I’ve decided to write a short story for each monthly prompt from a blog I’m following called Writer’s Unite. I missed the submission deadline this month and last. But, there’s always next month to get my act together.
Please visit Writer’s Unite and support all the authors who worked hard to craft a tale capturing the essence of this month’s photo. The site organizers aim to help writers gain more exposure.
The piece below is the first of several parts from my story inspired by February’s Write the Story Prompt on Writer’s Unite.
Once you read the story, you’ll understand my eagerness to post at least part of it by the end of February. After all, it’s supposed to be the month of LOVE!
“You Pray to Your Gods and I’ll Pray to Mine”
The new recruit shivered, tightened his cloak, and leaned closer to the fire.
“Why Rome desires such lands baffles me,” he said.
“A little snow won’t kill you. Besides, the countryside’s rich with timber and furs,” another said.
“The forests of Lebanon provide plenty without the cold,” he replied.
“We’re not here for spoils, lads.” an older soldier said.
“Then why have we come? No Roman would want to live here.”
The old soldier nodded thoughtfully before smiling.
“Name’s Titus. And you are, lad?”
“Not wealth we’re after, Valens. Our legions march into this wilderness for one reason only.”
“To hunt and kill every barbarian we find lest their numbers swell enough to breach even the walls of Rome,” Titus said.
Cheers erupted from the rest of the company about the fire pit.
“But, Titus, must it be so cold? My breath turns to smoke, and my stones shrivel, threatening to fall off.” Valens said.
His comrades laughed, gulping more wine.
“This far north, best to find someone to warm your bed sooner rather than later,” Titus said.
Valens glanced longingly at the ornate command tent.
“I’ve already done so,” Valens said.
“Careful, lad. Only experience and skill in battle gives a man his place of honor here.”
“Are we to ignore the arrows of desire?” Valens asked.
“No, lad, as long as it doesn’t lead to trouble,” Titus said.
“I seek no favor.”
“I can see that. Otherwise, suspect you wouldn’t be sitting in the cold with us.”
The old man chortled, slapping Valen’s shoulder.
“Ignore me, lad. I’ve grown old and leery of Cupid’s games.”
With eyes wide, a soldier spat out his drink to whistle sharply. Everyone stood for the signifer, an officer, third-in-command of the entire century. Valens struggled to keep a straight face watching the man approach.
“At ease, men. I’m on no errand of business.”
“How can we be of service, sir?” Titus asked.
The officer inspected each man until resting his gaze on Valens.
“I confess there’s one among you who’s drawn my interest. May I sit? Not as an officer, but as a fellow soldier.”
“A soldier’s always welcome about our fire,” Titus said. “Make room for a comrade-in-arms!”
The men shuffled, making space, and the officer pulled Valens into a warm embrace as he sat.
“Suppose Valens has been complaining about the cold?” the officer asked.
“You’d wither beneath the desert suns of my homeland,” Valens said.
“A soldier does his duty wherever he has to.” The officer said.
“As does this soldier.”
“Yes, but not quietly.”
“Pardon me, sir, but perhaps young Valens here has the voice of a future signifer,” Titus said.
“Ha! Well said, my friend. Timon, is it? No, Titus! Please, call me Crispus. It is I who share your fire and drink.”
“What think you of Titus’s suggestion, Crispus?” Valens asked.
“A signifer must embody Mars’s lust for war on the field. You’re bold, brash, and outspoken. Your skill in arms grows. Let’s see how you fare in your first battle tomorrow.”
“Are you ever afraid, bearing the signum on the frontlines? Or does Mars relieve you of such emotion?” Valens asked.
“No. Fear enables one to find courage. Fear motivates.”
“A good soldier fears dishonor, not death. Honor is everything.” Crispus said.
“And love?” Valens asked.
“Surely love is what compels us to attempt the impossible.”
“Bah, love is weak. Love hampers a soldier, clouding his mind. Love causes men to lay aside arms hoping in vain to spare the weak.”
“And yet love leads nations to war. Love destroyed Troy.”
“Forget you, the tale of Achilles, Valens? Agamemnon angered Achilles with the theft of Briseis. Honor demanded he deny the Greeks their best warrior. And yet his love for Patroclus drew Achilles back to fight. The gods warned against it, to no avail. Love’s compulsion destroyed Achilles.”
“One mustn’t speak so! Venus is a jealous god. She suffers not the scorn of mortals.”
“Are you a priest of the goddess of love?”
“The blessed lady has always been my family’s patron. We honor love above all.”
Valens removed a delicate chain from about his neck to present a medal to Crispus.
“What god do you serve first?” Valens asked
“Mars, of course.”
“Our patrons are lovers. Explains our ready bond.”
“Treacherous Cupid’s arrows lead Mars to Venus’s bed. Truly, Mars is wedded only to war and the honor it brings.” Crispus said.
“Have anything other than disdain for the goddess of love?”
“Let’s not quarrel. I admit life would be dull without the blessings Venus bestows. But, I mistrust her ways.”
Crispus tried to kiss Valens.
“Then I shall endeavor to teach you not to dismiss the power of love so idly.”
Valens stood to leave the fire.
“I thought you were cold,” Crispus said.
“Love will keep me warm.”
Crispus followed, smirking.
“Signifer! Any news? What awaits us tomorrow?” one of the soldiers called.
“A river lies ahead with multiple crossings. The general has chosen us as a vanguard. Our task is to secure safe passage for the rest of the army.
“Do you expect much resistance, Signifer?” another soldier asked.
“Throw your javelins true, soldier. Soften them up, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
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