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Old Rome

As far as he remembered, his father was a tall, well-built man with dark hair and perfect manner. He always knew what to say or how to act. He always had an excellent, suitable advice at hand and he could rely on every soldier that knew him. He was welcomed everywhere. He had no enemies and everybody treated him with the same respect and friendship: whether ordinary legionnaires, tribunes, legates or any other person he met on his way. Marcus Lucius’s mother was always proud to entertain guests coming to their house on a hill outside of Rome. From here, she could overlook the most important city of the time. When the time for mourning was over and all guests had spoken their condolences, the real emptiness took over every free space in the house.

Marcus Lucius barely knew his father. There weren’t many opportunities to spend time together, even if they lived in one place for a year. Once, Marcus Lucius was taken to Britannia by his father. It was a long, fascinating journey with many short, but remarkable memories. Marcus Lucius saw snow for the very first time in his life. The surrounding had another shadow of green and the sky was mostly clouded. Even the blue sky looked different there. He loved the rain and the sun. He loved the free spaces there. He was ten years old, had two months of fascinating journey between Rome and Britannia behind, and he had to work like a real legionnaire. His father gave him to the regular temp full of soldiers and send for him just every now and then. Maximus didn’t visibly intervene in the daily routine of his son and relied on the supervision of his friends. One of them was Appius, a tall, slim and bony man with shrill tone, when he was unsatisfied. He threw comments, orders and straight looks. He was hard, but fair. His advices were always adjusted, even if communicated in a brutal, direct, short way. Appius reminded Marcus Lucius on slave driver. Appius used to scream every now and then, because his look said more than thousand words. Marcus Lucius tried as hard as he could not to attract negative attention. It was quite hard to move the heavy sword properly, but every further day of training made it easier to handle to weapon. Mostly, he was good, but just good enough for his age. Compared to other legionnaires, he was simply too young. A ten years old boy couldn’t really contest with trained 20 years old ones. They were bigger, stronger and they have been training since years. Already during the first day, he had to sweep the stakes, even if he tried to deal blows as well. He lost every combat during the first training, but he always stood up and was ready to fight further. He had so many bruises and some wounds, but it didn’t matter. He stood heavily breathing and looking patiently and respectfully around.

-You’re a brave little man. – said Appius when he came closer to him. – You’re a brave little man.

Marcus Lucius didn’t feel proudly or satisfied. He lost every battle and he wanted his revenge. Suddenly, his father appeared behind him and Marcus Lucius heard how Appius welcomed Maximus in the training camp. You just simply knew that Maximus was around, because his charisma was in the air.

-You can be proud of your little boy. He doesn’t lose the overview in the hardest situations and he acts with honour. I never have seen such a spirit in such a small body.

Maximus laughed and slapped his son on the back. Only then, Marcus Lucius felt better.

While returning to the tent, where the soldiers were sleeping, Marcus Lucius didn’t expect his father talking with him. However, Maximus didn’t keep silence. He walked proudly, made big, self-conscious steps, and talked with his engaging, manly voice:

-Stay focussed. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you. You fought well, even if you lost. You can learn more from one lose than from thousand victories. You have to stay focussed more next time.

Marcus Lucius nodded with understanding and enjoyed the short personal contact to his father. Some days later, his father appeared again at the end of the training and slapped him friendly on the back.

-Stay focussed, my boy. – He repeated and Marcus Lucius was sure that he won’t hear anything else from his father.

-How do you do it? – He asked then and Maximus laughed with joy.

-That’s a good question. – He said. – Life never asks us whether we are prepared or not, whether we’re old enough or not. You have to stay focussed on what you want to achieve and keep going in this direction. You should notice the surrounding to analyse the risk or danger coming towards you, but you can’t lose the goal in front of your eyes. Stay watchful. Stay focussed. Dare to do what you want.

-So why do I have to be prepared, if life brings surprises then?

Maximus laughed even louder.

-Nobody can seriously promise you that you can be prepared for everything, but being prepared for different things makes it easier to build-up a strategy for surprising situations. You need some basics for being able to estimate the situation, the related risk and the related win.

The stay in Britannia for a year was combined with such rare, but serious and friendly talks. They didn’t happen as often as Marcus Lucius wished, but he appreciated every advice from his father. First thanked to the time spent in Britannia, Marcus Lucius discovered why his father was so popular, respected and well-known. Already his presence made the moment more important. Even if he gave advices, it didn’t sound so brutal like in the case of Appius. Even if he gave criticism, it didn’t sound patronizingly. Marcus Lucius didn’t dare to wish being like his father.

Marcus Lucius never had any temptations to be promoted. His father was already quite high in the army structure. Maximus was legati, a legion commander, who also controlled the auxiliary regiments attached to their legion, headed the civil administration and had to report directly to the emperor in Rome. He was one of the youngest in such a crucial post, but he had enough experience and backup from the legions behind him. They loved their empire with the incomprehensible, undefined, but noticeable power of Rome: Rome, the endless, powerful city and unlimited, successful state. The name of their capital was expressed with love due to the anagram for amor. Rome was worth fighting for.

Marcus Lucius preferred to stay on his post as a legionnaire. Once, he asked his father about being such an important commander and Maximus thought about it for a while, before answering the question.

-It’s not easy, my son, and it’s a great responsibility. The further you go, the more enemies you have.

-Enemies? – Marcus Lucius was surprised, because he never saw a person acting unfriendly towards his father.

-Oh yes, enemies. They watch your every step, they analyse your weaknesses and smile politely in front of you. Still, you have to stay focussed and know whom to trust in hard times.

-How do you know who is your friend and who’s not, then? – Marcus Lucius was curious.

-Sometimes, it’s easy, and sometimes, it’s not. You have to get trust in soldiers, when you fight with them on your side, because you need someone to rely on, but you have to stay focussed and hope that you chose the right people around you. If you’re not sure about someone, let it be. Don’t push yourself too far, because, of all things, you have to be true to yourself.

-And that’s it? There is no further way to be sure of it?

-You never can be sure about anything. People change, because life brings new experiences every day. You can just assume with high probability what the next day can bring you. Due to collected experiences and memories, you assume with high probability that someone is your friend or not. Sometimes, you have to dare a leap, sometimes you have to draw back. Still, there is nothing for sure in life. We are all people struggling with our surrounding, with situations and with ourselves.

His father’s tone was reasoning and somewhat sad. He didn’t make the impression like talking with his son, rather like talking to a good friend. Marcus Lucius listened cautiously to every word and inhaled the advices like a sponge. He appreciated them all.

He had his training hours and had to hold the regular short gladius of 24 inches long. Mostly, he had to fight against the best young legionnaires and he continued losing. However, his loses were less visible and he became more successful in defence as well as in attack. Even when he lost a fight, many saw him as a winner. He was a ten years old boy and had serious rivals, who didn’t simplify the battles. Marcus Lucius was satisfied to see that it became easier every day to move gladius the way he wanted. His muscles were growing. His statue started to look manly. His childish eyes were focussed and his movements won fluency and self-consciousness. In the beginning, in autumn, Marcus Lucius was a motivated fighter. In late spring, he developed into a motivated and trained fighter. He had trained a lot during that time. He woke up earlier than everyone, no matter what the weather was like, and warmed up in the darkness of the morning. In the evening, he sat down somewhere near to a fire place and analysed the working day. He was the last person standing in the line for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He was the first person on the training field and the last person to leave it. He learnt to decode hints from Appius’s face impressions. When Appius moved his head to the right, mostly he wasn’t satisfied. If he moved his head to the left, he was totally dissatisfied. When he nodded, even minimally, it was a good sign. When he screamed, someone had screwed up. When he crossed his arms over his chest, he was torn and worried. It was so easy to get feedback almost right away.

Towards the end of Marcus Lucius’s stay in Britannia, Maximus took him away from camp almost every evening and they trained together outside, in the lovely surrounding between leafy trees, verdant meadows and wet drops of rain. Mostly, they didn’t talk a lot. Maximus moved his sword or just a simple, long stick and tried to distract his son. At the very beginning, the spontaneous attempts to get Marcus Lucius nervous and irritated were quite successful. Maximus always gave him short advice how to improve the technique. But to learn how to stay aware of the surrounding with several enemies in front of him, was even more important to Marcus Lucius.

-It’s easy to concentrate on another person in front of you, but in a fight, you have so many soldiers around you, when you have some riders, some soldiers from your legion, a group of enemies around you, you have to understand the danger around you without losing your mind. In the chaos of a battle, it’s very difficult to stay focussed, but it’s possible.

Maximus played some games with Marcus Lucius to prepare him for the real combats. During these trainings Marcus Lucius noticed how genius his father was and how poor his own technique was, even after weeks of training. Compared to the level of legionnaires, Marcus Lucius knew his father was like a god. He could conquer every person with just a minimal movement. It was fascinating how fast and accurate he was. His precise moves were fluent, quick and perfect. He didn’t attack; he simply defended himself and used the power of Marcus Lucius against the boy. Maximus explained in detail how to apply the tricks and how to improve. He usually didn’t give any compliments, he rather used to say “You have to be better” and “Focus, Marcus Lucius, focus”. When they didn’t train the muscles, they sat down on bigger stones and played strategic games. Then Maximus drew lines on the ground which looked like a simplified political map and set some smaller stones on the different sides of the borders. The stones symbolised legions that were ready to fight. Sometimes, they played as a team against an imaginary enemy, and sometimes, they played against each other. Marcus Lucius sat concentrated and was so focussed that he didn’t even feel the coldness outside. Maximus smiled when he saw his son freezing and even not noticing it. He was visibly proud to see the intelligence and endurance.

When the day came, when Marcus Lucius had to go back to Rome, Appius stepped by and slapped him on the back. Then, he bowed shortly in front of him and went away. There were no words needed to know that there was a kind of respect a teacher can have towards his pupils. On the contrary, Maximus gave some orders. Marcus Lucius was supposed to send greetings to the family, support his mother and keep on training. Marcus Lucius was moved and wasn’t able to talk. He simply nodded again and again. He wasn’t sure whether he understood every word he heard, because he had to fight against the tears. He was sad and unsatisfied. He wanted to stay longer, but it was not possible. His stay here was an exception. Usually, boys didn’t see the inside of an army camp before they haven’t finish the 15th year of life.

Marcus Lucius reminded the moments of past, while he was lying in bed with high fever. His darkest thoughts contrasted extremely with the happy, shiny, late afternoon. The surrounding didn’t match the mood at all Marcus Lucius was in. He was in pain, but he needed it to know that he was alive. Additionally, it was a kind of self-punishment. The gloomy part of his soul wanted to have its revenge immediately. Because he thought he was responsible for all what had happened, because he hasn’t considered a possible betrayal of Quintus, it was Marcus Lucius, who had to suffer. A piece of the penalty should be shared with Quintus. This was the main thought which came to his mind every now and then when he was conscious.

One day, he was longer awake and perceived more of his surrounding than before. He saw a girl, maybe 18, maybe 20 years old, who immediately went away when she noticed his state of mind. When she was sure he fell unconscious again, she washed his wounds very attentively, concentrated and tenderly. She used to quote Homer’s works as far as Marcus Lucius could notice. She claimed the Song of Ilion in Greek telling the story of more than just few weeks in the final year of the Trojan war.

“Take courage. State what your powers tell you.

By Apollo, whom Zeus loves, to whom you, Calchas,

pray in prophesy to the Danaans, I swear this—

while I live to look upon the light of day,

no Achaean will raise violent hands against you,

no, not even if you name Agamemnon,

who claims he’s by far the best Achaean.”

Her lips were moving slowly, barely noticeable. They were full and nicely pink. Her cheeks were faint and noble, but they showed she spent a lot of time outside. Her eyes weren’t watchful, rather concentrated on the pieces of Marcus Lucius’s body that she had to clean again. Her voice was pleasant and enjoyable. It worked like medicine. Her fond touch was desirable.

At first, Marcus Lucius hoped that she was his wife. They looked similarly. Decima had long, dark red, curly hair and sun-bathed skin, too. She wasn’t shy towards sun like the Roman noble ladies, who used to avoid any fresh air and sun rays. Decima liked to stay in the garden and meeting her best friend on one of the markets in Rome. She had a nice, slim, and curvy body and a wonderful, catching smile. The unknown girl was a little bit smaller, more daintily. Her fingers were longer and her look was sadder, but she showed a special kind of patience and power. Her moves were more insecure compared to Decima’s. His wife used to stroke him stronger, more confident. The unknown girl apparently didn’t have much experience with men.

-Who are you? – He asked finally.