Julius Caesar Undergoing a Vivid PTSD Episode
Julius Caesar woke up screaming. Again. For several seconds he thrashed against the sweat-soaked sheets, hopelessly entangled. Slowly, as he realized he was safe in his own bed and not truly locked in the midst of battle, Caesar calmed and took several deep breaths. He peered cautiously around his bedchamber, as if to make sure no enemies were lurking out of sight. Everything seemed in its place: dark purple curtains shut out light from the peristylum and the capricious figures dancing on the walls stayed put where they were painted. Once again he was glad of his decision to place his bedroom on the far side of his domus, away from the slaves’ and guests’ chambers. Most Romans would likely have kept their slaves in rooms close by in order to have them dote on every little need as quickly as possible. However, if Caesar’s slaves heard his nightly howls, then his reputation as the most powerful man in Rome was potentially threatened. Instead of slaves’ ears, the sounds he made fell only on the stone walls.
The nightmares had plagued him for months, sapping his strength and mental capacity. Secretly, he feared they may never leave him. But he forced himself to believe that these terrors were no mere nightmares; they must be visions sent by the gods. The most powerful man in Rome certainly couldn’t be going crazy. Once he figured out the meaning of the incredibly vivid manifestations and did what the gods required, then the nightmarish specters must vanish. At least, that’s what he told himself. He was no closer to figuring out what they meant, but it had to be only a matter of time until he did. Steeling himself in that certainty, Caesar rang the bell next to his bedside that summoned his slaves.
He did not have to wait long before several appeared bearing silver platters filled with fruit, figs, olives, and a small cup of watered wine. Caesar eyed them as they approached, gauging their facial expressions to see if any had been nearby to hear his cries. As his eyes fell on one of his newest slaves, a slim Gallic girl captured during one of his final campaigns in Gaul, she tripped over an uneven patch of stone, sending her platter crashing to the floor. To Caesar’s ears, the sound of the silver hitting stone was remarkably like the peal of his shield after deflecting an enemy’s sword. Just like that, the room dissolved in ringing waves of sound and Caesar found himself very far away from his safe and comfortable domus.
Whipping his head side to side, Caesar hurriedly took stock of the situation. He was smack in the middle of an immense press of men, all fully armored and seemingly in the middle of battle. Looking down, he found his very own sword and shield already in his hands and covered in gore. Mist from a nearby river swirled around his feet and up into the air, obscuring all fighting outside of thirty feet. Massive oak trees draped their branches over the combatants and made troop maneuverability far more difficult. Nearly lost in the din of battle, lonely pinging noises could be heard irregularly as acorns dropped from the heights onto the helms of the fighters. The ground was treacherous underfoot; a mix of mud, river clay and blood that sucked at soldier’s boots and brought death to the unwary. The air reeked of sweat, desperation, and death.
Exploding suddenly out of the mist came a howling Gaul who whipped a lance straight at Caesar’s chest. Still recovering from the shock of his changed circumstances, Caesar was barely able to bring his shield up into position to stop the projectile. He stared wide-eyed at the quivering shaft of wood, feeling the all-too-real weight of the lance dragging his shield arm down towards the ground. Too slowly, he pulled his gaze up to see the Gaul continuing his bellowing charge. The man was huge. Rippling muscles made sword and shield look weightless in his grip. Crude tattoos spun their way up his arms and legs, even onto his face. Beneath the ink, his skin was pale as goat’s milk. Fiery red hair flowed past the man’s shoulders, whipping in the wind like a nest of angry snakes. His upper lip was topped with a massive, drooping mustache of a deep auburn color that diverged from the brighter red of his hair. As the Gaul pulled within feet of Caesar, Roman soldiers barely reformed the semblance of a line in front of their commander, and their superior numbers were able to make quick work of the lone barbarian.
More of the enemy rose up out of the mist, appearing as if they were demonic ghosts from Pluto’s realm, ready to slay all living things in their path. They were arrayed in a strong shield wall formation and were advancing quickly to take advantage of the slow response from the Roman troops. The two forces collided with a roar, and screams rent the sky as blood and limbs flew through the air. Caesar himself was once again thrown into battle, desperately fending off lone enemy soldiers who managed to break through the Roman lines. As his initial shock faded, Caesar received another rather jarring surprise: he recognized this enemy! His blood ran cold as he surveyed the perfectly maintained shield wall, the reliance on the lance as the only ranged weaponry available, and the lack of enemy cavalry. He was in battle against the Nervii, and not just any battle. Caesar finally recognized his surroundings. The curve of the river Sabis; the location of a nearly embarrassing defeat during his invasion of Gaul. Sweat broke out on his skin, his heart began to pound, and breath seemed hard to come by. How was this possible?! The Nervii had been defeated, finally crushed at this very site.
But there was no time to continue wondering. More of the Nervii poured from the mist, seeking to halt Roman advances into their territory once and for all. Caesar’s already tenuous hold on sanity began to snap as the battle raged on. No matter where he looked he saw Romans butchered by the barbarians. A scream tore itself from his throat as he saw a Nervii warrior hold a Roman standard aloft. How dare his filthy barbarian hands touch that sacred object! Caesar threw himself back into the fray with renewed frenzy, attempting to rally his troops and punish the Gauls who dared to challenge Roman power. It wasn’t enough. More and more Romans began to fall, and Caesar was forced to watch the massacre of his troops by the hundreds. Even centurions died by the dozen, and golden eagle standards continued to fall until none remained in Roman arms. The tattered banners were raised up from the ground in Nervii hands, taunting the battered Roman forces. Caesar began to hyperventilate in earnest as defeat began to seem all but certain.
A horn blast suddenly shattered the air, and Roman auxiliaries appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Caesar’s battered troops fell back to rest as the reinforcements strove to drive the Nervii back and encircle them. Caesar himself stared blankly at the carnage around him. The world seemed to be tilting and swaying, instead of rock solid as it had always been. Things took on a surreal quality and focus; the churned mud, the drops of blood glistening on the tips of leaves, even the sounds of battle receded and the swish of the river and the wind through the trees took over. Caesar found himself on his knees in the mud, cradling a Roman standard and wondering how this could have happened. Eventually looking up, he noticed the Roman forces finally beginning to encircle the Nervii and cut off their escape. Desperate for the fighting to end, Caesar lurched up from the ground in the hopes that he could direct his troops to force a surrender.
With the Nervii surrounded, the Romans opted to forgo hand to hand combat and instead directed a withering fire of projectiles at the shield wall. Arrows, stones, and bolts from light ballista as well as Roman scorpions tore through wood and flesh. And yet, Caesar saw the Nervii refuse to back down. They held firm to their shield wall and moved forward to join battle once again. The horrors never seemed to end. Caesar watched body after body fall into the mud, only to be trampled by those that came after. He had never seen an enemy so willing to fight to the last man; not one would run from this fight. And that desperation was paying off; the Nervii shield wall was becoming bolstered by the dead. Roman troops had to climb over mounds of sightless, staring bodies to reach the barbarians, only to be cut down, adding their own bodies to the mountain of flesh as they got to the top.
Caesar felt terror slowly grip his body from hobnailed boots to plumed helm. Sludge splattered his boots as his sword and shield thumped into the mud, fallen from nerveless fingers. As if something alien had taken over his body, Caesar slowly walked forward through his troops. Near the front lines, he took a javelin from one of his men and prepared to throw. Sighting his target, he let fly with unerring precision. At the last second, with seemingly impossible speed, a Nervii soldier plucked the javelin out of the air before it could hit his companion. Time slowed as Caesar, staring slack-jawed in awe, watched the Nervii flip the javelin in hand and hurl it straight through a Roman centurion’s throat. That was the final straw. Caesar let loose a blood-curdling shriek and stormed the shield wall, pulling a barbarian from the ranks and throwing him down into the mud. Caesar flung himself down into the muck, pulled himself onto the man and began throttling him, continuing to shriek all the while. Using both hands to grip the Nervii’s neck, he squeezed tighter and slammed the man’s head into the ground. One, two, three times. He knew the man was dead, but couldn’t seem to stop the shrieks that continued to pour from his body. Nor could he stop crushing the man’s throat, driving him deeper into the mud with every slam of his head.
“Proconsul! Proconsul!” Caesar felt a soldier’s hand on his shoulder. “Proconsul, please stop!” The man was shaking him now, pleading with him. “Proconsul!” At that final shout, the battlefield began to shimmer, the vision once again dissolving in waves of sound as the word Proconsul echoed in Caesar’s head. He blinked slowly several times as he realized he was back in his bedroom, surrounded by his slaves. He stood up, belatedly wondering why he had been on the floor. The faces around him were stricken with shock, some even had tears streaming down their faces. Something must have truly shaken them, to blatantly show so much emotion in front of their master, thought Caesar. He tried to speak, to make them explain what was going on. However, he found his throat was ravaged as if from screaming. Foam and beads of blood flecked his lips as his mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water. Following one slave's gaze, Caesar looked down to find the slim Gallic girl. What was left of her, anyway. He looked away in horror, but the image of her crushed windpipe and mangled head, smashed like a melon on the ground, would stay with him forever. Caesar brought his hands to his eyes to mask the appalling scene, only to find them stained red. Realization overwhelmed him as he understood what he had done.
About the author
I am an aspiring author, both in the novel and short story genres. I have loved books and reading my entire life, and look forward to creating the same awe and wonder in readers that other authors have done for me over the years.