Time on My Hands Chapter 49 - 368-378 CE: The Rat Patrol

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Time on My Hands

Chapter 49: 368-378 CE: The Rat Patrol

One thing Raben practiced and insisted upon was, to the best that circumstances allowed, to never order someone to do things. He’d ask them to do something, often asking them to please do what he requested. He also made a point of thanking then for doing what he asked. In point of fact he made it a point to thank people for doing their jobs, publicly praising their actions. When it became necessary to reprimand someone, it was normally done gently and in private, with encouragement to do better. Only when a point needed to be driven home was a transgressor publicly disciplined. Treating people with kindness and respect cemented the Clan Corvo’s cohesiveness.

The port of Zarbam served Barmaz well. The defensive walls along the coasts were still in progress as were the walls on the inland borders. The port itself was continually expanding adding more docks and sheltered anchorages to handle the ever growing Corvus Shipping fleet. The 4 mile long Chanel de Caronte, the only route connecting the Etang de Berre to the Mediterranean was getting congested with the steady flow of vessels in and out. The plans called for defense walls on both sides with chains. That could be raised to block access. On windy days where sailing was difficult, the channel was too narrow for 2-way traffic. About 6 miles to the northwest of the channel were a group of smaller lagoons between the sea and the Etang de Berre.

At the village of Ranuet {GM 43.474521, 4.999148} construction began on a second channel. There was a low ridge 4000 feet wide with a maximum height of 160 feet separating the Etang de Berre from the much smaller Etang de Citis. The first step was to build a north/south bridge to keep the two sides connected {GM 43.474017, 4.995551}. At the lowest point on the center of the ridge 3 square pits were dug into the bedrock to a depth of 30 feet below sea level with a center distance of 165 feet. Pumps were used to keep the bottom of the pits dry. Stone piers 60 feet square were built to a height of 120 feet. A sturdy base pier was built to secure the land ends of the bridge. Wooden frames were erected atop the unexcavated areas between the 3 main piers and the base piers and 4 massive segmented stone arches constructed bridging the 105 feet span between the bases and piers at a 5.3:1 width per height ratio meaning the arch was 20 feet higher in the middle than it was at the piers. The roadway atop the bridge was 50 feet wide including railings 2 feet wide by 4 feet high on either side. When the bridge was completed the new channel, 30 feet deep by 270 feet wide, was dug connecting the two lagoons. The central pier arose from the center of the channel with navigable water 105 feet wide on either side. The two central arches were 90 feet above the water level at the piers and 110 feet high in the center of the arch. The sides of the channel were excavated on a 45° angle. Needless to say the project took several years to complete.

A similar north/south bridge {GM 43.464741, 4.980685} and 750 feet long channel was built to connected Etang de Citis and Etang de Lavalduc. The connection between Etang de Lavaduc and Etang d’Engrenier was made with an east/west bridge {GM 43.451436, 4.971800} and a 1500 feet long nearly sea level channel. A last east/west bridge {GM 43.435421, 4.975385} with a 4500 feet long nearly sea level channel reached the sea {GM 43.425245, 4.970155}. That last bit would be sinuous with defensive walls on both sides with chains that could be raised to block the channel.

The soil excavated from the first two channels was hauled around to the Etang de l’Estomac to fill in the area behind the defensive walls built across that lagoon to build a 400 feet wide land bridge connecting Fos sur Mer with La Merindole. Small water channels were built to allow sea water into this lagoon which was reworked to be a massive salt evaporation pond.

By 368, the Clan Corvo Fleet was huge. They had 4 different ship styles, the single mast, no deck, 24 ton, 25 passenger, 10 men crew clinker {Norse}, the 2 mast, 1 deck, 100 ton, 50 passenger, 15 men crew caravel, the 3 mast, 2 deck, 180 ton, 120 passenger, 30 men crew caravel, and the 3 mast, 3 deck, 360 ton, 250 passenger, 35 men crew caravel. Based at Ramzab were 30 clinkers, 30 - 100 ton caravels and 10 - 180 ton caravels with crewing of 1050. Based at Bazram were 276 clinkers and 20 - 100 ton caravels with crewing of 2310. Azores and Canary each had 45 clinkers, 30 100 ton caravels and 5 - 180 ton caravels with crewing of 1050 based in those archipelagos. The main fleet was based at Zarbam, the primary port, with 30 clinkers, 202 - 100 ton caravels, 228 - 180 ton caravels and 102 - 360 ton caravels with total crewing of 14,370.

As Raben was examining the port he was amazed at how the rats had infested the docking quay and warehouses as well as other buildings. Checking the walls revealed the presence of numerous rat nests. Even worse were the fleas and ticks that infested the rats and their nests. Rats, fleas and ticks were unavoidable pests present everywhere, even on ships used to cross the Mediterranean. But then ports were not known for their cleanliness. The waters were usually polluted with garbage, human and animal waste, and other detritus of human life. It was quite common in the crowded cities and towns for people to simply dump their waste in the streets. The only time the streets were cleaned was when it rained hard enough to wash the waste into the nearest stream. Even if a town had sewers, they simply emptied into the streams. All those streams eventually reached the port supplying the interior areas. Since most ports were protected by jetties, the normal cleansing of tides was hindered so the garbage floated about until it rotted and sank. The ships and sailors visiting a port had no ownership in keeping it tidy.

Rats and mice thrived in the garbage. Since they ran freely after dark, it was not uncommon for foraging rats to roam the docks and venture onto ships. The open Norse ships had virtually no rats as there was no place for the rodents to hide. Always thinking, Raben realized that whenever rat populations swelled, diseases, especially plagues inevitably followed. In addition, the plagues lasted until the swelling rat population rapidly dropped due to lack of food because of the massive human deaths or because of the harsh cold of winters. While rats had always disgusted him, he’d never made the connection they could be a direct vector in plagues and epidemics. As an Ianuaran he knew that cleanliness in living and keeping wounds clean avoided many diseases. It only made sense rat infestations fostered disease.

Fortunately Raben had set high standards of cleanliness for the Clan Corvo. Dumping human waste and garbage in the streets was verboten. It was common practice that everything that could be was composted. If a building had no space to do their own composting, it was collected and put in community compost. Air dried compost was spread on the fields or used as potting soil to start new plants. Bags of compost were used to fill the holes excavated to plant trees giving the saplings an initial boost.

Dogs and cats were common in all communities not only as pets but to keep the rodents under control throughout most of the Clan Corvo territory. Gathering the Raven Raiders stationed in Zarbam, Raben explained the need to wage all out war on the rats and mice. The tigers, wolves, eagles and ravens with their handlers were pressed into service. Raben gave them the task of eliminating rats. Not only did he explain his plans to the humans, he stressed the need to eliminate the rats to the animals. The animals and humans worked as teams. Some would surround a building then search for rat signs. When a rat sign was spotted, they would erect barriers to keep them from escaping then rip floors or walls or roofs apart to clean them out. The wolves and tigers were able to sniff the rat trails and nests. If the nest was inaccessible, fires were built in special ovens with the oxygen depleted and noxious gasses drawn off the top and pumped by bellows into the cracks and crevices to suffocate the rats, fleas and ticks. They watched to see where smoke escaped and set up additional ovens to pump more of the poisonous gases into the hiding spots. Then a cement slurry was forced into the crevices and cracks to seal the hidden nests. In new construction, attention was paid to make sure no voids were left. Cement was used to fill any and all potential voids. Once cleaned, the buildings were rat and mouse proofed before moving onto the next building. In this way they systematically eliminated the vermin.

Raben drew up protocols to control rats and thus fleas and ticks during construction or renovations. He established the Rat Patrol, a civil force of ratcatchers using cats, smaller dogs and ferrets. They would be posted at every gate complex and harbor in Clan Corvo controlled areas. Their job included inspecting all incoming ships, barges and wagons. When the dogs or ferrets picked up a rat scent, specially created rat proof portable walls were assembled that could be snapped together around parked wagons or docked vessels including special rafts to box in the water sides of vessels. Then the ferrets went on search and destroy missions while the dogs guarded against escapees.

Raben helped train the Rat Patrol which were then spread to all locations of the Clan Corvo. Building standards were established incorporating rat proofing. The border walls of Barmaz, Mazbar and Zamrab were checked and upgraded. Entre-points were upgraded to include rat proof isolation areas for incoming wagons/ships/barges with units of the Rat Patrol providing experienced inspectors and ratters to stop rat infiltration. Clan members were instructed to report any sign of rats to the Raven Raiders. Each ship had an assigned sailor doubling as part of the Rat Patrol with a cat, dog and ferret as part of the crew to keep the vessels as rat free as possible.

At the same time Raben decided to establish a formal research and development department of the Clan Corvo University. The study of breeding plants and animals would be formalized and documented. Several objectives were on the table. Botanically they wanted to breed or hybridize crops and trees suited for the varying climates of Barmaz, Bazram and Madeira, Azores and Canary to give the best crop yields. They wanted to do the same for animals, breeding for best wool, meat, and dairy for the varying climates. In addition they wanted to breed a dedicated dog to be the best ratter possible. Wolves were also bred to create a fierce loyal war canid that would be easier to handle than the wild wolves. The same was to be done with the tigers. The Arabian horses were to bred as fearless war horses for the Raven Raiders. Other horses were to be breed to become draft horses. Base herds of Aurochs and tarpans were kept pure but were also crossbred with other cattle and horses to create sturdier animals.

The colonization continued with the distribution for 368 being 5003 to Ibiza and 4000 each to La Palma, La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. For 369 the distribution was 6850 to Ibiza and 4000 each to La Palma, La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. For 370 the distribution was 5204 to Ibiza and 4500 each to La Palma, La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. For 371 the distribution was 5801 to Ibiza, La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. For 372 the distribution was 5808 to Ibiza and 5806 each to La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. For 373 and 374 the distribution was 5836 to Ibiza and 5834 each to La Palma, La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. For 375 the distribution was 5839 to Ibiza and 5835 each to La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

The year 375 was another significant date for Raben. It was the bicentennial of his acquiring the Curse. At times he wondered what his life would have been like if he had not killed Marcellus Longinus all those years ago. Would he have matured into a man or a woman? Would he have married and had children? What was it like to grow old? The answers to those questions could never be answered. The past could not be changed, only the future. That was Raben’s goal, to rewrite the future, to help his kin not only survive but to thrive. The cohesiveness of the Clan Corvo was the world’s best hope of preserving and growing knowledge.

Emperor Valentinian, in charge of the western half of the empire, was an arrogant man who often refused to personally meet with barbarian delegates to negotiate peace. He much preferred having his underlings handle such matters. This offended the barbarian delegates who often broke off negotiations. Because of this the emperor was never able to fully subdue the barbarians. One fire would be put out but another broke out somewhere else. The mess in Britannia was followed by rebellion of the Berbers in northwest Africa which was followed by Quadi and Sarmations incursions along the upper Danube. Valentinian led the troops crossing the Danube forcing the Quadi to seek terms. A deputation from the Quadi agreed that in return for supplying fresh recruits to the Roman army, the Quadi were to be allowed to leave in peace. However, before the envoys left they were granted an audience with Valentinian. The envoys insisted that the conflict was caused by the building of Roman forts in their lands. Furthermore individual bands of Quadi were not necessarily bound to the rule of the chiefs who had made treaties with the Romans and thus might raid the Romans at any time. The attitude of the envoys so enraged Valentinian that while raging and yelling at them he suffered a stroke dying on November 17, 375. His generals appointed his son Gratian, 15 as a co-emperor with responsibility for Britania, Gaul and Hispania. His younger son Valentinian II, 4, became co-emperor with responsibility for Italy and North Africa. Of course both were under the influence of their Generals and Bishops.

Seeing the swelling chaos on the borders of the Empire as well as the internal political and religious bickering, Raben recognized there were new vicious players in the slowly crumbling life of the great Roman Empire. The number of border guards for Barmaz were increased. The raven and eagle overwatch covered 20 miles outside the borders of the Province of Barmaz. With Raben's concerns about the turmoil outside the province the overwatch distance was expanded to 50 miles.

Raben took a tour of the Raven Raider bases in the province of Barmaz. Each of the 15 border gate complexes, each of the 11 border bridge gate complexes and each of the 2 harbor gate complexes at Zarbam had a division of Raven Raiders based nearby. There were 5 Raven Raider bases for 2 divisions, each in strategic places within the province with divisions from these bases used for escort duty for Corvus Shipping caravans The 4 western harbor gate complexes on Lac Leman each had a brigade of Raven Raiders stationed nearby while the harbor gate complex at Port Valais where the Upper Rhone River entered Lac Leman had 2 brigades of Raven Raiders stationed nearby. That gave a Barmaz a total of 40 divisions of Raven Raiders, at 6786 people per division, that meant a total of 271,440 full time soldiers out of a provincial population of 1,455,825 or 1 out of 5.3 people.

One of the internal bases was at the last hamlet in the northeast corner of the province was Unterwassern. The mountains to the east, north and west were snow capped year round with glaciers on their flanks that were the sources of the chilly waters two streams. The Goneri flowed down a narrow valley from the southeast to meet the headwaters of the Rhone flowing down a narrow valley from the northwest. Their junction was in the midst of a 3000 feet long rocky moraine at the head of the cultivable upper Rhone River valley which ran southwest away from that point. The downstream end of the moraine was a 20 meter high 1250 feet long by 750 feet wide mound of millennia old deposited rock and earth. The streams ran through the moraine from the east around the north and down the west of the deposited hill. About once every twenty years after a winter of heavy snows the spring melts overwhelmed the streams and flooded the valley damaging or destroying the buildings. This fact was why the hamlet was named Unterwassern... underwater. Although there was no gate complex nearby, the location’s remoteness made it advisable for the Raven Raiders to establish a division sized base at the head of the valley. The base was constructed on the 20 meter high moraine mound keeping it above the floods {46.535359, 8.355945}. Like all bases it housed a roost for the eagles and ravens performing the overwatch in that region of the province. As part of the base construction they relocated the town onto the mound.

Raben felt the Clan Corvo was secure inside the province of Barmaz. In 375 there were over 1,455,825 people in Barmaz. Bazram in the north had grown to 140,079 people and the island of Madeira was capped at 240,000 people, the Azores were capped at 257,000 and the Canaries had 303,864 people. Ibiza was at 116,248, the Isle of Man was capped at 60,000, the Shetland Islands were at 18,665, Belle en Mer was capped at 10,000, San Martino was capped at 1000, Mazbar and Zamrab were still capped at 2500, Marzab was capped at 500, Kardiotissa had 38, Gibraltar had 9055, Stomboli was at 1353 and Zawiyat was at 232 while Zarbam had a population of 37,970. This yielded a total population for the Clan Corvo of 2,654,329.

Valens, emperor of the east also faced multiple rebellions and border incursions. Things took a nasty turn. Due to a severe drought on the steppes of central Asia, the Huns began pushing west forcing the Germanic tribes of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths against the Danube border of Rome. Delegates were sent to Valens to request permission to cross the river with their people to escape the Huns.

Chronically low on troops, his advisors urged letting them in and tapping their men to fill the ranks of the legions. Over a million Goths crossed the Danube, of which 200,000 were warriors. Valens had ordered his governors to confiscate their weapons in an effort to keep the peace. However the troops responsible for taking the weapons accepted bribes from the Goths to let them keep their weapons. At the same time, greedy local Roman officials bought up all food reserves then proceeded to gouge the Goths with exorbitant prices for food. The turmoil resulted in the starving Goths revolting in early 377. They defeated the corrupt Roman officials and local troops and began to ransack the countryside.

While that was happening the colonists continued to relocate. For 376 the distribution was 5844 to Ibiza, La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. For 377 the distribution was 7439 to Ibiza, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura and 7438 to Lanzarote. For 378 the distribution was 7464 to Ibiza, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, with 7341 to Fuerteventura and 7463 to Lanzarote. For 379 the distribution was 12898 to Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote.

For many months numerous fights and battles raged throughout Thrace between the Goths and the local Roman troops with neither side able to outnumber or outmaneuver the other so neither side was able to conclusively win. Valens brought in his army from the Persian front to crush the Goths. On August 9, 378 the Romans caught the Goths in their camp. Neither side was prepared for the major fight that loomed so they began negotiations. Negotiations collapsed in the early afternoon and battle began. The Romans initially had the upper hand but large groups of Goths who had been raiding had rushed to the camp and turned the tide of battle. Two thirds of the Roman troops perished in the savage fighting. Valens disappeared during the battle never to be found. It was assumed he’d been killed in the bloodbath leaving the eastern empire in dire straits. Neither side was able to continue fighting. The civilians, both barbarian and Roman, had suffered great deprivations and wholesale starvation was imminent.

Fiach led 4 divisions of Raven Raiders east from Aix-en-Provence heading east into the war zone. They were accompanied by over 500 wagons and teamsters loaded with food and supplies. Resupply arrangements had also been made through Zarbam to have ships sail to ports in the Balkans, Macedonia and Greece.

Although the Raven Raiders had traveled to Constantinople fifteen years before, many of those who had seen the unique troops were dead or relocated, replaced by the Goths. The flying overwatch of thousands of ravens spooked the Goths. The tigers and wolves striding with the mounted troops was something they’d never seen... but they all heard the stories of the Demon Slayer and Raven Raiders. Fiach rode at the head of the massive mounted column.

The Goths and the remnants of the local populations were worn out from the unending fighting. Nearly 50% of the male population had been killed. The women and children suffered because the fighting had limited the planting of crops and the fighting had destroyed a lot of what had been grown. None of the locals or Goths dared resist the fearsome Raven Raiders. They apprehensively watched as the disciplined Raven Raiders approached their location. May found it unnerving to see that a third of the fearsome warriors were women. The ancient tales of the brutal Amazon women warriors were whispered.

So it was with great apprehension that they didn’t attempt to fight the Raven Raiders. At each settlement or camp Fiach summoned the local leaders for a peaceful meeting. Most were anxious but their curiosity overcame their concerns. Each meeting was a slight variation of the same theme.

“I am Fiach Corvo, the Demon Slayer. These are the Raven Raiders, my personal troops,” Fiach announced only to see the Goths tense and reach for their weapons. Then she smiled and laughed. “I see you remember the Raven Raiders and the Demon Slayer. My grandfather was the Demon Slayer 34 years ago when he set forth with a company of Raven Raiders to capture aurochs and tarpans. That was 242 warriors. Some young Goth warriors decided to attack them and set out in pursuit. The Demon Slayer attacked their camp killing the guards and warning them to leave. They didn’t. The next day they met. Over 1000 Goths died without a single loss to the Raven Raiders. I have 27,144 Raven Raiders with me. Don’t even think about starting anything with us.”

The Goths had all heard the story of the lopsided battle. They also hear of the massive Alemanni defeat by the Raven Raiders. This girl was either crazy or utterly competent. They hesitated.

“I am the twin sister of Raben Corvo, together we are co-heads of the Clan Corvo from the Province of Barmaz. We are both direct descendants of the Demon Slayer, thus we can talk to and command the tigers, eagles, wolves and ravens. I am also an Ianuarian. The Clan Corvo is the descendant family of the original Demon Slayer and his siblings, They were members of the Germanic/Celtic Hermunduri tribe which was absorbed into the Alemanni. The Clan Corvo is aware of the ravages of the fighting and diseases that have occurred in this area. We are willing to adopt orphaned children and accept destitute widows and their children into our clan to give them a better chance at life. This is something our clan has done in the past. One hundred four years ago we absorbed 240,000 Alemanni after they were captured and destined for slavery after their defeat at the Battle of Mediolanum. We know you have orphans and destitute widows and their children. we will accept them offering them sanctuary.”

The leaders were suspicious. “How do we know you will not enslave them?”

“You have the word of the Clan Corvo and the Demon Slayer,” Fiach answered. “We do not need slaves, besides, with the cost of this expedition it would be cheaper to simply buy slaves.”

Still suspicious they asked, “Then why are you doing this?”

“The Clan Corvo is Christian and we try to do what we can to help others,” Fiach replied. “Christ commissioned his believers to help widows and orphans. That is our sole goal. It hurts our souls to allow widows and children to suffer when we can help. In return our clan grows stronger.”

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have I read this before?

Wendy Jean's picture

Raben/Fiach have an aspect of the divine, Being a dictatorship.Their government is very effective. Raben/Fiach have morals that cannot be corrupted, which makes them even more effective, i very real problem is the time it takes to travel. Rome barely missed have their own industrial revolution. All the elements are there. If they develop steam engines railroads won't be far behind, Along with the methodology of science, communications as well as speed of travel will improve, along with medicine and agriculture.


Beoca's picture

She replaced the post with the new chapter.

The issue as far as the

Beoca's picture

The issue as far as the technology is that it probably wouldn't develop the same way. I can't see Clan Corvo expanding out enough in Continental Europe to make their travel primarily land based rather than sea based. So the railroads would not come to pass, but their shipbuilding is going to be very advanced. And/or they develop zeppelin style air travel.

Rat Patrol

There was some discussion in the comments last time, I think, as to whether Raben/Fiach's lofty ideals and successful strategies could continue to prevail in an imperfect world. An increasing number of deputies and aides would be handling the details for him -- not all of whom would have the same lofty goals and selfless attitudes that their semi-divine leader did, or be under his direct supervision.

Given that, when I saw the title here I was expecting the rats to be the human variety.

In any case, the stage is certainly being set for a situation in which plagues will affect the Romans and "barbarians" far more than Raben's cities, settlements and colonies. I suppose that can't be bad news for the Clan, but if the reactions in our world centuries later are any indication, Raben's Demon Slayer background may not be enough to avoid others' conclusion that he and his people have sold out to the Devil in exchange for protection from diabolical infection.

Raben has always retained an element of fear to his dealings with the groups and tribes he meets, but it's generally been a stick-and-carrot situation. We're admittedly not in the Dark Ages quite yet, but if we reach the point where people are convinced that accepting the Clan's help or even their hygiene will cost them their immortal souls, Raben and the Clan Corvo are likely to find themselves on the wrong side of a holy war.


(Just 20 more chapters? We may not even get to Muhammad and the Arab invasion...)

No Black Plagues?

joannebarbarella's picture

Probably the greatest improvement in human hygiene that could be imagined at the time.

Basic understanding of genetics is almost

Wendy Jean's picture

inevitable,after that the theory of evolution? As civilization continues to advance the mechanical arts will also advance and thrive, at some point feeding on itself. Pumps were mentioned for large quantities of water, Pistons are pump technology.And so it goes, like that old TV show connections.

basic understanding of...

basic understanding of genetics is far beyond the knowledge of simple animal husbandry, which is what they would be doing in this instance. You breed your largest horses together and eventually you end up with a line of large horses. Take cows for instance, back in the middle ages they were not much larger than some of the large breeds of dogs. Through selective breeding cows are now the size we see today.

As far as pumps, the ones used in that time period were probably not piston driven and were probably Archimedes Screws?

We the willing, led by the unsure. Have been doing so much with so little for so long,
We are now qualified to do anything with nothing.