The 6 men walked all night, they went through forests and creeks, and
*Is that where Caesar has gone?* Beckett asked, looking down at the small town.
*Must be,* Crastinus replied. *I can see some of Caesar's guard and entourage stationed outside the city wall.*
*What about on the other side? Who are they, Beckett asked pointing to the mass of people on the south side.
*Refugees, I would guess. The Veneti live at Darioritum. Any who are smart are leaving now.*
*Why is that?* Beckett asked.
*Caesar's decree yesterday: all elders are to be executed and all civilians taken as slaves.*
Beckett's eyes went wide. After a brief moment, he spoke *Slaves?*
*Yes, it's not often that Caesar will react so strongly.*
What have I done?
*Let's go, men,* Crastinus shouted.
The soldiers descended upon the town.
As Beckett trudged down the hill, he thought about what had happened on his last trip. He'd helped the Romans quickly end a battle, and possibly save lives of not only Romans, but also the Veneti. But now all those people were going to be pushed into slavery.
Not exactly an outcome to be proud of.
Beckett looked over the horizon and saw what seemed to be a line of migrants heading towards the town.
All these people running away from the Romans. These people probably had nothing to do with the battles. I'll ask Caesar about it. Might as well. It might help me with my report.
Beckett and Crastinus' crew made their way toward the town. A light mist of rain started to fall. Beckett looked down at his hands; there was still some mud on them. He tried to scrub the mud away.
Crastinus' team made their way through the city gates. It was quiet. People were keeping a careful eye on the refugees.
*If Caesar's here, the people of the town are going to keep that quiet,* Crastinus said. *No need for another battle.*
Eventually, the team came across two men standing by a doorway to a small house. They were large and had their faces shrouded by cloth.
*Good day, Centurion. Don't salute,* one of the men said.
*We need give no sign we are here,* the other spoke.
*So we've found you?* Crastinus said.
*Indeed,* the first man replied. *He'll be happy to see you.*
Crastinus' team smiled, but remained still.
*A little tense in this town, no?* Crastinus asked.
*Best not to cause a stir,* the guard replied. He then gestured towards the door. *He'll be disappointed that you got to him so quickly. Try not to gloat.*
The team entered the house.
They walked through a dark room, moving towards candlelight until they saw Caesar, adorned in his robe, writing on a wax pad. He looked up and smiled.
*Well done, Crastinus.* Caesar said. *I’m not totally surprised. I suppose you’ve earned your rest.*
*No easy feat, sir,* Crastinus replied. *Your sentries are well trained. We got around them thanks to the master spy.*
He pointed to Beckett.
*Of course. Then as is the tradition, you dine tonight with my party.*
Crastinus smiled. The team lost their sense of rank and their excitement became audible.
*Join us in an hour.* Caesar said as he turned away.*
Crastinus and Beckett turned back to the men.
*I don’t understand. Why is this so important?*
*His food is made by real cooks. His fare is always the best. For us, it is a night off. And furthermore, Caesar won’t forget this. Look at these men. They’re not of the highest rank, but they are of the great skill and ambition. This is a chance to make a strong impression on Caesar. The next time a new commander is needed, it may go to one of them. Higher opportunity brings higher pay.*
Beckett sat by the fire, listening to the legionaries tell their stories: close calls, fallen comrades, and plans to return to Rome once the fighting had ended.
After a short period, one of Caesar's body guards arrived and spoke.
*The 10th will be here in a few hours.*
*Then we must not be,* Caesar replied.
Crastinus and his men stood. *How can we help, sir?* Crastinus asked.
*Gather quickly all that you need. We leave in 15 minutes.*
One of the soldiers to put out the fire.
*Don't do that,* Caesar said. *We ought to give the 10th the satisfaction that they are not far behind.*
20 minutes later, Caesar, his body guard, Crastinus' group, and Beckett were under way.
However, they were under way in a manner that surprised Beckett; they were walking.
Beckett would have thought Caesar would be on a horse, but he walked. A few horses accompanied them, but they were ridden or led by Caesar's entourage.
They walked mostly in silence. Occasionally members of the party would engage each other in brief conversation, but most of them seemed to just walk and enjoy the scenery. The sky was grey, not unlike Burnaby on a regular day.
Beckett walked up to Crastinus.
*Why is everyone so quiet?* Beckett asked.
*Just enjoying the scenery. New terrain is always a welcome sight,* Crastinus replied.
*Really?* Beckett replied. *It seems quite dull to me.*
*Some people feel that way, I guess. It's strange to me that some would rather sit and dwell in one single place. If I have the opportunity, I always choose to move and explore.*
Beckett looked around. He reminded himself that he was in present day France. He'd never been to France or Europe in his own time. He'd never cared for travel. His father didn't seem to take much interest in it either, though Beckett had overheard him talking about travelling around Europe when he was much younger.
Beckett moved forward in the entourage. Eventually, Caesar, who was ahead of him, slowed to meet Beckett.
*The men tell me you once again proved yourself useful in their undertakings,* Caesar said.
*Yes, sir. Though I think our breakfast helped me more.*
*By their account, you took a bad situation and turned it to your advantage. Did you panic when the pig approached you?*
*A little. But I couldn't just sit there and wait to be found. At that point, I had to do SOME-thing. If I tried to stay hiding, they would have found me. Beckett exhaled in relief as he finished a complex conditional sentence. God I wish dad had seen that!
*I must admit, your fast acquisition of our language is impressive. Some of our recruits from Gaul, and the Spaniards of the 10th have learned half as much in years.*
*As I was saying, you will continue to serve yourself well if you see a crisis as an opportunity. Don't forget what you learned. Worse than not learning a lesson is to learn one only to forget it. I need to remind myself of this from time to time.*
Beckett thought about it for a while. He eventually spoke, *Sir, why do you walk? This doesn't seem like something a general would do.*
*I would never ask my legions to do anything I myself wouldn't do.* Caesar replied. *Inspiration leads better than compulsion.* Caesar paused and looked around. *And besides, being out here in the trees and fields is an excellent reprieve from the duties of war.*
*Then why do you wage war?* Beckett asked abruptly.
*This began because Rome's allies to the north were under threat from the Germans. Rome must protect its allies. And to allow another group to stir unrest near her borders would be foolish. We would end with an enemy strong enough to invade us, as the Germans did 100 years ago. We had a problem, a dangerous and unpredictable enemy to the north. We turned that opportunity into a solution. Deal with them before they build in strength, and turn them into allies.*
*Are they allies now?*
*Some yes. Others no.*
*What about the people in Gaul? The Veneti? What happens to these people who you conquer?*
*Those who are willing to work with us become our allies. We show mercy. We bring them to our ways. Those who resist, well, we must make an example of, such as is currently happening with the Veneti.*
*Is it right?*
*It is not a question of right or wrong. It is inevitable. But to entertain your question, the Germans, the Senate, and even other tribes in Gaul, if we let them free reign, there is no limit to the cruelties that they might endure. The Veneti were a particularly vicious band of pirates. We've stopped one group of murderers to potentially save many more lives. If anyone were to be sacrificed, it ought to be them. Their impact on history would continue to be a pernicious one. Deaths are inevitable. But their deaths will serve the purpose of saving many others. Like you, I've turned a problem into a solution.*
*You killed the elders for your own benefit. I don't think that's the same.* Beckett replied.
*Tell that to the pig in your belly.* Caesar replied.
Beckett looked up at Caesar, who gave him a quick wink, before increasing his pace to return to his bodyguard.
Beckett slowed a bit, allowing Crastinus to catch up to him.
*Good talk?* Crastinus asked.
*Confusing,* Beckett replied.
*Trust me lad, you don't want to sit on his side of the table. God knows how he can tolerate the choices he has to make.*