Chapter III

The evening arrived along with another message. Eucher dismissed the tribune and tossed the newly delivered scroll to the couch. “Another order.”

“Will you ignore this one, too?” asked Gallus.

“What am I to do? Now that Arcadius is dead, the East is open for the taking, and Father wants it back. In this age of new wars and new men, he knows only the old.”

Rome was still one empire by custom. After Theodosius died, his sons divided the world. The West, from Pannonia to Spain, belonged to Honorius, who ruled from Ravenna. The Greek-speaking East from Dacia to the Orient belonged to Arcadius until his recent death, leaving his seven-year-old son on the throne in Constantinople.

Despite that barbarians were in Gaul and that a usurper had taken Britain, Stilicho was preparing to go to Constantinople where a boy sat on the throne. It was a task Eucher wanted no part of. He had no enthusiasm for returning half the world to Honorius.

“When the barbarian Radagaesus butchered his way into Italy three years ago, we had to bribe slaves to enlist in the army because there were too few men.” Eucher seethed. “And still, we won only by allying more Germans. Four years before that, my father chased Alaric into the province of Illyricum. At the moment of our victory, the eastern empire made Alaric general of the their damn army! They gave him command of the province he was already ravaging, and declared my father a ‘public enemy.’ Ah…but Greeks are easy prey to superstitions and tyrants; isn’t that so, little Gallus?” After a pause for thought, Eucher added with a cynical laugh, “Perhaps they aren’t such fools. They know Romans, don’t they? In the end, the Greeks of Constantinople chose to be at the mercy of their savage German neighbors rather than their Roman brothers.”

“Your father is a man of principle. The East has nothing to fear from him.”

Eucher frowned. “Yes, Father is a man of principle. Among his most important principles is that the world should be as his beloved Theodosius left it. Like Theodosius, he will claim the East and not care about a civil war. He doesn’t care that Rome can’t hold the eastern provinces against the Germans, the Persians, or probably even against the machinations of Constantinople’s eunuchs. Nor does it matter that Theodosius’s own son doesn’t want it. Nor does it matter that the Senate doesn’t want it. Nor does the cost in soldiers or gold or security concern him. His choices are those of a dying man: he clings to the familiar things.”

“Then you’re concerned that an expedition will take you east and leave Consistory unwatched.”

Eucher smiled at Gallus’s insight. “Yes. Father dismisses gossip as the preoccupation of eunuchs and women. He doesn’t see that envy floats around us like Eris at the wedding banquet. Some judgment will spring from our enemies so compelling or so convenient that one day Honorius will act.”

“Perhaps it will be best if you’re far from Rome when it does.”

Eucher held his frown as he studied Gallus’s thoughtful eyes. Gallus was sincere in his concern, which disturbed Eucher. It was insulting to receive pity from a slave.

“What do you know?” snapped Eucher. “No. I’ll not be trapped in some lice-infested army camp. I’ve been ordered to the army camp at Bononia. Honorius will be in Pavia with the Roman infantry, while Father is at Bononia commanding the mounted German auxiliaries. The division of troops is reckless. The choice of commanders, more so. The infantry envies the cavalry by design, and with most of the cavalry German, the separation will only inflame them. Honorius has never commanded the movements of anything more dangerous than his pet pigeons, so his hold on the men will be precarious.”

What seemed a dangerous decision was also a familiar tactic to Stilicho’s son: Stilicho had always played favorites with those he commanded, as he did with those he loved.

“Then you’ll do nothing?” wondered Gallus.

Eucher laughed. “Oh, I’ll do something. I’ll be attending a sumptuous dinner given by Consul Bassus.”