Chapter 14 - A deal well made

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Marcus watched Phyllis take off, throwing the blanket and leather saddle over an eager Goliath's back in her stride. Phyllis hardly needed the extra grip the four pommels of the saddle provided, and so she scarcely used it. Snatching his Pilum* right from under his nose appeared to be a worthy occasion.  She hoisted herself up without effort, already chatting to the dark-haired woman who rode alongside her. Right at home in between two warriors. In a way it wasn't new. Phyllis, to him, had often felt more at place while she and her family where travelling with their Legion, than she did between those soft voices surrounding her at Mesmer.

But there was a vast difference between the rigid hierarchy within the Roman army and the warriors under Cornelis's command. They talked back to him. They argued with him. They joked. They were behind him, quite obviously, because they wanted to be. Phyllis would have no trouble winning them over. Of that he was sure. Of his own success, he was less confident.

Marcus hadn't expected them to arrive today at all, despite already having warned the guards they might, and to let them pass. He hadn't seen many horses when he and Phyllis had visited their village just before spring, just like he hadn't spotted any weapons, safe for Cornelis's longsword. All of them on horseback, they had travelled faster than he expected. Anagallus had probably freaked out, seeing them approach from his watch post. He needed to ride back to camp this evening.

It was hard not to think of his friend Biancus looking at Cornelis. Marcus wasn't short, but he still nearly had to tilt his head to capture Cornelis scowling at him. Cornelis probably wasn't much taller than Biancus, but whereas Marcus's fellow Optio presented a challenge only when they were sparring, Cornelis was a challenge, if not a threat, on all fields. Marcus's eyes drifted to the sword fastened to his the Gaul's hip, over the blue-checkered Braccae*. At least his short-sleeved shirt was one single shade of light blue. Six years in Gaul and Marcus still got cross-eyed over the wild combinations of patterns he sometimes spotted on their missions. Cornelis favoured his sky-colours, that much was clear.

Marcus refrained from commenting on the weapon, though he was painfully aware that his sword was stashed outside and his javelin was plain gone.

"We have a paddock behind the barn," he said instead. "There are enough stables inside as well. Phyllis usually leaves Goliath to wander around during the day, but that might not be safe if your warriors are hunting."

Cornelis held the reigns of two horses, while two others trailed behind him. Marcus had only taken one step forward to assist him when the Gaul brushed passed him.

"I'll find my way," Cornelis said.

Marcus noted how the horses followed Cornelis into the barn without hesitation.

"They are well-trained," he remarked.

"Well-treated." The correction came with a rough edge, and Marcus understood in one word that Cornelis didn't even trust him with the village's horses. Let alone with its future. He mentally readjusted his plans. Maybe Bonny wanted him to play good Roman. And one day, he would have given it his all to achieve just that, despite both Bonny's and Phyllis's overly optimistic assessment of his ability to make new friends. Today, however, he had terrific news to deliver and he'd be damned if he let the follow-up be clouded by anyone's past demons.

"I'll be in my office later," he announced briskly, trying his best not to feel disheartened by the total lack of reply. Maybe he wouldn't conquer Cornelis's trust today, but as far as Gallic scowls went, he was determined to lift at least one of them today.



An hour later, Cornelis crossed the painted corridors with a sense of recognition solely based on the fact that he knew only one single place with painted walls. The images had since long changed, displaying different colours and scenes. Mesmer's inner core still clashed wonderfully with its outward serenity.

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