XXII – Romans And Faulty Plumbing

Dear Journal:

Well, there we all were, in a Spanish Standoff to be sure. The procession was at the top of the hill with the terminally upset Tribune, one enraged General, Caesar’s Praetorians, the band, and, probably, Caesar. Lining the ‘parade’ route were the Patricians, House Praetorians, and various and sundry deadly pets.

Something had to give. The Imperials caved first. The General was summoned to a litter midway in the procession where Caesar stuck his head out and began to talk with venom to the General. Those of us with good hearing could only make out scattered words in Caesar’s diatribe such as …crucify…your ass….kill…hang by the… And so it went.

The tantrum lasted several minutes and, when it was over, the General stomped back to the front of the line. The Tribune meanwhile had managed to calm down to coherency and was dubiously eyeing the street before him. He looked at the animals, they stared hungrily back at him. He stared imploringly at the Patricians, we stared back. No way was he getting any sympathy from us. Little #&@* had it coming!

It was then that the General reached the Tribune, grabbing him by the throat with one hand, and pointing down the street with the other. The Tribune’s lower lip began to violently quiver as he gibbered, nearly out of his mind with fear. Disgusted, the General drew his sword and pressed the point against the Tribune’s back. At this juncture, the Tribune was deprived of any choices except ‘forward’.

The procession started forward once more, the now nearly hysterical Tribune leading the way. Down the hill they went. All was quiet. Nothing greeted the Tribune except rows of glares from hostile, but docile, animals. It was toward the end of the trek down the hill that the next incident occurred.

In the last villa, before the street ran down to the old town, lived a Senator so old that no one could ever remember the fellow as a young man. The Lady herself had remarked that he had been an old fart when she first met him in her youth.

As the Tribune passed the Senator’s house, the old guy popped up with “Hey sonny! Got a leak?”

The Tribune was totally mystified until the geezer pointed at the Tribune’s feet. Sure enough, there was a wet spot, beginning where the Tribune had stopped, and trailing back up the hill to the last stopping point. The tribune flushed bright crimson and, followed by the whole parade, ran down the rest of the hill. All of the animals rushed to the old Senator’s house to watch the retreating, deflated parade.

As soon as the last Imperial was out of sight, the Patricians erupted in gails of side splitting, uncontrolled laughter. People fell out of chairs, leaned against walls and fell down from the effort to restrain themselves. Hardly Patrician behavior, after all. I was told the Lady had to be revived twice she was laughing so hard. Well, fun is fun, but it wasn’t over yet.

Caesar had to return the way he had come. Oh joy!

Chapter XXIII

Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 6:34 PM  Comments (1)  
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XXI – Roman Pets And Parades

Dear Journal:

Winter had passed and spring was in bloom.

This particular morning I was sitting on my front porch, just watching my neighbors go by. The Hill was the same as any other neighborhood, just ritzier. Where my former neighbors would have been out doing morning chores, up here the servants were shopping, fetching, carrying, etc. Some Patricians were walking their pets, mostly dogs, with a big feline predator or two, while others, like myself, were catching the early morning rays.

Mutts One and Three were out greeting the neighborhood menagerie with happy wuffs and wagging tails. Mutt Two, the sleeper, was by my side snoring lustily away.

Down the street aways, the Lady could be seen giving directions to her staff. Units of Praetorians were going up and down the street, accompanying their employers on various spring shopping sprees. All was idyllic and peaceful.

Yeah, riiight! Anyone reading this journal knows what my peaceful days turn into.

Like I said, I was enjoying a peaceful morning when, at my side, Mutt Two woke up. She sat bolt upright, sniffing the breeze and rumbling. She was the best rumbler on the block. The other two mutts, not to mention every other animal around, were poised in launch position, aimed at the top of the Hill. All of the humans in attendance had stopped doing whatever they were engaged in, and were also looking in the same direction as the animals.

Sensing trouble, everyone, myself included, summoned their pets back to their respective lairs, some unwillingly. Mutts One and Three backed toward me and, eventually, sat down in front of me, in guard position.

The cause of the hubbub was quickly made apparent. With a flourish of trumpets, and one blaat, marched the Tribune, at the head of an Imperial procession. I swear that, as the Tribune came down the street, his progress was followed by dozens of beastly eyes. Even the Lady’s two panthers, Antony and Klio, lazily watched. They both yawned, revealing rows of razor sharp teeth, and, when those two cats growled, everyone paid attention.

The Tribune’s progress slowed until the whole mob ground to a noisy halt, nearly tripping over each other at the sudden stop. The General of the Praetorian Guards stomped up to the front of the line, only to find the Tribune frozen where he stood. Words flew back and forth, the Tribune making it quite clear that it was certain death to go any further. The exasperated General looked down the street and, as Jupiter is my witness, all of the animals looked right back at him.

Innocence incarnate.

The General demanded that the procession go forward, while the now hysterical Tribune was gesturing frantically at the street, on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The General yelled, the animals smiled, the Tribune cried, and the procession went nowhere. This was going to be fun to watch.

Chapter XXII

Published in: on September 27, 2009 at 12:59 PM  Comments (1)  
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XX – Rude Romans And Payback

Dear Journal:

The Lady and I spent the midday meal with small talk and comments about the mutts. Mutt Three quickly learned the ropes, and was sitting at the table staring at steaks as they went by. Three sets of jowls quivered in unison. Three sets of eyes gazed hungrily. Three mouths drooled with anticipation. Once they had their meat, the mutts hightailed it to a close corner and began to gobble greedily. The Lady and I were snacking light and enjoying each other’s company.

Then it happened. I had hoped to get through one day without something spoiling it. Nope! Not this time! There was a commotion at the front entrance, and my guards came in escorting someone.

A Tribune. Correction. The Tribune. The personage who strode into my hall was none other than the personal advisor to the number two man in the Empire. He stood in the middle of the room as though he expected heaven to open up and bless his august presence. Didn’t happen. What did happen, however, will be talked about in high circles for a long time to come. In a word – wuff!

The man was in the middle of berating the Lady and myself for, what he perceived, as disloyalty to Caesar when he suddenly stammered to a halt. He was being watched. Stared at. Studied with an intensity that only the finest meat deserves.

Standing on her hind legs with both forepaws on the Tribune’s shoulders, Mutt Three glared at him practically nose to nose (and the Tribune had a fine Roman nose). The black, wrinkled behemoth looked the Tribune up and down and all over, as though she was looking for a handy place to bite.

Lesson one. Never yell around my mutts. They get very protective. The Tribune started to back up when his retreat was halted by a second huge bulk.

Mutt One had circled around during the Tribune’s tirade and now blocked that worthy’s exit. Meanwhile Mutt two stretched, yawned, and ambled over to the confrontation, sniffing and rumbling with curiousity. More food!? She was determined to find out. The Tribune, in a matter of a few minutes, had been encircled and trapped. He began to sweat profusely.

WUFF?!

Mutt Three edged even closer to her victim. Her mouth was agape with rows of very sharp teeth that were quite suitable for rending and tearing. Not to mention – devouring.

WUFF!!! GRRRRR!!! WUFF!!!

The Tribune stepped back only to be greeted by Mutt One, who was advancing from the rear. He was now virtually pinned by three aggressive, inquisitive, ticked off predators who just didn’t like the Tribune’s attitude. Mutt Two edged closer from the flank, still sniffing and eyeing the tribune hungrily.

The sweat was pouring off. If he could have, I think my unwanted guest would have been writing his last will and testament. The noses of Mutt Three and the Tribune were now mashed together, with the Tribune’s eyes bulging in barely contained terror. Three was slavering with anticipation and the drool dripped down the front of the Tribune’s breastplate.

As fun as all of this was to watch, I figured I’d better call the mutts off before my guest got hurt. Or eaten. I gave the command to stay and the trio, reluctantly, backed off. A little. As soon as Mutt One moved aside, the Tribune was outta’ there! In seconds, the totally terrified man was gone from my hall, leaving behind only a slight breeze to mark his exit.

It should be noted that, during this melodrama, the Tribune’s Praetorians had remained stock still, not coming to their boss’s aid. They weren’t stupid. As soon as the Tribune ran out, his guards marched out, taking their time catching up with him. Wonder what he’ll tell Caesar? At least, for now, I have the last laugh. For once.

Chapter XXI

Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 2:43 PM  Leave a Comment  
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XIX – WUFF!!! Crowded Roman

Dear Journal:

Wild happenings the other day. I woke up at my usual time, got dressed, and went out to breakfast. The staff was distributing food as usual, and Mutt One was sitting at the table awaiting his turn.

Every time a slab of meat went by, he would follow it’s course with rapt interest, his jowls flapping each time he quickly turned his head. Mutt Two was along side of me as I entered the room and, seeing her brother at the feeding spot, wuffed loudly and trotted over to get her share. It should be mentioned that the mutts had their own taster to prevent the ‘accident’ that had happened to me. Since I was there with both mutts present, they could both take in the buffet at the same time. Once my mutts had grabbed their share, I picked up my morning repast of fruit, bread, and some wine (all previously sampled for lethal substances), and went over to my favorite morning chair to listen to the staff gossip.

Caeser was really in it up to his patrician neck. After the disaster in Partha, Caeser had ordered the Legions home to deal with the problem at Ravenna. The generals started out for Rome, but at such a slow pace that they would arrive in about two years. Caeser was livid. He pointedly demanded the army speed it up and get home, and was ignored. The generals cited that they could move no faster because they had to train recruits on the march. Caeser did want more than one legion to show up, didn’t he?

Fearless leader subsided into furious sullen silence, but everyone around him could tell he was plotting. And so it was that Caeser was caught in a trap of his own creation. He had the armies, but they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, come home in time to save him. Little Brother had a full sized invasion force aimed at Rome, and Caeser could do nothing about it. So much for the political arena.

Later that morning, the Lady arrived with yet another little surprise. Huffing, snorting, and rumbling behind her was a black mutt obviously related to my mutts. One and Two saw the newcomer and went wild. They rushed over, wuffing excitedly, and practically bowled the black one over. More loud wuffs were followed by frenetic play as they got reaquainted.

The Lady had brought number Three (as she became known) to give to me as well. Apparently the puppy had missed her kin, and had been in a miserable, moping state since One and Two’s departure. Anyway, the Lady hated to break up a set, and the mutts appeared to be much happier reunited.

Great! I now had three mammoths to feed. Well, it didn’t really matter so long as they were happy. Turns out that number Three had a talent for intimidation which would come in handy later that same day.

Chapter XX

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 1:59 PM  Comments (1)  
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XVIII – Roman Mutts And Parthia . . .

Dear Journal:

The brush with somebody’s wine habits left me weak for several days. During my recovery, Mutts One and Two kept constant vigil over me. That is to say, they snored when asleep and stared at me when awake. I got the distinct impression that Mutt One wanted me to play, but wasn’t sure if I was able to do so.

By the way, for clarification, Mutt One is tan and male. Mutt Two is white and female. Anyway, one of them always stayed with me, even at meal times. One of the mutts would disappear only to return with a big slab of meat for the other, then amble off to get food for themselves.

The lady visited every day with news of the world and Hill gossip. Finally I was able to get up and go into the main hall where a comfy chair awaited me. There I could read, talk to the staff and guards, and watch the mutts play.

The news was disquieting on all fronts. We had lost the war in Parthia. Oh, we had started out okay, winning battle after battle in the true Roman style. As our legions drove deeper into enemy territory, our supply lines were stretched to the limit. Then they were severed.

Parthian forces had come in from behind our lines and slaughtered what few troops were left on rear guard. While the legions were trained to live on the countryside, one can’t eat what one can’t find. The Parthians had instituted a slash and burn method across their countryside that left the land barren and devoid of life. The legions began to slowly starve.

A general retreat had been ordered, but our armies now had to fight their way back the way they had come. One can say, in fact, that an ambushed ambush isn’t very nice. While trying to be clever, we had been caught with our own trick. The legions fought back with vicious ferocity, managing to punch through the forces blocking their retreat, and made it to one of the Roman border forts. While still spoiling for a fight, our boys were in no shape to recross the Parthian border.

Side note. The legions never did find the super catapult they were sent in to destroy. It, apparently, didn’t exist. Our generals were furious and Ceaser had egg on his face. We had lost one out of every five of our soldiers, and most of the rest were wounded, leaving barely one legion intact to fight off a Parthian counter offensive. Fortunately, that never happened. The Parthians had done their damage and were not about to cross over into Roman territory.

On the home front, my brother was making quite a name for himself. His forces had swollen to legion strength, augmented by two legions who had killed their commanders and gone over to little brother’s side. With a real army to play with my brother moved out of the hills and attacked the northern city of Ravenna. The city surrendered without a fight. The governor’s cousin had been the victim of one of Ceaser’s purges and the governor hadn’t forgotten.

Now little brother had a real base from which to strike. His forces continued to grow, and it was becoming a certainty that Rome was his next target. I felt that noose around my neck tighten.

Chapter XIX

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 6:18 PM  Leave a Comment  
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XVII – Roman Poisons And Wrinkly Mutts

Dear Journal:

There I was, a rock wall in front of me and an unknown passage behind me. The way was forward. So thinking, I turned around and headed off down the dimly lit tunnel. I sorely wanted to run, but something kept my feet at a regular stride.

Forward. Always forward, in lockstep march. One foot in front of the other.

As I advanced, dim scenes floated around me in a constantly shifting pattern. Watching these images, I began to recognize them. They were my life being played back to me by some unseen agency. Deeper into that darkened corridor I was led and a new horror began to assail me. I was getting cold with a bone deep chill that seemed to congeal my blood and stiffen my muscles.

I wondered at that moment if I was dying, and why. At that same instant, another sensation made itself known. Something hideous was wriggling its way through my veins, and everywhere it touched, part of me began to shrivel and die. However, racing behind the monster was another creature, warm and friendly, that healed wherever the cold death touched. During this struggle, I felt as though I was being torn to pieces.

I wanted, NEEDED, to retch. Nothing came up. Still staggering forward, all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep, but part of me knew that to rest was to die. Moving forward, I began to feel warmth spreading through me and the cold paralysis began to lift. Strength returned to my legs and my stride became firmer. Then, BUMP, I walked smack into something tremendously large. And warm. And furry?

I reached out to touch the barrier and, sure enough, whatever I had run into was alive with a size so vast as to begger my understanding. A pair of enormous eyes regarded me at nearly ceiling level and, as I tried to back peddle, a huge wet SOMETHING slapped me in the face. Reeling from the blow, everything began to dissolve as I seemed to float upward out of the cavern and into more normal light.

I opened my eyes and stared into a big, wrinkled face with beady little eyes, a button nose, and a very moist, sloppy tongue. I tried to sit up and was greeted by my companion, the biggest dog I had ever seen. It was wrinkled with great folds of skin from head to toe, as though its skin had been ordered in a size much greater than the body occupying it.

*Wuff* was all it said as it sat back on its haunches, regarding me with a big, toothy smile and a wagging stub tail. I was back in my bedroom, with a crowd of worried people studying me intensely. Next to my bed sat the Lady, wearing a relieved expression.

Who! What! How . . .! I wanted to ask, but nothing would come out except one single groan. A physician was leaning over me, taking my pulse and checking other vital signs. I knew I was alive. Just barely.

Then the Lady explained. I had been poisoned. The cup of wine I had been carrying out to the veranda was lethal. Fortunately, I fell in a busy hallway and was attended to immediately. My servants sent for the Lady and her apothecary, who knew almost at once by looking at me what poison had been used. Even with the antidote at hand it was touch and go for several hours.

Meanwhile, my guards began questioning the servants, particularly the kitchen staff. It was obvious that someone in the villa had tried to kill me. I was too closely watched for someone from the outside to get to me. The guards were able to question everyone except for one slave who, it seems, had disappeared. Well, they would find him, wherever he ran.

As I listened to all this, I became aware of heavy snoring next to the other side of my couch. Looking down, I saw Wrinkly Mutt’s companion. Identical to Wrinkly, except for color, this dog was sound asleep, rumbling softly in contented slumber.

The Lady smiled and explained that they were a gift to me from one of her friends. These mutts were intensely loyal and, when pushed, terribly ferocious. They were there to insure my continued survival. They were also lovable companions.

My eyelids were getting more and more difficult to hold up and I kept losing the thread of the conversation. The Lady noted my fading awareness and chased everyone but the doctor and two guards out. I drifted off to a normal sleep, safe. For the moment.

Chapter XVIII

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 12:30 PM  Leave a Comment  
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XVI – Roman Hidden Passageways, or WHAT THE . . .!

Dear Journal:

Things began to settle down a bit after the fracas in the main hall. The new/old furniture matched my tastes perfectly, so the villa began to feel more like home. The Lady hadn’t visited in a while because of some private business and the servants and guards were as unobtrusive as ever. Thus I was left to my own devices, so I decided to explore my new home.

Shoulda’ stayed in bed.

I’ve always been fascinated by architectural details like wall decorations and strange hallways, and I figured that this place must have some dandy secrets. I started snooping. Most Roman houses are set up in a predictable pattern, so that one can visit almost anywhere in Rome and see pretty much the same floor plan.

Figures my place WOULD have to be different. Believe it or not, I got lost. How does one get lost in one’s own home you might ask? Well, in my case, hang a left past the veranda and wind up in a section of house that shouldn’t be there.

The area I found myself in didn’t follow any traditional patterns of construction that I was familiar with. The traditional arch was present, but the walls were made up of huge blocks of tightly fitted black stone. It was as though the current villa had been added on to an older structure already present on the site. Since the older building was to the rear of the house, it, apparently, had never been noticed after the add on.

It was at this point that I should have found my way back to the veranda and avoided what happened next. As I’ve said, I’m the curious type. So much so that I’ve never had the common sense to leave well enough alone. Thus it was that I decided to explore this decidedly odd construction.

As I traversed the hallways, I noticed another oddity about the place. There were no right hand turns, only left. Well, if one turns left enough times, one should wind up back at the starting point.

In my case, that’s not what happened.

The general architecture remained the same, but the hallways I entered were always different in specific details. Another oddity. There was no furniture anywhere and the passageways were as clean as if they had just been swept. About the fifth left turn, I began to panic.

Where was the way out?!

I tried retracing my steps to no avail. The hallways I had traveled were no longer there. I had no choice but to continue forward through this strange maze. It was about three turns later that my luck changed.

For the worse.

The hallway I entered ended suddenly at an open doorway, where a flight of steps descended downward ’till they were lost in darkness. What to do? It had become painfully obvious by this time that my only road was forward, so, fearfully, down the steps I went.

The descent was not straight, but consisted of multiple turns. Always to the left. Another oddity. What had, at first observation, seemed to be darkness was not dark at all. More like a continuous twilight.

By the Gods! What had I unwittingly stumbled onto or into?

As the descent continued, I began to be aware that the air had developed some moisture, as though I was traveling beneath a body of water. It felt as though I had been descending for hours when, abruptly, the stairs ended, and I found myself standing on the level floor of a vast chamber. The same twilight glow lit the place, thus affording me some idea of where I was. At least I wouldn’t have to stumble around aimlessly.

Taking stock of my surroundings, I, by chance, glanced back the way I had come. What greeted my eyes was solid stone. The stairs were gone! At that moment, fear gave way to incipient terror.

Where was I?! How could I escape this nightmare? Unfortunately, the way was still forward.

Chapter XVII

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 12:06 PM  Leave a Comment  
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XV – The Roman: This Is Really Getting Confusing

Dear Journal:

Sleep?

Me?

Hardly! I tossed and turned the rest of the night, still frightened out of my wits. I was so restless I fell off of the couch twice (I wish someone would invent a larger sleeping space) all tangled up in my blankets. By morning’s first light, I was so frazzled I just lay there and blinked.

Finally I decided that lying there wasn’t going to do me any good, so I got up and headed for the main room. It was empty. Except for one or two chairs, the whole room was empty! Most of the furniture must have been demolished in last night’s discussion. I was really impressed when I saw that the bloodstains of the night before had already been cleaned up. I wasn’t used to this kind of efficiency. I picked a remaining chair and was just settling in, when there was a commotion at my front door.

I thought ‘Oh no! Not again?!’

Fortunately, there wasn’t another attack in progress. What came through that door was a long line of servants carrying furniture. Lots and lots of furniture. I also observed that the furniture was a bit older and more used than the previous batch. Much like my personal stuff, actually.

One of the servants from outside approached me. He gave me greetings from the Lady, and explained that, since her troops had helped in tearing up the place, she felt it was only decent to replace the destroyed items. Also, since she knew my feelings about the previous furnishings, the Lady had called in some favors from other Patricians who had been quite happy to donate their older furniture.

I liked the change. I thanked him profusely and spent the rest of the morning arranging things to my satisfaction. Thusly satisfied, I settled in to read the news and relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Fat chance.

One thing I have learned, when servants gossip, listen! Such was the case when I heard two of the guards talking in low tones about an apparent scandal. I inquired of them and they seemed heartily embarrassed. I assured them that I was not upset, but could they please enlighten me as to their discussion?

It seems that a well known and respected Senator had been arrested after the Praetorians, acting on a tip, had found ninety thousand peices of coin stashed under the Senator’s villa. The loot had been carefully wrapped in hides and deposited, in small sections, all around the underside of the Senator’s home. That he had the money wasn’t the problem. All politicians take bribes.

The thing that literally cooked his goose was the disturbing fact that ALL of the coins had been minted in Parthia. It seems that this very Senator had been leading the opposition against the Parthian invasion. He was currently under house arrest where he would be tried, sentenced, and executed according to Imperial law. At least he would’ve been if he hadn’t slit his wrists and bled to death in his bath.

Well, at least he died a Patrician.

As for myself, this Nobility thing was making me more and more uneasy. I was once again reminded by circumstances how perilous a position I was in. Wonder If I could escape the city? Probably not.

Chapter XVI

Published in: on September 9, 2009 at 4:30 PM  Comments (1)  
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XIV – More Roman confusion, or Here! Take my money, PLEASE!

Dear Journal:

The Lady and I continued our conversation well into the evening hours. Most of it was vague generalities sprinkled with gossip. I got the feeling she was switching topics in order for me to adjust to the information I had received. Whatever the reason, the afternoon passed unheeded into early evening.

Then, as she stood up to leave, she gave me one more bit of advice.

“You’ve done well, so far, fish monger. Bribing your gaurds was truly a bit of Patrician thinking. Keep it up! One more thing. Make sure that the Praetorians watching you have ready access to the lusts of life. The more you take care of them, the better chance of them siding with you when the crunch comes.”

So saying, she walked out to her litter and left as she had arrived. Quickly. After she had gone, my Major Domo made an interesting observation.

“She must really like you. Usually, people go to see her; not the other way ’round. Don’t be upset by the ‘fish monger’ appellation. She seldon calls anyone by name. Not even Ceasar. The Noble who lived here before you couldn’t get more than two words at a time out of her, and she never came to visit. You have her patronage. Don’t blow it.”

I spend most of the evening (except for an annoyingly huge dinner, which got divided in the usual manner) musing about what I had learned. Little Brother was alive!! It was still hard to believe. How had he pulled off his escape? Obviously, he had help. But who? And, more importantly, why?

Also, why was my lady friend really protecting me? Her stated purpose didn’t seem complete. If she was the kind of person my Major Domo described, she wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice me, if necessary. All of this new knowledge would take sorting out and absorbing. Life was certaintly not going to be dull.

Finally, I decided to go to bed, so I grabbed the daily news parchment (to read in bed) and headed off for a good night’s sleep. I had dozed off while reading and was sound asleep, when I was vigorously shaken awake. Startled, I looked up into the face of one of my guards. He pulled me off the couch and led me to the back of the house. Two other guards were waiting for him. This is it, I thought. They’re going to murder me.

Boy, was I ever wrong! At that moment, my servants were brought in accompanied by no less than fifteen Praetorians. Apparently, the Staff had been through this before, as they weren’t at all ruffled or upset. My guardsman spoke.

“Stay here and don’t make a sound. A large force of the City Watch was somehow let in. They’re after your hide, but we’re going to take theirs.”

So saying, he headed back to the front of the house, where the sounds of fierce fighting could now be heard. The shouts of men and clash of weapons created an awful din, and in the distance, a trumpet sounded.

Silence.

What had happened? I could hear voices and movement, but nothing else. Mustering up my courage, I decided to look. I started for the door and, amazingly, half of the guards followed without hindering me. The sight that met me at the door further rattled my already shaken nerves. There were bodies everywhere. The house was a bloody shambles with destroyed furniture and mangled corpses strewn helter skelter. A VERY large group of Praetorians were moving about, checking bodies and gathering weapons. It was then that I noticed that there was an outside force of Praetorians present. They were the Lady’s troops. And there was the lady among them.

I headed straight for her and was stopped by her guards.

“Let him pass! He’s the master of this house.”

She gestured me closer and bade me sit in one of two chairs that had been stood back up. She sat in the other.

“I already know what’s going through your head. How could this happen? Well, it seems that several Praetorians were working with the City Watch. It must have been one hell of a bribe for elite troops to work with city scum. The outer guard posts were bypassed and they managed to get here unseen. The Street Watch was murdered and the assassins rushed your house. They got more than they expected.” Her smile was predatory. “They didn’t expect TWO sets of guards here. Too bad . . . for them. Hush! I’ll tell you the rest! We knew about the attack beforehand. One of the conspirators got roaring drunk and babbled everything. He’s joined his ancestors. Your forces joined with mine and waited for the bastards. We took them here so that none would escape. You’re looking a little pale fish monger. Why don’t you go back to bed and we’ll finish up here.”

Like, I was expected to sleep?

Chapter XV

Published in: on September 6, 2009 at 6:29 PM  Comments (6)  
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XIII – Part II Of A Roman’s Fun Day

Dear Journal:

Lunch wasn’t too bad, what little of it I kept for myself. I guess I’m just not used to fancy food all the time, having eaten common fair all of my life. After eating, I was just settling back down to a nice afternoon snooze, when there was a commotion at my front door. My servants came scurrying in accompanied by an old acquaintance. It was the noble lady to whom I had sold my best fish to over the years.

When I had last seen her, she had been middle-aged and still rather lovely. Now she was older, with a gaunt hardness, and her visage revealing her iron will. A formidible matron indeed! The lady stood about five foot six inches to my five foot eight, but, in her presence, I had the peculiar sensation of looking up at her. When she spoke, her words were concise and to the point, with just a touch of sardonic irony. In short, I could never be absolutely sure when she was pulling my leg.

Dismissing the servants with a wave, she settled into a chair opposite mine, and stared at me long and hard.

“Well fish monger, I see you’ve moved up in the world.”

I nodded my head and was about to reply, when she continued. “I hear you’re not too happy with your new lifestyle. Come man! Don’t you know when you’ve made it to the top?”

Made it to the top!? Why of all the….! She laughed and patted me on the arm.

“Finally got you to talk. Relax. I’m not here to mock, but to help, and, believe me, you need help! Our Emperor has a somewhat twisted sense of humor, as you’ve probably noticed. Particularly since you’re the butt of his latest twisted joke. A clever man, our Ceasar. He puts those whom he sees as a threat as close to him as possible. That way he can watch them and deal with any troublesome problems that might arise. Did you know that you’re not the only one in your situation?” I shook my head to the negative. “Indeed! There are four other unfortunate souls on this hill as well. It’s a game, you see. Ceasar has bets going on which one of you will crack first. Right now, you’re the front runner. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to teach you how to be a Patrician. You will live and sleep as a Noble. You see, you four are not the only ones involved in this game. Some of us have been targeted for elimination as well. However, Ceasar has to move carefully, since some of us, like myself, come from old, established families. Can’t be to indiscriminate about killing us off. Might invite reprisals.”

I looked at her and asked the obvious question. She smiled a wintery smile.

“Why you? Simple fish monger. You are the brother of a condemned traitor. A traitor, incidentally, who escaped with several other prisoners and is hiding in the north.”

I sat there, stunned into silence. My little brother…escaped? Before I could ask the thousands of questions I wanted to, she held up her hand for silence.

“It seems your brother has become a large thorn in the Emperor’s posterior. Not only did he escape (embarrassment enough), but he has managed to rally many to him. He raids the caravans heading north, freeing slaves and taking everything of worth ’till now he is well armed and provisioned. His band has swollen into an army, and Ceasar fears an eventual attack on Rome itself. He has you as a bargaining chip, if the need arises.”

Shades of Spartacus! Little brother was making good! Never mind that his actions were placing my head in a noose. Still, he couldn’t know of my plight. The Lady looked at me and spoke.

“So you see, you are necessary to our survival. If you live, we have a weapon against Ceasar. So you WILL live.”

Chapter XIV

Published in: on September 2, 2009 at 5:47 PM  Comments (3)  
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