Describe a successful ambush to me, please:
Caesar cries. An anguish riven home
By news that through the city has been spread
Of Varus and his legions who now lie dead
In far off Gaul. Those men they stare
With sightless eyes. Yearning souls bereft of home.
Poor, damned souls; but once the pride of Rome.
How, might you ask, those eagles lost and on that mound
In sacrifice laid out before the sacred Oak?
There, where Wotan took the spear and spoke
Foretelling and demanding bloody slaughter.
Who was it listened, then with cruel, deliberate treachery found
‘Midst Teutorburg, that frenzied, bloody killing ground?
Where Ash and Oak, where Beech and Thorn
Loom from the mist which lingers there.
Where shadowed places, dark and cold
Hide sphagnum bog; the wolf, the bear
Which pad and snuffle through the threatening gloom
Fool Varus listening to advice
Gave up his men for sacrifice.
Arminius, the Roman name they gave him.
Taken hostage when a child.
Taught Roman ways, imbued the culture.
Disciplined life, not growing wild,
Why though was it no one saw
His worship still of Wotan, Lord of Frenzy, and of War.
This the man who Varus sponsored,
This the man, his friend, his guide.
He knew the tribesmen, spoke their language,
Cherusci by birth, by pride.
Arminius, whom the Romans fostered.
Arminius, he was why they died.
Now that Oak, that shattered Oak;
Lightning struck, it ancient stands
With branches blood stained, ground now littered;
Iron rusted that once glittered,
Lethal weapons cast aside,
And bones, bleached bones, of those who died.
From Vetera, march away,
Not thinking of their fate that day.
Proud columns, eagles high, they leave;
(Unseen the loom the Parcae weave.)
The Seventeenth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, all
Destined by spear and axe to fall.
They march ‘neath Ash and ‘neath the Oak,
‘Neath Beech, through tangled thorn.
And splash a muddied, puddled trail,
A trail that’s not been worn.
By chanted cadence they keep step
These men all Roman sworn.
For Varus has received the news
Of tribal rebels to his North.
Arminius, questioned for his views,
Suggests a detour, then to sally forth.
And so, with Cherusci their guide
The legions march. Not knowing that their friend has lied.
Nighttime now doth through darkening woodland creep.
The bear and wolf unsheathe sharp claw.
While those in ambush take their turn to sleep
And from cruel sky the unrelenting rain doth pour.
The Romans, unaware, in camp they curse and try
To keep their slingshots and their bowstrings dry.
This while Varus tosses, uneasy in the night,
Kept awake by screaming echoes from his past?
Does Arminius going missing mean there’s going to be a fight?
And will the coming morning be his last?
Who knows the fate of man, or men.
Have omina been ignored? If so why, and when.
And now ‘tween wood and bog marsh, over heathland
March those legions, eagles high;
Cadence calling, stumbling, splashing,
Rain, it pours from lowering sky.
Heavens rumble, lightning flickers.
Spears are launched, and thus men die.
Closely formed, penned in tight,
No room to thrust, no room to fight.
The writhing wounded, vomit, blood;
Trampled entrails and the mud.
Thor’s rumbling thunder, drenching rain;
Lightning flashing then the pain.
Beneath locked shields they curse, the dying;
Contorted, Romans, screaming, crying.
Hurtling spears, the butcher’s list
Writ large in terror, Wotan’s fist.
And Mjolnir, loved, caressed by Thor,
Beloved of Aesir, God of War.
Deprived of bow, the use of sling;
Constrained twixt hillside and a marshy bog;
Unfocused and unable thus to bring
To bear their usual clarity of pressure, it’s just fog – a fog
Of mindless terror; which is why they scream.
And for Arminius this, a culmination of his dream.
By Michael Shave