A call From Rome

Justin looked at Malchus then faced Brigitte and took a deep breath before beginning, "Tiberius sent a messenger with orders for me to take my century to Rome to help put down a rebellion."

"When must you leave?"

"The ship to carry my men and equipment will arrive in a few days."

"Malchus and I will miss you so."

"Brigitte, I would not make this next request if I did not have confidence in your strengths. Will you let me take Malchus along so he can spend a few days to see Rome then return home to Spain with the ship’s captain?"

Malchus held his silence. His heart pounded wildly with joy. Malchus did not need to say a word, because his mother knew full well how much this venture would mean to him.

Brigitte glanced over at Malchus then back to Justin and nodded saying, "I believe our son is man enough for such an adventure."

Malchus, overcome with excitement, threw his clinched fists across his chest and began to jump up and down saying, "Yes, yes, yes."

Brigitte, realizing more fully the impact of her words, began to well up with tears. Justin, understanding both her fear and her courage, stood and moved beside her. He took her hand, and she stood looking into his eyes. Justin drew her close. In his arms, the future seemed more secure for Brigitte, and her fear began to subside. "Justin," she said softly, "do you really think everything will be all right?"

"All will be well, dear," he said with a smile, "Malchus will be in good hands."

She drew him even closer then laid her head on his chest. "It won’t be easy to let him go," she thought to herself, "but Justin assures me he will be safe."

Justin, knowing that this was the beginning of yet another separation, squeezed her close to himself then gently let her go. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he knew what he had to do.

Periodically throughout the day Malchus would look out to sea and watch the ships, longing and waiting for the day that he would be on board. Finally that day arrived. It was on the morning of the third day that the Seneca entered the harbor at Barcino. Sails were dropped and soon thereafter the anchor. Small boats, moving back and forth, carried men and equipment to the ship.

Brigitte helped Malchus select clothing for his trip. She had observed her husband over the years, so she knew how to cover a range of weather with a minimum of weight. When she finished, he had all that he needed wrapped together in one small bundle.

It wasn’t long after that when they headed for the waterfront. It was a windy day as the whole town gathered together at the harbor for the send off. As soon as the captain gave the sign to board the ship, Brigitte squeezed Malchus’ hand then looked him straight in the eyes and told him to stay close by his father. Then she held onto him so tightly that he thought she wasn’t going to let him go. When she did, she gave him a quick kiss, and her eyes filled up with tears because she knew it would be a long time before she would see him again.

Justin, knowing how hard is must be for Brigitte, took her into his arms and rocked back and forth with the rhythm of the waves and whispered into her ear that everything was going to be all right. Then after a kiss, he picked up his gear and stepped into the boat. Malchus excitedly followed at Justin’s heels.

Brigitte stood by the water’s edge as the crew loosened the ropes around the wooden posts and shoved off into the blue of the ocean. Justin’s men took up the oars to relieve the ship’s crew for the ride to the Seneca.

Once on the Seneca, Justin and Malchus helped the crew get the sails hoisted. It wasn’t long before a westerly breeze caught hold of the sails and began to pull the Seneca out into the Mediterranean.

Justin looked back and flashed a big smile while Malchus waved wildly. Before long, just the sails were visible to Brigitte. She turned to take the short walk home. The only sound was the crunch of her footsteps on the sandy ground and the wind rustling through the leaves of the nearby trees.

As Brigitte walked, she began to think how she could stay busy while her men were away and decided to work on weaving a cover for Malchus’ bed. So on her way, she stopped by Laura’s house where the family spun lots of wool.

"Good morning Laura, how are you?"

"I’m fine, but you must be sad to have your husband and son sailing to Rome."

"Yes, but I was alone at times before Malchus was born when Justin was on a mission with the army."

"Tell me about you and Justin before the Roman Legion sent you to Spain."

"Justin visited regularly in my home in Vindonissa, Gaul. My mother thought he was just the kind of man I should marry, not only because of his good looks but because he was a man of integrity. Though young, I felt the same way.

"Three years passed, and Justin was promoted to sergeant. This meant he would leave the barracks for private quarters with room for a family. It was then that he proposed to me, and I said, ‘Yes.’ I had not really known what happiness was until I shared my life with this man. Of course I was lonely when he was out for weeks at a time on patrol, but even this loneliness ceased after our son Malchus was born a year later."

"As I remember, Malchus was ten or eleven when you arrived in Barcino."

"Yes, Malchus was ten when Justin was promoted to Centurion and sent here. It was a traumatic move because I had to leave my father, mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and many cousins behind in order to go forward with my husband. I can still remember the trip down the Rhone River in small flatbottom boats with all our belongings and then boarding a larger ship to cross the Mediterranean. Was I ever glad to touch land again once we reached Spain. I don’t think I was cut out to live the life of a sailor.

"But that’s enough about me. Show me your yarns because I think I’ll make a cover for Malchus’ bed to keep my hands busy while Justin and Malchus are away."

"I think you are wise to stay busy while your men are gone. Let me show you the variety of colors I have in wool yarn."

Brigitte looked over the wide range of colors and selected seven skeins of blues and greens that blended nicely together and that matched the colors in her furnishings. Gathering her purchases in her arms, Brigitte said good-bye and continued the lonely walk to an empty house.

If the unseasonable westerly should continue, the Seneca would sail between Corsica and Sardinia to reach Rome in a week. A change of wind could extend the trip another week. The Seneca had oars that could be manned in case of a calm.

The captain was a man about the age of Justin, and he had been at sea most of his life. He had a friendly face with a broad smile surrounded by leathery skin. Right away Malchus liked Lucius and felt comfortable asking him questions about life aboard a ship.

"How do you not get lost when out of sight of land?"

"I don’t always know where I am, but I know where I am going. I am sailing to the east by the angle of the sun by day and by Polaris at night. My plan is to intercept the island of Corsica or Sardinia."

"Will you recognize the land?"

"Yes, I have sailed around both islands many times, so I shall know where I am."

Malchus’ eyes almost lost focus as he gazed out on the blue waters as far as the eye could see. His mind eased into neutral as the only sound he could hear was that of the wind rustling the sails and the water breaking on the bow of the ship.

Lucius watched the boy’s face as it took on a countenance of relaxation that comes only from being at sea. With a smile he interrupted the dreamer with, "Would you like a turn at the wheel sometime?"

"Oh, I would like that very much."

"We’ll begin tonight when all you must do is keep Polaris directly on the port side." The captain could see the expression of relaxation on Malchus’s face change to one of excitement.

When the evening darkened and the stars came out, Malchus made his way to the wheelhouse to take up Lucius on his offer to let him steer the ship. Though the quartermaster most often served as helmsman, tonight Lucius was at the wheel. As Malchus approached, the captain asked, "Are you ready?"

"Oh, yes!"

"You turn the top of the wheel in the direction you want to turn. This moves the rudder. There is a delay between the time you turn the rudder and the ships motion. When you reach the course you want to steer, then move the rudder the other way for a short while to stop the rotation of the ship. All this you will learn by trying."

"Sounds like steering is hard."

"Not after you have had some experience. Tonight you want to sail due east, so you’ll want to keep Polaris centered on your port side."

Lucius let Malchus take the wheel and after he could see that the boy had grasped his instructions, he said, "I’m going aft to check on the setting of the sails. You’ll do fine here."

The captain’s eye regularly scanned the stars even while he was looking over his sails, so he could return to help Malchus if necessary. He knew that Malchus needed to be alone if his confidence in steering were to develop.

For nearly an hour Malchus steered the ship. As Polaris moved away from the center of the port side, he moved the wheel to bring it back. The cool night air and the joy of steering the ship combined to send tingles throughout his body. He thought, "Whoever created the earth, the sea, and the stars did a magnificent job."

A week had passed when the Seneca reached the western shores of Corsica. The ship’s heading was shifted to south. Staying in sight of land, the route carried the crew through the Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia. From here Captain Lucius charted a course east-northeast. The anchoring berth for Rome was 160 miles ahead.

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