If you’ve read any of my Roman novels, you know that at some point or another, my characters play latrunculi, an extremely Roman board game for two. It was a strategy game, where the aim was to capture the other player’s counters. In EAGLE’S HONOR: BANISHED, Marcus teaches Lia the game, and I imagined they would give the love for this game to future generations of their family. Indeed, I was reminded of my own grandmother, who was a keen player of board games and particularly loved Malefiz, which we often played together.
And so it wasn’t hard to imagine Lia playing latrunculi with her grandchildren. One of them you’ll meet in THE CENTURION’S CHOICE, which will come out next month (I hope). Actually, you might already met him, namely, if you’ve read EAGLE’S HONOR: RAVISHED. THE CENTURION’S CHOICE is the story of Caius Florius Corvus and his partner, Lucius Satrius (yes, this is going to be my very first m/m story) and is set during the Marcomannic Wars ten years before the events in EAGLE’S HONOR: RAVISHED.
Caius is the new centurion in one of the auxiliary cohorts stationed along the border formed by the river Danube. Lucius is his optio, his second-in-command – and they don’t really trust each other at the beginning. It takes a few false turns until their mistrust turns to friendships (and eventually to more). And latrunculi plays a special role for their growing friendship.
In the following snippet, they play for the very first time. I hope you’ll enjoy it! (It’s raw & still unedited.)
One evening in early summer after Lucius had delivered his daily report in the centurion’s tent and was just about to turn to go, Florius looked up and said casually, “Say, optio, do you play latrunculi?”
Lucius halted. “Certainly.” His mouth stretched into a grin. “Who doesn’t?”
The centurion’s brows went up. “Then let me rephrase that: Do you play it well?”
With a shrug, Lucius crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Well enough, I guess.”
His nonchalance earned him a scowl. “Quite sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Florius growled. “Do you fancy a game?”
And before he could change his mind, Lucius said, “Why not? Shall I fetch my counters?”
“And bring your cup. No use playing with a dry throat. I have some mulsum left that wants drinking.”
And so Lucius went and fetched his cup and his game counters and soon found himself sitting in the centurion’s tent, facing Florius over a battered leather gaming board on the stool between them.
“I hope you’re a good player, optio,” Florius said, filling Lucius’ cup.
“Do you mean to tell me I ought to be afraid?” Lucius inquired mildly, and didn’t quite manage to suppress a grin.
For a moment the centurion’s gaze appeared to rest on Lucius’ twitching lips, but then Florius’ eyes flicked up, and he raised his brows. “Very.” He gave Lucius the cup. “It’s only fair that I warn you.”
“Is it?” It was a bit of an effort to keep his voice steady and ignore the tingle at the base of his spine. Surely he had only imagined that look. And if he hadn’t…
Well, it didn’t mean anything.
And he would not dwell on how he had thought the Roman centurion quite fuckable at his first glance of him.
And—Gods!—that time in the baths…
Lucius quickly ducked his head and busied himself with sorting his gaming pieces. He had spotted them at a shop in the vicus of Cuccium several years ago and had not been able to resist the beauty of those sea-green glass pieces. The ordinari were slightly larger than the vagi, which had deep blue swirls run through them. The same kind of swirls ran through the body of the bellator, which rose proudly above all the other pieces.
“Of course, it’s only fair,” Florius said. “Everybody in my family is a fierce player.” And after a small pause, “My grandmother Lia taught me the game while I was a little lad.” The centurion spread his own pieces, all made of smooth polished black stone, with the ordinari bearing red markings. “She was an extraordinary woman,” Florius murmured, then gave himself a little shake before he looked up to meet Lucius’ gaze. “Shall we begin?”
“By all means.” It took a little effort to keep his voice light. What a strange man Florius was! Such a grumpy sod on the one hand, but on the other, a man who thought with obvious fondness of his grandmother.
The centurion raised his cup with wine. “Bene te—and may the better man win.”
They both drank and then threw a coin to determine who would be given the first move. Soon, they were deeply engrossed in their game, plotting and scheming to catch each other’s pieces. They were both well-matched, moving their pieces with similar skill and expertise.
“You think this is a wise move, optio? You’re leading your bellator into danger here.”
“Ahhh, you think it might be risky?” Lucius hid his grin behind his cup.
“It’s a damn foolish move, if you ask me.”
Lucius’ grin widened. “Och, don’t worry about me, centurion. I’m a big lad.”
The other man snorted.
And a few heartbeats later, “What…? Oh, damn you, optio, you sneaky bastard. You are good.”
Lucius just grinned and sipped his wine and continued to catch Florius’ pieces.
All of them.