Princes of the Universe, Part I

Discussion in 'Civ4 - Stories & Tales' started by Sisiutil, Oct 17, 2006.

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  1. carl corey

    carl corey Deity

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    Thanks, it does help to clean it up a little. I just read again a bit through the whole story, especially the "Noble Men" chapter that I find quite astonishing. It's an easier format but I hope you continue updating here too, and so allow us to argue whether you updated on time or not, or if corrective measures need to be taken. :p ;)
     
  2. tthf

    tthf Chieftain

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    wow great update sisiutil!
    good job good job!
    i was running out of zen...
     
  3. aronnax

    aronnax Let your spirit be free

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    For updating!! Who wants to buy this guy a drink!
     
  4. stuge

    stuge Emperor

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    I will, if I ever get to Canada.

    What a great story to pass a rainy afternoon.
     
  5. Izipo

    Izipo Hardcore casual gamer

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    Thank you my lord for this wonderful update (I'm trying the kiss-ass respectful approach in case it works better than the menaceful approach (which didn't work at all);) )

    And that Gamer Tales site you mentioned looks promising (just had a quick look, Snaaty is in it also).
    Another great thing when the whole story is complete would be a pdf file, so that we could easily pass it around and print it.

    Thanks again (and again) for that wonderful story.
     
  6. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. ;)

    As for the PDF upon completion, that's a good idea, though it would require a little work on my part. I have the story in serveral Word docs, but not in its final version--I sometimes edit the story at posting time or shortly thereafter. And the word docs don't currently contain the screenshots. But I'll see what I can do.
     
  7. biggamer132

    biggamer132 King

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    Well, you could retrieve the text from your posts and put that in instead of the Word documents, though it would need reformatting. When you're done (which hopefully won't be soon), I might be able to help out a bit if you need it.
     
  8. BananaLee

    BananaLee Fruity Penguin

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    I can actually help out with the reformatting and the pdfification :D
    Lovely update, bro.
     
  9. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Good news: I now have Hanno's story finished (2 more chapters and an epilogue), so that will go up over the weekend. And some good/bad news: for the longest time I had no idea how to cover the renaissance/gunpowder age including the invasion of the other continent. Well, now I have an idea, a darn good one, if'n I does say so meself. It will likely require as much development as the Noble Men storyline. That's good because I know you folks liked that story line, :) but bad because it may take some time to get it all written. :(

    Anyway, stay tuned!
     
  10. Izipo

    Izipo Hardcore casual gamer

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    Don't you love instant e-mail notifications ?
    Good news !
    It's gonna be Epic, I can't wait...
    This is legendary stuff.
    :king: :goodjob:
     
  11. biggamer132

    biggamer132 King

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    I'll take that over thinking you'd quit the story any day. :)
     
  12. aronnax

    aronnax Let your spirit be free

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    My eyeballs are glued to the Civ 4 Stories and Tales page and I am refreshing every 5 seconds for the new updates.....
     
  13. Tracnar

    Tracnar Warlord

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    nice chapter, bet the Greeks are looking nice to invade:lol:
    woot update coming soon:woohoo:
    i cant wait to see the roman mustketmen! :run:
     
  14. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter Twelve: The Merchant

    Part 5: The Chimes at Midnight



    It was late by the time Hanno, Yukio, and the rest of their caravan—including Zorba, who insisted on escorting them deep into English territory—finally made it to an English military outpost south of London. Zorba led them to a roadside tavern, which he assured them had comfortable, clean rooms where Hanno and his wife could spend the night.

    “I come England all the time!” Zorba declared when Hanno asked if he was in any danger as a sole Greek in enemy territory. “War is… how you say… temp…? temporary. Business is business. And I want see my friend, Jack!”

    Just as he spoke the word, the door of the tavern opened and the largest man Hanno had ever seen stepped out. His hair and beard were unkempt and grizzled, his large nose reddish even in the dim light of twilight, and his tremendous girth barely fit through the door frame.

    “What’s this?” the large man cried. “Someone taking Jack’s name in vain? Who dares?”

    He weaved unsteadily from one wide-set foot to the other, like a sailor aboard a ship. Since, however, he was standing upon decidedly steady and dry land, it was obvious that he’d been in his cups. And considering the size of the man, he must have been in every single cup in England to be as drunk as he clearly was.

    “Jack!” Zorba cried, throwing his arms wide. When the big man only blinked in bewilderment, he added, “Is me, Zorba!”

    “Zorba!” the big man shouted, then stepped forward and enclosed the Greek merchant in a warm embrace. Hanno marveled that the two rotund men actually had enough reach to throw their arms around one another.

    The two men stepped back from their embrace, chuckling, then Zorba suddenly reached up and smacked the side of his friend’s head.

    “OW!” Jack cried. “What was that for?”

    “You owe me 50 drachmae, Jack Falstaff!” Zorba said accusingly, prodding his finger into Jack’s prodigious belly.

    “’Drack-me’? Drag you?” Jack bellowed back. “For sooth, I shall drag you, after I lay you out, thou Greek cur! Thou Corinthian colon!” he said, poking at Zorba’s own ample mid-section.

    “Gentlemen, please!” Hanno, ever the peace-maker, said as he stepped in between the feuding friends. “It’s late, and we’re weary from the road. Can we not settle this tomorrow, after we’re better rested and…,” he paused as Jack’s breath, reeking of ale, brought tears to his eyes, “er… when sober heads may prevail?”

    The two obese men stepped back from one another, glared at each other for a moment, then each dropped his gaze and nodded.

    “Indeed, methinks discretion is the better part of valour,” Jack said.

    “You always think discretion is better part of valour,” Zorba responded accusingly.

    “'Tis an adage,” Jack said, “though if poor Jack should add any more age, he shall be late for the grave, he shall,” he added with a sad shake of his head. Zorba only rolled his eyes in response.

    “I beg your pardon?” Hanno said.

    “'Tis a pun, my lad, a pun,” Jack told him. “’Adage’, you see, sounds like…” He stopped and threw up his hands in a futile gesture. “Never mind. It’s like I’m always telling Billy, it isn’t funny if you have to explain it.”

    “Billy?” Hanno asked, still puzzled.

    “A joke-writer in London of my acquaintance,” Jack told him with a dismissive wave of his beefy hand, then cast a quizzical look at Hanno. “And who might you be, then?”

    “This is Hanno,” Zorba interjected. “He Roman.”

    “Ah! Roaming he is indeed, to find himself here, so far from home, on such a night. Though I gather that you’re none too bright, so a Roman candle I surmise you are not. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” He said, suddenly spotting Yukio.

    “Window?” Hanno asked, wondering if he was ever going to stop feeling puzzled by this big man’s strange way of speaking.

    “Forget it,” Zorba said with a sigh. “He on a roll.”

    “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and… something something something.”

    Jack leaned forward, barely managing to avoid toppling over as he did so, but then took Yukio’s hand in his own with a gentleness that surprised the dainty Japanese woman. He raised her hand to his lips and respectfully kissed it.

    “How enchanting,” Yukio said, smiling. She was finding Jack Falstaff’s antics refreshingly amusing, especially after the very disturbing start to her day. “But my name isn’t Juliet. It’s Yukio.”

    “Yoo-kee-o?” Jack said as he straightened wobbily. “And who, pray tell, fair maiden, might possess the key to ‘your key-hole’? OW!”

    Zorba had smacked Jack on the head yet again. “You watch mouth, Jack Falstaff!” he said. “That her husband,” he said, pointing to an amused Hanno. “He have key, and you locked out!”

    Jack placed his hand over his heart as though he was wounded. “Is this true, fair Yoo-kee-o? Has this usurper displaced me in your heart?”

    “Long ago,” Yukio said with a smile and a shrug.

    “Oh! Frailty, thy name is woman!” Jack proclaimed sorrowfully to the darkening skies above him. “However, I shall allow my rival to compensate me for his ****oldry,” he said as he walked over to Hanno and placed a big arm around the Roman’s shoulders and began to lead him towards the tavern. “A pint or two of sack will do wonders to mollify my aggrieved heart.”

    “Jack…” Zorba growled.

    “That’s not a bad idea, actually,” Hanno said. “I’m thirsty from the ride. And today of all days, I could use a drink.”

    “That’s the spirit!” Jack said, giving Hanno a friendly shake that made the merchant’s teeth rattle. “And more may be purchased here within. So tell me, my new friend and ally from the Roman people: where are you headed?”

    “We’re going to London,” Hanno said as they stepped into the noisy hubbub of the public house.

    “And your business there?”

    “We shall be meeting with Queen Elizabeth to negotiate a price for our goods.”

    “The Queen!” Jack said as he took a seat at a table and signalled to the serving girl, who only scowled at him. Hanno beckoned her over, and after giving the merchant’s expensive clothing a surprised once-over, she bustled over to him to take his order.

    “You must remember me to her,” Jack continued.

    “You know Queen Elizabeth?” Yukio asked, mildly surprised.

    “Know her?” Jack said as though insulted, “Taught her everything she knows, I did! But we had, er, a falling out, as it were. Which is why I linger here, amongst this rabble, rather than in my rightful place at her court, as her faithful, devoted, and loving servant!”

    Hanno noticed that Zorba’s eyes were rolling up towards the ceiling yet again. Hanno himself winced suddenly as he felt a brief, short, stab of pain in his mid-section.

    “Are you all right?” Yukio asked, leaning in close to him.

    “I’m fine,” Hanno said. Whatever it was, it had passed. “Something I ate. Or maybe today’s stress.”

    His wife continued to give him a worried look, so he smiled at her and patted her hand reassuringly. He then returned his attention to their host, if he could be called that, who had not ceased talking since they’d sat down at their table.

    "The Queen is a cruel woman when she's crossed, be warned," Jack went on, then snatched a mug from the serving girl's tray as she passed by. He quaffed it whole without pausing for breath. "But she's fair," he went on, "in every sense of the word..." He paused to emit a belch that his companions were sure had shaken the very rafters of the pub. "And beautiful! Ah! Shall I compare her to a summer's day...?"
     
  15. aronnax

    aronnax Let your spirit be free

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    Nice update Sis, Keep it up i wanna see what happens with the Queen
     
  16. BananaLee

    BananaLee Fruity Penguin

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    Oh, thou art more beautiful and temperate. :D
     
  17. tthf

    tthf Chieftain

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    oh heavens, two updates in quick succession! i'm in heaven!
    great update! light-hearted although, hanno's pain is somewhat troubling...
     
  18. biggamer132

    biggamer132 King

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    Billy from London, eh? Would this particular writer of jokes be someone we're rather familiar with?
     
  19. Uncle Istvan

    Uncle Istvan Chieftain

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    Ah, updates, which make my return from wilderness to civilization all the sweeter!
     
  20. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter Eleven: The Merchant

    Part 6: This Other Eden



    “So then my mother,” Sextus Rutullus Lepidus was saying, grinning broadly and gesturing with his wine cup, “suggested that all Roman women should be given the franchise!”

    Rome’s ambassador to England was reclining upon a couch in the embassy’s triclinium, its traditional Roman dining room. Three high couches formed a U-shaped eating area, tables before each. The two side couches were empty that night; Sextus lay upon the left side of the central couch, at the bottom of the U; his guest, Hanno, reclined upon the right, in the place of honour. Yukio sat opposite her husband, on the other side of the table, in a chair, as a proper Roman woman should; on her left sat Sextus’ English wife, Hermione, a lovely, tall blonde woman.

    Hanno’s eyes went wide as Sextus related that part of the story. “Edepol!” he exclaimed. “How did her dinner guests take that

    “They were shocked speechless, of course,” Sextus said, grinning. “Except for Marcus Tillius Cicero; he considers himself unflappable, and I suppose he has a court record to back that up. He bowed that huge head of his and said, ‘My dearest Claudia, if all Roman women were like you, I would not hesitate to agree.”

    Yukio chuckled; she’d heard Cicero speak more than once in the Forum Romanum, and Sextus’ imitation of his high-pitched, nasal, but crystal-clear enunciation was dead-on.

    “And was your mother mollified by this?” she asked.

    “Oh, not at all!” Sextus replied after a sip of his wine. “She eyed Cicero coldly and said, ‘You are correct, Marcus Tillius, I am not like other Roman women. The vast majority of them are far better examples of the femininity than myself.’ Cicero opened his mouth to object, but she ploughed right over him. ‘I was born into wealth and privilege,’ my mother went on; ‘I have never known want. But thousands of Roman women raise their families, manage their households, feed their children, and ensure their husbands’ comfort without the benefit of wealth, or servants, or advantageous connections. And yet you consider us the ‘weaker vessel’.’

    “Now my mother has this very patrician, disdainful laugh she wields like a gladius; I can’t even hope to imitate it, so I won’t make the attempt. Suffice it to say that when she used it on you, it makes you feel like she’s just sliced your gut open. Well, she used this cutting laugh of hers right then, on those four senators in her dining room. And then she said, ‘Mark my words, conscript fathers: one day you will grant the franchise to women, and we shall introduce so much good sense into government that you will wonder why you put it off for so long!’”

    Hosts and guests laughed, then Hanno asked, “And what did your father think of all this?”

    “Oh, he was grinning ear to ear!” Sextus replied. “He loves seeing a few of his colleagues brought down a peg or two, and of course he’s besotted with my mother,” he said with an affectionate grin.

    “So he agrees with her then?” Yukio said, very interested, her eyes displaying an intensity matched by her voice.

    Sextus suddenly grew silent and looked steadily at Yukio over the top of his wine cup. “Yes,” he said quietly, “I dare say he does.”

    Hanno nearly choked on his wine. “Are you serious?” he asked Sextus. “Are you telling me that Lucius Rutullus Lepidus Aztecus Princeps and all the rest of it supports the enfranchisement of women

    “What’s wrong with that?” his wife asked him before Sextus could answer. “Don’t you think it would be a good idea?”

    Hanno stared at his wife, taken aback. They had never discussed the topic before, probably because he had always considered the idea, if he considered it at all, to be patently ridiculous. Yet she seemed to be in favour of it! The wine was affecting her. Yes, it had to be the wine. Still, ever the salesman, he knew better than to dismiss her opinion outright.

    “My dear,” he said in a soothing tone. “You of all people should know that I admire and respect women. Which is why I believe they should never be allowed in government. They are too gentle and pure for the rough-and-tumble, cut-and-thrust world of politics,” he told her with the grin that usually brought out her own delightful smile. This time, however, she sat starting at him, her face set like stone, and with as much warmth.

    “That’s a surprising statement to make,” Hermione said to Hanno, a sly look in her dark blue eyes, “considering whose country you’re in.”

    “Her Majesty the Queen is a special case,” Hanno responded smoothly.

    “How so?” asked Hermione.

    “Well, she’s immortal, for one thing!” Hanno said with a laugh.

    “She’s still a woman, though,” Hermione asserted. “Therefore, according to your logic, England would be better off under the rule of a male immortal. Such as, say, Alexander? Or Genghis Khan?”

    Hanno shook his head and smiled. “You misunderstand me, my dear. And let me assure you that I think no one would be better off under the rule of those two tyrants, including their own unfortunate people.”

    “What about under Caesar, then?” Hermione asked, her voice and eyes taking on a sharpness that Hanno had not realized they possessed.

    Given the question, the tone in which it was stated, and the company present—two Romans, one representing a people conquered by Rome, and one representative of Rome’s supposed ally—an uncomfortable silence suddenly descended upon the room. Hanno took it upon himself to break it.

    “England and Rome are friends and allies,” he said.

    “Today,” Hermione responded. “Alexander and Khan have been allies in the past, and at each others’ throats, in turn. Oh, I’m sure Caesar will eventually cross the pond and deal with both of them, and jolly good for him and all concerned when he does! But what happens when there’s only Rome and England left? What happens then? Do Good Queen Bess and Gaius Julius get married and live happily ever after?” No one answered her. She shook her head. “Don’t you sometimes get the impression that they’re all playing out some great game, and we’re just their pawns?”

    Again, an awkward silence descended upon the room, as it usually does when someone states the truth so baldly. As the host, Sextus felt it was his duty to lift the oppressive mood that threatened to smother what had, up until that point, been a most enjoyable evening.

    “This is all my father’s fault,” he said with theatrical despair.

    “What makes you say that?” Hanno asked, his usual grin slowly returning.

    “He was the one who spearheaded the free speech laws back home!” Sextus said. “The Lexus Rutullae makes everybody think they can say whatever they want!” That did the trick; everyone laughed and smiled. Even so, Sextus felt obliged to acknowledge what they had been discussing. “The day may come when England and Rome find themselves at odds with one another,” he said, “but I assure you it will not be in our lifetimes, or that of our children. For that, we should be thankful. As for universal suffrage, that, too, will not happen in the foreseeable future, and for that, we should all be saddened.”

    Hanno blinked in surprise. “Edepol! You mean to say it runs in the family?” he said with an astonished laugh.

    Sextus smiled. “I’m afraid so. Trust me, Hanno, after ten minutes in my mothers’ presence, you’d be convinced as well. Myself, I had twenty years to be indoctrinated in her views!”

    “Considering how long and how happily your parents have been married, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all,” Hermione said, casting a loving glance at her husband. He returned the look and reached over to clasp her hand.

    “That, I think, is a pleasant note on which to end the evening,” Sextus said. “It’s getting late, and you have an early audience with Her Majesty tomorrow, my friends.”

    His guests agreed, and a moment later, they all departed for bed. Once in their room, Hanno turned to embrace his wife, only to have her shrug out of his arms.

    “When we get back to Rome,” she said, “I’d like to have dinner with the Princeps Senatus,” she announced. “Do you think that could be arranged?”

    “Assuming our trade mission is successful, I suppose so…” Hanno said, somewhat taken aback by his wife’s aloofness.

    “Good,” she said, her dark eyes suddenly twinkling. “I think you need to meet Sextus’ mother.”

    Hanno rolled his eyes, then gave a resigned sigh and nodded his head. Suddenly, he inhaled a sharp breath between clenched teeth. His left hand pressed against one of the canopy bed’s posts, while his right grabbed at his suddenly painful abdomen. His wife was at his side in an instant.

    “The pain again?” Hanno nodded as his wife led him to his side of the bed. “That’s five nights in a row now,” she said, her voice weighted with concern.

    “I’m fine,” Hanno said in a strained voice as he gingerly laid down upon the bed.

    “You’re not fine,” Yukio said firmly. “First chance we get, I’m taking you to a doctor.”

    Hanno glanced up at his wife. The pain was passing now, and he thought of telling her where she could stuff her doctor, but he saw the determined look on her face and had been married to her long enough to know when her mind was made up. He nodded his agreement.

    “The Queen comes first,” he asserted.

    “I suppose she always does,” Yukio said. “But you come first with me. So once our audience with her is finished, we’re getting you looked over, mister.”

    Knowing better than to disagree, the dutiful husband merely smiled and nodded before rolling over on his side to sleep.

    ***



    Genghis Khan and Alexander, Hanno reflected the next day, were soldiers. They may be immortal and rulers of their countries, but they were still simple men—soldiers. The thought came to him in contrast to the woman seated before him, for she was, undeniably, a queen.

    Elizabeth was seated upon her throne in Westminster Palace. She wore a high-necked dark blue dress decorated with silver brocade. Her bright red hair was artfully coiffed upon her slender head, a jewelled tiara completing the ensemble. She regarded the merchant and his wife with a regal reserve that nevertheless seemed friendly and welcoming. In spite of the formality of the surroundings and the Queen’s bearing, Hanno found himself feeling much more relaxed than he had while greeting the continent’s other two rulers.

    “We are most pleased to welcome citizens of England’s prized friend Rome to our humble court.” Elizabeth said.

    Hanno blinked. Humble? He wondered, his peripheral vision taking in the splendid tapestries, the plush velvet fabrics, the silver and gold accents, and the hand-carved stone columns that surrounded them in the throne room. He focused his attention on the Queen and thought he noticed a sign of mirth in those beautiful but perceptive blue eyes.

    “It is our pleasure to be welcomed so warmly,” Hanno said graciously.

    “Tell us,” Elizabeth said, “how fares Gaius Julius?”

    Her tone was even and disinterested, Hanno noted, but her eyes sparkled when she spoke the name.

    “When I left Rome, he was very well indeed, your majesty. He sends you his warmest regards,” Hanno replied.

    Hanno watched the Queen’s expression closely, but could detect no hint of her regard for Caesar there. He’d heard rumours, of course, that Caesar and Elizabeth were intimate, but the Queen gave no outward sign of her feelings. At first this made Hanno doubt the rumours; Caesar, he knew, was so open and engaging, he couldn’t imagine the Roman leader enjoying the company of this closed, frosty English Queen. Then again, he reflected, perhaps that was the attraction: all women were a mystery, and this Queen was a grander mystery than most women, perhaps more than any. And perhaps, Hanno thought, in a world run by men, this remarkable woman had to be extremely guarded.

    “Another acquaintance of your Majesty’s, whom I encountered on my way to London, wishes to be remembered to you as well,” Hanno went on.
    One of the Queen’s fiery brows rose. “Allow us to guess. Captain Jack Falstaff?”

    “The very one, your Majesty.”

    “If you see that reprobate again, tell him that if we are in need of a court jester, he shall hear from us,” she said evenly, though Hanno thought he saw an amused sparkle in her eye. “Otherwise, he can continue to hold his court, where it is, such as it is, and we shall hold ours.”

    “Indeed, your Majesty,” Hanno said, thoroughly unsurprised by the Queen’s response and wisely deciding that now that he’s discharged his duty to Zorba’s drinking companion, he would now let the matter drop.

    “Let us speak plainly,” Elizabeth said, stirring Hanno from his reverie. “My ministers have studied the goods you bring us, and we are prepared to make an offer.” She nodded at one of her attendants, a man in late middle age dressed in fine velvet and hose that showed he was maintaining his fine legs.

    “Lord Wellesley, at your service,” the man said, then handed Hanno a small scroll.

    Hanno unfurled the scroll and read through the brief prose, his eyes running to the figure at the bottom. Those shrewd eyes opened wide. The English offer was nearly a thousand talents of gold more than what he had been offered in Greece and Mongolia. The merchant had to struggle to keep his expression neutral.

    “A most… generous offer,” he said evenly; years of experience in financial negotiations paid off, keeping all trace of emotion out of his voice.

    And yet, when he looked into the Queen’s eyes, he could swear they were twinkling. She knew her offer was better than the others he had received by far! Of course she must have spies in both Greece and Mongolia. Even so, the size of the amount proved what Hanno had up until this point only heard but had never experienced: that the English possessed financial acumen far beyond that of other nations.

    “Generosity is what one offers the less fortunate,” Elizabeth said, “a situation far from applicable to Rome. What England offers, we sincerely hope, is a fair and equitable agreement between friends and allies.”
    Hanno bowed his head to indicate his understanding and agreement. Inwardly, he was glad that he, his wife, and their companions would not have to retrace their steps through Greece and Mongolia and could instead end their journey here in England, among friends of Rome.

    Just then, another official-looking man dressed in a long red velvet robe fringed with ermine entered the receiving room and approached the throne. He bent forward to whisper in the Queen’s ear. As he spoke, her arched red brows rose and she turned to look at him.

    “Indeed?” she said aloud, evidently deeming whatever news this minister bore worthy of dissemination to the court and its visitors. “What type of ship, and bearing the flag of which nation?”

    “We do not know, your majesty,” the man replied. “Only that it is sailing towards London as we speak.”

    An anxious murmur arose in the court. A ship? Sailing towards London? Whose could it be? England shared a continent with two aggressive neighbours and was currently at war with one of them. Could this ship be the vanguard of an amphibious invasion?

    “Well,” the Queen said nonchalantly, “I suppose we must see for ourselves. It is a pleasant day, and a walk by the seaside will do us all a world of good. This court spends far too much time sitting and talking indoors. Come!” she said, standing suddenly and clapping her hands, at which signal the entire court, lords, ladies, and servants alike rose and began to scurry about. “You come as well, Hanno, and your lovely wife!”

    “This seems odd,” Yukio remarked as she and her husband walked out of the palace and followed the Queen and her courtiers down a long, wide, paved path. “If this is an invasion, should the Queen really be going out to meet it herself?”

    “Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she sent them packing with a tongue-lashing,” Hanno said.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a man in a tunic and toga approaching the group. He nodded to Sextus Rutullus Lepidus as he fell into step with Hanno and Yukio.

    “Well, here’s a little more excitement for your visit!” Sextus said in Latin.

    “Is London really being invaded?” Hanno asked.

    “I suppose we’ll find out shortly!”

    A few minutes later, the group approached a royal dock upon the Thames, its precincts much cleaner and more respectable than Hanno, a frequenter of many a shipping port, had ever encountered before. Here the courtiers assembled, on a boardwalk high above the water’s edge, the servants holding parasols to shield the ladies from the sun’s heat.

    “There it is!” Sextus said, pointing towards the western horizon.

    There, in the distance, they could see the high masts and sails of a sailing ship, evidently a large one, its prow pointed straight towards the heart of London.

    “It’s a galleon,” Hanno murmured as he counted the sails. “It has to be.”

    “Indeed, we think you are correct,” Elizabeth said, her sharp ears detecting the merchant’s assessment. “A galleon it must indeed be.”

    The English lords and ladies glanced at one another nervously. Galleons could carry troops, after all—a lot of them. And yet, here was their Queen, evidently unafraid and determine to greet this mysterious ship, whatever its cargo.

    The ship was closer now, and larger in their view. They could hear its broad canvas sails snapping in the wind and the surging sound as the surf broke beneath its prow. Every eye on the dock strained to discern any further details.

    It was Yukio who spotted the flag atop the foremast first. She gasped when she saw the familiar gold oak crown on a field of purple.

    “It’s Roman!” she exclaimed. Every eye on the dock turned towards her. “See? On top of the mast? It’s the flag of Rome!”

    The crowd on the dock turned back to stare at the ship, and slowly, they found and recognized the flag of their friend and ally. It seemed as if the crowd collectively let out a breath it had been holding. The courtiers were smiling now, then began to cheer as the ship approached the dock. On its side they could discern a name: JVNO, the ancient queen of the Roman pantheon.



    As it grew near, English dockhands went to work, carrying forth great, heavy ropes with which the great ship could be fastened to the dock. On the Roman ship, deckhand were similarly hurrying about, preparing the galleon for docking. Ropes were tossed from the ship to the dock as it drew alongside, and vice versa, the experienced dock workers and sailors working together to bring the great ship to port.

    As soon as the Juno was secured, a great gangplank lowered from her port side. A tall, lean figure in a purple-striped tunic and toga then appeared at the top of the gangplank, surveying the dock, and London beyond it, with great interest. A golden oak crown sat atop the thinning hair atop his head; beneath it, the handsome face was dominated by a pair of piercing eyes, ice-blue rimmed with black.

    “Ave, Caesar!” Sextus cried out, instinctively pressing his fist to his heart, then opening his hand and extending it outwards in the age-old legionary salute.

    Caesar smiled at Rome’s ambassador to England as he walked down to the dock. “Ave, Sextus Rutullus Lepidus. It’s been a few years since the Battle of Jute, eh?”

    “Indeed it has,” Sextus said, smiling as he remembered marching with the Twelfth Legion to capture the last barbarian stronghold on the island just east of the Roman continent. “As I recall, you are already acquainted with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth,” he said as they approached the Queen.

    “Indeed I am,” Caesar said with a broad smile, extending both this strong hands, into which Elizabeth placed her daintier ones. “I decided to take advantage of your offer, your Grace.”

    “You are most welcome,” Elizabeth said, her blue eyes riveted upon Caesar’s. “We assured Rome’s leader of a warm welcome in England’s heart, and you shall indeed have it.”

    “Wonderful,” Caesar said, then released Elizabeth’s hands. She deftly linked her left arm with his right and they turned and began to walk back towards the palace. “Sextus,” Caesar remarked to his ambassador, “I bring you greetings from your father and mother.”

    “They’re both well, I hope?”

    “Both hale and hearty when I left,” Caesar assured him. “Your father intends to run for Censor again, now that his third term as Consul is over.”

    Sextus chuckled softly. “Mother likes the peace and quiet in the house when he’s out of it,” he remarked. “Or so she says. The truth of it is, she knows he’s a man of action. Being of service to Rome keeps him young. So she keeps advising him to seek office rather than retire.”

    “I, for one, am glad for her perseverance in that regard,” Caesar said, then noticed another familiar face in the crowd. “Ah, Hanno! And your lovely wife. Yukio, correct?” The merchant and his wife bowed their heads. “I trust you have brought your business on the continent to a satisfactory conclusion?”
    Caesar’s statement, Hanno realized, was anything but a question. The merchant glanced at the Queen, who favoured him with a slight but friendly smile.

    “I believe so, Caesar,” Hanno said. “Most satisfactory indeed.”

    “Good,” Caesar said, then leaned in close so only Hanno could hear him. “We’ll speak later. I want to hear about what happened in Argos.”

    Hanno’s eyes widened. How did he know…? But Caesar had already straightened and was speaking for the crowd yet again.

    “Allow me to introduce you,” Caesar said, gesturing to a tall, lean man with a neatly-trimmed mustache and beard who had come down the gangplank in Caesar’s wake. “This is Remus—yes, the latest descendant from Rome’s famous family of explorers. He and his colleagues intend to map what they can of the continent… since certain parties refuse to share their maps with us,” he added, casting an arch look in Queen Elizabeth’s direction, a look that he found mirrored in her lovely face.

    “Your majesty,” Remus said, bowing to the Queen and wisely ignoring the teasing interplay between the two immortal leaders.

    “This is indeed a splendid and happy occasion,” Caesar continued. “My visit here will serve, I sincerely hope, as proof to the world of the enduring friendship of England and Rome. I say this is cause for a celebration,” he said with a sly glance at the Queen, then added in a stage whisper, “And trust me, no one knows how to throw a party better than a man in a toga.”

    As the joyful courtiers walked back to the palace, Hanno realized that Caesar was utterly unsurprised that the merchant’s trade mission had culminated in England. Indeed, how could it be a coincidence that he should appear suddenly, in the English capital, just as Hanno had received the English offer? Not that his acceptance of it was ever in doubt, not when it far exceeded the offers of Alexander or Genghis Khan! Still, Hanno wondered, how had he known? How had he known what the outcome would be before Hanno himself did, how did he know exactly when to appear so as to have the desirable effect? In the end, Hanno could only shrug. He is Caesar, he thought. That’s explanation enough.

    ***

    The throne room in the palace Athens sported a balcony high upon its northern side which overlooked a well-manicured garden. There, away from eavesdroppers, stood two men, both immortal, both leaders of their respective nations.

    “I received word from my agents in London today, by the way,” Alexander remarked to his visitor. “That grubby Roman merchant sold his wares to Caesar’s whore.”

    Genghis Khan grunted disdainfully. “It figures. Pah! Trinkets for women. He probably gave her a discount, she being Rome’s pet and all.”

    “Actually, no,” Alexander said. “From what I understand, her offer exceeded either of ours by nearly a thousand talents.” Alexander watched as Khan’s narrow eyes opened wide. The Greek leader shrugged. “What can one expect from a nation of shopkeepers?”

    “It’s not the shopkeepers that worry me,” Khan said. “It’s the company they’re keeping these days.” He shook his head. “It was one thing when we had the continent to ourselves. But Rome… Rome complicates matters.”

    “Yes, I’ve been thinking about that,” Alexander said. “You know, we have an old saying here in Greece: the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he remarked, casting a meaningful glance at Khan, his neighbour and frequent rival.

    Khan paused a moment to digest the aphorism. “If that is so,” Khan said, “what does that make the friend of your enemy?”

    “What else could they be, but my enemy as well?” Alexander said slowly, an undercurrent of malice in his tone.

    “Indeed,” Khan said, nodding. “Indeed…”

    Both men turned and looked to the north, towards England.

     
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