Arcterius shrugged beneath his heavy wolf skins. One had sat wet in the sun and dried with a crease that now scratched at his shoulder blade. He’d debated as to use one of the peasant’s tunics, some of his road crew used them, but his soldiers would no doubt scoff. Leenta could rub scented oil into the chafed spot, he thought, her strong fingers and soft eyes, oh her eyes, like fawn’s eyes, and her lips…
“Sir, your orders say we should strike the arc of a circle toward Avaricum. Barrus and I have the cord ready, shall we set the line?”
As the camp prefect, Arcterius was rarely addressed directly by the ranks. But, as his single remaining centurion had been sent on to Lutetia to secure the route, north to the sea, and his other, poor Veneterius, who’d been his friend and second for decades, having died from that unspeakable disease, he was forced into daily command.
Arcterius readjusted the skins upon his back and spit an olive pit onto the stony ground. “We should be fighting those savages to the East, you know. Pressing our concern into the hinterland. Expanding our empire.” He popped another pickled olive into his mouth, chewed the flesh off—on his good side—and spit out the pit. “Yet, here I am building an accursed road across the countryside.”
Tarminus waited while his commander vented. With the calfskin map rolled tight, and his purse containing a mallet, cord and knife used to sharpen stakes, hanging at his side, he trusted Arcterius to come around, eventually.
The commander gazed out from his position atop the hill. Though he still felt chilled, the day, he had to admit, was glorious. Waves of yellow mustard, white-capped fennel and stone-strewn pasture spread bucolic around him. He spit another olive pit. Little did he know that his legacy would not only be the stone-paved road between Lezoux, Avaricum and Lutetia, one that would last millennia, but in addition, a grove of olive trees that would outlive all of his descendants.
“Merciful Mercury, what?” Arcterius barked.
“The road, sir. We must mark the curve. But without your leave…”
Arcterius sighed and nodded. Duty, even to the most mundane of tasks, would surely drive him insane. “Alright, Tarminus, alright. You win. Let us continue on our way, rock upon rock, mile upon mile.” He held out a handful of dark-green olives from which his man took three. “Leave some for me, won’t you.”
“Sorry, sir. I am fond of them, though.”
“I as well. This land does does provide fine provisions. Perhaps, when we are completed, Rome will award us both parcels in the area.”
“That would be an excellent outcome, sir.” Tarminus offered the map.
“You’ve marked the last, what, ten or more miles of this road, have you not?”
“Then get on with it, won’t you?” Arcterius strolled away, picking a cautious path amongst the round, grey rocks. “I’ll be in my tent. I seem to have eaten too many olives this morning.” And I could use a woman’s touch on this damn shoulder of mine. And those eyes…