Literary Contest II ~ Ludi Conditorum 2761 AUC (Nova Roma)/Winner
LETTER FROM LUGDUNUM
by C. Aurelia Falco Silvana
written in Lugdunum, Gallia in the year 822 auc on the 15th of February (Lupercalia)
My dear mother, your loving son sends warmest greetings. If you are well, my mother, then I shall be well also.
I pray the Gods that you are in good health and that our house in Rome is warm and secure against the weather and against the rumors that fly like the snowflakes here in Gaul. To my sister also, greetings. As you guessed in your last letter, I am still far from home. Though I long to be at your side, I sorrow that only my sister will be with you for the Matronalia. But the two of you will surely attend for the sake of the babe she carries.
I am saving to buy a gift for each of you, but I must ask your patience a while longer. Our salaries have not been paid for the last two paydays, which means more than six months. I am afraid my savings have shrunk as I must purchase a few necessaries for myself.
But let me not wail about myself. I must tell you what I shall send: two fine embroidered cloaks in the style of the Belgic women. There is nothing in the world so warm as a Belgic woolen cloak. Even the roughest, plainest Belgic blanket is a treasure. I learned this when we were stationed in Germania. Only please wait a little longer and you shall each have one. Our centurion says they must pay us soon. We soldiers, I confess, like him very much when he growls out the word "must."
I shall speak frankly in this letter, dear mother, because I know it will pass through our General's couriers and none other. I ask you to be sure you are alone before you continue reading.
There's also the fat bonus each and every soldier was to receive. You will remember I wrote to you after our Legion helped to crush the traitor Gaius Iulius Vindex in Gaul? We waited many months for a reward we earned with our blood. Some men paid with their lives, including two from our tent. All we received after we returned to Germania was a handful of air. Our general finally mustered our Legions one by one, and told us Old Galba refused to pay up.
We have had few news, and they are always late reaching us. Last year, one of the men in our tent (he's a Spaniard) received a letter from home telling how Old Galba left Hispania Terraconensis. We bet on whether the dotard would actually make it to Rome; my bet was that he wouldn't.
So I lost some of my savings when I read your last letter to my tent-mates. It's a good thing our family is modest, and father has been careful in his political leanings. Another tent-mate's family lost everything when Old Galba went after the riches Emperor Nero had spread amongst his cronies.
We really became a united military force this past winter. Oh, yes, we march together, drill and fight and carouse together, but we were never really united until all of us, from the greenest soldier to the General himself, had the same thought in mind and committed the same sin: every last one of us refused to swear allegiance to that ancient, doddering creature who dares to call himself "emperor" as if he were a true Augustus. (I am sorry for displaying my anger, but I write on some vellum I have cadged, so I cannot wipe out my words.)
You must wonder that this letter is from Lugdunum. In January, we marched west out of the frozen snows of Germania. Moving, even slogging through the snow, was better than sitting around shivering where we were. It was slow going and after eight days we had only made about 150 mileswhen this courier rides past us, all along our ranks heading for the front of the column. He must have been trailing us, catching up to us. Then word spreads back down the rank and file: Old Galba's gone and died. Lynched, rumor has it. Most of us didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Good riddance to bad rubbish (did I write that? sorry). And no hope of ever seeing the fat reward owed to us since we took down C. Iulius Vindex. The only hope we have of even seeing our back-pay is to keep marching and trust our General.
None of us soldiers were really supposed to know exactly where we were going, but the General's cook talked to the slave two tents down, and so on. We're recruiting new troops to make up for our losses last year. (It's hard to look at the two empty spaces in our tent where our comrades used to sleep.) Chilly Lugdunum feels like Massilia after the ice and snow of Germania, but tomorrow we head further south for more recruiting.
My candle is burning low, so I will only tell you a little about our General, and then I sleep. He is Fabius Valens, and if you do not yet know his name, you soon will. Through the web of cooks and slaves and grooms we hear that we, common soldiers, shall once again serve Rome with honor and pride. We have many miles of marching ahead of us.
For your own sake, because you are my mother and because I am with the army of General Valens, this is all I can tell you. I trust I shall see you and my sister before her baby is born.
In sorrow that I cannot be with you for the Matronalia, in joy that I may soon take your hands in mine, your loving son wishes you health and the peace that only the Gods can give.