You might recall my fictitious legionnaire Marcus and his wife Marcella. Well, we are revisiting them today for an exciting event.
Marcus’ grade is moving from Miles to Leo.
********************************* ~*~ ********************************
The transition began two days ago. Three men arrived at his house early in the morning. One of them asked for the pouch that Marcus had been presented when his grade advanced from Nymphus to Miles. A Miles no longer, the leather pouch would be presented to his replacement. Marcus was not sorry to hand the item over, as the prospect of being a Leo far outweighed sentimentality.
Together, the four men went to a local wine merchant. Marcus knew one of the three who accompanied him was Pater of his mithraeum, but he was unsure which of the three was Pater, Heliodromus, or Perses. The three men acted naturally; there was no solemnity in their demeanor as they discussed which inn they would visit for the midday meal. As it was Marcus’ duty to feed them, he tried to not flinch as they named a new, upscale establishment he had only heard about.
In the wine merchant’s stall, Marcus watched while the three men ordered a prodigious amount of wine. Directions for its delivery was made and, as one, the men turned to Marcus to settle the account.
From there, they went to a merchant who sold honey. Again, the amount ordered was staggering but, in this at least, Marcus had been warned that it was the incoming Leo’s duty to provide honey for the coming year. He would not be expected to do this again.
It didn’t make his purse feel any better.
Over lunch at the local bath house, Marcus was asked to detail his time as a Miles. There were good-natured shots fired into his list, but more wine helped keep things from becoming too serious. Marcus then returned home, convinced the next day would continue in a similar manner.
Marcella met him at the door with a warm hug. She knew what was happening, though without any details, and offered what support she could.
“I’ve had a package from my brother,” she said, placing a small box in Marcus’ hand. “He told me not to look, but to give it to you. He says you should take it with you and you’ll know when to use it.”
Marcella’s brother, who served the Empire in Egypt, was already a Leo so Marcus gratefully accepted the gift. “He’s been very good to us.”
Marcella smiled down at the box, “Yes, he has. I’ve already written our thanks.”
Breakfast was just over when the three men returned to Marcus’ home. Together they trooped to a local butcher. Marcus was quick to take them to the stall where a calf waited. When the calf had been born, it bore all the necessary auspicious markings, but had had a broken leg. As a result, Marcus had gotten it for half the usual price. Earlier, Marcus had sent a message to the butcher to remove the splint for the inspection, and he sagged with relief to see that the butcher had both removed the splint and fluffed the hairs to hide where the wood had been. He made a mental note to add a few extra coins to the man’s fee.
When one of men with him went into the stall and knelt next to the calf, looking hard at the leg, Marcus held his breath. The seconds dragged on. Finally the man nodded as he rose with a grunt.
“Acceptable. Will your wife be preparing the feast?”
Marcus breathed around his hammering heart. “I’ve hired a chef,” was as much as he could muster.
The man nodded again and waved a dismissive hand at Marcus, telling him to settle the account and leave directions for where the butchered calf was to be delivered. Marcus knew that they would oversee the ritual slaughtering, so he nodded his understanding and retreated to the front of the shop.
As Marcus stepped out into the busy street, he saw a man across the way push off the wall he had been leaning on. The man approached him with a wave.
It only took a second for Marcus to recognize and greet Gaius. “I haven’t seen you since…”
Gaius cut him off with a laugh, “Don’t say it! I’m feeling old enough.” As they clasped arms, Marcus wasn’t surprised to feel gentle pressure from Gaius’ thumb, alerting him to Gaius’ membership in the mysteries. Not that he needed a reminder, but then Gaius leaned towards Marcus’ ear. “I stopped by your house and told Marcella not to expect you tonight.”
They spent the rest of the day together, Gaius outlining what was upcoming and what was expected of his friend.
“I remember,” Marcus said at one point, “those graffiti at Caserna.”
Gaius nodded. “I’ve seen them, too. I think they did that to frighten the incoming Coraxis.”
“Putting them all together like that made me think it was all going to happen at the same time,” Marcus said, laughing at the prospect.
“That’s the idea, I’m sure. And now tell me, what did you prepare as an offering?”
Marcus’ gaze turned inward, his mind racing, but then he smiled, drawing the small box into view. “My wife’s brother sent me this. He’s stationed in Alexandria and said I would know when to use it.”
Sliding the lid off, they looked down at the fragrant pine cone.
“From Egypt? That’ll do nicely.”