For those of you that do not know my work, I grew up hearing stories from other boys about self-exploration and sexual partners with other boys and girls. I have not had any such experiences in Real Life as some of us call it. However, that does not mean I do not think about it and wish that things turned out differently than they did.

IF the laws in your country make it illegal to read fantasy stories about minors, or if you are under the age of eighteen or have someone in your presence under the age of eighteen, you must stop reading and leave this site immediately. Copyright 2012 Remmy Meggs. I reserve all rights. You may not upload this file to any site.

AS THE AUTHOR, I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE MY HISTORICAL FACTS AS IN ANY HISTORICAL FICTION. IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION THAT WOULD MAKE THIS STORY MORE REALISTIC, FEEL FREE TO EMAIL ME, AND I WILL TRY TO MAKE CORRECTIONS. PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU GIVE ME YOUR SOURCE OF INFORMATION SO I CAN READ IT MYSELF.

Remmy Meggs 

Grapes of Italy -- Chapter 10

General Nico had his hands full, one held a sword, another a short spear, and in his mouth he held the reigns of his horse. Three times the enemy had thrown him off his horse, and three times he survived and remounted. His men, even with many casualties were standing well against the enemy. The lines were holding and the Etruscans were not ready for the bloodbath. He could not see General Fedele or the others, but he could see the units they commanded.

He thrust his spear into the neck of a man, and then a sword to the heart of another. A spear whizzed by him. He saw one of his Centurions fall, and went to aid him. The man was wounded and still fighting. The General's horse knocked an enemy soldier down and he helped the Centurion kill the five men that had him surrounded. They nodded at each other and then took their positions with their men and continued fighting.

Capo Andio and his cohort had made a long journey seeing to the safety of the enemy's children. The children were home safe and Andio's men only had a few skirmishes along the way. He thought it odd that on the way back to the main camp he had not encountered any resistance at all. Of course that all changed when they almost ran into a large enemy camp. His men saw the sentries and took immediate action without orders. Andio had the men scour the area for more of the enemy and then regrouped. He turned his horse and faced his men, "We are going into the village. You only kill a girl, boy, young adult... only if they are pointing a weapon at you; and men, make sure they are the enemy and not one of our own. Kill anyone else that gives resistance. Is that understood?"

The men yelled out that they did. Andio, on his horse, walked the men to the edge of the barren ridge. Then he led the charge into the surprised village. For the most part, it was easy to tell a Roman from the others. The people that the men were unsure of they captured, and then laid them face down in the dirt. At least until they could care for them. The soldiers spared no enemy troops, in fact, for some reason they attacked with a fervor Andio had never seen before. When the battle for the Roman village was over, not one of the enemy soldiers or officers left alive. Andio did not lose one man.

He left ten guards and one officer to care for and decide what children and adults were Roman. The citizens would have papers, and they would stand up for other Roman children, slaves, and adults. Andio formed his men into battle formation. He could hear the steel and the cries from the battlefield. He took a deep breath, "Men, we will join our forces with the main attack force. Do not lose faith, and do not lose ground. They will not expect us, and they will be unprepared. I do not want any of you to stop fighting until that battlefield is silent.

Consul Brutus at almost sixty years of age wore himself out. His chest hurt, and he knelt on the ground holding his sword, leaning on it to help hold him up. Several of his guards kept the enemy away from him. Others prepared a carrier to get him back to the main camp. General Fedele saw it and rode over to the group.

Brutus called out to him, "Fedele, over here."

Fedele grew close and dismounted. "Si sir, are you ill?"

"Obviously I am. I think the war is much too much for me; I am more fragile than I expected. If something happens to me, free my men my boys and girls except for the household staff, my family will still need help. Tell everyone that General Praetorio is the new consul, and keep that boy of his quiet." The old man laughed." He turned to his men, "Now get me back to my tent so I may rest." They did so as the man held his chest tight.

Fedele looked around for General Praetorio. He worked his way back into the battle traveling toward Praetorio's soldiers. Then he saw Romans coming from the North. He turned and saw several cohorts coming from the east. As he fought his way to the front, he prayed that those coming in were reinforcements. He found General Praetorio fighting alongside several Capos at the front. Fedele dismounted and joined them, "Don Nico, the consul is gravely ill. He says that he has named you the new consul should he die. Also we have Roman soldiers coming in from the north and the east. I am hoping they are reinforcements, what else could they be?"

The next twenty minutes of the battle was like a flooding rain as the troops from the east, under General Moretti joined the battle. His men sliced through the enemy pushing back Fedele's forces to give them rest. Andio stopped his horse in front of General Praetorio. He slid off his mount and knelt in front of the General, "The village is secure sir."

The battlefield became quiet, with only the dying moaning. General Moretti rode to Nico, dismounted and knelt, "I found your boy and many others a few miles out. We traveled fast to get here in time. For the most part the boys are alive. But as we came upon them we saw atrocities even I would not have fathomed."

Nico reached in his bag and touched the gift he had for Lothario, "How does Lothario fare?"

"He is dirty, bloody...my Don, they have taken his soul and he is broken but his body is intact." Moretti looked up with tears in his eyes, and then dropped his head so as not to look at the General.

Nico looked around to see his men killing off the mortally wounded Romans, and killed every one of the enemy regardless of condition. "This is a different way of war than we have fought before. Maybe it is time we changed our tactics, we have been too lenient and look where it has gotten us." He turned to Fedele, "Get some men on horseback together to give us an escort to our children. Don Moretti, will you be so good as to guide us?"

 

Lothario, who was dirty and bloody from his previous encounter grabbed a sword and ran back a quarter mile, as his friends and the bodyguards waited for a signal. Tito was worried because it was taking too long for Lothario to give the word. Then the fact that not one boy yelled out when the horses came, made the attack position of surprise almost futile.

Lothario crawled out on his hands and knees to the road. He dragged the sword with him yelling out, "Kill the Romans."

The Latin commander heard the boy shouting and finally located the lad, looking half-dead, crawling on all fours. Even from that distance, you could see the blood and the dirt on the naked boy. He turned to his men, "That boy needs help. Get me food, water and bandages, six of you come with me. The rest of you keep an eye on these pigs."

As Lothario neared his horses, they turned and looked at him as if he had lost his mind. They immediately became protective though, not understanding what he was doing. The commander rode up to the boy and slid off his horse. He grabbed the water flask and helped the young boy drink, "There now, you are safe. You must have been in a horrible battle. You are a hero."

Lothario looked up, "I am?"

"Si you are. Now sit up, here let me help you." The commander smiled.

Lothario got to his knees. Held his sword tight, and grabbed the Commander's knife. He slit the man's stomach open without the other men seeing it. The commander's face turned to disbelieving shock. Lothario stood up and cut three of the soldiers down in less than five seconds. Tito was slow but he understood finally, what Lothario was doing, he yelled, "Attack!"

Five spears hit their mark, and then a second later another five, the bodyguards attacked with swords and short spears. Lothario took out the other three soldiers with a little more difficulty, but because they were unprepared, they fell quickly. He made sure each man would die an agonizing death. Then he stood and watched the battle of boys and bodyguards fighting the enemy soldiers. He offered no help; it was time for him to rest. He started to feel the pain in his legs from the tearing of his skin. Behind him, he heard the moaning of the men he had mortally wounded. He did not smile; his eyes were no longer bright. Lothario's men would win the fight, and save as many of the boys left as they could. Lothario however was not finished.

He watched until every Latin soldier fell to the ground. Several only wounded moaned and screamed in pain. Finally, Lothario grabbed the reins of Mars and walked to the group. He stood in front of them and looked at all the faces of his small army. "I said to kill them, kill them all!"

The men hesitated, and Lothario raised his sword and killed the men himself. Blood sprayed over him and many of the others. He then saw Emilio and Dino. He knelt down and looked at Dino's wound. It was mortal, if Dino did not die of blood loss first, the infection of his intestines punctured would kill him in a horrible death over the next few days.

Lothario stood up and looked at the bodyguards, "If your boy is still alive, gather him up and his slaves, and hold them tight." He waited until they separated from the others. Then he looked at Dino's bodyguard and the others that stood alone. Lothario looked at Tito and back at the other bodyguards, "Drop your weapons and kneel, you have disgraced the families you swore to care for."

The men looked directly at Lothario's face. So as not to upset him further they did as they were told. Lothario picked a spear out of a soldier's body and grabbed it. He turned to Tito, "Kill them."

Tito cocked his head and looked at Lothario, "But Master..."

Lothario threw the spear and hit Tito in the chest, "You have let me down for the last time." Tito did not fall to his knees in shock. He held the spear as he fell, knowing in his heart he deserved what he got." Lothario continued, "You are first Tito, and you know why." Tito fell; face first, the spear slicing through his body until the weight of it caused it to fall out of his back.

"I said kill them!" Lothario yelled as he heard many horses nearing them. He was prepared to die, and he knew what was left of his band could not survive a battle with a main force. Everyone stood silent staring at Lothario as if he were mad. Maybe he was, or maybe he expected them to seek the revenge that he felt in his soul. Frustrated Lothario cut each bodyguard down unceremoniously. Tears ran down his face, "Now you have died protecting yourselves."

Lothario dropped the sword, wiped off the bloody knife on his body, and knelt next to Dino. Lothario looked at Emilio, "Do you want him to suffer in pain?"

Emilio's tears fell like a deluge. He nodded that he did not want Dino to suffer. Lothario wiped his own face, "Do you want to do this?"

Emilio shook his head. Lothario picked up Dino's head, "Dino, awaken."

Dino opened his eyes, looked up, and smiled. Then he lost his smile, "Lothario I am dying."

"Si I know my love. You have been my best friend since we were little. Are you in much pain?"

"I am thirsty, and Si I am."

Emilio ran for water and brought it back. He put the flask to Dino's lips. Dino took a small portion. Lothario's nose snotted up as he said, "I cannot rely on anyone else to take care of you Dino. You either die a slow painful death or let me end the pain now."

Dino smiled, "Hold me tight, don't let me suffer."

Lothario put Dino's head in his lap. He bent over and gave Dino a warm, long kiss, and slid the knife between Dino's ribs, into his heart. He righted himself and closed Dino's eyes. Emilio began screaming at his loss as the soldiers rode up to them. Lothario stood up and staggered toward his horses. Then before he reached Mars, he collapsed into a heap, crying out his soul. Mars walked closer and covered the boy with his body, daring anyone to near.

Don Moretti got off his horse quickly and surveyed the area. Several of the standing men and boys began explain what happened. When they had finished Moretti walked over as close as he could get before Mars became threatening. Moretti frowned, "Lothario is there anything I can do?"

"Have some men take the children to their homes to bury them. Stake the soldiers, and the cowards, and bury the rest at the side of the road. Take the other boys and their bodyguard's home. Tell their fathers what has happened."

"What about you Lothario, is there anything I can do for you?"

Now Lothario recognized Moretti's voice. He looked up at the man, "If my father is still alive, tell him that I will be an officer now, and warn the Etruscans that I am coming, and prepare to die."

"They say you did all of this, is it true?" Moretti asked.

"I had help, I was not alone, but Si I did it."

Moretti turned to one of the Centurions. "Do as the boy asked, now!"

The Centurion turned away and started barking orders. Lothario took a towel that Moretti offered. He wiped his face and blew his nose, "The war continues. They over ran our base camp, papa and Fedele are outnumbered, they need your men to relieve them if they are alive at all. Go and go quickly and save as many as you can."

Moretti stood, "I salute you Don Praetorio, I will make sure no one underestimates you. You are a warrior in your heart and soul."

Although the boy was honored by what Moretti said in earnest, Lothario stood using Mars to steady him, "I am not a warrior, I am death."

Moretti looked stunned; he hit his chest in honor of Lothario and turned to his men to relieve Generals Fedele and Nico.

Ettore brought water to Lothario, "Now we are alone. Do you want water?"

"Have the soldiers take my Paolo and Giulio home to be buried properly."

Lothario took the water as Emilio ran up to him, still crying, "Master, please take me in, I will die for you."

Lothario looked at Emilio, "Dino wanted you freed, and now you are free. You can get your papers from father or me once this war is over or when we return."

Ettore looked surprised, "Return?"

"I promised to take care of my friends. I will return to kill every enemy of Rome. I will not break my promise."

Ettore swallowed hard in disbelief, "You can't be serious. You are just a boy."

Emilio looked at Ettore, "You can say that after what you have witnessed today?"

Ettore sighed and looked at the ground, "Si but it will be no use to say anything."

Two soldiers took Paolo and Giulio off the horses. "Please be careful and treat them as you would a noble." Lothario asked.

"It will be done, you have my promise." One soldier replied.

Lothario looked at Emilio, "I think you should go home with Dino. There is nothing more you can do here."

Emilio sighed, "Until we meet again."

That left Ettore the three horses and Lothario standing alone. Lothario could barely mount his horse. He looked at Ettore, "If you are going with me mount up."

Ettore did not really trust the horses but he did as he Lothario told him. They went slowly back to the battle.

* *

The upper officers stood around Consul Brutus. Moretti told them all about their trek, Lothario what Moretti had witnessed, and what he knew of the battle. Fedele and Nico told of the battle. Brutus smiled, "So we have another victory." He looked at Don Nico, "Now General you will be the new consul. I resign as of now, and will go home to die. When you get back to Rome, the Senate can decide what to do then. We lost many officers today, keep that in mind this week as you replace them."

Brutus' men put him in a carrier and slaves along with his personal guard headed to Rome. Don Nico looked at the men. Make sure the dead are buried, send word to their families. Then I want you to regroup your men and decide on your staff." He turned to Andio, "You are now a Tribune in my army. You need to choose a replacement."

"Then with your permission Consul Nico, I choose Lothario. He was twelve this week, and we have officers as young as he is, without the training he has."

The other men began murmuring. Don Fedele shook his head, "You can't allow that Don Nico, Lothario has been with me since he was a baby, if anyone should have him, it should be me, I can handle him, I know his strengths and weaknesses, he would be better suited as a Capo, or even a Centurion in my command."

Now the murmuring became louder. Don Romano spoke quietly, "My grandson died today. Instead of dying a horrible death, Lothario stood by him, loved him and took the pain away. Even though I am crying now, Don Fedele made Lothario a warrior; vengeance has made the boy a man. You cannot hold him back now, or he will go off on his own to kill the enemy, and he will kill hundreds and end up dying. No Andio, he belongs to Fedele if allowed to at all. Fedele knows what to do with him."

Sad by the turn of events, Nico sat in the consul's chair so he would not fall over. He thought a long time while the others talked amongst themselves. Then the men heard the three horses and Nico's slave yelled out. Lothario stumbled into the tent followed by Ettore. The men made way for the two boys. Lothario walked up to his father and hugged him, "I have returned papa, to kill the enemy. It is a promise I have made to those friends of mine that have died."

Nico did not hide the tears that rolled down his face, "So be it Lothario. I do not like it, but I do understand. First, I must give you something. Lothario stood upright and looked at his father. Nico opened his purse and pulled out the gift Don Romano brought from Rome. It was a ring with a phallic symbol on it. "Give me your bulla, it is mine to keep." He slid the ring on Lothario's hand, "Now my only son, you are a man, a young man, but still a man in charge of your own destiny."

Lothario frowned, but took off his bulla and handed it to his father. Don Nico smiled and hugged his son once more. "Now clean yourself up. You will be wearing a toga once we find one your size, and the cloak and helmet of a Roman soldier. You will be under the command of General Fedele. He will assign your rank."

Lothario's eyes widened and he turned to Fedele then back to his father, "But papa..."

"You have a problem with that?" Nico asked.

Lothario turned and looked at Fedele pleadingly. Getting no response he turned back to his father, "I will not be treated as a slave or a whipping boy. Fedele is rough and can be mean!"

"That is General Fedele to you Lothario." The boy's father replied, "If this is to work at all, then you must be prepared to take orders from the start, without you throwing a temper."

That was exactly what Lothario was going to do. He decided not to and shut his mouth. Fedele looked at the boy, "Clean yourself up, see to your personal business, and rest tonight. We can see to other things later in the week Tribune Praetorio."

Although Lothario did not catch the phrase at first, the other officers did and started murmuring again. Lothario felt empty. Anything that did not come from his father seemed senseless. Don Nico stood and looked at Ettore. He grabbed the boy and hugged him, "This afternoon your father was struck down. You go with Lothario, clean up and take care of your father's business. Fedele will give Lothario the time to help you take care of things."

Ettore faltered and Andio caught him, "Both of you come with me." Fedele and his officers followed the boys out of the tent.

Both boys went through three days of mourning their losses. They stayed together in General Nico's tent since Nico took over the Consul's tent. They took care of themselves since neither had a slave, and it would be awhile before they could get one. It was the first time alone for both of them, so they clung to each other and helped each other the best they could.

The morning of the fourth day a young Capo came to the tent. Ettore wrapped around Lothario and both were sleeping, "Tribune Lothario, I have your armor, and clothing." He placed the articles on the racks that used to be for the boy's father.

Ettore looked at Lothario, "It is time to get up I suppose."

The capo nodded, "General Fedele sends his regards and provided everything. He also says that if you want your friend to be at your side, he is willing to make him your Optio*."

"Aren't you my capo?" Lothario asked.

"No sir, I will be part of your personal guard."

Lothario looked at Ettore, "So?"

Ettore was about to burst into tears, "Either I sit at home worrying that you are dead, or I stay by your side and watch you die. That is not a good choice to have to make." He stood and turned to the capo, "Tell General Fedele I am honored and I will serve Rome with my life."

"He expected you to say that, so your armor and clothing has been prepared. Guards bring in the racks and equipment." He turned to Lothario, "You have twelve guards that take shifts, except in battle when they will be by your side. You have no slaves, so your father has provided one for each of you. They are your age and only have been trained... they have not been trained as your previous slaves were. He expects you to reimburse him for them if they work out."

The two boys looked at each other then back at the capo, "When does the General expect us?" Ettore asked.

"He says that you may not be ready. He believes that Tribune Lothario needs more time to rest, and to get over his temper. He says that you Optio Ettore need to hone your military skills and that will be my job to make sure you do, so you both have as much time as you need. If this is satisfactory, you tell me when you want to start."

"We will bathe first, and then see how we feel." Lothario stated.

When they stepped outside two boys stood there sheepishly, not knowing what to expect. Lothario looked at them, "Do you have names?"

The taller of the two answered, "I am Cyrus and this is Anthony."

Lothario looked at Ettore, "Which one do you want?"

"I will take the taller one, he can carry more." Ettore smiled.

Lothario sighed, "Fine, I will take the one that is Roman."

Ettore frowned, "How do you know he is Roman?"

"Because he is cute." Lothario walked off with the boy following him.

Ettore looked at Cyrus, "Are you Roman?"

"No, I am Sabine." He answered.

Ettore shook his head and looked at the boy, "Follow me."

Lothario was already in the bathtub looking at his ring. Ettore walked up and undressed. He saw what Lothario was looking at, "Just because you have that does not mean you are an adult, you are still a boy. You have days before you turn twelve."

Lothario smiled, "If I didn't hurt so much, I would probably..." Then an idea came to Lothario. He could see Fedele in the distance talking to his father. Then he remembered what Tito had said about his best friend. Lothario, unexpectedly stepped out of the bath and put a towel around himself. He walked over to where Fedele and his father stood.

He watched the two of them for several minutes. Then they noticed him, "What is it Lothario?" Fedele asked.

Lothario rubbed his chin, "How long have you been friends?"

His fathered smiled, "Since we were about your age. Why do you ask that?"

"You have been together since, and Fedele never married?"

"General Fedele to you, and he did get married, but his wife died. What is this about?" Don Nico answered.

"He is always with you or near you papa, always. Then General Fedele suggests that Ettore be my Optio. So I am wondering why."

Fedele turned red, "I could not have chosen Dino rest his soul, because Dino was not the warrior Ettore is. Ettore was the only choice."

Lothario frowned, "No there are older more experienced boys already in the army that could have been my Optio. I am not complaining about Ettore, I am wondering why."

Don Nico sighed, "Because Lothario, you protect each other, you are both warriors even though you are still both very childish. You are best friends, and that is what makes a good teammate. An officer needs a good mate, a friend, a comrade to weather out the storms of war."

Lothario listened to every word. He nodded then began to walk away. Don Nico looked at Fedele who seemed relieved that the questioning was over. Then Lothario stopped and turned back to them, "Did the two of you ever rub your dings together?"

Don Nico frowned, "Rub our what's together?"

"Ding, he said. He means boy parts." Fedele answered.

Don Nico laughed heartily, "My baby, do I or have I ever asked what you and Dino did, or you and Paolo, or Giulio? Have I ever asked you what you and Ettore have done with your dings?"

"No papa."

"Then my son, you should not ask others such things. Those are personal things, even if you caught someone doing it, or know they are doing it. They are things that are not spoken about. It is no one's business." Don Nico explained.

Lothario nodded and turned away walking back to the bath. He stopped and turned again looking at them once more as his mind took everything in. He whispered to himself as he watched them, "You have, that's why you didn't answer." He stepped into the bath and handed Anthony the towel.

Ettore frowned, "I suppose it is none of my business, but what did you big shots discuss?"

Lothario looked at Anthony, "Hand me the bucket of cold water." Then he turned to Ettore, "We discussed whether or not we should shorten your ding to match mine."

"That is not true, and it is not funny either."

Standing there, Lothario poured the ice-cold water on Ettore's head, "No but that is!"

Don Nico and Fedele watched the boys in the distance. Don Nico said, "I think you made the right decision."

"I am sure I did. They have both suffered tragedy and battle, and they have good hearts. Mostly they are in love."

Nico grinned, "How do you know that?"

"I am not really sure, but when we have seen them in the arena they have fought like beasts against each other. Word has it that afterwards they are like puppies all over each other. As we watch them now, they are trying to make the best of the worst things imaginable. I think that is why he came to us. I think he was asking permission to have a friendship like we have." Fedele laughed when Ettore jumped out of the tub screaming, "That is what I mean, they maybe younger soldiers than we were, but they act no differently than we did."

Nico laughed heartily at the boys yelling and screaming, the commotion gathering a crowd as the two new slaves' cowered in fear at the actions of their new masters. Within seconds, the boys were down in the mud wrestling and yelling. Nico looked at Fedele, "I don't remember acting that bad."

"Well maybe not that bad, but we did have our fights."

"Someone should break them up."

"Naw Nico, they have had a bad time, let them work it out and have some fun."

        * * *

Lothario sat on his horse, both in full armor. Next to him, Ettore was making faces trying to look mean. In front of them were their troops, on foot. Directly in front of them stood six young Centurions, Lothario sighed, "Why are there six of you instead of five and why do I have so few soldiers?"

"There are not four hundred, Tribune Lothario. We each have fifty boys, men I mean." One replied.

"So I am a Tribune with three hundred of you instead of five hundred?"

None of them answered. Lothario looked at Ettore, "I suppose you will go ask General Fedele why I only have three hundred?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because he already said that he did not have enough young soldiers for you. Don't you remember that from the meeting this morning? He said when he gets replacements you will have a full group." Ettore frowned and looked at Lothario, "You really need to pay attention to the General, he may not be your father but he is your commander."

"I have lived my life with that man; it is hard to see him as a general. It is not exactly my fault." He turned to the six boy Centurions, "None of you have horses? I thought all officers had horses."

"Most of the horses were killed in battle last week or they are sick." Another boy answered, "We are waiting for replacements from Rome."

Lothario slid off his horse, "Fine we will do this by foot." He handed the reins to Anthony.

Ettore looked down and saw Lothario's horse too close for him to dismount. He backed up his own horse and slid off. He handed the reins to Cyrus, "Be careful, he stomps men to death."

The group watched as another horse and rider came up to them. Don Romano nodded to Lothario, "Sorry Grandson, I had family business to tend to."

Lothario nodded and Don Romano dismounted. He introduced him to the Centurions, "Grandfather will be teaching all of us some old tricks that haven't been used since before our fathers were born. He will also teach us new things, that I have personally used myself. It would be great if Fedele... General Fedele could personally train us. However, my Grandfather was a Centurion and a great warrior. He worked on special projects for King Tarq, so have the men learn well. He is a master at deceiving the enemy."

One Centurion came forward, "Tribune, it is time to meet the troops."

Lothario was dreading this. Even though his troops were young, he and Ettore were shorter than they all were. Another Centurion shook his head, "It won't make a difference, and they are not going to follow him into battle. They barely follow us, and they only do that so the archers don't kill them for desertion."

"Why won't they follow Lothario?" Don Romano asked.

"He has never seen battle, until today none of them ever saw him in the camps. He is just a baby and these boys are all citizens, at least most of them." Centurion Pao answered.

Lothario looked at the six boys, "Do any of you think you could be a better Tribune than me?"

"There are a lot of men here that would be a better Tribune sir." Pao replied, "However I am not one of them, I just say what needs to be said. And they look at this tough boy you have with you and say if that is his protector he is fooling himself."

Lothario grinned, "See Ettore, I told you this would happen."

Ettore bit his tongue; he was the one that said that to Lothario. Don Romano walked over to Lothario and put his hand on his shoulder, "It seems that no one has told them what a hero you are. I suggest you offer your rank to anyone that can beat you in a fight."

Ettore winced, "Don Romano are you crazy? Some of those men are twice his age."

Lothario sighed, "It is all right Ettore." He turned to the Centurions, "There is only one way to do this. We are going to have our own battle today and maybe even tomorrow. March the men to the games area; it is a good place to fight."

The Centurions had no idea why but they began taking the soldiers to the boy's games area. Don Romano looked at Ettore, "You need to settle down and realize that Lothario is much more than what you think."

"I know what he can do, but to fight so many of those boys."

Lothario giggled, "I will only fight one of them. The ones that want to be centurion will fight each other. One will be left and he will be tired when he gets to me. You should prepare though, because you will be fighting the one that he beats."

Romano laughed, "I knew you were up to something."

"But they won't have a chance!" Ettore grinned.

"Si, even if one of them could beat me, this way I have the advantage and they get to try. It only makes sense."

"Where did you come up with an idea like that?"

"The games in Rome. They pit teams of gladiators against each other, and then they have the winners fight. I doubt if any of these boys have seen the games. We will see how it works on a battlefield."

Ettore frowned, "What if you kill one of them?"

"I am not here to kill anyone."

"Si you say that, but if you lose your temper because someone hurts you or draws blood, you could and you would. Your body isn't even healed from a few days ago, and you are weak."

Lothario stopped and stared at Ettore. Mars did not stop and ran into Lothario, knocking his helmet over his face, and then the horse gave the helmet another hit and it fell to the ground. The guards, the slaves, Don Romano were all trying to keep from laughing. Ettore did not try to suppress his laughter; he was rolling on the ground.

Anthony picked up the helmet and as he snickered, he handed it to Lothario. Lothario turned to the horse, "Stop it, you have to get used to me wearing it." Lothario looked at the others, "Fine, okay it is funny. Now let's go."

They got to the game area and Lothario went to the center of the circle. The Centurions and capos took their positions. They would repeat whatever it was that Lothario said. Lothario did not hesitate, "I understand that many of you have no faith in my leadership or abilities because you have not seen me or heard of me. That is fine, because I had never seen or heard of the Fourth cohort before. I do not even want to be a part of the Fourth Cohort; you are the weakest and newest troops of this legion. I am ashamed of all of you. Very well, I am going to give you each a chance to be Tribune. Whether you are a private or a Centurion, or auxiliary officer, you have a chance to become Tribune, and General Fedele will honor it. I want those that believe they can beat me in combat to step forward and begin two lines."

It took time, but six men came forward then two Centurions and four Capos joined them, for a total of twelve. Ettore grinned, "Well, this won't take long."

Don Romano went to the center, "You will fight each other for the number one and number two positions. The winners will then fight Tribune Lothario and Optio Ettore for leadership positions. You may not kill each other, or mortally wound each other. You may use whatever weapons you wish. The tribune says we have much to learn today, and time is running out. Therefore, there will be no delays. The first two, come to the center and may the best man win."

Lothario and his men and boys stepped back and sat on the ground. The first two were tall and one was at least one hundred pounds heavier than the other was. Both choose short spears. Ettore gave a side-glance to Lothario, "How can they not stab each other using those?"

"I guess we will find out."

Romano smiled, "They will use them as a shield, not as spears."

"I hope so, or this could get bloody." Ettore frowned as the men began fighting.

It took several minutes, but the thin tall one knocked the bigger one to the ground and had the spear at the man's heart. Lothario and everyone else applauded. Then the next began until there were two men left standing, they would be the two men that Lothario and Ettore would fight. The two men had swords. Ettore sighed, "I don't have the sword training that you have. I won't have a chance."

Lothario smiled and looked at Ettore, "Well I guess the winner will be sleeping in my tent instead of you."

Ettore glared at Lothario, and then he glared at the two soldiers fighting. He whispered to himself, "Like hell they will."

The battle ended, Lothario and Ettore stood up. Lothario looked at Ettore, "Don't take a weapon; you can beat that man without one. They are good but they do not have the training we do."

Ettore was fuming. He threw down his knife and sword and went to the center. Lothario shouted, "Ettore Ettore Ettore -- just have fun."

Don Romano looked over at Lothario and then at the soldier and Ettore, "What does he mean just have fun, doesn't he realize what is on the line here?"

Ettore looked at the ground, while Don Romano gave them their instructions. Ettore turned his head toward Lothario, and grinned now it dawned on him what Lothario meant. The man hit Ettore with the hilt of the sword almost knocking the boy off his feet. The men cheered for the Centurion. In turn, Ettore kicked the man's sword hand and the sword went upwards hitting the man in the head, knocking him silly. Ettore walked behind the man, and kicked the back of his knee, knocking the man to the ground. He stomped on the man's sword hand, reached down and picked up the sword. The man started to get up, and Ettore put the sword to the back of the man's neck, "You are dead Centurion."

The cohort went into silence. None of them had even seen a battle so easily won. Lothario started applauding and cheering. He went and hugged Ettore and then helped the Centurion up, "Good work, you fought well. With Don Romano's help, that will never happen again."

The centurion looked at Lothario, "You are serious?"

"Of course I am serious; one battle is not the end of the war. We all have much to learn from each other." Lothario smiled.

The Centurion reached out, grabbed Lothario and Ettore and hugged them. The gesture was not lost on the cohort; they began yelling, stomping and cheering with glee.

As Ettore and the Centurion left the circle, Lothario walked to the side and took off his helmet and weapons. He came back to the center and listened to Don Romano's instructions. Then he asked Don Romano, "So when I lose, I belong to him?"

Romano turned away and walked out of the circle trying not to laugh. Lothario looked at the Capo, "How old are you?"

"Nineteen summers, if that matters. How old are you?"

"Twelve summers. You have anything between your legs that is as big as mine?" Lothario asked, "Because when I am finished with you, you will have wished you were bigger so it would slip in your ass easier. Now raise your sword!"

Not believing his ears the big teen was startled, in shock maybe. He raised his sword, only to feel Lothario's elbow hit him in the face, and then another hit to the face. Lothario backed into the capo and pushed him backward, while he continued with his elbows and fists, hitting the capo several times. The capo fell to his knees. Lothario turned around and beat the man senseless. He grabbed the sword from the man and threw it to the side. Then he beat him more until his eyes, nose and mouth bled profusely. The teen fell over as the world spun in front of him. He felt the Tribune sit on his chest. He did not see Lothario smile, but he felt the pounding he was receiving from the little boy.

Don Romano, Ettore and two Centurions ran over to Lothario. Ettore grabbed him first and the others raised him off the ground, "I told you this would happen!" Ettore yelled.

"Nothing happened, I had my purpose." He yelled at Anthony, "Get me a towel." Anthony picked a towel out of Mars' pack and ran it over to Lothario. Lothario knelt next to the Capo and cleaned him up. The cohort looked on in disbelief. Lothario smiled at the Capo, "Can you hear me?"

The man nodded. Lothario helped him to his feet, "You will be bruised for a few days, but I didn't break anything. Do you even remember what just happened?"

"I remembered I wanted to fight you so I could be Tribune, now I know I was not prepared." He said as he tried to keep his balance.

Lothario pushed the others back and raised the Capo's arm, "Applause for a warrior, someone who took on the odds and was not afraid to die!"

The men cheered. The Capo looked at Lothario, "You are a strange boy."

Lothario cleared the circle, "Now hear me! I am your Tribune I do not demand your respect I will earn that. However, during that time, you will obey every order without hesitation. You will offer no excuses. Today I gave all of you a chance to take my place, you failed, if anyone wishes to try in the future, they or I will be dead. Is there anyone that does not understand that?"

The men roared their approval. Lothario turned to the Capo, "Find yourself a replacement, I want you as Optio for my personal guard, if you would accept it."

"Although I doubt you need a personal guard, it is an upgrade in pay, and that sir I need. Besides, how can I turn down a request from the best fighter I have come across?"

The man reached out to hug Lothario and Lothario accepted and replied, "Let us hope that I am the best either of us will meet, or I will have a short life."

Don Fedele watched the entire display from his horse. He looked at Nico, "Did you have any doubt as to the turnout?"

"Of course I did. He is my baby to this day Fedele and he always will be. I am always and will always be afraid for him. He takes too many chances. Now we need to get back to the camp before he sees us. What I would like to know is why you put him in the fourth Cohort. He won't have a chance when the next battle begins. Putting him in the front will only mean his death."

Fedele frowned, "Why do you always second guess me. I am not going to let him get hurt. He is in the youngest cohort, if I pull him from there he will be mocked. No, his cohort will be ready. He will train them. He will have several days before we have to call them to the field."

Lothario and Ettore led the cohort back onto the battlefield. Once the men were all in place a shiver ran down Lothario's back. Ettore looked at him, "Are you all right?"

"I just saw something strange in my head. It doesn't matter right now." Lothario turned to the Centurions, "Start your training and keep on top of them. I will offer guidance when needed, however if Don Romano wants to speak to you, listen, he is only here to keep us alive

Lothario could not shake the feeling he was having. The hair stood up on the back of his neck. He swallowed hard and looked at Ettore, "Get to papa, tell him we are being attacked and sound the alarm."

Ettore frowned, "Scouts would have told us of an attack coming right?"

"Maybe not this time." Lothario swallowed hard.

Don Nico kept his eye on the battlefield, then without surprise he said softly to Fedele, "If that is the case my friend, then why is there an enemy army in front of him?"

Fedele looked down and saw the glint of hundreds of helmets on the battlefield heading to Lothario's Cohort. "They must have thought we were preparing for a battle!" Fedele cursed, he yelled at his men, "Sound the alarm, get the troops down on that field to back up the fourth cohort!"

Lothario turned his horse around slowly. Before Ettore had a chance to move, the horns sounded. Troops all around them began to form. Ettore took a deep breath and yelled, "Prepare for battle! Don Romano, get off the field!"

"Get the slaves and all noncombatants out of here; we have but a few moments." Lothario yelled.

Lothario turned and saw the enemy soldiers. He grimaced, "We don't even have archers on the field. Call close quarters, prepare for archers. I want the men close together, not like the normal battle formation."

Ettore yelled to the Centurions the orders and then turned to Lothario, "We need to get you to safety."

"You don't really think I would leave a battle like this?"

"No, but I was hoping you had more sense."

"Have the formation with short spears, three deep and long spears in the back. Have the slings prepare, and tell them not to hit me with those stones."

Ettore barked out the orders. "What do you mean not to hit you?"

"In one of the battles long ago Fedele was hit by his own men."

A Centurion ran up to Lothario, "It is great that you are going to be in the battle, but you need to get behind the troops. The enemy will be looking for you and standing out in front, you do not have a chance. You can't give us orders if you are dead."

Lothario smiled just then, "I have it! Do you know why the Phalanx never works on an open field?"

The centurion looked dumbfounded, "Sir please."

"It's because a Phalanx is open on three sides." Excited he turned to the centurion, "Have the men twelve deep. Four rows of long spears, three short. If attacked from the sides or behind have them turn and fight in that direction, always keeping the front solid."

Lothario rode back to his line and watched his idea take form. Above them, Don Fedele took his position with his own troops who started marching quick time to the battlefield. Don Nico watched from above, "Now what do you think you are doing Lothario?" He said to himself.

Lothario had his Centurions each with only a few men get into the formation Lothario ordered. Lothario rode into the middle of them. "Remember, the man next to you is your best friend. He stands for Rome, do not let him fall!" He turned to Ettore, "It is best you get behind the troops to sound a retreat if I fail."

Ettore was obviously more than a little upset, but he rode the horse to the rear of the formation. He spoke to the horse, "Listen you stupid horse. I know once he goes into battle you are going to join him. Try not to get me killed."

The horse snorted and almost pulled Ettore off his back, "Okay Thunder I am sorry, just try not to get me killed."

The arrows took flight. Lothario watched them come down on top of his men. They raised their shields as the enemy troops neared. Several arrows landed around Lothario. He raised his shield to block several that came close. He looked at his guards, "When the enemy ranks break, get in and kill as many as you can, and retreat when the third cohort arrives. Regroup the men, rest and go back into battle."

The capo looked at him, "And where do you think you will be?"

"There are a thousand soldiers that have come to kill us, maybe more, I am going to teach them how to die, and let them see how a Roman dies. You teach everyone you know what you see here today."

The capo took the men to the rear, "He is mad, a raving lunatic."

Lothario pulled out his sword. He put his knife in his arm guard, and his spear in his other hand. He let loose of the reins and spoke to the horse, "Our hearts are racing Mars. We just need to get ride through their ranks and come back through. Then we will go home and eat and I will soap you down and take care of you."

The armies clashed. The enemies began falling like flies. Lothario watched his few men fight off hundreds of Etruscans. Then the boy saw his opening, "Now Mars, now Mars!"

The horse did not hesitate. Fedele rode hard. He expected Lothario to make a suicide attempt, but not this soon. He wiped his face as he saw Lothario's horse disappear into the Etruscan mass. Then the other horse took off into the battle with Ettore on its back. Ettore knew hand-to-hand combat but nothing of combat on a horse.

Fedele and his entourage stopped next to Lothario's personal guard. He looked at them and shook his head, "Damn you all. He turned to his second in command, "When the second cohort gets down there pull the first cohort back, get the cavalry down here, I want to bust through their lines. If that boy can do it so can we." He looked at the guards, "Can you see him?"

"We haven't seen him since he got past their fifth line, they are tight, and there is no way a horse could have made it through them."

"Sir, the fourth cohort is moving forward, at least one hundred feet in the last few minutes."

"Are you sure? That is impossible!"

"Look at the ground, they are leaving dead Etruscans all over."

Fedele led his men forward, "Get the rest of my army down here!" Fedele took off his helmet to get a better look. He swallowed hard, "Only that boy could be so lucky as to win a war and die a hero in one day!" He wiped his eyes, "That's my boy."

The Centurion looked at Fedele, "Sir?"

"Never mind."

"Sir, the third cohort is in place."

"Then what are you waiting for? Have them attack!"

Fedele heard the Etruscans yelling, "Kill him, don't let him get away!"

"What is the damned fourth cohort doing now?"

"They are not retreating sir, they are moving to the center of the battle."

Fedele looked at the man, "Don't you think I can see that?"

Then the fourth cohort stopped moving forward as the third cohort advanced. Ettore yelled, "You stupid Lothario, when we get to safety I will kill you!"

Lothario headed toward the Roman line Ettore right beside him. The third horse appeared near Fedele. Fedele looked at the animal then his men, "Follow that horse!"

Six more men fell as Ettore and Lothario broke through to the Roman lines. When he got to his cohort, he slowed his horses down and looked at the cheering men. Then he heard four thousand voices cheering. Lothario looked at the Centurion and yelled, "Fall back, we need a rest." Lothario slid off his horse and sat resting his back on a boulder. Ettore sat next to him.

The three horses stood together. Fedele rode over to them and jumped off his horse, "I do not know what you were thinking Tribune Praetorio, but the war will be over this day, thanks to you."

Lothario and Ettore were bloodied from head to toe, "General, please do not let any of them escape. Kill them all."

Lothario took off his helmet and laid his head in Ettore's lap, "Tell me what happened later."

Ettore's heart was still racing, "Just unbelievable."

Fedele turned to his men, "Spread the word; do not let any of the enemy survive."

"No captives?"

Fedele shook his head, "I can't believe I am dealing with you today. Do not leave any soldier alive and spare everyone else, Si make everyone but soldiers captive!" The Centurion frowned and rode away quickly.

"How is he?" Fedele asked.

Ettore smirked, "The ass is completely asleep, and I won't sleep for days. He is crazy, and he didn't want to stop."

Fedele smiled and looked at Ettore, "His father is the same way. He almost got me killed a hundred times. When I fell, he was right there to get me back on my horse. Of course our horses weren't as smart as the ones you have."

"You mean he is just like his father?"

"He is worse than his father." Fedele looked up the hill to Don Nico, "But you can't help but love them."

Ettore was petting Lothario's hair. Fedele looked back at the two. Ettore looked up at the smiling commander and pulled his hand back. "It is okay Ettore, you have to take care of him between those battles, that will be your job. We already know you are in love, Lothario just has to accept it."

Ettore swallowed hard and put his hand back. Fedele continued, "Today, however it was done, Lothario broke the back of the main Etruscan army. What should have been a battle for days, weeks, even months lasted but hours. It is time he took his cohort home."

The Romans killed every Etruscan soldier and officer, none left alive. Hundreds of slaves and suppliers captured. Food stores, tents, gold, everything the main Etruscan force brought with them captured. The Etruscans would be broke, and their army decimated for months and maybe even years. It did not matter what caused the Etruscan line to break so easily. The fact that it was broken and a boy of senatorial rank led the battle would be enough.

Lothario woke by evening and the boys took baths. Anthony and Cyrus listened to the two boys for over an hour. Finally, Anthony asked, "If you were to die in battle, like you almost did today, what happens to us?"

Ettore smiled, "You wouldn't want to leave us, so they bury you with us. No one has told you that before?"

Anthony swallowed hard enough for everyone to see, "Do they kill us first or bury us alive?" Anthony fed Lothario another grape.

Ettore frowned, "Well I can't say for sure, but I would think alive so you can be awake to take care of us on the other side. Just so you know, that the greater your master is, the higher your place will be on the other side too!"

Lothario got out of the tub and Anthony dried him off, "Anthony don't listen to him, he is just trying to scare you. Personal slaves usually become freemen. Besides you will not be a slave long, you are Roman. "

"Master Ettore?" Cyrus asked, "Master Lothario is a scary man if someone had to fight him, but your words frighten anyone."

Lothario smiled, "I will use that if I ever need him to scare senators."

One of the personal guards came in, "Tribune, your Centurions are outside."

Lothario as tired and wanted to sleep, nodded instead, "We will be right out." He and Ettore threw on tunics and stepped outside.

The Centurions and Capos immediately knelt, stood and saluted. Pao spoke, "Don Praetorio, you have more than proven your worth to all of us. Your leadership, your courage, your kindness is beyond comprehension. We have only five wounded that will recover, and none died. At the same time, we killed over five hundred. This battle will probably not go down in history, we have so many, but generations will know what happened here today."

When you consider that Lothario wanted to come back, but knew the possibilities were nil, he did not feel like a hero. He felt lucky to be alive at all. He thanked them and sent them on their way, making sure they knew how honored he was that they came forward. He went back into the tent and lay on the couch. He fluffed his pillows and put his head down, "We have a long day tomorrow. Finish up and get some sleep." He said to everyone.

Ettore stood there watching Lothario, as the boys cleaned up the tent. He sighed and climbed onto the couch. He spooned Lothario and covered them both up with blankets. As he laid there next to him, he looked out the tent and watched as night fell upon them. He could smell the burning wood from the fires. He heard the men talking near and far. When the boys put out the oil lamps and lay down, Ettore put his arm around Lothario and fell fast asleep. He wondered what the next battle would be like, but he dreamed of other things that could become reality.

*Optio: One for each Centurion or commanding officer, they were appointed by the commanding officer from within the ranks to act as his second in command.

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