I am a humble Centurion of Roman rank one hundred men under my command. This has been my job for the last twenty four years
We woke three hours before dawn readying for the days battle. We are but a blink of the thousands of commands readying around us for the bloodshed to begin. I worry not; we’ve defeated Army’s twice the size of today’s challenge.
One hour to light we finish our morning meal and help each other into armor. Chest plate squeezing shortening my breath I walk among my men checking armor, weapons shields. This day will test the heart of my most seasoned of men. Our foe numbers in the thousands, hundreds of archers, countless mounted cavalry. This is the fight we’ve trained for over countless months, some years. One can taste the excitement in the air within the troops. Men; boys jumping, crashing into one another unable to contain the exuberance of the coming battle, Seasoned warriors laughing, punching the young and untried of battle remembering the first time they ran to fight, sweat on brow, sword hand aching to kill the enemy. As the time comes near I caution them to hold ranks regardless of twist and turn of the battle. Our strength lies in unity, precession attacks, retreats, thrusts. I warn that our quarter will be challenged this day by cavalry and archers will fill the air with their death. To this I receive cheers and banging of shields. My men are as ready as they will ever be.
Morning light winks over the far hills, small wisps of clouds dance on gentle breezes. It is a good day to die.
Taking our place among the scores of units, I glance left and right. I see fellow Centurions from distant battles squaring their ranks, calling orders above the chatter of warriors. To our front hundreds of yards in the distance are the hoards of barbarians. It isn’t easy to estimate their numbers but one could easily say they were in their thousands. Cavalry units mixed in between mobs of foot soldiers, archers at the lead counted in the hundreds. Surprising was the discipline of movement. The weight of their army was to our left, but as a whole they moved to center, facing our troops squarely. Having the morning sun in our face we lowered shields with precision reflected the morning sun directly into their eyes. With the blinding light we could see numerous hands rise to block the glare. A faint but clear laugh rose in the ranks.
A horn sounded the command to begin marching toward the countless ranks of barbarians. Our lines were perfection of evenness. We marched as one; towards the hordes, no one a head, and no one behind the moving line of death. Three hundred yards out their archers released their arrows. Our ranks knelt raising shields to the sky as thousands of deadly arrows sought flesh and bone. Two units on our far right broke the line rushing the left flank of the archers. Cutting them down in scores those remaining fled back into the ranks of their foot soldiers, bodies lay everywhere. Our two units covered in blood smoothly returned to their position in the advancing ranks.
We halted our march just long enough to break the arrow shafts from our shields. Some had few, others looked like porcupines. Checking for casualties we suffered few, mostly nicks and small cuts from ricocheting arrows.
I motioned an adjoining Centurion and we met behind the ranks of our soldiers. “Ah a good morning Maximus, you look well today.” “That I am” he said with a pat on the back. “I’m curious they seem to have some training but made no move to protect their archers?” “They are barbarians and only fight for their own tribes; a few hundred dead archers from another tribe makes no problem for them” Maximus said shaking his head. “I’m a little worried by the number of cavalry we’ve seen.” Maximas with a hearty laugh said “Cavalry are only as good as the horse is trained. We have a few surprises for them, we will see if they’ve trained their horses well.”
With the sounding of the horn I rejoined my men and we in unison moved forward. Shields aiming the morning sun again into their eyes.
Two long, one short blast of the horn warned of a cavalry charge coming from the North. Stopping our forward march, seven units swung to the rear forming an “L” shape of defensive line. Over a small hill came two hundred mounted men; horses running at top speed towards our new formed line. Seven lines deep knelt, shields edge to edge, long lances dug into the dirt. On they came with idea of running horses over our men. Seeing a solid line horses jumped landing four to five deep into the line. Rider and horse were pulled to the ground; a pink fog drifted over the rear lines. Center group seven to twelve broke rank in a large unit movement, in minutes the barbarian horsemen were surrounded. Our front line closed the gap left by the attacking units. One through unit six squared the formation into a perfect square closing off any retreat. The screams of men and horse filled the air.
One loud horn blast started the forward motion of men, leaving behind the remains of men and horses moving our troops over and way from the piles of the dead. Clear footing was needed for the advance. Formations changing back to the normal triangle of attack we closed the distance to the hoards of warriors. We had lost just fifty men to their hundreds. As the distance between our troops and the hoards closed, faces became visible to the unaided eye. Wild eyes were seen among the ranks, nervous men shuffled feet. Leaders screamed orders at the top of lungs keeping the men together, working as a unit
A whistle so piercing it hurt the ears brought our physiological war to the battle. Ten thousand men stomped their feet in unison, swords struck shields; very low menacing shouts shook the air. “Meeehaah, stomp, bang of swords hitting shields.” So loud any attempt at shouting orders was useless; it was deafening. The air vibrated “Meeehaah, stomp, bang of shields.” I could see numerous fighters take steps backwards. What started as just a hint grew bigger and bigger spreading as one terrified soldier passed his fear to the next. The Officers of the barbarians were useless, only being able to control soldiers close to him. Unseen by the enemy we brought our archers up to the rear of our lines. With a whistle they launched a thousand arrows into the sky. Hundreds of unprotected men fell to the ground, some with just one arrow, and others with many. Their lines were decimated by the surprise attack. Horns blew three short one long the signal for full attack. All ten thousand strong rushed forward knocking men to the ground with shields, swords hacking and slicing into their numbers. Within minutes units broke left, right engulfing the entire Army of barbarians. The circle of closing Roman soldiers stepped upon the bodies of the dead, making them seem even larger to the dead and soon to be dead
Several units broke off of the main attack and dispatched those still living within the thousands of dead. Lame horses some with huge wounds limped among the dead. They too would be put down after the scores of wounded. Our medics raced aid to our wounded, stopping gushing blood from sword wounds. The cries of dying men filled the air.
Two hours of search and kill silenced the battle field. Soldiers chased down wounded horses one by one killing them all.
I had seen this before being in my mid forties with many battles under my belt. It never seemed to stop unnerving me the cleansing of the field. We asked no quarter and gave none. Our enemy was defeated to the last man. A few had been able to sneak through both ranks of fighting men and make a run for the forests. This was anticipated and they too were cut down by our own cavalry one after another. No warrior was allowed to leave the killing fields, their defeat was complete. Let those at home wonder their fate, hundreds if not thousands massed, not one returned.
Glory is the Roman Army.
From the Ramblings