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Silently, Marius waded his way through the early morning mist that was eerily lit by the sharp moonlight. The cold morning air bit at his stubbly jaw: ripping any fatigue left by the early start. Smells of wet grass and mud enriched the damp air, but also became a constant reminder to Marius and his men of their vulnerability in the vast expanse of the open meadow. All was quiet except for the occasional cheer from the drunken soldier’s camp which lay in the distance, lit up brightly by a ring of burning torches which spat flakes of dwindling ash into the cooling breeze. Crouched, ready for almost any attack, Marius and his army of seven crept forward, like tigers nearing their prey, each step executed perfectly, silently and cautiously.
Marius shifted his hands on the cold leather grip of his three foot long sword, a beautiful weapon, which was amazingly light and powerful for its size. In a split second Marius had signalled to stop as his nostrils had caught a faint fragrance of something he couldn’t quite place. Before he could study it any further, someone appeared on the edge of the camp that was now only 20 yards away. The group of men instantly ducked out of sight, creating undulating ripples in the bank of mist that lay over the damp grass. Now, with his head on the damp muddy ground Marius could place the smell that had once worried him: oil.
The guard, not expecting any trouble, shivered and turned to a log fire next to him and warmed his hands. He obviously enjoyed the smell of the burning wood as he inhaled deeply, relaxing his shoulders. He fell into the embers of the fire shortly after the unforgiving arrow plunged deeply into his neck; splitting his spine. Marius knew he had little time to make it to the enemy camp before someone alerted the entire army that they were under attack. After sheathing his great sword to his back, he made a break, feeling all the muscles in his body moving in unity as he raced across the moon lit meadow, with the grass whipping his at legs.
Meanwhile, a drunken figure stumbled out of one of the tents that made the perimeter of the camp, spotting the guard ‘sleeping’ in the fire.
“Oi,” He spluttered, gesturing one of his friends out from the tent. “Look at that guard.” He had to rest a hand on his friends shoulder to stay upright. “He couldn’t stay awake, not even for one hour if it was me...” But the friend was totally sober; spotting the arrow and the group of men running towards the camp. Then the man showed his inexperience as he froze in a startled panic, which sealed his fate. Another arrow was fired, but this time entering the chest of the innocent solider, who fell along with his drunken companion.
Although surrounded by the enemy, Marius was now relaxed as he had done the hard work, penetrating the camp’s defences, now death was at his fingertips. The atmosphere had changed though; units of guards were marching towards the perimeter, which made the more sober men nervous. Marius grinned, marvelling at the pointless defence. The sequenced metallic crunch coming from the guards was suddenly drowned out by roar that shook the camp, all heads turned to see a wall of fire surrounding the village of tents. Marius was amazed by the simplicity of the fire that now prevented him from escaping, noting the idea for his own camp.
The air was now filled with the smoky cocktail of burning grass and oil met by the strong smell of wine that hung in the early morning air.
“We’ve got about four of five hours until dawn breaks.” Marius said comfortably as he strolled. “Start fires in the smiths and storage tents, while I get some plans.” Confidently Marius cracked his back. “We will all meet at the horse’s paddock in two hours.” The presence of the seven men melted away until Marius was alone.
In the centre of the camp laid an old village, overtaken by the resting army, which was made a home for the general and his closest colleagues. Marius didn’t need a map to find the meeting: he just had to follow his nose. The General’s meeting was always accompanied by a buffet of all the best produce that could be stolen from the surrounding lands.
The rich smell of roast pork pleasured the nose inside the town hall. The rough wooden beam that hung high over the meeting was not the most comfortable seat in the house, but Marius had a good view of all the proceedings.
After a while of summing up numbers and social discussions, a beast of a man stood up, silencing the room. His close cut beard gripped his face, not moving as he patted his toga into position. The man looked around the room addressing his men. Presumably he was the general of what had once been one of the most respected Roman armies but according to legion history they stood against ‘First-Born’, Marius’ army, causing their exile from Rome.
“We shall meet the enemy at Narivia Lake.” the strong voice bellowed. “They are out numbered by five thousand men, but according to my plan it will only be three on the front line.” Confusion spread around the room until another man spoke.
“What are you going to do with two thousand men?” He said waiting to be amazed.
“Reinforcements,” The look of confusion increased on everyone’s faces. The general grinned confidently, revealing a set of gleaming gold teeth. “We have one week until we meet at Narivia Lake; just enough time to build a sufficient number of ships to set all two thousand men afloat. Once the mini army is sailing their flexibility is immense.” The thick arms of the man cut through the air in simple gestures that added to his dictating presence. “They can land almost anywhere, but if we don’t need them they are untouchable.” The room smiled and nodded in agreement, but Marius was smiling for a different reason as his hand scuttled across the parchment that rested on his knees.
“Sir!” bellowed a fully uniformed soldier as he burst through the wooden doors. The room turned to watch him powerfully stride across the floor and whisper something in the ear of the man standing.
“Shut the wine tents, kill the rebelling slaves and stop the fires from…” that was the last Marius heard as he was making his way out. He was happy with his achievement; they thought the battle already won but with his information it was far from over.
“Good work my friends.” Marius said congratulating his men as they crouched behind a fence in the paddock. “Now are you up for a real battle.” the men nodded. “The general’s battle guard is located on the other side of this paddock; if we can destroy them then the general himself will be affected and will be weaker on the battle field.” The men had been waiting for their secondary task to be coined by Marius but accepted it willingly.
The guards’ quarters were an old cow barn, but now it housed about fifteen of the army’s best and most loyal soldiers. Marius’ men had surrounded it easily as there were no look outs. Once again he found himself crouched slowly moving forward. Now Marius held two short swords that were housed in his chest plate, he had never used a thigh sheath during battle as it prevented certain movements. A small door on the side of the barn slid open to reveal a muscular man, carrying a slave girl in his arms. He didn’t notice the creeping Marius until he felt the cold blade slicing deeply into his neck. The girl screamed loudly as blood poured over her, but she was gagged efficiently by Marius.
Barricades were made with anything the seven men could find; spears, tables, chairs even the carcass of a dead pig was used on a small door. Marius looked over the camp from the top of the barn, admiring the work of his men as plumes of smoke reached into the air across the vast site. Once again the air stung the eyes and filled with smell of smoke and wine as flaming barrels of oil were dropped into the barn from the roof. The soldiers franticly attacked the blockades that once were doors. More screams from women could just be hared over the rumble of the fire. A horn sounded from the other side of the camp and the metallic crunch started approaching.
“Let’s go!” ordered Marius walking away from the barn that now smelt of burning flesh. “Get ready to steal the horses, I’ll catch you up,” Marius commanded remembering the slave who he had left gagged on the floor. He found her crying where he left her, trapped under the man she was with. After moving the body, he helped her up but she slapped him and ran off with her head in her hands.
The dagger was blocked by a textbook move from Marius: instantly breaking the open arm of the attacker and pinning him directly on the short grass that surrounded the barn. He cried out in an obvious pain when his splintered bone exited his olive skinned elbow.
“You’re scum.” Spat the drunken attacker, into the ground.
“Who are you to say that?” Marius pressed the dagger into the spine of the man, who winced in pain.
“I’m now the last of the general’s guard thanks to you. I knew you would come, you always do: you fight like pigs. Do you remember what you did at Celts?”
“You stood against us therefore you became a rebel army; exiled from Rome.” Whispered Marius; slyly into the ear of the man. The man laughed.
“You know nothing.” The man squeaked as Marius forced the blade through his lower spine when he saw one of his men beckoning him on a horse.
Hundreds of horses poured out of the paddock before anyone realised what was happening. Marius felt his heart pumping along with his horses as he leapt into the dawn but with the words of the dead man singing in his ears.
The thick black, curly locks, which sat on Marius’ head, had been oiled down: revealing the strong handsome face of a born leader. His skin sung in the Mediterranean sun, which added to the flawlessness of his face. He now wore a vibrant red tunic, cut short at the knee and pleated from the waist. Marius’ torso was protected by a shining metal carapace, the reflection increasing the power of his presence that seemed to fill the room. Standing to attention, waiting for permission to enter the generals’ office, he had one hand rested on his sword and the other held his helmet, Marius only wore this uniform during parades and meetings. He could hear conversation on the other side of the thick oak door but it was difficult to make out the words being said.
A short, stubby man with only one arm and several scars running down his face stepped out of the meeting.
“Marius,” The guard said aloud, whilst shutting the door, “He will meet you in his private quarters after his current meeting for a private request,” the guard nervously checked the door as he whispered. Marius nodded, although he didn’t specify Marius knew what the man meant.
“The generals will see you now.” The guard announced in a firm voice whilst opening the door once more.
The clean smell of fresh flowers and water hit Marius as he stepped into a large room, beautifully decorated with paintings of the Gods, famous battles and on the far wall a painting of Rome herself protected by the crests of her legions. The relaxing sound of a water fall accompanied the room.
“Marius Stallion; from the Dark Scouts,” Marius stated as he knelt on the red marble floor with his head bowed. “Reporting a success,” The six men sitting in front of him applauded.
“Your news brings great joy to our ears,” the man who spoke was sitting on a golden throne and wore a purple tunic, a statement of wealth.
“Thank you, my men are unwounded and we obliterated the general’s guard, every last one. We also managed to retrieve a total of sixty new horses, bread for battle,” All the men smiled in amazement. “But I bring more valuable information:” Marius now stood unveiling the crumpled parchment as if it were sacred. “Narivia Lake…” Marius continued, including every last detail of what he had witnessed that morning.
“So we are out numbered by five thousand men.” The tone and expression that was imprinted on the young mans face, who sat at the end of the table, sung of a cold fear.
“Three thousand,” Marius swiftly corrected. “If we succeed in destroying the ships”
“I believe that fire is the most efficient way to destroy a wooden ship and we have to ways of executing the…”
“You are in no position to lecture us on battle tactics! We respect your work and we shall discuss our options and take action. You and your men are dismissed until dawn tomorrow.” Marius’ face melted along with his confidence when the words sunk into his ears but Marius had questions stirring violently in his head that were hungry for answers. Suppressing the thoughts, Marius bowed apologetically, turned on his heel and strode out of the room.
“Marius,” sounded a voice at the end of the hall way. Marius stood quickly. “I see you’ve got changed. Oh, stand at ease: no formalities here these are my private quarters: where I can relax. Attend to him!” a slave offered Marius a goblet of wine. “Don’t give him that crap! He is my guest attend to him properly.” The slave had scuttled off before Marius had time to accept. Although Marius disagreed with the behaviour towards the slaves, he made no effort to intervene when dealing with this man. The legion was his: meaning that he was one of the most powerful men in Rome.
The general’s quarters seemed extremely similar to the meeting room except that there were tables laden with colourful fruits that shone against the simple décor of the large room. A picturesque view sat on the balcony. The mountains in the distance met by the town that had grouped around the permanent soldiers’ camp that sweated in the relentless Mediterranean sun. Marius felt lucky being in the cool shade and being catered for by one of the richest men in Rome.
“Sir may I ask a question?”
“What happened at Celts?” The general let the question hang in the air.
“I am going to be honest with you Marius so take a seat,” He gestured at a set of chairs. “I believe you have heard about betrayal and lies. Forget everything you think you know,” Marius nodded intently. “I was a young general, newly elected and ambitious.” His voice drifted off into the past. “Three legions had gathered to make sure the Celts were totally a thing of the past. There was me, Bruticus and Julius. Julius was the father of my wife and Bruticus being the man we meet in a week. We had the city totally secure and a total of thirty two thousand men, a formidable force, but it was not as easy as you might think; they had eighteen thousand men and the city’s defences. So between us three there was a dispute as to who would attack first: facing the full Celtic army. Julius and I had an unspoken pact leaving Bruticus, with the smallest army to face at least ten thousand men. He pleaded for support but Julius refused.” The slave had returned with Marius wine, but the general took this time to call for some grapes but remained silent in the presence of the slave.
“Leave the jug and go.” Marius spoke quietly and politely to the slave, after the she had poured him a glass of the rich red wine. The slave scuttled out of the room.
“There were many arguments especially between me and Bruticus to the point where he punched me. So, taking revenge, I imprisoned his wife and raped her,” Marius’ face filled with disgust but the general, in a complete trance, didn’t notice. “He didn’t like that not one bit so he attacked my camp in the dead of night with all his men fighting like it was their mother being raped. I had lost over one thousand men before we managed to slow the force down and nearly two and a half when I made the decision to kill her but they just kept going until seven thousand men appeared from Julius’ legion. They retreated but vowed to take revenge.” The tone in the general’s voice showed he was proud of his actions and expected everyone else on his side to agree with him, but Marius had different ideas.
A cold silence settled as Marius came to terms with the man he had risked his life for so many times. Suddenly realizing the expression on the dark scouts face the general moved on. “It’s time to get to the matter in hand,” Marius’ mind still lay in another place. “Marius!” The general snapped, finally getting the attention he wanted. “I summoned you for a reason,” everything the general did fuelled the hurt that was swelling into anger. “Guards!”
Marius stood. Slowly, he moved his arms up to the handle of the sword that lay sheathed on his back. Like a flustered bird, the general scrambled across the chair. Marius grinned realising that he could enjoy this. The sound of rubbing metal stung the ears as the sword was unsheathed. The general was left sprawling on deep red marble floor when the chair lost balance: toppling backwards.
“N. n. No! Guards!” each second dragged on as death closed in on the quivering general. The cold plastered wall felt like the devils grasp as the ageing man searched for something, anything that could shield him from the nearing death.
“All these men,” Marius shook: demented with rage. “All these men, risking their precious lives in the name of Rome so you…” Marius paused in a bitter discust. The door took flight across the room as the most elite unit in the entire army surged into the room but paused when they recognised the demented attacker.
Marius ripped the circular shield off his back and weighed it in his hand. The room radiated trepidation: watching, feeling analysing every breath of the rampaging figure in the centre of the room. Staring at the emblem printed in a gold paint shining in the sunlight that now divided the room. Although filled with the uttermost hatred of betrayal, Marius felt the life being torturously being sucked from his heart. Pain drowned out the love from Marius’ body; leaving a deathly figure standing with hatred burning in his cold eyes.
The clash of wood and marble echoed deeply in the silent room. Marius turned to his objective, who was cautiously standing behind the man he had once called friend. Unsuspectingly Marius impelled forward with his weapon: creating an opening in the stomach of his new found enemy. The general clenched the cold blade as it penetrated his lower chest. A fusion of blood and guts stained the purple fabric around the sword, the vile smell could be tasted in the sweltering heat. The dazed general stroked his new body part that also fixed itself firmly in the wall: holding the dying general on his feet as he slipped into an ungraceful death.
A roar that could make a grown man weep filled the air. Marius now danced across the room with his two short swords flowing in and out of warm flesh but that phenomenon didn’t last for long as sticks of metal stabbed into the metal wings of Marius. United by the cause of their conflict the two parties battled in a fearless rage.
The senses became a blur, nothing mattered anymore; Marius knew that he would lose his life eventually. Facing death with a bloody blade he soldiered on relentlessly leaving his mark on the world he had fought for all his life. Death first broke Marius’ formidable defence with an arrow: it flew a deadly speed until it pierced the cheek, shattering the strong white teeth and cutting his tongue. The rough metal rubbed Marius’ tongue as the flights caught in the swift movements of battle. Blades were slowly breaking through the barrier; each time they came further and further. A sea of blood and intestine mopped the chilled floors; blood streamed out as death slid in. Eventually Marius’ legs gave up. His arm was the last thing to stop fighting when it was hurled across the floor. His heart was already dead.