Time on My Hands Chapter 43 - 353-356 CE: A Time to Watch, A Time to Fight

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Time on My Hands

Chapter 43: 353-356 CE: A Time to Watch, A Time to Fight

Then just as quietly as he’d arrived, Raben would slip off into the forests without a trace. After two weeks Raben had found and visited every sizeable Alemanni camp. The first camps he’d visited sent out riders to warn the other camps the Demon Slayer was about but even with additional guards and heightened awareness none spotted Raben, the tigers or the wolves. The old tale of the Demon Slayer told he’d silently killed the slaver guards and then silently slit the throats of nearly a hundred slavers. They now understood that what most had considered a fanciful tale could very well be true.

When Raben joined the wagon train he did so slipping undetected through the Raven Raider guards. That embarrassed the Raven Raiders and Raben spent time with each unit demonstrating his abilities stressing the guards had not been at fault. He was simply that good.

Needless to say the surviving forts once again welcomed the wagon train. The supplies and company were greatly needed. Many Alemanni stopped at the overnight camps to make purchases. When they reached Colonia Agrippina the city was just rebuilding. The spring iron shipment and 3000 people for Bazram were exchanged.

Meanwhile Constantius II wanted to crush the usurper with overwhelming might rather than by activity and speed. Some of his generals led legions reconquering Spain and Africa. After the Diocesian capital, Augusta Treverorum, revolted and sided with Constantius II, Magentius made his capital in Lugdunum {PD Lyon}. The Imperial fleet entered the Rhone to capture Lyons just as news arrived that the usurper's brother, Decentius, was besieged in Sens by the Alemanni under Chnodomar. With Hispania taken by Constantius II’s forces, the only direction Magnentius could flee was east back into Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae. At that point Constantius II decided it was time to move against the usurper and marched west from Milan in northern Italy.

Raben had returned from his Colonia Agrippina expedition when a raven mail messages arrived. One was that Magnentius had entered Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae fleeing Lyons and another that Constantius II had entered via the Col de Montgenèvre from the east. Raben immediately sent raven mail messages calling out 3 local Raven Raider divisions to gather at the crucial crossroads town of Gap to prevent the usurper heading northeast into Raetia. With another 3 divisions Raben rode for the crossroads town.

Following Raben’s orders, the 3 Raven Raiders divisions deployed blocking Magnentius from fleeing northeast to Raetia. The usrper’s troops realized that if the Raven Raiders had taken the field in opposition to them, they had no where to go. They retreated into the mountains. When he arrived, Raben led the 6 divisions of Raven Raiders to block Magnentius into a valley at the village of La Batie-Montsaleon {GM 44.455386, 5.750582}. Two divisions guarded the area between the village of Chabestan southeast across the Torrent de Maraize to the mountain ridge. Two divisions blocked the western exit of the valley along the stream Le Petit Buech. The remaining two divisions secured the low ridge to the south. Magnentius had no way out and his troops, of whom 75% were Germans, refused to even attempt to go against the Raven Raiders.

Messengers were dispatched to Constantius II informing him of the trapped usurper. On July 3, 353, Constantius II’s forces reached the trapped the army. Raben pulled the 2 divisions off the Chabestan/Torrent de Maraize/mountain ridge line to reinforce the 2 along the stream as Constantius II’s troops lined up for battle. They held the high ground while Magnentius was trapped by the Raven Raiders with their backs to the stream. The Battle of Mons Seleucus began. The dispirited troops of the usurper crumbled before the imperial troops. Even as they were being ripped apart they refused to even attempt to flee since the only route was through the Raven Raiders. Constantius II, after another bloody day, was again victorious as the rebel troops threw down their arms. Magnentius, deserted even by his own house-hold guard and with no where to flee, committed suicide by falling on his sword.

The Raven Raiders never engaged since the rebellious forces never approached them. Constantius II was delighted with the victory and like a petulant child sought additional revenge against those who opposed him. The Emperor had heard his father speak of the Raven Raiders and their ravens and wolves. Now he saw they had added eagles and tigers to their retinue. Raben diplomatically praised the Emperor for his victory and promised to support the Emperor. Raben's efforts to stop Magnentius helped alleviate Constantius II's insipid paranoia of fearing a possible attack by the Clan Corvo.

“Sire,” Raben began as they settled into camp. “I know you want revenge against those who supported Magnentius and I fully support justified vengeance. I am aware of circumstances that most likely were never communicated to you. The vast majority of the soldiers who fought under Magnentius were ordered to his banner. They did not voluntarily fight for him. You witnessed how quickly they dropped their arms. Magnentius was the Duce of the Diocese of Gaul of which, as you know includes the Province of Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae. When he declared himself emperor, we knew you didn’t approve and moved against him. He stripped the border defenses which allowed the Alemanni and Franks to invade the Diocese. The soldiers simply followed the orders of their superiors which were lawful.”

Constantious II grew angry. “The orders of a usurper are NOT lawful!”

“That is true,” Raben conceded. “However, while we knew you didn’t approve of his claims to the throne, I can vouch for the fact we NEVER received Imperial orders telling us not to follow the orders of Magnentius, who had the right as Duce of Gaul to give us such orders. Someone from the Imperial government failed to send orders revoking his status as Duce. Thus we were bound by our oaths to follow his orders. That is why the soldiers fought for him. That is why my Raven Raiders never engaged in the fight. Our reputation was enough to keep them from pushing the issue, but technically I was being disloyal to the LEGAL Duce of Gaul.”

Constantius thought long on that even summoning his staff to question if orders had ever been sent terminating Magnentius as Duce of Gaul. He flew into a rage when he found that Raben was speaking the truth. With his empathetic abilities, Raben was able to calm him down.

In the end Constantius II took Raben’s advise of incorporating the common soldiers and lower ranked officers to fill the depleted ranks of his forces. The upper rank officers were summarily executed. Agents were promptly dispatched to hunt down and execute all who supported Magnentius.

Decentius, when he heard of Magnentius' defeat and death, strangled himself in the besieged city of Sens on August 18, signaling the end of the civil war. Constantius II was once more the sole Emperor of the Empire.

The emperor intended leading his personal troops into Raetia in the spring to campaign against the Alemanni who had crossed the upper Danube frontier. With winter approaching, Raben invited Constantius and his army to spend the winter in the safety and relative comfort of the border walls of Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae. Constantuius II agreed. The Emperor and his troops were quite impressed with the massive fortifications they saw along the borders. The gate complex and adjoining walls when they’d entered at Col de Montgenèvre had impressed them. The emperor had been aware that Clan Corvo was, in effect, the province Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae and that they had absorbed the Allobroges portion of Narbonensis. He was also aware they were fortifying their borders. What he had not expected was the mile after mile of massive defensive fortifications.

The emperor was even more impressed when Raben explained that every Clan Corvo member joined the militia at age 13 and remained in the militia as long as they could do so. The militia was called to the walls whenever a potential threat appeared. When the emperor and his staff entered Barmaz they were impressed by those fortifications and the green valley beyond. The size and scope of Clan Corvo University amazed them as did the library. Raben admitted that Corvus Scriptorium made extra copies of all they copied and those copies ended up in Barmaz. The library in Champery dwarfed the once famed Library of Alexandria.

By the spring, Constantius II understood the Province was a safe haven for the Clan Corvo and that the massive fortifications were solely for defense. The entire set up of the Clan Corvo was for the prosperity of the clan. Clan Corvo University and the Corvus Scriptorium Library demonstrated the intellectual bent of the Clan Corvo.

The most important thing that occurred that winter was that Raben succeeded in convincing Constantius II to grant Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae to expand to incorporate the Port of Zarbam into the province by issuing an Imperial Decree to that effect.

The area annexed starting just northwest of Meyreuil {GM 43.487832, 5.491684} heading south to pick up route D6 southwest picking up route A7 the south on route A55 to just west of Jas de Rhodes then heading south over the ridge to the high point {GM 43.380659, 5.303630} east of La Nerthe then southwest to the Pointe de Corbiere on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The boundary follows the shore west to the coast at the Anse de (bay of) Saint Gervais to just beyond the village of Fos-sur-Mer. From there the boundary heads northwest {following PD N568 to D24 following that around Saint-Martin-de-Crau and Mouries to east of Eygalieres picking up D24B east to the 100M ASL then northeast west of Orgon to the Durance}

In the spring of 354 Raben led 3 divisions of Raven Raiders north along the Rhine while Constantius II led his refreshed troops into Raetia where he succeeded in driving the Alemanni out, binding by their oaths the kings of the southern Alemannia with a treaty of alliance. Constantius II then headed down the Danube to quell incursions by the Goths in the region of Dacia.

Only able to spare 13,000 men for reconquering Gaul, half its previous strength, the Frankish-born general Silvanus was appointed its military commander. Silvanus made considerable progress by negotiating with the Franks in restoring the situation in northern Gaul. However, in 355, facing false accusations in the imperial court, at Colonia Agrippina Silvanus proclaimed himself emperor leading his men in a rebellion against Constantius II.

Constantius II, already deeply involved in a mess with his cousin Gallus whom he had summoned back from the east because of imperial intrigues, dispatched a crack group of imperial staff-officers to negotiate a settlement. To prevent a wider mutiny they murdered Silvanus. Constantius II was angered by the turmoil and ordered Gallus executed, then days later repented and withdrew the order but Gallus had already been killed. The shaken emperor decided that he needed a member of his own imperial dynasty to share the burdens of governing the empire so he appointed his cousin Julian to replace Silvanus, a difficult decision for a paranoid ruler who regarded all his relatives with intense suspicion and had already put to death 2 of his uncles and 7 cousins, including Julian's half-brother Gallus. The appointment, though greeted with enthusiasm by the troops, was questionable since Julian was 23 years old with no military experience having spent his time studying philosophy at Athens. But Constantius II’s own family purges left him little choice since Julian was his sole surviving adult male close relative. At the same time Constantius II was fed up with the Bishop of Rome, Liberius. He had the Liberius arrested and imprisoned in Thrace. Archdeacon Felix was appointed as Bishop of Rome.

Raben continued leading 3 divisions of Raven Raiders up and down the Rhine as a show of force against the Alemanni while transferring the 3000 people north and retrieving the iron shipments. Realizing the fragility of the empire he started making plans for the iron/people exchange to be conducted around the European coast to Zarbam. Raben himself kept infiltrating any Alemanni camps that seemed poised to attack the remaining Rhine forts thus discouraging them. Raben made no effort to curtail Alemanni raids into Gaul.

A month after Silvanus died, a large force of Franks appeared attacking and laying siege to Colonia Agrippina. The Raven Raiders were almost at Basilia returning for the season when they learned of the attack. Raben immediately turned the 3 divisions around ordering them north post haste. Raben set out on foot knowing he could travel faster over distances than a horse. At forced march the Raven Raiders could cover 70 miles a day covering the distance in 4 1/4 days. On foot Raben could cover 90 miles a day covering the distance in 3 1/3 days. Since they turned around at midday, Raben made the trip in 3 days with the Raven Riders arriving a day later.

As soon as night fell Raben silently entered the Frank camp, awakening the Frank commander with a knife pressing against his throat producing just a trace of blood. Needless to say Raben promptly had his attention. After agreeing not to yell, Raben released him. “I am the Demon Slayer. I could have killed you and the other leaders. I understand you want to take Colonia Agrippina for what happened to Silvanus. He brought it on himself by declaring himself emperor. But as I told the Alemanni, I don’t want to get involved in your disputes with Rome. I simply want to conduct my Clan Corvo business. It makes no difference to me if I trade with Romans, Alemanni, or Franks as long as the deals are fair to those involved. You have attacked Colonia Agrippina suffering heavy losses. In the morning we can parley with the other chiefs. Oh, by the way, my Raven Raiders will arrive the day after tomorrow.” With that Raben slipped out of the tent.

The Frank chief promptly raised the alarm. His personal guards rushed inside the tent. They had seen nor heard anything despite less than five second difference from Raben’s exit to their entrance. Upon seeing the line of blood on the leader’s neck the guards and other roused Frank leaders realized the Demon Slayer had indeed slipped in and out unseen. Needless to say the Franks were spooked. They had dismissed the Alemanni tales of encountering the Demon Slayer and had heard the legendary disciplined Raven Raiders were crack fighters.

Just after sunrise Raben seemed to appear out of nowhere by the Frank council fire having used his empathetic abilities to distract the guards to slip through the camp unnoticed. “You can take the Roman Fort but you will pay heavily. I can help you take possession of the fort without further casualties. If you’re interested we can discuss details. If you’re not interested, attack me now. Talk it over for a few minutes.” Raben walked away to wait.

Most of the older wiser men wanted to talk. Most of the younger men wanted to fight, especially against the insignificant youth claiming to be the so called Demon Slayer. No consensus could be reached.

After half an hour Raben returned. “I assume some of you want to negotiate while a lot of the younger warriors want to take on the Demon Slayer because I don’t look imposing. So, how about we let the hotheads fight me. Choose one hundred of your best to attack me in plain view of your forces and the Romans manning the walls of their fort. After I kill them, we can still sit down and bargain.” Raben walked to the spot he wanted to fight.

The calm manner in which Raben suggested they choose their best hundred to fight him unsettled many Franks. Either the unimposing youth was insane or he really was the legendary Demon Slayer. There was absolutely no fear nor doubt in Raben that he could take the hundred. Still the hot heads wanted the chance to fight. It took another half hour to select the strongest and fastest warriors who were willing to face the diminutive Demon Slayer.

The walls of the fort were lined with soldiers and civilians as a mass of Franks surrounded the chosen hundred. Raben smiled as he drew his sword and a knife. “I expect no quarter from you and I will give no quarter. This is a fight to the death. A hundred fools versus the Demon Slayer. The odds are heavily in my favor! If you want to say a prayer to your God do so now before I kill you.”

The battered weary Romans eagerly watched the proceedings from their nearby battlements. Raben’s audacious speech did as he wanted. His certainty of victory unnerved the Franks as well as angered them. With hideous battle cries they charged. Raben tilted his head back and howled like a wolf, then met their charge.

For the first few moments large men, strong warriors accustomed to hewing their way through Romans faced Raben one on one only to be felled when the nimble Demon Slayer deflected their mighty slashes to find themselves bleeding out from severed arms, or legs or femoral arteries or slit throats or simply gutted. After the first dozen fell in single combat, the rest swarmed in. Once more Raben’s short stature was subsumed by the jostling mass. Cries of pain and death rattles were audible above the clamor of shouts, agonized groans, jingle of mail, and bashing shields, weapons and helms. The ferocious fight moved about the flat area leaving a trail of dead and dying Franks as the scrum shrank. After 5 minutes a short laughing blood soaked gory Demon burst from the much diminished scrum. The battered warriors knew fear as they hesitated when they looked at the gore covered hideously laughing small Demon Slayer.

Even those watching from the walls of the fort felt fear as they beheld the gore spackled laughing Demon Slayer.

With another wolf howl, Raben charged back to the men. This time instead of jumping amongst them he danced around their perimeter, deflecting thrusts and blows while darting thrusts made precise slices and stabs dropping men. Twice he made his way around the mass of milling men killing those he attacked. Then he stepped back, laughing maniacally as he ran towards them leaping into the air over their heads dropping down inside them once more.

As the trail of dead and dying men grew, the scrum diminished enough that glimpses of Raben bobbing and weaving amongst the men dervish could be seen. After another five minutes there were only ten men left. They were clearly terrified and exhausted from 10 minutes of hard fighting. Covered from head to toe with blood and gore Raben was still maniacally laughing as he met them in one to one combat. The end was not long in coming leaving Raben the lone man standing amongst 100 dead.

Raben tilted his head back and howled like a wolf before speaking. “I AM THE DEMON SLAYER! NONE CAN STAND AGAINST ME! These men were fools but they died bravely. Remove the dead while I wash off their gore. Then we’ll talk. Also, if you have it, I’d like a cask of mead. All that killing has given me quite a thirst.” Raben jumped in the Rhine and began scrubbing himself, taking his time to allow himself to heal. Then he swam back to shore.

The Romans and Franks were gobsmacked. Neither side had ever seen one man leave such carnage, mush less one as small as Raben. To a man they understood Raben truly was the legendary Demon Slayer. Just the thought of going up against him made them shiver in fear and dread.

Upon emerging from the water everyone could clearly see Raben’s clothes were shredded from the numerous blows that clearly struck him. Yet there was no sign of a cut on him. A fearful Frank servant handed him a cask of mead. Cracking open the cask, Raben proceeded to drink the entire contents, nearly a gallon. The drink would easily replenish his depleted energy. Drinking it so quickly should also put a grown man under the table. Yet as the day wore on, the alcohol had no effect.

As he sat down with the Franks, they were eager to listen to his words. Raben offered to negotiate a turn over of Colonia Agrippina without further bloodshed. In exchange for their lives, the citizens and soldiers would lay down their arms and leave with only the clothes they were wearing. Raben and the Raven Raiders would escort them 37 miles to Aquae Grani {PD Aachen}. The Franks could search them for jewels, coins and weapons allowing them to gain the plunder without further loss of life on either side. The only thing would be a delay until the Raven Raiders arrived the next day. Raben addressed the Frank’s concerns that he was setting up a trap by declaring that he was giving them the word of the Demon Slayer. It was well known that the Demon Slayer never broke his word and never lied. As a result, the Franks agreed.

When Raben went inside the fort, the Romans of Colonia Agrippina were less than happy with Raben’s offer. However they understood that Raben would not otherwise come to their aid. If they refused the offer they would eventually be overwhelmed, dying in battle or being enslaved if captured. Reluctantly they surrendered to Raben after he assured them he’d explain the circumstances to the Duce of Gaul and take responsibility for negotiating their withdrawal and abandonment of Colonia Agrippina. The deal was done.

Meanwhile, as a personal cavalry escort, Constantius provided Julian with a regiment of heavily armored cavalry and some mounted archers totaling 360 men. En route to Gaul from Milan, Julian received the calamitous news that Colonia Agrippina, Rome's most important city and military fortress on the Rhine, had fallen to the Franks who were upset with the murder of their tribesman Silvanus. Julian spent the winter of 355/356 with his escorting troops south of Lugdunum {PD Lyons}.

Raben left Aquae Grani to warn the Franks that if Julian approached, he would have no choice but to aid the young cousin of Constantius II since he had promised to aid Constantius II in regaining the borders when he’d regained Raetia two years before. The Franks wisely abandoned the fort and fled back across to their side of the Rhine. Raben sent a raven mail to Bazram to make the spring 356 iron shipment to Colonia Agrippina.

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