Titus, strode out of the tent flushed, his heart felt as if it were in a vice. News of his wife’s infidelity had reached him three days ago and he had been seething with rage since that moment. Rage and shame. The word would be all around the army by now. He could see it in the eyes of the men under his command as well. If he could not keep his woman under control how could he keep his regiment under control?
Curse that woman and curse Carinus!
The would be Emperor of all Rome had a reputation for such things, the wives and daughters of senators, officers, soldiers and the gods knew who else. Titus had viewed these accusations and rumours from a distance, the rumours were unsavoury but they were only rumours. Once Carinus was Emperor, he would be given a fat parcel of land and retire in luxury in the provinces, war, politics and rumours a long way behind him. Three days ago that changed. Even in the midst of battle, he could hardly focus on anything but brutal revenge on his wife and on Carinus. When Carinus had given him orders, he had saluted and obeyed but he would imagine thrusting a dagger into the mans throat and worse.
“You there, square those supplies away now!” His anger had brimmed over and his men were feeling the force of it. When he fought, it was with cold detachment, focussed only on what he would do for revenge, to gain back his honour, to redeem his shame and yet, and yet, so far he had done nothing. To kill an Emperor? To change history, to walk into the unknown and give Diocletan victory? These thoughts battled with his emotions as they had for days. Titus stopped, he could barely breathe and there was nowhere to go, nowhere he could turn. In that moment, a glimpse of white caught his eye between the tents, a finely dressed lady had walked by he was sure of it, was that a noble woman in the camp? He forgot his torment for a moment and followed her walking between the tents, soldiers stopping and saluting as he went. He ignored them and hurried to catch up with the lady he had seen. There she was! She had darted between the tents so quickly he could not be sure, but there was a sick feeling in his stomach as he caught sight of her again, he knew that woman, that shape, those legs and that hair, the way she moved, it could not be! It was impossible! Julia, here?
He rushed between the tents until finally he stood at the clearing in the centre of the encampment, and there pausing at the entrance of Carinus’ command tent, was Julia. She looked over her shoulder once to see if she was being followed and then checked her hair and dress before setting herself and walking into the tent as if she were Aphrodite herself. The world seemed to stop around him and Titus took a step forward, walking as if he were in a dream, he had not realised he had drawn his gladius. He crossed the open ground to the red and gold tent and stood before the two Pretorian at the entrance, his men. He did not see them glance nervously at his sword nor at each other, nor that an understanding passed between them and he walked past as they stood to one side and lifted their spears to allow him to through. Titus brushed the silk curtains away and walked into the centre of the command tent. Carinus stood with a goblet of wine in his hand pondering over the map of the Margus River battlefield but did not look up.
“I did not call for you Titus. What brings you here?”
Titus swallowed in the moment of moments and then spoke “My wife brings me here, I followed her to your tent.”
“What are you talking about man?” Carinus looked up for the first time to see his Pretorian commander standing in his tent, sword in hand. Carinus’ eyes narrowed and focussed, this was not the first life and death moment he had been involved in and held his nerve. “I see. And you believe the rumours that flow like cheap wine out of Rome do you Titus?” Carinus put his goblet down, Titus’ eyes followed his every move.
“Where is she Carinus? Where is Julia?”
“How would I know? In a bath in Rome for all I care. Come now Titus, you have challenged me and I understand the reason but you raise your sword against your Emperor. Put your sword away and pay no more attention to these whispers, we have a battle to win and an Empire to rule.” Carinus paused and then decided to stop speaking, he waited, watching Titus.
The silence drew out and then for some reason, Titus’ sword felt heavy in his hand and it lowered as the voice of reason returned. Carinus smiled and opened his arms walking toward Titus.
“Let us embrace as brothers once more and see an end to this battle and all battles Titus, you will be covered in glory when this is over and it will be over tomorrow.” Carinus placed his hands on Titus’ shoulder and Titus lowered his eyes.
It was the smell.
Unmistakable. The smell of lavender and greek spice, the smell of Julia and Julia alone. Carinus reeked of it.
Titus lifted his head and for the first time in three days felt the weight lift off his shoulders and felt his chest ease. He breathed in the scent and smiled at his Emperor and spoke calmly. “You should not fuck other men’s wives!”
Titus lifted his gladius and swung expertly, Carinus threw up his arms to defend himself but the gladius cut cleanly through his arm and deeply into neck. Carinus gurgled and dropped to his knees, blood spraying out in front of him. Titus did not wait and swung once more severing Carinus’ head from his shoulders. He re-sheathed his gladius, picked up the head and walked out of the tent and past his pretorian guard, then calmly threw the head into the clearing in front of the watching soldiers and walked past them to his tent. Not a single legionnaire tried to stop him.
Gerontius waited wondering when the right moment would present itself and then he saw the Hellion spasm and twitch, the wisps and smoke like fingers evaporated and stopped and for a moment the Hellion uncurled itself and seemed to be looking in confusion, as if it had just woken. Its head was like wet flesh and glistened darkly, its eyes large and searching in its wolf like skull. It snarled and seemed to be looking at Polinda, the moment was now! Gerontius flew toward the creature which saw him immediately and curled into a protective coil roaring at him aggressively, then to Gerontius surprise it attacked with lighting speed. Gerontius was a veteran and moved with cold efficiency, he avoided the lunging head and drove his sword into the creatures neck as it darted past. It roared in pain and spasmed and twisted around its wound. Gerontius followed up quickly and attacked again, the smoke like substance it had been feeding off leaked and fumed from its wounds and it gasped and fled into the distance. Gerontius did not follow but instead looked for Polinda. Polinda approached him changing appearance slowly, a faint hint of spice lingered and then there she was again. Together they floated high above the confusion of the battle camp facing each other. They did not speak. Gerontius held out his hand and then slowly, Polinda took it and together they travelled back to the camp of the Magia.
Copyright Faramond Frie © 2016