My name is Gaius Flavius Licinus. I am a Legate in the glorious army of Rome, serving under the command of the wise and just Emperor Traianus, Defender of the Rhinelands and Scourge of Antonius Saturninus. May he be luckier than Augustus and mightier than Caesar.
It is 854 ab urbe condita, and I am leading an expeditionary force across the Danubius river into the western portions of the Kingdom of Dacia. Our mission is a simple one: draw the Dacians away from their larger cities to enable a larger force to besiege and capture the capital. It is a good plan, a solid plan. I served with Emperor Traianus while he was securing the borders along the river Rhenus and putting down Saturninus' rebellion. I know him. I know this plan. This plan will work.
When we crossed the Danubius into Dacia, we were met with no resistance. If any eyes watched us, they were the impassive eyes of commoners, of men or women whose interest in the army would be little more than idle curiosity. Since Domitian's foolish treaty, the people living along the river are familiar with the Roman presence.
It is Domitian's folly that has brought us to this place. The peace he negotiated with the Dacians has since been flaunted by those living across the safety of the wide waters of the Danubius. While the Dacians had managed to raid and sack villages in Moesia for some years, the might of the Roman army was brought down upon them. And yet, with the full glory of Rome's majesty bearing down upon Dacia, Domitian negotiated peace and granted the Dacians sovereignty rather than taking their heads and claiming their lands in the name of Rome.
Now the people watch Roman legions moving throughout the area, training and exercising and considering us lesser beings because of one man's lapse in judgment. The people here are used to us and the people here do not fear us.
However, this is a wild place, a place of savagery and witchcraft. Even though we were not met with hostilities when we crossed the border out of Roman lands, I could feel the change in the surrounding country. Here, the land cries out, demands to be civilized. Ancient forests, filled with ancient spirits and ancient magics, stretch across rough, hilly land between high mountains looming over the country like the faces of ancient, angry gods. This land is wild. This land needs us.
Though the mountains look down upon us menacingly, they hold the key to the strength of the Roman Empire. The wise and just Traianus seeks control of not only the Dacian people, but also the mines hidden within the mountains' heights. From the back of my horse, I watched the black faces of the mountains sliding in and out of view behind the leafy canopy of the trees, and I knew that soon they would be in Roman hands.
We marched for six days, making camp every evening, building fires and letting them burn deep into the night. On the third day, a Dacian scout was captured. He spoke in the barbaric tongue of the region, and little information could be gleaned from him. We kept him as a captive, hoping that he would offer something useful amid his constant blathering. Finally, on the morning of the fifth day, I had had enough of him and ordered his throat slit as a sacrifice to the gods before the march that day.
He struggled briefly, but two of my strongest men--Agorix and Hilarius--held him while my Camp Prefect Lupercus performed the act. The man stared off into the trees defiantly as long as he could, until his body finally grew limp. Agorix and Hilarius dropped him there, and I turned my horse to stare off into the woods as defiantly as the prisoner had. If they were watching, I wanted them to see me, to see my men. I wanted them to be angry and wrathful and ready to seek vengeance upon the murderers of their friend.
On the sixth day, our scouts reported that a sizeable force of fighting men was seen a few leagues ahead of us. I dispatched more scouts to search the area, to find a suitable place where we could make our stand. By the time the sun had reached its zenith, the scouts returned, describing a ridge not far ahead of our position where we could easily camp and defend ourselves. I ordered the ranks ahead, pausing to watch as they passed. These were my men, their lives entrusted to me by the wise and just Emperor Traianus. I was going to show them my respect.
Once the camp was erected, the soldiers went about fortifying the ridge. Stakes were pounded into the ground to slow their ascent up the ridge. Rocks and boulders were harvested from the hillside so that we could roll them into the oncoming ranks of enemy soldiers. We built hasty, temporary walls along our flanks to protect them. For the better part of a day and a half, we prepared for the coming attack.
On the second day after we had established our camp--the eighth since we crossed the Danubius--the Dacians came. Despite the young canopy of leaves clinging to the branches of the trees, we watched as their numbers filled the void between the boughs of the forest below. Like the savages they were, they came forward, naked, unruly and in disorganized ranks. There were few archers and fewer horses. Clearly, this was not the army that had been trained by Roman military leaders; they were ragged, undisciplined and wild. They were a perfect reflection of their homeland.
As they occupied the forest floor below our position, they formed up into rough ranks and held crude wooden shields aloft. It was like watching a satirical reenactment of Roman tactics, and I knew that we would be easily victorious. Men bearing spears moved up through the ranks, forming a prickly front wall that would serve as extra protection, but I knew that the front ranks of this crude army would never trouble the entrenched soldiers on the hill.
Some men on horses--some of the few men in the entire army wearing any sort of armor--barked orders and the army began to move haltingly toward the stream running at the base of the ridge we occupied. As they neared the water, our archers released scores of arrows into the ranks of the soldiers below us. Immediately, screams of agony and death echoed through the forest. I commanded the arrows to continue while the men below forded the small stream. A pitiful return of arrows fell harmlessly among our fortifications. I could already see dead bodies littering the forest floor below.
Boulders and logs began falling down among the enemy as they neared the base of the hill, crushing several as they rolled toward the floor of the valley below us. Arrows claimed many men where the boulders left holes in their defense. Soon the stream was flowing red with Dacian blood.
As the front ranks of the enemy began to pick its way up the hill, the encamped soldiers began hurling their javelins among the Dacian soldiers. Again, they were forced to pick their way carefully up the hillside, more irritated by the small spears than heavily damaged. I watched as the ranks of the enemy began to break down. More than once they hesitated on their ascent. All around them, their fellows were being slain easily and readily, and I could begin to see the worry and regret taking their toll on the enemy troops.
"Infantry!" I barked, drawing my sword and holding it above my head. "Prepare for march!" More arrows whistled over my head and crashed amongst the enemy soldiers. "Spearmen, on my command!"
My soldiers, disciplined and well-trained, formed easily into ranks at the crest of the hill, their shield held in front of them to protect them from the meager assault being offered by the Dacians. Their weapons were drawn and ready. I barked an order, and they moved into a defensive position, the crest of the ridge bristling with spear tips that promised nothing but death and pain for the attackers.
The stakes pounded into the side of the hill were funneling the enemy into one column, causing them to stretch out their ranks. The arrows were falling into unprotected ranks of soldiers now, causing the hillside to be littered with wounded, dead and dying men. Blood colored the leaves of years past that lined the hill, returning them to their once crimson brilliance.
"Infantry," I shouted, dropping the sword and pointing toward the oncoming force of Dacians, "forward!"
As one, the men atop the crest of the hill moved forward carefully and precisely, moving into positions where they could hold the lines defensively and also dispatch the oncoming forces with ease.
"Archers," I shouted once, turning myself in the saddle to look upon the ranks of the army I commanded, "halt." No more missiles flew through the air, a silent signal to my soldiers that the battle was about to change.
Through the forest came a thundering, and down from the flanks of the hillside swept two ranks of cavalry. They swept around behind the Dacian force, which was busy trying to find purchase upon the hillside and to penetrate the wall of shields and spears protecting the crest of the ridge. The back ranks of the Dacians were decimated within seconds. Infantry that had been positioned with the cavalry swept in as the Dacian soldiers turned to defend against the mounted assault, crashing into the flanks of the enemy.
"Infantry!" I shouted once more, "full attack!"
The soldiers who had been holding the crest of the hill moved forward. Confusion and chaos now commanded the Dacian ranks. I watched as they were slaughtered, ultimately and completely. The glorious Roman army would know victory this day.
Within minutes, the Dacian ranks broke and began fleeing down the hillside. The archers took up their weapons once more, firing into the retreating army. Within a few minutes, the battle was over. The last few enemy soldiers had fled and I ordered my army to regroup and refortify.
Looking down upon the hillside, very few of the Roman soldiers had been killed. Our losses were minimal; our casualties were light. The wounded could easily be tended to. Already, the men were celebrating.
"Let us celebrate tonight!" I told them. "Tomorrow we will move to a better camp and begin establishing supply lines for the other legions in the area." I paused and I felt the slightest of smiles creasing my face. "But, for tonight, let us revel in our victory."