The Varian Disaster

The air stank and tasted of iron, both sword and blood. 

I remembered how the forest floor ran red with the life-giving liquid, painting the landscape as macabre rather than beautiful.  

The clang of swords, the whistling of spears, and the cries of anguish rent the air in a deafening cacophony. 

It was difficult to see through the dim light the canopy of trees provided. Through the thick wall of battling bodies, we were struggling for the ultimate victory: victory over death.  

In my distraction, I did not see the heavily armored body that collided into me from behind, sending me forward into the mud and the blood and the leaves. I propelled my body around to face my attacker. He stood over me with his short sword raised high, uttering words in his strange language that I did not understand.  

Before he could bring his arms down, delivering the killing blow, the head of a spear appeared through the delicate flesh of his neck, and the armoured man began to choke. The spearhead disappeared, the only thing keeping the man upright, and I scrambled out of the way as he pitched heavily forward, like a tree being felled.  

The fall of the man revealed yet another armored man. This one, though, was on our side. While he dressed like them, the paint upon his face that marked him as a fierce tribal warrior proved he was not fully one of them. Though Arminius had been raised a Roman, he had never forgotten his roots.  

Arminius reached down, holding out his hand. I quickly grasped his wrist, and together we hauled my body up from the ground.  

“Are you okay?” He asked.  

All I had time for was a nod, before Arminius whirled and jumped back into the fray. It took me a moment, blinking back sense, before I too returned to the fight.  

For as long as I could remember, the presence of the Romans had pervaded our land, subjugating us, forcing the tribes to pay tribute, often at the expense of our own wellbeing. Our people are a fierce people, driven by Woden the all-knowing into a frenzy in order to survive. And survive we shall, thanks to the ingenious ambush planned by Arminius and his closest advisors. 

For weeks the plan took shape and once the Roman legions began their trek to their winter camp, we knew it was time to strike. We prepared our bodies for the fight, painting them with plant matter, swirling designs and symbols, making it easy to disappear amongst the foliage of the thick forest around us.  

We hid, we waited, and we struck like a threatened serpent.  

Woden and Donar smiled upon us this day, as we were well on our way to victory before the great Arminius had saved my life. 

Now, our victory was assured. The Romans were routed, retreating hopelessly.  

They had nowhere to go for we had blocked their escape.  

No one knew our lands as we did. No one knew every rock, every stream, every tree, or every twist in the road.  

Only us and the gods.  

As night fell, and the last of the Romans were dispatched, fires began to crop up in clearings and raucous victory songs rang out into the darkness.  

I wandered in and around the various campfires, heartened to see tribes intermingling, joyous in their celebration, forgetting the fact that none of us particularly cared for each other.  

We all hated Rome.  

And now Rome was defeated.  

            For now.  


I turned at the sound of my name to see Arminius beckoning me to his campfire.  

My spine straight, I marched over, taking his offered seat on a fallen log.  

“You fought well today,” Arminius said admiringly, his proper accent fading in and out. Too much time among the Romans, perhaps.  

“My gratitude” I nodded.  

He handed over an animal skin, filled with mead, and I took a hearty gulp. Though I preferred not to be as inebriated as my kin, I did like to partake after a momentous victory.  

“I have been thinking…” Arminius began, trailing off yet building anticipation.  

“Of?” I asked, my voice rough from the alcohol and from a day of battle cries.  

“I would see your valor rewarded, Gerulf,” Arminius continued. “Be one of my generals. Though we won a great victory today, Rome will retaliate. They will send their very best to see that we never raise a sword against Rome again. I will need the best by my side for when this day comes. And come it shall.”  

Swallowing thickly, I let out a resigned breath through my nose. “I would be honored.”  

Arminius grinned, and clapped his hand on my shoulder.  

“Then let us begin.” 

Written by Jenn Gosselin

Based in part on Barbarians, (2020). Netflix.

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