They rode in silence for the first hour.
‘So what’s this special assignment, then?’ Vegetius was the first to speak since they had parted the camp.
‘We are to find and retrieve Crassus’s lost aigle.’
‘Crassus’s aigle?’ Vegetius said. ‘It’s lost? Didn’t he die like two years ago in Parthia? Are we going all the way to Parthia to look for something that disappeared two years ago?’
‘No.’ Flavius said. ‘Caesar had men recover Crassus’s standard some time ago. He had kept it with him as a memento. Two weeks ago, he sent the standard down to Rome as a gift for Pompey. The gift never arrived and it seems more hangs on the balance of this damn gift than the last 8 years of war with the Gauls.’
‘I don’t get it.’
‘I wouldn’t imagine you would.’
‘So, we’re just going to walk around and hope we find it somewhere?’
‘Antony and I have already tortured a few men to learn it was taken by a band of Reds.’
‘Reds?’ Vegetius. ‘Those Spanish mongrels? What in Jupiter’s name are they doing way the hell over here.’
‘Stealing the standard, I guess.’
‘And you believe that?’
‘No.’ Flavius said. ‘Not really. Then again, I never thought torture was a way to get real information.’
‘One of those stoic characters, are you?’
‘Well,’ Vegetius said, ‘to each their own.’
Flavius and Vegetius rode for a bit more before Vegetius got bored again and needed to answer the new questions that he had popping up in his mind.
‘So, why is this standard so important?’
‘Truthfully, I’m not so sure it is.’
‘Well, why is Caesar sending us to go find it?’
‘Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus are… were the first triumvirate.’
‘Yeah,’ Vegetius interrupted, ‘I never really understood that.’
‘Well, I’m not going to take the time to explain it to you now. Just now that their alliance was something better held together rather than broken.’
‘With Crassus’s death in Parthia, the triumvirate officially ended as a triumvirate, but Pompey and Caesar remained loyal to each other. In fact, one could say it strengthened their bond. Caesar was always like a son to Pompey. Caesar even gave his only daughter to Pompey as a wife. Unfortunately, she died last year in childbirth. Both men were crushed and like a couple that lost a child, they barely spoke much after the event. With Caesar being gone in Gaul, and Pompey working every day with the senate as consul, the two have only grown further and further apart over the last year. There are even rumors that Pompey now favors the senate over Caesar and his fight for the people.’
‘Caesar is one for the people.’
‘And where do you think he learned that?’ Flavius cut back in. ‘Pompey was the hero of the people. Now all these new generations are forgetting that and calling Caesar the hero of the people. A title that Pompey held more dear than Caesar himself, I imagine.’
‘Such is life.’ Vegetius said. ‘Out with the old, in with the new, I say.’
‘Very wise of you, Vegetius.’ Flavius sighed. ‘Anyway, Pompey is the only thing that has been keeping the Senate from crucifying Caesar for his wars in Gaul.’
‘Crucified?’ Vegetius said. ‘Why on Earth would they do that?’
‘Caesar’s wars in Gaul can barely be called justified, let alone legal.’
‘Caesar fights for the people and the glory of Rome.’
‘You do know that he declared these wars over the last years without the approval of the Senate. His first war with the Gauls from the west was sanctioned, but that was 7 years ago and done to protect the people of his new provinces. But then he went a step further and declared war on a German king that was considered a friend of the senate.’
‘Ariovistus, wasn’t it?’ Vegetius said. ‘Hearing those stories is what made me want to join the legion.’
‘I was there.’ Flavius said. ‘And I was proud to be there and with Caesar at that time. But since then, he hasn’t gotten senatorial approval for war, and his reasoning for destroying tribe after tribe in these lands is becoming thinner and thinner. Pompey and the love of the people have protected him from the senate for some time, but if the senate turns Pompey against Caesar, Caesar will be left with nothing.’
‘Nothing but all his gold, 8 veteran legions, and the love of the people.’
‘And this is exactly why the senate hates Caesar.’ Flavius continued. ‘He contradicts them, undermines them, and goes against everything the senate, and therefore Rome, stands for.’
‘Rome isn’t the senate. Rome is the people.’ Vegetius said.
‘The Senate represents the people. Rome is the senate.’
‘The Senate is a bunch of old cocks that wouldn’t know one day of the life of the people.’
‘I agree.’ Flavius said somberly. ‘The Senate has lost touch. And more than that, they are so deep in corruption it would seem impossible to clean it out at this point. Yet, a tyrant goes against everything Rome has stood for since we expelled the last king of Rome over 400 years ago. We mustn’t regress. We mustn’t lose our Republic.’
‘I don’t see what would be so bad about having a king like Caesar. I respect him more than an entire group of men that have done nothing but keep the rich rich and the poor poor.’
‘Yeah...’ Flavius said thoughtfully. ‘Caesar has made great reforms in the Senate, but it was done through the senate as it should be done. I admire and love Caesar for his fight against the greedy latifundia and their corrupt politicians. And it wasn’t just Caesar that made it happen. It was the triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus.’
Vegetius was quiet. Flavius looked back at him to make sure he wasn’t dead or sleeping.
He wasn’t. He was doing something he had never seen Vegetius do before: thinking.
‘Enough politics for now. We’re soldiers. We aren’t afforded that luxury.’ Flavius said.
‘You never did tell me why we are after this missing standard.’
‘It’s a gift from Caesar to Pompey as a reminder of their friendship and bond.’ ‘I see.’ Vegetius said. ‘And do we know where these Reds are that stole the standard?’
‘Not a clue in hell.’ Flavius said.