Time on My Hands Chapter 16 - 208-209 CE: Caledonian Kidnapping

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Time on my Hands
Chapter 16: 208-209 CE: Caledonia Kidnaping

Hadrian's Wall was a defensive fortification across the northern frontier of the province of Britannia. Begun in 122 during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, it was the northern limit of the Roman Empire. Immediately to the north were the lands of the Britons and Picts, the Caledonians. Hadrian's Wall built over six years, extending west from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth. Although the seventy three mile long wall did not mark the end of the line of defensive structures. A system of milecastles continued along the west coast. There were milecastles with two turrets in between. There was a fort about every five miles. The milecastles were staffed with static garrisons whereas the forts had fighting garrisons of infantry and cavalry. In addition to the wall's defensive military role, its gates served as customs posts.

Once at Hadrian's Wall, Severus initiated a massive rebuilding project which finally remade the whole wall into stone. This led to later Romans calling Hadrian's Wall the Severan Wall. After starting the renovation/rebuilding project Severus marched north.

The Caledonians and the population of Ireland were the only remaining free Celts. The Caledonian’s in the Scottish lowlands couldn’t stop the heavily armed Roman onslaught. For the most part they didn’t even try. Many fled further north. Those who traded with the Romans stayed in place accepting Roman domination... at least on the surface. That’s not to say it was entirely peaceful. While there were no battles, there were guerrilla actions, quick attacks from cover then scurrying away before the Romans could organize a response. The medical corps was kept busy but not overwhelmed. Raben had little cause to disturb the normal workings and procedures of the medical corps.

The aim of the initial push north was the long abandoned Antonine Wall. Started in 142 CE it had taken twelve years to build. Antoninus Pius never visited Britain but renewed pressure against Hadrian’s Wall forced him to send troops further north. They built the northernmost frontier barrier of the entire Roman Empire roughly ninety nine miles north of Hadrian’s Wall. It was a turf fortification on stone foundations built across the central belt of Scotland from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth. Spanning thirty nine miles it was about ten feet high and sixteen feet wide with a wooden pallisade on the turf top. Many forts and temporary camps further north of the Antonine Wall were established to protect their trade routes to the far north. However without more troops and support from Rome they were unable to defeat the Caledonians. As each year passed the Antonine Wall suffered more and more attacks. Emperor Marcus Aurelius finally had enough of the headaches holding the Antonine Wall he ordered the wall, the northern forts and camps abandoned just eight years after they had been completed.

The current campaign started well for the Romans with Severus quickly reaching the Antonine Wall occupying all the land between Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall. After easily completing the occupation of the Scottish lowlands Severus began reconstruction of the Antonine Wall. Having met the Caledonian women in the newly occupied area Severus' wife, Julia Domna criticized the sexual morals of the Caledonian women. The wife of a Caledonian chief replied: "We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest."

Raben traveled with the emperor’s party but spent most of his time interacting with the Caledonians. Accompanied by Romanized Caledonians, Raben traveled to various villages and settlements. The natives were initially suspicious of what they considered to be a gregarious teen. They were quickly impressed that he spoke Celtic fluently and had a Celtic heritage. Even more importantly, he never sought strategic knowledge. Medicinal knowledge was what he sought and freely shared. On many occasions he performed surgical operations on crippled children to correct their disabilities. His skill astounded the natives. In addition, he would often play tunes on his flute, his musical skills always warmly welcomed. In this way he easily earned the trust of the Caledonians. He also let them know his wife, an equally knowledgeable physician, would occasionally be traveling through the area.

While Raben never asked for information, by listening carefully and observing closely he was able to give valuable intelligence to the emperor and his commanders. Several times they had him listen in on interrogations of captured Caledonians to make sure the interrogator, usually a Romanized Celt, was accurate. Several translators were revealed to be disloyal to the Romans. Each were publicly executed by crucifixion. After the second execution the translations were reasonably accurate.

As the campaign season came to an end Severus built a one hundred sixty five acre camp south of the Antonine Wall at Trimontium near Melrose, assembling his forces there as winter set in. Just after the new year Julia Domna, concerned about the rivalry between her sons urged Severus to name Geta as Augustus, (basically a designated successor) which he did.

As the emperor and troops settled down for the winter, Raben announced he was heading south to meet Fiach. As Fiach she returned north to present herself to the royal party and military physicians. Begrudgingly most were impressed that she did indeed seem as young as Raben and shared his medical knowledge.

After the new year with two Romanized Caledonian escorts Fiach traveled about the recently secured areas visiting the locals and treating any who needed medical attention. She introduced herself as Raben’s wife and often played the flute like her husband. The Caledonian healers eagerly shared herbal lore and techniques with her as she shared her knowledge with them.

The free Caledonians decided kidnaping Fiach would be an effective slap in the Severus’ face. Twenty men set out to waylay the healer as she moved about the occupied areas. The twenty struck as Fiach and the villagers were eating their evening meal. With so many innocents about, Fiach decided to bide her time, she ordered her escorts not to resist and allowed herself to be taken. With the need for stealth and speed, the kidnappers didn’t search nor secure her as she seemed to be meekly follow their orders and they needed her to move quickly as they fled from Roman territory.

During the next twenty four hours Fiach allowed herself to be taken north to the River Forth where they crossed the river under cover of darkness. Over the next twenty four hours she was wisked northwest along the River Teith into the rugged mountains.

The Romans had painfully learned not to venture into the steep mountains to pursue the untamed Caledonians. The forests provided cover and the steep slopes further disrupted military formations. To prevent the Caledonians from raiding from their mountain and loch strongholds the Romans built forts at the exit points where the highlands emptied into the lowlands. One such place was at the start of the River Teith with the convergence of Eas Gobhain from Loch Venachar and Garbh Usige from Loch Lubnaig. They built a fort the Romans called Bochastle.

As the Caledonians with Fiach neared the highlands they had to send out scouts to avoid Roman patrols. Knowing the wilds they easily evaded Roman patrols and the fort to head around Loch Lubnaig. As they traveled the forested trail on the nearly level but narrow east shore of the loch the steep wooded mountains soared thirteen hundred feet above them. On the western side the slopes were steeper soaring to over sixteen hundred feet. Many small streams cascaded down the steep slopes. About halfway along it’s length the loch made a dogleg turn and they were on the outside of the turn which focused the descending streams into one in a climbing narrow canyon. This created a five hundred feet wide by one thousand feet long delta cutting the width of the lock in half at that point creating a perfect gathering spot. The small party joined a much larger group of Caledonians in the large clearing by the water.

The gathered clan headsmen had a hard time believing the captive young girl could really be a healer much less one of importance. They grew angry that the abductors had risked the ire of the Romans for an inconsequential girl. Angry arguing erupted among the dozen different clan representatives. At that point Fiach began heartily laughing which angered the glowering men.

“You’re pitiful fools,” she chuckled. “No wonder you can’t stop the Romans!”

“Quiet bitch,” an angry warrior snarled.

“Like hell, ass wipe,” Fiach laughed. “I ALLOWED your men to take me just to see what you intended to do with me. Emperor Severus appointed my husband and I to head up the medical corp of the Legions because not only are we excellent physicians, we are also excellent fighters. I could have easily wiped out the men who think they kidnaped me.”

Another angry man asked brusquely, “Why didn’t you do it then?”

“It wasn’t enough a challenge,” Fiach smirked. “Besides. I can kill more of you now.”

The men exchanged angry glances as they tried to decide if the small girl was crazy.

Reaching inside her cape with both hands Fiach laughed as she whipped out a knife in each as she sprang into motion. Before anyone could react she’d slit the throats of the two men who were ostensibly guarding her. Before the stunned gaze of the two hundred five remaining Caledonians she leaped between two more men cutting their throats. One hand slipped back inside her cape to exchange a knife for her sword as the remaining knife gutted another man. Even as the Caledonian warriors drew their weapons she danced amongst them heading for the steep canyon slope dropping six more men. Along the way she snagged a bow and two quivers hanging on trees before sprinting into the trees.

The encampment was in an uproar as a furious group of men began to chase the laughing girl. In their disorganized yelling mob they tripped over each other, shoving and yelling obscenities at each other and the still laughing fleeing girl.

With her agility and speed Fiach easily outdistanced her pursuers as she leapt from boulder to boulder in the stream moving through the trees while scrambling up the increasingly steep slope while leaving little evidence of her passing. By the time she was a hundred feet up the slope deeply amongst the trees her pursuers lost sight of her.

The Caledonians couldn’t believe the girl was armed mush less that she’d killed or fatally injured eleven warriors in less than two minutes and disappeared up the mountain. Ninety men were pursuing the fleet footed girl. Not one of them snatched a bow as they charged. The headsman quickly organized seventy warriors to run along the loch toward the Roman fort to cut off her path to freedom. These men took shields and bows.

Fiach easily outdistanced her angry pursuers. At about three hundred feet upslope she cut west away from the nearby Roman fort. After she’d emerged from the canyon she quickly descended back to the treeline by the loch. Staying in the trees she made her way back to the encampment. Only the heads of the clans and a small bodyguard remained, thirty six men in all. The warriors she’d wounded had died by the time she returned since the bodyguards were placing the eleven bodies side by side at one side of the camp. The leaders were hotly arguing bout the Roman invaders and Fiach.

Silently she made her way into the fringes of the camp to pilfer more arrow filled quivers. Then she moved about the perimeter of the camp stalking any man who stepped away from the group into the trees. With deadly shots she dropped three before those remaining realized something wasn’t right. They called the names of the men who disappeared. After getting no response they sent out a five man search party. They quickly slipped from view of the main group. Fiach stalked them until they discovered one of the missing men down with an arrow in his chest.

“We found Serack! There’s an arrow in his chest! He’s dead,” they called out the alarm as an arrow struck one of the searchers who promptly gasped clutching at his back as he dropped to his knees.

Before the others could fully react another was hit. As he dropped the remaining three bolted heading back to the safety of the group shouting “We’re under attack!”

As the three burst from the trees another fell forward with a arrow protruding from his back. As the gathered men scrambled for shields another of those fleeing from the trees dropped. The remaining man was in a near panic as he reached the group only to pitch forward with an arrow feathering his back.

The men scrambled to form a shield wall but another man dropped before they came together. What was worse, other than knowing the arrows were coming from the tree line they only had a general idea where the archer was located. As they crowded together peaking between their shields attempting to spy the archer they heard the unmistakable laughter of the girl!

“That’s another nine dead,” Fiach giggled. “That’s a total of twenty, the same number as the men who I allowed to kidnap me! I told you I didn’t kill them because I wanted to kill more of you! Now I can!”

After firing another arrow into their shields she darted into view snatching two more quivers from where they hung. The furious men cursed as she insolently waved to them before disappearing back into the trees. Quickly and silently she ran off to flank the shield wall. When she was behind them she fired four arrows in less than a minute.

The anxious men were wondering what type of a she devil they’d brought into their midst as they nervously searched the treeline. They decided to shift to the nearest place in the camp where several bows and quivers hung. By the time they were half way to the bows one man grunted, threw up his arms and pitched forward. The surprised men had barely reacted to the dying man when a second man pitched forward. Even as they turned to see where the arrows were coming from a third man fell. The action of turning saved the fourth man as the arrow pierced his sword arm. The men cursed and struggled to reform their shield wall a little too late as another man dropped with an arrow buried in his chest.

“That’s four more dead and one wounded,” Fiach giggled from the trees as she fired another arrow into their shields before slipping away.

“We need to close with her,” one of the leaders scowled, “She’ll keep moving until she picks us all off.”

“She wants us in the trees so she can pick us off easier,” another growled. “Form a circular shield wall, retrieve bows and arrows, then move to the water’s edge where she can’t flank us.”

As they snagged bows and arrows one man grabbed a ram’s horn. The men were soon standing behind their shield wall by the water where the man blew the horn to recall their men. The sound reverberated off the forested hills. Four miles away the Romans manning the fort at Bochastle didn’t hear a thing.

The disorganized weary warriors climbing the slopes quickly tired. Having lost sight of their quarry they organized into three groups of thirty. One continued up the canyon stream as the other two moved sideways to each side of the canyon. The weary men had nearly reached the ridge top when they heard the recall. Several grumbled but all heeded the call to return. The men following the shore were a bit past the end of the loch. They too heard the recall. Assuming the men who chased the she-devil up the mountain caught her, they turned back.

Scampering up the canyon stalking the initial pursuers, Fiach heard the recall horn. Knowing they would follow the easiest paths she moved between the center and western groups while continuing to climb upward. When she heard them approaching she hid behind the trees. Once they passed she made her way into the center of the canyon above and behind the group following the stream down to the loch. Aiming at the man at the rear of column she loosed an arrow. The noise of their descent masked the man’s grunt and collapse. One by one she dropped the rear man.

It was only as the fifth man dropped the others realized they were under attack. They shouted an alarm and scrambled for cover searching to find their attacker. The other groups began converging on the one under attack. In their haste their approach was anything but silent. Fiach dropped another man before she slipped away uphill away from the noisy men heading to the stream. When she was above them she waited for them to gather.

It took fifteen minutes for the groups to unite. They uneasily watched the trees while others made crude sledges from fallen limbs to drag their dead off the slopes. As soon as they began to move downhill arrows once more cut into them. Angry shouts and cursing erupted as three men dropped. Nearly thirty men charged up the slope towards the area the arrows had come from. They found nothing.

After loosing the third arrow Fiach scampered up the mountainside fifty feet hearing the angry shouts and noisy pursuit behind her. She then scampered right a hundred feet before she skipped downslope at a nearly impassible spot. Within minutes she was hidden in the rocks below the men with an escape route plotted.

As the regrouped angry frustrated men made their way downhill beside the stream they kept a close watch on the trees around and above them while now carrying nine dead or fatally wounded men. They were once more caught by surprise as one of the men in front grunted. They could see the point of the arrow protruding from his back as he dropped. Even as they shouted alarm that the bitch was downhill another man dropped as he clawed at the arrow that suddenly appeared in his chest. They saw their quarry stand boldly laughing at them as she fit another arrow to her bow. Infuriated, forty five men let out undulating war cries as they launched themselves towards her as that arrow dropped another man. Before they got near she disappeared into the trees. Their headlong downhill charge was chaotic and unsafe as they cut across the slope heading in the direction she had run. Nearly a dozen men tripped or slipped crashing into rocks or trees, three breaking bones.

Fiach had allowed herself to be seen fleeing. In reality once she slipped out of sight she slipped the bow onto her back and climbed a tree allowing the wild charge to pass. With practiced ease she dropped to the ground pulling her sword and dagger. One by one she scampered to the men who had fallen easily killing the bruised, stunned and injured men. With well aimed strikes she killed six as she darted toward the men who had not pursued her.

The thirty three men who had not charged began gathering their twelve dead and dying as the others crashed after the she devil. The noise from their pell-mell charge masked all other sounds. It was only when Fiach struck that they realized they were endangered.

Using her stealth and speed Fiach danced through the scattered men slicing and dicing. By the time she disappeared into the trees above them five of their number were dead or dying. Cursing they bellowed their frustration. As several set off in pursuit one man called them to stay shouting she wanted to split them up so she could pick them off. It took over fifteen minutes for those who had chased her downhill to returned. Of the ninety warriors who initially pursued her up the canyon, twenty three were dead or dying. They were clearly furious the small girl was making fools of them. Wisely they formed a perimeter and waited.

Knowing she had pressed her luck Fiach scampered up hill then headed east before heading down the slope. Because of her strength and endurance she was not yet fatigued. She once more headed down towards the loch intending to hit the warriors returning along the shore.

The seventy were moving along the water’s edge about a mile from their encampment when they noticed the group of men standing in a shield wall with their backs toward the sparkling deep blue water. Their relaxed attitude quickly changed to wariness as they drew their swords. It was only when they looked behind them they saw four of their comrades laying face down in a line with arrows protruding from their backs. As the alarm was raised a man gasped and clawed at the arrow quivering in his chest. Fifteen men snatched their bows and arrows were nocked while others moved behind their shields. No one had seen where the arrow came from. As they scrutinized the trees one of the bowman grunted and dropped to his knees. They narrowed the location but still had not pinpointed their attacker. The archers fired into the trees in that area. Even as they nocked more arrows another archer dropped.

As the second volley flew into the trees the remaining men divided into two groups of twenty five. With shields forward and swords drawn they charged into either side of the area the last volley struck. Other that their arrows stuck in trees they found nothing. As they continued to sweep the forest they couldn’t even find a trace anyone had been in the trees. The thirteen archers spread out along the shore searching the trees. One spun about dropping his bow as he tumbled to the ground. The others spun to look to the trees a hundred feet beyond where the warriors had dashed into the trees. Even as they shouted the alarm another fell. They loosed a volley in the direction from which the arrow had come only to have another man drop as the warriors came crashing from the trees. One of them staggered and fell as the archers fired another volley into the trees. Infuriated the warriors bellowed as they charged.

Fiach just ducked behind a trunk as the arrows struck all around her. Wisely she sprinted away quickly sprinting up the steep slope of the mountain. The sound of the warriors crashing through the trees where she’d been she turned to run parallel to the water. Going in the opposite direction she quickly passed above the men pursuing her. Returning to the shore she stepped from the trees to fire into the warriors probing the treeline. “Are you looking for little old me?” She giggled as she rapidly dropped three before the shocked men were able to respond. Even as the archers targeted her she ran into the trees.

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Not surprised

Beoca's picture

For someone who doesn't like killing, Fiach has an awful lot of fun doing it. She'll be fine - obviously.

Fun, But...

...I'm not at all sure I like this version of our hero/ine. As both Raben and Fiach, s/he's been making friends with the enemy. When enemy soldiers decide to take Fiach, unhurt, to use as ransom, she willingly goes. My assumption, which now seems to have been wrong, was that she was willing to be used to create a truce and end the bloodshed, at least for the time being.

But instead of proving her value in that role, she responds to their justifiable questioning of her status by trying to kill them all -- which, despite the absurd numerical odds, remains a positive situation for her since her curse means she can't be killed. And if I'm reading it right, she's been in position to escape to the Roman camp for most of the latest couple of engagements; she's just continuing to kill them because she can, and because she enjoys making them look foolish.

As I said, it's fun, if somewhat gory, for readers who've been conditioned by the story so far to sympathize with her. But I'm wondering if the purpose here is to see her contempt increasing for people who don't recognize her superiority. If so, it's succeeding, at least with me. For a few chapters now, her "object lessons" have been getting increasingly deadly, in some cases seemingly to the point of overkill. (Sure, in the context here, if you consider her a Roman soldier, overkill of opposing soldiers isn't really a concept -- though she could have at least asked the rest of them to surrender rather than continue the ambushes. But the whole point of having her exchange medical information and music with the Caledonians would seem to be that she doesn't consider herself a Roman soldier.


I Generally Agree With Eric

joannebarbarella's picture

For someone who is supposed to be a healer she's having a bit too much fun killing "the enemy".

I can't figure out why Raben

I can't figure out why Raben/Fiach is helping the Romans anyway weren't the slavers that attacked and kidnapped her people Romans?

Due to a long life

Raben/Fiach live in the Roman Empire and as such need to be a part of it. Fiach/Raben tries to judge individuals, not groups and works within as well as without societal networks. Thus she/he owns slaves but treats them extremely humanely as if they were family to the point of allowing slaves to marry into the family. The times were complicated and Fiach/Raben try to live and survive while protecting knowledge and family struggling to stay true to her core morality.

Boys will be girls... if they're lucky!

Jennifer Sue