By Jo

Exhausted, he sagged, but the sagging caused such an instant, piercing rise in his level of pain

that his eyes opened wide and he straightened his body. How long had he been sitting here?

The unremitting clouds, dark grey, heavy with snow, blocked out any sign of the sun. He'd

lost track of what time of day it was.


Everything had happened so blindingly fast. Somehow he'd gotten separated from the main

body of his troops. Ah, yes, it had been that long battle with the giant Marcomani, so individual

a fight in the midst of a great war, the two combatants thrusting and slashing at one another

for so long, turning, twisting, falling, backing up, their struggle almost becoming a personal

duel. Then, as his sword had found its way at last deep into the flesh of the barbarian, the edge

of the embankment had crumbled soggily under his boots and he'd tumbled backwards

through heavy brush. A Marcomani warrior, higher on a hill, had seen his fall, had carefully

aimed a great arrow his way.


Now here he sat, pinned to the old pine behind him, the arrow through his left arm, its barb

and several inches of its shaft sunk firmly into the tree. He'd sat there for long minutes, dazed

both from his fall and his wound, but when he gathered his senses well enough, he gripped with

his right hand the shaft protruding from his arm, intending to break it. That would be the

only way to free himself, to break the fletched end of the shaft and pull himself forward, off

the arrow.


Slowly he wrapped his cold fingers around the thick shaft, only then becoming aware his

index and middle fingers had been broken in his tumble through the twenty feet of underbrush.

Still, he clamped his teeth and tried to press down with them. The shaft did move somewhat,

but only enough to widen its entrance wound and he simply could not manage enough pressure

with his hand to snap it. His right arm dropped to his side as he stared at the shaft. It went

through the rust-colored wool of his tunic sleeve below his shoulder guard and he could tell from

the portion he could still see that a large section of the arrow was embedded in the pine. His

efforts had merely increased the flow of blood down his arm.


Lifting his head, he looked back up the steep slope down which he'd fallen, hoping for some

sign of his legion. Through the thick tangle of brush and small pines, from time to time he saw

some motion but couldn't tell if it were his troops or the barbarians. Until he knew more surely,

he couldn't call for help. The battle had been at its fiercest when he and the Marcomani had

become locked in combat and he had no idea yet how the day was going. The Romans would

win. He was certain of it, but until he had confirmation that eventual outcome had been accomplished, it would be foolhardy to attract attention to himself.


So he waited.


The sounds of battle seemed more distant after a time, the cries of men, the shouting, more

muffled by the snow, the evergreens. Yet still once in a while forms passed by at the top of the

slope. He strained to catch some flash of red uniform but the growth was too thick, too solid, and then the snow began again, falling straight down in the windless day with flakes as large as the end of his thumb.


His blood had stained the snow beside his left hip bright red and with half-lidded eyes he

watched the newly falling flakes begin to smother the red. It was, he hoped, a good sign,

meaning that his body had ceased replenishing the snow-couched blood. 


Thirsty, he opened his mouth, allowing the flakes to fall on his tongue. He smiled wryly at

the act, a thing that had before been a pleasurable occupation, engaged in simply for the joy

of it and not the necessity. Even as a man, when he knew he was unobserved, he loved to tip

his face into the downfall of snow, the feel of the flakes melting on his warm skin.


Now he felt cold, so cold he wondered for how long he would have the capacity to melt flakes.

His cloak, what he wouldn't give now for his wool cloak with its wide wolf drape. He tipped

his right cheek toward his shoulder, imagining the warmth of the thick drape. Shivering when

his cheek met only metal, he jerked his head away. One didn't wear the cloak into battle, too much of a hindrance, too easy for an enemy to grasp. Wide leather straps were wrapped about

his palms, but his fingers were bare and had gone numb quite some while ago. As feeling left

his hands, the broken fingers hurt less.


He became aware, though, that his right leg was bent sharply under him and he was sitting on

the ankle of his boot. Moving the leg as much as he could, he didn't think it was broken, but

there was no easy way he could maneuver it all the way from under him. He shook his head.

The scenario of his entrapment was so perfect he wondered if the gods had gotten some enjoyment from its planning.


Letting the back of his head rest against the rough bark, he closed his eyes, feeling terribly

tired as he tried to remember how long he'd been fighting before his fall. Time, however, was

not on one's mind during battle. It passed with no sense of its passing. All you knew was that

you swung your sword no matter that your arm burned, threatening to drop off into the mud.

Still you swung it, over and over and yet over again...because you must. You must or die. It was

that simple and that complicated.



Your hand, your shoulder, began to ache unbearably with the effort of it, yet you bore it and you continued. Then the huge Marcomani appeared in front of him, rather as though he had sought him out. He probably had. Everything around him had disappeared into a muted swirl of cries and the clash of metal on metal as he'd been forced to concentrate on the barbarian. His back was vulnerable, he was all too well aware of that, but the barbarian was fighting with a sword, not a spear, and he obviously knew what he was doing. It had taken Maximus some while to kill him. At the time, it seemed like forever and possibly a bit beyond. His boots kept sliding in the muddy snow and he'd fallen to his knee more than once. The barbarian had grinned, sure of his victory, and it was then, while still on one knee that Maximus had been able to slide in that upward thrust of his sword that had split open the man's torso.


The fall had been unexpected and he recalled his sword being jerked out of his hand as he

began to topple backwards, its blade still embedded in Marcomani flesh. Perhaps that was

when his fingers had broken? He wasn't sure. He'd grabbed at so many branches on his way

down, he had no way of knowing just what had snapped his bones. Then just as his back had

slammed into the big pine, the arrow had come.


He gazed at the arrow again, knowing he needed to break its shaft, knowing he must try

again. Perhaps now his broken fingers were so cold they wouldn't protest so loudly? No

matter. It must be done. Locking his jaw, he raised his right hand but the cold had made

his fingers so stiff that he couldn't even begin to curl them around the shaft. He tried using

his wrist to press on the arrow but lost himself in sudden darkness.


There it was, resting atop his green, green hill as though its stones were part of the land itself.

His land. Home. He was afoot on the long road that rose through the fields up to the house. His

house. Even from this distance he could smell the scent of it, the fields of wheat with their own

fecund promise of the sustenance of life, the mingled rosemary, oregano, and thyme from his

wife's herb garden, the ripening olives, the jasmine by the doorway, the warmth of his wife's

flesh as his arms enfolded her. Lifting his head, he let the breeze blow all of it toward him, through him, into his being and his soul.


His happiness was a tangible thing, a thing he could hold in his hands, and he found himself

kneeling just off the road, sifting black soil through his fingers. He grew here in this land. In

this dark soil his spirit had its rooted anchoring and lifted itself up to the nourishing glory of

the sunlight. Spreading wide his arms, he could feel the growth of himself, both further downward into the land and upward into the sky above it, the air of home. He smiled, showing

a flash of teeth, then dug his fingers into the soil again.


His eyes opened and he looked down where his right hand rested in his lap, covered in snow.

He sighed, a long, deep rasping of breath. Not yet. In five weeks the Roman army, his army,

would be approaching the last barbarian stronghold in Germania. There would be, should be,

one final battle and then no one left to fight. One more to fight and fight it he would, fight it

he must. Then he could go home.


He would not die here, unfound, pinned like a locust to this tree. He waited, his eyes searching

the top of the rise, but there was no further movement up there. His intent gaze moved down

the slope and to the arrow that imprisoned him. That he could not break the shaft had become

evident. There was only one way remaining to him. He must push himself forward anyway,

pulling the fletch all the way through his arm. Soon he would be too weak to do it. Soon he

might well simply freeze in this spot.


Closing his eyes, he considered what pulling the feathers through his body would do to increase

the bleeding. It was a risk worth the taking. It had come down to that or certain death. He

mumbled a prayer to the gods and his ancestors that they would watch over this action, guide

it so that he might return some day to his family and his home.


He had to move his legs to do this thing. His left was straight out in front of him, his right

tucked under. Knees, he needed to be on his knees to thrust his body forward. So he began to

twist and turn, each little movement the causer of excruciating pain, but he willed to do this

and do it he would. Twice he almost faded into the cold nothingness he knew lurked, waiting

to embrace him, but his great will did not permit it. His teeth were clamped so tightly they,

too, began to ache with the strain of what he was doing.


Finally he had both knees down in the snow, his body angled to the left because the height of

his torso had been raised during the process. Holding his right hand close to his left arm so

he could clamp it over the entrance wound as soon as the fletch was through, he sucked in a

great gulp of air, holding it as though he were about to plunge underwater. Then with all his

remaining strength, he threw himself straight forward.


It was brief, but it felt like a scythed chariot had driven through his arm. He was face down in

the snow, fighting to stay conscious, to keep his hand clamped on his arm. Lying there, he made

low, sharp gasping sounds then rolled onto his back. The snowflakes, falling now straight down

into his eyes, made it harder to keep his lids open, but there were things he must do. With great

effort, he managed to sit, and with his right hand and his teeth, tore a strip off his left sleeve,

wrapping it around the now freely-bleeding wound and pulling it tight.


He was free but he was so dizzy he knew standing would be useless to attempt. Sitting quietly,

he waited for that to pass. When his vision steadied, he looked back up the slope. The new

snow had covered any trace of his fall and in the windless day, the flakes had thickly coated

each branch, each twig that lay between him and from where he had fallen. This was another

thing that must be done...because it must...or he would die.


Left arm hanging uselessly at his side, he clawed his way up through the underbrush, gripping

as best he could with his broken fingers, mostly just wallowing his way upwards on his stomach,

pushing with his feet. Halfway there he lay, draped over a log, each breath ripping through

his chest. He waited a little while, then raised his head, looking up the remainder of the slope.

"You...must!" he gritted between clamped teeth.


Sliding forward, he pulled his legs over the log, then used it as a base to push against, shoving

his body upward. Just below the top edge, he paused, waiting again for any sign the barbarians

were near. Only the dead Marcomani was in sight. Maximus looked blearily at him, noticing

his sword, wishing there were some way he could retrieve it. Right at the moment, though, life

was more important than swords.


He passed the barbarian's body, using an odd half-crawling movement as he could put no weight

on his left arm. A little further was a pine, much more slender than the one he'd been pinned

to, and he used it to pull himself to his feet, then simply leaned against it, trying not to fall down.

His head was tipped, chin resting on his chest, and for a while he watched the drops of blood

dripping off his fingertips, falling with sharp brightness into the snow. The sight engaged him,

and he watched with great detachment the contrast of the colors. Then it came to him this was

not a good thing, that the red was his own blood.


He lurched toward another tree, almost slamming into it with his right shoulder then wrapping

that arm around it, resting his cheek against it. When there were trees, that was how he made

his way. When there were not, he resorted to that odd half-crawl.


He was fading. He knew it but not even his great will seemed able to stop it longer. The scent

of wheat, of thyme, of jasmine, of his wife's skin washed over him and he fell face-first into the



Was that...voices? He wasn't sure. His hearing seemed to be fading with his vision.


"Here! Over here!" the centurion shouted.


"The General? Is it the General?" a more familiar voice replied.


Someone dropped to their knees close to him and he blinked his eyes open, frozen flakes

crusting his lashes.


"Cicero."  The name came from his lips as little more than a sigh.