My name is Sanguine.
My squad name is Scribe.
For the rest of this account I shall call me what I was dubbed by my fellow soldiers. Each soldier is given a name that best bears his personality. I was the one who could write, the only one who could write…and thus my squad name was Scribe. Sometimes they called me ‘Blood-scribe’ for sometimes my writings tell of misfortune. However, for you who reads this account…Scribe is what I prefer to be known. My mates call me Scribe. I am Scribe to all. I am Scribe to you. There are many names we are called in life. Now I am Scribe.
This is an account of our voyage.
The centurions packed us into the ships. We were to set sail for Egypt
“They won’t be happy to see us,” I said.
“What country ever is?” the Sub-Centurion Valens said to the men. “You march into their country, eat their food and fut their women. We are not hospitable guests.”
The men laughed as the trireme moved away from the shore. Immediately, I vomited into the sea. The men of my squad laughed at my discomfort.
“Are the baby-soldiers sick already?” Valens said without pity. “Wait till Neptune causes the waves to rock, and up and down, up and down we fly over the waves like a dove riding the winds.”
“STOP!” I shouted from the assault of his descriptions
On the shore a group of women held up bastards for the soldiers to see. They held the children up to remind the soon to be gone father’s where to send their extra coins. Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry while in the legions, but there were no regulations on who you shared a hut or room. They looked at Valens sheepishly, and like little boys caught in a lie they waited for him to express his position on this subject for it would be Valens that would hold the whip.
“Oh, I know that some of you are looking on your honeys. Go to the railing for you might not be this way for quite a while. Before we get too far from shore go and wave goodbye and smile.”
The ‘married’ men ran to the railing and waved and shouted names of sweethearts and baby boys and girls. One fellow broke out into tears.
“Touching, isn’t it?” Valens said. “Men think with their pricks not knowing if the legion will send them to Egypt.”
When we made it out of harbor I began to feel better. I spent my free time – and there was much on board ship – writing in my journal. The men looked at me with almost mysticism. They wanted me to note them in a passage there or a passage there. “Note me, Scribe. I was first over the wall in the battle of the desert city. Note me, Scribe. I won the civic crown.” They took pride if their names made my parchment. I carried a folio of paper, stitched together into pages with leather front and back. It was a sturdy journal that could take cold and rain.
Three days and nights we sailed and rowed. A nastier smelling lot never stank up a ship then my small squad of mine. Let me tell you about them.
Falcon Priest (not his real name) was our squad priest. He can make sacrifices and is good with prayer to most any god you can name.
Lyre-Singer (not his real name) is a poet, a singer with a loud and awful voice caused by a twang from a three time broken nose and a throat punch in a shoving match to capture a rebel wall.
Cook (not his real name) can bake, grill, fry and any animal, into the most delicious fare. He spends his days – when he is not fighting – gathering herbs and carries a pouch of salt on his armor.
Digger (Not his real name) is the best in the unit with a spade. In fact, he enjoys it. He is good at it, and has actually used the spade in battle He has wailed into the enemy line swinging the spade back and forth to bang head and shield into tiny bits as he plows a course through the enemy line.
Lips and tickle (Not his real name) for his charms the women at every city taken in battle or not. They watch him in formation, and his reputation was well known throughout the civil war. It did not matter if the city was loyal to Caesar or not, when he entered the front gate the women had heard of him and the giant size of his prick. He is a god, a Pan, an Apollo with a flashing smile.
Medicus (Not his real name) – is our physician. Not sure how he learned ‘the arts.’ He can stitch you up, and cut your left off if needed (lucky for us he has not ever needed to perform such a task). Strangely enough he and Cook are best friends, and each has been seen wandering pastures and quiet forest searching for herbs. Cook wants what can affect the palette. Medicus wants what can affect the senses and the mind.
Boss (not his real name) is our scrapper. We named him after the metal knob on the front of our shield. He is quick tempered and good with his fists. He loves to fight, and has restricted his bouts to men from other squads and for civilians in town. We know we can always count on him to drag us out of a bar fight if it goes against us.
And finally, there is our centurion — Valens (his real name). We call him Philosopher Valens, the tutor, the teacher, the one who instructs. He keeps an eye on all of us. It is rumored that he and Julius Caesar were friends. It was a friendship forged on the Gallic plains in the deep forests. Caesar waded into battle and it was Valens that was on his right. Caesar almost lost his life to a deadly blow to the head, and it was Valens that stepped between him and the mace. Valens was a centurion of the first order, in the first line, but he was flat on his back in a hospital in Greece for too long to retain his rank. Upon his return, Valens was given the last rank, and thus demoted. Some would have considered it a shaming, but Valens loved the legion – so did we.
So what can I say about a soldier’s life? You are never alone. Falcon Priest made us feel like we were closer to the gods, Lyre-singer gave our hopes and sorrow words in tune – bad lyrics and all – Cook fed us, Medicus cured us, or at least made us feel like mother was nursing us back to health. Digger made sure that we could dig a tunnel better than any other squad, Lips and Tickle regaled us with tales of lust and Boss consistently saved us from a beating.
Occasionally we washed with water from the sea, and the salt would sting our private parts. The ship was so small we spent most of the time getting in each other’s way, and sleeping on each other’s laps. Our pastime was watching the coast for clues for our destination. We hugged the coast for the entire way, and the land went from rocks and inlet coasts with green vineyards, to dry, sandy, and featureless plains.
Black clouds at our stern marred our trip, and warned of an impending storm. We called to Falcon-Priest for a sacrifice.
“Neptune’s fury is in the distance, Falcon…sacrifice something…anything,” said Medicus. He pointed to the back of the ship where clouds, black and filthy rains sat in the distance.
There was a mad scramble to find something to kill. A goat, a dog that may have been hidden on board.
“Anybody got a rat?” I called to the squad.
The oars began to move to a double beat, and we good hear the slaves below groan in response.
Falcon began to mumble his incantations while we looked for something. The ship was searched, in odd out of the way places until Digger found a cockroach. He brought it forward to the bow of the ship where Falcon-priest was ready to appeal his prayers to Neptune. He took the ugly thing and held it between thumb and finger and let its juices run down his fingers as he squeezed it to a pulp.
The water turned black, and the temperature dropped. The ship was bouncing over the waves, and luckily we had the wind in the right direction. I gazed on to our left and right, and the other ships were keeping up. There were eight ships in all, with their decks packed with men and equipment.
“Accept our offering, Great Neptune,” said Falcon Priest to the storm that followed us. “Keep our path clear and let us use your winds to send us to our destination.”
“BLESSED NEPTUNE!” We shouted into the wind. The men clapped three times. “Blessed Neptune, blessed art, blessed Neptune lord of sea and wind.”
In a day we had outrun the storm. Fat fingers and a cockroach did the trick. “What works, works,” said Falcon-Priest.
Two days passed without incident until we heard a splash. Two slaves were thrown overboard.
They had died at their oars. The soldiers remained quiet as the bodies floated behind us in our wake. Two sharks appeared and we simply watched as they were dragged below. They were dead anyway, so we did not make comment. We were afraid that two of us might have to break our backs at the oars, but no one asked for volunteers. Soldiers fight, slaves pull the oar, and that is that.
More days of sail, Lips and Tickle was sure we were near Greece. On the coast was a temple, and a sun beam made it gleam like a diamond.
“Temple of Venus,” Lips and Tickle said. He then offered up a prayer and closed his eyes. A smile went over his face as he remembered some woman that spread her charms before him. I resisted pulling my journal from its pack to write. I could have reached into his mind, and from my pen I could have written of his sexual exploit in porn-like detail. It would have been something nice to think about other than the stink of the ship.
Without thinking I said a single word out loud: “Women.” I said the word with a sigh.
Two or three heads along the railing turned my way.
“Where?” said Digger.
“On the ship?” Lyre-Singer said hopefully.
“No,” I said. “In Alexandria.”
A smile spread throughout the ship, as the thought of women spread as well. Lips and Tickle started telling stories of his exploits making my journal entry unnecessary. It was great time to pass the time, but unfulfilling like eating a capon while being unable to chew.
I left my seat and went to the bow of the ship and looked up at the stars that had begun to pop out in the sky. With the coming of night, the temperature began to drop, but the wind of the distant storm kept our sails full. I stared up at the fire points, flaming lamps, and haze of sparkle across a blue-black sky. My tutor taught me to pick out the North Star, and deduct our heading east.
“Which direction are we going?” shouted Cook.
“East,” I said.
The word was sent up and down the crowded ranks, like biscuits were handed out for each man to take.
Lyre-singer began to sing:
“Over the sea,
Over the flow,
Over Neptune’s Scalp,
We do go!
Dream of Home,
It will not do,
The only home,
Is East of you.”
It was this song that lulled us to sleep.
In the morning the soldiers were shouting. The sun was about to rise, and the air had turned blue in expectation, and the men gathered at the bow once more. I could see that others on board our little fleet were doing the same.
They were hooting, and shouting to something off in in distance. I pushed by all the shoulders, and saw something it too. It was a single light.
“A STAR!” Digger shouted
“No…no,” I said. It was too low on horizon.
As we approached it was a giant light tower signaling the entrance to a harbor. It was taller than any building I had ever seen. It rose into the sky, after that a smaller building rose on the wider base, and then another building on that base, and so on and so on. At the top was a flaming beacon, and in the morning light and by the intensity of the flame it seemed unsupported by the building below it. By its light it guides us right into the port. It is like a star brought to earth.
“What is this place?” Boss asked.
“It is…Alexandria,” I said.
(Story by Rob Cain of http://ancientromerefocused.org.)