The Light of Rome

An historical perspective of
the life and legends of Golden Bear

by Alaricus Virgilius Albus

Gaius Aurelius Golden Bear

 Few individuals have exercised such power over the imagination as Golden Bear. Gaius Julius Caesar is still read and respected for his generalship and nobility, engineers may offer a prayer to the spirits of Marcus and Quintus Ventian, and philosophers still draw inspiration from the works of Archimedes, Charles of Salopia and Albertus Magnus, but for matters of honour, chivalry and daring it is always to the tales of Golden Bear and his companions that we turn.

 From a historian's point of view, it is a great pity that the little that we do know about Golden Bear is so obscured by the fanciful literature that has grown up concerning this period. While the keeping of records during the Shattering of America often leaves much to be desired, those records do exist and they tell a very different story to that of the romantic ruler of popular fiction.

 Gaius Aurelius Golden Bear was born in the year 1684 AUC, fifty years after Regione America as it then was declared itself independent of Rome. The son of Petrus Rising Moon and his wife Gratia Blushing Rose of the Fox clan of the Muscogee tribe, there is no indication at all that he was a grandchild or great grandchild of America's last great governor, Lucius Raging Storm a fact which has not prevented the creation of a number of elaborate genealogies tying together these two great men of the Shattering. Although he was still a child when Governor Red Hawk's assassination plunged America into chaos, and of a tribe that had already withdrawn from the Governor's misrule, Golden Bear seems to have shared in the national trauma and paranoia of that event. Certainly on attaining his majority a few years later he won for himself a commission in the Muscogee cavalry, demonstrating "unusual skill at arms for one so young" according to his instructors.

 Our historical records then show the young Golden Bear achieving what to our eyes is a remarkably rapid series of promotions. Romance insists that this is due to his remarkable martial skills and tactical ability. Alas a perusal of the careers of other officers of the period suggests a more mundane truth; Golden Bear's promotion record is very similar to those of others who survived. The sad truth is that the tribal militaries at this period of the Shattering, particularly the cavalries, suffered from attrition rates that would horrify modern commanders. Put simply, Golden Bear rose through the ranks because others fell. His promotions are less remarkable than his survival.

 As a military leader of the Muscogee, it would not have been unusual for Golden Bear to have been an initiate of Mithras. While we have no direct evidence for it, such records not being commonly kept, Golden Bear's fervent if slightly peculiar adherence to the ideals of Rome make it highly likely that the legends are true on this count. However at the assertion that Golden Bear's sword was a gift from Mithras himself at his first vision quest, even the most devout historian must baulk. It is by no means certain that vision quests were used by the Muscogee, and the bulk of the documentary evidence points to Light Bringer being an heirloom gift from Petrus Rising Moon. Of particular interest in this regard is the Correspondances of Julius Three Rivers; in his letter to Arturus Walking Buffalo, Three Rivers describes a visit to Rising Moon's home while Golden Bear was only a child, and makes particular mention of Rising Moon's sword:

"You should see it, Arturus, for you would love it. It is an object of true beauty to make spirits weep, as if water and light had been given keenness and strength to match their grace. Petrus had it from his father, and from his father before him, back in unbroken line to the ancestor who had it forged in ancient Damasc. I can but marvel and envy, as any man should for such a weapon."
While we have no documentation of Rising Moon passing the family sword on to his son, it would have been unusual not for him not to have done so. Certainly by the time Golden Bear had been promoted to unit command, his father had died of wounds received on the battlefield. Further, it is more likely that Light Bringer was named for the characteristic (and in America unusual) sheen of Damascene steel than the poetic language later ascribed to Golden Bear of desiring to reunite America "under the light of Rome." There is no evidence that Golden Bear himself used this phrase, which was popularised by the early romances of Malor.

 The argument has often been advanced that Golden Bear's promotion record is remarkable even for its time, since he rose to lead the Muscogee. Alas for this argument, Golden Bear is not listed amongst the tribal leaders of the Muscogee. Of curious delight to the historian, his leader would in fact have been Cornelius Wind-Walker, the same ancient medicine man who legend would have as Golden Bear's wise advisor.

 While he was not a leader of the tribe, Golden Bear was still a leader of men who either had the force of personality to go his own way or the active indulgence of Wind-Walker. His unit roved far and wide, and was notable even amongst the confederacy-minded Muscogee for the number of warriors of other tribes he attracted to his banner. There is a small amount of evidence that his actions were carried out with the blessing of his tribal leader, but it is by no means an accepted fact amongst scholars. Whichever conclusion one favours, it is clear that Golden Bear himself must have been possessed of an extraordinary charisma to have attracted to his side so many men who had so little obvious reason to approve of his dream.

 One must be careful, in evaluating Golden Bear's leadership skills, not only to separate fact from fantasy but also to be aware of the changes in usage of terms in the absence of Rome's unifying influence. In particular, many literary masters have assured themselves that Golden Bear must have been tribal leader purely because of the number of centurions under his command. Had they looked more closely, they would have realised how debased the term had become at that time, referring to almost any noted warrior with any degree of command at all.

 One must also bear in mind that not all of Golden Bear's centurions that the stories focus on were in fact under his command. Literary embellishments over the years have not helped our understanding of these great warriors. Some of them, most notably the "Perfectus" Honorius Black Lion, appear to be completely fictitious, some appear to be amalgams of several people Marcus Running River appears to be two or three different members of the Cherokee nation, possibly brothers and some appear to have been split into multiple people, usually by mistranscription of their names. Also, to the infinite regret of romantics everywhere, it appears that the great love story between Golden Bear and Helena Snow Owl, and her with Hideo Laughing Dragon, is a complete fabrication. While the friendship of Golden Bear and Laughing Dragon is well-recorded, as is his unexplained absence at the Battle of Crooked River, it is by no means clear that Snow Owl ever existed. The woman whose reality is more usually questioned, Aurelia Soaring Eagle, undoubted did exist as her prowess at arms is remarked upon in several records of the period.

 Golden Bear's arch-nemesis, Black Raven, is a well-documented historical figure. Alas, this has not prevented severe violence to both his personal history and what we know of his personality in the name of literature. All legend to the contrary, we know that he was not related to Golden Bear in any way, least of all (as a trivial comparison of birth dates would demonstrate) a nephew. As a fierce believer in American independence, despite all the evidence of the Shattering, Black Raven needed no further reason to oppose the Muscogee visionary. As titular governor of the no-longer-united tribes, it was his duty; anything less than the extinction of this heresy would have been unthinkable.

Battle of Crooked River

 Documentation of the actual Battle of Crooked River is sparse. We know that the Muscogee irregulars and the Novillian forces did clash there, and that Black Raven and Golden Bear did their duty to their respective visions by attempting to negotiate with each other before the inevitable combat. We know that Black Raven was amongst the thousands who died that day, as his death is recorded in the Annals of the Governors; we can only infer Golden Bear's death from the lack of any subsequent mention of him. The account of Golden Bear casting away his sword and being carried into the hills by his page Marcus Running Wolf (believed to be the youngest of the brothers otherwise referred to as Marcus Running River) is a pretty story, but probably just that. Certainly no records exist of his burial.

 I hope that this introduction has whetted the reader's appetite for more of the true history of Gaius Golden Bear and his followers. In subsequent chapters we will examine the historical records in more detail, illuminating the fascinating story of a man who, even shorn of legend's gilding, was most remarkable for his times.

Appendix: On Amerind Names

 For the benefit of those misled by some of the more modern retellings, I offer the following notes on the systems of nomenclature in use in America during the Shattering.

 During the initial military occupation of Regione America, the Roman fashion of naming became prevalent, with the cognomen usually being rendered in the local language and being much more prevalent than here in Rome. While many tribes during the Shattering reverted to their old naming schemes, many more retained their new tradition. By the time of Golden Bear a man would commonly be referred to by his cognomen, would use his praenomen amongst close friends and reserve his nomen for formal occasions. Thus Golden Bear would have been called such by the populace, but would have been Gaius to his friends and Gaius Aurelius Golden Bear for any formal ceremony.

 To the west of the Rockies, the Han-influenced Amerinds adopted similar practices, though different enough to cause considerable confusion. The reader will recall that the Chinese traditionally place their family name first; the Amerind-language name was in formal address added to the end of a man's name, but common usage provided a bewildering variety of ways a man could be referred to. This leads to one of the common problems of decyphering Romano-Amerind references to Sino-Amerinds; Sung Deng, Deng Wild Stallion and Wild Stallion Sung are the same person, whose name would be formally written Sung Deng Wild Stallion. Add in the habit of some parts of the Chinese Empire of reversing the family name and personal name, and a tendency to cross-render Chinese and local names in the other language, and complete chaos in the records can and does result. It is considered a minor miracle by the historical community that the name of Hideo Takamura Laughing Dragon survived intact into legend.

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