|Meroe, Yasna, Phoenece, Myriam and Kebi|
It was a dark and damp night when we parked our chariots below the castle, just inside the tall stone walls of Deva (Chester). Having secured the chariots, Myriam, Meroe, Kebi, Phoenece and I made our way through the damp paved streets to the home of the XX Valeria Victrix legion. It was almost the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice – and we were glad of our thick woollen cloaks. As we approached the legion’s headquarters I saw by the light of their torches a group of rough-looking soldiers checking over each other’s equipment. Heavy curved shields, each nearly the height of a man, rested on the ground by each soldier. Polished short swords and tapering, guttering torches were passed from hand to hand as the men prepared for inspection by the legion Legatus – the commander.
It was starting to rain, and the laughter of the soldiers was becoming louder and more raucous when a sudden bustle of activity announced the arrival of the Emperor. The Legatus emerged from the shelter of his war-room and ordered the men into position, berating those who were slovenly or slow to follow the orders. The Emperor barely seemed to notice them, moving with stately pace to the head of the column, apparently oblivious to the gradually-increasing rain.
Suddenly we moved off. I found myself walking beside Myriam as the Legatus shouted orders at the men behind us. Just behind Myriam and I a soldier walked leading by his bound hands an old man dressed in long robes. We crossed Bridgegate road and passed out through the walls at one of the new gates. For a few seconds I saw on our right the huge amphitheatre for which Deva Victrix is famous, and which marked the city out as being intended for Rome’s capital of Britannia province.
|Saturn ready to go (thanks to Charlene for the photograph)|
We turned towards the centre of the city, and began to pass more people. Peasants and nobility alike stopped to watch us pass, and I saw them talking to each other and pointing as we turned onto Eastgate to re-enter the walls of the city.
We came to a sudden halt. There was muttered conversation in front of us, and I peered around the people in front of me to see what was happening. Someone had closed the Eastgate against the Emperor! Undeterred, the Emperor walked forward to the gate and called out in a loud voice that it should be opened. There was laughter from the other side. He turned towards the Legatus, and made a small motion with one hand.
“Testudo!” shouted the Legatus. Abruptly the legion soldiers drew into a tight phalanx, their shields raised above them and to the sides, and they charged the gates which gave way before them. With no change in his expression to indicate his minor victory, the Emperor led the column on into the city, and proceeded to address the gathered crowds before solemnly lighting torches to the four points of the compass. Taking some lights ourselves, Myriam, Meroe, Kebi, Phoenece and I shared light with the people who had stopped to watch.
Then we were moving again, turning up Northgate, and followed by crowds of people with lights in their raised hands. When we next halted, I saw the old man with the bound hands being led forward. Someone announced that this bearded old man was Saturn! There was so much consternation in the crowd that I didn’t hear what was said next, but suddenly the old man’s hands were free, and he ripped off his long robe and white beard and leaped forward towards the watching crowd. The Lord of Misrule was released!
|Procession with the Lord of Misrule - all in red (thank you to Jonathan for the photograph)|
Dressed all in red, he danced around like an imp and led us on through the city. Behind us a merry parade of revellers followed, playing music, dancing, and performing tricks. We circled through the city again, ignoring our increasingly damp robes as the rain continued to fall, until the Lord of Misrule released the revellers, and the Legatus ordered the legion back to their camp. Myriam and I were nervous about whether the soldiers would behave after all the excitement in the city, but Meroe said that we could trust them, and so we followed her, Kebi and Phoenece into the tavern alongside the legion’s camp, where the servers brought wine and mead, and good food for all of us. By the time we made our way back to our chariots, the night seemed neither so dark nor so cold as it had when we arrived.
|Phoenece, Myriam, Meroe and Kebi - enjoying the local mead!|
Perhaps, after all, soldiers aren’t so bad. I might not mind running into the legion again one day...