Princes of the Universe, Part I

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  1. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter Eight: Slavery, Part 2



    “Rufus! I need…”

    “Here you are, master!” the slave said, appearing as if from thin air and placing a half-dozen sharpened reed pens at Sostratus’ elbow.

    “Ah,” Sostratus said, picking up the reed and examining its tip, which was sharpened to an immaculate point. “Good. Now…”

    “But first, you must eat, master,” Rufus said. He set down a plate with several slices of bread surrounding a bowl of hot, steaming soup. It smelled wonderful; Sostratus’ mouth watered and his stomach growled at the sight—and the smell.

    “Just as soon as I…”

    “No!” Rufus said insistently. “No ‘as soon as’. You need to eat now. Otherwise, you will be too tired to focus. You will then be unsatisfied with your work, making me run around scrounging up more papyrus and sharpening more pens, yelling at me the whole time because you are convinced that somehow it is all my fault.”

    Sostratus looked at his slave incredulously. “How long have we been married?” he asked sarcastically.

    Rufus laughed, but pushed the soup under his master’s nose. “Do you think I’ve learned nothing, serving you these last three years? I may be a slave, but I am not an idiot. Now, my wife worked very hard on this wonderful soup, and she will be very disappointed if I tell her that you did not eat it. You may be my master, but she is my boss. Trust me, I don’t want to make her upset!”

    Sostratus smiled and took a sip of the soup; the beefy broth and hearty vegetables tasted excellent, and he felt refreshed almost instantly. He had to acknowledge that Rufus had a point. He did tend to overwork himself, often to the point of exhaustion, and then became more unproductive as a result. He glanced at Rufus as if for the first time; the man was his own age or thereabouts, and had the olive complexion and dark hair typical of many Romans. Sostratus began to wonder, for the first time, what was it about this man that made him a slave instead of free?

    “How did you become a slave, Rufus?” Sostratus asked as he dipped some of the bread into the broth.

    “My father,” Rufus said with a sigh. “I should like to be able to say he was a gambler, but that implies that he had some skill at it, which, sadly, he did not.”

    “He went into debt?” Sostratus deduced.

    “Indeed he did,” Rufus said. “So much so that he had no choice but to sell himself, his wife, and his children into slavery to pay off his creditors.”

    “How long…?”

    “I was six when this happened,” Rufus said. “I don’t even remember my life before I became a slave. You are the fourth master I have had, and though it sounds like something I would say to curry favour, you are in many ways the best.”

    “How so?” Sostratus asked, intrigued.

    “You have never beaten me,” Rufus said simply. “You work me hard, yes, but no harder than you work yourself. And you are doing great work,” he added, gesturing at the many detailed drawings of the lighthouse, his chest swelling with pride. “I am glad to be a part of it.”

    “Thank you, Rufus,” Sostratus said quietly. He didn’t know what else to say; he was genuinely moved. It had never occurred to him that a slave could be glad to serve his master. In fact, before today, he’d never given slaves much consideration at all. They’d always been there, in the background, for as long as he could remember, quietly performing their assigned tasks.

    Rufus smiled. “And you are the first master who has ever said those words to me,” he said. “Now eat!”

    “Yes, mother,” Sostratus said with a sheepish grin, bemused by the irony of a slave giving orders to his master.



    ***



    Sostratus tilted his head to look out through the wooden scaffolding. Over three hundred feet below him, waves crashed against the rocky shoreline. It had taken over four years, but the first two sections of the lighthouse were finally complete: the broad, lower square section first, then the more slender, octagonal second section. Each section, on its own, made up half the current height of the lighthouse. Now only the top, circular section had to be finished, which would house the light, the structure’s main purpose.

    “We’re still behind schedule,” he muttered unhappily.

    Standing behind him, Cornelius sighed and shook his head. “I thought we were coming up here to enjoy the view,” the foreman said, “and forget about the damned schedule for a just a little while.”

    “I can never forget about the damned schedule,” Sostratus said. “It fills my waking mind and haunts my dreams.”

    “Surely Caesar doesn’t expect the impossible,” Cornelius said.

    Sostratus laughed bitterly. “You don’t know him very well,” he said. “Both my father and my brother campaigned with him. He led my brother’s legion on a forced march with him through the jungles north of Ravenna to reach Barcelona. Men were dropping like flies from the heat, the humidity, malaria, dysentery… but Caesar drove them on. He goaded them, inspired them, rallied them, rushed physicians and medicine from Rome… but he still insisted that they march and fight and take the city. Whatever the cost. Which they did.”

    Cornelius coughed uncomfortably. “Speaking of costs…”

    Sostratus sighed. “What now?” he asked tiredly.

    “We lost twelve more yesterday.”

    “Twelve?” Sostratus exclaimed, turning to glare at his foreman with shock and amazement.

    “The scaffolding on the south side collapsed,” Cornelius explained, waving his hand in that direction, which was behind him. Indeed, now that he looked, Sostratus saw that no wooden scaffolding rose above the lip of that section of the tower. “It took the slaves with it, including two of our best masons.”

    “Damn it!” Sostratus swore, slamming the heel of his fist against the stone wall. “You’ll just have to replace them.”

    “That won’t be easy…”

    “I don’t care how hard it is!” Sostratus shouted. “Get more slaves! Go up to Cordoba yourself and round up every Spaniard you see if you have to!”

    “It’s not that simple!” Cornelius said testily, angry at having to endure this same confrontation with the architect for the umpteenth time. “The Spaniards make terrible slaves, as you well know! They’re a conquered people—they’re resentful and unruly and damned hard to motivate!”

    “Isn’t that why you carry that thing on your belt?” Sostratus hissed, pointing to the leather whip that was hanging over the foreman’s thick right thigh.

    “It’s a last resort…” Cornelius said through clenched teeth.

    “I’d say were at the last resort stage!” Sostratus said with a bitter laugh. “Caesar expects to come return here from the Spanish campaign in six months and see this lighthouse operational. How do you think he’ll react if he leaves an on-going war for no good reason? Do you want to face his wrath if we waste his time? Because I don’t!”

    “Of course not,” Cornelius said in a more subdued tone. Caesar’s rages were few and far between, and the foreman thanked Jupiter for that, as they were renowned to be terrible. He was not a man to disappoint, let alone cross. “It’s just…”

    He raised his eyes and fell silent. Sostratus was glaring at him, his impatient expression plainly indicating that the architect was not interested in explanations, only in results. Cornelius had tried to warn him over the preceding years about the dangers of pressing the slaves too hard—how their resentment made them careless, even malicious, despite the fact that their own kind suffered for it. A new team of Spanish slaves had built the scaffolding that had collapsed the day before. Cornelius was sure they had at least built it sloppily, and he wasn’t ruling out intentional sabotage.

    But to Sostratus, he knew from long, hard experience, these were irrelevant details. The architect was driven to have his vision made manifest, and on time, whatever the cost. And so Cornelius went along with it.

    He sighed heavily. “I’ll find more slaves,” he said. “The Japanese tend to be good workers. Maybe…”

    “I don’t care where they come from,” Sostratus said as he turned to walk back down the long, circular staircase of the octagonal tower. “Just get them here and get them to work.”

    With those words and without a look back, he disappeared below into the cold, dark interior of the lighthouse.

     
  2. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Slavery, Part 3

    “Rufus?!” Sostratus cried out. “Rufus, damn it, where are you?”

    “Coming, master,” a voice called from the hallway. The dark-haired slave entered his master’s dressing chamber, the loose fabric of a toga slung over one arm. He paused in the doorway and bent over for a moment as his body was racked by a coughing fit.

    “Jupiter!” Sostratus said, taking a step back from his slave. “Are you sick?”

    “It’s nothing,’ Rufus said, his voice rough and quavering. “Just something I picked up. My wife says it’s all these late nights.”

    “Well, I’m working the same hours, and I’m fine, so what does she know?” Sostratus said testily as Rufus draped the toga over his body, which was clad only in a tunic.

    Rufus glanced at his master’s gaunt features, taking in the hair that was more grey than sandy blond now, and the eyes, which were sunken and blood-shot. But like any slave, he knew better than to speak his mind.

    “Of course you’re right,” he said, then put the sandals he’d been carrying in his armpit upon the floor before Sostratus’ feet.

    “Are these new?” Sostratus asked as he stepped into the sandals and noticed their unusual fresh, tight feel. One of them was custom-made to accommodate his malformed club foot.

    “Of course,” Rufus said weakly. “As is the toga. Today is the big day. You should look your best for Caesar.”

    Sostratus glanced at Rufus, and his expression softened a little. “That was very thoughtful, Rufus. I appreciate it.” He placed a hand on the slave’s shoulder.

    Rufus bowed in response, but said nothing as he suppressed another coughing fit. Sostratus did not notice his slave’s distress; he was already out the door by the time Rufus straightened from his bow.

    ***

    The architect stared up at his great achievement. In the falling dark, the great flame at the top of the lighthouse flared magnificently, as though it were a plume from the forge of Vulcan himself. It lit the surrounding countryside for miles, as well as illuminating the roiling sea. Upon that sea bobbed several Roman ships, all gathered close to shore for the ceremonial lighting of the signal fire. When the flame had been lit, the cheer from the sailors on the ships had been deafening. It was understandable; they, and their brethren of other nations, would be the chief beneficiaries of the great lighthouse. For centuries to come, everyone was certain, the structure’s guiding light would save countless lives.

    A pity, then, that it had cost so many in its construction.

    Sostratus had had little time to reflect on this, however. There were several dignitaries from Rome to meet, speeches made, omens taken, sacrifices ceremoniously offered to the gods. The architect, more used to working at his desk alone, was swept up in the grand event like a ship without oars or rudder on a roiling sea. At least they hadn’t made him speak. Now that it was over, he still felt like that drifting ship—except now he could feel himself sinking.

    The first disappointment had been the absence of Drusus, his brother. He sent his regrets, but he had to remain on campaign with the 8th Legion in Spain. Drusus’ letter, arriving by a runner that day, also expressed regrets on behalf of their father, though Sostratus suspect that Drusus had hiimself included the lines out of a desire to comfort his older brother. Sostratus knew his father couldn’t be bothered to come down from Rome to Antium to witness a triumph by his lame-footed son.

    The second disappointment followed shortly thereafter: Caesar had sent word that he, also, could not attend due to complications arising from the on-going campaign in Spain. He would return to visit the structure as soon as his busy schedule allowed. Sostratus had smiled grimly at this news; the rush to complete the lighthouse had been undertaken to satisfy a man who, being immortal, had all the time in the world to come and see it.



    Worse, though, had been the crowd from Antium. In contrast with the sailors’ enthusiasm, the citizens of Antium attending the official dedication of the lighthouse had been silent. Sostratus had tried to look into their eyes, but could not. Everyone in Antium had a family member or a friend who had worked on the lighthouse, and many of them had died in the process. The last few weeks had been the worst.

    In the final push to finish the structure, citizens had been forcibly recruited from Antium. Speed resulted in carelessness, and many of the conscripted workers were unskilled. Several, upon climbing the structure, had been overcome by vertigo, so unused to such great heights were they. As the lighthouse neared completion, workers began to die like flies. Working so long and hard during the heat of summer finished several off; some died of heat stroke, while others, exhausted, missed a step or hand-hold and fell to their deaths from the tower’s great height. Other fatal accidents grew more frequent as the foremen pressed their charges to meet the ambitious building schedule.

    Many of the slaves simply died of exhaustion. Their bodies just gave out under the strain of hauling great amounts of stone up over 350 feet. Word spread in Antium: working on the lighthouse was a death sentence. And still the foremen came, hauling off any able-bodied man they could find who did not have the connections or the gold to stave off forced recruitment.

    And now, Sostratus knew without even looking, the wives, parents, children, friends, and relations of the deceased were watching him. They did not jeer at him, did not shout abuse or threats or throw rocks or garbage at him. That he could have borne. But their silence brought home to him not their anger, but their sorrow. He knew they blamed him, not Caesar, for the loss of their loved ones. But he had Caesar’s favour, and that made him untouchable. So they said and did nothing other than stare at him balefully, accusingly. It was awful.

    The ceremony was complete. The delegation from Rome shook his hand as they made to depart; many even slapped him on the back as though he were one of their own. Which, in all the ways that counted, he realized he now was. A few yards away, the crowd from Antium began to break up, silently and sullenly turning away and making their way back to their homes.

    Within minutes, Sostratus found himself standing alone in his toga and his new sandals at the base of his great lighthouse. He placed his right hand upon the stone wall at the base of the structure; it was cold and offered no comfort. Sostratus felt a droplet of water hit his face, then another. Within moments, a steady drizzle was falling.

    The architect made no move to get out of the rain. He glanced at the stone wall and then drew his hand back and gasped. Liquid was running down the walls—but it wasn’t water! It was dark and viscous and deep red. Sostratus recoiled in horror. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. When he looked again, mere rainwater was running down the stone wall in sheets.

    “A trick of the light,” Sostratus muttered.

    Unconvinced, he turned and ran back to his residence.



    ***

    “Rufus? Damn it, Rufus, where the hell are you?”

    Sostratus was standing in the entryway to his residence, his sodden toga dripping water onto the marble floor, his new sandals waterlogged and very probably ruined.

    “Rufus!” he shouted again.

    From the hallway appeared a small woman with long, dark hair, tied simply so it hung down her back. A long, cheap linen gown covered her slender body. She meekly but quickly approached Sostratus and bowed.

    “Where is Rufus?” he asked, wondering if this was his house slave’s wife; he realized that he had never before seen the woman, though she had lived under his roof and prepared his meals for over seven years.

    “He…” the woman said, then glanced fearfully, and sorrowfully, over her shoulder. Suddenly, her face folded in grief, and she burst into tears.

    Sostratus’s impatience vanished. He gently placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder and felt it shaking. “What’s wrong? What happened?” The woman looked up at him; her dark brown eyes, he could see, were red and puffy from weeping. “What’s wrong?”

    The woman, evidently unable to speak, only shook her head and beckoned him to follow her. Sostratus followed her to the east wing of the residence, which housed the slaves’ quarters. She led him into a small room, bare except for a low table with a lit tallow candle upon it and a cot. On the cot lay Rufus, his body curled into a fetal position. Sostratus quickly moved past the weeping woman and knelt beside his slave’s bed.

    “Rufus?” he asked gently. “What’s wrong?”

    Upon hearing his master’s voice, the slave’s eyes sprang open. Rufus pressed himself up on one arm. Then his body convulsed as a violent coughing fit wracked his frame. He finished by coughing up a mixture of phlegm and blood. Sostratus’ eyes widened in horror.

    “Jupiter!” he exclaimed. “Rufus, you’re sick! I’ll send for a physician…”

    Sostratus began to rise, but stopped when he felt Rufus’ hand upon his forearm. The man’s touch was weak, almost limp.

    “No need, master,” Rufus said, his voice a rough whisper that Sostratus had to strain to hear. “One has…already been.”

    “A slave physician,” Sostratus said dismissively. “I can get you better.”

    A sound escaped Rufus’ lips that was a combination of cough and bitter laugh. “So that my death will cost you even more money?” he said, smiling grimly.

    “Hang the cost,” Sostratus said. “I won’t let you die!”

    “But I will, master…” Rufus said weakly, lowering his head back to the cot. “My wife,” he said, glancing over Sostratus’ shoulder at the meek little woman who had led the architect to the room, “says it’s… all the long hours…” The slave paused to cough violently; his body shuddered as he forced it back under his control. “I think… she is wrong. But even… if she is right… it was worth it.”

    Sostratus tried to speak, but his voice caught. His eyes blinked away tears. Some part of him was incredulous that he was mourning for a slave. No, not a slave, he corrected himself. My friend. And at that thought, he could contain the tears no longer, and they spilled from his eyes.

    “Rufus… I’m sorry…” he said.

    Rufus looked at him his eyes widening in surprise, then shook his head. “No… no!” the slave said. “We built it!” he asserted, his eyes suddenly livening with pride. “The lighthouse. The great lighthouse! A wonder of the world. We…”
    He was cut off by another coughing fit.

    “Yes, we did,” Sostratus said, struggling to keep his voice from cracking. “We built it. You and I. You and I and so many others, so many…”

    “Take care of her,” Rufus said, weakly touching his master’s arm. Sostratus frowned, uncomprehending. “My wife… Selene,” he said, again glancing over his shoulder at the weeping woman. “She has no one, master. She’s… a good cook, yes?” Rufus smiled with no small amount of pride.

    “Yes,” Sostratus said, forcing a smile onto his own face. “She is. And if you loved her, she must be a good woman. I’ll… I’ll keep her in my service.”

    “Good,” Rufus said, “good…” He laid his head down on the cot and closed his eyes. All at once, a violent coughing fit shook his body. “Oh, I’m so sick of this!” the slave muttered. He took one more breath, then went still and breathed no more.

    An unearthly wail from behind him startled Sostratus, and he moved back as Selene rushed forward and threw herself, grieving, upon her husband’s body. The architect was at a complete loss. Awkwardly, he reached out and placed what he hoped was a comforting arm upon the woman’s heaving shoulders. At his touch, however, the small woman leapt to her feet and turned on him, her face livid with rage.

    “MURDERER!” she cried. “YOU KILLED HIM! DON’T TOUCH ME!”

    “I’m sorry… I’m s-so sorry…” was all Sostratus could think to say, and he repeated it over and over as he backed out of the room. Selene turned from him, fell again upon her husband’s body and wept dejectedly while her chagrined master made his exit.

    ***



    Within days, Sostratus found himself sitting beside another bed, attending another deathwatch. The courier had delivered the summons the very day after Rufus had died. Sostratus had parted for Rome within the hour. I suppose it explains why he didn’t attend the ceremony, he had reflected on the journey, though with more bitterness than generosity. It’s just like him, he’d thought. He’s dying out of spite.

    The physician had administered a potent sleeping draught; his patient had been in a great deal of pain, as a fatal disorder of the stomach was likely to induce. So Sostratus kept watch, alone, over an insensate man who could do nothing now but die.

    “Well, at least you won’t interrupt me when I talk to you now,” Sostratus said to his father, one corner of his mouth twitching upwards in a bitter smile.

    “You should be proud of me,” the architect said a moment later. “You were so proud of Drusus when he went into the legions. And of yourself and your glory days with them. So proud of your ability to kill.”

    Sostratus leaned forward, his eyes suddenly blazing, his tone intense. “Well, you’re an amateur. So is Drusus. I’ve outpaced you both! How many do you think you killed in all your time in Rome’s Legions? Be honest now; I know how the maniples fight, attacking then withdrawing so fresh troops can come forward. How many? A hundred? Two hundred?

    “Ha! I’ve killed at least ten times that many. I’ve bathed in blood, wallowed in it, father! Can’t you see?” Sostratus held up his arms. His voice rose in volume and agitation. “I’m covered in it. Covered in blood, up past the elbows! Aren’t you proud? Aren’t you proud of your son, the killer? Finally, at long last?”

    Suddenly, Quintus Camillus’ eyes opened. Weakly, his head turned, and his drug-addled eyes regarded his eldest son. A son he looked at now not with affection, nor with the dismissive contempt Sostratus had so often seen there. No, this was another look entirely, one he had never seen his father bestow upon him.

    Quintus Camillus looked at his son with horror.

    And then, the piercing blue eyes went blank as all life left them.

    Sostratus rose, pushing himself up on his cane. He knocked on the door of the room and the physician entered. The learned man walked over to the bed, inspected the body, then sighed.

    “Your father is dead, Sostratus Camillus,” he said gravely. “I’m sorry.” Sostratus said nothing, merely nodded. “Did he have any last words?”

    Sostratus shook his head. “Not for me,” he said quietly. “Never for me…”

    ***

    Sostratus remained in Rome for several days, making funeral arrangements. He also took advantage of his time in the capital to seek out his next commission. As he departed the Basilica Romanus one day, a voice called his name, a voice that was familiar even though its possessor had only spoken to him on a handful of other occasions.

    “Sostratus Camillus!” Caesar called from across the great covered hall. Rome’s immortal leader broke away from his gaggle of assistants and advisors and strode across the hall to the architect. He walked with purpose yet great dignity, his purple-bordered toga swaying about his tall frame as he approached Sostratus.

    “Caesar,” the architect said in simple greeting.

    “My dear young man,” Caesar said, gently placing a hand upon Sostratus’ shoulder. “Let me offer you my sincere condolences. One of my advisors told me of your father’s death yesterday, when I returned from the front.”

    “Thank you, Caesar,” Sostratus said. He knew he was supposed to appear grief-stricken, but he could not be bothered to fake the emotion, even with Caesar. He stared back, clear-eyed, into his leader’s eyes.

    “On a happier note,” Caesar said smoothly, “I have business in Antium, and I’ll finally have the time to see your magnificent lighthouse. Perhaps you’d care to accompany me to the city, and show me the great building yourself?”

    The words came out as a request, but Sostratus knew it was tantamount to an order. Even so, he felt it was one he could not obey.

    “I’m sorry, Caesar,” he said, his gaze dropping to the ground. “I don’t think I can look upon the lighthouse again.” He paused, sighed, then lifted his head and looked Caesar directly in the eye. “A great many people fell, Caesar, so that my great lighthouse could rise.”

    Julius Caesar nodded. “I see,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s any consolation, Sostratus,” he said, “but as a military commander, I can tell you that in any campaign, sacrifices are sometimes necessary. To serve the greater good.”

    “I suppose,” Sostratus said.

    “In fact, that had me thinking,” Caesar said, smoothly attempting to change the subject. “The Spanish campaign has been a long and hard one, the foe more numerous and tougher than we faced when we conquered Japan so long ago. Once it’s done, I think some sort of monument to those who fell would be appropriate. I’d need someone to design it, of course.”

    “A monument?” Sostratus asked, his eyes suddenly lighting up.

    “Yes, if you’re interested.”

    Sostratus was lost in thought for a moment, his eyes gazing south towards Antium. “Perhaps,” he said. “I’ll consider it. There’s something I have to do first, though.” He turned to look at Caesar again. “I think I will accompany you to Antium after all.”

    ***



    A few days later, Sostratus stood at the bottom of the great stairwell that led up into the lighthouse. He had given Caesar a tour; the immortal had expressed his admiration and appreciation, then they had parted ways. Now the architect laid out his tools. He had hammers and chisels of various sizes, along with a long scroll. He took up a hammer and one chisel, knelt before the stone wall beside the stairs, and began to work.

    He began each day at dawn, using mirrors to bring light into the dark stairwell. He spent the hours on his knees, hammering away at the stone with great care. By the end of the day, every muscle in his body ached from the strain, as did his knees; his face, the entire front of his body, was covered with stone dust.

    He would have kept working long into the night if he’d been left to his own devices. But to his surprise, Selene, Rufus’ widow, always came there at the end of the day to softly but sternly bid her master home, where she had prepared a meal. She had the other slaves prepare his bath and bed for him. At her insistence, he began to wear a kerchief to help keep the rock dust out of his lungs; he had begun to develop a cough, and it brought back unpleasant memories for her.

    Every day he returned to the lighthouse, and every day he progressed higher up the stairwell. The lighthouse keepers passed by him on their way up or down the stairwell as they extinguished the flame each morning and put a great mirror in its place, then did the reverse every evening. It was those men who spread word of what the architect was doing in Antium.

    Residents of the city began to come out to inspect his work. They walked up the staircase slowly, gazing at Sostratus’ work reverently. Some broke down in tears; a few, overcome, even wailed in grief, the sound echoing up the stairwell and spurring the architect on with his task. Few people deigned to pay any attention to him, but of course some did. Some citizens climbed the many stairs to find and embrace him; a handful came up to curse him, one or two to spit upon him. Sostratus bore it all stoically and went back to his work after every encounter.

    A month went by, and early in the next he was approaching the top of the stairwell, nearly at the peak of the lighthouse itself. He spent two days working in the small, round room that housed the light, the room so brightly illuminated by the great mirror during the day that he had to squint to do his work. Then, after this “break”, he returned to the stairwell to complete his self-assigned task.

    It was on the forty-second day that Selene found him at the top of the stairwell, putting the finishing touches on one more piece of work with a small hammer and an equally delicate chisel. She tapped his shoulder, as she usually did. He nodded and held up one finger. She waited patiently. Then she glanced at what he as carving into the stone and could not suppress a gasp.

    Sostratus leaned back on his haunches and pulled his kerchief down from his sweat-stained face. He grasped a brush and cleaned the dust out of what he had carved. The letters were as elegant as the finest calligrapher could have managed with ink and paper. Sostratus had begun his career doing this, serving as an apprentice with a stone cutter who specialized in headstones; he felt like he had come full circle. There was, after all, no profound message or proud declaration that he had carved into the stone; just a name.

    RVFVS GRACCHVS

    “He was the last,” Sostratus told Selene. “So.. he’s the last.”

    Selene nodded and wiped away a tear. She glanced down the stairwell. Before it disappeared into the dark, she could read the other names there, all of them carved by Sostratus into the stone with care and reverence.

    The Romans kept immaculate records. It had been remarkably easy, therefore, to obtain the name of every slave who had died while building the Great Lighthouse of Antium. The length of the scroll containing their names had both shocked and shamed Sostratus, but had also strengthened his resolve. Their names would now be as immortal as the building itself. As immortal as Caesar, Sostratus reflected. For he had carved the name of each and every slave into the walls that lined the stairs which ascended to the top of the lighthouse. The names, so shockingly numerous, filled the entire stairwell from top to bottom.

    Now that he had completed his penance, he could consider the building complete. He sat back upon the stone, exhausted; his head fell into his hands. He would have wept, but he was too tired for tears.

    Selene then noticed that Sostratus had not confined his work to the stairwell. Around the lintel of the room at the tower’s pinnacle, she noticed for the first time, he had carved an epigram.

    “This building,” she said, reading his words aloud, “is dedicated to those who perished during its construction. May this flame light a course,” she continued, her voice shaking with emotion, “to a day when all slaves shall be free.” A tear coursed down her cheek. “Some might consider that sedition,” she said softly.

    “Let them,” Sostratus said tiredly. He gazed at the name of the man who had started as his slave and had become his friend, then looked up at the man’s widow. “He told me to look after you,” Sostratus said. “But I cannot keep you as a slave, Selene. Not you or any of the others. Not after what I’ve done. You are free. I’ll make it official at the basilica tomorrow.”

    “And where would I go?” she asked him, smiling serenely even as more tears stained her cheeks.

    “Wherever you want,” Sostratus said. “Back to your family.”

    “I have none,” she replied. “Only you.”

    Sostratus gazed at her in surprise. “I’m not… I’m not your family,” he said.

    “Of course you are,” she said, touching the architect’s cheek affectionately. She gazed at the name of her husband where it was carved indelibly into the stone. “He loved you, you know. Adored you. He was so proud to be a part of this,” she said, gesturing at the lighthouse. “He made the same request of me that he made of you. He asked me to look after you. I promised him I would.”

    Sostratus sat, gazing at her in wonder, for several moments. “You would… choose to stay? With me?”

    “Yes,” she said. “As a free woman,” she said, her voice catching as she said the words for the first time in her life, “I choose to stay with you.”

    “Can you… ever forgive me?” he asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper.

    “I think,” she said softly, “that you must instead forgive yourself.”

    With those words, Sostratus Camillus, architect of the Great Library of Ravenna and the Great Lighthouse of Antium, broke down completely. He threw his arms around Selene’s legs, pressed his head against her belly, and wept. His sorrowful wails echoed down the stairwell; the lighthouse keepers climbing the steps below heard him and paused for several minutes, respectfully waiting for him to stop. Selene merely stood, one hand caressing his sandy hair, now shot through with grey, and waited patiently for the storm of emotion to pass.

    When his anguish at last subsided, she bent down and touched his cheek, feeling the wetness of his tears upon her fingertips. “Your work here is done,” she said. “Dinner is waiting. Come home with me.”

    Together, they rose and walked down the stairwell, his hand in hers, progressing slowly because of his lame foot. As they walked, his fingers caressed each name he had carved into the stone, and his lips moved silently in prayer.

     
  3. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Oh ye of little faith! :p
     
  4. carl corey

    carl corey Deity

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    Wow... moving... You've almost managed to make me think twice about using slavery. Almost... ;)
     
  5. biggamer132

    biggamer132 King

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    Fantastic update. It's amazing how much a turn in Civ can represent.
     
  6. wenamon

    wenamon Warlord

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    wow... that was amazing. Does this mean all future ALC games will now be slavery free? :lol:
     
  7. carl corey

    carl corey Deity

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    Uh-yeah right. :D
     
  8. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    It is to laugh:

    :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

    I can imagine real people for a story, but I feel no remorse for numbers floating around inside a computer chip. :whipped:
     
  9. biggamer132

    biggamer132 King

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    Especially when they complain about how crowded it is. :mad:
     
  10. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Ex-act-ly. "But I've built all these pretty little cottages out in the countryside for you! Get out there, you bums!" :lol:

    I'm going to try to update more often--every weekend, even if it's only part of a full "chapter". This was a "hump" chapter, one that I realized I needed only after plotting and/or completing several of the other ones, and had to go back and write from scratch (including going back to the old saves to grab several screenshots--good thing I kept those files!). Several of the upcoming chapters, you see, are partially complete. So that oughtta help.
     
  11. BorgeoisBuffoon

    BorgeoisBuffoon Local Idiot

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    Oh, my. This was not only a welcomingly large chapter, but you've managed to impress me even more than usual. :)

    Poor Rufus, and poor Antium. Hearing it's even the Romans who had to suffer in building up the lighthouse and not just Japanese and Spanish slaves probably brought it in how much this project would have cost in the long run for Sostratus. I'm glad he managed to have a change of heart over what happened.

    Can't wait to see more!
     
  12. kirbystarfan

    kirbystarfan Chieftain

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    Wow, that was moving...you are a natural storyteller. It's amazing how you can take a simple turn or two and turn a few hammers on a project into a full-fledged story.:clap: :thanx:
     
  13. Sanovice

    Sanovice Chieftain

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    great stuff! im actually gettin in to tyhis story and can feel the emotions Sostratus is feeling.
     
  14. Nuka-sama

    Nuka-sama See ya! It has been a fun decade!

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    Good update Sitsuli :)
     
  15. Steel General

    Steel General Master of Temporal Fugue

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    Excellent job so far!! Looking forward to more.
     
  16. Sanovice

    Sanovice Chieftain

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    any updates in sight?
     
  17. carl corey

    carl corey Deity

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    He just finished one of his ALC threads. I hope he has some time for one update here. :)
     
  18. Clovis

    Clovis Charlemagne's Grandfather

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    :bump:

    All waiting patiently!

    :gripe: or not!
     
  19. Ashlord

    Ashlord Steeler Fanatic

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    :) Guess he didn't find time to be creative after his last ALC. Used too much up in that writeup, he must not have had any left for this story. Still waiting patiently for an update.:twitch:
     
  20. Globetrotter

    Globetrotter ...wherever i may roam...

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    ...where I lay my head is home...
    Awesome story! I love it :)
     
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