By the time they arrived at their destination it was growing dark and drizzle had penetrated every item of clothing. On a bare patch of mud at the roadside an overgrown ditch and dilapidated palisade encompassed the sad castra. Marcus strode to the front of his men and past Hermann, who was just about to hail the guard.
“I’ll handle this.” The auxiliary trooper on guard duty looked down from a watchtower above the gate. “We are the construction detachment. Your commander is expecting us.”
“His eminence will be in the principia, probably. Make yourselves at home. Welcome to The Swamp.” The guard paused and then added, “…sir.”
As the gate was already propped open Marcus waved his men forward.
“Come on chaps. Form up and wait for me inside. I’ll present our orders to the commander.” Within the defences were tents, leather tents laid out in rows on the same bare mud as was everywhere under foot. There was a row of lavatory pits, open to the elements, being utilised by three sullen squadies. With little enthusiasm Marcus approached the only building on the site. It hardly deserved the title principia being a wooden structure, its roof ridge barely fifteen feet off the ground. The main, east, door was approached through a small courtyard inhabited by chickens. A tan coloured sow grubbed in the doorway of an outbuilding.
Inside Marcus stood in a hall that extended the full width of the building, Facing him was a pierced screen beyond which he could make out a shrine and the unit’s standard. To each side of this sacellum were doors to adjoining rooms. The one to his left appeared to be locked, but to his right the door stood ajar and someone beyond it had a nasty cough. Marcus called out.
“Could someone direct me to the unit commander?”
“Who’s that?” The reply was in Latin spoken with a thick Spanish accent and the figure that appeared in the doorway was short and a little overweight. He was wearing breeches under his tunic and a long sheepskin coat that had seen better days, or perhaps it had not. “You look bedraggled. What do you want?”
“The unit commander.”
“You’re talking to him. So…?”
“Sorry sir. Er… Sir…
“We… I have just arrived with the construction detachment. I believe we are expected. Our orders…” Marcus ferreted around in his satchel, produced a number of tablets and handed them over. The first of the thin wooden diptychs, hand written in cursive Latin script, introduced the bearer to the base commander. A Second tablet named the members of the detachment and detailed any particular skills. And yet another tablet laid out their mission. The men were to build a hostelry to a standard plan. This site was to become a staging post on the road to… To where? The road led from Nowhere to Nothinghere.
“Thank you. You are a medic I see. That could be useful. Most of my men are Belgians, hailing from some bog no better than this. But I have Syrian archers that have never taken to the climate. Always going down with something.
“I’ve already had tents erected for you and your men, over by the west wall. Get yourselves sorted out. And get over to the mess tent while there’s still something hot on the go. Report back in the morning.” The Spaniard turned back into his room without acknowledging Marcus’ salute. The forlorn orderly squelched out, leaving a pool of water on the flagstones where he had been standing.