March or Die

comitatussoldier5As soon as the detachment was out of sight of the fortress of Vindolanda they moved to the side of the road. The eight-man team nearest to Marcus cut away a circle of sward and started to build a foot-high, stone wall around the cleared ground. The rest of the troop had split into small groups and were doing the same.

“What exactly is going on?”

One of the Germans had produced a thick dry log from his pack and propped it, upright within the circle. It had a hole drilled down the centre. He looked up.

“Second breakfast.”

As Marcus began to protest the team leader sauntered over. Dressed in a copper scale-armour shirt with a Sparta hanging from his belt, soft leather trousers and puttees, a fox pelt covering his bronze helmet and a heavy gold torque round his neck he made an intimidating figure as he loomed over the orderly.

“We’re all willing to pretend you’re in charge, sonny, but don’t push it. We’ll get you to whatever shit hole we’re headed for in plenty of time. Grub will be up shortly.”

As the corporal walked away Marcus yearned longingly after the retreating boots. What he wouldn’t give for boots like that instead of his standard issue sandals. And a pair of trousers.

Throughout this exchange the huddled group of auxiliaries had been filling the hole in their log with tinder, sprinkling the whole thing liberally with alcohol from a flask of home-brew and now struck flint to steel. There was a spark, an explosion and a plume of choking smoke. Within minutes flames jetted from the hole in the log. A shallow pan appeared and a string of fat, pale sausages. As they sizzled and browned the Teutonic NCO, tesserarius in auxilia parlance, broke up two coarse loaves and called over.

“Hey, Enema, get yourself wrapped round some of this.”

The bread was dry and the sausages composed of heavily spiced gristle encased in the tough intestine of an unidentified road kill. It took some chewing, but Marcus had to admit he felt better with something warm inside him. While he mopped up the last fatty residue with a piece of bread the rest of the company were removing any signs of the temporary campsite and packing away their utensils. Soon they were all back on the road.

As they marched on a persistent, icy drizzle set in. Marcus pulled his woollen cloak about him and watched a pair of ravens circling in the dank, grey sky.

“They’ll have spotted a carcass out on the moor. Dead sheep I shouldn’t wonder. Name’s Hermann by the way. Shall I send a couple of men over to see if there’s anything edible?” The tesserarius’ scale armour and studded baltea clinked as he trudged.

“I’m Marcus. And no, we don’t have time and don’t need to raid some disgusting rotting corpse.”

“Right you are, Enema.”

At midday they stopped for a meal of grey, glutinous boiled cereal. It was spooned out from a sealed container in thick, moist lumps and mixed with goat’s milk and an equal measure of their alcoholic beverage. There was little chance of a fire in the incessant rain so it was eaten cold.

Late afternoon saw them parked at the roadside yet again, eating bread and cheese. Marcus was cold, fed up and had kicked a dry-stone wall in frustration, never a good idea in sandals.

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