To Die Like a Roman by Brian Nutter

Surely nobody would be stupid enough to attack the armies of Rome!

Fall, 8 A.D. East bank of the Rhine. Bechte Village.

It was a chilly morning, even for Germany. Evantrix started the morning, as most of his comrades did, with a hangover. The tribal chieftain Taliportas had summoned the leaders of the war-bands together from throughout his lands to discuss the upcoming war with Rome. Talk had been bold throughout the night, and the silent presence of Taliportas' Druid Trug had added an air of mystery to the discussion. The German warlords had plotted and planned till late in the night, when they had finally begun passing out in large numbers from the mead. After several days and nights of working out details, the war-bands had begun to drift home for the winter. Talk of assistance from the Forest Mother in the destruction of the Romans had sounded inspiring last night, although it rang a bit more hollow by day. What help could some half-breed child of the Forest Queen actually be? More realistic was the ambush to be arranged by Ariovistus, of the Roman auxiliaries.

Evantrix and his men had been slowly preparing to go home, drinking and committing what mischief they could. He was searching for a tree worthy of pissing upon when the word reached him that Taliportas himself desired his presence. And Taliportas was not one to be made to wait.

Evantrix entered the chieftain's hut and bowed his head. And waited quietly, because he was smart, for a barbarian, and didn't need to be reminded of his place.

"Evantrix, I have a task for you. Because one of your men speaks Latin and has some understanding of coins for trade, I want you to cross the Rhine with him, go to the Roman market and buy slaves. Thirteen of them. Do you know this number?" Taliportas asked.

"Uh . . .," Evantrix started cleverly, "numbers. Yes, Lord. I know one, two, uh . . . five. Yes, five. But I do not know this number thirteen, Lord." Advanced counting was not a strong point among German warriors, and Taliportas had not expected an affirmative answer.

Taliportas continued. "Thirteen. One for each of your fingers. Both hands. One for each foot. And one more for your rod. My man will give you silver and an amulet. Go to Oak Landing and find the boatman. Show him the amulet and tell him that you do the bidding of the Old One. Have him take you across the Rhine and make sure that he knows to bring you back with the slaves. The slaves must be young and healthy. Those civilized slaves will be soft. You will have to feed them. Every day. Don't mark them. And if you don't bring me all of them I will use you to make up the difference. Do you understand?

"Yes, lord. One for each of my fingers. One for each foot. And one for my rod. Yes, Lord. I understand." And he was led out of the hut. The Druid Trug handed him two good-sized bags of silver, and an amulet with a holy symbol that Evantrix dimly recognized.

Evantrix had a pretty good memory and aspirations, and no intention of mishandling this duty. And his hangover had largely subsided. He rounded up his men and their gear, and they left later that morning for a jovial walk through the German forest. They had a generally uneventful journey, carrying little of obvious value except their weapons, and looking as though they knew how to use them. And they were boisterous, even obnoxious. Those they encountered in the forest generally wished themselves anywhere else.

The boatman at Oak Landing was duly impressed by the amulet. He took no silver, and agreed to wait on the west bank until their return. Most of Evantrix' men stayed on the east bank of the river, where trouble with the Roman authorities was much less likely. He took only Barda, an imposing, huge man who had lost a finger to a jealous husband, and Taxantrix, who knew such good Latin, with him into the Roman territory. It was a surprisingly quiet ride across. German warriors from Evantrix' neck of the woods generally couldn't swim. They had some considerable fear of the river itself, and, though they would never admit it, they dreaded the prospect of walking Roman lands. They would feel quite vulnerable until their return to their own haunts.

The Roman auctioneer at Novaesium saw them coming. He had done business with barbarians before. They often overpaid, having no idea of the real worth of things. They weren't nearly as clever as they thought they were, and could often be cheated. But they were bold, and this trio just walked up and started bidding. One would hold up increasing numbers of small silver coins, repeatedly calling out "My paying" in Latin. The Roman crowd, on occasions when rubes such as these showed up, delighted in running up bids. And trying not to get caught with overpriced merchandise. It was great entertainment. The crowd loved it.

The German's buying pattern quickly became obvious. They only wanted prime merchandise. Young and healthy. Attractive, but of either sex. And prime merchandise this day fetched almost double what it normally did. As the collection of slaves tied to the Germans increased, the crude attempts at counting became quite obvious. As the count passed ten, it took them longer and longer to figure out how many they still had to buy. The auctioneer slowed down so they would stay in the bidding, because he didn't want them to leave with money in their pouches. He and the crowd thought it the funniest thing they had seen in years.

The first German walked down the line, poking each slave with a different finger. Kicking the next two, and humping the last one. The second German was still kicking when he ran out of slaves. The nine-fingered German humped before he was out of slaves. Every Roman in the forum looked away if one of the Germans looked at him, and laughed uproariously otherwise. The auctioneer feigned ignorance of what they wanted when they asked him to count, intending to sell an overpriced spare. The Germans argued and counted, then finally bought the spare. A good day for sellers of slaves.

A hook-nosed centurion with a long scar over one eye had been attracted by the noise of the crowd. He stayed to watch the proceedings, and laughed to see the barbarians get clipped by a sharp Latin businessman, who, by the way, paid him a modest kickback for certain services rendered. When the Germans were obviously finished buying, the centurion approached them.

They merely looked at him as he took his staff and drew in the dirt. Four lines for fingers, then a fifth for a thumb. Then a second hand. Then four more lines. "Fourteen," he said in their own language, and walked away smiling merrily. Some of their coin would soon enough find its way into his own purse. Evantrix knew then for certain that he had an extra slave, but consoled himself that now he could afford to lose one on the way home and he still wouldn't be in trouble.

The Germans finally rounded up their thirteen, give or take, slaves and headed for the Rhine. Evantrix congratulated Taxantrix on his command of Latin. He couldn't help but notice the sense of resignation on the faces of the slaves as the boatman took them past the end of the world and into the unknown. But he felt no particular pity for them, since he couldn't really imagine himself in their place. Imagination was another thing German warriors weren't particularly strong in. He and his men, on the other hand, felt much better on the east bank of the Rhine.

The trio with their slaves rejoined the awaiting war-band. Evantrix restrained his men from entertaining themselves with the slaves, mindful of Taliportas' instructions. Except at night. And he did insure that none of them was marked or, even more importantly, killed. He even saw them all fed, including the spare one.

The Druid Trug was eager to reclaim his amulet. Taliportas was happy enough until his Druid had finished counting the slaves. The fourteenth slave reminded Trug about the silver, the remainder of which he then took from Evantrix. Evantrix told his story, describing the considerable activity of the Roman Legion at Novaesium. The lecture on wasting the silver was short and came from Trug. The praise for doing well otherwise came from Taliportas himself, and Evantrix was told to return sixteen days hence to observe the purpose for which the slaves had been collected. Since Evantrix did not know this number either, Taliportas opted to honor him with a summons instead. Evantrix clearly was a man with a future.

Fall, 8 A.D. West bank of the Rhine. X Cohort, XVII Legion post. Near Novaesium.

As was his habit on duty, the first centurion screamed, "Marcellus, get them in line. We have orders to get this detachment back to headquarters, and it is time to MOVE." Marcus Marcellus Spinther was the fourth centurion of the X cohort of the XVII Legion, and knew how to lay about with his staff. You didn't make fourth centurion up from the ranks without familiarity with both ends of that staff. The X cohort was formed up behind its banner in short order, and the first centurion had them moving.

Again, the first centurion screamed, "Gnaeus, take the end of the line and beat some discipline into the stragglers. We have to make soldiers out of these recruits." Publius Gnaeus Scipio was the second centurion of the cohort. Being born a distant nephew of THE Scipio Africanus was his primary military accomplishment to date, although he had acquired an impressive scar over one eye suppressing the Pannonian revolt. At a brothel. He hoped that next year's campaign would secure him glory, promotion, and a bright career with the armies of Rome. An uncle with the Praetorian Guard might get him transferred back to Rome in a couple of years if his local commanders wrote well of him. Any stragglers would indeed have lumps to show for their lack of discipline. Although those with a little coin to offer might get only bruises, depending on how much they offered. Gnaeus was also a man with a future.

The centurions of the XVII Legion were drilling recruits at various posts along the Rhine frontier. Morale was good among the men. Steady meals and the occasional visit by a physician had been out of the question for most of them as civilians. Discipline was strict in the Legion, but the daily wine ration almost made up for it. They were all citizens, and they knew that a Roman Legion could handle any barbarians yet born. Beatings, twenty-mile marches, and constant weapons training were simply how it was done. These men were no mere auxiliaries, non-citizens working their way to the coveted Roman citizenship, nor even locally raised Legions. These men had been born in Rome herself, or had at least told a recruiter that they were.

Marcellus kept up a steady chatter with the men, chiding slovenly behavior and inventing stories of brothels and farmers' daughters to keep them moving and their minds off of their feet. Roman Legions had found that a few years of this training produced solid soldiers who followed orders and would keep moving far beyond the point of exhaustion. Having them execute the occasional condemned criminal gave them a taste for blood. But getting them to stand in the face of screaming barbarians was hard to do without some real fighting. Truly veteran units like Caesar's famous X Legion were simply impossible to create in peacetime.

Winter 8-9 A.D. East bank of the Rhine. Teutoberger Forest.

Evantrix found himself quite impressed by the Druid's ceremony. The moon was full, and it was easy to see what was going on. Trug started chanting with a strong accent, but he was understandable. Although he did not quite catch when the language of the chant had changed, at some point Evantrix ceased to understand a word. It appeared that Taliportas had summoned him to a sacrifice to the Forest Mother, and it was likely to be her tongue that they spoke. Maybe even her name that they called.

All but one of the slaves from the Roman slave market were brought out. Their hands and feet were bound to each other in a circle around a huge oak tree that the Druid seemed to favor. A long rope of a strange, almost living, material was placed in a larger circle around them and knotted with some considerable pomp. Banners with the vaguely familiar holy symbol hung from that rope. The men who brought out the slaves were clothed in a strange manner, and one stood between each pair of slaves. Taliportas was one of those men, but his eyes made him stand out from the others. Evantrix also recognized Ariovistus of the Roman auxiliaries, whose role had been central at the war council. The slaves' eyes were wild with fear. Some of them struggled to free themselves from their bonds and some stood impassively, but the men behind them prevented any breaking of that circle. It was a very impressive ceremony.

The Druid removed a knife from within his robe, stepped behind a slave, and opened her throat in rhythm with the chant. When the lifeblood of the slave hit the ground, something began to happen within the oak tree. Evantrix thought he saw the tree become what could only be the Forest Mother's Dark Child. He had no frame of reference to understand or to describe what he saw. Evantrix outwardly pretended that such things appeared in the woods all the time, and might have gotten away with it if he hadn't pissed upon himself. The remaining slaves screamed in fear and panic as one by one they were taken by the Princess of this German forest.

Evantrix really hadn't understood the power of the Forest Mother, whose progeny unexpectedly stood before him. It appeared to him as a tree with hooved legs, and he feared this tree quite unlike he had ever feared anything else. The earth shook as it moved about on those legs, and the air smelled of the horror of the grave. A spot on the trunk which had appeared earlier to be a broken branch now looked like a mouth.

The Dark Child killed by swinging its oddly long branches around and striking the slaves, slicing them bloodily into pieces. The circle of German warriors broke and ran at its approach, but the hobbled slaves could do nothing to save themselves. Some of the Germans fled screaming into the forest, but Evantrix stood unable to move. He drooled slightly as he watched Trug and Taliportas speak with the creature from outside the macabre circle. It seemed unable to pass beyond the rope. Or maybe it was the banners, with their familiar religious symbol, attached to the rope. Where slaves and pieces of slaves lay within the circle, the Dark Child casually continued to shred them as it spoke to Trug and Taliportas.

When the conversation was over, the Dark Child faded back into a seemingly normal oak tree. The tree stood in the middle of the circle, appearing as ordinary as it had before the ceremony. Except for the blood. One of Taliportas' retainers approached Evantrix, whose eyes seemed totally unable to focus. The retainer led him back to his men, who simply assumed he was drunk. Which he often was.

Evantrix did realize that the power of the Forest Mother and her Dark Child was the means by which Taliportas intended to destroy the Romans. And that there was no reason for it not to work. He hadn't quite gotten that feeling from the war council in the fall, but he was quite thoroughly convinced of it now.

Spring, 9 A.D. West bank of the Rhine. XVII Legion headquarters.

The VIII cohort was neither the first nor the last to reach the assembly point. The Legion had spent its winter broken into detachments along the Rhine, and even superior Roman planning for that sort of thing couldn't get a Legion reassembled overnight. The previous year that selfsame Roman planning had, however, managed to get enough recruits to the Rhine for three fully manned Legions, and centurions had been drilling most of them for the better part of a year.

There were damn few in the ranks of the XVII, XVIII, and XIX Legions who had seen combat, but the recruits were mostly from Rome herself and would therefore eventually make good Legionnaires. They just needed an easy campaign against nice undisciplined German individualists to mold them into soldiers. Which is just what Commander Quintilius Varus had in mind. He had needed little convincing from his local ally Ariovistus that a Roman punitive expedition would be just the thing to put him in good favor with Emperor Augustus. There was always a pretext for punishing barbarian rabble. And Augustus had authorized the recruitment of so many men that Varus had to repay his patron with something.

The particular pretext Ariovistus had given Varus involved a low-grade revolt. The tree-hugging Druids had been creating trouble along the Roman frontier for years. Rumors from deep within Germany that they had succeeded in bringing some barbarian god or other to feast on Roman corpses had finally heated things up to a stiff boil. Rome was off to war.

Roman planning managed to get three Legions formed up across the Rhine in reasonably short order. It had even managed to get the camp followers and baggage trains sorted out, as it had been doing for centuries. Varus had felt the barbarians to be little enough of a threat that he had allowed the common-law wives of his men to come, as long as they stayed out of the way. The Legions formed smoothly and marched out. The auxiliaries left first, in fairly loose order. As centurions of the X cohort, Marcus Marcellus Spinther and Publius Gnaeus Scipio brought up the end of the XVII Legion, just ahead of the engineers. They could occasionally hear their first centurion screaming at someone far ahead of them. And they marched into Teutoberger Forest because Rome had sent them there.

Spring, 9 A.D. Near Bechte Village.

Evantrix had permanently lost partial control of his facial muscles at the summoning and still drooled slightly, but none of his men dared to mention it. They feared the look he had gotten behind his eyes. They were all impressed by the tremendous number of tribesmen gathering around Bechte Village. Ariovistus had, according to plan, managed to get three Legions to march blindly into the Teutoberger Forest, and every warrior east of the Rhine could smell glory and Roman booty. Taliportas was confident that his massed warriors and the Dark Surprise could annihilate every single Roman who had crossed the Rhine.

Word had been coming of the Roman approach for several days. Evantrix took his men out to their designated spot. His instructions were to strike the Romans only after the sounds of battle could be heard from forward of his location. He positioned his men and those placed under his leadership by Taliportas in the woods about 300 paces from the trail that the Romans were taking. There were hundreds of men altogether, and those were just the ones Evantrix could see with him. Hidden in the trees, they watched and waited. Evantrix performed a ritual detailed to several of the leaders by the Druid Trug so that the trees might favor and hide them. After seeing the Dark Child, he thought that the ritual might well help. Couldn't hurt, and it gave him something to do.

He began the strange, memorized song. The Druid had given them no idea of the true meaning of the words, but it sounded rather similar to the chant from the summoning ceremony. As he had expected, the mistletoe tasted awful. That part was probably just put in by Trug out of sheer spite, Evantrix thought. When he had offered his still-warm blood to the trees, it did actually seem a bit dimmer in the forest. Still, the mistletoe and the blood loss could have been the cause. He didn't even notice the facial tic.

The trail came almost straight at him, crossed a brook, cut up a steep bank, then wound in and out of the trees following the riverbank out of sight to his left. He watched as German scouts trickled back and forth, keeping a wary eye on the Romans' progress. He and his men were acutely aware of the forest growing silent as the Legions approached. First came cavalry, plodding along on their horses, looking lazily about for trouble they didn't truly expect. Then lightly armored troops. Finally the Legion itself marched across the brook. Its ranks, which appeared so crisp on a parade ground, were strung along in a bedraggled line, one or two men wide. Marching through muddy German forests on muddy German trails did not suit them well. Evantrix watched the eagle go by, and could barely keep from rushing out to kill a few Romans and to take the eagle for himself. It was fear of Taliportas and of the Druid which restrained him. It also restrained any other men similarly inspired.

The XVII Legion's Tribune was waiting there when the first centurion of the X cohort reached the brook. He ordered, "Fall out with your cohort. Place picket lines and help the engineers clear up this trail. The wagons will never get up this bank or be able to move along the top without help."

The first centurion screamed at Marcellus to post pickets with his century and at Gnaeus to have his century drop their gear to assist in smoothing the riverbank. Other centuries were detailed to tree cutting and traffic control of the troops and wagons dribbling in. Evantrix was desperate to get his men further into the woods as Roman pickets formed a line within 100 paces of his men. He was certain that a deaf man could have heard all his warriors, but the Romans simply stood there, leaning on their spearlike "pila," oblivious.

Staff officers from the engineers began to arrive as the work was underway, and gradually pulled more of Marcellus' pickets back into the labor force as the traffic jam behind them grew. Drovers and camp followers milled about, eating and splashing noisily in the brook. Wagons had packed into the available space and were visible back up the trail till it bent around a corner and was gone into the dim forest.

Somewhat amazingly to Evantrix, none of the loitering Romans discovered his ambush. The Druid's ritual appeared to have worked to perfection. It took the better part of the day before the wagons could proceed, and three Roman eagles and most of their Legions had gone by. Yet still he waited, impressed at the Romans' industry while simultaneously disgusted at their inability to spot him. He had no intention of coming afoul of Taliportas with victory within their grasp.

As the Romans who had done the roadwork began to pack up their gear and to organize their exhausted bodies to continue the march, the distant sounds of the battle for which Evantrix had waited all day finally could be heard. And with that, he screamed out a charge and led his warriors into the disorganized mass of soldiers and camp followers.

The Romans had less than a minute to organize a defense before German spears were falling amongst them, and accomplished nothing practical in that short time. A single German swordsman had the advantage against a single Roman picket or civilian, and they swept through the isolated clumps like the spring floodwaters of the Rhine. They finally slowed, and their initial charge was dissipated, when they ran into clusters of Romans managing to form themselves into subunits out of the chaos. When the Germans finally pulled back into the trees to reorganize and congratulate themselves, the X cohort of the XVII Legion could count only about one-third of the six hundred legionnaires who had entered the forest.

Marcellus and Gnaeus were the only surviving centurions. But they knew their business, and Romans didn't run. The Germans had made a mistake by withdrawing for a breather. Quickly, the remaining troops, shaken as they were but confident that three Legions couldn't possibly lose to barbarians, got themselves organized into a shield wall, three deep. Pila were replenished and, finding himself the ranking officer, Gnaeus prepared the Legionnaires to counterattack. "Gnaeus," pointed out Marcellus, "if we attack we will certainly get flanked on both sides when we reach the trees. And disorganized as well. We'll lose control. It is better to hold here until our brother Legions have formed themselves, then go in with them and massacre the bastards. The position here is not bad -- water and some open ground. And we have some luck also -- the physician's slave is with us."

"Well, Marcellus," replied Gnaeus, "we will also get flanked if we just hold here. Better to die like Romans. And what is so lucky about the physician's slave? Go see the Germans if you're that horny. Right over there."

Marcellus explained, "I mean the smart one -- the Greek, not the one with the big tits. There are some wounded that the Greek might get back on their feet, and soldiers of the line are the only thing between us and that Roman death you long for so fondly. We can form a position from those rocks to that tree. We place a reserve -- there -- to watch that they don't get behind us. We keep our wounded inside. Stragglers should gradually come in from ahead, the auxiliaries and some few cohorts are still somewhere behind us and should come in to bolster our position. The Germans have the baggage train to loot and will decide to go home after that. Unless there are more Germans about, time should be on our side."

Gnaeus weighed his advice. "You may be right about the numbers. All right, through the rest of the day we'll hold here."

And some of Marcellus' predictions held true. Stragglers from ahead of the X cohort gradually appeared. Ones, twos, groups of twenty or so drifted in. A few more came in from behind them. Most of them still held their gladii. Many still carried their shields. The Germans looted wagons but otherwise generally stayed out of sight. One came out and poked dead Romans with his fingers, trying to count them. He stayed out of range until he had exhausted his store of numbers, then wandered off to the jeers of the Legion.

Evantrix, on the other hand, couldn't get his warriors organized for another charge against that hastily prepared Roman position. His men did indeed want to take their booty home or look for easier pickings. A group of twenty would disappear while he was organizing somewhere else, only to come back later with armfuls of helmets, shields, and short swords. He had twice managed to get several hundred to break from the tree line to throw spears at the Romans, who had armor and shields to protect them, and plenty of pila to throw back. He lost more than they did in these exchanges and was beside himself with rage that he couldn't finish them off. They had no intention of pursuing him into the trees.

As dark approached, Gnaeus and Marcellus considered their situation. The auxiliaries at the end of the column had never arrived and had most likely run or been annihilated. The stragglers hadn't dried up completely, but were coming less frequently. No officers more senior had appeared. The battle noise still flared from ahead of them, but there was no sign of an organized Roman counterattack. Most of the men realized that flight into the forest was useless, but some might nevertheless try it in the dark, and their roster was probably about as full as it was going to get. Roughly 15,000 of Rome's finest had passed ahead of them deeper into the Teutoberger Forest, and it was hard to imagine that the situation could be completely out of hand. There were men, though, who claimed to have walked past bodies from all ten cohorts of the XIX Legion, and had found no organized resistance before this pocket. The XIX Legion's eagle had not been seen. At least the banner of the X cohort of the XVII Legion still waved proudly in Roman hands.

The Germans were sneaky bastards, but no more respected for their night operations than the Romans themselves. Perhaps Marcellus and Gnaeus could march their band back out by the path by which they had marched in. On the other hand, leaving with no definite news of the XVIII and the XIX Legions was cowardice. Gnaeus' sentimentally favorite option, attacking the barbarians in the treeline sounded like a good way to lose their few soldiers on quite unfavorable ground. As if this dank forest had any ground truly suitable for Legion deployment.

Back in those particular trees, Evantrix pondered the intentions of his adversaries. "The civilized cowards will probably run," he thought, "before the Dark Child gets here to finish them off." For Taliportas had sent word that Evantrix's mission now was to keep them from escaping. The Dark Child was said to be working its way down the Roman line, crunching strongpoints such as this one. And he very much wanted to see that happen. Since allowing the Romans to advance further was not a problem as far as he was concerned, Evantrix moved his entire force minus a few scouts west of the Roman position and across the path of the Romans, between them and the Rhine. He also sent word that some cavalry could be needed to run down the survivors, but didn't really expect any to show. Too much booty, no doubt, could be carried by one who owned a horse.

The Romans decided to hold through the night. A few more men arrived. One swore that the XVIII had rallied around its eagle, but he had been cut off and forced to flee for his life. When last seen, they were holding strong, and should be busy massacring Germans the next morning. He did have a shield, but it obviously had belonged to a man of the XIX until earlier in the day, and neither Marcellus nor Gnaeus was particularly impressed by his testimony, but the men cheered to hear it.

As the night wore on, occasional stragglers would be seen running blindly. In their blind haste to reach the Rhine, they even dared to attack fellow Legionnaires who tried to stop them. Those who broke free from their brethren were almost certain to meet their deaths at the hands of the Germans, watching cautiously from the night. The men in the pocket could hear the deaths of these and other fellows throughout the night.

Some who came in babbled and screamed incoherently. Terror and demoralization were increasing with each new arrival. The stories they told began to describe a large, if imaginary, many-armed monster that cut down Legionnaires like a farmer harvesting wheat. "Shameful," thought Gnaeus, "not like Romans at all." He did note that most of the particularly cowardly men came from ahead of his position. Stragglers from behind at least had possession of their wits if not always their weapons. One broken-armed fugitive held a shield with a massive dent, and claimed that a tentacle from a horrific monster had battered it. Gnaeus and Marcellus examined the shield, impressed at the strength of the German who had done the damage. They didn't believe a word of the monster rumors spreading through the recruits, and sent the gibbering soldier to the physician's slave to have the arm set.

The next morning, the Germans were only seen in small groups. Roman survivors stopped coming after the sun came up. Gnaeus and Marcellus decided to move back towards the river. Any man who couldn't walk was to be considered already dead, and many begged the centurions to kill them rather than leave them, or begged their friends to carry them along to safety. All understood that surrender was not an option. Yesterday's bloody massacre had driven that point home. The Germans had killed everyone they could reach. The muddy ford was still red with blood, and the cries, bloodshed and death had been hard, especially on men whose wives and children had been somewhere along the column.

Predictably, the Romans were walking back down the same trail. Evantrix was concerned that the better-formed Romans could punch through his warriors given the rough parity in numbers, and rather than trying to ambush the well-prepared column, he had his men shout, throw their spears, and pull back ahead of the Romans. He dropped trees on them. He burned wagons in front of them. The Roman progress continued at a slow walking pace all through the day and into the night. Evantrix's men could not keep the pressure against the Romans, who seemed fully prepared to march until they fell over dead. By late that night, the lure of sleep and booty were too much for many Germans, and Evantrix began to despair that he would lose these Romans before they could be killed.

When dawn came, he felt almost alone. And there were still many more Romans than he could count, marching slowly towards him. A few horsemen had begun to arrive, but most of them managed to occupy themselves killing the wounded that the Romans had left behind on their march, which certainly inspired the Romans before him to keep up the pace.

Evantrix' arithmetic skills were just sufficient to realize that he was losing men faster than they were arriving, and he finally decided to stand. Maybe he could force the Romans to halt, and it was better to die than to face Taliportas and Trug with failure. He scraped together a thin line of swordsmen with cavalry on both flanks and came out from the trees into a clearing to face the Romans.

Gnaeus was quite happy to see some organized German opposition after two days of ambushes and skirmishes and marches. Romans knew how to deal with this sort of challenge. He formed his Legionnaires into a line, four deep and about as wide as the glade would allow. They charged the Germans, who foolishly countercharged. Marcellus had expected them to hold just inside the trees where the Roman combat advantages were minimized, but the German chief hadn't thought things out too clearly. "Amateur," thought Marcellus.

The Roman line ran forward, holding formation surprisingly well. The German line soon fragmented as the faster outran the slower. Spears flew. Pila replied. With a crash of shields, battle was joined. The German swordsmen were wiped out or fleeing even before their cavalry could complete their move to flank the Romans. Evantrix, like many of his men, found his belly sliced open by an anonymous short sword poking out from between two large shields. The German horsemen hit the Roman line too late and found it all too rapidly redeployed to face them. Marcellus was hit by a lance in the charge and fell. More pila flew, and the barbarian cavalry broke and galloped off to look for easier targets. The Romans had held and won the skirmish. The way home was open.

Gnaeus struggled to get his century under control. They were almost joyfully slicing up German bodies, and the feeling of relief was palpable. The German chieftain had his head posthumously placed on a spear to give him a better view of the error of his ways. Marcellus, bleeding badly, had a few words to say and asked Gnaeus not to leave him behind alive.

And then the Forest Mother's Dark Child arrived to relieve Gnaeus of that difficult duty.

Gnaeus felt the earth shake and thought at first that regrouped German cavalry was riding towards his position. Except that the booming soon proved to have entirely the wrong rhythm. When he saw what looked like a many-legged tree moving by itself out from the forest, he couldn't convince himself that anything at all was there. But it continued to crash forward, and its long arms soon whipped through the Romans like Achilles through the Trojans. His remaining men broke and ran blindly from the horror, as did the few Germans still watching from the treeline. And the last Roman standing in the Teutoberger Forest, Publius Gnaeus Scipio, the second centurion of the X cohort of the XVII Legion, drew his gladius and died like a Roman, screaming incoherently and unable to defend himself.

Send your comments to Brian Nutter


© 20009 Edward P. Berglund
"To Die Like a Roman": © 2000 Brian Nutter. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999-2000 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: May 16, 2000; Current Update: August 9, 2004