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Total War: Shogun 2 Heaven » Forums » Bardic Circle - War Stories & AAR forum » The Eagle and the Wolf Part VIII- Broken Hearts and New Chances
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Topic Subject:The Eagle and the Wolf Part VIII- Broken Hearts and New Chances
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Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-11-11 08:59 AM EDT (US)         
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Excerpt from The Eagle and the Wolf Part VIII- Broken Hearts and New Chances

Marcus Rutilius barely made it to his command tent before Publius Arrius stormed in.

“Are you out of your frikkin’ mind?” the legate roared. “You are heading back across to Germania Magna? We just left that infernal place! And going back with but two ala of cavalry as an escort?”

“And four cohorts of Suevi warriors,” Rutilius added. “Don’t forget those.”

Arrius cackled bitterly. “Oh, how can I forget those? The very men who would solidify their king’s ascension by roasting a Roman magistrate in a wicker cage above the altar of their hideous one-eyed god. Gods forbid I neglect to mention them.”

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Other parts of The Eagle and the Wolf series :
The Eagle and the Wolf Part I- Remember!
The Eagle and the Wolf Part II- Tyroes in the Forest
The Eagle and the Wolf Part III- Downs and Ups
The Eagle and the Wolf Part IV- Mushrooms and Murderers
The Eagle and the Wolf Part V- In the Wolf’s Jaws
The Eagle and the Wolf Part VI- Doom and Despair
The Eagle and the Wolf Part VII- The Cauldron
The Eagle and the Wolf Part VIII- Broken Hearts and New Chances
The Eagle and the Wolf Part IX- Ominous Revelations
The Eagle and the Wolf Part X- Trials and Triumph
The Eagle and the Wolf Part XI- Return to Vetera

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 01-22-2013 @ 01:06 AM).]

AuthorReplies:
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-11-11 09:00 AM EDT (US)     1 / 84       
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Vetera was lovely in the late summer. The leaves were still green and the days still long, yet the humidity was falling and the first fingers of frost could be seen on some chilly mornings. It was not as warm as sunny Rome, but it was still a welcome place to be after campaigning on the far side of the Rhenus for two months.

The army was once again back on its side of the border, and the units were already dispersing back to their home stations. The X Gemina marched west to its home of Noviomagus, while the XXI Rapax and VI Victrix headed south. The XXII Primigenia was already home, with the governor in their midst here at Vetera. Outside, a solitary legion occupied the temporary fort along with two ala of cavalry- and two thousand Suevi mercenaries. Inside the castrum, the governor was listening to his quaestor’s odd and totally irresponsible request.

“Explain this insanity to me again,” Cordinus asked his quaestor. He was shaking his head as if that would somehow allow the crazy words he heard to find a gap and come inside to be considered. "You want to do what?”

“I want to go back across the river and make the Suevi prince Segestes king of the Bructeri,” Marcus Rutilius explained once again, as if to a wayward child. “Your campaign this summer destroyed them as a viable tribe, killed one of the two kings, and drove the other into exile. If we do not put some sort of power back into that void, other tribes will move in.”

“So?”

Rutilius shook his head in weariness. The man did try, but he was oh-so-very-lost when it came to tribal matters. How Rome could ever send such a man to govern such an important province? The answer was far beyond his ability to clearly see.

“So, if the Bructeri are not our neighbors, another tribe will be. It is as simple as that. Maybe one that is more numerous, more aggressive, less respectful of Rome, more eager to raid,” he explained again. “The forests over there teem with tribes, and the Bructeri land is fertile. Remember your predicament a few weeks ago. Imagine if a charismatic foe of Rome gained power and moved into the vacant land. He could wield the tribes together and do to you here what the Bructeri did there. Here is your chance to avoid that.”

“And it is also a chance to go directly to the Imperator and be beheaded for exceeding my operational limits,” the governor repeated. “We were ordered to make war upon the Bructeri for their massacre of our legions and recover the Eagles. We did that. We are not authorized to meddle in their internal problems.”

“Rome has been doing that for centuries,” Rutilius reminded him, gently. “Most recently in Noviomagus, where we installed Tiberius Claudius Labeo as king. And before that in Armenia, where your mentor Corbulo installed a king of Rome’s choosing, despite Parthian objections.”

Cordinus laughed at the reference of Parthian objections- Corbulo had fought a war to victory, was replaced by an incompetent fool who ended up surrendering his army to the Parthians, before Corbulo returned to drive those horsemen back into their own lands and secured a lasting peace. But his quaestor was correct- it was indeed a Roman habit of meddling in the affairs of neighboring kingdoms.

Rutilius knew not what was going through his governor’s head. He pointed to the list of casualties and replacement requests on the governor’s table. “Be prepared for more of those- a lot more. Or, you can be smart, and fill the vacuum with a king friendly to Rome. Segestes is that man.”

“He is no friend of Rome! He bore arms against us,” Cordinus cried. “And he harbors a grudge- I enslaved him and intended to sell him for a large sum of denarii.”

“He bore arms because he was led to believe Rome was attacking to destroy the tribe for reasons of whimsy,” Rutilius countered evenly. “And he served Rome admirably thereafter, guarding our border when it was exposed. As to the grudge- that is personal against you- and installing him as king would go a long way to reconciliation. Reconciliation and peace- what both this province and Rome need here right now.”

Cordinus grunted at that. His eyes narrowed. “How much is he paying you? You would not argue this well or long for the cause of a man you hardly know unless there was sufficient cause. Three talents? Four?”

“You still think so lowly of me,” Rutilius whispered, “even after this past summer?”

“What?” cried Cordinus in surprise. “You are acting the advocate, and quite well at that. Advocates are paid. So how much?”

Ah, Roman politics. He still thinks he is in Rome. Time to set him straight. “The price is your head. If I convince you to grant this request, Segestes will forgive his temporary enslavement at your orders and your head may remain where it is. Should I fail, he will most certainly try to take your head as compensation and a trophy with him when he goes to claim the crown alone.”

Cordinus gulped.

“That was a jest, lord,” Rutilius admitted. He smiled broadly to ensure the other knew it was indeed a joke. It was time to once again teach the local customs to the local potentate. “He is not paying me, nor am I receiving any recompense. I offered him the kingship of the tribe to sooth his honor after you so hideously broke mine. He would make a good king- he is already of noble blood, and we are friends in honor. I would like to see that he becomes king as a matter of that honor. And, as stated earlier, having a friendly king on that side of the Rhenus keeps the river border safe for us. We win what we sought- a lasting peace.”

A lantern lit up inside the governor’s head, as if the words suddenly sank in dragging their meaning along with them this time. He sighed, then nodded.

“Good point,” he agreed. “ It makes sense not to let a strong, aggressive unknown tribe move onto our border when we can have a weak, friendly tribe securing it. Yes, it is indeed a good plan. But why exactly do you have to go over there? Can you not have the fleet ferry him and his Suevi across, and let him become king on his own?”

Rutilius nodded. “That is an option, but nothing guarantees that the Bructeri remnants would accept him. My presence, as a Roman magistrate, would show the tribe that Segestes has our support, something vital to our plans of having a secure border. Our support would also be a sign to them that we seek peace. Further, it would show them that we bear no grudge against the tribe itself- just their former kings who led them into problems with us. And it would be a major status boost for the new king. It can probably be done without my presence, but that is a gamble. With me presence, his ascension and our security are all but assured.”

Cordinus thought that over. He still knew very little about what made these barbarians tick, but his quaestor knew well what did. If he felt putting his life into the hands of savages was what could bring peace to the border, then that is what must be done.

“And if they roast you in a wicker cage instead?” he asked, trying to cover all points.

“They would need to defeat two thousand Suevi warriors first, plus whatever escort I have,” Rutilius replied. “They do not have the manpower for that. I will be quite safe.”

“They had a hundred thousand not a few weeks ago!”

“And lost most of them, and the rest went home, badly hurt,” Rutilius reminded him. “All that remain across the river now are the Chauci, who promised peace, the Frisii, who did the same, and the Bructeri, who are all but annihilated.”

The situation had changed, yet again. He hated Germania and its ever-changing situations. Armenia and Africa were far more stable, but this was his chance to bring some sort of political stability to a region that so desperately needed it. He nodded to his quaestor, giving him tacit approval. “Just be careful- I do not want to have to come over there to rescue you.”

Rutilius smiled. “I will be careful, lord.”

Cordinus nodded. “You will also do it on your own. I am going to write a tablet authorizing you to take six weeks leave of absence to settle your affairs. Those two alae in your fort are to patrol an undefined area for the next six weeks, so I do not expect to see them until that time elapses.”

Rutilius understood the hidden meaning- he was allowed to do as he pleased for the next six weeks, and have two strong alae of cavalry as an escort.

Cordinus coughed to clear his throat as he glared out the window. “To be perfectly clear, I am not ordering you across, or even giving permission. I will finish my report and send it to Rome. In it I will have ordered you to report to Colonia, and thereafter were granted six weeks leave of absence. What you do in the meantime...”

Rutilius grinned. The governor was covering his ass, and doing it well.

“Understood, lord,” he said.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 08-11-2011 @ 11:14 AM).]

BastWorshiper
Sensei
posted 08-11-11 09:22 AM EDT (US)     2 / 84       
Hah, I get the first response in the new chapter, and it'll be:


YAY!!!!

"It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do.
Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen." -- Jerome K. Jerome

"Some people become so expert at reading between the lines they don't read the lines." -- Margaret Millar

ERADICATE CONDESCENSION! (That means don't talk down to people.)
Liam_the_Spartan
Banned
posted 08-11-11 09:38 AM EDT (US)     3 / 84       
I would have commented first, but I still need to read all the other parts. I guess I'll spend some day reading them...
Bretty_BoIEEEYYY
Ashigaru
posted 08-11-11 11:05 AM EDT (US)     4 / 84       
brilliant just brilliant

Please check it out With your support(and comments)i will show the orks who da boss and teach sauron a thing or two along the way ^_^men of the white tree a gondorian defensive AAR
Hannibal the Conqueror
Ashigaru
(id: HannibalBarcaXXI)
posted 08-12-11 06:21 AM EDT (US)     5 / 84       
Great!

"I long for Darkness."
- Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited.

"We are a species that ravages, plunders, kills, destroys, rapes and enslaves in the name of progress."
Bulba Khan
Ashigaru
(id: stormer)
posted 08-15-11 02:02 AM EDT (US)     6 / 84       
Master Skald Strikes again another thrilling start to the chapter Terikel.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-15-11 02:18 AM EDT (US)     7 / 84       
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“Gaius, my boy!” shouted his mother in wondrous excitement. “How good it is to see you again.”

The young man snorted at his mother’s greeting. Though he bore her no ill will, her joy at seeing him contrasted sharply with his own pain driving him to come to the home of his parents.

Vettia picked up on the pain her joy caused, though its source eluded her. Still, her boy had come home! She had not seen him in over a year- since his marriage to that rich merchant’s pretty daughter. She was a lovely lass, that Licinia, and had good Roman ancestors, once among the most powerful in Rome. What a wonderful union they made. Two senior families, both powerful in the late Republic, now seeking to rise again. The Licinii had the money, always had, and the Valerii the talented oratory. Her son was working on a poem of his own, one that promised to rival the greats in the field. He had been at it for almost six years now. It was a wonderful piece, a thing for which a mother could be proud. Thus his humorless entry made for mixed signals.

“Hello, mother,” Gaius Valerius Flaccus replied.

The elderly Vettia took her son’s hand and dragged him from the atrium toward the large chamber used for guests- and family.

“What is troubling you, my boy?” she asked as they walked. “Your son is past the dangers of his premature birth by now, surely. And your work goes well, otherwise you would have been here much earlier.”

She sat him down upon a padded bench, then took a place beside him.

“Little Gaius is fine,” he admitted. “He is crawling now, alone, and babbles. And my work proceeds. I am on my fourth book now- between where the Argonauts lose Hylas to the Naiads and the encounter with the harpies. But I have not come to discuss such things. Is Father about? What bothers me is something with which only he could help.”

The woman echoed the snort he son made upon entering the house. “Fables and fairy tales,” the woman cackled. “I helped make your father the man he is today. I can do the same for you, if you would allow it.”

Gaius shook his head. “No, mother, some things are for men alone. This is one of them.”

Vettia rose and faced her son. “As you wish, young Gaius. Your father is making his rounds of the estate, if he is not off somewhere sipping the proffered wine of someone wishing his patronage. I shall send Aeson to bring him.”

An hour after his mother withdrew, his father entered the chamber. He saw his son’s bleary eyes, and mistook them at first for drunkenness. It was only as he approached to berate the young man for such hedonism that he realized he had been crying. The revelation softened his heart.

“Your mother says you have something with which only I could help,” he said tenderly as he took the seat his wife had vacated.

Gaius nodded. When his father gestured for Aeson to leave them alone and close the door, he turned to his father.

“I am rather confused, father,” the man said. “Something bothers me. And worse, it is affecting my work. I told mother I am working on my fourth book of my twelve-part Argonautica, which you remember I began the summer Titus Flavius Vespasianus became our Imperator.”

“I remember.” How could he forget? The boy spent a fortune acquiring copies of the tale of the Argonauts and studied them profusely, wasting many denarii on tutors that were less talented than was he.

“It has been almost six years, and yet I am only on the fourth book,” the man pleaded. “I should be scribbling out couplets and stanzas at two books per year. The story is well known, after all. It is not like I must invent it as I go along. Yet I stand still. I have thrown out four drafts already.”

The older Valerius Flaccus thought a moment, or at least pretended to do so. He knew a long time ago that this day would come. The boy had been immersed in myth and legend, now the man was overwhelmed by trying to make his boyhood dream become a work worthy of a man, a renowned poet who could stand among the greats and have his work read out before crowds in the theatres. “What you need, son, is time away. Drop your poems, drop the tale of the Argo, and live for once, while you still can. You have a pretty wife- bed her. You have good friends- visit them. And you have a fine son- spend time with him while you can. Clear your mind, son, then resume your work refreshed.”

The mention of the son brought a sob. The older Valerius smiled- his son was such a softie when it came to the little one. But he was dead wrong, and realized it a moment later.

“Is there something wrong with the boy?” he asked with sudden seriousness. The boy had been born early- and early boys come with problems. Still, the dangerous times had passed, and all accounts say the boy is just thriving.

“The boy is fine,” the younger Flaccus said. “He crawls and when he can find something to grab onto, he stands and walks as well. For a seven month old, that is amazing. He also talks- which is the problem.”

“I don’t follow.”

Young Gaius sighed heavily. “Licinia is a wonderful Roman wife- attentive, demure, obedient, and polite. But little Gaius is a proper Roman son as well- playful, martial, and speaking coherently- but incessantly. And Licinia is spoiling the lad rotten. He walks all over her- and she lets him. She refuses to let a nanny touch the lad, doing all the care herself as if the boy came to her from the gods themselves. Together they are destroying my concentration, but doing it in such a proper way that I really cannot complain to them. Thus I sit. And fret. And get nothing done, which frustrates me. I dare not say anything to her about it- but you could. She would understand the dilemma if you explained it.”

Gaius Senior laughed. And laughed, to the frustration of his son, whose face grew redder by the minute.

“What is so funny, Father?”

“A poet- a man of words- has no words himself,” cackled the old man in true glee. “He needs another to speak for him.”

Gaius Junior cracked a smile at his father’s words. But then it was replaced with a frown. “So you will not speak to her for me?”

“And say what?” the father asked. “Ask her not to be a proper wife to my son, or a doting mother to my grandson? That is patently ridiculous.”

“You could ask her to be stronger, and to raise our son sternly, and with more austerity.”

That sobered the older man up. He sighed as he thought of all the missed military service the boy could have had to toughen him into a man who could do his own dirty work, instead of lavish, flamboyant tutors turning him into a sensitive mushroom. There must be something he could do or say to strengthen the lad and let him see the true vision of how he was blessed, and not cursed. Then it dawned on him.

“Go to Lugdunum, in Gaul,” he commanded his son. “Leave your work, and your family, and go to Lugdunum. There you will find a tablet, concerning the speech given by Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus back when he was Imperator. Study the text, lad, and know that Valerius Asiaticus was adopted into this family, and Valeria Messalina was born into it. Study the tablet, and study their fates. It will open your eyes.”

The younger man ceased his self-pity. He knew the fates of the two people already mentioned, as he had researched his family very thoroughly for a previous project. He did not see what his father meant, though he knew of the bronze tablet and of the fates.

“You need to travel,” the older man continued. “Get out of the house, get away from Licinia and little Gaius, away from Rome. See Italia, then Gaul. And when you return, you will look upon your wife and child with much more love and appreciation than you do now. So go, my son, go and open your eyes to what you have, or take a journey to learn what you so callously think to throw away.”

The young man nodded. What his father said was true. He did need to get away, to clear his head, to start anew.

“You are correct, father,” he agreed. “I shall travel, to clear my head and see what my heart misses.”

“Good lad,” the older man agreed. “And if you still wish for a change when you return, only then will I have a talk with Licinia and see if things can be worked out.”

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Marcus Rutilius barely made it to his command tent before Publius Arrius stormed in.

“Are you out of your frikkin’ mind?” the legate roared. “You are heading back across to Germania Magna? We just left that infernal place! And going back with but two ala of cavalry as an escort?”

“And four cohorts of Suevi warriors,” Rutilius added. “Don’t forget those.”

Arrius cackled bitterly. “Oh, how can I forget those? The very men who would solidify their king’s ascension by roasting a Roman magistrate in a wicker cage upon the altar of their hideous one-eyed god. Gods forbid I neglect to mention them.”

“Segestes is a good man, Publius,” Rutilius reminded him. “And we need one of those over there.”

“Let me see,” Arrius recounted. “He leads a warband twenty cohorts strong to the north, way out of his tribe’s area, gets thoroughly trounced by you here, then gets thrown into prison to be sold to the arenas. Yeah, sounds like a great man.”

“He bought a truce on his honor, then fulfilled his vow to me by patrolling our border and garrisoning two of our castra while every fighting man under our colors was across the river. And you forget a couple of key points- the cloaks and helmet which allowed me to get within sight of the trapped legions, as well as the ideas we employed- all of that came from him. He was enslaved for his troubles, and my honor brought him out of it.”

“Yeah, I remember. He gave you some great tips, and served you well. What is it with him?” Arrius asked suddenly. “Even that Cananefate kid likes that guy, and he dislikes almost everybody but you.”

“Jorgen and I met him in a Cherusci village in the late winter,” Rutilius replied. “He thought us Germans, not Romans, and we did not disavow him of that notion. We became a sort of friends- a friendship that survived his brief imprisonment.”

The face of Arrius relaxed. He could indeed see how Marcus could become friends with someone under those circumstances. And he knew for a fact that once a German becomes a friend, he remains a friend for life.

“You will still need more than just two ala of heavy cavalry,” Arrius said. “I can offer you the I Rutilia.”

Rutilius shook his head. “The fleet will be arriving shortly to ferry you back to Britannia and your home legions.”

“We will be taking our wounded with us,” Arrius said. “Wounded men take up a lot of space, as will the booty we acquired. Maybe half will go. The rest will have to await the return of the fleet.”

“So for six weeks I’d have the use of a rump legion of four cohorts,” Rutilius mused.

“Five,” Arrius countered. “That cohort of Batavian veterans will not be going to Britannia.”

“Five cohorts, and two ala,” Rutilius mused. “I think Segestes will be more than happy to see his escort. My personal escort will be somewhat smaller- and not as happy.”

“How so?”

“I ordered those of my escort with family to return to their homes.”

“Why would you do a thing like that?” Arrius wondered. “Those are the best troops in the entire army.”

“We took losses over there,” Rutilius reminded him. “Someone needs to do some recruiting. And I do not wish to keep my men away from their families longer than necessary. So I sent Glam and sixteen of others to recruit in Noviomagus first, then head back to their families. No need to keep them apart any longer. My wife is home alone with only a small guard of Ubian volunteers- good men, but my Batavians are better. I’d sleep better knowing Glam was watching over my family as well as his own.”

“So your escort dwindles to what- twenty seven?”

Rutilius shrugged. “Four hundred forty eight- four hundred twenty Batavians in the cohort, twenty eight more of my mounted Guard. The only thing that mollified the others was that there was now a full cohort of Batavians guarding me. Dieter, though his child is soon to be born, refused the command as I knew he would. He is the Guard Commander, and thinks it his task in life to see that mine is as long as possible- no matter how many Batavian legionaries we had with us.”

Arrius laughed. “You have always been blessed with men devoted to you. Jupiter blast me if it isn’t true, but there is not a manjack in these cohorts of mine that does not feel the same!”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
The Bald Eagle
Ashigaru
posted 08-15-11 05:34 AM EDT (US)     8 / 84       
What a pleasant surprise to come back to two fine posts.
The set up has the makings of another fine adventure for Rutilius!
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 08-15-11 01:32 PM EDT (US)     9 / 84       
Wonderful to see you back Terikel after a well deserved break.

Your two chapters were great but I wonder what role that poet Gaius will play in the story especially as he heads to Gaul...........

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.

[This message has been edited by Legion Of Hell (edited 08-15-2011 @ 01:32 PM).]

Bretty_BoIEEEYYY
Ashigaru
posted 08-15-11 01:56 PM EDT (US)     10 / 84       
I love this terikela true master peice

Please check it out With your support(and comments)i will show the orks who da boss and teach sauron a thing or two along the way ^_^men of the white tree a gondorian defensive AAR
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-18-11 01:43 AM EDT (US)     11 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Gaius Mallius was admitted to the home of Aulus Caecina by a bitter old slave, who bid him wait in the atrium while he fetched his master. Mallius was bronzed deeply by the sun, and the Greek merchant’s hat and cape he wore made him seem a traveling merchant looking to do some business with the senator. Thus the old slave did not recognize Mallius as a senator himself, and bid him wait as he would any client.

Caecina, however, recognized his fellow senator at once, and cuffed the old slave across the back of his head and scolded him, admonishing him to always bring senators to the reception chamber. Then his rage faded as he faced his visitor. A broad smile lit up his face.

“Gaius Mallius!” he said in greeting. His voice had that wonderful timbre he reserved for addressing old friends. His arms opened as if to embrace. “How wonderful of you to finally crawl out from under your rock. As you can see, there is no reason to hide any more.”

“What do you mean?” Mallius retorted. “They murdered Gaius Helvidius! None are safe now.”

“My point exactly,” Caecina replied. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial low. “The traitor’s trail led to him, not you. You are quite safe now.”

“Maybe on that count,” Mallius admitted. “But if Helvidius talked before he died?”

“He did not, otherwise I would not be here,” Caecina replied cynically, as if that was the most obvious answer in the world. Sometimes Mallius could be such a dullard.

“Have you heard any news from the north lately?”

Caecina nodded in reply. “Cornelius Clemens has won a great victory, and conquered the Agri Decumates. He is the Man of the Hour, and a great Flavian hero now.”

“That he is,” Mallius added. “And Cordinus- nothing is said. There are rumors that he fought a great battle as well. The merchants chatter about a glut in the slave market now, but Vespasian says nothing. Odd, that.”

“So?”

“So battle plans had been given to the Germans,” Mallius reminded him. “By Catullus, it is assumed. Titus Junior is investigating. My friend in Mediolanium, Tullius, says the trail will lead to that city in Germania with the unpronounceable name-“

“Mogontiacum,” supplied Caecina.

“Yes, that place, and from there to Catullus. Titus will find him and question him. Catullus will come be sent to Rome in disgrace. And with him comes his entourage. We will have no more ears in the north.”

“Those ears can no longer tell us what they hear anyway,” Caecina pointed out. “With Helvidius and Burrius dead, and now Catullus in trouble... ”

“There is still a chance to succeed,” Mallius said in a voice laden with forlorn longing.

“I have been making a good name for myself lately,” Caecina continued as if he did not hear. He spoke easily now, for he was succeeding in his quest by his lonesome, without having to connive or conspire. Success by one’s own hand was always so much more satisfying, he had learned. “I helped my boorish buddy Eprius Marcellus with his investigation, sacrificed that prig Helvidius to satisfy the anger of Vespasianus, and helped roll up a conspiracy that threatened Rome. I have counseled and aided the son of Vespasian, who speaks good words about me. And tonight, I am going to the theatre and watch some awful Greek tragedy and act like it was the finest thing that ever happened to me.”

“Because Vespasian likes those things?” asked Mallius.

“Oh gods no,” laughed Caecina. “He hates the damned things- he is a comedy man. But his friends love them, and thus often attend these shows without him. I intend to make friends.”

“Joining the circle, so to speak,” said Mallius, with an approving nod. “It might just work. And when the provinces are handed out in December, you will be a shoe-in! You will not forget our goal, now, in your restored glory and honor, will you?”

“I will not forget,” Caecina promised. “It is only a question of whether you will be there to grace with the office, or not?”

“What do you mean?”

Caecina smiled that winning smile of his again, then it lost its charm and turned feral. “Your bumbling cost us Helvidius. I sacrificed him to save you, and myself. Then you ran away, leaving me to face whatever came down the Via Flaminia alone. Well, Gaius, nothing came except the realization that I can further my goals better alone than with your so-called help. So from now on, I will.”

“That’s it?”

“Exactly. I will reach my goals alone. I am convinced I can do so better than with your so-called aid.”

“You have befriended Eprius Marcellus!” cried Mallius.

“Among others,” Caecina confirmed. “Men with position and power, and more importantly- men with the ear of Vespasian. I shall again have a command. And one without your money, interference, or bumbling.”

“I wish you well,” Mallius uttered. Neither he nor Caecina felt that he meant it. It did not matter. Both knew their conspiracy was dead with Helvidius, and that neither man benefitted from the demise of the other. It was a tacit consensus between them never to speak of their past together. So be it.



It was closing night of the Greek tragedy ‘Ophelius and Danaë’. The Theatre of Pompeius was fully packed for the last time before the heat of the summer would drive the rich Romans to the sea shores- a good omen to the actors. Even the front benches reserved for the nobles were packed. The actors backstage were giggling in their tight suits and decorated masks- there was money to be made tonight! Maybe even enough to last through the long, hot summer.

Caecina sat prominently in the fifth row, a handsome man with a formal toga draped upon him. He had the broad purple border of a senator dyed extra rich, while the rest was bleached to a light cream color. Both accentuated his tanned skin, displayed his muscled chest and flat stomach, and set off his piercing eyes, while heightening the glow of his broad smile. No man would be able to resist seeing him in the crowd, and when the other senators see him, it will begin to slowly change their thoughts about him. The man loved Greek plays, by Jupiter! He can’t be all that bad.

Directly before him sat a woman with her dark hair piled high. She was slender, with a lithe body. When she turned to speak with her friends beside her, he could see that her face had a few wrinkles, but not many. He judged her to be around his own age.

Not a bad-looking tart, he thought to himself, but it is a shame she was sitting directly in front of me. Her hair blocked his view of the stage, which meant it was blocking the view of Vespasian’s cronies who should be seeing him. He glanced to his left, to see if he could move to another part of the bench, but alas, it was fully packed. He knew the column against which he leaned blocked movement right. There was a seat available one row further down- directly in front of the woman.

“A thousand pardons, my lady,” he finally said, tapping the high-haired woman lightly upon the shoulder. She turned about, revealing her full face – and a bit of cleavage. Caecina was impressed- she was prettier than he had imagined, though older as well.

“Yes?”

It took a moment for him to gather his wits, but only a small moment, enough to give a good impression. “Your hair, my lady, it is high and proud and wonderfully lustrous in the evening light. It also quite completely blocks my view of the performance. Is it possible that you and your friend switch places? Her hair hangs beautifully down along her neck- and does not block my sight.”

The woman laughed. “I can do one better, lord,” she replied. “Pomponia, slide aside. Let the man between us.”

“My lady is most gracious,” Caecina replied, “but that is not necessary. I can see well enough now.”

The woman barked a laugh. “Pomponia and I will be jabbering most of the evening, lord. I do not wish that disturbed by the guilty conscience of knowing my constant movement will occasionally destroy your view, and thus your pleasure. Pass through us to the vacant seat before us- but do it quickly! I see Sextus Lentulus moving this way.”

Caecina bounded up, gathered his toga, and leapt through the two women to land upon the vacant seat before Lentulus could move into it. He glanced back once, saying, “A thousand thanks.”

“No thanks necessary, senator,” she replied. “Noblemen have the privilege of being seated in the front rows. Women- probably because of our hair- sit farther back. Tradition.”

He nodded, for it was indeed so. Then he turned to the stage. He could see the entire stage. Moreover, he could see where Gaius Licinius Mucianus was seated, as well as Titus Aurelius Fulvus, recently returned from Moesia. Berenice, the Jewish queen who served as a mattress and outlet of lust for young Titus Vespasianus Junior was there, with a covey of senatorial wives in her entourage. Caecina smiled to himself, thinking that the reason Mucianus came to these things- he was lining up his next conquest, the horny old bugger.

After the performance, Caecina rose and thanked the lady again. Then he waved his slave forward to escort him away. As he exited, he grabbed his slave and whispered into his ear, “Find out everything you can about the woman seated behind me, the one who came with Pomponia.” He had heard enough of their conversations to know she had influence high up- very high up. She would be a good friend to have.

On her bench, awaiting the exit and press of the men leaving, the woman turned to Pomponia. “Find out everything you can about the man who sat before us.”

Pomponia gasped. “Are you mad? You already have a man! And are wealthy enough for three!”

The woman cocked her head and shrugged. “Mad? No. Smitten? Maybe. But my man is not my husband, and he is old. He may be called to the gods one day soon, and where would that leave me, Pomponia? Alone, and too old to find another. And you know I am a woman who craves companionship.”

“You are a sharp one, Caenis,” Pomponia conceded. She too was old- over sixty- and had no man, no family, no children to support her. She did have her hobby, which satisfied some of her needs, and provided contacts with men who rode the circles of power. Pomponia was not known as the most exclusive prostitute in Rome for nothing. Caenis could top her, though, if she choose to move into that profession. But judging from the way her eyes followed the handsome senator, she believed her friend might be setting up a way to avoid that ancient profession, maintain her wealthy standing, and live a good life when her current benefactor passed.

“You will know all within a week,” she promised.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Krymzon74
Ashigaru
posted 08-19-11 00:58 AM EDT (US)     12 / 84       
Glad to see the series continue Terikel, eagerly awaiting more.
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 08-20-11 11:02 AM EDT (US)     13 / 84       
Good chapter, Terikel.

It looks like Caecina is doing his usual plotting while I wonder Caenis has in mind. I look forward to the next chapter.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-22-11 02:23 AM EDT (US)     14 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Segestes was indeed happy with the Roman escort. His own warband, now outfitted with the best of the equipment of those who fell attacking this camp, was ready. His second, Aethwyk, led the men in packing, while the Roman praefectus Milus put together a supply train to see the cohorts to the northern part of the Bructeri lands and back.

“Your men look good,” Rutilius said in admiration. “Proud, and strong.”

“They serve now a coming king, no longer a forgotten prince,” Segestes reminded him. “Your offer has restored them, Marek. No longer are they prisoners, or defeated warriors. They are now redeemed, and once again proud. For this I thank you.”

“Serve well as King of the Bructeri, Segestes, and it will be I who thanks you.”

Segestes nodded. “I cannot promise not to come against Rome if the situation warrants it. As king, I must always act in my tribe’s best interest first.”

“I do not ask for such a promise,” Rutilius reminded him. “I ask that you rule wisely, in the best interest of your tribe. If that leads to war with Rome, then so be it. But remember this summer, my friend. It is in no tribe’s interest to make war upon Rome.”

Segestes nodded at that wisdom. “I think my future tribe will agree with that- what is left of them, that is.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Gaius Valerius Flaccus did not travel to Lugdunum to visit the tablet describing the damnation of Valerius Asiaticus. He had no need to do so. Claudius, successor to Caligula, was no orator of note, though his texts were required reading by his imperial-minded tutors. Since he knew everything, or at least thought he did, he decided to visit his friend and fellow poet Marcus Valerius Martialis. But Martialis was not at his house in Rome. He had gone to his birthplace to visit with his own parents. So Valerius Flaccus followed, and met up with his friend in Patavium.

Their greetings were exchanged, and Martialis invited Flaccus into his father’s home. The visitor exchanged pleasantries with the lord of the house, then settled into the lounge of the son to drink and discuss the things they both love- styles and stanzas, couplets and images, forms and formats. Everything and all things concerning poetry. The two met and became good friends over that topic and their mutual love for smithing words into beautiful passages. Gaius Flaccus thought Martialis a genius, and sought insight into his satires and wit in order to bring life to his own works. Martialis, on the other hand, wanted the insight Flaccus had into the lives and personages of senators and the people who adorn the halls and courts of the Imperator. Individually, each lacked something critical to become great. But together... the two complemented each other wonderfully. They talked all through the night over poetry, then staggered off to their rooms as the skies to the east began to take on a paler shade of black.

“So what brings the wealthy and idle son of an equally wealthy and idle senator from Rome to the Gallic dwellings of northern Italia?” Martialis asked during lunch the following day.

“What brings the rising poetic star of Rome to such a backwater?” Flaccus retorted with a grin.

“I was stuck,” Marcus Martialis replied. “Poet’s block. Can’t think of anything worthy, and with you running about after your son or having your head stuck in your study, my access to the inner workings of the rich and famous was cut off. So I went home for the summer, to seek inspiration.” He grinned, and offered a cup of wine. “What is your excuse?”

Flaccus nodded. “Pretty much the same,” he said with a sigh and a nod. “Family troubles keep me from concentrating, leading to Poet’s Block. Father suggested a trip to Lugdunum, but if I wanted to visit Gauls, I do not need to travel further than here.”

Piss off, Gaius, he thought to himself. “You evidently tried to escape from your self-built familial prison into my abode in Rome, learned I was here, and followed,” Martialis translated. “Poet’s Block was merely an excuse.”

“No, it is true enough,” Flaccus admitted. “As are the family troubles.”

“Oh?” asked Martialis. Problems in a senatorial family? That piqued his interest. “Do tell.”

“There is not all that much to tell,” Flaccus admitted. “Most of it you know already.”

Martialis guffawed. “You do not fool me, Gaius Valerius. There is more than just a proper Roman wife and son causing your mental blockage. You could merely dismiss both of them to a far corner of your grand house and be able to work.”

Now Flaccus guffawed. “Oh I could, and they would go. But my grand house on the Quirinal is not that grand, nor large. And then I would be sitting there in my study, tablets and scrolls spread before me, and feeling guilty for having banished my family from my presence. Either way, I lose.”

“Be ye a man, or a mushroom?” Martialis wondered aloud. That did not quite sound right, but it got the idea across. “You said yourself just last night that your wife is a proper Roman woman- and obedient. Set the rules. She will follow them.”

“She is obedient enough,” Flaccus admitted. “Maybe too much so.”

“Problems in the bedchamber?”

Flaccus waved the thought away. “None at all. She has hers, I have mine. When I desire her physically, I enter her chamber. She never says no, and always spreads her legs and lets me have my way. When we are finished, if I am sleepy, I stay- and she retires to my chamber to let me sleep soundly. So no, Marcus, no problems in the bedchamber at all.”

Martialis was making mental notes furiously for his next masterpiece. This was wonderful stuff! “And otherwise? At parties, or dinner?”

“Proper, demure, minds her place, drinks little. Always totally in control of herself.”

Martialis was beginning to see his friend’s problem. “And when out visiting?”

“Again, not a thing to complain about. She dresses well, has her hair done up properly, is properly attended to by her slave women, and minds our station. She does not mix with lower classes, nor does she allow herself to be placed into any embarrassing situation. She minds her position as the wife of a senatorial heir quite diligently.”

Martialis thought over what was said. “No problems, no complaints, yet you are miserable. So your father recommends you visit Gaul.”

“Lugdunum, yes. To view the tablet.”

The tablet of Claudius. Martialis knew well what was written upon it, as did Flaccus. The Imperator Claudius had given a rather rambling speech about laws, and in the end turned it into a damnation of Valerius Asiaticus. That man had a property that was desired by Messalina, the wife of Claudius, who conspired to have Asiaticus banished. Asiaticus sliced his veins open and died instead, leaving his property open to be confiscated by Messalina. She came to no good end, that woman, having connived and conspired against the man she married, who had her killed for it. Claudius was nobody to intrigue against. Hell, any of the Imperial Family who survived Caligula had to be a master of intrigue himself.

And Martialis, in remembering the tablet, remembered Messalina’s family name.

“I think I know why your father sent you to Lugdunum,” he said, figuring out the puzzle as he spoke. “Messalina was a Valeria, maybe a relative of yours. She was strong, and independent, and brought down an equally strong and respected relative- another Valerius. Your father tries to issue a subtle warning- be glad with what you have, and do not insist on creating a Messalina out of Licinia- to help you avoid the fate of Asiaticus.”

“Bah, I have no land and no power,” Flaccus retorted.

“But you will inherit both one day,” Martialis reminded him. “Your father wishes for you to learn to be content with what you have, and not wish for changes. Licinia is connected to another powerful Roman family, one that once held much power. It runs yet in her veins. Your father wishes to avoid awakening the beast within her.”

“The beast had awakened already, and escaped her womb,” Flaccus moaned. “She dotes on the boy, and lets him run rampant over her.”

“A proper son for a senator, learning at such a tender age how to be man of the house,” Martialis said flippantly. He rose, and held out a hand to help his friend rise as well. “Come, Gaius. I grow stiff sitting in the middle of the day. Let us walk through the town and see what inspires us, what can break our Poet’s Block.”

Both men rose and exited the house. A few minutes later they were at the riverside, watching the ships come in to the quays and be emptied by brutes bearing ropes and a padded shoulder. Bored, they went to the market for a bit of fruit. Their wandering led to another market, one laced with armed and armored guards.

“What is this?” Flaccus asked.

“Slave market,” Martialis replied. “Usually it is almost empty, with only a few domestics being sold. But this autumn it is flooded with chattels.”

Flaccus stared at the women lined up on the rostrum. Behind them, in a huddled mass, were more women, some of them with children. They were large, brutish women, with hair of gold, or red, or blends of both. They had little tiny noses, but rather buxom bosoms. And their eyes… So blue. He gawked.

“Never seen a German before?” Martialis kidded, elbowing Flaccus to emphasize his little jab.

“Not like these,” Flaccus admitted. “Most of the German slaves around our latifundia are dark of hair.”

“It has been a while since we had an influx of true Germans,” Martialis admitted. “Most of the Germanic slaves we have had in the past twenty years were home-growns- bastard children of Germanic domestics and their Latin masters.”

Flaccus did not like that at all. He glared at his friend, then stared back at the children. Especially those with red-gold hair, and those amazingly blue eyes. Eyes and hair that matched those of his Gaius. And while he gawked, his mind compared them to the Germanic slaves of his father’s latifundia and their dark hair.

“Do you wish to buy one of those little boys?” Martialis asked. “If your tastes run that way, it might explain your problems with Licinia.”

“Piss off, Marcus,” Gaius said hotly. “You of all know my tastes do not run to little boys. How many prostitutes have we rented in the days before I married? Dozens? Scores? Centuries?”

Martialis nodded. Gaius did indeed have a taste for the women. And he remembered the one time a bordello tried to please him by sending in a beautiful Greekling youth. The master of the bordello was lucky to escape with only one of his arms broken.

Flaccus turned to his friend. “Tell me of the child of Creusa and Zeteles,” he demanded.

Martialis thought over the slaves mentioned. “She gave birth to a little girl, who is now five. Active, but obedient. She will make a great domestic, if she learns to screw as well as her mother.”

“I do not care about what she does. Describe her.”

Martialis did so- rather tall, lovely hazel eyes, and a thick thatch of deep auburn hair.

“Now the son of Ildica and Aaron.”

Again Martialis described the child- brown eyes, strong like his father, little German nose, and black hair.

“I have noticed that when people breed, if one of the parents has dark hair, then the child usually does as well,” Flaccus said with a nod.

“That is true,” his friend agreed. “Mostly. Sometimes the eyes are the same.”

“And the baby resembles the father, does he not?”

Again Martialis nodded. “As a baby, yes, but they often grow out of that.”

“My son…” Flaccus stammered as he lifted his gaze to the slaves on display. “My son never looked like me, Marcus. He was born bald and blue eyed, but many babies are so. I have studied this, with Plinius and others who speak much about Natural Science. But now Gaius has hair, and his eyes are still the color of the sky. And his hair, Marcus…” He lifted a hand to point at one of the slaves. “His hair is that color.”

Martialis gulped at the implication.

“Do you think she was raped? And that a slave is the true father of your son?”

Flaccus shook his head. “Have you never met the guards of her father, Decimus Licinius? They are lions. No slave could get anywhere near her. No, if Gaius has another father, it was not by force.”

“That means…”

Flaccus nodded. “My wife has been unfaithful.”

Martialis sighed. “That explains her near-perfect behavior. She plays the part of a perfect wife, so that you would have no reason to suspect otherwise. A clever ploy, and one which guarantees her son’s inheritance of your estate when you are no more.”

“My wife has been unfaithful,” Flaccus repeated.

“Do you have any slaves or anyone in your estate who remotely resembles the child?

Flaccus thought that over, and shook his head. “She must have her lover secreted away from me somewhere else.”

Rome was a huge city. He could be almost anyone. Then numbers started clicking in his head. He shook his head to clear it.

“She has not been unfaithful,” Martialis determined. “You have her shut away from the world, except in your presence. So if she had a lover, it would be someone in your house, which you admitted it cannot be. Plus, your son was born seven and a half months after your marriage. A bit early, but not rare.”

“She came into our marriage already pregnant?!?” Flaccus roared.

Martialis shrugged. “It is the most likely explanation. Her father is a merchant, after all. Merchants consider everything and anything for sale. Look about- they sell anything, and anyone. Maybe her father sold her for a night to clear some wicked debt.”

He cleared his throat. “But it does not matter, Gaius. The boy is yours now. Enjoy raising your son, for childhood is one of the few pleasures that Janus gives us only once- and is a fleeting joy at that.”

“Go home, Marcus,” Flaccus said bitterly. “You disgust me. I am going for a walk to try to sort his mess out in my own head.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 08-23-11 01:54 PM EDT (US)     15 / 84       
Poor Flaccus. But who slept with his wife?

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Krymzon74
Ashigaru
posted 08-24-11 00:31 AM EDT (US)     16 / 84       
I won't spoil it but I think I know who the wife is and remember her last appearance in the story. Uh oh.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-24-11 01:25 AM EDT (US)     17 / 84       

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
The Bald Eagle
Ashigaru
posted 08-24-11 06:47 AM EDT (US)     18 / 84       
I suffer from foggy memory, especially when it concerns names, but judging from the boy's hair color, I'm guessing Rutilius will soon have another powerful enemy...
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-25-11 01:40 AM EDT (US)     19 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Giaus Flaccus wandered the streets of Patavium until the sun began to settle into its western home. He had a lot on his mind, and none of it good. At last he lifted his gaze from his sandals to find himself staring up at the rostrum from which the slave women were still being sold. Martialis had been right- the market is glutted.

“You look like you could use a decent domestic,” said a voice beside him. He turned to see a man in legionary armor standing beside him.

Flaccus wondered what the man meant.

“I saw you here earlier with your friend,” the armored man said. “Neither one of you looks like you had left your father’s house, yet are of the age to do so. That means you need a domestic, to ease the transition from owned home to own home. I am Hortius, Manius Hortius. Captain of the Guard for the slaver Lucius Vettius Secundus. I can help.”

Flaccus knew what the slave captain meant. The definition of abject poverty in Rome was the inability to acquire even a single slave. Most slaves in the city were domestics- most often women. They did the cleaning, the cooking, the laundry, and if the master was feeling frisky and his wife either not in the mood or menstruating, well, they could perform in that arena as well.

“Some of them are rather striking, what with that hair like wheat in the setting sun,” he mumbled. He declined to mention that he had his own house on the Quirinal in Rome, staffed with four domestics and two Greeks.

“Good harvest this year,” Hortius affirmed. Wheat in the setting sun? Gods, not another poet. Those blokes are long on words but short on denarii. Still, this one had a golden ring- he might be the idle son of some knight or other merchant. “Last summer we went north, but the bloody army made a huge raid with three legions but came back with only thirty male slaves- and they went to that bugger Bolgus. This year, however, thousands upon thousands. A very good year.”

“Thirty? So little?” Flaccus asked in pure astonishment.

“Aye,” Hortius affirmed. “The army got snookered. Would’ve lost their ass had not some legate with his head on straight not taken over when the general got stabbed. Nasty business, sir. That legate got tried for treason for rescuing the army- dumbest thing I ever heard of. Glad I got my discharge before that happened, I’ll tell ya.”

“Do you know the name of that legate, Hortius?”

The guard captain shook his head. “I don’t remember his name, though Vettius, my dominus, and his friend Licinius were called in to serve as jurors. Licinius was on his way back to Rome to marry his daughter off to some senator’s brat, but got hung up because of the trial. They acquitted him.”

Things began spinning in the head of Flaccus. Licinia was with her father last summer. They arrived in Rome at the end of Augustus, when Flaccus married Licinia as had been arranged. A joyful union then, but now...

Gaius had been born almost exactly nine months after the trial...

“Was this legate a blonde, with wide blue eyes?” Flaccus asked. He began describing his son’s features. ”Jutting chin, squarish face, wide cheekbones with a square jaw?”

Hortius thought back. That sounded more like the hard-ass quaestor who enslaved him – albeit for only a few hours. Rutilius. How could he forget? Rutilius was the legate who became the quaestor. “Yes, that’s him. Rutilius. He took over when Cordinus got stabbed. Ran the province for a few months while the old boy healed.”

There were a thousand ways a merchant could bribe a magistrate for better deals or contracts, and even more ways a magistrate could extort a merchant travelling in his district. Having a pretty daughter would be a hindrance to free passage, especially if pressure was applied. He could easily see how Decimus Licinius might have been forced to trade a night of his daughter’s life with the returning hero of the hour, especially when that hero became the acting governor.

“I would like that one,” Flaccus said suddenly, pointing randomly to where buxom blonde women stood in their nakedness upon the rostrum. The one his finger ended up upon was a large woman, with strains of red in her otherwise flaxen locks. “Send her to the home of Martialis. In the meantime, Publius Hortius, let us talk of magistrates and their flagrant abuses of power. I am quite curious.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Quintus Lutatius Catullus was asleep in his own bed for the first time in over two months. The governor of Germania Superior remained with the legions, examining the new border and tying its new defenses in with the existing ones of the Danube. While he was doing military work, it fell to his quaestor Catullus to return to winter quarters at Mogontiacum and handle the administrative work. A lot of requests had to go out, and a lot of transfers had to be arranged, but most were completed by nightfall. The governor had given him a special task to be arranged, and that scroll too went out with the evening post, though delivered by a trusted slave, not the legionary detailed as his aide. The ordinary work could wait until tomorrow, when he would be king of the province for a fortnight. He was looking forward to it, and slept well.

He awoke with a cramp, and an awful thirst. He reached for his flagon of water which he kept by the bed, but encountered nothing. In pain, he sat up and bellowed for that useless house slave of his to come and tend his master, and be damned quick about it!

The door opened, allowing some light from the hallway torches to enter his room. A figure came in, bearing a pitcher. It was not a familiar person.

“Who are you?” he gasped between contractions. It seemed as if his gut was trying to compete against itself in how fast it could form a knot, then untie itself.

“I am Roscius, an arcanus,” was the reply. He poured a goblet of water from the pitcher and handed it to the quaestor of Germania Superior. “Here, this will help.”

Catullus drank it eagerly. Indeed, it did help. The pain receded, allowing him to sit more upright.

“Why is an arcanus in my house serving me water, instead of my house slaves?”

“Because the house slaves are dead,” Roscius replied. “And water helps ease the pains of the poison I put in your wine.”

Catullus sat bolt upright.

“You played a little game, quaestor, and that game got a good friend of mine killed,” Roscius explained. “And now you shall join him.”

“What are you talking about?” Catullus demanded.

“Playing it to the hilt,” Roscius replied with admiration. “Bravo. But it will not help. You are a dead man. The only real choice you have, Quintus Lutatius Catullus, is how you die. Slowly and in great agony when the poison really kicks in, or swiftly upon the blade of my dagger. Failure to decide is the same as choosing the former. The choice is yours. Talk.”

“About what?” Another wave of convulsions hit him, twisting his words into a cry of agony.

“About a little business venture, which involved you sending secret military documents to the Germans up north,” Roscius explained. “I know it was you- I found the proof already. I would just like to know why. Was it a vendetta against that pompous ass who runs Germania Inferior? Or was it for greed- knowing your boss was moving into the arms and armaments business? Or was it ideology- are you secretly a Germanophile?” He laughed. “No, your treatment of the prisoners taken was horrendous. You bear no love for the men of the forest. So why? Why would you risk death to aid them?”

Catullus bit his lip in frustration, but the pain wracking him was too strong. He gasped again.

“Your little operation could have cost Rome all of the north,” Roscius continued. “And it has already cost me a dear friend, threatened the life of a second, and caused a man I owed to vanish. I do not have many friends, Quintus, so I tend to treasure the few that I have. Septimus Tullius almost died sending post to Caius Laurentius, who has been dead for years. You have been receiving that post, and that post turned out to be military documents you forwarded to the Germans up north. Publius Sollus, my friend for more than sixteen years now, lies in a grave north of here because the Suevi moved north in response to your letter. And Titus Burrius, the man who helped me get a job with his competitor and friend Septimus Tullius when I needed it, has disappeared from the face of the earth. Burrius is a creature of comfort- he cannot simply disappear. It is not in his nature. So he has been murdered. And you are the piece of the puzzle I have caught, the man who sent the word to the Germans that began this awful mess. So talk, Quintus. Tell me why.”

Spasms shot through the man’s body, arcing his back in a tight bow. Roscius sighed and poured some water into the man’s mouth. The spasms subsided.

“Time is running out,” he reminded the poisoned man. “Soon not even water will ease the pain. Talk fast, and death will be swift and painless.”

Catullus had had enough. “Vitellius,” he gasped. “Vitellius had set us up with the Germans to keep the peace when he went off to be Imperator. We were friendly.”

“So?”

“So when he died, and Vespasian took over, we who served Vitellius were disdained and discarded. Arrrgh!” He convulsed heavily, cutting off his words with a knife of pain.

Roscius slapped the man and poured another goblet. Catullus drank eagerly, and the pain subsided again.

“We came up with a plan,” he continued, gasping. “Based on what the Old Owl himself did. If we used our German contacts to cause some turmoil in the north, Vespasian would have to send a new governor. And keep sending one until we asked the tribes to cease the turmoil. He has not so many to choose from- he must eventually choose one who had served here before.”

“So this is about politics? Bloody political games? My friends died for that?”

Catullus cursed. “One of us would be in command of four Vitellian legions- just up the Via Mala from Rome itself. My task was to keep the legions here tied up, and thus give the legions of Germania Inferior a straight march to Rome- with nothing in the way.”

Now it made sense. “Your comrade would make himself Imperator!”

Catullus nodded. ”Just like the Old Owl did. Helvidius was a member of our group. He foolishly thought that the conquering general would restore the Republic, but we all know that any man with that much power keeps it. Helvidius is to be killed alongside the Imperator he so despised, and the rest of us would again be favored.”

“Burrius is the man of Helvidius,” Roscius said, seeing immediately the connection to Burrius. “And my benefactor. He cares not for politics. He would not partake in such stupid plans.”

“Burrius was a messenger, nothing more. He never knew what he was sending.”

“So this was both a usurpation and a political game,” Roscius said bitterly.

“Game to you, life to us,” Catullus moaned. Another spasm hit him, this one sending fire up and down his body. He screamed in agony.

Something did not quite make sense. “If the plan was for one of your pals to lead the Army of Germania Inferior to Rome, then why was your last message to them the battle plans? You would get the army you needed destroyed!”

“No, it would not,” Catullus replied. He grimaced in the effort. “Not if he was any sort of general. We wanted Cordinus humiliated, and unpopular with his legions so he would be replaced, disgraced, or both. Preferably both- he was a personal favorite of Vespasian. The disgrace would also fall on the Old Owl. But we did not think a man who had served under Corbulo would be such an incompetent general!”

“But he was, and nearly lost the army you needed.”

Catullus nodded.

“Who else is in this little group of yours?”

“Rutilius of Germania Inferior.” There, if I die, so does that sanctimonious little shit who screwed up our plans!

Roscius shook his head. “He’s the one who pulled those four legions out of the cauldron up north.”

“He has been in Germania Inferior for over a decade- lots of contacts here and there. Mostly low-level. But he has since climbed high, has he not? How better to gain the recognition and trust of the Imperator he will bring down?”

Roscius thought that over. It made sense in a twisted sort of way. Build a low-level network, just as he himself had done as an arcanus. Earn the love and trust with which to make the betrayal easier and that much more cruel. He could see with brilliant clarity how that had come about and will progress. But it did not add up- Rutilius had few connections in Rome, while the roots of the treason were in Rome.

“I want the names of those in Rome,” he repeated.

Catullus shook his head. “Those I shall take to the grave.”

“That should be very shortly,” Roscius said bluntly. Then he fished a small vial out of his purse. “Unless, of course, I give you this, and two weeks head start to get out of Roman territory.”

“An antidote?” Catullus gasped.

Roscius nodded. “Names.”

“I don’t know the others, only that they are few,” Catullus moaned. He considered lying to the man, but resisted the urge in case the anti-dote had to be administered more than once. He told only what he knew could be verified, in case that second dose became necessary. One does not lie to a potential antidote with one’s life on the line.

“I know the idea came from Aulus Caecina Alienus,” he began. I always hated that man! Now I can be rid of him. “He was a legate here in Germania before becoming consul under Vitellius, but has been shunned ever since. Rutilius worked for him- as a legionary, then centurion, and finally transferred to that butcher Vorenus as a tribune. I don’t know if Caecina is part of a conspiracy, or merely the supplier of the idea. Gaius Mallius has wealth and a boring life- he is definitely a conspirator, and in it for thrills. He finds a sick sort of delight in playing with men’s lives. Helvidius has the contacts, so Mallius dragged him into it, promising to restore the Republic. Cornelius Clemens was bribed to take me as his personal quaestor to put me in place, and we must have recruited someone inside the Imperial House, based upon the plans Helvidius sent.”

The pain seemed less now, as if his confession was freeing him. He even said so.

“That means my poison is wearing off,” Roscius said bluntly. He stabbed his dagger deep into the man’s abdomen, then sliced sideways to spill the entrails out over the bed.

Catullus screamed at the incision, and wailed at the steaming mass of intestines that littered his bed. He looked up at Roscius and mouthed “Why?” as the shock of the attack hit him.

“I already told you,” the arcanus said sternly. “Your games got my friends killed. It was time you paid the same price they had.”

The disemboweled man made one last feeble attempt to stuff his guts back in before collapsing back onto his bed. Roscius sliced his jugular to be sure, then covered the mess with its bedsheet before slipping back out of the house the way he had entered.

Rutilius? I’ll have to check that out, but Mallius and Helvidius are definitely going to die, he thought to himself, not knowing that the last man was already dead. Or knowing who had really sent the plans. Or that others in the political game- unnamed others- were still active players. In short, he learned a few suspicions, very little truth that was not already known by someone else, and a lot less than he could have learned.

Some secrets did indeed go to the grave with Quintus Lutatius Catullus, quaestor of Germania Superior.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
The Bald Eagle
Ashigaru
posted 08-25-11 07:23 AM EDT (US)     20 / 84       
Roscius seems to have a brain and also a man of honor, so it shouldn't take Rutilius long to convince him that he's been lied to. But it also seems like Caecina will slip away once again.

Another excellent installment!
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 08-25-11 05:09 PM EDT (US)     21 / 84       
Another excellent installment although I am getting kind of confused with all these characters and how they are intertwined. These long Roman names can make a person confused. Sadly that person is me.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-26-11 01:37 AM EDT (US)     22 / 84       
This episode was a bit of a recap of all that had gone before, because people like you tend to forget these things over time.

If you have a lazy Saturday afternoon and want to catch up, start from Part I and go forward. It will all be clear then.



Speaking of Saturday afternoons, I am posting far more than I am writing for the moment. Real life and all that. So posts will come every Monday for a while, instead of Mondays and Thursdays. Hopefully this busy period will slow down, giving me more time to devote to this.

My faithful Magic Box died recently, but a priest with a tong resurrected it. I merely have to re-install all ninety or so of the programs I use on a daily basis (including RTW). This will take a while as well- I have exactly one hour each weeknight with which to work upon it.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Zardozhotep
Ashigaru
(id: Kahotep)
posted 08-27-11 02:48 PM EDT (US)     23 / 84       
If I were you, Terikel, I would self-publish this whole story in novel format so that people can read it even without a PC at their disposal. Plus you can reap in a little profit.

Everything is better with dinosaurs.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-29-11 01:31 AM EDT (US)     24 / 84       
Thanks. I might do that one day.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-29-11 01:44 AM EDT (US)     25 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

When the fleet arrived to begin ferrying the cohorts back to Britannia, Rutilius had them ferry his force across first. It was a five day journey along paths known well to all before they reached the northern villages of the Bructeri- those untouched by the war. Here, a large warhost awaited them.

“Germani ahead,” Lucius Albius reported to Rutilius and Segestes, who were riding together. The cavalryman described a warhost of five thousand, mostly spearmen but with very little cavalry. Most had on brown cloaks, though a few wore armor and a few were naked. Typical mixed Germani rabble. He closed his report with, “They are deployed for battle.”

“Sounds like Ricgard and his Chauci,” Segestes said.

“Chauci,” Rutilius mused. He remembered exchanging words with the Chauci king, words which sparked the idea of giving the Bructeri Segestes as king. He turned to his bodyguards. “Tell Arrius that the legion will continue to march, but shall deploy in a defensive square once in sight of the warhost, and then go down to one knee. Both ranks.”

He turned back to Segestes and Albius. “Lucius, bring forward the turma with the white linen covers on their shields. Segestes and I need to go forward, with only them as an escort.”

Ahead the legionaries began their deployment into a square, with the Batavian cohort in the center. The ala of Albius came forward, while the other took up a position on the right flank. The Suevi under Aethwyk fanned out to the left. Segestes and Rutilius continued straight, stopping only fifty paces from the Chauci warhost while Albius halted his horses at one hundred paces..

It was indeed Ricgard, and his men were deployed for battle. But battle was not in his heart, at least not yet. He rode forward with a few housecarls to stand proudly before the Roman and the Suevi.

“I did not think you would break our truce so quickly,” the Chauci king stated flatly. “Yet here you are.”

“I have not broken our truce,” Rutilius replied. “Do you have any confirmed reports that myself or my men have committed any acts of war since we last spoke?”

Ricgard shook his head. “No, yet here you stand with an army at your back, heading for the last of the Bructeri villages. I will not let you exterminate them, as we agreed earlier you would not do.”

“These men are my escort, not an army,” Rutilius retorted. “Five cohorts are enough to deter raiders, brigands, and the like. One cannot conquer an entire tribe with so little.”

Ricgard smiled wolfishly. “From what I have seen, Rutilius, you could,” he laughed. “But you speak in riddles. Why do you come, Roman?”

“The Bructeri are kingless, as you said to me last we met,” Rutilius said. “Udo is dead by my hand, and Ulfrich fled. Rome does not wish for another hostile tribe to move into the vacant lands of the Bructeri. That would bring much war. To avoid this, I bring the Bructeri a king.” He gestured to the man to his left.

Ricgard looked now over anew the man beside the Roman and recognized him. Segestes. Of course! He remembered him well from the councils with Horobard the Chatti, and favorably. He had thought the man dead, yet he lived.

“Much of my tribe has been conquered this summer past,” Segestes said. “Including the area in which my father was king. I have no home, no inheritance, and no wish to be a lackey of the Romans. My fate was dark, until Marek here told me of this tribe, and how they had been misled for many years. He offered me his support in becoming their king, with no obligations. I was to be a free man, a king that my noble blood promised. I accepted, and am here to claim the kingship, if the Bructeri will have me.”

Ricgard knew Segestes well. He was a bit overcome by the obvious friendship between the Roman and the Suevi, but he knew it borne of respect- much like the mutual respect he and the Roman shared. Maybe that too could one day turn to friendship.

“Segestes would make a fine king,” Ricgard agreed. “But he is a warrior. He has not much with which to make war- far too little to go to war against your people, Roman, and I would not wish him to make war on mine. Does Segestes still follow the ways of war?”

The Suevi shook his head. “Only if war is brought to me will I levy a warhost and march,” he promised. “As you said, there is little enough in this tribe with which to wage war- even with two thousand Suevi leavening the warhost. No, Ricgard, my war-fighting days have ended.”

The Chauci nodded deeply. “As have mine. I have no objection to Segestes inheriting the kingship over the Bructeri.”

“Nor does Rome,” Rutilius said. “Now that we agree he is the best man, let us proceed to present him to the Bructeri, who must ultimately accept him.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Aulus Caecina was dressed up again. The summer heat was fading, and the evenings quite pleasant again. People were returning from their summer houses, bringing with them life and bustle. One of the people returning was Titus Clodius Eprius Marcellus, henchman of Vespasian and the man he had helped roll up the summer’s conspiracy. Eprius was celebrating his return to Rome in style, with a luxurious dinner for his friends. And one of the invited men was Aulus Caecina.

He arrived early as was his custom. Eprius lived in a large house on the Esquiline. Like most Esquiline homes of wealthy senators, it was a bit less in quality than the homes on the Aventine, but more than lavish compared to the houses of the Quirinal. It had a large garden behind, a small one in front, and the entire premises were surrounded by the standard wall. It was painted white against the summer heat, making it no more or less distinguishable from its neighbors. It was the inside which did that.

Eprius had a fresco or a mosaic upon every wall, most Greek in fashion. They relayed his tastes in the art of Lycia, where he had served three years as governor. Between the frescoes and mosaics hung Persian carpets behind pedestals bearing busts of his ancestors, or golden idols from the East, or simply silver bowls bearing fruit. There was a long table in the center of the receiving room which was heaped high with delicacies. His tastes in food were extraordinarily Epicurean and hedonistic. If a bit of meat or fruit was considered a delicacy somewhere in the world, it was on his table that night. Pomegranates, sugared dates, and dried figs contested with smoked fish, raw oysters and steamed crab for attention. There were sweetmeats, and pork in spicy sauce. Fruits and breads intermingled in the spaces between the meats and fishes.

There were already some guests inside, early birds who like Eprius were culinary snobs. They wanted to ensure that whatever was their favorite was on the table and they could enjoy it before it was gone. Caecina paid them no mind, instead searching for his host. He found him in a corner, whispering with Nonius Clacus, a senator from Capua who was said to be one of the advisors to the Imperator. The elderly Nonius had evidently seen Caecina waiting and decided he would rather dine than listen to more of Eprius’s tales of conspiracy and absent heroism.

“You throw a nice dinner,” Aulus said in greeting. “I can honestly say I have never before seen such luxury.”

Eprius grinned broadly, and hugged the slender man before him briefly. “Thank you, my friend. The recent demise of my enemy with no heir has left his property unattended. It was auctioned off yesterday- and I bought most of it for a fraction of its worth. And to top it off, I was appointed consul suffectus. Thus I share this unexpected bonus with my friends.”

Caecina smiled. “I am glad to be counted as one of them,” he said earnestly.

“You would be the guest of honor had you not so tactfully withdrawn your name from the investigation,” Eprius said, gloating inadvertently. “It was your advice that led me to uncover the traitor in our midst. I was made consul for it, along with Quintus Cerealis who did something while in Britannia that saved the day for Cordinus Gallicus in Germania. I am not sure exactly what, but I do not care.”

“Quintus Cerealis is Vespasian’s brother in law,” Caecina said flatly. “He needs only fart downwind and the Imperator would reward him with whatever he wanted.”

Eprius coughed as he choked on an oyster. “That was rude and uncalled for,” he gasped. “But funny... And true. You, on the other hand, have to move mountains and conquer strange new lands in order to even have a chance at impressing him. And that will not happen without a command.”

“I will not get a command,” Caecina conceded, “at least not from him. But his sons are not as bitter, and the younger one is a good friend. I intend on demonstrating my ability and loyalty to the elder one as well, so that when the inevitable happens, I may offer my services and have them accepted for a change.”

“You have made a friend of me this summer,” Eprius admitted. “And I enjoy good relations with the Imperial Family. I shall help you, Aulus Caecina, just as you have helped me. Together we shall get you the command you so richly deserve. Inviting you tonight was just a part of it. Mingle with the friends of the Imperator and impress them with your charm, my friend. Word will get back to Titus Flavius Vespasianus in good time.”

“I know, my friend, I must be patient.”

Eprius stuffed a small roll into his mouth and chewed. He waved at another guest, then turned back to Caecina “Have you heard the news from the north?”

“Gnaeus Cornelius Clemens won a huge victory and conquered the Agri Decumates,” Caecina repeated. It was only the fortieth time this week someone had asked him that.

“No no,” Eprius said with a wave of his fat hand. “Not the mundane news. The news of Germania Inferior? Have you heard?”

Caecina shook his head.

“This stays between us, yes?” Eprius asked. When Caecina agreed, he continued, “Cordinus Gallicus marched into a trap. Again. Yes, again- like the blunder he made last year. Well, this time he managed to get trapped with all four legions by a hundred thousand Germani.”

My legions! Gone! Caecina almost cried.

“Anyway, his quaestor was left behind with a dozen or so auxilia vexillations. Do you know what that young fool did next? He went and got himself trapped in Vetera with all of the auxilia. Then the gods smiled, and he managed to break out, cross the river, attack the one hundred thousand Germani, and drive them off. Him, with a dozen auxilia. Isn’t that a laugh?”

“More likely he exaggerated the numbers to make himself look good, while Cordinus broke out on his own,” Caecina replied. “What does the Senate believe?”

“They have not yet been told,” Eprius said. “They were shown the dispatches from Cordinus relating his progress, then of his return. Nobody really knows what happened in between. Titus Flavius will not let them see the dispatches of the quaestor- too incredible, too much fantasy, tastes of cowardice. He trusts that quaestor as much as he does you, I am afraid.”

Caecina’s mind was racing. He knew Cordinus’s ability- or rather lack of it. And he knew the numbers the Germani could field if they united. One hundred thousand was on the low end of his scale, not the high end. If they had invested four legions, a small group of highly-professional auxilia attacking from outside the circle could definitely break the mob. No, things happened there as was reported- whether the fool on the throne of Caesar believed it or not. Either way, his chance of earning a command in Germania was gone. It was time to move onto the next plan.

That idea would have to wait. A shock of black-dyed hair was slinking through the crowd, and he caught it from the corner of his eye. It was her, the lady from the theatre, the one with the high connections. He excused himself from Eprius with a grunt and moved to intercept the woman.

She was well-dressed in white linen, and adorned with a brooch, a bracelet, and a modest necklace. All pieces were silver, to set off the whiteness of her skin and contrast vividly against the darkness of her hair. Her hair was not piled high as was the fashion, but rather set into curls framing her face with longer locks embracing her neck in a gentle grip. In this light, Caecina could see the red highlights bringing life and depth to her hair.

“I see you are a friend of Titus Clodius as well,” she said, noticing his approach.

“Ah, the gracious lady from the theatre,” Caecina said, lifting her hand to kiss is gently. “I never got the chance to properly thank you for allowing me to see the play without the constantly shifting about.”

She smiled at the reference to her piled-high hair that night and her comments that she would be constantly in conversation. “Pomponia and I talked quite a bit indeed. I am glad you were able to enjoy the performance without our interruption.”

“To be honest,” Caecina said with his winning smile, “I was already distracted. I spent more time paying attention to the audience and to the lovely ladies behind me than I did the performance.”

“You did not miss much,” she said with a dismissive wave. “It was an awful performance.”

“I would not say it was a total waste of an evening,” he countered.

She gasped, then laughed. “Oh, you are a bad one,” she giggled. “And I could tell you were not there to watch the play. Orphelius and Danäe? Definitely not a classic. It’s script will be in the rubbish before the summer is over. So why were you there?”

She had expected to be flattered with a confession that he was there to meet her. First the theatre, then at a nobleman’s party? Coincidences are for fools, and she was no fool. Yet the words he spoke rang true for a senator exiled from politics, which she knew him to be.

“I came to the show because I knew those who advise those who make decisions would be there,” he said honestly. His own research into her was not as thorough. He knew only she was involved with somebody important- important enough that he knew better than to get too close. He was into making friends in high places now, not cuckolding them. “I wish to regain a political life. Doing the things those in power do will bring me into contact with them, which increases my chances. It was merely politics.”

“I have some influence with the decision-makers,” the woman replied. “I will definitely mention your interests, Aulus Caecina. Maybe together we can get your political career back on track.”

Aulus was impressed. “You know my name, and that I once had a career. I am impressed.”

“Your name was easy to discover,” she replied, then her voice turned cold. “Your career was less so. You held a number of low-level posts, mostly military, before being assigned as quaestor to Galba in Hispana. He sent you as a legate to a German legion, the IV Macedonica. From there, you aided Fabius Valens in persuading Vitellius to revolt against Galba- knowing your charm, I would probably say Valens used you to persuade Vitellius, but that does not matter. Vitellius made you consul- quite a jump from a simple legate, over the entire cursus honorum in fact, and since then you joined the Flavians and have not been called upon to serve. Do I have my facts straight?” she asked quaintly, “There was a military career but never a political one, despite the office you held. Sort of like Young Marius. You remember his fate, do you not?”

Caecina was taken aback. The woman knew much of him, and so succinctly. In effect, she said his career was nothing. Then the horror peeled away and let Truth stand firm. The woman was right- he had never served any political office save consul, and that at the grace of Vitellius.

“I am at a loss,” he said with a slight bow. “Your knowledge astounds me. But rest assured, dear lady, I do not intend to be a Young Marius. I intend to climb the cursus honorum honorably. But to do so, I must be able to start, which I have not been able to do. Thus the theater, and this gathering, and anywhere else where the circles of power meet. I shall attend, I shall flatter, I shall lick their arses if need be, and I shall have my career.”

The woman laughed, then hugged him. “You are quite the little soldier,” she said, only half mockingly. “And a man who knows what he wants and lets nothing- not even his pride- stand in the way. I like you, Aulus Caecina, and I shall help you.”

He thanked her, but added, “I am again at a loss. To whom shall I send my thanks? My slave could not find out much about you, other than you live somewhere out beyond the Quirinal and are friends with Pomponia.” The tone he used in naming the other woman let her know that he knew of Pomponia’s trade, yet did not consider it repulsive as did some wealthy men.

“I am Caenis,” she said. “A freedwoman. And I do live on the Quirinal, on the downslope near the Nomentana Port in a petite house with an herb garden behind. Pomponia is a friend I met through mutual interests when my man went and married another. She helped me through that bitter time, and without having to take up her trade to survive. Now I have a decent income from business- enough to let me keep my house. And a lover, of course.”

“Ah, the dreaded lover,” Caecina said bitterly. “A married man who despises his stupid wife, thus comes to you for bright conversation and adult company.”

“Close,” she laughed. “I do have a lover, but he is a widower, too. He does seek me out for adult conversation- he so despises those with whom he must deal every day. I pick up his mood, which makes life easier for all.”

Eprius was motioning for Caecina to come, a summons he wished to ignore, but Caenis had seen it as well.

“Your host beckons,” she says. “He has powerful friends. I would answer his summons, were I you.”

“Alas, I must,” Caecina agreed. “But I would like to talk more with you. You have such a delightful way of seeing clearly.”

She laughed as she pushed him toward Eprius. “That’s another thing my lover loves about me as well. Good luck, Aulus Caecina. May we meet again.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 08-29-2011 @ 04:52 AM).]

Zardozhotep
Ashigaru
(id: Kahotep)
posted 08-29-11 03:13 AM EDT (US)     26 / 84       
I can't really critique the story in depth without reading everything that came before it, Terikel (although so far I really like your prose), but this jumped out at me:
Plan B would have to wait.
Somehow this sounds too much like modern slang to me. I would write "the alternative plan" or something like that.

Everything is better with dinosaurs.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 08-29-11 04:54 AM EDT (US)     27 / 84       
Given that the guy thinking it used to be a general and is still a military man of sorts, and those men tend to think in terms of plans and attacks, I did not see the harm.

Looking back, maybe a bit too modern. Good catch. I fixed it to something more 'his' style.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 08-29-11 10:29 AM EDT (US)     28 / 84       
Nicely done, Terikel.

It looks like Caecina might get a command and the Bructeri have themselves a new king!

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 09-05-11 02:00 AM EDT (US)     29 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Every day, a scarred and bitter man had walked past a covered bucket near the Running Deer Inn and looked inside it. Onlookers thought him maybe a scavenger looking for the dregs of wine or beer from the tavern, or a gentle giant looking to free trapped mice from an otherwise long and painful death by starvation. Some took pity on him, others merely ignored him. Some loathed him. None cared for him, or what he did. After a while, he became just another bitter man roaming the streets.

Until this day, when he fished a tablet from the bucket. Then he moved with a purpose.

He entered another inn by the waterfront. It was a slovenly place, but one where others of his kind could gather in relative peace. The vigilies avoided the waterfront unless in bands of fifty or more, and even then only when absolutely necessary.

“Burgis,” he said, handing over the tablet. “For you.”

A gnarled man with a handsome face took the tablet. It was sealed with a generic blob of wax, which told him little. He broke it, and opened the tablet.

Etched across the surface of wax inside was a set of paragraphs detailing appointments and itineraries, followed by two words.

Strike now.

Burgis looked up at his little group. “We have a job to do, and little time in which to do it. Gather your weapons, boys, and pack your shit. We will not be coming back here.”

He was almost correct.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Segestes, Ricgard, and Rutilius rode together, while their warhosts marched side by side in three columns. Albius was out front, scouting with his ala and riders from the Suevi and Chauci who acted as guides and interpreters. Albius came rushing back.

“You will want to see this yourself, Marcus,” the cavalryman reported. Then he gestured to the two kings. “Maybe these blokes as well.”

The forest opened into a clearing ahead. Before they got there, they came across twenty bodies lying in the forest. The bodies were clad in Bructeri colors, and each died a savage death.

“Freshly killed,” Ricgard muttered. “I thought we were agreed- no bloodshed.”

“You heard me give those very orders to my scouts this morning,” Rutilius replied.

“Yet men are dead,” retorted the king.

“Not by our hand,” Rutilius replied indignantly. “My scouts follow Roman ways. Obedience to orders is prime.”

“Paramount,” Ricgard corrected. He dismounted to check the dead. “But I think your men without blame. These died within the hour, but those wounds there are axe wounds- your men have no axes.”

“The answer lies ahead,” Rutilius said, pointing toward where his cavalry commander waited impatiently.

Ricgard mounted and followed. By the treeline, the four riders encountered the other scouts who were maintaining position out of sight of the clearing, but from where they could see what was going on. And there was something going on. Tables were set out and heaped with food. But nobody stood by the tables- instead they stood on the walls and rooftops- watching two bands of men do battle.

“The killers of those men,” Rutilius commented. “Still bloody-handed.”

But Ricgard was no longer listening. He spurred his steed forward, forcing the others and the scouts out into the open to follow him. The combat stopped abruptly, with the two bands falling in side by side at the approach of Roman cavalry.

“What is going on here?” Ricgard bellowed. “Why do Bructeri battle each other to the death?”

“I am the king,” cried the leader of one band. “This obstinate fool thinks to take the title from me, so we decide the question by a trial by combat.”

“He lies,” replied the other. “I am the king. I was here first. This one tries to usurp my kingship!”

Ricgard was confused. “The tribe has no king,” he exclaimed. “Udo is dead, and Ulfrich banished. There has not yet been a council of elders to choose another.”

“There is not one needed, Chauci,” the first replied. “Veleda has spoken- by the next full moon, which is today, a king will come here to lead our tribe back from the brink of Hel’s Pit.”

“And I was here first,” cried the second. “I fulfilled the prophecy. You try to steal it from me.”

“Veleda again,” Rutilius muttered. Then he raised his voice to be heard over the shouting. “Who says those were her words?”

“Veleda herself came back to the tribe once Ulfrich was banished,” cried a voice from the village. “She said on this day, a king will come. Thus our celebration that these two ruined.”

Segestes came forward, his magnificent helmet on his head. His armor shone like the sun, and his cape fluttered dark red in the breeze. “Have any of you royal blood?”

Neither man nodded, or in other ways replied in the affirmative. “The king before the Twins left no issue, and Veleda refused to return as Queen. All she said was that on this day a king would come to this village. So we battle to resolve which of us that will be.”

“No royal blood,” Segestes repeated. “That makes you both usurpers. The Witch spoke of neither of you. She spoke of me, for royal blood flows in my veins.”

The two noblemen closed ranks and lifted their swords. Their men behind them moved to flank their leaders.

“You are no Bructeri- your word and blood matter little here,” they replied. “Our men will cut you and your little band to pieces.”

“Little band, eh?” Segestes laughed. He drew his sword and lifted it on high, pumping it up and down as if stabbing clouds. The two nobles followed the sword with their eyes until movement on the ground drew their attention to the treeline. From there emerged rank after rank of Suevi warriors, followed by five cohorts of Romans flanked by twice their number of Chauci warriors. Segestes watched the paling of their faces before laughing again. “Not so little, eh?”

The two men and their warband- maybe a hundred souls all told- watched in horror as the army approached to stand behind their king. Slowly, they lowered their weapons, then sank to their knees in submission.

Segestes took their submission gracefully. “You acknowledge my claim, as is your duty. Arise, nobles, and join together. We have a tribe to rebuild, and cannot afford to waste any more warriors on this foolishness.”

The two men rose slowly, awed by the Suevi and their topknots, but mostly by their numbers. As they rose, the villagers started cheering and exiting their village to greet the new king.


The Romans were a small castle upon the clearing, listening to the festivities just a few hundred paces away. They were not invited, though they did not expect to be. Nor did they want to be- Germanic warriors would be guzzling beer in large quantities there, and any fights might lead to a full-scale battle nobody wanted. Over by the western edge of the clearing, the Chauci were likewise making a camp and staying in it, for much the same reason as the Romans. Ricgard wished to stay among his men, until he heard that the question of the new king was indeed settled before marching back to his own lands. Yet he was not to remain in his camp. Segestes requested his presence by the town square to show the Bructeri that he had the support of their neighbor and thus crush any hope of others claiming his title.

Rutilius did not want to go into the village either. He knew his presence would detract from the glory of the new king, and this was to be the day of Segestes, not Rome. Yet he knew he had to go, and go in armor, with but a few Batavians as an escort for much the same reason that Ricgard must go. It was a risk he was taking- the Bructeri were no friends of his- but it was a chance at peace that he could not in good conscience ignore. So he suited up, gathered an escort of ten men, and headed to the village while Arrius kept a strong watch on duty at the encampment.

The center of the village was filled with men and women of the Bructeri- but by far more women than men. Their men had paid a steep price in supporting the twin kings, and that price almost exterminated the tribe as a whole. Segestes is going to have a lot of work to do, or these people will disappear, Chauci and Roman support or not. All quieted down as Segestes mounted a table and beckoned the two arrivals forward. Once Ricgard and Rutilius were at the table, he lifted his gaze to the crowd.

“Your seeress has foreseen my coming,” he announced. “And here I am. She also foresaw me leading this tribe away from the path of extinction, and back into the good graces of Wodan All-Father. If the one is true, then the other must be as well. Thus I stand before you, nobles and people of the Bructeri, and ask once again for your approval of my claim.

“I am Segestes, son of King Ido of the Suevi. Royal blood flows in my veins as it does that of my father. True, I am Suevi, but the Norns have brought me here to this place to be your king. They did this through trials by combat- against this Roman here. We both lived through the battle, as the Norns decreed, and formed a friendship, again as they decreed. That friendship will not stop me from taking up the sword and francisca against the Romans if that is also decreed, but it will serve to give me pause before doing so- unlike your previous kings. I will not seek war- the Bructeri have seen far too much of that in the past years. Instead, I intend to build upon my personal friendship with this Roman kinglet by asking the Romans for lasting peace by which both nations may prosper. Roman, how say you?”

Rutilius knew the gravity of the situation. Segestes would win his crown or lose his tribe should he give the wrong answer. Yet he knew he must give a truthful one. “Rome would be pleased to have a peaceful border with this tribe. Our differences arose from the actions of two men- Udo and Ulfrich. One is now dead, and the other banished. We have retrieved the Eagles stolen by the underhanded murder of surrendered legions, and have collected the debts owed with interest. Ulfrich no longer leads the Bructeri, so his deeds are now to be paid by his own blood. Father Time will tell if this truce lasts- but I can speak for Rome when I say Rome has no further reason to pursue war against this tribe. Thus let there be peace between our peoples.”

Segestes nodded. Nicely played, Marek. You pinned the blame on the former kings, while you left the tribe itself almost blameless. You also leave yourself blameless if the Eagle King makes war upon us anyway. Well done, indeed. He had expected no less. He turned to the Chauci.

“The Chauci also share a border with us,” the candidate king continued. “We have been allied with the Chauci since the Great War a few years ago. Many times, Chauci and Bructeri have shed blood together in common cause. I would keep our alliance strong, that we both may prosper. How say the Chauci?”

Ricgard replied in a booming voice, “We Chauci and the Bructeri have been allies in the past, under the twins, who deceived us. Now a bold man of true royal blood will have the friendship between our tribes built upon a solid foundation of trust and mutual prosperity. This appeals to the Chauci. Thus we say ‘Aye’, Segestes, let that friendship once born of deceit become a true friendship, to be built upon that trust we share.”

Segestes faced the nobles and elders of the Bructeri who had gathered in the village for this moment. “You have heard from our neighbors. There will be peace, if we wish it. This is the peace I bring to the Bructeri, if you accept me as king. What say ye?”

The noblemen nodded and whispered among themselves until one elder rose to stand before the king.

“Segestes of the Suevi, the Bructeri accept your blood and your devotion. We would be honored to have you as our king, with the peace you bring and the honor that accompanies it.”

Segestes nodded deeply. “Then, lords, as my first decree, I declare this celebration to be officially open!”

Those gathered cheered mightily. Amphora of wine from Gaul and vats of beer from the surrounding villages were opened, and the festivities began in earnest. In the tumult of joy, both Ricgard and Rutilius slipped away through the south gates to return to their respective camps.

Segestes was now fully installed as king, and both he and his men would be enjoying a Homecoming the likes of which would probably see the village population double within nine months. Rutilius did not care- he had other things on his mind. Veleda had returned- and refused to rule the tribe which once considered her a queen.

Why?

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 09-05-11 09:06 AM EDT (US)     30 / 84       
Why indeed. I wonder what the tablet by saying Strike now......hmm we'll soon find out.

I enjoyed the installment!

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 09-12-11 02:02 AM EDT (US)     31 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The march home was rather pleasant. The leaves were beginning to turn, and in the fields, the wheat was ripening. Where there was grass or hay lining the road, the Batavians let their mounts graze. There was no hurry. Why should there be? The tribes over there had been taught a painful lesson- they will not come across anytime soon. Closer, the Bructeri now had a king who was a fast friend to Rome- and an even closer friend to the quaestor the Batavians guarded. Some of them had even found wives among the decimated tribe where women now outnumbered the men by a factor of six to one. And atop all else, the quaestor now had three weeks of well-earned rest awarded to him- what remained of the six he had requested.

All of this made for slow-going. The Batavian Guards were happy, and their lord content with his accomplishments this summer. So when Novaesium was on the horizon, he made the decision to pop in. It would probably be the last time he saw his friend Gnaeus Vipsanius Messala, who was due to be rotated back to Rome for political office. He was of age to become a quaestor himself, and had the connections and the blood to make a good go of it. Having served the Imperator’s cause well in granting the victory of Vitellius at Bedriacum, he was almost a shoe-in. So Rutilius stopped at Novaesium in a decision that would haunt his the rest of his life.

The VI Victrix was not at home. It was in the field, having had its losses from the summer’s fighting replaced with new recruits from Greece and Sicilia. The boys were legionaries, but lacked the necessary teamwork and bonding that made the Roman legion such a battle machine. Messala had his men on forced marches, followed by camp-building, followed again by a march, and then by a mock battle against auxilia. The legionary messenger reported the legion begin nearby, so Rutilius, the Batavians, and three turmae of Tauriana cavalry went off to find them and evaluate the exercises.

“Publius Arrius sent me a letter,” Messala said after the greetings were exchanged and the Batavians ran off to watch the Tauriana cavalry form up for their exercises. “He said you went back across the river.”

Rutilius nodded, then told of Segestes, his promise, and convincing Cordinus to let him go.

“Six weeks, eh?” Messala gasped. “Well, no man in this army will say that you have not earned a break. But Marcus,” he added in a serious tone, “you really should be more careful with your promises.”

Rutilius nodded. Both men knew how far Rutilius would go to keep a promise. He had endured crucifixion in rescuing the Cananefate prince he had promised to keep safe, and before that, his promise to Mucianus to support Cerealis led to his becoming a legate in the army heading north from Rome five years ago. He had been on-hand in Rome to lead that army due to a promise to Mucianus to look after the son of Vespasian- Domitianus was trapped in Vitellian Rome. And he had gotten into the tent of Mucianus following a promise he made to the Cananefate. Every time Rutilius made a promise, he shook the world to keep it.

“So what are your plans for the remaining three weeks of your leave?” Messala asked.

“Go home,” Rutilius said. “Oversee the farmstead where Claudia and I live, play with the boys, avoid little Decius when he is in one of his moods. You know, the usual.”

“Is the lad sleeping through the nights yet?”

“I think so,” Rutilius said with a shrug. “I haven’t been home since you boys went across the river. That was three months ago.”

“Stay with us for a few days, Marcus,” Messala pleaded. “You have no hurry, and your family can wait a few days. They’ll still be there, and with all the traveling you have done in the past few months, you could use a few nights of relative peace in a Roman castrum to catch your strength. Besides, the boys here would love to have you stay as our guest of honor, for what you did for us over there.”

“I had planned on spending one night with your legion,” Rutilius said. “And saying good bye to you in case I am in Vetera when you rotate back to Rome.”

“I notice you no longer say ‘rotate home’,” Messala said with a grin. “Does that mean you consider this horrid backwater your home now, and not Rome, where you and I are both senators?”

“Rome is my home,” Rutilius countered. “But this place... It grows on me too. I am at home in either realm, but I serve Rome- no matter where I am stationed.”

“You are no longer a legionary, or a centurion, or even a tribune or legate,” Messala pointed out. “When Rome relieves you of duty, you can muster out of service honorably, and stay, if you so desire.”

Rutilius nodded. “I was thinking of that. My life is here now. I have a lovely wife, three strong sons- the youngest of which has the strongest lungs of any young Roman I ever met. I have made friends here, and have both lands and people that need my attention. I have little left in Rome- my father moved to Tarracina, my brothers and cousins have their own lives outside the city. Even my friends from my childhood are no longer in the city- Marcus Salvius is in the X Gemina at Noviomagus, and his father is a praefectus camporum with the II Adiutrix in Britannia. So why go back to Rome when my life has moved here?”

“Good reasons,” Messala admitted. “But not all of your friends have moved away. This one,” he said, jerking a thumb to his own chest, “will be in Rome.”

“On the Aventine,” Rutilius laughed. “I grew up in the Subura. In Rome we are worlds apart. Only here are we equals.”

“That is piss prattle. You know me better than that. My house is always open to the man who saved my legion from annihilation, as is my invitation to join us for a few days. You look like you could use some rest, even if it is on a bag stuffed with straw.”

Rutilius yawned. Messala was right- he needed true rest, which he would probably not get at home with a wife he had not pleasured since June or a baby who still did not sleep through the night. That made his decision easy. “I will spend a few days with the Victrix, Gnaeus, and see if your primus pilus still has the gift of turning boys into proper soldiers.”

“Do you hear that, Top?” Messala cried to his top centurion. “Marcus Rutilius is going to be our guest for the next few days- to evaluate your performance as the Army’s Best Trainer.”

The centurion saluted amid a rising cheer as the VI Victrix rejoiced in the honor of hosting the man who earned the Grass Crown saving their collective asses over there.

Rutilius smiled at the ovation. It felt good to be with the legions again, if only for a few days.

He would later regret the decision to stay, but for the moment he was content with it.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The August sun was sweltering. In a cloudless sky, it was blazing. Most people who could left Rome, heading for their upland summer homes. Others, that will say, those who were not senators or of the First Class settled for trips to Cumae or Ostia, or other coastal locations where they could wash the heat away by bathing in the sea. Only the poor, or those with interests, remained in the city.

Caecina was one of these. He had donated a rather large sum of denarii to the reconstruction of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, in the form of requiring some of his clients, a stone-cutter and two gardeners to be specific, to offer their services in his name. He had pondered stopping by the house of Mallius earlier, in an attempt to reconcile if possible, but he had heard in the market that the man was not home. His steward, buying dinner for the household, said he was in the south. So Caecina went on with his original goal- to check on his clients.

Sulas and Cleion, the two Greek freedmen gardeners, were setting bushes and hedges into the green area surrounding the temple, while Zaphon was polishing the column heads. All three were at work, along with a hundred other craftsmen from around the city- most being ex-legionaries he had helped get work. The men labored in the burning sun, but at least it was paid labor. It was hot, but a gentle breeze that could not reach into the bowels of the city swept over and cooled the Capitoline and its temples. Here, the heat was bearable.

Having checked his clients, he wandered the hilltop. There was a temple to Juno Moneta on the far cusp- which doubled as the Treasury of Rome. In earlier days, bronze tablets inscribed with laws passed in the Forum were stored there, though since then those tablets have been stored in Sulla’s Tabularium laying between the hill’s base and the Forum Romanum. Closer to the temple under construction was the Area Capitolina, a large open square- which Sulas and Cleion were in the process of adorning. It was here that Caecina rested, admiring the view over the city that gave him birth and a glorious childhood, only to crush his adult future.

“Ave, Aulus,” said a voice behind him.

Caecina jumped back from the edge and whirled about. It was Caenis, the woman from the theatre and from the party of Epirus.

“Hello, Caenis,” he said, returning the greeting. “Have you come to check on the construction as well?”

“Then you know?”

He nodded. “Eprius told me.”

“It is nice to see that overstuffed fool is useful for something after all,” she said with a slight laugh. “So as you can see, I am a good friend to have.”

He nodded again. Caenis was indeed a good friend to have. She was friends with all of the people with whom he wanted to be friends, and her influence upon them was enormous. Of course, knowing her benefactor, it could be no other way.

“Yes, I have heard,” he answered carefully. “I have learned even more about you than what Eprius knew. He knew of your sharp mind and of course, about your benefactor. But he did not know that you once served Antonia Minor, who died forty years ago, or that you were her slave, freed posthumously in her will. That makes you fifteen years older than me, at the least- you have aged very well, my lady. I had thought you my age- almost forty.”

“I will see my fifty-seventh autumn in a few months,” she said with a smile. “And I thank you for the compliment. I work hard to retain my illusion of youth. It is nice to know I can still occasionally turn the head of a handsome man.”

“Your wrinkles are few, and shallow,” he said, “and what gray grows in your hair is well-hidden. You have a lithe, trim body and what looks like firm breasts. You keep active, as evidenced by your walk to this hilltop, and that together with eating daintily- you hardly touched the sumptuous feast Eprius laid out- keeps one slim, taut, and fit.”

“You had some of the fish and much bread, but hardly any meat or shellfish,” she replied. “And lots of fruits, I recall. Such a diet, combined with your obvious program of walks and gymnastics on the training fields, keeps you young and fit as well. I had mistaken you for a man ten years younger, on his way to the wars, and not returned from them.”

“I wish to be off to war again, thus I stay fit, try to make the right friends, and pray for luck, success, and a good war.”

“What is it about war that drives the young men so?” she asked. “It cannot be the glory- for only a select few other than the general ever receive that. It cannot be for the wealth, for only generals return with wealth won in battle. Fame, too, is a general’s prerogative. So why, Aulus? Why would the young men want to go off to war, when they gain nothing for it?”

“Ah, but we do, dear Caenis,” he replied. “We gain experience, and among ourselves we recognize feats of bravery. And with brave experiences, and the right connections made on the battlefield, we can rise to become generals ourselves.”

“And that is your wish?”

“I wish to command in Germania,” he said. “My legion was there, though it is no longer. The IV Macedonica. It was disbanded after the Batavian Revolt a few years ago, then reconstituted and renamed the IV Flavia Firma. Like my legion, I too am firm in my service to the Flavians. But the legion was disbanded. I would restore its pride, under its new name. I would show the Old Owl that we who served Vitellius proudly can also serve him, and erase the taint with which we are stained.”

“And this can only be done in Germania?” she asked.

He laughed. “That can be done anywhere, my lady. But Germania I know- its dark forests, wild warriors, rough honor, and fabulous women. I know German tactics, their strengths, their weaknesses. I can win glory anywhere, Caenis, but I can do it best against a foe I know. The Germans, I know.”

“Pomponia is throwing a feast tonight,” Caenis said. “For her patrons. There will be a lot of powerful men there, some married, some bachelors. You might want to attend.”

“And be seen as a patron of her services?” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think that will help my career at all.”

She turned to face him. Her anger flashed, revealing a strangely monstrous side of her he had never before glimpsed. Her teeth resembled fangs, and her long, narrow face that of a wolf. Then the vision was gone, and she was once again the charming tart from the theater, though her voice was still arctic. “Her patrons are all known, and will be there, fool. You will be there as my guest, not hers, so you can meet these men and learn their dirty secrets. This will help you, especially as they know little about an ex-consul who was fired as a quaestor and never served as either aedile or praetor.”

Then her tone changed. She was sweet again. “You have never married, Aulus. And you are a man in his prime. A man has needs. So there is no shame in visiting a woman whose task it is to relieve those needs. Besides, she seldom services her patrons herself anymore- and her stable is filled with some of the finest fillies in Rome.”

She cocked her head toward one shoulder. “Unless, of course, you prefer boys?”

The snarl upon his face told her enough.

“One has to ask,” she replied calmly. “Forty, unmarried. It could be. I shall send over a slave to your house this afternoon. Use her well, that your urges and the like are out of your body by dinner. I would not like you to insult your way out of the party. That would probably kill any chance at a career you have left.”

She turned, dismissing him with a wave, and walked back to where her slaves had her palanquin waiting. She climbed in, closing the curtains, and barked a command. The four men surrounding it lifted, jogged a little turn, then set off down the hill towards the Quirinal and her home.

Shit, thought Caecina. First Domitian, and now this tart. Each was trying to establish mastery over him for their own ends. Then again, each held the key to power, and he needed that key very, very much.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 09-12-11 05:20 AM EDT (US)     32 / 84       
I think I can see how Rutillus and Caecina will be interlinked......but I wonder what will Rutillus regret?

Once again an intriguing installment.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Bulba Khan
Ashigaru
(id: stormer)
posted 09-14-11 06:33 PM EDT (US)     33 / 84       
Masterful writing, always awaiting more terikel.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 09-19-11 03:49 AM EDT (US)     34 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Gaius Valerius Flaccus climbed the slope by the Campus Agrippae toward the Quirinal with leaden feet. His father’s home was just ahead, a few hundred paces more and he would be home. His trip to the north had indeed given him a new outlook on his noble wife- much as his father had predicted. Yet Gaius Valerius Flaccus Senior had no idea of the sort of emotion his son would learn. It was not the appreciation of a proper Roman wife after viewing the power-mad antics of Messalina.

Demetrius was in the doorway, returning from errands for the kitchen, by the looks of the sack of vegetables in his hand. The slave saw the young master arriving, and held the portal open for him.

“Welcome home, dominus,” the slave said with a broad smile. “Polixa is making a stew tonight. Your favorite, as if she knew you would be here tonight.”

Flaccus smiled wanly. “Is my wife in the house?”

Demetrius nodded. “She has your son repeating stanzas from your work- but you did not hear that from me. It is to be a surprise.”

Flaccus let the wan smile grow wide, then fade. His son was learning his poetry, a true Valerius. Then the bloodline of his son brushed away the thought, replacing it with the more sinister thought that the mother was trying her best to make the boy a Valerius Flaccus, instead of the seed of a ruthless magistrate.

Words failed him, so he simply went into the house. The two Gallic maids took his traveling robes and dirty clothes for washing, while the third poured and brought him a draught of the latest wine to come from his father’s estates in Etruria. He accepted the wine, drank it in a single draught, then retired to his room until wakened for dinner.

Licinia was properly attired, as he knew she would be. She had on a long gown of white linen that complemented her fair complexion wonderfully, with her long red hair piled high upon her head in the latest fashion, with two thick strands curling down to frame her face. She took her place at the foot of the table, occupying the lounging sofa almost fully. Little Gaius was in a basket by her head, though it was his nap time so he was peaceful. Polixa placed the stew into bowls and served first her dominus, then her domina before gracefully retiring.

Licinia chatted up a storm between bites. Somehow, while never leaving the house, she had acquired the most fascinating array of gossip and rumors he had ever heard. Who was cheating whom, who was philandering, who was adulterous, who was secretly in love with the latest public favorite of the gladiators. And politically she was an animal- who bribed whom for what favor, how a certain dealer made a killing in the markets, which candidates were going to be nominated for office in the winter.

Through it all, Gaius barely grunted. He opened his mouth only to eat, and never raised his eyes from his food.

Licinia rolled her lovely green eyes towards the ceiling. “Really, Gaius. You, a poet, hardly speaking? You have been away- you should be regaling me with tales of Lugdunum and the roads there. Did you stop at that inn just west of Mediolanium? Sextus Lentulus there makes the best food in all of northern Italia.”

“I did not go to Lugdunum,” he said at last. He still could not look her in the eye. “I went to Patavium.”

“Patavium?” she gasped. “Why on earth would you go there?” She wanted to add, ‘to that pest-hole’ but she knew how her husband thought of women using what he considered ‘strong’ language.

“Martialis was there,” he said noncommittally. “He’s from there, you know.”

Licinia knew. Two poets, together in a city of eloquent Gauls. And his mannerism since returning became clear. He had been wined and dined, then seduced. Either by Martialis, which she doubted, or by a host of Gallic and Roman women there looking to be wooed by such a man of words. Her husband was a fine-looking man, after all. And now he returns from his rut, feeling guilty. Men were so silly.

Flaccus, for his part, peeked up occasionally at his wife. She was a strong one, brushing the memory of her rape aside to continue her life, never letting the horrid incident affect the proper performance of her matrimonial duties. Never once had she shied away from his touch, though he now understood why she never sought out his touch either. Painful reminders, which she brutally ignored. She was scarred for life, yet did not let it show.

Flaccus cursed to himself. That Rutilius... He shall pay for the abuse he inflicted upon fair Licinia. If it was the last thing he did, he would make sure that Rutilius of Germania Inferior suffered eternally and painfully for the rape of his beloved, strong Licinia.

Flaccus grunted to something she said. He did not hear it, as he was lost in his own thoughts. It did not matter. His wife was strong- that did matter. Strong, and beautiful. And proper- even if she did spoil her ill-begotten child rotten in her efforts to make him a true Valerius. Well, she would not have to suffer his touch and be reminded of her awful experience. Gunnhild, the Bructeri domestic he bought in Patavium, would tend to his physical needs, giving his wife the emotional distance she needed from the touch of a man to drive all symptoms of her experience away into that locked corner of her brain where it may one day perish.

And Gunnhild had red hair, too.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

A man ran along the edge of the open field, trying to stay low as low as possible and inside the treeline where possible. From the reactions of those observing him, only the small group of men expecting him saw his movement.

“Something is not right,” the man reported when he joined those waiting. “I saw lights in the main house and those of most of the cottages behind, but only about forty men outside.”

“Cacat,” murmured the leader of the small group. “That means our target might not be at home.”

“Or he lost very many of his precious Guards this summer,” replied the scout. “He did take on the whole warhost basically by himself.”

“Shall we pull back and try again at a later date, Burgis?” asked one of those waiting.

The leader, Burgis, thought over the situation. He was hired to do a job, a wicked job, but one that would pay him well enough to retire wealthy in his native Aquitania. But he had spent a portion of that coming wealth already hiring a ship to facilitate his escape- being caught by vengeful Germans would be detrimental to his plans, and if he and his band fled by land they would definitely be caught. He had no doubts. Hiring another ship willing to transport him on the Rhenus between Roman territory and that of wild Germania was too bloody expensive- there would be little left over if he came again another day.

“How many are on roving patrols?” he asked.

“Samnix killed two over that way about ten minutes ago. Nobody else has seen anything.”

Cacat! I hope he lost more than anticipated over there, rather than not being home. Either way, we are now committed.

“Spread the word,” he said softly, making up his mind. “We strike when the sun sinks low enough to blind those guards on the portico, as planned. Maybe our target is just being cagey- he has that reputation, or maybe he lost many Guards across the river- making our job easier. Either way, they number less than we. This is our only shot. We strike.”

The scout nodded. “I’ll spread the word.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The summer heat was dissipating, bringing Rome back to a more bearable temperature. The retreat of the heat dragged with it an influx of people. The senators and First Class returned from their summer homes to the city, and citizens from throughout Italia came to enjoy the Ludi Romani, given this year by the aediles Titus Junius Montanus and Lucius Antonius Saturinus. Both were men from formerly powerful clans that had fallen hard since their glory days, but now wished to return to their former status.

The best boxers, racers, tumblers, dancers, horsemen, and charioteers were brought in, while the food provided was to be of the highest quality. Neither aedile wished their games to be remembered as less than the best, lest they fail to be remembered in six years when they become eligible for consul. Vespasian was sure to put himself and his son as consul each year, but the Old Owl was also relatively free with handing out suffect consulships, which were the best an aspiring senator could hope for in these days.

Thus the games were on, and the people flocked to the city to watch them. People also came to talk and listen, as the city buzzed with the latest news from the edges of the Empire to the center of the world. Merchants and other travelers helped to spread the news, but there was nothing like the Ludi Romani to catch up on everything that was happening anywhere.

There was not much said about the events in Germania Inferior, as those few who knew the truth of the events up north were keeping their mouths shut- at imperial request. What word was spread through slavers and the like was of a raid by the legions, which ended well. The other events were overshadowed by the tremendous victory of Cornelius Clemens in conquering the Agri Decumates, closing the Germanic gateway to Rome permanently and building roads to cut the travel time from Patavium and Raetia to Vindonissa and Mogontiacum by two thirds.

In Britannia, Frontinus had relieved Cerealis and immediately set about reducing the troublesome heathens of the Silures and Ordovices into subservient, docile peregrini. It was going to take a while, but Frontinus had a solid plan. The first thing he did was order the II Augusta to a new base at some backwater he named Isca Augusta, then commanded the auxilia to build castella in a network around it. From there he could control the rich gold mines of nearby Dolaucothi. As for his conquest... That remained to be seen.

Spain was relatively quiet, so quiet that only a single legion was required to garrison the entire peninsula, with no auxiliaries needed. Several influential families from the area had been given the citizenship, and those Romans who had settled there were doing well in both politics and the military. One of them, Marcus Ulpius Traianus, had served under the Imperator in Judea, commanding the X Frentensis. He was now back from Mauretania, and competing with several local nobles for a new governorship somewhere in the East.

Africa and Aegyptus are looking forward to near-record harvests, providing a relief for the poor who had been close to rioting after three poor harvests in a row. Sicilia had bumper crops in those years, easing the effects of the drought affecting the southern shores of Mare Nostrum.

Only in the East were there problems. A tribe of Sarmatians called Alani, Alauni, or Halani, or some other such nonsense had raided the western provinces of the Parthians a few years back before being driven off. Now they were back, and plaguing the lands of Friend and Ally King Tiridates of Armenia- a man enthroned by Nero through the successes of Corbulo. Vespasian, who served in the east before usurping the office of Imperator, still had far to go to supplant mad Nero’s popularity in the East. He was trying, though, and dispatched Bassus to help the Armenians through constructing fortifications near Armazi to keep the marauders at bay.

The visitors to Rome gloried in the games. Local hero Titus Bessus won the first heat of the quadriga chariot races, thrilling the crowd by demolishing his competition in his last-second maneuver at the final hairpin turn. Gratius collided with the wall in trying to avoid Bessus and flipped over, giving Bessus the victory and a new title.

While the games were on, so were reunions with family members. Among the more popular activities for those returning citizens was viewing the latest changes to the city. Vespasian’s Forum was complete, turning rubbled heaps into a wonderful open-air garden complete with fountains and statues, surrounded by a colonnaded portico. At one end of the forum was the Templum Pacis, the Temple of Peace. This structure was supposed to celebrate Vespasian’s triumph over the Jew and his conquest of Jerusalem. It even housed the original seven-branched Menorah, taken as spoils from Herod’s Temple. The fact that the foundations upon which the Temple of Peace was built were from houses destroyed by his troops while seizing the city provided a stern, subtle message to all. It was not a true forum, in that the forum had no official civil function, yet it was still a place where men could walk in the shade on a hot afternoon and discuss the stability and peace the Old Owl had brought to Rome over the bones of those who would deny him.

Many also walked to the top of the Capitoline hill, where the reconstruction of the Temple of Jupiter was almost complete. The building had been put on hold for the Ludi as most of the builders were local boys and the ludi were public holidays. But soon after it would again be open to the public. Those who did not know why the building needed repairs were informed by the guards watching over the area. They were told of the Last Days of Vitellius, when Vitellian supporters drove the Imperator’s brother and family into the temple then set it afire. Only Domitianus and his cousin Sabinus escaped the flames. The others, including Vespasian’s brother, perished. The Temple would be restored in their memory, to honor Jupiter Maximus Optimus for allowing Vespasian and his men to gain vengeance for their kin’s brutal murder in this holy site.

The Imperator and his Family were attending the games, as were most of the aristocrats and senators. A few were conspicuously absent, but their absences were counted as blessings. Others were absent and not even noticed, like Caecina. He had gone to the baths that day, but left early as the press of visitors became too much for him to handle. He returned home hot, bitter, and in a foul mood to find his servants had departed. Cursing, he entered his study and poured himself a goblet of wine, drank it straight, then another, this time watered properly. He felt better. He dropped his towel over a stool and wandered into his bedroom to grab a clean tunic.

“My my,” said a seductively low voice. “One would assume you knew I was here.”

He whirled about in surprise, his eyes searching the shadows. The light that filtered in through his shutters was enough to reveal a slender woman lying in his bed, with but a sheet over her.

“Caenis,” he said, identifying the minx. “What game are you up to?”

“I am tired of games,” she said, rising. His eyes were adjusted enough to the low light to see clearly. Her breasts were not large, but appeared very firm. Her stomach had wrinkles- some deep, but was still very flat for a woman her age. Between her legs was a triangle shot with gray- the first true signs of age he saw. Her legs were still muscular and firm, and her eyes were locked upon his.

“All day, I hear of nothing but the games,” she said. “Games, games, games. My man is out there now, cheering and praising those partaking, while shoving me back into the shadows like a common slave. I do not like the games, but can play my own. So this afternoon you will take me, Aulus Caecina, and take me thoroughly.” Her eyes glowed as she spoke, “A woman has needs, too.”

Aulus thought of running, but Caenis held his fate in her hand. Invitations to where the powerful met would dry up, and those with whom he had been rubbing shoulders would soon shun him. She held not only his fate in her hand, but with a few words his life as well. And then she held his manhood in her hand as well. That treacherous organ began to rise.

“I see you have needs as well, my champion,” she said huskily. “Come, let us have our own games. The prize is a wonderful career.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The Games would be great. The city was shining, the Empire was at rest, and the foes defeated. A feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction would settle over the city. That feeling would remain until after the games.

Elsewhere in the Empire, that feeling would be brutally and viciously torn asunder.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 09-20-11 06:57 AM EDT (US)     35 / 84       
I really liked the overview of the Empire. Learn what it is happening across the territories from Iberia to Parthia.

By the way, what year are we at now though in the story, Terikel?

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.

[This message has been edited by Legion Of Hell (edited 09-20-2011 @ 06:58 AM).]

Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 09-26-11 04:02 AM EDT (US)     36 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The sun dipped to the treeline. The rising of the sunlight against the white wall was carefully watched as it climbed from the chest of the Guards to their chins, to their noses, and finally to their eyes as the sun sank below the level of the roof shielding them from its glare.

Arrows whistled silently from the darkness. Twice the bowstrings hummed with their release. Each of the two volleys loosed four arrows, two each into the two Guards standing watch on the corners of the front portico. Four arrows impacted on the chests of each Guard. One went down immediately, while the other gasped and clutched at the shafts in his chest. A third hum sounded lowly from the darkness to land a fifth arrow in the neck of the Guard still standing, finally slumping him onto the floor.

Their deaths went unnoticed. The raider leader pumped his sword twice, then stepped out of the woodline at the run. Forty-five men followed, weapons in hand and mayhem on their mind. They crossed quickly the newly-shorn field once adorned with hay now harvested and made for the cluster of buildings housing their target.

Four stopped halfway to lift their bows and let fly a volley of arrows at an armed man looking their way. Three hit, dropping him as if pole axed. But his death alerted another, who began screaming an alarm as he ran for cover.

“Move it, lads!” Burgis called. “Throw those staves away and bring out the steel!”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Glam stepped out of his house. His was the last in the line of free men’s cottages, furthest from the house, which usually brought him peace. Today, however, little Decius was colicky and his wetnurse Gerda- Glam’s wife- decided to bring her work home with her. Crying babies do not make for peace, so Glam picked up his horn of beer and stepped outside to enjoy it in the lovely sunset, overlooking the field where his horse was prancing nervously.

That was when he saw Alfred crumple and fall back, two arrows in his chest and one in his eye. Just like that- one second Alfred was watching the horses prance as was he, the next he was dead. Then he saw the movement making the horses jittery and understood. They were under attack!

“To arms!” he cried. He threw the horn down and ripped out his sword. Four arrows split the air in his direction, but he had seen them aimed. He lurched sharply left, allowing the arrows to pierce the space where he would have been. Then he ran for the cottages, to put something solid between him and that flying death. “We are under attack! To arms!”

There were two reactions to his cry. One was from the farmhands working the stead. They stood up at the words, letting what was in their hands fall to the ground. Attack? Here? Us? It was inconceivable. The Tencteri and the Usipi across the river had been decimated in the north, while the now-kingless Chatti to their east sought to recover their strength after the brutal beating they took trying to aid the Bructeri. The Bructeri had been effectively neutered, and their kings slain or driven to flee. The Ubians of Colonia were proud in their Roman citizenship, and the lady of the manor was married to a Senator who was the local hero. They were loved, thus the attack on the villa came as a rude shock. To many, that shock meant death as the raiders reached the small square between house and barn.

The other reaction was that of fighting men. The Batavians not on duty were unarmored as they, like the farmers, felt little threat. Though they habitually wore their swords and most had a francisca as well tucked into a belt- handy for knocking crap off of a horse hoof, or chopping free a tangled rope. These men drew their swords and rushed to the main house, to support the Guards stationed there.

Of the thirty eight men alive and living on the stead that morning, twelve of them fell at once in an orgy of blood as the raiders waded among them. These were mostly farmhands, some standing shocked at the attack, others launching themselves at the invaders with pitchforks and hammers. They died well, those men, and brought a few of the raiders down with them. Then the raiders were through the farmhands and no visible batches of resistance remained. Phase one completed.

“Split!” commanded Burgis. The raiders split into four bands. Two unequal groups of about a dozen parted at the house and began running down the line of cottages. Their mission was obvious- kill anyone and anything encountered, leaving nothing alive in their wake. One group of about eight or ten- including the four bowmen- followed a large brute bearing a Roman scutum away from the house towards the east. The fourth group, five men strong, kicked in the front door of the house and entered.

Amalric had managed to rally some Batavians and Quadii at the warning, forming a small knot of men. Axel, behind the cottages, had done the same. Together, they charged the men who were invading their homes and killing their families. It was not even close in terms of equality- there were about nine unarmored Batavians in each group against fifteen or so armored invaders.

The invaders saw the Batavians closing and smiled. Unarmored, and on foot- these Batavians should go down easily. They picked up speed for the impact, after which they would slaughter these horseless fools and show them their reputation was but dust.

Then Glam came upon their flank from the barn.

His attack was magnificent. A single man, unseen and ignored, but with sword and francisca in his hands. He ran past the outermost man barely pausing to slice his gut open before his axe spilt the skull of a second while his sword impaled a third. Then Amalric was through the lines perpendicular to Glam’s attack, dropping two men and deflecting the axe of a third. He whipped around, dropping another, while the remaining Batavians at his side cut through the invaders. Within ten seconds, all thirteen of the raiders between the cottages and the barn were down and dying, with only four Batavians joining them.

“Amalric!” he cried. “Take these men and go help Axel! I’m going for the main house!”

Amalric nodded and followed Glam for a moment, before peeling off to strike the group engaged with Axel from behind. A few seconds later, screams of fury were heard and the men fighting Axel broke and fled toward the river.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Glam passed the bodies of Jilko and Gregor on the portico with a twinge of regret. Jilko had been feeling under the weather, so Glam had assigned him the relatively easy duty of minding the portico and the watching the lane. Tough rocks, kid, going from under the weather to under the ground. He encountered another body immediately inside- Hrolved, the rear-door watch. Female legs protruded from the kitchen, unmoving, but spattered with red. Martha had baked her last pie, maybe young Traudl as well.

Two swords whistled from the shadows, seeking to make him join Martha and Hrolved. They almost succeeded, had Hrolved not taken that moment to stab upwards into the balls of the invader to Glam’s right. That left only one sword with one man’s power coming at him, easy enough for him to catch on his axe and riposte with his spatha. The man crumpled, and a swift strike with the freed axe ended the pain of the man Hrolved neutered.

“Two more went upstairs,” the wounded Batavian wheezed. He had a ghastly wound on his neck, and another breathing froth through his mail.

“Cover this,” Glam ordered, pointing to the chest wound. “And go seek help. Amalric should be about done outside, making it safe.” Then he was gone, hurtling up the stairs.

Two men with bloody weapons emerged from the master bedroom at his approach. One of them charged, while the other glanced out of the window. He did not like what he saw.

Glam countercharged, sweeping under the man’s upraised sword to spear him through the heart- armor and all. The man’s own sword- a gladius, fell from a hand suddenly gone limp. Then the man fell away, leaving Glam with the raider leader- who promptly threw a dagger.

Glam was fast, but tired. He managed to move enough so that the dagger did not hit his neck, but it did sink deep into his left shoulder. His own francisca fell from his suddenly nerveless grasp. Silence ruled the moment. Heavy gasping from himself and the invader could be heard, but no whimpers, cries, or mewing. He bellowed, then moved in with his spatha for the kill.

Burgis had seen this man take down his own bodyguard in one strike without suffering a scratch. He was also fast enough to avoid death from his own thrown weapon. He knew his chances now at surviving a duel with this man, and they were not pretty. Outside his men were breaking. It was time to cut the losses. He scooped up an oil lamp and dashed it onto the floor between himself and the Batavian, then spun about to crash through the window at the end of the hall.

Burgis hit the ground and rolled, then rose and bolted for the forest. His men followed, and the Batavians- who had cut through his killers like butter- followed.

Glam watched them run and noted their direction. The fire in the hall grew in intensity, having reached the drapes framing the window with the view over the courtyard within the first few seconds. Now it erupted across the ceiling as well. There was little he could do to stop its inevitable spread throughout the wooden home.

He went inside the master bedroom. A man lay on the floor, dead, and atop him lay Claudia Sacra, dead with a familiar dagger in her heart. Next to her lay her son Quintus, also dead, but the stab through the child’s body was too large for a dagger.

“Son of a bitch,” cursed the Batavian. The fire in the hall was growing, threatening to trap him on the second floor. He lifted the body of his domina and carried it through the flames to the safety of the courtyard, then returned through the inferno to rescue that of her son. They deserve better than to be cremated like this, he thought.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Axel and Amalric had five men with them, howling and hurtling down a freshly-made trail towards the river. Before them were three men, and before them was another man. All were making haste, fleeing from the ferocity of the Batavians that had broken their attack and slaughtered thirty hardened fighters like helpless children.

Then ten more rose from the bushes to block the path. Burgis’s rearguard. Burgis and his three assault team members raced through them without even stopping. The ten grinned and stepped forward, thinking the advantage theirs due to their having almost three men for every two coming at them, and being fresh to boot.

They could not have been more wrong. The seven pursuers were chasing down fleeing cowards, murderers who had attacked their lord’s families- and their own. Their fury was legendary, their muscles powered by more adrenaline than most men experience when in a year of battle, and their vengeance was palpable.

Amalric dug his shoulder into the pit of one man’s stomach, up-ending him while dodging the man’s sword. His own sword licked out to caress the thigh of the man next to him- cutting the hamstring muscle. Axel drove forward into another, under the arc of the man’s axe to batter the man’s scutum back into his own face. The others fought just as furiously, though they lacked the skill of Amalric and Axel.

Axel threw his bent sword at one man, then heaved his first victim’s axe on high. It was a large weapon, but he had been a woodsman. To him, it was better than a sword. He parried away two stabs and blocked a slash, then chopped the leg of his attacker at the knee. The man went down, to be stabbed through the throat by Ingvald, another Batavian, who paid for the blow by receiving one in return.

Edo, to Ingvald’s left, went down under a pair of swords, but was immediately avenged by Amalric, who came from behind the downed man’s killer to stab up under his steel cap to pierce and then scramble the brain within. The sword lodged in the bones of the cranium, but Amalric scooped up the dead man’s sword and kept going. Axel’s axe took care of the last- a long throw, but one which connected to split the man from the back of his head to the top of his shoulder. He fell, and left Axel unarmed for the moment.

Axel had no weapon, but no other opponent. He picked up a sword from the dead, and looked at Amalric. The tall Batavus shrugged in reply. Then both men turned, glanced at the dead Edo, left the wounded Ingvald to be bound by the other wounded, and continued the pursuit, albeit a bit more cautiously.

Ten minutes later they were back at the scene of the failed ambush where the others remained to finish up with the wounded, having lost their prey. Then the crackle and roar of a fire broke their thoughts. The able-bodied men took one look at each other, then raced for the house, while the wounded struggled to catch up.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 09-26-2011 @ 02:47 PM).]

Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 09-26-11 08:03 AM EDT (US)     37 / 84       
Looks like a well planned ambush turned to a slogfest.

A great installment: quite gripping!

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.

[This message has been edited by Legion Of Hell (edited 09-26-2011 @ 08:04 AM).]

BastWorshiper
Sensei
posted 09-26-11 11:36 AM EDT (US)     38 / 84       
That was definitely an exciting chapter.

I am, however, confused on a couple of points:
We are told there are 45 raiders. Then, a few were brought down by the farmhands. However, after that, when the raiders split into groups, the total is 45 men again.
Axel’s axe took care of the last- a long throw, but one which connected to split the man from the back of his head to the top of his shoulder.
I can't picture this. The way I read it, it sounds as though the axe continued to flip after striking the man in the back of the skull, cutting on an arc. But axes, particularly heavy axes, tend to spin around a point at or near the base of the blade. I can only imagine a cut, like what I picture, from a thrown axe, if the point of contact was actually on the spinal cord inferior to the foramen magnum, rather than the occipital bone itself. I may just be envisioning this incorrectly, though.

Finally, what happened to the other three men with Axel, Amalric, Edo and Ingvald? We can infer that they continue the pursuit with Axel and Amalric after patching up Ingvald; but the way it is written, it sounds like only Axel and Amalric continue the pursuit and the three unnamed men are forgotten.
Then both men turned, glanced at the dead Edo, bound up the wounded Ingvald, and continued the pursuit, albeit a bit more cautiously.
I'm sorry if all that makes me sound overly critical. I am enjoying the story very much. One more thing, though: In the first tale with Rutilius, you inserted several screenies from RTW to illustrate the action of the story. It seems the action of this tale doesn't lend itself as well to that as the earlier one; but I miss those pictures.

"It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do.
Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen." -- Jerome K. Jerome

"Some people become so expert at reading between the lines they don't read the lines." -- Margaret Millar

ERADICATE CONDESCENSION! (That means don't talk down to people.)
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 09-26-11 02:42 PM EDT (US)     39 / 84       
I miss the pics too. maybe I can dig some up and inser them here and there.

The attack on the mansion: chaos, fog of war, and bad math. I fixed the numbers now. Also, not all men brought down died. See the guy in the house who played dead, but helped save Glam's neck.

Ambush in the woods: chaos, fog of war, bad math, and forgot about those sods. They stayed back tying up their wounds while the able-bodied ran off.

Axe hit: The back of the head is about 15-20 cms from the top of the shoulder- about the same as a battleaxe blade. The axe blade hit and bit. Notice, back of head to top of shoulder- not top of head to back of shoulder. That has a whole lot more cutting involved!

Legion: - the year is 75 AD.

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Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 09-26-2011 @ 02:48 PM).]

Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 09-27-11 10:58 AM EDT (US)     40 / 84       
75 AD.......a good year for spilling blood.

Thanks for the answer, Terikel.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 10-03-11 08:44 AM EDT (US)     41 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The rider was sweating heavily, even more so than the horse between his legs breathing heavily from its exertion. But the end was near- he had found the quaestor.

“A message from Caius Avitus, dominus,” the rider panted. “Its urgent.”

Rutilius took the tablet. Its seal was indeed that of Avitus, his aide who had been handling the administrative work while he was away. He broke the seal, and read the words within quickly. Then again, slowly.

“Quaestor Rutilius,
This tablet brings baneful tidings. There has been a fire at your villa outside of town. It is now put out, but there have been injuries. Please return at once.

Caius Avitus


Rutilius looked up at the rider. “What do you know about this?” he asked pointedly.

The rider shrugged. “I know nothing, lord. I am the fifth rider today who has carried that tablet. I was told only to bring it to you as quickly as possible, and to pass it on to the next rider along the post road if you were not on my section.”

Rutilius handed the tablet to his bodyguard commander, Dieter. “What do you make of this?”

Dieter read the words, then shrugged and handed it back. “Just what it says. I do notice a distinctive lack of details. From Caius, that is not usual.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Rutilius replied. “He is hiding something.” A shiver ran down his spine at the thought. ”Something bad.”

The fear jumped across the intervening space to strike Dieter as well. “Something very bad,” he added. “I think we ought to hasten homeward, Marek.”

Rutilius agreed.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Rutilius and his escort of twenty-seven Batavian and Quadii Guardsmen turned up the lane from Colonia and saw whisps of black smoke still rising into the sky. That forced a gallop as he took in the site of his home.

The scene was controlled chaos. The main house was a charred skeleton sending tendrils of smoke upwards while a gang of people picked through its ruins, and the barn nearby was but baked mud walls with no roof. Glam was directing the survivors in the salvaging of any goods that might still be useful, while his wife Gerda was tending the wounded. To the side, under dingy linen sheets from the servant’s quarters, lay fifty six bodies. Twelve of them were smaller than the others- children.

Rutilius knew by now that his wife lay under one of the sheets. He had been prepared for that, ever since the news of the fire. But the dozen smaller bodies... Children. A tear formed, and slid down his face. It was followed by another, then a third, until he was weeping freely. Quintus was under one of those awful sheets, while Decius lay under another. Publius, the boy he adopted and vowed to protect, must be under a third. His children... His honor... Dead. Burned.

Dieter dismounted immediately and ran to his quarters. The cottage he shared with Milika was closest to the main house. It was empty. Frantic, he ran outside, where Amalric the Silent grabbed him and embraced him close. Dieter struggled at first, then broke into a rampage that only the other Batavian’s embrace prevented from becoming worse. Then he sagged, broken.

“His Milika lies yonder,” Glam expained to Rutilius. “Nine moons pregnant, due to deliver within a fortnight, and stabbed down like a rabid dog. Amalric is breaking it to him now.”

“Stabbed?” Rutilius wondered aloud. His visage changed as the words sank in. Stabbed. Murdered. This was no accident. “Claudia, too?”

Glam nodded. “By her own hand, it appears.”

“Explain,” Rutilius said coldly. His insides turned to an icy mush as he digested this bit of news. He could not dare to think such a solid woman as Claudia would slay her children, then set her house on fire and slay herself in its burning ruins. Jealousy was a powerful motivator- maybe she had heard of Froydis joining the spring expedition? No, Claudia was not the jealous type. Nor would she bring harm to Milika, her chief maidservant, with whom she had an unusually strong attachment. This had to be done by outsiders.

Glam related what he knew. It was indeed an attack from outside. He ran through the details, tears welling from his eyes as he did so, and pointing to the burns he suffered carrying out the bodies of his domina and her son. “She never let them lay a hand upon her, lord. She slew herself in the Roman tradition to prevent dishonor before they could rape or abduct her.”

Rutilius nodded. Then he pointed to the children. “Which of them are Quintus, Publius, and Decius?”

Glam waved to Gerda, then pointed to the smaller form closest to the center of the adult line. “Quintus lies there, next to his mother. He died defending her. The wound that felled him, and the bloodspray I saw... He must have rushed the invader to protect his mother and died for it. Claudia was found atop the body of a dead coward. She must have killed the man who slew her son before turning the dagger on herself when the second and third men burst in.”

That would be like her. Pride battled grief inside him. He had indeed chosen a wonderful wife. “And my other sons?”

“Safe,” Glam said, firmly and confidently.

Rutilius sighed in deep relief, and in wonder. His face asked the word that refused to come- how?

Glam continued, “Decius had been colicky lately, so Gerda was breastfeeding him in our cottage. She grabbed him and our own sons and bolted for the trees when she understood the ruckus she heard was an attack taking place.” He smiled wanly. “Sometimes living on the edge of the property so far from the main house has its advantages.”

Rutilius could bitterly agree with that. “And Publius?”

“Claudius Victor came to deliver his periodic report, but you had yet to arrive. Avitus had told the lady Claudia of your visit to Messala, which meant you would not be here for several days as he well knows from your previous visits to the legions. So he took Publius hunting instead, to teach the boy some Batavian skills before your return.”

He had wanted the boy to be able to ride, but had forbidden martial training as part of a vow he once made that the boy would never pose a threat. Claudius Victor and Jorgen, the Cananefate prince, ignored his vow and taught the boy everything they could when Rutilius was not around. He had always turned a blind eye to it. Now it seems that blind eye has saved the boy’s life. Had he been here... in his room... He shuddered.

“I would like to see my wife and dead son now,” Rutilius said. His voice was laced with intermittent sparks of joy that two of his sons lived, while drenched with grief that his wife and one son had died.

Glam nodded, and led his lord to the bodies. He stood a respectful distance away while the governor slowly drew back the sheet covering his wife. Claudia lay regally, with his gilded dagger from the fireplace mantle in her hand, the three-inch oblong hole she made with it nearly perfectly between her breasts. Her gown was charred around the edges, but her skin was untouched by fire. Except for her pallor and the rent in her chest, she could have been sleeping. Quintus beside her was ravaged by the fire, yet his features- so like his mother- were still clear, despite the deep gash almost severing his head.

Rutilius collapsed over his dead family and cried openly. He was joined shortly by Dieter, who did the same over his Milika and their unborn child, which will never now see the glory of a sunrise.

It would be a long time before either rose again.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“You failed!” uttered the man whose darkened room the visitor had entered. He did not light the lamp masked by the shadows, preferring to keep both his face and his identity from the man now before him. The floppy hat and uncomfortable cloak he wore helped to further conceal his identity, as did the rural farmstead where the meeting was taking place.

There was venom dripping from the words. But that did not affect the visitor, whose hands were fast and his dagger within easy grasp. Failing the dagger, the window through which he had entered was nearby, and open to the starlight pouring in. He had three men below waiting in the shadows- all that was left of a crew once almost sixty men strong.

“Not entirely,” Burgis replied. “You set us three tasks. We accomplished two of them. Your target escaped by not being at home as you reported he would be. But his wife and whelp now feed worms, at your request. A shame- she was a beauty. Worth hundreds in the slave markets, if not thousands. She managed to kill Agarn, then knifed herself when she saw me coming. She must have known we were to enjoy her physically before her husband’s eyes. Alas, he was not at home and she too quick with a blade.”

The other man hissed. “I care not for trollops and children. Rutilius was to die.”

“Then next time you hire an assassin, give him the correct information to ensure the target is present,” Burgis said casually. “I lost a lot of men to his damned guards. I might have lost the whole crew and died myself had his full escort been present. Consider yourself lucky he was absent. At least now a portion of your vendetta has paid. Now pay me. Ten full talents of denarii, as agreed.”

A scroll was handed over. “Take this to Solonius in Argentorum. He will pay you two talents of denarii.”

“The deal was for ten talents,” the assassin reminded him. “We have a lot of widows to care for now.”

“The deal was for the wife and child to die before his eyes, followed by he himself,” the employer replied viciously. “You killed his woman and child, without him witnessing it. Be thankful I consider your efforts worth two talents. You want the rest, you put him in a grave.”

The assassin’s teeth sparkled in the starlight as he smiled. “You can keep the remaining talents,” he said cheerfully. “Use it to buy yourself wonderful funeral games, that your people may remember you.”

“You threaten me, without even knowing my name?”

“No threat at all. And I know for whom I work- no killer worth his salt would take on such a task without first ensuring the payment would be real by checking out the employer. Your nemesis has pruned your family tree rather efficiently, and has proven himself to be adept at both your game and mine. He will eventually find who hired me, and when he does, he will kill us both with his own hands.”

The man in the merchant’s outfit raised a gladius. “Only you know it is I who has employed you. This sword will ensure your silence, and see to it that my identity remains hidden.”

“Oh, I shall say nothing, merchant,” the assassin assured him, raising his hands in a gesture of feigned submission, ”though we both know that is but a disguise. There is a trail leading to you, and to me. We badly underestimated the ability of those horse-riding Germans on the ground. We left witnesses, being driven off before we could complete the destruction of the entire farmstead. And we left corpses as well. My rearguard did not show up to the rendezvous. The rest of us escaped- but a good tracker could follow. We did our best to cover our tracks, and I wore a disguise as you do now. But if he is as good as people claim, he will in time unravel the false curtain I laid to protect us both. He will find you, and then...”

The assassin leapt for the window, pausing briefly on the ledge to speak before jumping to the ground below. “I will kill him, though, if you pay what you owe plus another two talents. Otherwise I will disappear, leaving you to absorb all his vengeance alone. So think hard, and pay quick.”

And then he was gone, back into the darkness which spawned him, three shadows in his wake.

The ‘merchant’ watched him depart. The four bandits moved effortlessly through the night, right past his security and into the forests beyond. If they could avoid his men so easily on their way out, maybe there was a chance for them to avoid those of Rutilius on the way in.

He had much to think about. But he was not going to pay a single sesterce for work not performed as agreed!

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 10-03-11 12:50 PM EDT (US)     42 / 84       
I wonder who paid the killers to slay Rutillus' wife and son. Someone in Rome or someone closer to home......

Excellent installment. I felt a pang of sadness when Rutillus found the body of his wife. Poor guy.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Bretty_BoIEEEYYY
Ashigaru
posted 10-06-11 05:42 PM EDT (US)     43 / 84       
I have a feeling that ulfrich(sp) is the merchant because you said that rutilus pruned his family tree EG killing Udo

Please check it out With your support(and comments)i will show the orks who da boss and teach sauron a thing or two along the way ^_^men of the white tree a gondorian defensive AAR
The Bald Eagle
Ashigaru
posted 10-10-11 04:18 AM EDT (US)     44 / 84       
Consider this a compliment from a fan:

"OI! Where's my Mondaymorning read!?"

Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 10-10-11 06:09 AM EDT (US)     45 / 84       
It is coming. See next post.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 10-10-11 06:28 AM EDT (US)     46 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The ludi Romani ended, but the affair begun in its prime continued. It even evolved into a set schedule. The first evening after the market feriae, a well-dressed woman bearing groceries would come to his home, through the front door. This woman would be admitted by the slaves to the kitchen, where she would prepare the dinner. She would then join the host in the dining lounge and enjoy her cooking along with him. Afterwards, she would converse intelligently about matters important to a senator, and listen attentively to whatever drivel he would spout. Then she would escort him to the bedroom and spend the night.

In the morning of the third day after each market feriae, Caecina would tend his business and his clients, then break for lunch. In the afternoon he would meet with guests and hold philosophical discussions with his peers as he always did. In the evening he would dine with a few other friends, then send them home as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. His slaves would be sent to visit a hostel in the city, given the rest of the day off as a reward for the fine service of the day.

Before it was dark, there would be a knock upon his door and Caenis would slip inside his house. She never used her palanquin for these meetings, and always came wearing black, as if the widow of a client. She would have a goblet of wine, watered, while they caught up on things. Smalltalk mostly. Then she would lead him to his bedroom and ravish him.

She enjoyed that tremendously, each time. Different positions, different styles. Sometimes gentle, sometimes rough, but always intense. Caecina’s muscled body was a match for her own, and endured her attentions far long than her benefactor could. So what she could not get from him, she got from her new boy-toy Caecina.

Afterwards, she would cuddle against him in the afterglow of their lovemaking, and tell him of how things had gone for him in the past week, and which opportunities would arise in the future. Her advice was unusually sound, and her use of nuances exquisite. Her pillow-talk had resulted in his making a fortune or two in diverse markets already, and the acquisition of a few clients from a dead senator. There was even talk of him in the Imperial Family- favorable talk. Because of these benefits, and she really was an attractive woman despite her age, he tolerated being her pet.

How could he not? His star was on the rise thanks to her. And if he pleased her, she sent another woman- a much younger one, like the first- to visit him as thanks. When asked about this, Caenis simply smiled and patted his stomach.

“You can be a lion in bed,” she said, “but your endurance needed work. You see, the penis has a mind and a will of its own. If it is well-satisfied, it last longer. If it has gone too long without use, it burst with joy within seconds of entering. That is neither good for me, or for your own ego. A good stuffing once a week is enough for me, but a man like you needs a woman more often. This relationship we have, Aulus, it is not built upon love or trust or any of that mature horse manure. We share something base and vulgar, based on sex. And if I am to be involved with someone for sex, I want that someone to please me thoroughly. So I have Pomponia send you a present two days before I arrive, that you may satisfy your lusts and work on your endurance for me. And when you please me, I reward you afterward with yet another. You get pleased, your penis sated, and that gives you both endurance and energy to please me. We both win.”

Simple, and effective. Yes, being this woman’s toy-boy definitely had its advantages. And Pomponia truly did have the best stable in the city.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The assassin was being proved right. Rutilius did have a trail to follow, and he was on it.

Claudia and Quintus were buried behind the house, with the other dead placed in a circle around them. The burial site had a wonderful view of the river, and of the peaceful forest surrounding the farmstead. An artist had been commissioned to create a statue of her and Quintus to be placed above the grave, and for smaller monuments to the other dead. It was to be a Garden of Remembrance.

The Germans had first objected to the plan, wanting to bury their dead and let life go on as was their custom. Rutilius could not let go. His wife was a Roman citizen, as was her dead child. More, she was a Roman noblewoman- her husband was a Senator. Thus she would be buried as such. Milika was her servant, but also her friend. And many of the other dead were thought of as family. They fought and died defending this homestead- thus they too ought to be remembered in the Roman way. His passion, his devotion to doing this was so intense it melted the Germanic opposition. Claudia Sacra and her son Quintus Rutilius Petrillianus would be buried in the Roman way, with the other dead to keep their spirits company.

Architects from Colonia had been contacted to see to the rebuilding of the house, while Amalric and Dieter were tasked to oversee the implementation of a perimeter and a new guard structure. There was an ulterior motive for this, though the obvious one was good enough. Dieter was given the task to keep him busy- and away from dark thoughts of a grief-stricken man. Amalric was co-tasked in order to keep Dieter focused. Time would cover the grief with a mantle to ease the pain, but until that happened Rutilius was determined to keep his Guard Captain as busy as possible. And himself, too, for the same reason.

He had Glam walk him through the brief but savage attack, step by step, from beginning until when he called off the chase. He walked the ground from where Glam saw the attackers emerge, through their assault on the courtyard and the battle along the cottage row, to the destruction of the raiders by the rear attack of Amalric and his band. Then Glam walked him to the ruins of the house and explained what he saw and did there, and afterwards, and how he tried to keep the fire from spreading, but the wind had carried sparks and coals onto the thatch roofs of the cottages and barn. They had managed to save some of the cottages, but the main house and barn were total losses.

“I owe you much, my friend,” Rutilius said to his Guard. “You risked death by fire to bring my dead family out, whereas most Batavians would consider their cremation in their own home a fitting funeral. You did otherwise, and gave me a last few moments with my loved ones at great personal risk. For that, Glam, I shall be eternally grateful.”

Axel and Amalric, who had been among the chasers, led Rutilius next to where they and five others had cut down a crew lying in wait. Rutilius needed no guide to find the spot- the vultures circling marked it for him. There were nine bodies still laying about in various poses of death, with some showing signs of being fed upon.

Axel pointed back towards the house. ”We came from there, chasing these two here,” he reported, pointing to the two in the middle. ”They were following a third. They were once a gang of thirty or so, but the rest were killed by the cottages or on the way here. These three fled quicker than we could chase. We chased, then these fellows came to their aid. We cut them down, losing Edo in the process, and afterward their trail. We heard the fire consuming the house, so returned. We carried Edo back to the house, but left these here for them.” This last was said with his fingers pointing to the circling birds.

Rutilius looked about, taking in the quick battle. “They were heading for the river, or the road.”

“No horses, lord,” Axel pointed out. “We’d have heard them whinny, or gallop away.”

“The river, then,” Rutilius determined. He pointed to the bodies. “Take these to the barn- or what’s left of it. I do not want them buried or burned or given any kind of funerary rights, but I don’t want them stinking up my property otherwise.”

He looked about, noting the dense bushes and the thin canopy overhead allowing the bushes to flourish. He could not even see which way he himself had come, much less expect his men to chase armed invaders. He nodded slowly to himself and looked at Amalric.

“You made the right decision not to continue pursuit. You might have ended up skewered by more men lying in wait. You were lucky these fools rose when they did.. Had I been leading the ambush force, I would not have moved until my men had passed and no pursuit was on their heels, or waited until the pursuit was too close to react to my attack. They revealed themselves too soon, and paid for it in blood.”

They followed the faint path through the dim woods. The tracks were barely visible in the daylight- in the sunset of the attack they would have been while invisible. Amalric had made a good decision in returning to save what he could instead of continuing a blind pursuit. He would have lost himself and more precious Guards had he not. Yes, he was very wise to discontinue.

The tracks led down to the road that lies between Colonia and Bonna, then continued onto the other side down toward where Father Rhein lay sleeping in the afternoon sun. There they ceased.

“They had a boat waiting,” Rutilius determined, looking down at the muddy bank from the height of the grassy ledge. He pointed out the indentations small boats made in the soft mud of the river’s bank. “Four boats, which mean there was a ship in the river waiting to pick them up.”

“You don’t think they used the boats to cross back over?” Glam asked. “The other side is not that far away.”

Rutilius shook his head. “Examine the far bank, Glam.”

Glam did so, noticing nothing out of the ordinary scrub and breaks.

“I see nothing,” he said.

“Nor will you,” Rutilius muttered. “They might have gone upriver, or downriver, but they did not cross here. Over there are the Tencteri- fabled horsemen cut down at Woden’s Grove, and some of the finest archers in all of the Dark Forests. Had the bowmen you seen been Tencteri, you would be dead now. Had the raiders been Tencteri, they would have fled on horseback. Thus they were not Tencteri.”

Glam nodded. “That makes sense. So who were they?”

Rutilius looked at the grass. He had quite a few ideas as to who would want to, but no proof pointing to any one person. “I wish I knew. Maybe the dead will tell us.”

Axel and Glam nodded in agreement.

The short journey back to the house was silent. Each man was thinking of the raiders- who were they, why did they strike, were they after the lord? Most asked themselves the one question nobody dared air- would they be back?

Glam led the way to the ruins of the barn where the corpses of the raiders were stored. They passed the graves of their own dead, each one now filled and marked with a small board. The grave of the lady and her son were marked with a larger board. Each was awaiting the monument the artist would deliver within a year’s time. Until then, they would be simply remembered by the board and the likeness of the dead upon it.

The roof of the barn was burned away, but the walls were of clay and stone- they did not burn. The raiders lay inside- thirty three corpses. The seven killed down the hill towards the river were still there, untouched. Orders were given to have the remains brought here.

Rutilius examined the dead closely. Each had died violently- as was expected. Their weapons- still on their bodies, were generic- blades for the most part, a few with bows. The fletchings were a mix-match of different types- indicating these men traveled. Their purses held coins- Roman, but also bits of hacksilver and lumps of pure gold. Again, worthless information. Their clothes were also a mix-match- no single tribal colors, no special jewelry.

“Brigands,” Rutilius determined from the examination. All his suspects evaporated. “Traveling robbers, hitting a target of opportunity. It must have been.” He cursed lowly. “My wife dies, her child is murdered, all because we let our guard down. Cacat!”

He turned to go, but Glam caught his arm. “No lord, these are no brigands. True, their clothes are nondescript and their weapons common, but notice the condition of the clothes. The only holes in them were those made by our swords. And their boots- worn, but not worn out. Not a one. These were no brigands.”

Rutilius looked again at the boots. Low cut, well-worn, but definitely not shoddy.

“Well, shit…” he muttered. That left him back at the start. With nothing but suspicions.

“I am going back to my tent,” he said suddenly. “I need to think.”

He exited the barn to see two horses riding slowly toward the house. Immediately he drew his sword and began to run, then stopped and scabbarded his sword. The two approaching figures were his son Publius and his chief steward Claudius Victor.

“Lord! What happened?” Claudius Victor wheezed. The Batavian’s throat had never quite healed from the wound he received at Gelduba- a wound delivered by his own panicking men. Rutilius’ mentor Cerealis was the commander of the forces driving those of Claudius into that panic. But that was during the war. Now, five years later, the Batavian prince and former legatus were the closest of friends. And the Batavian was the only man little Publius seemed truly at ease around.

Rutilius told him in short, terse sentences of the attack, and its results. Claudius swore softly.

Publius broke into tears. “Quintus is no more, lord?”

Rutilius softened the hard look on his face. He reached up to caress his son, who shivered and jerked back from the contact as he usually did. “Yes, son. Quintus is gone. He held a bloody dagger in his hand when we found him- he died fighting, defending his mother.”

“Who would do such a thing?” the Batavian by the boy’s side asked.

Rutilius shrugged. “We have been asking ourselves that since it happened. We examined their trail, and their bodies. But no clue leads us onwards.”

“You are a clever man, Marcus, but you miss much. You need someone now who misses nothing, if you wish to punish those responsible for this. I know someone.”

“Who?”

“Froydis the Cugerni,” he replied bluntly.

“Aye, her eyes miss nothing,” Glam agreed. “But I do not know how good of an idea it is to bring her here, especially now.” With that, he jerked a thumb towards Rutilius.

Marcus stared at the ground with narrowed eyes, his mind turning over the thought. The fluttering in his heart- so inappropriate with his wife lying in her fresh grave scant paces away- did not bring him joy. Still, the Cugerni’s eyes had seen extremely well in the spring expedition. His list of suspects was short, but still dim. There was Cordinus, the man who he had humiliated this past summer and whose reputation had been ruined. He might be looking for vengeance. There was Ulfrich, the escaped Bructeri king, now hunted throughout the German lands. He would seek vengeance for the death of his brother- and he knew where Rutilius lived. Then there was Froydis herself- his lover once, and again during the spring expedition. She could be ridding herself of a rival in order to make way for her own, more permanent, place at his side. And then there was Domitian, who wanted the adopted son of Rutilius slain to end any threat to his own family. That was his list, and he had not a goat’s horn of an idea as to which. The possibilities rolled through his mind, and always returned to one.

“Claudius,” he said, looking up with a determined expression across his face. “I want you to do me two favors.”

“Anything, Marcus,” the prince replied.

Rutilius smiled. He did not hesitate, nor even guard his words with the favored phrase, ‘if it is in my power, it shall be done’. He simply agreed. That amount of trust was a sign of devotion, and loyalty. Claudius Victor was indeed his friend.

“I want you to adopt Publius here,” the Roman said bluntly. “You are a Roman citizen, thus he does not lose his birthright. Only you, I, and Glam here know of this, so he will be safe. To all others, my son died in that fire.”

“You suspect he was the target?” Victor asked.

Rutilius shrugged, but did not lie. “It is a possibility.”

Only three people knew the truth of his adoption of the lad, and the boy’s heritage. One was himself, another Claudius Victor. Publius Rutilius was not born Publius Rutilius. He became Publius Rutilius the day after his true father had been murdered on the Gemonian Steps in Rome by Marcus Antonius Primus, the Butcher of Cremona.

The third who knew was in Rome. He and Rutilius had a pact. Rutilius would keep the boy out of politics and ensure he was never a threat to the new Imperator. Titus Flavius Domitianus, on his part, would keep his mouth shut about the boy and let him live. If either of the two broke the pact, then the boy would die. Rutilius had upheld his end, so it was a fair notion that Domitian had just broken their pact. The boy was no longer safe where Rome could reach him.

“I promised the boy’s true father I would keep the boy safe until he becomes a man,” Rutilius continued. It was so painful to say the next words, but he knew he must. ”He is no longer safe in my care. I trust he would be in yours.”

Victor nodded, and turned to the lad. Pleading eyes gazed back into his, with a fervent nod.

“Yes lord, I will adopt your son and treat him as mine own,” he promised. “And the second?”

Rutilius stared at his burned home. “Find me Froydis, and bring her here. Her eyes may help me catch the man who widowed me.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 10-10-11 11:40 AM EDT (US)     47 / 84       
A good installment. We shall see who orchestrated the attack on the home of Rutillus.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 10-17-11 04:32 AM EDT (US)     48 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Mogontiacum was literally chaos in motion. The quaestor was dead, and with him died the last bit of the draconian rule imposed on the border city. Prefects quarreled with each other over seniority, and in doing so ruined any chance of restoring lawful rule to the beleaguered city that a few years before had fought off three sieges by the Batavians. All that remained of their once-strong solidarity were the sentries patrolling the walls- a task each of the three prefects still in the city shared. One prefect commanded the auxilia infantry- spearmen from Gaul. Another commanded the logistical chain running to the provincial capital. Normally he was overseen by the quaestor, but with no quaestor, he ran his operations with the intention of putting as much money into his own pocket as possible. The last was the prefect of the vigiles- the town watch- who was even more rapacious than the supply prefect. All three were in a bitter war to control the town.



Their underlings were even less cooperative. They warred openly upon each other, stealing supplies from their fellows and selling them at cut-throat prices to unscrupulous merchants willing to buy anything of value when the price was far lower than the actual worth. They made a killing. Black-market gangs grew up as the vigiles retreated from the streets to turn to selling to the markets, often as not joining the gangs themselves.

Gnaeus Pinarius Cornelius Clemens and four cohorts of legionaries marched into this mess. He had been in Gontia, surveying roads and defining the border castella when word came that his quaestor had perished under mysterious circumstances. He borrowed part of the XI Claudia as an escort and hurried home. The forced march did not take long, but it was long enough for his once well-run capital to descend into a morass of crime and decadence. He found his manse thoroughly pillaged, and that of his quaestor burned to the ground.

Enough was enough. He turned the legionaries loose on the vigiles first- knocking heads and flogging those who had been derelict. The rest shaped right up after that. So did the Gallic spearmen, the only ones who were actually performing the duties assigned to them. Together, the vigiles, Gauls, and legionaries brought a ruthless and efficient end to the illegal activities and made the city a proper one once again.

Clemens cursed at the ruins of his quaestor’s house. You picked a fine time to die on me, Quintus, he thought. I had warned you about those bloody torches you thought so manly. Maybe in your next life you will use oil lanterns like I suggested. It was only later that he learned the man had died before the house burned down, and not during the fire. Quintus Lutatius Catullus had been disemboweled and had his throat cut for good measure. The man had been murdered.

Clemens was surveying his own house and inventorying his losses when his aide approached. He pointed toward the atrium as he reported that the man the governor had requested was present. Clemens nodded, and joined his guest in the atrium.

“You had a nice house,” the guest, Gaius Roscius said. “I would like to have seen it before it was trashed.”

“I did not call you here to discuss my personal losses, arcanus,” Clemens replied stiffly. He had lost a lot of precious artwork. Where had his guards been? Why had they not been on duty? Or had the guards themselves raped his house? He brushed the personal thoughts aside and faced the arcanus squarely. “I have need of your services.”

“I report directly to the Praetorian prefect, lord,” Roscius reminded him. “Not to a provincial governor.”

“I recall your orders assigned you to me until further notice,” Clemens reminded him. “I have yet to receive further notice. Have you?”

Roscius shook his head.

“Then your services are still mine to request.” When Roscius bit his lower lip and nodded, the governor acknowledged the verbal victory with a short nod. “This mess here,” he said, gesturing beyond his estate walls to where the city proper was in the last throes of being purged by the criminals infesting it, “happened too quickly and with too much organization to be a mere result of an unexpected death of the quaestor. I sense more to it than a simple murder. I sense a conspiracy.”

“There seems to be a lot of that going around,” Roscius replied bitterly. He did not elaborate upon the conspiracy to which the good quaestor belonged, nor how he himself had ended it, causing this mess.

But Clemens did not allow the biting remark to affect him. He brushed it off and continued. “I suspect this rise of anarchy has less to do with my quaestor’s death than it does interference from outside the province. Somebody took advantage of Catullus’s death and tried to ruin my provincial rule. A blatant attempt to discredit me after my great victory in the Agri Decumates.”

Roscius nodded. He knew how it would look to Rome, if written in a report- governor takes army and conquers new province, only to lose total control of his own. Good marks for generalship, poor marks for governorship. The imperial recommendation was likewise easy to see: Remove from command immediately and send home.

“I do not think the main perpetrators are locals,” Clemens continued. “Or if they are, they are under orders of people outside this province. The scale of the illegality tells me this, as does the sudden and massive influx of criminals rising in what was once a beautifully-administered city. I want you to find out who did this to me.”

Roscius thought that over. He was an arcanus, a scout. He was far better suited to the field, where he could see and count enemy forces, and report their direction and rate of travel. He was but another man inside a city, lost in the multitudes like everyone else. But he had also been an assassin, whose killing of the quaestor set off this madness. It irked him that someone had used his actions to set off such a wave of lawlessness in a city where he had buried friends.

“I shall try, lord,” he said, accepting the mission. “Do you have any ideas with which I can start? Untrustworthy landowners, slighted merchants, or the like?”

Clemens shook his head. “You are thinking too little, arcanus. Think bigger. Think lictors.”

That set off some bells in his head. Lictors were the symbol of Rome’s power, serving as clerks, bodyguards, and above all, carrying the fasces for the magistrates whom they served. “A governor?” he gasped.

“Think it through,” Clemens commanded. “Who gains from this?”

“Besides the local thieves and black marketers… Nobody.”

“Someone always gains from an action. That is why they start it. Now think, damn you.”

Roscius snarled at the command, but followed it. He bent his mind around the near-riots, then looked at their political consequences. It became rather clear, rather quickly.

“I see what you mean, dominus,” he said at last. “Your neighboring provinces: Raetia, Lugdunensis, Germania Inferior. The first and last are ruled, as is your own, by propraetors appointed by the Imperator. Lugdunensis is a senatorial province, whose praetor rules most of Gaul and has but a single legion- which you so recently borrowed. A senatorial praetor, his time is served and finished.”

He turned his mind to the other two. “Raetia has been well-served by your recent victory. Roads will soon traverse that province from Patavium to your own, and as all know, where the roads go so go the merchants. Trades and taxes flourish. Your battles this summer will make the governor of Raetia quite wealthy. He would have no grounds to cause you harm.”

Clemens began to grin. The arcanus was seeing what he wanted him to see. The grin died as he continued.

“Leaving Germania Inferior, whose recent campaign to recover the Eagles of the Vth and XVth was quite seriously jeopardized by the collusion of your quaestor with the Germans, and your own orders concerning the auxilia. Cordinus has a very good motive to ram your ship below the waterline.”

Clemens fought back a snarl and grunted, “Cordinus is a weakling who could not fight his way out of a rotten sack. Weak, stupid, and an oaf to boot. Do you know he got the appointment because Vespasianus thought the man a good influence on his son, thus gave the man a province as a reward.”

“There is nobody left, dominus. We have excluded the other two.”

“There is more than one magistrate in Germania Inferior. One that has good contacts with the locals- almost too good for a true Roman. And one who has been in the province for far longer than most men.”

Roscius nodded as it came to him. “You speak of Rutilius, a man who won the Corona Civica for saving Cerealis, and who brought a fair peace to the region.”

“A very lenient peace,” Clemens snarled. ”Cerealis commanded eight legions and was crushing the insolent rebels thoroughly. Yet Rutilius talks him into granting a peace status quo antebellum. He has since built upon that, establishing a network across the entire province and into mine as well. Did you know that when he won the Corona Civica his net worth was the market price of his sword? Now, five years later, his wealth as measured on the censor’s rolls brings in an annual income of over three million sesterces. He has qualified for the Senate three times over. Quite an increase in just five years, would you not say? And how does one acquire such wealth these days, legally, when one has but a sword?”

Roscius knew little of the workings of Germania Inferior, but he knew a lot about the workings of merchants and the like. Five years from nothing to three millions per year? The Golden Boy of Germania Inferior was definitely dirty. Dirty people had dirty connections. And if a strict and proper magistrate was absent and his lieutenant slaughtered, it would be easily become a power vacuum he could easily make a fourth and fifth million in. Plus, getting Clemens disgraced would be a nice pay-back for the attempted sabotage this summer past. Yes, if anyone in the area had the stones to pull off such a thing, it was Rutilius. And Catullus had mentioned him in that other circle of traitors…

“I see your point, dominus,” he said at last. “So what is it you wish?”

Clemens saw from the hardened expression on the face of Roscius that he was almost ready to convict. And if he convicted, he would execute the criminal personally. Such was the way of life among the arcani- never let a traitor live. Too many of your own died when you did.

“I doubt you will find any proof of his involvement,” Clemens said. “He is too smart, too devious. But look into him. If it is indeed him, and you will know by assembling the facts, then I want a report delivered to Rome. One that he cannot squirm out of like he did with the last suicide mission.”

“If I find any proof, you will not need a report,” Roscius said grimly, thinking of his dead partners.

When the arcanus departed, Clemens let himself smile. What was it those Semitics in the East went on about? An eye for an eye? Serves the bastard right for having my quaestor murdered.

That sparked another thought. Clemens moved to his table, and drew forth a fresh tablet and stylus for a letter. He began with the usual obsequious greetings and felicitations, and closed with the same. In the middle, he made his official request to Rome for a new quaestor. He did not leave the choice up to Rome, though. He had a friend in mind, one who would be grateful to serve in the Army again, in any capacity. Therefore Gnaeus Pinarius Cornelius Clemens clearly and unwaveringly asked for a quaestor who knew the legions- this was a border province, after all- and one who knew politics- he had served well if briefly as consul- and deserved a chance to get back into the good graces of the Imperator.

And he supplied the name of Aulus Caecina Alienus as the man his province needed. And one who would be in a good position to relieve Cordinus once the sole supporting strut of his reign was sliced away by an arcanus’s blade.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 10-17-11 10:57 AM EDT (US)     49 / 84       
It looks like Rutillus is slowly being led into a trap. But can he squirm out of it?

Good installment. All the loose ends are slowly being tied up.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 10-24-11 03:40 AM EDT (US)     50 / 84       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Claudius Victor returned within a few days. He did not return alone, though the rider next to him was not the former adopted son of Rutilius. The rider was small of stature like the boy, but had shoulder-length wheat-blonde strands braided into two thick ropes where the boy had short, dark hair. Where the boy had been swarthy, this rider was pale like the moonlight. And she had very large, very pretty sky-blue eyes.



Froydis reined her horse to a stop when she saw the house- or rather, what was left of it. The last time she had been here- the day she abandoned the love of her life to a woman who needed him as much as she loved him- it had been a proud house painted white, with a broad portico along the front and Roman-style columns dotting its face. Now it was a charred skeleton, bare bones of a home reaching into the sky.



“Tyr’s Silver Hand,” she muttered upon seeing the destruction.

“We killed most of the ones who did this,” Claudius said, gauging her reaction to be one of surprise. “A few got away. Amalric thought them at first passing brigands, but Marcus thinks otherwise.”

“As do I,” Froydis replied, taking in the scene once again. “This tree line is far from the house, and the guards would be patrolling about. The cottages, visible from here, are many, and the number of men easy to gauge. Brigands are lazy cowards at heart- attacking a place full of armed men takes work and valor, of which they possess neither. No, Claudius, this was no brigand handiwork. This was an attack.”

“That’s what Marcus thinks, and why he asked me to bring you.”

Froydis turned suddenly to the Batavian. “He sought me out to help him gain vengeance? Not because he loves me and wanted me by his side to comfort him in this time of obvious pain?”

Claudius shrugged. “He is Roman, after all. Affairs of the heart take time, but I doubt it was for vengeance alone he bade me bring you.”

The Cugerni woman nodded. “He is Roman,” she agreed. “He took his vows of marriage seriously, and is frightfully prudish concerning our own morals about loves lost. But I digress- he will want to know who is responsible so he can kill them to prevent others from sharing the fate of his wife. He has yet many people to protect, and that is best done by eliminating the threat to them. Vengeance may play a role, but I feel the patron in him weighs more on this decision.”

Claudius agreed with a wolfish grin. “I would seek both, but then again, the law of the blood-feud runs deep in my family. What he would seek…. ”

“He would not shy from either,” Froydis agreed. “But he seeks foremost safety for those for whom he cares. Come, take me to him now.”

Victor led her toward the command tent, where she dismounted. A stable-hand took her horse toward the meadow while Claudius led her towards the tent. Rutilius and Dieter came out while he approached.

“Lady Froydis,” Dieter said in greeting. His words were accompanied by a slight bowing of his head.

“Froydis,” greeted Marcus coolly. His voice held only the slightest of quivers, but it was enough to be noticed. The Batavians thought it quaint, that slight tremor. They thought it from love and emotion rising back to the surface. But the Cugerni knew better- it was a quiver of doubt. He suspected her of all people?

“Leave us,” she commanded the others as she took Rutilius by the hand. “We need to speak in private.”

The men left the two alone. She turned toward the river and the forest below, dragging Rutilius along with her, When she was sure she was out of earshot of prying ears, she turned to him fiercely and confronted him.

“You suspect me of this butchery?” she asked bitterly. “Me, who has shared your heart and bed? I would know why you even entertain the notion that I could be a part of this.”

Rutilius looked at her stiffly, and mumbled lowly, “It is because you share my heart and have shared my bed. My list of suspects is short. You love me, and another woman married me. Eliminate her, and you stand to win back your lover.”

“Ah, jealousy,” she spat bitterly. “You think me so petty as to commit murder- nay, mass murder- over a lost love?” She laughed, a bitter, empty laugh. “You do not know me very well at all, Marcus Rutilius.”

“People have killed for less,” he admitted. “My heart knows you are blameless, yet my head cannot so easily dismiss such a powerful motive. I must hear it from your lips, Froydis, that my head learns what my heart already knows.”

Froydis nodded. He would need that, she knew. Her mood softened, and her eyes locked onto his. “I had nothing to do with this, lover,” she promised. “Nor did I wish this. Claudia Sacrate may have taken you from my hearth to hers, but she was the better choice for a Roman senator of German blood. She was noble-born, a Roman citizen, beautiful, rich, landed, and proven fertile. She was an ideal match for a Roman senator. That is something even a Cugerni nobody like myself could understand and accept.”

Marcus scrutinized her as she spoke. Her words, her body language, her eyes. None lied. Froydis was telling him the truth, at least as far as she knew it to be.

“Thank you,” he said lowly. “Now that that is out of the way, I need your help. None other I know is as observant as you.”

Froydis thought deep, or at least pretended to do so. “I will help you catch her killer. It is the least I could do for the woman who saved my life.”

That caught Marcus by surprise. He turned sharply about to face her.

She laughed bitterly. “Oh Marcus, you can be such a fool sometimes. Had you married me instead of her, it would be me lying under that earth over there instead of her. She died as your wife. It could just as easily have been me. So I owe her my life, and will repay that debt by finding who took hers.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The next few days were quite busy. A messenger from Cordinus arrived, bearing a scroll of condolences and leave to handle his arrangements without worrying about gubernatorial duties. Rutilius sent the messenger back with his gratitude. He also had builders to contract, in order to rebuild the house. He had already made contact with two architects, and had received their offers. Dieter was supervising the new security plans, and Amalric was supervising Dieter to assess his ability as a commander after losing his own wife and unborn child. To his delight, the Guard Commander was as sharp as ever, if a bit brutal at times.

Glam was north, seeking recruits to restore the Guard to some semblance of manpower, while the Ubian Axel was doing the same in Colonia. One of the Quadii, Silo by name, would be readying them for any testing Dieter Straightback was sure to require of them.

And Froydis was doing was Froydis does- walk about, examine the scene, notice this and that, ride her horse along the river up and down for miles, and interview the survivors. She got a lot of good information from Glam before he headed north, and from the women she learned even more. Her travels filled in the pieces.

At night she would sleep in one of the servant cottages, while Marcus slept in his tent. She preferred her own company to that of lodging with a grieving family, and there were precious few families on that farmstead that had not lost a man, or woman, or child during the raid. She preferred most of all a night-time visit from the man she loved. But that man had just lost his wife and a son, and she knew it too soon in his grieving process for him to seek out his former lover and rekindle those particular flames. So she slept alone, held warm only by the woolen blanket around her body.

She had a pretty good idea of how the attack in the house went down, and the battle among the cottages as well. Still, she felt something missing, something important. Her eyes turned to the ruined barn that the others carefully avoided. Curious, she moved closer to the structure that until then had not warranted investigating. That was when she discovered the bodies inside. Evidently her nose was not as sharp as her eyes.

She asked Dieter for two men, and led them to the barn.

“Strip those corpses,” she commanded, pointing to the brigand bodies, “and place the belongings at the feet of each. You should have told me at once you had kept these corpses!”

The men grumbled- the bodies stank of decay, yet her command left little room for argument, and she herself helped with the grisly task. She examined each, and then their goods, and then sent for Rutilius.

“You know something,” Rutilius said as he entered the barn. The stench of rotting flesh did not affect him as it did the others. To him, the sickly-sweet smell of rotting men- at least these particular men- held a form of justice in their scent.

Froydis nodded. “You should have told me at once of these,” she admonished gently. “Bodies could tell me more that all the walks and prying I had done these past few days. I had thought this vermin burned, yet there they are.”

“I refused to let them be burned,” Marcus said, hanging his head low. “Out of petty jealousy. I did not want these fools to go to their gods honorably as ash, but rather rotted as the filth they were.”

“Your hatred of them and the punishment you meted their corpses serves me well,” she replied. “For now I have learned much.”

She stood at the heads of the dead men, and pointed to each as she spoke and explained what she saw. She began by pointing to the most badly-charred of the bodies. “This one was found inside the house, judging by his burns. See the deep puncture nicking his thigh bone? There is another just under his heart. Other than that, he is too badly burned to learn anything.”

She stepped toward a group of about a dozen. “These here are German- you can tell by their complexion, teeth, facial features, scars, and body mass. But they are not from this area- notice the shorn hair, and nondescript clothing. Nothing to tie them to a single tribe, yet none of the bits and pieces are from this area.”

She moved to another group. “These here, with the tattoos and scars upon their breasts and arms- Gauls. I am sure of it. Notice their weapons? The daggers? Those are not the wide-bladed pugios of Rome, nor the long, slender blades of the forest. Their hair and freckles made me first think Germanic, but not with those moustaches. Definitely Gaul.”

From where she stood, she pointed first to a rather large group, then to a small group. “From those I learned nothing. Mongrels with no identifying traits at all. These two here, however... I have never seen their like, and I am peculiarly well-traveled. Swarthy like Romans, yet the nose lacks the Latin Hump and their other features are particularly refined.”

“Greeks,” Rutilius muttered. How could he have missed that?

Froydis looked up. “Do you have any Romans on your list of suspects?” she asked. “These men could not come together naturally anywhere within this province, or beyond Father Rhein. That means they came form the South, from Rome.”

“There are Greeks and Gauls is Britannia,” Rutilius reminded her. “Legionaries and Germanic auxilia as well. They could come from there.”

She shook her head emphatically. “No, these came from the south. Think, Marcus. The Great Cerealis was recently governor in Britannia, and he sent you cohorts of legionaries this summer past. If he wanted you dead, he would not have done so, and you would have been blamelessly killed across Father Rhein. His replacement rules there now- and is reputed to be a fine man. He would not order your death, if he even knows of you, much less met you. Therefore these men could not have come from Britannia.”

“The name of Sextus Julius Frontinus is familiar,” Rutilius admitted, “but I do not know him, much less done anything for which he would do this.”

“At the mouth of Father Rhein are the Cananefate, proud to be your Friends and Allies. Their prince was one of your Guards, and you have a good relationship with their King, Niall. Next to them reside the Batavi, who love you as much as the Cananefate. South of them are the Tungrians, Menapi, and other Belgae- all of whom sided with Rome in the Great War here a few years ago. Upriver from the Batavi are we Cugerni, and further along are the Ubii- one of whose noblewomen you married. That is a huge matter of pride and prestige among them- they treasured you and her. They would sooner cut their own throats than harm a hair on either of your heads.”

“I am aware of the tribes and their feelings towards me and mine.”

“That covers this province,” Froydis concluded. “Across the river and outside the empire, you have the Frisians- who joined with you in battle this summer- a step not taken lightly, I assure you. Then there are the Bructeri, who are nearly extinct but saved from that horrid fate by your friend Segestes. The Marsi, who suffered nigh as much, the Tencteri, and the Chatti are all kingless- meaning they are more concerned with re-establishing their own pecking order than with external factors. But they would have no Greeks, while the Frisians and other northerly tribes have no Greeks nor Gauls. Only in Rome can you find all three.”

Rutilius thought that over. It made sense, of course. Until he noticed a burned flap of skin on one of the bodies. He lifted the piece gently, and even then the rotten flesh almost fell apart in his hand. Flipping it over, one could see the letter ‘D’ clearly on the other side.

“A deserter,” he said, indicating the brand. “First burns always go the deepest- a trick we learned from making leather. This other burn was applied to cover it up. A deserter would not want to hang about in Rome, where he could be crucified, or simply beheaded.”

Froydis considered that. “The brands, the markings, the training... All point to deserters and outlaws, yet the deed does not go with the mentality of a brigand. This attack was planned, and well-executed. All here would have died had not Glam and twenty of your Guard been here defending their families so fervently. No, this is not brigand work.”

“Assassins?” asked Rutilius. “Hired thugs? Outlaws and such love the borders, where soldiers are more intent on keeping the enemy out than the lawless in. Such men in small groups could easily avoid the attention of the border watch, and thus could come and go as they please. And if they are chased? Those chasing would stop before the border, lest they provoke a war.”

Froydis agreed. “My thoughts exactly. The composition of this group suggests outlaws hired for the attack, and hired or led by someone near the border who can come into contact with them. Someone powerful, and with connections. I am thinking a Roman, most likely a slaver or merchant.”

“Not a magistrate?” he asked. “They too have access to such men. Hell, so do I. Not a one of my Guards would hesitate should I ask them to slay a man for me.”

She shook her head. “You would not do so, and your guards are not the sort to murder someone’s family, even if you asked. As to magistrates, there are but two. Cordinus values you now. He realizes that he would be less than nothing had it not been for you. He owes you his life, and his reputation. He is not the sort of man who would violate that debt so hideously, despite his other obvious faults. That leaves you. I doubt you would have your own wife, children, and loyal Guardsmen murdered-”

“I most certainly would not!” he bellowed in righteous indignation.

“-which leaves the merchants and slavers, as I said,” she concluded. “Merchants going to Germania will often hire such men as guards- they cannot be trusted here where they can easily disappear with stolen goods, but over there they dare not violate the pact of the company. You have many contacts with merchants, Marcus. But all of them are friendly to you, even if they do not always agree with your decision. They respect you for your fairness, so it cannot be a merchant.

“Likewise slavers,” Froydis continued. “Slavers have the most atrocious monsters as guards- cruel and hard men that litter the ground of every nation. They must be hard and cruel, in order to keep order among the slaves until they have been properly broken. Such men could easily organize a group such as these. But the slavers would not make a strike against you, who brought them such wealth this summer. How many Cherusci, Chatti, Usipi, Tencteri, Bructeri, and Chauci warriors did your legions deliver to them? And how many Bructeri and Marsic women- even more valuable- made their way south? No, you are a slaver’s idol for at least the next few years. So they are out.”

Rutilius thought that over. He did indeed make a lot of unsavory people wealthy this summer.

“Something Glam said in passing irks me, though,” she continued. ”The man leading the attack was a large man with a full beard and one eye covered with a patch. The description matches that of a man seen fleeing from the scene of your great victory. A man whose brother died upon your sword, and a man whose brother’s sword used to hang above the mantlepiece of your son’s bedroom, where the glittering of it could keep the little one amused. It is not among the effects recovered, and steel does not burn. Thus it was taken.”

“You speak of Ulfrich, the banished Bructeri who is king no longer.”

Froydis nodded. “He has reason to see your family slain- you slew his brother. He has one eye, after you ripped out his other. He is an outlaw himself- they tend to congregate, so he could find others. It is very possible that Ulfrich led this group.”

“Ulfrich knows where I live,” Rutilius remembered. “He told me where I lived, with whom, and how he would slay my children and use my wife after his victory over the legions.”

“Means, motive, opportunity,” she concluded. “All present. There are but two things that trouble me with that deduction.”

“Yes?”

“The attackers came by the river. I found upriver where they landed, then deduced that the boats moved from there to where you found their markings closer by- obviously where they were stationed to facilitate escape. Yet Ulfrich is no sailor- he hates the water ever since Lupercus and Numisius escaped him by drowning themselves. He would not so easily board a boat- not even for this.”

“And the other thing? You mentioned two.”

“The man with the eye-patch,” she said. “Glam reported their leader as a large blonde man with a beard and an eye-patch. The description fits Ulfrich, but Glam had seen the Bructeri king up close. He would have said ‘I saw Ulfrich leading the attack’, not simply describe the man.”

Rutilius nodded. Someone was trying to make it look like Ulfrich was behind this- which means someone who knew of his personal feud with the former king. Froydis was correct to suspect a local. They would be updated with the local gossip, which does not travel far from where it is interesting.

Was this a poorly concealed attempt by the culprit to divert blame? Or an intricate plan by an unknown foe to pin the blame on the one, while causing trouble for the other?

He did not know.

“This requires more thought,” he said. He looked down at the rotting ruins of the men. “Are you done with these?”

She nodded. “You may have them burned, and quickly!”

“They shall not burn,” Rutilius said forcefully. “They shall rot, and become food for worms.”

“And poison those they failed to kill in life?” Froydis asked pointedly. “For their essence will sink into this ground and spread its decay about. Why do you think you Romans always clean up a battlefield? I admire the Germanic in you, Marek, but in this case, be a Roman!”

Her words struck a chord. She saw that and continued gently, “Salt them so their spirits will be tainted, then strike off their heads that their souls be refused entry to the Underworld. Then you may burn these remains with no regrets. They shall earn no honor in death, and if they are in Wotan’s hall already, this will eject them. No gain for the wicked.”

Marcus thought that over. That was indeed his wish. And he had no intention of letting these men finish their task after death. He gave the order to his Guards.

“I am going to bathe by the river, to rid myself of the residue of these men,” he said to Froydis. “After that, I shall have dinner in my tent. I would like to share my meal with you, so we can discuss these possibilities with the scent of good food in our nostrils, in place from this rancid decay.”

Froydis laughed. “I would love to join you, Marcus.”

It was a start.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 10-28-2011 @ 02:10 PM).]

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