From the journals of Marcus Rutilius Robura … in which the Belgae get their first taste of Caesar’s superiority
here’s not a lot to be gained by dwelling on what happened next at Bibrax. Let’s just say that we got our precious relief force of archers and slingsmen into the fortress without alerting the Belgae to our passage through their lines, using very similar methods to those we used to get out – a mixture of stealth and diversionary tactics. The decoy raids either side of the crucial gulley were masterminded and led by Quintus, ever anxious to make sure that I stayed out of trouble.
Our arrival certainly broke the tension, which – according to a rather garrulous Sallust – had built up to the point where you could cut it with the proverbial knife. Iccius was sceptical of the effectiveness of a mere cohort of support troops, especially when he realised that they were ‘foreign’ auxiliaries. However, a brief and spontaneous display of sharp shooting in the great hall, given by the two senior centurions in charge of the men, soon changed his mind. These fine fellows were less than impressed when they heard that their professionalism was being called into question. Their little demonstration soon cleared the air. Few marksmen could have matched the accuracy displayed in a bit of splendid trick shooting, that would have put Wyatt Earp on his mettle.
Dawn found us back at our posts in the towers. Every man had orders to stay out of sight until Iccius himself gave the signal, but the expected attack didn’t come at dawn. The enemy didn’t even turn up after a reasonable breakfast hour. Obviously, they had concluded from the previous day’s events that this morning’s work would be a pushover. Their first action, which they deferred until the sun had been up for a good three hours, was to send heralds forward to demand unconditional surrender. It was only when they received a less than polite answer, that the heavy mob moved in again.
To say that they received the shock of their lives would be an understatement. The resulting boost to Remian morale was a wonder to behold. Our auxiliaries were mobbed by Iccius’s men after their opening volleys drove the first wave of the Belgic horde from the field in front of the walls, leaving scores of dead and – for a short time at least – wounded behind them. Those that couldn’t get up and run soon joined the ranks of the dead, when the Remi took up a little target practice of their own.
The Belgae repeated their assault tactics ten times between that first attack and midday and each time they were driven back with heavy losses. This had clearly been no part of their plan and by mid afternoon it became clear that they were abandoning the attempt. Very soon we realised that they were withdrawing as we saw from our vantage point in one of the towers the leading elements of their troops striking south towards the river and Caesar. None of us could really believe our eyes, but we had to wait for nightfall to confirm it.
They didn’t go far. They simply reoriented themselves into a long line of camps that stretched across the dusty road, effectively blocking our direct escape route back to Durocortorum and only two miles short of Caesar’s camp. When their cooking fires were lit that night, they stretched in an unbroken line for at least eight miles, giving some idea of the numbers involved.
Under cover of darkness, the four of us and our men headed back for the Roman camp, taking a long detour upstream before crossing and then circling back to approach Sabinus’s camp from the south. We took with us half of the auxiliary troops that had caused such havoc earlier in the day, laden down with rich rewards from their new-found friends and very happy with the outcome of their first brush with the much vaunted Belgae. I knew that their arrival back amongst their comrades would boost morale at a much needed point, because so far all that the army back on the river had seen and heard was evidence of the huge numbers that they were up against and the usual wild stories spread by the camp contractors before they made themselves scarce that these wild men were ten feet tall and absolutely invincible.
We held off from making our entrance to the camp until after sunrise and even then approached with caution. However, we were easily enough recognised and very soon I found myself in front of Caesar in the middle of the main camp, back on the north side of the river again.
There was no time for a detailed report. Caesar had just completed his orders to his other legates when I arrived and, after listening briefly to my description of what had happened, he told me to go and get cleaned up and get some sleep – something that I was not loath to do. He said he didn’t want to see me again unless things turned nasty and then he’d send for me. I collected Sallust and Publius on my way and together we headed for my large, shared tent, where Xenophon had already alerted Jacobus and the other servants of our arrival.
As we stripped off our armour and filthy tunics, we could hear the bustle going on outside. The two recruit legions that I knew so well, still under the command of Pedius, had been detailed off to guard the camp, while the other six legions were moving off by cohorts to take up their allotted positions in front of the camp. From the entrance to the tent, we could see the enemy also streaming out into a daunting battle array on the hillside opposite, but – for the moment, anyway – there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm on either side for a battle.
I had barely got my tunic over my head, before Jacobus sucked in his breath noisily at the sight of the stab wound inflicted on me by Quintus and insisted on sending for the Medical Officer. It was good to be back.
I slept well – too well to dream – and woke to find Sallust and Publius playing dice in dim lamplight. I slipped off of my spartan truckle-bed and went to the tent-flap to see what was going on. The sun was already low on the western horizon and I was alarmed to find that I had slept most of the day away; worried, too, that I might have missed something. Agamemnon, Quintus’s personal servant and Jacobus’s trusty friend, must have been posted to look out for me, for I had hardly turned my back before Quintus himself was brushing aside the entrance flap as he stooped to enter.
He grinned when he saw that I was none the worst for our near calamitous night-time meeting on the hillside and slumped down on a camp stool: “What a bloody waste of time! Caesar marched us all out there and formed us up ready to take them on if they attacked and what did they do? They bloody well waited for us to make the first move.”
He was clearly incensed. Quintus seldom swore – not even mildly. He shrugged his huge shoulders and I suddenly realised that he, too, was sitting there without his armour. Things must be quiet for that to be the case.
“The Old Man sent half the Gallic cavalry out to make some sort of challenge, but the goddam Belgae didn’t even bother to respond at first. When they did, it was obvious that our Gauls were a damn sight better at skirmishing than they were. As for their infantry, well ... they just stood there – in fact they even had the bloody nerve to sit down with their weapons in their hands and wait for us to make the first move. There was no way they were going to come down and cross that bit of marsh out front. At least they weren’t that stupid. Perhaps they thought we were. Anyway, the upshot was that we did nothing all day, but fry in the sun.”
I could understand his frustration, but before I could ask what happened next, he went on in a rush.
“Then, when nothing had happened by midday, Caesar upped and led us all back into camp, as if it had been a drill, trumpets blazing away and everyone thumping on their shields in time to the music and singing dirty songs. When old Astorix saw that, it seemed to spark off a signal. They all jumped up and ran off in one mad, screaming bunch, heading off upstream. As soon as they reached the other side of those walls out there on the flank, they ran down to the river and tried to find ways to get across.
“Caesar obviously wanted some of the action for himself. He must have been as frustrated as the rest of us. He whistled up his horse and Titus Labienus – in that order – he’s given him command of the cavalry, damn his eyes – Labienus, I mean – then he dashed off with the auxiliaries copying the German tactics we saw last year. They must have been practising them all winter down in Vesontio.”
I must have looked puzzled, but it was Sallust who broke in and asked the question: “What do you mean, Quintus? German tactics?”
“Oh, I forgot. Of course, you weren’t there, were you? Well, the German light infantry train to fight with their cavalry. They behave like hunt servants. They actually run along beside the horses, hanging on like grim death to their manes to help them keep up. The first time we saw them doing it, we thought they’d be knackered before they ever got close to us, but we laughed on the other side of our faces when we realised just how fit the bastards were. Once they got to close quarters, the cavalry would stand off and fling their little javelins at us over the heads of their pals, while they were running in and having a go at us at close quarters, using their small darts or bows, or virtually any other weapon you can think of. Whenever we made a move to take them on, they’d run back to their mates on horseback, hop up behind them as if they were at a carnival and be gone before we could do anything about it. Well, that’s what our boys are doing now. Very effective it was too.
“The Belgae were splashing about in the shallows looking for ways to get across and have a go at old Sabinus, so that they could come at us the back way. There were millions of the blighters! They didn’t know what hit them, when Labienus and his boys got in amongst them. They had a field day. The ones that were actually deep into the water were sitting ducks – if you’ll pardon the expression. The archers and slingers just kept on shooting until they ran out of missiles. It was pandemonium. We were all watching this from the top of the walls and cheering our lads on. It was a turkey shoot. I took a party downstream and we started pulling in prisoners. Those that weren’t fishmeal already. There are thousands of them down in the compound. Great big, hairy brutes. The ones we’ve rounded up are a pretty demoralised lot. You certainly haven’t missed much by sleeping the day away, I can tell you.”
As darkness fell and the cooking fires began to blaze in camps on both sides, there was a continuous undercurrent of noise reaching us from the enemy camps and we watched with some fascination the constant to-ing and fro-ing that was going on, with blazing torches moving about with complete abandon. Reports came in from our piquets that there were large troop movements going on, but they seemed to be away from us and not towards us.
All we dared to do in the circumstances was to double-man the walls and wait for whatever was developing to come to a head. There didn’t appear to be any immediate threat, whatever they were up to. Caesar sent patrols out, upstream and down to see if he could find out what they were up to, but clearly it was going to be a long night. Quintus disappeared fairly early on for a spell on duty and Publius left Sallust and me to go and see what was happening amongst the other junior officers.
I had no particular desire to sleep and for once I was in no particular hurry to get involved in the action. Sallust was quiet – too quiet for him – and I eventually broke into his silence and asked him what was on his mind. It spilled out very quickly and very easily.
“I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you, Marcus, professional soldier that you are, that what happened yesterday and the day before was my first taste of action. I’ve never been on a battlefield before. Oh, yes, I did a short time as a junior officer with a friend of my father’s as soon as I was seventeen. That was in Spain ten years ago. Pleasant spot – nice beaches – lots of pretty girls. No action, though. Did three years there, until my father’s friend wrote to him and told him that it wasn’t doing anything for my moral fibre. I could have wrung his neck when I found out what he’d done. He was right though. Instead of becoming a hardened soldier, I was fast becoming a wine-soaked hedonist – not a pretty sight.”
He paused for a few moments, staring into the flame of the little oil lamp that was the only light in our tent. His good-looking face was more serious than I’d ever seen it before. Suddenly he went on: “I was scared stiff and I don’t mind admitting it. All of a sudden it came home to me that I had no business to be there wearing an officer’s insignia and not knowing what I would do if anything happened to you or any of the others.
“When you said that you were going to make a break for it on that first night, I was terrified that you were going to ask me to come with you. Then I was terrified that you were going to leave me behind. In the end, all I wanted to do was curl up and die. And yet I was too scared to even do anything about that. I really don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come back.” He paused again and began to fumble under his pillow.
“Do you ever think about life and death, Marcus? Really think about it, I mean?” He didn’t wait for an answer and it was just as well. I could hardly call myself an expert, but perhaps my own experience was not quite what he was looking for.
“I thought I had really embraced the ideas of Epicurus. You know? Death doesn’t matter, it’s the way you die that’s important – all that sort of thing? You’re supposed to look on death as just another experience. Have you ever read this?” He held out the small scroll that he had retrieved from under his pillow.
I reached across the gap between our beds and took the rather fragile little scroll, wondering what it was that he wanted me to read. As I unfurled it rather gingerly, I realised that he had handed me a much-loved piece of poetry. I hadn’t seen it before, but the name was familiar enough. It was a piece of verse by the living poet-philosopher, Lucretius, the man whose name was almost synonymous with Epicureanism. I had actually met him at a soirée run by Servilia in Luca when I was last there.
It was a beautifully written piece of rather cynical stuff. I had a rough idea of what that particular brand of the current philosophical mind-bending was about. Most Romans interested in higher thoughts – not something that they were particularly prone to, I’d discovered – took an interest in one of two fashionable theories. You were either a Stoic or an Epicurean. I don’t know which mind-set I admired least. The Stoics seemed to breed a bunch of bigots like Cato and his sidekick Brutus, Servilia’s unlikely son, while the Epicureans produced totally unreal people like Lucullus, who spent all his time in gourmet feasting and chasing young girls – some said young boys, too, but that was just the Roman way of expressing their disapproval. Anyone who they wanted to brand as really depraved, they accused of being interested in little boys. Their aversion to the laxer morals of their eastern empire was almost pathological.
I lay back on the bed, nursing the little rolled up scroll in my hands. Poor old Sallust. He was really mixed up, for a Roman. Men weren’t supposed to indulge themselves in sensitive feelings. By his age most of them had been so thoroughly brutalised by exposure to violence and death of one kind or another that finer feelings didn’t enter their heads. I read the poem through again to give myself time to think:
Come, mortal, why dwell so dolefully
On damned Death’s dread destiny?
Why hock thy life for debts to Sorrow,
When Laughter light is there to borrow?
What if thy life that’s past and gone
Has been to thee a welcome boon:
What if thy blessings have not all
Run through Time’s sieve to no avail:
Why linger, fool like sated guest,
Canst thou not welcome dreamless rest?
This troubled world is no great loss.
Give up the race; flee doom’s chaos.
But if thy love of life is waning -
Thou gavest nought so nought art gaining -
If Life to thee is darkly grim,
Stretch not thy stay to humour him.
Surely t’would be better far
To slip out while the door’s ajar.
We Gods have nought will pleasure thee,
‘Twas ever thus: shall ever be.
Lucretius, it would appear, did have a point. There is no profit whatsoever in spending your life in fear of death. It’s facile to say that it comes to all of us, but it does happen to be true. The Epicureans have a healthy view of the Gods. They acknowledge their existence, but deny fiercely that they have any interest whatsoever in the antics of mortals. According to them, they’re far too far above us to even notice what we do so there is no way that they will interfere in our activities. We and we alone govern our own destiny and we make our own luck. The true disciples of Epicurus believe that life can only be enjoyed to the full by those who are prepared to seek a path that avoids unnecessary trouble – women, politics and religion, basically – which is not the same thing as looking for total pleasure, as some interpreters have interpreted their thinking.
a true disciple of Epicureanism even getting involved in family life is asking for trouble. Peace of mind for a total devotee can only be achieved by avoiding any form of upset, by abstaining from any cause for argument. That is only possible in their philosophy by always seeking what is undeniably best – then there can be no argument. There’s also an element in there of the Christian ethic of turning the other cheek. As far as I have been able to make out, most cultured Romans seemed to pick and choose which bits of the philosophy they find best suits their own ideals. Caesar is one who certainly does precisely that.
I looked up from the scroll and broke away from my own brief reverie.
“Gaius, there’s no shame in being scared. Personally, I’d be very suspicious any man who told me he was never scared. You know, the vast majority of acts of bravery that have ever been recorded, have come about because the person involved was out of his mind with fear. And that includes me, in case you’ve got any funny ideas about the state of my brand of so-called courage.
“Bravery is a very personal thing. I don’t believe its true expression is often witnessed at all. When they think of bravery, most people conjure up physical acts of courage like rescuing a drowning man, or diving into a fire to pull children out of the flames. For soldiers in the heat of battle, it’s the man who goes out and takes on all comers – and wins – who’s brave. Forget the fool who gets himself killed! In my experience, such men are more often than not drunk, foolhardy, or so scared that they don’t know what they’re doing.
“To me, the brave man is the chap who does what he has to do quietly, away from the limelight, having thought about the consequences. Only he knows full well that the chances of him coming out unscathed on the other side are virtually nil and there’s no one around to cheer him on. There aren’t too many people like that about.” I paused, but there was no sign from my glum friend that he wanted to interrupt.
“Most of us get scared about things that we don’t understand. I suppose that’s why we’re scared of death, even if convention tells us that we mustn’t admit it. It’s a funny thing, that. We’re all scared stiff of what other people think about us, too; our so-called peer groups – usually our relatives and friends, but not always. We’re not too bothered what other folk think, even though our actions might impinge more on their lives than we care to imagine.”
I stopped in full flow. This was a strange place to be entering into a discourse on life’s ethics. Who was I to be lecturing a man like Sallust? There was complete silence from the other bed and I looked across to see if I’d sent him to sleep. He was staring at the roof of the tent, lost in his thoughts. I risked going on.
“I wouldn’t have known you were scared. To me, that in itself shows you’ve got guts. I’ve seen so-called battle-hardened men so scared that they’ve messed themselves because they couldn’t control their bowels. You’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about. No one has even given the state of your nerves a thought. You’ve done everything you’ve been asked to do to the best of your ability and as far as I can see, that’s good enough for most. Dammit, you went off into the wild blue yonder with Procillus to get my message through to Labienus without turning a hair. That wasn’t exactly a picnic. Believe me, there are a lot of men around who’d rather face the Lord of the Underworld himself than Labienus on a bad day and it wasn’t as if you didn’t know him.”
There was a long silence from the other bed, then: “Thank you, Marcus. I suppose you’re right. I guess I was just feeling sorry for myself. I feel like a fish out of water here, but you’re right. I’ll get used to it. All you army types seem to be so damned competent – there’s nothing that seems to faze you. I suppose that’s all part of the training. I guess it’s training that gets anyone through the worst bits of life. I don’t suppose you’d be particularly happy about standing up in front of a law court and speaking on behalf of a client who’s probably guilty as charged, knowing full well that your reputation stands or falls on whether or not you get him off.”
“I can’t think of anything worse!” I exclaimed.
The bed creaked and Sallust got up and walked over to the low camp table set against the opposite wall of the tent. He poured himself a cup of wine from the jug that Jacobus had had put there and downed it at a draught before turning back to me:
“Fancy one?” He didn’t wait for me to answer, but poured a cup anyway. “You know, you’re a funny one, Marcus. Here you are, a legate with a reputation as a bit of a daredevil. To me you’re as brave as a lion, however much you may deny it and yet you can discuss philosophy as if you actually understand what you’re talking about. There can’t be many like you around.” I couldn’t deny that last remark.
“I was talking to your man Jacobus while you were out earlier on. He’s a rare one, too, come to think of it. I was asking him about that bit of weird writing up there. He says he doesn’t know what it means, but it’s obviously something very moving.”
I looked up at the little wooden-framed piece of vellum on the tent wall above my bed. It was Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”, written in my best imitation gothic script – fading now. It was the first piece of mental therapy that I’d completed when I was recuperating from the knock on the head that sent Marcus into oblivion and brought Mike into his world from the twenty-first century. Both Quintus and Jacobus often asked me what it was all about, but I hadn’t really explained it to them.
“It’s a piece of sound common-sense, Gaius, that I came across in my travels a long time ago. It’s very personal to me and it’s written in a language that even a clever bloke like you won’t recognise.” I laughed as I saw his right eyebrow shoot up – a sure sign that he was about to argue a point. “I guarantee it.
“It’s a wonderful piece of advice – father to son – telling him what qualities it takes to make a man and – believe you me – courage takes a very high profile. But there’s never a mention of bravado or of setting out to be admired. On the contrary, he tells his son to learn to put up with other people’s quirks and opinions and not to complain when they get it wrong. He warns him that others will take credit for what he has done and lie about his motives. They might even put on a show of hating him for what he stands for, but the wise father tells him that he mustn’t sink to their level. That takes guts.
“He tells the boy not to be afraid to have a go if he thinks there’s half a chance of getting what he wants out of life – even if it looks like a bit of a gamble. Then he says, ‘but don’t go crying to your friends if it doesn’t work out.’ I’m sure he was right there. There’s more to be admired in a man who can pick himself up when everything goes wrong for him, than in the fellow who goes off and cries into his wine.
“According to this folk philosopher of mine, a real man must learn to demand more of himself than he thinks is possible; only by pushing himself up to and beyond his limits will he find out what life’s all about. That’s true, too, don’t you think? It’s true mentally and it’s true physically. You can’t be an achiever if you don’t set out to do the impossible.
“I think the most important piece of advice that he gives his son, is to have the courage to live by a code of behaviour that doesn’t set himself above other men, however important his role in life may be. You know, Caesar is a good example of that … the way he gets in amongst the men and makes them laugh with his wisecracks – it’s incredible and it’s not just done for show. He really does enjoy being with them. He’s never too proud to talk to them, no matter how many kings and courtiers swarm round him and fawn on him.”
I stopped, feeling a little embarrassed by my pontificating. There was a silence between us and I wondered for a moment if Sallust was feeling embarrassed for me too. Then he half whispered: “Marcus, it sounds to me as if you’ve got a potted philosophy there that would do us all a lot of good.”
In the grey light of dawn, the full extent of what had been going on in the enemy camp gradually became evident as patrol after patrol from all along the front came racing in to report that the Belgae were moving off back where they’d come from and fighting amongst themselves to get in front.
At Caesar’s morning prayers, as we had begun to call his pre-dawn meetings, there were a lot of theories put forward, but none of us could come up with any answers. The most likely scenario put forward – and one that proved to be remarkably accurate – was that the enemy had fallen out amongst themselves over the command, having found out that there was much more to keeping a force that size in the field than they had imagined. But the biggest problem that these barbarian armies had was that they couldn’t keep their men together when there was a harvest to be brought in without which they would starve. If they’d got their logistics wrong, or they were afraid of what might be happening back on the home front, there was no way that they would be persuaded to throw in their lot with a leader who had no influence over their parochial affairs.
Whatever the reason, it was academic. The fact was that Caesar couldn’t just let them walk away from a war that they’d asked for. They had to be taught a lesson to discourage them from taking it into their heads to repeat the whole episode. We had no real idea what had got into them to make them disperse. Only they could tell us that, but whatever it was, we had to reinforce their decision.
The upshot was that Labienus was told to go and create as much havoc as he could to help them on their way. To do so, he took virtually the whole cavalry force that had mustered to the Eagles so far and all the young officers who hadn’t yet been ‘blooded’ as he put it. Elements of three legions in light fighting order were despatched under Galba, with orders to follow up behind the cavalry as closely as possible and to make sure the enemy had no opportunity to double back. Meanwhile, the rest of the legates were told to get the legions and heavy equipment ready to march at dawn the next day. I was ordered to go and fetch Andecumborius and Iccius and bring them back to the camp without fail by the third hour.
Procillus went with Sallust to Durocortorum to fetch Andecumborius, while I rode out to Bibrax to bring in Iccius, with Quintus tagging along for the ride. He was clearly very fed up with the appointment of Labienus to overall command of the cavalry. He considered that the man knew next to nothing about cavalry tactics and I have to say that I tended to agree with him. He even went as far as to cast doubts on his ability to ride a horse, which was going a bit far.
This was a side of Quintus that I hadn’t seen before, but I guessed – correctly – that it would pass. Quintus was not the sort to bear a grudge. Labienus was not a likable man at the best of times, but he was a good commander. Of that neither of us was really in doubt. By the time we had covered the eight miles to Bibrax, he had nearly forgotten what his sour grapes were all about. There was no need for us to make any sort of detour. The panic that had gripped the Belgae was evident in the debris that was strewn everywhere along the road. They had abandoned anything and everything that might hamper their escape, including their wounded. The way was wide open to us and the only sign of the enemy was a dust cloud on the far side of the forest beyond Bibrax itself.
We rode as far as Bibrax with Publius Crassus, who had a far better reason than Quintus for feeling put out not to have been given command. He had been the cavalry leader at the battle near the Rhine with the Germans and it was his action in committing them with the reserve that had saved me – and Quintus for that matter – when we were under extreme pressure from Ariovistus and his heavies. He and Quintus began swapping yarns about their experiences in Asia with the cavalry which rather left me out on a limb, so it was no surprise to me in the end, when Quintus elected to ride on with Crassus to give chase to the Belgic hordes and left me to my far less exciting chore of escorting Iccius Remus back to Caesar.
The ride back was nevertheless interesting. Through Troucillus I learned that Iccius had taken a large number of prisoners and accepted thousands of deserters into Bibrax from his erstwhile attackers. Many of these men were Suessiones, the supposed commander of this gigantic force, Galba’s own tribe and the Remi’s nearest neighbours to the west. Iccius was convinced they’d be ripe for surrender if Caesar moved fast enough. They had a large number of lesser forts, but the key fortified town of Noviodunum was only some thirty miles downstream and could easily be reached in a day.
We arrived back at Caesar’s camp just as Sallust and Procillus were riding over the Aisne bridge with Andecumborius and his retinue of warriors. It was well before the third hour, but Caesar received us immediately and was keen to get down to a discussion with the two Remian chiefs as to what they felt should be done next. This was Caesar’s diplomacy at its best. I had very little doubt that he had a pretty good plan of his own, but – ever mindful of the necessity to ensure that his every action had a full justification that would be acceptable to the Senate back in Rome – he wanted to have on record a plea from his new allies to help them in settling their problems. They didn’t need much encouragement.
On hearing Iccius’s recommendations, Caesar’s ears almost visibly pricked up and he gave orders for the vanguard under Cotta – his cousin, Lucius Aurunculeius of that ilk – to get moving as fast as possible, leading off with the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Legions in light marching order. Andecumborius offered to provide guides from his own bodyguard, an offer capped by Iccius who immediately said he’d lead them there himself.
By the time we were thinking of taking an afternoon break, reports were coming in from Labienus that he had a full scale rout on his hands. They had met some stiff resistance amongst the troops who were acting as the designated rearguard for the withdrawal, but once they had by-passed them, which was not too difficult, it had been chaos all the way to the next river obstacle – the Oise.
For the first time in that campaign, Caesar spent the morning in his carriage, rather than on his feet with the men. When I rode up alongside to let him know how the move out was going, I found him busy dictating a letter to Balbus to his personal amanuensis, while two other headquarters clerks were marching alongside ready to take notes. He was already back into his old routine and on top of everything. While things were going well for us here, he couldn’t afford to let things slip back in Rome or in his two provinces. If he once let his grip slacken, there were plenty of jackals back at home ready and able to steal the prey from him.
It may have been first blood to Caesar, but he was not about to let the grass grow under his feet, either here in the bracing north of Gaul or back in Rome’s balmy Mediterranean climes.