"Palmyra had once been a great city. An oasis in the desert. On the trade routes linking Persia and India with the Roman Empire, but that all changed when a certain queen revolted against Aurelian around 272. She declared their independence from Rome and was on an expedition to take Antioch when she was captured. Sent to Rome in chains. As for Palmyra, Aurelian ordered the leading citizens be slaughtered and their city destroyed. This queen, named Zenobia, had a glorious temple, and Nepotian and I liked to hang out in its ruins. We'd get a jug of beer, sit, drink, talk, and eventually pass out. This was after we'd chased off the crazy lady who lived there. She claimed to be related to Queen Zenobia. Claimed Zenobia was a descendant of Cleopatra, you know, the Egyptian queen who seduced Marc Antony."
"I remember. The Triumvirate, Julius Caesar, civil war, Octavian, end of the Republic and beginning of Emperor rule... Augustus."
"Damn, I am one fine teacher. Anyway, we'd always have to chase her away. She wasn't someone you could have conversation with, but she was by far the most beautiful woman in town. Always prancing around babbling her words of insanity wearing nothing but a tight strap over her breasts and skimpy one around her waist. There was a brothel in town. Nothing but gnarly-toothed hags with leathery skin. Little satisfaction. We'd had our fill of them, and one night we were just drunk enough to take on the crazy lady."
"Did she babble while you screwed her?"
Boris coyly chuckled, "You know me too well, Gregoric. No, I kissed her foul mouth to shut her up while I poked her. She was a wild one. Her loins were like her brains. All kinds of crazy stuff going on inside her. Anyway, I came, pulled out, and promptly passed out. Left her for Nepo to poke. Guess who woke me up."
"Bacurius. I had to shake my head. Thought I was having a nightmare at first. About three feet away from me was the crazy lady. Knife in her gut. Just past her, Nepo. His throat cut."
"Dead as the city itself."
Stunned, I had nothing to say. No expressive damn, or my god. No words of sympathy, and no need to ask him for details of how it happened. I knew Boris well enough to know he would finish when he was ready. And he knew when my tear fell onto his chest that his pain was now partially mine.
"You know," he started, stopped, took a deep breath, tensed his chest to suppress breaking down, and then continued with quick pace to get through to the end. "Part of her babbling had always been about how she was going to run us Roman swine out of her city. How she'd kill every one of us. That's why we always chased her off. It got old real quick, but the beer made us drop our guard. She must have had the knife hidden nearby. How she got it into her hand without Nepo seeing it I'll never know. My passing out made it easier for her to do what she did. Bacurius hiding out and watching us is what saved me."
"Do you ever wonder why he bothered? I mean, you weren't exactly best of friends."
"Well, at the time I thought maybe he'd been connected to us for such a long time, charged with watching us, he felt the need to intervene. After all, despite our many personal battles, we were Roman soldiers. A brotherhood, if you like. Needless to say, that incident brought about a major change in me. I will always be grateful to Bacurius, and I told him so. I asked him to forgive me for all the times we'd tricked him. Told him I owed him my life, and that what he'd done for me would never be forgotten. It also ended my days of drinking for sole purpose of getting drunk. Made my decision to honor Lupicinus and Nepotian by bettering myself, learning as much as possible so I could do something worthwhile."
"And here you are stuck in a Tervingi cave with only one student who will listen to you."
Danube Divide, a novel-length tale of war, romance, political intrigue and religious conflict, is available in ebook or paperback at its publisher's web site, MLR PRESS, or at Amazon.
More excerpts can be accessed at Jardonn's Erotic Tales.