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Son of Mars

It took me hours to find him, picking my way back through the carnage littering the city streets to the place where I had seen him fall. The cobblestones run red with blood, reflecting the setting rays of the sun, horrible reminder of the slaughter of the day. I look down into the face of my friend, the distended form splayed across the street, his scutum across his chest, the gladius lying not far from his lifeless fingers. He lies there, his head tilted to one side, his cheek pressed against the cobblestones, a look of peace in his eyes. The spirit has long since departed from this son of Mars. His lips are slightly parted, as though he went to his death smiling upon his enemies.

A game. That is all it ever was to him. I could read our battles in the scars upon his handsome face. Battles in full a score of taverns from here to the Via Appia. Battles upon a dozen battlefields from Hispania to Judaea. That it had ended here. Our friendship had been forged in those battles, in our laughter at the odds, in the brotherhood of death.

Death which had now claimed one of our number—the choicest warrior of them all. I knelt reverently by his side, laying my naked sword to the pavement. His body was cold, already stiffening with death. I reached beneath his tunic—his money pouch was already gone. The same barbarians that had killed him had robbed him of his earthly treasure. I sighed, looking into his face, pale and scarred with death, but still bearing that same handsome grin that had beguiled the hearts of so many fair maidens in Rome. Son of Mars, perhaps, but liege of Venus.

 I undid my tunic and pulled a bronze coin from my own pouch. Leaning forward, my fingers pried open his mouth, placing the coin underneath his tongue. “There, my old friend,” I whispered, clasping his hand in my own. “When you reach the river, Charon will not deny you. Give the ferryman my regards. . .”

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