The musings of a retired Centurion living in Roman Britain, 2nd. century A.D.
Billa never got along well with his other slave girl turned wife, Nia…She came from around here. He bought Billa in Dalmatia. Nia, on the other hand he won in a crap game outside of the barracks in Londinum, a few years later.
Nia was a prize.
Billa a curse.
She resisted everything, sometimes for no other reason than she could. He understood that, nobody likes being a slave. He was a slave twice, sold to, technically drafted by, the Roman army after his people, the Thervingi, were defeated. Later after rising through the ranks, a Deci-centurion with a mounted horse troop, sold as punishment to Androkles who made him a gladiator. Nia bought him out of it, and had help, surprisingly with heroic sacrifices made on the part of Billa. He didn’t ask them how they got the money and still ate. Anyhow, that sleazy Greek made another bundle of coinage on the ‘retirement’ pageant. One of the things he asked Frija for was to allow him to forgive that Greek, he had it bad too. He didn’t like himself for what he did but like everyone else, didn’t have much of a choice in what life threw at him. For the former Germanicus Flavius, his Roman name, forgiveness wasn’t a part of his Gothic nature. Now getting on and passing into the winter of his life, Egon Adalwolfa, his birth name, found the concept useful.
Billa did give him a son, who married a local girl and made his living as an iron worker down at the bloomery. When she left for Sarmatia, the Black Sea part of it with her inheritance, something she would’ve got anyhow she left the boy, only about two years old. Her reasoning, is that he looked like his father. ‘And every time I see his blue eyes, I’ll see you,’ she said before she rode off. ‘It would remind me of the good times and that would hurt me too much to bear.’ She also admitted she never wanted children and wouldn’t make a good mother, though she knew Nia would. Billa, among other things is a foul tempered, evil wench of Apocalyptic proportions , however, in Egon’s paradigm also the superlative mother. She deserved better on that point alone. He hoped she found it in this life.
As he left the woods he deemed sacred, as a man-made temple to deity would be an insult, his grandson Uriel, ran across a plowed field and began chattering about him being late for dinner and about all kinds of other things. He had the coal black hair of his father, who got it from Billa. His sister, Llewella, had the fiery red hair of the local girl his son Egon Jr. married formally. As they left the plowed field, separated from the village of thatched roofed cones surrounded by a dry wall an ox-cart stopped and the occupants got Egon’s attention. Seems his friend, Bran and son Caradog were moving lumber cut from a new field to a buyer the next town over. Egon took the work.
“How’s my wiffy doing today,” Egon announced as he slapped the short and round woman across the backside. Nia was always short and round.
“Better,” she replied stirring a vegetable stew in a pot over a fire. Egon could smell the mutton in another pot. “You should stop going to the woods like that…Just accept her decision…” She then turned to Uriel and told him to go get the rudis.
“I can’t get rid of that dammed thing,” he exhaled and sat on the ground by the cooking fire.
“You don’t have to fight anymore…” she reminded him.
He then mentioned Bran and Caradog.
“Remember what happened last time?” she pointed out, shocked.
“Take money when you can get it,” he huffed.
“Adalwolfa means ‘she-wolf’” Egon explained to Uriel and now his sister. “It’s Gothic, you have family somewhere in the place call Sarmatia by the Romans…Your ancestors, we came from the woods and herded cattle…And fought each other like animals…”
“Then the Romans came,” Uriel added.
“And that’s why your father works at a bloomery, your mother spins wool and I do a little bit of everything…More comfortable life…” Egon added.
“Tell me about Grandma Billa,” Llewella asked.
Nia rolled her eyes and exhaled.
“What was Rome like?” Uriel asked on the heels of his sister’s query. “Think I should join the Roman Legions?”
“I think you should listen to your father,” Egon answered his grandson first. “Learn about making iron…The trade has a future to it. As for Rome, I never seen a place so large and filled with so many people. I didn’t think men could build things so large and how easy it was to buy anything…”
Egon faded off for a moment lost in the grandeur of that image, of Rome.
“Why the interest in Billa?” Nia asked as she scurried about re-ordering her house.
“Because Uriel has black hair like coal but doesn’t look Roman,” Llewella answered. “I thinks it really stylish to have a grandma I don’t know…”
“Well what’s wrong with me?” Nia replied jokingly.
“I know you,” came the blunt answer.
“That’s you,” Egon pointed out.
“Germanicus,” Deci-centurion Nonus Publicola jovially and somehow seriously shouted to him as he walked away from the stables. “We have to talk…”
“Sure,” Germanicus exhaled and noted that Nonus seemed shorter than he did yesterday. Then again, most Romans seemed short to him.
“Well since you become a Centurion now we took a vote and decided you need a wife,” Nonus shrugged and backed away slightly.
“Who’s we?” Germanicus laughed. “I didn’t get to vote on it…”
“The Tribunes,” Nonus went on. “You’re not going Greek on us?”
“Up your Athenian…” Germanicus laughed. “My father wasn’t a postman either.”
“Be that as it may, it looked better if you had a woman in your life…You know how it goes. Tribune Flavius Flavinus seems hell bent on this social policy of stability. Says every Centurion should have a wife as in encourages retention among the lower ranks and stops the spread of syphilis…”
“Really?” Germanicus laughed. “Just how do I get one? Encourages retention my arse…They’ll become deserters anyhow…”
“You like Goths?” Nonus observed.
“Listen,” Nonus went on. “I can understand you not wanting anyone…Look at how we live. You can get killed in this business…Conformity advances your career…This is Dalmatia, a shithole I grant you but there’s a slave market downtown it opens on the first of Lunius and finishes up three days later. I’ve talked to the owner this guy named Cossus and he’ll have a few Goths or Sarmatians for you…Sarmatians are related to Goths, right?”
“To a degree,” Germanicus shrugged. He then leaned over toward Nonus, “Listen I’m going along with this...But we both know Flavius would turn his back to a thespian as soon as blink. I’ll get with the pay master and I’ll talk with Vahagn and rent off post…”
“Good!” Nonus exhaled and hoped nobody overheard Germanicus’s critique of the Tribune.
Germanicus found himself angrier than usual as he examined the woman who wouldn’t talk to him. Cossus said her name was Billa then added, ‘She’ll answer to anything…’ The deal took place in a backroom of a two-room shed by the slave forum. It was dark, seedy and Cossus a stereotype. The four other women three blondes and a redhead smiled and tried to be seductive, something that disgusted Germanicus. He saw them as broken. He went as far as having the medical officer Vopiscus Gessius give Billa the once over, which seemed to embarrass her but no one else. Upon Vopiscus pronouncement of good health, Cossus smiled, as he knew he had a sale, and Germanicus released her from the headlock. Naturally he knew he had a sale before Germanicus walked in but wasn’t sure…The new Centurion didn’t seem to want to be there. Maybe because he loved money, maybe for other reasons, but the Roman wasn’t a happy man. For Germanicus, he didn’t like doing to someone else things that angered him, he found that notion of passing the sesterces offensive.
“Why all this?” Billa observed as Germanicus pushed her into the already furnished first floor apartment, in a middle of the road part of Yaxiar. “This stuff is expensive…Why? I’m a tool with a voice.”
“I’m not like Cossus,” he growled and said he needed to be back at the barracks and would return in a couple of days. “My real name is Egon Adalwolfa...”
“I’m sorry if I spent too much,” Billa apologized, but she wasn’t submissive. She stood by the front door and made sure it was unlocked.
“No, it’s your money,” Germanicus answered. She sold her urine to the local laundry and did housework for a few of the business men around Yaxir. He counted the coinage in her clasped box and then added a few. “I just want to make sure you’re well provisioned…”
“Just like I’m a legionnaire…” she huffed sourly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he glared at her.
“Even when you take off your uniform…You still wear it,” she observed and braced herself. She expected smacked around and maybe having too to run for her life.
He took a deep breath and asked what was for dinner. Afterwards they walked along a rocky beach, something he enjoyed, as he found the ocean fascinating. He told her that ‘…rumor control has it that the unit is going to Britannia...’ She found the notion disagreeable to an extreme. She began cursing and claiming she heard that the weather would kill anyone who wasn’t born there to what she heard about the natives being cannibals. As for her display of temper, bad temper he calmly said, ‘you’ll go one way or another…’ ‘I hate this beach,’ she grumbled. ‘What did you bring me here for? So you don’t have the be seen with me? Legionaries walk with their garden rakes all the time…’ After he explained the value of sea air cleaning her lungs out, she talked him into staying…He wanted to return to his cohort.
“I bought you shoes…’” he told her as it seemed he was just as uncomfortable lying next to her as she him. “Why don’t you wear them…”
“They hurt my feet…”
“Get use to it,” he grumbled wondering why he wasted the money on them.
“Hipposandals are for farm animals…” she snorted, ironically, like a horse.
“Shoes are for your hoof…Hipposandals are what my horse wears,” he clarified. Both stared at the ceiling for a moment and then she finally said, ‘Thank you for the shoes…’ Interestingly enough, when she said it, he was thinking that his horse didn’t like wearing his shoes that much either.
He woke screaming from a night terror covered in sweat. He jerked out of bed almost breathless and it took a moment for him to come to his senses. For more than a few seconds, long seconds, he believed he was on the frontier and couldn’t comprehend he was in a flat. It’s why he treated Billa so well, what he saw at the German Wall. She tried to get him to talk but he wouldn’t, instead he avoided her. As he fearfully left for his cohort, all he said is, “It’s one of the reasons I treat you so well…”
“You don’t have to fight!” Billa shouted as he left.
Next year in Britannia….
“Okay let me get this straight,” Germanicus as he and several other Centurions stood in a back alley behind a slop chute named the Barking Ewe. He hiccupped as huge wet snowflakes pelted them, “I roll an eighteen and I get your horse, his mule and the stuff he stole from the pawn dealer moments ago…” he nodded toward a skinny local he didn’t know and met a few hours ago. “…and a wench?”
They all agreed. All of them waived in the cold breeze stinking drunk and a Dumnonii, a bond servant working off a debt for burning down a chicken coop, passed around as an I.O.U, named Nia held a torch looking bored. Potitus Fronto took her off Fagus over money he owed him.
“And you want what in return?”
“Your soul, for use in the afterlife,” Drusus Fagus burped. “And a month’s pay, and Billa…And your horse…”
‘I’d pay you to take Billa, and I’ll miss that horse…As for my soul…Haven’t used that in years…’ Germanicus thought, and agreed to it. He then prayed to the gods, and few things he didn’t understand for any number other than eighteen. He shook the iron decahedron balls, imported from Gaul naturally and rolled them against the wall of the slop chute.
“Eighteen,” he gasped. “Fortuna hates me…”
“Good news honey!” Germanicus shouted as he burst through the door of his rented flat in the bowery between the iron works and a rendering factory. “We’re going to Hadrian’s wall next ides…”
“You lost gambling, again didn’t you? You’re drunk again…” she barked as she sat in the corner by the coal fire. ‘Not drunk enough, I can still see,’ he thought. He then held up the sack of stolen goods, and mentioned a new horse, just for her outside. He then dumped the bag on a small rickety table and out fell, among other things, four brass horseshoes. Billa quickly hides them under the Roman bedding.
“Who’s that?” Billa calmly asked, as she saw Nia, then her eyes narrowed and almost pleasant countenance dropped off the side of a cliff.
“Oh, that’s Nia…I won her too…” he nervously smiled. “You two should get along well. She burned down a chicken coop…”
“Get that bitch out of my house…” Billa snarled and bared fangs and claws.
Decades later in what would become Wales….
Egon stood by the front door to his home, with Nia next to him. Bran and Caradog waited too. They had returned from dropping off a load of lumber several villages over and they stayed for supper. That, and they wanted to hear what the Roman postman had to say.
“Thought you were dead by now,” Nonus Publicola grumbled as he sat on the back of a tired horse. He after leaving the Roman Legion became a messenger as a gambling debt and drinking habit required maintenance. He complained of having to track him down for weeks in ‘this god forsaken part of the world…. Locals give bad directions…’
“Despite their best of intentions, you found me anyhow,” Egon smirked.
“Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this is from Billa…” he went on holding up a scroll and a larger satchel. “I can read it to you…You’re Latin always bit a pigs arse anyhow…”
“Might as well, it saves me the time to tell you….” Egon replied and stood there ironically, calm as a still deep lake.
Nonus cleared his throat and scanned the letter. He apologized for not getting off the horse and blamed old age. He then read it, “Yadda-yadda-yadda to Egon formerly known as Germanicus Flavius of the Twentieth Legion Britannia. If you receive this it is because I am dead. If feel compelled to write to you and tell you of what happened after you freed me. Knowing your hard rock Gothic skull, you’ve probably been wondering for all this time. I sold the horses when I got home to Sarmatia out of necessity…Got a good price. I scratched out a living as a seamstress and a few bad things until I met a widower with three children…Imagine that…Me a mother! It was worth the time. Apsel was a good man with a kind heart, he herded oxen for another. He went first, and the grown children took care of me in my ancient desertedness. We never had much, however, he was all I had…And memories of you. I hope you and Nia have done well in life. I would wish our son to have had brothers and sisters. Until we meet in the afterlife, love Billa… Post Script I have returned your paludamentum, you don’t have to fight anymore. ”