Dr. Platypus

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[I can almost see the top of the hole I’ve been digging myself out of the past two days. While I’m trying to catch up, here is an excerpt from the short story I was working on up until this week’s travels.]

The legions had been driving the barbarians back all summer. Finally they had made it to Lugdunum. This town in the heart of Gaul had been Didius?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ home for years. He had hoped to put his military service long behind him. Instead, he stood in the tent of his new emperors, the child and the man, when he would have rather been tending to his flock.

Sabinianus spoke again. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWe need additional soldiers to drive the Germans back across the Rhine. You understand.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

It wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t a question, but it isn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t always wise to speak directly. And yes, Didius did understand. The Franks and Alamanni were on the run. The legions had made the most of every opportunity, but not without a cost. Their troop strength was depleted, as Didius could tell instantly from a distance as the legions marched past his home three days before. If he were still a centurion, he knew what he would advise his commanders. Make Lugdunum their staging area for the next phase of the campaign. Regroup before heading deeper into Gaul. They needed provisions?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùacquired easily enough from the surrounding villas. But mostly they needed new conscripts to fill out their ranks.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìI understand, my lord.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Then he added, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI was once a soldier myself.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìIs that so? Then I expect you do understand.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù The elder Augustus stroked his neatly trimmed beard.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìThen tell your people to obey us!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù the younger Augustus interjected, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìor would you prefer we start raising crosses all the way from here back to Vienna? ?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Didius could see that Valentinianus barked the threat as much in panic as in anger. He had good reason for panic. He was young and inexperienced, which made him unpopular with the legions. His magister militum, Arbogastes, had been discovered spying for his countrymen the Franks. He had ruled for less than a year, but he would not likely be ruling at all if not for his eastern counterpart?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s presence. It was his territory the Franks were pillaging; in the east things were relatively calm. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this. There was nothing he could do but tag along and hope somehow to grow into the position that was thrust upon him before he was ready. He wanted to unsettle the old man because he was unsettled himself. Didius knew that. Even so, Rome did crucify traitors.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìPerhaps that will be unnecessary, Valentinianus,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Sabinianus said. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìDidius Paullus has served the empire before. It may be that he will accept this opportunity to serve it again.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù The elder Augustus chose his words carefully and delivered them well.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìI?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m sure you know what I mean. I make you to be, what? About sixty years old??¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìSixty-three this past June, my lord.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìThen you would have served when Iulianus the Philosopher was emperor. Maybe even before that in the civil war??¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìIt is as you say.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Didius knew what was coming. He didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t like it, but there was no way around it?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùa fact he had known for three days.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìI served in the First Armenian Legion.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Didius chose to let the eastern Augustus?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ comment hang in the air. Iulianus would have marched that legion into Persia, reclaimed lost Roman territory, and toppled the Persian emperor from his throne, but too many of his subjects refused to be conscripted to fight. Instead, all the First could do was hold their ground?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùbarely?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùin Syria.

Sabinianus regarded Didius?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ silence. Valentinianus?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ eyes darted back and forth between the two men. The elder emperor pretended to notice something on his breastplate and brush it off. Then, before his counterpart could speak, he continued.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìI was stationed in Antioch when Iulianus met there with representatives of your sect. As I understand it, certain laws were enacted that pertain to the situation in which we find ourselves.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìLaws that have not yet been thoroughly tested, my lord.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Laws of which Didius was more than a little skeptical.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìI fear, Didius, that the test has come at last. That is why we summoned you here. We need your young men to honor these laws?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùyour laws?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand fight.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù For the first time, Ioannes Sabinianus displayed a degree of frustration. He quickly regained his composure. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe alternative is withdrawal of the legions and abandoning this territory to the barbarians.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Didius was not sure that was the case. There were plenty of Lugdunenses who had no scruples about fighting for Rome, especially with an optio forcing them to do it at the point of a sword. Still, Sabinianus probably couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have chosen a worse place in Gaul to search for conscripts. The work had been going unusually well the past dozen years.

?¢‚Ǩ?ìYes, my lord, I believe it has.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìIulianus bent over backward to accommodate this superstition of yours. He even appointed one of your own to advise him on matters related to your sect.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìGregorios Nazianzenos is highly regarded both in and out of the church,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù said Didius. By all accounts, he would have made a fine bishop had that been the path to which God called him.

Valentinianus carped, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnd yet you refuse to obey the laws he promulgated??¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìWith all due respect, my lord, the canons of the church are not strictly ?¢‚ǨÀúlaws?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ in the Roman sense. They are more like guidelines?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùrules of thumb?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùmeant to be applied with a certain degree of flexibility and latitude. For this we use the Greek word, oikonomia.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù At this Didius glanced toward Sabinianus. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAt any rate, their force depends upon their free acceptance among the churches.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnd yet for some reason,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Valentinianus continued, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìyou have chosen to disregard them completely.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

?¢‚Ǩ?ìIt is stated in our holy writings, ?¢‚ǨÀúHe that believes shall not make haste.?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ In time, my lord, the church may firmly and finally embrace the Canons of Antioch, as we call them. As I understand it, Christians in the eastern part of the empire have already largely come to this conclusion. It is not so here.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Sabinianus frowned. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNo, it is not.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù There was another uncomfortable silence, then the elder Augustus continued, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI need that to change. I need you to change it.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù He didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t add, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìOr else,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but Didius heard it nonetheless.


  1. Wow. Good stuff. I love historical novels and short stories.


  2. Craig says:

    Very good! When can we expect more? 🙂


  3. D. P. says:

    Maybe I’ll set some more to post while I’m away for Thanksgiving…


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