This poem came from the July 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from marina_bonomi and has been sponsored by her. It belongs to a shared world, The Silk Road Allies, in which China and Italy become close. You can read more about the Roman Empire, Roman legions, and the lost legion online.
In 53 BC, the Roman general Marcus Crassus
led an army against a larger force of Parthians,
a clash in which the eastward expansion
of the Roman Empire came to an abrupt halt.
The Parthians slaughtered many thousands of Romans,
flung Crassus to his knees and beheaded him,
but failed in their efforts at total annihilation.
Several thousand legionnaires escaped,
fleeing east to escape their enemies.
East, and east, and farther east they marched
until they came to the Gobi Desert
in northwestern China.
There they settled for a time.
Being soldiers, they used what skills they had,
and became popular as mercenaries.
In 36 BC, they fought in a war
between the Chinese and the Huns,
some units on one side, some on the other.
Chinese chronicles recorded the capture
of a "fish-scale formation of troops" in battle,
their baffled description
of the famous "tortoise" phalanx
of the Roman legionnaires.
The captives were, of course,
quickly ransomed by their brothers
fighting on the Chinese side.
They settled again, this time
taking wives among the Chinese women
and siring many strong children.
The legionnaires knew
that they could never go home,
suspected that bad things were happening
back in the Roman Empire.
They had seen the signs
in more than just that fateful battle.
Still they passed down to their children
and their grandchildren, and so on,
the tales of the glory that was Rome.
In 90 AD, a handsome young man
with straight black hair and exotic green eyes
took service with General Pan Chao,
who had an interest in foreign lands.
His name was Cai Luoma -- Cai the Roman.
His good service earned him swift promotions,
and in time he came close to the general.
Then he said, "My ancestors told stories
of a place called Rome. Perhaps someone
could go there and open negotiations."
So in 97 AD, Chinese General Pan Chao
sent an embassy to the Roman Empire
headed by Cai Luoma himself,
whom the general firmly believed
would make an excellent diplomat.
Besides, some of Cai's ancestors had been
Romans -- surely the current Emperor
would find that tale intriguing.
Emperor Nerva turned out to be
a frail man in his sixties,
who nevertheless hung on Cai's tale
and threw a grand parade posthumously celebrating
the heroism of the Lost and Found Legion.
When the Emperor fell sick,
Cai dragged his own physician to the palace,
who managed to save Nerva's life
and restore some of his vitality.
The latter was demonstrated when Nerva
fell in love with Cai's sister-in-law Baozhai
and promptly got her with child.
Hasty negotiations ensued,
as Nerva had no Empress and Baozhai
was a cousin of the Chinese Emperor.
In the end, Nerva and Baozhai married
shortly before the birth of their heir,
cementing an alliance between Rome and China.