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The Survivor

A Rome: Total War story

Here follows the personal account of Brân, a British warrior of Tribus Durotriges, recalling his part in a crushing defeat of his home town of Durnovaria (modern-day Dorchester, Dorset).


Ever since I was made to escape from death and crushing defeat, I have been called many things: A survivor, a messenger, a weakling… I imagine you think that the last one stings the worst. In truth, my bitterness is already so defined that to be labelled as weak feels numb. I did as my chieftain bade me to do. I delivered the warning to the rest of the Pretanni.

If this act allows the tribes to face the threat of the Roman invaders, then I will know my orders were not in vain.

And yet… Why can't I get the druid's chanting out of my thoughts?

That is what I remember most distinctly about that battle, that siege. Not just how quickly it came and went, not how the sun shone so clearly on such a bloody field afterwards, and not even how I turned back to see the massacre before it was out of my sight. No… All that sticks most clearly are those holy men garbed for battle, intoning a haunting, martial chant, enough to fire the blood of any warrior of our tribe.

It was their chanting that kept us ready for battle and death at the gates of our town, as the heavy beating of the Roman's ram on our gates threw dust into our faces, burning eyes and clogging throats.

Our chieftain had instilled enough discipline in our formation to keep us around the gate. He had hoped that our shield wall would be sufficient to hem the dog Romans in at the gate and hold them in. Alas, our numbers and formation were ruined by the enemy's equipment and training, an unnatural precision that men like us cannot comprehend.

Even as we tried to hold them in the broken gateway, their sheer mass of strong, armoured bodies pushed us all back behind our walls, and from there they had the space and the spread of numbers to begin their cull.

I fought as hard as any other swordsman of my warband. I landed strong blows and deflected those returned. I took scars for my troubles. But the Romans' armour was too strong, their shields too damn large, and I simply could not kill enough of them.

They had no such trouble in killing us.

I watched as men I had fought alongside for years were butchered with horrible precision. The warband could not contain the enemy, and soon our numbers were too thin, our arms weakening, our hearts sinking. Even when the druids entered the fray themselves, it did little to change the blood-soaked outcome.

When the arrogant commander of these sandal-wearers charged on horseback through their men, our warriors had no choice but to pull back to our warlord and his reinforcements. But it seems that Romans are the most efficient killers as they stab you in the back. As we ran, we were cut down faster than before. We were scattered, oblivious. It bordered on cowardice, and I am ashamed to even speak of it. But it was necessary.

The war hounds were sent to try and slow the foe's advance, but they did nothing to stop the horse-mounted captain… Herius, I heard his underlings call him in victory cries… and his personal guard. They even charged up as far as to where chieftain Lugubelenus and his finest swordsmen were waiting for them.

I did not see that battle begin. I was too busy running as fast as my burning lungs would allow me. When I finally began along the flat strip of dirt towards our town centre, Lugubelenus and his bodyguard of chosen swordsmen were barely holding Herius and his bodyguard off. Only I and two other swordsmen of the warband made it back to the square. The other two were cut down by the mounted soldiers almost as soon as they arrived. I came up behind them and, by the blessings of the gods, I did not die.

I fought alongside them as best I could, hacking at the horses and men's legs. I took a long and shallow cut across my chest in return. Lugubelenus and his elite finally wore the Romans down, and they withdrew back to the rest of their army… but not before I sliced open the bastard Herius' leg, and felt his blood spray across my face as he retreated with a yell of indignant agony.

From there, I can only believe that the war hounds and their handlers did succeed in buying us some time with their lives, as we did not suffer another attack for a good few minutes. A truly bitter comfort, both then and in retrospect.

In that cold respite, chieftain Lugubelenus approached me with as grim a face as you can picture in such a grim veteran of war. The dulled look in his eyes, that loss of fire and passion in those eyes, is a sight that will never leave me.

He praised me solemnly, as my scars and my simple survival attested to, and told me it was because of my bravery that it made his next decision all the harder. I already had an idea then of what he would tell me, but to hear it spoken when everyone else could hear… see how it makes me shudder even now.

He told me that I would not be permitted to die pointlessly in this battle. That the Roman advance must not reach the rest of Britannia and find it divided. That we still have numbers to match their arms and armour, and we are now more versed in superior tactics and smithing as a result of trade with 'civilised' in lands far south and east. That if the tribes of Britannia could unite under the new high king, we may yet succeed in driving the Romans from our soil so completely, that they will never again dare to attack us.

Only then did some of the fire of his anger and conviction come back to him; the conviction of his hope. It stirred something, but it was not enough to dissuade my resignation at being denied the chance to join my brothers in arms. You must understand, I am not an idiot. I do not consider it cowardly to deliver a message, and nor did the high king when I delivered it to him. It was not viewed as the act of a coward, but some deem me weak, as they hold it in their own narrow way that I was sent only because of my some inability to fight well. They are more the fools for it.

I was chosen because I had survived, and because I still had strong legs to carry me across the land. There was no chance of a horse, and so I had to travel by my own stamina. Argh, but I drift from my story proper.

I will admit I did at first protest at my choice, but Lugubelenus insisted it, and impressed on me the importance of what I had to do. Even as the Romans came up over the hill, running in perfect formation, and Herius and his lackeys appeared again, I moved my way through bracing allies and out behind them. I passed through the fine swordsmen of the Durotriges to find barely trained youths carrying knives and other basic weapons.

It saddened me to see how desperately we were to fight to the last. Bringing out the old, the young and the weak to fight… anyone with an ounce of sense in him know they will never match up to true warriors.

As I said, I passed through them and ran. As I vaulted over the wood of the town's gathering point, I heard the clash of metal and the chop of flesh behind me. It made me want to weep with anger at the loss of all that I had come to love. My village would be taken, my warband was slaughtered, and I knew that my family would suffer under the heels of the bastard Romans. That thought was enough to keep me running harder. The thought of regaining some of what had been stolen from me. The thought of avenging that which could not be replaced. It was wrath that gave me focus, and let me reach this place I am now, with my message delivered.

I will tell you what I have seen in my dreams, for they are just as relevant to this account. I know a vision of knowledge from the gods when I see one, as I can remember the details of it so clearly, even now.

I saw the fighting of my tribe and chieftain after I had been sent away. I saw the chosen swordsmen fight as desperately and ruthlessly as befits their entitlement. But even then, against the sheer force and numbers of the enemy, they were culled like livestock in orderly fashion. The thralls were killed even faster. The one thing I did take some comfort from was that I watched chieftain Lugubelenus personally drag Herius down from his horse on the steps of the town centre and stab through his throat with the venom of a man ready for death. Not a minute after that, the furious Romans ran Lugubelenus through with three spears. After that, there was nothing except the death of the last dozen or so fighters. The last I saw fall was a druid, still chanting his baleful, ferocious battle cry as he was finally struck down.

How do I know these visions are true? Well, you've heard the reports from the spies in Durnovaria, haven't you? Herius' death has given the occupiers some pause before a new leader is chosen for them. Their temporary command is, as I have overheard, fatally tentative to expand or consolidate. Not only that, but because of this chaos in their command, reinforcements have yet to arrive to bolster the Romans' garrison there.

You see now why I believe the dream a vision of hope? My tribe's warriors gave their lives to weaken the enemy's numbers and their command. They have given us the precious time we need to unite, to forge, to train, and to march while we still have the ability to drive the Romans back. If your chieftain, the new high king, is as true to his word as he claims to be, then the time my brothers bought will not be wasted. We will yet drive those dogs back into the sea!

So, you have heard how my part in the battle went. And you've seen for yourself what I have become as a result. I am a bitter and troubled man now. I am kept company in my thoughts by 780 ghosts; every one of those who fought and died in that defeat, watching me to see if I will avenge them or fail them. I have 780 phantoms to haunt me every day, until I finally go to join them.

So now I must make sure I do not fail them. I will serve the high king with all the hatred I can put towards the Roman invaders on the tip of my sword. I will fight battles for him, win victories and suffer defeats for him. I will aid him in uniting the Pretanni under his martial rallying cry, and I will do so gladly if it means I will have revenge for all those lost I loved with the love of a warrior.

I have my conviction to go on for them, but even now…

The chanting of the druids still echoes in my head… And I do not know if it will ever stop again.

Author's note: Well, I hope that you found this to be an enjoyable read. However, I am compelled to stress that this story, like the Total War games it is based on, is not meant to be a completely accurate (even if fictional) representation of any historical events, cultural depictions, personal accounts, etc. It is simply the author attempting to express a little expanded fun on a battle I fight in Rome: Total War with a 10 minute written short story. While a few bits are somewhat more accurate in terminology and Brythonic culture, it is still mostly based on RTW, and includes elements that simply could not happen in real life. For example, the idea of a united Britannia at pretty much any point pre-Roman occupation is very unrealistic. I know that shouldn't matter too much for a piece of fiction from a game, even a history-based game, but being a history buff and having friends who are also history buffs (and at least one fully-qualified historian) means that I do strive for that little bit more accuracy. Oh, well.

Again, I hope that this was at least entertaining. Please feel free to comment on what you thought of it.