Chapter EightThe Pharos tied up in the harbour at Caesarea, on the shores of the Mediterranean, having been driven much further north, along the coast, than was intended. The galley looked a sorry sight after the severe battering it received in the course of the voyage. Lorenzo and Corsini, were glad to be back on dry land once again, but no more so than their men who had been through an ordeal they wished to forget. The experienced crew laughed and jeered at the young foot soldiers as they staggered ashore, still swaying from the motion of the boat, and swearing they would never again set foot upon a ship.
Commander Lorenzo ordered Corsini to rest his men for a couple of days before proceeding, for it would mean a long march back down the coast, then inland to Jerusalem.
Corsini welcomed the opportunity to see the town. He had always an interest in the architecture of the places he was assigned to during the course of his military service. In the meantime Lorenzo sought out accommodation for himself, and chose an inn a short walk from the harbour, more for its young women and good wine, than its soft beds.
The town itself had been enlarged from being a sleepy fishing village into a city of major importance by King Herod. Caesarea, a mighty outpost of the Roman Empire, had a large harbour of military importance, and they also built a great stone aqueduct to channel fresh water from the northern hills, into the city. For their entertainment the Romans constructed an amphitheatre on the hill overlooking the sea. When the city was taken over by the Romans as their headquarters, where the standard was placed above the main gate entrance.
A party of soldiers patrolled the general area around the fort, while children with long sticks, marched in copycat style, immediately after them. Corsini watched the pretence-game the children plaid with amusement and couldn’t help being reminded of his own children, back home. Boys the world over, he thought, will always play such games. He recalled his brother and himself doing precisely the same thing at their age, and later, both he and his brother joined the service of the Emperor as soon as they were old enough. But now his heart was no longer in it, since his brother was killed in a fierce campaign in Gaul five years previous. His body had been returned to the family estate in Italy, where a tomb was erected on a hillock overlooking the vineyards.
Corsini moved with his men into quarters in the fort and began straight away to exercise them in armed combat. The journey by sea did not allow for such training and it was now necessary to be ready for any rebel attack.
The discipline of the Roman army was being tested time and again by the rebel tactics of “hit-and-run.” While the latter’s tactics proved successful in confined areas such as woodlands, but in the open spaces and in the defence of their forts, the Roman soldier had no equal. Their battle tactics had been proven highly successful, again and again, in many campaigns.
The fort was comparatively small by Roman standards, housing about one hundred men, making it rather cramped for the combined force of Corsini’s and Lorenzo’s men.
The Centurion in charge, Mario Clemente, welcomed Captain Corsini; new faces were always welcome in out-of-the-way postings. Clemente had worked his way up through the ranks of Roman legions to be, at twenty-five, one of the youngest Centurion in the Roman army. He invited Corsini to dine with him that evening, being more hungry for news, than his meal.
Clemente was from humble origins and came from the city of Capua, in Northern Italy, famed for its Gladiatorial training centre and amphitheatre. This arena was extravagantly laid out having elephant tusks surrounding the ring, onto which security nets were suspended to protect the audience from the wild beasts used for the sporting occasions. Training the gladiators could take many months; perhaps years and they were treated as heroes by the women who often wore talismans containing the blood of their favoured gladiator, for protection.
Slaves from many countries, had been trained there in the arts of self- defence and close combat, ever since Spartacus and seventy other gladiators, rebelled and challenged the might of Rome. This small band of rebels took on 5000 highly trained Roman soldiers and defeated them at Mutina. The military were never to forget this humiliating and embarrassing defeat at the hands of mere slaves!
“It’s so good to talk to another officer after all these months, Captain,” Clemente said, as he hastily poured wine after the meal. “I so need intelligent conversation. People here are so dull. What news have you from Rome?”
“I have little news, other than what I gleaned over my stay in Egypt. I have orders to journey to Jerusalem, with Commander Lorenzo and his men, to put down a possible rebel uprising there,” replied Corsini. “As for Rome, there’s the usual political intrigues, jostling for power and suspicious deaths.”
“Ah! Things haven’t changed much, then. There’s less chance of us soldiers being stabbed in the back, unlike those politicians! It’s a rough business. But if one hankers after power, one must expect the consequences.”
Corsini could only nod in agreement. He did not wish to discuss political issues, as it might involve referring to the fact that his uncle was a Senator.
“Have you ever toyed with the idea of entering politics, yourself, Captain” asked Clemente.
“Yes. But I have long been dissuaded against such a course of action,” replied Corsini, with a gaze as he seemed to be looking into the future. “My ambition now is for an easier life and spend my days in peace in the vineyards with my children. Except they’ll not be children any more by the time I again see them. The years have passed so quickly.”
With drinks in hand, they strolled out on to the veranda, and sat watching the stars and the shimmering dark blue sea beyond. Torches moved too and fro in the darkness as sentries patrolled the walls, barking responses to commands from time to time. A cool breeze that blew around their bare legs was a welcome relief after the heat of the day. Clemente spoke of his parents and young sister back home. He never married; I am married to the army, he would say, whenever asked. He was now the chief supporter of the family back home. He was, also, paying for his sister’s education as his father, who had also service the Emperor, being unable to work owing to a spinal injury he received during battle.
“Welcome to Fort Caesarea,” said Clemente’s adjutant, as Commander Lorenzo came through the main gate, the following morning. “I’ll take you to Centurion Clemente’s quarters, immediately.”
The centurion was a powerfully built man, standing six foot six in his sandals, a career soldier, but with little battle experience being more involved in administration. The two men marched quickly across to the white single-storey building used as the officer’s residence, as the early morning wind blew plumes of fine sand around them. Clemente and Corsini stool up immediately from their breakfast, as Lorenzo clumped his way up the steps.
“Have you eaten, Commander?” Clemente asked, rather stiffly.
“Take your ease, gentlemen. I will have no more than a little of your coffee,” Lorenzo replied. “I had rather too much wine last evening. My tongue feels like sand!”
The sun was dramatising its presence as it slowly rose above the horizon, and was beginning to feel hot. Soldiers were breaking off from their early morning military exercises, in the quadrangle, and retreating to cool shades of the walls while a company of soldiers dragged two young men into the fort. “Trouble makers,” mumbled the soldiers seated in the shade, and the hapless youths were halted before the residence, as Clemente rose and went down the steps, and after a short discussion ordered the prisoners to be taken to the underground cells.
“Sorry for that disturbance, Commander, but I had to deal with a couple of intruders.”
“Don’t be too severe with them. They might make good slaves,” Lorenzo said. “Or perhaps you could send them to the Gladiator’s centre in Capua. Ah! Capua. That centre of Gladiatorial excellence!”
“I prefer to call it the centre of Gladiator scum,” replied Clemente, to the puzzlement of Lorenzo.
Corsini interjected by explaining that Clemente was from Capua.
“Ah! I see you are recalling our defeat by the Gladiators at Mutina, Clemente,” remarked Lorenzo. “Never forget that we eventually defeated Spartacus and his band of warrior slaves. Defeat does not always mean weakness or failure. It can inject you with the will to win, which we certainly succeeded in doing. There’s a saying, ‘To become a Gladiator, is to make a pact with death’.”
“However, a Gladiator needs only to have one successful fight to be rewarded with the annual wage of one of our soldiers. I see no justice in that,” Corsini remarked angrily.
Turning to Corsini, Lorenzo asked, much to Corsini’s intense embarrassment, “Tell Clemente about the miracle of your soldier’s hand.”
“Not a lot to tell, really,” was Corsini’s embarrassed reply. “One of my men intruded into a Bedouin’s camp after a young Arab girl and lost his hand for his troubles.” There was silence.
“Go on,” encouraged Lorenzo. “There’s more.”
“Well,” Corsini was by now decidedly uncomfortable as he continued, “A young man they called a ‘holy one’, retrieved the hand and replaced it back on to the wrist…as good as new! Don’t ask me to explain it, I can’t.”
“Well let’s hope he put it on the right way ‘round!” said Lorenzo, to loud laughter. “Or he’ll never be able to draw his sword again!”
“You mean the hand functioned perfectly, after being severed?” asked Clemente. “By Jupiter that was some trick!”
“That was no trick,” replied Corsini, now rather annoyed for having to defend an act which he had referred to, on the occasion, as ‘black magic’. “I saw it with my own two eyes. It was… miraculous. He still has that hand, and there’s not a mark on the wrist!”
“A young man did that, you say? I’d like to have met him,” Clemente replied in wonderment.
After a momentary ponder, he stood up and made his excuses as he left to check the day’s duties of the garrison.