Chapter 33
The Legion Takes the Field

Near the Campus Caedis

The Cornelian Wall was not so ambitious as to extend from coast to coast, but it did shield the northern face of the city and all but the furthest reaches of its outlying territories. There were no gates as nothing was meant to go through the Wall, so it took four days to march the Legion around to reach the Campus Caedis. At the edge of the Field, Cassius brought the Legion to a halt. He looked out on the expanse of dead land before them, at the unnatural dividing line where the living grass ended. The warning could not be any starker and only a fool would not heed it.
"What are we doing, sir?" Antoninus, one of his tribunes asked.
"The will of the Senate," Cassius replied.
"We're really going to risk the wrath of the gods for those old fools on the Hill?"
Hadrianus, another tribune, said, "Instead of marching out here, you should've marched us to the Agora."
"If this fails, we will avenge our fallen brothers and satisfy the gods with an offering of blood, rest assured of that."
"Better that none of us fall out there," Antoninus said.
"Obedience to our rulers is also the gods' will," Cassius the replied. "Either course we take could bring their wrath. This is a test, to be sure. First we fulfill our duty to men and if that should lead us astray, we act as the agents of the gods to set things right."
"I never knew you to be so religious, sir," Hadrianus said.
"You'll never survive in the arena without the gods' favor," Cassius replied.
"I'd rather not find out for myself."
"May you never have to."
A pedigreed Equestrian like Hadrianus would not have much to worry about there. It was a rare thing for a family to be disenfranchised and sold into slavery. They would simply be killed or compelled to commit suicide to preserve a measure of honor. There would likely be a lot of that however this expedition ended.
"Spread out the formation," Cassius told his tribunes, "one century deep. Divide the cavalry between the flanks and send out scout riders in two-hour intervals."
"Sir, don't you think that'll spread our forces too thin?" Antoninus asked.
"We need to cover more ground to find the enemy before they reach the city. When we find them, if they truly even exist, we can adjust our formation based on their numbers."
"You think the enemy may not even be real?" Hadrianus asked.
"Based on what I have heard, this emissary they speak of may be nothing more than a mad fantasy shared by the addled brains of those old fools."
"We really would need to purge the Agora if that were true."
"There is only one way to find out," Cassius said. "We go forward. Are you ready to put the gods to the test?"
"I just hope they remember the ones truly responsible."
"It is not likely to save us, but we can hope all the same."
Hadrianus looked over his shoulder and saw a flock grazing in the distance.
"A sacrifice wouldn't hurt chances, sir," he said.
"We can use all the help we can get," Cassius said. "Spare some coin to compensate the shepherd for his loss."
"Yes, sir."
As Hadrianus rode off, Cassius thought to himself that there may not be sheep, rams, goats or oxen enough to soothe the gods' anger for trespassing in the forbidden lands. They would soon learn.