“Bird,” Xena pointed to the little girl sitting upon Sevastian’s lap, his arm encircling her.
The girl, Eirene by name, wiggled a bit deep in thought on the name of a bird, not yet mentioned by other children at table.
“One...” she began the count.
“Eirene wiggled more as she attempted to think of a name. The other young children of the Reeve looked about anxiously, each wanting the help the youngest member of the family, but rules were rules.
“Couldn’t you have said fish, I know I fish name.” Eirene lamented most adorably.
“Or a beast? I would have said wolf.”
“Four...” Xena gave the girl a sympathetic smile.
“Think rene’, the eldest daughter urged.”
Sebastian leaned in whispering in the little girl’s ear.
“Pelican!” Eirene bounced up and down excitedly. “Pelican is a bird!”
“Correct.” Xena praised with a smile.
“Hey! No helping!” Autolycus complained in jest
“Me?” Sevastian stated innocently. “Why I’d never do such a thing.” he looked down upon Eirene, “Isn’t that right?” he asked the girl.
“Yes, I thought of it after you told me.” she stated most seriously causing all at table to laugh.
This is what she could have had, what Borias wanted, what Solon deserved, a family. Xena fell silent, thinking on all she had lost by walking the path she had chosen.
“Again! Again!” the little girl’s voice brought her back to the present moment.
“I wish I could, but you see I’ve got work to do.” Xena leaned toward the girl slowly, moving to touch the very tip of Eirene’s nose playfully.
Praxis took the hint. “By your leave Empress, we will depart.”
Xena stood, and so did the rest.
“I thank you for a most excellent meal, the fine conversation, and for the use of your home this night Praxis.” Abruptly, she visibly stiffened, clearly uncomfortable, and the room fell silent.
Looking down Xena watched as Eirene hugged her leg tightly.
“rene” the girl’s mother whispered, mortified.
“It’s quite alright.”
“Can we play again tomorrow?” Eirene asked looking way up to see the face of her playmate.
Xena moved to kneel, lowering herself so that she would be near the same level as the little girl.
“Tell you what,” she slowly ran her fingers through the Eirene’s auburn tresses. “The very next time I come to visit, we will play again. How does that sound?
“Promise?” the girl asked soft.
“Come rene, we must go.” her mother extended a hand.
“We get to have a sleep over at uncle’s house!” Eirene’s excitement was clearly evident, without warning, she threw her little arms around Xena’s neck and hugged her tightly. Uncharacteristically unsure, the Empress slowly and very timidly surrounded the little girl with her arms.
“Bye Xena.” All held their breath, at the breech of etiquette. Her smile calmed them considerably.
“Goodbye Eirene, we shall see you again.”
The girl pulled away, and happily trotted off to her mother.
Taking a seat, Xena moved to pour herself more wine. “You do well with children Sevastian” she complemented.
“I had to take care of Kodi,”
“Bet that was fun.” Autolycus stated sarcastically while walking over to the massive fireplace set into the wall of the dining room. He moved to toss another a couple more logs into the flames.
“He was always strong willed, that boy.”
“Nice way of saying he was a pain.” Auto smiled, a smile which only grew wider when Sevastian remained silent, not denying the charge.
“Amazon, attend to your duties.”
Siri stood, bowing low to the Empress before departing.
Xena waited to speak, until just the three of them were in the room. Noting how her Seconds eyes lingered briefly on the Amazon.
“Would she make a good commander?”
“Who? Majesty?” Sevastian had been caught off guard.
“Argo.” Xena deadpanned.
“She… ah, Siri would make a fine commander.” Sevastian fumbled but recovered to answer the question.
“Good, I think so as well. You will train her... quietly... so as to not ruffle the feathers of my other commanders.”
“I will do my best Empress, but--”
“Then promote her when you feel the time is right.”
“As you will,” Sevastian was dubious, not of Siri could being a commander, she easily could, but of how she would be received by the rank and file men within the army.
“Spy,” Xena’s attention turned to Autolycus. “You know what to have your network searching for?”
“Yes Empress.” Auto ran his fingers thought dark hair, an outward sign of inner angst. “It won’t be easy, finding the girl will be like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.”
“I have confidence you will find what I seek.” he looked up, meeting her eyes, knowing that Xena did not tolerate failure.
“To the cause then.” she leaned forward.
First tell me of the mood of the crowd in the square today, what was your impression spy?”
“Those my men and I spoke with, felt the act was more than justified.
“Good. “Now to the Persians, what is their capability?”
Auto moved to sit, pausing a moment in contemplation as he looked to Xena sitting at the head of the ornately carved oak table. She was dressed in simple brown leathers and knee high boots, choosing to wear no armor. However, her sword, as always, was in easy reach.
“My network of informers is sketchy at best in the Persian lands, Empress--”
“Xena, Autolycus, it is just us three.” She sat back, pushed the chair away from the table so that she might cross her long legs femininely. “I need information spy.”
“You must understand, it takes time to build a good network, to weed out those who are not worthy of trust, to get good information. To the West, my spies are impeccable, I know well of happenings in Rome, but to the East I say honestly, that I am lacking.
“Fair enough appraisal, I haven’t given you much time I understand that, but you must double your efforts in the region.” she shifted slightly in the high back chair. “Tell me what you know.”
“I can only speak in generalities, Xena.”
“Then speak.” she urged impatiently.
“Xerxes hangs by a thread, having only recently united all the various lords under one banner; he attempts to use warfare as a means to further unite his Empire behind him. His focus is on Egypt, and the riches it contains. He gambles, that a victory there will cement his position as ruler, but if he loses, well...”
“He would be deposed. The Persians love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” she looked to Sevastian, “We must work to ensure he loses, his empire will fracture making our job all the easier.”
“Strength of the Army?”
“From what I have gathered, it is most impressive, being well equipped, but not all in the ranks are well trained.”
“This is exactly why I focus on training. Xena’s hand moved, finger tapping the surface of the table to make her point.” her words now directed to her second. “The soldier is the army, if he is weak, the whole force is susceptible to defeat, so it will be with the Persians.”
“Their commanders, are they well trained or appointed noblemen who know little of war?” She looked to Auto.
“I know not, Xena.”
Xena stood, gesturing for both to remain seated, walking across the room, she opened the door pausing a moment until handed a finely tooled leather saddle bag. Reaching inside, she withdrew a large parchment, bringing it back to the table.
“I waited until we were alone, to broach the subject, no war council, just us three.” she stated succinct, while unrolling a well-worn map on the table. She waited until the two men, had secured the corners, to keep it from rolling back up.
There, inscribed by her own hand, a detailed map of the East.
“India and Chin,” Xena pointed to the far edge by Autolycus, “and here, the Persian Empire. This army will move north,” her finger slid along lines, drawn on the map, which lead past Greek lands into that inhabited by the Germanic peoples”
“Xena, your pardon, but the German tribes will not take kindly to our intrusion upon their territory.”
“And when they move to attack, we shall defeat them Sevastian, once that is done we sweep southward, taking Roman held ports such as Ephesus, then marching further into the Persian Empire. All eyes followed the lines upon the map, numbers indicating the army groups.”
“By no means do I doubt you Xena.” Autolycus prefaced, “but by the Gods, those enemies you would fight possess many dreadful fortifications along those routes.”
“Fixed fortifications are the folly of man, the attacker always has the advantage.”
“Again your pardon, but why do you say that is so?”
Xena smiled at her second. “Sevastain, you are a thinker, praise be. There is too little thinking in most armies.” Leaning forward, she began to explain patiently.
“Sevastian... Deshi. If I have a town, with walls on four sides for protection, I must spread my men to defend all sides equally. As an attacker, I can concentrate my force; all I need do is breech one of the walls.”
“True.” muttered the second; understanding by the term that Xena signified this was a time of instruction. Looking over, Sevastian watched Autolycus stifle a yawn, always instantly bored with any talk of abstract strategy.
“Conversely, as an attacker, I have freedom of maneuver. As a defender I cannot pick up my fortification, and move it once it is set. I then am trapped, forced to wait for an attack that may or may not come. You see Deshi, to defeat the Persians, I need not take every town or fortification by siege, only the most important, the others will be cut off behind my lines, and without resupply they will die on the vine.”
She leaned back in her chair, one hand moving to clasp the chalice of wine, waiting for her second’s inevitable questions.
He nodded while looking out over the parchment, her tactics made much sense.
“But, what of the Persian Army Sensei, won’t Xerxes move to face you?” he asked.
“Tell him. “Xena looked to Autolycus.
“He is preoccupied attacking Egypt, of course...” Sevastain recalled.
“Exactly, and he weakens his army by doing so. Cleopatra left Antonius for a reason. She must engage the Persians or Egypt falls.”
“Good gods above! Xena while you train your army over the winter months, your enemies weaken themselves by fighting each other!” Autolycus leaned forward, now quite alert.
“Correct, and when I do invade, Xerxes will be forced to withdrawal from Egypt to attack me, on ground of my choosing, I destroy his army and the path will be clear all the way to India and beyond.” She traced the route with one finger.
“Sensei, what of these three lines?” Sevastain traced over the map with one finger.
“Invasion routes into India.” she replied.
“And these three?” he pointed.
“Invasion routes into Egypt.”
Sevastain exhaled slowly, Xena had planned this for some time.
“From the land of India, to the wastes of Africa, to the cold of Britannia and beyond, my Empire shall extend.
“The whole of the known word,” Sevastian murmured.
“All mine.” Now was the moment to share her vision, thought Xena.
“The Romans stupidly think in terms of what they can plunder from the peoples they conquer I think in terms of controlling the flow of resources to create wealth. My Empire will have power over trade routes. From the east, spices… pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. That is just the beginning.”
“You know my loyal one,” one of Xena’s hands moved fingers tapping Sebastian’s arm briefly. “You trained in the east, what else can it offer my Greece?”
“Well...” Sevastian pondered a moment before rattling of a list, “Miraculous healing drugs, dyes, fine silks, beautiful rugs, ah... precious stones.”
“Precisely!” “Don’t you see?” she asked both men.
“From Germany, Amber and timber,” Her finger touched the area of the map representing German held lands.
“From Britannia, iron, hides, and tin… “
“From Gaul, glass wool, ham, cheeses…
And on it went, the tip of her finger moving to each spot on the map.
“From Hispania Silver, wheat copper, cork, gold, fruit, salt….”
“From Egypt, grain, paper, gold, linen…
“From Africa, gold, animals, ivory, slaves…
“From parts of Asia closest to Greece, fruit, cedar, spices, jewels…
Her hand now swept over the whole of the map, “All those products flowing into my Greece and throughout my Empire. That trade will move through lands I control, or over waters patrolled by my ships. Think of the commerce and the resulting tax revenue. My Empire will be wealthy beyond compare.
“It would take quite a force. To forge such an empire” Autolycus muttered.
“Yes, but we shall recruit from the native peoples, starting with the German Tribes. The promise of land ownership works a powerful effect in men. And after a time, those we conquer will begin to think like Greeks, and act like Greeks.”
After some silence, Sevastian spoke. “Sensei, my pardon, these lines, representing the army groups,” Sevastian tapped the map, “would have what contingent of men?”
“Some 50,000” she answered. Autolycus, who had been sipping wine, began coughing at her announcement of the number. “Six army groups, 50,000 each!” he stammered.
“Eventually I will have those numbers, or close to it. Remember, I do not just conquer, I must administer an empire, and men will be needed for that.”
“And what of Chin?” asked Auto.
“I have great plans for Chin, don’t worry.”
“Xena, Caesar would have some say in your plans.” Autolycus warned.
“Ah, yes the Romans.” she chuckled. “Brutus and Cassius... The note you gave me from them was most entertaining. The preening peacocks of the Senate planning to assassinate Caesar.
“You see why I had you dispatch the graybeards in Athens Deshi? They are wholly unworthy of trust. Those within the Roman Senate plot to kill their best general.”
“You think their plan to call him back to Rome then strike will work? Autolycus asked while leaning forward, eager to know her answer.
“Maybe, maybe not, it does not matter; let them try to assassinate him, if they have the stomach.” She paused and for a long moment, silence filled the room, broken only by the popping of the embers. Standing, the Empress moved to the hearth, taking a small ornate spade in hand, Xena began to bank the coals.
“When your enemy is making a mistake, it is best not to interrupt.” she stated while continuing her work.
“Sun Tzu?” Sevastian asked.
“No, me.” she replied with a smile, not turning her gaze from the fire.
“I will send my reply back with you Autolycus, I accede to all the Senators conditions.”
Auto was stunned. “You will not invade Rome? Not interfere in territories the Romans already control? You just said, your Empire would stretch--”
“I am aware of what I just said.” Xena replied tersely. Slowly she extended her hands just a bit, allowing the heat radiating from the coals to warm her fingers.
“I will put it in writing this night, Spy you know when I make an agreement, I honor it, tell the Senator’s they have nothing to fear from Greece.”
“You believe Caesar will learn of the plot?” Auto queried, attempting to discover Xena’s ruse.
“Greybeards make their living by talking, they cannot keep secrets.” she pronounced. “The parchment stated many senators have joined the conspiracy. It is a well-known expression that three men can keep a secret if two are dead.”
“But then he would learn of your role in supporting the Senators.
“So what Autolycus?” she laughed. “Caesar and I are not friends.”
But Xena, I do not understand, I had thought your goal was the conquest of Rome. To make such an agreement, binding your hands-”
“Let me worry about that, do your job spy and after you read it, deliver the written message I give you.”
Silence, until Xena spoke again after reflection. “Autolycus, is it still the prerogative of the Plebeian class to write anonymous petitions and leave them for Senators to read?”
“It is.” Auto replied. The common of Rome, may leave petitions at the Senate House, atop the stone statues of the Senators, or even at the homes of the Senators if they be bold enough.
“I feel I should throw in my two copper coins, and send a number of petitions to the most...honorable Brutus... just to tip him further over the edge. Deliver them for me.”
She turned, to allow her back to be warmed. “Send word to Pompey to gather what force he has and to move it to Olynthus.
“Olynthus?” Autolycus’ voice rose on the word, her spy being well and truly confused.
“Yes, tell him...”she paused, head quirking to one side for a moment... “Tell him...” a devious smile formed. “I will meet with him in Olynthus to give him the details. In the meantime, have him use my silver to procure and send another shipment of weaponry to the rebels in Gaul and Britainia as well as to Carthage. Have him pay for mounted mercenaries to travel to Carthage, Hasdrubal believes trained horsemen are key to defeating the Romans. Autolycus, you will reiterate to all parties, that Greece stands with them in their fight for freedom against Rome.”
“At least for the time being, so they may wear down the Romans?” her second asked quietly.
His words caused Xena to laugh.
“Deshi, you learn the game.” she praised.
“Very well Xena.” Auto looked to Sevastian for some reassurance that the plans of the Empress would bear fruit, and got it, Xena’s top commander was the epitome of confidence
“Autolycus, build your network in the East, I want information on weapons, tactics, commanders of importance, got it?
“Oh, and have that gambler you employ, what’s his name?” she turned back to the fire, the light of the flames flickering on her beautiful features, and shimmering in those sharp blue eyes.
Autolycus looked to her in surprise. “Rafe?”
“Yes, I hear he is within the city, have him look over Praxis’ books of accounting for any deception, then have him ask the locals about the man. I want to know if he is honest. I will need a regent to run Greece in my absence.”
“I’ll send him to you.”
“Good, now fetch quill and parchment.”
Her spy left the room a moment, intent on gaining what Xena required from Praxis’ study.
She moved to search though her saddlebag once more.
“Ah.” she murmured in triumph when her fingers grasped what she was hunting for.
She set the signet upon the table, Dagnine’s signet ring.
“I have been forgetting to fashion one of these for you, Deshi, you need this to speak in my name officially.”
“As you wish.”
“Tell truth,” she spoke after some moments of silence “You think me crazy for attempting to conquer the known world?”
“If anyone can do it, it would be you Sensei.”
She again stood by the fire once more, her ears picking up on the winds gusting outside. “That is not what I asked, but a tactful answer none the less.”
She began to chuckle while gazing at him. “Your face displays every emotion Deshi. Let me guess, you have questions.”
“You will understand in due time, be patient. For now we go back to Athens. Your mother will soon arrive from all reports, and while you have many duties, I expect you to take the time to see her.”
“I thank you for the kindness you show to me and my family.”
She found the honesty in his voice refreshing, having always been surrounded by deceit. “You’ve earned it, having proved your constancy to me time and again.”
“Now,” Xena continued before he could speak again. “When the moment is right, I’ll send you to...” Sevastian waited in silence as the empress let out a sigh while running the fingers of one hand though her thick raven hair.
“You will go to Amphipolis to check up on my... my mother... and Toris. You will tell my toad of a brother that I am watching his every action. I want you to leave a garrison there to protect the village.” She smiled at him for a moment, before taking hold of her chalice filled with wine. “They will be hostile to you.” Taking a sip, she watched Sevastian noting confusion, knowing he had questions.
“A long story.” she said wearily while sitting the chalice back down upon the table. While I am in Greece, none would dare harm my home village, but I will not be in Greece, thus they require protection.
“I will see to it.”
“Also, I want you training my Amazons.”
“Me?” he fairly squeaked.
“I want mounted archers, you were trained in the East, show them how it’s done.”
“But...the, ah, Amazons...” he sputtered. Xena found Sevastain to be quite adorable when caught flatfooted, being that he reminded her of Lyceus.
“Amazon’s hate horses,” Sevastian was grasping at straws, honestly worried that he couldn’t instruct the warrior’s properly.
“Well, there you have it Sevastian,” the use of his name by her indicated instruction had concluded. “Those are skills you can teach, first how to ride, then to firing a bow on horseback.”
“I shall do my best to fulfill your command. The Amazon’s they, I mean, having them learn form a man, well--”
“I know you will perform your duties to your utmost.” She cut him off, silently daring him to continue his objections.”
He fell silent.
A smart man her second.
The door was opened by one of the Amazon guard and Auto slipped back in.
“Good, let us begin, picking up the signet from the table, she handed it to Autolycus, who nodded, before setting it in a pocket hanging from his belt.
“Your Excellency...” Xena prefaced, her voice dripping with disdain.
“In these last few meetings of the high command, Xena’s preoccupation was been training and equipping her army...” She waited to Autolycus to dip the quill he was using in the inkwell. When he was ready she proceeded. “I warn you now that it could become a formidable force, but as of yet, it is filled with, untrained greenhorns. One never knows with Xena, but I do not expect...”
“...that she will undertake any type of invasion of Roman lands. The army not only lacks training, but also weaponry and armor. A harsh winter has come upon Greece, and the mountains in the northern reaches have become impassable. When warmer weather makes its return, she speaks of attacking the Germanic tribes to the north, unwilling to leave the barbarians at her back when she moves to attack Rome...”
Julius stopped reading and looked at Crassus and smiled. “This works in our favor general.”
“I admit Caesar, the winter plus her focus on training her army buys us time, but Dagnine, and I both agree that she will eventually attack. Should we not go to Rome and prepare?”
“No?” Crassus was vexed.
Julius smiled, gesturing to Salmonus to enter. The little man did, setting the tray upon the table, and then arranging the plates just so, upon the large desk.
“If she moves to attack the Germans, her army will become bogged down their dark forests and swamps. Undoubtedly the Germans will take advantage just like they did with Publius Quinctilius Varus’ legions.”
“The Varian Disaster,” muttered Crassus. “But Xena is a smarter commander than the lawyer Varus, the man walked merrily into a trap set by the barbarians deep within the Teutoburg Forest.
“Even so,” Caesar countered. “She wearies her men, wastes her means giving us the advantage when I chose to make my move.”
“Well and good Caesar, but Rome is vulnerable should Xena suddenly turn west, and I warn we rely too much on this one spy for our information.
“Yes, a flaw you have yet to correct general.” countered Julius before taking a drink of the wine within his glass.
“It is difficult to recruit; she inspires much loyalty it seems.”
“Offer more gold, every man has his price Crassus. Until then I am satisfied that the account written by Dagnine is truth, the hand writing matches, his mark of his signet on the wax impression is also verified by comparison with the others he has sent.”
“Gold is a powerful incentive Caesar, but fear of her vengeance upon those who betray her also has a powerful hold.”
“Surely someone will talk.”
Crassus smiled; I am working on cultivating two new spies, one of which happens to be very close to her.”
“Yes, you’ve told me but that one is of little use. No, it is time for us to make a bold move and by doing so we will shatter the recently united Greece.”
“We use Poison, Tell--”
“Caesar, my lord.”
“Yes?” Julius gaze moved to his servant.
“I beg your forgiveness great Caesar, his high Senatorness, the honorable Brutus has arrived.”
“Has he now?”
“Yes my lord.”
“I’m sure he has some appetite, set up a table so that we might enjoy the night air and have dinner Salmoneus. Crassus, see that we have some entertainment for our guest.
For a moment, the general was confused, and then nodded as understanding dawned.
Caesar stood, “We will talk further of what I want of this new zealot we’ve gained as a spy, for now “Let us go greet Brutus, who knows, Perhaps I have been appointed dictator.”
“Caesar all hail!” Brutus spoke as Julius exited his tent.
“Brutus, my old friend!” Caesar clasped the man shoulders, taking care to look over the Senator’s polished armor. As a man of words and not action, his armor was altogether too pristine.
“Caesar I have much news from the Senate.” Brutus’ smile faded and his look became somber.
“I gathered you might.” Julius gestured and the two walked a short distance to a table laden with food. “I thought we might enjoy the night air, sometimes my tent can be so... confining.
“Do sit, Brutus.” As the Senator turned his back to him to do so, Caesar’s facade of pleasantness dissipated momentarily the contempt he held being allowed to show. Perhaps it would have been best to have killed Brutus after the Battle of Pharsalus.
Taking a seat Caesar smiled, as Salmoneus took hold of the jug of cadla, warm water and wine, mixed with spices, pouring both a glass. He then moved to serve both with grace, soon a first course of spiced almonds, apples, and figs were placed upon small intricately decorated porcelain plates imported from Chin. He then stood near, ready to serve anything the men required at table.
War is so cruel, thought Brutus cynically while looking at the finery upon Caesar’s table.
“So, tell me of the capital Brutus, how do the people fare?” Caesar moved to make some small conversation.
“Cold.” the senator responded succinctly, which caused Julius to laugh.
“We have seen ice fall from the skies, a most terrible winter is taking hold.” Brutus paused a moment. “The Senate has degreed an increase in the allotment of grain given the populace each day.”
“What! I need that grain for my army; does the Senate not realize this?”
“Caesar, the Senate could do no less!” Brutus argued, “The poor need food to strengthen their constitution against the winter chill.”
“The Senate trades freedom for full stomachs! What say you when the standard of Greece flies over Rome?”
“The measure of our civilization is how we treat our weakest members. No harm will come to your endeavor by giving this small increase.”
“I should have been consulted, Brutus!” Caesar growled.
“The allotment of grain has always been within the purview of the Senate.”
“You Senators, sitting fat and happy in Rome, do not understand the necessities war places upon us, but by all means Brutus, exercise your will and lead us all to ruin.”
The tense conversation halted, as Salmoneus returned with a main course of Mutton in a wine sauce, paired with asparagus and olives, garnished extravagantly with peacock tongues.
It was not my intent to provoke your anger Caesar--”
“And yet you have done so.”
The two dined in silence for a span.
“Do you at least have some good news, what of the vote to appoint me sole head of the government?”
“The vote to make you a dictator?” Brutus clarified.
“Call it what you will, my friend. You know as well as I that in times of emergency the Senate can appoint a dictator.”
Brutus only nodded. “The Senate votes to make you dictator....” he began, causing Julius to smile wide.
“Upon these conditions.”
“Conditions!” spat Caesar Do you not see the threat on the Eastern border, by the gods man, Xena is building an army to invade Rome!”
“The Senate sees greater threats than Greece.”
“Say those who only talk of war in abstract, having no sense of the reality, Caesar snarled.”
Brutus stood abruptly. “I see you are unwilling to listen, I shall take my guard and...”
“Sit.” Julius commanded.
“Please.” he added when Brutus refused.
“First,” Brutus began after slowly retaking his seat. “Carthage must be destroyed, once and for all.”
For a time Caesar stubbornly refused to look at the Senator, instead his brooding gaze remained forward.
“Second, “The increasing might of the Persians must be dealt with.”
“They attack Egypt Brutus,” Julius smiled. “Both will weaken the other allowing Rome dominion when the time is right.”
“I know, your dealings with the Egyptian Vizer went well, he let Xerxes know of Egypt’s weakness.”
“We have spies as well Caesar.” Brutus stated simply, seeing Julius’ expression.
“What did you promise the man?”
Julius laughed, “Governorship of Egypt under Rome.”
“Power or riches, or a combination of both always seems to have an effect on men.”
“Yes...” Julius looked to Brutus while raising his wine glass, tipping it towards him in salute before taking a sip.
“Still, it was a very close run thing Caesar, Marc Antony and Cleopatra came close to defeating your nephew.”
“Brutus, close does not count in war, it is either win or lose, there is no close.”
“But Antony’s end---”
“Was much deserved.” Julius stated with finality. “I’m glad it happened the way it did.”
“What?” Brutus was surprised. “How can you say the death of a Roman General by savages--“
“Because it rid us of a duplicitous general, it also works in my favor, whipping up anti-Greek furor amongst the populace, the sheep you and the Senate care so much about and give my grain to.”
Brutus look betrayed his inner anger, his lips set in a thin line. “Caesar—“
“That furor will make my task of recruiting soldiers all the easier.”
“I would agree Caesar, but certainly she understood her action would cause this... reaction... in Rome.”
“Xena knew, and she did not care, you forget that these Greeks feel themselves the injured party due to Rome’s incursions on their territory. I’m sure there was no love lost for Antonius.”
“What is the last condition Brutus?” asked Caesar, bringing the conversation back to point.
“The active Rebellions in Gaul and Britannia must be ended.
“And?” Julius finally spoke after a long silence.
“And then, you will be proclaimed dictator in Rome and will be free of all restraint to attack Greece.”
“How kind the Senate is to allow me to invade Greece.” Caesar’s voice held much sarcasm.
“Caesar, The Senate is not your enemy; we only ask you look to the welfare of the Republic before launching your invasion of Greece. Once that is done, you have a free hand to show this barbarian woman, this Xena, her place, and claim Greece for Rome.”
“Brutus, I can deal with two of your conditions, I will end the rebellions and destroy Carthage, but Persia must wait until Greece is put to heel.
“I believe the Senate will agree to that.”
“They should, Julius chortled. After all you’re getting two out of three conditions. Not bad.”
“True, Caesar, very true.”
“Let it be known to all in the Senate that we have agreed... upon this hope... That I be proclaimed dictator by the Senate before invading Greece.”
“You will be welcomed in Rome and given the title you seek.” Brutus smiled wide.
“Good.” Caesar raised one hand gesturing to his guard.
“What is this?” Brutus asked at seeing a man being led forward. Clearly, the emaciated fellow was a prisoner of some sort. With a swift kick from the Roman guard, his knees buckled and he fell forward in front of a large tree stump
“Watch, so that you may report to the senators Brutus,” Instructed Caesar while reaching for more wine.
One arm was wrenched outward, and then held down. An Axe was raised, on the down swing; it severed the hand at the wrist.
Brutus could scarcely believe his eyes as blood poured out upon the tree stump amid screams from the prisoner. Moments later a glowing iron from a nearby fire was pressed to flesh, eliciting a howl as the man’s wound was cauterized.
“What does it mean to cut off the right hand?”
“This man, like the thousands before him will never again be able to raise a sword against Rome.” Caesar replied.
Brutus rose abruptly. “I take my leave of you, I must report back to the Senate post-haste.”
“But you have not yet had desert.” Caesar’s voice was most genial.
Brutus did not hear, or pretended not to as he walked away.
Salmoneus moved to clear the Senator’s plate from the table.
The man stepped near, looking intently at the features of his commander. “No appointment by the Senate then?” he asked bluntly.
“No,” replied Caesar. “Xena is a feral bitch, but I must concede she knows what to do with graybeards.”
“I send you and your legions back to Gaul Crassus, I want you to burn every village, confiscate all sources of stored food and burn any that still lies in the fields. Destroy every city. Leave not one cut stone set upon another throughout the whole of Gaul. Annihilate everything! We shall end this insufferable rebellion!”
“Very well Caesar, I will do that which you command.”
“Good, send word to Sulla in Britannia, have him do the same.”
“Will that be all?” asked Crassus after some moments of silence had passed.
“No, give that boy who is close to Xena the means by which to poison her. Let us see how strong his convictions are. But be sure to let him know that he is not to strike until I say so.”
“Caesar hear me,” Crassus leaned over slightly. “You could get good information from him; those of us in power sometimes forget that the walls around us have ears. It may be the same with Xena.”
“Crassus, I do not share military secrets with my Gentleman of the Bedchamber.” Caesar spared a look at Salmoneus. “This is a win for us. If he succeeds Greece fractures from a loss of leadership, if not, his death will have little impact. This other spy, you’ve mentioned before, this Autolycus, is high placed, having some rank, he is a much better source. I will stay in Hispania and wipe out resistance here, and then we shall gather our forces and cross the sea to Carthage.”
“Thy will Caesar.” muttered Crassus. “I will depart at the break of day.”
As his general walked away, Caesar turned his attentions to the next prisoner. As the man was forced down, and his right hand severed, Julius continued with his meal.