Antioch, glorious city of Roman rule
Six hundred years gone
But still, your huntsmen ply their trade
They roam through the fruit strewn forests
And hunt the wild beasts on the tiled floor
They know not that they have moved thousands of miles
No longer ensconced in Syria under the eyes of Zeus
Instead, they rest in a museum of art
Where they will forever rest under the eyes of man
The little boy ran down the street, bare feet slapping loudly on the dirt road. He was laughing and smiling, with a wooden toy sword clutched tightly in one hand. There was to be a Triumph today for the returning legionnaires. He was especially excited because the armored man Mama couldn’t see had said that his father had brought home a surprise for them. The armored man was following after him, passing through the crowd without hesitation.
“Cato, slow. You don’t want to run into someone.”
The boy slowed with a sigh and waited for the man to catch up.
“But I want to see. I heard there were elephants and everything.”
“You’ll see soon enough.”
Cato smiled brightly up at the armored man as they walked through the crowd and began to notice. No one else could see the man he spoke to, no one but one of the legionnaires returning home from far Germania. Marcellus smiled when he saw the family Lare standing with his son and his eyes widened when he realized that young Cato could see the spirit as well. If it was coming on him this young, then perhaps, just perhaps, there was a bright future ahead for Cato in the service of the gods. They hadn’t caught it young enough for Marcellus, but they had for Cato, and he would have all the chances he needed to succeed.
They say all roads lead to Rome. To most people, that’s nothing more than a trite bit of humor from a defunct empire boasting about its greatness. To some, though, it’s a truism and a promise. To some who walk the byways time has forgotten, all roads still lead to Rome, imperial and grand. To those wanderers, the past is home more than the now. He was one of those wanderers, in his rundown junker of more rust than whole steel with a tape deck that clicked and refused to play B sides. He hadn’t meant to find his truth in the old words, hadn’t meant to become a wanderer who swore to a code forgotten. But here he was with his sunglasses on, his car pointed north and SPQR emblazoned on his forearm as an oath. Turning his gaze on the girl in the passenger seat, he smiled. She was a client, one of the lost. The Empire was now home only to those as lost as it was. His glance at his mileage. Not much further now. Probably that intersection there. The crossroads had power, even in ancient times. That was his gate today. Soon, they would both be home
She raised her shield, blocking the blade coming down at her head, and pivoted as the crowd above her roared. Her own blade cut deeply into the leathers her foe wore and she heard another cheer go up. Footsteps sounded on the sand behind her and she dropped, rolling to the side. Back on her feet, she faced two foes now. They were burly men, gladiators trained. Not like her. She was something else. Something they’d never seen before. She kicked the sand up into the face of one man and slammed her shield into the other, roaring her own battle cry.
She swept his feet out from under him and laughed with triumph as she looked up at the Emperor. Would he give her the signal and let her draw their blood in her father’s name? He nodded as the crowd cheered, every one of them as bloodthirsty as the last. Her blade bit deep and she relished the feeling of strength that flooded into her body as she offered her fallen foe to Mars Ultor. Then she stood again, twirling her gladius as she looked for her other opponent. He must be here somewhere.
“Breccan, are you even listening to me?”
He wasn’t, of course. His younger half-sister followed after him with a frown on her expressive face. She was just a bit shorter than him with dark red hair she kept tied back in a braid.
“Genovefa, I heard you the first time you said you don’t trust her. And I said she’s not a threat. She’s lost, hurt, and starving. Do you really think I can turn her away? Is that hospitality?”
“One of these days, hospitality is going to get you killed, Brec.”
“I don’t think so.”
When they got back to the house, the woman they’d been discussing was sitting on the floor with her red cloak wrapped around her shoulders. She looked up, fear in her eyes but her jaw clenched with determination. Breccan just smiled and spoke in his accented Latin.
“I brought dinner. Are you hungry?”
Octavia was waiting. Waiting for Breccan to return from his hunting trip, waiting for the right words to come to her mind, waiting for the sign she’d prayed for. She knelt before her small shrine and took down the statuette of Juno for the fourth or fifth time that day alone.
“Lucina Juno…What do I do? Please? I need something, advice, a sign, anything. I need to be sure before I tell him.”
Now, she paced again. Periodically glancing towards the horizon. He would be here soon. He’d promised. Last night had been the first night of the full moon and he’d promised to be here. She rested her hand on her stomach, wishing she knew the answer to tell him.
Breccan walked through the door with a string of rabbits in his hand and a smile on his face. He’d missed her so desperately while he’d been gone and now he could hold his Octavia in his arms again. He’d been later than he’d meant to, having had to hunker down for a few hours during a lightning storm, but now he was back. Octavia lay sleeping on their bed, tangled up in the blankets. He hung the rabbits by the hearth to deal with in a bit and sat on the edge of the bed, brushing her curly hair out of her face.
Octavia turned slowly, opening her eyes.
“Brec! You’re home!”
She sat up quickly, pulling him into her arms. That got a surprised laugh out of him and he kissed her forehead.
“Sorry I’m later than I planned on.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I have news for you.”
“Oh you do, do you?”
She made more room for him in the bed and impatiently waited for him to get his boots off before snuggling against him. She took his hands in her own and rested them on her stomach.
“I’m pregnant, Breccan. We’re going to have a baby.”
Breccan stood there sheepishly, holding a pot of something in his hands. Octavia looked up at him from where she was double-checking the edge on her sword.
“I know you said your lorica would protect you…but…can I?”
She stood slowly, coming over to see what he held. It was a pot of something blue and paint-like. Then she processed the swirling designs painted on his face, chest and arms.
“What is it?”
“Woad. It protects me in battle.”
She smiled up at him and pulled him down into a quick kiss.
“Then of course.”
His fingers were warm against her bare flesh, drawing an echoing warmth deep in her. She resolved then and there that once this battle was over, she was going to bring him back to this house of his, throw him down on the blankets and have her way with him, if just his touch could make her feel like this. His free arm went around her waist and she looked up.
“You were wiggling.”
“Oh, sorry.” She paused then. “What are you drawing, anyway?”
She could hear his smile even if she couldn’t see it.
“The symbols from your shield. The eagle, the spears, the lightning.”
She smiled and sat a bit straighter, letting him get to her lower back.
“You’re wonderful, Breccan. Thank you.”
Octavia saluted Breccan with the wooden training sword he’d given her and snapped her shield up into place as he came at her. He fought like no one she had ever faced before, all shouts and spins. He was fast and mobile, leaving her spinning to try to keep up with him. Finally, she locked his blade between her blade and her shield and slammed him to the ground with both. He went with a whoop of surprise and the wind left his lungs as he slammed into the ground. He lay there for a moment, dazed. When he came to his senses again, he realized she was standing over him with her sword point at his throat.
“Alright, alright, I yield.”
She tossed the weapon aside and offered him a hand up. Instead, he pulled her down into the grass and she laughed, letting him.
Breccan held his shield as comfortably as ever but felt odd with this strange and much longer weapon in his other hand. Octavia promised him he’d like the spear once he was used to it, that the range was worth the time it would take to learn to wield it well. It was also hard to focus with her hands on his arm, on his waist, on his shoulder. She kept moving, repositioning him and helping him through the movements until he was sure he must be as red as an apple or the paint on her shield. But he had to admit, he was starting to like this, if only for the promise of a great many more days of practice to come.
Octavia screamed, hurling curses in Latin at whoever it was who had grabbed her. He, it had to be a man with hands that large, tried to cover her mouth and she bit him as hard as she could. Then she slammed her head back into his face.
“Grab her, you idiot.”
Another set of hands grabbed her as her first attacker dropped. This time they were smart and more than one of them grabbed her, keeping themselves at a safe distance. Another man, one she recognized as disliking her presence in their village, came up in front of her and punched her in the gut as hard as he could. Her stomach lurched when she saw him pulling his fist back to do it again. But the blow never came. Instead, the man crumpled in a heap revealing Breccan standing behind him, casually spinning a staff.
“Let her go. Now.”
Octavia fell to her knees as they let her go and ran. When she looked up again, the sun was behind Breccan and he stood holding the staff in one hand with a raven on his shoulder. A shiver ran up her spine looking up at him and for a moment, she wondered if she’d been struck harder than she’d thought. But he really did look like a god in that moment, come down off his pedestal just for her. He knelt, gently wiping the blood from her lips.
“Are you alright?”
“I am now.”
He smiled and for a moment he lingered there, so close and yet so far. Then she reached out to put her arms around his neck and it was as though something in him broke. His lips crashed into hers. For half a second, she froze. She could feel him starting to pull back and clung to him, returning the kiss with an urgency she hadn’t known she had in her.
“But, of course, marching into the city as a soldier meant that Caesar wouldn’t be able to become Consul. So, he had a decision to make: whether to lay down his arms and grab the consulship or walk in as an Imperator and receive a Triumph.”
Professor Marianne Wright paced at the front of her class in a pair of cargo pants and a gray t-shirt with a latin phrase across the front in crimson. She was a fairly young woman, though she’d been teaching at this university for the past five years. For the most part, her students were paying attention to her lecture as she flipped through slides and talked about Roman history. Or at least they were until the doors opened to reveal a tall man in a no-nonsense suit with a pair of aviator sunglasses on.
“Excuse me, Professor Wright?”
She looked up, arms crossed over her chest.
“Yes, that’s me. But I’m in the middle of a class, so I’m going to have to-”
“I’m Special Agent Decker, Homeland Security. You need to come with me.” Then he looked around the room. “Class dismissed.”
“You…you can’t just…”
She sputtered and stammered, stalking towards him up the aisle. He showed her a badge, a frown on his face.
“I can and I have, Ma’am. Now, I need you to come with me. It’s a matter of national security.”
Marianne fidgeted with the security badge they’d given her and followed Special Agent Decker through the barricades that were up all around the Lincoln Memorial. She’d been wracking her brain the entire way there, trying to figure out what use they could possibly have for a Latin professor and history nerd. Or at least she had been until she saw the agitated man pacing back and forth before the seated statue of Lincoln.
“Miles, rogo iterum, ubi est sacerdos huius templi?”
She froze then, blinking. The first thing she really processed was that this man was wearing sandals. Only after that did she take in the tunic with the traveling cloak thrown over it, and the metal helmet with wings sprouting from either side. He was speaking to a very confused man in National Guard uniform who was plainly in over his head.
Special Agent Decker stood beside her, nodding slowly.
“He’s speaking Latin and he’s dressed like an extra in a gladiator flick. That’s what we need you for, Professor Wright. Figure out if this guy’s some kind of wacko or if he’s something we actually need to worry about.”
She pivoted in place, glaring up at the special agent.
“First off, he’s dressed like Mercury, the messenger of Olympus. Note the winged helmet. Second off, he just asked that soldier where the priests are. He thinks this is a temple.” She looked pointedly up at the doric columns that held the roof of the memorial up. “I can see his point.”
She paused for a brief moment and then looked up at Decker again.
“Can I go talk to him? Is that alright?”
Decker took his sunglasses off, cleaning the lenses on his shirt.
“Go ahead. If he makes any funny moves, we’ll make sure you get out.”
“Well, thanks for that…” she grumbled as she strode towards this strange man, trying to decide which term of address would be the best choice.