a tale of Celtic Spirit
as recalled and vividly remembered by Grafton Maggs, a tale of Celtic spirit, read on.....
“Pass me my toga, Oralis Magnum, it is time I left!”
Gluteus Maximus, Praefectus of the Pilula Niger encampment (pars Gower), was not a happy Roman. A pounding head, legacy of nocturnal revelry, was yet to find relief by physic from the camp Medicus. He tried, in vain, to focus bleary eyes on the parchment that lie before him, a missive fresh from the cleft stick of the Usk courier. Without reading it, he knew it contained something that was going to stress the living daylights out of him. Any communication from the top fur in Caerleon, always, presaged real, real trouble.
And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
He winced as the stamp of sandals, on the parade ground outside, shook the floor of his quarters. He growled,
“Why the devil don’t these noble warriors of Imperial Rome do something constructive instead of drilling all day long to numbers? Build a few roads or something. It doesn’t matter where they go (not that there’s any where to go, anyway, in this godforsaken country). Rain, rain, rain. Wind, Wind, Wind. Tide comes in. Tide goes out. More rain.”
Scowling, he flung the parchment on to the scrinium and walked outside on to the rock strewn beach of Pilula Niger. He breathed in deeply, hoping his head would clear. It didn’t. Frowning, he peered through the drizzling rain that seemed to fall incessantly across the vast bay and sighed as he made out the diffused, yet distinctive mammae of the headland islands. For some reason or another, always when he did this, his thoughts flew to the villa in the hills overlooking Rome, to his lovely voluptuous wife, the dark eyed Mozarella. He remembered her beautiful face, the ringlets of black shiny hair that cascaded down upon her olive shoulders and her young, upthrusting voice.
How much longer must he be away from her, vegetating amongst these strange Celtic Silures? Sighing again, he turned and made his way back to the workplace.
The legionnaires were still at it, drilling to the commands of the red faced Signifer,
“From the Dexter- NUMBER!!”
One by one the soldiers yelled back,
“Aye!” “Aye- Aye!” “Aye-Aye-Aye!” “Aye Vee!” “Vee!” “Vee-Aye!” “Vee-Aye-Aye!”……. and so on down the ranks.
Gluteus groaned and sank to his couch. For a few minutes he pondered with head buried in hands, dreading to make a move. He pulled himself together; it was no good putting it off, he had to face it - whatever it was. He reached out for the letter and started to read.
It took only the first six lines to trigger off a reaction which catapulted him from the couch. He could hardy believe his eyes! Even by Caerleon standards, this was heart stopping stuff, far beyond the worst intelligence that he could ever have imagined!
The Big Man was coming!
Diocletian himself! The Divine Imperator! The Capo di Capo!
He was actually coming here, to Pilula Niger!
It was common knowledge that right across the Empire, rebellion was rearing its ugly head and at last year’s emergency summit in Rome, Diocletian had ordered that extreme punitive action be taken to stamp it out, once and for all.
However, in spite of these clear orders, achievement had fallen far short of the Emperor’s expectation. Not enough had been done to subdue these rebels, -
especially the Celtic Silureans! Diocletian was not pleased.
As Supreme Commander, he was now personally intervening, visiting all the trouble spots of his over committed Empire to see that appropriate action was taken. The seriousness of the situation in the Usk/Gower province was so acute that this carbuncle of annoyance would be the first to receive the lance.
In ten days time the Emperor Diocletian would honour Pilula Niger with his glorious presence, to see for himself, the ‘extreme punitive action’ being meted out to these cursed, stubborn Silureans.
Unwritten, but clearly understood, was the intimation that if this operation fell short of what was expected, heads would roll! Gluteus Maximus was only too aware whose head would be amongst them.
This was no time for procrastination. Gluteus struck the gong to summons Quill Pushius, his scribe. He was instructed to summons the inner senior staff for conference, that afternoon.…………
After a light ten course lunch, they (the Inner Conciliatum) assembled in the Praefectum’s chambers. In they swept, togas flapping, salutations were exchanged,
“Ave, Gluteus Maximus! Great night last night, boyo!” (local patois was infectious).
Gluteus petulantly waved his arms for silence and cut to the nittum grittum,
“Never mind all that, Titus Adrum! All of you, - just shut it! Listen to this!”
He read out the Usk despatch. There was stunned silence. They all paled.
One or two whimpered. Diocletian, although no Nero, had all the charm of a scorpion.
Strong drink was called for and Camp Adjutant, Oralis Magnum left to return with a tray of drinking vessels and an ewer of Felinfoelius (an extremely powerful liqueur made by local tribes from fermented wolf dung). They indulged and, once fortified, rallied.
For what remained of the day and on into the evening, they toiled. The midnight oil.burned into the early hours of the morning and yet, with undeviating purpose, they conferred. By dawn, a strategy had evolved.
Gluteus Maximus immediately set the wheels in motion to implement it.
In order to inflict punishment upon a malefactor, the first essential is to have that malefactor in such a situation that punishment can be inflicted.
Early that same morning, Gluteus summonsed his most trusted Centurions and briefed them for the operation. Each Centurion, and his hundred, was allocated specific parts of the Fiefdom, extending from Cygnusmare to the Loughor Estuary Fort. They were dispatched with orders to bring in every Silurean Celt, aged between 16(or so) and 60(or so) that they could get their hands on. They set off in all directions, armour clanking and sandals slapping, to be swallowed up into the eerie Gower mists. They had one week to deliver the goods.
If nothing else, thought Gluteus, instead of sitting on their metal skirted backsides toying with their accoutrements; the legionnaires were now doing something to earn their denarii. ………………………………………………………………………………………..
Within the week they were back, with hundreds and hundreds of fractious Celts, shackled together- snarling and spitting defiance at their captors. Roughly, they were dragged and shoved on to the beach at Pilula Niger.
Gluteus Maximus was now ready to activate the next phase of the plan..
It was all go! There were difficult moments but, after an anxious period and barely within time, he was satisfied with the preparations.
The great Diocletian, and his Court, arrived with all the expected pomp. Escorted by mounted bodyguards and chariot outriders, the Imperial Cavalcade had swept along the Via Mammae that skirted the magnificent curve of the Cygnusmare Bay.
To the sound of a hundred trumpets the glittering cortege entered the floral bedecked parade ground of Pilula Niger, behind the Hall Vivianus, to be welcomed by a cheering crowd.
After the usual sycophantic, flowery messages of greeting. Diocletian, on a tight schedule, was escorted across the Via Mammae to the beach. Here, an elevated dais of limestone had been constructed upon which was mounted His Imperial Majesty’s throne. Diocletian was a fastidious man and would sit only on his own personal throne. With good reason. Known to few outside his immediate family, the throne had a lift up lid which concealed a round hole in the seat. This had commodious personal benefits (so necessary during the long ceremonies of festive Rome).
Once seated, Diocletian admired the panoramic view and murmured his approval at the setup. He summonsed his Praefectus.
“Gluteus Maximus! Now tell me what you have to show me, today!”
Gluteus indicated the hundreds and hundreds of Celts on the beach before them, all chained in rows and bent over in labour.
“My Lord! This is the sixth day of uninterrupted toil endured by these primitive creatures. As you can see, they are clearing the beach, by hand, of every stone, rock and boulder and incorporating them into a massive jetty for the Imperial galleons. Nonstop they have toiled. No sustenance, no takeaways. Nothing! For almost a week they have been mercilessly and constantly flogged by the charioteers galloping up and down the lines and now, they are battered, bleeding and completely exhausted.
Sire, not one uncia of rebellion remains within them as we enter the final phase. Carefully timed so that you, oh! great Diocletian, can see them thoroughly humiliated, - a permanently broken race!”
Diocletian purred imperially.
“Good effort Gluteus Maximus. I can see how they are suffering.
But are you sure this will completely break them? Once and for all?
I have heard it said that no one has ever broken the spirit of a Celt!”
“Until now, Sire! See, they struggle with the last boulders as the lashes fall on their bent bleeding backs! There, Sire, the last stones are in place and the whole beach is cleared! They are a permanently defeated, cringing mass!
I stake my life on this, most glorious Diocletian!”
“A bold wager, Gluteus Maximus! Well done, my trusted Praefectus! I shall reward you! There will be a recognition from the Senate..... But!......
Wait! Wait!......What’s going on over there?”
Diocletian stood and pointed with his baton. He called one of the praetorian guard,
“Nostrilum Pickus! Go! See what’s happening! Those wretched Celts are standing erect again! They have formed up into a massive phalanx, facing in this direction! One of them stands before them - waving his arms!
Look! What now? See, their heads are rocking in unison! Go! Go! Find out what’s happening!”
The trusty Nostrilum clanked off at a brisk trot.
Back he came, panting.
“Well?” screamed Diocletian, “What’s going on???!”
“Sire, their leader, Lesbatticus Vibrato stands before them. He conducts!
"They’re all singing, my Lord!”
“SINGING! SINGING! WHAT ARE THEY SINGING??!
“Sire, an ancient Celtic battle song of defiance ….”
“Sosban Fach! Yn berwi ar y tan!
Sosban fawr! Yn berwi ar y llawr…….”
Mumbles. February 2014