In quiet moments, Duro was unable to escape their accusatory eyes - Auda and Berhta and Warin, their dead eyes looking upon him with contempt and with questions Duro would never be able to answer.
Why are we dead? Why do you yet live? What right do you have to the beating of your heart when ours have been long-since silenced?
Brando and Adalwin were there, too, though their gazes held the added horror of disappointment, sharp and painful.
Why did you not save them, his brothers asked. What sort of a man allows girls to be slaughtered? A child to be struck down? You were tasked with getting them to safety, why did you fail?
While enslaved, Duro had no quiet moments, save for hours which were meant for sleeping off harsh treatment. Rarely would his body succumb to exhaustion before the ghosts of his siblings could pay him visit, offering Duro torment well-earned that afternoon the Romans attacked and he proved himself less than a man. Though it hurt to see them, he would not begrudge the dead their anger, and so he accepted all they would give him.
On the ship, Duro had been certain that reunion with his family was imminent. He knew he was destined for the mines, the slaver and his men never wasting opportunity to tell him so. No one had need of a slave half-mad, especially not one who would gladly take his new Dominus with him when mind finally left him completely. Duro could do it, too - of that he was certain. Though he had failed to protect those most in need of it, though he had spent part of his captivity being beaten for sport by the Romans before being relegated to hard labour around the encampments, not all of Duro's skills had fled him. It would be nothing to slit a Roman's throat before he was cut down and sent to the afterlife.
He did not believe that one more Roman life could possibly be enough to balance the scales between himself and his siblings, but he had a small measure of hope that the blood might temper some of the anger they held toward him. And if it didn't, Duro would take what was owed him as a man should - unflinchingly and without fear.
"Apologies," a quiet voice said, interrupting Duro's dark thoughts. He looked up to see a young woman standing near him, a cracked jug held out in offering. "Water. With this heat, I would not have you thirsting."
Duro just stared at her, uncomprehending of why she would feel the need to bring him water when he had expressed neither need nor desire for such a thing. He could not recall her name and knew there was no attachment between them.
"Agron would be much grieved should you expire due to a parched tongue," the woman continued, an uncertain smile on her face as Duro continued to look at her.
Ah, yes. Agron.
His brother was a respected man here, as he had been back in their village. It was different, however - a respect borne of a strong sword arm and a wealth of courage rather than a willingness to help with the harvest, beyond what was actually required of him.
"Gratitude, but I have no need of it," Duro said.
Her face fell at the rejection of her offering, though she quickly hid her reaction behind a mask of indifference. There was strength in her, Duro could see it clear as day. A fierceness in her blood, one which was no doubt invaluable among the company she kept. A company of fools, but company nonetheless.
Two days now, Duro had spent watching as men trained in the temple courtyard. Young, old, so very different yet so much the same - all men who had no business taking up sword. Former house slaves without strength, men with hopes and dreams bigger than skill possessed. They would go into battle, and their inexperience would get people killed. Duro himself stood testament to the fact that all the training in the world would not guarantee victory. His village had been peaceful, though a father who fought in two wars before finding himself settled with wife and children had made sure that his sons would be ready to defend themselves and their land from whatever threat loomed in uncertain future.
His father. Yet another person to whom Duro must one day give apologies.
"I shall leave it here regardless," the woman said firmly, setting the jug down next to the wall Duro sat propped against. "Thirst will surely find you in future, if it has not already." She would not be denied, so Duro did not repeat his earlier dismissal of her offering.
Mira, he thought her name was. He vaguely remembered having been introduced to her when their party returned to the temple. There had been so many names, far too many for anyone to remember, let alone a man so overwhelmed as he. There were other names he had forgotten, though a few managed to grab hold. Spartacus was their leader. Crixus, the Gaul. Nasir, the dark-haired Syrian rarely far from Agron's side when other tasks did not occupy them elsewhere.
“And will Nasir be in agreement?”
The Thracian's words from that first night came back to Duro, a subtle jab at suspected wrongdoing. Agron's reaction was surprising - he had never been one to simply accept a scolding with a smile, not when the scolding was for a deed not committed. Perhaps the shock of finding Duro alive, if not whole and hale, had temporarily addled his older brother. More than likely, it was that the absurdity of Agron doing wrong to Nasir was so fantastic that it required no other reaction than laughter.
If the embrace with which Agron was welcomed back had not been clue to the attachment between them, the fact that his gaze constantly searched Nasir's out would have explained all. And then there was the casual affection - hands upon faces, smiles shared in quiet moments, the way the presence of others was often ignored all spoke to how besotted they were with one another. Nasir was a man held in high regard, a man who owned Agron's heart, which was plain to see. What Duro did not understand, however, was how such a man could have so little knowledge of the one he professed to love.
The onus, of course, was on Agron to act as storyteller, to make mention of past triumph and heartbreak and share parts of himself with lover that others of acquaintance were not due. That was the very meaning of love, Duro was certain of it even if he had yet to experience the feeling himself. The fact that Nasir knew not who Duro was, nor who were Adalwin, Brando, Warin, Berhta, and Auda, was troubling. It felt far too much like an erasure of history, and while Duro knew that the information was his brother's to dole out at his choosing, it was easier to place blame on Nasir for not having cared enough to pry details from beloved's lips.
"Are you making friends, brother?" Agron asked as he approached. His skin was streaked with sweat and dirt, the product of a hard day's training. He took the jug of water and drank deeply before offering it back to Duro.
It was then that Duro realized that Mira was gone, that she had most likely walked off while he was lost in thought. Even now, she was probably telling Spartacus of his unfriendly nature. It mattered not; he did not require anyone's good opinion, except perhaps that of his brother.
"There are none that I need," Duro replied, once it became apparent that what had begun as jest had turned into a question to which an answer was required.
"Duro, this is not an easy life. We must come together; else the Romans will not be the only thing to see us fall."
The words startled a laugh out of Duro.
"As you have come together with the Gauls?" he asked.
"There is no need for great love between us all," Agron said with an unhappy expression, though whether it was due to the reminder of the Gauls in their midst or Duro's laughter at his expense, he did not know.
"And what of those for whom there is great love?" Duro asked. "What suggestions have you for living with them?"
"I understand not your meaning," Agron said.
"How should I come together with them, Agron? Is it enough to share meals with them? To toil alongside them? To dream of killing Romans with them at my side?"
"Speak plainly, Duro," Agron demanded. "You're angry and I would know why."
Angry. The thought made Duro laugh. He was far more than angry – feelings of betrayal clawed at him, mocking him. Here is the brother who claims to love you, but who has hidden all evidence of you from those who should rightly know.
"Should I let them truly see me? Much can be said of a man’s heart – in word and in deed, as well as in the lack of such things.”
Duro had not meant to reveal so much. He would not be known as petulant child, fussing over things which should hold no meaning. Still, he was unable to shake the memory of his time under Roman rule. Much of it was spent carrying out penance well-earned, but occasionally his mind would wander to impossible thoughts of reunion in this life. Not one of those fantasies had ever included beloved brother continuing on as though none of the others had been figures of note, held in high regard.
A look of realization dawned on Agron’s face, one comprised of disbelief, and anger in equal measure. No doubt he could not believe that Duro would think such a thing, but Duro would not attempt to claw back the words. Not when the speaking of them had already cost him much.
“Tongue was stilled by broken heart, not by shame of past events,” Agron told him, the look on his face growing more and more unpleasant with each passing word. “You are my brother, you stupid cock. I would sooner give my own life than pretend that yours meant nothing.”
Agron’s temper had changed little in their years of separation – once wounded, he lashed out, feeling the need to hurt as he had been hurt. Agron got to his feet, towering over Duro with little care for the scene they were no doubt making. Duro wondered if perhaps the Gauls would place wagers on when the first blow would be struck.
“I have learned many things since this rebellion began,” Agron said. His breath came quickly and his fists clenched, both signs that his temper was high and control threadbare. “And many more since finding you again – live for those you have lost, Duro, for if they truly loved you, they would not wish for your torment.”
“And did you live for me, brother? Even when you kept memory locked in broken heart?” It was perhaps unwise to ask the question, as there was truly only one answer Agron could give should he want to end the argument, but Duro found himself desperate to hear it regardless.
“You show as little sense as a Gaul,” Agron said with a shake of his head.
There was a hint of a smile on his lips, and Duro found that perhaps there were two answers, after all.
“I return to training.” Agron was still angry, that much was visible in the line of his back, in the tension gripping tightly at his muscles.
Duro watched him work the pallas for nearly a quarter hour, taking in the strength of his sword arm, the way he attacked the wooden man as though it were made of flesh and blood, and whatever other shit went into the making of a Roman. Agron was fierce as he trained, the others giving him a wide berth as he attempted to work through his anger. Duro could hear their whispers, those of the Gauls less subtle than everyone else.
Seeing his brother’s hurt at such accusations only served to pain Duro as well.
Agron’s words came back to him. ”Live for those you have lost, Duro, for if they truly loved you, they would not wish for your torment.” Duro did not truly believe it, else he believed himself deserving of the pain for his part in past events. No, he would not live for those gone before him; he had tried that once already. They invaded his sleep, even creeping into waking hours when his mind was unguarded enough to allow them entry.
I will live for you, brother, Duro thought. Perhaps I can yet save you from their fate.
And he would, Duro knew. There was no other option he was willing to entertain.
With a sigh, he looked over at the cracked water jug Mira had left with him. Agron hadn’t taken it with him, even despite the fact that he would need it more than Duro, who had yet to take up sword. He picked it up, the clay heavy in his hands and slick where the water had escaped. Duro knew what must be done, if not for himself then for Agron. There could be nothing weighing on his mind if Duro hoped to keep him safe.
Getting to his feet, he went in search of Mira, needing to make amends with one Agron held in high regard. She was easy to find, just inside the temple with the Gaul’s woman, in quiet conversation. A surprised look came over her as she saw him approaching, and she cast a wary look toward the jug he carried, which had been so recently cast aside.
“Gratitude for the offering,” Duro said, feeling awkward and unused to speaking with others in a civilized manner. “It was appreciated.”
He stood there for a moment, wondering if she would reject his attempt at apology. He would not blame her; had their places been reversed he likely would have done the same.
“You are very welcome,” Mira said at last, reaching out and taking the jug from his hands. She appeared pleased to feel it much lighter than before.
Duro would not tell her that was Agron’s doing.
“Nasir has expressed interest in speaking with you,” Mira continued after a moment, during which Duro had searched for something else to say, and grew ever more frustrated when he could find nothing.
The woman was smart, understanding precisely what he was attempting to accomplish. Duro’s smile was genuine – the first he could remember in so very long.
“I will find him,” he replied. “Gratitude.”
He turned then and went in search of the Syrian. Perhaps Agron’s anger would be useful in such a circumstance – he wasn’t likely to be at his lover’s side when his mood was black. If Duro had to be awkward and childlike, he would much rather it happen far from his brother’s eyes.