The Vampire Underground
Part Two: Brittania
For those of you who don’t like backstory, skip this. I personally like it a lot. Historical fiction, the more ancient the better, is a favorite of mine.
Chapter One: Fabi’s Story
Fabi scratched his head, unsure of how to start. He lifted his hands, dropped them, and then sighed. “This is my story, such as it is. I am almost as old as Tristan, and my memories go back to when Britain was part of the Roman Empire.” Claude and I sat back as he began to tell his tale.
“When you think of my life, you think in terms of millennia, not even centuries. When I lead my mortal life, Hadrian was building the wall in Britain because he could not keep the Scotti from raiding across their borders.
I was a Senator’s son, and everything I was expected to be. I had a Greek body slave, a retired Gladiator that my father had purchased and freed to train me, and my tutor came all the way from Alexandria. I’d even been married at a very young age to a girl from a good family that would provide a powerful alliance.
I was expected to train hard and study hard. My father was determined that I should follow in his footsteps, never mind the fact that as a governing body the Senate was basically powerless. You never knew how things would turn in Rome, some still hoped the Republic would return, and the old powers would be given, or taken, back.
I should have been happy. I had a bright future ahead of me. My only worry was a jealous young brother who would gladly have killed me for the Senate seat I would inherit. What he didn’t realize was that I would have given it to him if he asked.
I told my tutor, Apollodorus, what was on my mind. Normally this matter would have involved a trip to the Oracle at Delphi, but that was not possible. He advised me instead to go to the Pantheon and seek out the god that would give me guidance. I was not to seek out a particular god, I was to wait for the god to choose me.
“Listen,” he told me, “Pay attention and you will receive your answer”. I was skeptical, but I wanted out of my life. I felt stifled, and the life that lay before me seemed like a prison.
I went to the Pantheon with its open dome, and looked at the myriad of statues of gods that were worshipped all over the Roman Empire. Jupiter, Apollo, Juno, Athena, Mercury, Diana, all had altars in this great Roman temple. There were gods from the East as well as Isis from Egypt. There were also statues of emperors past that had been deified, including a shrine to the Emperor Augustus, who was now the god Augustus. My father thought the worship of the emperors’ indulgence, but we did our duty as Romans and worshipped these pseudo-gods.
It had been cloudy, misty even, when I set out, but the sky was clearing and the sun was starting to shine in through the hole in the roof of the great temple the Pantheon. I went to a priest and made an offering of a dove, then stood in the middle, under the bright circle of sky. I didn’t expect anything to happen, I was a skeptic like my father, but Apollodorus was a religious man, so out of respect to my tutor I waited under the open dome.
I did as he instructed me and tried to create an image in my mind of what I wanted. I thought of what it would be like to be freed from my life, so I concentrated on that. I imagined never having to wear the robes of a senator and being away from my younger brother forever.
I was so caught up in my thoughts that at first I didn’t notice that the air seemed to be changing. A humming sound started in my ears, then voices seemed to fill the air, voices whose words I could not understand. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed, but other worshippers were absorbed in performing their rituals. The sky started to darken, I became aware of a prickling sensation on my skin that I felt before a lightning storm. I backed away from the sky hole, looking around while the humming grew louder. Suddenly one of the statues seemed to start glowing in the darkness of the temple. I walked over for a closer look, only to be pushed violently back.
I found myself standing in front of a statue of Minerva, the daughter of Jupiter Maximus, dressed in her armor and helmet, with her sword in her hand. Her eyes burned like fire, boring into mine, and I dropped to my knees in terror and awe. Miraculously, the bronze statue seemed to turn to solid flesh, and before me stood a goddess of such beauty that I had to avert my eyes.
Here then was my answer. Minerva, who you probably know as Athena, had sought me out. She did not speak, so I knew I must speak to her. “Sacred daughter of Jupiter, tell me what I must do,” my voice quavered as I spoke. “My father intends that I should be a Senator, but I want to serve in the Legions of Rome. To be a soldier is my dearest wish, I want to honor my father, but am not suited for the life he planned for me. Will you help me, oh most sacred goddess?”
“The Pantheon darkened around me. It was as if I had vanished from Rome and I was in a strange land, wearing Roman armor, my sword in hand. I was in the middle of a Roman fort, populated by men from all over the empire. I looked around for someone I might know, but one in particular, with curly blond hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen, stood out. He stared at me, and motioned me to come to him.”
“The vision vanished, the Pantheon was as it had been when I first entered. I had seen a vision of my future, I had faith that I knew I would get what I wanted. Although Romans were more superstitious than pious, at that moment I knew that the gods were real, or at least real for me. My prayer had been answered.
As I stepped outside it started raining. I ran all the way home, thinking that the rain was a good omen because we had suffered a long dry spell. My father had just come in from the garden and saw on my face that I wanted to talk. My father knew these things. He was a very good Senator and would have been a very good emperor, but he preferred the life he had. Besides, the emperors we had at the time weren’t so bad. Not so terribly good, but not so bad. To be an emperor in Rome meant that you might have a short life.
“You want to talk to me, son?” Yes, I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him everything, but something held me back. It was like I needed to be discreet, and keep to myself the revelation from the gods.
He motioned for me to follow him and we went into his study. His servant poured wine for the two of us, then left the room. He loosened his toga, took a deep drink and then looked at me. “What is it you are so eager to tell me?
“Father, I do not wish to inherit our seat in the Senate. Posthumus wants it more than me. I want to join the Legions, be a soldier like Uncle Titus. To be a senator would be noble, but it is not the life that would suit me. I can serve our Empire in the Legions as well as in the Senate, maybe better. Glaucus talks about how strong I am, how well I fight, drive a chariot, and ride. I have been training all my life, and maybe there is a reason for it. Will you please give me permission? Will you please ask Uncle Titus if he can be of any help?”
I’d rushed all of this as I said it, but I had to get it out. I looked eagerly at his face, wanting to know his reaction, wanting very badly for him to say, “Yes”.
He was silent for a long time. “It has always been my fondest wish that you would follow me into the Senate. Your brother is not half the man that you are, yet I know how badly he wishes to inherit our Senate seat.” He sighed and drained his cup. “If your heart is set on being a soldier, you will not give your all as a Senator. You will spend your life wondering what would have happened if I had given you permission to do as you wish.”
I started to speak, but he raised a hand to silence me. “I will speak to Titus. As you might have made a good Senator, so I think you will be a very good soldier. You are choosing a hard life, and I know you well enough that you would only do so if you were sincere.”
A month later I was sitting in my Uncle’s headquarters, listening to him and his aide-de-camp, a Gaul named Tristan, discuss my future. I was not sure of what they were saying, for they spoke in a mixture of Latin and the Gaul’s native tongue. Whatever they were saying, the debate was a lively one.
They made an odd pair. Tristan was tall and had the palest skin I had ever seen, it contrasted with his deep blue eyes and golden curls. My uncle, like me, was all Roman. Black curly hair, eyes so dark they were almost black, and olive skin. They laughed, slapped each other on the back, and my uncle treated him as a familiar. When he introduced me to Tristan, he described him as the man he trusted the most in his Legion. This struck me as odd, but Tristan seemed to have a way of drawing you in, and gaining your trust.
They reached a decision. I would live and train with the centurions, then become one of the six officers of my uncle’s staff in six months. I wanted to be a centurion, but Tristan was in favor of making me a Tribune. That would emphasize my connection to my uncle, and assure that I had the respect of the Legion. The Roman army’s strength lay in its legions, but the Calvary was a favored defensive weapon that had been employed by many empires. Besides, we were constantly fighting the Britons, who were some of the best horsemen in the world. If I earned the right, my uncle would allow me to advance through the ranks. There would be no favoritism from my uncle. I would have to earn my way, but he had faith in me and I was determined not to disappoint him.
Tristan offered to show me around the camp. We rode side by side, he pointing out things I needed to know about or that I might find interesting. When he was satisfied that I wouldn’t lose myself in the camp, we rode through the gates into the wilderness.
He pointed out where groves had stood that now provided timber for the fort. “There are not so many trees as there once were, wooden forts require a large amount of timber and maintenance, but some of the old groves are left. I warn you now, stay away from the groves. They were evil places once and some say the evil still lingers. Men have entered the groves, only to be brought out as corpses. The treasures they once held are long gone, but something still remains. Maybe it’s the old gods taking their revenge. Maybe they’re offended because no one worships them anymore. But whatever you do, you must stay away. This is important to me, Fabian. I want you to promise me you will never enter them. Never.”
So sincere and earnest did he seem that I promised him that I would do as he asked. I did not put much stock in his words, but I knew I would do well to avoid any chance encounter with any of the Galli that did not come from our own fort.
One day my uncle received orders from the Emperor himself to move the army to Britannia to reinforce the garrison that guarded Londoninium. Though the Iceni had been subdued, some of the tribes had become bold, initiating raids more frequently than before. Londoninium was still no more than an army camp, but it was growing, and settlers seeking to escape the raiding of the Briganti, the Cambri and the Dumnoni, built homes outside the walls for safety. And where there was a legion, there were opportunities for the enterprising to make a profit.
Moving the Legion from Gaul to Brittania was no small task. A Legion was a small city, and we were literally sailing that small city across the channel. It was a hard thing for some of the soldiers, many had taken women of Gaul for substitute wives and had children. There were many sad goodbyes, and few of the families would ever be re-united. But soldiers were soldiers, and they knew their duty. They were Romans first and husbands second, though there were always a chance that a few would desert to remain with their families. The penalties for desertion were severe, and few risked it.
I was miserably seasick during the crossing. Tristan brought me some heated wine and bread, and told me to not look at the horizon. That seemed to help and I spent the time it took us to cross on deck. The galley slaves smelled of sweat and unwashed flesh, causing my nausea started to return, but, we were almost to Brittania and I made up my mind up not to be sick. If I’d given in, though, I would have been in good company. Many men were sick from the moment we shoved off until we made landing in Brittania.
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