"This is magnificent. The filthy vermin fail to meet us in battle. They send emissary, questioning my motives and my reasoning, but they do not come to fight. There is no reason to be afraid. Send the message I have given you." Crassus said, pushing the messenger out of the tent. He tried to appear dictatorial, an attempt to appear firm and in command, barking orders here and there. His men pay lip service to the old, wretchedly rich fool, who seeks to play general in the Syrian desert. The legions have made camp, just south of the great city of Edessa along the Balissus.
"You are most wise, my liege. The cowardly satrap Silaces has fled to Ctesiphon, leaving his cities to plunder. You have defeated an army of the foe, without so much as a scratch. There is no limit to what you can accomplish. Hail Crassus, mighty conqueror of Rome...FOR ROME!" Abgar II cheered. A guide of Arabic descent, hailing from Osroene, Abgar II had paid his way into the Roman camp, passing gifts among the legionnaires as he made his way to the command tent.
"What are your orders regarding garrisons?" Publius asked his father, impatient to wrap up the operational planning and begin the march towards the Parthian capital. Anxious to prove his worth to his emotionally-distant father, Publius had won great honors in Caesar's army but had failed to earn a full measure of his father's respect. His command of the the core of the cavalry force, comprised almost entirely of Gallic mercenaries, was his path to meeting the enormously high expectations Crassus had set for him.
"Leave a century at the smaller settlements, and garrison three at Ichnae. We can afford to lose no more than that. We have missed our opportunity last year for a decisive battle, and we shall not make the same mistake. We march east." Crassus said, as impetuous and eager for battle as his son.
His sub-commanders, Cassius and Octavius, voiced opposition, but their critiques were lost in a cloud of jubilation. Cassius wished to march north, through the territory of the allied Armenian kingdom, and across the mountain range to assault the Parthians from an unexpected direction. Octavius wished for a similar advance, but along the southern mountain ranges. Both men were ignored during the meeting, Crassus did not wish to hear a plan which did not involve direct assault upon the enemy.
Other sub-commanders were hesitant, but no one else dared speak their mind. They knew that advancing east meant a trek into an endless desert plain. The warning was clear on the horizon. A foolish few, like Crassus, wished for glory. They wished for the conquest of another great empire, as a means to expand Roman influence, and inflate Roman egos.
Abgar laughed wholeheartedly and appeared full of mirth, sharing wine and fine food with the guests. He also wished for the Romans to seek a decisive conflict. His employer had sent him with implicit instructions to goad Crassus to advance east, giving a false impression of weakness which the brash old man would latch upon. So far, everything was proceeding quite as planned.
Marius noticed the strange man at once upon entering the command tent. Smoking a long pipe, dressed in the finest linen, Abgar II appeared, at first, no different than the multitude of Arab traders Marius had encountered over his years. The man's manners were almost too impeccable, a fine imitation of correct form presented with intent to deceive. A gnawing sense of distrust bubbled up in Marius, but it could find no logical outlet with which to take shape.
Marius spit upon the ground, his hand drifting towards the hilt of the sword at his hip. His gladius had been with him as long as he had worn the chain and carried the shield for Rome. No matter how long a period of peace, the forged blade hummed with the energy of the lives it had taken. On the eve of battle, Marius could sense the surge in force that accompanied the clash of arms. A part of him sought to give in, to follow the directions which cold steel gave to him. In the midst of celebration, Marius found himself wishing he could run through the haughty merchant, for reasons unknown.
"Nebulo...spurcifer." Marius settled with muttering insults from across the the extravagant tent of Crassus Magnus.