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Authors: Paul Bannister

Arthur Imperator

BOOK: Arthur Imperator
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© Paul Bannister, 2013

 

Paul Bannister has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

 

First published 2013 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

 

I
Bear

 

Men
call me Emperor, but I have had many names. I began as Mauseus Carausius, and my family called me Caros. When I grew to my warrior manhood, men called me Arth, which in British means The Bear.

After
I became imperator of Britain and northern Gaul, it was politic that I took family names which linked me to past Caesars, so I followed custom and my full and formal name became Marcus Aurelius Mauseus Valerius Carausius, the dutiful, fortunate and unconquered Augustus. 

After
I sank the Roman fleet and turned back their invasion, consolidating my hold on Britain, it was meet that I assumed the throne as Imperator Britannicus, Emperor of Britain, so I shed my Roman identity to become a part of my people. Thus, I chose the name I had earned: Bear, called Arto-rig for ‘bear-king’ or Arthur as the common people have it, and that is where I am today, the unconquered monarch Arthur Britannicus.

Logic
says I shall remain unvanquished as ruler of Britain, so long as I have my wooden walls to deny our coasts to the enemy. For of all my names and titles, the one that matters most is Lord of the Narrow Sea. While I hold the grey-green waters that surround this island, and especially while I control the strait which separates us from Gaul, Britain will not again be trampled under the nailed
caligae
of grasping Rome.

That
is my vow to my murdered father, and I am capable of keeping it. My history shows it. I was taken from my homeland as a child, but I returned as a soldier, hardened to suffering, almost indifferent even to the fate of my own lost brothers. But that lack of compassion and the aid of the gods and a symbol they sent to me, had let me unite the tribes of this small, mist-covered northern land against the rapacious masters who treated them so badly.

The
Romans did try to take back their
colonia
but I had the fleet which once was theirs, and my expert mariners easily defeated Rome’s raw crews, and repulsed its attempted invasions. Now, the Caesars are fighting for their own existence against the hordes from beyond the Rhine and Danube, so our small island in the north is no longer so important to them, and at least for now, they are leaving us alone.

Britain
still has enemies, and still has divisions among its tribes, but there is hope that we can rebuff the hostiles, that we can heal the rifts among ourselves and that I will bring a long peace and security to this pleasant, green island. This, as Arthur, Imperator Britannicus, is my task. 

 

 

II
Deva

 

The
vast Roman-built fortress at Deva Victrix, called Chester, is sited on a rocky bluff, and is near-impregnable behind its coronet of thick, red sandstone walls. The stronghold is big, spreading over an area that would contain a fair-sized farm, and commands the river bridge over the Dee and the wide harbour downstream. Looking west from the high vantage of the walls, looking far beyond the curls of woodsmoke from the cooking fires of the barracks, you can view the blur of the Welsh peaks where the soothsayer Myrddin creates his magic and where my lover Guinevia Avenae is planning to travel to see him, her mentor. It is a journey she must make soon, before the winter snows, and it is a journey that fills me with foreboding, for no reason I can understand.

I
will miss her fragrant presence in my life and in my bed and I smile as I think of her snuffling sleepily and contentedly against my neck. I will miss her insights and advice, for she is an adept of powerful gods and can provide glimpses of the future as well as perform useful, practical magic. She once called in a cloaking sea fog that destroyed a Roman flotilla; she used her sorcery to save my life when I was helpless at the mercy of a treacherous Pict, and most magically, she is the mother of our son, who one day will be emperor in my place.

She
and a nurse will care for Milo on that journey, and she will leave her beloved garden of herbs and flowers to the care of her bees. Guinevia will take the harsh road to the mountains of the Cornovi tribe to consult the great sorcerer, and will be gone for several months, because she wishes to strengthen her powers in that place of mists and magic where the gods commune with man. There, I promised myself, one day I will be wrapped for the final time in my military cloak, and lie in my long sleep overlooking my kingdom.

I
know that land and love it. As a soldier, I have marched the rocky wilds around the great snow-topped mountain called Yr Wyddfa and crossed the steep passes that lead to the shining sea strait and the island where the Druids were butchered by Suetonius’ legionaries. As a seaman, I sailed close-hauled the coastal cliffs of that bloodied island, when I voyaged completely around the whole of Britain to survey invasion points, anchorages and sites for signal towers, to prepare for battles to come. Today, although the Augustus Maximian poses no imminent threat to me since I defeated his Caesar of the west, and hold the man in chains, there are others against whom I must guard. 

The
Saxons and Franks are a major menace on our east and south shores, the Danes and Jutes press us in the east and north, and the Celts and Scoti raid from their own island home in the west. If that were not enough, the Picts who live behind the northern wall of Hadrian are as treacherous as ever and have broken their most solemn treaties, crossing at will to raid and loot our border lands. Their memories must be short, as they seem to have forgotten the punitive force I sent to ravage them just a few years ago. It is time to mount another expedition, to slaughter the rebels, burn their homes and to fill the slave pens once more.

The
frontier problems held my thoughts as I paced the parapet between watch towers and a couple of stiffly attentive soldiers anxious at my presence.

Below
me, the scene down to the River Dee waterfront was a bustle of slaves and merchants, sailors and chandlers all handling and stacking cargoes. A Phoenician trader had just sailed in, come from very far, a dangerous journey through the Gates of Hercules and along the coasts of Spain and Gaul before braving the open ocean and crossing to Britain.

The
trader’s dark-complected crew was gazing as curiously at the onlookers as they in turn were gawping at them and their unusual caps and clothing, when a file of bronze-helmeted legionaries from the 20th Valerian moved with obvious purpose through the throng, their sergeant pushing aside the distracted who blocked their path. They seemed headed towards the amphitheatre, which is Britain’s biggest, where up to 9,000 spectators can gather to roar on their favourites in the gladiatorial contests or bear-fighting events.

As
I took in the soldiers, guessing that they were headed for some weapons training, I scanned them to assess their bearing, equipment and appearance. Then I saw that they had two wretched, chained prisoners among them. Certainly then, they were headed for the amphitheatre and a likely painful end for the captives. The chains sparked my memories.

As
a boy, sea raiders had sacked my village on Britain’s eastern shore and my father was murdered as I escaped. My mother and brothers were seized as slaves, I was taken to safety in the land of the Belgae, cared for by a river pilot and eventually became a soldier in the Roman Army.

The
Romans were no seafarers, so my experience on the sea and great rivers of Europe marked me for the navy. In time, I took command of a seaport garrison and of a fleet ordered to drive pirates from the narrow sea between Gaul and Britain. The gods had favoured me and the pirates had unwillingly turned over their cargoes of loot, which I used to secure the loyalty of my several legions. I became lord of northern Gaul, and with the aid of my fleet, emperor of Britain.

My
natural enemy Maximian had risen through the ranks to become the sacred Augustus, co-emperor with his Serbian countryman Diocletian. Each took half of the empire and each appointed a junior Caesar to help him to rule. When Maximian had attempted invasions of Britain to dethrone and execute me, my fleet had critically wounded his efforts until in one long day of blood and battle, a great alliance of British chieftains had defeated the forces he did manage to put ashore. 

Back
in Gaul and licking his wounds, Maximian turned away from Britain. He faces a rising tide of Alemanni and other tribes from beyond the Rhine river, and the Romans seem to have lost much of their interest in a swift recapture of their rebellious colony. Despite this lack of immediate threat, I am still spending much time and bullion to reinforce the island’s south eastern coastal defences. There still could be a Roman invasion, and the fortifications also serve as bases for our fleet to turn back the flood of Saxons who are so eager to grab our land. There are lesser but still potent threats from Celt and Pictish raiders, as well as pressure from Jutes and Danes who continue raiding and settling Britain’s eastern lands.

During
the last invasion attempt by Maximian, his troops vengefully burned down my fine seaside palace at Fishbourne, an inconvenience as it had been a useful base from which to oversee and administer the reinforcement of the Saxon Shore. This stretch of southeastern British seacoast coveted by the Saxons is guarded by a chain of coastal fortresses, beacons and watch towers stretched along the southern coast of the island. That chain wraps its protective links around the foot of Britain and far up the eastern coast, too. 

So,
with the loss of Fishbourne, I needed to establish a new headquarters. Dover had been convenient as a departure point to my now-lost holdings in Gaul, but was unsuitable as a capital city as it was too far removed from the troublesome Picts in the north. The same was true of Londinium. Although Eboracum, base of the Sixth Legion, had served as the provincial capital and northern garrison of the emperor Septimius Severus and a host of governors, it was another couple of days’ travel north of the Shore, so I opted to make Chester my kingdom’s capital.

The
old emperor Agricola had built the castrum there as Britain’s largest garrison. It is bigger than Eboracum or the Second Augusta legion’s headquarters at Caerleon, and Agricola had an eye to using it as his launch place for an invasion over the western sea to Hibernia. It has advantages over Fishbourne as this is a capacious, stone-walled stronghold with public buildings, baths, granaries, sewers, manufactories of ceramics and metal works of all kinds and temples to the major gods, but my chief consideration was its position. It is centrally located. The fortress is about equidistant from the eastern seaboard of Britain, the Wall of Hadrian and the Narrow Sea to Gaul.

A
network of good, metalled Roman roads connect Chester across the high and windswept spine of Britain to Eboracum and the great road between the Wall in the north and Londinium in the south. Other military roads run north and south from the Welsh border fortress to the Wall and to Caerleon, and the vitally-important Watling Street goes directly from Chester diagonally across the island to St Albans, Londinium and Dover.

BOOK: Arthur Imperator
3.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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