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Vallum Aelium My name is Kaeso Desticius Catulus of the Valeria Victix 20Th legion, tenth cohort to the Centuria commanded by Mithra blessed Alexis, of the Contubernium led by myself, ten days fresh from Deva and sent straight to the heathen wall. You may call me Catulus. The lands here are as if made of ice, wind swept and brutal. I have never felt as cold as this, the snow seeming to be a constant breath on the air, and never far from falling. The ground is hard, as if of metal and then as sharp as the edge of a knife. I have fought as an auxiliary with the legions in many places, but never in a land as remote as this, for here we are stationed on the outer edges of the known world , the Aelium frontier. Aside from the wretched animals that seem to somehow make a living from these barren lands, small field creatures, an infrequent wolf or tall antlered deer, here the only others are our legions, the cohorts of Rome and the damned Pictii. These devils haunt our every hour, whether that be asleep or awake. They constantly harry the wall, wailing and screaming from the dark or through the thick clouds of snow. Half crazed, half naked, filthy ravenous creatures they are, armed with all forms of hand crafted weapons, or of bone. Anything they can find it would seem. The Contubernium joke that they are often smelt before they are seen, but they are not a slight foe. I have seen men ripped apart by them, the dirty, filth infested hoard falling on a man and hacking him to pieces. It is whispered amongst the men that they have a use for the fallen which may involve the use of a pot, but I cannot say. This I have never seen. Nevertheless it is a fool who does not fear the Pictii, the painted ones. They above all else are the edge of the storms of snow, awaiting to fall upon those they see as their enemy, which to my eyes, seems to be all men, or women, who are not Pictii themselves. I would not even put it beyond their unreasoning minds to attack even their own. Why can there not be peace in this world? Why must there always be those who seek to subvert the will of Rome? Can they not see the gifts we bring to a world bereft of peace, and try to survive amidst the flames of ill governance and war. Why are such peoples so afraid of the might of the empire? Fools they are, say I and spit upon their corpses as we march onward, bringing the bounty of the Roman Empire in our wake. I too was once of their mind, for I am not of Roman birth. Dacia I once called my home. We were reluctant there to accept the embrace of the empire, though as of then I was but a child. War found us and my family fell in the conflict that ensued. In truth I have little recollection of them now, perhaps a vague image of my mother. Those times are long gone and now I am a soldier. Raised and bred by the mightiest army in the world. I have but one goal. My twenty fifth season in the service of the empire shall reward me by being able to name myself as a citizen of Rome. That is my one aim! Before it the snow, the wind, the ice and the devils that haunt it on the other side of the wall are at best a matter that I can put to one side. To endure. That is who I am, and that is what I shall do. My reward awaits me.

The wall! To speak of it is to talk of a wonder. In the bright morning light the stone gleams as if of a jewel, and extends in all directions as far as the eye can see. I have yet to march the entire length of it yet it is a true credit to those who have organised its building. From sea to sea it stretches, keeping the pictii contained within its might. The devils rail at it and hurl themselves against it constantly. Yet it prevails. I believe it shall prevail for all of time, containing the devils that bay like dogs turned mad on the edge of the Aelium empire. Rome prevails! Look upon its mighty works and wonder. The citizens of Rome would be proud to look upon a construct such as this. Yet not all of rock and stone but in places of high banked earth the wall fills me with pride and wonder each time I look upon it. Upon certain times the Pictii seem to rally and attack us in greater numbers, attempting to cut us down from our lofty perch upon the wall. It is a sight to see, for they only seem to attack when the weather is as harsh as it can get. I have however yet to see them mount the wall, and the next day is a time for moving the bodies away from the walls base before they begin to stink. Yet their numbers seem endless. Having worked many an hour moving their strewn corpses myself, I must admit to not being able to recognise one of their fallen from another. It is as if they are all but the same to me. It was on a just such a task we had undertaken following an attack that it happened. Several of us went out from the wall to clear the corpses perhaps earlier than we should. We were not to know that the vermin were still of a mind to attack and we were assailed from the clouds of snow by madmen heaving axes, short clubs of bone and worse. I saw several of my comrades fall beneath their heaving masses, blood marking the ground. We screamed for assistance from the wall but the snow hid us. They could not see what was happening beneath them. I felt some sudden sharp blow knock my round shield flying from my hand, my arm snapping beneath the weight being torn from it. I screamed and made my way towards where I thought the wall was, the pursuit of the Aelium devils roaring behind me, scenting blood now. Then I was free and time seemed to slow around me. Over my shoulder I felt the weight of their pursuit fall upon me, their crazed, leaping forms gaining as I scrambled across the frozen ground. Then I stumbled and they were upon me. I looked up and the snow seemed to clear, the blizzard blowing away from around me. There was the wall in front of me once again, and a ray of sunlight seemed to fall upon it, splashing it in cold, bright light, illuminating it. It was magnificent. Then they hurt me. They hurt me so badly. At last I could see the outlines of men on the wall, shouting, scrambling at last. Then the light once again. Just the light. Slowly I looked up and saw the wall once more. Moving through the light I moved back towards it. So long ago. On some nights of note I light my lantern and pace the wall, my vigil now uninterrupted. Sometimes I remember my comrades, the harsh and cruel weather. Other times I seem to recall the bloody screams of the pictii, but in some way I cannot quite remember they seem to slip away from me, and I must patrol the wall once more.

Though time has passed it’s magnificence has not. My eyes seem to settle upon it each time I view it as if I am seeing it for the first time. Is it not truly a thing of great might and wonder? Yet still I must walk the wall. I have no track of the time it would seem, yet I cannot help but believe that soon my service will be due and then called in. My twenty five years will be over. For am I not Kaeso Desticius Catulus of the Valeria Victix 20Th legion, tenth cohort to the Centuria commanded by Mithra blessed Alexis, of the Contubernium led by myself, ten days fresh from Deva and sent straight to the heathen wall. You however, may call me what you will , for I believe, I truly truly believe that one day soon I shall be a citizen of Rome.

Authors Note There are several recorded reports of ghostly figures seen upon Hadrian’s Wall, most of them, unsurprisingly, appearing to be of Roman centurions. One however, stands out amongst all of these reports. In 1953 a rambler was following the wall in a probably ill advised walk through the mist and snow of a particularly harsh winter. As he proceeded to follow the wall a small group of roman centurions appeared through the mist before him. At first he thought that the centurions were walking on their knees, but as they approached the ground dipped and he could now see their feet. They marched silently past not seeming to notice him at all. As soon as they had appeared they disappeared once again. The man fled in terror. The story quickly grew once told, but there were nevertheless several sceptics. The man’s description of the soldiers for example, had the centurions carrying round shields, their sandals laced to the knee. Such fine detail went very closely against what was known about the roman legions and soon the story of the ghostly centurions fell into disrepute. The Romans, of course, carried a large oval shield called a scuta, and their sandals were laced at their feet. The story quickly fell apart once the finer details were examined, and was nearly forgotten. Until 1982. An archaeological dig undertaken by students and several experts from the University of Carlisle were amazed to find a stash of Roman weaponry and clothing underneath one of the small castles upon Hadrian’s wall. The shields were all round, and the remains of several pairs of leather sandals clearly indicated that they were designed to be tied at the knee. It is also said that on cold Winter nights the ghostly form of a tall centurion can be seen making his way across the wall, a small lantern held by him illuminating his way. The first recorded sighting of him was noted in monastery records in January 1342. The last recorded sighting reported quite widely at the time was on the third of October 2011.

Vallum Aelium  

A short story especially for Halloween