FR – 15Disclaimer:
Neither Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Gladiator or any of the characters in either production belong to me. Instead they below to the wonderful Mr Whedon and (probably) Scott Free Films although I'm not quite sure....anyway I certainly know they ain't mine! Don't sue! Quotation from the Wordsworth Classic translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses....Authors note:
This (with Jennifer's blessing (all hail Jennifer!)) is a sequal of sorts to Jennifer's Andromache
. It might be a good idea for you to read them first to get some background. You should anyway – they are fabulous and inspired me to write this plot bunny. Just think of it as a glimpse into a possible future that is far in the past.......Metamorphoses"Of bodies chang'd to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
Inspire my numbers with coelestial heat;
Till I my long laborious work compleat;"
It was cold. Cold enough that his breath plumed out in a cloudy exhalation as he breathed out into the early morning mist. Absently he pulled the edges of his fur cloak higher on his shoulders as he padded further out of his tent into the clearing, sandals crunching in the fresh snowfall.
As always, the camp was bustling, couriers arriving, horses blown and foaming, and leaving again, their replacement steeds champing at the bit to run, officers and men striding past, dogs barking, horses and men calling out, wagon oxen lowing their protests at being forced to work.
The smell of wood smoke and roasting meat was heavy in the air and Maximus’ mouth watered momentarily before he pushed his appetite aside. There would be time for food later.
He moved through the bustle, absentmindedly acknowledging the salutes and murmured renditions of “Sir” with nods and the occasional half smile. He had been with these men for a long time and they knew well that he did not stand too firmly on the outward signs of military respect. He had always cared more for actions rather than words.
The command tent when he reached it was quiet in comparison. He bashed the soles of his studded, fur lined boots against a rock at its entrance to knock off the encrusted snow, the noise alerting the three men inside to his entrance.
They straightened and thudded their clenched fists against their breastbones in salute. “General”, offered the oldest. His hair was mostly receded and there were old calluses on his neck from where the chin strap from his helmet has galled him over many years.
“Cammellius”, Maximus acknowledged his tone warmer than he gave to most. “Titus, Agrippa.”
The two younger men offered brief smiles as they relaxed from attention and waited politely for their General to take his place at the sand table.
“Any developments over night?” he enquired. Agrippa shook his head choppily.
“None, Sir. The rebels seem content to wait us out.” He hesitated before continuing. “Are we still aiming the advance for today Sir?”
Maximus raised an amused eyebrow at Cammellius, whose mouth quirked almost imperceptibly in response before he answered the younger officer. “Unless something untoward happens, yes. Why, is there somewhere else you need to be?” His tone was dry as dust and the younger man flushed to the extent that it was noticeable even in the comparative dimness of the tent.
“No, Sir! I just wanted to be sure that the snow had not changed your plans, Sir! I would not want to be anywhere but here, fighting with my men, Sir!”
Agrippa’s back was rigidly straight now and it was obvious that he was only preventing himself from automatically saluting by main force of will.
Maximus let him suffer for a moment and then waved a hand to release him. “At ease, Agrippa. I do not doubt your dedication to your men or this campaign. And it was a reasonable question. But no, a little bit of snow will not change our plans. Battles are always hot work anyway. Perhaps the snow will cool us down.”
He looked back at the sand table that reflected the woods and hills of the immediate area outside. Coins and markers represented the legion and the believed location of the enemy forces, evidence of the careful work of myriad native scouts over the last few days. He frowned thoughtfully, noticing a possible weakness in the placing of the catapults on the left flank.
“Gentlemen. I believe we may still have some work to do. Titus – what do you think about the placement of the catapults on the left?”
Titus answered him and for the next few hours conversation was blunt and free flowing as they discussed various scenarios in relation to the coming battle.
As always, it was the silence that alerted him. An hour must have passed, maybe two of free ranging discussion before the cessation of noise outside broke him out of his trance of concentration.
The sudden lowering of the shouts outside, the almost awed hush from the men that she passed on her way to the command tent was almost as effective as a blast of horns for announcing her arrival and just as unwelcome to her as the horns would be. She had little time for the awe of men, having seen so many times how worship and respect could and did turn to lust and violence at the drop of a neck scarf.
So she tolerated their worship, was polite when forced to interact, but otherwise allowed it to all flow past her. She was indifferent to their respect, reckoning it all too fallible and trusted very few enough to ever let her guard down amongst them. Instead, all his men and near all who ever met her, whether in Rome or in one of the many campaigns she had fought beside him on were greeted with cool courtesy and her famed edged calm that thinly disguised the predator beneath.Morta,
his men called her behind her back. Penthesilea
Or simply The Lady.
To all others she still went by her slave name, that name that Proximo had given her when they had first met, so many years ago. She was Andromache. Simply Andromache.
And only he, in the privacy of their bed chamber, in the warm embrace of wrapped furs and her entwining limbs could ever call her anything else. Only he knew her true name, her heart name, her free name, the name of who she was before the gods in their capriciousness flung her so far back in time and space, never to return to who and what she was before.
He thought that name as she slipped through the entrance to the tent, his eyes drawn to her as always like a lodestone, like a traveller seeking the star that points the way true north. Buffy.
Their eyes met and she smiled, just a little with her eyes at him, before she moved to take her accustomed place at his side. The other men in the tent greeted her arrival with respectful nods and low murmurs of “Lady” before they turned back to their work.
As always, before a battle, she was dressed simply, in a tunic to her knees, covered by a lorica, plainly chased greaves carefully made to cover her slender shins, battle sandals on her feet and bronze braces on her elegant wrists. The coxcomb of her helmet brushed against her armpit as she cradled it easily in one arm and the top of her head barely reached his chin. She leaned lightly against him as she examined the layout on the sand table, committing the layout to memory. As always, she would be with him in the battle and her uncanny ability to always know exactly where she was in relation to every other body and landmark on the battle field had saved them both more than once.
He had asked her about it once, curled up together in the dimness of their tent, only the faint flicker of the oil lamp in the outer chamber illuminating the darkness. She had smiled and murmured something he didn’t quite understand, something about spatial and situational awareness
before she had distracted his chain of thought with a kiss. And then another kiss and another, until all his thoughts had flown and only the demands of the body and the heart were paramount.
She leaned into him further in order to point something out on the table to the others. The other three considered the point seriously, nodding and frowning, after so many years they were used to the strange streak of tactical awareness that this woman, so strange by so many of the Republic’s social mores, possessed.
Occasionally, she still had to deal with the idiots who would attempt to ignore her because she was a woman, or would sneer at her contributions or try to brush her aside. No one would ever be stupid enough to offer her violence, either physical or verbal, knowing only too well her reputation and how beloved she was of both the people and her family.
But there were other ways to hurt and she had become immune to the snide remarks of Rome’s aristocracy, the sneers and the innuendo and the barbs aimed to cut like knives. She cared little for their opinions and those who were stupid or foolhardy enough to make their comments to her face soon quailed in the face of a pitiless and contemptuous stare from her grass green eyes.
It bothered her little, but every time he saw it happen it clenched a fist in his gut and he would have to hold himself back from incipient violence. Those sneers, those thinly veiled insults were the reason he had never brought his first wife to Rome, never exposed his dead son to the capital, wanting to protect his loved ones, who would be considered countrified and unsophisticated by the effete of the aristocracy, from the cutting venom of their barbed remarks.
But that route had never worked with his lady Gladiatrix. From the moment they had met, when she had taken his outstretched hand, injured and disorientated and half deranged with pain and fury, like somehow recognising like through the soul deep pain and the rage that threatened to overwhelm them both, she had never left him. In the arena, in battle after battle, at his back through the mob in Rome, leaning back on the marble seats in the Senate, shoulder brushing shoulder. In his bed and in his tent on campaign, at his side in war and council, even where tradition dictated she should not go she walked beside him and he could not remember any more how it felt not to have her there.
Love was not something men were meant to admit to. Some said it made men weak, nothing more than puppets in the hands of women. But Maximus had never been a liar, least of all to himself and he knew that what he felt for her was stronger than anything else he had ever felt in his life, stronger than the love he had for his first, most loved wife, stronger even than the love he had for Rome, the city and the Republic that he had dedicated his life to.Agape
the Greeks had called it. The purest form of love, the recognition of soul meeting soul across all of time and the sphere of the world as the gods had made it and he thanked them every day in prayer for the gift they had given him, perhaps he sometimes allowed, to make up for all that they had previously taken away.
And to those that said such a great love made him weak? That he was ensnared by the weakness of a woman? Well then, let them look into his lady’s eyes and repeat their accusations. He would be amused to see how long they remained breathing afterwards.
She shifted against his shoulder again and he turned his head to look down into her upturned face. The years they had had together had left their mark on his face and his body but she still looked as untouched by time as she had when they first met, more like a girl than a wife of 10 years and a mother of two boisterous boys.
It was yet another thing about her that he had long ago given up wondering about. She had been brought here by the gods and it was the gods’ gift to her, her youth and the strength and speed that were so everlasting. And it was a comfort to him that she would probably outlive him, would be there to protect their children after he was gone, although the few times he had murmured that to her in the confessional formed by their embrace she had rolled her eyes at him and shaken her head. “Don’t be so sure that I will outlive you, love. For when you go I will be beside you, and if it is by battle or violence to get to you they will have had to get past me first. And I will be dead before I will allow that to happen. ”
He had heard the truth as she believed it in her words but still his heart preferred to think that she would survive him, even though she probably had the right of it. At least, unlike his first wife, he would never have to live knowing that she had died in torment and pain when he was far away and unable to help.
He shifted slightly and pressed his chin gently into the top of her hair, the only intimacy he would allow himself in public. She smelled like wildflowers and the perfume he had had brought to her from Egypt, one of the few luxuries she indulged in. That and her love for both him and his children were about the only things she shared with his first wife. Whereas Livia had been soft and gentle, everything feminine, devoted to the arts of the domestic realm and shy in company, Buffy was fierce and uncompromising, god gifted in battle, tactically astute, whether on the battlefield or in politics, pitiless in combat and supremely uninterested in most of the traditionally “feminine” arts.
But to him they both had always possessed the two most important characteristics in his world – brutal honesty, whether with him or any other, and hearts big to hold precious even his battle weary personage. And those of his children.
Although, even there they differed for while Livia could only call on the gods’ mercy as the soldiers took their son from her, the gods themselves would have to forgive and protect anyone who attempted to hurt one of his and Buffy’s children for there was a reason the mob called her the “She Wolf of Rome.”
He pressed his chin into the golden softness of her hair again and she shifted her head to look up at his face.
“Are the children ready?” he inquired softly, part of his attention still on the men gathered around the sand table. She nodded almost imperceptibly in reply.
“Yes. Galla and the others have the horses and the supplies ready at the south end of the camp. Flavia will watch the battle from the outcropping. If she gets my signal or both of us fall she will pass on the signal to Galla. She knows what to do.”
With the history of betrayal and disloyalty that he had suffered with such grievous consequences Galla and the rest of the troop of his wife’s “Amazons” were the only reason he felt able to ride to war at all, now that the gods had given him hostages to fortune again in the form of his two young sons.
Buffy trusted fewer people implicitly than she had fingers on her two hands and of those few, seven rode with her as part of her personal guard, her women warriors, her “Amazons” as the mob had so accurately named them. All were personally blood oathed to her, all owed her their lives and well-being and all came from outside the Republic and held no other conflicting loyalties.
He loved Rome well, but he knew better than to trust her with the protection of his children if he was to fall from grace again. She was a glorious lady but also a blood soaked sow that would devour her own young in madness and he had already sacrificed enough of the blood of his family on her altar. At least this way, his family would survive, even if it was outside the Republic, even if his sons grew up to be painted savages or desert warriors they would at least get a chance at life.
Galla and his Lady’s warrior women would see to that.
He checked the light outside and estimated the hour. Mid morning. Good enough. It was always better to fight a battle in full daylight if at all possible.
“Gentlemen. I believe it is time. I would appreciate it if you would make the final arrangements.”
They nodded and went about their business. Beside him her entire body had tensed slightly in anticipation at his announcement. Whether she admitted it or not, she was born for battle, created by the gods for this one, singular purpose, to fight and to protect and nothing else, apart from the love she had for him and the children, brought out in her this wild singing exhilaration.
It was still there, that shine in her eyes, as they mounted their horses, still gleaming in the firm line of her lips as she lined up beside him in the vanguard, sword strapped to her belt, pilum held loosely in one hand, reins in the other as she waited for his signal, still there as they faced the massed ranks of the enemy fighters drawn up on the other side of the valley and listened to their jeers. It was still there as he acknowledged the cheers and chants of his legion, the calls of “Maximus” and “Protector of Rome” and occasionally “Hector” which made him smile in grim nostalgia at the memory of his time in Proximo’s less than tender care.
He remembered the despair and the fury, the desperate urge for vengeance against those that killed his family. How he had been possessed by death, eager only to kill Commodus and then to be reunited with his murdered family. To see them again one more time. And he remembered how his friend Juba had restrained him, reminding him that he would see his family once again.
But that the time was not yet. Not yet.
He glanced to his left at his Lady. Her face was up to the breeze, smelling the morning, locks of golden hair spilling out from her helmet’s embrace. The light caught the gold of her hair and her skin and she shone in the early morning light, sleek muscles and silken flesh, a barbarian warrior goddess made flesh.
Gods, how he loved her.
He reached out to touch her hand and she turned to face him, green eyes glittering with battle fever, mouth curved and lovely, her whole body alight with anticipation. For a moment they just looked at each other, caught in each others gaze and then she smiled at him, brilliantly, fiercely, with a wicked wanton edge to it that brought back memories of every fevered night they had ever spent together. He couldn’t help it, he laughed out loud as he pulled his hand back and her smile grew even fiercer as he drew his sword and raised it, preparing to drop it to signal the charge.
He could feel everything, the packed mass of his men behind him, the weight of their eyes upon him, the vibrant presence of his Lady at his side, the cold of the morning, the breath in his lungs, the smell of wood smoke and cooking in his nostrils. Yes, one day he would leave this all behind; leave this world behind to do as it would. And maybe when he did he would see his first family again.
He glanced briefly at his Lady again, his Warrior Queen, as he let his sword fall. Then he spurred his steed forward into the mouth of hell and she spurred her horse to follow him, singing out her battle cry in her barbarous native tongue. Yes, maybe that would all happen one day.
But not today and not yet. Not yet. And not, if his Lady had anything to say about it, for many years to come.