Come, sit with me by the fire, child. It is a cold winter night, but I have a story to warm us and keep us entertained until the time to retire comes. It is a tale of my younger days. A legend now already, whispered in circles around the known world with respect and fear. It is the legend of how we came to be who we are now.
And it all started long, long ago.
You see, back then we were only a group of soldiers of the VIII Aquilonian' Legion. Fresh out of the barracks, we knew nothing truly about war, death and murder. About the price to pay for staying alive, or the cost of staying true to those you called friends. Brothers, even.
If I remember correctly, it was a warm summer, humid and bothersome. Our armors tired us, and the weight of our equipment slowed us down as we moved westward. By the time we reached the city of Galparan we were weary and tired, and yet our leaders didn't give us any rest. Instead, they pressed us to move at a higher pace, in order to reach the Pict border quickly and be able to face the barbarians there.
By the time we reached the zone were the battles were taking place, we were almost a shadow of ourselves: tired, sleep-less, weak... very far from a proper combat condition. We hadn't had a proper meal in days, just eating what we had left of our travel rations and some small bits we could gather as we marched.
Still, General Vindictus considered it was best to enter combat with a weakened Legion soon, instead of waiting for us to recover and engage the barbarians some days later. And so, that last night, our camp was a mess. Our units spread on the wild land, gathered around the camp fires, talking in hush voices. You could almost feel the terror in the air, the doubts, and the weakness. We knew that many of us would lie on that same field the next day, and many more would go back south with severe wounds and lost limbs. And our generals didn't care one single bit about our well being, they just wanted a quick victory so they could return east with the glory and power of defeating the picts. Even if only a handful of us went back there with them.
I must admit that I was one of the most afraid of all that night. Not even Cytheris' tranquil words could calm me down, not even thinking of Mitra and what comes after death. All of us were beyond reasoning and tranquilizing. Not even knowing that Calev, or officer in charge, would be leading us with his usual effectiveness served. Maybe because we could sense he was as frightened as we were.
Last edited by Sepherim13; 4th June 2010 at 11:22..
The next day, we woke up with the sound of the trumpets and the calls for organization. The time had come when we all would face death head on. Breakfast was served, and we ate in silence. Only a few of us commented things with those around us. The air seemed heavy, and some ominous clouds had started gathering to the east, lowering the level of light on the field.
And then, our officers gathered us, the different centurias organized under their banners. Slowly and yet surely, knowing there was no turning back, we marched forth into the plain where the battle would take place. And, on the other side, a disorganized and yet numerous amount of barbarians appeared, calling, shouting, singing, hitting... unrelenting. They were like a chaotic wave of flesh and iron, advancing towards us with death in their eye.
I had never been as afraid as I was then, and I felt that my own muscles didn't react to my orders. Only Calev's whistle awoke me from my frozen stupor, and set me into motion as both lines clashed fiercely. Shouts, clanks, the smell of blood, dirt, a hit on the side, some bruises, the whistle of arrows flying, more shouts, and, everywhere, the omnipresent stench of death. We attacked with all our might, but they were more and stronger, and pushed us back. We drove at them again, disbanding one of their flanks, and yet they reorganized themselves and counter-attacked.
Between the yelling, and the orders, I found myself face to face with more and more of those terrible warriors, looking straight into their eyes as we tried to take them down with our lances. I just wanted to be very far away from there, away from the smell of blood and the falling bodies, and yet it was impossible. We were in the center of the battlefield and were to stay there for the whole afternoon.
As hours went by, the battle started favoring us a small bit, and finally, a couple hours before nightfall we managed to disband them and send them north disorganized and defeated. I had made it out alive, and only with some minor contusions and wounds. It had all ended.
Or so I thought.
But as the doctors gathered the wounded of the field, and the rest of us retired to our camp fires to have dinner, the news spread out quickly about the picts reorganizing themselves, and ready to continue fighting. This was not to be a single battle, but the beginning of a strong campaign, the starting point of a massive amount of deaths and pain. And, as the barbarians gathered again on the other side of the field, we knew that we would not make it out alive at all. We were too weary, and had already taken too many losses.
For the next three weeks, we fought them with all we had, and though the first days of combat favored us, the tide started to change from the fifth day on. Our losses piled, and though they lost many men as well, they seemed to never decrease in number, while our units were increasingly small. I was separated from my centuria, and told to join an archer's unit, as they had taken too many losses and I was good with a bow. I must admit that getting myself away from the center of battle was something that made me feel a little less anxious... not that I expected to live, I had long past that, but at least I was further away from the carnage.
The night before the final battle we knew it would all end terribly. Many escaped camp that night, as had happened the ones before that, deserting in order to survive the massacre that would come with dawn. Even our generals knew the war was lost, and yet their pride and ambition kept them from accepting it. We would fight and die for nothing, far from our homes, our families, and our gods.
We clashed against them one final time, and as I pulled the string of the bow once and once more, I could see there was not going to be another day of battle after this one. It was almost a relief. Their lines continuously broke ours, and our tired brothers couldn't hold them. One by one, our soldiers fell, and units started to run in panic. There was no turning point left. One unit of barbarians fell on us and I had to drop my bow and fight with my sword in order to survive. One after another, they came on us, taking people down with one blow and then another. I finally faced one of their officers, or so I thought, because the rest seemed to show him deference and respect as he moved, and he was clearly older and more experienced in battle.
I stood no chance.
With one mighty blow, he threw my sword away, and then struck me down with a strong attack to my nose, breaking it painfully. As darkness fell on me, I saw him and his friends go over me and attack those behind me. Then nothing, just black, tranquil and painful death.
And then I opened my eyes. Night had almost fallen, and the cries of the dying and wounded filled the air. My chest felt like it was being burned, and my face seemed like it had been fractured in a thousand peaces... I yelled out of pain and horror. A cry that brought Cytheris close; her healing magic eased my pain away, and I fell into a restless slumber.
I woke up again a few days later, or so I was told. I was in a tent, rotten and beaten down probably after being sacked. As I left it, I saw that I was where we had once had our camp, and a couple dozens of us were gathered there. Cytheris went from one place to another, tending to the wounded or applying Mitra's final rest. And meanwhile, Calev seemed to speak with the different wounded soldiers here and there. As I came near our officer, he turned to me and smiled. A lost, broken, terrible smile.
Along the next days, we mourned and buried the dead, and planned for the future. War was all we knew, but the generals in Aquilonia were too blind and interested in their own power and glory. They would only lead us to death if we went back, and with a very miserable payment. So we chose another course of action. We would become mercenaries, selling our swords to those who could pay for them.
And thus, the Centuria Obitus was born.
Calev would lead us in battle, I would lead the explorers and archers, and Cytheris would be in charge of the healers. We, together with those few others that survived, would move on and become famous, glorious and rich. Or we would die in the process.
We were the Centuria Obitus... the Centuria of the Dead Ones. Who I had been no longer mattered. I was dead.