Gaul- July 412
"Scribe! Scribe!" the Emperor exclaimed as he staggered forward, away from his now dead horse which had been killed out from under him by one of the bodyguards of the Visigoth general Tanausis in what was a failed attempted to avenge the Visigoth commander who had just been sent to the after-life by none other than the Western Emperor himself.
"Scribe! Scribe!" he again demanded, taking his helmet off and discarding it next to the broken body of a member of his Scholae Palatinae with three dead Visigoths piled next to him. He had kept them away from his Emperor but had fallen in the process after his horse had been skewered by a Gothic spear.
His head hadn't stopped throbbing since he'd fallen from his horse after being struck on his helmet by a Gothic shield, those barbarian Germans had a nasty tendency to use their shields as weapons...
Praise be to God that He and His saints were watching over me this day, thanks be to God that my helmet held firm...
For four days they had fought the Visigoths, destroying one group after another. There were so many Goths marching towards Spain that the front of their column was four days march from the rear of their column, although they had been somewhat spread out for reasons of tactical security. Honorious and his mostly cavalry based army had taken to the field in central Italy in 410 just after the sack of Rome and had driven the Visigoths north towards Augusta Vindelcorum before they passed west of Lugdunum and were finally intercepted and blocked by two Roman field armies west and east of Narbo. The Visigoths had no choice but to engage at least one of the Roman field armies. Honorius and two of his best generals had mustered eleven cavalry groups, not counting their personal bodyguard units, and five legions of Comitatenses.
The first Visigoth army threw themselves at the Romans with reckless abandon but when the sun set on that fateful day scarcely a single Visigoth was left alive on the field while only 900 Romans had been slain. Honorious had been told by a trusted tribune that they estimated 18,000 Visigoths were dead. The men had barely washed themselves in the warm and inviting waters of the nearby Mediterranean (which had been within eyesight of the battlefield) and slept for a few hours when the second Visigoth army had arrived on the scene. Enraged by the realization that nearly twenty thousand of their comrades had been killed, and expecting the Romans were depleted and exhausted, they charged head-long into the Roman infantry line.
Honorious and his best cavalry, four units of Scholae Palatinae were once again situated on the right flank, with one of his two generals on the left flank with two groups of Foederati cavalry and some Equites Scutarii that were left from the previous battle. When the Visigoths made their way onto the flat open field (open and flat except for the nearly 20,000 dead Visigoths on the field) in front of the Roman infantry line the cavalry began their assault on the flanks, quickly driving away or slaughtering the light cavalry the Visigoths had brought with them. Once again the battle resulted in the destruction of the entire Visigoth force of nearly 20,000 while the Romans lost less than 1,500.
With the dawn of the third day the third Visigoth force had arrived, under none other than their famous general Tanausis who had helped Alaric sack Rome two years earlier and had led a force that pillaged its way across northern Italy and into the Alps. With his force reduced to around half of what it had been two days earlier, the Western Emperor knew the odds were now stacked against him, although they had already been stacked against him in both of the first two battles... His men were tired, many had died, many more were wounded, and the Visigoths were coming with overwhelming force. Although if they hadn't been so confident they could beat a Roman field army they would have come at his force at the same time, bringing 60,000 warriors down upon him at once, rather than sending one group after another.
The battle lasted the better part of the entire day and only ended when Tanausis was slain and his remaining warriors broke ranks and fled in panic as they began to realize their glorious commander had been slain, slain by none other than the Roman Emperor Flavius Honorius himself.
"Scribe... scribe, where's that blasted scribe..." Honorius softly muttered as he as coming to, instantly realizing he was lying in a bed and was no longer weighted down by his armor. His head wasn't throbbing quite as much and he felt much cleaner, as though somebody had washed the blood off of him.
"Imperator, you requested a scribe before you fell, we feared we had lost you... It appears you received a nasty blow to the head from one of those dirty barbarians... Imperator, rejoice, for we conquer!" his Magister Equitum proudly proclaimed.
"I feared I was about to meet God, the saints, and the martyrs, I wanted to have a scribe take a letter to my wife in Ravenna... Anyway, now that we have won and I am alive I have even more reason to write to her... Send for a scribe and then prepare to assemble my generals, we'll be leaving for Narbo before the day is out..." Honorius ordered as he began to rise from the bed where he had been placed.
"Imperator, is that wise..." the Magister Equitum began to counter, "so soon after you were injured, is it wise to move? Perhaps you should wait another day or so and regain your strength? We have lost so many men, if we wait another six days Aetius will be here with his field army, they left Dalmatia a number of weeks ago and they are a mere six days march away... We could combine with them and march to Narbo..."
"No, no, we will ride now and cut them down while they are weak, before they can begin to regain their footing... Anyway, how long was I out for?" the Emperor inquired.
"Almost thirty hours Imperator, in that time we have taken count of the dead and the wounded and the men have rested... In all three days combined we lost almost three thousand and five hundred men killed or wounded... The Visigoths have lost at least sixty thousand dead or wounded, our men have spent most of the time since you were out finishing off their wounded and we have made a deal with some camp followers... They have made a most generous contribution of gold to further your campaign against the Visigoths and they have agree to pile the bodies into a pyre and burn them, in exchange we have agreed to give them a free-hand to take what they want from the dead barbarians... We have no reason to linger here, no need to worry about the dead barbarians, they will be taken care of by the camp followers... If it is your wish that we are to leave before the day is out then that will be done..."
It was his wish and ride they did, leaving the growing stench of death, blood, and burning corpses behind them as they made for Narbo with all haste. Ataulf, the Visigoth King himself, had sacked Narbo and then moved his main army just west of the city while the garrison had taken cover in the nearby hills. Arriving at Narbo Honorius led his field army directly into battle as soon as the sun had set so the Romans with their special night training were at a decided advantage. The sun rose the next morning to reveal a rather morbid scene as macabre morning meal had been offered up to the carrion birds, a meal consisting of the broken bodies of almost twenty thousand Visigoth warriors, with King Ataulf counted amongst them. As the Imperator himself had slain Tanausis so too did Honorius himself slay Ataulf.
As the sun was rising the soldiers of the field army of Imperator Flavius Honorius, still covered in mud and blood, formed up their ranks and began to chant and shout, "Honorius! Honorius!" their cries of jubilation more than sufficient to drown out the sounds of the Gothic wounded and the carrion birds, the ever present carrion birds. No matter who would win or lose the vultures would always have a full belly and the camp followers would always be able to fill their sack or their cart. Today the bellies of the birds would not be filled with Roman flesh but with barbarian flesh.
What few Goths were left alive, somewhere around two thousand, took shelter in Narbo, only to be destroyed by a fresh field army of almost twelve thousand Romans under one of Honorius' most trusted generals. Their first crushing defeat had been inflicted by the Comes Demseticorum Peditum, Valens, in 410, just after the sack of Rome. Some of the Visigoth forces had marched north, some had marched south, and one group (for reasons unknown) had marched east towards the Adriatic Sea, a sea along whose shores they would die en masse.
Valens was a hero, Constantius Flavius was a hero, and above all, Imperator Flavius Honorius was a hero among heroes. Rome had been sacked but two years had gone by and the situation in Italy had gone from an utter disaster to stable and hopeful with the total destruction of the Visigoths in southern Gaul, assuring that they would never again menace the Empire, West or East. The usurper Constantine III had fallen in Arelate at the hands of General Constantius Flavius in the summer of 410 shortly after Rome had been sacked, so Honorius had been marching into Gaul secure in the knowledge that the rebel forces of the usurper had been dealt a mortal blow and were unlikely to trouble him as he moved against the wretched barbarians... The Empire had suffered a humiliating and insulting blow with the sack of the eternal city but now Roman honor had finally been avenged.
Honorius had taken to the field with a great army in 410...
But by 412, after two years of brutal fighting, the force had largely exhausted itself and would likely have to retire to defensive positions in northern Italy to rest and recover, while the other three field armies present in Gaul, one under Constantius Flavius, one under General Valens, and another under Aetius from Dalmatia took up the burden of finishing off the scattered forces of the dead usurper Constantine III, securing the rebel-held cities, and setting up positions along the Rhine to keep out those barbarians who had not yet crossed the river, although from what Honorius had seen thus far it seemed to him that it was plausible that EVERY barbarian in the world had already crossed the Rhine.
He would have to convene another war council to discuss the next course of action, should they go after the Vandals in Hispania or should they proceed to regain the rest of Gaul and secure the Rhine River, or should they split their three field armies and march to recover Hispania and Gaul at the same time... That decision would have to wait for the war council... Honorius was too exhausted to deal with it any sooner than a day or so... He felt the urge to recline in a bath and stay there for a week but he knew that the Empire would not save itself and they may not have a week to wait to convene a council to decide such an important council. While they may not have a week or a month, they certainly had a day or two so he could rest himself, his men would have to be permitted to march back to Italy and rest for a while, although he himself might very well stay in the field and take direct command of Valen's field army.
His men however, were totally exhausted, their formations depleted by nearly two years of uninterrupted battles in what would easily be remembered as one of the most brutal campaigns in the history of the Empire.