Time on My Hands Chapter 28 - 267-273 CE: Egypt is Crumbling

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Time on My Hands
Chapter 28: 267-273 CE: Egypt is Crumbling

In February 267 Raben returned to Mazbar. Business for Corvus Construction was booming. It had attracted the best architects and engineers, work was done correctly, with good materials, on time and on cost. It had become the premier builder in the vicinity of Rome. Treatises were written on engineering and architecture with mathematical tables to figure out loads and spans for various materials. Formulas for different types of concrete were recorded. The books were copied and sold by Corvus Scriptorium.

Raben met with the musicians of Rome, hiring five, each skilled with different instruments, to create a consistent system of musical notation. Room was set up in the Mazbar office of Corvus Scriptorium for them to work.

Concern about the multiple attempts of the barbarians to reach Rome as well the many coup attempts Raben decided the walls of Mazbar needed major reinforcing. He set Corvus Construction to that task demanding walls 40 feet high and 25 feet wide with one entrance located at the base of the toe by the former quarry where a sturdy gatehouse would be built overlooked by the heights of the to be fortified hilltop of the toe of Mons Vaticanus. The walls of the hilltop were to be reinforced with sturdy warehouse/barns. At the two western corners watchtowers 10 feet higher than the wall were to be built. An additional tower was to be built in the middle of each east/west wall. A tower was to be built in each corner of the toe. As at Barmaz and Zamrab, those living there were to be trained as militia. The Mazbar work was to be done during slack times. With that effort underway he left in May to return to Barmaz.

For the next two years Raben began the next phase to secure Barmaz. The militia was well trained and capable. The boundary walls were built to 10 feet thick at the base and 12 feet high with a step 4 feet wide 4 feet below the 2 feet wide crenelated top. A wide road was to be built behind the wall to provide easy troop and supply movement. Where possible the area outside the walls was cleared to the bedrock to create glacis of at least 75° and wherever possible a height of 300 feet. Watchtowers 20 feet by 20 feet square 10 feet higher than the wall were built at least every 500 feet, closer if the view was not all encompassing. The ground below the glacis was stripped of topsoil and cut smooth to the bottom of the slope. In areas where the wall crossed saddles or ridges the area outside the walls was to be cut down to create a depth of 300 feet with a width of 500 feet.

In 268 Gallienus had been fighting Goth invaders in Thrace who avoided the Danube border by sailing from northern Black Sea ports through the Bosporus into the Aegean Sea where many islands were ravaged. He’d dealt them a major defeat but was unable to follow up due to another usurper revolt in Italy that forced him to return to Rome to put it down only to be assassinated in Milan. His second in command, Claudius II, became the new emperor and crushed the usurper’s rebellion. At the same time Emperor Postumus' of the Gallic Empire was assassinated. Also by that time Palmyra had created its own Empire but was still nominally under Rome.

The resurgent Alemanni were once more creating issues in Raetia and crossed through the Brenner and Reschen passes into northern Italy. Claudius II crushed them in a battle at Lake Garda then returned to the Balkans to crush the Goths. Knowing the Roman forces were depleted, the Goths decided to attack, their first attempt to directly invade Italy. They met at the Battle of Naissus in Serbia. Aurelian, who was in charge of all Roman cavalry during Claudius' reign, led the decisive attack. The Roman troops pursued the fleeing survivors hoping to utterly destroy them. Some survivors were resettled within the empire, while others were incorporated into the Roman army.

Unfortunately the plague once more appeared in the camps and the battle desolated areas killing thousands including, in January 270, Claudius II. Aurelian completed the destruction of the Goths. Quintillus, the brother of Claudius II claimed the throne and was approved by the senate. The military refused to accept him, declaring Aurelian emperor in September 270. Quintillus promptly committed suicide.

Raben left Barmaz in October 269, spent a month in Mazbar, then sailed to Zamrab. Once more the political situation was in turmoil. The Palmyrene Empire was flexing its muscles under the auspices of the regent, mother of the child emperor who succeeded his father, founder of the empire. Palmyra occupied Palestine. The Roman legions in Egypt were weakened by a lack of recruits and having units siphoned away to fight the Goths. Raben decided to stay to shepherd Zamrab through the chaos.

In 270 the Goths devastated the provinces of the lower Danube and sacked some cities. On Aurelian’s march to the East to reintegrate the Palmyrene Empire to the Roman Empire, he drove the Goths out of the empire and then followed them over the Danube further defeating them. After his victory over the Palmyrene Empire, he carried with him Gothic women dressed as Amazons and a chariot, pulled by four stags. Despite his victory Aurelian abandoned the cross Danube province of Dacia. Aurelian had frightened off the Gothic menace from the empire for a century however they were not destroyed eating up the vacated lands in Dacia.

While the Roman prefect of Egypt was away fighting the Gothic pirates in Crete, in October 270 a Palmyrene army of 70,000 invaded Egypt defeating the 50,000 garrison troops and allies outside Cairo. Knowing the Palmyrenes would disregard him because of his size and seemingly youth, Raben decided to take advantage of that dismissal by adding to it. He headed to the Alexandrian harbor to ‘meet’ his sister, Fiach, who would be staying while Raben returned to Rome. As the Palmyrenes marched on Alexandria Fiach made her way to Zamrab avoiding the fleeing citizens of the about to be occupied city. Needless to say the people of Zamrab were not pleased to see the exchange feeling Raben was fleeing.

“Do you really think my twin brother would have left me here if he was fleeing?” Fiach laughed at their fears. “We had arranged our exchange months ago. For us it’s simply business as usual. Besides, I can fight just as well as Raben. Maybe even better since most men underestimate a small girl like me even more than they do a small guy like Raben. Their preconceived notions work to my advantage. If it comes to a fight, they will pay dearly.”

Several fleeing upper class Alexandrian families came up the distributary canal seeking asylum to avoid the Palmyrene plundering. Fiach made it clear they would need to pay heavily for their stay and join the militia. Most continued on their way. The Zamrabians used their available boats to stop every vessel passing by. Those with foodstuffs were purchased, forcibly if needed, and brought inside the defenses, the crews were paid a fair price for their wares, then allowed to leave or to join the garrison. Seeing the smoke rising from the sacking of Alexandria, most joined. The population nearly doubled as people living on nearby farms and estates flocked to the only defensible place for miles about. The new arrivals, whether the wealthy, farmers or boatmen, received intensive basic militia training.

A few days after taking Alexandria a force of 300 foraging Palmyrenes rode out of the city reaching Zamrab in the late afternoon. Most were on the east bank of the distributary with only a few scouting the west bank with a handful of boats to cross back and forth as needed. Fiach had all but one small boat hauled into the papyrus swamp and the militia stood on the walls. The citizens of Zamrab were terrified but prepared. The main cavalry unit gathered across the waterway from the scriptorium. The two sides eyed each other for nearly an hour as the scouts rode around the other sides of Zamrab. Dispatch riders headed back to the city as the unit set up camp.

The next day a bit before lunch a significantly larger force arrived, probably close to 5000 soldiers. Other than watchful outriders, they dismounted moving the horses away from the waterway. An hour after lunch Fiach had herself rowed across, with the small boat heading out to mid stream as soon as she stepped ashore to meet with the invaders.

The Palmyrene commander disdainfully looked her up and down seeing she wore spiked gloves and gauntlets and a leather cloak. “Are the people in your city so afraid they send a little girl to talk for them?”

“This is Zamrab, not a city. This is the Egyptian branch of Corvus Scriptorium. We are a peaceful self sufficient community of scribes and we have little of value,” Fiach smiled.

“Peaceful! Surrounded by stone fortifications with armed guards on the walls?” the leader sneered. “If you have nothing of value why are you ready to fight?”

“I said were peaceful not stupid,” Fiach grinned. “They’re not guards, they are a militia made up of the people. The reason I’m speaking to you is that I’m co-owner of Zamrab with my twin brother Raben. We have an office in Rome and another in the mountains south of Germania. He sailed to Rome a week ago, leaving on the ship upon which I arrived. Now, I’d much prefer to negotiate but as you can see I am prepared to fight.”

“We don’t negotiate with Romans,” the commander snarled. “We’ve taken all of Egypt and we want your precious Zamrab. By letting us in you can save your lives. Otherwise you’ll be killed or taken as slaves. The choice is yours.”

“We’ll just stay behind our walls and let you do as you wish with Egypt,” Fiach smirked.

“You claim you’re the owner, if we take you, your people will let us in,” the commander growled.

“Ahh, there’s the rub, isn’t it?” Fiach chuckled. “You’d have to take me. I can promise that isn’t happening!”

“You snotty little bitch! I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget when I fuck you!” The man threatened with a frown and narrowed eyes. “Take her!”

“WAIT,” Fiach countermanded the order in a commanding tone while glaring at the surrounding men causing them to hesitate. “If you try to rape me, I’ll cut off your prick. If you don’t bleed to death, the only fucking you’ll be doing is taking it up your ass!”

Quite naturally this infuriated the much larger commander while shocking his troops. The insult before his men demanded instant personal action. With a roar he pulled his sword and lunged forward to grab her.

Suddenly she wasn’t there. As he sprang to her she leapt around him thrusting a knife deep into his thigh. With a bellow of enraged pain, his leg collapsed tumbling him to the ground. Fiach delivered a roundhouse kick to the man’s helmeted head as he fell. His soldiers watched with mouths agape, frozen in inaction. While he didn’t lose consciousness he was seriously disoriented and collapsed onto the ground. By the time he was fully on the ground Fiach straddled him.

With moves that looked like blurs, quick swipes severed the straps holding his armor in place, a third hewed his clothes exposing his manhood. Without hesitation she grasped his penis and testicles with one hand, yanking them away from his groin. The knife in her other hand made a surgically precise slice. Standing up she proudly displayed his severed genitals above her head. The shock of the harsh cut finally hit the stunned commander producing an ear shattering squeal.

“I warned you, asswipe,” Fiach sneered as she flung his severed manhood into the water. “The only fucking you’ll be doing is taking it up the ass! Now, since this idiot is out of the way, who’s next in command?”

All eyes turned to look at the man who was just as shocked as all the others. Seething with outrage he drew his sword bellowing, “Kill the bitch!”

That snapped the elastic holding the soldiers unmoving. Yells of outrage accompanied the drawing of swords. With lightening speed and finesse Fiach drew a second knife and charged into their midst before they could organize. With cat like agility she danced through the crowded Palmyrene soldiers slashing and stabbing.

The soldiers quickly got in each others way as those on the outside of the scrum pushed to the center. Those in the center were too close to do other than ineffectually jab with their swords. Being shorter and with her knowledge of anatomy, Fiach easily reached beneath the armor skirts to slash femoral arteries. Men screamed in pain unable to even drop in the surging mass of soldiers as they rapidly bled out. The blood and bodies only added to the chaos as Fiach moved in an increasing spiral virtually unhindered striking equally effectively with both hands. The Palmyrenes could see nothing, certainly not the short she devil they’d unwittingly released. The screams of the dying masked orders and attempts at organization. It was five minutes before a trumpet tattoo echoed over the bedlam. The troops obeyed the recall pulling back to reform their now ravaged formations. Fiach sprinted to the edge of the distributary before facing the confused soldiers. Between them thirty one dead or dying soldiers were on the ground along with the unit commander who had bled out.

The second in command was incandescent as he looked between the casualties and the gory blood covered wide eyed smiling eager girl in disbelief. While breathing hard she was not panting nor did she appear to be injured. That terrified him as it did the soldiers.

When he pulled himself together he eyed Fiach then took a deep breath. “What are you?”

“Back home my twin brother and I are known as Demon Slayers,” Fiach answered. “We’re both skilled Ianuarians. As such we know exactly where to land killing blows and are quite deadly. Including your men I’ve personally killed 322 people.”

The fact Fiach was fluently as well as clearly and audibly speaking the Palmyrene tongue everyone clearly understood what she said. Their unease grew... a Demon Slayer? They were fighting a
Demon slayer?

“As I said when I first stepped ashore, we at Zamrab are peaceful,” Fiach said. “However we are not sheep to be shorn. We are not afraid to defend ourselves. We are a scriptorium, as self sufficient as we can be. We live a simple life. I was NOT the aggressor! Your commander attacked ME! Then you ordered your men to attack ME! I merely defended myself! Believe me, if I were to attack you your casualties would be much higher. My people are not soldiers but I have trained them as a militia. If you attack us you will pay dearly and will win little. To put it bluntly, we are not worth what it would cost you.”

Fiach paused to let her words sink in. She could easily sense the unease of the troops as well as the indecision of the former second, now first of command.

“If I may suggest, select five men you trust,” Fiach declared. “I will give temporary access to Zamrab. They can take as long as they need to examine the compound to verify we have no wealth other than our manuscripts. Then we can live in peace while you go on your way. If you need to lay blame for the deaths, put it where it belongs, at the feet of your dead commander.”

“If what you say is true my general might want to send out others to verify our findings,” the new commander stated. “Would you be open to having others examine Zamrab?”

“Yes,” Fiach agreed. “But only five at a time will be allowed access. If your former commander had been a reasonable man this day’s carnage could easily been avoided. Make sure to tell that to your general. Now, its still early. If you can pick your representatives, we’ll go over together. They can stay over night until they’re done. We will allow a small boat with messengers to land on our docks to wait and to ferry messages back and forth. Doing it this way will show we have nothing to hide and I can’t give orders to my people to hide anything.”

The new commander could only nod his agreement. Within fifteen minutes he presented five men. Fiach signaled for her boat. The rowers were clearly nervous as they looked at Fiach but followed her directions with alacrity.

The parapets of the scriptorium were crowded with most of the population who had witnessed Fiach in action. They had been clearly stunned to see their normally quiet Ianuarian take down the clearly arrogant commander and so easily literally unman him before almost eagerly diving into the massed soldiers. The fact she’d vanished into their midst had increased their terror. All were shocked to see her not only alive but able to sprint to the waters edge leaving behind numerous bodies when the recall sounded. Now they could see was covered in blood and gore, looking like the Demon Slayer she and Raben claimed to be. They were awed by her abilities.

The tour began with the scriptorium. While the men were aware of scrolls and manuscripts, they had no idea what was involved in copying them. The well lit desks by windows, the ink pots, the reed pens, the papyrus, the vellum, the parchment... boggled their minds. The papyrus manufacturing area was eye opening. Fiach freely answered their questions. The only storage areas were for the manuscripts and associated supplies. They ate together in the watchtower as they overlooked the entirety of Zamrab.

The next day they examined the settlement freely walking into any home they wanted. They saw the citizens of Zamrab were indeed common people who had been trained to be an at best awkward self defense militia. They examined the boats and food stores. By midday were satisfied there was no wealth. The only money was what was needed for daily life and scribal supplies.

A messenger approached Fiach to inform her a column of troops was approaching from Alexandria. With the examiners she headed to the watchtower to verify the news. They were crossing the water when the troops arrived. They were greeted by the nervous former second in command. In a few minutes the large column arrived. An older man, accompanied by his personal entourage, was introduced as Zabdas, the Palmyrene commanding general. Fiach was introduced.

“Fiach... about seventy years ago my grandfather met a Fiach Loginus who was a Demon Slayer,” Zabdas stated. “She was riding to Alexandria with three men and two pack horses. The men told stories of how she’d thwarted a bandit attack on a caravan killing 28 bandits. From what he explained she was about your size and age. She was also a healer.”

“That was my grandmother and her last name was Longinus,” Fiach smiled. “She founded Zamrab. She passed her skills on, both healing and fighting. My twin brother and I are both Demon Slayers.”

“Those skills allowed you to kill 32 of my soldiers,” Zabdas nodded.

“Only because they attacked me first,” Fiach replied looking him in the eye. “Like my grandmother, I don’t like killing but I’m extremely good at doing so.”

“That’s what I’ve been told,” Zabdas agreed. “The captain was a bully but good at foraging.”

“Foraging done wrong can be dangerous,” Fiach stated. “Everyone knows an army must forage. But if too much is taken the farmers will starve and not have enough to plant new crops nor the strength to tend the crops. By over foraging you force the locals into a life and death struggle where they’ll turn on you at the first chance. Treating them decently will let them recover meaning you’ll have more cooperation.”

“That makes sense,” Zabdas nodded. “Very well, Zamrab will stand as it is, unmolested and we’ll try not to over forage.”

Zabdas took a quick tour of Zamrab then left. The people of Zamrab were amazed that Fiach had preserved them without the militia needing to fight. Fiach stayed in Barmaz to ensure things stayed unmolested.

A month later the Roman procurator and his troops returned to Alexandria from fighting the Goths on the Aegean islands. By then the Palmyrenes had only a garrison force of 5000 in Alexandria who were overwhelmed and driven out. However, as the Romans began to retake the rest of Egypt the Palmyrene forces defeated them leaving Egypt under Palmyrene control.

In 272 Aurelian led legions south from the Bosporus defeating the Palmyrenes and capturing the city of Palmyra. After capturing the Palmyrene Emperor and his Empress mother, he left a small garrison and headed towards Egypt.

Even though the Palmyrene Empire was defeated, Firmus, a wealthy businessman/general in Egypt refused to surrender knowing he had the breadbasket of Rome in his hands. He threatened to destroy Alexandria and burn the grain fields as well as the grain supply to create a situation where fields could not be replanted. The Romans were furious but sensible enough to know the man would stop at nothing to save his life so they held off attacking. Because of this Palmyra again rebelled in 273. Aurelian returned and leveled the city taking everything of value either killing or enslaving the population then marched toward Egypt.

Word reached Fiach that Firmus was about to scorch the earth as he’d promised. Gathering her weapons Fiach rushed into Alexandria arriving after dark. She had no issues sneaking over the walls and making her way to the parade square in front of Hadrian’s Palace, the occupied Roman government buildings. By dawn she was waiting on the roof of the Temple of Isis Pelusia adjacent to the parade square with her bow and several quivers.

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ahhh another cliffhanger

A cliff hanger at this time? I would say I hate you for it if I didnt love your story so much but you're making me wait till next week to find out if Fiach gets him and survives the encounter. Unforgiveable.......almost. While we know she'll survive, "What terrible things are likely to happen to her in the meantime and what is the body count going to be"? A week can be a long time............


joannebarbarella's picture

Did not return to the Empire until the reign of Diocletian, and he had to split it between East and West, so Raben/Fiach is going to have his/her work cut out keeping the Corvus holdings together and safe until then.

Still fascinating.