فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

The Last Battle

Emperor Marcus Aurelius sat on his horse, on the top of the command hill, with guards on each side to protect him. He watched as the battle slowly progressed and it became clear that the Roman army had won. Marcus hoped it would be many years before they had to go to war again, certainly not before he died. He had no wish to see another battle. He turned to his guards. “I will leave now,” he said. “I have seen enough.”

Maximus looked at his sword in the tree. His face was covered with blood and mud. The beat of his heart was beginning to slow down as the noise of the battle became quieter. There were other sounds now-screams from the dying and cries for help.

A small bird flew down from the top of the tree and sat on Maximus’s sword. Could it possibly be the same bird he had seen before the first explosion of battle? That seemed like a hundred years ago. He shook his head and reached for the sword. The frightened bird flew away as Maximus pulled his sword out of the tree.

Across the field, doctors were trying to help any Roman soldiers who were still alive. Other soldiers were walking slowly through the men on the ground, looking for Germans left alive and killing them quickly.

Maximus walked back toward the command point, sometimes stopping to speak to a dying soldier, sometimes calling for water or medical help. He came to a low hill where the bodies of Roman soldiers had been placed, side by side.

“Let the sun always be warm on your back,” he said softly. “You’ve come home at last.”

“You’re a brave man, Maximus, and a good commander,” said a voice behind him. “Let us hope it is for the last time.”

Maximus turned and saw the Emperor. “There’s no one left to fight, sir,” he said.

“There are always people to fight. More glory.”

“The glory is theirs, Caesar,” said Maximus, looking at the lines of dead soldiers.

“Tell me,” said Marcus. “How can I reward Rome’s greatest general?”

“Let me go home,” replied Maximus, quickly.

“Ah, home…” said Marcus. He gave his arm to Maximus, and they walked together back across the battlefield.

All eyes followed the long purple coat and white hair of their emperor. They could see that he moved slowly and with difficulty. He was clearly in pain. Most of the soldiers realized that they were probably seeing him for the last time. And they knew Rome was not likely to have such a good emperor again.

Marcus Aurelius and his general walked along the road, past lines of tired soldiers. Hundreds of men resting on a hill stood and raised their swords high in the air when they saw them pass.

“They honor you, Caesar,” said Maximus.

“No, Maximus, I believe they honor you,” replied the Emperor.

Maximus looked across at the crowd of brave men and raised his own sword. The men cheered him loudly.

Suddenly, Prince Commodus and his guards rode into view. When he heard the cheering and saw the reason for it, Commodus was filled with jealousy. Roman soldiers were honoring a Spaniard above the Emperor and his family-it was not right. But he tried to look pleased as he rode up to Marcus and Maximus.

“Have I missed the battle?” he said, jumping from his horse.

“You’ve missed the war,” said Marcus. “We’re finished here.”

Commodus put his arms around his father. “Father, congratulations,” he said. “I shall kill a hundred animals to honor your success.”

“Let the animals live and honor Maximus,” said Marcus. “He won the battle.”

“General,” Commodus said, turning to Maximus, “Rome salutes you, and I salute you as a brother.” He opened his arms and put them around Maximus. “It has been too long since we last met. How long? Ten years, my old friend?” Commodus turned to Marcus. “Here, Father, take my arm.”

Marcus let his hand rest on his son for a minute, then said, “I think maybe I should leave you now.”

Commodus called for Marcus’s horse and some of the guards ran forward to help him. The old man waved them away and looked at Maximus. Maximus came quickly to his side and helped him onto the horse. Without a word to his son he rode slowly away.

Commodus and Maximus stood together and watched the Emperor go, each thinking their own thoughts about him.

Marcus had won many battles for the glory of Rome, but Maximus would always remember him first as a good man.

Commodus’s thoughts were very different. He was angry that his father had not put his arms around him. He was jealous because Maximus was asked to help Marcus onto the horse and the Emperor had spoken privately to him. He swung himself back onto his horse and rode away, followed by his guards.


A city of hospital tents had been built. There were thousands of wounded Roman soldiers, and the doctors were busy all night. Maximus came out of one of the tents. He was sad that so many men were badly hurt, and he knew that many more would not live until morning.

He turned and walked back to the main camp. In the biggest tent many of the officers were celebrating. There was wine and food; they were laughing and shouting. These were the lucky men who had cheated death.

The Emperor sat in a chair in the center of the tent and received visitors. Two senators, Falco and Gaius, had just arrived.

“We greet you, Marcus Aurelius,” Falco said. “And we bring greetings from Senator Gracchus. He waits to honor you when you return to Rome.”

When Maximus entered the tent, officers came forward to meet him. Someone gave him wine, others held their hands out to him, Quintus stopped his conversation when he saw his friend.

“Still alive! The gods must love you!” they both said together, laughing. Maximus moved through the tent, with Quintus and some of his other officers following behind.

Through the forest of men Maximus could see Marcus Aurelius surrounded by a group of people. As he got nearer, he saw Commodus at the Emperor’s side, with the two senators. Maximus paused to speak to another officer.

“Back to Rome now, General?” the man asked.

“I’m going home,” Maximus said. “To my wife, my son, and my fields of wheat.”

“Maximus the farmer!” Quintus said, laughing. “I still can’t imagine that.”

“Dirt washes off more easily than blood, Quintus,” replied Maximus.

Commodus, Gaius, and Falco came toward Maximus.

“Here he is,” said Commodus. “The hero of the war!”

Maximus was not happy that Commodus had said this in front of his brave officers. To him they were all heroes.

Commodus introduced the two senators. They were smart politicians and they saw that Maximus could have an interesting future in Rome. The real power was not with the Emperor. It was with whoever had control of the army.

Commodus led Maximus away to a quieter corner. He spoke softly. “Times are changing, General. I’m going to need good men like you.”

“How can I help, sir?”

“You’re a man who can command. You give orders, the men follow your orders, the battle is won.” Commodus looked across at the senators. “We must save Rome from the politicians, my friend. Will you be with me when the time comes?”

“When your father allows me to go, I will return to Spain, sir,” said Maximus.

“Home? Ah yes. But don’t get too comfortable-I may call on you soon.” Then, seeming suddenly to remember, Commodus said, “Lucilla is here. Did you know? She hasn’t forgotten you- and now you are the great hero.” He turned away to watch his father leaving the tent with his guards. “Caesar will sleep early tonight,” he said.

When he turned back again, Maximus had gone. Commodus was anxious. Who did the great general really support? Could he be trusted? Commodus took some more wine and thought carefully about Maximus.


Marcus’s slaves helped him into the royal tent. Lucilla was already there.

“It’s a pity I only have one son,” Marcus said to her. “You would be a better Caesar than Commodus… stronger. I wonder if you would also be fair?”

“I would be whatever you taught me to be,” she replied, smiling. She came to his side and kissed him.

“How was the trip?” Marcus asked.

“Long. Boring. Why have I come?” asked Lucilla.

“I need your help,” said her father. “With your brother. He loves you-he always has. Soon he is going to need you more than ever.” Lucilla did not know what to say. “No more. It is not a night for politics,” Marcus said. “It is a night for an old man and his daughter to look at the moon together. Let us pretend that you are a loving daughter and I am a good father.”

Lucilla took his arm and they walked together into the cold night air. “This is a pleasant fiction” she said, smiling at him.

Lucilla understood him. She knew that her father would love to be just a simple old man sharing a little time with his daughter. But he was Emperor of Rome, and for him life was much more complicated.


In the cold morning, at the edge of the forest, a group of men were training for battle. Commodus and his guards were practicing sword fighting, striking at small trees.

The young prince was proud of his body. He was strong and healthy as a result of the strict training he did every morning. His training program was taken straight from the gladiator schools, where men learned to fight for their lives. His greatest wish was to fight against real gladiators, although he knew that his father would never allow it. Marcus had ended the tradition of gladiator fights in Rome.

Maximus passed by the small group of men in the early morning light and noticed that the Emperor’s son was among them. He was not surprised. He had heard plenty of stories about Commodus, how strong and skilled he was. He had also heard that Commodus was a cruel man, but he tried not to believe that. There were always jealous people saying bad things about the royal family.

Maximus walked to Marcus’s tent. The Emperor’s guards let him through the entrance without any questions. They were expecting him.

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