No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something
unexpected.” – Julius Caesar
Gaius set himself to the task of war. He studied strategy, mastered weapons, and exercised relentlessly until he made a name for himself among the legion. Numerius, Aulus, Manius, and Appius were concerned. They knew their friend was grieving the loss of Aalina, and they feared his obsession would drive him mad. Aulus was appointed the spokesman. “Gaius, we would like to talk to you.”
Gaius had been working a sword drill, and his body glistened with sweat. Standing under an overhang near the water bucket, he motioned to his friends to have a seat. Numerius and Manius sat on either side, but Aulus and Appius remained standing.
“My friend, your dedication to the unit is unrivalled. You have proven yourself stronger and faster than any of us, but we are worried. You have not joined us in any relaxation, and we are concerned that you will wear yourself out and become of no use.”
Their interference into matters that did not concern them annoyed Gaius. He would rather be left alone than to be mothered by his comrades, but he was in no mood to enter into this conversation. “Don’t worry about me. I spend my time as I see fit.” He dismissed them with a wave of his hand.
Manius was sitting next to him, and placing a hand on his shoulder, he said, “I know you miss Aalina…” Gaius quickly stood and pushed outward with both arms, sending Manius and Numerius to the ground. “Do not speak to me of her again.”
Both Aulus and Appius moved toward him and grabbed his arms, but he twisted sideways while squatting low, causing them to flip to one side. Grasping the gladius that he had set next to the post, he straddled Appius and pointed the short sword at the base of his throat. “If we were not friends I would kill you, but this time only will I give you a warning. My feelings for or against Aalina are none of your business. I require only that you are ready in battle to watch my back.” Angrily he threw the blade to the ground, turned, and walked away. A hush fell over the field, as all eyes watched the display. Helping one another up, the friends feared they had lost their brother.
Ending his training early, Gaius decided to head for the bathhouse. There maybe, he could think in peace. Disrobing and stepping down into the cool water, he could feel its coolness strip away the day’s dirt and heat; he had a lot on his mind. Six months after Aalina left, their unit was preparing to leave. Aalina had made no attempt to contact him, and the house servants said they had not seen her at the market. He feared the worst. She was young, beautiful, and alone. Rome, in all its glory, could still be a dangerous place. He had hoped that she would have at least sent word of her condition, but what he feared most had happened – in her new freedom she had forgotten him. He would not let himself be distracted, however. The army was all he had, and as General Sextus had told him on more than one occasion, “There is a bright future for you in the army.”
In fact, the very next day, the General had ordered the legion to the ready. They were to set out for Germania at first light. He commanded the Primus Pilus to gather the centurions under his command.
“Tomorrow we march to Germania to retrieve the standards of the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Legions, and to exact justice for our fallen brothers. Arminius shall not prevail! For the past three years we have been setting this in motion, and now, we are at the necessary tactical strength.” General Sextus’ voice rose and fell to give emphasis and motivate his commanders. The march north would be long and difficult, and he needed to maintain morale and discipline. He continued, “Promote as you see fit within your ranks. Have your Sesquiplicarious make note in their logs and pay manifests. You have the freedom to advance worthy candidates, but only those who have distinguished themselves. Centurion Quintus, you have a young soldier named Gaius Atilius. I want you to promote him to Decanus. I have given him special attention and know that he has distinguished himself among his peers.” The General paused to reflect upon the magnitude of their campaign. “We have a long way to go. Let’s be prepared for anything. Tomorrow we march. You’re dismissed.”
A military campaign of this proportion was no small feat. The months and years of planning were coming together. Moving thousands of men, materials, and supplies through the Alps and rugged terrain of Germania took time and patience. But the General’s forbearance was beginning to pay off. He received word from his advance scouts that ample food supplies could be procured from local farmers as they moved north. Valerius and a small unit of men had the task of finding flat land where the army could bed each day. Having established where they would bivouac each evening, from Rome to the borders in the north, they had made their way back toward Rome. Valerius had sent word to General Sextus that the army would camp the first evening just east of Falerii. At thirty miles, the first day’s march was a little long. Crossing the Tiber River and heading into the Apennine Mountains, General Sextus’ troops would need to make a strong push early.
Gaius took his new responsibilities seriously, and as was expected his closest friends were placed in his contubernium. Not only did he apply the rigors of his training to himself: he was now applying them to those under him. His attention to detail and military precision made him the darling of his superiors. To those under him, however, it was a different matter. They had become accustomed to the strict and sometimes harsh life of a soldier, but Gaius’ focus bordered on unhealthy obsession. “Pack those packs tight, don’t let your weapons dangle, tighten up that belt, and by the gods, lace your sandals better!”
“Lighten up, Gaius,” Aulus had once remarked off-handedly, but Gaius got right in his face.
“I’m sorry if you don’t like the way I am leading this group!” It was a half whisper, with a deep, menacing tone. “But I would suggest you stop your whining and fall in line, or the next thing you’ll pick up will be your teeth! Is that understood?” Aulus didn’t back away, but he did yield to his team leader. Gaius was very capable of enforcing his orders, and if that didn’t determine the proper outcome, the disobedient act would go up the chain of command. No one wanted the wrath of the Centurion, which could lead to death. Better to obey, bide his time, and hope that Gaius would return to how he had been in the old days. But that would never happen.
When the order was given to form ranks, Gaius’ team was ready to march. They lined up side-by-side, four deep, and melted away into the might of the Roman Legion. The streets were lined with well wishers, family, and gawkers who reveled in Rome’s glory. Children ran along the way, and mothers wept as their sons went off to war, for most never to return again. All Gaius left behind was a broken heart.
When he thought he could bear the memories no longer, he heard a familiar voice. Turing quickly he thought he saw the ghost who had stolen his heart, but it wasn’t Aalina. It was Servia, his mother. In her hands was a small piece of cloth containing some bread and cheese. Running alongside the column she reached out and handed it to her son. As he received the gift, she spoke the last words he would ever hear from her. “Be careful, I love you.” Her voice and body trailed off into a crowd of civilians, and she was gone. It wasn’t until later, that Gaius found and read the note hidden amongst the bread.
My Dearest Son Gaius,
Your father couldn’t come and see you march away, so I came alone. I needed to see you once more, and let you know how much you are loved. We heard about Aalina, and know that your heart must be heavy. Know that you have a family who loves you, and we will pray daily that the gods watch over you. We are proud of your accomplishments and your promotion, and know that you will rise quickly in the ranks. Your father wants me to remind you that family is everything, and it is for the family that you fight to keep Rome safe. I want you to know that you are never alone, so long as you keep us in your heart. Be safe my son.
Even if no one else could see it, Gaius’ heart was softening. Into the darkness a light started to shine. The depression he had felt was beginning to lift, and he believed that he could put Aalina behind him, and move on.
Marching was as much about mental discipline as it was about physical stamina. Long hours marching in formation left one with little else to do but think. Some soldiers thought about home, others about battle. A few even hummed to themselves along the way. Gaius was a thinker, and he had a lot on his mind. Ever since leaving home, he had felt the gods looking favorably on his life. His relationship with the General, though not familial, was personal. He had taken a liking to Gaius and spent extra hours instructing him on the finer points of military strategy and playing Latrunculi. Aulus was a good friend, closer than a brother. The bond between men who train hard together is often forged stronger than family. They were family, and he had all but broken those bonds because of a woman. The General had warned him about the effect that a women could have on a man. Gaius had allowed his heartbreak to isolate him from the men who meant more to him than life itself. These men, who marched with him, would lay their lives down for one another. What woman would do that for him?
Fifteen miles into the march the command came for the noon break. Laying down their loads, each took out the little morsels that would sustain them until the evening meal. Aulus, Numerius, Manus, and Appius found a tree to shade them from the hot sun. Gaius looked on from a distance, longing to join his comrades, but feeling secluded by his own hardened disposition. It was his fault, he knew it, and he feared the damage was irreparable. A couple of times he moved toward the group, only to be repelled by their averted eyes. It seemed evident to him that they were not interested in his company.
Meanwhile, Gaius’ friends were discussing how to approach the situation. “Come on, let’s invite him to join us.” Aulus was always the peacemaker.
“If he wants to join us he can come over himself. He doesn’t deserve our companionship the way he has been treating us. He’ll just cause a commotion and ruin what little relaxation we have.” Appius wasn’t as conciliatory as Aulus, and wasn’t afraid to make his feelings known.
Manius didn’t like how they had been treated either, and agreed with Appius. “You know, Aulus, Gaius has gotten pretty self-inflated with his promotion. If he’s not careful, the bridges he has started to burn will come falling down around him.” At least he seemed to leave open the possibility of reconciliation.
The horn sounded, and Gaius was up and giving orders. “Grab your packs men, help each other with your gear, work as a team … that’s it, Vibius, tighten your belt, it will help with the weight.” Their training was so thorough that Gaius’ orders were really encouragement. Every Roman soldier knew what was to be done and when. As a second horn sounded for the march to resume, they barely thought about what needed to happen. They stopped what they were doing and reflexively returned to formation. Appius thought Gaius’ orders were more like a nagging woman, and the look he shot his unit leader was a bit more disrespectful than he had intended.
“Do we have a problem?” Gaius couldn’t let it go. Morale and discipline had to be maintained.
“No, Decanus.” Appius looked straight ahead. He knew there was a line that couldn’t be crossed, so he checked his attitude and fell in formation. Gaius, for his part, let it go as well. He had gotten his point across, and though he could feel the tension between himself and his men, he knew that he had their respect. The sun was warm, but a cool breeze blew in from the mountains. He spent the rest of the day reflecting on how to regain the friendships he had so carelessly tossed aside.
Each century detached ten men to join together in a separate group, the Color Party. Six hundred strong, they were to travel ahead of the legion and begin construction of the camp each night. They would place four large surveyor flags demarcating the outer boundary of the camp. Next, the positions of the four gates were marked, and then the ground was leveled. The first structure to be completed was the commander’s tent, and the rest of the tents and structures would be erected around it. As the rest of the legion approached, each contubernium would place their equipment as designated by the Color Party, and then would assist in digging trenches. Once completed, with the commander’s and centurion’s tents erected, the contuberniums would set up their tents, ten square-foot butterfly structures made of four skins sewn together. The Roman army was efficient, and each camp was the same. The soldiers knew exactly where they were to work and where they were to rest. At the end of the day, they were exhausted, but they were also safe. It would be tempting, so close to Rome, to forego the usual camp construction, but army discipline would not fall slack for the sake of convenience. It was impossible to know if an enemy lurked behind the next hill.
After their evening meal Appius and Manius elicited Vibius in a game of chance. “Come, my friend, what do you have to lose?” Manius slapped Vibius on the back. “We have a long way to go and nowhere to spend our money.” He was sliding two tesserae between his fingers. Vibius had to give this some thought. Generally, gambling was not allowed, but the commanders understood that their men needed some entertainment.
“All work and no play … come on Vibius.”
“Maybe Vibius has some common sense.” Gaius was trying to joke with his men, but it came across as a challenge.
“He’s a grown man. The decision is his.” Manius stood tall, facing Gaius, whose heart sank. He wasn’t trying to challenge them, but how else were they to take his actions; he had ridden them, and ridden them hard ever since Aalina had left.
Putting his hands up in a defensive posture he replied, “Far be it from me to question your motives, Manius,” and he walked by him into the tent. Everyone was dumbfounded. They couldn’t believe what had just happened. In the face of a challenge, Gaius walked off, unthreatening. Something had changed.
Aulus, who was standing just outside the tent, shrugged his shoulders at the others, and followed Gaius inside.
Their destination was Augusta Raurica, a port city along the Rhenus River. They would travel through the Apennine Mountains along the Flaminian Way, then north on the Aemillian Way and the Via Claudia Augusta, a total of 612 miles. Here, General Sextus’ troops would board transport ships heading northwest to its mouth, then north to the Weser River. Valerius was to follow this route, scouting for provisions and reporting back to the General any unusual activities.
His detachment was small, so that travel could be swift, but with him he brought a supply wagon and a wagon of women, courtesy of the General. Valerius’ routine was to scout ahead, plant a flag where the wagons were to camp, venture several miles further to make sure the way was clear, and then return to camp. He was very capable and cautious, and, ever since his humiliation at Gaius’ hands, very angry. This combination made him an excellent soldier, but a brutal master, and Aalina felt the swings in his mood.
“Where’s my dinner?” he demanded coarsely without a hint of gratitude. Aalina said nothing, bringing a plate of warm bread, cheese and a small piece of meat. Grabbing it, Valerius motioned with his head for her to sit at his side. She obeyed. Aalina was used to being a slave and knew her place. In the beginning, she had tried to assert herself. Her freedom had emboldened her, but it was only a mirage. Freedom is always lost at the hands of the powerful. They demand, command, and discharge their wishes and whims on the backs of those they have conquered. Even the “free” Roman soldier moved at the beck and call of the officer above him. The harsher his treatment, the crueler he treated those under him. This is what Aalina had learned. The bruising on her left cheek was proof enough. Speaking her mind was met with the back of Valerius’ hand, and she learned quickly that she was no longer free.
Sitting quietly, she watched as he shoveled his food into his mouth, little better than an animal. He was nothing like Gaius, who was gentle, strong, and caring. Ever since Valerius had imprisoned her, Gaius consumed her every thought. To him she was never a slave. Oh, how she wished she had stayed, but regrets were useless in this game of survival.
Finishing his meal, he tossed the plate to the corner of the tent and motioned for Aalina to come closer. She hated this, his touch, his mauling her to satisfy his carnal craving. Yet, she had been raised to service soldiers. She knew her duty well, and her skills would satisfy this man, but she would never find pleasure from his touch. She closed her eyes and dreamed of better days. In the distance she imagined Gaius, and throughout the ordeal, Aalina melted away into a safe place until it was over.
Having filled his stomach and his lust, Valerius left Aalina alone in the tent. He spent the rest of the evening in the company of his men, casting tesserae, winning and losing money he probably would never spend. Glancing over his shoulder he caught a glimpse of Aalina leaving the tent, eating utensils in hand. He gave it no thought, as it was her custom to wash both the utensils and herself after every encounter. Filling every moment with whatever pleasure was at hand, he returned his attention to the game. Valerius had learned different things from Gaius’ same mentor: General Sextus.
Aalina sat next to a stream that swept near the edge of the camp. Unlike the main forces of the Legion, Valerius’ contingent didn’t construct a prescribed fortress. He kept wagons and men close, and as near to a water source as possible. Aalina liked sitting next to the water. Its sound was soothing and drowned out the laughter of the soldiers. Here she was able to escape her prison, if but for a little while. The Tiber River flowed most of the way from Rome to Rimini, but Valerius liked to steer clear of the main river, and camped on one of its tributaries.
The moon was full and hung high this particular evening, and in the shadows of the low hanging branches near the stream, Aalina could see movement. Slowly creeping around a boulder, she separated herself from the potential danger. With little noise the intruder was revealed: a young woman stepped out of the darkness, a girl named Camiria.
“Camiria! You startled me.”
The girl was clearly startled as well, darting her eyes behind her. Aalina could see the fear reflected within them.
“Camiria, what’s wrong? Step out of the light and come to me.” Offering her hand to the frightened girl, Aalina could only guess at the horror this girl felt. She belonged to one of the other soldiers. Aalina thought Valerius was cruel, but Camiria’s master was ten times worse.
“Please, Aalina, don’t make me go back! I have to leave, or he will kill me.” Camiria was young, no more than seventeen. She had grown up in Spain, but was sold into slavery as punishment for her father’s treason. The Romans crucified him and her mother, because they dared to stand against Rome. General Sextus had bought her at a slave auction to service the men in his legion. When he sent Valerius and his contingent as scouts, she had been given to them, to satisfy their needs. Of course Valerius had Aalina, so Camiria and one other girl belonged to the others. Every night two or three men would violate them, heaping disgrace upon disgrace onto these poor girls. Camiria had had enough. If she were to die, at least it would be in an attempt to get away.
“I know you are scared, but escape is impossible. If they find you it will only be worse for you.” Aalina was trying to comfort, but at the same time she needed to talk sense into Camiria. “You know they won’t kill you. They will just beat you and humiliate you more. I have seen it before. They will all take their turn with you until your humiliation is so great that you will want to kill yourself.”
“Then I will kill myself now. It would be better than spending the rest of my life with these pigs.” Camiria spit on the ground, her fear now mixed with tears and rage. But she didn’t really want to die. Collapsing into Aalina’s lap, she wept bitterly. There was nothing Aalina could do but stroke her head, and sing a song her mother once taught her:
Hush little child,
Let the wind blow gently across your face
Hush little child,
Let the night cover your disgrace
Hush little child,
The morning will come and all will be new
Hush little child,
Remember that I love you.
The soothing sound of Aalina’s voice, the constant flow of the steam, and the warm night air worked its magic and Camiria drifted off to sleep. For those few minutes her cares were swept away. What angered Aalina was that in the morning the humiliation would resume. If she could not stop the soldiers, then at least she could be a mother to these girls. In the distance she could hear the men’s laughter, rising and falling with each throw of the tesserae. They believed themselves invincible, but their day would come, and Aalina prayed it would be soon.
His legates surrounded General Sextus. They had heard good reports from Valerius, and didn’t anticipate any difficulties before they reached the foothills of the Alps. Preparations needed to be made for the long march across the Alpine Mountains. The going would be slow, but as long as they were well prepared, the General expected no delays. The timing was right. There would be no snow through the passes, and ample supplies of food and water could be requisitioned from the local farmers.
After a moment of thought among his lieutenants, Legate Gallius spoke. “General, please beg my pardon. With all due respect for our forward scouts, I know this area very well.” Legate Gallius was from the upper end of the Roman Peninsula. His ancestry could be traced as far back as recorded history along a fine line of soldiers. He was a Gaul, who had risen through the ranks of society and the army with a notable pedigree. “The pass shouldn’t be a problem, but I have had some reports of marauders around Turin.”
“What harm could some band of thieves do against the First Cohort of Rome?” General Sextus was not just inquisitive about the Legate’s report, but a little astounded that he thought so little of the might of Rome.
“We would never face a head-to-head assault, but rumors have appeared of discontentment among some of the mountain tribes. They fear the army’s need for provisions will devastate their livelihood.” He was hesitant to reveal too much.
“And where did you get this information? Why is this the first I have heard of it?” General Sextus didn’t like being kept in the dark when it concerned his military. Something nagged at the back of his subconscious. He trusted his commanders with his life. They had been handpicked and trained under his command. Something, however, did not sit well with him. It was not uncommon to advance in the Roman army by assassinating your superior officers. General Sextus took great pains to solicit loyalty through bribes and rewards. Yet, money and pleasure were not the only motivators; power, control, and family were strong incentives to wrestle away command. An uprising of this caliber rarely happened when so egregious an enemy as Arminius stood before them. Surely the honor of Rome would be greater than any one man’s need for power. The General’s intuition and paranoia had helped him to rise to this rank, and he would trust it now. “Answer me!”
Gallius snapped to attention. “My lord, I receive messages often from home. My brother has been concerned for my safety as we head into this region. He has just sent word through his servant concerning these matters.” His voice betrayed no hint of deceit. It was steady and straightforward. The General needed not distrust what he said.
“Is your brother not concerned for the life of your general as well?” It was a question of loyalty.
“My brother is a loyal Roman. When faced with this information, his first thought was to send it through me.” Sweat began to bead on his forehead. “There was no intent of duplicity, sir. I was the only one he knew to contact.”
General Sextus stood silent for a moment, hands stretched out in front of him on the table. After a while he straightened and walked around the table, standing behind Gallius. The General placed a hand on his shoulder, saying “Very good, Gallius. You have been loyal to Rome. I am going to send you and a small contingent north toward the pass. Check out the conditions of which your brother has spoken. Get all the information you can on their numbers, strength, and hiding places. We will continue our march in two days.” He nudged between Gallius and another officer until he was facing the map on the table once again. “We will meet you here,” he said, pointing to a small village named Palmira. “We will then hear from your brother the news, either good or bad.”
“My brother, sir?” His voice quivered, nervously.
“That’s right. We want to give him an opportunity to meet with the officers and apprise us of the situation. Is that alright with you, Legate?”
Gallius snapped to straight attention in affirmation to the General’s question.
“Good, everyone is dismissed. Send word when you are on your way.”
After the officers had left, General Sextus opened the flap to his tent and told the sentinel to call for the Duplicarious. He would commission an additional guard detail from the Pretorian. Yet, even they, who were tasked to protect him, couldn’t be fully trusted. He would have to be ever vigilant, and carry close the dagger he had received as a gift from the Emperor himself.
Orange beams streaked across the evening sky, its glow reflecting the embers of Gaius’ fire. The air was warm, but the steady breeze and the setting sun brought relief. Sitting outside his tent, he enjoyed a relaxing moment without the heavy weight of his armor or the demands of leadership. He realized that his position was nothing like the centurions’, but he enjoyed the responsibility and the power that came with leading men; it was intoxicating. He wasn’t satisfied with remaining stagnant, and dreamed of rising in the ranks. Life was always moving, and he wanted to move upward. Gaius felt he had something more to offer Rome, and one day he hoped his dream would be reality.
“Want some company?” Appius, walking up behind Gaius, sat down before the question could be answered. “Some rumors have been spreading about conflict between the forward guards and land owners.”
Gaius didn’t answer.
“Do you think we will have a fight, before we even reach the Germans?”
“It’s possible,” Gaius replied. He didn’t like second guessing officers, let alone engaging in speculation.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter. A fight is a fight, and I am ready to do something other than marching.” Appius was carving on a stick he had picked up, tossing the shavings into the fire. They were soldiers, trained for battle. Long marches and endless hours of, well, nothing grated on their morale.
Gaius, too, looked forward to battle. Fighting for Rome was an honor he longed for. “Don’t be so quick to pick up your sword. Make sure it is a battle worthy of our deaths.”
“You don’t think that these farmers should get away with refusing to contribute to the Legion’s needs?” Appius was surprised that hard-hearted Gaius cared about a few dirt moles.
“Everyone has their part in the advancement of Rome, but these dirt moles are also citizens of the Empire. We need to be careful not to trample those whose hard work supplies food for our stomachs. The army wouldn’t last a month without their contributions to the food reserves.” Gaius wasn’t emotional; he usually saw the practical side of an argument. He didn’t care as much for the people themselves, but rather what they contributed to the goals of the army.
“Maybe, but we better be ready regardless.” Appius’ hand jerked as he nicked his finger with his knife.
A Pretorian approached them. “Gaius Atilius?” He was looking at both of them, not knowing which he should address.
“I am Gaius.” He spoke confidently, despite the reservation he felt inside. The Pretorian looked out of place among the regular soldiers.
“Your presence is requested by General Sextus. Come with me.” Smartly he turned and began walking away. Gaius grabbed his helmet and followed quickly behind him. Though curious, he knew better than to ask this guard why he had been summoned. He probably didn’t know, and if he did, wouldn’t answer. Gaius would have to quell his curiosity until he was in the presence of the General.
When they approached the tent, Gaius remained outside while the Pretorian entered. Two other guards stood watch in front of him. They were as statues, peering into the night. Something had to be amiss for the General to have two guards at this post. The General’s tent was situated in the center of the compound; an enemy attack couldn’t penetrate this far, especially since they were still so close to Rome. Maybe this had something to do with the farmer rebellion to the north. He tried to control his imagination. Speculation was spurious until all the facts were known. The tent flap opened.
Gaius entered and stood at attention, not saying a word until he was spoken to. General Sextus gave one last instruction to the Pretorian, who left at his command.
“Gaius, my boy, come and sit. I have missed our games. How is your new position and post? I have heard good reports.”
Cautiously, Gaius took a seat. It was one thing for the General to engage a soldier socially at home, but another to be too familiar during a campaign. It had the potential to break down military discipline, and for the Roman, nothing was more important than military discipline. Though sitting, he remained straight and at attention.
The General took a seat at the table that served as his desk. “Gaius, when I brought you into my home I wasn’t sure if you would make a good soldier. You came from a nice family, and the rigors of military life can wear on those sensibilities. However, it has been your honor, courage, and perseverance that have brought you here tonight. You have distinguished yourself among your peers, in training and integrity.”
Marcus Sextus was always good with words, and he wielded them as he would a sword. Gaius was honored with the rhetoric, but circumspect as to what lay behind his words. He had played enough Latrunculi with the General to know that he was always thinking two or three moves ahead. The General stood and walked around the table. When he was directly in front of Gaius he pulled a chair up beside him and spoke in a hushed voice. Looking intently into Gaius’ eyes he said, “I believe I can trust you.”
Gaius wasn’t sure if it was a statement or a question, and did not answer. A long silence filled the room as General Sextus let the statement sink in. He wanted the weight of anticipation to fall squarely on this boy’s conscience.
Standing up, the General walked back behind the table. “Come here, I want to show you something.”
Gaius stood and stepped up to the table. On it was a map of the Roman Empire stretching from Rome north to Britannica.
“We are moving the First Cohort of Rome to engage the barbarian Arminius.”
This, every soldier knew, but something else was on the General’s mind.
“However, this little speck, Parma, is growing into a cancer.” He saw bewilderment in Gaius’ face. “I feel that forces within this area are bent on impeding our rendezvous with the rest of the army to the north. I don’t know if it is a rebellion against Rome from within, or a contingent from Germania stirring up trouble before we even face them in battle. Either way, I fear that some in the army have been compromised.”
The shock Gaius felt inside was mirrored on his face.
“Intrigue is commonplace in Rome’s politics, Gaius. All the more reason to know whom you can trust. Can I trust you?”
This time the question required a response. Snapping to attention he replied, “Always, my lord.” And it was true. The General had always had Gaius’ best interest at heart. He had brought him into his home, tutored him in politics and strategy, promised him Aalina, reassigned Valerius, and promoted him. Now, the General was giving him an even greater honor by brining him into his strictest confidence.
“Good, I have a task for you. Do you trust the men under your command?”
“All my men are good soldiers, but the ones I trust implicitly are Aulus, Manius, and Appius. We have been together from the beginning and have forged a bond stronger than brothers.” He didn’t mention the tension that had built because of his broken heart, but felt that they would respond in honor when faced with the news of this situation.
“I am putting my life, and the life of the those in this legion, on your faith in these men. If you are wrong, then none of us might weather the coming storm.”
“What are your orders, my lord?” Gaius was keeping his enthusiasm under control. He had never dared to think of receiving such an honor. He knew his friends would feel the same way.
“Excellent. In two days we will break camp and march north toward Parma. I have sent Legate Gallius ahead. His brother has given us information about a possible armed conflict. I fear that the Legate and his brother are in collusion to depose my position, and weaken our forces. I want you and your men to race past him and find out the true nature of the opposition.” Looking straight into Gaius’ eyes he continued, “this is a clandestine mission. You will take horses and rations, but you are to leave your uniform and gear behind. Take only what you need to protect yourselves. Four men together on horseback will be an unusual sight, so you will need to take a route other than the main road. You have no time to spare. When you have gathered the information, dispatch two of your men to report back. You, and the other, will remain behind and keep vigilant. Your horses and rations are ready for you at the south entrance to the camp. Go, and may the gods be with you.”
Gaius saluted and left. The path leading back to his tent was lined with shadows and conspiracy. It was an eerie feeling, not knowing whom he could trust. He was glad that his friends would be accompanying him, and knew that he needed to mend some fences if this was going to work. Time was crucial, and he couldn’t mince words. When he walked into his tent some were asleep, but all were in their bunks. He quietly shook Aulus awake, and motioned for Manius and Appius to follow him outside the tent. When they started to grumble, he held his finger to his lips and gave them a stern look. He wanted to draw as little attention to them as possible. The General would have the other men dispersed in the morning. There would be lots of questions about their disappearance, but nothing would be explained. Only rumor and speculation would be their answers.
“What is your problem, Gaius?” Manius, a little put out with this intrusion into his sleep, wasn’t thinking about his tone of voice. Appius hit him and told him to shut up.
Gaius responded, “That’s ok Appius, I deserve that. We have been given an important mission by General Sextus.” Everyone was now fully awake. “But before I go into the details I need to apologize.”
“Gaius, you don’t need…” Appius began.
Manius interrupted, “Let him talk, he’s been hard to live with ever since Aalina left, and I for one want to hear his apology…don’t shush me!” He shot Aulus a dirty look.
“Manius is right. I have treated you harshly. I have been the worst friend, and even your attempts to include me have been met with resistance. Yet, I have never thought of you as anything less than brothers. I want to ask your forgiveness. Our orders depend on us looking out for each other.”
Aulus extended his hand in friendship, and Appius as well. They all looked at Manius, waiting.
“You are my Decanus. If you call me to battle I will follow. You are my brother, and I will die for you. But to forgive you, we will see.” He didn’t stretch out his hand, but instead retreated into the tent to stow his gear.
“Pay him no mind, Gaius, he will come around. I know he wants things to be as they were, but none of us are those men anymore.” Aulus’ words were encouraging as always. Gaius just hoped that Manius’ ill feelings wouldn’t become a stumbling block in the days ahead. He contemplated not bringing him, but that would reinforce Manius’ misgivings. He would trust the gods, and keep vigilant.