The Last Galley Impressions and Tales HTML version
The First Cargo
"Ex ovo omnia"
When you left Briton with your legion, my dear Crassus, I promised that I would write to
you from time to time when a messenger chanced to be going to Rome, and keep you
informed as to anything of interest which might occur in this country. Personally, I am
very glad that I remained behind when the troops and so many of our citizens left, for
though the living is rough and the climate is infernal, still by dint of the three voyages
which I have made for amber to the Baltic, and the excellent prices which I obtained for it
here, I shall soon be in a position to retire, and to spend my old age under my own fig
tree, or even perhaps to buy a small villa at Baiae or Posuoli, where I could get a good
sun-bath after the continued fogs of this accursed island. I picture myself on a little farm,
and I read the Georgics as a preparation; but when I hear the rain falling and the wind
howling, Italy seems very far away.
In my previous letter, I let you know how things were going in this country. The poor
folk, who had given up all soldiering during the centuries that we guarded them, are now
perfectly helpless before these Picts and Scots, tattoed Barbarians from the north, who
overrun the whole country and do exactly what they please. So long as they kept to the
north, the people in the south, who are the most numerous, and also the most civilized of
the Britons, took no heed of them; but now the rascals have come as far as London, and
the lazy folk in these parts have had to wake up. Vortigern, the king, is useless for
anything but drink or women, so he sent across to the Baltic to get over some of the
North Germans, in the hope that they would come and help him. It is bad enough to have
a bear in your house, but it does not seem to me to mend matters if you call in a pack of
ferocious wolves as well. However, nothing better could be devised, so an invitation was
sent and very promptly accepted. And it is here that your humble friend appears upon the
scene. In the course of my amber trading I had learned the Saxon speech, and so I was
sent down in all haste to the Kentish shore that I might be there when our new allies
came. I arrived there on the very day when their first vessel appeared, and it is of my
adventures that I wish to tell you. It is perfectly clear to me that the landing of these
warlike Germans in England will prove to be an event of historical importance, and so
your inquisitive mind will not feel wearied if I treat the matter in some detail.
It was, then, upon the day of Mercury, immediately following the Feast of Our Blessed
Lord's Ascension, that I found myself upon the south bank of the river Thames, at the
point where it opens into a wide estuary. There is an island there named Thanet, which
was the spot chosen for the landfall of our visitors. Sure enough, I had no sooner ridden
up than there was a great red ship, the first as it seems of three, coming in under full sail.
The white horse, which is the ensign of these rovers, was hanging from her topmast, and
she appeared to be crowded with men. The sun was shining brightly, and the great scarlet
ship, with snow-white sails and a line of gleaming shields slung over her side, made as
fair a picture on that blue expanse as one would wish to see.