This fic requires substantial explanation:
Firstly, spoilers: Please do not read this if you are not familiar with the plot of Coriolanus. Also, please do not read this if you plan to see the Donmar Warehouse version of Coriolanus (ran 6/12/13 to 13/2/14). I will give away some very effective aspects of the staging.
Secondly, rating: I have rated this at a T because it is moderately graphic and quite dark, but if you can deal with the original play, you should be fine.
Thirdly, reasoning: I was lucky enough to see the Donmar production of Coriolanus at a livestream event. Images from it, particularly the final scene, stayed in my head for days. It was an unbelievably powerful performance. This fic began at the end and grew backwards. It is set the day after the final scene of the play.
This fic exists in my head as a one shot, but feels too long to post in a single chapter, so I have split it. Please read as if it were a single chapter.
Quintus Patricius ducked, raising his shield, and felt the Volscian's club smash in to the top of it, saw the hammered metal bend under the force. That could easily have been his helmet, then his head beneath. He shouted with effort and stabbed his gladium forwards in to the barbarian's unarmoured stomach. The frenzied man bellowed and fell away, clutching at himself. Even less than five pedes away, Quintus barely heard him. There was screaming all around, metal scraping metal, Volscian battle cries, Roman shouted orders, Romans shouting with effort, Volscian death cries, Roman death cries.
The Volscians had attacked at dawn, in spite of the two parties that had been sent up to parley with them. The first had been sent running back, in fear for their lives, the second had come back almost weeping with relief, three women and a boy, assured that the Volscians would parley, rather than sack the city. It seemed the Volscians had lied. They were traitorous filth, like their leader. A Roman, a Roman general at that, decorated, offered Consul, then turned traitor, fled to foes he'd been among like a wolf among lambs weeks before. Caius Martius Coriolanus.
The Volscians had been sighted less than two Gallica Legua from the walls, running down in a horde, no ranks, nothing. Like any other Barbarian horde. The Generals, like everyone else in the city, had been terrified. The legions had been scrambled, faster than they ever had been in training, and set behind the gate, waiting. The numbers were hopelessly against them. The Volscians had them three to one from what they could see. And it wasn't just numbers. They had Caius Martius Coriolanus in their camp. He was a commander of legend. The orders had been to stand in across the inside of the gates and stay there until they died, the Legionaries or the Volscians. They were not to move. They were not to fall back, they were not to pursue. Deploying brilliant tactics against a force jammed against walls on both sides and forbidden to move was difficult, nearly impossible. The Generals thought Coriolanus would out-command them, as well as outnumber and surprise. That was terrifying. Quitus had been with the legions four years now. Their pride was in their tactics as well as their discipline. General Cominus had said at the outset that they would need every drop of favour Mars could endow to survive to sundown, let alone win. They fought to make the Volscians bleed, spite them before the inevitable slaughter.
Quintus shoved his shield forwards again. The effort of holding it up was almost too much now. His sword hand was slick with blood. He would die here, like everyone else in Rome. They were all going to die, and all for Coriolanus's treachery. His shield hit resistance, a Volscian's body. He stabbed round quickly, hoping, but found no flesh there. The Legionaire beside him screamed in agony and twisted backwards, falling, blood gushing from a severed hand. Another man stepped up to fill his place at once.
Something was changing. The shield bashes were meeting flesh less frequently, the gap between their bodies and the enemy was growing. They were hanging back. That made them more dangerous. Coriolanus had tipped them off. But no. Quintus shoved forwards three times in quick succession, stepping up to follow. Still no flesh met his shield. Three more shoves.
"Quintus, get your stupid rump back here!" That was Varrus, his Decanus. "We're not to follow!" Quintus looked around. A gap of five Passa had opened up between the Volscians and the Legions. And it was growing. Quintus scrambled backwards. His feet slipped on a corpse's limp arm. To stand forward was to invite death. Every legionnaire knew that. The Volscians weren't hanging back, they were falling back. They were routing, or they seemed to be. General Cominus had said they should assume no cunning to be beyond the Volscians now. They had Caius Martius Coriolanus on their side.
"That's it, run, you barbarian dogs!" Someone bellowed. No one took up the cry. No one wanted anything more than for the Volscians to fall back, even for a few minutes. The rout was spreading slowly backwards through their warriors, like a good feigned rout should.
"Stand lads." A Centurion called. "Steady now." Quintus rested the bottom of his shield on the blood soaked ground, gasping for breath, muttering a prayer to Mars. He might only have a moment's respite. As soon as the Volscian commander realised that the feigned rout had failed, he'd call it off, or he would if he was any good, he would if he was Caius Martius Coriolanus.
"Throw spears!" The Centurion called. Maybe twenty spears flew in to the backs of the Volscians. Most had already been thrown.
They waited. They waited in terrified silence as the Volscians spilled back out of the gates, over their own dead and Roman dead together.
"They'll be back." Varrus growled. Quintus nodded. He hadn't been at the siege of Corioles, the last fight Coriolanus had led on their side, but he'd heard of the man scaling the walls alone and emerging hours later, running red with blood like a creature out of the underworld, to lead the Legions to victory. No man had ever seen him flinch from his wounds. Would he do it again here? Scale the walls alone before a fleeing army, then return, bathed in Roman blood, to lead the Volscians back in for the slaughter?
Quintus had no idea how long he waited, as though for the headsman's blade. When the thunder of his heart had slowed and his breath was easy again, he heard General Cominus saying
"Get fifty equites up here. I won't suffer to wait blindly." By the time the equites rode out, some Legionaires were squatting on the bloody ground, they'd been on their feet too long. The Decani were only making the faintest show of an effort to get them up again, some were sitting with what was left of their men, calling them back in to their tent-parties. Varrus waved and whistled for his, as he usually did. Quintus walked over, seeing Flavius and Matellus do the same from the other direction. Varrus looked between them slowly.
"Is this all that's left of us?" Matellus nodded grimly.
"I think so. Blasius is dead. Had his head caved in, early on."
"So's Plinius." Flavius added.
"Martinus?" Varrus asked. "Iulius? I saw Gnaeus go down, but… There were nine of us when this started. Are we four all that's left?"
"Iulius took a bad wound. He got pulled back." Quintus offered. "Martinus… I don't know." Varrus sighed heavily.
"More than half of us, in less than a day."
"They're coming back!" Someone on the wall shouted. Half the Legionnaires had jumped back to their tired feet before the man finished speaking. "The equites. The equites are coming back. No one following them."
"Up lads. We don't know they're our men yet." General Cominus shouted. "Repel horsemen. Quickly now. Anyone who's still got a spear to the fore." They staggered in to formation, Quintus wanted to do nothing less than start fighting again, even the miserable task of disposing of the dead would have been better.
"General, they're ours!" The man on the wall shouted. "They're Romans."
"How can you be sure?"
"Roman armour sir, to a man." The scout was right. The horsemen pulled their mounts up sharply as soon as they saw the shield wall.
"Report!" General Cominus commanded.
"The Volscians are breaking camp, Sir." One of the equites shouted back. "They're about to run by the look of it." Every soldier in the depleted, battered army at the gate sighed with relief. Quintus silently resolved to find a gander somewhere to sacrifice to Mars as soon as he could.
"First, third and fourth cohorts, form up outside the walls." General Cominus ordered. Quintus cursed under his breath. He'd thought it was over. General Cominus was going to drag them in to the Volscian camp.
"C'mon lads." Varrus whispered. "There might be something in the camp worth finding."
"Foremost," General Cominus called, pacing his horse up and down before the assembled men a couple of minutes later, "I must congratulate all of you. You fought like sons of Mars, to a man. You know I did not believe we could survive this onslaught. It seems I and the Volscians underestimated our Roman gall, our bravery. Now we must show the Volscians that we will not tolerate being attacked so. We march in to their camp and make free with whatever we find. Everything there belongs to Rome. Gather any supplies you find, we will eat well tonight. Every living man, make him a prisoner or slay him if he will not yield. I leave that to your judgement, barring one. There is one man I charge you to bring back alive. If any one of you lays eyes on Caius Martius Coriolanus, I charge you to call out his name, any who hear that cry, run to the aid of the caller. I do not need to tell you what that man, if indeed we can call him a man, has done. He has turned his back on Rome, his shelter and his nurse, and run to the embrace of the Volscians, forsaking his oath, his family, his friends. He would have given us over to Barbarian swords, every man, woman and child in Rome, for all that Rome honoured him. He is a faithless snake. He will be tried as a traitor and executed before the eyes of the people he betrayed. He must not escape. March on."
Reviews will be much appreciated, since I haven't written anything like this before.