Two of my favourite things are Tolkien's legendarium and the history of ancient Rome. So I was sitting before my computer today, pondering on a story to write, and I thought: Why not combine them? Here is the result, thus far, for your perusal:
quote:It had been a week since the Storm. A week since Centurion Marcus Andronicus of the 12th Legion had lost his way in the most otherworldly storm he had ever seen in his ten years with the Legions. They had been deep in Gaul, in the parts without roads, and where no map had ever been drawn. Deep in the savage lands of the most savage people on Earth. The 12th had covered a lot of ground that day, and Marcus' century was just making it into camp when the Storm hit. It had begun with a sudden sharp wind from the West, blowing hard and growing steadily, till the roar of it drowned out every word anyone spoke, even the shouts and screams of the terrified. The clouds seemed to charge back and forth across the sky like disciplined cavalry, the earth shook violently, lightning streaked through the gathering darkness, thunder roared like a thousand lions. Veteran Roman soldiers, men who had seen a thousand horrors, despaired and threw down their arms and shouted that it was the end of all things. And in the centre of all the chaos, Marcus looked to the skies, and he saw a figure, with a beard of the purest white, who seemed to be directing the storm. He saw Olympian Jupiter himself, and Jupiter looked down upon Marcus, and stretched his great arm towards him, and there was a crash of thunder, and Marcus saw no more.
That was a week ago.
When Marcus had awoken, he was in a small woody clearing, with eight other soldiers of his Legion, and two Cretan archers who had been auxilaries in Caesar's army. They now stood behind him as he looked up at the stout wooden gate of the village that many days marching along an unknown road had brought them too. The rain beat down hard on them, and the legionaries had wrapped their dark red military cloaks around themselves, both for warmth and to protect their mail armour from rusting. The Cretans, wearing only leather and wool, were less daunted by the rain, but carried their bows unstrung to preserve the strings. Across every man's shoulder was a forked staff, designed to carry their considerable burden of gear on the march, while their shields were slung across their backs. The ten men, even the otherwise indomitable Centurion Andronicus, looked very weary, very muddy, and very far from home.
"Where are we, sir?" asked Lucius, one of the legionaries, a towering man of great mirth, easily the largest of their little band. Marcus glanced over his shoulder at the huge legionary. Marcus himself was taller than normal for a Roman at ten inches past five feet, but at six and a half feet, Lucius was practically a giant.
"I don't know, Lucius. Not Roman territory, that's for sure" Marcus snapped back, the usually calm centurion's nerves having grown frayed around the edges over the last few days. There were a few grumblings amongst the men, the usual military discipline being unraveled by the stress of being lost, coupled with the centurion's testiness since the Storm. Marcus silenced the grumbling by raising his swagger stick, the twisted stick of vinewood that every centurion carried as a symbol of his authority. However, instead of striking one of the men with it, as many centurions would've, Marcus used it to knock on the gate three times. Within a few seconds, a slat opened and an old, weathered and not particularly attractive face of a man appeared in it.
"Why, you be a strange looking bunch, ain't you? Eleven of you eh? What business do you 'ave in the village o' Bree?" the man said. Though his accent was strange, somehow Marcus could understand the words, though something in his mind told him that this man did not speak Latin or any tongue Marcus knew. Still, he answered.
"I am a centurion of the 12th Legion of the Roman Army, sir. My men have been seperated from our legion, we are tired and hungry, and we are looking for an inn," Marcus replied, trying to sound confident, despite everything. The gatekeeper looked puzzled for a moment.
"Well, sir, I ain't ever heard of no 12th Legion, nor any Roman Army, nor any Rom' for that matter. But, if you 'ave the coin for it-" at this Marcus nodded, every man had a small purse of denarii and sesterces hanging from his belt "-then I suppose it won't do no hurt to let you in" the gatekeeper finished, an opened a small sally-port in the main gate, and stood aside to let pass into Bree.
"Hey Stelios, the gatekeeper, his face reminds me of your mother" one of the Cretan archer said to the other in his curious Greek accent, as soon as the gatekeeper had returned to the gatehouse.
"Funny Delios, I think he looks more like your wife" Stelios shot back, not missing a beat, as the small band of soldiers passed onto the muddy main street of Bree. The villagers looked at them with suspicious, wary eyes, never having seen anything that looked like the Roman soldiers. Marcus led them along the street that the old man had indicated, until he came to a brick building about two stories tall, with a central main building and two wings forming a courtyard in the front. Outside the door, there hung a sign, with a prancing horse, and words that read: "The Prancing Pony by Barliman Butterbur". Not caring who Barliman Butterbur was, or what his inn was called, Marcus opened the door and led his men in, grateful only to be out of the rain.
The barman greeted them by the door. He was aging, somewhat portly, with a wide, open face that looked perpetually ruddy from sampling his own brew, slightly hunched shoulders and a welcome smile.
"Good evening masters." The man said respectfully, reaching up to remove his hat, and then slapping his head as he realizes he isn't wearing one.
"Butterbur is my name. Barliman Butterbur. Not often we see soldiers in these parts. Why, last time it happened was my grandfathers time. Bad business that was, but needed to be done. Though I don't suppose you'd know about that, being outsiders... or travelers, I should say. You'd be from Gondor then? Or from Dale, though I don't suppose I know what would bring you so far West. Let me offer you a table by the window and a drink on the house, and I'll see if I can put you up for the night. Business is doing so well I don't know what to do with meself, but I daresay I can squeeze you in a room, as long as a few of you don't mind sleeping on the floor. I'll have Nob run you all baths. Nob! Nob! Get over here Nob, you wooly-footed slowcoach! Where is he.... Anyway, until then I'm sure we'll all appreciate your fine company."
Soon Marcus had filtered out the fat man's constant stream of words and observations, as he noticed a rugged, dark man eying him with more then passing interest. Despite the heat of the warm inn, the travel-stained man in the corner had a dark green cloak wrapped around him, and a hood over his face so that only the lower section of a pale face could be seen. The man placed the stem of some strange wooden implement in his mouth and puffed on it.
Quickly, the Centurion took a glance around the main room of the Prancing Pony. Unlike the taverns of Rome, this one was completely enclosed, except for the heavy glass windows. A hearty fire roared in a hearth at the end of the long room, and the many long wooden tables of the room were occupied by men of all sizes and shapes, most laughing and feasting and taking long drinks from heavy mugs. All seemed to be dressed strangely and, Marcus noted with a surpressed snicker, they all wore braccae like barbarians. 'I really shouldn't mock them', he thought 'We've all been wearing ours given this weather'
One of the men, by the name of Faustus Janarius, began to voice an objection to sleeping on the floor, but Marcus silenced that with the simple gesture of crossing his arms so that the tip of his swagger stick projected above his shoulder, and all of the men standing behind him could see it. Faustus fell silent, and Marcus smiled at Barliman as if nothing had happened.
"A room and a round of drinks would be excellent, thank you sir" Marcus said to the barman, who smiled widely and then led them up the stairs to the upper floor of the Prancing Pony. He had two rooms available, with four beds each, so a few of the legionaries would have to sleep on the floor, as Barliman had said. The rooms were simple but comfortable, sparsely furnished with beds, a small table and a pair of chairs, and some closets. Nob finally appeared shortly after the men began to unload their gear. He seemed to be some kind of. servant child. Marcus concluded that he must be Barliman's son, helping his father with his business. He also concluded that children in this land had exceptionally large and hairy feet. Whatever the case, Nob provided the Romans with basins and tubs of warm water, to their everlasting gratitude. As soon as the diminuitive Nob disappeared down the hall to another of Barliman's calls, Marcus turned to his men.
"Boys, you have twenty minutes to wash and shave. Undress uniform tonight, tunics and swords. Meet downstairs when you're all washed up, and we'll see what food Mr. Butterbur can provide us" He said. He was met with a happy chorus of "Yes sir" from the men, and then they disappeared into their rooms to spend a happy twenty washing off the dirt and grime of a week of muddy marching. With a bit of the soap Nob had provided, a bronze straight razor from his pack, and a lot of hot water, Marcus carefully scraped and shaved away seven days growth of brown beard from his face. He smiled at himself in the mirror and rubbed a hand on his newly smooth face, to make sure he hadn't missed any patches of hair. He looked like a proper Roman again. He put on the cleanest and driest dark red tunic he could find in his pack, and around the waist he buckled on his belt, his sword hanging on the left side of his body, in contrast to the regular legionaries who wore theirs on the right.
When Marcus came downstairs, he found that his men had already claimed a long wooden table, and were sitting with mugs of ale and plates heaped with roast pork and vegetables and warm, fresh bread. One of the servers laid out a similar plate for Marcus as he sat down at the head of the table, and the Centurion dug into the food with the voraciousness of a man who had eaten nothing but hardtack and cold meat for the last seven days. Some of the vegetables were strange and unknown to him, but he shoveled them into his mouth anyways, too hungry to care about what they were. All of it was delicious, and the ale especially so. Normally, Marcus did not drink beers or ales, like most Romans he considered them vulgar, but considering the circumstances, he was willing to overlook that, and he took long, hearty gulps of it.
They ate in silence, with the large mouthfuls of soldiers who had gone hungry for many days. The only noise were the small "mmm"s and the sound of sucking on greasy fingers. Finally, Lucius spoke up, after swallowing his last mouthful of pork and bread.
"That man in the hooded cloak over there, he's been staring at us this whole time" Lucius said, and pointed towards a distant corner of the mainroom. Marcus twisted and looked over his shoulder. Sure enough, there was the man, wrapped in that dark green cloak even more travel-stained than Marcus' own. Now that he could get a proper look at him, Marcus noticed that the man was lean and very tall, with long legs resting on a stool in front of him, shaggy dark hair with grey flecks and, from what Marcus could see through the shadows of the man's hood, a stern face. He looked like a grim fighting man, which made his wearing of effeminate trousers make Marcus snicker a little. He snickered a little bit more, but suppressed it as an over odder habit of the man suddenly caught his attention. In his mouth, the man was holding something, that strange wooden implement from before: A long wooden stem with a small bowl at the end of it, which seemed to be... smoking. Then the man removed the stem from his mouth and blew out a long stream of smoke, and then put the stem back in his mouth again. The centurion arched an eyebrow at this, and then stood up from his stool.
"I'll see what he wants" Marcus said to his men, who did not reply, still preoccupied by the food in front of them. He walked across the dark, smoky room, beside the intense heat of the roaring fire, and came to stand before the cloaked man, while resting a hand on the round pommel of his sword.
"Excuse me sir, but one of my men noticed that you are staring at us. Can I ask why?" Marcus asked.
The man took the strange wooden thing out of his mouth and lowered his legs from the stool to stare frankly at the Centurion. Marcus found his estimation of him growing in the silence, he was clearly a careful man, who was likewise assessing the Roman even as Marcus assessed him.
"Forgive me." He says softly after a moment. His voice is slow and quiet, the sort of voice one develops when used to being listened to and obeyed. Most officers shout and bluster, even Marcus at times, but emperors learn the value of silence.
"But you are a mystery. In this part of the world, any fighting men are a rare sight, and you especially so. I recognize neither your armaments, nor your uniforms." He said, then raised his hand to signal for a drink.
"And mysteries can take you to strange places, even to your death." he added softly as Nob placed a mug of ale on the table before the man.
"Mysteries get you killed? Then let our mystery be revealed: We are soldiers of Rome, and we have lost our Legion. I am Centurion Marcus Andronicus" Marcus said, raising his chin with pride in his rank and his position in the Legions. The man sitting before him crossed one long leg over the other and took a long puff on his pipe, regarding Marcus with deep grey eyes.
"I have never heard of such a place as 'Rome', but I can perceive many things, Marcus, and I perceive that there is no malevolence in you. Ambition, perhaps, and cunning, and a certain sternness, but there is no evil in you, Marcus of Rome" The man said, before looking past Marcus, and furrowing his brows. The Centurion looked over his shoulder to see a man sitting in a shadowed corner of the tavern's main room. He was a strange one, with a sallow, ape-like face, slanting eyes, and long, hairy arms. He looked like one of the Carthaginians that his father had told him about as a child.
"In that one, however, there is mischief and malice. He may try to harm you if he can, not because you have done anything to him, but merely because he loves mischief. Many travellers meet at the Prancing Pony, from many parts of this broad world. In any case, you have given me your name, it is only polite that I give you mine. In this part of the world, they call me Strider." The man said, before taking another sip of his ale.
"I thank you, Strider, for the warning regarding him. If you excuse me, I must get back to my men" Marcus said, jerking his head back to indicate that he would return to his table. Strider nodded, and raised his pipe to his mouth once more. Quickly moving across the common room, Marcus resumed his seat next to Lucius.
"Gives me the shivers, that man over yonder" the burly Legionary said, gesturing the sallow-faced man as Marcus sat back down and took a swig from his mug.
"What was the smoking one's problem, sir? Does he have a name even?" asked Amulius, the eldest of their little band.
"No problem at all, Amulius. And his name is Strider" answered the Centurion, stroking his chin as he sat in thought.
Marcus stroked his shaven face as he sat, mulling over recent events within his head. The Centurion may have risen up from the ranks, but he was not uneducated as many of the legionaries were in Caesar's army. To be a centurion at all, he had to know his letters. Though he was not as educated as Aurelianus, the lone patrician of their little band, Marcus was no dumb brute. But somehow, he could not get the image of Jupiter from the Storm out of his mind's eye. That image had been haunting his dreams for a week now, and with the image were words, words that Jupiter himself spoke to Marcus in his dreams. As he thought, he muttered the words lowly to himself, for they burned within his mind for a reason he could not tell.
"Seek for the Sword that was broken: In Imladris it dwells; There shall be counsels taken Stronger than Morgul-spells. There shall be shown a token That Doom is near at hand, For Isildur's Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand."
"What's that sir?" said Aurelianus, always a keen ear for poetry, as he set down his mug of ale.
"Nothing, just gibberish from a dream" Marcus replied wearily, running a hand through brown hair cut short in Caesar's style.
"Perhaps not, they say that dreams are messages from the Gods" said Delios.
"So the Gods are telling me to make love to your sister?" quipped Stelios with a cheeky grin, soon punished by his Cretan comrade punching him in the arm, and a small scuffle broke out between the two archers. For the first time in what seemed like a long time, Marcus laughed, an honest, hearty, true laugh, and the whole table soon joined in.
"Watching those two Greek idiots beat on each other is fine and all" Aurelianus said, his refined accent clear from the lower class speech of the rest, as the laughter, and the scuffle, died down and the soldiers returned to their food and ale. "But what's our next move, sir? I consider myself an educated and traveled man and I haven't the foggiest clue where we are, sir"
"Hmm, Barliman!" called out Marcus after a pause, looking over his shoulder for the fat innkeeper.
"Barliman!" The Centurion called out again as the innkeeper did not immediately appear. With a speed belied by his girth, Butterbur appeared from the kitchen at the back of the main room, wiping his hands on his apron and then wiping the sweat from his balding brow.
"Yes Master Marcus, what can I be doing for you and your fine band? More ale? More food perhaps? Bob is just pulling out some fresh loaves, and we have plenty of cheeses, meats and vegetables, even some dried fruit. Or if you're looking for some dessert-" Barliman said in rapid-fire, but soon was stopped by Marcus raising a hand.
"No, just a map is all I want, if you have it" said the Centurion.
"Oh of course, Master Marcus, we always keep a couple maps lying around for the wayward travellers that show up here in Bree. Why, just the other day I was talking to a company of dwarves-" said Barliman, who was about to launch into yet another anecdote when Marcus raised his hand again.
"Just the map, thank you" he said with a smile. With a bow, Barliman Butterbur rushed off to retrieve the maps.
"Sure is a lot of children in these parts" Stelios remarked as he watched the great number of short people, with curly hair and large feet, coming in and out of the tavern.
"Or midgets" Delios added, before taking another swig from his mug.
Soon, a large parchment map was brought to their little table, and plates and mugs were cleared away for Marcus to spread it out on the table. To his left sat Aurelianus Appius, most educated of all of them, and to his right sat Gnaeus Horatius, who had been in the Legions for longer than anyone cared to remember and had seen more of the world than the whole rest of them. And all of them were befuddled, for the lines and names upon the map before them seemed to match nothing they knew of the world. The ocean was on the western side of the land, that was the same as what they knew, but other than that, the land they saw before them on the map was utterly alien. A dot in red ink marked their location, the village of Bree, in the centre of a region called Breeland, itself a part of a larger region known as Eregion, bordered by mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. The whole map, along the top, was labelled 'The Known Lands of Middle-Earth'. The Romans sat dumbfounded, trying to make sense of the map they were shown, no man speaking a word, while in the rest of the common room, one of the short people had sprung up upon a table and launched into a merry song, something about an inn and beer and a man in the moon.
"Sir, I have seen many great maps and charts on my visits to Alexandria... This map does not correspond to anything I have ever seen or known" spoke Aurelianus at last, rubbing his brow with a finger and a thumb as he often did when stressed. The short man on the table had begun to clap to go along with his song, and soon the whole rest of the inn was clapping along in time.
"Perhaps we have crossed the Outer Seas themselves to a new world entirely" Sergius Pinarius said softly. The quiet philosopher did not speak often, preferring to think deeply and say little, but was always listened to, as a rule, when he did. The song grew in volume and raucousness, as the short man began to jump up and down upon the table in his dancing.
"I don't know, men, I don't have the answers. We must find some kind of-GODS' BLOOD!" Marcus swore, his eyes wide and wild. The short little man, taller than most of his comrades, with bright eyes and a little cleft in his chin, had falled off the table upon which he had been dancing, and upon hitting the floor, he had disappeared into thin air, as if he had never been there at all. The whole room was quiet for a moment, and then uproar erupted. Cries of confusion and anger filled the air, questions and accusations flying around. Amidst all the confusion, Marcus caught a glimpse of Strider slipping away and up the stairs to the second level of the inn.
"Perhaps we are all a little tired, I think it's time we get some rest" Marcus said, and he rolled up the map neatly. Finishing their drinks, the Romans stood up from their table and, thanking Barliman very sincerely for the wonderful meal, passed up the stairs and to their rooms.
For a long time, all was silence in the room of Centurion Andronicus and his comrades as he lay upon the floor and stared up at the wooden ceiling. His men had tried to save one of the beds for him, but Marcus would not take it. 'No centurion should be more comfortable than his milites' he told them. Now, horever, with Gnaeus Horatius sound asleep on the bed that was going to be his, Marcus began to regret that decision. For hours it seemed, he tossed and turned and tried to sleep, but found that he couldn't. There was a restlessness in him, something gnawing on his mind, preventing him from slipping off into sleep. And always when he closed his eyes, he saw the face of Jupiter reciting that gibberish poem again. It was clear that the Gods would allow him no sleep tonight.
Throwing off his woolen blankets, Marcus sat up and, with a sigh, pulled on his heavy military sandals. Then he stood up and put on his belt and sword and, collecting his cloak from where it hung on the peg by the door, he left the room. Securing his cloak around his shoulders and pulling up the hood, Marcus went down the stairs and passed through the common room and left the building.
Outside, the rain had stopped, and the night air was cool and fresh and cleared Marcus' mind immediately as he breathed in deeply. He looked up to see that the stars and Moon were bright tonight, but he soon frowned for he also saw that the stars in this country were strange and alien to him. 'Great Gods, where did you send me?' Marcus thought to himself as he turned left from the door of the Prancing Pony and began to walk down the street. As he walked, he hummed old marching tunes to himself, and soon he felt his spirits lifting as he walked. Many things troubled the Centurion's mind, but for now there was no worry, there was the Moon and the stars and the fresh night air.
Marcus' humming soon died though as he came to a crossroads and, looking down the righthand road, he saw that the road was cloaked in a darkness so heavy it seemed as if a black stormcloud was sitting there upon the ground. A cold sweat arose on the back of his neck, and he felt all the hairs on his body bristling as he looked into the blackness. Looking to his left, Marcus saw that a large building, perhaps some kind of merchant's store, had torches hanging on sconces near the door, underneath an overhang to protect them from the rain. Collecting one of the torches and holding it high, with his free hand on the hilt of his sword, Marcus slowly began to walk into the darkness. He did not know what drew him down that way, but as the dark cloud enveloped him, he felt a growing fear inside him, as if some cold and clammy hand was reaching out to squeeze his heart, and the fear soon turned to despair. Who was he to challenge this all-encompassing darkness? Even the light of his meagre burning brand seemed dimmed within the darkness.
Then, within the very centre of the black fog, Marcus saw something. A shape, of a person perhaps, laying in the centre of the road, and stooped above the person, like a pair of the foulest carrion-birds, were what appeared to be two men, hooded and cloaked in all black, and a great terror seemed to be about them. The despair within Marcus turned to terror, and as one of the black-cloaked men turned to stare at the Roman, he sunk to his knees and let the torch fall to the ground and covered his face with his hands. A thin, high, strange laugh was heard from the black-cloaked men... No, not men, Marcus realized, but some kind of creature, for the laugh that came from them could not belong to any man.
"They laugh at you" said a voice that Marcus did not recognize. It was similar, yet so unlike, the voice of Jupiter that spoke in his dreams.
"What son of mine would let a foe laugh at him like this? You are a Roman, you are a son of Mars! Arise, son of Mars!" the voice said forcefully.
Now Marcus uncovered his face, and saw the two creatures sniffing about the person who laid passed out upon the road. He looked down and saw the dim, flickering flame of his torch was still alive. As he seized it, it flared into bright new life, and Marcus sprang to his feet and swept out his sword, which glittered bright and deadly in the torchlight, and he charged down the street towards the creatures, brandishing both the sword and the torch as he did.
"ROMA! ROMA INVICTA!" he cried, and the beasts seem to recoil from the warcries. They screamed back at him, high-pitched, thin, wailing screams which sent daggers of fear stabbing into his heart. But before he was upon them, they rose and turned and, with great speed, fled away, and the cloud of darkness disappated as they left, and the fear left him as the beasts fled.
Sheathing his sword, Marcus knelt down by the fallen person, and saw that it was one of those little people with the large feet from earlier, with a cloak of green, and curly hair. Rolling him over, Marcus saw that he was still breathing, merely knocked out. Casting down the torch, the Centurion collected the little man in his arms, with more difficulty than he expected for the little one was plump and fat for his size, and he turned and ran back towards the Prancing Pony.
"Barliman! Barliman bring warm water!" Marcus shouted as he kicked in the door and entered the common room with the little one in his arms. Instantly all the revelry ceased as a silence fell over the room while Marcus deposited the little man on a clear table. Murmurs ran through the crowd as the Centurion, with an experienced eye and hand, began to check over the little fellow for injuries. He saw no cuts nor punctures and felt no broken bones, but the little one's skin was pale and cold to the touch, and there was a cold sweat upon his brow.
"Why, that is one of Mr. Underhill's party!" Barliman cried, his face pale, as he came up behind Marcus with a bucket of warm water. Seizing a rag from Nob, Marcus dipped it in the warm water, then wrung it out and gently pressed it to the little one's forehead. At the touch of the warm rag, the little one stirred, his eyes almost immediated opened and looked up to meet Marcus' gaze.
"Frodo?" he said weakly. "Where is Frodo?" he continued more forcefully, attempting to sit up, while the Centurion pushed him back down with ease.
"You must rest, you were attacked out in the street" Marcus said, but the short fellow would not listen.
"I must tell Frodo!" he said, and he bolted up and, with a surprising haste, ran out of the common room down the hallway to one of the wings of the building. Dropping the rag and leaving a shocked Barliman Butterbur behind, Marcus pursued the little man, down the hallway, till he came to the open door near the end of the wing, one of the many rooms of the inn, and he heard the little man's voice within.
"Frodo! I have seen them! I have seen them, Frodo! Black Riders!" he said. Turning to the right, Marcus came to stand in the doorway, and he saw that the whole room seemed smaller, to be in proportion to its smaller occupants. Four of them there were, one was the one he rescued earlier, and there was a second that resembled the one from the street, and a fat one that stared hard at him with suspicious eyes, and the last of all there was the one that was being called 'Frodo'. Taller than the rest of his comrades, with a cleft in his chin. Then Marcus recognized the last one as the strange little man who had been singing and disappeared.
"Black Riders?" Marcus repeated slowly. At that moment, a man stepped into view from the shadows in the corner of the room. It was a familiar, pale, grim face. It was Strider.
"Marcus, what are you doing here?" Strider asked sternly.
"I could ask you the same thing, Strider" Marcus replied.
And that's all I have so far. I'm looking for some constructive feedback, plus any suggestions on what direction you would like me to take this story in. Specifically: What do you think would be interesting to see a band of Roman legionaries doing in Middle Earth at the time of the War of the Ring? I would like to keep them involved in the main theatre of the war in Gondor, but I don't want them accompanying the Fellowship for the whole time.