Bulletproof Pete, aka Caius, is an ancient warrior reincarnated many times to fight battles throughout the ages. Here he is reliving his time as a centurion in the Roman army.He is in Egypt fighting for Caesar.
Peter was dreaming. He was going back in time to a former life. He was a young man; he had been promoted to centurion in Julius Caesar’s army, and he was responsible for one hundred men. They were good men—battle hardened and disciplined, and most of all loyal: they would follow him to the death.
He was in an officer’s tent preparing for battle, his hard muscles rippling beneath his tanned skin as he put on his armour and sheathed his short sword. He glanced across at his superior officer, tribune Atticus, who was responsible for a cohort, part of a legion consisting of six centuries. Atticus saluted him.
‘Caxus, strength and honour.’
‘Strength and honour, Atticus. May the Gods be with us today,’ he replied in his deep voice, his blue eyes shining.
‘Yes Caxus, may they be with us,’ he said as he sipped some wine and offered some to Caxus—who declined. Atticus scratched his balls as he grumbled,
‘The sooner we get out of this flea-infested hell hole the better, Caxus. This heat vexes me.’ Then Caxus had a brainwave.
‘I will let my men cool themselves in the Nile, so they will be ready for battle.’
‘Good idea,’ replied Atticus as he laid out battle plans on a papyrus, wiping his brow from the heat and dust which blew inside the tent.
‘Caxus, we are short of officers, you will lead my cohort the morrow.’
‘Six hundred men’, thought Caxus. Atticus looked Caxus in the eye, looking for any sign of weakness, or trepidation, but there was none—his promotion was well deserved.
‘Caxus, our emperor Julius Caesar is horrified that his brother in law, Pompey was murdered by the miserable agents of Ptolemy. Even though they were at war, he loved and respected Pompey and wants revenge. We are combining with the Egyptian forces of Cleopatra to defeat Ptolemy.’
‘Cleopatra is the sister and co-regent of Ptolemy?’
‘Yes Caxus.’ Atticus pointed at a map. ‘His forces are based here, just South of Alexandria, ten leagues distant. Our main forces will be led by Julius Caesar; you will travel north by night up the Nile and hide your men in the bulrushes. Then when Ptolemy attacks you will come out of hiding and attack his army from the rear. He will not be expecting this.’
‘By your command Atticus,’ Caxus saluted his tribune. At that moment Julius Caesar walked in and talked to Atticus—regal, statesman-like and clever. Caxus’s heart pounded as their great general talked and banged his fist on the table. ‘The legions of Mithridates of Pergamum and Antipater from Judea are delayed by two days: we must hold out till then!’
‘By your command Caesar,’ said Atticus bowing. Then Caesar looked at Caxus, smiled, and walked out abruptly. Atticus was anxious as he looked at Caxus. They both knew their plan had to succeed or they would all die.
It was midnight, and Caxus and his cohort of men, fully rested, fed and bathed, walked in silence to the waiting boats. A cavalry soldier dropped a spear, clanging on the wooden deck of the longship. His comrades looked at him sharply; it was rumoured there were enemy spies in the camp. Secrecy was paramount; if the enemy found out their mission it would all be over. They would be defeated. Caxus walked up to the clumsy soldier and kicked him up the arse, making him fall headfirst into the Nile, coughing and spluttering.
Their ship was a wooden galley ship with a single row of 25 oars on each side powered by galley slaves; he wanted his men rested, not rowing oars. They got underway and slid silently through the water. He had ordered that no fires be lit, and silence be maintained. There were six galleys, each with a hundred men, who either slept or whispered as they navigated up the Nile. He could not sleep; he never slept well before a battle as he walked down the side of the wooden ship, feeling the cool breeze on his face, looking up at the stars as they twinkled in the night sky. All was peace and beauty.
The morrow would be different. Caxus recalled battles in a hot and dusty landscape, spears and shields: running, cries of anguish, cries of conquest, clashes of shields, the smell of blood, then lying in the dust after the battle looking at a blue sky, the vultures circling above. But he survived the last battle. He would not predict the outcome of the forthcoming battle but would let nature take its course: he left it to the gods to decide.
He saw his friend Virgil, rough and bearded, sharpening his short sword. ‘The sooner we beat this bastard Ptolemy, whatever his name is, we can get back to Rome—and get out of this heat!’
‘Virgil, imagine us toasting our victory in the Athena in Rome, and it will be so.’ Caxus smiled at his oldest friend and recalled their happy times in the immundas popina, drinking and partying with bare-breasted women. Virgil had a faraway look in his eye, as he smiled, burped and farted. Caxus laughed, and slapped Virgil on the back, then walked to the prow where the air was cleaner.
Caxus woke with a start. The sun was rising over the Nile, and his men were stirring. The morning air was still, silent and peaceful. The peace before the storm. He walked over to Virgil, who was already dressed for battle.
‘Wake the men, I want them in battle order!’ Caxus ordered, then added, ‘Hide the boats among the bulrushes on the west bank, then wait for my orders.’ He knew surprise was their secret weapon; he walked along the wooden deck, among his men putting a finger to his mouth, warning severe punishment for those who disobeyed. He crouched down and whispered with Virgil, eating some bread and water in the morning sunshine. Six centurions, each responsible for one hundred men, now gathered, as agreed on their commander’s boat. Caxus stood and looked at each one in turn, gauging them. They did not flinch. They were all good, battle-hardened soldiers, veterans of several campaigns, and bore the scars to prove it.
‘We have traveled past Ptolemy’s army,’ said Caxus.
‘How far?’ said one centurion.
‘We are now at their rear. They are one league distant.’ Caxus pointed, then added, ‘to the South.’
‘We must wait until Caesar engages them in a full-frontal assault. Meantime we creep up from the rear in a pincer movement; then we attack. We must put fear into their hearts, then we will win.’
Virgil and the centurions nodded and saluted their commander. ‘We MUST maintain the element of surprise, else we are meat for the vultures. Virgil…’ At that moment a soldier from Gaul who had been caught drinking wine the previous evening, dropped his sword on a metal plate, which clanged loudly in the still morning air. Incensed, Caxus walked up to the quaking soldier and kicked him in the balls, then grabbed him by his battle tunic, and looked into his tearful eyes.
‘Any more trouble from you, soldier, and you will spend the rest of your miserable life in the salt mines. You go in the front line!’ Caxus ordered, then threw him onto the wooden deck of the galley.
They climbed in silence out of the boats and started wading through the cool Nile water into the rushes by the bank. Caxus had ordered ten men to stay behind on each boat, but the rest of his men now hid amongst the reeds and rushes below the banks of the Nile.
Waiting for the moment.
Caxus and Virgil crept up the muddy bank to the desert above. A mere fifty yards away Caxus could see the tail end of the enemy, the stragglers. Some enemy soldiers in their chariots trundled past, carrying spears and arrows, their chariots generating a dust cloud. Each chariot was pulled by two horses. Caxus counted two hundred chariots, each with two men carrying spears. Each chariot stored arrows and spears – a mobile fighting platform. And they had a blade attached to each wheel to dismember the enemy; a terrifying weapon.
Behind him he heard a loud cough among the reeds and rushes. He looked at Virgil in horror; then they crawled back several yards, praying not to be seen.
The nearest chariot stopped.
Caxus’s heart thumped as he lay still as stone. A charioteer wearing a helmet and dark makeup around his eyes looked at them. Another chariot stopped. Four of the enemy were now looking in their direction.
Caxus lay rigid, daring not to breathe, as the wary Egyptians looked at them. Caxus touched an idol on a string around his neck, and prayed to the war god, Mars. The warriors in their chariots seemed to stare for an eternity, then they trundled on behind the main force: the Egyptian army of Ptolemy.
Caxus breathed a sigh of relief and looked at his friend, Virgil. They waited until the rear of the enemy was half a league distant, then he and his men moved out of the reeds and rushes and crept along the bank of the Nile, Caxus leading, using whatever cover they could find. They could not walk in open desert, since they would be spotted. They followed Ptolemy’s army, silently and discretely, swords drawn.
Waiting for the moment.
The sand was blown by the wind in the silent desert. Only the sound of nervous horses being kept in rein by the charioteers reached them.
The tension was palpable; Caxus could hear shouting, about a mile distant, then more shouting; Egyptian voices, then the drumbeats of a Roman army—Julius Caesar’s army. They would engage soon. Caxus held up his hand, holding back his men, timing his moment, for such moments can mean victory or defeat, a few small moments in time. Caxus picked up some sand and rubbed it into his hands, earthing himself, and saying a short prayer to the war God Mars. The roaring became louder, but they had still not engaged; they were throwing insults at one another.
‘Caxus!’ Virgil said in a loud whisper. Still he held his hand up, waiting for the right moment, for he knew it would not be long now, he could feel the tension in the air, like a brewing thunderstorm. Then there was a great roar and the two mighty armies engaged, the Egyptians unaware of the impending attack from the rear.
‘Attack! Attack!’ shouted Caxus in his deep voice! Caxus’s men ran like madmen towards the charioteers at the rear of the enemy, swords at the ready. The Egyptians were taken by surprise, Romans jumping onto the chariots and making short work of them. They could not turn their chariots around in time, for they were swamped by shouting Roman soldiers, hardened veterans of many wars, and they stood no chance. Soon half the charioteers were dead or dying, and vultures started to circle overhead.
The rest ran into the desert.
The rear of Ptolemy’s army, the foot soldiers, now realised the danger as they glanced behind them, as a full cohort of Roman soldiers fell amongst them. The back of the Egyptian army was composed of young men, inexperienced in battle, and they did not put up much of a fight, as the Roman army slashed its way through, hacking and stabbing and lunging with their spears. Many deserted, disappearing into the heat of the desert, never to be seen again.
Ptolemy’s army of six thousand men was now down to five thousand, with a thousand either dead or deserted. He looked ahead of him, to see Caesar leading a mere fifteen hundred men, but his confidence was waning; there was a disturbance from the rear. Ptolemy could hear shouts of anguish and anger and fighting. Who was attacking him from the rear?
He still had more than enough men to finish off Caesar – but he had not accounted for Caxus, who hacked and slashed his way through the enemy, his rippling muscles and expert swordsmanship making short work of surrounding soldiers, who turned away in fear when they saw him, like an enraged Greek god. But he was bleeding. His face and body were covered in blood and his left foot was injured, he had a slash in his side from an Egyptian spear, wielded by a giant of a man, who had thrust repeatedly, but then Caxus had deflected the spear point and driven his sword deep into the stomach of his enemy, who had dropped to his knees, clutching his stomach in agony.
The battle was being fought in the heat of the desert. Ptolemy’s army was now down to four thousand men, Caesar one thousand, as the battle raged. Almost two thousand of Ptolemy’s army were now attacking Caxus’s Cohort of men in a furious battle, but the Romans were standing their ground through grit and courage. Caxus looked around at his men, he had lost one hundred already, good men, brave men. They were preventing the slaughter of Julius Caesar and his men, but Caxus might not hold out, his men were tiring under the ferocious onslaught by crack Egyptian swordsmen; they were running out of time.
They needed a miracle.
Then he heard a horn, a battle horn. His heart leaped. He could hear the stomp of a Roman army in battle march behind them and could see a cloud of dust in the distance. Then out of the dust, his heart leapt as he could see thousands of Roman soldiers—disciplined, fierce and ready for battle. One of his centurions ran up to him.
‘The legions of Mithridates of Pergamum and Antipater from Judea have arrived!’ he exclaimed in jubilation.
Ptolemy’s army looked around in panic as they saw ten thousand men march towards them from the North, marching towards Caxus. Caxus saw a look of panic in the Egyptians’ eyes, looking this way and that, looking for an escape route, to the east was the Nile, to the south was Caesar’s army, to the north was Caxus’s cohort and the approaching Roman army. Suddenly, the mood changed in the Egyptian army. Sensing defeat, thousands of the Egyptians dropped their weapons and ran east into the open desert.
Caxus dropped to the ground in relief, retrieving a bandage from a bag and wrapping his foot wound inflicted by an Egyptian spear. Soon the fresh Roman army marched past him and then proceeded to massacre the remains of Ptolemy’s army, the rest running off into the desert.
Caxus shouted in joy as he saw his friend Virgil stagger out of the desert. They clasped hands and then walked to the Nile and bathed the battle blood from their bodies, catching their breath and resting on the bank. Further down the river they could see some Egyptians struggling to swim across the river. Some were nobility.
‘These Egyptian bastards are not good swimmers,’ laughed Caxus.
‘We are stronger than them, Caxus.’
‘Yes, we are stronger, we are Roman,’ replied Caxus. ‘Come, my old friend, let us find Caesar.’ They strolled back up the bank and out of the hot, dry and dusty desert. They could see Romans on horses, and a Roman general. Bloodied and dirty, Julius Caesar, climbed off his horse, walked up to Caxus, and put his hands on his shoulders, looking him in the eye. Caesar had found him instead.
‘Caxus, you are a friend of Rome. Come to my tent, we will talk.’
They were in the tent of Caesar, eating grapes and drinking wine. Amongst the throng of officers, Caesar walked forward with two other generals. ‘Ah Caxus, let me introduce you to Mithridates of Pergamum and Antipater from Judea. This is the young man I’ve been telling you about.’ The two men greeted Caxus warmly.
‘Julius Caesar tells me you are a one-man army. You saved the day and saved our friend Julius.’ Caxus smiled and bowed.
‘You came in the nick of time, not sure how much longer we could have held out,’ replied Caxus, as Caesar clapped him on the back. ‘What became of the little shit Ptolemy?’ asked Caesar.
‘We saw him drowning in the Nile, my Lord.’
‘They are not good swimmers,’ said Virgil.
‘And who is this fellow?’ asked Caesar.
‘This is my oldest and trusted friend Virgil, my Lord.’
‘Any friend of Caxus is a friend of mine,’ said Caesar as he clapped Virgil on the back—which made him burp loudly. Caesar looked shocked, looked at Mithridates and Antipater, then they all burst out laughing. ‘Come, I have this special wine, Caxus, let us drink and celebrate our victory together.’.
‘Have you seen Atticus?’ asked Caxus. Caesar shook his head.
But then across the tent, Caxus saw a vision: a woman with jet black hair and blue eyes, and striking beauty, like a goddess. Her blue eyes smouldered with passion, like a wild Spanish gypsy. She stood motionless and looked at him, as his heart pounded.
‘You look like you have been struck by lightning young Caxus. Do you like her?’ asked Caesar.
‘Yes, my Lord.’
He was dreaming again, he was wearing leather sandals and a toga, and there were stone buildings around him, people shouting as they sold bread and wine in the market stalls scattered along the street between dwellings. He was middle-aged and walked with a slight limp—an old battle wound earned fighting as a centurion in Caesar’s army. He could smell fragrant fresh fruits and a multitude of herbs. There were displays of shellfish, fish and the smell of blood-red slabs of meat around, which buzzed with hoards of flies; this was summer, so there was no ice or snow from the mountains.
This was the Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built. He greeted a wealthy wine trader who bought wine from his lands in the north. They exchanged pleasantries and then he was walking up a hill. The air was cleaner here, he could feel the warm sun on his face. As he continued up the hill he came to his villa, surrounded by a stone wall. A guard in Roman military uniform stood sentry outside saluted him—one of his loyal soldiers—and as he got closer the thick wooden door was unbolted from inside and opened by the new servant girl. She smiled shyly at him, her brown eyes sparkled and he looked at her long hair flowing over her shoulders, like a Greek goddess. He looked at her for a moment, then beckoned to his wife, who was relaxing on a sofa in the garden, amongst the flowers and herbs.
He could smell rosemary as he walked up to her and kissed her soft red lips, tasting the red wine she was drinking, and looked into her eyes, her jet-black hair flowing thick over her shoulders. Her gown slipped showing one of her breasts as she kissed him. He cupped it in his hand; her eyes blazed with passion as their tongues met. Then he sat down, and the servant girl offered him some grapes. He smiled as he ate them. Then his wife took some, the juice running from her mouth, as she took the girl by the arm, pulling her, and then kissed her on the lips. The girl giggled and Caxus could feel his passion rising as he watched them kissing and play-making, looking shyly at him; egging him on. ‘Come join us,’ said his wife to him as she took the girl’s hand and walked through the garden, through the flowers and herbs, towards the bedchamber, hand-in-hand, laughing and giggling. They both turned around and smiled at him, his wife throwing kisses at him, like two goddesses on a picnic.