Standard Bearer

Chapter 9

After listening to Caesar run through some finer points of the mission the centurion was finally dismissed, with the General insisting that he take the remaining food and wine from the table and give it on to his unit. The rain abated not as Oppius made his way from Caesar's tent back to his own. Yet getting wet was the least of the soldier's problems. Never mind the rain, life was shitting upon him, he judged. He recalled one of Caesar's last comments. Either he should return having completed his mission??-??or not bother returning at all. Caesar could display both warmth and a steely coldness within the space of a sentence.

Rather than try to soften the blow for Teucer by giving him a measure or two of falernian first Oppius recounted his meeting??-??and disclosed their imminent mission??-??as soon as he returned.

"With friends like you, who needs enemies?" the archer exclaimed, filling the air with curses??-??in Latin and his native tongue. "It's a suicide mission, at best. Can we not somehow get out of it?"

"Caesar's not one to take to take no for an answer," Oppius replied, shaking his head. The centurion recalled how his co-consul, Bibulus, once tried to defy Caesar during their term in office. Caesar bullied and humiliated his colleague to such an extent - at one point even stooping to dump excrement over his fellow consul - that Bibulus remained in his house for the rest of the year. The people had called it "the consulship of Julius and Caesar", such was his dominance and will at getting his own way.

"And he wants just the two of you to head into enemy territory and find this agent?" Roscius asked. Part of him felt relief at being excluded, but part of him felt uneasy at not being able to be there for Oppius.

"I was all for volunteering you to join us but Caesar repeated that less is more. He said that we needed to be a blade, which cut through the land, rather than a hammer, trying to bludgeon our way to success."

"Caesar is a bastard for ordering you to go on such a mission," Roscius replied, whilst also silently offering him thanks for providing the unit with a veritable banquet of food, to be washed down with plenty of wine.

"Caesar is Caesar," Oppius responded, shrugging his shoulders.

Within the hour however, after several cups of wine, the four men were toasting their commander??-??and raising their cups also to Oppius and Teucer. Roscius joked to the Briton if he could have his gladius if he didn't come back, rather than inherit his bad luck. Fabius alone was quiet during the drinking session and banter. Oppius took him aside later that evening and said "to not to start mourning me yet lad," offering him a smile and the last quail's egg. Oppius also took Roscius aside however and asked him to keep an eye on the youth - and make him practice his archery - until he returned. The Roman handshake the two friends gave each was firmer than usual that night.

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