On the Eve of Battle
The wind-driven rain rattled against the tent, making Methos shiver. It was bad enough that the weather was terrible, but on the eve of a battle it seemed excessive. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius had a pleasant time in Rome, the heart of the Empire, but here on the northern outskirts it was chaos. Tribe after tribe had resisted Roman rule and the war seemed endless. Tomorrow they would be facing another barbarian force, but the Felix Legion was the best in the Empire, and they had a outstanding general.
The tent flap opened, letting in the wind, causing the flames in the braziers to flutter. The general entered, his short hair wet from the rain. Maximus appeared tired. He was. He had been on the northern front for far too long, and was weary, physically and emotionally. He wanted nothing more than to return home, but his loyalty to the Emperor kept him here, at the head of the Legion, fighting to expand and enrich the Empire.
Maximus removed his drenched cloak. Methos approached him with a large linen towel and handed it to Maximus, who roughly rubbed his wet hair and face while Methos hung up the cloak to dry. Methos was Maximus’ body servant, a member of the Legion, assigned to care for Maximus after the death in battle of the last man assigned to this duty. Methos was in the Legion against his will, having been conscripted, but he had adjusted, having had a long association with armies although he preferred to forget about most of them. And most of the men who led them. But not this man. This man Methos respected; he fought with his men, lived with them, suffered with them.
“Have you eaten?” Methos asked.
“Yes, with the men.” Maximus replied.
“How are the men?”
“Settled down for the night, ready for the battle tomorrow.”
Methos unbuckled and removed Maximus’ armored cuirass, and set it aside. Maximus stretched his back, then sat down on one of the folding chairs. Methos knelt to remove his greaves and caligae, then took the towel and began to dry his legs and feet.
“Will there even be a battle in this weather?”
“The Germani don’t mind fighting in the rain. Be glad it’s spring, not winter. They don’t mind fighting in the snow either.”
Methos said sardonically, “Just goes to show how barbaric they really are.”
Maximus smiled and said, “Rome will civilize them soon enough.” He stretched again, then remarked, “It’s warm in here. It feels good after that wind.”
“I’m supposed to make you comfortable.”
“You do a good job”
“Every man in this Legion does.”
“I’d expect no less from them.”
Methos stood and helped Maximus remove the padded subarmalis he wore under his armor. Then Maximus stood up and Methos unbuckled the waistband of the strips of kilt-like brass studded leather pteryges, stripping him down to his deep red linen tunic. He sat down again and Methos began to massage Maximus’ neck, feeling the tension there, working to relieve it. Methos fought the suddenly powerful desire to kneel and press his lips to that neck, to kiss his way down Maximus’ back. Methos desired him, had desired him from the first time he met him for more reasons than he could think of, especially now, with Maximus so close, with his skin under his hands. Methos tried to keep his desire hidden; this was no legion of perfumed dilettantes playing at war, then playing with each other. But he could tell that Maximus suspected. He had caught Maximus looking at him oddly and felt that he would be replaced in this duty soon; he could sense that he made Maximus uneasy.
Maximus stood and turned abruptly, surprising Methos. Then, shocking him, Maximus reached out and touched Methos’ face, caressing his cheek, stepping closer, sliding his hand down to Methos’ throat. Methos closed his eyes, and moaned softly in that throat, Maximus could feel the vibration more that hear the sound and knew he had guessed right. Methos wanted him physically, as much as Maximus suddenly wanted him. Maximus turned Methos around, gently slipping the loose top of his tunic off of his shoulders, watching it fall to the floor. There were no words now.
Maximus stroked down, sliding his strong, callused hand down Methos’ back. Methos shivered, asking himself how he could submit to this man, this mortal, so easily. Was it the sense of power coiled tightly inside him, the strength, the resolve? Was it just Maximus himself, the wide shoulders, the heavily muscled legs, the clear blue eyes? All he knew was that he wanted to be possessed by him, however briefly. Methos knew Maximus did not have a natural inclination to this act, it was necessity and unfulfilled desire that drove him.
Methos was wrong. Maximus could not have explained it, but there was something about Methos, maybe it was his deceptive slimness, his deceitful apparent delicacy, his aristocratic face, but Maximus had desired him for far longer than he was willing to admit. Why had he been assigned this man as a body servant? It was much easier to forget such attraction when the object stayed distant, but they were often together, and in the most intimate way—as they were now. He had resisted, but tonight, with the possibility of death so close, it seemed pointless to fight it. Maximus shifted his hand, sliding it around Methos’ side to his chest, adding the other hand, both stroking, caressing, and he was so close, moving right up against Methos’ back, and Methos could feel the hardness pressed against him. Methos was deeply aroused; he wanted to be filled by that hardness, he wanted it deep inside his body.
They moved to the narrow camp bed. It was hard and fast and over quickly, but such intense passion never lasts for long. The only acknowledgment afterward was a swift feathered caress of Methos’ short touseled hair.
“You should go and get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be a hard day.” Maximus’ voice was cool and noncommittal. Methos left without a reply.
The next day Methos slipped away as he had planned, after the battle, when the exhausted legionaries were busy gathering the dead, the soldiers to burn, the enemy to bury. There was no point delaying. Last night had been a brief weakness. It would not happen again; Maximus would not weaken twice. He left on his planned route. There was too much death here. He would be better off elsewhere.
Maximus looked for him among the dead. He did not find him, but there were those whose bodies were unrecognizable, too slashed by wounds or pulped by trampling horses hooves. He was grieved, but also relieved. He was ill at ease with that kind of intimacy. It was better so. Maximus turned and left the battlefield.
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