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Remmy Meggs 

Grapes of Italy -- Chapter 17

Pao and some of the other centurions walked around and looked at the men tied to the poles. There were only a few, even though Lothario thought there would be one hundred. As they walked by several men asked for mercy, they were ignored. Crispin looked at the others, "Did the Tribune look as if he enjoyed himself this afternoon?"

Aquil shook his head, "Not at all, he did not smile or laugh. He had a grimace or a blank look the entire time."

Pao added, "Whatever he was and did, it was better than what Moretti would have done to them all." Pao looked at one of the guards, "They have been fed and watered?"

"Si Centurion and all they do is pee and crap all over." The man answered.

The other centurions laughed. Pao sighed, "They are condemned men, let them have their last hours in peace." Pao told the soldier.

"I know all of you think it is funny, but it is beginning to smell around here." The soldier told them.

Crispin nodded, "Si it is beginning to smell." Then he turned back to talk about Lothario, "I have heard that he killed his own men for not following orders. Pao, you didn't see it but you said it is true. Do you think he enjoyed that?"

Pao stopped walking and turned to the others, "I don't think Lothario enjoys any of it. We saw what happened in the village, and we saw what happened today. We also saw he beheaded a man who was guilty, but only because he was forced to. I think he is being fair, and Si, maybe unorthodox, but even Fedele and General Nico are watching."

"And they are saying nothing." Aquil answered, "Although General Fedele was visibly not happy with what Lothario was doing."

Pao shrugged as the men became a circle, "He is being fair, much fairer than even some of you would have been. He wants justice for those abused, and he wants information. I think if the information would have come to him, he would have just killed them outright."

Crispin shook his head, "As far as that young man goes, I doubt if he would have shown mercy. He let the slaves that were abused do most of the deeds. But to have the man's own household dogs eat him alive, I think was too much."

Aquil gagged, "Whether I agree or not is not important, but it was something none of us would have ever thought of."

Fedele waked up to the group, "He is your leader, and whether I agree with it or not, he kept his composure, showed leadership, and willingness to do things he does not expect others to do for him."

They saluted Fedele as he entered their circle. Pao looked at the men who would be executed the next morning, "When he is finished I take it we will return to Rome?"

"First he will probably want to find good masters for the children. He does not want them abused. He will let your men rest for the night, send the wagons out and probably gather the rest of the slaves and take you to Rome. Your part was magnificent and well done." Fedele smiled.

Aquil frowned, "Only if one of these men give him the information you want. I am starting to think Tribune Lothario thinks in different ways than most of us."

Pao grumbled and looked at Aquil, "Who better to lead than someone that knows what he wants and will get it no matter what the cost yet would die in place of any man in his command?"

The others nodded and whispered. Crispin smiled, "Lothario of course, who else would do such things? Even Moretti wouldn't put his life on the line. He followed his troops like most Generals, he did not lead them."

Fedele lost his temper, "Regardless of how bloodthirsty General Moretti was, he was a good man and a good leader. He never lost a battle."

"With no disrespect meant General Fedele, Moretti does not hold a candle to the deeds of Lothario." Ettore said from behind as he walked up to them, "I have been watching all of you talk as I stood on the veranda. I guessed that you were discussing Lothario. If any of you which move your cohorts to another leader, I will sign the paperwork, or if any of you want to transfer."

Pao frowned, "That is not what we were discussing at all Ettore, none of us want to serve under anyone but Lothario."

Ettore looked at Fedele, "Then General, your words on the greatness of Moretti are on deaf ears. The men in his cohort that survived have already asked me to let them join Tribune Lothario in battle. I never thought you would turn on Lothario like that. I am deeply ashamed."

Fedele growled, "We were just having a conversation, you only heard a small part of it. How dare you suggest that I have lost confidence in Lothario! He is fit to be the Consul, don't ever take what you hear for granted Ettore, unless you know the whole story."

"Then let it be known, that each officer, including this group has their own ways of doing things. Lothario is still weak, he sleeps, trusting all of you to do your duties without question. I for one despised Moretti for the way he treated slaves, his men and his bloodthirstiness. More children have been killed by that man than can be counted. You Fedele want to remember him with honor. So be it, but do not expect us to feel the same way."

"That is General Fedele." Lothario said from behind, "Never forget that again Ettore."

Ettore turned to see Lothario, his eyes widened, and then he turned to Fedele "My apologies General Fedele." Ettore swallowed hard then turned back to Lothario, "I did not mean any disrespect Tribune."

"You should all be resting. When we are finished here we have a long trip back to Rome. Papa wants to leave tomorrow, but I have told him there is no way we will be ready until we get what we came for." Lothario explained. Movement out of the corner of his eye got Lothario's attention. A wounded bird was on the ground. Ants were crawling on it. He pointed it out to the others, "The bird fights for life, but it is already too late. While he is alive the ants will devour him." Lothario took out his knife and cut the birds head off. "Rest in peace my friend."

He stood and looked to the others, "I know you were discussing what I have done the last few days. I want to remind you of some things, including you General Fedele." He turned to the centurions, "First and foremost, next to my parents, Don Fedele is the man I trust most with my life, except for a few things in battle, he has taught me everything to do with fighting. My war tactics come from my Greek teacher, everything else I have learned came from my father and mother."

He thought a moment and continued, "You are all true blood Romans, yet you do not know the facts about our ways. Our fathers decide when a child is born who survives. I want you to think hard on this, "How many of you have older sisters?" Lothario watched their expressions. The young men had blank faces.

"Si, that is because your father chose not to have a girl as the first born. They were either killed outright or left on the road to die, or be picked up by a passerby. You talk about fairness, yet we will do the same thing when we have children. How cruel are we as Romans? Roman men have killed their wives because they did not bare male heirs, how cruel can we be?"

"I know you follow me without question but you need to know everything. It is Romans that are so cruel, along with the Greeks. The Sabine, Etruscans and the Iberians have learned our horrible ways of life and war. Maybe some learned from the Greeks and others from the Carthaginians, but in the last few hundred years they have dealt with us. They have seen what we do. I want it to change. Even the little bit I can do can make a difference helps, but it starts with you. Nothing will change in our lifetimes, but a few hundred years from now things could be a lot different if we show mercy on the children, and make adults pay for the atrocities they have performed on others." Lothario put his hand on Ettore's shoulder, "I need to rest. I have a long and hard day tomorrow."

Roman grabbed Lothario and helped him back to the villa. Crispin looked at the others, "He was not finished talking."

Pao swallowed hard and looked at Fedele, "Is what he says true?"

Fedele nodded, "It is all true. Maybe you were the first born, and maybe you were not. Your parents will never tell you. I guarantee though, not all of you were the firstborn."

Aquil was shaking, "Then he does not enjoy what he is doing at all, he is only doing it out of duty."

Fedele and the others nodded. Fedele spoke, "He doesn't hate these men, or the slaves, or the children. He wants what is best for them. However there is a time when that is not possible. Today was a good example of that. That young man couldn't go unpunished; he decided to let the slaves punish him. When he was confronted, he acted out his own aggressions, and killed the young man in a horrible way to make a point, not because he is bloodthirsty."

"What was his point then?" Aquil asked.

"His point was to me alone, for interfering. To be sure I understood, and I will never ask Nico or Lothario to stop what I helped to start." Fedele looked up at the stars that were beginning to shine, "Mars has his hand on Lothario. It doesn't matter why, but Lothario is a warrior dedicated to Mars, and we need to leave it at that, and follow him."

Pao looked at the others, "We are going to have a very bloody day in a few hours. I am headed to bed. Good night everyone."

The others watched Pao leave and started breaking up the group. Ettore looked at Fedele, "Lothario needs a doctor. I am sending for one to look after him."

"Si, I think he is just weak from the travel, but just in case, he does need to be seen." Fedele answered as they made their way to the villa.

Cyrus looked out one of the windows on the second floor of the villa. He turned to the other slave boys that took care of their masters, "I would like to be a soldier someday."

The other boys looked at him as if he were daft. Cyrus looked back, "It is about the only way we will ever be free."

Several nodded in agreement but one answered, "It is also one of the fastest ways to die."

Cyrus turned back to the men in the camps, "Si, but it is a chance to be free." He laid his head down on the pillow.

A boy sat up in his bedroll, "The best way to be free is take care of your master. Sooner or later he will free you. That boy Roman, you told us yourself he was freed."

Cyrus sighed and fell asleep.

The next morning Pao walked into the villa and caught Lothario bathing, he hesitated then said, "The men are gathering."

Ettore looked up, "The physician told him to take it easy. Maybe it was something he ate or drank, but more likely he is just worn out."

"Si but what do I tell the men?"

Lothario looked up, "I need long pieces of soaked rawhide. I need four stakes, good ones that can be pounded deep in the ground. I need a wooden wedge made to hold up a man that is lying down. Please see to it Pao. I will dress and come out in a few minutes."

Pao saluted and left. Ettore looked at Lothario with Roman and Cyrus watching, "That doesn't sound very bloody."

Lothario stood and Roman put a towel around him, "Si, it will not be bloody at all."

The Tribune asked for a tunic but not one of his favorites. When he was dressed he smiled, "When we go to Rome, I will need to be in the Lectica for a few days until I regain my strength. Please... no Anthony has mine in Rome by now. Roman, please see if you can find one I can use."

"Si master I will do as you say."

Lothario walked out onto the veranda where men cheered him. Lothario slowly walked over to where the bird he killed lay motionless. He nodded to some soldiers, "Cut di Francesco down and bring him here. Lay him on the ground and then stake his hands and feet with the rawhide to the ground. Be sure the rawhide is tight and secure."

Nico looked at Fedele, "What is he up to now?"

"I have my suspicions, but let me watch longer." Fedele answered.

Lothario sat as the soldiers tied the man down. Lothario had another stake put in between the man's legs at his feet. He had another soldier take di Francesco's sons head and put it on the end of the stake. Then the wedge was put under di Francesco's back, so he could watch everything as the wedge stretched his arms to the point of excruciating pain.

Fedele turned to Nico, "He is going to let the ants eat him alive."

Nico looked at Fedele, "Where does he get these ideas?"

"He saw a bird last night that was wounded being eaten as the bird tried to escape." Fedele answered.

When everything was as Lothario wanted he put his hand into the opening of Horace's head and brought his hand out full of blood. Di Francesco screamed in horror, as Lothario put the blood all over the man's peaches and ding. Roman came up with a bowl of water and Lothario washed his hands. He looked at di Francesco, "What I ask of you is not a state secret. I just want the location of troops that have our villas. You won't be seeing the villas or the troops again."

"I will die first."

Lothario tried to smile, "Si, you probably will. When you were a child did you ever see ants devour an animal? They even attack live animals that are hurt. You have blood on you from your son. I thought that was fitting, since the ants already are eating at your son's carcass. They know the scent. Soon they will find the blood on you, and begin eating. Some will eat on your skin, others will work their way inside and eat you inside out. I have no idea what kind of pain that will cause. I do know that it will be a horrible death."

Lothario took a seat next to his father. Don Nico looked at the boy, "You realize this could take days?"

"Si and the longer it takes the better." Lothario pointed to the surviving Sabine officers, "They will talk when it is their turn. They just need to see how horrible it is."

Several young slave children watched the ants, cheering them on if they got close to the man, sighing when the ants turned away. Then a boy of about six summers yelped and danced around, "They found him!"

It took less time than what Lothario expected. Nico moved uneasy in his chair. Lothario sat expressionless and yelled out, "The red ants will start eating on you in a few minutes if you want to change your mind."

Di Francesco could see the ants begin to crawl over his body. His eyes widened, and then when the first ant bit into him he screamed and bucked on the ground. Children and adults became excited. Lothario turned to Roman, "Help me to bed. If he changes his mind come and tell me."

While Lothario rested, others watched the ants, who at first took their time finding di Francesco and then began to come more rapidly to him. The stinging bits of the ant became almost frantic as they took their little pieces back to their nest. Di Francesco screamed with horror as they dug deeper and deep and he looked at his boy's head being eaten as well. Several time he passed out, then re awoke to see them working. They had entered his body when he screamed he would tell everything.

Roman and Ettore went to get Lothario, who was awake. He didn't need help walking, even though he was pale, but he wanted his friends close by in case he became faint. They walked him over to the screaming man, "Please make them stop!" Di Francesco screamed.

Lothario looked between the man's legs; the ants were forming a blood barricade as they ate fresh flesh. Lothario stood and looked at the man, "Tell my Generals what they need to know, and I will end your suffering."

Di Francesco told them everything as Lothario sat on a stool. When Di Francesco told them who the traitor was Don Nico stood. He looked at the man, "What proof have you of this information?"

"Why do you think we let him escape? He wanted his father's villa; we made a deal that he would tell us your troop movements in exchange for it." Di Francesco cried out in pain.

Don Nico looked at Abalone. The boy started running. He turned to his Optico, "Bring that boy back alive!"

Lothario seemed unfazed by any of it. Then he stood and walked over to the ant ridden man, "Where is my friend Don Romano?"

The screaming man looked hard at Lothario, "I have no idea, I never had him!" Lothario looked at Fedele, "Do you believe he is telling us the truth?"

Fedele nodded, "There is no way he would lie under such pain as you are giving him."

Lothario looked at a soldier with a large axe, with an axe head for cutting down trees, "Cut his head off."

The man's head rolled away from the body. Blood squirted out of the body for a few seconds, while the head leaked what was left in his brain as it rolled. Lothario looked at everyone, "Whether you are Roman or not, remember this day. I take no pleasure in what I do, but never think you will be immune to my justice." He turned to Ettore, "The rest of the prisoners on the poles I want you to cut them down and sell them to the lion keeper at the stadium."

"What about this body?" Ettore asked.

"Food for the ants." Lothario frowned and walked back to the villa with Roman.

Ettore looked at Don Nico, "What is he upset about?"

Fedele stood and answered, "Don Romano is his mentor, they are close and Lothario wants him back. After what I have seen today, pray he is alive, or those that killed him will suffer more than anything a soldier could dream up."

Soldier brought Abalone back. The boy struggled with everything he had. Don Nico seemed sad but said nothing to the boy. Fedele grabbed the boys' face in one hand, "You killed your own family for property that would have rightfully been yours in a few years?" He turned to Don Nico who was wiping tears from his face, "What do you want done with him?"

Don Nico turned and looked at the boy, "Because of you, and you alone, I lost almost half my legion." He looked at Fedele, "Take him to the road and stake his body. Let the birds have him while he is alive."

That was common for Roman's to do to their enemies, much more common that just sticking a head on a pole, Fedele swallowed hard, "Si, right away, General Nico."

The hands would be chained to a stake about twelve feet tall. Another, shorter stake about three inches in diameter would be forced into the rectum about nine inches deep. This would cause pain and some blood loss, but would not actually kill the subject. It did keep the subject from moving. Any movement would cause sharp unbelievable pain. By the time the person was dead, the body had slid down the smaller pole, and the pole slid into the brain cavity if they release the chains too fast, the pike would break through the skull. The victim had to use all his strength to keep himself from sliding down the pole, which meant he held onto the chains until he could hold on no more. During this time birds, and sometimes vultures would begin to pick at the body while the victim was still alive. This did not happen every time, but it was common. Once the victim was dead, the first pole was taken down and readied for the next person.

Pao looked at Abalone as the first pole was lifted. Once it was in place and the dirt pounded down hard, the boy looked at Pao, "Now what?"

Pao shook his head and had the soldiers cut Abalones clothes off. Other soldiers came running up and put the second pole in place. While they worked Abalone frowned, "Exactly what is that for?"

Pao nodded and the soldiers grabbed Abalones legs and set his rectum on the pole and pulled his body down until it reached the nine inch mark. Abalone screamed and immediately grabbed onto the chains so he would not slide down further. Pao looked at the boy, "Before you are dead, the soldiers will nail a sign under your body telling everyone you were a traitor to Rome. Good luck in your next life."

Pao and the soldiers walked away as Abalone screamed. One soldier was left to guard, and he alone would tell the others how long the man lived. The betting would start once they returned to the other soldiers. Once the young man was dead, payments would be made. Several older children saw the soldiers walking back and ran down to the traitor. They threw stones and rocks at him to get him to move and scream.

Ettore went into the villa and sat next to Lothario, "Are you feeling any better?"

"Si, I think I am exhausted." Lothario smiled.

"Si I would think so, and it wasn't sex that did it, so I am not guilty."

Lothario smiled, "I don't think anyone would believe that do you?"

"Probably not, I just need you to get well. We did find a beautiful lectica, probably one used by women, but it is the only one we could find."

Lothario grinned, "In the morning have the three groups of wagons move out. We will leave on Monday for Rome. Papa says his soldiers will find Don Romano, I guess except for those soldiers, the entire legion is moving out."

"Si I heard Don Fedele taking to your father. We will be riding with them. The centurions will ride with their troops, and the capos will keep everyone in formation." Ettore shared.

"I thought as much. I suppose I will be in the lectica until we get to Rome, unless I get to feeling better."

"Don't worry about that, Roman will take good care of you, and when we stop I will be with you. I suppose you miss Anthony?"

"Si, of course I do. I have wondered about his health."

"I am sure he is well by now, making your mother miserable with his antics." Ettore laughed.

Lothario grinned, "Si I can imagine he is cleaning up more than normal, but he is more careful than Roman."

"Roman is clumsy like I am, but we will grow out of it. I think it was Don Romano that told me that. He said he was clumsy too at one time, or maybe it was Don Fedele." Ettore smiled.

Lothario shrugged "It doesn't matter to me. You are still a good leader; you just don't know all the tricks papa and Fedele know. Anyway you do not seem to be too clumsy when you are tickling me."

Ettore almost turned red, "Tickling you is easy as you tickling Anthony or especially Cyrus."

"Cyrus laughs about everything Ettore."

"You need to teach me all the tricks of leadership."

"Si, I will." Lothario looked around to make sure no one was near, "Just pretend you are always right and you control the world. Everyone else will back down from you."

"What if I am not right?"

Lothario laughed, "Then tell them. Say `we' made a mistake, it will not happen again."

Ettore frowned, "That doesn't sound very convincing to me."

"Well, regardless, I have heard papa and Fedele say that more than once." Lothario grinned, "I think I will take a bath. I feel like the ants are all over me."

"Roman!" Ettore called, "Lothario wants a bath!"

Lothario stood and together the boys, with Cyrus went to the bath in another part of the house. Several of the higher ranking officers were there. Something that Lothario was not ready for. Still, he pulled off his thong and stepped into the hot water. Everyone greeted him, and some hugged him and kissed his cheek. Ettore followed, while the boys retrieved towels and plum juice.

The men bombarded Lothario with questions about his actions with the captives, where he got the imagination for such tortures. Lothario looked at his body under the water as he spoke, "I was not looking to torture them. I was trying to horrify them. I am sorry the young man had to die, it seems the father did not care for him, but the horror of what was happening worked on the father, and it would have worked on the Sabine warriors." Lothario looked up at them and turned to Roman, "Is this plum juice or plum wine?"

"I didn't ask. I just said it was for you and they gave me an amphora of it." Roman stated.

"Well it is good whatever it is. Make sure Ettore and the two of you get some of it." Lothario winked.

Roman smiled and poured the plum juice for the four of them. Lothario turned back to the group and raised his glass, "To a good trip home and a well-deserved leave of absence, and all of you deserve it. Just remember to give me 90 percent of your earnings when you get paid in Rome."

The group began laughing and Aquil pushed Lothario's head under the water, "That is all you get from me, and my love of course!"

The others laughed and Lothario broke through the water and took a deep breath, "Well I see how you all feel about sharing now!"

The others laughed even harder. As Lothario began bathing Roman sat at the edge of the bath taking out the hair braids his master wore. The others were in deep conversations, and a couple of times became loud. Then they would quiet down again. Lothario listened to all the conversations, thankfully none were about him. Ettore became involved in a couple of different ones.

When Lothario's hair was completely unbraided Roman washed Lothario's hair several times. Reaching over the bath Roman was laughing at one of the conversations. He reached out further than he should have and fell into the bath. He came up out of the water and wiped his hair back. All the centurions stopped talking and looked at him. "I am sorry, I just slipped. It won't happen again."

Pao and the others looked at him and began smiling. Ettore watched them. They grabbed Roman and took off his tunic and had him naked in the bath where they began washing him, tickling him, and throwing him around as he and everyone else laughed. Lothario was not amused, "You better not hurt him!"

Cyrus stood nearby and began laughing as well as other slaves. Lothario stood, "You are all too violent for me." He laughed and when up the ramp to get out of the pool. He looked down and saw that Roman was having fun, and the young men and adults that had him were making the most of it.

Since Roman was not a slave, and they all knew it, he was unofficially welcome in the bath. It would take time for people to get used to it, and maybe more time before someone actually told him that he was welcome, but for now they had the younger boy in their grasp and made the most of having fun.

With Roman busy Cyrus ran over and started drying Lothario's thick wavy hair as Lothario messed with the scented oils. He had to make sure to get the right one so he did not smell like a girl around the others. Finally in disgust he looked at Cyrus, "You pick the oil."

Cyrus giggled; turned to see Roman still being playfully molested and opened the amphora's to smell each vase. He picked one that smelled similar to a horse of all things and moved it closer to Lothario. Lothario sniffed it, "It smells like leather on a horse!"

"We will let Roman pick it then. Let me dry your hair and brush it out. Roman will throw a fit if it is tangled, and he is louder than Anthony." Cyrus whined.

Lothario smiled, "Take your time Cyrus."

Roman was finally free, and Pao handed him soap, "You might as well clean up, you want to smell as nice as Lothario does."

Lothario smiled and without looking back at them yelled out, "You are just jealous Pao."

Those in the bath made noises of awe and whistles. Cyrus finished and Lothario's long wavy dark brown hair went to the middle of his back. He stood up as Cyrus finished drying him. The room became quiet. Lothario had his back to the others and did not see them looking. Ettore did see them staring. He whispered to Roman, "Cover him up; they are looking like leeches after blood."

Roman made his way out of the tub and grabbed a large towel and ran over to Lothario and put it around him. Aquil swallowed hard, "Don't take this the wrong way but he is beautiful."

Lothario was using the towel Roman gave him to get the rest of the dampness off his skin, as Roman found a suitable oil and started rubbing in on Lothario's front. As usual Lothario's little bit became erect. It was then he noticed the room was quiet. Ettore looked at the others, "Stop staring at him, you have seen naked men before!"

Lothario cocked his head and slowly turned to see the gawkers. He blushed, "What is it?"

Most of the men turned away in embarrassment. Lothario let the towel drop so Roman could rub his back with the oil. Lothario grinned, "You can admire my muscles without hiding it, although I am not sure why, they are not that big. Most of you have seen me naked before, so what are you thinking?"

Ettore frowned and glared at the others, "They have never seen your hair down, they think you look like a beautiful woman."

Lothario turned around and held his ding and pointed it at them, "I assure you perverts I am a boy!" He laughed.

Some of the others laughed, but most were still embarrassed. Roman frowned at those around the baths and in the bath, "Master sit down so I can braid your hair please."

Crispin asked, "Lothario, why is your hair so long?"

"Because I like my hair braided, if it is cut short it doesn't look right. It is not like most ever see it long, none of you have said anything before." Lothario frowned feeling awkward about defending himself.

Aquil smiled, "Well you have a beautiful bum Lothario, long hair or not."

Ettore stood, "Si, Lothario is beautiful, and has been for a long time. You all have seen him naked before, all of you, but now that you see his wavy brown hair long, you act as if he were a girl. Check yourselves, he is our Tribune, not a sex object, and stop playing with your selves, and quit gawking at him."

Lothario sat and let Roman work on braiding his hair. He said nothing and the conversation of the men began anew. Ettore stepped out of the tub and Cyrus went right to him. He stood near Lothario while Cyrus dried his hair and body. Ettore looked at Lothario, "It is one thing for them to admire your body, but almost all of them became a little too excited seeing you with long hair. Maybe we should bathe more privately from now on."

Lothario had a whimsical smile on his face, "No one ever told me I was beautiful like that before."

Ettore raised an eyebrow, "It is only because you are so young and have perfect Roman hair. Soldiers get excited easy when they see naked girls, and you struck them as a girl for a couple of minutes."

Lothario sighed, "Well, let me gloat a little bit." Then he grinned and looked at Ettore's face, "By the gods, you are jealous!"

"I am not. It is how they were looking at you that upset me." Ettore shot out, "You are cute, you do not have the neck of a boy, it is girly, and you are cute like a girl, and you do have a beautiful bum. Lothario, that all changed when they saw your long hair. Now they will look at you differently."

Cyrus giggled, "Sort of like my master does when he thinks no one is looking."

Lothario and Ettore both turned to Cyrus, "Shut up!" They said in unison.

Roman laughed, "You too are so big and brave and then someone looks at one of you and you pretend to fight. You are so cute together."

The Tribune and Optico turned their heads to the other side and looked at Roman, "You shut up too!"

The two boys laughed even harder, which got the attention of the centurions just now getting out of the bath. Crispin walked over to the four, "Is there something going on here that we should all know about?"

Roman and Cyrus folded their lips in and said nothing, although you could see they were bursting to say something. Lothario stood, "Roman get my tunics, the nice one, and the red legion one." He turned to Crispin, "I am a man or almost a man. Just because I am small down there does not make me a girl."

Crispin smiled, "No offense was meant Tribune. You are totally beautiful, I am guessing that is why statues are going to be made of you."

Ettore piped in, "Si with his hair braided and short. But it wasn't because he is beautiful, it is because of his heroics."

"I understand that Ettore." Crispin grinned, "You have to forgive everyone for thinking he is so beautiful though, and imagine what the masses of Romans will say when they see his naked body. So do not take offense at what your friends say."

Ettore raised an eyebrow thinking of all the people that would see Lothario naked, but said nothing. Lothario grinned from ear to ear, "I did not take offense at all. No one has called me beautiful before today, I was honored."

** *

Ettore rode his horse up and down the road checking the troops. Centurions gave their reports, with the number of men standing, and those wounded who were expected to survive. He rode back to Fedele and gave his report. Fedele looked at the Lectica, "You better ride close to Lothario when he is awake, you can ride up front when he sleeps."

Ettore nodded, "Thank you General."

"You would have anyway, so why should I get upset?"

Ettore smiled and rode back to the lectica where Lothario was teaching Roman how to read and write in Greek. Ettore sighed, "Don't wear yourself out teaching. We are moving out, so don't fall out of the lectica when they raise it."

When the slaves lifted the lectica Roman lost his balance and Lothario grabbed him, "You need to stay still when they lift this thing."

Ettore grinned, "I am going to ride to the end of the column, they are six across and I have never seen so many soldiers in one place. Then I will come back to you until you fall asleep."

Lothario nodded as Ettore rode off. Roman sighed, "He loves you. Just like Fedele loves your father."

"Fedele loves me, he just puts up with papa." Lothario giggled, "I am going to rest now. Just lay and practice your spelling. I am getting better, I am not sleeping as much."

Roman smiled, "I know, but you will be worn out when Anthony gets a hold of you. He won't let you be for a minute."

Lothario laughed, "Si, but I will let you keep him busy. There is so much of Rome I want to see."

Roman smiled, "Since I know every place in Rome there is to see, I can take you everywhere. No one would dare throw me out dressed like I am now."

Lothario opened an eye and grinned, "No one will ever throw you out again Roman."

"Will you let me and Anthony go to the stores on market day for clothes?" Roman asked.

Lothario did not open his eyes, "I buy everything Anthony needs. Don't you think he would feel bad watching you spend money on things for yourself?"

Roman thought for a few minutes, "Si, I guess I have to find friends my age that have some money of their own."

Lothario leaned up on his elbow, "You know Roman, not every boy, or young man, or even the men are slaves. Ask the centurions, some of them are bound to have boys your age that are free and get paid."

"I could go with you of course." Roman smiled.

"Si you could, but do you think they are going to let me out very often? They are already making up rules for Ettore and I. They want to lock us both away and throw away the key until they need us for something." Lothario grinned.

Roman sighed, "Well sometimes maybe?"

Lothario looked at the boy, "We can probably arrange it sometimes. You still have to find other freeborn boys that have money to spend, and the best way to do that is right here in the legion. So tomorrow while I am sleeping you start asking around. The centurions know you and they will help you. Don't pretend you are shy either, I see that look you are giving me."

Roman looking up, grinned, "Well it has worked before. Si I will do as you say. I can even make friends for their long marches and wartime, and still have them when we are home." Roman rubbed his ear, "Exactly where is home now?"

"We have a house in Rome. It is not as large as the villa, but it does have a garden and a pool. The family has to share the bath though; I do not have my own. The slaves will have to get up early to bathe and then cleanup for when the rest of us take baths." Lothario laid his head down.

"Are we almost there yet?" Roman asked.

"I was wondering the same thing. No, we will be camped for several days I think, but it seems like we have been traveling for hours." Lothario laughed.

"Si, it does." Roman opened the curtain and looked out. He brought his head back in and closed it, "I can still see the villa!"

"You are more impatient than Anthony. We will be there when we stop and they say camp here!" Lothario laughed.

Ettore rode up beside the lectica, "Get him to sleep Roman, don't let him stay awake telling his stories." As fast as he came Ettore rode away.

The days went by fast for Don Nico, and slow for Lothario, but Lothario recuperated, and a day out from Rome he stayed awake and played most of the day as well as taking care of his troops. Don Nico had Don Fedele reassign the cohorts, leaving Lothario with only three, but closing the losses in his legion. Moretti's army would have to be rebuilt and a General named for it.

Don Nico grouped all the centurions left alive at an outdoor meeting. He told them what an honor it was to serve with them, how under dire circumstances they proved over and over again how they and their troops performed higher than the ranks they now possess. Then he had the quartermasters bring out boxes of gold, silver and copper coins. They each sat at a makeshift table as Don Nico continued talking, "With the great losses to the legion, we have had to regroup, and still we are without one army. The six hundred men from Don Moretti's army that are left have been reassigned to your commands. Tribune Lotharios six cohorts have been cut into three full cohorts and his other three have also been reassigned. His cohorts now have the honor of being the fourth cohort for the legion. I will talk to each of you personally about the promotions you will have, and those you will make this next week."

The men hit their chests and shields several times in approval. Don Nico smiled, "Between the battle at the lake with the Etruscans, and the battles in the south, we have done well this season, however, even though your pay will be higher than normal, keep in mind we are over a month behind in our duties to the city of Rome itself. The Second legion could not leave until we returned. Therefore we will still spend another moon policing Rome as it is our duty. For some of you, these will be new duties and you will have to be trained. The men will stay at the barracks, but remember they will go home with more than enough money to take care of their families for over a year."

Again there was a round of enthusiasm for Don Nico. Each quartermaster was assigned to one Tribune, the tribune and quartermaster would pay the centurions, then the individual soldiers. The Tribunes were to keep the quartermasters honest. Don Nico was about to speak again when the centurions were pushed away and Anthony appeared in the middle of the group, "Excuse me, where is Don Lothario?" the boy was almost in tears, "I can't find him anywhere!"

Don Nico took a deep breath, "He is sitting right there boy, and how dare you interrupt me."

Lothario took off his helmet and smiled. Anthony ran over and hugged him tight for several minutes while Don Nico continued talking. Ettore rolled his eyes, "Please listen to what is being said Lothario."

Lothario had Anthony sit on the ground next to Roman while they listened to Don Nico, "The men will have four days of duties and three days off. I don't want them in pubs and fights, they are soldiers first. Besides, if they are drinking too much then they will not have money when they go home and they will tell their wives and children it was my fault."

The men laughed, even though Don Nico was serious. "Now quartermasters, pay the Tribunes and their Opticos."

Lothario and others stood. He was not the first in line, but he listened at how things were done. When he got to the head of the line with Ettore, the quartermaster asked for his name. The man looked at the list and started counting out money. More money than Lothario had ever seen at one time. Then the quartermaster frowned, "Minus one thousand silver for the General you killed and the children you released."

The Centurions and others were aghast. Lothario looked at the man, "Excuse me?"

The quartermaster looked at Don Nico. Nico smiled, "That was money that the legion would have shared had you not been so eager to lead without asking first."

Lothario thanked the quartermaster and Roman and Anthony helped carry the chest of coins. Ettore frowned but said nothing. The quartermaster paid him, and he and Cyrus both had to carry the chest back. It wasn't that the chests were big, but they were heavy. Once the Tribunes and Centurions were paid they went their separate ways to their cohorts to pay them.

It was a long drawn out process. Lothario caught glimpse of several wagons pulling into the camp and nudged Ettore, "They will all be drunk and fighting tonight. Those are amphora's of wine I am betting."

After Lothario's cohorts were paid, he told them what great soldiers they were, and how even though they had many wounded and some were sick, not one of their comrades died. They were ecstatic about being paid and the good news. Then Lothario lost his smile, "We were just told that I can only keep three cohorts, after all I am a Tribune, not a General. So after the celebration tomorrow, I will decide who will be reassigned, and who will stay in our ranks. But tonight and tomorrow when we enter Rome, we will enter as we became, as one army united for Rome!"

Ettore looked at the centurions, "Have the camp citizens, freemen, and slaves come forward. Release all the others until morning."

While the centurions gathered their people, Spio and Naevius came up to the table. Lothario looked up and smiled at them, "How can I help you my most trusted men?"

Spio smiled, "While you were sick Optico Ettore had me in charge of the guard."

"You did a wonderful job Spio, I will make you Capo."

Spio shook his head, "Sir that is not what I wish. Si I want to be close to you always, but Naevius was actually in charge, and it would be my honor to have him as my Capo."

Lothario turned to Ettore. Ettore shrugged his shoulders, "They are both excellent."

Lothario thought for several minutes and grinned, "Spio, why aren't you afraid to speak to me blatantly when others are unable to speak?"

"Well sir, I do not think you are better than me, and I do not think anyone is below me. They may not fight as well, and they may not be as educated as you are, but that does not make them less of a person, or you more than a person." Spio blurted out.

Anthony who was kneeling with his head just above the table stood up and pointed at the boy, "How dare you talk to my master like that!"

Lothario looked at Anthony, "Sit and keep your mouth shut."

"But.."

Lothario raised his eyebrows, a sign to Anthony to watch what he did next. Anthony sighed and put his elbows on the table and slapped his hands across his mouth so nothing would come out. Naevius grabbed the bare shoulders of Spio, "Forgive him Tribune Lothario, he is young and full of strange ideas."

Ettore bent over and said something to Lothario. Lothario grinned, "Spio, you have proven yourself over and over again. What is it that you want in exchange for me making Naevius Capo of my guard?"

Spio frowned, "I did not want anything Tribune. I really think he would be a better Capo."

Naevius still had the boy's shoulders, "Actually sir, there is something he would like but he would never ask for himself."

Ettore frowned, "Go on."

"He truly is outspoken and speaks from his heart instead of his mind. He confided in me that he would like to have the ear of a leader, someone he could share his ideas with and help guide them." Naevius stated.

Spio turned and looked up at the man, "That was a secret just something someday I wished for."

Ettore raised an eyebrow and smiled, "The Tribune has no openings for a wise man. However he does have an opening for a good fast horseman, an excellent fighter and someone who can read and write in Roman, Greek and Latin. Of course that person would be near him most of the time to run messages back and forth to other leaders."

Spio smiled, "I can do that!"

Roman, who was nearby, grinned, "You can speak Greek?"

Spio frowned, "He did not say speak it, he said read and write it. That language is horrible."

Everyone laughed at that. Ettore quieted, "Then you are the new runner for Tribune Lothario."

Lothario looked at Naevius, "You are now the Capo of my guard."

The quartermaster spoke up, "May I be excused now?"

"No." Lothario said, "The civilians and slaves have to be paid."

"The slaves have to be paid?" The man asked.

Lothario opened the last box, "You didn't think you were going to walk away with this money did you?"

The quartermaster backed up afraid of losing his head, "I just never heard of slaves being paid before."

"I want them each you have at least ten coppers. I want the freeborn to have at least one gold coin and I want the Citizens to have five gold coins. Do you have a problem with that? When you are finished, then we will see what is left." Lothario had a hard time keeping his voice down because the man upset him.

Pao's slave was pushed to the front, "Forgive me sir, whatever I have done wrong, please have mercy."

Lothario frowned and looked at Pao, "What did you tell him?"

"I just told him you wanted to see everyone." Pao answered.

Pee ran down the boy's leg and he was visibly shaking. Lothario stood and went around to the other side of the table and grabbed the boy tight and hugged him, "No one is going to hurt you." He turned to the other forty or more men women and boys, "You are not here for punishment of any kind. You are here to collect a reward that I think you all deserve. Now lose your fear and remember I see how hard you work and at least this time, I wish to give you something for doing such good work."

Anthony smiled and took his hands off his mouth, "That's one of them."

Lothario grinned wide and picked up the slave boy. He took him over to a tub of water, "Once you have a bath the quartermaster will give you something for your hard work."

"Really?"

"Really, but first your bath." Lothario dropped the boy into ice cold water.

When the boy came up for air Lothario laughed, "Si, don't throw cold water on me again when I am bathing."

The boy nodded and stepped out of the tub. Anthony handed him a towel. Everyone was laughing. The quartermaster paid the boy begrudgingly and the boy's eyes widened, "You can't be serious. This much money?"

Ettore laughed, "Go on let the next get theirs."

Anthony kept his eye on the boy to see who he would go to but it didn't matter, soon the other culprit would give himself away. Although the citizens and free men were always paid, the little extra showed that Lothario cared, and for that they were all grateful. The last boy came up to the table. He was visibly shaking. Lothario cocked his head, "Why are you afraid?"

Instead of answering the boy took off running. Anthony and Roman tackled the boy and took him to the tub and dropped him in it. Anthony smiled as the boy got out, grabbed a towel, handed it to him and they dragged him over to Lothario. Lothario and others were laughing, "I bet you thought you got away with it."

The boy was shaking from the cold, "Si Don Lothario, sir we did."

"I like pranks." Lothario grinned, "Just not ones where someone can get hurt. Take your money. It is a lot of money for a slave, please spend it wisely. Who is your master?"

"Don Crispin sir." The boy answered.

Lothario looked at Ettore then back at the boy, "Did Don Crispin put you up to throwing water on me?"

"I don't remember sir."

"Don't lie to me."

The boy did not have time to answer. Crispin was not that far away and came forward, "Now Tribune Lothario, don't lose your temper, it was all in fun!"

Lothario grinned, "Si." He turned to Naevius, "Throw him in the tub!"

The camps became alive with the celebration that they were back in Rome. Ettore and Lothario took their households back to their tents, but on the way they heard a terrible argument going on in Don Nicos tent, between Nico and Fedele.

They stopped to listen, Fedele was yelling, "You can't do that Nico!"

"By Mars I can't, I am the Consul, not you Fedele. You make Andio Lothario's Optico, I am short three Tribunes and I am taking Ettore to be one of them." Then there was a scuffle and he continued, "Don't push me again Fedele or I will knock you out of this tent and have your heart on a stick!"

Fedele yelled back, "They already know you are trying to separate them, what do you think they are going to feel about this? It doesn't matter if Ettore is qualified and the best, they will think you are doing it to hurt them! Andio is qualified too, make him a tribune!"

"I already spoke with Andio, he wants to stay centurion under Lothario."

"Oh and you think Lothario and Ettore are just going to sit by and let you ruin what they have together?"

Lothario turned to the others, "Stay here. Ettore come with me." Lothario and Ettore walked into the tent. It became quiet.

Fedele and Nico looked at the two boys. Lothario spoke, "You can't take my citizenship away, or Ettore's, but if you decide to do what you are thinking, we will both resign, and I will give up my seat on the senate." Lothario and Ettore turned around and walked out of the tent. Lothario smiled, "Come on lets go get something to drink and have some fun for a change." He grinned wide and led the households away.

As the group left the area Don Nico came out of the tent, "Lothario come back here, you are not going to get away with this! Come back here now!"

Fedele came out of the tent, "You can make them get married when they are too young, but you won't get away with keeping them apart Nico, our parents couldn't separate us, and you won't separate them."

Nico was fuming, "I was doing it for the Legion, not because I was trying to separate them!"

"Say it how you want old friend, but I and they know the real reason."

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