The Sentinel

By Keith Baker

Inspired by a visit to Portchester Castle

Each day I patrol my fort, watch and wait.

I first saw the fort’s stern grey stone walls rising from the sea as we sailed into the harbour on a full tide, proclaiming our dominance over this Saxon land. It filled me with awe and captured my imagination.

When a volunteer was requested, I proudly stepped forward.

The task was too important for an ordinary soldier, worthy only of an officer. The vine staff in my hand, rich purple cloak covering my armour, and the ceremonial sword by my side marked me as a centurion.

My death wasn’t easy.

I awoke from my drugged sleep before the slow poison completed it task. As a soldier, I bravely met my fate.

The land we occupied was bountiful. My masters decreed that we leave a legacy for the future keepers of our fort, so that they could restore and arm it when the need arose. Gold and silver coins and jewels of every colour were laid side by side with plans of the fort and drawings of our culture, all on fine parchment. We placed everything in a chamber we had excavated deep inside the walls.

A guardian was needed to watch over the fort and to one day guide the chosen to the site of our endowment. I drank the poison and then the sleeping draught. The remaining soldiers placed my slumbering body inside the chamber, to anchor my spirit while I waited and watched.

Time has no meaning to me now, only duty.

It was a sad day when my legions sailed from the harbour, never to return. But I kept faith with my masters and continued my vigil, unseen by the living.

When the Saxons armed the fort against a Vikings threat, I stayed my hand. It seemed wrong to help Saxons defend walls that once kept them out.

I heard the language of the Gaul spoken as a castle and its sumptuous dwellings were built in one corner of my fort. At its height, our empire extended across Europe and Gaul paid homage to Rome. I felt no obligation to help those once our subjects.

I watched as monks built a priory in another corner, only to abandon it. Their church was the only building to weather the passage of time.

The opulence of the castle continued, a great tower was raised and kings enjoyed its comforts.

Later, I heard fearful whispers of an invasion from the descendants of Gaul. It was strange to see labourers reshape the walls and to watch militia again parade within them. Perhaps I should have ended my vigil then but the work was carried out with purpose and precision. I doubt my intervention would have changed their plans.

Countless seasons rolled past. The settlements across the harbour grew while the importance of the fort declined. Where kings once dwelt, prisoners of war now slept. Mortar crumbled and stones fell, as time and its allies wind and weather laid siege.

Still I patrolled, watched and waited.

The world about me has changed since first my vigil started. I worry the walls will soon be beyond redemption and I will have failed in my task. Dwellings now sprawl across the once empty countryside, spilling over into the harbour. Some reach into the sky like temples to the gods. Black nights with glittering stars have been banished by the dull glow over the harbour from millions of lanterns that shine without fire.

Brick forts appeared on the overlooking hill but were never tested.

Metal ships, many times the size of the one in which I journeyed here, now berth within the harbour. I stare in wonder as mechanical birds cross the sky, and listen to the steady drone as they pass. Enclosed chariots, moving by themselves, disgorge civilians who roam my domain and marvel at our creation.

Tides rise and fall, and labourers come yet again, attempting to stem time’s destruction. Others probe and study both fort and castle.

Now I understand my destiny. I will reveal myself and our legacy. The fort will be rebuilt, not for war or defence but to show these new Britons the grandeur of my era.

My vigil is near its end. I plan my final actions.