Well the dust has settled, the blisters have completed their expansion, the stench-ridden clothes have been washed and the aches have settled into their level that they promise to maintain for several days.  So comes the time for reflection on what we have accomplished on our journey across the most Northern reach of the Roman Empire.

Young Turks – You should remember us this way, not how we became!

Gaius Simonensis has now returned to Londinium with the Prefect and been given a promotion for his efforts to be part of the Prefect’s personal guard.  It is the equivalent of being removed from the frontline on medical grounds and given a nice safe desk job.  I hear he may even be in line for a future leading role with the IXth Legion when they leave for campaigns in Iudaea and against the Parthians.  I remain here with a detachment from the IInd Augusta near Ratae charged with maintaining the Pax Romana and protecting the amiable Corieltauvni from the hairy-arsed heathens of the Brigantes –  they of  the shirtless bodies and incomprehensible language.  Not that the vulgar Latin spoken in Ratae is much of an improvement but at least it shows willing and one can generally understand the words even if the pronunciation is an aberration.  It is to be borne in mind that before we arrived these people were savages and civilisation has come late to them, they’ve only just got a public bath, by Jupiter.  One must appeal to Minerva to bestow the virtues of tolerance and forbearance.  Simply saying “catapultam habeo.  Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immune mittam” tends not to go down too well for diplomatic solutions, after all this isn’t Alesia.

Before we left I had applied for a posting back to Aelia Castra, where I had been stationed as a Miles Gregarius in my formative years, it was always an altogether more comfortable spot, not to mention a place of burgeoning culture and learning but my efforts have been in vain and so for now I must stay here amongst the technical detachment and seek to further my ambition in Londinium as and when the opportunity arises.  The dullness of life here is made tolerable by the fact that I have a nice villa and a safe fort to work in, but without the prospect of a holiday in Southern Gaul this year and the inclemency of the weather beginning to show its hand it hardly makes for an exciting prospect during the months to come, it’s not exactly Massilia over here.  I have however replaced my worn-out chariot with a state of the art more modern sporty version which I fell befits my station better, it has a horse which seems faster than the old one even if it does require more hay to keep it going.  The price of hay these days being an utter disgrace it is a wonder that an ordinary legionary can afford a chariot at all.

In spite of all this I will look back upon our trip to the frontier fondly, the cut and thrust of the endless marching, the sense of achievement crossing the almost impassable hills even the regimented routine presided over by the Prefect, joining us so readily in her almost imperial chariot to mark our progress at dawn and dusk.  The trials and tribulations that we encountered made for a journey of discovery both physical and personal.  The natives to the region bedecked in animal hides such that they may seem almost exactly like the fauna were on the whole friendly, except for the odd fracas such as that when we were ambushed and hopelessly outnumbered on the 3rd days patrol.  We have to thank Mars and Diana for getting us out of that one alive.  The terrain is as beautiful as it is brutal and were we to return we would not underestimate it again.  It is a shame with the benefit of hindsight that we did not begin at Pons Aelius for although there is little of interest along the route it would have meant we had covered the whole section leaving no stone unturned as it were.  We could not have known these sorts of things in advance just as we could not have foreseen the damage to our ageing bodies that the trip was to perpetrate, but in spite of the ravages of each day we still awoke the following morning at reveille and continued onward.  We were lucky of course to be fortified by much thea, of which the Britons apparently drink almost as much as the Hibernians, as well as cooked breakfasts of meat and large slabs of cake made in the image of the wall itself.  Bacchus has not in his wisdom provided the ability to grow much wine in this godforsaken climate but the locals brew a beverage in the tradition of Celtic ancestors and this was indeed very palatable and suited the nature of the weather very well.  It was at times a pity we could not have sourced more of it but my suspicion is that the Prefect had made plans to ensure it was in short supply so as to prevent us from waning in our enthusiasm for the  task.  Perhaps that would be a case of sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare!

Guard Duty

One might have thought I would be thanking the Gods that it is all over but in fact I would return to the fray right now without hesitation, the camaraderie, the solidarity against all the common foes were exhilarating but perhaps my judgement is clouded by having returned to the mundanity and obscurity of everyday life and the lack of thrills that punctuate it.  A tour of duty on the wall is indeed a campaign I can recommend, take not the challenge lightly but as with much in life you will recoup what you have invested and see much along the way that will stay with you.  Furthermore in times whilst sat in darkened tavernae you will have yarns to recount and should you ever come across others that have completed the quest too there will be smiles and back slapping and shared memories of the 9 peaks of doom and the crags of despair and skirmishes with furry, horned, brown-skinned natives whose stance might make you think they had 2 extra legs instead of arms.   Amongst comrades we may describe the hill that got away, 8 miles high and snow on the top of it there was,  some say it stretched up to heaven and that those who ascended it never came back for they met with the Gods!  Others claim this was merely a hallucination, the result of pain, the local brew and a concoction of a herbal variety that the locals smoke in small clandestine groups!

Such campaigns often afford one the adventure and excitement generally lacking at home, everyone is paradoxically more relaxed in spite of the toughness of the endeavours at hand but one must be careful not to confuse a temporary detachment from the garrison as something that would be the same permanently.  It is a mistake easily made by the disaffected and can be a costly one for the natives are often less accommodating when they are aware that you are not intending to leave at a defined point.  It is a lesson I learned during my long stays in Germania where some of the locals are far more heathen and savage than almost any I have encountered over here.  Perhaps this is merely that I stand out less over here given that my Hibernian credentials are disputed by some, in Germania there was no question and our treatment was adjunct to xenophobia.

Musings on the past and hypotheses as to the nature of permanent relocations aside I will see, I hope,  for years to come the trip to Hadrian’s wall as a positive one, I think by now that should be abundantly clear.  I like to hope that it may form one of those things that my Grandchildren will see as another one of Granddad’s stories which all being well I will still possess enough faculties to tell with verve sufficient to capture their imagination, further embellished by the suspense and drama which time will have allowed to suffuse through the story like the strands of bindweed in a hedgerow.  Whether or not future campaigns may retrace the steps of Quintus Veranus and Suetonius Paulinus into the mad areas of the Druids, whether we shall be recorded for posterity as fondly as Agricola was by his son-in-law Tacitus remain to be seen and perhaps may form the basis of future correspondence.  For now we must content ourselves that we have taken part in an odyssey ventured by a select few (hundreds of thousands – Ed) and the chronicle of same may inspire the modern-day Homers and Virgils to great literary works in tribute, it would be no more than we deserved.

And so alea iacta est.  Valete pro tempera, mark thee well that quidquid latine dictum sit altum viditur!

The belying of the Bitter End

Actum est, comites!

Songs Of The Day ~ Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town; PiL – Rise (§-Soundtrack of the whole trip available on request!)

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