The Thirteenth Colony (part one)

Blog Post
Thirteenth Colony
(part one )
a fictional short series
The world breaks everyone, and afterward, 
some are strong at the broken places. 
                                   — Ernest Hemingway

The huge raft, made of ship’s timbers have been constructed from many smaller rafts lashed together. Over a hundred men and women are perched on them, lying in sleep. The sun will rise soon, bringing scorching heat with it — and thirst. The sea is an inky calm around them, but the deep ocean swell is still there to remind them of their predicament, menacing, like controlled anger.

The year 117 AD is coming to a close and the Roman Empire has reached the limit of its expansion, though none of its citizens are aware of the fact.

The Emperor Augustus formed twelve colonies in Mauritania Tingitana (Morocco) between 33 and 25 BC, for veterans of the battle of Actium to settle in.  Over the years, other veterans have settled in the region. The practice of giving land that is threatened by local marauders to old legionnaires as a reward has been going on for two hundred years. It has become an institutional project designed to both provide stern protection for those far colonies as well as keeping the recently discharged far from Rome. After twenty-five years service, legionnaires receive thirteen years pay as part of their separation bonus. The land is an additional bonus available and many take the offer.

Roman-style trading ship, Fidelis

Two trading ships, Sea Monster and Fidelis, carrying veterans and their families, were dispatched to Iulia Valentia Banasa (Sidi Ali Boujenoun), under the seal of Emperor Trajan. The veterans were separated from the Thirtieth (XXX) Legion, known as Trajan’s heroes.

The veterans and sailors who manned the ships did not know that Trajan fell ill and died of a stroke in the City of Selinus, and has been succeeded by his adopted son, Hadrian. Both Trajan and Hadrian are warriors who enjoy considerable popularity with the legions.

In Iulia Valentia Banasa, Tribunus Angusticlavii (appointed mid-grade officer) – Quintus Aelius Ulpius, commands the mission. He stands before the Municipa Majoris and a herald from the governor. Both galley captains stand behind him. He receives new orders to take the veterans to the mouth of a large river, south of Lixus (Larache), the farthest extent of the Empire, to further expand the reach of Caesar Trajan and enhance the Glory of Rome.

The retired legionnaires take the news stoically. Their wives are less enthusiastic. They sail south and make a final port call at Lixus, first established as a Phoenician colony and ceded to Rome when they rolled over Hannibal’s Empire. Tribune Quintus presented the invoice for supplies and signed for the goods that were heaped on the decks of both galleys. There is a small garrison of Roman auxiliaries at Lixus. The Optima (corporal) in command has a very tentative understanding of the land south, knowing only vaguely that it is populated by warring tribes and wild beasts. He provides a crude map and an estimate of distances to the large river mouth, which is to be their destination. The map is vetted to the extent possible from local merchants who have no commercial relationship with that part of Africa. They cite bandits and hostile tribes as the reason they do not venture into the area.

During a storm twelve days south of Lixus both Fidelis and Sea Monster are carried by the wind and waves for ten more days before they are both broken up on the same complex of reefs.  The river mouth which is to be their destination has not been sited.

Senatus Popels Que Romanus
(The Senate and the People of Rome)

Quintus woke up with a pounding headache and a sharp twisting pain in his gut that would not go away. Seated next to him, Seleucus, old enough to be his father, with a lined face that had known triumph and tragedy, complained like an old soldier. “Twenty-five years of my life as a devoted legionnaire, cleaved in a dozen places in battle, an arrow here.” He pointed to an area where he sat, where no soldier should be pierced by an arrow. “Then the pension, thirteen years pay, and an offer of land. The money would have been enough. I could have become a butcher.”

“That makes sense, Seleucus, you are reported to have been the very best quaestionarius that the Thirtieth Legion ever had. It is said that when you learn to butcher men well, butchering a bull or a ram can be every bit as artistic.” Quintus tried to remain in the old soldier’s best graces, and complimenting his work as the chief interrogator and torturer of the Thirtieth Legion clearly had its effect. Seleucus blushed under his sunburned face. “The Dacians will long remember the defeat that Trajan’s victorious Thirtieth handed them — twice.” Quintus drank from a wine skin in an effort to assuage the pain in his head, but he suspected that it had been put there by the wine in the first place.

Porcius made his way from raft to raft in a ship’s long boat, rowed by four sailors from the Fidelis. He wore a twisted rag around his groin and a broad woven hat covering his bald head. He handed out bread from a large cloth bag. The bread along with most of the supplies had been salvaged from the reef that tore the bottoms out of both ships. His nickname, Porcius, meaning pig, was completely at odds with his gaunt appearance.

“Salve, Porcius, do you have no sense of rank? Our tribunus lataclavius outranks all of the survivors including Ursinius and he must wait for bread and oil?”

Quintus shrank only a little. The title had been bestowed by the governor of Mauritania as a favor to his father in the senate. Then he’d fallen into disgrace over an affair with the Mattia, the young wife of that very governor, Marcus Marius Longinus. Discovery, inflagrante delicto (caught in the very act), led to his titular command of the mission to see the evocati (honored veterans) to the end of the world. At age seventeen, Quintus was by far the youngest of the men on either ship including the sailors that crewed the vessels.

“Forgive me, sire,” Porcius shouted back as he made his way to them, passing others to bring bread to Quintus (and Seleucus).

Seleucus murmured under his breath, “The armicustos is surly, but he was a very able quartermaster and he may mock your rank, but he would obey you if you asserted yourself. For now, best let me assert for you.”

Porcius handed two handfuls of bread to Quintus and one to Seleucus. Quintus handed Porcius his wine skin and the old quartermaster took a long drink. “What say you, young master, how long will we remain at sea?”

“Not long I think. I saw a sprig of fresh leaves on a branch floating not an hour ago and you can smell the land if you try.”

Porcius took a long breath and remarked, “Why yes, I can as well!” He sat down in his boat and bayed the sailors row toward, Ursinius First Spear Centurian and primus of the Thirtieth, who commanded the expedition and survivors even though technically he remained under the direction of Quintus.

“He will claim your observations as his own, Quintus,” Seleucus predicted.

“Ursinius is the most remarkable man I have ever met, Seleucus. One of the best leaders, the best fighter, the smartest administrator. I need take no credit where he is involved.”

Seleucus scrutinized Quintus closely, “So what was Mettia like?” Seleucus rubbed Quintus’ hair. He’d asked the question a dozen times since the ships foundered and Quintus’ revelations had become more salacious each time. The governor’s young wife’s beauty and charm had been legendary. The disclosure that Quintus had been her lover, scandalized all of Mauritania and naturally gossip spread to the veterans of the Thirtieth Legion on their way to found a new colony on the outskirts of the world.

“Her breasts were like ripe melons, her breath was like eating a pomegranate, and her cunny was like a ripe, fresh peach. Piercing it felt like entering Venus herself.”

Seleucus started to reply about his wife, who sat gossiping with a friend, well beyond ear shot. He lamented that she had one that looked like a cow pie with wagon rut through the middle. Sex with a barely warm corpse did not motivate him. As Seleucus wound up, one of the veterans shouted, pointing toward shore. “Land and surf!”

Ursinius stood and commanded, “Everyone, take oars or whatever you can to paddle and let’s push this floating shit pile toward shore! Porcius, have your boat pull us.”

The veterans and sailors begin to row. Their wives and children, many of whom are too weak to help, huddle beside their possessions hoping to survive the trial of the sea.

As the large raft is in the full rage of the surf. The sense behind its loose construction is obvious now. Snake-like it rides the waves, one half up, the other down. The beaching isn’t easy but it is aided by the long boat that keeps it headed in the right direction. A young female slave is washed overboard with no way of saving her. 

Finally the raft makes it through the barrier of the outer surf. The survivors step ashore in a long curving bay. Up from the beach lies an area of dunes, and beyond that a thick belt of jungle that dips toward the ocean in places as mangroves spread into the sea. 
The raft scrapes onto the sand. Those near the beach scramble ashore, immediately prostrating themselves in prayers of thanks while those at the back jump into the water and clumsily wade the last few feet to safety.

Quintus and Seleucus step ashore and Ursinius met them. “Tribune, this is your command. Please allow me to stand by your side as you give orders, and feel free to ask me if you have any questions.”

Quintus motioned Ursinius aside, “What do you think of sending out vedettes to scout the area, particularly that knoll up there?”

“I think that is an excellent plan Tribune. May I suggest that the women gather firewood and prepare a meal while the rest of the men and the sailors use the material from the rafts to construct a stockade to protect us this evening.”

“Make it so, Primus.”

Quintus barked orders to Ursinius and Ursinius made the specific demands on the veterans. While the soup was being prepared, the duo walked to the cooking pot and sampled the broth as ingredients were added. “I knew your father, Quintus. We served together killing Germanic tribesmen on the Danube. That was well before he rose to the Senate. He too was a young tribune. Imagine my surprise when you, of all people was named to lead this voyage to the end of the Empire and beyond.”

“Last minute orders from the governor.”
“The fat governor didn’t deserve Mattia, but you should have been more discrete.”
“The urge took us both in the moment. I can offer no excuse.”

Ursinius dipped some of the old, hard bread into the broth and took a juicy bite. “We are shipwrecked, though in the best possible way with our food and equipment mostly intact. We also have a long boat that we can launch through the surf to explore our surroundings and take word back to Lixus.”

Seleucus walked up to Ursinius. Ursinius directed him to Quintus, “Make your report to the Tribune.”

“Sire,” Seleucus smiled at Quintus sincerely, “we have forty-seven legionnaires fit for duty, sixteen sailors and ship’s officers, thirty-four women, eight female slaves and one castrati slave, twelve children under the age of ten and two dogs. We have lost three legionnaires, three sailors and two female slaves. It’s a miracle, sire.”

The Thirteenth Colony will be continued 

Author’s Note:  I originally intended this to be a three part series with each portion of the story being named independently of the others. After examining my notes, I realized that I couldn’t possibly fit the entire story into three bloc posts, even though it is a “short”.  I’m calling longer episodics “short series” because it could go for three or more separate blog posts to develop the characters to a point where I want them developed, etc.


10 thoughts on “The Thirteenth Colony (part one)

  1. As long as there is no Shit River to cross, the sailors should be okay for duty. You know what shore leave is like.

  2. In the next episode of this three-part series, Governor Marcus Marius Longinus is given reason to re-think his revenge.

  3. I don't think that the African bush would be great shore leave. And geographically, there are a number of rivers to cross between where they are and Lixus. All of them are populated by crocodiles.

  4. Menacing, like controlled anger – a wonderful simile.

    Yes… that wine thing is dreadful. Poor Quintus. however, it's made him quite the descriptive poet and it tends to help one with tribunus plebis.

    Very well written and entertaining.

  5. Nicely done, Larry. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

    Here you go, Brighid, talk that Roman talk:

    Medium rarus , iustus via EGO amo is

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