Outpost Fortress
First edition cover




Short story



Historical era



Charles Keeping


Stories from Scottish History, BBC Scotland


The Capricorn Bracelet

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"Outpost Fortress" is the third story in the 1973 collection The Capricorn Bracelet, originally written as episodes of the BBC Scotland radio programme "Stories from Scottish History".


A third Lucius Calpurnius, first of his name to join the cavalry, is summoned to Trimontium. His retired father gives him the family bracelet as a good-luck charm before he leaves. In Trimontium, the cavalry Commander explains to Lucius that Number Seven Troop of the Dacian Horse was particularly loyal to their dead Decurian, and are not friendly to the idea of a commander who is not a Dacian.

Lucius endures months of his troop pretending not to speak Latin or know how to perform their parade maneuvers, exacerbated by the necessity of punishing the drunk, disorderly, and popular Trooper Pertinax. That summer, the keen new Legate arrives to inspect the fort, and Lucius's Second "respectfully" suggests that the Dacian perform the Fire Ride for his entertainment, a stunt display which he knows Lucius has never done before. Lucius is privately afraid of fire after a childhood near-death experience, but applies for permission for the ride, knowing that the troop will never accept him if he backs out.

That evening he takes refuge in the tavern where he falls to dicing with Florianus, a fellow decurian whom he dislikes, and loses more than he can immediately afford. Florianus demands his silver bracelet as security because he knows Lucius values it, and Lucius is forced to accept. The next day, the unexpectedly short, bandy-legged Legate arrives. At the end of his tour of the fort, escorted by Lucius, he demands to inspect the latrines, where the party finds Trooper Pertinax adorning the wall with a caricature of the Legate. Lucius puts himself forward as the subject of the portrait, displaying his own bow-legs, and the Legate amusedly accepts the excuse. That night, Lucius's Second brings him his bracelet, stolen by the men from Florianus, and Lucius realises that they are now treating him with genuine respect. He can't accept the bracelet, but thanks them sincerely.

The next day at the end of their cavalry maneuvers, Number Seven Troop led by Lucius performs the Fire Ride, jumping their blindfolded horses over three walls of burning brush. Lucius realises that he never missed his good-luck charm, because he finally had faith in his men, and they in him. He redeems the bracelet, and never loves any command so much as Number Seven Troop.


AD 150 is given in the chapter heading.

  • 79-83 CE: The first Lucius Calpurnius won the Capricorn Bracelet in the Caledonian Campaigns
  • Before Lucius was born: a catapult fell on Dad
  • 150 CE
    • Decurian Valarius dies
    • Lucius is called up to Trimontium, Dad gives him the bracelet
    • 6 weeks later: Lucius arrives in Trimontium
    • 5 months later: the Legate comes to inspect


  • Decurian Lucius Calpurnius [III], first LC to join the cavalry. Born in the saddle and once almost burned to death in a hayloft.
  • Lucius's father, invalided out of the army with a crushed arm, bred horses in Southern Gaul, had a British mother
  • The Cohort Commander, world-weary
  • The Seventh troop of Dacian Horse, known to be tricky
  • Decurion Valarius, of beloved memory
  • Trooper Pertinax, artistic riff-raff
  • The Legate, a new broom; bandy-legged; a very short great man
  • Lucius's Second, occasionally knows how to speak Latin
  • Decurian Florianus, of Number Five Troop, malicious
  • Decurian Androphon, not
  • Centurion Titus Fulvius Lentullus, the Fort Commandant, not expecting latrine tours
  • Ajax, Lucius's horse


  • Southern Gaul, site of LC's parents' farm, his mother's native country, on the Mediterranean
  • Britain, where all Calpurnii seem to go
    • Hadrian's Wall
    • Trimontium, "The Place of Three Hills", north of the Wall, a double fort of legionary infantry and Dacian cavalry
      • Three-Headed Hill
      • The Four Pigeons, the cavalry tavern
      • The Golden Gladiator, the legionary tavern
      • The latrines, not usually host to official visitors
    • Eburacum, south of the Wall