ceasar vs charlemage
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Caesar vs. Charlemagne: A Short Story

A short story by Tim Eveland, pitching Caesar against Charlemagne in a poetic narrative.

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Caesar vs. Charlemagne:

The Missing Chapter in Caesar’s Commentaries

Gaius Julius Caesar left Rome for Gaul in 58 BC as proconsul. Th’ history we hold dear tells us that th’ Helvetians, Caesar’s first opponents in Gaul, desired t’ pass through th’ Province t’ claim better, more fertile land, and Caesar stopp’d them. But th’ history forgotten, lost in th’ pages o’ time, shares a different story. ‘Twas not th’ Helvetians who Caesar had t’ fight first o’ all in Gaul, but ‘twas Roland th’ Valiant, th’ brave knight who made toys o’ th’ Saracens in Outremer, and Charles th’ Great, th’ King o’ th’ Franks who by his dignity and with Alcuin by his side separated th’ ancients from th’ medieval with th’ heavenly rod.

Here are th’ pages o’ that lost chapter in Caesar’s commentaries, lost for it had been consider’d too bizarre by Caesar’s publishers and distributors in Rome t’ believe and copy for others t’ read. Even Caesar himself some years later had thought it all a dream, a dream spawn’d from reading too many romantic legends o’ Alexander in India. But by a mysterious, divine hand, this lost chapter has been reveal’d t’ us and is now preserved in th’ pages that follow—with it imbedd’d th’ glossaries as found in th’ marginalia o’ th’ only surviving medieval manuscript, now transcribed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in th’ last year o’ his life, 1882.

There’s a good reason why th’ ancient Saxons worshipp’d their gods at bodies o’ water. Th’ Bermuda Triangle is not th’ only place where time seems t’ freeze and warp like th’ flight o’ a gadfly when no one expects it t’. Forsooth, there, at a spot in th’ Rhine where Caesar made one o’ his many camps, wintering a legion, is a place where an ancient Irminsul can be found under th’ currents t’ this day, a place where th’ ancient Celts and Saxons travel’d through time by th’ grace o’ th’ eternal gods. Such eternal power is what enabled Odin t’ travel through th’ realms o’ th’ Yggdrasil and gather th’ Runes, th’ same power that enabled Jesus Christ t’ visit North America after his death. Such magic shall not be tamper’d with, and for th’ safety o’ mankind will not be further described here, lest it be identified by th’ wrong minds and abused for evil.

When crossing th’ Rhine with his legion at this magical spot, Caesar had been hoping t’ learn more o’ th’ Helvetians and their plans. But, sailing slowly in pontoons, him and his legion were faced with naught but black—their minds laid bare on a slate so t’ speak. ‘Twas not until Caesar open’d his eyes, seeming t’ wake from a long dream, that he made it t’ th’ other side o’ th’ great river. But not yet did he know that he had awaken’d in th’ year AD 771, th’ same year Charles’ brother Carloman died and Charles became sole ruler o’ th’ Franks. This was not th’ Gaul th’ Roman people knew, but ‘twas France and Germany proper as known in th’ Early Middle Ages. Charles, or Charlemagne as he was call’d, this year, not knowing who exactly this stranger was who had show’d up on his lands so mysteriously, would still not know—ironically—in th’ year AD 781 when he would make a pilgrimage t’ Rome.

Caught in his solar, having a eulogy for his late brother written for him by a notary, Charlemagne was told by a messenger o’ this mysterious arrival who had appear’d on th’ banks o’ th’ Rhine. He was told these strangers resembled legends o’ Attila th’ Hun’s horde, no less than coercive barbarians intent on ravaging France and Germany for plunder, and was head’d straight for Aechen where His Majesty resided. Believing this arrival wish’d t’ conquer all o’ th’ Franks, Charlemagne summon’d Sir Roland and made him commander o’ all o’ his knights. That day, every vassal and vavasseur within a day’s pigeon-flight who had a horse t’ call his own rode t’ gather for th’ great marshalling, and Charlemagne spared no time in sallying forth t’ meet his unwant’d guest, now having a force t’ match Caesar’s legion as it had been report’d 6,000 men strong.

Caesar, verily having no clue Aachen was even a place, continued northward, hoping t’ catch word o’ th’ Helvetians’ latest activities by th’ locals here. ‘Twas th’ next day that his scouts would indeed give report o’ activities, but not th’ activities Caesar expect’d, not even in all o’ his nightmares.

“They ride hard with a force t’ match our own, Messire, but they resemble no barbarian tribe ever seen before by Roman eyes. Their horses are dight in th’ finest trappings, each caparison’d as if for a tournament race, and each armor’d better than our finest centurions. And th’ men who ride them… they are tall and well-beard’d, as fierce-looking as th’ Cyclops Odysseus defeat’d on th’ island o’ Sicily, undoubtedly,” came th’ report.

Thereunto, Caesar made reply: “This strange force marches straight from Hades without Charon’s permission. ‘Twill be honor from th’ gods for us if we crush them and send them back t’ th’ ashes o’ their evil spawn. Let’s ride t’ meet them posthaste, and teach them wherefore Rome is th’ great pacifier.”

The day o’ th’ battle began as any other day on th’ march for Caesar’s legion. Th’ only difference was that Caesar’s scouts had report’d that th’ evil army from Hades was but a few leagues away, beyond a forest ahead. Here, timely situated on a hill, Caesar decided t’ dig in and make his enemy come t’ him th’ rest o’ th’ way, for here this hill was o’ more strategic value than th’ very miscreated mist that hid Hannibal’s army from Gaius Flaminius at th’ battle o’ Lake Trasimene. Also, stopping here would give Caesar th’ time he need’d t’ construct defenses, which he began t’ do tout de suite.

Firstly, before th’ defenses be described, th’ reader should know th’ geography which made this hill such a prime spot for battle, wherefore it gave Caesar th’ advantage. Having very little cavalry with him compared t’ his foe, th’ steep acclivity o’ th’ hill itself hoped t’ prove tiring t’ his foe when they charged t’ meet him, and directly up th’ hill was th’ only way t’ meet him because th’ land on either side o’ th’ hill was untreadable by even high-steppers for ’twas mottled with boulders and pits. Behind th’ hill, giving Caesar a desirable place t’ protect his retreat if need be, was a patchwork o’ thickets interlaced with crescent-shaped vales. A bull slaughter’d that morning augur’d a fortunate legacy t’ Caesar’s reign that would last t’ this day and even beyond our own time.

However, Achilles could bet his tendon on th’ fact that every soldier in Caesar’s legion was affright’d enough t’ think deeply about their odds o’ escaping if retreat was their only option. Caesar was bold t’ dismount, saying he would stand near th’ front lines with his men in order t’ give them th’ courage that was visibly lacking. Here, among his men, he direct’d th’ defenses’ construction.

In case th’ army from Hades did not attack Caesar’s position today, a fortified camp was need’d, Caesar said, but this concern came only after th’ question “what if they did attack today?” Caesar only had roughly half a day t’ prepare, so he order’d that a great ditch be dug at th’ foot o’ th’ hill facing th’ enemy. “This ditch will force th’ enemy cavalry t’ dismount, or they’ll have t’ risk injuring their horses!” repeat’d an attentive crier.

Next, Caesar order’d stakes t’ be made and plant’d before his front line, and for his front line he thought it best that all his veterans be there t’ protect th’ slingers with their shields. “Unthreaten’d by th’ enemy, th’ slingers will have all th’ time they need t’ focus their well-aim’d slingshots right at th’ kneecaps o’ th’ enemy horse riders!”

Caesar, against th’ expectations o’ those who thought they knew him best, countermanded himself and thought t’ remain at th’ apex o’ th’ hill with his fresh yet moderately equipp’d levies instead o’ standing in th’ front lines like he had said.

The sun shift’d in th’ sky well enough t’ notice plainly by th’ time th’ ditch was completed, and th’ walls o’ th’ camp behind th’ hill were start’d but nowhere near complete when th’ army from Hades arrived. Caesar did not waver nor tremble a lip at th’ sight o’ th’ evil horde. Charlemagne, on th’ other hand, rebuked his messengers for describing these arrivals as typical barbarians, for, although ’twas not as protective nor elaborate as what his own men wore, he was impressed by th’ design o’ th’ arrivals’ armor and th’ shortswords they wield’d. “Such fine small spears!”

Charlemagne knew this battle was not going t’ be as easy as he had expect’d, for clearly he was up against a civilized and orderly foe. He dispatch’d an ambassador t’ request a parley, so th’ enemy leader, whoever he was, could have discourse in peace before violence arose.

Caesar, seeing th’ ambassador approach, remount’d onto his horse so that th’ ambassador could more easily see who th’ leader here was.

“Your Honor,” upspake th’ ambassador once in earshot o’ th’ mount’d leader, “Charlemagne my holy king is impress’d by th’ show you display. He wishes t’ be impress’d even more by a further display o’ chivalry. Will you have an overture with His Majesty in peace t’ discuss th’ conditions o’ this pitch’d battle?”

Unable t’ understand th’ language o’ his enemy, yet finding th’ language strangely familiar and still knowing by th’ gestures o’ his arms what th’ ambassador want’d, Caesar shook his head, replying, “Alea iacta est.”

The ambassador, a friend o’ piety and a frequenter o’ th’ church, recognized th’ Latin without a doubt but could not understand th’ words. Nonetheless, he return’d t’ repeat them t’ Charlemagne who also did not know what they meant. Summoning his chaplain, Charlemagne ask’d what th’ enemy had meant, and th’ chaplain answer’d, “The die is cast.”

“Very well,” Charlemagne was content with th’ answer, seemingly. He whisper’d something into th’ ambassador’s ear, then upspake, “Be off, father. Feel th’ Holy Spirit. With Christ pray for our victory. God will choose th’ best man.”

Doing so immediately, th’ chaplain genuflect’d away, mumbling under his breath and crossing himself, t’ find a good vantage spot where he could watch and continue his prayer for an outcome o’ th’ battle that would please him and His Majesty most.

Sweating on th’ wax, Caesar’s writer first spott’d th’ enemy ambassador riding up th’ hill for a second time. Th’ moment th’ horse o’ th’ ambassador halt’d within earshot upon th’ hill—the golden bunting on th’ reins fluttering t’ th’ pull o’ th’ rider—a Frankish banner screen’d by Charlemagne’s cavalry raised th’ standard nearest t’ His Majesty’s hand upon th’ request o’ a mysterious whisper. Th’ standard was a red dragon on a field o’ orange, carried by th’ gonfalonier o’ Sir Roland. Subtle yet effective, th’ cunning display was recognized by even th’ men guarding th’ baggage. All at once Charlemagne’s army knew there would be no mercy for th’ enemy, and th’ time t’ charge was in a few breaths. Charlemagne felt th’ weight o’ his army shift on his own shoulders and promised that a red banner would rise every time th’ Franks charged against an enemy they were not certain they could beat.

Among th’ ranks o’ Caesar, near th’ crest o’ th’ hill where th’ heels o’ a rainbow stood, th’ horse o’ th’ enemy’s ambassador, having been guided through th’ hoardings by deadly hands, kick’d grass as it stopp’d mere paces from th’ proconsul’s feet. Here, a blade’s length before Caesar’s eyes, Sir Roland fell from th’ ambassador’s horse, rolling into th’ author who wrote this, Caesar’s author, and all at once those closest t’ Caesar realized there had been two men on this damn’d horse th’ whole time.

Those closest t’ th’ proconsul died first as Durendal, th’ sword o’ Sir Roland, atop th’ hill where God cast shadows long enough for Charlemagne t’ see, was thrust hither and thither, gouging calculatedly in th’ weaknesses o’ Roman armor. Cap-a-pie in harden’d iron and season’d chivalry, Sir Roland made a mockery o’ those closest t’ Caesar, placing his sword where th’ Romans, despite their wall o’ shields, could not defend themselves. Caesar, seeing so many slain roundabouts him, realized his men in th’ front lines who had guided this damn’d horse up here were his bless’d veterans! By his call, an order buoy’d t’ th’ front lines—a request for all veterans t’ remain in th’ rear ranks t’ protect Caesar. Loyally th’ request was answer’d, and Caesar swore that th’ veterans o’ a Roman army would always be in th’ rear ranks when they were up against a foe they were not certain they could beat.

Sir Roland’s killing spree was not stopp’d until th’ first veteran reach’d th’ spot on th’ hill where Caesar was lodged with a flurry o’ shields. After a silent comedy o’ wrestling in th’ mud, th’ veteran put Sir Roland in a knot that enabled him t’ punch his eating knife through th’ maille voider in his armpit. “Cave canem,” whisper’d th’ veteran into Sir Roland’s ear before he kill’d him, and from that day on th’ veteran was call’d Achilles’ Dog. Others call’d him th’ Second Achilles like Phyrrhus o’ Epirus. Pride spread among Caesar’s army.

So distract’d by Sir Roland’s chanson de geste, however, even th’ so bless’d veterans o’ Caesar’s army fail’d t’ notice th’ red banner blazoning in th’ distance. Attention was not paid until th’ pounding o’ galloping hooves shook th’ ground. Like th’ elephant stampedes o’ Hannibal, th’ Frankish knights, dight in might and shining bright, pined t’ hide their eyes as they hied higher in fright: Sol Invictus hover’d above Caesar’s laurel’d bald spot, blinding th’ army from Hades with heavenly god rays. Th’ charge o’ hellish cavalry slow’d and frett’d like a snake on its way t’ meet Apollo. This is wherefore Caesar knew th’ mists o’ Lake Trasimene could not compare t’ th’ value o’ this hill.

But th’ favor o’ the gods is a fickle bitch.

Caesar’s slingers, no longer protect’d by th’ veterans, suffered t’ Charlemagne’s archers and dwindled away like th’ marble that once encased Lysippos’ Agias. No longer was it so easy t’ cheer for Sol Invictus and jeer at th’ blind’d knights, not when there was no one t’ stop them from using gabions t’ cross th’ ditch and shovels to remove th’ stakes. Fighting their blindness, fraught with valor, Charlemagne’s nobles reach’d th’ front line first, slicing their way through th’ slingers who were too slow t’ fall back. The hocks o’ horses slamm’d into Caesar’s wall o’ shields where th’ levies stood before th’ veterans. Gladius after gladius struck out like th’ fangs of th’ aps Cleopatra would end her life with, and blood pour’d forth like wine from Dionysus’ amphora. Here, the flower of France was despoil’d.

Vying against each other, th’ battle forces toss’d t’ and froe as if on th’ stormy waves at Ostra when Vestal Claudia Quinta saved th’ Magna Mater. Th’ sight o’ th’ battle, as more and more Frankish knights ascended th’ hill, was so disgustingly brilliant that not even Judas Maccabeus would revolt enough t’ lift his eyes away from th’ carnage. Caesar saw that his ranks were being swallow’d up by the might o’ th’ enemy attack, gobbled like Jonah in th’ beastly maw o’ th’ whale, so much so that his veterans were now in th’ thick o’ it and he would soon be surround’d. Th’ time prepared for yet never hoped for was at hand—th’ time for Caesar’s army to retreat. A brazen blast signall’d th’ event, and Caesar was first to flee.

In th’ distance, Charlemagne, who had been lamenting th’ loss o’ Sir Roland, lift’d his visage in disbelief t’ see th’ enemy retreating and shout’d, “Mountjoy! Mountjoy!” Believing th’ prayers o’ his chaplain had enabled such a miracle, he summon’d his priestly presence again and together they pray’d that this foreign horde would recross th’ Rhine and return t’ wherever they came from. Little did they know Caesar had th’ same prayer on his lips, and he cross’d the Rhine in th’ exact spot he had before. The ancient Saxons, if present on th’ banks of that holy, liminal place, would’ve celebrated th’ power o’ th’ eternal gods t’ see how Caesar and his survivors travel’d back to the year 58 BC where they belong’d. Without knowing he had fought one o’ his many future admirer’s, Caesar shook off his defeat like how one shakes off a toga before a bath, and continued his investigation into the Helvetians, as if none of this had ever happen’d.


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If you enjoyed reading this short story, check out my story about The Black Prince vs. The Demon of the Andes at the end of my Arquebus vs. Longbow post.

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