I didn't ask to be a half-blood.
Funny. I didn't ask to be anything really. I just wanted to be me, to live, to make my parents proud, to serve my homeland and perhaps even grow old on a vineyard. I never wanted Titles or more names than I knew what to do with. Maybe that's why I was chosen. I just couldn't be like the others.
"He has your eyes, shame he's stuck looking like me though." Gaius Julius, the youngest son of Flavius Julius, smiled as he held his newborn son in his arms. "But the lungs on him…that cry…he will be a mighty warrior when he grows up."
The proud father looked to his exhausted lover. It was a difficult relationship to keep, let alone hide so well until now. While the Roman Republic was in its infancy, its true future still yet unclear, the brief wars fought decades prior against smaller Greek city-states in Sicily and southern Italy were still fresh in the older generation's minds. Gaius had grown up through the war, having been fortunate enough to meet his Melissa and not an untimely death in Sicily.
"He will be a modern Adonis…just without the ego." Melissa was a trader's daughter. Her father had plans to start a large business in Croton after the Romans had moved in and for a time all looked well but then the war started to pick up. Now things were different. She had fallen in love and had birthed a strong and healthy son. "Perseus."
"Hm? Perseus? Perseus…" Gaius tested the word, a smile forming on his face as he stared at the sea-green eyes "Yes…Perseus…like that hero of old? A strong name for him…all hail thee, Perseus Nero Julius!"
Melissa smiled faintly, resting against the bed as her lover held their son. The boy was destined for great things, she knew it in her bones that he would be the bridge between Roman and Greek alike. There was a faint knock at the door.
"Enter and be quick." Gaius shifted his son in his arms, a frown marring his face as he stared at the entryway as a messenger entered. "Speak."
The messenger looked pale, his eyes flicking from the Greek in the bed to the Roman Noble before him holding an infant to his chest. With a shaking hand he held out the scroll he had been tasked with delivering. "You…for you…my Lord."
Gaius took the scroll in his free hand, eyes scanning the parchment. His mouth felt dry, he licked his lips as he reread the writing. "This…you are absolutely certain this is true? If you dare try to deceive me not even Lord Pluto will get his hands on enough of you to punish when I am through with you!"
The messenger stepped back, looking as if he had been struck. "No sir, it is true! I swear by the twelve it is true!"
"It's over…peace…after so long we have peace." He smiled, turning his gaze to Melissa he caught himself "You…boy," he says it calmly, not taking his gaze off of his lover "You will speak of what you saw here to no one. You will keep it to yourself, do you understand?"
"Y-yes my Lord!"
Roman drill yards were a sight that for many young boys would be all they knew for years to come. Some till the day they died. Others until they rose to hold a seat in the senate or retired to the vineyards. In Rome, the barracks housing the militia was just the first stepping stone for all Sons of Rome. Be they peasant or noble.
"Again!" barked the Praefectus castrorum "You boys are nearly men, your lives about to begin in service to Rome!"
Perseus wiped the sweat from his brow as he readied himself. At age fifteen he stood tall in the face of his life's daunting future. His father and mother had raised him well. His father ensuring that his son would be a fighter to bring honor to the family of Julii. His mother however, made certain that her son knew just what the world was like and the people in it, not just the roman way of thinking of his forefathers.
The boys tensed. Training drills such as this were not uncommon. The cohort would thrive with this training. Day in and day out, from dawn till dusk, four hundred sons of Rome training in the yards.
The boys cried, various shouts and roars filling the yard as they rushed forward. This small detachment, roughly eighty of the boys, charged the older and more experienced Principes. Forty of the older soldiers held the boys back. Training required they break the bad habits of fighting like feral beasts and adapt to fight as civilized men, as Romans. Where the others would flail and fall, forced to yield or be crippled. Perseus excelled. The boy was not strong enough to outmatch the more experienced soldiers, but he was fast enough on his own two feet as to outmaneuver them and outlast them. He fought smart, not well, as his father had taught him.
"Boy has talent," the Prefect muttered to himself as he watched the young Julii boy roll under a gladius swing "Might just survive the first battle of his life with a bit more than his comrades."
Perseus parried a few swings, dodging around an attempted shield bash aimed for his face. The boy was good. But not good enough. He stumbled back, falling over one of the boys that had been knocked down rather roughly by their sparring partner.
"Better…but only a little." The Prefect conceded "Lord Pluto cares little for who he receives in death, let that be a lesson for you all. You have one year yet to make yourselves into proper Roman soldiers, may Mars be merciful if you shirk your duties here."
Perseus groaned as he sat up "Yes sir," he mutters alongside the others. The son of Gaius was the only one to take to training like a fish to water. The others only complained about their pampered lives being upended; sons of lesser families but none the less prominent. None like his own, none like the House of Julii.
In Rome, three families reigned above the rest. The bulk of the Republics military might fell to these three families to ensure her borders were protected. The Brutii, casting their colors in green and white, defending the southern borders and being the overthrowers of the Etruscan Kings. The Scipii, clad in blue and white, the chosen family of Neptune, the sharpest sailors in Rome and the guardians of her seas. Then there was the Julii, Romes protectors in the North who stood on the Frontier and held back the barbarian hordes clad in their red and black, the chosen of Lord Jupiter. Each family held respect and commanded a portion of the Roman population for their own armies. And over the years, the three were the true backbone of Roman order.
Flavius Julius, the old man at the head of the family, grandfather to Perseus, his siblings, and his cousins, was the oldest head of any family. Eighty-two years he had lived, through war and upheaval. He was the families pillar, and he was the one that they all feared and respected. Perseus frowned as he snuck into the temple of Vesta. He loved his family, his grandfather too…but even he could not help but harbor some hatred in his heart for them.
As he knelt down in the shadows of the temple behind a pillar to pray he thought back to when he was just seven summers old. He was not accepted by the family immediately. His mixed heritage had condemned him to scrutiny that his young half-siblings would not know. Being only half-roman made him into a martyr. His father did everything he could, teaching him to be a fighter, to be a statesman, to walk and talk like the other romans did. It helped him to be Roman, but it didn't hide the scars of his Greek mother and her influence. His mother. How his heart ached at the thought of her. Flavius had argued with Gaius one night, Perseus didn't remember what it was about but all he knew was that the next day his mother was gone. Since then the family had been more tolerant of him but his father was almost too caring. It…it choked him at times to be so loved.
"Lady Vesta…Goddess of the Hearth, the home, the family…I am not one of your Vestal Virgins or a Priest of your temple…but as the son of Rome, and of Greece…I beg thee…give me the strength to protect my family." Perseus bowed his head, ears twitching slightly as he heard the temple doors open. The boy moved through the shadows, keeping out of sight till he slipped out the way he came in through a window.
Life in Rome was privileged for the wealthy. For the Roman.
Life in Rome was harsh for the poor, the impoverished. The Half-Blood.
Perseus rolled out of the way of an enraged Elephant.
All around he could hear the clashing of metal, the screaming of men, the crunching of bone, and the call of Elephants. This wasn't just a war. This was a slaughter.
"Should've listened to father and kept my mouth shut," he grit his teeth, drawing his gladius as Iberian infantry rushed him. With a warcry of his own he struck. Parrying the first swing he crouched and drove his blade into the next attackers chest. Perseus heard the first one coming back. He pulled his blade free of the corpse and turned, awe struck as the approaching body dropped with a javelin sticking out of its back. "I had him…"
"Of course you did," a roman soldier wearing a wolf pelt shook his head as he retrieved his javelin "But then you would be dead alongside him."
"Good to see you too, Publius."
Publius was a Velite, the light infantry, the expendable fodder of the army. Perseus took on few friends over his years of service. Fewer still remained alive through the skirmishes and now open warfare they found themselves in.
"Where is General Scipio? We shouldn't be out in the open like this…we are getting slaughtered," Perseus growled, cutting down another attacker.
"Not sure…messengers are useless in all of this…think Hannibal might just have outsmarted old Cornelius," Publius ducked, Perseus swung. The Iberian's head landed five feet away from his body "Nice swing."
"No love for your namesake?"
"You know my mother only did that because she hoped I would be like him, probably thinks I'll be better, who knows?"
Perseus next words were cut off by the sound of a war horn. Two blasts of the horn. Retreat. He felt Publius' hand on his shoulder, tugging him back as the Roman Army slowly began to trickle back. Defeat. Inconceivable. Impossible.
"Perseus! Come on, we have to go, now!"
Snapped out of his stupor, Perseus could hear the sound of thunder in the distance. Before turning to run back for the river he could see the approaching cloud of dust that was the Carthaginian cavalry. The two romans broke into a sprint. The river was closer for them than it was for the poor souls behind them. He could hear their anguished cries as they were cut down, run through, trampled, by the horsemen.
"Just like old times, huh Publius?"
"Less talking, more running please!" Publius dropped his javelins, strapping his shield to his belt he started to overtake Perseus. "Drop what you don't need and try not to trip!"
Perseus shook his head, tossing his helmet and cutting the straps of his armor. He could see the waters edge now, twenty feet away…the horses were likely fifteen…maybe twenty feet themselves…behind them. The final straps came loose on their own, Perseus pulled his armor off, tossing it over his shoulder. He was aware, faintly, of someone calling his name. He felt a rush go through him as he hit the water. The muffled sounds of the horses on the bank, the angry Carthaginians shouting at the retreating Romans. As he came back up for air he heard something in the water. Javelins. A single javelin came down before him, piercing into the muddy bed of the river.
"Publius!" he called, frantically searching the river as he kept swimming to the other side "Publius!"
Perseus dragged his body onto the shore, drenched and out of breath he turned back to watch as the Carthaginians slowly began to trot back to their camp. He felt tired. Staring off as he watched the enemies backs slowly dwindle in the distance. It was like this that he was found by a small search party. The Centurion in charge had to slap him before he came to his senses. When he returned to camp that night he learned just how much they had lost in that battle. General Scipio had been wounded, his own son dragging him back to camp and signaling the withdraw order. Publius had survived with a minor wound in his leg from a javelin. A gift from Mars he called it, something to get the Priestesses of Venus to admire next time he went to the temple.
That was all that Perseus could think about that night. In the cold air of the night, he was awoken by another Hastati in his cohort. The camp was being packed up. Soldiers grabbing gear, weapons, armor, tents, everything minus the bodies of their fallen brothers.
"Orders from the general, grab what you can carry, we are to be gone by morning."
Perseus gave a curt nod as the man wandered off. First a retreat across the river, now a retreat in the dead of night. "Damn Scipii, Admirals and Traders best but Generals and Soldiers second!" he strapped his gladius to his belt, lightly kicking Publius into action "Up! We have to pack up, Scipio wants us gone before dawn."
"No rest for the wicked…think he'll let us rest up in a temple then?"
"This isn't the time for your dreams of women and drink Publius."
"When is it a good time then?" he challenged as he strapped his shield to his arm "We have been fighting nonstop for a few months now, this war is no where close to a victory for us…next thing you know they will say that Rome itself is being sacked. We are twenty-three summers each Perseus…you are on the brink of being promoted to the Principes and I…I am destined to be just a Velite. Expendable."
"Not to me," Perseus held a steely gaze on his friend "And when we get out of this, when we are back in Rome and can rest I will personally drag you to the temple of Venus and you can show off all of your battle scars to the priestesses there. I swear it."
Publius gave a faint smile as he stood up "Alright then…lets go, all we need is our gear and we are good to go."
Perseus nods, putting his shield on his back "Come on, most of the men are already on the move with the general…might be a bit too far ahead for us to catch up."
"Try to keep up, Hastati."
The two stuck together in the march. The night covering their retreat, the two were cloaked in darkness as they caught up to the rearguard of the main force. Perseus dragged Publius along through the rearguard towards the front of the march. Publius injury, though minor in nature, gave him a slight limp. Something that they both knew would result in his death if not both of theirs.
"Come on Publius, you getting tired?" Perseus teases with a smile as they push through the rearguard. Their Roman brothers pushed and shoved the pair as they made their way through the ranks.
Publius shook his head. "Hardly," he started to move ahead of Perseus. There was a shout from behind. Panic. Confusion. "Perseus…hope you don't mind running again."
"Lord Mercury better be glad we don't take his job," Perseus jests, slinging one of Publius arms around his neck, the Hastati helps his Velite friend forward. "Not leaving you to those Carthaginians. You hear me?"
"Loud and clear my friend."
The sounds of men fighting behind them began to grow. The pair hobbled their way forward int eh dark, Publius wincing with each whizzing sound he could hear followed by a pained groan and a dull thud. Arrows. Archers. Even in the dead of night they were hitting their targets. There was also the sound of lighter thunks, smaller objects in greater numbers hitting wood and dirt and rock around them. Slingers.
"Not looking too good for us…think they finally have us?"
Perseus shook his head. He could feel projectiles bouncing off of his shield as they ran. "No. I have no intention of meeting Lord Pluto tonight…do you?"
"Never." His friend agreed "Not until the handmaidens of Venus see me that is."
"Handmaidens now? What happened to the priestesses?"
"Have to move up to something better, now that we will survive the mighty Hannibal Barca twice!"
Perseus laughed. The main force was just up ahead now, the sound of fighting was beginning to die down. Perhaps they were too far ahead to be pursued. There was a strangled gasp beside him.
Or perhaps…they were just left to the ones who could reach them.
Publius started to drag Perseus down into the dirt, a javelin in his back. "Lucky…shot."
Perseus did what all Romans did best. He buried his emotions in the moment, pulled the javelin free, let his shield fall to the ground and threw Publius over his shoulder.
"Leave me…you must…go!"
"Not without you," he said with a determined glint in his eye "Scipio is just up ahead, the general…he may be wounded like you but he will be our best bet of getting back to Rome. Now you are going to shut up…and we are going to live!"
Publius coughed, a dry laugh, as his body bounced slightly on his friends shoulders. With a glance back he saw the same sight that Perseus had: Carthage turning their backs on retreating Romans. But there was something else there too.
"Not now," he growled back.
"I'm sorry…I should have…brought a bigger shield."
Perseus nearly stumbled as he heard that "What are you going on about?"
Perseus knelt in the temple of Vesta. Head bowed before the hearth, his helmet resting on the floor beside him. Five days since Publius funeral pyre was lit. Seven days since the battle…the loss…and still they had done nothing to push Hannibal out of their lands. Winter was upon them now. Snow would slow any advance, he knew this, but with Hannibal pushing further south with every day…it just seemed hopeless.
"I failed." He said quietly "I could not protect him from the Carthaginians…from their barbarian allies…I failed Publius, failed the Junia family, failed Rome…but more so I failed my own family. I cannot go back to my family like this…I must get back to the battlefield…but I pray to thee Lady Vesta, protect my family if I am unable to."
Perseus stood, bowing his head once more to the statue of Vesta, the newly promoted Principes turned on his heel. His gear had been replaced. A sturdier set of armor, a stronger gladius and shield. People knew he was a veteran of the army now, but all respect would dwindle when his heritage was made clear. His Roman features shone through but the secret of his heritage, his eyes, his complexion would give him away.
"Hail noble master," a withered voice spoke just as he reached the door to the temple. "Greetings young lord, I bring a message for you."
"For me?" Perseus questioned "You know to whom you speak, yes?"
"Aye, a son of the House of Julii, the young Principes who carried his comrade on his back to Rome for a funeral. The man who survived the might of Hannibal Barca twice. Quite the feat."
"Who are you to know all of this and track me down?"
The man was old. Hair turned white with age. He pulled a silver coin out of his toga and tossed it to Perseus. "I am but a messenger of the Gods. Bring that coin to the temple of Jupiter tonight if you wish to be all that Rome needs."
"A coin?" he turned it over in his hand. On one side the eagle, the symbol of Lord Jupiter, and on the other "What is this?"
The man was gone.
On the other side of the coin was a hearth. The Temple of Jupiter was supposedly a Grand Temple, designed to show Rome's full support to the King of Olympus. Perseus knew it well. His grandfather prayed at that temple every day, his uncle Augustus did so only on an election day in the senate. It was the most important to the Julii, but it was also the most sacred to all Romans. Entry at night into any temple was not illegal however it was frowned upon. Priests and Priestesses lived on the temple grounds, always welcoming of those looking for guidance from the gods but not often ones to allow entry with no reason for it.
Gaius' teachings would have Perseus go home, rest up, and go to the barracks in the morning to find a place with any legion being raised to fight Hannibal. But Perseus was far too Greek for that. Keeping the coin trapped in his fist, Perseus entered the Temple of Jupiter. He was struck by the number of people inside at this time of night. Twenty-four other men stood shoulder to shoulder, a few throwing cold looks his way as he joined the group of them. He recognized none of the men there. No other sons of the Julii, none of the aristocrats from the Scipii or the Brutii. Lesser families were likely among them all but from what Perseus could see they were all from the army, Principes and Triarii alike. All of them veterans, all of them with a reason to want power.
The High Priest entered the chamber, the men seemed to tense as he approached the center of their gathering. "Greetings. You are all here, answering the call of our Lord Jupiter, to serve Rome in a way that the regular forces cannot aid you. Each of you holds in your hands that which dignifies you, marks you to be he who stands above the rest. I welcome you all to join in service to Jupiter as his blades, Arcani."
"What is an Arcani?"
"Are we sure he isn't a priest of Bacchus?"
Perseus could hear their ramblings. Their concerns were logical but with how the priest smiled they were not unexpected.
"You have doubts. Understandable, but if you are true romans then you will trust in our Lord." He said almost graciously, gesturing to the statue of Jupiter at the back of the temple "If you truly wish to serve Rome, to serve Lord Jupiter, then pray at his feet and take your first step as Arcani."
Perseus watched the group slowly trickle forward. One at a time. One son and one father kneeling before the king of Olympus, praying to his statue. For what? He did not know nor care to ask. When it was his time to pray Perseus turned the coin over in his hand again. Jupiter was his family's patron, the god to which they were most loyal. But not to him.
"I pray to thee," he says, placing the coin down before him with the hearth side facing up. Bowing his head, he continues "Lady Vesta I ask again that you protect my family if I am unable to. I kneel before the statue of Lord Jupiter, seeking the strength to protect my family…but I ask you, Goddess of the Hearth, known to my fathers family as Lady Vesta…to my mothers as Lady Hestia…see me through this if you can, and I will protect them till my last breath."
As he rose, the coin in his hand, the priest nodded his head. All twenty-five prayed at the foot of the statue, all twenty-five far as he knew had pledged loyalty to Jupiter till their dying breaths.
"Good, very good," he says with a short laugh "I know you all wish to fight Carthage now, to avenge your fallen brothers and to bring glory to Rome…but for now you all need training to be true Arcani, you must fight, you must run, you must be more than you were before. You will all be ready to strike down Hannibal Barca when we are done."
Times were changing. For Publius, for his family, for Rome, and for his mother. Perseus would not fail. He would be victorious.
AN: Alright, first real project that wasn't for friends or papers. So yeah…this is a thing, not sure just how 'bloody' it will get or how violent so the T rating is going to stick unless I get either enough complaints to raise it to M or some pretty persuasive arguments, again idk what is in store far as detail later on. After reading so many fics that are Percy being born in ancient times, the son of two gods or a different god. It's great for variety and it works so well to go that far back and explore the history and mythos…but then I realized that I had yet to find one where he is just a mortal…or at the very least, not a demigod/godling. A regular guy would leave the story open to a lot of different routes without it being 'expected'. Now for the history buffs; I do know my history, and the fun part of ancient history is that our records are not 100% complete so I can twist and bend details as I see fit. If you are wondering about the Punic war, the battle described, at the end of it anyway, was one of the earlier engagements. And the last one Scipio fought before being replaced, the night retreat also happened and resulted in 600 of the rearguard being captured or killed. If you liked Publius….oh well, he dead-dead though with how the modern times plays out he might come back if I don't pull a Toriyama and forget he exists. On a final note, his youth wont be explored in an update to this chapter if any is posted, however it will likely come up in the future and yes there are plans for that.