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The Academy - 3. Part 3

World of Ares

 

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Chapter Five:

The Weight of the Empire

Jason’s next class was actually held in one of the Academics’ offices on the tenth floor. Dragging his numb foot up the stairs it took him some time to make his way to the top. Finally arriving at the correct room, he opened the door expecting to see several students in the room but he turned out to be the only one.

 “Good for you to finally show up, son of Agamemnon,” an old

craggy voice spoke from the shadows.

“I’m sorry... I hurt my leg.”

“You seem to be standing fine now,” The voice spoke.

“Yes... Erik helped me.”

“Erik... what an unusual name, I have never heard its kind before... and I have been almost everywhere.” The man chuckled as he stepped out of the shadows.

In front of Jason was the oldest man he had ever seen. His head was bald and wrinkled. His hands were thin and showed almost every vein. He walked hunched over, but without a cane or staff.

“Please sit down.” The old man pointed to a chair.

Jason went to the bench in front of the large and cluttered dk. He waited while the old man hobbled over to the large throne-like chair topped by a carving of an owl with wings spread.

Once the old man sat down, he looked right at Jason as if he were trying to analyze a piece of art. “Do you know why you are here?”

“I am supposed to learn about diplomacy,” Jason said uncertainly.

“Yes... but there are classes and other Academics for that. Do you know why you were brought to me?”

“No,” Jason admitted. “Good... you are humble enough to admit you don’t know everything.”

“Thank you, sir.” Jason blushed.

“You are welcome. You may call me Academic Melkior, son of Justin... the founder of Domus.”

“The first Centurion?” Jason said amazed. “No... he was just the first Field Marshal. I can also see by your face that you are trying to guess how old I really am. By next spring I will be two thousand four hundred and seventy two years old, which makes me the oldest Legatio still alive.”

“I didn’t know we could live that long,” Jason said, amazed

“Very few of us can. There is a secret behind it... one day you

might find out what it is.”

“Is that why I am here... to learn this secret?”

“No... you were sent to me because I am the most experienced diplomat in Domus. Your father... the great general Agamemnon asked me himself to teach you in return for a favor.”

“What favor was that?” Jason asked.

“To spare the Eastern Confederacy after the Battle of the Gate.”

“Why?” Jason asked confused.

“Would you believe it if I told you I was the one who created both the Eastern and Western alliances?”

“Why did you go and do that? Aren’t they our enemies?” Jason asked.

“To protect Domus if you can believe it. The empire is strong... yes, but beyond the borders of both alliances are lands larger and stronger. The Alliances provide us a buffer, tribute, and most importantly slaves for our shrinking population.

“Shrinking population?”

“It is rarely talked about but we are a dying people. A Legatio might have dozens of wives and hundreds of Centurion children but our own numbers are still declining. It is very hard for us to talk our Centurion cousins into having children of their own when what they really want is to sleep with us Legatio. Even with our long lifespan there are only around twenty thousand of us. It has reached the point where the Field Marshals have to award a mark to their men for just taking a wife, being that the Centurions are very proud of their marks. Still... many Centurions take pride in never earning such a mark.”

“I see...” Jason sighed.

“I don’t think you do... If things don’t change soon, the Legatio will become too old to mate... the number of Centurions will drop, the Famulus might revolt and the empire will collapse. Things have to change. We must go from over-lording our neighbors to being their allies. Relations between the Centurions and Legatio must also improve if we are to find a way to get the Centurions to have children again. Your father saw this, but knew he would not live long enough to implement the needed changes. That is why he had you.”

“What can I do?” Jason asked, not seeing what was special about himself.

“You are one of the most promising Legatio in centuries. Both the Famulus and Centurions are attracted to you. Your Legatio brothers might have different ideas, but my plans for you do not include yo being part of a corrupt Senate.”

“What are your plans for me?”

“To make you the first High Ambassador since I retired from

that post over a thousand years ago,” the old man smiled.

 Kept late by Melkior, Jason hurried down the stairs and out of the Cube to where his hand-to-hand class was to take place. Feeling the burden of all the ancient Academic had told him, he was glad that Kristen did not ask him how his class went, as Melkior insisted that what they said together was to remain secret.

The class was outside on a giant raised platform covered with straw mats. Both Legatio in red and white and Centurions in solid white sat around the edges while Commandant Oktor demonstrated some moves with staff Master Varrus.

As he approached, Jason saw Alex wave him over. Jason tried to move to sit next to his friend but was stopped by Kristen, who pulled him to where the Legatio were sitting.

“Come now, young master... it is ok to be different, but let’s not throw it in everyone’s faces,” Kristen chided him.

As soon as Jason sat his tall frame down, towering over the other Legatio students by several inches, Oktor performed a flip maneuver causing Varrus to fall on his back. “You’re late, Jason... go run ten times around the Cube,” Oktor ordered without looking at him.

Jason let out a deep sigh, but stood up and started running to the surprise of Varrus and many classmates. Still, the stone path around the main Academy building was hard on his ankle and by the time he finished his seventh lap his foot was limping. On his eighth lap, three other boys joined him running around the Cube, two were Legatio, the third a Centurion holding a switch, a wide grin on his face. When done, Jason limped his way back to the sparring platform.

On seeing Jason hobble back, Oktor waved the Legatio youth over to him. “You should have told me you hurt your leg.”

“It was not hurting when I started,” Jason explained.

Oktor grinned. “Yes, but you also should have reminded me you were coming from Melkior’s office on the tenth floor. Not only did you have a long walk but I also know how long winded that old man can be.”

“I still ran the ten laps,” Jason pointed out.

“That you did, boy, and without complaint, unlike the two other students who showed up late. They were found trying to run away back to Domus through the tunnel. I am sure there are going to be several more attempts before the week is through.”

“I’m sorry, Commandant,” Jason said, embarrassed by his fellow Legatio’s behavior.

“Don’t be, now lay down so I can take a look at your ankle.”

Jason lay down and pulled up his pant leg so the Commandant could examine him. While he did that, Jason watched the other boys practicing their kicks and punches. It seemed as if the boys had been paired off, five Centurions per Legatio. While four Centurions practiced more elaborate moves, the fifth helped to teach the basics to the Legatio.

When Jason felt a sharp pain, his attention returned back to his foot. The Commandant was inserting pins into his ankle one by one. “There, that should help with the pain for a while.” Oktor grinned. “What are you doing?”

“Acupuncture... when I was fighting pirates in the Southern

Seas, I got wounded, I had a cracked skull and a broken arm. Our

healer had died in the battle so I was left in serious pain. That was when one of our captives came forward and started sticking pins into me and surprisingly it did the trick. When we brought the pirates to Aquanos to be sold as Famulus I used my entire victory pay to buy him for myself and had him teach me all he knew of acupuncture. The old pirate still lives here, working with the healers. Now... if you don’t mind I need to go check on the rest of my students.”

“Thank you, Commandant.”

“My pleasure, Jason... I’ll send Varrus to keep you company.”

Jason watched as the Commandant went over to the still

shirtless staff master, slapping him on the ass to get his attention.

 Varrus responded by wrapping his arms around the Commandant and giving him a kiss while the Oktor whispered in his ear. Varrus then waved at Jason and started walking in his direction.

“I see our Commandant has you on pins and needles.” Varrus laughed, seeing Jason’s ankle.           

“I think it is working,” Jason replied, unable to hold back

a smile. Just having the staff master this close to him made him feel

giddy inside.

“Good... everything else going well?” Varrus asked as he sat down next to Jason on the straw mats, wrapping a bare arm around Jason.

Jason felt his heart flutter, feeling the heat and smell of sweat coming off the staff master’s body. “I’m fine... I mean Alex and Gideon get to move in with me. I just think the other Legatio don’t like me very much.”

“The Legatio are sheep... they don’t like anyone who does not

follow the herd,” Varrus said with distaste.

“I guess... but I still wish they liked me.”

“I think we can take these pins out,” Varrus said after a while pulling the pins between two fingers.

When done, the staff master lifted Jason back on to his feet and led him over to where some students were practicing.

“Oh come on, sir, not another Legatio,” one of the Centurions complained.

“Now calm down, Octavos, I think you will be impressed by Jason here.”

“He better be, Luktavis can barely kick without falling down on his ass. Octavos laughed... pointing the young man lying on the mat floor.     

“That is why you are supposed to teach him. You do want to become an officer one day, don’t you, Octavos?” Varrus said darkly.

“Yeah, but I will be commanding Centurions, not Legatio.”

“And I thought it was a Centurion’s dream to command a legio of Legatio.” Varrus laughed.

“We tell them what to do, but they don’t listen,” another of the Centurions complained, stopping his own practice.

“Then you must teach them to listen, Saul.” Varrus smiled evilly.

“Alright, Luktavis... spar against me,” Saul said, lifting the young man back onto his feet.

“I can’t fight you! I am a Legatio.”

“I am going to fight you whether you like it or not,” Saul warned as he raised his fists.

“Noooooooooooo!” Luktavis screamed, running off.

“Chase him down,” Varrus sighed.

“Yes sir!” Saul said with an eager smile.

“Now am I going to have to chase you down to get you to kick properly?” Octavos asked Jason with arms crossed.

“I don’t know,” Jason said nervously.

“Well show me!” Octavos said, taking the ready position.

 Jason copied the position and bowed to Octavos. He then

waited for Octavos to make the first move. He did not have to wait

long. Octavos took two steps forward before making a high kick to hit Jason in the head. Jason blocked it with a side swipe of his arm, causing

Octavos to spin around. When Jason could see Octavos’ face again, he had a wide grin. Octavos attacked again with a series of quick punches,

all of which Jason at least partially blocked. Then Jason made a few attacks of his own, all of which were blocked, but kept Octavos busy.

It was not really much of a contest, but Octavos was not ready to have his opponent flat on his back yet, since doing so would end the match and he was enjoying himself too much for that. The idea of fighting a Legatio was such a novelty at the moment. Jason, he could tell, only knew a few moves but the ones he did know he had mastered to the point of using effectively against a more skilled opponent. If it were not for the clothes Jason was wearing, Octavos would have been sure that he was facing a junior Centurion student.

It was only when Octavos noticed that Jason was limping that he decided to end the match as he did not want to fight against a cripple. When Jason extended himself a little too far with a punch, Octavos grabbed Jason arm and pulled him so that Jason fell forward onto his stomach. Octavos then lifted his leg and moved to stomp on his opponent’s spine but stopped only a few centimeters from doing so. “You are dead,” Octavos declared.

“I guess I am,” Jason agreed, admitting defeat.

It was only when Octavos helped Jason back onto his feet that both of them noticed that the rest of the class was staring at them.

“Very good, Jason!” Oktor clapped, breaking the silence. “I would give you a duel mark for your performance if you didn’t already have one.”

“What!” Octavos said in disbelief... who was his opponent. “Did you send me a Centurion in disguise?”

“No... Jason is a Legatio. He just likes acting like a Centurion.”

Varrus chuckled. “Show him your marks.” Blushing, Jason took off his shirt and showed the whole class the blood tear and crossed swords on his back. This sent the class to whispering.”

“That was great!” Alex yelled as he ran over to him.

“Thank you,” Jason said, trying to hide his embarrassment.

“You might one day earn your fist mark.” Oktor grinned.

“Do I have to learn all one hundred exercises for that?” Jason asked.

“One hundred, no Jason, the fist takes one thousand exercises to earn the title of master.” Oktor smiled as he peeled off his shirt to show the large fist mark on his left shoulder.

“I’ll never earn that mark,” Alex sighed.

“That’s only because you love your sword too much,” Oktor chided. “To earn the mark of the fist means you have trained your whole body to act as a weapon. Varrus has seven hundred fifty three of the exercises down. I expect in a few more years he will earn his mark.”

“Yes and I will be in my thirties and too old to enjoy it,” Varrus sighed. Oktor gave Varrus a sly wink. “Yes, but you might stand a chance of beating me then.”

  Varrus looker at the much larger man and chuckled. “I very much doubt that.”

Oktor gave Varrus’s rear a squeeze before addressing the rest of the class. “As you can see, all you need to learn is a few basic moves that can provide a decent defense and attack. Jason here has only been learning for five weeks and look at what he has been able to accomplish.

For my Legatio students, I want you to see Jason as proof that Legatio can defend themselves. For my Centurion students, I want you to see that it does not require fancy moves to spar. Taking what I teach you and mastering it is better than rushing into the flips and jump kicks all of you want me to teach you. Understood...? Class dismissed.”

Chapter Six:

The Mentor

“Let’s go Jason... I think Erik needs to have another look at your foot,” Alex said as he helped Jason off the sparring platform.

“Wait...” Jason said, turning to face Octavos. “Thank you, I learned a lot from you today.”

“As did I from you,” Octavos said with a wide smile.

“Well, it looks like you made one new friend today.” Alex grinned as he supported Jason while they walked to Philip’s house.

Jason nodded. “He’s nice. He could have beaten me at any time, but he let me fight and learn.”

“Good... so how were your other two classes?” While the two of them walked Jason told about his accident in weapons class and what little he felt was safe to tell about Melkior.

Alex told Jason about sword practice, that he had beaten three other students in duels, making him the top student for the moment. History was not as boring as last year, as it dealt with the Western Federation. With Domus now at war with the west, the class seemed to have real relevance, instead of being a collection of abstract dates.

Halfway to Philip’s, Gideon came running to join them. He had finished a course on accounting, the regular class on diplomacy, and another language course. As a result he was incredibly bored. Philip however had told him to come by the house as he had a gift for him. After knocking on the door, the three of them were led into the parlor by Erik.

Jason was given the entire sofa to rest his foot, Alex sat on the carpet below Jason, and Gideon sat on one of three benches in the room. Erik then brought mugs of hot tea and a plate of dried fruit for them to snack on.

The three boys ate and continued to talk about their first day of school while Erik saw to Jason’s foot, giving him another injection while chastising him for not taking it easy. Just as Erik was putting away his black bag, Philip came in carrying a weapons case under his arms.

“Oh good, Gideon, you are here.” Philip grinned as he put the case down on the table.

Gideon, his eyes glued on the weapon case, stood up and saluted. “You said you had something for me.”

“Yes... a way to get you back into combat class.” Philip grinned as he opened the case. “Oktor and I talked to Logan about your situation and he came up with this.”

Inside was a long rapier with a cupped gauntlet that had several leather straps. Philip took it out of the case and gave it to Gideon.

“What am I supposed to do with this... I don’t have a hand to

hold it.” “No, but you still have most of your arm,” Philip said. He took the stump of Gideon’s arm and pushed it into the cup of the sword. He then strapped the sword to his arm and across his shoulder. “I know it is not a full sword but give it a try.”

Gideon stood up and gave a few practice jabs with the needle­like weapon. “I can’t do much to block or swing with this.”

“No... it’s primarily a thrusting weapon... but we do have a fencing master here so you can take combat lessons again.”

“I don’t know what to say?” Gideon said, filled with conflicting emotions.

“Just say thank you and that you will give it a try,” Philip suggested.

“Thank you, and I will try.” Gideon smiled.

“Good... now how is my favorite Legatio,” Philip said as he turned his attention to Jason.

“I messed up in staff class,” Jason said, embarrassed.

“He’s doing great... he held his own against Octavos on the sparring platform.” Alex grinned, giving Jason’s hand a squeeze.

“He should not have even sparred,” Erik said, as if he were disappointed in Jason for hurting his leg more and Alex for cheering him on.

“Why... what’s wrong?” Philip asked concerned. All Erik did was point to Jason’s foot.

Philip’s voice dropped an octave and took on a serious tone. “What happened?”

“I was sparring with the Staff Master when I didn’t block one of his blows. I think I twisted my foot as I fell. “Damn Varrus,” Philip cursed as he started to get up.

Seeing anger and a thirst for revenge in Philip’s eyes, Jason grabbed Philip and pulled him back down. “No... it wasn’t his fault. I just was not good enough.”

“He’s the master, you’re the student. He has the responsibility for what happens in a duel,” Philip growled.

Jason grabbed Philip’s hand just as Philip started turning to the front door. “Philip... please don’t be mad.”

Sensing what Jason wanted, Philip said, “I am mad. I promise I won’t go off and challenge him to a duel however.”

Standing from the sofa Erik looked at the pair of Centurion youths with a motherly expression. “Good... now go back to Jason’s  apartment. I have already sent the double bunk for you and Gideon. You might be living in Legatio quarters but your sergeant will still be coming by to make sure your bunks are made and clean and that you are in bed by sundown.”

“Yes...” both Gideon and Alex sighed. They had hoped that living in Legatio quarters would have meant Legatio privileges.

After Gideon and Alex left, Philip lifted Jason up and took him

to the large bathing chamber that all the Centurion teachers shared, letting him soak in the hot water with him. Jason was almost asleep when he felt a sudden rush of water as Philip stirred. “I have you to thank for Jason’s foot,” Philip grumbled when Varrus came strolling into the room.

Varrus’ voice took on a tired tone as he slipped into the water.

“It was an accident, Philip.  It happens during training.”

 Jason opened his eyes and saw Varrus swim toward him. The

man’s long, tanned, muscled body sent a shiver up and down his spine, triggering a response.

“How is your foot,” Varrus asked when he surfaced right in front of Jason, rivulets of water running down the groves of his muscular body. Taking hold of the injured foot he massaged it with his long fingers.

Philip glared at the staff master. “His foot is sprained.”

“It doesn’t seem to affect the other parts of him.” Varrus giggled, seeing the head of Jason’s manhood popping out of the water. If the hot water had not already turned his face red, Jason’s embarrassment would have been even more evident. Still, Jason let himself sink deeper into the water to hide his erect sex.

“Awww...” Varrus sighed... seeing he had embarrassed Jason. “Does Jason have a mentor?” he asked Philip.

“No...” Philip had to admit, already knowing what Varrus was going to ask.

“Would you mind if I offered myself for the role...”

“I was planning to take that role myself,” Philip said, trying to remain calm.

“You can’t... you’re his guardian. You can’t be both guardian

and mentor.”  

“He is also a Legatio... Legatio don’t have mentors,” Philip

reminded Varrus.

“Yes... but things are changing. We are now teaching the Legatio the Centurion way. Should they not follow Centurion customs as well?”

“If we follow custom the guardian has to approve of who the mentor will be,” Philip reminded Varrus.

“I guess I will have to endear myself to you.” Varrus smiled as he moved closer to Philip, sliding between him and Jason.

“I do not think so,” Philip said as he tried to swim away... I have already heard you are Oktor’s.”

“Oktor and I are not a couple,” Varrus said seriously as he continued chasing Philip around the pool, Jason laughing. He had never seen Philip look so nervous. “Not like what I hear about you and Field Marshal Darius.”

“How do you know about that?” Philip said, shocked.

“The walls have ears.” Varrus snickered. “I also saw the gold ring on your finger with the Field Marshal’s mark.”

“Damn...”

“Oh don’t worry... it is not a scandal that you are bonded with our dear Field Marshal. As for Oktor, he is just my mentor.”        

“Your mentor... but you are a staff master.”

“Yes... and you don’t know how much that disappoints him. It has always been his goal to make me a master of the fist before he dies.”

“Please don’t tell anyone,” Philip begged.

 “I don’t see what you are worried about... So what if you and

Darius are now lovers. Now that he is a Field Marshal he will be in the capital most of the time, close to you, instead of patrolling the Eastern Confederacy.” Varrus smiled as he pinned Philip in a corner of the pool. “So tell me... how did you and Darius get together?”

“No,” Philip said as he tried to find a way around Varrus.

Tell me.” Varrus smiled as he reached under the water to stroke

Philip’s manhood.

 “Jason...” Philip moaned, with the Staff Master so close to him

he could see the rumors were true. Varrus was the most handsome man he had ever seen.

“Why am I not surprised, you three make such a happy family,” Varrus grinned. “Now, about Jason?”

“Jason?” Philip called out causing the young man to jump almost out of the pool.

“Yes Philip?” Jason asked nervously.

“What do you think of Varrus being your mentor?” Philip asked as, to his relief Varrus left his side to swim toward Jason.

“I...really, Varrus wants to do that?” Jason asked in disbelief.

“Don’t worry about what you think. Just tell me what you feel. It’s your choice,” Varrus said on reaching Jason, wrapping his long legs around the Legatio’s naked body.

“I... I like you very much. I would really like you as my mentor though I don’t know what that means.” Jason said his stammering getting worse. In the months since leaving Qul Tos he had known the power of love. Varrus however was having a different effect on him... the more primal feeling of lust.

“It means I will be your teacher from this point on until the

day I die. It means I will always be there for you, no matter what. It means...” Varrus whispered as he stroked the Legatio’s muscular back.

“That we will be lovers?” Jason asked the shy smile on his face growing into a wide grin.

“If that is what you want?”

“I do... I really do,” Jason nodded wrapping his arms around the back of Varrus neck. He then did something he had never done before. He leaned forward and gave Varrus a kiss, the first time he had ever been so forward with another man.

“If it’s what he wants so be it,” Philip sighed as he watched Varrus lean down to return Jason’s kiss. As he observed how Varrus handled Jason, keeping him mesmerized without letting things get out of control, he couldn’t help wishing there had been a ‘Varrus’ at the Academy when he was a student. In all the time he had watched over Jason he had never seen him so giddy as Varrus spun him around the pool. It made him feel happy himself until he realized he was not the one Jason had his arms around. His feelings then turned to fear.

Chapter Seven:

The Bargain

              After Jason and Varrus spent a considerable amount of time washing each other’s bodies, the two and Philip returned home. In the parlor, Jason went right to the sofa, while Erik was cooking in the kitchen.

          “I hope you are making enough for all of us.” Philip grinned as he hugged Erik from behind forcing himself to smile.        

            “Yes, I saw Master Varrus heading for the baths.”

          “Yes, but that didn’t mean he was going to join us for dinner,” Philip pouted.

          “Oh yes it did, sir,” Erik chuckled. “You gay men don’t know how to keep your hands off each other.”

          “Your servant has a queer sense of humor,” Varrus laughed. “You have no idea.” Philip blushed. “Sleeping with the help?” Varrus laughed.

          “Hey I’m gay... I don’t mind.” Erik laughed as he turned the pieces of chicken frying in a pan.

         “Erik...,” Philip warned.

         “Oh come on, Alex is not here... why can’t I say ‘gay’?” Erik pouted. “It makes us sound abnormal,” Philip fumed.

        “The King of Jadoor is rumored to be gay,” Erik complained.

       "Soon there will be no King of Jadoor... not if Lukas’s army has any say about it,” Varrus snickered.

         “What are the reports?” Philip asked as he took a seat at the dining table.

          “Two-thirds of the army is already marching against those parts of the Western Federation that are on the mainland. They are weak and will fall quickly. Once Gladmore has fallen, they will build a shipyard to construct a fleet to take the army across to the Jadoor’s main island,” Varrus said.

          “What of the rest of the army?” Philip asked.

            “They are being ferried to the smaller, weaker islands by what fleet we have. It is a risky business. Until our new fleet is built, we cannot face the Jadoorian armada in open water.”

             Splitting up the army was not something Philip would have done if he had been in command. That worried him. “What do you think our chances are?”

              “I don’t know... we have not fought against the western kingdoms in centuries. Unlike the Eastern Confederacy, the Jadoorians are so much stronger than the other kingdoms that the weaker ones are nothing more than vassal states. As a result there are no inflated egos for us to count on to divide their forces. King Aidan has the full support of his allies, as they know they will face the wrath of Jadoor’s army if they don’t fight against us.

              “So they are not as afraid of us as they are of Jadoorians. We will have to correct them of that mistake,” Philip grinned.

              “Yes... we shall,” Varrus smiled back..

               Jason woke up to the sound to laughter and Erik giving him a nudge. “If you keep on sleeping you will wake up in the middle of the night and be up until morning.”

 "Alright...” Jason yawned. He was still tired and sore, but the smell of food soon set his stomach to growling.

              “Good, you are awake... dinner has been waiting for you!” Varrus smiled as he served himself some green beans that had been cooked with bacon.

              “Enjoy it while it lasts... when winter comes, the freshest food you will have will come from a slaughtered sheep or a jar of pickled vegetables,” Erik said as he served Jason some steamed carrots coated in honey.

             “Still, the food here is better than anything I had in the army,” Philip said, his mouth watering on smelling the fried fish on his plate.

             “Everything I have eaten has been better than what I had,” Jason said, not noticing how his comment removed the smiles from everyone’s face.

              “Well, soon I will have you fattened up,” Erik said to end the awkward silence, adding a whole fish on Jason’s plate.

            “Not fattened up... bulked up. With all the hard work he will be doing in combat classes he will soon be much stronger than he is now.” Varrus laughed.

“I’m still sore from today,” Jason sighed.

            “You will have to get used to that. Until you are stronger you will be going to bed sore every night,” Philip grinned.

              Erik spooned more carrots onto Jason’s plate. “You can always ask Kristen for a back massage. He will be here soon to take you back to your apartment.”

              Jason nodded his head as he took a bite out of the fish. Hungry from all his work he soon cleared his plate and waited for everyone else to finish. He did not have to wait long. Varrus and Philip took second and third helpings and cleaned their plates, leaving room only for dessert, still baking in the oven.

              While they waited, Kristen came. He then took Jason to the upstairs bedroom, and undressed him for bed. With Jason lying down on his back, Kristen took out some cold ointment and massaged it into Jason’ skin.

               “This will help your muscles relax,” Kristen explained as he rubbed Jason’s body, working on his neck, back, arms, legs and stomach.As Kristen spread the ointment over his body, Jason felt his skin tingle and then go numb. The muscles of his body went limp while the fumes made his mind enter a pleasant daze.

         When Kristen was done, Jason’s skin had a white glow about it, while his eyes had taken on a vacant stare. Seeing that the ointment had taken its effect, Kristen took out a long needle connected to a glass tube. He took Jason’s arm and on the underside of the elbow he stuck Jason. Soon a stream of blood began to flow into the tube. When it was half full, Kristen removed the needle and covered the spot with Centurion bone paste. He then pocketed the blood-filled vial as well as the ointment before heading back downstairs and into the parlor. Erik on seeing him gave him a questioning look to which Kristen only nodded before making his apologies for leaving so soon, going out the front door.

 

             When Jason did not come down for dessert after Philip called him, he sent Erik to go check on the boy. Erik came back and told them that Jason was too tired to join them. Concerned, Philip and Varrus took theirs and Jason’s dessert upstairs.

             On the large bed they saw Jason, his skin shimmering white against the moonlight looking like a statue. Philip went over to Jason and shook him, only receiving a soft smile.    “We have a spiced apple for you,” Philip said offering the bowl of a cinnamon and buttered apple to Jason. Jason’s only response was to part his lips.

              “I guess we will have to feed him.” Varrus smiled.

             “I guess we shall,” Philip agreed, liking the idea.

             Lifting Jason up so his back was against the headboard, Philip fed Jason the hot, spiced apple while Varrus cleaned Jason’s face with a towel. Jason chewed slowly but was able to finish the spiced apple before closing his eyes. The two men then each gave Jason a kiss on the cheek and pulled the quilt over him before taking their own clothes off and joining him in the bed. Jason had enough awareness and strength to wrap an arm around Philip and nuzzle up closer to his chest.

           “He loves you,” Varrus sighed. He lay down his long body on the other side of Jason.

            “I don’t know if it is love, but he trusts me,” Philip replied, running his fingers through Jason’s hair. “When you embraced him in the pool I never saw him so happy.”

           “I tend to have that effect on other men. That is why I was sent here... too pretty to fight a war,” Varrus laughed sarcastically. “As my poor general lamented I was too much of a distraction. I guess that is something Jason and I have in common. I’ve never seen such a beautiful Legatio before. Poor boy, life in the tower must have been horrible,” Varrus sighed while his hand ran down Jason’s arm, resting it on his hip.

            “He has recovered for the most part. Yet... he still does not understand why we Centurions have to kill.”

            “Well, most Legatio believe we’re savages,” Varrus pointed out, a hint of bitterness in his voice.

            “It’s not that... he feels sadness when someone dies whether he knows the person or not,” Philip replied, clearly wishing he could do something about it. “When I had to kill one of my men I almost felt as if I had betrayed him.”

              Varrus reached over to squeeze Philip’s shoulder. “It will be something he will have to get over... He is a Legatio... they all have to deal with death eventually.”

“Let’s not talk about this. Jason might hear us.”

“He will have to one day,” Varrus stressed the point again.

“Yes, but not right now,” Philip sighed.

             “Fine...” Varrus replied, dropping the subject.

             Both men then remained silent as they tried to fall asleep when a sudden gush of wind blew up a tree branch hard against the bedroom window, breaking a pane of glass.

“What was that?” Varrus asked, jumping up.

“A zephyr...” Philip guessed.

“A zephyr... you don’t really believe in those legends.” Varrus laughed.

“I have seen many strange things in my life... a living wind spirit would not be too out of the ordinary.”

Varrus still did not believe Philip. “And I’ve seen a tribe of half-bull and half-man beasts, women who grow wings, and men with fish tails.”

“There is a tribe of men who wear the head of a bull in battle in Qopo. In the south there is a civilization where girls on their 17th

birthday must wear wings made of feathers before jumping off a six-story tower with a rope tied around their ankles. If the rope holds and she lives, her soul is considered light and pure enough for marriage,” Philip gave as examples.

“What of the men with fish tails,” Varrus argued.

           “Well, that I don’t know about... I have yet to see the entire world.” Philip chuckled.

            “Yes... but as you see there is a logical reason behind all these legends... your wind spirit is probably as real as the bull man,” Varrus insisted.

            “You are most likely right, but you are a Centurion, you are supposed to love myths and legends.”

           “I like true stories better,” Varrus disagreed.

           “What story is completely true?” Philip answered back.

           Varrus thought about that for a while before he came up with an example. “The stories of Agamemnon are true.”

            “Hahahahaha... you are telling me that the whole population of the Eastern Confederacy went down on their knees as he conquered their territories.”

         “Not literally,” Varrus admitted.

         “So you see one man’s truth is another man’s lie.”

          In stories, yes... I don’t think the Eastern Confederacy view themselves as the villains in the last war,” Varrus agreed.

         “In other things as well. Just look at us Centurions and Legatio. Both of us think that we are the more important piece in Domus culture.”

“True as well."

“Jason, though, is teaching me a new truth... we need each other. Not just for the future of our people but for love,” Philip said as he gave Jason’s left bicep a tight grip.

“It has gotten a little hard to love those brats.” Varrus smirked.

“Jason though is very lovable.” Philip grinned as.

            “That he is indeed,” said Varrus. “When is his birthday?”

            “Not until near the end of winter.”

           “I can wait,” Varrus told himself.

 

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