Alas, I ultimately decided to take the story in a completely different direction, and that's why I'm sharing it now. I happen to know that this particular piece isn't going anywhere.
“They’re moving into position, Naomi.”
She looked up. Tiberius stood in the doorway to her command tent looking concerned. He held his helmet under his arm, but his shield was already set in place on his arm, and once he set his helmet and drew his gladius, he would be ready for battle.
“How long?” she asked.
“Half an hour? Maybe more, if the gods look upon us with favor.”
“Do the gods ever look upon us with favor, Tiberius?”
Naomi turned away from her battle plans and crossed the tent, setting her hand on his cheek. She closed her eyes and took a breath. In that moment she was not his commander, not Legate to the Fourth Cohort, Eleventh Legion of the Red Lord. She was simply a woman taking comfort in the steadying presence of the gentle man she was lucky enough to call husband.
“It was not the gods who brought you my favor,” she said.
He covered her hand with his own. “So you always say,” he replied, “but it was none of my doing, I assure you. I am merely a simple centurion, though a lucky one.”
“There is nothing simple about you.” She opened her eyes. “But sadly, the trowe must be taught your worth with steel.”
He backed away. The mask of tenderness fell from his face. “Your orders, Legate?”
“Deploy the men in square and have them sit in place and relax. There will be time for standing once the trowe begin their advance.”
“Aye, ma’am. And you?”
“I will be down shortly. There is one more thing I have to do.”
Tiberius saluted and was gone. Naomi stared at the empty space where he had been, wishing that she could spirit him away from the coming battle. But he would never forgive such a blatant abuse of her position, especially when it was done to shield him from danger. Her magic could split the heavens and call down the very bolts of Jupiter, but she would never be able to overcome the power of her husband’s pride. She sighed, but there was nothing for it. She had known him to be a legionnaire from the first day they’d met.
If he can manage his worry for me, then I must do the same, she thought.
It was easier said than done.
Unfortunately, there was still work to be done and little time in which to do it. Naomi sighed again, but she knew that her course was the right one. In truth, it was not so much choice as necessity. The trowe had come in their thousands, and she had only the men of her cohort to meet them—slightly less than five hundred men. Principus Maximus Vera had promised reinforcements, but his promises meant little in the face one a trowe assault, and if Naomi thought that her forces might hold, she knew well that in war there were no guarantees.
She walked to the back of her tent and out into the night. It had been cloudy and overcast for much of the day, and neither moon nor stars were visible now. The clouds were backlit, though, leaving enough ambient light by which to see. A misty rain fell, making things damp, and since sunset, a low fog had rolled in. Naomi could see the lights of her cohort’s torches spread across the hillside below where her soldiers had set her command tent, but the trowe carried no torches—and needed none.
Naomi drew her athame and used the blade to slice open the skin on her left palm. That palm was scarred from the many times it had been slit in the name of Naomi’s magic, but those scars offered little resistance to her blade. Blood welled, and Naomi resheathed her blade. She drew forth the Stone. It glowed red against the night’s mist, a reflection of the blood that pooled in Naomi’s hand. She took the stone in her left hand and felt its magic as it mixed with her blood. It was a heady sensation, and for a moment, Naomi forgot herself. The pain of her wound brought her back, though, and she raised her hand, willing the magic to draw forth the Mists.
“Hear me,” she said.
The Mists heard. They billowed up from the ground and wreathed her in grey, growing still. The sounds of her men disappeared with the pinpricks of the torches until all was grey. A moment passed, and Naomi was no longer standing on the hill.
She was Elsewhere.
A voice spoke from the darkness. “I have heard your call, Daughter of Ishtar.”
“The trowe cannot be allowed to possess the Stone,” Naomi replied.
“The Children of Hecate know much of the magic of the Mists,” the voice said. “To hide the Stone from their eyes will require great sacrifice.”
“I will pay what I must.”
“A foolish offer. You have not even heard the price.”
“Do we have a bargain or no?” Naomi said.
The voice hissed, but it sounded pleased. “Very well. Know this, Daughter of Ishtar—once you relinquish the power of the Stone, never again will you be its master. I will hide the Stone, but I will not return it.”
Naomi swallowed. “I will take that which I need.”
The voice chuckled. “Emperor Priam will be pleased to get the Stone, I think.”
“He cannot wield it.”
“Perhaps not. But Darius can, and Priam knows it. He will be delight in having the Stone of Kings once more in the hands of the royal line.”
“No,” Naomi replied. “Darius is a monster, and if ever he sits upon the Throne Imperial, our Empire is doomed. You will give the Stone to my son. Hector will know what to do with it.”
“Impossible. Your son is an infant.”
“Our bargain is made, Mistwalker. You will hold the Stone until Hector calls for it, and only then will you see it safely into his hands.”
The creature in the Mist hissed, and this time it was angry. “This was not what you requested!”
Naomi smiled grimly. “If you’ve made a bad bargain, do not blame it on me.”
“Very well. Give us the Stone, and we will do as you ask. But know this, Naomi. You will play.”
Naomi shuddered, but the choice was made. She inhaled deeply, drawing the power of the Stone into herself until she felt almost ready to burst. The power filled her until it hurt, until she felt almost as if she would catch fire. This was dangerous, but what choice did she have? The trowe were coming, and her husband needed her if he was to survive.
Hector needed her.