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Colin Downes-Grainger
February 5, 2009


It was the year 406. The cold fine rain drifted across the ramparts of Hadrian's Wall at the fort of Vindolanda and hid the civilian settlement, the vicus from view. The ditches and banks protecting the fort, known as the Valium were invisible, broiling with solid upland mists, so thick a blind man would have felt no disadvantage. Senior Centurian Lividicus Benzibus, commander of the 1st Lamborghini cohort of the famed Ferrari auxiliaries gathered his faded Armani-spun woollen cloak around his broad Roman shoulders and shivered. How long was it since they had been described as a fine pair of shoulders which he should take every opportunity to show off?

Lately the commander had found his duties more than irksome and visits to the temple of Mithras and his prayers to Minerva, Bacchus, and Serapis had not borne fruit. He was one of a very few Romans left manning the wall. Originally the wall had been held by troops from the 2nd, 6th and 20th legions formed by men from every corner of the Roman Empire but gradually the job of guarding the wall fell to men from the local population - the Co-operators. Lividicus knew full well that they considered the job a nice little earner and fathers guarded and passed their jobs onto their sons much like the dock workers did in the port of Londinium.

Dragging the depths of his brain, Lividicus thought of the plans he had once had for a farm in the softer lowlands with trees and vines, sheep, cattle and grain and perhaps a stream with fish sliding through the currents. Lately he had found it hard to conjure up the warm prospects that had once sustained him through the long hours of duty. While remaining alert against the possibility of attack from the blue-painted hordes from the north, he had dreamed of the peaceful and prosperous times that lay ahead. One day he would throw off the silvered armour denoting his rank. The old sword worn on his left side rather than his right would see no further service. The crest of his helmet which he had not yet noted had a decided droop these days, had once been firmly upright. He had in better times, proudly worn his decorations and awards and had revelled in these visible signs of his bravery. Now they seemed inconsequential and looked tired, covered with verdigris and greatly in need of spit and polish. His vitis the staff of office he carried with him supplied by the Army and Navy stores, had untreated woodworm now. Once he had been the equal of anyone, even ‘Cedo Alterum' (give me another), who delighted in breaking his staff across the backs of men who transgressed. Cedo was long gone now, killed in a mutiny and was perhaps no great loss but Lividicus, whilst still breathing, was beginning to feel somewhat empathetic about how it must have felt at the end of an earthly existence.

As the vicus cocks crowed having eyed the dawning light, rain still fell but the mists were lifting sufficiently for Lividicus to abandon his brooding gaze and carefully feel his way along the dripping stones of the high rampart walkway towards the latrine, the studs of his soaked leather sandals striking their notes as he went. Senior commanders did not stand watches but recently Lividicus had been assailed by disturbing dreams and thoughts of unidentifiable doom. It was better to remain awake these days and he had made a deliberate decision to do so as much as he could.

As Lividicus stumbled his way, his hand felt the roughness of the cold-hewed stone and he mused not for the first time lately that it echoed the feelings he had for his daily life. A sentry saluted him as he passed - a muffled thud as a fist met leather. The centurion did not return the salute as something in his mind (as it did these days) pulled him away from recognising contact with another human being. He cursed at the recognition that his soul by Hades, seemed indeed to be fast approaching the awful banks of the River Styx. It was a long time since he had pictured the Elysian Fields and the paradise that sweet place offered. He had been a warrior and hero and as such the Fields were his by right, but he thought of them no more. Was his destiny to face instead the judgement of Tartarus - to be punished by the Furies until he had paid an unknown debt to the gods?

The senior officers' latrines were silent in the damp chill air. Latrines were normally a place where talk and laughter accompanied the business of the day but Lividicus now preferred his own company and was glad that nothing disturbed him while he squatted. He could almost feel the cold of the water running beneath him and wished that it could carry away the stone that had replaced hope in his heart.


Lividicus slumped onto the Chaise Manhattan sleeping couch where his native-born wife Laxativa lay sleeping – a wife whom he had grown to love deeply over the years to the very depths of his bowels. The centurion's feet were cold in spite of the hypocaust under the floor of the house, there being at that date no hot water bottles or heated blankets, but he hoped that his toes at least would lose their chill by morning. The hypocaust was not working at full capacity as lately the bills for the heating system had been rising rapidly. He had not paid enough attention to the storage of wood in high summer and now an apparent paucity of fuel had meant that the accursed tribe the Brigandes Moscova (who had plenty) and who were in control of huge reserves of forest, were relentlessly turning the screws. But it was not cold that kept him awake at night; it was the thought that he was losing control of his life – that and the dreams which were truly awful.

In late morning, Laxativa, busying herself with the writing of a postcard to her old friend from polytechnic days, Milli Mollymandia, saw he was awake. She put down the stylus and gripped Lividicus by the antique silver bracelet with its shield terminal that he wore on his left wrist. Frowning she said slowly and deliberately -

"A funny thing happened to me on the way from the Auditorium Shakespearius a while ago. I went to see the play Chariot Spotting. It was a lot more thought provoking than even I expected. I started thinking about what the Poppicum addict character, Marcus Rentonius, said about a bottle of Felixium he filched from his mother. He said that she in her socially acceptable way was a drug addict just like him but she wasn't hounded by the rozzers and society because she got it from an apothecary as medicine. What did the quack at the fort prescribe for you? You've gone downhill since you started taking it. You may not have noticed but I have. You're not the person you used to be."

Lividicus grasped at the idea of being alive and grimaced –

"It had some fancy long-winded chemical name. Something like poxyoxide I think."

Laxativa reached for the vial –

"By all the Gods... it's the generic form of Felixium, you excuse for an asinus (donkey)!! Cameroniusdiazopoxide it says here and that's Felixium by another name! God the apothecary is devious or he knows nothing about what this stuff does! Did he never tell you it was Felixium?"

Laxativa fumed, and with a disturbing air of superior knowledge said –

"Let me get my hands on that quack, I'll give him positive benificium – I expect that's what he told you. I'll twist his scrotum till he begs for mercy. But he won't get any!!"

Unusually for those days, Laxativa had been well educated and had completed a course in Politics, Philosophy and Home Economics at Caister Polytechnic before she met the Centurion. He had been a low ranking officer then and not Primus Pilus, the senior centurion of the auxiliary cohorts (for some unknown reason a title often leading to a great deal of mirth). She knew that Lividicus was a good and worthy man with more imagination than many in his position but his trust in experts had been a fatal flaw in this instance. She knew now what had happened, the exiled Gaul Heresafix who just happened to be a spokesman for the medical trade union the Britannic Guild of Apothecaries or BGA, had addicted her husband to Felixium – that was why he was now a poor shade of his former self. If only she'd known sooner! If he'd dared to do this to her husband, how many more had he done it to and over how long a period? Were the other apothecaries throughout the province – indeed throughout the Empire, doing the same? A chill settled on her neck and she knew it was not because of the inadequate hypocaust heating.

"You know what they call this stuff don't you?" she asked, her finely sculptured nose (much resembling that of a high caste roman, something which had attracted Lividicus in the first place) pointing towards him aggressively. "They call it miles militis parum succurro – soldier's little helper. Hasn't helped you much has it?"

Lividicus shook his Felixium saturated head, thinking was such heavy work.

"Heresafix said it was the latest scientific discovery, much better than anything previously produced – no side-effects and definitely non-addictive."

"And who told him that?" Laxativa asked pointedly, "I'll tell you who – Magna Pharma! They make it, they decide on whether it's safe, brainwash the apothecaries to dish it out, and you poor man and others like you find out if that's true. Well it isn't."

Laxativa had been researching on the internet, a huge collection of information tablets, delivered to users in only a matter of weeks or even days.

Magna Pharma and opinion leaders amongst the apothecaries such as Tiberius Tosspot had come up with a potion intended (they said) to ease the strains felt by the legionaries who usually served far from home in various parts of the empire. They had cleverly marketed the drug as conferring only positive benefit, with no downside at all. It hadn't been difficult to convince the medical corps that Felixium was a vast improvement on previous potions which had unfortunately been associated with a lessening of offensive spirit. More than that their previous offerings they had reluctantly been forced to admit could lead to sudden death syndrome particularly when taken with Italian wine (the Tuscan variety being particularly deadly in combination). The guild of apothecaries in Britannia led by (among others) the exile from Gaul, Heresafix, immediately saw the positive benefits of the new discovery and soon all garrison town apothecaries were prescribing it in shed loads to the remaining legions and auxilliaries. Like-minded friends of Tiberius Tosspot were doing the same thing throughout the Roman Empire.

It really was a case of raptus regaliter. (royally screwed.) Lividucus in a rare moment of clarity finally grasped his predicament. Head in hands, staring at the tesserae on the floor of the mansio he wailed in the anguish of despair.

"Addictus sum iam!"

Neck muscles roping dangerously he lurched to his feet and echoed the cry of Julius Caesar when crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC.

"Alea iacta est!" The die is cast. And indeed it was which was quite ironic since Felixium had been accidentally discovered by messing about with dye-stuff in the labs of Magna Pharma in Nova Jersey.


From that date until the day in October which was dedicated to Fortuna, the goddess of fortune, Lividicus and Laxativa worked on their strategies, both fervently hoping that on this occasion the goddess would not adopt the persona of a veiled and blind woman and seal their fate. Fortuna was known to be fickle and later in the 13th century would be written about in a rather downbeat Latin poem, a poem which was later set to sombre music by a Germanic composer named Carl Orff.

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are constantly changing,
ever growing
and waning;
hateful life
now oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate - monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Fate, in health
and virtue,
is against me
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

The first part of their plan to beard Heresafix at his place of business did not go well.

Throwing his light-weight cotton summer cloak over his uniform (for the weather was unseasonably warm – something else the weather centre had as usual failed to predict), Lividicus and Laxativa set out determinedly towards the Practice tent of the apothecary. They found him staring into the entrails of a raven.

Heresafix was a somewhat cadaverous individual, known locally as Terskullus, entirely without humour, somewhat short of manner and endowed with an overweening sense of his own importance in society. He was not known to tolerate discussion or entertain views at variance with his own. He had never divined that the views he held came ultimately from Magna Pharma and if he had, it is doubtful whether he would have understood the import of that.

Neither Terskullus nor the vast majority of his kind were remotely bothered (if they knew), that Magna Pharma had first used Felixium in the arena to control recalcitrant lions and tigers. Nor were they perturbed by the fact that it was some bright spark from the midlands of Britannia who had helped to unleash the Felixium Fiasco on the entire Roman World by deciding it could be useful for sedating people too. Propraetor Magnus Cojones the CEO of Magna Pharma had loved that idea and since his salary and bonuses were linked to the number of drugs pushed a marketing campaign of great intensity was set in motion. For Magnus Cojones and Magna Pharma the SPQR (licensed for use by the emperor) emblazoned on a blue flag above its headquarters did not mean The Senate and People of Rome but Soporific Pills Quell Romans.

Of course the majority of those in Britannia who had no access to apothecaries had their own potions, principally magic mushrooms, but at least they knew what they were taking and any unwanted consequences were their own responsibility. Responsibility was not something those with medical access could be accused of holding (though they usually were).

Disease mongering was something Magna Pharma was increasingly keen on. Apothecaries were a pushover and once pushed over they then pushed the drugs onto their unsuspecting patients. Felixium as a case in point was marketed as a cure for most ills including nervousness, irritability, want of strength and energy, fear, dread, neuralgia, hysteria, disturbed sleep, melancholy and all nerve pains and diseases. Few could resist the lure of the benefits claimed. There had been regular glossy adverts and puff pieces in the Sunday Tablets throughout the empire, extolling the virtues of Felixium. Famous Gladiators and other celebrities had added their paeons of praise for the benefits of the nostrum. Apothecaries had received a barrage of well crafted persuasional material at their practice tents or rooms, engraved plumas (the lettering reminding them to write appropriate prescriptions) and pen knives to ensure they were always sharp and ready for use.

Drugs were supposed to be checked for safety though there were coarse but apposite roman jokes scrawled on the walls of the public conveniences throughout the empire which begged to differ - they had been put there in disenchantment by those who had taken them. The unofficial motto of the august establishment ordinos or regulators (all educated in Magna Pharma's philosophy) charged with the task of ensuring safety, did not inspire confidence, being "Veni, Vidi, Dormivi" (I came, I saw, I slept).

The ordinos under their chairman Sganarellus Decimus Populus were a bunch of fools who claimed to listen but patently did not - a life to them being less important than the continuation of business as usual. Business as usual in their world where the phrase "Merda taurorum animas conturbit" (Bullshit baffles brains) was more than pertinent, meant the maintenance of Magna Pharma's ideas on public benefit and sturdy defence of anything they said or wrote on that subject. If Pharma told them a drug was safe it was - until it was impossible to deny it wasn't (and that stage had not yet been reached with Felixium). Magna Pharma maintained (through the use of dodgy and partial statistics and cosy contacts with the ordinos and politicians) that theirs was a noble undertaking and everything they did was pro bono and beneficial. ‘Millions have been helped' was its eternal riposte to bad news on drug effects, though they failed to produce proof that this was true. Ordinos in spite of the evidence from the real world outside their magic circle swallowed the assertion whole. Perhaps they were best described by Laxativa who now routinely characterised them witheringly as groupies and non gradus anus rodentum! (not worth a rat's ass!).


Terskullus looked up from the entrails with a somewhat rapt expression and eyed the commander and Laxativa with suspicion. Rinsing his hands in an antique bronze wash bowl of unknown origin (an object of which he was inordinately proud), he sat down on the camp stool in front of his campaign desk and shuffled wax tablets until he found the name of Lividicus Benzibus.

Lividicus eyed the painted clay tablets piled on the edge of the desk, noticing that the top one depicted a pretty picture of a brain with arrows and circles and writing, describing deficiencies in each part. These people saw a man as no more than a parched ballista, but instead of soothing oil they used noxious nostrums with no idea what their effects would be.

Lividicus cleared his throat, wanting to get in before Laxativa could unleash a tirade.

"As you know you prescribed Felixium duos annus ago..."

Heresafix raised an eyebrow and interrupted.

"I'd have to look it up but it could be so I imagine, the records are in something of a patchy state. Would you like another dose? If I gave you six month's supply I wouldn't need to see you so often. You'd find that helpful too I think."

Laxativa leapt to her feet, startling the medic with the spittle which began to ooze from the corner of her pretty mouth.

"He hasn't seen you for nearly a year, don't you know that?" she spat.

Heresafix, momentarily nonplussed staring at the desk and with a rictus intended to resemble a smile, turned and leaned forward confidingly.

"It gets very busy here you know. This is a very stressful job and...."

Laxativa drew herself up to her full height and sneered.

"So busy you can't even organise your records or remember the people you see! If you can't even remember my husband, your commanding officer, I shudder to think what you know about the rest of the cohort. I found out about Felixium from internet tablets but it's apparently news to you. My husband has been cutting his dose for months and doesn't take it any more. He had vast quantities of the stuff in his campaign chest."

She reached into a large leather pouch and dumped several vials on the desk.

"I suggest you don't pour this stuff in the river it will poison the fish."

Heresafix blanched. The rictus posing as a smile was gone.

"Can I suggest you talk about things you know about? I didn't go to Pharma School for six years to be lectured by a woman who didn't." Heresafix was in full slighted mode and fixed them both with a look that said I don't give a Gibralterian baboon's rear end about what you think. It was a mistake.

"Caveat emptor.....uuurgh!?!"

The misguided apothecary began to gurgle and struggle feebly as Lividicus leapt forward and held him in a warm but decidedly unfriendly grip around the throat.

"How dare you address my wife as if she knew nothing!" the commander bellowed, with his face a small roman measurement from the shrinking medic's skull.

Heresafix for the first time began to realise that he might have made a cardinal error in addicting the commander of the 1st Lamborghini cohort of the famed Ferrari auxiliaries – his commander.

Lividicus (while maintaining his grip) started to think quickly – something he realised he had not done for a long time.

"This is what you will do my friend. You will conduct an audit of your records to discover how many of my cohort you have degraded with your foul slime. You will contact all your quack friends in the north and tell them to do the same. They will do the same with theirs until the sea has been reached at Isca Dvmnoniorvm and if you jackals have any sense you'll send that message to Gaul and keep it going until it reaches Rome itself!"

Lividicus drew himself up until with a watery sun behind him until he resembled the all conquering Greek legend Alexander the Great.

"For I am coming – tell them that. I will cleanse this empire of the diseases mongered by Magna Pharma and its murderous cures. I will decimate that cabal of profit driven parasites. We will have something better."

He thought for a moment before exiting the tent.

"I need troops. Laxativa will tell you what to do."

And the commander's lady did. Heresafix was to begin the withdrawal of troops immediately, following the protocol devised by the learned Heather Ashtonina, the sanest voice in Britannia when it came to Felixium. The apothecary was to include that information in his communication to the brotherhood also. When the northern troops had regained their sanity the march south would begin. As she was leaving to join her husband she turned and gave Heresafix, known as Terskullus, a cold warning.

"If you fail then you will find yourself on a mercy mission to benighted parts beyond the old Antonine wall. They have no love for roman medicine and you might find the experience uncomfortable."

Heresafix, galvanised into action, completed his task within two years but proving that a woman scorned does not forgive, the apothecary was nevertheless later dispatched deep into central Scotland where an inscription was found more than a millenium and a half later in the remains of a rude stone hovel proclaiming HERESAFIX FEC which was probably one of the few constructive things he had ever done.


The march southwards from the Roman wall was largely a peaceful affair, involving neither the molestation of the native populace nor pitched battles against other troops. However a garrison of mercenaries at Derventio (on the outskirts of what is now known as Derby), hastily brought from Switzerland by the Britannic Guild of Apothecaries in an attempt (they claimed) to defend the rights of patients to access medical care, was utterly swept away. The surviving mercenaries having seen the error of their ways, returned to their native land vowing ruefully to take up a new trade in life – perhaps making clocks or building stone vaults to house other people's money. It may be that in a later age Bonnie Prince Charlie felt the hand of this history when he made camp at Derby on 4 December 1745, on his way south to seize the English crown.

The army, weekly growing larger, criss-crossed the country, usually being given the unconditional support of other commanders (who saw the way the wind was blowing). Only one was somewhat difficult and he was sent to look for any remaining druids in Anglesey which was, as Lividicus knew, going to be a somewhat protracted task since the last known had been exterminated in Anglesey by Suetonius Paulinus in AD60.

These men, as experts on their own localities were given roles as staff officers or in the commissariat. The chief commissary officer, a man with a passion for invention, one Montgolfius Blimpianus was to prove vital in the campaign that lay ahead. He had come up with the novel idea of sewing goatskins together and then filling them with gas so that the resulting contraption took to the air, carrying men in a modified chariot across the landscape. Lividicus saw immediately that such an invention would serve as a means of demonstrating to Magna Pharma that they weren't the only ones who could lay claim to science – and he foresaw other uses too.

Lucius Bulimius, once a sea lawyer on the roman galleys and formerly the commander at Calcaria (now known as Tadcaster), produced a great many ideas for maintaining the morale of the troops. He started with what he knew most about - the Breweries of Tadcaster, the most famous founded by the local Smith tribe, using the patented and now classic Yorkshire Square system of fermentation in stone squares. After a few days of Smiths best bitter, soldiers it was found, often lapsed into the native vernacular and were heard to utter words such as, ‘Ee bye gum it's reet grand this ale, or Ah could sup this for t'Olympics.'

A few days of rest and Smith's prompted Bulimius to come up with his next idea. Backtracking northwards, part of the army headed for Luguvalium where it intended to take over all the pubs and breweries in the city because of the endemic drunkenness among vital construction and munitions workers. This would have the dual advantages of safeguarding the building of the new airships (Montgolfius Blimpianus had said it was the ideal place, given the expertise of a sober local population) and it would also send a message to the nearby town of Gretna, where marriages were shockingly taking place without parental approval. The Luguvalium enterprise became known as the Board of Control and was so successful that the idea was revived in 1916.

Laxativa became a close friend of Bulimius and since she was at heart a homely sort, suggested a course of action that would not mean too much delay and as she said it would add a great deal to the comfort of the troops. So it was that at Moridunum the host tarried amongst the famous Axminster carpets which were the undisputed choice for wealthy people. Nothing being too good for the forces of Lividicus, a great deal of measuring and cutting then ensued and when the army left the town no tent was without its own luxurious fitted carpet.

Ideas for the improvement of personal hygiene and refreshment of the spirit were discussed in detail and with great expectation and a few short weeks were spent bathing in the natural spring water found in the valley of the Avon River in Southwest Britannia, Aquae Sulis. The Romans had long identified the goddess Sulis with their goddess Minerva and encouraged her worship as a means of joining the culture of Rome with that of the native Britons. At the wondrous baths there was aromatherapy and massage, gift vouchers for those left behind and intensive skin care. After all as Laxativa and her husband often remarked, "We all need pampering in these times of great enterprise."

The last stop for the marchers before Rutupiae where they would embark for Gaul was at Venta Belgarum (known later as Winchester). Laxativa, who was still receiving internet tablets as they progressed, was more than surprised to learn that the place was famous. A song had been written about its holy Basilica and had been in the Roman Pop charts at number ten. In later years there was another by Crosby, Stills and Nash, but that is not relevant to this story. A native writer, Antonius Trollope, had written a chronicle about the doings of the local priests and their families and someone had written a religious mystery with part of the Basilica standing in for the Basilica in Rome. Since Winchester had already been celebrated in song, the host decided that now was an auspicious time for another. A centurion from Eboracum came up with a marching song that rang out all the way to the coast and continued to Rome. He called it ‘Marching through Britannia'.

Marching through Britannia

Verse 1
Sound the roman cornae boys, let's sing the freedom song
Sing it with a spirit that will make the empire strong
Sing it as we mean to sing it, many legions strong
While we were marching through Britannia

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring a world that's free
Hurrah! Hurrah! Pharma's cooked you'll see
So we'll sang the chorus from Britannia to the sea
While we were marching through Britannia

Verse 2
How all us addicts shouted when we heard the joyful sound
How the pushers wailed - those our soldiers found
How those mighty cried out when we pushed them to the ground
When we were marching through Britannia

Verse 3
Yes and there were mighty soldiers who wept with joyful tears
When they saw a real world dawning they had not seen for years
They could not be persuaded from breaking out in cheers
When we were marching through Britannia

Verse 4
"Lividicus is deluded these nuts won't reach the coast!"
So the proud addictors said but ‘twas an idle boast
For they forgot, alas for them, to reckon with our Host
When we were marching through Britannia

Verse 5
So we made a thoroughfare for freedom and her train,
Filled the world with gratitude, made it sane again
Unreason fled before us, for resistance was in vain
When our clear heads were marching through Britannia

And coming at last to Rutipiae, Lividicus, Laxativa and the joyful soldiers waited for the airships to be delivered from the north and the assembly of a fleet big enough to cross the channel to the mainland of Gaul.


Magnus Cojones the CEO of Magna Pharma, Sganarellus Decimus Populus, chairman of the Ordinos, the drug safety regulators (revealing where his true loyalties lay), a host of armoured drug reps, apothecaries and sundry key opinion leaders (the most famous of which - Tiberius Tosspot, looking particularly fetching in full (gilded by Prada) body armour, were massed behind the dunes of La Plage d’Or. They watched as the vessels and airships commanded by Lividicus approached the coast. Observing the fear passing across the faces of the Pharma-army at the sight of the air machines, Cojones rode majestically to the highest dune and while the marram grass swayed in the breeze. He began a stirring oration. It was his finest hour.

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in Gaul, we shall fight on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength everywhere. We shall defend our drugs, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

The whispers among the host of neutiquam erro (I am not lost), grew louder until Decimus Populus (thinking to curry favour) stood in his stirrups and exclaimed loudly:

"Nos morituri te salutant!" (We, who are about to die salute you)

A Mexican wave of shuddering rippled through the ranks until Cojones yelled,

"Labra lege (read my lips.), no-one will die, it is they (and he pointed a quivering arm at the beach), the unbelievers who will die here. Ready the ballistas."

Lividicus with Laxativa at his side was in the lead vessel and he watched as the coast grew close and the defenders became visible.

"Do you think this battle will be ours my husband?" asked Laxativa, her face white with apprehension. But Lividicus laughed and exclaimed:

"I have only one message for this rabble of money-makers and power grabbers - fac ut gaudeam. (make my day).

He vaulted onto the sand followed by the well-drilled former addicts and yelled:

"Form the Testudos!"

Using the tactic of Mark Antony in Parthia, as they came ashore, the shield-bearers wheeled round and enclosed the light-armed but determined troops within their ranks, dropped down to one knee, and held their shields out as a defensive barrier. The men behind them held their shields over the heads of the first rank, while the third rank did the same for the second rank, thus making the shield like that of the tortoise, the surest protection against arrows, which would simply glance off. Slowly they ground their way up the beach towards the dark army of Magnus Cojones.

The sandhills were alive with the sound of battle.

The ballistas had under Cojones direction, been modified to lob hollow clay balls towards the enemy. They were filled with the most deadly psychiatric concoctions in the armoury of Magna Pharma. There were false nostrums that kept the children of the empire out of the hair of parents and teachers, concoctions for blanking out all thought and action and the most powerful which induced shaking of the limbs and produced streams of drool from slackened mouths.

Unexpectedly they bounced harmlessly off the testudos and buried themselves in the sand. Lividicus smiled mirthlessly and urged his troops onwards, while Cojones, Sganarellus and Tiberius Tosspot recalled in horror at the failure of their tactic. They knew nothing of history and the turtle; they were expert only in the making of money, influencing regulators, and suborning politicians. At this crucial moment, Montgolfius Blimpianus with the airship fleet arrived directly overhead.

Megaphone in hand he yelled, "When the enemy bear below, unplug the cauldrons!"

The secret weapon Lividicus and his staff had invented was very nasty indeed as the host of Magna Pharma were to discover.

The airships carried bronze cauldrons of a particularly fine-smelling mixture of ordure from a variety of Britannic pig farms. To each of the vessels the airship commander had added a copious amount of blue woad, supplied by the northern tribes, who still followed the fashion for body painting. Blimpianus would know exactly where the contents fell.

The Pharma-army lost interest in their previous concerns and gazed speechlessly upwards as the muck descended. The most unwise of the dark (soon to be blue) host had their mouths open as they watched the sky. The ignoble Lords of Pharma on horseback screamed at their mounts and urged them away from the battle. Seeing this, the lower orders abandoned the ballistas, threw down their assorted medical implements of destruction and followed speedily behind. But they were not unscathed. As he looked down sardonically, Montgolfier Blimpianus could clearly see the moving blue stain as it exited the immediate landscape with the ground troops of Lividicus harrying the rear.

So ended the attempt by Magna Pharma to stand against the invasion of the continental empire by the forces of reason. Reason would now take itself to Rome.

The trials of Magna Pharma and co took place six months later at Nurembergius Minor outside Rome. Magnus Cojones, Sganarellus Decimus Populus, and Tiberius Tosspot and other notables were sentenced to become social workers so that they could see the effects of their drugs in action. In the court they had swiftly lost their swagger as they were pressed to provide proof of their various scientific claims. Millions had been helped - where was the evidence for that? Chemical imbalances were the reason their drugs were necessary – could they prove that? Side-effects were limited – what real efforts had they made to ascertain that this was true?

As the months passed, the lower orders were convicted and retrained, some as head-bangers whose job it was to jolt the die-hard users of pharmaceutical products out of their mistaken belief that somehow they were inadequate and needed the potions. Others were to be employed as Conflict of Interest police to ensure that Magna Pharma never again had the ability to influence politicians and regulators into false and harmful beliefs and use them as defence against the injured. Still others became independent health and safety watchdogs, to be concerned only with the real world and not the scented and flower-strewn vision of beneficial medicine that had been created in the public mind.

For half a century there was something of a new world order in medicine. Lividicus was revered even after his death in AD 429, not least by Laxativa, as the defender of the people and the champion of truth. He was far better viewed than the emperors of that time who were a complete and utter shower. Whenever she attended her husband’s tomb, Laxativa told him what she knew to be true, that they had done something necessary and good; together they had successfully defied influence and greed and exposed its tentacles and lies. Theirs had been a mission beloved of the gods and would be remembered.


In September 476 AD, the last Roman emperor in the west, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by a Germanic prince called Odovacar, having won control of the remnants of the Roman army in Italy. But by then Laxativa had joined her beloved Lividicus and neither were concerned.

Colin Downes-Grainger
5 February 2009

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