Time on My Hands Chapter 17 - 209-216 CE: Severus and Caracalla

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Time on My Hands
Chapter 17: 209-216 CE: Severus and Caracalla

The twenty men kept a close watch on the forest as the others gathered their thirteen dead and dying. Staying together while hugging the tree line with four man shield walls protecting the front and rear
of their column. Two men carried each of the fallen as the remaining twenty one men formed an armed line beside those carrying the casualties.

The men on the beach maneuvered their shield wall to meet the warriors cautiously advancing toward them along the beach. After merging the group moved to place their dead beside the first dead. They were about to begin moving to gather the scattered dead sprawled about the encampment when they heard the approaching noise of the men returning down the canyon. In a few minutes those men emerged from the trees carrying their casualties.

The one hundred forty seven men organized themselves into a corp of forty archers with forty armed warriors guarding the tree line. The one wounded man stayed with the archers. The sixty six remaining men divided into two groups of thirty three. Twenty one formed an armed guard while the remaining twelve were casualty porters. The two groups gathered up the dead scattered about the camp. An hour later their sixty dead were lying in a long row. It had been an hour and a half since Fiach had disappeared into the trees. The men had exchanged their stories of how the small she-devil had struck them down. If they hadn’t experienced her hit and run tactics they would have found their shared stories some sort of fanciful bogey man tales.

Darkness was falling as they nervously waited. They knew trying to chase her down was as frustrating and useless as trying to catch your shadow. But at least chasing your shadow wasn’t fatal. The spooked men huddled together all through the night. They no longer doubted the she-devil’s claim that she hadn’t killed her kidnapers because killing twenty men wasn’t enough. She’d killed three times that many. The clan leaders decided to fade into the hills and avoid further kidnaping.

When she slipped into the trees after her last kill Fiach realized she was close to crossing the line into taking pleasure from death. She’d taken out sixty men. The giggling had started out as an effective tactic to unsettle the men. She didn’t like killing but realized it produced a dangerous addicting adrenalin high. The fact the Caledonians were using terroristic methods greatly disturbed her. The Romans were invading their homeland and the Caledonians had no hope to win in open battle. Killing from ambush was their only recourse. She had hoped to give them a taste of their own bitter medicine thus discouraging guerrilla warfare to get them to the bargaining table to end the war.

The sun was setting as a lookout in one of the watchtowers called out an alarm as he saw a girl with a bow and several quivers slung across her back skipping out of the forest into the cleared areas outside the fort. The walls were soon manned with troops peering in all directions fearing the girl was merely a distraction, a prelude to an attack.

“Halt and identify yourself,” The decanus bellowed.

“I’m Fiach Corvo, co-head physician of the legions with Emperor Severus along with my husband Raben. I was kidnaped three days ago by Caledonian raiders. They brought me to a camp where the head leaders from a dozen clans had gathered. That camp is just four miles north of here on the shore of the loch. I escaped killing sixty of them in the process.”

The men clearly didn’t believe her. “Drop your weapons and advance.”

“Like hell,” Fiach replied. “If you won’t let me in the fort, I’ll just head back to the Antonine Wall. I’m sure the Emperor will be pleased when he hears of your hospitality.” With that Fiach proceeded to bypass the fort.

The Centurion sent out a squad to intercept the girl but she disappeared into the trees before they could get to her. With the failing light they returned to the fort. The Centurion was upset, he had heard fantastic tales about Fiach and Raben. What if she had killed sixty Caledonians? Unsure he doubled the guard just in case there were Caledonians nearby.

Fiach waited until darkness fell, then she slipped through the darkness easily approaching the fort undetected. Stealthily she slipped over the walls.

The Centurion awoke in the morning to find a knife at his throat. The normal foggy early morning thoughts quickly came into focus. Swallowing nervously he stayed still.

“Good morning,” Fiach smiled as she withdrew the knife. “I could have wiped out your garrison as you slept. But since we’re on the same side I spared you.”

The men were amazed to see the Centurion emerge from his quarters accompanied by Fiach to call assembly. There he asked each to check their bunks to see if there was a pine twig with still fresh needles in their blankets and if so to bring it back to the formation. Each man returned with a pine twig in their hand. They blanched when Fiach told them she’d slipped into the fort undetected and went through the barracks placing the twigs.

“I could just as easily slit your throats,” Fiach added as she slipped the bow from her back. In seconds she began firing arrows into all the watchtowers striking the upright logs holding the roof. “I could have taken out all the men on guard duty. I could have wiped out this entire fort. Do not doubt me when I say I killed sixty Caledonians yesterday.”

After eating breakfast, Fiach borrowed a horse to accompany the dispatch squad as they returned to the Antonine Wall.

Two days later Fiach joined the main Roman encampment after having retrieved her gear from where she’d been kidnaped. Her report was enlightening. Everyone noted the Caledonians stopped raiding.

Just because the season for campaigning ended didn’t mean the soldiers had been idle. In addition to continuing the rebuilding the Antonine Wall Severus had them rebuild and garrison the abandoned Roman coastal forts south of the Antonine Wall. East of Edinburgh was Musselburgh and in the west was Outerwards on the hilltop south of Gourock and Lurg Moor on the hilltop south of Greenock, all three of which served as naval resupply bases to the Wall itself.

In the spring of 209 Severus with his army thrust north from the Antonine Wall into the hilly area between the highlands and the flatter eastern coastal areas. They avoided going into the steep valleys of the Highlands since they were ideal for ambush attacks. As they advanced they hit many difficulties while cutting through forests, building up roadways through swamps and bridging rivers. The many streams, swamps and peat bogs caused great suffering to the Romans as they traveled. Again there were no pitched battles. However the Caledonians didn’t sit idly by and let the Romans have their way. They often purposely put a few ‘stray’ sheep or cattle in front of the soldiers. The strategy was for them to seize the animals and be lured still further until they were worn out and scattered at which point they would be attacked. It situation became so dire fighters on both sides unable to keep up with their comrades would be slain by their own men in order to avoid capture. Thousands of men died due to the guerrilla tactics used by the Caledonians. Fiach was frustrated. She had hoped her deadly actions while kidnaped would have served to discourage the Caledonians.

Severus persisted in his northern advance until he approached the extremity of the island. As the weather turned colder they settled into the forts for the winter. Raben, who ‘switched’ identities with Fiach every month or so, now stuck close to the emperor. The rough life of a soldier and his age began taking it’s toll on the aging Emperor. Severus could no longer ride a horse for long periods during a march. Reluctantly and at Raben’s insistence, Emperor Severus moved about on a litter. Since they were so far north, Raben and many educated Romans accurately observed the variation of the sun's motion and the length of the days and the nights in summer and winter respectively.

In the spring of 210 Severus ordered another campaign within northern Caledonia. His ever worsening physical infirmaries left him frustrated and angry. Unfortunately he chose not to follow Fiach or Raben’s medical advice. It wasn’t long until he could no longer ride and had to be conveyed by litter everywhere he went. Angered by his infirmities he became intent on exterminating the frustrating Caledonians, ordering his soldiers to kill every male even if it be a babe in the womb of the mother. Caracalla led a punitive expedition north of the Antonine wall with the intention of killing everyone he came across and looting or burning everything of value. However as he pushed north into the highlands, like every previous invasion, he too became bogged down in a guerrilla war and was never able to fully subjugate Caledonia.

With the cooperation of a greatly concerned Julia Domna, Raben finally convinced Severus to return to Eboracum (PD York) to rest and rehabilitate. Raben and Julia escorted the litter bound Severus south beyond all areas of contention to the city. The plan was that once he recovered, Severus would follow his son's army and permanently occupy all of Caledonia. Caracalla’s vicious tactics led to many of the Caledonian tribes to attempt reach a peace agreement with Severus because of fear of extinction through Roman genocide. The peace talks failed and it looked as if the war would continue until all the tribes had submitted to Rome or been exterminated.

Despite Raben’s best efforts, on February 4, 211 Emperor Severus died at age sixty five. Before his death he gave final advice to his sons: "Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men.”

Caracalla and Geta, with their mother returned to Rome with Severus’ body. Raben accompanied the imperial entourage but wisely stayed away from any controversy or taking sides in the burgeoning rivalry between the brothers. The time Raben spent in Caledonia had shown him more than enough of the cutthroat Roman politics and Imperial intrigue. He made a vow to himself to avoid politics as much as possible. Without fanfare he quietly and officially disentangled himself from the imperial drama when they were half way across Gaul to quietly make his way to Barmaz.

While Raben was gone the elderly patriarch of the Bricius family died during January of 211. Without him his wife died six weeks later. Barmaz was populated only by the Clan Corvo. Raben spent late spring through early fall at Barmaz unwinding from the stress of being part of the imperial retinue. That most of the Clan Corvo easily slipped into their roles as Alpine farmers and herders of the enlarged Barmaz pleased him. They had learned to read the skies to predict the weather. The hidden tunnels and the archives in Barmaz maintained their water free environment while continuing to accumulate written knowledge.

Raben traveled back to Rome to spend late fall and winter in Rome at Mazbar. He was saddened to learn Ulixis had died at age sixty in 210 and his wife, Quinta passed on at age sixty two just months before his return. The wily faux youth made sure to keep a low profile in Imperial Rome as he traveled about treating patients.

The mutual animosity of the imperial brothers only grew after the senate confirmed their dual Emperorship. On December 19, 211 Caracalla arranged a peace meeting in his mother’s apartment. He had his personal body guards kill Geta who died in his mother’s arms making Caracalla the sole Emperor of the Roman Empire. Unlike many others who had been prominently involved in Severus’ Reign, Raben was all too aware of the danger. Geta's inner circle of advisers, friends, guards, military staff and their families, about 20,000 people, were rounded up and executed with their possessions forfeited to the emperor. To keep the military on his side Caracalla increased the annual pay of an average legionary by nearly fifty percent. To increase the loyalty of the military and to placate those outside of Italy Caracalla issued a proclamation, the Edict of Caracalla, in which all free men living within the borders of the Roman Empire were granted full Roman citizenship. This led to even further weakening of the power of the original citizens of Rome while emptying the Imperial coffers. The benefit was that as citizens, they were now subjected to all imperial taxes.

Instead of living in the public eye, Raben wisely opted for the quiet life of an upper middle class businessman and physician. Living a comfortable non-extravagant lifestyle he studiously avoided the spotlight while still being true to his Ianuarian roots. The wise fifty year old planned to spend the vast majority of his time staying at or traveling between Barmaz, Mazbar, and Zamrab to ensure the farms, the hidden archives and the two locations of Corvus Scriptorium stayed true to their goals and avoided political controversy while maintaining high quality standards. One change he decided to make was to add artists to each scriptorium staff who would make accurate drawings, portraits and maps of people, buildings, monuments, important sites and landscapes.

Both Corvus Scriptorium locations were in centers of learning and knowledge that naturally attracted struggling artists. Harl lined up struggling artists for interviews with Raben asking them to bring a portfolio. Those that showed promising aptitude were put on a retainer paying enough for basic living expenses which they greatly appreciated. As appropriate for their talents they were sent out to sketch people, events, monuments, buildings and landscapes while getting basic measurements as well as making maps for accurate locations. Those who did portraits made sketches of people as well as full color drawings of animals, fish, birds and plants. Raben reviewed the drawings paying according to the quality and originality. Many drawings were copied and compiled into codexes and folios for sale to scholars and the wealthy while the originals went to the Barmaz archives.

Shortly after arriving in Rome, Raben discovered an opportunity to buy a bankrupt contracting and demolition business. At the southern end of the west slope of the toe ending the Mons Vaticanus ridge was an abandoned stone quarry {GM 41.903962, 12.439541}. The quarry had been cut into the slope from the top down. It was cut 250 feet into the slope and was 250 feet wide. From the top of the hill it was cut down 140 feet ending above the valley. The quarry would be home for the new business venture, Corvus Construction hiring many of the workers from the filed business. The business would do demolition work for remodeling and total tear downs throughout the region as well as hauling away the debris while salvaging whatever they could. They quickly accumulated roofing tiles, bricks, cut stones and lumber as well as decorative fixtures and furniture. The business took off making money from the demolition as well as the resale of the salvaged material. Anything that was unique or of high quality they moved into temporary storage at Mazbar.

The plans called for the quarry to be reopened. Over a distance of 500 feet the valley floor rose from it’s low point of 175 feet ASL to 240 feet ASL at the toe. The base of the quarry was 25 feet above that point. The plans called for the valley floor to be leveled at 175 feet ASL for the 500 feet away from the base of the toe and into the former quarry which meant the current floor of the quarry would be lowered 85 feet with the exception of a strip of 25 feet on the north, east and south sides. This meant an area 225 feet east/west and 200 feet north/south would be removed. Then 5 feet of crushed rock would be laid over everything to act as a huge French Drain. In the quarry four floors of ten east/west tunnels per floor would be constructed. The tunnels would be 13 feet wide with walls 7 feet thick, 3 feet thick on the outer walls of the two outer tunnels. Each arched roof would be 3 feet thick and 15 feet high in the center with sidewalls 8 feet high. Above that would be 2 feet of compacted fill resulting in each floor being 20 feet high. Every 50 feet arched access tunnels 5 feet wide with a center height of 12 feet would connect the tunnels of each level.

When completed the area atop the tunnels would be at 260 feet ASL. At that level U a shaped fifteen story brick building would be built atop the unexcavated 25 feet wide north, east and south sides against and anchored into the quarry walls. The 1st floor would be 18 feet high for businesses and all subsequent floors 10 feet high for residential apartments. The outside walls of the top floor would project 8 feet above the top of the toe while the inside walls would be 14¼ feet above to create a 1:4 slope tile roof. The blind corners would be for 6 feet wide stairs which would continue down to connect the four levels of tunnels. There would be a 13 feet square open space in the center of the stairwell to allow heavy or bulky items to be raised and lowered. A four switchback 15 feet wide road would be built in front of the tunnels. Each ramp would rise 20 feet over the a distance of 200 feet. The 1st ramp would be 60 feet out rising to 200 feet ASL, the 2nd would beout 45 feet rising to 220 feet ASL, the 3rd would be 30 feet our rising to 240 feet ASL and the 4th would be 15 feet out rising to 260 feet ASL. Where possible the tunnels would extend under the switchbacks.

In mid march 212 CE Raben sailed to Alexandria to visit Zamrab. Just as he had done in Mazbar, he had instituted the recruitment of street urchins to become apprentice scribes. Zambar had become the most sought after source of scrolls and codexes in Egypt. Just like Mazbar the profits were rolling in. While in Alexandria Raben searched for artists to add to the Corvus Scriptorium staff. These he dispatched to measure, map, sketch, and paint antiquities in Egypt and the Palestine. He also told his people to search out Egyptian and Persian documents in their original languages and forward them to Rome then to Barmaz where he would personally translate them. His Curse granted language abilities applied to written documents.

The attitude of the city’s elite disturbed Raben. They publicly disdained Caracalla. Having witnessed the execution of Geta and his followers he made sure the staff at Zamrab scrupulously avoided any hint of displeasure with the emperor. After spending a month he set sail back to Mazbar at the end of April, arriving at the end of June. After two weeks he accompanied the next mule train to Barmaz for the twenty four day trip arriving in Barmaz at the end of the first week of August. The rest of the summer was spent with his family in the safe and relaxing alpine environs.

The traveling routine repeated the next year. The income from the already extremely profitable Corvus Scriptoriums nearly doubled with the addition of the drawings and paintings of the artists. Raben wisely secreted large amounts of gold and silver coins, primarily at Barmaz.

By 213 Caracalla withdrew the legions from the territory taken during the Caledonian campaign to Hadrian's Wall in 213. Hadrian's Wall once again became the northern border of Roman Britain. The Caledonian tribes had been so weakened it would take many years for them to recover their strength and begin raiding in strength. The Romans never campaigned deep into Caledonia again.

While Raben’s family was safe and snug at Barmaz the Germanic/Celtic Hermunduri tribe of which they had been members was crumbling due to ever increasing pressure from other Germanic tribes being forced west. The Hermunduri themselves had moved into the area where Raben had been born only two hundred years before. The competition for land was increasing every year. Raids and skirmishes between those living in settlements and those trying to move into the area became increasingly frequent and bloodier. Their homes in Germania Magna were being overrun. Some of Raben’s clanspeople left behind had been killed or taken as slaves by the invaders. Many young women were taken as wives by the invaders. Others fled across the border seeking asylum in Roman territory. The Romans allowed the refuges in but required them to settle in separate areas to avoid possible future problems. The Corvo family were quite aware that Raben had saved them by leading the family to Barmaz. Their birth clan was thoroughly dispersed with no hope of ever reforming. Their family was the largest surviving cohesive unit of their former clan.

Caracalla left Rome in 213 CE never to return. First he headed north into Raetia to stop the Germanic tribes who had by then broken through the Roman border Forts. When Raben returned to Mazbar that fall he brought a sixteen year old niece with him. She stayed with her uncle Harl. She and one of Ulixes’ step-grandchildren quickly fell in love. By the time Raben returned from Zamrab the construction was completed at the quarry site of Corvus Construction. All the employees of Corvus Scriptorium and Corvus Construction were now able to live in Mazbar The young couple married and Raben had them settle in an apartment at the quarry with the young man working for the enterprise.

The summer of 214 CE saw Caracalla push the invading Germanic tribes back across the line of border forts. Fortunately the tribes invasion had not been a massive horde but by clans. There had been no huge battles but much like in Caledonia multiple skirmishes. With the fighting over negotiating peace began. Raben spent the summer in Barmaz and as he returned to Mazbar in the mid-September a sixteen year old nephew accompanied him. In Rome the young man was amazed by the buildings and grandeur. The youth tried working at the scriptorium and the demolition and construction businesses. The scriptorium interested him but he felt out of place. In December the teen accompanied Raben on the voyage to Alexandria. As soon as he saw the younger sister of Jarl’s wife he fell in love. The last week of January just before Raben returned to Rome, the young couple married.

By the spring of 215 CE Caracalla had strengthened the forts and made peace with the Germanic tribes that would last eighteen years. At the end of April as Raben’s made his trip to Barmaz he encountered the Imperial retinue as it headed to Ravenna. Caracalla insisted Raben share an evening meal as they reminisced about the Caledonian campaign. After the emperor explained he’d killed his brother in self defense he bragged about heading east to conquer the Parthians thus claiming for Rome the lands Alexander the Great once conquered. It quickly became evident Caracalla was megalomanic, much more so than in the past, to the point he was styling himself as Alexander the Great reincarnated. Needless to say Raben was extremely careful to avoid military and political topics.

As soon as Raben reached Barmaz he switched to his feminine identity. As usual when in Barmaz he lived in the Elder House. While he normally spent time as Fiach to accustom his extended family to his role switching this time he spent virtually the entire summer as feminine self. The encounter with the increasingly unbalanced emperor shook his normally cool demeanor. Over the years he’d realized that while being Raben, he felt compelled to prove his masculinity. It was much easier to recenter himself and relax while living as Fiach. Being his girly alter ego didn’t interfere with his daily training regime, time well spent maintaining his martial skills.

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Sounds likeFiach

Wendy Jean's picture

is going to be here longer term than usual,

The long term is what I'm currently more curious about.

Beoca's picture

I'll be very interested to see how the entire business of Corvo Scriptorium will fare in the long run. Pax Romana won't last forever. In the short term, Fiach doesn't need to do a ton other than accrue Frequent Sailor Miles and deal with occasional idiots. The whole setup of Barmaz seems to be such that it will endure regardless of what goes on around it. The waves of barbarians that are coming (albeit in the lifetime of nobody but Fiach) will put that concept to the test.

Just How Long Term can Clan Corvo Last?

joannebarbarella's picture

Will Raben/Fiach's careful planning enable them to last until the present day or will some catastrophe overwhelm them?

Thanks for the Explanation...

...at the start for Fiach's behavior in the previous chapter. Glad she's aware of the dangers of bloodlust.

Thanks also for Raben's choosing a bloodless path in this section. As he noted, when it comes to things like fights over the throne, staying out of them if one can is generally the better option.