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The Eagle in Winter

"Nos Stabimus"

By Tomos JacksonPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
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The Frozen forests of Campania

Note from Author:

Resubmitting this after realizing that my challenge stories haven't been published in the general search area.

Also:

Don't forget to check out "Opening Moves" for the beginning of the battle between Lur and Marcus.

Marcus Longinus, tribune laticlavius and acting legate of the IV Legion of Atlas, wandered silently through the tall frozen forests of Campania. He stared down at his boots as they, step by step, crunched through the thick snow beneath him. The air around him was was almost silent, save for the crumpling snow beneath his feet. The feint sounds of pots banging and voices calling echoed from the castra the legion had set up the previous night. A few of the cries belonged to women and children, those humans liberated from slavery in the raids on the Ogodai villages. But all of this was fading as Marcus made his way deeper into the forest and away from his men.

The chill air caused his breath to come out in clouds of vapor and the cold pierced his cloak, segmentata armor and tunic to send occasional shivers coursing through his body. He didn't mind the cold. Cold provided clarity and right now that was something Marcus needed. Perhaps not quite this moment though. The sound of the snow beneath his feet felt satisfying and, for a moment, he allowed it to consume his mind and drive away the anxious thoughts that had been plaguing him for days now. It allowed him to escape for a brief time, the dreadful weight of responsibility of the decisions he had made, and even now had to make. nothing else disturbed his thoughts save the constant rhythmic crunch of the snow. Peace.

He eventually looked over his shoulder to cast his eyes over the tracks he'd left. They stood out, alone in contrast to the clean white layer of snow that had settled on the ground. The only signs of life in this cold dark forest. The only blemish on the otherwise unmarked blanket of white.

It was, Marcus reflected with a grim sense of humor, rather symbolic of the situation in which he and his legion now found themselves. Marching alone, lost in this strange magical land marking all before them with there presence. Villages burned and looted for food and supplies, a trail of Ogodai bodies lining the path of their long meandering march as the legion sought to harm their enemies in any way before either escaping back to their home, or, more likely, were caught by the growing horde of Ogodai warriors led by their would-be-king, the treacherous Lur.

Thoughts of the treacherous beast that had led two of the three legions sent to aid his people into a slaughter made his blood boil. He turned furiously back on his path and recommenced his trudge through the snow. He didn't know where he was going, he just needed a moment alone with his thoughts. He had a decision to make and he had heard all that others could tell him. All that was left for him was to decide. He just needed to clear his thoughts again and focus on the problem.

Curse that damned creature! Why had Marcus spared him when they first met? Why had the senate listened to the serpents vile treacherous words of peace and security in return for aid? It was obvious now. The Ogodai had never before desired any negotiations with the Atlans so why would they wish any now? They had been hope struck fools. Lured by the enticing thought of a secure Northern border, just one place from which the Atlans could turn their backs in safety. Truly had the decades of endless war with enemies that surrounded them caused the Atlans to grasp maddeningly at straws of aid or peace that were offered.

A curse on Lucius and Father Andreas who called for the protection of those thrice damned slaves! Had it not been enough that Marcus save the legion without dragging an army of sick, wounded and disorganized plebs along with them! Father Andreas, Marcus could understand. It was practically his job to create moral dilemmas' for legates where there had been none before. But Lucius! He too was a leader of men and should to some degree understand Marcus's burden! He did of course, but he hadn't been thinking like an officer ever since he'd let that damned slave wench into his bed! Now he seemed more concerned with their wellbeing than with the legion's! More concerned with her than with his friend!

Now Marcus would have to choose between saving his legion and leaving the plebs to the tender mercies of the Ogodai horde gaining on them and alienating his friend and spiritual guide in the process. Or he could sacrifice his life and the lives of all his men whom he worked so hard to protect to save strangers.

A pox on everyone!

Father Andreas would say that all that had happened was the will of Yehua. What madness was that? The god of love, the god of mercy and justice would allow an enemy of his people, a pagan and servant of Evil to lead his legions to their deaths, deaths his people could ill afford to suffer?

The idea furthered his anger and frustration, his breathing grew heavier, his steps quicker until he was running, clawing through the forest twigs and branches slapped at his face and glanced off his armored torso. The anger within him rose until he could bear it no more. He crashed through a last barrier of trees and fell to his knees and bellowed into the sky.

"Curse you Yehua! I curse you with all my soul! What have you done to deserve my Love? You have abandoned your people and and mine to the mercies of our enemies! You abandoned the III and V legions to the howls and cries of beasts to be butchered without cause! You have abandoned my men to ME! You have left them to be led into the darkness by a child who would be a hero!"

Marcus caught his breath, sobbing as he did so. He felt tears well up in his eyes as he finally caved and allowed all weight of his responsibilities to crush him. Still on his knees, Marcus buried his face into the cold snow and wept. The chill stung his face, but he didn't care. He could no longer bare the weight of this command and so his men were doomed. The least he could suffer in penance was a cold face.

He did not know how long he knelt there, but when he finally pulled himself together and lifted his face from the snow. He breathed deeply in and out, trying to calm himself. Opening his eyes he finally looked and took in his surroundings. He was in a clearing of the forest, the trees, tall and imposing surrounded a frozen pond that lay before him. It seemed ugly beneath its surface, all filled with dead leaves and fallen twigs frozen into place. Even with better climate, Marcus would hesitate to swim in this pond.

A cold breeze blew through the trees causing them to lean and sway threateningly over the pond. It seemed to Marcus, his mind burnt out and clouded with what felt the weight of the world's cares, that the trees were reaching out to the pond, trying to grasp it in their gnarled claws and ruin it. Fill it in with their dirty leaves and twigs and make it so that nobody would look at it, let alone swim in its murky depths.

The wind cleared the clouds and the sun began to shine down onto the clearing. Again the trees swayed, trying to block the face of the sun from looking upon the filthy pond, but the sun was not to be dissuaded. Shafts of light pierced the boughs of the trees and shone upon the pond. Immediately the surface of ice shone and glistened in the light and became beautiful. Flawed still yes but nonetheless beautiful in the clear shining light of the sun.

Marcus stood and gazed awestruck at the sight. The beauty of the sight filled turned his mind to purer things, to higher causes. Greater things in this world could be found aside from the adulation of crowds and respect of the world. It was not his duty to be a hero, nor to decide the fates of men. All he had to do was the right thing. When it came to doing the right things, there was only one authority worth turning to. With this in mind, he did the only thing he could. Something he had neglected for all the months on the run from Lur. He prayed.

"Oh Yehua. I now know that the task before me is far too great for one such as myself to handle. I must choose between my fellow Atlans, the Salvatori, and these strangers we have liberated from your enemies. I can save only one. Lucius believes that these people deserve our safety, we being the cause of their misfortune not to mention our duty as soldiers demanding we lay down our lives protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Aemillius and Theodosius however, believe that my duty as the commander of this army makes their lives and the good of the State my priority. We owe no allegiance to these people. And yet they are human as we are, and so are they not also Salvatori, and therefore ours to defend? I know not the answer to this quandary and so I make bold and say the words of the penitent on behalf of us all. Into your hands do I commend our spirits."

Finished, Marcus finally rose from his knees, numbed now from the cold he had barely felt and turned back to the forest and his castra.

He froze.

Just inside the treeline, a young boy stood. It was the same child that Marcus himself had saved on one of their raids. Kieraan he though his name was. An orphan who was being taken care of by another of the refugee families. Kieraan looked as though he had been there a while and was staring at Marcus with wide eyes. He had on his head an oversized legionary helmet, far too big for him and in his hand a crude stick that had a vague approximation of a sword. Noticing Marcus's eyes on him he moved as though to flee, but thinking for a moment he stopped, stood straight at attention, sword at his side and raised his hand to his breast in imitation of a legionary salute.

Marcus laughed. A sound that broke from his chest as it filled with relief. Perhaps it had only been an accident maybe this was all some wild coincidence. Perhaps a joke from Yehua, a final laugh in the face of his imminent demise. It didn't matter. Marcus had made his decision.

"Nos stabimus."

We will stand.

Note from author:

Don't forget to check out "Opening Moves" for the beginning of the battle between Lur and Marcus.

Fantasy
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About the Creator

Tomos Jackson

Stories have always been a source of inspiration. I aim to reproduce that in my own writing. Developing ideas of one's potential by reading it in the lives of others can be a powerful force to encourage bettering ourselves in the real world

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