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Remmy Meggs 

Grapes of Italy Chapter 16

With the wagons and carts gone, Lothario's troops needed to wear their full uniforms and armor as they made a forced march to the village of di Gotti, it was only one of the forty some villages on his property, but it was the closest one, and it was almost in a straight line to his villa. Lothario, to be fair to his men, marched instead of rode his horse, along with the other centurions and officers.

They stayed about a half mile away from the village and Lothario sent two men, out of uniform, in to look it over. The townspeople for some reason had no idea that there were Roman soldiers nearby. The two lookouts saw plenty of evidence of Sabine warriors in the town and the pubs. They saw people being mistreated and people being hurt for no apparent reason. They left town on foot and made a report to Lothario and some of the other centurions.

Lothario was expressionless, "Pao take your cohort to the other side of town and wait for any Sabine's, or anyone else that tries to escape. You two, take your cohorts to the left and right side of the town and do the same. And you take your cohort through the town and arrest all the Sabine men women and children that you can find. Take two cohorts with you; I want this done fast, safely and quietly."

He turned to his cavalry, "Anyone that leaves, run them down, I am going to want to know why they are running from Roman troops."

When the troops moved into the city, Lothario was not far behind with his personal guard. Several Sabine warriors were caught off guard immediately. Others fled, as well as many non-combatants. All were captured of course. On the far side of the city the Sabine and non-combatants were huddled together. Lothario turned to Ettore, "Call the villagers out so we can know what crimes have been committed, and by whom."

Soon the villagers surrounded the Roman troops, pointed fingers and began yelling and screaming what man hurt, killed, or beat up their families. Others yelled about theft, rape and other atrocities. Lothario watched, looked and listened to them all. Then a well-dressed Carthaginian pressed his way to the front. From behind the soldiers he yelled, "My lord, can I have a word?"

Lothario turned to the man, "Speak."

"The women and children are innocents. Not one of the villagers has complained of them. Please have mercy." The man asked.

"That is all you have to say?" Ettore asked.

The soldiers let the man through and he walked in front of Lothario, "I am a Carthaginian."

Lothario smiled as if it wasn't obvious by the man's dress, "You are also a warrior. May I ask what brings you to a small village as this?"

"I trade here with Don di Gotti's blessing." The man answered.

"Can anyone verify this?" Ettore asked.

Several shopkeepers answered that it was true. Lothario sighed, "So what interest is it of you what happens to the people that have raided and murdered in your own villages?"

"I am only speaking for the women and children."

Lothario looked at the cowering, frightened children. Ettore almost whispered, "Remember what happened the last time you saved enemy children, your friends were butchered for enjoyment. Lothario, remember what the Greek taught us. The children will see their fathers die, they will remember and when they are old enough they will seek vengeance."

Lothario turned to Ettore, "So you would have me kill them all?"

"I would not like it Lothario. In my heart and yours it is wrong, but it is all true what will happen." Ettore frowned.

Lothario looked at the mass of men women and children. He sighed, "Take the children from the mothers and fathers. Tie them with rope. Chain the mothers. Kill the men. I will decide what to do with the women and children later."

Soldiers pulled the screaming children and women from each other as their husbands made overtures to fight to the death. Not only were they separated they were taken to the other end of the city where the metal workers could do as Lothario ordered. Only the men were left. Lothario looked at his twenty four guards, "You have sworn to obey my every command. Regardless of your age, I want those men dead, I want the townspeople to see it. I want them to know that their Rome will not be devastated by outsiders." He yelled so everyone could hear. He turned to the Carthaginian, "I doubt your rulers... no, I know your rulers would not have done the same. They would have raped the women, did as they pleased with the boys and girls before killing them all, and kept the little ones as slaves."

The Carthaginian smiled, "And what will you do with them tribune?"

Lothario's face could not be seen under his helmet, but he squirmed uncomfortably on his horse before answering, "The women will be the spoils of war, the men can do what they want with them at a later time. The children, unlike your people, will be safe and sold into slavery, and that is all I can promise."

"Then they too will be done as others wish to do with them."

Ettore rode forward, "Watch your tongue warrior, he has every right to kill them all."

The man nodded, "I was just pointing out that our people are no different my lord."

One of the gladiator boys rode up beside Lothario, "Sir, we will do as you command with no questions, but can we arm them?"

Lothario smiled, "I understand. Do what you wish." He turned to Pao, "I don't' want any of my guard hurt. Keep your men at the ready and protect them if it goes wrong."

The gladiator boy frowned, "You do not trust our skills?"

Ettore laughed not meaning to. Lothario pointed a warning finger at his friend, and turned to the boy who was actually older than Lothario "I trust your abilities completely. It is the skills of the Sabine that I am not sure about."

Lothario looked at the captives, "We are going to arm you. If you try to run, you will be cut down anyway. My men want a fair fight. If you best one of them, but do not kill them, I will sell you as a slave. However, do not expect that to happen."

A Sabine stepped forward, "You may kill us, but your Don Nico has been captured with his entire legion. Don Moretti and his army have been devastated. Your Don Fedele is walking into a trap, and you little one command an army of children, and you are too stupid to know when you are beat."

"You lie!" Ettore screamed.

The old bearded man smiled, "I am going to die today. I have no reason to lie."

Lothario watched his men. It was a fair battle to the end. The villagers watched cheering on the young gladiators even as blood squirted all over their clothes. Lothario was not interested in the bloodshed at all but he was the fighting ability of his guard. The fight only lasted about twenty minutes. The Sabine warriors were completely defeated. Lothario turned to the people of the village, "Justice has been served, burn the bodies, and thank the gods for caring about you."

"What of the non-combatant adults Sir?" The boy gladiator asked.

Lothario gritted his teeth, "Sell them to the slavers in Rome."

Pao disappeared as he had the troops get in proper order. When he returned he smiled at Lothario, "We have twenty woman and fifty-eight children, several are your age."

Ettore frowned, "Those will be the ones that will remember. We should kill them quickly Don Lothario."

"Even the younger ones, eight and nine summers will remember. I just can't kill them in cold blood Ettore." Lothario explained.

Ettore frowned, "To protect you master, I am more than willing to do it personally."

Roman and Cyrus looked at the two of them curiously. "I think they are going to fight." Cyrus stated.

"No, they won't fight." Roman answered.

"How do you know?"

"I have watched them."

Lothario turned to Ettore as they rode, "You are going to kill unarmed children based on what you think might happen?"

"Si, I would."

Lothario took off his helmet and looked at his mate, "I do not think I am cut out to be a Tribune, a General or a Senator. The world is cruel enough without me adding to it. No we will sell them as slaves, and hope for the best."

"If it was about money why didn't you keep the men alive and sell them as well?" Ettore asked.

"The people listed crimes for each man. They could not go to Rome to see them die in the arena, they needed their vengeance here and now." Lothario replied.

Ettore looked at him, "You look pale. Are you alright?"

"I feel just fine but my being is not right with the world." Lothario answered.

Roman looked at him, "What does that mean?"

"It means he is sick but he doesn't know why." Cyrus stated.

Roman looked at Ettore, "We have been walking a long time. Maybe we should rest some?"

Ettore nodded and stopped the cohorts and told them to rest. He and Roman found a place in the shade to have Lothario sit and relax. Roman and Cyrus ran back to the horses and retrieved the water bags; Cyrus grabbed Lothario's pillow and blanket, just in case. Roman gave a water bag to Lothario and the others and then looked at the dogs, "I will get you water too."

Lothario smiled and looked at Ettore, "Like I said, I do not feel bad or sick, I just have a strange feeling, like someone knocked the air out of me."

Pao rode up and dismounted, "Is he okay?"

"I am fine Pao, just not at my best today." Lothario smiled.

Pao knelt down next to Lothario and felt his forehead, "There is no fever that I can tell. We could be here only an hour, or days, Ettore you should send riders to the di Gotti villa so warn Don Fedele of what we have learned."

"Si, Pao find at least one rider that knows the way to the villa and send a few others with him. Have them stay off the roads and out of the villages. Don Fedele does need the information we have, if it is not too late already."

Pao left quickly yelling out orders. Ettore turned his attention back to Lothario, "Look Cyrus brought your blanket, and he has stretched it on the ground. Get on it, and rest your head on your pillow. Roman will take care of your animals. Just sleep for an hour and see if you are fit to travel then."

Lothario did as he was told, but within a few minutes he was sound asleep. Roman frowned, "I think we are going to be here longer than an hour and we have no food or tents. Ettore, if it were me I would take the legion on to the di Gotti villa. Leave his staff and guards and enough food for a week. The troops can eat once they get to the destination."

"I can't leave him like this." Ettore frowned.

Roman frowned, "If you do not and Don Fedele dies, or Lothario's father dies, who will hold the blame for you not doing as Lothario would?"

"Andio can lead them then." Ettore shot back.

"No only you can lead them. You are Lothario's optico, if you do not lead them then when Don Fedele sees it, Andio will be made optico and you will just be a low ranking officer and will hardly ever see Lothario. You know this is true." Roman explained.

Ettore rubbed his chin while he watched Lothario and thought about what Roman said. Roman was right of course. Ettore would have to move the troops out right away. He turned to the twenty-four guards, "This boy is Roman, he is Lothario's man. He knows what is best for him, listen to him." He turned to the boy that spoke to Lothario earlier in the day, "What is your name?"

"Spio sir."

"Spio you will be the leader of the group unless Lothario says different." He looked at the horsemen, "One of you is probably more qualified to lead than a boy, but leave it as it is until Lothario names a Capo and other officers in your unit, he will be fair, none of us expected this." He turned back to Spio, "As soon as you can join up with the rest of us."

Pao came running back as riders flew past them, "They are on the way optico."

Ettore stood, "Move out the troops. Cyrus mount up, we are leaving."

Pao looked at Ettore with a strange expression, "What of Lothario?"

"He cannot travel, therefore he cannot lead. He wanted the troops to join with Don Fedele, and that is what we are going to do. His personal staff and his bodyguards will stay with him. If he becomes well enough, he will join with us." Ettore bit his lip, "Now are you going to follow me or not Pao?"

Pao's eyebrows rose, "Of course Ettore, I would always follow you. I was just shocked that you would leave Lothario I guess."

"Believe me I do not want to, but I have no other choice. Let's move out." Ettore ordered.

An hour later no one was left but Lothario's personal attendants and his guards. The gladiator trained Spio looked at everyone, "I do not think we will be leaving tonight. Make a small fire, eat as little as you can, and dig in for the night."

One of the horsemen was a thirty-five year old man who had seen plenty of battles. He slid off his horse and looked at the boy, "I have to admit that I am not happy that someone who is not yet even sixteen winters is in charge, but I will do as you say. The only reason you got this attention is because you were the first to speak to Tribune Lothario in the first place, and he was probably sick at the time. I will do your bidding young one, but when he is well, I will do what I have to, to become his Capo."

Spio smiled, "Si, please do that. I do not want to be a leader. Si the other young men will follow me because they know me, but so many of you are older, have more experience, and are more qualified. I pray you get the position you wish."

The man took off his helmet, "You are serious?"

The boy sighed, "Of course I am serious. I would like to have the ear of a leader just like anyone would, but that does not always mean I want to be a leader. Kings and rulers for all time have had people they listened to for one reason or another that were not military leaders. Maybe someday I could be one of those. Si, at first chance take your position. I will not be in your way." The boy smiled and set to put his bedroll out and stopped at looked at the man, "Better yet, you take charge now, and if I have anything to say about your commands, then I will present myself. What is your name?"

"Vibius Naevius Vitus." The man said.

Spio giggled, "Si, a true Roman name. Well Naevius, you are in charge now."

"It is that simple for you?"

"I have trained to be a warrior all my life. I trained for leadership. I trained for Rome. They call us gladiators but we are not, we are just outstanding boys of the rich who wanted us to be something better. I hated what I have been through and what my life has been. Then again, I love it. Showing off in a mock battle, or killing for someone like Tribune Lothario is easy, dying is easy even if you don't like the idea. Everything is that simple." Spio turned to Roman who was seeing to Lothario, "That boy and the Optico, they are complex, nothing is easy for them. The boy is not a slave but acts like one. He is too smart to be a slave. The Optico Ettore did not want to leave the side of his Tribune, but did so out of duty. For people like that and you, life is complicated. I don't think life was meant to be that complicated."

Naevius pulled out his bedroll and set it near Spio's bedding. The guards had made a circle around the tree with their bedding, encircling the tree, Lothario and the dogs. A few of the men started a small fire as the night became chilly. They sat around it and told stories. Naevius looked at the young boys around the fire and realized as uncomplicated as they seemed, it made them more complicated than normal soldiers.

Naevius looked at Roman. He stood and walked over to him, "You need your rest, you cannot stay up the entire night. If he recovers and wants to leave in the morning you will be asleep."

Roman looked up, "Si, I need to get my bedroll, but I can't leave his side."

"What horse is yours? I will get it for you."

Roman pointed to the brown, "That is my horse."

Naevius ran over to the horse and came back with the bedding and more water, "There now you can rest." He looked hard at Roman, "You are not a slave, but you pretend to be one."

"Si, it is not that I am pretending, but I want to do my best. I could be a citizen in a couple of years, I would like that." Roman answered as he prepared his bed.

"This Tribune is that important?"

Roman looked up and glared, "Watch your tongue or I will cut it out."

The soldier put his hands in front of himself as if to ward off evil, "I only meant that he was important to you, not that he was not important."

Roman sat on his blanket and looked at the man, "My young brother was killed, and Master Lothario sought justice, vengeance and killed everyone even associated with his death. To me and many others he is important."

"Si I am well aware of that. How many young boys can lead a group of troops not to mention six cohorts? He has well trained men with experience under his command that should have the honor of being Tribune. You would think they would not feel comfortable with that."

Spio only a few feet away listened to the two of them talk. He was wondering what the conversation would lead to. Roman lay back on his pillow and became quiet. Naevius smiled, "Sleep little one, dream of girls and gods." Naevius then went to his own bed and looked over at the staring Spio, "Did I do something wrong?"

"You are asking strange questions, that's all. I was wondering why."

Naevius frowned, "I see why you are concerned, I was just trying to find out what kind of connection the boy had to the Tribune."

Another boy came over and threw his bedroll down on the other side of Spio, "Why do you take up so much room?"

Spio looked up, "We could fight about it, then you would disturb the Tribune and he would want to know why. Just shut your mouth and go to sleep."

The boy grinned, "Si you would be crying and wake him up."

"You have first watch right?" Spio asked.

"Si I have first watch, but no warm water to stick your hand in so you pee yourself." The boy replied.

Spio laughed, "Keep the fire going but no higher than it is now. We don't want anyone to know we are here."

 

** *

General Don Fedele had his hands full. The men were restless, they wanted to fight, and they were making it very apparent. His patrols were bringing back news, and none of it was good. General Moretti was dead as well as his guards. There was no sign of the youths that were with him or Don Romano. Hundreds of Moretti's men lay dead in a field. General Nico had also disappeared along with all his troops. They were to span an eight mile area where the Sabine forces would try to retreat to. Were they over run? And if so was it the Greeks, Carthaginians or someone they hadn't dealt with before? There was no conceivable way that Fedele could bring himself to believe the Sabine's could have pulled something this large off., unless they were working with a well-trained army.

The question was what army? With half the legion missing, he wondered if his half could have an all-out frontal attack instead of being ambushed. Lothario had the cavalry, the rest of the archers, and hundreds of men that it would take to complete a force to be reckoned with. When the men saw the other six cohorts coming up the path from the east they cheered. Fedele stood and ran out to the road to see them coming. He has his misgivings as soon as he saw the lead horses. The three white horses that Lothario was known for were not present. For safety he called his men to arms.

The troops stopped about a quarter mile from Fedele. The lead rider talked to his officers and pointed in several directions. Then he rode forward with a boy behind him. The horse stopped in front of Fedele, "You look ugly in the morning General." Ettore smiled as he took off his helmet.

"It is afternoon." Fedele smiled as he hugged Ettore.

Ettore shot back, "Then you are ugly in the afternoon too."

They both laughed and Ettore reported, "Lothario has come down sick. You had our doctor with you, so we have no idea how bad he is. I want to send a doctor and supplies for his guards. That should be the first order of business."

Fedele turned to one of his centurions, "See to it, and have centurion Pao and some of his men lead you to him."

The centurion mounted his horse and left immediately. Ettore continued, "Our supplies should be here by now, my men are hungry, that is the second thing that needs to be looked after. Most of them are near out of water. The horses need food and water as well."

Fedele looked at his Optico, "See to it."

Ettore felt easier, "With Lothario unable to lead at least for now, I am in charge, but I do not want to be. I suggest Centurion Andio to take my place as Optico."

"That is not going to happen Ettore, so get used to it, unless you get killed in battle. Once your men are cared for, I need you and your centurions in the villa to discuss what we need to do." Fedele instructed, "And I do not want to hear any more about you leaving your duties. He could have had Andio or a dozen other officers he was friends with, but no, he picked you. Now you are going to lead, as best you can. Now come and eat, clean up and clean that armor, you look like you have been playing in the dirt."

From behind Ettore heard Cyrus giggle. Fedele smiled, "Si slave, and you get to clean it!"

Cryus shrugged, "As my master wishes. It is still funny."

"He is a cheeky boy Ettore." Fedele smiled.

"Si, but he is a lot of fun."

"Come in, get cleaned up, and then we can feed you both." Fedele laughed, leading the way.

Every centurion was present at the meeting. Don Fedele ranted and raved of how Moretti and Praetorio were ambushed, and they are not sure how a quarter of a legion of Roman soldiers could be killed or captured so easily. "This will not happen to us!" He fumed. "I have had several days to talk to some of the soldiers, one in particular who knows the area well. Here on the map I have drawn, it shows where we are now at the di Gotti villa. Here is the di Francesco villa. Over here is a field large enough for battle. There is a ravine here, it is open and we can see any ambush they may have planned. We can cut across this area here to the field and prepare. It won't take them long to realize we are there."

A soldier came into the room. "Sir, there are two soldiers outside, they would like special dispensation to speak." He hesitated looking at Ettore, "They are Optico Ettore's men."

Fedele shot a look at Ettore. Ettore shrugged his shoulders questioningly, "I have no idea."

Fedele grimaced, "This had better be good."

The soldier left and brought back two soldiers, one was wearing black leather and the other was dressed as a proper Roman soldier with painted green and red legs. Fedele looked at Ettore, "This is no time for your pranks young man."

"I have nothing to do with this. They are from one of the cohorts that Lothario was not happy with." Ettore explained, not wanting to get into trouble.

Fedele looked at the two men. One was definitely Roman, the other with the green legs was obviously from the north, he had a fur wrapped around his shoulders. "Speak!" Fedele ordered.

The Roman spoke first, "We can help with more than just being foot soldiers. My men are trained assassins. Whatever your plan is we can go in early morning and take out every guard they have without the alarm sounding."

The green legged commander spoke, "We can go in directly after them and release any captured Romans. We cannot get them out because of the noise breaking the chains will cause, but at least they will be free to fight. We will have to stay with them, but this is an honor that would not soon be forgotten."

Fedele turned to Ettore, "How do you feel about it?"

Ettore frowned, "How am I supposed to feel about it?"

"Then how would Lothario feel about it?" An exasperated Fedele asked.

Ettore sighed, "He would think the idea is stupid, but maybe so stupid it might work."

Fedele smiled, "Si a tribune that does stupid things and wins just might believe it could work." He turned to the two men, "Very well, sit in on the meeting and afterwards, explain how your plan would work with it."

The men smiled and sat as Fedele continued for another hour. Then with the centurions still present the two odd soldiers laid out their plan and how it would work. After they had finished Ettore didn't seem to be excited. He looked up from the map, "What you are suggesting is suicide."

"What you and Lothario did at the lake was suicide." Fedele reminded him.

"Si, and I was on one of his horses. I did not have a choice. Those pike men came within inches of killing me every second we were out there. It was a total accident! I didn't even have my sword out until the return." Ettore fumed trying not to think of how close he came to dying.

Fedele grabbed Ettore's shoulder, "Si, but being a soldier, even on the back of a cohort is suicide. It is not as if they won't face death either way. With their method, they could kill twenty or thirty men which we won't have to fight on the field."

The black leathered man interrupted, "We are thinking more like two-hundred."

The green legged man blurted out, "There would be many guards around our troops, and they would be dead as well."

"How many men are we talking about here, going in like this?" He asked the two.

The boy Ettore answered, "Half of the fifth cohort. The other half is archers."

Fedele looked at Ettore, "Lothario allowed them to dress like this?"

"No, he said only when they were in battle, and only if you approved." Ettore answered in his defense.

"Well I do not approve, but on the other hand, it makes sense. We will see how they do in this battle and I will decide then if any of them survive it." He stood up. "Now it is time for dinner I believe, I am famished, and we have a long day tomorrow. Everyone needs their sleep."

The next morning Ettore was woken by guards. It was about two in the morning, and fog had set in. He looked over at Cyrus, "Fog?"

Cyrus sighed, "It is dragon's breath. They must have put it down to hide our troop movements." The boy put his hand in the air as if to touch the fog, "See master, it is warm, not cold like fog."

Ettore shook his head and wondered where the boy learned such nonsense, but then again, fog with no rain for months did not make sense either. After Cyrus helped Ettore out of the bath and into his clothes, he began to ready himself. Ettore looked at him and finally said, "You will not be going. If we do not return you are to go to my villa and tell my mother to get a message to Rome."

Cyrus threw down the bag he was packing, "Why would I not be going?"

"For one, because I said so, two, Lothario told me he would never take his person staff into battle again, which means if Anthony were here he would not be going either, and I doubt if Roman would be going. Three it's because your mouth never is quiet and you will give our position away with your constant giggling."

Cyrus sat, "What if I promise to be quiet?"

Ettore frowned and Cyrus started giggling. Cyrus sighed, "I see what you mean, but I should still go."

"No, you take care of things here, and if I the army does not return you tell my mother and everyone else something bad has happened."

Cyrus pouted and readied Ettore's horse, complaining the entire time, sometimes very loudly, to make sure Ettore heard him. He was not the only one to hear it. Fedele came out in full armor and looked at Cyrus, "That will be enough of that young man. Ettore is nervous, frightened and he does not need your abuse."

Fedele helped Cyrus put on the horses brass faceplate and neck protector. They finished just as Ettore came outside wanting help tying his armor together. He was surprised to find Fedele at his horse. Cyrus ran over and tired the armor on. "Isn't it a little early to be traipsing around the river bank?" Ettore asked.

"This is a perfect morning to be doing just that. Your blacks and greens have already left on foot, with no armor and armed with only knives. The greens had more hammers and chisels than they had weapons." Fedele asked as he watched the two boys, "Get your troops lined up in twos, instead of six across, and there may not be room going up that ravine."

"I am not Lothario, I heard the directions at the meeting General, I will follow your orders exactly."

Fedele smiled, "Yes the two of you belong together. You are the one that makes sense, and he is the one that does what he wants to. At least you can guide him sometimes." Fedele remarked.

"Not as often as you might like, but I try. The slaves he brought in, I would rather have the children dead than to come back and harm him later." Ettore explained, "His soft heart got in the way again of doing what is right."

"Those will be sold as slaves, his army deserves the spoils."

Ettore tried to jump on the back of his horse and failed. Cyrus smiled, "Si you don't need me tribune, that is apparent."

Ettore frowned as Cyrus became a human step stool for Ettore to saddle in the horse. When Ettore sat Cyrus giggled, "Don't fall off, you will never get back on."

"Very funny Cyrus." Ettore frowned.

Fedele grinned, "He does have a point."

"And if I fall off in the middle of a battle, and he comes to help and gets killed, then I would never forgive myself. Lothario regrets what he did to this day. I will not go through life looking back." Ettore fumed as he rode off.

Cyrus looked at Fedele, "Master Fedele, he is not the rider that Lothario is. Who is going to look after him?"

"Si and he is not riding a war horse. Where is his war horse?"

"I couldn't find him so he said to use this one." Cyrus stated, "I checked all of the horses I could get to."

The procession seemed longer than a few miles. Ettore and others wondered how they would go unnoticed for such a long march. They did however, and at dawn they started positioning themselves on the open field that was pointed out to them on the map. Several of the best warriors stayed between the ravine and the troops to make sure they could notify the main group if an attack were to be imminent from behind.

When the cohorts were set up Fedele took a deep breath, "No one sounded the alarm, they do not know we are here yet. That means your soldiers did their job." He turned to the trumpeters, "Let them know we are here. It will be daybreak soon and the sun will be in their eyes."

The opposing army were in shock, they did not expect this and orders were being shouted out. Curses being thrown, why didn't the guard tell anyone? They would pay for not doing so. The leader had the captives checked. The man ran back to report, "They are still in chains sir, but the guards are all dead."

The old man cursed and yelled even more as his troops formed. Don di Francesco came running out, "What is it?"

"Roman troops, hundreds of them in the clearing. We have to go out and fight."

"You are leaving guards right?"

The old man frowned, "No, and if we lose this battle, guards will do no good for you either. Pray to your pagan gods we succeed, they won't be lenient with your family." He walked to the front of his troops and started yelling out how great they will do in the battle. It did not matter if they were caught unaware, the silly Romans wanted to fight in the field. Something the old man was prepared for, but did not want. His troops moved out to the field. Once in place he watched as the Roman troops began walking toward them.

The Romans stopped and then the arrows flew. It looked like a black cloud and some of his men started running away. Another black cloud and they hid behind their shields. The old man knew he would lose everything if they let this continue. He gave the order to charge.

Don di Francesco readied his family to flee. It would be way too late of course. What was left of Don Nico's legion threw off their chains and started grabbing weapons and what armor they could find. Several men grabbed di Francesco's family. Don Nico yelled at them, "Leave them alone, we have to join the battle."

Don Nico looked at the green legged soldiers, "I have no idea where you came from but thank you. You will be rewarded well. Formations everyone, hurry, we will have our revenge!"

From a distance, if one took the time to look, were three white horses surrounded by several others. Lothario watched the impending battle, "Good fortune Ettore." He turned to his men, "We will capture the villa, and release anyone who is left alive from the legion. Then we will join the fight and crush them all."

Lothario's guard rushed the villa to find Don di Francesco's family ready to run. Horses and swords knocked the family to the ground. "Three of you boys stay with them, if they try to escape, kill them outright. The rest of you take the villa." As the others took the villa the green legged men came running out of the woods and presented themselves to Lothario.

Lothario frowned, "Why are you here instead of with the main force?"

"The blacks killed the guards early this morning, we released the prisoners. Your father is fine and leading them into battle from the rear of their formation. We were about to take the villa when you showed up." Their leader stated.

The men in black surrounded the family. Lothario's three guards were apprehensive, and watched them carefully. The leader of the guards smiled, "You know us, go join Tribune Lothario where you belong. These people will not escape."

The three boys mounted and rode up beside Lothario and Roman. His other guards came out of the villa with many slaves and prisoners. Lothario left them to the green legged men and the black leather assassins. He rode over to watch the battle. The frontal attack began. He could see his father's helmet and Lothario smiled as the troops came from the rear. He said to his men, "This will not be a fight, this will be a massacre. Not one of those Sabine warriors will survive."

Abalone and Emilio ran up to Lothario. Lothario saw their bloodied, tortured bodies, but they were still walking so it could have been worse. Emilio shed tears and looked up, "There are other children, and most are not as well off as we are."

"Put them in the beds inside the villa. When the battle is over I will have a physician see to them." Lothario said.

Lothario slid off his horse and walked back to the di Francesco family with his guards. He looked at the black leather soldiers, "You killed the guards?"

"We killed over two hundred of them sir." The black guard leader stated.

"Then you have done much more than I ever expected. Now I need you and the greens to do one more thing this morning. I need one hundred torture posts erected, and quickly." Lothario ordered.

The leader looked around, "Where are we to get the wood?"

Lothario frowned, "From the forest, where else would you get the wood?"

The leader had his men go find wood cutting tools, "As you wish Tribune."

Lothario looked at his guard, "Are all of you ready for battle?"

The men nodded. Lothario smiled watching them get excited, "I cannot rush through the center because we have troops on the other side that may not recognize us in time. We can however attack from the side, cutting them down like flies. My father's men would be able to see what we are doing. Mount up, we leave at once."

Roman yelled, "You are not well enough!"

Lothario turned his horse to Roman, "I will say when I am well enough. Do you think I am going to miss this? Now get off my horse and guard these people."

"My place is at your side."

"Your place is where I tell you to be, now dismount before I kill you myself."

Lothario tone was strong and threatening enough that Roman immediately slid off the horse without another word. Lothario turned to his guards, "I do not expect any of you to die, if you do, I will kill you myself."

The men looked at each other as if Lothario lost his mind. When the Tribune went to the right, the men followed him. Roman looked at the di Francesco family, and then at the three guards left behind. He stomped around for a few minutes and went back to the captives. He mistakenly looked at di Francesco's brother, "You, you will see a bloody end to this day."

Lothario did not hesitate. He led his men into battle. It was bloody and one sided. Necks were cut, arms flew off and by the time the Sabine soldiers were able to turn Don Nico's men were on top of them. Ettore watched the field from behind his troops. He yelled at Don Fedele, "General, Lothario is out there!"

Fedele looked close and saw the rest of the legion coming up the rears of the Sabine. Then saw the white horses crossing paths with the enemy soldiers. He spoke under his breath, "The boy is still a fool."

Don Nico had no time to ponder what his boy was doing with a small force attacking from the side, cutting men down, and then returning for the other side to do the same thing, but he did see the results. His men were stepping over dead and wounded soldiers, who they immediately killed as they stepped over them, all the while pushing forward.

The battle lasted the entire day and into the evening. Don Nico and Don Fedele both moved the front cohorts to the rear and the rear cohorts to the front several times to give their men a rest. Something the Sabine's could not do.

The battle was bloody on both sides. Roman soldiers went out into the field and killed any enemy soldier that was alive. Lothario stopped and watched. He looked at his men, "Is everyone alive?"

They were all accounted for, even though they lost four horses. The Sabine men that surrendered and those that ran and were caught were pushed into the middle of the field. Don Fedele ordered them all sold as slaves to the gladiator arena. Three hundred Sabine warriors were left alive. Pity many of them for they would be fed to the lions. Unlike what people think, the lions did not kill outright, they would wound their food, and eat the soft parts, starting at the stomach while their prey screamed and yelled watching the entire thing. The big cats loved playing with their food. The more a man screamed the more fun the cats would have with them. If the men were to die too soon the cats lost interest.

Lothario rode up to his father and slid off his horse. He hugged the man tight and they spoke for several minutes. Then they broke loose as Fedele and Ettore came up to them. Other soldiers, best friends, comrades that were left alive did the same thing. Many of the men shed tears for friends they lost. Lothario looked at his blood stained guard, who were more than pleased with themselves. Lothario smiled at them, "I have never seen such courage, and blatant disregard for fighting as I have seen today, not one of you coward for a minute, not one of you lost your ground, not one of you gave quarter to the enemy, I am proud of what you did here today."

Fedele, Nico and Ettore shook arms with the blacks, the greens, Lothario's personal guard, then made their way through their command making sure everyone was thanked for their efforts and abilities. The centurions took note and began doing the same thing. The legion lost more troops by the ambushes than they did the entire battle. Men started moving the prisoners to the villa, trying not to kill them as they did so.

Roman and the other men of the officers began bringing chairs out of the villa for their commanders to sit on. Lothario smiled when he saw the one hundred posts lined up and ready for their duties. Don Fedele ordered that the wine of the villa be opened and the men could have as much as they wanted. With just the slaves captured so far, the legion would be well off for the rest of the season. Every few minutes soldiers would bring in more cowardly runaways. Most of the centurions smiled and laughed.

Nico turned to his son, "What are the poles for and why so many?"

"Some will have to pay for the atrocities committed father." Lothario stated.

"Who do you plan on deciding that?"

"You can, Fedele can, or I will."

Nico frowned, "Then I will do it in an orderly and fair fashion."

"As you wish father." Lothario answered.

Nico had all the freemen, citizens, and slaves line up in single file. Lothario, Fedele, other centurions and several scribes who would write everything down joined the group and waited. Nico finally told the line to each come forward, point out the man, or men that performed atrocities, and what they were. Lothario preferred the mass accusations, it was faster, but he said nothing.

They sat and listened. They sat until the line was finished just before sunset. Nico sentenced several to torture, several to be sold to the lion keepers but most to be sold as slaves. The worst however was the di Francesco family, all of them except the mother and two daughters. Fedele looked over at Lothario then turned to his men, "Hang them from the posts, and Lothario will take care of them in the morning. For those that will be sold as slaves, put them in chains as well, with the other slaves. The di Francesco family, except for the woman and her daughters will be stretched from two poles that I want you to make. For them, they need something special."

The next morning Lothario bathed and dressed only in his thong. Ettore did dress in a tunic and ran after him along with the guards and staff. Ettore kept telling him, "Your father said to wait until he was awake, please Lothario stop."

It didn't matter; Nico, Fedele and the rest of the centurions and hundreds of soldiers and accusers were already standing or sitting, waiting for Lothario. Ettore frowned, "They are waiting for the bloodbath Lothario, don't give into them, please let someone else do it."

Lothario walked up to Don di Francesco, "We want to know what villas have men stationed at them, and how many at each villa."

Di Francesco smiled, "Why on earth would I tell you that? You are going to kill me anyway."

"Si, but you can die quickly, which I prefer, or you can die a slow and painful death. During that time you will tell us what we want to know anyway." Lothario answered, then turned to Horace, "A lot of slaves have made claims against you. Most are children, we will see to their needs and split them up and put them in good homes to work. For you however it will not be as easy. Your father will watch you die a slow and painful, agonizing death before we start on him. So you can beg him to tell us, so we kill you quickly."

The boy spat at Lothario but missed. Lothario sighed, "Very well, soldiers strip them all of their clothes. Bring me the slaves that have been tortured by this son of the great di Francesco."

Don Nico frowned, "What is he going to do?"

Roman looked at him, "He will let the slaves kill him."

Nico swallowed hard, "Make sure I am not to hard on my boy from now on."

Several laughed at the joke. Forty two slaves were brought forward, none of them over fourteen summers of age. Lothario told them to strip and show him what the boy had done to them. The first showed him that his finger and toenails were pulled from his body. Lothario swallowed hard. "So be it. Cut the man's finger and toe nails out one at a time." He handed the boy a knife, "Take your time."

Roman brought a tall stool for the boy to climb on to get to Horace. Horace yelled at the boy, "If you so much as touch me I will have you skinned alive!"

The boy hesitated and looked at Lothario. Lothario had one of his men lift the boy and put him on the stool. Lothario calmed the boy, "He will not be hurting anyone ever again."

Roman touched Lothario's arm, "I want to be here but do I have to watch?"

Lothario grabbed his shoulder, "No, you do not have to watch, and you do not have to be here to hear the screaming either. Now go play or sit and hide your eyes."

Fedele jumped up, "Lothario you can't be serious!"

Ettore stood between Lothario and Fedele, "You both agreed that Lothario would take care of this even though I begged you not to. I and his men will stand behind your decision."

Fedele fumed and looked at Nico, "Stop this!"

Nico stood and stepped in front of Fedele and whispered, "Look around you, it is not just his guard and soldiers. Those centurions heard that we told Lothario he would be in charge. We know he would be fair, and we knew he would be just as bloody as Moretti. The centurions spread the word. If we were to stop Lothario, the entire army would set against us, we would lose face, nothing would be the same again. Now I want you to sit down or leave the area."

Fedele shook and looked around. He sat quietly and closed his eyes for a few minutes. He opened them as the young boy cut the first nail off Horace. The screaming was intolerable. The boy threw the nail on the ground and looked at Horace, "I was screaming bad when you had them do this to me but I think I remember you giggling and saying hurry do the next one."

The boy jumped off the stool and went to the other side. He climbed back on and started cutting the thumbnail off the man. Lothario watched the father as he yelled and begged. Lothario walked up to the man, "Tell us what we want to know and it will be all over."

Di Francesco looked at Lothario, "Never! I want you to have all the aggravation I can cause."

Lothario nodded to the boy slave, "Continue."

It took almost an hour for the boy to cut the nails off Horace. When he finished he smiled and handed the bloody knife to Lothario. Lothario smiled, "Do you feel any better for doing that?"

"Revenge is sweet my lord." The boy answered.

Lothario rubbed the boy's head, "You will never be the slave of such a man again. Now go play unless you want to watch, but send me the next boy."

The next boy came forward and lifted his tunic. Lothario gasped at the mutilated ding of the boy. He turned, "Find me a cat-o-nine."

It took a few minutes but a boy came back with one and handed it to Lothario. Lothario looked at the molested boy, "How many times did he hit you?"

"He had the slaver do it for him. It was ten times." The boy answered.

Lothario turned and looked at the slaver, "You did these things to all the children?"

The man did not answer. Lothario turned to his guards, "Do any of you have the stomach to do the same to this man as he did these children?"

Naevius came forward, "I do Tribune, at your command."

Spio smiled from behind. Lothario shot back, "I am not ordering you to do this. You do it of your own free will."

The big guard moved nervously, "It needs to be done Tribune, he needs to suffer as these children suffered."

Lothario smiled, he turned to Fedele, "You asked for fairness, I promised that." Lothario turned to the crowd, "This man committed atrocities under orders. If he did not carry them out, he would have been tortured himself. I am not going to torture him, he deserves better than that. Yet he is guilty by the word of these children who have no reason to lie." He turned to his guard, "Using a V- shaped cut, remove the man's head."

The man yelled out trying to get the attention of Lothario and ask for forgiveness. Lothario turned to the boy and handed him the whip. "Try and be accurate."

Naevius turned and walked to the man, "You are very lucky." The first cut went below the man's neck and blood spurted like a fountain. Naevius struck again and the head fell on the ground. Blood spurted out of the body as it fell. Soldiers yelled out in glee over the execution.

Fedele looked at Nico, "That one I would have saved for the lions."

The boy did not need a stool, the whip would reach as high as Horace's groin. Between each contact with the whip, he yelled at Horace who was yelling in pain. When he finished Horace was barely awake. The mutilated boy asked for a towel of vinegar, then put it on Horace's raw member, "I am just as forgiving as you master." Horace screamed like a girl. After a couple of minutes the boy slave dropped the towel, he handed the whip to Lothario, "Thank you." Then he walked to where the other slaves were standing.

Nico stood up, "Bambino, he will not last through the night. Kill him and be done with it."

Lothario turned and looked at his father, "Very well." He turned to the slaves, "Bring me the household dogs, and warm but not cooked meat."

Nico raised an eyebrow wondering what Lothario was up to. The dogs and meat were brought forward. Lothario patted the dogs, he got them to wag their tails, then he fed them the almost fresh meat. Then without fanfare he brought his sword out and cut Horace from the middle of his stomach down to his groin and listened to the boy scream. Lothario then punched the boy hard until his guts fell on the ground. He turned to the children holding the dogs, "Let them loose."

The dogs went for the fresh meat on the ground as the boy's family and soldiers watched in horror. When the dogs started pulling on the innards of the boy which made him scream more, Lothario took his sword and cut Horace down. The dogs began fighting over the meat of the boy while Horace yelled and screamed for a quick death. Several of the soldiers and children puked. Nico and Fedele felt nauseated but held their stomachs.

Lothario walked over to where di Francesco hung, "Tomorrow morning it is your turn, and I will make it one hundred times harder on you." He watched the dogs fight as they finished off Horace, tearing him apart to get what was left. He turned to Emilio, Roman and Ettore, "I need a bath, fresh clothes, and I believe it is time for dinner."

Nico and Fedele turned green and lost their stomachs, Roman and Emilio did the same. Ettore looked at Lothario, "That is just down right gross."

"They made me hungry what can I say?" Lothario answered as he led Ettore into the house. Ettore skipped dinner, he had no appetite.

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