A/N: *Shamefully posts extremely late update*
Chapter XI: Whispers on the Wind
The hob-nailed boots of the legion soldiery crunched against the road, minutes from entering Lugdunum. Just a scant few months ago, its roads rang with the sandals of free men, drunk on pillage and opportunity. Blake's eyes darted to the riverside villas and the very manor she had served for seven years. What remained of it was hidden away by sloping vineyards and thin tree lines. Below the city sat the Arar river, its banks swollen with the recent rains. No swimming for the Master's children, she thought, frowning at the unwanted thought.
They were long dead now, butchered along with the rest of the major regional slave-owners. Adam had bought her then, paying her a single dagger for her loyalty. It took seven years to fill the children's heads with letters and literature, and it took two seconds to render that time useless.
It was a kindness. She'd saved the oldest, Julia, from a fate far more unpleasant than death.
"Is that your home?" Yang asked, following her stare.
"It was." For a muscle-bound brute, she's remarkably sharp, Blake thought, turning her gaze onto the city. It had been ravaged by the slaves' passing, and many of the outlying buildings were looted clean and burnt to cinders. Signs of life persisted however. Blake could hear the dull roar of carpenter's saws singing out into the afternoon haze. Many of the farmer's homes were being restored, and the city walls wore a second skin of scaffolding. In Lugdunum, life went on. Their rebellion amounted to nothing.
"We're making camp outside the walls here in an hour or so. You wanna see if there's anything left afterwards?"
"No," Blake said. Yang shrugged, lilac eyes watching the villas pass by. Local children followed the column, watching the legionaries with awe. Little brats. At their age, she'd been under the instruction of her parents, learning their craft and the intricacies of ritual. There was no stick and hoop for her in Athens.
The Legionary commanders thundered past, riding atop their destriers. Off to meet with the General. Blake watched them go. With a few throwing daggers, she could have crippled the Legion's leadership.
She longed to stretch her wings and be free. Although what came after escape was not clear. Perhaps she could return to Athens and her parents, if they were still alive and had not run aground. Maybe she could seek her fortune with the barbarous Germans or in the mountains of Syria. Maybe the distant Nile could be her home for a time.
The first step was small, as it always was - obtain a weapon. Without the cold steel of her finger knife, she felt defenseless and naked. Perhaps she could slip a pugio from the Legion's stores on the pretense she was obtaining one for her Master. Her tongue ran over her lips. Good Roman steel was a start.
When the Legion halted its march and began assembling its camp, Blake rooted through Yang's sarcina, finding her prize without much effort.
"Blake! Come hold this stake for me!" Yang cried, calling over to her from the Centuria's command tent.
"Coming Master," She said, tying the dagger to her bare thigh in a moment's time. Standing, she pulled her tunic down to her knees, concealing the weapon. She'd have to hide it quickly. Already, the pink-haired standard bearer was giving her suspicious looks.
"Needed something?" Flavia asked as Blake approached.
"A small lunch for my Master." Blake said, not deigning to look at the signifer. "Yang, some bread before we begin." It was a small chunk from her own meager food stores. She'd go hungry tonight, but it was better than arousing further suspicion.
"Hm? Oh, many thanks Blake! Truly, you were sent by the gods." Yang said, tearing into the bread with aplomb. And what cruel gods they are. Blake thought, crouching down to hold a canvas stake upright.
Grunting, Yang drove it into the ground, the crash of steel on steel one voice among a swelling chorus. Around them, a tent city sprung to life, aligned in perfect order. Today, the Legion was spared the duty of ditch-digging.
"Thanks Blake," Yang said, once she'd finished, wiping her brow and grinning. She took another bite of bread, humming a happy tune. "By the way, Ruby just informed me – the cohorts are taking it in turns to visit the city. We're going shortly, so could you prepare dinner while we're away?"
"Of course Master," Blake said, perhaps too quickly. Without the prying eyes of her Master or the Signifer, she could replace the stolen dagger without effort.
"Excellent. The kindling should finally be dry enough to make a good stew!" Yang exclaimed, a hand on her hip. "Oh, almost forgot." Stooping, she grabbed her hastile and tossed it to Blake. "Get some venison from the Game Master. Use this as proof I sent you."
Blake nodded. "I'll have it ready upon your return."
Yang grinned. "Don't worry," she said. "I'll be sure to take you around the city tomorrow. I heard they have a great spot for watching plays! I never got to go at home, but I'm sure they can't turn away an optio of the victorious Legio Pharus."
She resisted the urge to scoff. Roman 'theater'. What manner of plays did they enjoy? Most likely bawdy, trivial fare, or ham-fisted satire. Perhaps one or two about their right to subjugate all that they surveyed.
"It is doubtful indeed."
They finished erecting their tent, and helped the Fourth Centuria finish theirs. Blake waved goodbye to her Master as she left with her contuburnium to bathe in the river. As soon as she dipped below a hill, she spun on her heel, marching towards the Legion's provisionary tents.
The Quartermaster's tents stood tall, his personal tent guarded by a pair of swarthy Romans. She avoided their narrowed gaze. The baggage train had settled in, still ludicrously small for the size of the army it sustained.
The rattle of steel and spare armor drew her to the smithy's tent, the promise of a replacement blade like music to her pointed ears. With the hastile nestled in the crook of her elbow and resting against her shoulder, she ducked into the tent.
"Salve!" A voice boomed. The smithy was a towering faunus, two boar tusks jutting out from underneath his jaw. Noticing the tunic she dressed in and the staff on her shoulder, he 'harrumphed'. "I'm still settling in. What does your master need?"
"A new pugio," Blake said, dipping her head. "My master is Optio Yang, of the Fourth Centuria."
The smith grunted, fishing out a scrap of parchment from underneath a collapsible bench. After reading through the list, he dropped a quill and ink next to it, and gestured at her to sign it. "That's your master's name," he said, pointing. Blake knew, but didn't dare to voice that. "Normally I'd ask for her in person, but I we're restocking shortly, so I'll allow it."
Blake made a scribble next to Yang's name on the ledger and received the new dagger. Sliding the dagger from its scabbard, she noted it was of sufficient quality to replace the one strapped to her thigh. More than enough to keep Flavia off my back.
Marching out of the tent, she made for the Legion's provisionary tent when a cry of pain distracted her. It was Dove. The malcontent. His friends were escorting him to one of the stockpiling tents, concern writ large on their faces. Their eyes darted about like fish, silver knives in tiny ponds.
There is something amiss. Her ears twitched, desperate to hear more. With the dagger obtained, she could spare some time to eavesdrop. Ducking out of the smithy's tent, she drank deep of the morning air, stilling her mind.
Her feet fell silently upon the grass, her breathing no more than a whisper. With a quick glance to make sure the Quartermaster's guards had their attentions focused elsewhere, she threw a sharp elbow into a rack of pilum.
They fell to the ground with a deafening rattle of metal and wood, but Blake was already moving. Two steps and a rolling dive took her to the canvas of the stockpiling tent. She rolled underneath the flaps, entering it unseen. Once inside, she threw a nearby blanket over her head and curled up into a ball behind a stack of crates.
No one had seen her.
"What was that?" One of Dove's friends asked. Russell Thrush… green-haired boy from his contubernium. "Did you hear that?"
"Calm yourselves," Cardin said, peeking out from the main flap. "A few pilum fell over. Lazy bastards in supply can't even set up a rack right."
"Whole Legion's falling apart," Dove snorted. "First Ruby's made Centurion, and now the baggage boys start slacking."
"Easy Dove," Cardin rumbled. "Are you so eager for another lashing?"
"There won't be another one," Dove growled. "I'll be fine in a few days."
"Then what?" Russell asked. He bent closer to Dove, and their conversation continued in whispers. Blake dare not move and draw attention to herself. Instead, she flattened her ears, pointing them in just the right direction to pick up their speech.
"Then we do something about her," Dove hissed.
Cardin rumbled his discontent. "I don't like this, Dove. That's dangerous talk."
"Maybe, but can you blame me?" Dove protested. "It's not just petty revenge either. She's two years younger than you, Cardin. Most optios aren't promoted until they're in their late twenties… at the youngest. She's going to get us all killed."
"He speaks the truth," Russell said.
"You saw her rescue Tribune Schnee," Cardin replied. "And that was done without rank or a fancy cape. I have doubts about her, of course. But Dove, this plan of yours doesn't suit my interests. I won't betray you, but I'll take no part of it."
"Hmph," Dove protested. "Fair enough."
"I'm with you," Russell said. "A few of the boys are too. Julia, Brynus, Gaius, and Lead."
"Right. Once I've healed, we'll strike."
Blake had heard enough. Carefully, slowly, she peeled the sheet away from her eye. Cardin was making to leave, while the others had huddled up in a corner. Now was a good as time as any.
A foot snaked underneath the tent flap. Then a leg. Then she was gone, once more standing in the blinding sunlight. Straightening her tunic out, she left for the Game Master's tent. Cardin watched her pass. Their eyes met, but no words passed between them.
Weiss swept aside the flap to Ozpin's tent, finding she was the last one to arrive to the Tribune's meeting. Jaune and Quintus were deep in discussion, the Arc boy talking animatedly with the Paullus scion. The artillery commander's cat-ears twitched in amusement, but he listened intently to his junior.
It seems Jaune's mood has improved since last night. When he looked up from his fellow Tribune, his smile died.
"Salve," he said, swallowing. Weiss let an easy smile grace her lips. A part of her – a petty and plebeian voice – whispered poison into her soul, wishing her to stay bitter over her spar with Pyrrha.
But she was stronger than that part. "Salve," she replied, taking a seat at the table. They did not speak of last night.
"It is good of you to finally join us," Faustinia said. She was seated next to Port in respect for her seniority. "It seems you are in one piece after all, despite the rumors."
Port did not comment, instead choosing to continue stuffing his face with bread and garum.
Weiss glared at Faustinia, trying to summon a laconic retort. But nothing came forth. Her head pounded and ached, thanks the battering Pyrrha'd visited upon her. Challenging her was stupid. She decided to swallow Faustinia's rebuke. It's what I deserve.
"Salve all," Ozpin said, emerging from the back of his tent. A cup of wine filled his hands, and he sipped at it gingerly.
"Ave, Ozpin Legatus," they replied, hand over their hearts.
"Thank you for meeting here on such short notice. I promise not to busy you overmuch. We are here merely to discuss a few matters regarding Lugdunum. Lady Goodwych?"
The statuesque Senator nodded, placing a wax tablet on the table before them.
"What's this?" Port asked, fingers ghosting over the silver bristles under his nose.
"A simple list of duties for the Legion to perform while resting at Lugdunum," Glynda replied. "The region has suffered under the slave revolt, and the Governor has requested our assistance with a few things. Namely, help rebuilding parts of the city, keeping order, and grimm-watch duty."
"The milites have been marching through mud and grime for weeks on end," Faustinia said. "Surely they deserve some rest?"
"Aye," Jaune concurred. "My own cohorts and the auxiliaries won't take kindly to construction work. It's beneath them."
"Feh," Weiss said as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. "It's no different from building a fort every night. I assume our cohorts are rotating duties?"
"Correct," Glynda said. "Rest assured knowing that your men will have plenty of time to rest and relax for the next few weeks."
"Perhaps there will be time for a proper grimm hunt!" Port thundered, his fist ringing against the table. "It has been too long since I've conquered one of Pluto's children. It would be a shame if my prodigious hunting talent were to go to waste!"
Amusement rippled through the tribunes, and Quintus slapped Port's shoulder, grinning wide.
"Mired in my friend's boasting lies a good idea," he said. "The grimm have no doubt been plaguing these people. A sharp rebuke across their snout should teach them to find prey elsewhere."
"Very well," Ozpin said. "I'll leave its organization up to you, Lord Port."
"Hurrah!" Port said, beaming wide. A bit of garum stained his lips, but no one had the gall to tell him.
"While there will be some time for rest," Ozpin continued, "we shall not grow lax. I want your centurions running plenty of drills, and there will be century-sparring by the city's gates."
Weiss was inwardly grateful to the old Legatus. Plenty of time to see how far Ruby had come in her lessons. And though she was loathe to admit it, she agreed with Strabo – her troops needed rest.
"We'll inform Primus Pilus Oobleck," Weiss assured the senators. "When would you have us begin?"
"Tomorrow would be best," Ozpin replied. "It's important the fort is properly constructed, as we will be here for several weeks."
"As you will it Legatus," Weiss said. Tomorrow is still a touch too early… what worries him so to warrant this endless drilling?
"Legatus," Jaune asked, "may I abstain my men from the sparring? I have new drills and formations they must learn."
A rustle of interest rippled through the gathered tribunes. A snort of laughter escaped Faustinia.
"No doubt the brain child of your Greek Mistress," she said. The tribunes murmured in amusement, but Weiss frowned, hoarfrost crusting her heart. She had made a similar comment recently, and suffered for it.
Jaune, like Weiss, was not amused. For the first time since meeting the boy, Weiss noticed a flicker of rage crossing his face. Is it possible the Arc boy has a spine after all? Or is it a recent growth?
"Pyrrha knows the tactics of Greek soldiers better than anyone. But she does not know Romans," he replied. "These new drills are of my design, and I won't suffer a harridan questioning my methods."
Weiss' jaw was not the only one that hung open. Did last night break him? Jaune was much too young to hurl insults at his elder, much less a Strabo. They were old blood, and the Arcs were little more than elevated rabble.
"Hold your tongue boy," Faustinia growled. "Or else I shall have you fetch a switch. Your own mother clearly lacked the stomach to apply it properly."
Weiss' lip curled. A cruel jest, considering the terrible fate of Lord Arc's first wife. Jaune's fists worked and she could see blood leaking from his palms. She intervened before the poor fool dug himself too deep.
"Unfortunately Lady Strabo," Weiss said, directing attention away from Jaune, "I haven't seen any proper switching branches as of late. However, it seems you have sat on one quite squarely. Perhaps you could remove it from your ass so that it could be of service?"
Jaune looked to her, the rage seeping out from him, replaced with pure shock. Had she just come to his defense? Weiss looked to the Arc boy. You owe me.
"Enough," Ozpin said, his half-smile long vanished. "Lord Arc, as long as your men practice the old drills as well, they are excused from sparring."
"My thanks," Jaune told his lap, his cheeks bright red. He is still a boy, she realized. He looks as though he has been caught stealing from the kitchen.
"And I will not suffer any more bickering," Ozpin said, cold command poisoning the very air. "I will hear no more of it in my tent." Even Strabo had the good sense to nod and stare at her feet. Ozpin's voice brokered no argument, demanded absolute obedience. Weiss knew that voice all too well.
"By Jupiter's good graces, the slaves spared Lugdunum's most popular gathering spot," Glynda continued brightly, radiating smug satisfaction from the Tribunes' cowing. "A ramshackle amphitheater escaped the slaves' destruction, and some local actors will be putting on Horatia and the Bridge in a week's time."
"A classic," Weiss noted, to a few agreeing nods. "But aren't there more important things for the people of Lugdunum to worry about?"
"Hope is a small and furtive thing, Lady Schnee," Ozpin reminded her. "The locals need every bit of it they can muster. The revolt has hurt them deeply." And that was the end of the argument. Weiss didn't see why the actors would rather spend time rehearsing then help rebuild, but she was no peasant.
One of Ozpin's slaves handed her a copy of Glynda's tablet, and she accepted it gracefully. Mercifully, it seemed as though the meeting would be short. She rolled her shoulders, and a raw soreness made itself known. More rest and recovery was in order.
It has been some time since I've been worked over like that.
Perhaps she allow some time for relaxation after all. In truth, Horatia and the Bridge was her favorite play. A small grin stretched across her face. Horatia Cocles was the heroine of every Roman woman who took up a sword in the name of their city – in this matter, Weiss Schnee was no different from the lowliest milites.
I wonder if Ruby's seen the play, Weiss pondered. She certainly hasn't read the tale. A book of the Histories would serve her pupil well, she supposed. Rooted deep within them was an education in proper values and ethics, something that would serve the former farm girl well.
Standing, Weiss wrung out a crick in her neck. I shall take her along then, she decided. But she'll need to double down in her other lessons first. Especially if the centuries would be sparring in the coming weeks.
"If there is nothing else to discuss, I suggest we adjourn," Ozpin said, to a chorus of agreements.
The Tribunes departed. Jaune was swiftest, fleeing as if the fates themselves nipped at his heels. Port followed, wearing a massive smile.
"Lady Schnee," Faustinia said, catching her hand. Weiss stopped. She glared at her fellow tribune, ice-blue meeting onyx-flecked gold. "I have a proposal."
"Oh?" Weiss asked. Trap. This is a trap. "What say you, Lady Strabo?"
"How about a friendly wager?" The elder woman said, a crocodile's smile working its way across her face. "Let us not allow the up-jumped Arc boy be the start of bad blood between us. A match between our best centuries sounds like a good way to begin a healthy relationship."
Weiss' brow furrowed, and she searched for the reason why Faustinia would propose such a thing. Perhaps she seeks to form some sort of convenient alliance?
"What terms do you propose?"
"Oh, nothing extravagant," Faustinia chirped. "What say you to five denarii?"
Weiss blinked. "Pocket change?" She asked.
"As I said, it is a friendly wager," Faustinia said. "Oh," she added, the instant Ozpin turned his back to speak with Glynda. "And that centurion you lavish your attentions upon," Faustinia continued. "The illiterate cunt with ruddy hair."
Now it was Weiss turn to seethe with rage. If it wasn't for the pain that wracked her, she would have broken the older tribune over her knee. No doubt that was why Faustinia harassed her now. Clever bitch. Still, the insinuations and insults sewn into Faustinia's words made her blood boil. Impotent furor coursed through her, and Weiss shuddered.
"What about Centurion Rose," she hissed.
"Just personal curiosity," Faustinia said, every syllable a lie. "If I win, I would also like for you two to attend a small feast in my tent. After the denarii is paid, of course."
"If I win," Weiss said, "You will help me sacrifice a prize boar to Mara." To her delight, Faustinia turned light green at the prospect. Yes, you have never truly given to the gods, have you? Washed your face and hands in lifeblood? No, the Strabo woman had spent too much time with her mother, fiddling with an abacus as she tried to recoup the family's losses.
They clasped forearms without another word, the wager settled. As they parted, Weiss pulled the bones in Faustinia's little finger from their socket with a quick twist of her wrist. To her credit, the elder Tribune did not cry out. Instead, she bit her lip and stalked out of Ozpin's tent.
Weiss watched her go, chills washing over her bruised and battered skin. Jupiter strike that woman down.
"That was cruelly done, Lady Schnee," Ozpin said. Mercifully, his tone was conciliatory instead of admonishing.
Weiss saluted the Legatus. "I am sorry, sir." How did he see that? He was standing behind her! "In my defense, she is the one who provoked me."
Ozpin sighed. "I know. I shall have words with her later."
"Why does she antagonize me?" Weiss asked. "From the day we left Rome, she has been nothing but cruel and snide." And why did she seek a wager with me? What nefarious aims does she have? "Jaune has suffered too."
A slave refilled Ozpin's wine. He stared into its depths before taking a swallow.
"Lady Strabo is much like you, in a way," he said. "But where your Grandfather used the Civil War to advance himself, it tore the Strabos to pieces. They are still recovering. You both seek the glory under Augustus, but Faustinia has struggled for two decades to secure a position as Tribune. Her father did not curry favor and play politics to achieve her goals."
"I am Daughter of Mara," Weiss protested with straight-backed pride. "If she was not qualified until now, that is her problem, not mine."
"That is not the issue," Ozpin said. "Even if you had not endured the trials, your father still would have foisted you upon the Legio Pharus. Do not pretend otherwise. You and Jaune have been given something that she has spent most of her life chasing."
Weiss opened her mouth to retort, but she could see the truth in Ozpin's words. Even if her father had not left her at the Temple, she would still have served his whims. After all, even Jaune had been marched off to war, despite his clear uneasiness.
At least Jaune had nothing to prove but himself. He had seven sisters after all… the weight of the Arc name did not rest upon his shoulders.
But the only reason Weiss did anything at all was because it was within her father's wishes.
She felt sick.
Weiss bowed her head. "Aye, Legatus."
"You are dismissed, Lady Schnee."
Saluting, Weiss turned on her heel and left the tent. Despite Ozpin's warning, she had shook Faustinia's hand. The wager was still on.
Have you learned nothing from last night? She shook her head. No. This time, I am not risking myself.
It seems as though Ruby will need some more training.
Inwardly, Faustinia's words still ate her. It had been weeks since Weiss thought of Centurion Rose as a burden. She could no longer deny that she enjoyed tutoring the girl. Or the sanguine mood Ruby brought to her tent.
A/N: Yeahhh, sorry about the extremely delayed update. I have been ridiculously busy. In other news, RWBY V4 HYPE!
If you want to see more of this story, I suggest leaving a review! If I see more demand for it, I'll be a lot quicker releasing chapters for it.
I hope you enjoyed today's chapter, and let me know what you think!
Glossary of Terms:
Plebeian: Roman society was divided into two major groups - patricians and plebians. Patricians were the wealthy elite, said to be the families of Rome's original founders. The Plebians? Well, they were everyone else.
Pluto: Roman God of the Underworld. (Culturally appropriated Hades)
Anachronisms, issues to address, and other misc. addendum.
Roman Camp Structure/Minutiae: I'm not sure if Blake's section is 100% accurate regarding the terminology used and the process by which another dagger was obtained. Astute readers will know that the Legions made their soldiers pay for equipment out of their own salary... but this is not something Blake knows.
'Artillery': When we think of artillery, we think of big booming salvos, Napoleon, or perhaps even classical music. However, artillery in the Classical period was cruder fare, mostly contraptions built from wood, rope, and leather. In the Legio Pharus, Quintus Paullus is the Tribune assigned to lead and direct the artillery, which means he's also in charge of constructing besieging equipment.
Horatia and the Bridge: An adjustment to the original legend, as I'm sure a few of my more historically-minded readers noted. Originally, the tale is Horatius and the bridge, but a quirk of alternate history/alternate RWBY-verse has introduced a drastic change to one of Rome's oldest legends - one that has had a drastic effect on its society today. Originally, the tale told of a solider named Horatius Cocles who, during the earliest days of the Roman Republic, held a bridge by himself against an army of invaders while his friends destroyed the bridge behind him. He is regarded as an exemplar of Roman values, and credited with single-handedly saving Rome.
Lugdunum's 'Amphitheater': Fun fact, the citizens of Lugdunum did indeed build a new amphitheater around this time - the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls! However, the one described in the story is a simple wooden predecessor to what would eventually become the 'Three Gauls Theatre', as the Amphitheatre wasn't built until 19AD.
"It's beneath them": Jaune's comment here refers to the fact that the primary bricklayers and builders of Rome were mostly slaves.
WHY DOESN'T PORT HAVE A MUSTACHE?: Romans considered facial hair barbaric, so it is extremely unlikely that a Tribune of the Legion would risk his reputation for the sake of a sweet 'stache. However, the text is meant to imply he wore one at a time in his past, and misses it greatly. As a token form of rebellion, he keeps his upper lip properly stubbled.
"Pluto's children": In this RWBY-colored version of Rome, the mythology refers to grimm being the children of Pluto, God of the Underworld. The Romans currently believe that Grimm make their nests deep within the earth, lending credence to the theory of their cthonic origin.
Next chapter: We check in with Yang and Jaune, and stop by the streets of Lugdunum.