Chapter Ten - The Romans are coming, The Romans are coming !
'The story upon which I embark is one full of incident, marked with bitter fighting, rent with treason, and even in peace, sinister ...'
Tacitus - The Histories
Pisky was standing in doorway of the laboratory, watching Loki mix some foul smelling ingredients together when the drenched figure of Benjj appeared
in the stairwell.
"Whose cat just died ?", he asked, wrinkling his nose at the pungeant stench issuing from a scorched looking bowl on the far bench.
"I'm trying to make teargas", came the cheery voice of Loki from inside a standard issue gasmask, before turning back to his experimentation.
"Succeeding too", was Benjj's reply, his eyes tearing up as the gas reached his eyes.
"Bugger this for a game of soldiers", said Pisky, closing the door before the gas took over the whole of the tower, "Lets get something to
Benjj wiped his eyes, blinking away the last few tears; "That'll have to wait", he said as Pisky began walking down the steps, "We've got
Crossing the rain sodden courtyard, Pisky looked across at the stables where Tamsin stood drying an annoyed looking donkey with a handful of straw.
"A donkey ?", he asked as the reached the Gatehouse. Benjj just grinned.
Hurrying under the Gatehouse, Pisky took off his dripping coat, hanging it on a hook to dry before pushing the right side door open and going in.
Tobias greeted them with a grin and gestured to the two very wet, very tired-looking figures sitting shivering beside the fire. They were wrapped in
warm blankets taken from the infirmary and had been supplied with hot tea which they sipped carefully.
"I thought you should be in on this", Tobias said, "seeing as she says she knows you".
"Not actually 'knows' as in 'have met'", came a cultured female voice from the far side of the fire, "More like 'am aware of', as in
'conversed with via ATS message boards'".
The taller of the two, a thirty-something woman with curly blonde hair and a rather haughty demeanour, stood and held out her hand. "I'm Helena
Justina", she said, "But you can call me Helena".
Pisky took the proffered hand; "Pisky", he said.
"I know", Helena replied "I recognise you from your avatar".
Pisky grimaced and released her hand. As she turned to go back to her seat, her blanket fell from around her shoulders, revealing her rather strange
Benjj, ever the gentleman, picked up the blanket and handed it back without a word, while Tobias grinned knowledgeably.
"You may wonder why I am dressed in the manner of a Roman Patrican", said Helena, gesturing to her damp red gown and equally soggy shawl. Agates on
slim gold hoops dangled from her ears and her hair was held up by two combs which threatened to fall off at any moment.
The pixy considered the question. "Fancy dress?" he replied, grinning.
"Living history actually", drawled Helena, "For a TV program".
"Bloody balls up if you ask me", said Helena's companion, his voice betraying his Northern roots. "Since madam here isn't going to introduce me,
I'll do it myself - I'm Jimmy ..."
"please stay in character, Marcus !", snapped Helena.
The man sighed. "We haven't got the bloody camera with us and even if we did, there's nobody left to watch the bloody film"
Helena shook her head and glared; "Our old names mean nothing to us now".
"OK OK bugger it. Anything for a quiet life". He turned towards Pisky; "I'm Marcus Vettius Valerius of the fourteenth bloody Gemina Martia
He stood and dropped his blanket. He, too, was dressed in Roman garb, this time wearing the tunic and boots of a Legionary. Behind the newly vacated
chair Pisky could just glimpse a helmet and breastplate, both of Roman make, and a scabbarded gladius shortsword.
"And if you think we look like a pair of tossers, just wait 'til you meet the rest".
By the time night fell, the storm had abated. In the Hall, room had been made for the new arrivals and they sat at the table with flagons of 'Best
Pixyland' in their hands.
"I have to say", said Valerius after finishing his drink and pouring another, "That was the best food I've had for bloody ages. Much better than
stuffed hamster and all the other crap they cook at Butser"
At the mention of hamster, KayEm glared evilly at the pair, then looked around for her own rodent which was currently zooming around the room in his
"The Romans used to eat roasted dormouse, not hamster", Helena explained; "And I know I'm all for historical accuracy, but even I'm not
going to eat a mouse !"
"So what did we eat ?" asked Valerius.
"That stuff didn't taste like any chicken I've ever eaten - It tasted like sh..."
"Please", Helena held up her hand, "No more of the barracks language if you don't mind". She looked around the hall. "I'm sure our hosts don't
want to hear any more expletives".
"Bloody bastard fooking bollocks !!!" Loki burst into the room covered in soot and a strange yellow dust. He was cradling his left hand
tenderly. "KayEm, have you got any burn ointment?"
"Let me guess", asked Pisky, "the teargas was flammable ?"
"No, thats perfect", Loki replied as he followed KayEm into the infirmary, "I'm still having a bit of a problem with the napalm though".
"So" said Tobias when KayEm and Loki had returned, "What's the story?"
Helena sipped delicately at her cider; "Do any of you remember the BBC TV show called 'Surviving the Iron Age ?".
Pisky nodded. The show had been interesting, although to Pisky's mind they made far too many concessions to the twenty-first century. Ancient celts
wearing rubber Wellingtons just didn't gel with what he knew about the Iron Age.
"Well", Helena continued, "They decided to make another living history program, based in Roman Britain. Only this time they used real History
buffs, people who ran living history groups themselves. They wanted this one to be as true to life as possible".
"Good idea", said Pisky, "The Iron Age show would have been much better if they had people living there who actually had a reasonable knowledge of
Helena agreed; "Yes. Butser Hill was originally a recreation of a Iron Age village. In 2003 a Roman villa was added, and the program planned to show
the lives of both indiginous Celts and Roman Britons. So the producers got us together, gave us what we needed, plus four video cameras and left us to
Helena waited as the information imparted was digested before continuing; "We were supposed to be there for three months, completely cut off from the
world. Single people, families, men, women and children. It was as true-to-life as we could make it. When we first went into Butser everything was
normal. When we went to leave, it was all ...", Helena closed her eyes.
Valerius put his hand on her arm and took over the description; "Because of what we knew about Roman times - hunting, farming methods and all that -
we were able to eke out a decent existance. When the three months were over and the production team failed to make an appearance, a couple of us went
to find out what was going on. One was taken by the corporates just outside Coventry. The other managed to pick up a few things - a wireless laptop,
some batteries, a wind up radio, That kind of stuff - before coming back and telling us the bad news. Some left, hoping to regain something of their
old lives. We never heard from them again. Most of us elected to stay. Our families were safer here than in the cities".
Helena had regained her composure and so continued with the story; "We knew that the Corporates would get to us eventually, and some of us hoped to
reach a comprise with them when that happened. Until then, we just lived as we had been since we got to the villa. As Celts and Romans. We dressed as
Celts and Romans, acted as they would have done and kept the names we had been given by the production crew".
Pisky snorted; "You hoped to reach a compromise with the corporates ?"; He shook his head in disgust.
"It was really the only chance we had", Helena replied; "Butser isn't like here", She gestured around the room. "It's virtually undefended and
we have very few Legionaries. Our Legate truly believes that the Corporations will see how well we are doing, and allow us to continue. Providing that
they can make a profit out of us".
"Bollocks to that", Pisky spat, "The only time they'll make a profit out of me is if they turn my rotting corpse into fertiliser and sell
it to one of their farmers".
Helena looked at the pixy with cold eyes; "Working for them is still better than the alternative".
Tobias held up his hand for silence. "So what went wrong?" He leaned forward and looked into Helena's eyes. The woman was hiding something. She was
desperately worried but trying not to show it; "You had everything you needed. You even had a back-up plan for when the corporates found you.
Something must have happened to make the two of you decide to risk the trip here".
"It started about two months after everything went to #", Valerius explained. "We noticed that animals, usually sheep and goats, were going
missing. We thought it was robbers or one of the bandit groups that had popped up, but they normally stay just outside the cities playing Dick
Helena ran her hand through her hair and carried on; "Then little Julia disappeared. Just went out one day to play and never came back. Her mother
was frantic. One of the search party found ..." Helena started shivering visibly, then, taking a deep breath, she forced herself onwards.
"Afterwards, Julia's mother started talking about demons in the night taking her little girl. One day she grabbed a gladius and rushed off. We lost
her in the woods. The next day she was found. My God, it was like some kind of Hammer Horror film !"; Helena blanched at the memory, holding her
hands tightly together to keep them from shaking. "We just didn't know what to do. We started seeing strange tracks in the mud, things I'd never
seen before. Even Actaeonis hadn't seen anything like those tracks.
"He's the villa's hunter", Helena explained. "Actually, he was one of the Legionaries, but when we decided to revert to a full Roman life, he
started using his poaching skills to hunt down food for us".
"A poacher", said Pisky, grinning. "A man after my own heart".
Helena took a drink of cider to wet her dry throat, then continued, her eyes closed as she called up the memory. "Not longer afterwards, Claudia was
attacked. I saw that myself. She was walking towards the barn to milk the cows and this ... whatever ... was on the roof ! It leaped down and grabbed
her. She wasn't a child, this was a full grown woman. She started screaming and struggling with it. I ran towards them, yelling at the top of my
lungs. It saw me, dropped Claudia and ran away. It was so fast. We thought to hunt it down, but our only weapons are Roman ones, and that thing was
... ugh !" She shivered at the memory.
"So you came here to see if we could help?", Tobias steepled his fingers on the tabletop.
"Yes", Helena said, "We knew that we needed serious help. Before the batteries ran out, we were able to get a netline running on the laptop. It was
full of the normal Corporate bull, but mixed in it was a story about Warwick being raided. Shadowman did a bit of research and worked out that the
most likely place for the raiders to be based was in the Marches or around the Nuneaton/Bosworth areas. Several groups were sent to check out various
possible places - old ruins, castles, monasteries etc. It was a long shot, but we had no other option. Marcus and myself were given Stokesay".
"Two questions", said Tobias, "Firstly, why did you come here for help. Why not ask the Corporates? You've already said that you hope to
come to some compromise with them".
"Yes", she said, "But not all of us agree with that plan. We would just prefer to carry on without interferance. Plus, we still don't know what
they will do - by going to them, we could be signing our own death warrants".
"Quite possibly", said Pisky, remembering Arthur's recent demise.
Tobias digested this piece of information before asking his second question; "Who is this Shadowman you mentioned ? - It doesn't sound like a Roman
"He arrived here a few weeks after we decided to make a go of Butser. No one really knows much about him. I think he was some kind of detective.
Anyway, it was Shadowman who managed to get a lead on you, well, on where you were likely to be".
Tobias leaned back, nodding his head slowly. "OK", he said, steepling his fingers on the table; "Where exactly is this 'Butser' anyway ?"
"Almost two hundred bloody miles away", muttered Valerius. "Near Charlton in Hampshire".
"Bugger me !", exclaimed Pisky, "That must have been a pain in the arse of a trip".
"Actually, it was fine until we met those bloody robbing bastards in Bromfield", Valerius growled. "they took the bloody lot. Horses too. There's
me standing there waving a gladius around and those three harridans just stood there laughing their heads off. Bloody sword's no use against machine
guns after all". He poured another flagon of cider and drank, muttering imprecations towards those responsible for his loss - of horse and
"They weren't all bad", Helena interjected, "They gave me a donkey to ride after all"