Standard Bearer

Chapter 2

The previous night.

Through the flames and smoke of the campfire, through the blackest of evenings, through a sea of bobbing heads, Oppius could still see the precious, gleaming head of the legion's silver eagle. The eagle nested in the sacellum, a sacred shrine dedicated to the standard. Even in the safety of the Roman encampment the standard bearer tried to keep an eye on the semi-divine totem. Oppius was one of the youngest ever legionaries to be awarded the honour of serving as an aquilifer??-??a standard bearer. Lucius sometimes missed being in the thick of the fighting however, owing his duty to protecting the standard rather than fighting alongside his friends and comrades. Although the eagle had tasted blood a couple of times recently when an enemy had been a glory-hunter, or just plain mad. Gore had smeared the eagle's beak and talons as the aquilifer had fought off the barbarians. Oppius was honour bound to sacrifice his life rather than the standard.

His attention was taken away from the shrine when Teucer handed him a plate, with a charred piece of venison on it. Oppius drained half his cup of wine and poured the remainder over his plate, to soften and moisten the meat. At the same time however he watched Roscius down his cup in one and quickly refill it.

"You should pace yourself Roscius. We have a long day ahead tomorrow. You don't want to spend the voyage forever emptying your guts over the side of the boat," Teucer remarked, full-knowing how his warning would probably fall on deaf ears. As their General often exclaimed that "Caesar must be Caesar", so too Roscius was Roscius, a drinking and killing machine.

"If I am ill tomorrow or go weak at the knees, it'll be due to sick sickness rather than any hangover," the hulking legionary replied, wine dribbling down his stubbled chin. "If man was meant for the sea, the Gods would have given us gills."

"I remember the last time when you went weak at the knees, when you fell for that whore in Massilia," the Briton remarked, smiling and taking a swig of watered down acetum from his own cup.

"Aye, I nearly lost my heart to that girl. I also nearly lost a more important part of my body, due to the itch she gave me," Roscius replied, laughing at his own joke.

"So what is Britain like Teucer?" Marcus Fabius asked, when the laughter had died down. Marcus Fabius was a teenager, a new recruit. He was the son of a merchant who had once been Oppius' centurion, when the standard bearer was a raw recruit himself. The elder Fabius had asked Lucius to keep an eye on Marcus. The youth's ambition was to be a poet, but the father had entered the son into military service. "I want to put some steel into his soul. I just don't want some Gaul putting some steel between his ribs." Combat had yet to scar his body or war ravage his features and innocence. "The enemy won't know whether to fuck you or fight you lad," Roscius had commented upon first being introduced to the sensitive looking adolescent.

"There are parts of my homeland that are green and lush but that's partly because it rains so much. The people can be friendly, especially when they've had a drink or two. Yet my people can also be violent, especially when they've drunk too much. The tribes are forever squabbling between themselves, although our imminent invasion might just unite the usually fractious tribal leaders. Caesar must aim to divide and conquer. He also needs to avoid a pitched battle on open ground, as the enemy archers and charioteers might pick us off in a piecemeal fashion," Teucer posited, picking at his venison in an equally piecemeal fashion.

"And what of your people? What are they like?" Fabius asked, his eyes filled with curiosity, although his heart was somewhat filled with fear in regards to the strange barbarian race.

"My people can be proud, rapacious, ignorant, brave and noble??-??in short, they are much like everyone else Marcus."

"But will you consider them just like everyone else when you pull back your bowstring tomorrow and they're in your line of sight?" Roscius gruffly asked.

"No, but I'll still know which side I'm on, don't worry about that Roscius. A Briton will still receive an arrow in his front, as opposed to a Roman receiving one in his back. In fighting for Rome though, I believe I will also be fighting for my homeland and its people still. I have little doubt that Rome will subdue Britain eventually??-??and unfortunately that subjugation may well be bloody, as our experiences in Gaul have proved. But it also may be a price worth paying. Rome will tax Britain and mine it for its tin and take a share of the harvest, but in return we will receive laws, security, increased commerce and advances in the arts and sciences. Tin and corn are a fair trade for a more civilised society."

His voice was clear and confident, but Oppius couldn't help but notice how the Briton appeared troubled, or pained, as he spoke.

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