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Letters of Pomonianus

Part 3

I entered the dark, cave-like temple and found that I was the only one present. Considering the freezing weather I was not at all surprised.
There was an oil lamp guttering on a pedestal near the rear of the temple and the smell of burned oil was in the cold air. The normal mustiness of the cave was not as strong as I remembered it, but as many of my comrades had warned me, the winter gods of the Rhenus valley changed many things, and I should not be surprised by any difference between the warm summer of Germania and her bitter winters.
I took the lamp to hand and with its flickering light guiding me over the rough floor stones, I picked my way to the front of the temple where the wall painting of the young God Mithras was shown slaying the divine bull.
I placed the lamp in front of me, on the stone ledge, and took a moment to calm my racing thoughts. It would not do to come before Mithras improperly prepared, for he was a stern god and one who recognized order and calm in his adherents. The cold stones under my bare knees helped to steady me. I began my prayers for the assistance, strength, and understanding of my God, and as I had been taught by the priests I appealed to him for the security afforded by his cloak of protection. I also asked Mithras to watch over the young guard at the gate, as I had promised to do. I wasn't sure whether that plea would gain much for the young man as Mithras expected each individual to come before him as he was able, but it still made me feel better to have a hand in helping another.
Slowly my heart stopped pounding, and even though I was shivering when I entered the temple, I was now almost warm with the satisfaction of my
prayers. I fumbled in my pouch for the remaining whole barley cake I had saved from lunch, adding a crumb of cheese and a black piece of dried fruit. Promising earnestly to visit the temple the next day to make a more suitable offering, I slowly backed out of the temple leaving the lamp where I had found it, and made my way back to the Praetorium. I felt much better for having visited my god's temple, divesting myself of my fears and armoring myself with the protection of Mithras. As I moved through the almost deserted streets of the fortress, the icy winds, while still knife-keen across my bare skin, did not seem to have the same sinister
quality as before. I entered the Praetorium and went immediately to the "drawing room" where
the drawings of the potential bridge were scratched into the broad wall behind the engineer's table and stained with ink to show the drawings clearly. This was part of my job as well, to ensure that the new drawings made each day were properly inked before the next day's work. Adding more charcoal to the braziers and lighting two candles, I sat again at the table and drew to me those notes and drawings that I had been working on.
My studies continue apace under the tutelage of the engineer. What had been preliminary sketches of the proposed bridge last summer must now be cast into some formal arrangement. This led to the marking of the sketches so carefully on the walls of his office. Once these sketches were finished and corrected, I was told, the plans would be made permanent by being carved into slabs of polished marble and cast in bronze for the Emperor's files in Rome. The marble slabs would be displayed in a small house near the bridge, for all to see and marvel at the Empire's ability to build great and mighty structures. My work was part of this! In addition, the engineer has been teaching me an intriguing and subtle lore concerning physical shapes. The engineer calls it "geometria"and says that it is the mastery and understanding of this discipline that has given Roman builders such a great advantage over others in constructing great works of architecture. He says that a Greek by the name of Euclid created this discipline. As my lessons progress, the engineer has shown me how to make these drawings first on wax and clay, and then transfer them onto papyrus, and finally to enlarge them to be inscribed on the Praetorium walls.

Apparently, the Praefectus Cestrorum here has no objections to this "wall sketching," as he has often joined the engineer in his efforts, watching us at my lessons, and even sometimes lending his knowledge and expertise. My recent lessons have been directed to dividing a circle into equal portions using a peculiar instrument with two legs and riveted together at the top. This exercise is fascinating to me, and I have practiced it again and again!
While I have been working at these lessons and practicing the things I have learned, the marking of the timbers to be cut in the spring for the bridge pilings is not going well. A whole team of markers and their military escort was found slaughtered in the forest not an hour's march south of the fortress. The centurion who brought the news of the massacre said that the attackers were apparently "untamed" Germans and their tracks led back across the ice-covered Rhenus. The marking continues, but now with a whole century in support of the timber parties instead of the previous smaller units. The patrols along the River have also been increased; they are now being supported by cavalry as necessary, and new signal stations are being erected closer to the main fortress. So far about one-third of the timbers needed for pilings and the temporary bridge have been marked. The temporary bridge will be built alongside the permanent bridge that will be used to bring workers and material to the main bridge foundations. The heavy anchor cables are being twisted and then coiled for storage against their anticipated need in the Spring.
Quarries have been identified so that quarrying can begin as soon as the weather warms. One of them is so close to the river that we might be able to lower the stone into a boat or barge directly from the quarry itself without having to transport it to a pier first.
I have been given permission to sleep here in the Praetorium, if I wish to do so, so as to be near the bridge work and my lessons. This is a valued privilege since the legion's sleeping areas are unheated and one goes to his sleeping place there with all the covering one can find against the cold. Since my involvement with the engineer no-one has tagged me for patrol detail along the Rhenus Road or sentry duty protecting the timber markers in the forest. I am very pleased to be able to devote most of my free time to my lessons.
Shortly after I returned to my work upon the drawings, a centurion suddenly thrust his head around the door curtain and asked gruffly after
the engineer. I slammed to attention and replied that he had gone out, and hastily added that he had not left word where he would be. The centurion growled something unintelligible and hurried away, his nailed sandals clicking down the brick hallway. The dinner hour was nearly here but I felt that I had better stay by the office, and in my pack I had a store of barley cake and cheese to keep me from hunger. After a meager supper and straightening the room in anticipation of the next day's work, I saw that fires in the braziers were dying, so I banked the coals in each one, and laid out a supply of the special quick-burning pitch sticks that the engineer had shown me how to find and make. These were against his late return tonight or the next morning, needing to rekindle the fires to heat the room again. I unrolled my thin mattress in the corner and wrapped myself in my heavy robe. I remembered the look of harassment on the centurion's face when he looked into the room. Whatever the concern was, the solution was not likely to be easy. Centurions usually do not appeal to higher authority unless absolutely necessary. I suspected sleep might be slow to come, due to that suspense. I was right.

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