Dismounting, he ran though the encampment searching amidst the chaos.
All round men scrambled to put out the fires engulfing tents. On the ground lay the many wounded pleading for help. Healers were moving to each, deciding who could be saved, and who would be left to die.
“Kodi!” Sevastain screamed with anguish.
There, from underneath a wagon, the kid emerged and sprinted the over the distance to him.
Sevastian’s fears evaporated, relief flooding him as a weeping Kodi hugged him tight.
Cresting a rise she watched as order dissipated, men breaking ranks to rush to her.
Spurring Argo on, she rode forward
Behind, Siri motioned for her Amazon’s to fall back a pace, Alistair and the Old Guard following suit. Even Xena’s personal standard bearer fell back.
She rode forward, until being forced to halt being completely encircled by her men. In every direction were masses of cheering soldiers. Atop the spear points of their pikes the helmets of the enemy swayed. Others weapons in hand were raised in spontaneous salute to her.
Shouts by the thousands rose as Xena lifted Xerxes personal standard over head. The flag, with its golden crowned Persian Lion emblazoned over a field of red. Her men cheered wildly as she waved the banner of the defeated king. She then pitched it to her soldiers, who set upon it like wolves, tearing the fabric to shreds. Souvenirs to show, their children and grandchildren as they sat round the hearth, hearing the tale of the Persian defeat.
She moved first, reaching out to grasp their hands. The men responded by crowding in further round her wanting to be part of history. Their cries solidifying into chants of her name as she reached down to grasp outstretched hands. One after another, after another, she briefly tried, to touch as many as possible. One side of Argo, then to the other she clasped hands, being moved by the tears she saw in the eyes of her men.
Spurring Argo on gently, Xena allowed the men to part in order to give her leave. In a last flourish, she rose up in Argo stirrups, waving to those blocked by the crowd, unable to come any nearer. Her actions eliciting another general shout brimming with adoration
Looking past the soldiers, her blood sang as she beheld Ares giving her his blessing from atop his fire breathing steed Phobos.
Outside, the rowdy bands of men laughed and sang bawdy soldier songs, inside there was little cause for cheer.
“You may go...”
The woman in his bed threw silken sheets aside, to rise and cover her nakedness with clothing strewn about the floor. In silent haste she dressed, then was quickly guided out by Salmoneus.
In front him on the desk, lay the parchment handed by Salmoneus, official writings from Brutus himself, speaking for the Roman Senate and people. The rest of Brutus’ words faded like so much gibberish, only one phrase within the missive kept burning through Caesar’s mind.
Gnaus Pompeius Magnus has returned to Rome...”
“Pompeius Magnus!” announced the house usher as the old general entered the home of Brutus.
Taking off his sandals, Pompey sat as one of Brutus’ slaves gently tipped his feet into a golden vessel filled with perfumed water. Delicately his feet were washed clean, while another slave took hold of his sandals spiriting them away to be cleaned and set neatly by the door ready to be used when Pompey went on his way after the evening meal.
“Pompey all hail!” Brutus’ greeting was filled with cheer.
“Brutus my old friend, it is good to see you again.” announced Pompey as he stood and stepped carefully out of the waters, pausing to allow the slave to dry his feet.
“I am honored to have you visit my humble home Pompey. Shall we?” Brutus motioned from the general to follow him. Upon entering the dining room, the other guests rose, Casca, Metellus Cimber, Trebonius, Decius Brutus, Cinna, and last Cassius.”
“My Friends, it is good to see you all,”An untruth stated by Pompey with heartfelt conviction.
“Lucius, wine.” Brutus ordered of his slave.
“Please, sit Pompeius be comfortable.” Brutus gestured to the low couches surrounding a prepared feast.
“Friends,” Pompey began after pausing to be seated and adjusting his fine toga. “I come to you now as a man much changed due to the carnage of war, and the trials I endured while on the run from Caesar.”
“Do tell Pompey.” Cassius asked with a gleam in is eye and a phony smile upon his lips. Pompey had seen that look many a time from Caesar, he knew it well. Men like Cassius are never comfortable while they perceive someone ranking higher than themselves, and therefore are very dangerous.
“Ah, there is much to tell, but I will distill it down to basics.” All those in the room laughed politely, all but Cassius.
“My men, loyal Roman soldiers all, helped me to escape from Caesar’s clutches and they paid for their loyalty to me with their lives. Caesar, killed every one of them I’m told.
A pause then occurred in which Pompey appeared to struggle to contain his emotions.
“I moved at night, and hid in the day,” he continued, “Caesar’s dogs in full chase following my scent. Pompey smiled inwardly as the senators leaned in to hear his tale.
“I was captured by a warlord, Talmadeus by name who later found himself under siege by the barbarian Xena at a town named Olynthus. He made his intent clear, to trade me to Xena for safe passage of his army from her siege.”
“Gods!” exclaimed an ashen Cinna. “Did he turn you over to her?”
“I think we will find out if you can hold your tongue long enough” chastised Metellus Cimber causing another round of laughter.
“I was alone, imprisoned in a strange and savage land. I felt as if the gods themselves had forsaken me. Pompey paused, this time for effect.
“And then, a miracle! “The thatch roof of my jail erupted in flames. Perhaps a spark borne by the winds from the many cook fires ignited the thatch. I suspect the cause will never be known. As smoke overcame my guards, I crawled to the barred window, but found I was unable to free myself. I cried for help and lo! My pleas were answered! One good man saved me by using his mule to pull at the bars causing the whole of the wall to tumble down.
As the boy Lucius moved about, filling chalices with watered down wine, Pompey continued, his audience enthralled.
“The winds blew burning embers from the jail to the next structure, then the next, a great conflagration enveloped the town and, in the chaos I escaped.
“What then?” asked Cassius when Pompey fell silent.
“Pardon, friends, Images in my mind pulled me back into that horrible moment once more.”
“Quite alright,” Brutus said in honesty.
A good man, Pompey reflected, Brutus was noble, honest, honorable, but he had one flaw, he believed that all men had those same virtuous traits that he carried in his own heart. Tis not so.
“I ran, friends, I am ashamed to say it. Being Roman, I should have faced my enemies, died for the glory of Mother Rome, but I ran.”
“No shame Great Pompey we all do what we must.”
“I thank you for those kind words Casca. Pompey tasted more wine, and then moved to finish his tale.”
“A barbarian Greek woman took me to her bosom, fed me, exchanged my rags for peasant clothes, she, like most Greeks hates Romans, but after hearing my tale took pity on me, being that she felt a deeper hatred for Caesar actions than for one old and very feeble Roman general. I must say she taught me much about walking the... way of peace. After recuperating under her rather demanding care, I boarded a ship bound for Ephesus, working the ropes in return for the price of passage. There in Ephesus, were men of Rome, left by the defeated Antony. They happily joined my quest to return to Rome. And that is how I came to be here today.”
“A tale for the ages Pompey!” lauded Trebonius.
“Quite...” added Cassius in a tone which held doubt.
“Let me say now, noble senators that the man you see before you is not the same Pompey who went off to war against Caesar. My experiences have served to open my eyes, to let me see the world as it truly is. I have now a burning desire to work for the greater good of all. I think not of my own power, for that is fleeting. Instead I wish to work with you together not as ruler and subject, but as friend and equal. I ask that like me you set our former differences aside so that together can build a greater Republic, and a greater Rome.”
“Hear, hear!” shouted Brutus. His words repeated by all present.
“But Great Pompey, what of Caesar?” asked Cassius.
“He has wronged me, wronged me in every way Cassius. Destroyed my army, defiled my wife. Yet, I must look past my personal hatred and work for the good of Rome.”
The old general moved to recline on the low couch. “I ask you all one question. Is the greater good best served by Caesar ruling Rome?” Pompey raised his hand up in a gesture meant to placate. “By no means do I require an answer from you. I only ask you consider it.”
“We,” Brutus paused a moment, eying the others who had conspired against Caesar. “We do not think it good to have Rome ruled by a dictator, be it a Caesar or a Pompey.”
“Fair enough, Brutus your honesty is, as always, appreciated.” Pompey praised. “Have no fears from me senators, I am old, my time is short in this world, I ask only to be appointed council for the traditional one year term, then a younger man can take my place.”
“We could be agreeable to that.” Cassius spoke.
“Then it is it also agreeable that we all must work to keep Caesar from setting foot in Rome again?”
The men surrounding Pompey nodded most solemnly.
Pompey raised his chalice. “With this toast I bury all bad feelings between us.”
“Our hearts are thirsty for that noble promise, Brutus spoke. “Refill my cup Lucius, till the wine overflows it for I cannot drink too much of Pompey’s love!”
Brutus, for one, was glad the daggers would remain sheathed this night.