Aquila:The Letters of Lucius Spurius Pomonianus 6

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This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".
The Letters of Lucius Spurius Pomonianus 6
Letters of Lucius Spurius Pomonianus Story Index.

The Great Rhenus Fluvius

The great river spread out before the man standing in the shadow of the great cliff which overhung the river road. The river surface had the appearance of a very large white table set with the immaculate white cloth of the best , closely woven, and bleached linen. It was, of course, the Rhenus 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 knurled leafless trees close by the water.

However, in these lands the Rhenus was thought to be more than just a river, but rather a god of sorts, who when swelled by Spring floods destroyed everything it could reach close by its river bed. In the depth of winter the sounds coming from the river sounded very like the groans of a dying man, and at other times like the shattering of huge amounts of glass or pottery. Titus Otho Atticus, a former legion legate, and now the Chief Engineer to Germania with the mission of building a permanent bridge across the Rhenus. Not a temporary bridge as the Divine Caesar had built and then destroyed to show the barbarians the strength and abilities of the Ro-man Army. This bridge, his bridge, must be a lasting bridge with stone pillar supports and a heavy timber roadway. It would have to be designed to withstand the wrath of the river ice in winter, and the spring floods in the spring. Titus smiled wryly to himself as he drew his doubled cloak closer about his shoulders, in defense of the gusty wind blowing down the river canyon straight from the mountains in the distance. Even now, after his months here, he tended to think of this river as something other than what it was. The tales of the river spirit whispered in the vicus over mugs of the local beer, just outside the fortress gate, the sounds coming from the river, and the raging floods which could well be imagined from previous years waste material of vessels, houses, barns, fencing, uprooted trees, and many other items of now twisted broken, and ruined which lay in the graspof the heavy timber and brush along the river’s edge. He shook himself sharply as if to dislodge a bad idea. Titus came out here each day to look at this river, to try to get the feel of it, and to know it’s strengths and its weaknesses. But it seemed to be as a great an adversary now as it did when he had first viewed it many years ago.

Not long ago the ice-covered river would have been a natural bridge for the 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 time to time from those few holdouts who had not yet learned to accept the Roman world coming to their own, most of the tribes had either been roundly defeated, or had come to the table to be a partner to Rome. Rome’s laws and culture was beginning to tame the hill people and it was clear that many of the folk here were quite content to work at their farms and skills while enjoying the security of Rome and perhaps even becoming wealthy from the increasing number of opportunities and fruits of the Roman world. In the winter, it was difficult at best to pry warriors out of their warm houses and halls for a winter campaign. The Germans were not particularly fitted for winter warfare, any more than the Roman army was. Both could manage it, of course, but it was not done often and always with a much greater price in men and livestock than any leader was willing to lose.

Titus did not believe the stories that he had heard over the years about the powerful river spitit that supposedly controlled the entire length of the Rhenus and the valley through which it flowed, but standing here looking at the vastness of the broad river and hearing the sounds that he knew to be grinding ice, such a story would not be hard at all 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. That was the reason that far up the opposite side of the valley there were outposts and look-outs who watched for any such gatherings and provided the vital advance warning of any attack. Then too, there were scouts in the field who lived in the forests only coming in from time to time to report. Many of these scouts masqueraded as peddlers, and road merchants of the outlying villages. He did not envy either in this kind of weather.

Titus moved purposefully across the road and climbed down the embankment to the river’s edge, after tying his horse loosely to a nearby bush. When he had reached the ice, he walked out upon the the river carefully, trodding through the light snow, watching for any soft spots, and moved to the center of the river. He then brushed away the snow from the ice and rapped the surface of the river with his staff. Only the dull click of solid ice came back. It must be a couple of feet thick, he thought, enough to support the heaviest transport wagon. Again the sound of grinding ice assailed his ears and he turned and hastily regained the road and untied his horse. The river’s sounds were very unnerving. The cold was beginning to seep through his cloak, as he thrust his staff through the lower loops of his saddle, and then mounting the horse, he turned it’s head toward the fortress and the vicus. The animal sensed that they were headed for home to a warm barn and something to eat. The animal increased its pace but Titus held him in closely. It would not do at all for the horse to slip and fall from which at least some of the unskilled laborers must come. That was the real concern.

The Praefectus Castrorum of the legion fortress had welcomed his arrival and had made arrangements for a roomy engineering office. When his young assistant had fallen sick, the praefectus had obtained a young legionary immunes (military surveyor specialist) 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.

Titus returned the salute of the guards as he rode through the Main Gate. They probably wondered what he was doing at the river on a day as cold as this. Sometimes he wondered that himself. Within minutes he was rub-bing his mount down with straw in a warm barn. He turned the animal over to a sleepy-looking groom with strict order to walk him and then feed and water him, and put a blanket over him for the night.

Then Titus brushed the straw from his uniform and taking up his cloak again, walked toward the vicus. There was a small tavern in the vicus that served a tasty lamb stew, and a reasonably food Falernian wine. It was also a gathering place where people talked freely after a glass or two of wine, or a flagon of the local beer. That talk was often valuable as the Chief Engineer needed to know as much as possible about this new country in which he was to invest his immediate future.

Respectfully submitted,

M. Minucius Audens

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