Park picnic, part I

Nonae Iun. MMXII

“VENI, vidi, vici,” some say Caesar said when he added Britannia province to our vast and mighty empire: I came, I saw, I conquered: a proud boast from a proud leader, but we Romans have never yet broken the spirit of these islanders; nor subdued the wrath of their gods, who spit upon us with mocking regularity.

I am on the side of a hill, overlooking the town named in honour of Sulis, whom they worship as we do Minerva, goddess of wisdom and healing.

Few are gathered in the forum, but the domed roof of the Great Bath beckons, for I would rather be inside that magnificent, heated building than here on the cold slopes, where we have taken to locking shields above our heads for shelter, much as we do in battle.

We marched here this morning, expecting games and revels, this being the fourth and final day of celebrations called in honour of the Emperor.

Sacrifices of lamb and pig have been made, but the rain abates not. Some of the lads think we’re still being punished for the impertinence of that previous upstart who played his lyre while the city was in flames.

The land here is pleasant and green, but if this is their idea of summer, I dread the coming winter marches when the legion will be heading north.

“We should build a wall from sea to sea. Keep them out and keep us in,” declaims the poet Marcus, water sloshing off the rim of his helmet as he traverses the field, jesting with our sentries, the dependable camp-followers and local tribesmen, their blue-painted faces defiant in the elemental cascade.

Even he, though, has had enough.

“Ye gods! Will these watery spears never cease?”

“’Tis only a small bucket!” they call out to him, raising grins and skins of wine.

On the edge of the encampment is a rostrum, from which comes the sound of horn, lute and drum. Brave Britons, some barefoot, step and sway to the rhythm of the tunes.

I seek shelter under a tree, close my eyes, and wonder… what will have become of this hill, these people and their rituals, two millennia from now.







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