Cover art for this Chapter: Secundus
"I want to go home," Phyllis said.
She side-stepped his attempt to put a hand on her shoulder, her mouth a tight line as she avoided him. Marcus did his best to check her eyes, but he didn't manage, not without the risk of showing her his own wariness. He feared she would lose control. In fact, he could tell from the lengthy breaths she took to steady herself that she wasn't far off. He didn't even know who she was mad at yet. Only that it was probably not him, which was the entire point. He had brought her nothing but frustrating news. Both where she was and that Bonny had kept their destination a secret from her. He had led her to this place where she was holding on to her thin layer of self-control.
Marcus had kept his share of secrets from her in the past. Until she got older, and he started to realize how much Phyllis loathed secrets. And how expert she was at discovering them.
She hadn't seen this one coming. Maybe that enraged her too.
He was selfish for sending her here, choosing their friendship over her safety. He resolved to keep her away from other people until he had had the chance to calm her down.
'There is nothing for her here,' was what Cornelis had said.
It was odd to agree wholeheartedly with that, when Cornelis obviously loathed him with a passion. His uniform anyway. Which Marcus couldn't discard since it was clear their military presence was what Bonny wanted, even if she didn't tell him why.
He agreed with Phyllis too: "I want to go home too. We will. Soon."
"Just order her."
He sighed. It had taken him, taken them, years to gain Bonny's, and to a lesser extent, Caitir's trust. Phyllis didn't care much about Caitir. But she did about Bonny. About him. She was in a dangerous place suggesting that he'd order Bonny around. And she could do way worse than suggest it.
"I know you're angry. But...."
All dark, her eyes flashed at him. She held up her hand, emphasizing the number with her fingers.
"They tried to kill MY father four times!" she snarled, and he grimaced, because he was inwardly begging her to keep it down. At least he'd taken her to a faraway corner of the village, into an abandoned orchard of apple trees. It was still too early in the year for even a hint on spring on the heavy branches, which meant they were barely shielded from view. But they were out of ear shot. As long as Phyllis kept a shred of calm, they would not be overheard.
Lucius was sacred. Phyllis adored her father. It wasn't hard to understand that. He was smart, soft-spoken and open-minded. He was also hardly taller than Phyllis. Save being strangled, Marcus could bring up a large level of sympathy for people who loathed what he represented. The thought of those same people hunting Lucius was beyond ridiculous.
It wasn't just him either. Phyllis's past was not new to Marcus. Her parents had moved frequently before they had been called back to Rome. Phyllis remembered moving. And why. They had hunted her too. He felt her mood affect him as he realized that. He had to shut her out right now.
"I know Phyl. But I doubt Bonny does. Unless Caitir told her."
"Caitir never tells anyone anything," Phyllis stated.
"Exactly. Bonny misjudged. And family roots are a sensitive subject for her."
Suddenly Phyllis smirked, the corners of her mouth torn upwards: "You mean she made a mistake."
He gently shoved her shoulder. He could never copy her mood swings, but this one left him almost dizzy in relief, so it was easier to follow. He'd chase a smile. Even if it wasn't a gentle one.
"Rare. I know, but you can't hold it against her, since you do not know anything I just told you."
"Because you eavesdropped." Phyllis folded her arms, shaking her head. "How very Roman of you."
He shrugged. "At least I am living up to their expectations."
"You do me proud. People all expect us to be sleeping together, did you know that?"
How could he possibly not. He overlooked the village, distracted by a small gathering at the front gates.
"Something is going on."
"Yeah, I wish."
He pointed to the scene and waited for her to catch up. She folded her arms again as she did, as if challenging him to see if she cared. But if she didn't, he would be glad for it. Because fellow soldiers were easy to recognize. A thought formed in his mind as he counted the villagers who were gathering, alerting him to exactly what was off in their demography. Adding to his own men the patrol that just entered, marching in tight formation, they matched the number of warrior-aged men inside the village. If the situation escalated, at least Phyllis's sympathies were not on the losing side. He strode over to their temporary camp, Anagallus, Florius, Decius, and a breath later, the others in his wake. His glanced over the men of the other patrol. They were more diverse in age than his own men. Which wasn't strange. You had to have a reason to stay stationed near Mesmer beyond your training days. Most soldiers didn't.
It was odd for the Gauls that gathered to prevent the patrol from advancing further into the village to be so young. Younger than Cornelis, all of them. That was what Marcus estimated. Cornelis could never be more than a decade older than him, probably less, and he had just turned twenty-two. If the call was to defend the village, an entire generation was missing. The hair on his arms rose. He had seen it far too late. The animosity, the scars on Cornelis's back. The huge Gaul was an anomaly. A survivor. Marcus's fingers brushed over the metal strips of his armor, which left just enough room for him to pull out the papyrus that authorized Mesmer's intervention. He would have to be careful though, since the damned thing was ten years old. The paper was as fragile as the power of the words written on it.
Hi! I'm currently rereading and doing some light editingin preparation of the last story in the Mesmer series! I do adore to hear what people think about the story, and especially the characters, since I'm very character-oriented myself.
I think I find Cornelis most challenging to write up till now, since he has a past I can't even begin to relate to....but I really like writing him at the same time, for exactly the same reason.
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Mesmer series - book two "When war has left scars too deep to heal, can love still blossom upon it's ruins?" When Cornelis meets Phyllis and Marcus, he sees a young Wicca in the grasp of a Roman Optio, and he'll stop at nothing to set her free. Even...