Marcus Lucius Decius ran the whetstone methodically over the gladius, rolling his eyes as he heard the dreaded returning voice of Scipio.
“No, you’ll see,” his friend was saying, “he’s here in our very own barracks.”
Marcus looked up to see Scipio, wineskin in hand, followed by a couple legionnaires he’d never met. The soldiers followed Scipio over to him and stood there staring skeptically. Marcus only gave his friend his own annoyed look as Scipio put a foot on the bench beside him and threw an arm around his shoulders.
“Here, my lads, I give you the single, lone, sole survivor of the Teutoburg Massacre. Now then, pay up!”
The two legionnaires still looked unconvinced. They looked from Scipio to Marcus, and then at each other.
“He’s old enough…” admitted the first.
The second only laughed. “No one who experiences that type of embarrassment stays in the legions this long afterward unless he’s wrong in the head.”
Agreed, thought Marcus, but said nothing.
The two turned to walk away. Scipio’s grin faded. “Hey! I’m telling you-”
“Nice try, Africanus,” said the first with a laugh. The nickname was not Scipio’s; it was a scornful jab to remind Scipio that he was not the legendary Scipio Africanus of Punic War fame.
“There goes ten denarii,” Scipio growled and plopped down next to Marcus. “Why didn’t you tell them who you were? You are the sole survivor of the massacre.”
“I am a survivor, not the sole. Well, maybe the last one left after three decades,” said Marcus quietly. He paused and looked up. “And I don’t like you going around reminding legionnaires – or anyone else – of my personal role in Rome’s most one-sided defeat. I’d…I’d rather have had Germanicus find me in the piles of bones, instead of me showing him years later where the Germans ambushed us, where this man was tortured and that one was sacrificed.” He stood up and sniffed. “Better to be dead with honor than alive without it.”
Scipio said nothing and took a pull at the wineskin, watching Marcus polish his armor at the table where they ate. He sighed. Thirty years earlier, the Roman governor Varus had taken three legions and their camp-followers on the lonely trek through the Teutoburg Forest of distant Germania. The convoy was under the impression the territory was friendly, and so was utterly unprepared when the Germans of Arminius – who up until that time had been a Roman ally – fell on them from all sides like a giant pack of ravenous wolves. With no room to maneuver in the forest, an influx of rain turning waterlogged shields into useless weight, strung out narrowly along the muddy path; it was a wonder anyone had escaped. Over 15,000 men were butchered over the course of a four day, running series of ambushes. Years and years later, every Roman citizen, every legionnaire, knew this story. They knew the shame.
Scipio hiccupped. “You need to get over this massacre-issue of yours.”
Marcus gave him a black look. “Get over it? Get over the shame of surviving such a one-sided defeat by a bunch of half-naked, painted, poorly armed barbarians who can’t even build a bridge? Get over giving the greatest general in your generation a tour of my greatest failure years later?” He ran his hands through his hair. “You should have seen Germanicus’s face, Scipio, you should have seen it. It was…was…I can’t describe it. A cross between horror and pity. You know what it’s like to inspire that kind of look? It takes the greatest defeat in imperial history…”
“Greatest? Hey, when the Parthians killed Crassus-”
“Crassus fought back!” roared Marcus, the armor he was cleaning clanging to the floor. “He lost, but he fought back. At least he took some of them with him.”
Marcus plopped his armor back on the table and began polishing, hands passing over the German axe’s indentation on the left side under the arm. So close, he thought. If Mars could hear, this strike would have finished me. It was true he had prayed to Mars, Jupiter, Neptune – all of them. Stationed here in Ephesus for the past few years, he’d even tried praying to Artemis. Marcus had tried everything to remove the burden of guilt at surviving when everyone he knew had not. But praying to the gods, he had realized over the years, was a joke. They did not care for men, for their problems; they never interfered or healed their broken world. He resented their apathy.
Scipio stirred and tossed the wineskin aside. “That reminds me, I actually came in here with orders.”
His friend wouldn’t turn around, still scrubbing vigorously at the armor.
“There was almost a riot yesterday,” Scipio went on. “People yelling in the amphitheater about Artemis for near two hours. I don’t think they all knew why they were even there.”
“Why were they there?”
“Some itinerant. He came to town with some, oh, let’s call them ‘new’ ideas. I’d never heard the like before. Spends hours in the agora debating people. Apparently no one can get the better of the man, and he’s upset the silversmiths something awful.”
Marcus laughed bitterly. “Why don’t they ask their precious Artemis to help them? It worked so well when I tried it.”
“It’s serious, Marcus. You know how Rome feels about riots. Our orders are to go to the agora and listen to this man very carefully, and see if there’s not charges for the proconsuls to consider.”
Marcus put his armor on and looked at Scipio with that serious gaze of his. “Go to the agora and listen carefully to a man and weigh his ideas. That’s the assignment? What’s this fellow’s name?”
Scipio referenced a scrap of parchment he’d scrawled on before reading:
“Paul of Tarsus.”

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