"Hail!"

Amulius Julius smiled winningly at the legate in command of the legion. "Ave, Secundus Livius Drusus."

Drusus grinned back. A plebian nobleman, Drusus had lobbied hard for a posting in Gaul with the Julii, interested in earning reputation in an active war, rather than the continuous naval defeats of the Junii and the Cornelii. Ever since the Senate had handed down the decree that Rome must rule the world, the three families had been competing to gain the most dignitas. Much to the dismay of the other two impeccably patrician clans, the Julii had easily gained the most, concentrating as they had on overland warfare. The Junii and Cornelii, however, were being shamed and continuously humiliated by superior Greek and Carthaginian navies.

"Legio I Aquilae awaits your orders, Amulius Julius."

Amulius nodded. Flavius Julius Avus had, with the support of Father and Uncle Vibius, launched a vicious war against the Gauls. In a series of hard-fought campaigns, Grandfather Flavius had gained control of the invaluable city of Patavium and more or less locked up the Gauls of Mediolanium. The highpoint of Flavius Avus' career had been the successful penetration of the passes from Mediolanium into Massilia. The Greeks of Massilia had begged for aid from the Julii, and Grandfather had obliged. Marching with Father and the First Legion, he had encountered a massive army of Gauls poised to free their brothers in Mediolanium.

Seriously outnumbered, Grandfather had, with Father's help, outmaneuvered and utterly destroyed the would-be invaders. Taking their banners, weapons, and heads, Grandfather had taken half the legion back to Arretium, and sent Father with the other half to Massilia. The Second and Third Legions had been ordered to storm Mediolanium at all costs. And Grandfather had formally demanded a triumph from the Senate.

The Cornelii and Junii had strenuously attempted to block the triumph, ashamed at their own lack of accomplishment, and had rallied considerable support in that direction. However, Grandfather had sent Uncle Lucius to point out the inescapable truth of the matter. Firstly, Grandfather had won the battle with a single legion of four thousand men. Secondly, the enemy had numbered ten thousand, and the Grandfather had brought proof that almost all of those ten thousand were dead. Thirdly, those ten thousand would have ripped through Arretium on to Rome, and left everything in between in ruins. The Julii had saved the Republic, and deserved a triumph.

The Senate had yielded with poor grace, and Grandfather and his half of the First had marched through the streets of Rome with the spoils of their successful campaign. Grandfather, however, had not forgotten the Senate's capriciousness. He used Uncle Lucius' and Uncle Vibius' standings as praetors to force several laws through. First, Grandfather was allowed to run for consul without a colleague. Second, the pass which had been the site of the battle was named The Pass of Flavius. Third, a temple to Venus Victrix was built at Senate expense in Massilia. Fourth, the Julian legions would be allowed to bear cognomens after distinctive victories. Lastly, he set definite criteria for the earning of a triumph which precluded the sort of backdoor lobbying that had almost denied him the most important distinction a Roman could earn.

Flavius Avus had wasted no time in handing out the cognomens. The First Legion was given the cognomen of Aquilae, in recognition of their unbelievable speed and striking power within the Pass of Flavius, while the Second and Third were named Capitus and Equites, one for being relegated to guarding the Julian capital of Arretium, the other for the superior horsemanship which had rendered the Gauls impotent at Mediolanium.

As for Father and the more junior half of the First, they had been obliged to campaign against both Gauls and Greeks before Massilia willingly yielded to Julian clientship and control. Uncle Lucius had then sent the newly recruited Fourth Legion into Gaul, under the command of his own son.

Which led to why he had been ordered away from his comfortable governorship of Arminum, his many building projects and modifications of the city. The Fourth had successfully conquered Narbo Martius, at high cost. Decius was still learning his way as a general, but that was really no excuse for how much it had cost to gain the new territory. He had retreated to Narbo to reinforce his troops, stiffen them and go over what he had learned from his battles. But the Gauls had once again raised one of this massive armies they seemed able to produce with the turning of a season, and Narbo was under siege. Decius was in the unenviable position of hostile Gauls from within and on his walls. Legio III Equites was in Patavium, hunting for the bandit king Patrocles, and Legio II Capitus was needed to keep an eye on the burgeoning Senate Guard, which was already at two legions, with a third in training. A new Fifth Legion was being raised, even now, but they needed seasoning before they could be honestly expected to perform.

That left the veteran First Aquilae and Amulius Julius to command. Uncle Vibius was busy transforming Segesta into a proper Roman settlement and Uncle Lucius was consul this year, which precluded his participation, and Flavius Avus had said he was too old. But Amulius was not going out into the wilds of Gaul unprepared. His father had been too much the soldier to allow his son to get soft, and Amulius had spent most of his youth with centurions as well as tutors. He had even commanded the town watch of Ariminum in cleansing the province of bandits. No, he did not march to Narbo to rescue the inhabitants, or even to rescue his cousin Decius. He marched for Narbo to earn a triumph.

Amulius turned his head, and looked over his legion. Over four thousand battle-hardened veterans, men who hated Gaul and Gauls, who thought nothing of reducing Gallic oppidum to ashes. Yes, the First Aquilae would do splendidly. Especially since many of the men who had hailed his grandfather imperator on the field were still in service, which meant that any triumph he earned would be earned honestly.

"How's the legion, Drusus?"

"Just over four thousand men. Veterans in composition. Most of them have been under the eagles for the last ten years, with the centurions having been here for the last eighteen. All of them from either Arretium or Ariminum. They were heading for winter furlough after a hard campaign up the Cebenna massif before the call for help arrived from your cousin. From what the primus pilus tells me, the boys are severely irked at the Gauls for spoiling their well-earned rest."

Amulius smiled as he nudged his horse forward. The legion had been on the march from winter camp in Massilia to go to the relief of Narbo when he had caught up with it after a hard ride from Ariminum. His father had been wounded in the campaign up the Cebenna massif, and had deputed him to take command. Whether or not the legions would love him was a trivial concern, as he would soon demonstrate. "Come along, Drusus. I think I should get better acquainted with my men."

The legion was drawn up in a column, a long, thin Roman snake on the march, ready to wheel, launch pila, and charge into any enemy foolish enough to attack along such a long and narrow front. Ten cohorts, each six centuries strong, slightly understrength at four thousand men, the Roman legion was the deadliest innovation in the history of warfare since the creation of the phalanx. Amulius smiled as he slowed his horse down and proceeded, century by century, to get acquainted with his new army. Secundus Drusus tagged along, watching Amulius. A tall, dark man, he had inherited his mother Alypia's coloring, but his Julian heritage showed in his height, his slender frame, his face. Along with the Julian charm.

"Ave miles!" He would greet them, eighty or so hard-bitten soldiers, most of them eight years his junior, a smile on his face, his eyes and tone friendly. "My name is Amulius Julius, son of Quintus Julius, son of Flavius Julius. My father thought you lot would get lonely without a Julian around, so he sent me to keep you company. He was absolutely certain you could win without any help, but he loves you so, he decided it would be a shame to deprive you."

"Nothing for it, General!" The centurion or some more energetic ranker would reply. And back and forth would go the banter as Amulius would explain where they were going and why, and the rankers would call down every pestilence they knew down upon the heads of the Gauls. Up and down, for sixty centuries. Then, surprisingly, he got down and walked.

"What are you doing?" Drusus asked, appalled.

"Taking command," Amulius replied, still wearing his cuirass and paludamentum.

"But why are you walking?"

Amulius looked up at Drusus, an eyebrow raised at his unarmored legate. Most legates were noblemen, and had been given their appointments out of noble favors between families. As such, they tended to avoid their armor until actual battle, when the troops typically had to march in twenty pounds of chain mail. The best way to continue to earn the good opinion of the troops was to march with them in similar discomfort.

"Why aren't you?"