"I stole the horse."

Centurion Quintus paused his rant. The scrawny little girl that had addressed him stood as straight as the back pole of his tent, against the goat skin canvas that was still moving after she had pushed it aside. That she had managed to slip in unnoticed while he faced the entrance of his tent was quite unnerving. He was getting older.

"You stole the horse." Quintus repeated. He narrowed his eyes at the soldier in front of him.

Marcus was not so stupid he turned round, but he craned his neck in an attempt to look behind him.

A simple nod from Phyllis confirmed her earlier statement. "Marcus and Biancus prevented me from being caught."

Quintus stepped forward until he reached Marcus, flicking the young man's forehead in the process.

"That makes a lot more sense, now doesn't it," he grumbled.

Marcus obviously knew better than to comment.

Quintus turned to Phyllis, studying the tiny eleven year old before he spoke. Safe for the tangled braid of black hair, she could have been mistaken for a nine year old boy. Her knees were scraped raw and bleeding. Her simple green tunic looked dishevelled as well. It indicated a narrow escape. He had thought this would become an easy mission, but apparently it was a challenge keeping even one student of Mesmer alive. He fiercely hoped they wouldn't all be like this one.

"Just out of curiosity, what is a parents' punishment for stealing a horse?" he asked, placing a hand on Marcus's left shoulder. He wasn't done with the boy yet. He was relieved he would be able to lighten the initial punishment though. As a Centurion, he had no choice but to be firm. But he took no pleasure in being cruel.

"I have to bring her back. And I can forget about leaving camp for a while," Phyllis murmured.

"You were not supposed to leave camp in the first place! Ever! Now, out!" Quintus pointed her out with a wide gesture of his arm, resisting the urge to run a hand over his face in frustration. It was completely ridiculous for a Roman Centuria to travel with civilians. He would never have allowed it if it hadn't been imposed upon him.

Phyllis turned on her heels, and Quintus redirected his attention to his new recruit. Who looked strangely relieved.

"Marcus?"

Phyllis's head had appeared again, the rest of her lithe form hidden behind the canvas, so that technically, she was still out of the tent, obeying Quintus's order.

This time Marcus did turn. Quintus was all but forgotten.

"Thanks." After that, Phyllis vanished fast enough not to get yelled at again.

Marcus's dark eyes lit up in surprise and the corners of his mouth lifted before he turned back towards his Centurion. Quintus realized that he soon would have more to worry about than stolen foals. He had daughters of his own, and he knew every single one of them would get wobbly knees from that smile.

It needed to go.

"You are a good liar, Marcus, I'll give you that. A word of advice though: next time you want me to believe you stole a horse, make sure it reaches past your hip."

Marcus closed his eyes for a moment, realizing why Quintus had given him such a hard time falling for the bait: "You saw it."

Despite himself, he snickered a little. Maybe getting caught was good thing. Quintus would have to have thought he was mental, stealing a foal barely eight months old.

"Luckily for you I did, or I wouldn't even have wasted time questioning you. Parents are lenient. I am not. You would not have gotten away with having to bring the silly animal back."

Marcus' smile faltered. "I know."

He would not have had to bring the horse back. That was the point. Roman armies could claim necessary supplies. But if Quintus considered the act a theft….the punishment for that crime was likely to be the last one you ever received.

"Silent! She just saved your back some permanent damage, I can tell you that."

Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but Quintus imagined he saw the boy shiver just a touch.

"Tomorrow's travel equipment will include the tent for you. Now get out of my sight, before I get creative."

Marcus turned at once. They had only just left Massilia, in full summer. Which meant it was scorching hot two hours before noon. Their own equipment being quite heavy already, it was a relief to have mules for the tents. Tomorrow would not be pleasant. Still, he sighed in relief.

"That ridiculous curly hair thing you have going….it is gone by tomorrow. Or you'll find yourself carrying the tent for a week."

Marcus groaned as he stepped outside. He made a mental note to himself that Quintus needed less than two seconds to become creative.

I am developing my very first Original Story!

My main story, 'Cornelis' takes place in Roman Gaul under the Pax Romana, in 3 A.D under the late rule of Emperor Augustus. It can also be found on Fictionpress

'Mesmer' actually takes place before 'Cornelis', and starts 5 years earlier. Both can be read at the same time. I am writing them simultaneously.

And though my setting is historical, I believe the main focus of the story is on friendship and romance.

I have been writing about my main characters for years, and have sometimes included them in fanfiction. But in an Original Story, where the entire world and ALL characters need to be introduced, I felt like going back to the early years for them was a good idea.

I am especially curious about how the characterization, and the historical elements come across. Also I should point out that I am not a native English speaker (Dutch is my native tongue). Weird expressions will occur from time to time. Please tell me when they do!

The cover image is from Phyllis, drawn by Zeragii! ( my eternal thanks for that!)