his head, he hesitated and his arm wouldn’t move. He could not strike his sword mate.

“Just do it, Gaius!” Pelitus begged through teeth tightly clenched on a piece of wood.

“Pelitus, I’m sorry!” Crastinus brought the rod down hard.

The first blow left a weal from Pelitus’ right shoulder to his short rib. Four more followed, the last leaving a trail of blood, but Pelitus did not cry out.

Bacculus was next.

“Get it over with, Gaius,” he gritted between his teeth.

Bacculus farted wetly on the last stoke.

“My last word on the subject,” he said, spitting the stick out of his mouth.

Clustinus took his five also without uttering a sound.

Gaditicus followed an equally silent Petro.

Crastinus tried to avoid his messmate’s injured ribs, but the combination of that pain and the rod was more than Gaditicus could take. Though he didn’t cry out, on the fifth stroke Gaditicus collapsed in a puddle of his own urine.

Bathed in his own sweat and tears running down his face, Crastinus saw his hands and knees were trembling and swallowed his own vomit to avoid that shame when Gaditicus’ bladder failed him.

The last two were the most difficult – fifteen each for the two men who caused this parade in the first place, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus.

Pullo ignored Crastinus’ apology and challenged Vorenus again.

“Fuck it, Vorenus! You will cry out before I do!”

“Pullo! Eat shit,” Vorenus growled.

Astounded by their behavior at such a time, Crastinus held the rod above his head for a moment.

“Now would be a good time for both of you to end this stupid bullshit!”

“Fuck you too, Gaius Crastinus! Five denarii say fellator here pisses in the sand like Gaditicus!”

Crastinus’ vision clouded red; instantly the sickness in his stomach, the trembling in his hands and legs vanished.

“Gaditicus has broken ribs and wouldn’t have had to piss in the sand; cacca, this wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for that mouth of yours!”

Only Crastinus’ lips were moving, his teeth remained clenched. “And you already owe me five denarii!”

Making no attempt to keep rhythm with the Tympanum, in his fury Crastinus threw every bit of strength into the fifteen blows to Pullo’s back, drawing blood with each stroke, forcing Galbus and Carfulenus to wrestle the rod from his hand before striking a sixteenth time. His anger unabated, Crastinus turned to Vorenus, who barked, “Pullo! Fuck you,” every time the rod crashed against his own back.

Nearly blind with rage at these obstinacies, Crastinus failed to hear 2nd Cohort’s discreet finger snapping as he, just as viciously, laid into Vorenus.

*

Princeps Primus Centurio Gaius Lucco, formerly of I Legion, found the VIII Legion Castrum empty but for a few vigile standing sentry duty behind vexellum stakes tied together into giant caltrops along the top of the agger, some sick call and profiles lounging around the Valetudinarium, and some calones tending mess fires. His mount was tired, but he reined the horse about and urged the travel- weary beast toward the sound of an all too familiar drumbeat outside the castrum. He kneed his animal through the same gate he’d entered and out to the Campus Martius.

He knew he was too late to hear the reading of the crimes, the breaches in the regulations, and naming of the Infractii, but he did want to get there in time to see the faces of those receiving punishment.

Urging his horse to a gallop down the slope the camp had been constructed upon, he saw a significant number of Legios being punished all at once.

“Petronius hasn’t changed a bit!” he thought to himself.  “He needs me worse than he admitted in his letters!”

 

READ: Chapter 10 – First Spear Rudimenta – By Brent Neilsen

Chapter Ten

“Art thou officer? Or art thou base, common and popular?”

Act VI, Scene 1

 Henry V

William Shakespeare

 

For most of the afternoon Tribune Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta had stationed himself near First Spear Petronius to observe pugio training between the Evocatii and the tiros of the 2nd Cohort. Although he and First Spear argued on the training format, Cotta had fairly danced with delight when the outnumbered shavelings nearly broke through a cohort of veterans.

“All the Centuries of the 2nd Cohort might have defeated those fat bastards if we had allowed them reserves!  Who commanded the last Century, the one that did beat them?” Cotta asked of Petronius.

“Dominus! Pilus Prior Quintus Carfulenus commands the 2nd Cohort but possesses no other centurios.”

“Those lads did very well! What Tesserarius led?”

“Dominus!” Petronius responded. “Two Tesserarii are jointly responsible for that company and each have command of forty.”

“‘Number One,’ which of them do you plan to promote?”

“Dominus, I will grant a temporary promotion to Pilus Posterior Centurio for Crastinus. It was he who drove in the attack that almost broke the evocatii. Galbus and Vorenus will serve as his Optios.”

“I agree! Keep me informed of their development and progress to permanent rank. Those young Milites are the type of leaders you want to groom for higher things!”

“Dominus! Promoveo Crastinus ad Centurio. Galbus et Vorenus promoveo ad Optio,” Petronius had answered in Latin.

“See how much cacca they can take?” Cotta had instructed.

“Dominus! Cacca,” replied Petronius.

“‘Number One,’ send Pilus Prior Carfulenus my compliments! He obviously knows how to train tiros!”

“Dominus, they drill well!” Petronius agreed with a hint of sarcasm Cotta either didn’t note or chose to ignore.

*

After draining, refilling, and draining the contents of their canteens once more, 2nd Cohort returned to the castrum and fell out to their mess areas. With Carfulenus nowhere to be found, on his own initiative Crastinus gave the newly promoted miles of his century permission to begin cooking their rations; stopping short of allowing them to remove their armor and side arms. Still awaiting Carfulenus’ return and wondering where Tafoya had got to, the contubernium commenced with the evening mess.

The preparation tasks for the meal rotated from night to night. This evening Gaditicus assembled a portable millstone and began grinding two different batches of flour from the frumenta ration, one fine for baking and a coarser version for porridge, flavoring the latter with salt and a few drops of their posca acetum.

Petro and Pullo added small amounts of water to the fine grind before kneading it into flat loaves, sprinkling each with salt and ground peppercorn, shaping them into small rounds before placing them in pans set out on coals tended by Bacculus. A large potera also took up space on the fire, heating water to a boil for the porridge.

Clustinus and Vorenus laid strips of salt pork across the metal pila shafts, carefully angled over the coals in a makeshift grill. Once the meat ration finished roasting it could be stirred into the porridge or seasoned and eaten separately according to individual tastes. Leftover water was saved for washing up when the meal was complete.

A slightly limping Pelitus arrived with the vinegar and water ration. By the time he doled out the posca acetum the water had come to a boil, the meat was grilled and the loaves were baked. Everyone was allowed to eat sitting. Leftover food was saved for breakfast and the next midday meal.

“Set some aside for Crastinus and Regi,” Vorenus reminded them.

“Where is he anyway?”

Vorenus grimaced at the two cracked fingers, forgotten as he wiped on his tunica and pointed toward the Via Praetoria.

“I’m sure he is still checking on the rest of the century, and Regi is with him so it will take longer.”

“So you know the man ith being hith outhaul pain in the ath!” Clustinus had a fat lip, a cut tongue, and a loose tooth.

“Why doth thine Centurio’s doith this? Why doith they that?” Pelitus mimed. His imitations made everyone laugh and helped them forget their bruises and cuts, except for Gaditicus who had three badly bruised ribs on his right side. The pain choked him, and he could only hold his breath and wipe away the tears caused by his own laughing. Bacculus laughed so hard at Gaditicus crying he forgot his messmate’s injuries and slapped him on the back, which caused more laughter. Sincerely sorry, Bacculus did his best to keep an eye-bulging Gaditicus from passing out.

While the laughter died down, Pelitus set aside covered bowls of food for both Crastinus and the Tribune.

The evening conversations never drifted far from the events of the day, their victory, their individual accomplishments and acts of courage against the veterans, and of course their promotions. Each man took turns relating how this bruise and that bruise had been acquired, forgetting how their injuries would look had the wounds been real cuts. Throughout the evening the rising leadership of Crastinus was discussed the most; however, Regi and Vorenus received due attention, much to the chagrin of Titus Pullo.

Unable to stand Vorenus’ name repeated a moment longer, Pullo finished off his posca acetum ration and stood.

“Well it was lively today! But I think you give Vorenus too much credit for our success.”

Eating left handed, Vorenus’ head snapped around, and he spat out the contents of his mouth, his eyes askance at Pullo.

“What are you talking about Pullo?”  Pelitus answered cautiously.

“It was Vorenus who came up with the idea for us to arrange ourselves for the fight,” Gaditicus added, his anger rising.

“Oh yes, he is never wrong! He always has the answers. Crastinus always takes his advice,” shouted Pullo pointing to Vorenus.

Vorenus stared into his drinking cup, exhaling through his nose to calm himself. Slowly he looked up, and his words coming out calmly if not dispassionately, the anger evident only in his eyes. No one else in the octet moved or spoke and conversations in neighboring mess fires died silent deaths.

“Crastinus trusts me because I speak the truth, and I speak when I am spoken to. In addition, I think before I speak, and my answers provide more than just a few moments of obscene humor. If he defers to me on occasion, it is because I act responsibly, and think past my next erection. Incidentally, I have enough blood for both dick and brain, so, unlike you, I don’t pass out with every hard on, ass sponge!”

Fingers snapped, Pullo responding with an obscene gesture.

“Fellator,” he roared back.

Vorenus’ left eyebrow rose slightly, his lips spreading into an evil smile at this foulest of insults.

“Irrumator,” he shot back, a double deadly affront.

With another obscene oath Pullo launched himself across a diminishing mess fire, crashing head first into Vorenus’ chest and knocking the wind out of him. No one interfered while the two grappled and gouged, exchanging blows while rolling back and forth on the ground.

*

Gambling was illegal in the army as it was in the streets of Rome herself. However, Legios and citizens alike made ingenious use of the technicalities in the law and bent the rules to escape punishment. Wagering on chariot races was a crime only if money changed hands in public, so winnings were collected privately, preferably behind closed doors. In the Legions there were few things available to bet on other than the men themselves, but it was done the same way and Pilus Prior Quintus Carfulenus was a happy man.

“Reversing the order of battle was a stroke of genius! I tripled my take when Crastinus and his bunch beat the veterans!  The lads made us lots of money, Tafoya!”

“We lost heavy on the first five Centuries,” replied the calone, “but worth it in the long run,”

Carfulenus smiled broadly at the steady stream of Centurios stopping in to pay up in cash, leave a chit, or an IOU while Tafoya stacked their winnings, making allowance for Petronius’ cut.

“They are no longer trainees,” Tafoya added with satisfaction. “Not only that! Our tiros’ beating the evocatii in a stand up fight and being promoted ahead of the rest of the cohorts added dignitas to your name! They still have a lot to learn, but when they make mistakes they are no longer subject to a beating from anyone but you!”

“No one beats them but me anyway!”

“You truly have put your mark on them, and I don’t mean with your vitis. They belong only to you now, Carfulenus!” Tafoya affirmed, completing the counting of the take for his Centurio.

When all bets were collected, more paper and chits remained piled on the field desk than actual hard cash.

“Carfulenus, you are not exactly rolling in silver, but the accumulated chits and the script could take years for some of these Centurios and Optios to make good on what they owe you!”

“Tafoya, I will probably never see payment in cash on most of these paper debts. I plan to bank them as a very different form of currency, against the day when they need a favor! You’ve been around long enough to know being owed is the real currency around here! I like to call it the principle of favors verses daggers!”

“What do the Romans call that?  The Latin phrase they use to explain it?” asked Tafoya when he failed to remember it himself.

“Quid pro quo. It is a sort of mutual back scratching.  I’ve been paid enough in coin to provide for my present needs. Those who paid with a note? Quid Pro Quo!  It will be favors or daggers!” Carfulenus said with satisfaction.

“I still don’t understand.”

“I, Quintus Carfulenus, am very rich in a currency much more valuable than actual money! The time may come when I will require the loyalty of certain Centurios, and it will be very important they pay up when I call for it. They will not like me very much if they do not!”

“Why would that be important? Next to the Prime Ordines in 1st Cohort, you are the most senior Centurio in the Legion!”

“If Petronius is wounded or burnt down, Fabius will be next in line for ‘First Spear.”

“Fabius as First Spear?” Tafoya exclaimed. “It would be too revolting! I don’t want to imagine such a scenario! Even Petronius, looking down on us from Mithras’ kingdom would not want that to happen!”

“There is a worse possibility, Tafoya.” Carfulenus poured a cup of posca acetum for himself. “How would you like to be taking orders from Fabius? Fabius right here in the 2nd Cohort! How would you like to answer to him as the Pilus Prior on a daily basis?”

Tafoya’s face took on a horrified expression.

“Stranger things have happened than demote a man to a lower ranking cohort,” he said.  “My guess, ‘Number One’ is very irritated with Fabius’ handling of the 1st Cohort today!”

“I agree, Tafoya! My sincere hope is Petronius will be so angry he will demote Fabius to any cohort but mine! I am next in line for promotion to 1st Cohort. If that happens I will need lots of clout to insure Fabius does not come here! And don’t forget, there is always the possibility I could be passed over!”

“You, passed over?” Tafoya exclaimed. “Carfulenus! How can you say that? You worked your entire career for the opportunity to serve in 1st Cohort! I thought that was the reason Petronius brought you with him from I Legion?”

“My next promotion will come in its own time! The bull is with me!”

“We protect the worthy,” replied Tafoya.

“But I will not see what I have built destroyed by that piece of CAC, irrumator Fabius!” Carfulenus made the Mithratic sign of invocation.

“Mithras protect us!” Tafoya answered with the equally secret sign of benediction.

“Crastinus did well today, leading the first Century. He took to it and they to him as naturally as I have ever seen. Maybe I will let him do it permanently?”

Carfulenus absently picking up a pair of denarii and holding the coins out.

“Tafoya, I could use a drink of decent wine. See to it for me will you?”

“Consider it done, Carfulenus!”

*

Tribune Caius Iulius accompanied Tesserarius Crastinus while the latter visited and chatted with every octet in the Century then went to the Valetudinarium to insure the men who needed medical attention were accounted for and taken care of by the medicos. On arrival, Medico Monacus noticed a blackening around Crastinus’ eyes and the dried blood from a cut on the bridge of his nose.

“Sure sign of a break or a deviated septum,” he diagnosed.

“What do you mean?” Crastinus asked.

“Thine nose! It bleedeth from across the top here!” Tribune Caius explained in his formal Latin, pointing to the bridge of his own nose.

“I never noticed it,” Crastinus replied. “Tribune, you do know you are bleeding too?”

“I did, but thou didst not complain!”

Monacus cleaned Crastinus’ face and placed a poultice of poppy head skin in his mouth.

“It will relieve the pain, but be sure to spit rather than swallow while the poultice is inside your lip!”

“Why? Will it make me sick?”

“Sick, well no Crastinus, not sick. Let’s just say swallowing that stuff could get to be a habit!”

The minor blunt force trauma on the Tribune Caius’ forehead was cleaned and treated with a bluish-looking substance Monacus called woad.

“Tribune, this blue stuff is very expensive; Clinicus Cordis buys it at his own expense; all the way from the ‘Tin Islands’ far to the north. It will protect the cut from a fester.” Monacus spread the goo over the cleaned wound and wrapped the Tribune’s head in clean linen.

*

Tafoya returned with the wine and miraculously, with change. Carfulenus gifted him with both a drink and the spare coin, then pulled long and deeply from the leather bag not bothering to mix the contents with water. After several draughts the Centurio was feeling relaxed and benevolent.

“I need to go down the Via Praetoria, find Titus, CAC, Gaius! I need to find Gaius Crastinus and his bunch!  Need to congratulate the lads for a job well done! Maybe even share out a bit of the purse?”

“Excellent idea! I will go with you!” Tafoya agreed.

Carfulenus rose from his field stool using one of the support poles of his papillon to steady himself. Jamming his crista transversa on his head, he tied the cheek pieces together then retrieved his vitis.  Walking at somewhat of an angle, he made his weaving way down the Via Praetoria in the general direction of the mess fires of First Century, 2nd Cohort.

*

The wrap on Tribune Caius’ forehead prevented him from wearing his boiled leather galea with its horsehair comb and bronze visor.

Unfortunately, the wound isn’t serious enough to slow his usual volley of questions.

Patiently trying to cooperate with the Tribune, Crastinus was dog-tired exhausted and distracted by the large number of injuries he’d seen this night, so his answers were uncharacteristically brusque. Tribune Caius soon noticed.

“Thou art unusually short this night, Tesserarius! ‘Tis most unusual! What troubles thee?” he asked.

Busted, thought Crastinus, dodging the question and changing the subject in proper Latin.

“Classime!  Today didst thou talk as a Legio!  Where didst such language come from?”

“Tesserarius!  I possess a gift for speech that is well known in Rome!”

“I believest thou,” replied Crastinus, honestly surprised.

“I also possesseth a reputation for my ability to listen!”

Crastinus’ patience finally broke. He liked the Tribune but was too tired and switched to camp Latin.

“Dominus, would it be so bad if you were to drop that ‘hoity toity’ Roman when you speak with us?” Crastinus said without rancor. “Most of the men are plain, simple country boys mixed in with some equally ignorant city fellows. All would be much more impressed if you spoke to them in camp Latin or, even better, our own language.”

“Crastinus! I apologize. But I have been listening to you and your messmates! I do want to learn your Hispania.”

“Baetica,” corrected Crastinus with a wry grin. He was tired and his nose hurt, but he remained civil.

“Baetica? Is that how you say it?  Crastinus, you have my word. I will learn to speak your language and to speak to thine ranks in camp Latin. How do you Baeticans say it? As ya’ll do?”

“As all ya all!” Crastinus replied, his weary smile still in place.

“The Tesserarius on our left today? His name is Galbus?”

“Galbus is his name, Dominus,” Crastinus answered. It was not for the last time he would be amazed at Tribune Caius’ uncanny ability to remember names of people he met only once.  “Galbus. He doesn’t look very fierce but had he not, we would have taken that licking you mentioned earlier!”

“Galbus and his forty did well! Gaius Crastinus – I may call you Gaius? I know thee are exhausted, but there is something else in thy demeanor tonight. What’s broiling in thee – you?”

Crastinus drew a deep breath before he answered.

“Dominus, when we were at the mess fires in the Valetudinarium, did you did hear the Tiros, I mean the Miles, from the other Centuries of our cohort bragging about so called ‘wounds’ they took today even though they had their heads handed to them by the Evocatii?”

“Bragging? They were bragging! What about them?”

“Did you noticed their injuries would have been permanent had this been a real fight?  CAC!”  For some reason it didn’t seem much like swearing to Crastinus’ ears when he cursed in Latin.

“Dominus, I have a broken nose and no idea how or when I got it; but someone got through my guard.  If it had been a real fight…I would most likely be dead. Dead!  I don’t care how unlucky it is to say the word. That is where most of us would have been in the real thing – dead.  Bacculus, Clustinus and Gaditicus as well!  All dead! Vorenus maimed!  Pelitus crippled! Petro and Pullo the only survivors out of eight men! There are the fifteen we visited tonight in the hospital, fifteen who are still with the medicos and should be getting an amputation or a cauterization. After a real fight we will not get stitched or poulticed!” Crastinus spit out the poppy treatment even though the swelling at his nose was beginning to obscure his vision.

Tribune Caius Iulius regarded Crastinus for a moment but said nothing. Crastinus didn’t wait for permission to continue.

“Dominus, the Primus Pilus did not just declare First Century the winner! He told the entire Legion that 2nd Cohort won today when he promoted us all! I am not sure it was a good idea! A real fight?  Do the math, Tribune! We would not be visiting injured sword mates; we would be burning their bodies and burying the ashes. Right now I don’t know what to say to them; they are so full of themselves I don’t think they will listen to me!”

Tribune Caius switched his galea from one arm to another, then clapped a hand on the larger man’s shoulder.

“I have a feeling that before anyone stops listening to you, you will be well on your way to Tartarus or perhaps the kingdom of Mithras?”

Crastinus snorted, unconvinced.

“In my youth I was, per the wishes of my maternal uncle, to be trained as a priest of Jupiter,” the tribune continued. “Acolytes are not permitted to ride, even handling weapons is forbidden, so I received none of the martial training my contemporaries received. Ultimately I gained release from my holy vows when I was not much older than you are now. While traveling in the eastern provinces I was captured by pirates who insulted my dignitas by offering a paltry sum for my freedom. When they told me I was horrified! It was an insult, and I made them double the amount! I swore to them, once I was free I would see them crucified!  When I was finally exchanged, at the amount I set, I made my way to Rhodes, raised a company of veterans, arranged for ships to carry them and hunted my kidnappers down until I had fulfilled my vow!”

“Incredible!” Crastinus exclaimed.

“Since that time I served on my required campaigns, but on someone’s staff with precious little actual time spent in the cohorts. While training with you and your comrades, I have gained an invaluable skills and experience as well as an understanding for what you men feel, need and must endure! Your cohort will be fine! There is no doubt in my mind you and your comrades will soar to glorious heights sooner than you think. Is my camp Latin improving?”

Crastinus never answered, for the sounds of a fight could be heard close by and as they got closer to the 2nd Cohort area it grew more distinct. Excusing himself from the Tribune, he ran to investigate.

*

“You would think they got enough of that today!” Balventius exclaimed.

“Balventius, they are immature,” Aponius commented without looking up from his meal. “One day, octets like Sextus’, it is Sextus’ octet isn’t it? One day they will learn to mind their own business and stay out when a fight irrupts in another mess area!”

“Definitely not a good idea to take sides!” Lucanius agreed.

“Especially when the disturbance smells of Pullo and Vorenus!” Aponius agreed.

“They are not veterans like we are; they have only a few months into their first sixteen and are still getting to know one another. They still possess that naive sense of justice that tramps all, over good common sense, the kind of common sense that grows only when it is liberally dosed with experience. How many seasons have they spent sleeping under leather tents? How many extended marches to a fight? They will learn to let their real enemies take the place of their imagined ones!”

“Aponius, you are right of course,” Balventius affirmed. “Frequent dances with death sap one’s inclination to jump into a fight without thinking or, worse yet, just for the joy of it.”

He and Lucanius eyed the brawl but remained seated.

“Those miles certainly wasted no time investigating facts,” Lucanius drawled. “No thought given to consequence enters those with apricots for brains!”

“There was a time when we didn’t either,” Aponius asked. “No! We didn’t care who started it or who deserved it! It looks like these bloodthirsty little scuts are the same; all they see is the funny one. What’s his name? Their favorite? The one who makes everyone laugh with his dirty road-march songs?”

“He is Pullo from Crastinus’ contubernium!” Balventius answered.

“Why is Pullo under attack by his octet leader?” Aponius looked up this time.

“Because Balventius, Crastinus is no longer the octet leader! You are right about who deserves it and such! Personally I no longer give a fig for justice; I just want quiet!”

Lucanius spooned the last of his dinner into his mouth.

*

Bacculus and Gaditicus, bad ribs and all, strove desperately to get Vorenus off Pullo while Clustinus, Petro and Pelitus struggled to prevent Pullo from drawing his pugio.

Other First Century octets were gathering, their anger mounting as they came to the erroneous conclusion it was an eight against one brawl with their hero Pullo getting the worst of it.

“Galbus is not around,” said Ussurus. “Let’s help him!”

“It is undisciplined,” added Ussurus Secundus, his brother.

“It’s stupid,” said Toparius.

“It’s ridiculous!” one of the Fultus brothers added.

“They are holding him down,” shouted Venture.

The five dove in.

*

Making his unsteady way along the Via Praetoria with Tafoya trailing respectfully behind, neither heard the telltale sounds of a fight until they rounded a corner.  When he did, Carfulenus dropped his vitis at the scene before him!  With an oath of his own Tafoya bounded past the Centurio to do what he could as the members of Sextus’ contubernium crashed into their neighbors, sending them flying in all directions and breaking the main antagonists’ grip on one another. Vorenus was able to get in a punch, crying out in pain when his fist smashed into Pullo’s jawbone, breaking his already injured fingers. Spitting blood and howling with rage, Pullo drew his pugio.

With his good hand Vorenus wrenched Pullo’s dagger hand up and away using his shoulder to throw him sprawling to his back as the members of both octets about them pushed, punched, and choked one another other in total disregard for the discipline Carfulenus believed had been beaten into them.

From other cohort mess fires, a large crowd began to gather and a few joined the mayhem, but most were content to cheer the recalcitrant pair while remaining safely neutral.

In the center of the melee, Vorenus had Pullo by the throat with his left hand and the dagger in his damaged right at high thrust aimed directly for the point between the collarbone and the neck, a death stroke. Vorenus’ left knee was on Pullo’s right arm, the right foot pinioned Pullo’s left wrist to the ground.

The injury to Vorenus’ hand made it difficult to hold the weapon. He hesitated a moment to get a better grip on the blade when suddenly he heard a shouted cry.

“Lucius! No!”

A massive form hit hard enough to knock Vorenus off Pullo; it caught his right wrist in a vise-like grip, forcing it behind his head. An excruciating pressure on the knuckle above his already injured fingers allowed the weapon to be twisted away easily.

“No, Lucius,”  he heard again.

Thick arms held Vorenus’ head close enough to the chest to cut off his oxygen. The latter heard a rasping whisper close to his ear.

“They will hang you! Stop it! Stop it now!”

Vorenus stopped struggling. His unabated anger turning to tears, welling up not just in his own eyes but also from the pair belonging to Gaius Crastinus.

*

Recovering his sobriety,  a cursing Carfulenus waded into the fight, his brick like body making a hole in the crowd, with his vitis indiscriminately raining blows on anyone foolish enough to remain within reach. He stopped briefly over the forms of Crastinus and Vorenus, stopped himself from striking either, but continued flailing away on everyone else until the crowd dispersed and a voice bellowed up from the darkness.

“As you were! Fall in! Stacio!”

The twenty odd Legios remaining on the ground, and failed to get away from Carfulenus, instantly sprang to attention.

Favoring the good leg, Primus Pilus Marcus Petronius appeared, his expression homicidal, his complexion a deep shade of crimson. Nearly, but not completely speechless with anger, he began spewing oaths in command voice.

“You fatherless sons of fucking whores! Worthless patches of dog squeeze! Brainless pieces of shit,” bellowed the peg-legged centurio, stumping in amongst them, daring anyone to eye him back.

“Fuck you, you fucking fucks! I will see all of you scum flogged! Which one of you dog flowers is senior?”

Crastinus took a step forward, saying nothing.

“This is how you maintain discipline? What in the great blue fuck is going on here? Did you not get enough of this shit today? Is this how you thank me for promoting you?” Before Crastinus could answer, Vorenus stepped forward.

“Classime! It was a legio’s fight!”

 

“Don’t hand me that pigshit! There is no such thing! A legio’s fight, my virgin aunt! A legio’s fight gets a legio flogged!”

Petronius stumped to the discarded pugio, noting that only one man missing one – Pullo.

Swinging around on his prosthesis, he passed Pullo, hawked a wad of phlegm on the ground and recovered the weapon, then limped over to stand nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball with Crastinus.

“You know the fucking penalty for permitting a fucking fight?  Fighting with skinned weapons?” Pullo took a step forward.

“Classime! Tesserarius Crastinus was not present when the fight broke out!”

Petronius stumped back over to Pullo.

“Pullo! When I want some lip out of you I will untie my breech-clout! It doesn’t matter whether this asshole was fucking present or not! He is responsible for everything you ‘dog flowers’ do or don’t do, pass, fail, win, or fucking lose!”

Pullo’s mind raced, but he maintained his rigid posture and a static eye. He liked and admired Crastinus as much as he hated Vorenus and knew that anything more he might say in the former’s defense would only do more damage.

“Pullo! You piece of shit! Are you responsible for this weapon?”

Before Pullo could answer, Petronius slammed the blade into its proper sheath. “The penalty for not being in possession of issued side-arms is death!”

Eyes closed and throats gulped dry air. Corporal punishment went beyond the daily thrashings dispensed by angry Centurios and was conducted during Tribune Cotta’s weekly Commander’s Call.

“You are all familiar with Commander’s Call?  The formation where the regulations and the penalties for breaking them are read aloud to everyone in the Legion? Where corporal punishment is meted out to transgressors of those regulations? Where most punishments are a mixture of floggings, reductions in grade, and forfeitures of pay? There had been as yet no death penalties carried out, but there is a first time for everything!”

Petronius resumed his stumping stroll, stopping once more in front of Crastinus.

“The penalty for allowing a side are to be taken from your person is?” he roared.

“Classime! Ten strokes!” Crastinus replied. Closed eyes opened, everyone breathed easier.

“The penalty for breaches in discipline, fighting, is?”

Petronius leaned forward and held his hand to one ear, cueing the soldiers standing before him to answer altogether as they had been drilled to.

“Classime! Five strokes!”

“Five strokes for fighting! So everyone here can expect at least five lashes at next Commander’s Call!”

Petronius’ peg leg was painful against the stump. It always hurt when he felt stressed. He ignored it to swing it over to stand in front of Pullo, Crastinus, and Vorenus.

“Pullo! Vorenus! Five lashes each for breach of discipline!”

“Five to Pullo for allowing his side arm to be taken, and five more to Vorenus for improper use of side arm, and five more for skinning a side arm without orders. Fifteen lashes each!”

“Classime,” Crastinus spoke up. “I assume full responsibility! If you flog them, I demand you punish me as well!”

Petronius eyed Crastinus malevolently.

“Say you so? Well, I have news my young want-to-be-Centurio! You will suffer! Not as they do! But you will suffer!” Petronius stumped closer, put his finger in the younger man’s chest, speaking low so only Crastinus could hear.

“Tesserarius! I realize you cannot be everywhere at once, so I expect you to take this like a man! I will know once and for all if you are truly Titus Crastinus’ son. You will administer punishment. You will flog every one of these assholes, and rest assured if you lay off, the strongest drummers of the Tympanere will hand you the same beating you are going to give your men, then you will spend the next sixteen years taking orders from the lowest calone of the most posterior cohort, sweeping out the latrine and cleaning the ass-sponges of your former sword mates, from now to the day you burn in Tartarus! Do I make myself clear?”

“Classime,” Crastinus replied. “Clear!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

READ: Chapter Nine – FIRST SPEAR RUDIMENTA – By Brent Neilsen

The veterans were drawn up in a dense mob.

“Mob is right,” exclaimed Gaditicus with a whistle. There was no other word for it.

As far as Crastinus could see there was absolutely no resemblance to the precisely ordered and disciplined formation the tiros had witnessed the day they were sworn in. It was the third, and rumor had it, the last month of their training. To his still-inexperienced eyes, there was no formation at all, no order, and no discipline to the formation the veterans had put together for the exercise.

More disturbing, the evocatii were jumping up and down like apes, shouting obscene epithets, exposing themselves or both.  For the most part the insults referenced lower intelligence, dubious parentage and deviant sexual preferences of the trainees. Every act was contrary to all the exemplary behaviors they had helped the Centurios beat into the tiros since the first day of their service.

Most of them had outrageously decorated and ornamented their armor, but many were bareheaded, but with fake beards and hair spiked like a rooster’s comb. Others used their horsehair helmet plumes to make ridiculously long mustachios or intricately woven coifs. A large number had used mess fire charcoal to draw intricate but obscene tattoos on their naked chests and faces. Still others had bird wings or curved fangs grotesquely attached to the sides of their bronze cassia.

The 1st Cohort Signa and Vexellae, which always accompanied them wherever or whenever they traveled, were conspicuously absent, substituted by staffs decorated with facsimiles of various priapic animals mounting the figure of a Legio bent at the waist or on his hands and knees. Most were not carrying them but several evocate shields bore the crude chalk renderings of broken bones, and everyone was armed with a rudis twice longer than the wooden side arm carried by the tiros.

The effect was exactly what First Spear Petronius desired.

“Intimidation, confusion, shock and awe!”

“‘Number One!’ Don’t forget treachery,” added Aponius. “They are commanded by Fabius.”

“For once I’ve convinced Tribune Cotta to allow a tried and true method for pugnatio training,” replied Petronius. “The Tribune employed the same arguments I used against him on the pila training. When he realized that I had him, he went red in the face but conceded. Is 1st Cohort organized as I instructed?”

“Classime, the five Centuries are divided into three groups which will rotate to the front at each iteration of tiros. First Century is double strength and will rotate in alone.”

“Excellent,” exclaimed Petronius. “The tiros have been drilling with the rudis against wooden posts, man to man against each other, octet-to-octet, century against century, even cohort verses cohort! What they have NOT encountered is a survivor of a life or death fight who can make them pay for their mistakes without actually killing them! This should be good, but I have another reason for elevating the level of training.”

“Another reason?” replied Aponius.

“The evocatii have grown soft simply supervising tiros,” confessed Petronius. “Tartarus! I noticed a roll of flab half the thickness of my little finger around my own waist a few days ago! That was why you and I teach pugnatio to the Cornicens and Tympanistas; we needed the exercise!”

“I enjoyed that ‘Number One,” Aponius affirmed. “What they lack in musical talent, they more than make up for with enthusiasm for weapons training!”

“It is the veterans I’m concerned about,” the First Spear declared. “Too many abuse their status to slack off fitness training. Today we will see a shake up for more than just the tiros.”

*

First Century, 2nd Cohort, stood at parade rest in open Manipulos Laxare battle order waiting their turn in the training lane. Tesserarius Crastinus walked across their front one last time, ensuring the ranks were still properly dressed to the right, five octets across and eight ranks deep. Each tiro was extended to the left, double arms distance apart, odd numbers two steps off to the left with five feet of distance between each, fore and aft, left and right.

Sixth Century went in first, Crastinus visually gauged the width of the marked out “lane” of white rocks set a few feet apart in line to simulate the flanking centuries during a real fight. Centurios and Optios stood ready to beat anyone who stepped outside these lines.

“Regardless what Carfulenus drilled into us about balance, timing and distance,” said Vorenus standing in the ranks, “you all know that when we get scutum-to-scutum with the veterans, we are going to compact on ourselves. Everyone is going to drift to the right for the overlapping protection of his nearest companion’s scutum. It’s already happened too many times when we scrimmaged against ourselves!”

“So what do we do?” demanded Galbus, joining the impromptu war council.

“The only thing left! Attitude and momentum – we put that to work for us,” replied Vorenus, watching Sixth Century get their collective asses handed to them.

As Vorenus predicted, the Fifth, and later Fourth Century stepped off with properly dressed and spaced ranks but very soon were closing down to the right, the formation degenerating into a pushing match against veterans out numbering them two to one. Time and again the more numerous and experienced evocatii turned the tiro’s left flank. Each and every time the tiros ultimately were pressed in so tightly they could no longer use their weapons to defend themselves, and the veterans used their longer weapons to give the youngsters a good thrashing.

“I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be trapped like that,” said Galbus.

“We are about to find out if we don’t figure a better way,” answered a grim Crastinus.

“They won’t really hurt us seriously,” exclaimed Gaditicus hopefully.

“I agree with Gaditicus. The worst they will do is bruise us up a little and humiliate us a lot,” added Bacculus.

“I have a deep feeling in my gut there will be a lot of both!” declared Vorenus, joining Crastinus scanning the maneuver lane. “Gaius, no 1st Cohort Centurios are participating; they have no leaders to tell them to do anything different.”

“You noticed that too.” whispered Crastinus. “Once we engage, our peripheral vision will be obstructed to the left.  It will be up to you and I in the center and Galbus on the far left to keep it together. You have to be ready to take over if someone thumps me with one of those clubs!”

“No worries!” answered Vorenus as discretely.  “I just wish I knew Galbus better! You know what I mean? I wish I had a feel what he may or might not do!”

“I trust Carfulenus’ choice. Galbus will be fine!” Crastinus whispered back, still observing the training and reviewing in his mind the mistakes of the previous four clashes. Third Century, finished with their turn in the lane, was limping past. “Our biggest problem is too many of our mess have seen the beating the others are taking and not a few being carried from the lane!”

“Those lads in there now are getting creamed too! I would say the veterans know their business with or without a Centurio!” said Gaditicus.

“I wonder; why did Carfulenus put us in last?” declared Bacculus irritably. “We should have gone first!”

Vorenus nudged Crastinus.

“Are you seeing what I am seeing?” he whispered. “Bacculus may be on to something. Look over there! I see the reason we are last!”

Fast and furious was the betting between the centurios standing outside of the rock line boundary, and large amounts of money were being exchanged over the performance of 2nd Cohort’s Second Century, fighting against the veterans now.

“I don’t understand! What’s the betting got to do with it?” Galbus demanded.

“So far no Century from ours or any other cohort has managed better than a draw against the Evocatii.” Vorenus explained. “Carfulenus is setting them all up. All the big money is against us!  I figure the odds are high against us, and we are last because the old bastard has something under his tunic! Carfulenus gets them to keep betting by offering slightly longer odds!”

“Now he bets on us at terrifically long odds?” Clustinus asked.

“Not exactly,” Crastinus declared. “More likely, he is counting on us to figure a way to win when no one else has!”

“Have you noticed that the boundaries for the drill extend only as far as our century’s extended flanks?” said Vorenus.

“It means that although the veterans out number us and have greater depth, they cannot engage any more men to their front than we can,” Crastinus added. “Petronius ordered the drill to be conducted with the utmost realism. Those rock lines are supposed to be flanking Centuries in a Legion formation.”

“So what? They rotate their files from front to back, same as we can,” said Gaditicus.

Vorenus suddenly grabbed Crastinus’ arm.

“Crastinus! Notice how many of the Evocatii are sweating enough to stop and wipe away the blue stuff running down their faces?”

“I do!”

“Have you noticed the jumping and the hooting slacked off and most of the Evocatii, especially the flabbier ones on our left, took the last of the water from their canteens before the whistle kicked off the last drill?”

“How do you know this?” asked Bacculus.

“I watched them holding their water bottles over their mouths and nothing but a few drops spilling out,” answered Vorenus.

Crastinus turned around to face the tiros behind him.

“They’re tired! They’ve been at this all day, and they’re out of shape!”

“You’re right,” Bacculus agreed, “they are wasted.”

“They have no centurios to tell them different, so they do the same thing every time,” said Crastinus loudly enough for the rear ranks to hear. “When we strike, we must drive into them low and on their left! Keep going in low! Drive in and up with your scuta, but we must drive to the left!”

He was rewarded with growls of agreement and finger snapping from his messmates.

Venture lowered his scutum and turned his head slightly towards Crastinus.

“They are twenty files across and sixteen deep,” he whispered. “We don’t have a chance in a push against them!”

“We do if we assemble in a way they won’t expect.” Vorenus suggested. “Crastinus, what would you say to aligning sixteen across and five deep?”

“What? Are you insane?” exclaimed Venture.

“Vorenus is right,” said Crastinus. “We are in better shape, and they have been doing this all day! They are tired, and we are fresh!  If we hit them hard enough they will break!”

“We can load up with our largest mates on the left and drive hard into them from that side,” added Vorenus.

“We roll them up!” said Crastinus with a rare, but contagious smile.

“Crastinus, what about this?” Vorenus suggested. “Keep Galbus on the far left; you and I remain in the center with Pelitus directly behind. Pullo and Petro can follow with Clustinus, Gaditicus, and Bacculus pushing all of us from the rear. Sextus and his eight can be immediately to our left while Munatius and Venture here take the far right.”

As the plan came together Crastinus’ face grew fiercer; he turned and faced the rest of the Century.

“Galbus, you and everyone on the left must knock the first three ranks to your immediate front down on their backs! Make them fall on top of their rear ranks to create as much confusion as you can. Venture! Galbus! You and yours don’t have to push as hard, but make them think you are while you keep them from closing us down to the right! Those of us in the center will knock down as many of them as we can, but we must concentrate on the push through the fat boys in the center. Everyone in the rearmost ranks adds their weight to the push! Those of you in the rear ranks must go in low at our backs and help us keep the momentum going for as long as we can! If you get the chance, go for their feet or their legs with your rudis or your scutum!”

Crastinus was suddenly interrupted by a new voice.

“Get in low, stay close and push, but cover down to the left.”

Crastinus’ face turned from stern resolve to pleasant surprise. Tribune Caius joined them wearing a common Legio cassis on his head, armed with a scutum and a wooden rudis.

“Keep pushing,” he continued in near perfect Legion vernacular. “Crastinus is correct. Those people are experienced, but they are thirsty and tired! Strike only if they expose themselves!  Stab or bash quickly at the knees and the shoulders! Make it hurt! But keep pushing on the left! Venture! You and your men on the right just fight them! Give them something of a push, but whatever you do don’t allow them to spin us! Their right can’t be allowed to flank us, and if we push hard enough against the left they won’t be able to swing the longer weapons!  We can push them into their own rear ranks! Crash into them!  Keep driving! Go hard at them to your left! They are no longer able to sustain a prolonged shoving match. They want to beat you up and get to their bath! You can, you must, knock them down!”

“Legios!” Crastinus harangued, “you heard him! Make their front ranks on the left fall back on the rear ranks! If you have to cover down, then close to your left and drive them as hard as you can! Try to stay in formation, but don’t worry about it as long as you are driving them! We will force them to open in the center and drive through! Galbus Vorenus, Pullo Sextus, Venture! Everyone! Get into position!”

They had just enough time to rearrange their formation before First Spear Petronius gestured to Aponius to announce the task, conditions and standards for the training exercise.

Fabius noted the modified formation of the advancing tiros and made his own adjustments prior to the first signal.

“Only the first eight ranks need to counter-charge. The remaining ranks can hang back and relax,” he ordered confidently. “One-hundred sixty and experienced veterans ought to be enough to deal with eighty green tiros ranked only five deep!”

Taking that as a cue, Septimus rushed to add more money on an already heavy wager.

“Experience and treachery will defeat youth and speed,” he exclaimed to Carfulenus, who took the bet with a smile and silence.

“The Task,” the Aquilifer shouted in Latin. “Conferre! Close attack!”

“Conditions; in daylight, under variable weather conditions, against a hostile force with an odds ratio of not less than two, not to exceed four to one. Hostile force is partially equipped with defensive equipment. Friendly force projectiles have been thrown. No Centurio in command.  Side arms: training weapons only.” Aponius paused slightly between each training condition to make sure the tiros understood what was expected.

“Standard; engage and defeat the opposing force. Maintain proper discipline and individual spacing. Penetrate or push the opposing force until it breaks, collapses or retreats.”

The standards disseminated, Aponius blew his whistle.

“Milites! Procedite,” commanded Crastinus as First Century stepped off from the left foot. Half the intervening distance passed under their boots before he shouted the order to advance at the rush.

In accordance with the prearranged rules imposed by Petronius, when the third signal was given the veterans counter-charged with Gallic screams and whoops.

“Signa Infere!”

The nervous tiros picked up the pace to double time, getting faster as they cut the distance to one third and heard the final whistle signal.

“Signa Conferre!”  Crastinus bellowed.

At a dead run, the tiros closed the final distance, crashing into the Evocatii, as planned, heavily on the left.  t was a resounding collision. The crunching wicker, the clang of bronze on bronze, the thump of bone and muscle, screams and the air forced out of lungs. Crastinus led the way with Vorenus, Pullo Gaditicus Bacculus and Clustinus forming an elongated wedge behind, Pelitus and Petro filling in next to Tribune Caius Iulius who urged everyone on from the center. Sextus and his octet followed on Crastinus’ immediate left adding weight to the wedge when it speared into the veteran’s line just off of the center.

Six big veterans were, on impact, knocked off their feet into the following rank. Follow up ranks of veterans collided with those driven backward; the effect rippling rearward as the younger, fresher, and fitter tiros came in low and hard, smashing with scuta into the arms, legs, and faces of veterans. A few tiros attempted rudis strikes, but most adhered to the plan, going in low and pushing.

A miracle! More veterans on the ground than us!

Crastinus and his comrades drove forward, pushing, digging in with their feet and using lower legs to maintain momentum, gaining more leverage and advantage against the larger and more numerous evocatii.

With no idea how Galbus was doing on the left or what Venture and Munatius were doing on the right, Crastinus and his followers began overlapping their scuta as the more numerous veterans forced them more closely together. Keeping low on the push the tiros followed Crastinus’ example, hob-nailed caligae digging into the rocky ground, driving with their legs and locking out the knees in short steps as Pelitus and Petro barked out a cadence to keep the momentum. Not a small man, Sextus and two of his larger messmates added their weight to the ruck while Tribune Caius, inescapably locked in the wedge pushed as hard as anyone else, thoroughly enjoying every minute of the sweat, dirt and exertion.

Surprised to be thrown off their footing, falling backward on top of one another, and with no one telling them what to do, the veterans were powerless to stop Crastinus and his mates adding attitude and momentum to Carfulenus’ dictum of balance, position, timing and distance.

The third through fifth rank Tiros in the files added more weight to the drive by pressing their shields directly into the backs of the first rank men.  Driving with short chopping steps, Crastinus stepped on several veterans without touching them with his sidearm.  Pelitus and Petro took care of that particular chore, making vicious little “kill” strokes with the blunt tips of their rudis on the veterans knocked to the ground by their larger sword mates. The fourth and fifth ranked tiros to either side of the two diminutive Legios delightedly followed their example or stomped at solar plexus, or kicked in the groin any veteran attempting to rise.

Grinning wolfishly, Carfulenus turned to a suddenly crestfallen Septimus.

“They have been paying attention,” he exclaimed to Septimus, who had by now decided not to increase his already large wager.

As planned, the momentum on right flank remained a stagnant brawl, but Crastinus’ drive created a five to six rank salient deep in the center. Galbus had successfully knocked down several ranks of veterans on the left and created enough confusion to guarantee little if any pressure from that side, but failed to make any more progress forward. With progress easier in the center, more and more rear ranked tiros drifted there, adding more and more momentum to the drive, aiding the wedge to grow wider and deeper with each chopping step.

“It isn’t going exactly the way we planned,” Vorenus grunted.

“No, but we aren’t getting our asses kicked either,” Crastinus answered with a rare oath.

Desperate to regain their footing some veterans grabbed at the edges of the younger Legio’s shields, but sharp cracks on the knuckles with a rudis loosed their grip, forcing more and more to fall backward on top of their comrades.

Crastinus’ wedge penetrated deeper and deeper into the exhausted veteran’s eighth and ninth ranks. He could see his right flank was no longer pressing forward, but were holding along the rock boundary. Vision to his far left was obscured, but he could feel the men on that flank were still driving forward albeit much more slowly.

Raging at their imminent financial ruin, centurios and optios from all cohorts cracked their vita on the heads and backs of veterans driven out of bounds by Crastinus and his fellow tiros. Balventius and Lucanius rushed to the rear of the 1st Cohort where their vita staffs drove the unengaged veterans to assist their exhausted sword brothers on the verge of a collapse and disgrace. Whether from sharp blows, barks of command, or shrill notes blown on whistles, the uncommitted evocatii recovered their side arms and joined in.

Crastinus’ wedge had driven in deep enough to see the open ground between the engaged and unengaged veterans.

“Only a short way to go,” he urged.

“Keep pushing,” Caius shouted, “keep moving!” Crastinus smiled at the Tribune’s ferocity.

Perhaps they will stop calling him ‘Regi’ behind his back, he thought.

The previously unengaged evocatii crashed into the rear of the melee finally bringing Crastinus and his men to a halt and sealing the gap in their line. It was a well-intended but fatal blunder for those veterans already in the fight.

“Put your side arms to work.” shouted Tribune Caius, forcing his way to the very front rank where he could thrust into faces and chests with his rudis.

“He’s pretty good, for an older man,” shouted Vorenus to Crastinus.

Unlike the sharp, pointed gladius, the heavier, blunt-tipped rudis was a bone-crusher which the “shavelings,” and “dog flowers” were soon applying to the veterans in ways that brought a smile to the only Centurio still in good humor, at four to one odds.

“Carfulenus! You bastard,” Septimus screamed. “You set us up!”

“Septimus!” Carfulenus growled.0” You of all people should know that experience and treachery will defeat youth and speed! At four to one it should be so always! But not today you dog squeeze!”

*

It seemed an eternity before Petronius’ hand signal to the cornicens put an end to the disgraceful brawl.

When whistles and trumpets failed to stop the carnage it remained for Centurios to restore order in the tried and true manner. In their rage, vita staffs came down equally on evocatii veterans and tiros responsible for the poverty they were now forced to endure until next payday.

Once the men returned to their proper places in respective unit formations standing at stacio, Primus Pilus Petronius stumped to the center of the field, halted with his arms akimbo, alternately facing the larger cohort of Evocatii and the smaller Century of tiros, fiercely scrutinizing all.

Injured veterans, in various stages of consciousness, were littered away by calones. Many tiros had sustained minor injuries and a few were bleeding slightly, but every member of First Century, 2nd Cohort was still on his feet.

“I am quickly losing count of the numbers of eyes swollen shut, broken noses and the fat lips I am seeing,” he exclaimed. “A large percentage of you Evocatii are putting an excessive amount of weight on one leg or another!” Petronius turned to the tiros, his smile sanguineous.

“I know the feeling,” he shouted, tapping his vitis against his wooden prosthetic. “A few of you are hiding bruised, if not cracked, ribs and smashed genitals, and I suspect many of you are missing teeth!”

Petronius stumped across the 1st Cohort’s front.

“Such injuries in drills like this are to be expected! What pisses me off is the number of you injured is totally out of proportion to the number of tiros!”

Inwardly, Crastinus cringed.

“Petronius commands 1st Cohort,” he muttered to Vorenus, “and we shamed his unit!”

“Cac,” answered the latter. “We are screwed!”

Petronius stopped his pacing and put his hands behind his back; resting his weight on the good leg, he faced the younger men.

“Stand at ease! State.”

Both formations obeyed instantly and Petronius barked once again.

“1st Cohort! As you were! Fabius! Septimus! Front and center! Post!”

The pair double-timed to the center of the drill field, where Petronius returned their salutes then turned to face the tiros once again.

“Fabius! Your evaluation!”

“Classime! No go!”

“No go? Your reasons!”

“Classime!  Failure to maintain formation discipline!”

Maintaining eye contact with the tiros in front of him, Petronius responded to Fabius’ assessment.

“Cacca! Complete bullshit! I saw adaptation to the situation and tactical improvisation to accomplish the mission!”

He wasn’t smiling, but to Fabius’ discomfiture, Petronius eyes twinkled with delight.

“Septimus! Your evaluation!”

He hesitated for an instant but Septimus managed to answer with a similar degree of conviction.

“Classime!  No go!”

“No go! Your reasons?”

“Classime, he replied. “Failure to maintain proper intervals between ranks! Improper alignment of files! Total disregard for individual discipline. Talking in the ranks!”

“Cacca! I saw initiative, both at the unit and the individual level!”

Petronius slowly turned to face Balventius and Lucanius, now standing in front of 1st Cohort.

“And I saw a better understanding for the concept of teamwork than you and those fat fucks standing behind you will ever know! It is a subject I will address with all of you very, very soon!”

Petronius turned to face the tiros once again.

“2nd Cohort! You have completed your rudimenta training! After today you will no longer be referred to as Tirocinnii! From this day forth you are eligible to wear your horse hair plume on your Cassis! You are legios, and promoted to Miles Gregarius permanent grade, effective immediately!”

There were weary smiles on the faces of the younger men.

“Stacio!” Petronius barked.

Crastinus and his men snapped to attention.

“Dimitto!”

Without another glance at the departing 2nd Cohort, Petronius turned to face Fabius, Septimus, Balventius and Lucanius.

“Gentlemen!  I have a few words for you and these miserable excuses for Evocatii!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

READ: Chapter 8 – FIRST SPEAR RUDIMENTA – Brent Neilsen.

Chapter Eight

To be struck, to be threatened, to be called indecent names, to be drilled by yourself in front of the squad in order to make a fool of you…to have your ear spat into, to be marched across the parade ground under escort, to be falsely accused in front of an officer and silenced when you try to speak in defense—all these things take down your pride, make you feel small, and in some ways, fit you to accept the role of cannon fodder on the battle ground. A good deal of it could be defended on the grounds of usefulness. But of course it doesn’t make a Christian army, and its hell for the poor British soldier.

Private Stephan Graham, gentleman ranker,

Scots Guards, 1914-1918,

Mr. Kipling’s Army,

Byron Farwell  

 

First Spear Petronius ordered all Cohorts to stand by for a lay out of all individual and Contubernium equipment. The inspection was to be conducted one hour after the final meal of the day. No one knew which cohort would actually be inspected, and a walk through of just one could take all night.

This was particularly inconvenient for 2nd Cohort, standing Vigilum for the night.  Everything would have to be done in shifts. Eating, equipment cleaning and personal hygiene accomplished in rotation, or the First, Second and Third watch were going to be a disorganized mess.

Fortunately, Carfulenus split the cohort into thirds with even-numbered Centuries standing a watch while the odd-numbered Centuries stood for inspection.

He also called in a favor from Decurion Gaetulus. The Alae screen around the castrum was in place as much to stop desertions as to warn the camp from possible attackers.  These mounted patrols might be doubled up if he agreed to it. The increase in manpower would make up for the shortage on the palisade during the inspection.

As it turned out the dark skinned Numidian was glad to oblige and said as much in his heavily Numidian accented camp Latin.

“Arrogant rich boy tyros’ heads being in rectal defilade during afternoon trainings,” exclaimed Gaetulus, who jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the castrum picket line. “I will be giving remedial drillings while ‘Number One’ be abusing you and yours! HA! HA! Good luck!

“I owe you one, Gaetulus,” replied Carfulenus as he and the Numidian exchanged Mithratic handshakes before trotting off to prepare their respective units.

*

Exempt from the inspection Tafoya, Medus, Stomachus and the rest of the Cohort calones were instructed to “get somewhere!”  Bronze oil lamps hanging off the wooden poles of the papillion illuminated the interior’s tall center but left the lower vertical sides in shadow.

Crastinus’ octet was aligned in two ranks of four each including himself, facing inward. He walked down the center of the tent making a final check to assure himself everything was laid out per the diagram Carfulenus had provided every squad.

Rehearsing for the real thing, he stopped in front of each pair of sword mates who snapped to stacio. Crastinus started his inspection from the left side, as Carfulenus had instructed him the First Spear would, stopping in front of Petro.

“Pullo, did you know you nicked Petro when you shaved him?”

“Gaius! I put pressure on the wound as Carfulenus taught us, but he must be swallowing too much of Pelitus’ throat yogurt; it wouldn’t stop bleeding.”

This garnered chuckles from five of them; even Crastinus couldn’t resist a small grin at the visual before speaking. “Petro, lick your finger and clean that crust of blood off. Other than that you and Pullo look squared away, err, agmen quadratum.”

He moved on to Vorenus and Clustinus, both of whom snapped smartly to stacio.

Crastinus began by inspecting the oiling of the caligae on their feet, checking the trim of their toenails, then moved up to the oil on the belt, shine of the buckle and the bronze fittings on the leather-covered wooden scabbards which, according to Carfulenus, the Romans called a vagina. The scabbards encased the issued steel gladius and pugio each man wore as a side arm, on pain of a flogging with rods, only removed during personal hygiene, latrine use or sleep.

Again satisfied, Crastinus looked over the vinegar and sand shine to their chain mail lorica hamata.

“Clustinus! Retie your neck cloth. Yours is too loose.”

Crastinus took a quick look at each man’s shave and haircut, feet, caligae and side arms. Both men were satisfactory, and he moved on to look over, but not touch their personal gear laid out on a smelly, oil-soaked, but very waterproof sagum, doubling as a blanket for sleeping and a cloak during cold or adverse weather.

Aloud he inventoried the items laid out in precise order and drew smiles when he imitated inexpertly the toneless drone of Carfulenus’ instructional voice, usually mimicked by Pelitus. Crastinus’ use of humor on duty was a rare thing.

“Two pair socks wool, winter only, extra caligae, displayed soles up, extra tunica red, and leather bracae worn over subucula breech clout, winter use only.”

Crastinus checked their highly polished, felt-lined bronze helmets. For the purpose of the inspection, the long ceremonial plumes of yellow horsehair attached to the ring and cork wedge atop each cassis were brushed out and washed to a flaxen-like shine.

He moved on to Bacculus and Gaditicus.

“Gaditicus, your laces are loose,” he said quietly, continuing his inspection of equipment, but dropping the impersonation of Carfulenus.

“Personal cooking gear, a bronze potera for boiling water, smaller eating bowl, wooden eating utensils – yours are still damp from after-supper washing, canvas ration bag, leather equipment bag, oiled.”

Crastinus ordered his squad from Stacio to State. The octet relaxed while he completed his last visual check silently.

Personal non-issue items like his mother’s wooden spoon were stored under the side arm belt or out of sight under each man’s sagum cloak. At the head of each man’s sleeping position the oiled leather scutum cover, protecting the shield from the wet, was rolled and used as a pillow while the contubernium scuta were lined up in a row leaning against a pila imbedded in the ground for easier retrieval in an emergency. Oval in shape, curved slightly so as to partially wrap around the body in battle, the scutum came with an oiled leather strap for carrying over the shoulder on the march.

Each shield was painted red with a Roman Eagle in silver over the boss. Aries, the Ram was the only other exterior adornment.  The inside of the scutum bore its owner’s name, number, unit assignment – the identical information carried on the signaculum worn from a leather thong around each man’s neck.

When Crastinus stopped in front of his own sword mate Pelitus, short even by Legion standards, he had to bend slightly to whisper in his mate’s ear.

“Pelitus, they wouldn’t rag you and Petro if you weren’t so open about it!  Better for everyone if you stopped it all together.”

Crastinus completed his final inspection of Pelitus and his own impedimenta.

Down the street of the castrum, ten tents away, Crastinus and his mates could hear the all too familiar voice of Petronius, raging as he began his inspection of the 2nd Cohort from the opposite direction predicted by Carfulenus. With a note of calm, he didn’t feel, Crastinus returned to his imitation of Carfulenus in its most frequently used tone and vocabulary.

“Alright, let’s do it again!”

“Crastinus! Pro Denuo,” Pelitus corrected.

“Stacio!”  Seven hob-nailed caligae crashed to the ground together.

“Gladium!” Crastinus barked the command of preparation.

As one, each man’s right hand grasped, palm outward, the grip of the gladius on his right hip, rotating the handle of the still-undrawn weapon pommel forward, so the scabbard pointed rearward at a forty-five-degree angle.

“It reminds me of my dick, swinging back and forth by its own length!”

“Pullo! Wrong angle! Wrong length!”

“You would know Pelitus!”

“All of you, shut it,” Crastinus barked. He could hear Petronius further down the cohort street but getting closer; throwing things around in someone’s papillon, accompanied by a string of unintelligible oaths. Crastinus gave the command of execution.

“Stringe!”

Eight blades scraped free of their protective leather and wood to swash against the chest of their owners, point inclined towards the shoulder.

“Now comes the hard part! Gladium!” Crastinus barked.

In a fluid motion, practiced nightly since their issue, eight blades swashed back, rotated by the round balancing pommel in the hand to point vertically over the vagina on the right hip.

“Reconde!”

Without looking down, the eight weapons slammed home with a uniform snap.

“State!” The octet returned to parade rest.

Petronius was getting closer and louder. Crastinus walked to the center of the tent.

“What is the watch word for the day? The tessera? The password?” he asked aloud, irritated by their inability to master the small amount of Latin required by now.

“Bread!” they answered.

“Password?” he demanded.

“Oil!” they chimed.

Crastinus could hear “Number One” entering Galbus’ adjacent tent and called his messmates back to stacio.

They stood rock still hearing cooking utensils, helmets, caligae and Luna only knew what else being flung about, crashing into heads, bodies, or missing an intended target to roll out into the cohort street. The night air was filled with an unbroken stream of curses, oaths and insults to the fathers, mothers and various four-legged creatures guilty of bringing such worthless material for soldiers into the Eight Legion.

Vorenus looked at Crastinus.

“Galbus and Sextus are catching it good!”

As he resumed his place in front of his gear, Crastinus felt a tingle of sweat run down the back of his tunic.

“The havoc ‘Number One’ is inflicting in there!  I wouldn’t be surprised if Sextus comes over looking to buy some salt from us,” Gaditicus winked to Pullo who grinned back.