Aquila:The Letters of Lucius Spurius Pomonianus 5

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This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".
The Letters of Lucius Spurius Pomonianus 5
Letters of Lucius Spurius Pomonianus Story Index.

The Great Rhinus Fluvius

The great river spread out before the man standing in the shadow of the high cliff that overhung the river road. The river surface had the appearance of a very large white table set with an immaculate white cloth of the finest and most closely woven and bleached linen. It was, of course, the Rhinus Fluvius in it's winter coat. A light snow storm that morning had laid a covering of white over all, softening the craggy features of the river ice, and the knarled and leafless trees close by the water's edge.

However, in these lands the Rhinus was thought to be more than just a great river. The stories were that the river was a god of sorts, or an evil spirit who lay deep within the river channel, and who swelled the river in it's spring floods and destroyed everything that it could reach close by the river bed. In the depth of winter the sounds coming from the river sounded very like the groans of a dying man and / or the smashing of glass or pottery.

Titus Otho Atticus, was a former legion legate, and now the Chief Engineer to Germania Inferior with the mssion of building a permanent bridge across this river. Not a tempory bridge such as the Devine Caesar had built from timber only, and then later destroyed to impress the barbarian peoples, but rather a permanent bridge of stone pillar supports and heavy timber roadway that would withstand the fury of the Rhinus through all seasons for years to come and bring a generous Roman commerce to the far side of the river. in order for this bridge to be a lasting bridge he must be able to design it to withstand the wrath of the river ice in Winter, and the destructive floods in the Spring.

Titus smiled to himself as he drew his heavy cloak closer about his shoulders against the gusty and bitterly cold wind blowing down the river canyon straight from the high mountains in the distance. Even now, after his months here, he tended to think of this simple flowing river as something other than what it was. The wild tales of the "river spirit" whispered in the vicus, just outside the main fortress gate, the strange sounds coming from the river, and the raging floods that could be well imagined from the waste material of vessels, houses, barns, fencing, uprooted trees, and many other items now ruined and broken which lay twisted in the grip of the heavy brush along the long river bank made these "wild stories" hard not to believe. He shook himself as though to dislodge a bad idea. He came out here each day to look at the river, to get the feel of it and to better know it's strengths and weaknesses. But it seemed to be as great an adversary now as it had when he had first viewed it many years ago.

Not too awfully long ago, the ice-covered river would have been a natural bridge for barbarian raiders to cross the river and attack the vicus and the Roman patrols, but that was pretty much in the past now, and while there were still a few raids from those who had not yet learned to accept the Roman world coming to thier own, most of the tribes had been either roundly defeated, or had come to the table to be a partner to Rome in some manner. Rome's laws and culture were beginning to tame the hill people and it was clear that the folk here were quite content to work and enjoy the security of Rome, while the opportunity to become wealthy was extended to them as never before. They could also enjoy many of the fruits of the Roman world and perhaps even look forward to Roman citizenship in coming years.

In the winter, it was difficult at best to pry warriors out of their warm houses and halls for a winter campaign. The barbarians were not particularly fitted for winter warfare, any more than the Roman army was, their only advantage was having been brought up in the climate of Germania. Both could manage it, of course, but it was not often done and when it was it was at a cost of both men and livestock that most leaders were reluctant to accept.

Titus did not believe any of the stories that he had heard over the years about the powerful river spirit that supposedly controlled the entire length of the Rhinus and the valley through which it flowed, but standing there looking at the vastness of this broad river, they were stories hard not to believe.

A dark band of trees faced Titus across the river, and it was, as he well knew, the place from which any enemy raid would issue. Such then, was the reason that far up the opposite side of the valley there were outposts and lookouts who watched for any such gathering of an enemy host, and provided to the main legion fortress that vital advance warning of a pending attack. Then too there were scouts in the field disgiused as various itinerents such as peddlers, and road merchants who lived in the forests only coming in from time to time to report. They also kept a watch on the villages and the roads beyond the watch towers. Titus did not envy either in this kind of weather.

The engineer tied his mount loosely to a stark bush by the side of the cliff, moved purposefully across the road, and climbed down the embankment to the river's edge. When he had reached the ice, he walked out upon the river some distance trodding through the light snow to test the ice, watching carefully for soft spots and slowly moving to the center of the river. Here he brushed away the snow until the ice was bare, and then he bounced his heavy oaken staff against the ice listening carefully for the hollow sound of thin ice. Only the hard sound of a stick striking a solid object came back to him. Titus whistled under his breath, thinking,' It must be a couple of feet thick,' he mused, 'enough to support the heaviest transport wagon.' The engineer hastily regained the road and untied his horse. The cold wind was beginning to seep through the double thickness of his red cloak. He thrust the staff into the loops made for it hanging from the saddle and remounted, turning the horse's head toward the fortress and the vicus. The animal sensed that they were returning home to a warm barn, something to eat as well as a warm straw covered stall, and quickened his pace, but Titus held hm in closely. It would not do to slip and fall on this icey road and add more fuel to the stories about the river's vengence on those who came here to tame it.

Titus, the engineer, was here to build a bridge, a lasting monument to Roman skill, and already his young asistant engineer had taken sick. He had fallen into the river while doing a preliminary survey for the best bridge location. He was now in the fortress hospital with a high fever, and the Chief Surgeoon did not hold out much hope for him. This concern had already begun the older heads to wagging, as the tales of the "River God's" revenge were woven around the young man's accident. But whether Titus believed the stories or not, many would, both in the legions and in the friendly vilages nearby from which some of the unskilled labor for the bridge work force must come. That was the real concern.

The Praefectus Castrorum of the legion fortress had welcomed his arrival and made rrangements for a roomy office for him. When the other engineer had fallen sick the Praefectus had obtained a young legionary "immunes" as a scribe for him. The young man seemed eager enough, but his ability to take the place of a trained engineer was most unlikely. Even if the young engineer survived his illness, he would be sent home to fully recover, and a replacement would have to be selected and approved and then sent out from Rome. Titus could count on being without any engineering asistance for at least a year in the best of circumstances.

As he rode through the fortress gate he returned the saute of the guards posted there. They probably wondered what he was doing at the river on such a bitterly cold day as this. Titus sometimes wondered as well.

Within minutes the engineer was rubbing his mount down with dry straww in a warm barn. He then turned the animal over to a sleepy looking groom with strict orders to walk, water and feed the horse and then put a blanket over him for the night.

Titus then brushed the straw from his clothing and taking up his cloak again he walked back through the fortress gate toward the vicus. There was a small tavern close by the main gate that served a tasty lamb stew, and a good Falernian wine. However, as hungry as he was for food and drink he was even hungrier for information. This tavern was alo a gathering place for local people, where he could listen to their talk about the local world around them. He felt this information was vital, in that he needed to know as much as possible about this strange land in which he was about to invest his immediate future and his career as an engineer.

(To be continued)

Respectfully submitted,

M. Minucius Audens

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