The dim light of dawn filtered through the canvas of the tent. Kamendian looked down at the sleeping Tellias.
“Sorry, friend,” he whispered. “There’s nothing left to try.” Then he turned, lifted the tent flap, and walked out of the encampment, never looking back.
He walked down the road away from Shammari all the way home. His parents were pleased to see him. They had all but given up on ever seeing him again, but now Kamendian was back, and just in time for the harvest.
Kamendian went out back to harness the ox to the plow. The two of them, beast and man, moved out across the field. Kamendian inhaled the air of the country as they plowed among the rows of wheat. No blood, no steel; just earth and fresh breezes. He enjoyed the feel of the light homespun on his back. An improvement over his heavy cuirass and arming shirt. He felt light all over — free. No more war.
He was jolted out of his reverie by the plow jumping under him. He stopped the ox and went to go find what was blocking the plow.
There was a chunk of steel poking about an inch out of the ground. Kamendian tried to pull it out, but it stuck. He tried to wiggle it free, to no avail. Finally, he started to dig around the root of the sliver to loosen it.
Without warning, the steel thrust out of the ground and caught Kamendian right above his brow. He felt his skull crack from the force of the blow, felt the blade slide in through his brainpan. He saw the mailed fist protruding from the ground, gripping the hilt of the sword lodged in his skull. It looked familiar. But now the blood was in his eyes, and the smell of blood and death washed over him again.
Kamendian lunged forward out from his bedroll, heart racing. He clapped a hand to his forehead — nothing. He looked around. Tellias, a few wounded legionnaires, canvas walls. He exhaled.
He lay back. Sleep wasn’t likely to come back at this point. But perhaps he’d spend some time thinking things through.
A few hours later, the sun rose, and Tellias grudgingly rejoined the waking world.
“Tellias, I have a plan,” Kamendian said.
Tellias suggested some creative options for where Kamendian could stick his plan.
“Come on, up. Let’s go stick some food in you and I’ll explain.”
Tellias was never at his best first thing in the morning unless imminent danger was involved. It was thus necessary to conjure up the wraith of the kitchen running out of food to get him moving. As the two men walked from their tent toward the kitchens, Kamendian began.
“Here’s what I think. For the moment, it looks like the legions are closed to us, except as auxiliaries, which doesn’t appeal to me or to you. However, the reason our legion was disbanded in the first place is because the Chancellors and other court nobles are worried that a succession war may break out, and they’re trying to reduce the number of factors at work. Now here’s the crux of the matter. If that succession war does break out, and it seems likely, whoever controls the throne will want to commission new legions in order to strengthen their own hand. Which means that all we have to do is be near Sarangia when the call goes out. With our service records, we’d be sure to get a place. Maybe even as captains. How does that sound?”
“Food first. Talk later,” replied Tellias. Later, with a cold chicken leg and a toasted biscuit in his hand and mouth, he had more to say.
“That sounds fine, Kamendian, but until then, we need to eat. And I doubt the cooks here are going to want us around longer than a few more days. They may not even be here more than a couple of weeks. Look around you,” Tellias said with a gesture at the other legionnaires wandering around looking for a quiet nook to eat breakfast in. “Barring a few retirees like us, all these fellows were too badly wounded to travel yesterday morning. Today they’re walking. Tomorrow they may be gone. The healers here know their stuff. My leg’s closed up. I wouldn’t want to run quite yet, but it’s only been two days. So what do we do until the succession war starts? Or if it doesn’t?”
Tellias waited a few moments while Kamendian tried to string some words together, then said, “I thought so. I’ll tell you,” and took another bite.
“First, we get new equipment. You’ll need a new arming shirt and leggings; your old one’s going to start rotting soon. We both need bedrolls of our own rather than just hoping for an unused one every night. We can probably get all that from the quartermaster. Then we go scavenging on the field. I need a new right cuisse; you’re going to need a new cuirass, helmet, sword, and shield. Plus we should keep an eye out for anything interesting or better than standard-issue. Chances are the prime stuff’s been cleaned up by legionnaires faster than us, but there’s sure to be good stuff left. Then we collect as much extra gear as we can for Tanuke.”
“Kamendian, would you wake up? We need money; he wants to give it to us. Where’s the problem?”
“I don’t want to be a scavenger.”
“Well, you’re going to be, or else you’re going to be a mercenary with no weapons. Now drop the squeamishness. We sell what we can to Tanuke, we keep our ears open, and we go wherever people are hiring swords. Oh yes, and first we visit the paymaster. I’m sure we’re due at least one month’s pay. We’re going to have to start saving our money now, my friend. Sarangia’s not going to be taking care of us anymore.”
“You seem to be enjoying your biscuit.”
“A farewell meal. Besides, no doubt if the Chancellor knew we were eating legion food he’d have us whipped. Enough talk; I’m done with my biscuit. Let’s go see the quartermaster.”
Sure enough, Tellias was able to wheedle a new arming shirt and leggings for Kamendian, as well as some other equipment — bedrolls, a tent, packs, two watch-cloaks, a sharpening stone, and some flints. He even persuaded the quartermaster to dole out an extra pair of leggings for himself. They quickly packed up their few possessions and moved on to the paymaster.
The paymaster had a pleasant surprise for them. The prefect had ordered each mustered-out legionnaire receive two months’ pay, so the paymaster pushed four heavy silver bucklers at them. Kamendian reached for his, but Tellias stopped him.
“Could we perhaps get some of this in smaller coins? It might be a little hard to get change for a buckler on the road.”
After a brief exchange, the paymaster laid out two bucklers, ten smallish silver tallies, and a hundred copper marks. Tellias and Kamendian thanked him, wrapped up their money, and headed out to the battlefield, with full purses, full packs, and full bellies.