Cyrac watched the red-headed Decanus Justus rush out of the tent. The boy's excitement reminded him of... a child, eager to play with his elder brother who'd returned from the war.
Hm. But such aphorisms were useless for the current generation. It had been two decades since the wars ended.
Anyroad, Zehr didn't look the part of the "elder." Cyrac would have guessed... 16? 17? Younger than Justus, at least... and the little whelpling, bless his heart, wasn't even old enough to drink.
...What age was that, again? Shite. That was something that he, himself, had never cared a whit for.
But then Cyrac heard Zehr speak. Che, what a trite bastard...
Cold. Calm. Not speaking out of line-- but speaking his mind. It was a very difficult thing to do.. tactfully, anyroad. The only people Cyrac had met who could talk like that were military veterans.
And the Flamescarred whoreson didn't as much as flinch when he was threatened with 20 lashes.
No... there was something off about that young man. The bastard was a spy!
Shite, no... The cold, dead, eyes of his veterans wouldn't have flinched, either. If anything, they'd have moaned and complained. But they'd bend over and take it, Flame take them, because that's what they were trained to do.
Bah. Cyrac drained the rest of his wine up, in frustration.
He was a leader of men, not a police investigator.
Cyrac looked over to his Sixtus. That man had good senses.
And he had good genes. He aged well. He was only ten years younger than he was, he hadn't a single grey hair.
Cyrac aged like milk.
The Optio sat up, pausing from his random and redundant gear maintenance checks, "You're gnashing your teeth, Centurion. What's on your mind?"
Cyrac growled, "I was just pissed off that your hair's still as brown as shite."
"The secret is... a balanced diet of meat, fruits, and vegetables..." Sixtus cited, "--at least 6 hours of rest each sun, and--"
"Drink plenty of water and exercise regula-- riiiight." Cyrac scowled, "Shut it."
The Optio chuckled politely, "If you're worried about your appearances, then I shall remind to to take advantage of being a 'wise, old veteran.'"
Cyrac rolled his eyes. As soon as his hair started to grey, people in the military stopped questioning him. He knew firsthand that many old vets didn't know better than a fish 20 years younger.
Sometimes the fish were trained better. Some of them had schooling. A rare few of them had a much sought after ability called Common Sense... And sometimes... the fish just had less traumatic brain injuries than their older peers.
Most old vets in the military rose in rank, not because of achievements, tactical prowess, or an unyielding loyalty to their country... but because they were useless donkeys without their military rank to force people to respect them.
"Old men are all full of shite," Cyrac grimaced. "Myself, included."
Sixtus shrugged, "But still, the younger generation listens to the older..."
"Myself, included," He added cheekily.
Cyrac rolled his shoulders, stretching, "Sometimes, I wish I took up farming or a trade, after the wars..."
"And why didn't you?" Sixtus smirked.
The aging Centurion shook his head, "All I know how to do is be a part of a shield wall and yell at fish all day... If I didn't have a rank on my chest, I'd probably be on the streets, begging for scraps of bread."
"Nonsense, Centurion." Sixtus reassured him, emptying the last of the rationed wine into his own cup, "You can always sell your flesh, in order to survive."
Him, turn to prostitution? What a joke.
Cyrac narrowed his eyes, "I highly doubt women with coin would be purchasing services from one such as myself."
"With respect, Centurion, you're limiting yourself to 50% of the population," He chided.
Optio Sixtus. Cold. Logical. And somehow, the milk-weaned prick still manages to be clever.
If Cyrac could rap a fist against the young man's forehead without fear of physical repercussions, he would have considered it.
Sixtus was a peculiar judge of persons, but he tended to have good senses. He was fiercely loyal. He was the fiercest enemy of any exercise he deemed wasteful. And as such, he fiercely defended his opinions, supporting them with both verbal wit and martial competence.
He was a perfect Optio. He'd make a better Centurion when Sixtus finally retired.
Cyrac figured he'd buy a small plot of land to live in a shack, or his Rhodoks would bury him and mark the grave with some rocks. Either way, he was certain he'd have no complaints.
"Sixtus," Cyrac addressed his Optio, who had removed his armor and was scrubbing the dirt out of its sculpted muscles. "Tell me what you think of the youth with green hair."
"The Duplicarius? Zehr, I believe his name was. I'm told he keeps to himself. He has excellent senses as a scout." Sixtus twirled the brush in his hand, turning and offering a smile, "And he speaks truthfully, with enough respect to keep him tolerable. He's a perfect soldier-- I'd hire a whole century of him."
Cyrac tapped his finger on the table. He wished he could place his finger on what bothered him about the youth, "You don't find him... strange?"
"Everyone is strange, Centurion," Sixtus shrugged, returning to his brushing, "What's strange about that one, in particular?"
"It's the way he acted, I think... He's rejected the honors offered-- and from what Decanus Justus has said, it's probably mostly his doing that over half the Second Cohort survived..."
Cyrac scratched his beard in thought, "He knows rank, too. He called me Pilus Prior or Centurion, instead of Primus Pilus."
"--Which is the way you prefer it." Sixtus propped up his armor, nodding at his work, before searching through his sack for a rag and some polish, "He's probably an old veteran, down on his luck. He doesn't want to be noticed-- maybe he's wanted for murder or desertion?"
"Hah. Perhaps... But the youth is no coward-- not by Justus' account. And there was him not flinching when I ordered him lashed." Cyrac mulled over the thought, "I was terrified of old, mule-headed Centurions when I was his age."
"Right," The Optio responded, still focused more on his work than the conversation. "Maybe he's innocent. It wouldn't be the first time a political play saw an Immunes discharged from the military."
Sixtus polished his armor to a professional sheen, glowing in the lamplight. The young Optio was prone to pointing out flaws, but notedly avoided a few. He didn't mention Cyrac's age as a weakness. He made no mention of the foolish fears of his younger self. It was one of the many things that the Centurion was silently thankful to Optio Sixtus for.
"Hm. There was one thing I found odd." Sixtus offered, "The young gentleman's eyes were rather striking."
Cyrac frowned, "Elf blood or something-- that's probably why he looks so young, now that I think of it. We're not like the Tyrion military, proper. Racism aside, he's damn good. Out here in the field, we don't give a snake's arse about how he looks-- just his skill and demeanor.
"Cyrac, please." Sixtus narrowed his eyes, "I am of the same mind. I merely mention it as a theory to explain the Duplicarius' apprehension. We both know that our nation's sentiments tend to be... unkind towards those with outsider blood."
The old Centurion nodded, "Right..."
"I'll ask a question then, to allay your fears, old friend." Sixtus gave him a comforting smile, "Do *you* trust him?"
Cyrac scoffed, "Seven hells, I trust that one more than all the Decani of the Second Cohort combined."
...How quick his own answer came, surprised him.
Sixtus held his gut as he laughed. Cyrac allowed himself to chuckle, as well.
The peculiarities of the young Duplicarius didn't matter. The Rhodoks were all in this shite situation together.
Tycondrius narrowed his eyes at Decanus Justus' mention of trouble.
"What? No. I killed two deer on the way here and I need help carrying it back."
Tycon was in a hurry. The meat was strung up on a tree outside of the village walls. He was worried that a hungry wolf or Iredar might chance upon the free meal.
Justus' eyes grew as wide as saucers, "You did what? H-how did you carry them this far?"
Tycon stopped to stare at the young man, pursing his lips, "I... dragged them. I pray you're aware that it is easier to drag heavy items than it is to carry them."
In truth, Tycon's Iron-Rank physique allowed him to carry his prizes back with ease. He was thankful that Justus was an idiot and didn't realize that Tycon was much stronger than he was letting on.
Justus laughed in embarrassment, "Oh, right, haha... Yeah, that makes sense."
The red-headed man apologized and ran off to wherever the hells he thought he was supposed to run.
One of the Munifices offered an apologetic smile, "H-heyyyy... Uhhhh... Duplicarius? Maybe the two of us can help out and... maybe join you for a meal?"
Tycon squeezed his eyes into thin slits, "What? No. You bastards nearly got me lashed. Sod off."