The storm hung suspended above the earth, growling, flashing in livid white from black clouds ready to burst as night came.
Livius walked along through the encampment, glad for the early darkness over the face of the world. The soldiery, auxiliaries, the wings, the visiting dignitaries were all withdrawn to their quarters. Pale lights glowed across the castra, but Livius kept himself to the shadows.
He could not remember ever having felt so lonely, so abandoned. he felt the hot flush of shame crawl across his face, even in the chill wind. The emperor had silently rebuked him before the whole Northern Army, and gods knew he deserved it.
Lightening flared, but he strode on, wincing against its fire, but not slowing, not seeking shelter. The gods hadn’t yet created a storm to match the one going on inside himself.
How in the name of the gods had the good Aurelius ever considered him capable of administering the affairs of the civilized world? And worse, how could he even secretly have tried on that purple toga for size? What a stupid fool to imagine himself ready in the least way to replace the godly Aurelius. What did he know of the troubles of the empire, the commerce, the industry, the treasury, the building, the political dealings with the senate and the magistrates of all the provinces? He was no statesman, only a soldier, and he had proved to the world today, not even a very disciplined one. He walked faster, as if trying to escape his own hounding thoughts. He heard the sentinels on duty, but he moved past without glancing toward them. He heard the enlisted men off duty yelling and arguing, perhaps drunk on their sour wine. He did not slow his steps. He found a broken javelin. He paused, knelt, picked it up and walked again, holding it in his fist. It seemed to him this weapon was itself a symbol of the men who made the Roman army great. Marius had joined the metal point of the javelin to the shaft with a wooden pin that snapped when the hurled javelin struck; Julius Caesar had made the head, except for the point, of soft iron that bent on impact of a blow. Javelins used by Roman soldiers could never be used against them. These men had made such inspiring contributions to the army and the profession of warfare. What had he done?
He swore back at the raging thunder. Much about the present day army distressed him, but he had no answers. It seemed to him the centurions had too much responsibility and authority, and they abused it. Still, Julius Caesar had taught that the centurion was responsible for discipline, and you could not weaken their power over their men. But sometimes the brutality and immorality of these petty officers sickened him. He had seen men flogged almost to death for misdemeanors. Men of the ranks had to bribe the centurions to avoid floggings, avoid extra duties, to get any privileges. Centurions had come to count on bribes as part of their income. and some of them became inhumanly cruel and vicious. He had no answers even for such a minor, yet far-reaching problem. He had been a fool to consider for one drunken moment the possibility of his becoming Caesar of the empire. The gods forgive him.
Livius flung his head back, staring at the storm-riven sky, needing to be purged of ambition, vanity.
A metallic flash of lightening suddenly stood the encampment watchtower in stark relief against storm-torn sky.
Livius, gazing at the structure, caught his breath. At first he thought it was a hallucination, a need for his own anguished mind in his loneliness. Lucilla stood alone on the lower platform, as alone as he in the night storm.