Swallows in the Spring




Short story



Historical era

Roman, 1st century CE


Charles Keeping



"Swallows in the Spring" is a 1970 short story in the Oxford University Press anthology Galaxy, edited by Gabrielle Maunder, with illustrations by Charles Keeping. A veteran of the Wall recounts the reunion of two survivors of the Ninth Legion.


The return of the swallows to Britain reminds Centurion Dexius of the Sixth Legion, the narrator, of an incident he witnessed in Eburacum early in his career. As a decurion, he served under Centurion Fulvius, a former member of the Ninth Legion who was left in their headquarters at Eburacum when they marched north, never to return. Like Dexius, Fulvius doubts whether they were destroyed, or rather mutinied and deserted. Fulvius was inappropriately reassigned to the Sixth Victrix, the legion that took over Eburacum from the Ninth.

The Sixth in Eburacum are busy repairing the fort in anticipation of a visit from the Governor of the Province. Dexius is in charge of a labour team of Brigantes and a single tattooed Pict, a mute man nicknamed Stripey, who seems perpetually dazed and struggling to remember something. On the day of the Governor's visit, Dexius finds Stripey staring at the inscribed block they are to put in place. Later, as they raise it, the block slips and falls on Stripey.

Another labourer calls Centurion Fulvius over: Stripey is asking for the Ninth Legion. He recognises Fulvius, reports for duty in Latin purer than Dexius's, and dies. Fulvius says that Stripey must have been one of his own men, but that he still can't recognise him. They bury him in an unmarked grave among the dead of the Ninth.


The central narrative during Dexius's early career is set at about 130 or later, "a dozen years or more" after the loss of the Ninth Legion, which is given in The Eagle of the Ninth as 117 CE. Dexius is telling the story to his younger comrades as an old man who has passed a full career on the wall and risen to the rank of centurion. The anecdote of the homing dog takes place presumably sometime between these two points.


  • Decurion Dexius
  • Florianus
  • Centurion Fulvius
  • The Governor of the Province
  • The Legate
  • Stripey
  • The Sixth Victrix
  • The Ninth Hispana
  • The Brigantes
  • The Painted People


Roman Britain

  • Eburacum
  • The Wall


Publication historyEdit

  1. "Swallows in the Spring" in Galaxy. Gabrielle Maunder, ed. Oxford University Press, 1970.[1]

References Edit