Sola Fide

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Principia VI Legio – Headquarters Sixth Legion

Legatus Nigidius Figulus, Legion Commander

Tribunus Laticlavus Jodocus Hondius, Second in Command

Praefectus Castrorum Aulus Metellus, Senior Centurion

Sixth Contubernium / Sixth Centuria / Sixth Cohort – 6th File / 6th Century / 6th Cohort

Optio Domitius Bellerophon, File Leader

Signifer Titus Valerian, Second in Command

Tesserarius Quintus Temeraire, Guard Sergeant

Librarius Gaius Apuleius aka Scholar, Clerk

Medici Lucius Sejanus aka Chaplain, Medic

Immunis Justinian Aurea aka Epi / Vagitus, Private

Immunis Fabius Paullus aka Priapos, Private

Immunis Marcus Caelius, Private

Immunis Popilius Laenias, Private

Immunis Aemilius Lepidus, Private

 

 

 

Anthem of the VI Legion

 

EMITTE LUCEM ET VERITATEM – SEND OUT LIGHT AND TRUTH

 

Frigus tenebris noctis aeternae metu – From the cold, dark, terror of endless night

Lux sapientiae perducit nos in Imperatoris – The Emperor’s wisdom leads us into the light

Ut nos, et quasi tempestate abrepti sunt pontus spumant – And though we are flung like storm tossed sea foam

Imperator vero ducit in pace – The Emperor’s truth guides us safely home

 

Summus de Legionis Sextae – We are the Legio Sexta

Ferrum est via nostra in via – The Iron Road is our path

Nos autem Ferrata – We are the Ferrata

Non amicis, non recipit magis et indignatio – No better friend, no greater wrath

 

Est signum quod illuminat – He is the beacon that lights the immaterium

Qui ligat materium vis est – He is the force that binds the materium

Vide locus possessionis eius nullus est finis virtutis eius – Behold his domain, no limit his sway

Vexillum eius super nos, in virga oboedieritis – His gonfalon the sceptre we faithfully obey

 

Summus de Legionis Sextae – We are the Legio Sexta

Ferrum est via vitae – The Iron Road is our life

Nos autem Ferrata – We are the Ferrata

Qui, quae, ut in contentione – Who dare the elements to strife

 

Liberati sumus per oboedientiam – In obedience we are set free

Caerula aquas maris liberi – As free as the waters of a deep blue sea

Lorem ipsum dolor sit immemor nostri dogmata – Selfless service is our dogmata

 Ferrato sumus, nos Ferrata – We are the Ironclad; we are the Ferrata

 

 

VI LEGIO

TABLE OF ORGANIZATION & EQUIPMENT

IFRIQIYA CAMPAIGN

 

Line Units

 

I – VI Cohorts (augmented)

VII – X Cohorts (disbanded)

Administrative Centuria (disbanded)

Almogavares Centuria

Arbites Centuria (reduced)

Headquarters Centuria (reduced)

Signals Centuria (reduced)

 

Attached Units

 

5147TH Pioneer Battalion (reduced)

1713TH Quartermaster Battalion (reduced)

4077TH Medical Battalion (reduced)

 

Support Units

 

164TH Aviation Squadron “Blackbirds” Praenuntiae Mortis / Harbingers of Death

132ND Armored Battalion “Ariete” Ferrea Mole, Ferreo Cuore / Iron Mass, Iron Heart

17TH Artillery Regiment “Alaric” Ultima Ratio Regum / The final argument of kings

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

To study history is to study war for peace is a rare state of affairs between men and nations while war is all too common.  No war is ‘minor’ to those involved however most conflicts fall into the ‘minor’ category for they are of relatively brief duration and produce comparatively few casualties.  Because of their limited scope these wars fail to hold public interest, generate little scholarly attention and for those reasons quickly fade from memory becoming, at best, a footnote in some dust covered tome, fodder for specialists who thrive on esoteric minutiae.  That said, even little known wars can have historical consequences far beyond the immediate destruction and death toll generated by so called insignificant or inconsequential conflicts.  In truth, all wars are significant to a greater or lesser degree for all wars have consequences.  Major or minor wars influence the events that follow them.  Well known or obscure wars are the subterranean springs and hidden headwaters of the great river that is our history.

Parum Scitur Bellorum Magnas Et Perseverantes Ictum

Alan Axelrod

Adeptus Historica

 

One could argue that mankind is destructive by nature.  Only man fouls the air he breathes, defiles the water he drinks, taints the soil in which his crops grow.   All creatures kill for sustenance.  All creatures kill for survival.  Only man kills for pleasure.  Only man rationalizes his motives.  Regrettably, mankind’s destructive inclinations far exceed his creative impulses.  For every masterpiece painted on canvas there are a thousand fields dyed red with blood; for every gallery filled with works of art carved from marble a thousand arenas are adorned with viscera; for every magnum opus that delights the listener’s hearing an endless cacophony of crashing cannon, thundering drums, strident bugle calls and the screams of the maimed and dying assaults our ears.  Of all of man’s detrimental activities war is the most serious and painful of his harmful endeavors.  Its consequences are both immediate and far reaching to the individuals as well as to the nations involved.  War elevates some lineages and terminates others.  In its fire ancient regimes die while from its ashes new empires are born.  For every threat eliminated by war a hundred new antagonisms are created which become the casus belli for the next war.  War sends ripples through time that are felt for generations.  Nothing else is so costly in terms of blood and treasure.  In the quest for explanations if not exculpation, in the search to understand this unfortunate trait – some would call madness – there is a natural tendency to think of war as the inevitable result of economic, political, religious and social forces beyond human control.  This view is true, as far as it goes.  But it does not go far enough.  One must recognize that no matter what other factors go into creating the conditions or prerequisites, if you will, for war, each particular war, every declaration of war, begins with a decision to resort to war.  And decisions are not made by historical forces.  Decisions are made by human beings.  Sometimes those decisions are made by a populace reduced to fear, given over to momentary hysteria by an unprovoked attack or perhaps swayed by propaganda.  More often the choice to wage war is made by a select group of people, for example, a ruling body swept away in the heat of the moment or a coldly calculating cabal seeking to preserve or obtain power.  Not infrequently, for the best and the worst of reasons, a single, very fallible, truly imperfect person determines the fate of millions.

 

ONE

 

Ignis ferrum probat, miseria fortes viros.

Fire tests iron, adversity strong men.

Viam Ferrato

 

The crusade to free al-Andalus all but destroyed the X Legio.  For the VI Legio the butcher’s bill was far worse.  Casualties in some units ran as high as ninety-five per cent.  In an ideal universe we would have rotated off this cursed planet to some idyllic spot, a pleasant agri world perhaps, to rest, refit, take replacements, train and rebuild.  In the 41st century however the universe is many things:  a fount of knowledge and a quagmire of stultification; the zenith of human decency and the nadir of inhuman cruelty; capital cities so magnificent even the most jaded cynic cannot help but be moved by their beauty and forge world slums so foul, so devoid of hope there is no ink black enough to describe their squalor, nor words sufficiently bleak to encompass their soul crushing despair; a domain so vast that in each sub sector entire planets are devoted to the apparatus of Imperial governance and yet for all its size and power the Imperium of Man is a fragile construct that hangs by a thread threatened as it is from within and from without by aliens, heretics, traitors and worse.  As I said, the 41st century is many things – ideal is not one of them.  No, there would be no respite for the VI Legio until Ifriqiya had been cleansed as well.  So it was that the VII, VIII, IX and X Cohorts were temporarily disbanded, their proud standards cased in order to fill out the First through Sixth Cohorts.  It was not enough! Staff, logistic, clerical and other support personnel were combed out for combat assignment; auxiliaries were pressed into front line service as well; for we were the Legio Sexta, the Ferrata, the iron clad, primus inter pares, peerless warriors of Nova Romae who proudly followed the iron road.  Throughout the legion shattered units were combined.  In this manner the VI Legio was restored to battle readiness albeit at one sixth its authorized complement.  So it was that Immunis Aemilius Lepidus, Immunis Marcus Caelius and I, Tesserarius Quintus Temeraire, sole survivors of our former file, were reassigned to the Sixth Contubernium / Sixth Centuria / Sixth Cohort under the august leadership of Optio Domitius Bellerophon and his second, Signifer Titus Valerian.  It was highly unusual for someone so senior as an Optio or even a Signifer to lead a file but for now the Legion found itself in the highly unusual position of having an excess of senior noncoms.  I, for one, was pleased to have the opportunity to serve under and learn from two distinguished veterans.  Immunis Justinian Aurea, Immunis Popilius Laenias, Immunis Fabius Paullus, Librarius Gaius Apuleius and Medici Lucius Sejanus completed our new Contubernium.  Ill-fated numerology aside with one unfortunate exception our new file had the making of a solid unit for just as fire tempers iron, adversity creates strong bonds.

Justinian Aurea was that exception.  The rest of us were mules, that is to say peditum, foot soldiers of the acer triplex.  In stark contrast, Justinian had spent the last four years posted to the Blackbirds (one of the many groups such as artillery and engineers assigned to support the Legion on campaign) as an aft gunner on an Avenger Strike Fighter.  During the battle for Algeciras his aircraft had been hit by flak and destroyed in the resulting crash.  There being no replacement craft and given our losses in the line he was transferred to the infantry.  The powers that be called it ‘Impressment.’  Justinian was less than impressed with this particular regulation and spent every waking moment letting everyone unfortunate enough to fall within earshot know just how little he cared his new assignment.  When we felt charitable we called him Epi, for as a rear gunner, like Epimetheus of the ancient Graeca fable, his world view was limited to where he had been.  More often we called him Vagitus due to his constant whining.  This went on until Vagitus made the mistake of complaining too loudly, too often and too near Optio Bellerophon.

When a soldier becomes a Centurion he is presented a vitis, a baton one meter long to carry as a symbol of his authority.  Made of seasoned grape vine the vitis is both flexible and durable and, second only to the knout, makes a formidable instrument of discipline.  I had seen the vitis used many times to educate recalcitrant tirones, that is to say recruits, but until that day, never in all my years of service had I seen one broken in use.  Much to our barely concealed delight Optio Bellerophon began to berate Justinian for his lack of respect for the venerable 666 which amounted to disrespect to the exalted personage of Optio himself and Justinian’s lack of soldierly qualities in general.  The Optio punctuated his impressively loud and remarkably profane tirade with exquisitely timed and perfectly aimed blows from his vitis.  Bellerophon’s performance was a masterpiece of edification – logically sound, carefully controlled, judiciously measured, truly terrifying, highly effective and expertly delivered.  However, just as the Optio began the summation of his discourse explaining how since Justinian had spent the last four years riding to war his introduction into proper soldiering was long overdue and if Justinian were anything other than an ungrateful whelp with an oligophrenial swine for a mother and a dasypygal rodent for a father he would appreciate the opportunity he had been given to serve the Emperor, his vitis splintered.  It must have been a first for Optio Bellerophon as well for he stood there for a long, memorable moment giving every appearance of a fish out of water; wide eyed; an incredulous look upon his craggy face; gaping at the frayed rod; his jaws moving but no sounds coming forth.  It was priceless; one of those moments only soldiers could and would treasure.  The lapse was momentary, Optio recovered quickly but it was enough for Justinian to make his escape.  When Bellerophon began to look about and shout, “Cedo alterum!  Get me another!” Vagitus took the opportunity to make himself scarce.  I almost felt sorry for the grounded Corvus but there is truth in the dictum that soldiers should fear their officers more than the enemy.  It was also perversely gratifying to watch an artist such as Optio at work as long as I was not the focus of his attention.  To say that milites gregarii have a rough sense of humor would be a gross understatement.  It comes with the territory.  When you spend one third of your time terebravisse ad mortem, one third vix ad mortem and one third apud mortem it is necessary.  Black humor is better than no humor.  It is how we maintain a modicum of sanity.

In time Justinian became a decent soldier and his tendency to look backward would prove useful.  In time Fabius Paullus, Gaius Apuleius and Lucius Sejanus would earn sobriquets as well but I overtake the tale.  If you enjoy facts, figures, statistics and related dust covered arcania you should study the official history of the VI Legio.  If you prefer literature with a pulse you may read Ironclad: The War Commentaries of Legatus Nigidius Figulus.  It is a remarkable work of fiction.  Hold, my conscience forces me to admit that assessment is overly harsh.  To be fair it is an accurate, if self serving, account of the campaign from the perspective of one safely ensconced at a command post forty stadia behind the front line.  It is not however the whole story and therefore not the true story.  What follows is the real story of the VI Legio during the bloodbath that was the Ifriqiya campaign.

 

TWO

 

Persta atque obdura; dolor hic tibi proderit olim.

Be steadfast and endure; some day this pain will be useful to you.

Viam Ferrato

 

Had we been given a month, a week, even a fortnight to integrate new personnel, to conduct rudimentary training, to establish chains of command and lines of communication, hell, to even learn the names of our new mess mates we might have been able to pull it off.  But our exalted superiors somehow concluded the enemy must be in worse shape than we were; therefore we should strike immediately.  The plan they came up with mixed false assumptions with wishful thinking in equal measure.  It reeked of Tribunus Laticlavus Jodocus Hondius, second in command to Legatus Figulus.  Tribunus Hondius was an appointee of the senate on his first campaign, eager to cover himself with glory in order to further his political career.  Had his intellectual ability been on a par with his capacity for aeolistic discourse ad infinitum, ad nauseam, de nihilo, martial success and eventual ascension to the royal purple would have been assured.  His father a powerful Senator, his mother the heiress of a very old, very wealthy, patrician family with close ties to the Imperator of Nova Romae himself, Tribunus Hondius was, unfortunately, living proof that superior lineage was no guarantee of superior progeny.  Indeed Hondius embodied the dual warnings that the most noble families often carry the most regressive genes and that the gods of procreation enjoy a good joke as well as any other deity.  When bored with the tedium of Mendelian certainty, those gods could be quite fickle, even downright cruel.  The Legatus was a seasoned veteran who should have known better.  But for all his experience Figulus was as ambitious and rash as Hondius was ambitious and inept.  Together they were a lethal combination, more so to Legionaries than to the enemy.

Of course milites gregarii are not privy to the inner workings of the command staff but, contrary to popular opinion, common soldiers are not stupid either.  From troop movements, logistic arrangements, contacts at principia, that is to say at HQ, scuttlebutt and rubbing a few excess brain cells together we in the ranks soon had the overall concept if not the details of the pending op.  Supported by the Dreadnoughts Inflexible, Indomitable and Invincible the X Legio would embark at Tarifa, land at Arsila and push east.  Departing from Gibr al Tariq with the Kurofune squadron (Kyozetsu, Meisei, Fukushu and Kaizodo) providing cover the VI Legio would land at Ceuta and march south.  Joining forces at Tetuan the enemy would be cut off and, with his back to the Mare Animabus and Mare Umbras, annihilated.  I am certain the plan seemed sound when presented on the large screen displays at headquarters and it had the advantage of simplicity.  The suppurating boil on that otherwise lovely ass was that if Tesserarius Quintus Temeraire could divine our battle plans so could the traitors we were fighting.  Be that as it may, as was customary in the VI Legio at the beginning of every major op, we made our sacrementum, broke camp and marched.  We were one sixth of our normal complement of ten thousand.  Never the less, we marched, for we were Ferrata!

 

THREE

 

Emitte Lucem Et Veritatem

Send Out Light And Truth

Anthem of the VI Legio

Viam Ferrato

 

Allow me to countermarch a few paces.  I said there was no respite for the VI Legio.  That is not completely accurate.  Prior to embarkation we were granted six hours liberty in what passed for a town near where we were camped.  Soldiers, and, I suppose, sailors have an uncanny ability to immediately locate and unerringly navigate to the nearest tabernae even in towns whose streets they have yet to trod.  So it was that soon we found ourselves in the BOAR’S HEAD, GLOWA DZIKA in the native parlance, enjoying a hearty meal that we would probably regret on the morrow and the local samogan that we would definitely regret on the morrow, all but Optio Domitius Bellerophon and Signifer Titus Valerian who were meeting with other senior noncoms and poor Justinian who, still occupying the top position on Optio Bellerophon’s stercus album, was standing watch over our equipment at the campsite.  To call it a dive would have given the BOAR’S HEAD far too much dignity.  In other words, for what might well be our last night on the town, it was perfect.  As well they should have the citizens treated us as liberators and looked upon us and our Imperial coin with great favor, especially Fabius Paullus.  That was not unusual for Fabius Paullus had been blest with the body of a god and the face of an angel.  So it was we were not entirely surprised when the comely tavern wench who had served our repast cast a wanton eye in his direction.  She was a brown eyed, brown haired beauty whose low cut black chemise barely contained, much less concealed her ample breasts as she leaned over the rough-hewn plank table where we were seated to refill our tankards.  While we enjoyed another round Fabius Paullus headed upstairs with the lovely lass for dessert.   In about an hour he sauntered back down, a satisfied smile on his handsome face.  When she limped down the stairs clutching the balustrade for support a few minutes after Fabius her face was impossible to read.  Several of the serving wenches rushed to her aid and there arose an excited chatter from the corner of the room where they gathered.  Since we did not completely understand the local tongue things became a bit tense when the inn keeper and several of the patrons eyed us with less than charitable favor.  As I said we did not completely understand the local vernacular but her hand gestures were unmistakable and we were able to pick up a few words which translated to vastus, potens, prodigialis and colossaeus in our lingua.  Librarius Gaius Apuleius who was, without a doubt the best educated of our lot, swore he was certain he picked out the equivalent of ‘firmus’ and ‘grandis’ in their exchange as well.  When the other wenches began to eye Fabius Paullus with coy smiles it became readily apparent that striking features were not his only gifts.  He possessed at least one other very significant attribute.  The women began to giggle, the other patrons began to chuckle, we began to laugh and the more Fabius demurred the more boisterous we became.  To rowdy cheers Immunis Popilius Laenias dubbed him Fabulous Phallus.  Immunis Aemilius Lepidus observed how if Optio Bellerophon’s vitis were as stout as Paullus’ staff Immunis Aurea would be lying on a pallet in the valetudinarium or perhaps he would have returned to flying – in the Mare Spiritus.  The normally taciturn Immunis Marcus Caelius pitched in with how if we ever lost the center post of our shelter we could simply have Fabius lie on his back in our midst to support the contubernium, our common tent.  It would be one less thing to carry on the march and… At this point Popilius Laenias interrupted to add that were we all so well equipped we could dispense with our pila muralia, palisade stakes, as well, further reducing the thirty kilo kit we habitually carried.  Librarius Gaius Apuleius, who as I said was the scholar in our midst, tagged him with ‘Priapos’ after the rustic fertility god most noted for his prodigious rod and eternal erection.  Fabius Paullus made the mistake of objecting so naturally, to his enduring mortification and annoyance, his nom de guerre, or in this case, nom de amour, stuck.  In due time we bid farewell to the denizens of the GLOWA DZIKA and staggered back to camp chorusing loudly and badly the anthem of the VI Legio, a marching song dating from the Legion’s founding, and other, less noble, Jodiae half remembered from our days as Tirones.

 

FOUR

 

Cogita ante actus.  Qui omnes insidias timet in nullas incidit.

Think before you act.  He who fears every ambush falls into none.

Viam Ferrato

 

Our landing at Ceuta was unopposed.  Having lost most of their fleet during the battle for al-Andalus the heretics knew they could not resist the ships of the Kurofune squadron.  Instead they determined to make their stand on ground of their own choosing.  Would that our leadership were as wise.  The situation screamed for caution so, naturally, the Legatus threw caution to the wind.

Leaving the Third Cohort to secure our base of operation, we pushed on to our objective, Tetuan, with the remainder of the Legion.  For six days we marched through an arid wasteland as desolate as any I have ever seen encountering neither man, nor beast, nor fowl.  For six nights we slept undisturbed in the propugnaculum we habitually constructed at the end of each day’s march.  The almogavares we sent out reported nothing for there was nothing to report.  It was most unnatural.  Less experienced troopers, the hastati, speculated that the enemy had withdrawn to his homeland, their naiveté a reflection of the victory fever that permeated headquarters.  We veterans, the trarii, maintained a healthy distrust of our seeming good fortune.   On the seventh day we forded a shallow river, crossed a swampy area on the far bank and entered an old growth forest so dense that neither the light of the sun nor the Emperor’s truth could penetrate.  Finding a small clearing, we enlarged it, erected our defensive ramparts and made camp for the night.

After a meal of porridge and hardtack, standard fare when on the march, we sat about the cooking fire checking our bolters, charging our phila and sharpening our edged weapons.

“I like this not,” said Marcus to no one in particular.  “I saw no fish in the river we crossed, no vermin in the swamps.  These woods should be teeming with game for the stew pot but we have seen none.”

“There are no night sounds either – no insecta, no noctua, no lupos,” Aemilius added.

“It is worse than that,” our resident scholar, Librarius Apuleius, put in.  “A river, much less swamps, has not existed in this region for ten thousand years or more.  These woods are out of place as well.  At this latitude the climate is too dry, the soil too thin.  They are like echoes from the distant past.”

Second only to sailors, soldiers are a superstitious lot and I did not care for the drift of this conversation.  “Tend to your weapons,” I intoned, “and get some rest.  You will need it.”

As the conversation died down, Optio Bellerophon arrived with the tessera, the watch rotation for the night.  Unnecessarily he ordered us to inspect our bolters, charge our phila and put a keen edge on our blades.  His final order before dismissing us – that until further notice we would march in full Lorica Segmata – let us know his state of mind.

 

FIVE

 

Per varios usus artem experientia fecit.

Through different exercises practice has brought skill.

Viam Ferrato

 

After another meal of porridge and hard tack we broke camp in the morning and pushed deeper into the woods.  Within two hours the forest became more dense, the atmosphere more oppressive, the trail more narrow.  Where we had begun the march eight abreast, we were now hard pressed to maintain four and the column was strung out for well over a mile.  Under these conditions to clear a roadway for our supporting armor and artillery would have been feasible but time consuming.  And if this scheme were to have any chance of success, time was a commodity we could not spare.  Consequently the tanks of the 132nd “Ariete” Armored Battalion and the guns of the 17th “Alaric” Artillery Regiment were detached with orders to find a way to circumnavigate this near impenetrable wilderness.  With them went the Fourth Cohort as well.  The First, Second, Fifth and, of course, the Sixth Cohorts pressed on.

Two hours after we lost our big guns we lost our air cover as well.  The forest had become so dense, its canopy so over grown that air support had become impracticable.  We were invisible except on IR and in close quarters combat IR cannot tell friend from foe.  These cursed woods had reduced the finest fighting force in the Imperium to Iron Age status.  Like our ancestors of millennia past we would conquer or die with the weapons in our hands and the supplies on our backs.  Ferrata!

It was then the enemy struck.  Up and down the length of the column hard rounds and las fire lashed our strung out ranks.  Legionaries died by the scores.  Only iron discipline and excellent, oft repeated, training saved the Legio Sexta that day.  Odd files facing right and even files facing left as if on the parade ground we discharged our phila then began disciplined volley fire with our bolters per the combat manual.  As enemy fire slackened we drew blades and charged into …nothing.  The enemy was gone and if we had killed anyone (and surely we must have for blood was everywhere) the bodies were gone.

Gathering our dead and wounded we marched to the top of a nearby hill, cleared it, and made camp.

 

SIX

 

Vulneratus non victus, virtute et armis, vincemus.

Bloodied but unbowed, by courage and arms, we will prevail.

Viam Ferrato

 

The mood in the propugnaculum was somber indeed that night, stark contrast to previous evenings.  Casualties had been severe.  In our Contubernium Immunis Marcus Caelius and Immunis Popilius Laenias had been killed in the initial onslaught.  Immunis Aemilius Lepidus was badly wounded and would not last the night.  The rest of the 666 had been fortunate to come away with only minor injuries.  After the dead were buried and the wounded treated we survivors sat about the cooking fire in sullen silence.  Had we known the 10th Legio had been stopped far short of Tetuan and was even now retreating back toward Arsila where they had landed our mood would have been far worse.  Thankfully, that we did not learn until much later.  Justinian Aurea broke the quiet with the words we were all thinking but dared not express, “The Legatus and the Tribunus have led us into a trap.  If any of us survive their durus cicapitatus stupidity it will be through the Emperor’s grace and the Emperor’s grace alone.”  In the absence of the Optio and the Signifer, who were meeting with the other senior noncoms at the principia, it fell to me to correct this breach of discipline.  I could not for Justinian spoke the truth.  Drained by the day’s events and the death of comrades I instead gave in to doubt replying, “This place has been under the shadow and the heel of evil for so long I would not rely on the Emperor’s grace for salvation.  Look to your phila, your bolter and your gladius.”

Medici Lucius Sejanus had an annoying habit of ending every conversation with “The Emperor Protects” or “The Emperor Saves” or “The Emperor Provides” or some such nonsense.  To be fair he was a sincerely devout man.  As Medici he treated our bodies, as Lucius Sejanus he cared for our souls.  By this point in the march we had come to call him Chaplain Sejanus.  He now spoke.

“You are a good soldier Tesserarius – strong, powerful, skilled – but you lack faith and that diminishes your effectiveness.”

“I have faith,” I retorted.   “I believe in my pugio, my spatha and my bolter.  I even believe in the chain of command up to the Praefectus Castrorum.  The milk of human kindness flows thin in Praefectus Metellus, some say it has curdled altogether, but he is fair and he is honest, more than that you cannot ask of a superior.  Beyond him, it is true, I have little faith in our officers; nor should I, given what I have witnessed recently.

Sejanus sighed, “In the struggle between order and chaos we must believe in what we do, we must have faith in the Emperor’s wisdom, no matter what the circumstance, if we are to play our part in his plan effectively.

Knowing in my heart he was right and I wrong but unable to admit as much I became defensive.  “How does the annihilation of the Legio Sexta at the hands of fools serve the Emperor?  If his master plan requires the death of all my comrades I want no part of it!  Do you truly believe the rubbish the Ecclesiarchs spout?”

“As a matter of fact I do.  Granted there is much hyperbole in what they preach, for reasons of their own they gild Emperor’s word and the trappings of office they adopt do his Truth disservice.  For all that however, there is more truth in their homilies than you realize or care to admit.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” I retorted.  “I believe in the Empire.  I have seen many foul things in my years of service.  I know therefore, the Empire is far superior to the alternative.  However, I have never seen chaos.  Perhaps it exists.  Perhaps it is myth.  Perhaps it is…”

I would have continued but Librarius Gaius Apuleius interjected.  “Perhaps the day of your enlightenment is at hand.  Before I lost my mind and enlisted in order to become a citizen I was a student at the Universitatis de Aelia Capitolina.  My field of study was ancient Terran cultures.  I had delusions of becoming an archeologist you see.  I remember one culture particularly well for its striking similarity to the Word of the Emperor.  This group believed the universe was in a constant state of war between truth and order which they called Asha and falsehood and disorder which they named Druj.  In this conflict man must decide where he stands for at the end of time a tidal wave of molten metal will purge the universe of evil and those of have served steadfastly – their spirits will be united with God whom they called Ahura Mazda for eternity.  That is one of the oldest beliefs for which we have records.  In the millennia since all major religions have espoused similar tenets once your boil them down to their essence.  Is this so different from the Emperor’s Truth?  Can you not admit that an idea that has existed for over 40,000 years must have an element of truth at its core?”

Medici Lucius Sejanus followed up.  “Mock the Ecclesiarchs if you must for they are mortal and subject to the same lust for power and prestige as any other mortal but doubt not the truth contained in the Emperor’s Word.  SOLA FIDE!  Without faith we are nothing.  Without faith all is lost.”

The sudden return of the Optio and the Signifer abruptly ended this discussion sparing me further reproach however mild it had been.  Without preliminary Optio Bellerophon spoke, “Tesserarius you have the first watch.  The rest of you get some sleep.  At dawn we press on.  Ferrata!”

“Ferrata!” we echoed.  Their mood and the look on their faces told us they did not agree with the decision that had been made in the Praetorium, the Commander’s tent.  Unlike me however, the Optio and the Signifer were too professional to speak ill of their superiors or express doubts in front of militites gregarii.  Their thoughts on the matter were locked away as they focused on the task at hand.

SEVEN

 

In tempore opportuno.

At the opportune time.

Viam Ferrato

Although the term had lost meaning, we moved out at first light, for in this cursed place nights without moon and stars were utterly black and days without sun were as twilight at best.  The distinction between day and night was now a matter of the chronometer rather than the rise and set of the sun.  And without the sun and stars to guide us we had to rely on the compass and pray that it had not been affected by whatever dark power held this region in thrall.

As luck would have it the 666 was assigned the rearguard position for this days’ march. Again the legion was forced onto a trail so narrow we were hard pressed to maintain a column of fours.  Again the legion was strung out for miles.  This time when the almogavares were sent out they did not return.

Shortly before noon the enemy struck.  Epi, who had never lost his habit for looking to the rear was the first to spot movement and sounded the alarm.  As if he had anticipated this moment, without hesitation Optio Bellerophon ordered us to charge back down the trail from whence we had come.  Within moments we were through the enemy line and went to ground.

The rest of the legion was not so fortunate.  Concentrations of the enemy cut through the line in several places.  Completely surrounded and fighting in small groups the legion lost cohesion and with it the force multiplier of disciplined fire.  Hundreds died.  The rest were taken captive.

I urged we go to the aid of our comrades.  Optio Bellerophon stilled that thought with the words, “We can better serve alive and free.  We will act when the time is right.”  He then led us deeper into the brush, to hide, for now.

 

EIGHT

 

Hostes ad triarios.  Aut vincere aut mori.

The enemy has reached the triarii.  Victory or death.

Viam Ferrato

 

Tracking the enemy was easy.  We simply followed the trail of horribly mutilated corpses left in their wake.  Nor was a great deal of stealth required.  Flush with victory the enemy seemed more interested in making ritual sacrifices than in rounding up any stragglers who may have escaped their net in the ambush.  And stragglers were plentiful.  By ones and twos and tens they joined us until we had a force of nearly six Centuries; six Centuries united in a common purpose as never before; six Centuries filled with a burning desire for retribution; six Centuries with an overwhelming need for vindication.  Our comrades were in the hands of daemons, our legion standard lost, our honor taken – all would be restored or we would die in the attempt.  For the Ferrata there was no other path.

Just before dusk on the seventh day after entering this cursed place, the dense forest that had been our bane abruptly ended.  Before us lay the city of Tetuan, former capital of Mashouda, the western most province of Ifriqiya, now the center of all the evil that threatened to engulf this world.  In their arrogance the enemy had erected no Propugnaculum; a few sentries patrolling the perimeter provided the only defense.  Still six hundred to engage a host of thousands who held the bulk of our legion captive was no small task.

We noted that the center of Tetuan had been razed.  A huge courtyard perhaps forty stadia square now filled the area where government buildings had previously stood.  In the center of this courtyard, its four corners aligned to the cardinal points, a squat, step sided, flat topped pyramid reached three hundred meters into the air.  It appeared to be constructed from blocks of basalt plated with iron or a similar metal.  Inverted above this temple dedicated to whatever foul gods these daemons worshiped, its mirror image hung suspended by some arcane, no doubt dark power.  An interval of perhaps thirty meters separated the two structures – one rooted in the earth, the other seemingly growing out of thin air, both corporeal, for the uppermost, the inverted temple, though it shimmered and pulsed with an ethereal aura was as solid as its earth bound counterpart.  Whatever its function the edifice radiated evil.  Even at this distance the mere sight of it set our teeth on edge. To make matters worse in the space between the two an altar had been erected.  One by one our captured comrades were being led to this abattoir every hour on the hour for sacrifice.

All around the base of the temple complex the enemy thronged in a teeming, swarming mass like some gigantic anthill that had been kicked over.  It did not take a genius to deduce they were being whipped into a killing frenzy by their priests for a counter attack that, in our broken state, would push Imperial forces out of Ifriqiya and perhaps even al-Andalus.

From our vantage point we spied our fratres caged in a compound not far from where we had emerged from the forest.  The carcerem appeared to be as lightly guarded as the perimeter of Tetuan.  Apparently the enemy considered the Legio Sexta finished.  We would teach them otherwise.

 

NINE

 

Et bella, ut cum armis quae fiunt ab homine

Wars may be fought with weapons but they are won by men.

Viam Ferrato

After a brief council of war it was decided that under the cover of darkness the bulk of our small band led by Signifer Titus Valerian would skirt Tetuan and create a diversion on the south side of the city.  In the confusion the 666, the only more or less intact unit, would infiltrate the northern perimeter, free the prisoners and, discretion being the better part of valor, fall back as rapidly as possible toward Ceuta.  Some argued that we should increase the number of men detailed to free our comrades.  The simple fact that few move with greater stealth than many decided the issue and if we were found out greater numbers would not balance the equation. Amazingly, perhaps due to its sheer audacity, this reckless scheme worked…up to a point.

Discounting the possibility of attack and in an already frenzied state, the enemy reacted to the diversion as we had hoped, mindlessly rushing to the far side of town en masse.  The few guards who remained on station were dispatched quietly.  We quickly breached the gates of the compound and soon had our comrades streaming back toward the north.  It was then our plan fell apart.

Even at night it is impossible to completely conceal the movement of several thousand men.  One of the gaolers returned, spotted the movement and sounded the alarm.  Acting as a rear guard the 666 stood fast in order to cover the escape of the last few prisoners.  Fortunately only a score of the enemy responded, the vast majority were still leagues away on the far side of town, our comrades leading them on a fruitless chase through the dense woods.  Unfortunately one of those who confronted us was a giant armed with a massive war hammer.  The fight that ensued was of historic proportions.  I had never seen its like before, nor have I seen anything its equal since.

Unsheathing his gladius, Optio Bellerophon struck the pommel on the pavement drawing sparks and shouting, “Desperta, Ferro!” rushed the monster.  Bellowing foul curses in reply the monster raised his weapon for a killing blow.  Sidestepping at the last possible moment, the crude war hammer thundered past Optio’s right shoulder.  Its head, a slab of iron the size of a fifty liter prometheum drum, served the same purpose as an Imperial power maul – to crack armour and pulverize the flesh and bone encased therein.  Whatever the war hammer lacked in technological sophistication, it more than made up for in sheer mass.  And if aesthetically deficient, it was none the less viciously effective.  Other than an Astarte’s no human could have hefted it.  Unfortunately for Optio Bellerophon the two and one-half meter tall, two hundred kilo travesty of humanity confronting him brandished the massive weapon as effortlessly as the Optio wielded a pugio.  Driven by the mighty thews of the enormous beast the hammer head cracked the pavement and sank to the eye in the soft soil beneath.  With a deafening bellow of outrage the mutated monstrosity voiced his frustration with the agile Imperial soldier who had thus far avoided his best strokes.   Roaring, the slavering beast wrenched his weapon free and attempted to brain the impertinent human who stood between him and further slaughter with a lethal back hand.  Dropping to one knee Optio Bellerophon ducked under the back swing that would have crushed his skull and pulped his brain had it connected.  In the instant it took for the fiend to bring his weapon high overhead for another blow Optio Bellerophon leapt up and thrust his blade into the brute’s throat.  So pure the iron, so keen the edge his blade easily cleaved through muscle and bone exiting the back of the beast’s neck in a spray of blood and viscera.  Although nearly decapitated, the beast continued to thrash about, swinging his war hammer in wildly dangerous arcs one of which caught Optio Bellerophon in the back, crushing his spine and hurling him a good ten meters.

Of course this action took place in concert with our own fight for survival.  I dispatched one daemon (to this day I can scarce believe these things had once been human) with my bolter and another with my spatha.  No sooner clear than another was on my back.  I ran him through with a back thrust with my blade and dropping to one knee blew a gaping hole through another’s chest with three quick rounds from my bolter.  Justinian Aurea, Fabius Paullus, Medici Lucius Sejanus and Librarius Gaius Apuleius were similarly engaged at the same time.

As suddenly as the mêlée began, just as suddenly it was over and I was the last man standing.  Checking quickly I found Justinian Aurea and Fabius Paullus had not survived the attack.  Although badly wounded Librarius Gaius Apuleius motioned for me to tend to the Medici.  Lucius Sejanus lay in a pool of blood, four of the foul beasts dead about him.

Rushing to his side I cradled Medici Lucius Sejanus in my arms as he lay dying.  Looking up at me he asked, “Tesserarius do you believe in angels?”

Not understanding his question at first I merely gazed at the man I had come to call friend in puzzlement.

Raising his arm he pointed over my shoulder and spoke, “Sola fide est sufficientia.”

I looked up.  I understood.  Finally, I understood.

Dawn was breaking.  The glow of the rising sun glinted off the wings of the Blackbird Squadron.  They screamed in from all points of the compass – their rockets and cannon driving the enemy toward the temple and the city center.  They were indeed angels – angels of mercy for us, angels of death for the heretics.

Medici Lucius Sejanus’ final words snapped me back to the danger at hand, “Now, take the Librarius and go!  Ferrata.”

Gathering up Librarius Gaius Apuleius, we headed north as quickly as his wounds and my strength allowed.  Above the din of the Blackbirds, my drumming heart and rasping breath I could hear the sounds of armor and artillery moving into position as well.  The enemy had been so obsessed with stopping the VI Legio, so confident mechanized units could not negotiate the forest that surrounded Tetuan, the wilderness that had nearly destroyed us, that they had written off all threats but infantry.  Now the tanks of the 132nd “Ariete” Armored Battalion added their weight of fire to the Blackbirds while the cannon of the 17th “Alaric” Artillery Regiment drew a bead on the temple itself.

Most of the guns of the 17th were relatively small Anti-Aircraft / Anti-Tank weapons or medium calibre field pieces.  These had no effect on the temple complex however they did help contain the enemy in the courtyard allowing our comrades to make their escape.

The 17th also included one battery of heavy plasma cannon whose barrels bore the inscription ULTIMA RATIO REGUM.  These weapons took longer to emplace but when they opened up the result was as spectacular as it was unexpected.

When the plasma energy struck the temple we realized the structure was protected by some sort of energy field for it coruscated with an eerie glow as it absorbed the impact.  That field may have shielded the temple from solid shot and blast but it offered no protection from heat.  As the plasma cannon poured fire upon the target the upper temple turned bright red, then white hot.  When the structure became incandescent its horizontals began to droop, its verticals to sag until, at last, the edifice folded upon itself and melted altogether.  The energy field now contained not a building but a cauldron of magma.  With a resounding boom that nearly knocked us off our feet the generators in the lower pyramid failed.  Released from suspension the mass of molten rock and iron flowed down the four sides of the base pyramid immolating the denizens of Tetuan in a tidal wave of lava.

 

TEN

 

Quod incepimus conficiemus.

What we have begun we shall finish.

Viam Ferrato

 

The Librarius and I reached the safety of our lines just as the last few buildings of Tetuan and the foul host of daemons that had plagued this world disappeared in a lake of liquefied rock and molten iron.  Each according to his nature, some of our men cheered, some simply watched in silence, others wept in relief; all were deeply moved and intensely gratified.  Doubt had bred heresy; heresy had fomented evil; evil had opened the gates of Hades allowing Chaos to nearly engulf this formerly compliant planet.  Brave men and fire had burned it clean again.  Now purged Nuevo Hispaniensis would serve again.

We bivouacked for a full week on the outskirts of what had been Tetuan before beginning the long march back to Ceuta and from there home using that time to bring the VI Legion into some semblance of order.   Instructions were sent to the X Legio to recover their manhood, march immediately to relieve us and complete whatever mop up actions were required which, as events were to prove, were minimal for whatever dark power had held this region in thrall apparently was broken with the destruction of the temple complex and the legions of daemon worshipers.  By the time the X Legio came up, turnover was completed and we broke camp the wilderness that had been our bane had already begun to take on the appearance of a normal forest.  And when we reached the area where we had first entered the woods the swamps we had crossed had dried up and the river we had forded reduced to a stream.  Released from the dark powers that had blighted it for so long the land was reverting to its natural state.  But I overtake the tale.

On the third day of our encampment near Tetuan Signifer Titus Valerian returned with those troops who had carried out the diversion.   Although grievously wounded he was as content as any man I have ever known for somewhere, somehow in his battle with the heretics he had recovered the VI Legion Aquila.  It is just a symbol, say you; a thing of wood and metal; easily replaced; certainly not worth dying for.  Say I, is your soul so dead there is nothing you would not bleed for?  Then you are without honor; not a man and have my pity for you are not worthy of my contempt.  Only a legionnaire would understand the significance of that accomplishment.  Coupled with our escape from and defeat of the heretics, the return of the legion standard restored our honor, making victory complete.

The Signifer did not live long enough to relate to me the full story of his part in the battle for Tetuan.  He did live long enough however to task me.  Knowing death was at hand, Titus Valerian summoned me.

“Find the Aquilifer, if he still lives,” he said.  “If not, guard the Aquila with your very life until another is appointed.  It must never be lost again.”

I did not feel worthy and attempted to decline the honor but Valerian would not hear of it.

“Swear!” he said.

I swore and bore the Aquila for seven years until another was duly appointed and I was given command of the Sixth Cohort.   Nor was that my only tasking in our final days in Ifriqiya.

I had hoped Librarius Gaius Apuleius would recover from his wounds but that was not to be.  On his deathbed he cursed me with the words, “Tesserarius you must tell the story of the 666.  Though born under malis avibus we fought the good fight; we stayed the course; we kept the faith.  Nova Romae must know what happened here.”

“You are the Librarius,” I replied.  “Recover and make that your task.  You are far better suited than I.”

“Swear!”

Once again, I swore and bore that burden for over a quarter of a century.  Many times I began the task only to quit in frustration at my inadequacy.  The memories were too painful, my skill too poor to do my fallen comrades justice.  So I seconded that obligation to more pressing duties until in retirement I ran out of excuses.

 

EPILOGUE

 

Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona multi….

Many brave men lived before Agamemnon….

Viam Ferrato

 

Approximately one-third of Legio Sexta escaped the carnage of Ifriqiya; Legatus Nigidius Figulus among them, proving there is no justice in life.  Given the choice of inquisition or retirement he, belatedly displaying forbearance and wisdom, chose retirement, wrote his face saving memoirs and faded, rapidly, into obscurity sparing the army thousands of further casualties.

Tribunus Laticlavus, remarkably, did not survive.  I say remarkably for his kind have the uncanny ability to usually avoid the consequences of their actions.  Not this time however proving there is sometimes justice in death.  From all reports last seen on his knees, begging for mercy, he had received it, in the form of disembowelment and a sanguinem aquilae.  Dull eyes staring in disbelief at the bloody ropes of his intestines lying on the ground in front of him, his round porcine face was as devoid of wit apud mortem as his mind had been of original thought in life.  Had he survived, his political career, although tarnished, was ensured for Ifriqiya was a victory, a pyrrhic one, but a victory none the less.  As it was Nova Romae was spared years of mismanagement, if not misrule.

The VI Legio was rebuilt of course and continues to serve Nova Romae and the Emperor with honor.  That is the way of the Ferrata, the Ironclad.  That is the way of the Iron Road.

I also survived Ifriqiya, marched with my Legion through a score of further campaigns as well, completed my term of service, took a plot of land from the Aerarium Militare as was my due, and upon retirement added the title Emeritus to my name and rank.

To honor my fallen comrades I wrote the miserable text you hold in your hands.  What it lacks in literary skill I feel it compensates for with soldier’s truth.  It is not something I wanted to do.  First and foremost I am a warrior.  I have no talent as a writer.  It is something I had to do for as the Viam Ferrato notes, “Many brave men lived before Agamemnon; but all of them, unwept and unknown, are overwhelmed in endless night, because they are without a sacred bard to sing their praises.” My life has been anything but sacred and I am certainly no bard but for the sake of my contubernium my feeble efforts will have to suffice.  There is no other left to tell their tale.

Displayed upon the wall above the mantle in my humble domicile are many Phalerae and more than a few Coronae as well.  I would gladly trade all the awards I earned during my years of service for the comradeship of the fratres I buried in foreign soil.

When it is mentioned at all in the Annales Historica, scholars credit Ifriqiya as a turning point in the Nuevo Hispaniensis Reconquista.  That is for academics to debate.  For me Ifriqiya was the place where I found my faith, became a better man, a better soldier and thus, a true servant of the emperor.

 

Sola Fide

Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cujus fidei merces est videre quod credis.

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of that faith is to see what you believe.

Viam Ferrato

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