Cult of Governor'
For some days, Marcus took to walking beyond the
Canovium garrison alone. He was glad that Spesis was now on a tour
of duty to the north of Brannogenium; it gave him freedom to ponder
his remarks about Decianus Catus. The spirit of his words was not
surprising--typically unillusioned, in fact. But his manner of delivery
Marcus hardly thought that Spesis would go and hunt for the procurator
himself, or even make an 'arrangement' with one of his informants.
Still, he felt unsettled: the man's mime, however jokey, revealed
genuine disgust with the way Britannia was being managed. Marcus
tried telling himself that neither he, Spesis nor anyone else should
really be surprised at that. After all, it wasn't so long ago that
rumours filled the air about abandoning the island. Viewed from
that angle, Catus's cavalier behaviour over Camulodunum was to be
expected: slipshod strategy for a tiresomely awkward land.
Suddenly Marcus found himself regarding the young Tribune who, only
ten years before, had left Glevum for Vertis full of patriotic determination.
He remembered how crestfallen he had been when, for a while at least,
it looked as though he'd serve the Empire as a road-foreman. So,
you've turned navvy, Marcus? Again his father's imagined words swam
in his mind.
But it hadn't been like that at all. It had mushroomed: all the
fort-building, the organising, the sorties into Cambria--and, to
crown it all, the triumph that was Mona. Even more important were
the people he'd gathered about him, the good Vectis, Firmus, Currerus,
all of them. But now, here was this business with Boudica. It didn't
sound like benevolent, paternal Rome sorting out some motley crew
who didn't know what was good for them--at least, not if Spesis'
informants were to be believed. Or if the official messengers were
to be disbelieved. And Marcus did find himself inclining that way.
'News just in,' announced Vectis, ambushing Marcus some yards beyond
the garrison entrance. 'Paullinus has had a hard time of it.' Firmus
was at his side, uncharacteristically intent, awaiting Marcus's
reaction. 'Don't worry, Tribune--I haven't grilled the messengers
in your absence. That's all they'll say till they see you.' Marcus
said nothing. The others grew uncomfortable.
'That Boudica,' said Firmus at last. 'I wouldn't be surprised if
she was leaping about with those fiends on Mona.'
'She sounds like she was all those fiends,' said Vectis. 'Gods above,
I hope we don't get summoned down there after all. That Mona copper'll
be dust by the time I really get at it.'
'You and your metals,' said Firmus. 'Tell me, were you born in the
bottom of a stewpot?'
'I'll be with the messengers immediately,' said Marcus. 'Go in and
tell them.' He watched the retreating pair, heard their banter as
it blew about over the storehouses and stables. It hadn't changed
in all the years he'd known them. Still, despite themselves, they
were getting on better all the time. He turned slowly, heavily,
and followed them in. That's what counted, he thought--even more
than retaining some ideal of Rome, untainted by venal procurators
and money-lenders. Good people around you. People you could understand
because they made themselves so easily understandable. Consistent
people. Friends, really.
Just inside the garrison entrance, he caught sight of Currerus.
The scout was hobbling about on a stick which Scapha had fashioned
for him. Good: he'd been told that the invalid was trying to get
well too quickly, trying to act as though he had no need of stick,
medicine or rest. He was glad that Currerus was being sensible.
Some distance from headquarters, he heard someone say 'Paullinus':
an unknown voice, probably a messenger's. Again his thoughts slipped
south-east to the rebellion. He wondered what kind of hard time
the Governor was having down there--well, it was easily imagined.
The soldier in his blood reflexively hoped that Paullinus would
finally triumph. He was startled, however, by the speed with which
the hope disappeared, giving way to other, less manageable thoughts.
During his whole time in Britannia, he'd either initiated schemes
or carried out the schemes of others. On Mona, in Cambria, he'd
led his men as he'd been trained to--and as his concern for them
insisted he should. Mercifully, the wounds he'd sustained had never
been serious, but they still spoke of his bravery. Of his obedience,
too: once he saw that a strategy would work--whether in grading
a road or besting the Cornovii--he went into a kind of mist, which
veiled everything except the desire for success.
But now, here he was, wondering again about Boudica, about Spesis'
treasonable cynicism--and much more. Perhaps his fellow commander's
information required further scrutiny. At the simplest level, the
Iceni and Trinovantes didn't sound all that different from tribes
in Gaul, in Graecia, anywhere the Empire laid its hand. If you ignored
the particulars of their case, you were left with a familiar round
of moans, carping and grievances. Time was, he could have ignored
all that; he would have put Spesis' bitter mirth down to the effects
of rotten meat or bad wine. But then, what if you were one of the
Iceni--a swineherd, a tribal chief, even one of Boudica's daughters?
What if you'd been told ad infinitum of the greatness of Rome, its
civilising mission, its noble intent--and then seen the reality
of legionaries laying your cornfields to waste, usurers lifting
the roof clean off your head? He stopped and shook his head, as
though he'd just walked into a cloud of gnats. 'Required further
scrutiny,' 'At the simplest level,' 'If you ignored the particulars'--these
were politicians' words, preambles to sophistry from Catus and his
ilk. Spesis had no reason to feed him falsehoods, to invent some
tale about imaginary informants. Beneath the familiar dryness, the
man was outraged by the treatment of the Iceni and Trinovantes.
No, it was no good: for a minute or two, Marcus had tried to be
. . . well, the smooth-tongued senator of his father's hopeful imagination.
It hadn't worked. He was for Boudica, after all.
He walked into headquarters in something like shock. Never before
had he seriously put himself in a native's place. And, strictly
speaking, his thoughts were every bit as treasonable as those which
Spesis had shared with him. Best not to share them with anyone--Vectis,
even Spesis himself. Best, for the moment, to think as he had done
of those around him: companions, friends, doing their best under
orders. Best to think of Cremona--and renew his efforts for leave
as soon as he could. After all, ten years in Britannia--ten windswept,
snowbound Saturnalias. He shivered at the image; there'd be another
one before they knew it.
The messengers' news was free of all value judgements. There was
no talk now of riotous barbarians. Paullinus had found Boudica to
be of astonishingly firm mettle--so much so, in fact, that the whole
Roman enterprise in Britannia was imperilled. Hearing of Camulodunum's
fate en route, he had gone directly to Londinium, now a Boudican
stronghold. Prasutagus's widow had been as good as her reported
word: her rebellion now inflamed the south. The Governor needed
as much imperial muscle as could be mustered. At this point, the
messengers' report became vague, speculative. The disposition of
the southern legions, they said, may go some way to explaining the
subsequent progress of events. They were naturally split between
numerous bases, from Calleva in the east to Moridunum in southern
Cambria. It was a question of balance and logistics, said one messenger,
with the air of a schoolboy given the most important line in a chorus.
Moving troops out of an area could well destabilize it, allowing
rebellion to well up like marshy water in a sandal-print.
Marcus cleared his throat; pretty phrases were all very well, but
the man needed prompting: 'So how did the vagaries of logistics
affect our Governor?' He sensed what the answer would be, and so
it proved. Reaching Londonium, Paullinus actually found neither
a horde of extra legionaries nor the prospect of any to augment
his force. He was obliged to withdraw with his advance guard and
await Benevolus and the rest of the 'Mona army,' as they had been
nicknamed (possibly as a kind of lucky charm, news of the island
victory having spread far and wide now). It was, the poetically-inclined
messenger said, a painful decision--well nigh impossible, in fact.
Everyone knew that the Roman veterans left stranded in Camulodunum
had been massacred--despite retreating to the temple of Claudius
and praying for the protection of the Imperial spirit. Paullinus
knew that any Roman in Londinium would suffer the same fate; and
not only there--those in nearby Verulamium was at mortal risk, too.
'Does the Governor require us--?' began Marcus, but a second messenger,
inflamed by the nature of the news and forgetful of deference, broke
in on him.
'By no means, sir. If anyone else departs from here--even so much
as a cohort or two--it will undo all the good work in Cambria.'
'You are to remain, sir,' chimed in the first, 'and treat this region
as'--he cleared his throat: a piece of strategist's jargon was clearly
coming--'a state in the first phase of subjugation.'
Having eaten and drunk a sufficiency, they left. The last piece
of news they imparted was that, despite all the logisitical headaches
and threats of rebellion elsewhere, Paullinus was still seeking
reinforcements in the south. The second legion--the Augusta, based
in the south-west--was a likely source. Manpower from Marcus's beloved
Glevum might also be called upon.
'Well, I'll be . . . ,' began Firmus when the messengers had gone.
'They want us to treat Cambria like we've only just got here.'
'Understandable, centurion,' said Vectis. 'The powers-that-be doubtless
think it best to regard Britannia as teeming with Boudicas. Until
events prove otherwise.' Mentioning the queen's name seemed to send
him momentarily into a dream. 'What kind of woman would act as she
has?' he murmured to himself. 'There must be something . . . some
real grievance.' Suddenly he gasped and clapped a hand over his
'Opting for the enemy, engineer?' said Firmus, but with a twinkle
in his eye. 'Treasonable ramblings--from you? What is the world
'You're entitled to your thoughts, Vectis, whatever they may be,'
said Marcus, secretly taking the man's words as proof that he also
was entitled to his. 'Just don't let them stray beyond these walls.'
And he fixed Firmus with a glare that insisted on his silence. The
centurion understood and nodded.
Spesis returned two days later: 'I know, I've heard,' he told Marcus.
'What do you know, exactly?'
Spesis shrugged: 'My extra ears have told me nothing new. Don't
forget, Tribune, I've been busy trying to locate any other Boudica
we may have knocking about in Cambria. But I'd say Paullinus will
be pinning his hopes on the Augusta lads. And those troops from
Germania are bound to arrive some time soon--unless friend Catus
has established himself there and has tied them all up in red tape.'
Marcus nodded: 'Boudica won't want to wait for that,' he said.
'Indeed not. She'll make her big push against our Governor as soon
as she can.' Autumn was an affair of salt winds and ceaseless rain.
Saturnalia nearly went by unnoticed. Mindful of the fate of the
veterans at Camulodunum, the men spoke much of fate and how easily
it could be tempted. Their lost comrades had placed every last hope
in the Emperor's spirit, enshrined in the temple. Their deaths seemed
to be an argument against any obvious display of belief in Rome
and her deities--for the time being, at least.
Marcus noted with interest that the poetically-inclined messenger
and his animated fellows never returned. Instead, each new piece
of information was borne by grim, unsmiling men who seemed to be
kinsmen of the dismal weather. The Augusta lads had let Paullinus
down--or rather, one of their camp prefects had, Poenius Postumus.
Like many others, he had reasoned that taking troops out of the
south-west would be an incitement to native rebellion there. As
a result, he had ignored Paullinus's request that the Augusta vexillation
he controlled should unite with the 'Mona army.' Meanwhile, as Spesis
had predicted, Boudica had made her move. She had pushed far into
the middle regions, having already fulfilled another prophecy by
wreaking havoc at Verulamium and slaughtering an entire vexillation
of the IX Legion, the Hispana.
'I wish we could get some news of Benevolus,' said Vectis, returning
to Canovium with Marcus, Firmus and Tignum after a particularly
tense and snowy tour of duty. Nobody said a word: enquiries after
the commander's well-being had punctuated every exchange with the
messengers from the south. None could provide an answer.
'I assume,' said Tignum, breaking the silence, 'that we'd have heard
if . . . .' But he left his sentence unanswered as the garrison
entrance loomed, skeletal against an unforgiving sky.
At last the crucial news arrived. Paullinus had engaged with the
rebel queen. The troops from Germania had arrived to swell the ranks
of the Hispana, and battle had been decisively joined--not so very
far, it turned out, from the Cambrian border. While Marcus and the
others were digesting this, another messenger arrived to announce
that Paullinus had carried the day and the rebel queen had perished--by
her own hand, it was rumoured. The messenger was made welcome at
the Canovium garrison and all along the northern coast. It was Benevolus.
'Suicide everywhere, alas' he said the day he arrived, sitting in
the Canovium headquarters and encircled by Marcus, Spesis and the
others. 'Not just Boudica--Poenius Postumus, too. He must have remembered
that Rome's principal care is for soldierly duty, not fussing over
problems of deployment. He wasn't with us at the victory. He couldn't
live with that.'
'It's wonderful to see you,' said Marcus. 'We heard nothing of how
'And so soon,' chimed in Vectis. 'Are we to thank the governor for
that? A gesture of heartfelt gratitude for your perilous work.'
'Call it that if you like, engineer. I rather think it has more
to do with this.' And he pushed open his cloak. Deep gouges were
latticed upon his legs; his left hand was crushed. Immediately he
held up his good hand, forestalling any comment: 'Some medic tells
me that all is not lost,' he said. 'The hand may yet grip a horse's
reins as before. Of course, I'll have to pray, weep, burn votive
lights. The usual.' At this, Spesis smiled and squeezed his shoulder.
Benevolus acknowledged the gesture and turned to Marcus.
'However,' he said, 'speaking of heartfelt gratitude, I bear news
for you, Tribune. Paullinus thanks you, Roman to Roman, for all
that you have done to prevent further revolt in Cambria. You have
leave to see your family and Cremona again. And,' he added with
a laugh, 'he says that if you are still loafing round Britannia
in twenty moons' time, he'll want to know why.'
Marcus felt delight and exhilaration. Numerous hands clapped him
on the back. Firmus agitated for a rendition of 'For He's a Jolly
Good Tribune.' But a shadow clouded the general mirth. It emanated
from Spesis, who was looking thoughtful--even a little afraid. Marcus
saw his look. Though he laughed and called for wine, he was thinking
of the question he must put to Benevolus when they were alone.
The opportunity came that evening. Spesis, divining that Marcus
needed private words with the new arrival, excused himself: Vectis,
he said, wanted to consult with him about extending the garrison
storehouses. The engineer rarely if ever spoke of such matters with
Spesis, as Marcus well knew. But he nodded and promised that wine
would be kept for his return.
'Should I assume,' he began when he and Benevolus were alone, 'that
the governor's gift of leave extends to Spesis also? It ought to.'
'Indeed it ought,' said Benevolus, 'but it doesn't. He's to remain
here and work with Decurio.' Marcus nodded. Mention of the prefect
at Varis cheered him up a little: Decurio was reliable and enthusiastic.
More than that, he had great respect for Spesis. How long might
it be, though, before he was officially ordered to end that respect?
Marcus knew that he was dithering about. He pressed his point.
'Does Paullinus give any reason for withholding leave from our friend?'
Benevolus stared hard at him: 'For heaven's sake, Marcus. Spesis
is a courageous fool. That's a description, mind, not a condemnation.'
He thumped down his goblet impatiently. 'Paullinus knows all about
his informants. You've had waves of messengers here, and they haven't
just arrived to give you the latest on Boudica. He's been tracked
on his tours of duty, every one.'
'So what happens?' asked Marcus, and jumped when he heard his question
echoed from the doorway.
'Sorry, gentlemen,' said Spesis, moving to a chair beside them.
'I couldn't resist. Besides, I have some passing interest in your
talk.' Marcus was all apology, but Spesis waved his words aside.
'You thought your private audience was for the best, Tribune. But
now I've heard what Benevolus has to say, where's the point in skulking
outside?' He turned to Benevolus: 'Courageous fool? Yes, Benevolus--you're
right. I should have known Paullinus would have one of his many
eyes upon me. Part of me probably did.'
Marcus repeated his question. 'What happens,' said Benevolus, 'is
that I stay here for now--in an advisory capacity for Spesis and
Decurio. I have leave, too, but I insisted that it be deferred.
Said I wanted to see my Cambrian comrades again. Who knows? My hand
may regain its power. Then, of course'--and he looked straight at
Spesis--'I could become you, and you could become thin air. And
even if I remain as I am, the loss of a hand does not mean the loss
of will to command.'
'I'm not scuttling away like a rat,' said Spesis warmly. 'Whatever
Paullinus has in mind for me--.'
Benevolus laid his good hand on the man's arm: 'I know what you
discovered, Spesis. The Iceni, the Trinovantes, all the cruelty
exercised in the name of Rome. Do you not have an obligation to
make it known? We shall plan against the proper time of your departure.
For now, as long as I'm here, you'll be safe. I'm a veteran, remember.
I've fought the, shall we say, good fight.' His wry tone and expression
made Spesis pull his goblet from his grasp and fill it brimful of
'But listen,' said Marcus, 'if Spesis has a duty to make all that
hideousness known, then surely I do too--.' But both of the others
raised their hands as if to silence a prattling child: 'You,' said
Benevolus, 'enjoy your leave!'
'Well, give my regards to Livorno,' said Vectis, 'if you're passing
that way. Spend some time there, why don't you? Lovely air.' Marcus
had made a special journey across to Mona, where Vectis, ensconced
in the impressive garrison he had designed, was poring over his latest
copper-mining plans. Marcus assured the engineer that he would not
only give the place his regards, but also his family.
'I have written to Paullinus, apprising him of my journey,' said Marcus.
'I've lobbied for your leave, too.' 'I am obliged to you, sir,' said
Vectis. 'Part of me doesn't want to leave my world of joists and digging--but
the other part surely does, after all these years. I think you're
going at just the right time, somehow.'
Marcus knew what he meant. In the wake of his triumph, Paullinus had
spread out in all directions down south. New forts had sprung up everywhere;
others--such as those at Corinium, Calleva and Venta--had been doubly
and trebly reinforced. Clearly, he meant to destroy the very notion
of tribal freedom. Indeed, he was treating the whole of southern Britannia
like a snake to be trampled underfoot. Some observers reckoned that
he was exacting endless vengeance for the deaths of the Camulodunum
veterans. The cult of the Emperor had failed them. Very well: he would
replace it with the cult of the Governor--and a wrathful, merciless
cult it would be. Negotiations and fresh treaties were out of the
question. Reprisal was the order of the day. Guerilla warfare rumbled
on--but the native rebels knew that death was far preferable to surrender.
Even the last messengers to Canovium had blanched when they reported
how the Paullinian grip was closing on the south. Newly-minted jargon
coloured their messages, 're-pacification' being a particular favourite.
Marcus had shuddered at the sound of that.
A tapping sound brought him back to the present moment. Vectis was
drumming on his plans: 'By the time you come back, I'll have a copper
masterpiece waiting for you. A gift of welcome.' He considered. 'Could
do a model of this garrison,' he said. 'No . . . no, how about an
eagle? Our good old Roman Eagle?' For a second, Marcus could have
sworn that he sounded like Spesis. His mind went back to the engineer's
hint of speculation about Boudica. A dark horse, Vectis, for all his
theatrical condemnation of treasonable talk. He wondered which way
his thoughts were tending now--and hoped that Benevolus would protect
him as well as Spesis.
'Yes, the good old Eagle,' he agreed. 'I shall expect to see it adorning
headquarters at Canovium.'
A week later, Marcus made his formal farewells. Vectis was the last--and
still most honoured--on his list. Then his boat put out from Mona
on the first part of his homeward journey. As he cleared the shore,
he looked back at the site of that ferocious battle. Then he started.
A figure in long robes was standing on a bluff, gazing down at him.
At that distance, he was no bigger than a child. Yet he seemed to
stare right into Marcus's heart and understand what was there: concern
for Spesis and Vectis, profound admiration for Benevolus--and a growing
loathing for all that Britannia had suffered in the name of Rome.
'It's their eyes, sir,' said Scapha, in command of the boat. 'I mean,
I know we can't see that one's from here. But that's what really got
me when we were up against them. I forgot all the rest--the shrieking,
the sacrifices, the crazy hair. But I just couldn't be doing with
Marcus said nothing.
of Chapter XII and Part II of the story
I - II - III
- IV - V - VI
- VII - VIII
- IX - X - XI
- XII -
Part II - Part III
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