Lucius Oppius' nerves increased when he realised that he would be dining with Caesar alone. The soldier was far more comfortable holding a gladius than a conversation. He awkwardly stood before his commander. Rain splattered upon the roof of the tent. Numerous lamps gave the room  -  for all intents and purposes a triclinium, given its furnishings  -  a homely glow. Some hours ago Caesar had looked every inch a General. Now, clad in a gleaming white tunic bordered with purple, Caesar appeared every inch an aristocrat. Fine wines and exotic foods adorned the table. Oppius also recalled once seeing Caesar in Rome at the Forum, every inch the statesman, dressed in a white toga, also bordered with purple. Despite his age, Caesar looked as fit and virile as any young officer. Oppius could smell a woman's perfume lingering in the air and he thought about his commander's reputation as a lover. Many a woman would just lie back, close her eyes and think of Rome when with most statesmen, but not with Caesar. He acted as if he were still in his prime  -  and perhaps he was, Oppius mused.

Caesar welcomed the centurion and clasped his forearm in a Roman handshake.


"Firstly  -  and most importantly perhaps  -  let's get you a drink. I'm going to insist that you try the falernian. You'll thank me for it," Caesar remarked, nodding to an attendant to pour a cup of the vintage.

The wine and Caesar's gregarious manner soon helped Oppius relax and the centurion was flattered to be asked his opinion about various matters of soldiering. Caesar again thanked his newly promoted officer for his actions that day too.

"You captured my respect and loyalty today Oppius, as well that beach. You have earned my gratitude  -  and a promotion. Your father was a standard bearer too, no? He would be proud of you."

Oppius was shocked and intrigued to hear Caesar mention his father. It seemed that it was only after his death that Oppius had started to get to know him, from stories from other legionaries. His father had spent little time at home when Oppius was young. He had resented back then how his father had devoted more time to the legion than to his own wife and son. Yet now he understood just how much the legion was its own family too, often full of orphans.

"I met and knew your father a little. I was even there, with my uncle, on the day that he died in the arena. He fought bravely, like a lion. Unfortunately his combatant was a snake."

Gneaus Oppius had died during a gladiatorial contest with a soldier from the Ninth Legion. The duel was meant merely to be a display of arms between two champions, to fight for the honour of their legions. Yet rumour had it that Gneaus' opponent had baited his sword with poison. What seemed like a minor flesh wound at the time ultimately proved fatal.

"If you are just half the soldier that your father was Lucius, then you'll be twice as great a soldier as most."

Oppius was at a loss as to how to respond. Should he feel like he should live in the shadow of his father, or have him serve as an example of the kind of soldier he should be? Perhaps witnessing his guest's awkwardness Caesar changed the subject.

"There has been plenty of conjecture, both back in Rome and among the men too I warrant, as to why I have come to this island. It's certainly not for the women. I did acquaint myself with one of them however whilst in Gaul. She only spoke her native language but I considered that a blessing. Most women, like children, should be seen and not heard. But back to the matter. Some have judged that I have travelled to Britain in order to mine its tin and assess the rest of its natural wealth. Or  -  and in Cato's eyes especially I dare say  -  I have invaded this land merely to satisfy my vanity and a lust for glory. Or I am here because of my love of pearls. Some have said that this is all a propaganda exercise, to furnish me with some colourful anecdotes for after dinner speaking. There is a grain or two or truth to all of these theories Lucius, but what I'd like to talk to you about is another reason why I have landed on this sodden isle."

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Caesar here leaned forward a little whist couched upon a sofa, as Oppius involuntary did so too - drawn in by his commander's magnetism.

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