Aquila:Rhine River Patrol - A Beginning

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This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".
Rhine River Patrol - A Beginning
Rhine River Patrol Story Index.

A Beginning----

The dawn slowly became more prominant in the distant sky as Apollo's Chariot approached the rim of the world. The smell of melting pitch began to drift upon the air, it's heavy odor heady and strong but somehow pleasing to one long accustomed to such, and the saw-pits by the launching ramps added to this aroma the rich smell of new-sawn lumber. These odors in the predawn hours raised many memoriesin the mind of the man who stood above the shipyard on a small hill. The place was the Lower Rhinus Ship-Building Yard and just acoss the river were the ship-storage sheds still half full of river vessels from the winter storage, but now silent and still prior to the mustering of their crews. Only two sentries moved along the narrow river-frontage piers.

The huge piles of lumber which not so long ago had been the only indication of intention were now reduced to a mere few unneeded planks and in their place were three fine new sleek and low slung liburnians on the launching ways. His new command!! These ships now almost complete would soon taste the water of the Rhinus and then they would patrol the Coast of Germania, and escort Roman merchant vessels to their destination either up the Rhinus to the Legon Bases or back to Ostia, and then to Rome. Soon once again the calker's hammers would begin their unceasing chatter, and the shipyard would come alive once again,like a great beast awakened from his slumber. But for now, only a few slaves stirred, feeding the fires under the ptch pots which lit the shadows along he waters edgewith their flickering, dacinging flame-light.

The river itself flowed smoothly along, without a ripple, a quiet entity now, undisturbed and moving toward it's ultimate destintion in the deep sea, which would end it's long journey from the Mountains thaosands of stades from this place. Marcus made a sign of respect to the Rhinus God. He knew better than most men of the rage and damage of which the river god was capable when it's flow was prevented or interfered with, by the hands of men. He knew too the destruction that could be wielded by the minions of the God Rhinus in times of flood or of the ice breakup each season of the rains when the God Rhinus rampaged in his bed and brought destruchtion and suffering to those who had forgotten he power of his forces. The river Rhinus was a valuable ever-flowing road into the interior of Germania whose service to carry upon it's bosom trade, patrol, and commerce was as necessary to Rome as were it's much vaunted land roads, the ever hungary legions, and the growing cities of this western colonia. It was prudent indeed to show respect to such a diety as this, particularly since his well-being as well as his military career depended in large part upon his affinity for this fluvia upon which he now gazed.

It was a good time to be alive, thought Marcus, as he stood feet wide apart as though braced against a quartering sea, even though the land was solid beneath him. Marcus Fulminatus Vindex, the newly appointed "Navarch" of the just as new patrol squadron of the Classis Germanica gave thanks for this new assignment, and was pleased indeed at the progress made on the vessels that he was to command. He wandered down into the yard itself and standing close by one of the hulls touched the side of the vessel. Many thoughts ran through his head and among them was the thought that although officially designated as a Lower Rhinus Patrol Squadron, and assigned to patrol duties on the Lower Rhinus Fluvius, it was known only to the Classis Praefect, himself and the Senior Centurion assigned to the squadron, that this unit under his command would have the primary task of clearing the Rhinus Delta of a particularly active pirate band operating against Roman and Roman-chartered Merchant ships supplying the colonia of Germania as well as the western Roman Legions. Todayhe was to meet the Cohort Centurian in order to make plans for the housing of the cohort. The housing of the fleet crews was already taken care of.

His previous service as "Triarchus" of the "Vesta," a trireme out of Classis Misenensis (Misenum), had been blessed with the capture of a pirate ship off the coast of Sicilia. The pirate foolishly tried to take a ship contracted to Emperor Trajan which carried marines (legionaries) and they held off the pirates by lashing the pirate ship to the merchant vessel with grapnels. When the "Vesta" came up the pirates ceased their fighting , cut their ship loose and tried to escape. However the "Vesta" was a swift sailer and even better under both oars and sail. "Vesta" captured the pirates and their ship, retrieving much of the stolen cargo before the pirate ship sank. The pirate captain and his some 20 men were retained, judged and crucified along the Via Appia as a warning to any others who might want to take up a pirate's way. The state would see that they had a pirate's ending.

This action caught the attention of Trajan, and Marcus was invited to the palace in Rome for a meeting with the Emperor and and a sumptuous dinner in his honor. The action had also gained Marcus a promotion and this assignment on the frontier. All this suited Marcus very well, as the gilt and pomp of Rome disturbed him in some mysterious way. He had dreamed and wished for the long lonely stretches of coastline, a dawn patrol, and the constant excercise of pitting his seamanship against both the sea, and the elusive pirate bands. Whatever might be said of them about their crimes and their greed, it had to be recognized that they were very elusive, skilled, well versed in the tactics that fitted their particular efforts, and they seemed to be very well informed into the bargain.

As the day became brighter, Marcus wandered in among the three liburnians resting on their individual launching forms. Soon all three would be ready to taste the waters of the Rhinus now that their hulls were closed and tightly sealed. Then all that would remain to complete would be the rigging of the vessels and the fitting out with supplies and weapons. He walked in among the piles of heavy cordage and the sails being cut and sewn in the loft over the rope walk. Each vessel would have mounted in her bow a small scorpion catapult capable of firing bolts, stones or fire-arrows. His legion friends at Misenum had suggested this unique arrangement of ready ammunition being built into the ship's upper-works to assist in maximising the rate of fire for this weapon. It had been most successful on "Vesta" and in the capture of the pirate vessel. Marcus had duplicated the plans. moderating and downsizing the plans on the three liburnians, a well as on the "Pinnata", his command ship, a trireme of clean lines and highly vaunted sailing ability.which he was anxious to test. "Pinnata" was smaller than "Vesta" and was currently tied to the rigging pier, shortly to be completed and within a tenth day from today moved to anchorage to make room for the first of the liburnians off the launching cradle.

Marcus would have to give a great deal of thought to naming each of the new ships, and to the special prayers, offerings, and ceremony of the naming so vital to a ship going into harm's way. He did not want to leave this to the Pontiffs alone, who dealt in such things, but rather wished to be present and visable in this very important ceremony. It bodes well, he thought, to be in the eye of the Gods, especially on an unforgiving sea, and against a wily and ruthless opponent.

As the workers began to fill the yard, and the day was well started , Marcus turned his steps toward his office over the hill. Part of the Principia for the Fleet Praefect there was alloted to senior naval officers, and his small office was next to the Praefect's Cornicularius who acted as both the Praefect's Adjuant and maintained the shipyard and the fleet file rooms and the clerks and librarii who worked there. In a few minutes Marcus was scheduled to meet with the Cornicularius and the five Centurions who actually ran the shipyard and the legion cohort stationed here to form the legion marines,who would man the squadron. After the morning report, Marcus would meet briefly with his four triarchi, and then with the Classis Praefect to go over the progress on the ships abuilding as well as the command ship and the latest reports, if any, from Rome pertaining to his squadron's assignments and movement. He picked up his pace as he moved toward the Principia thinking again, that this was a good time to be alive.

To Be Continued----

Next: Aquila:Rhine River Patrol - A Meeting

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