The soldier's life

Full summary: Marcus is a soldier in the Roman army, serving under general Maximus. When Marcus Aurelius dies and Commodus takes his place, he wonders where is general had gone to, why he has disappeared. Later on, when he saves the new emperor's life, he is promoted to praetorian and bodyguard of Commodus (yes, I know, the emperor wouldn't just promote someone who's barely had a few years of experience in the army, but let's just keep it to 'Commodus is crazy'.) Anyway, when Maximus becomes a gladiator in Rome and decides to get his troops and drive Commodus from the throne, Marcus wants to help (mainly because of a series of events, eg, count on MarcusxOc). What if Maximus succeeds in escaping Rome...?

Names and their explanations:

Marcus Aelius Nerva: Marcus is derived from 'Mars', God of War; Aelius is derived from the Greek word 'Helios' ('sun'). Nerva is a Roman Cognomen derived from 'nervus' ('strength'). (Yes, I know, the name Marcus is used very often – but I thought it would fit since he's a soldier and the name is derived from Mars.)
Gaius is a praenomen (given name) of Etruscan origin. Meaning unknown.
Valeria is the feminine form of Valerius, which in turn was derived from 'valere', 'to be strong'.
Augusta is the feminine form of Augustus, meaning 'great', 'venerable', derived from 'augere', 'to increase'.
Secundus is a Latin praenomen meaning 'second'.
Edwin means 'rich friend', from the Old English elements 'ead', 'rich, blessed, noble' and 'wine', 'friend'.
Claudius comes from a Roman family name which was derived from Latin 'claudus' meaning 'lame, crippled'.

Other explanations, see *

I (slightly) changed the scene from the film because I thought it would be better, I hope you can forgive me for that ;p

Storylines belong to anyone who made this film, of course, only Marcus, Gaius, Valeria, Augusta, Secundus, Edwin, Claudius, Euphemia,... are mine.

Special thanks to Bernard Van Daele, whose books and Quintus Project taught me so much about the Roman army!

Battlefield in Germania

Marcus remembered how nervous he had been right before fighting his very first battle. Despite the high criteria the emperor had settled with to select his soldiers and the hard training afterwards, he had felt completely unprepared. He had heard the stern words flashing through his head again, spoken by the low voice of the evocatus* (Antonius): "Be careful when you face the enemy, and do not let your arrogance – which you young men obviously possess – take over. When that happens you will most likely not survive. You have to prepared and ready, anything can get you killed. Do not rely on your hopes, rely on your fear. In the darkest of times fear can be the only thing that leads to your survival." Of course – even Antonius had admitted that – those words weren't entirely true. Hope can get you through a lot of things. What he had meant was that the fear of dying sometimes causes you to do something great.

And that was what Marcus had thought of, on that first cold morning. He had seen his training again, in thoughts. How to get an encampment ready, how to march fastest, how to wield your sword, throw the pilum*, bloody fights. But after his training, when he had been ready to be a soldier, after the sacramentum*, he had felt like a little child dropped in the midst of chaos created by Mars.

How his parents had been arguing over him joining… while his father (an ex-decurion*) had been positive and liked the thought of his son following in his footsteps, his mother had gone into hysterics. She had thrown stuff at Gaius, who had simply ducked and laughed. "Come, come, Valeria! If our son wants to follow my excellent (he avoided the expensive vase being tossed at him) example then why shouldn't we let him?"

"You arrogant man!" his mother had yelled back at him. "You only (she threw another amphora at him) want Marcus to become a 'brave soldier loyal to the emperor and an important man'. Well that won't happen if he dies!" she sneered.

"I won't die, mother," Marcus interfered for the first time.

She had turned around. "How would you know?"

"I survived," his father had grinned. "And he defeats me when we spar ever since he was fifteen!"

Marcus had nodded in agreement. "What else do I have to become? Teacher, senator?"

"Oh, by Jupiter, no," his father had said, reacting to the word 'senator'. "Not that corrupt lot! If he wants a knife stabbed in his back he could just as well join up!"

His mother had dropped the second amphora – which was filled up this time. Red wine was spilt all over the floor – like blood.

"And that… cost a lot of money," his father had said regretfully.

"As if you can't afford to lose some," mother had remarked quietly. "Please, Gaius, I don't want to lose another of my children." For that had been the main reason for her to refuse. Despite the fact that it had been illegal (and still was) for soldiers to marry while serving, his parents had fallen in love for about twenty years ago. And, despite the law, two years later there had been Marcus, and two years after him twins: Augusta and Secundus. They both had died, barely two years old. But Marcus had lived – causing his mother to be very careful when it came to him. When his father had left the military they had married and raised Marcus as their son (officially in stead of his mother taking care for him and his father visiting him occasionally).

His father had nodded understandingly but didn't seem to give in, and his mother had turned to look at him and asked: "What do you want, Marcus?"

"I want to enlist."

That was it; Marcus had the final word.

And now he sat here, in Germania, far away from home, waiting for the emperor to attack. Next to him sat Claudius, who had become his best friend over the last two years. "When is that courier coming?" he asked impatiently. "We've been waiting for more than an hour."

"I don't –" Marcus started, but rose when he saw the general was coming – before nudging Claudius, who quickly straightened up as well. "General," they said simultaneously. Maximus Decimus Meridius nodded and walked past heading towards Quintus, his fellow general.

Marcus looked at him. He was a good leader; like the emperor. They both had earned his respect. Truly. Those were men like the old stories, men like Odysseus, Hektor or Achilleus. They fought for what they believed in, Marcus thought, and they cared for their soldiers.

He glanced back at Claudius. "I guess we'll hear from that courier soon."

And indeed, the answer came soon, in a strange language Marcus didn't understand but made clear by throwing over the horseman's head and sending the headless body seated on a white horse within the Roman legions.

The two young men stepped forwards to watch. The headless soldier was disgusting, he felt sorry for him and averted his gaze. Claudius grinned. "You have always been too sensitive, Marcus. Why did you join the legions then?"

"To prove myself, I guess," Marcus said shrugging.

They heard shouting, coming from the forest. Cries in a strangle language, swords being banged on shields.

"Come, it's time," Claudius said, and they walked back to their place. Marcus sipped some more wine and quickly ran a shivering hand through his hair. He was freezing. "I'm done."

"Good," Claudius grinned.

Officers inspected the troops and reminded the soldiers of their tasks. Marcus listened intently, but soon tried to block it out and focussed on his pilum.

They all positioned themselves in formation. Marcus nonchalantly turned his wrist with the sword in it and stretched and bended his elbow; his shield turned when he did the same thing with his left arm. He sighed, the cold air was blown out of his mouth. He felt his heart pounding again, as always, as they marched forward to await the enemy – the Barbarians had started their attack. He stood there, second row in the formation, ready to try and resist the heavy weight of the enemies that would crash into them.

Then tension was indescribable. It was only because of their great discipline they did not shout, run or flee (although any brave man would have stood his ground anyway). Marcus had always been surprised he had not fled, not even in his first battle – but facing the enormous tension and fear of dying, there were the hard punishments. Would anyone flee, collaborate or refuse to follow orders, they would not likely do it again – the worst penalty being death.

"Pila iace!"* the cry reached his ears. He instantly raised his pilum and threw it to the incoming Barbarians. He couldn't see if it had found his target because of the other spears being thrown all at the same time. Some of the Germans fell – because of the arrows, spears or fire exploding onto the dark, high trees of the forest.

"Ad testudinem!"*

Marcus went to sit down on his knees, raised his shield and placed it upwards to protect them against the incoming arrows.

And then, suddenly, as the Barbarians ran into them with an unexpected strength and valour, Marcus was pushed a few inches backwards. He pushed his shield upwards and swung it to the side – carefully not to hit anyone of the legion – so that he could instantly block the sword being swung towards him. The Barbarian looked shocked at first, but immediately tried to hit him at the right. He parried it with his sword and smoothly brought his arm forward, reaching out for the man's abdomen, who let out a terrified and surprised shriek. Pushing it further, he saw another man running towards him, and immediately pulled the sword out of the man's body, who fell down onto the ground.

Marcus swung at the second Barbarian, hitting him squarely on the chest. The man collapsed.

He suddenly felt someone pulling at his left feet. Looking down, he saw his first enemy, pulling him down to the ground. Marcus' head hit the ground hardly upon falling. His sword slipped out of his hands and his fingers tried to reach out for it – all while the hit Barbarian swung at him with his sword – again. Marcus – cursing himself for reacting so rash – dropped his shield, reached out and, unexpectedly, could grab the man's throat. He pushed him away while his right was still searching for the fallen sword. In vain. The Barbarian was suddenly pushed away by a foot and a sword finished him off.

Edwin offered him his hand. Marcus gratefully took it and the Celt pulled him up. His blonde hairs had gone filthy, so had his face, but in his green eyes there still was that vivid expression Marcus admired. "Let us teach them a lesson," the young man smirked.

They stood back to back, fighting off Barbarians that ran towards them.

Just as Marcus thought he could not stand it any longer, seeing this chaos, just as his arm and wrist started hurting and his shield-arm could not bear the weight of his heavy shield any longer, he could hear the general's voice: "Roma victor!"

Marcus sank down contently, sighing.

The general's cry was repeated overall the battlefield. "Roma victor!" Even Marcus joined them, straightening up now.

He saw the dead bodies of Barbarians and Romans, but he couldn't care less at the moment. He was alive, everything else was of minor importance. For now.

As dark clouds covered the sky and a cold rain fell upon him like the sharp pricks of a needle, Marcus shivered. Germania was not at all what he had expected – not that he had thought it would be very warm here. He watched the rain washing the blood of his friends away, and a single tear glided down his cheek. So many deaths, and a promised future of peace. He hoped the Emperor was right.

Both Claudius and Edwin sank down next to him.

"I'm exhausted," Claudius sighed.

Edwin simply nodded in agreement. "Is everyone still alive?" he whispered.

"I do not know," Marcus said, "I haven't entered the encampment ever since."

"Come," Claudius said, "there's a party. Everyone will be there." The young man straightened up. "They'll be waiting for us."

Marcus smiled. Yes, they would, the five other men with who they shared a tent with, and between them all, a true deep friendship had been formed – for why should men fight wars when there is no-one to tell stories to, why should they not know friendship, not even in the darkest of times; if they could not love and protect, they could not fight, and they could not do that without love and friendship, the latter mainly found within the army itself.

Love… why and where would he ever find that? In the nearby villages of Germania? No, probably not. In the aristocratic families of Rome? Possibly.

But Marcus did not dare thinking of love, for if he would have truly found it, he could lose it in a mere second, swept away by a single sword. A spear, the spear itself was a mere object, but thrown by a hateful man in midst of battle, it could kill. A sword's blade, blunt was of no use, but sharpened with hatred and fury, it could do great deeds. So could Marcus's sword, but even so, that of any man.

A simple touch could be enough…

Marcus rose and grinned wryly. But yet he joined his friends and walked into the tent where the feast was held.

Evocatus: a soldier who had served out his time but had voluntarily enlisted again; who could make promotion after several years of service. (Here) an Evocatus is someone who trained the soldiers.

Pilum: Roman javelin with long, thin iron point. Only used by legionaries.

Sacramentum: an oath of loyalty and obedience, taken by all Roman legionaries on entering the Roman army.

Decurion: a cavalry officer in command of ten riders, three per turma (= Roman cavalry unit containing 30/32 men)

Pila iace: throw your pilum

Ad testudinem: form the Testudo (= a formation used commonly by the Roman Legions; 'testudo' = tortoise)