Category Archives: The Stuck In Boys

THE GETTYSBURG GAMBIT

THE GETTYSBURG GAMBIT

A WHAT IF SCENARIO

A STUCK IN BOYS TALE

Cast of Characters

 Confederates

  • Major Matt Ricard – brevet major-general in the offing?
  • Trooper Ocho Bennaco  – the narrator
  • Trooper Joe Martin – gourmet talker
  • Trooper Bob Speed – the marksman
  • Trooper Jimmy Two Birds – not really Native American
  • Colonel S.J.A. Turney – a snooty Southern gentleman
  • Staff Sgt. Carter Parmenio – troop cook
  • General R.E. Lee – dude, where’s your cavalry?
  • General James Longstreet – ole Pete to the rescue
  • General J.E.B. Stuart – a horseman in the doghouse

Union Army

  • General George Meade – a very rude welcome to new command
  • Colonel Joshua Chamberlain – a different view of Little Round Top
  • Lt. Charles LeFurge – fresh from West Point
  • General George A. Custer – a horseman unhorsed
  • Sgt. Liam O’Toole – a time traveler well met

Introduction

My name is Ocho Bennacos and I belong to an elite group of warriors known as The Stuck In Boys.  A fiercer set of soldiers you’d be hard pressed to find.  Though we are based with the II Legio Augusta in Britain, we have the unnatural ability to leap through time and thereby find ourselves in the thick of the action in places like Spain with Pompey or against Spartacus with Crassus or perhaps even Gettysburg with Lee or Long Island with Washington.  There are five of us, The Chief – Rick, Jimmy Two Birds-Jim, Postal – Joey, Nascar – Bob and Ocho-Paul.  In whatever soldier’s guise we put on, we are the best; we are The Myrmidons.   Our memories of our deeds are intact and that helps drive us to continue to be the best.  Pride in our achievements and loyalty to each other, ahh, yes those are the keys to our success.

Somewhere near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border

Late June 1863

The countryside north of The Potomac was redolent with the smell of fertile fields and ripening crops and the bucolic sounds of the well fed cattle and pigs.  Foraging for supplies will not be a problem on this mission I thought to myself as I glanced at my companion on this scout, Trooper Joe Martin.  Trooper Joe does not like to miss meals.  We’re out on patrol as part of General James Longstreet’s Corp.  Sneaking an army the size of The Army of Northern Virginia into Union territory is not only risky but slightly difficult.  We can’t afford any more surprises like Brandy Station.  Pleasonton’s dawn attack on Stuart was brilliant and almost blew the lid off of Lee’s secretive approach.  If Pleasonton had been a bit more aggressive who knows what may have transpired.  General Lee was none too pleased with General Stuart that day, after all the cavalry was there to ferret out the enemy not get caught in a surprise attack.   Now it seems that Stuart has gone off on a glory ride getting his name in the papers instead of looking for The Army of the Potomac.    General Lee is still backing Stuart and figures he will turn up shortly with a full report but Ole Pete Longstreet does not share his commander’s view so The Stuck In Boys have a threefold mission; 1. find Stuart, 2. find The Army of The Potomac and 3. keep screening Lee’s move into Pennsylvania.

Ocho: ‘Well Joey, nothing happening here.  We may as well head back to camp.  I need a cup of coffee.’

Joey: ‘Yeah our buddy Jeb has got hisself somewhere he shouldn’t be.  Gen’l Pete ain’t gonna be happy.  Hope they got a pig or two on the spit.  Got me a powerful hunger.’

Lee, who was riding along with Longstreet’s 1st Corps, had decided to rest the troops for a couple days in the vicinity of Hagerstown.  General Ewell with 2nd Corps was due to arrive later that day.  From here they would head to Chambersburg where they would split up again with Ewell going north to Harrisburg while Longstreet would head east toward Gettysburg.  I headed over to Longstreet’s tent to give him our scouting report only to find General Lee in conference with Longstreet and with my commander, Major Ricard.

Lee: ‘I cannot understand why General Stuart has not reported.  He knows how blind we are without him.’

Longstreet: ‘I don’t think we can afford to be left blind any longer.  We know Pleasonton is out there somewhere.  What we don’t know is where Hooker and the main body of the Union Army are located.’

Ocho: ‘Sir! There’s been a change in Union command.  We came across a newspaper in Greencastle announcing the change.  George Meade is the new man in charge.’

Lee: ‘Now that is interesting.  Perhaps we can exploit the almost certain confusion inherent in a command shake up.’

Longstreet: ‘I agree, but we need to know where he is.  Major, can you and your band of misfits do what General Stuart has so far failed to do?’

Ricard: Looking over the map spread out on Longstreet’s campaign desk, ‘Sir, with your permission my misfits as you call them can leave at first light.  I believe we will find General Stuart somewhere between Gettysburg and Hanover.’

Longstreet: ‘Yes that does seem to be a good place to look.  Major, you have got to find him and quickly.’

Lee: ‘Given the failures of the last few days by General Stuart I believe it prudent to make our own command change.  Major, you are hereby promoted to brevet Major General.  I will have a letter made out immediately giving you the authority to relieve General Stuart and take command of his division.’

Ricard: ‘Thank you sir.  I better go have a talk with my misfits before they decide to hit the moonshine they liberated from some Union farmer.  By your leave, Generals.’ Ricard saluted and we strode out of the tent.

‘Well Major, I mean General, looks like we’re gonna be stuck in again.’ I said.  General Ricard looked at me and smiled, ‘Yes it does appear that way but would you have it any differently?  No need to answer, the smile on your face is confirmation enough.  I’ll tell you what, this is gonna really shake up Colonel Turney’s aristocratic feelings.  He’s not fond of the common man and especially common misfits like us.’  ‘Yes well, it won’t be the first time we’ve upset the nobility.’ I said laughing at the memories of past encounters with social climbing military leaders.  We reached the tent site of my companions in arms just as Jimmy Two Birds was pulling the stopper out of the jug of confiscated moonshine.  ‘Best go easy on that.  We’re in the saddle again at the crack of dawn.  General Lee has given us a job to do and under the direction of our newly minted General here,’ I said pointing to Ricard, ‘we will be riding a long way tomorrow.’ ‘Kiss my own arse if that ain’t something.’ chimed in Two birds, ‘Bout time we got some real action.’   I was just about to respond when Colonel Turney, in a near state of apoplexy, walked up to General Ricard fuming about Lee’s abandonment of the social strata. ‘His daddy, Light Horse Harry must be rolling in his grave.   Passing over the son of a prominent member of the government and owner of the largest plantation in Alabama for this, this vagabond Texan?’ said Colonel Turney to no one in particular but now he turned his eyes on Ricard, ‘Sir, I graduated first in my class at the finest military school in Alabama and received my commission from the governor of Alabama.  Just where did you get your training and commission, sir?’  ‘Well’ replied General Ricard, ‘To be specific, all of us received our initial training while with Vespasian in Britain at the hands of a real tough s.o.b. of a centurion name of Macro.  Chap was real handy with a vine staff and second to none with a blade.  My first commission I received from Gaius Julius Caesar himself while with the 10th Legion in Gaul.  Our latest experience was a posting with The Texas Rangers with Captains Call and McRae fighting off the Comanche under Buffalo Hump.  Anything else you want to know Colonel?’  The colonel with a look of disgust just walked away muttering to himself, ‘Lunatics, Lee has lost his mind and promoted lunatics.’ ‘Well ladies, best start packing.  General Longstreet said he’d see our extra gear gets on a baggage wagon.  Joe, go see our erstwhile cook Sgt. Parmenio and make sure he has breakfast ready for us before dawn.  I will see you misfits bright and early.’ said Ricard as he walked away. Trooper Joe headed for the cook’s tent and the others began assembling only what they needed for the mission.

Arriving at Sgt. Carter Parmenio’s camp kitchen Joe found him basting a suckling pig he had turning on a spit licking his fingers clean of the tasty juices.  ‘Hey Carter’ said Joe, ‘We have an early ride tomorrow so we’re gonna need breakfast and some eat while on horseback food for the journey.’  Carter looked up from the turning pig, smiled and said, ‘You got it.  Biscuits, bacon and coffee good enough for you picky eaters?’  ‘Perfect.’ replied Joe, ‘Is that pig ready for sampling?  I’m feeling a little peckish.  Oh yeah one more thing, can you see that Colonel Turney’s breakfast is somewhat short of tasty?’  Sgt. Parmenio, a huge gap toothed grin on his face nodded knowingly and said, ‘That bastard gets nothing but the burnt pieces of bacon, the two day old biscuits and coffee that has been on the fire a bit too long.’  ‘Perfect’ replied Joe as he handed Sgt. Parmenio a couple cigars, ‘Compliments of ole Pete Longstreet.  Course he don’t know he’s missing them yet.  See you before the birds get up.’

The early morning breakfast was just about completed when General Longstreet came over and had a seat by the fire.  ‘I see Sgt. Parmenio has outdone himself.’ he mused watching Trooper Bob Speed chomp down on yet another piece of bacon and while Troopers Joe and Two Birds were using their last bit of biscuit to wipe their plates clean of anything edible.  ‘Anything I can do for you boys?  I’ve arranged for a baggage wagon to store your gear.’  ‘Well as a matter of fact there is Gen’l’ said Two Birds, ‘I’d take it kindly if you would hold onto this jug.  I don’t trust those thieving wagon masters.’  ‘I will do what I can though I can’t guarantee it’ll be any safer with my gear.’ answered Longstreet.  ‘Seems someone has been helping themselves to my Cuban cigars.  Come to think of it I believe I saw Sgt. Parmenio smoking one as I grabbed some coffee a few minutes ago.  He tried to hide it when he saw me.   Well no matter, I’m guessing that whoever gave him the cigar will be far away from my tent for the next few days.’  Longstreet got up and saluted. ’Good luck.  Send back word as soon as you can.’

We set out in what has become our norm through our many adventures.  Two Birds was on point, Speed brought up the rear leaving the General, Trooper Joe and me in the middle.  We spaced ourselves out in fifteen minute intervals and would ride for three hours at which point Joe and I would swap places with Two Birds and Speed.  This way kept us sharp and on the alert.  Our route was a north easterly one through farmland and woods.  Our first destination was the Monterey Pass of South Mountain.  Once there we will do a more thorough recon before continuing towards the town of Gettysburg. As the three of us approached the beginning of the pass we noticed Two Birds dismounted and giving us the keep quiet signal.  Leaving the horses with Joe, the General and I crept up to Two Birds position.  There below us in a clearing in the woods was a Union officer quite literally with his pants around his ankles taking care of a bodily function.  Careful to not alert him we surrounded and then surprised the crap out of him.  ‘Just finish your business Lieutenant, we can wait.’ said General Ricard.  Lieutenant Charles LeFurge fresh out of West Point finished with a spray of oak leaves, pulled up his pants and seeing no hope of escape surrendered his pistol and a very nice Spencer Repeating Rifle.  I searched him and found his orders which I then handed to General Ricard.  ‘Well it seems the good Lieutenant is part of a scouting patrol attached to General Pleasonton.  Two Birds go get Joe and take a look see at their camp.  If there are pickets, take them out quietly.  We don’t want to arouse the others too soon.’ As we waited for Two Birds and Joe to return, Trooper Speed came galloping up.  ‘Sir, I located what appears to be John Buford’s command.  Looks like they are headed to Gettysburg.’  The general thought for a moment and said, ‘Where Buford is, General Reynolds and the 1st Corps of Meade’s cannot be far behind.  Bob, head back to Longstreet.  Tell him we found Meade and probably Pleasonton.  If Ole Pete hurries he can grab the high ridges outside of Gettysburg and make things rather difficult for Meade.  Meanwhile, the rest of us are going to continue to Stuart.  He could be in a fix if Pleasonton finds him before we do.  Here take this Spencer, could come in handy.’ Two Birds and Joe came back reporting that not only were there no pickets set, the scouting party had stacked their rifles out of reach.  ‘Seems odd considering that there is one of us in the group.’ said Joe, ‘The sergeant is sporting a Bull emblem on his saddlebag.’  ‘Okay, Lieutenant let’s go down to your camp.  One false move and blood will be shed, yours first.’ warned General Ricard.

Sergeant Liam O’Toole had a feeling up and down his neck that something was wrong and gave thought to calling his men to arms but after some careful consideration decided to wait it out peacefully.  These troopers were eager but were young and inexperienced, starting with the Lieutenant so he was not too surprised when the camp was invaded by a troop of Confederates.  What did surprise the Sgt. was the Pegasus emblem each of the rebels had stitched on his uniform.

Ricard: ‘Sergeant, please have you and your men seated with your hands on your knees.  There is something familiar about you Sgt?’

O’Toole: ‘Liam O’Toole at your service sir.  Aye but sure it has been a long time since we served together with himself General Caesar at Alesia.  I was or am Lucius Laevinus, Centurion, 1st Century, 2nd Cohort in the 10th.  I remember you sir and the rest of your crew.  I don’t see Nascar, played dice with him a few times.  I think the dozy bastard cheats.  Well we did a piece of work in that fight.’

Ricard: ‘I am surprised at your defenseless position given your experience, Centurion.’

O’Toole: ‘Aye.  I argued with the young laddie but he was sure we were safe.   Youngster had to learn the hard way.’

Ricard: ‘Right.  Well this is what’s going to happen.  We are going to leave you here, with your saddles.  We will be taking the Spencer’s and ammo.  We will also be taking your horses but will leave them tethered a few miles up the road.  By the time you get remounted we will have found Stuart and hopefully engaged Pleasonton.  Hail and well met Centurion.’

O’Toole: ‘Hail and well met Centurion.’

Joe, Two Birds and me gathered up the rifles, ammo and led the horses back up the hill to the road.  The General unloaded the Lieutenants pistol, handed it back to him and followed us up the slope.  ‘I say Sergeant, what was all that talk about Centurions and Alesia?’ asked LeFurge.  ‘Just old soldier talk laddie, nothing to be concerned about.  Right now your only thought should be on getting these boys back to the troop.’ answered Sergeant O’Toole. We arrived at Stuart’s camp a couple hours later and after sending Joe and Two Birds out to scout for Pleasonton, Major General Ricard and I headed for General Stuart’s command tent.

Stuart: ‘Well this is a surprise.  Ricard isn’t it?  A Major General now, congratulations are in order.’

Ricard: ‘Thank you but you better read this first.’  He handed Lee’s letter to Stuart.

Stuart: ‘It seems I have run afoul of General Lee and I suspect General Longstreet as well.  I am your servant sir.  General Lee does not state any orders for me.  May I assume he left that up to you General Ricard?

Ricard: ‘Yes as a matter of fact and I have an idea that may change Lee’s current frame of mind.  General Pleasonton is on his way here to finish what he started at Brandy Station.  I believe we have until dawn before he launches his surprise attack on this camp.  Plenty of time for us to be ready with a few of our own surprises.  Call your staff together, we have some planning to do, say in half an hour.

Meanwhile Joe and Two Birds had returned with their report that Pleasonton was indeed in position to attack at dawn.  They were also escorting a group of browbeaten pickets back to camp.  “General, we sort of figured you had a plan to surprise Pleasonton so we took it upon ourselves to call in General Stuart’s scouts,’ said Two Birds.  ‘They were a little reluctant at first but we put the fear of a centurion in them.  Jupiter’s hairy sack that was fun.’  ‘Good thinking Two Birds, now you and Joe go get with the troop engineer.  I want concealed pits lined with sharpened stakes dug along the main pathways through the camp.’ responded General Ricard.  ‘Ocho, take 750 troopers and hide yourself in the woods up that hill’, said Ricard pointing to an overlook from which I would charge into the rear of the Federal troops once they reached the pits.  ‘I will take 750 troopers as well  and fall on the Feds from the front and side once you have engaged the rear. General Stuart and the rest of this troop will make a show of being caught unawares in the camp but will form a skirmish line once Pleasonton’s lead group reaches the pits.  Okay gentlemen, let’s get ready.’

The things I remember most in all of the battles I have taken part in are the sounds and smells that permeate a battlefield.  This is not to say that I don’t recollect the faces of the foes I have put down, on the contrary, I see them all of the time as they regularly discomfit my dreams but it is the sounds of men and animals screaming their war cries or crying their death songs and the smells of body parts cruelly ripped asunder and strewn haphazard along the ground and the pools of  blood, urine and feces turning the ground into a miasma of mire that nature never intended to exist, those are the more pervading memories. From my vantage point at the top of the ridge I could see Pleasonton making his way slowly up the valley leading to the camp.  When they reached the point where they would expect to meet the outlying pickets Pleasonton halted and held a brief discussion with his brigade commanders.  I can imagine the exciting prospect of catching Stuart unaware was utmost on his mind for he immediately ordered the charge.  At once the ground shook with the thundering of 2500 horses rushing full speed into the vast encampment.  The first line of horsemen reached the concealed pits and plunged down onto the sharpened stakes, horses screaming as they impaled themselves in chests and legs throwing their riders who were helpless as they too fell on stakes or under thrashing hooves.  By the time those behind were able to rein in their steeds Stuart fell upon them on the left flank and Ricard on the right.  My troops hit them square in the center of their rear.  The result was a rout.  The Federal troops had nowhere to go to flee the carnage being heaped upon them from every side.  Those who did try to continue straight through the camp found themselves trampling over the unfortunate ones floundering in the stake lined pits.  Those who made it past those obstacles then had to contend with Stuart’s field artillery set up at the other end of the camp.  Canister shot at short range cut huge swaths through the panic stricken Federal horsemen.

There was one regiment that managed to avoid the deadly pits and the ensuing chaos by swinging to the extreme right side of the camp and riding through a thinned out area of forest.  The 5th Michigan led by Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer was not willing to leave the field of battle without striking a blow and reentered the camp and hit the troop led by General Ricard.  This was the fiercest fight of the morning and the one that took its heaviest toll on the rebels.  Custer was like a man possessed as he stabbed and sliced his way through the enemy looking to inflict a killing blow on the leader of this collection of rebel troopers.  Ricard could see Custer coming in his direction and guessed his intent.  Spurring his mount, Ricard turned to meet the challenge.  They met, sabers drawn, with Custer taking the offensive raining blow after blow at Ricard who neatly deflected them all until one deflection forced Custer’s blade into a scything downward motion catching Ricard’s horse in the shoulder tearing a huge gash nearly to the bone.  The now terrified animal stumbled to the ground dislodging Ricard who went flying over his mounts head.  As he hit the ground his saber was jostled from his hand and thrown out of reach.  Wheeling his steed around, Custer saw his chance and swooped in for the kill.

Trooper Bob Speed was sitting on top of a hill across the camp.  He had delivered his message to Longstreet and feeling a little left out of the fight grabbed a fresh mount and headed back to his companions.  When he arrived the battle was already a foregone conclusion so he sat and watched the mop up.  When he heard the clash of the Michigan 5th and Ricard’s troops he pulled out the Spencer just in case.

General Ricard dazed and a little groggy from the fall looked up through blurry eyes to see a man on horseback poised to strike a lethal blow.  Ricard threw his arms up reflexively to ward off the blow that never fell.  Two shots rang out from Trooper Bob’s Spencer, the first striking Custer in the shoulder throwing him back in the saddle right when the second shot hit his horse in the chest.  Both horse and rider tumbled backwards, the horse landing on top of Custer crushing his spine and taking his life.  When I was finally able to reach General Ricard he was gazing down at the lifeless body of his foe.  ‘Who took the shots that saved my life?’ asked Ricard.  ‘Well General that would be me,’ replied Trooper Bob Speed as he rode up and dismounted, ‘good thing you gave me that Spencer.’

Sgt. Liam O’Toole and Lt. Charles LeFurge rode over to their fallen commander.  Lt. LeFurge made a move to pull his pistol from his holster but Sgt. O’Toole put his hand on the Lieutenant’s, ‘Ahh laddie this fight is over.  Your job now is to help make our retreat orderly.  Go and gather what troops you can and head back to camp.  I’m guessing General Pleasonton will be wanting to get away from here rather quickly.  I’ll be along shortly with General Custer’s body.’

Sgt. O’Toole: ‘He was a rash one our General Custer.  Had a bright future.  How many like him have we met in our travels Ricardus?’

Ricard: ‘More than I care to count, Lucius.  Best keep an eye on that Lt. LeFurge.  He seems to share General Custer’s flair for the dramatic.  Hail and well met, Lucius.  Until our next posting.

Sgt. O’Toole: ‘Hail and well met Ricardus.’

Epilogue

3rd of July 1863

        The next two days were taken up with the burial of the dead and the mundane duties of administrative paperwork.  The sounds of a major engagement raging to the west in Gettysburg was a constant reminder to be vigilant and alert.  Pickets were set and dispatch riders were sent in search of news of the battle.  It was also a time for recuperation for Ricard as he sustained a large contusion on his arse when thrown from his horse during the battle.  This provided us with a few good laughs especially from Two Birds who remarked upon seeing the multi-colored bruise, ‘I swear General, that has got to be the prettiest buttock I  have ever seen.  Well not as pretty as Aphrodite’s perhaps, but yours certainly has a fine artistic quality to it.  Bet you can’t wait to get back in the saddle again.’

        As it turned out we were back in the saddle later that day as a courier from General Longstreet arrived with a request that we join him in his new camp just off the Taneytown Road below Little Round Top.  So leaving the rest of the cleanup to General Stuart we gathered our gear and headed off to see Ole Pete.  The scars of battle were everywhere we looked.  Newly dug graves, broken caissons, Union prisoners, dead horses and the occasional cries of pain from the makeshift field hospital greeted us as we made our way to the command tent of Longstreet.

Longstreet: ‘Glad to see you boys made it through okay.  As you can see and smell, we’ve had a busy time of it here.  Thanks to the message you sent with Trooper Speed, we were able to gain the high ground before Buford arrived.  By the time Meade got here we were well entrenched.  A.P. Hill held the center with Ewell’s Corp holding the right.  My boys Pickett and Hood were just up there behind us on those two hills, Big Round Top and Little Round Top.  The Federals put up a tremendous fight especially right here at Little Round Top.  Sam Hood was hard pressed to keep them at bay as the Yanks poured everything they had at him.  One regiment, the Maine 20th, almost broke through which would have caused us all sorts of problems but Sam’s boys with a little last minute help from Lou Armistead’s brigade turned the tide and we held.  We captured the colonel of the 20th Maine.  A remarkable young man.  He’s a rhetoric professor at some college in Maine, not even a military man and he almost broke us.’

Ricard: ‘Well how is General Lee going to follow up this victory?  Seems to me that Meade’s forces are pretty well spent, will take them a while to recover enough to be a threat.’

Longstreet: ‘We’re moving out tomorrow.  General Lee is going to leave Ewell’s Corp. here to keep an eye on Meade while the rest of us head on down to Washington and a meeting with President Lincoln, though I expect he will have vacated the area before we arrive.  Where are you boys headed next now that you are detached from this army?  General Lee sends his sincerest thanks for the outstanding work you and the misfits did.’

Ricard: ‘Until our next assignment we’re gonna head back to Texas and help out Call and McRae.  That Comanche chief Buffalo Hump is one of the finest adversary’s we’ve come up against.’

Longstreet: ‘Oh I almost forgot.  Trooper Two Birds may want this.’

        General Longstreet reached down behind him and grabbed a large jug and handed it to Two Birds.  ‘Glory be! Look at that Joe, our jug made it.  I swear Pete, by the hairy gonads of Jupiter himself, that’s the best thing I’ve seen all day, excepting of course the multi-colored work of art on Ricardus’ arse.’

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Filed under alternative history, my stories, The Stuck In Boys

The Augusta

The Augusta    

Or

The Sheep Pasture Assignment 

A Tale of The Stuck In Boys 

Main Cast of Characters

Legio II Augusta

Decimus Falerius Turneus – Legate Legio II Augusta – on the fast track broad stripe aristocrat

Gaius Maximus Ricardus – Primus Pilus 1st Century 1st Cohort Legio II Augusta – The Chief

Gaius Carbo Nascareus (Nascar) – legionary 1st Century 1st Cohort Legio II Augusta – a real track expert

Gaius  Josephum Postalianus (Postal) – legionary 1st Century 1st Cohort Legio II Augusta – the chatty type

Gaius Jacobus Duoavianus (Two Birds) – legionary 1st Century 1st Cohort Legio II Augusta – can be profane

Gaius Ocho Bennacos – legionary 1st Century 1st Cohort Legio II Augusta –  one blow to the head too many?

Parmenio – Quartermaster – with apologies to Robin Carter

Matunos – Blacksmith – the original club maker

Village Hooligans

Tolmach – local villager befriended by Ocho

Macrob – local villager befriended by Ocho

Various and Sundry Others

Rubicon – white battle stallion of Legate Turneus

Flock of sheep – golf course grounds keeping crew

Voice of John Cleese – a powerful persuader

Nertomaros – former warrior from Long Haired Gaul, now a merchant.

PROLOGUE

Ocho was not having a good day on the sacred fairways of northern Britain.  Indeed his erratic, slice inducing tee shots were the main reasons, as he couldn’t hit a fairway with a tractor.  It was on the 14th hole that he decided to put some rage into his tee shots.  Now the 14th hole here at Carlisle Golf Club in Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.  is a shortish par 4 with a dogleg right.  The smart tee shot is a 5-wood to the corner of the dogleg.  Ocho was past playing smart and pulled out the big dog in order to fly his drive over the trees at the corner of the dogleg thus putting him close to the green.  Ocho looked back at his Hoover playing partners as he placed his ball on the tee; ‘Don’t try this at home boys and girls.  Professional driver on a closed course.’   Putting the rage of many double bogeys into one mighty swing Ocho sends the dimpled sphere soaring up and toward the trees guarding the corner.  ‘Go you flying monkey butt’, beseeches Ocho, but alas the ball smacks into the top of the last tree, careening backward where it clips another tree and comes to rest in a tangled mess of thick forest floor undergrowth and leaf litter.  His playing partners all hit 5-wood to the center of the fairway.

‘Good luck finding that ball.’ said Rick as he dropped Ocho off at the edge of the woods and drove off to hit his second shot.  Searching fruitlessly while his partners hit up to the green Ocho suddenly realized he did not have any more balls to play.  When Rick drove back to see how Ocho was doing he flipped Ocho a ball to use.  ‘Thanks, I’m going to look in one more spot and then I’ll just drop back up the fairway a bit.’ said Ocho as Rick drove off again.

Meanwhile back on the tee the next group saw Ocho’s buddies drive to the green but they did not see Ocho in the woods.  The first in their group decided to hit away and sent a bullet in Ocho’s direction.  Seeing Ocho at the last minute the sender of the projectile shouted out ‘FORE’!  However, due to a combination of genetics, working in loud data centers for 35 years and listening to The Who through headphones at too high a setting, Ocho is a little hard of hearing so the only thing he did hear was the thwack of the golf ball clanging off the side of his head.

Near Luguvalium – early stages of the construction of Hadrian’s Wall

The First Cohort of the First Century of Legio II Augusta was completing a recon of one of the local villages and was looking forward to some downtime back at camp when a disgruntled villager threw a rock towards the legionaries hitting Ocho in the side of his head tumbling him to the ground.  ‘Shields’! bellowed the voice of The Primus Pilus, chief Centurion of the 1st Century, Gaius Maximus Ricardus.  At once the cohort drew into battle alignment; shields up and at the ready, gladii ready to be unsheathed but the crowd of villagers dispersed and no further trouble was had.  ‘Okay boys, doesn’t look like we’ll be getting stuck in today.  Let’s head back to camp.’ said Ricardus, ’Two Birds and Postal give Ocho a hand, he looks a bit woozy.’

Nascar: ‘That was a nasty knock you took there Ocho.  How ya feelin’?’

Ocho: ‘I’ve felt worse after a night of drinking that pig swill they serve in the mess.  How about we head to town for something a little more palatable.’

Postal: ‘Let me just say that I’m so hungry I could eat a whole pig.’

Two Birds: ‘Postal?  You are a pig but I get your point.  Let’s go.

The four veterans of countless engagements were something of a legend in the Legio II Augusta.  No fiercer warriors existed in the 2nd; they were the shock troops of the legion.  Their reputations giving rise to two nicknames; The Stuck In Boys and Wall Breechers for wherever the fighting was heaviest and deadliest, that’s where you’ll find The Stuck in Boys.  Whenever a local tribal citadel was under siege it was the Wall Breechers who would find and exploit any weakness in a wall’s defenses and would be the first in and the ones who fought to the gate.  Recipients of numerous phalerae and citations as well as various battle scars, these four boon companions inspired awe and not just a little fear when the blood lust of killing rage coursed through their veins.

Ricardus: ‘Mind if I join you ladies?  I assume you’re heading to town to quench a terrible thirst.’

Postal: ‘Of course, Centurion.  You’re always welcome.’

Ricardus: ‘How many times do I have to tell you to drop the formality when we’re off duty?’

Postal: ‘Sorry Centurion, it won’t happen again.’

The tavern, a low slung log building with a thatch roof and thick smoke for an interior wasn’t much on amenities but it was the only place in town and that made it a popular spot for the 2nd Legion.  It also meant that it was usually very crowded.

Two Birds: ‘Juno’s hairy arm pits would you look at all the riff raff and ne’er do wells that call themselves legionaries.  No open tables that I can see.’

Ricardus: ‘No problem.  Leave it to me.’

Now, the presence of a centurion much less a senior centurion in any situation is enough to give young recruits nightmares.  Ricardus strode over to a table that was being used by just such a group of new recruits, vine staff in hand and a scowl on his face.  ‘Don’t you ladies have somewhere else to be?’ asked Ricardus as he slammed his vine staff against the table.  The recruits, a couple of whom had to exert great control over their bladders, rose as one.  ‘Yes Centurion, sir.’   As they were leaving Ricardus replied, ‘Take this horse piss you were drinking along with you.  Our palettes are much too sensitive for this stuff.  Barkeep bring us the good wine and be quick about it.’

Several cups of unwatered wine and many hours later Ocho was dreaming.  He was standing on what seemed to be a manicured sheep pasture that had a wide strip of shorter grass in the middle while the edges were uncut and studded with large holes filled with sand.  Off in the distance he could make out a saucer shaped area where the grass was even shorter and had what appeared to be a flag planted in the ground.  Then a voice called out to Ocho from the fringes of the dream.  A voice that sounded a lot like John Cleese. ‘Ocho! Build this and teach the locals the game of golf.  The future of mankind depends on this.  Do not fail.’

Nascar: ‘You’re as daft as one of them old crones selling magic potions.  You want us to help you build a what?’

Ocho: ‘I know it sounds crazy but somehow I have acquired the knowledge of this thing called golf and I’m bound up in this destiny.  I feel it in my bones.  Besides you guys won’t be the only ones helping.  I managed to borrow the services of the recruits in the 4th cohort.  I promised the optio a couple amphora of the Legate’s finest Falernian.’

Two Birds: ‘Jupiter’s hanging bollocks!  How did you get your hands on that stuff?’

Ocho: ‘With Postal’s help of course.  He can talk the scowl off of Medusa so while he was chatting up old Parmenio the quartermaster, I snuck in the back and made off with the wine.  The Legate will naturally blame Parmenio which is fine by me.  No one likes the drunken bastard anyway.’

So it was that 100 new recruits were toiling in the hot sun under the frightening looks of The Stuck in Boys.  Some of the recruits were just off the farm so Ocho had those gather up all the sheep they could find.  The sheep were then herded to the pasture where Ocho was going to build his golf hole.  The job of the sheep was to crop the grass in the middle.  Stakes were set out to delineate the ‘fairway’ from the ‘rough’; both terms just popping into Ocho’s mind when describing what he wanted.  Another group was engaged in digging holes at spots Ocho chose.  These would be filled with sand that was being harvested by another group of recruits at the Solway Firth.  It was the saucer shaped bit that had Ocho scratching his head when he heard the sound of an approaching horse.  It was the Legate Decimus Falerias Turneus on his white charger Rubicon.

Legate Turneus: ‘Pray tell what are my heroes of the Legion doing supervising a bunch of recruits who should be undergoing some sort of painful yet necessary training abuse?  No need to explain.  I heard about this strange dream of yours from the blacksmith who it seems is also working for you.  It seems he’s making some sort of crooked sticks for this golf thing.  Doesn’t seem to me to be a proper activity for a true Roman.  It does seem appropriate however for these ghastly barbarians.  Well, carry on.  I have to go see Parmenio.  Seems the sot has taken a liking to my Falernian.’

Ocho: as he mounts one of the auxiliary cavalry horses he borrowed, ‘I have to go see the blacksmith.  I found something I think I can use as a golf ball.  Postal, I need you to head into town to the butcher and procure all the pig and sheep bladders he has.  I’ll be back in a bit.  In the meantime Two Birds and Nascar outline a large circle here and have the some of the sheep start mowing it down.’

The blacksmith, a hulking, hairy specimen from Gaul named Matunos was just putting the finishing touches on the last crooked stick or 7-iron as Ocho called it when Ocho walked in.  Matunos or Bear as he was aptly called looked up at his visitor, wiped the beads of sweat trickling down his ash embedded face and handed Ocho the 7-iron.

Matunos: ‘Here’s the last one Ocho.  I made six of them just like you asked.  One with a flat blade and the others each with a blade at a slightly different angle.’

Ocho: handing Arcturus  a basket, ‘Thanks Bear.  The irons and the putter look just fine.  Can you tell me what these bronze twelve sided objects are for?  I traded a nice flagon of Setinum that Parmenio seems to have misplaced or consumed for a dozen of them.  I think I can, well you can, modify them for me by grinding away the edges and leaving them as round as possible.’

Matunos: ‘Don’t recollect what they’re called but they are popular with the traders who sell them to the gullible and superstitious.   Calls them some sort of magical talisman; a pile of pig shit is what I calls it.’

Ocho: ‘I owe you big time, Bear.  Come by the tent later.  I’ve got some nice Caecuban that the Legate doesn’t know he donated to me.

Matunos: ‘Oh I’ll be there just as long as I don’t have to play dice with Nascar.  That dozy bastard cheats.’

So it was that over the course of the next two weeks the hole was completed.  Also completed was the assembly of a dozen golf balls.  Ocho hired some of the women in town to cut and stitch a pig or sheep bladder over the rounded bronze cores.  Everything was ready except for some villagers to learn the game.

Tolmach and Macrob were what we would call nowadays streetwise entrepreneurs; meaning that they were pickpockets and thieves.  Ocho discovered them one day as he lounged outside of the tavern drinking one of the local barley brews favored in that region.  He watched as they worked in tandem to snatch a moneybag from a well to do merchant.  Draining the last of the beer followed by a healthy belch, Ocho got up and followed the two miscreant teenagers.  He watched as they sat down behind an old dried up well to count up their loot.  Unaware of Ocho’s presence, Tolmach and Macrob were startled by the metallic rasp of a sword being drawn from its scabbard.  Looking up the boys saw this Achilles like creature, scars on arms and legs speaking volumes as to his ability to survive and his unmistakable ability to deal out death.  ‘Laddies I’m in a generous, giving mood so I’m going to give you a chance to do the right thing.  Hand me the bag.  I know the merchant and will return it to him.  Now in return for my not turning you over to him I will require your assistance in a very important matter. By the way the merchants name is Nertomaros, a former warrior from Gaul.  His name means big and strong; and he is that.  I’m sure he would have no problem dealing with you two in a most unpleasant fashion.  Meet me at dawn in the sheep pasture just east of the camp.’

Ocho and Postal arrived at what was now called the Augusta Golf Course arms loaded down with the newly made 5-9 irons and putter.  Slung over Ocho’s shoulder was a pouch containing the twelve golf balls.  To honor The 2nd Legion Ocho had drawn a small eagle on each ball with II Legio Augusta written underneath.  Postal was carrying a pole to which a small flag was attached.  It too was adorned with The 2nd Legion insignia and name.  Tolmach and Macrob arrived a moment later, a mixture of curiosity and suspicion on their faces as they eyed the strange crooked sticks and bladder covered balls.

Ocho: ‘Ah good morning laddies.  Glad you decided to join us.  In case you’re interested Nertomaros was extremely happy to get his money back.  He was ready to tear your village apart.  Oh yeah, he would have found you; no doubt about it.  Okay, let’s get started on your golf training.  Postal, please take the Augusta flag and plant it in the hole in the ahh, what is the name of that short grass area?  Oh yes, green, it is called a green.  While you’re doing that I will show these fine upstanding youngsters how to hit a golf ball.

Tolmach: ‘Hey, what are we supposed to do with this new training?  It certainly won’t fill our bellies or shelter us in the winter!

Macrob: ‘Don’t much like the idea of wasting our time.  There are purses to be lifted, you know.

Up to this point the revelations of golf that came to Ocho were of the practical kind.  How to build the course, how to fashion the clubs, how to hit the ball and so on.  The abstract concept of why came to him now like a thunderbolt and when he started to speak it wasn’t his voice that was heard but the voice of John Cleese.

Ocho: (in the voice of John Cleese) ‘To borrow a phrase from Two Birds, why in the name of Venus’ awe-inspiring tits would I waste my time and yours?   There is a purpose to this lunacy.  Once you are capable of playing reasonably well you will then become the teachers.  The game of golf is the key for mankind’s survival.’  He then pulls Ocho’s gladius from the scabbard, ‘This weapon, this killing device will no longer be needed.  They will be re-forged and come anew as golf clubs.  No longer will the world be subject to the insanity and the horror of war.  Battles will be fought here on the pristine confines of The Sacred Fairways.  Golf and golf courses will become the mediator in disputes as well as being the sport of the masses.  Look at what we have wrought here, a sheep pasture has become hallowed ground , now imagine hundreds, no thousands of these golf courses spread from Hibernia to Bosporus.   The two most sacred, the most hallowed will be called Augusta and Saint Andrews.  Augusta will be formed in a land across the sea but Saint Andrews will be founded not far from here over on The Firth of Forth.  You see?  A simple thing really, all you need do is learn and then pass it on.  Your children’s children’s children will be the deciders of man’s fate.  Mind there are forces that will try to thwart this gallant effort to bring peace.  A beastly, ghastly thing called The Industrial-Military Complex, the roots of which are now growing out East in the blasted desert of all places, will stop at nothing to squash this glorious quest.  They will strive to change the purpose of golf, making it nothing more than a game for the privileged and as for the peace part?  Well, see this gladius?  Now imagine a gladius of mass destruction, one capable of killing thousands with one blow.  You are important my young hooligans, so learn well.’

The voice of John Cleese faded back into wherever it came from leaving Ocho somewhat dazed.  ‘Are we under attack?’,  he asked looking at the sword in his hand.  ‘Oh wait, now I remember.  Well that was quite a show.  Now to the matter at hand.’  So began three weeks of intensive training and drills. In sunshine or in pelting rain Ocho with a little help from The Stuck In Boys, molded the two light fingered youths into golfers .  Not as intensive, mind, as what those poor recruits were enduring under Ricardus.  The occasional scream could be heard all the way to the sheep pasture.

At the end of the three weeks Ocho, who was by himself this day, spoke to the boys about their immediate future.

Ocho: ‘Right then.  You may have noticed that I am alone today.  Truth is, The Stuck In Boys are going on a mission to someplace called Byzantium.  Leaving today actually, so here is what’s gonna happen to you two.  Nertomaros has agreed to take you on as his staff for a new market he is opening up in Otadini territory on The Firth of Forth.  Teach the locals the game of golf and no more stealing!  Okay then, let’s play one more hole.  Since Postal isn’t here I’ll go on up ahead and watch where the ball lands.’

Ocho headed up the right side of the fairway heading for a spot behind a tree.  He was not concerned about Tolmach or Macrob being wild off the tee so was not paying too much attention as Tolmach began his backswing.  Just as he started the downswing a hideous scream came roiling over the sheep pasture from one of Ricardus’ recruits.  The result was that Tolmach flinched a little and instead of being square at impact, the 5-iron connected while slightly open causing the ball to speed off with a nasty side spin.  The ball ricocheted off the side of Ocho’s head and came to rest deep in the woods in a tangled mess of forest floor undergrowth and leaf litter.

Epilogue

                Ocho slowly got to his feet as Rick helped him up asking, ‘Man that was some nasty knock you took there!   You feeling okay?  You look a little woozy.’  ‘I’ve felt worse after a night of drinking that pig swill they serve at the mess.’ answered Ocho.  ‘What?’ asked a befuddled Rick.  ‘I don’t know where that came from.’ replied an equally befuddled Ocho, ‘Hey I found a weird looking ball.’; said Ocho bending down to pick it up.  ‘It’s not dimpled and the cover has an animal feel to it.  It has some sort of logo on it.  Says II Legio Augusta  written underneath what looks like an eagle.  What in the name of Vulcan’s flatulent arse is going on here?  The handwriting looks a lot like mine!  Know what?  I feel like I’m supposed to hit this ball.  What the hell.  I’m shooting three from here and my round is already knee deep in the shitter.’

Ocho proceeded to hit the II Legio ball with his 3-iron hybrid and watched in amazement as it soared majestically and landed softly on the green, rolling to a stop a mere 3 inches from the pin.  As Ocho strode to the green for his tap in par he said to Rick; ‘Did you know that golf was invented by a Roman Legionary in the II Legio Augusta?   Hey, I just caught that!  Augusta!  Home of The Masters; man what a coincidence.’

Notes and Acknowledgements

  • Many thanks to the following members of The Historical Writers Assoc. website who supplied me with enough information on dodecahedrons to convince me they couldn’t be used as golf balls. SJA Turney – Tim Hodkinson – Robert Low – Romanike   I used them anyway  J.
  • Many apologies to Robin Carter of Parmenion Books for the less than flattering rendering of Parmenio.  J
  • Once again I have my Hoover buddies to thank for allowing me to blaspheme them in print over and over and over….
  • For those interested I have two blogs – one is of my stuff – https://mystoriesandsuch.wordpress.com/
  • The other is of book reviews I’ve written –  http://hooverbookreviews.wordpress.com/
  • Carlisle Golf Club in Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.  – I have no idea if the 14th is a shortish, dogleg right but that’s what I wanted J
  • Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of The Stuck In Boys – The Byzantium Labor – here’s a preview:  Two Birds: ‘By Poseidon’s hairy nuts if I have to ride one more camel!! When are we gonna get there?’

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