Publius Imperator Caesar, Emperor of the Roman Empire and therefore commander of my century, looked down at me from the temporary dais that had been constructed of strong local wood in the main Hellenic magistrates hall in Hierpolis. It was not exactly what you would call fit for an emperor, but neither was it the lowest form of seating I had ever seen, for in Dacia we usually stood or sat on the floor.
“Let me see if I understand this correctly, Marcus,” he formed a steeple with his fingers and gazed at me once more, kneeling before his dais in only my white tunic and Gallic torc, looking like the very epitome of a barbarian I am sure, “you wish me to release you from service, as your time of discharge has already passed, and allow you to return home to Dacia with the ashes of your fallen comrade Dizas, so that you may scatter them to the winds?”
The tone he used, and the way he put it, made my entire request sounds foolish and child-like, but I nodded my downcast head all the same. This was the Emperor, not some sorry Roman arsewipe I could threaten or simply leave the service of. I had sworn my life to this man, an oath not taken lightly.
“Would you consider a better offer?”
I have to mention here, dear reader, that no matter how much the Senate and the old men within hated Publius, he was always good to his soldiers and we acknowledged that readily. He did not treat us unfairly, was a skilful tactician, and never wasted lives where he did not have to. In short, he was everything that Legatus Nepos was not.
“You are already a centurio retentus, a fifty-seven year old centurion who had remained on after his service was up, who could have left but did not and for this I am thankful. Your pay shall also be doubled. There are very few that lead from the front and reach your age, or can offer your experience. Now, here is my offer...” he stood up from his dais, walked down a series of small steps toward me, and in plain view of his still and silent German bodyguards placed his hand on my shoulder “...I want you, Centurion Laenas, to become my chief training officer in Roma amongst your comrades of the Peregrinorum and to work in tandem with the horsemen of the singulares.”
His face came closer to my ear as he leant forward, my head not even moving and my eyes fixed to the floor of the former Seleucid palace.
“Just between yourself and me, you can also keep an eye on the Praetorians and those whom I trust in Roma for me, there's a good man,” he slid something under my nose then, a sealed scroll of papyri, and his voice whispered once more, “here are your papers for the exclusive position of 'ipsius imperatoris centurio' and all you need do is pick it up. The pay will be excellent and the length of your furloughs, and where you choose to spend them, well, that is up to you.”
The Emperor's own centurion.
It had a nice ring to it and, as I looked at that scroll and that seal, well my mind worked out a million different scenarios I can tell you.
I am tired, dear reader, so I shall continue later and tell you of what came after and likely before.
Time for wine, sleep, perchance to dream.