Princes of the Universe, Part I

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

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  1. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter 9: Great Works, Part 1



    “Ling! Good to see you!”

    At the sound of the booming, familiar voice, Ling Lun’s slender, youthful face lit up with a broad smile. He dropped his two traveling satchels, spread his arms, and found himself enclosed in the bear-like embrace of his oldest and dearest friend.

    “Metellus!” Ling said, stepping back out his friend’s welcoming hug. He cast an appraising eye over his friend’s imposing physique and the shining armour that covered it. “Soldiering agrees with you. I always knew it would.”

    “I suppose,” Metellus Gnaeus replied. It was only their long-standing friendship and familiarity that allowed Ling to notice the subtle change in his friend’s tone and expression, how his smile became just a little forced for a moment. “But enough of that! Let me get out of this damn armour and we can share a meal, and some wine, and you can tell me all the news from Rome! You make yourself comfortable… Lucius!” he called to one of his Century’s attendants.

    “This is my best friend in the whole world, Ling Lun. Find him a suitable billet. One that would suit Caesar!”

    And before Ling could voice an objection to any sort of special treatment, his friend had given him a friendly clap on the back and turned to march away.

    “This way, sir,” the attendant said respectfully.

    ***

    An hour later, the two old friends sat down at a table in Metellus’ quarters. His position as the 7th Legion’s Primus Pilus—“First Spear”, essentially the lead Centurion for the entire Legion—meant he commanded better quarters than most. Though the simple Spanish farmhouse, which had probably been abandoned as Roman troops marched upon Madrid, was hardly palatial. But as any soldier would attest, it beat sleeping rough on the bare ground in the rain. The meal before the two old friends consisted of olives, cheese, and bread, along with a little mutton stew prepared by the Century’s cook.

    “I hope you don’t mind camp rations,” Metellus said a little apologetically. “It’s simple, but it’s good and filling. We don’t get much of the delicacies that Rome enjoys up here in Spain yet.”

    “I know,” Ling said with a grin, “that’s why I brought this.”

    He reached into the smaller of his satchels, which he’d brought with him from his billet, and pulled out a bottle of wine. Metellus smiled broadly as Ling handed him the bottle.

    “From Capua…?” Metellus said hopefully, his eyes widening as he looked reverently at the bottle.

    “Yes. 1020, an excellent year,” Ling said.

    To Ling’s astonishment, the eyes of his sturdy, courageous friend welled up with tears. The big man blinked them away.

    “Jupiter,” Metellus said quietly. “The comforts of home. You have no idea how welcome this is, old friend…”

    “Metellus,” Ling said, “what’s wrong? I know the campaign was long and hard, but…”

    Metellus looked at him warily, then sighed. “It’s…” he began to say, then shook his head. “No. No, let’s not spoil the evening. You’ll find out soon enough.” Metellus smiled, though Ling could tell it was a little forced. “I want to hear all the news from Rome. Especially about your work! I hear your latest painting caused quite the sensation…”

    ***

    The friendship of Ling Lun and Metellus Gnaeus, at first glance, seemed like an unlikely mismatch of two completely disparate personalities.

    Ling Lun was the descendant, several generations removed, of that small band of Chinese workers who had been “liberated” from servitude in Japan by a band of Roman warriors centuries before. They had formed a small community within Rome itself, and were an accepted minority there…mostly. Some people were still unable to see past their golden skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes and accept them as fellow human beings.

    Ironically, this all-to-human susceptibility to prejudice was what had brought the two friends together. Many years before, when he was a boy, some older Roman lads had been bullying Ling outside one of Rome’s many gymnasiums when Metellus came to his rescue. Even then, he’d been taller and stronger than many boys two or three years older than himself, and he had the courage of a lion.

    Beneath that formidable exterior, though, was a sensitive boy who inherited a love of the arts from his mother. In the artistic Ling, Metellus found a friend with whom he could share his aesthetic enthusiasms, which his other, sports-loving school chums did not understand. Their friendship blossomed and had withstood the test of time, nearly a quarter-century gone by since they’d first met as boys.

    For Ling, the intervening time had been exciting indeed. The most exciting development in the arts in generations had occurred, and within his own lifetime! There had always been music, it seemed—but a group of musicians and scholars in Rome had created a system whereby music could be written down. The development had formalized the field, allowing musicians to record their creations for posterity. Musical notation also made music more accessible to the masses. More and more people were able to learn to play an instrument, and some exhibited remarkable talent that might have gone undiscovered in previous generations.



    It was, perhaps, ironic then that Ling Lun had chosen to focus on the visual arts rather than music. But like strings on a lute that vibrated in harmony when one was plucked, the burst of activity in music had energized all of the arts.

    Which is partly what had brought Ling to the recently-conquered city of Madrid. Partly, of course, he wanted to visit his old friend. But he also wanted to see, with his own eyes, one of the most astonishing human accomplishments ever created.

    For years, Romans had heard of the Pyramids, but none had ever seen them. The fanatical Spanish Queen, Isabella, had closed her borders to Rome and its “heathen religion” of Confucianism centuries before. Now that Spain had been conquered and had become part of Rome, like Japan before it, many Romans were now travelling to the mysterious home of Buddhism to see the city, and its amazing wonder of the world, for themselves.

    Almost at the start of their dinner together on his first night in Madrid, Ling asked his old friend to give him a tour of the mammoth monuments. He’d seen them from a distance, of course—one could not miss them; they dominated the cityscape from miles away. But the Pyramids were still cordoned off my Roman troops; visitors could only view the structures from a distance. Ling knew his high-ranking friend, however, could provide him with a closer view.
    It surprised Ling, then, that Metellus was so reluctant to grant his request.
    “It’s just a big pile of rocks, Ling,” he’d said, a little too dismissively.

    Instead, Metellus had showed him around the rest of the city, introducing him to his fellow Legionaries and several of the locals as well. Some of them, understandably, harboured the resentment natural to a conquered people. The Romans considered the city to still be in a state of revolt, and Metellus kept Ling away from the more dangerous areas where the rebels were numerous.

    But many Spaniards were gradually adjusting and becoming used to life under Roman rule. Some of the artists Ling met were even enthusiastic about the change in government; they were allowed far more liberties of expression, it turned out, under the more secular-minded Caesar than under the fanatically devout Isabella.



    Still Ling persisted with his friend in his request to see the Pyramids, and still Metellus resisted.

    Finally, in frustration, Ling confronted his old friend over dinner one night.

    “There’s something you’re not telling me about them,” he said firmly. Metellus only looked at him silently in response. “Don’t try to deny it. I know you too well. Not only that, something about them is troubling you. I know you put on a brave face with the troops, but with me? Come on, Metellus!”

    His tall, stocky friend sat in silence, staring at the tabletop, for a very long time. Finally, he spoke, in a voice so uncharacteristically quiet and subdued that Ling had to strain to hear him.

    “I’ll take you there tomorrow,” Metellus said. “But I warn you. The Pyramids…” He sighed heavily. “Something like that doesn’t get built without a cost, Ling.”
    Metellus then rose from the table and left the room to go to bed, leaving his friend wondering what he meant.

    ***

    The next day, Ling got his tour of the Pyramids. The sun shone brightly in the wide blue expanse of Spanish sky. As they approached the Pyramids, the glare off of the polished limestone and the structures’ golden caps made him squint and shield his eyes. He couldn’t believe how tall they were—as tall, they seemed, as Mount Etna, just outside of Ravenna! But they were man-made! It was astounding to contemplate.

    Metellus not only took him to the Pyramids, he took him inside, to the once-secret chambers deep within the stone structures where the Buddhist priests conducted their strange, mystical rites. When they left the deep, dark tunnel that led to the chambers, the sun was higher and the gleam of the Pyramids seemed ever so much brighter.

    “Amazing!” Ling said breathlessly. “I mean, yes, Antium has its wonders, too--the Oracle is beautiful, and Sostratus' Great Lighthouse is impressive… but this!” He had trouble finding words to express his awe. “They’re majestic. Beautiful. Amazing!” he repeated.

    “You think so, do you?” Metellus said glumly. “Come with me, Ling. There’s something you should see.”

    Ling followed his increasingly and unusually taciturn friend in silence. Metellus had as much appreciation for aesthetic beauty as he did, in spite of—or perhaps because of—his rough life as a soldier. How could he not appreciate these astounding monuments?

    They walked around the far side of the Pyramids, which took a considerable amount of time, until they were on the side opposite the city of Madrid, to its west. Metellus pointed silently in that direction. A few hundred yards beyond the largest of the Pyramids, Ling could see a few soldiers standing guard over…nothing? No. He looked closer. There seemed to be a large, long, rectangular open pits in the ground at the soldiers’ feet. Why were they guarding those?

    “What…is that, Metellus?” Ling asked quietly. A feeling of dark foreboding washed over him, though he couldn’t say why.

    “The cost,” his friend answered grimly.

    They walked towards the pit. Metellus nodded silently towards the half-dozen soldiers watching over it. They reached the pit’s edge and Ling peered inside. What he saw there took his breath away and made the blood drain from his face.

    The pit was ten paces wide and about one hundred long. A fresh pile of earth on its far side indicated that it had recently been excavated. How deep the pit was, however, Ling could not tell.

    Because the pit was full, nearly to the brim.

    Full of bones.

    Bones, and skulls, row upon row of them, long dead, their flesh decayed and gone to feed the worms. All that remained were these dry bones, the dirt of the mass grave still clinging to them.

    “This is just the first one,” Metellus said quietly.

    “The…first…?” Ling stammered. He could feel his gorge rising to his throat.

    “We think we’ve found five more. Two for sure, we’re just starting to excavate them. The Spaniards themselves requested it. Many of their ancestors are in here. Spaniards prize their lineage, you know, no matter how lowly born. They’re hoping to identify the remains. I don’t see how, but hope springs eternal. Even in the face of this…”

    “How…how many…?” Ling asked, though he was not sure he wanted to know.

    Metellus sighed heavily. “We estimate at least five thousand, just in this one mass grave.”

    And they think there are at least five more… Ling thought as he silently did the horrible math.

    “I’m sorry you had to see this, Ling, but I think you had to,” Metellus said. “Yes, the Pyramids are impressive. But Isabella exacted a heavy toll for her monument. Heavy indeed.”

    Ling nodded absently. He turned towards his friend, struggling to find words, something to say, something meaningful. But in the face of such wanton destruction of human life, such loss, nothing came to him. His mouth gaped. He struggled to breathe.

    Then suddenly, he dropped to his knees, then forward onto his hands. His slender body convulsed and he retched. He felt his old friend’s big hand on his shoulder.

    “Don’t feel ashamed,” Metellus said as Ling wiped the vomit from his lips. “It’s nothing the rest of us haven’t done.”

    ***

    That night, Ling could not sleep. He kept going over it in his mind, trying to make sense of it. The Pyramids were an astounding human achievement, to be sure. But the price… the price! So many lives, snuffed out so a puritanical queen could have a religious monument like no other on Earth. Was it worth it? Were the great stone structures a fitting monument to the thousands of people who had died creating them?

    He couldn’t make sense of it. It was too big.

    And still sleep did not come.

    ***

    “You look like death warmed over,” Metellus said, not without sympathy, the next morning. “Sleepless night, eh?”

    Ling nodded his acknowledgement.

    “Hrm. I’ve had more than a few myself,” Metellus went on. “I mean, I’m a soldier, Ling. I kill. I do it well. I do it for Rome, and for a living. But the men I come up against—well, they stand a very good chance of killing me, and living instead of me. But those people—they had no chance, none at all!”

    “How…how did they die?” Ling asked.

    Metellus shrugged. “They were worked to death, most like. The doctors…” He paused.

    “What do the doctors say?” Ling asked.

    “That the joints in their sockets had ground away nearly to powder,” Metellus said grimly. “That even their bones bear grooves worn by heavy ropes and chains…”

    “Jupiter!” Ling said, shuddering.

    “I’m sorry,” Metellus said. “You asked….”

    “I know,” Ling said.

    “Listen, I have to go to the new basilica today,” Metellus said, referring to the building that housed the courts and government offices and was common to all major Roman cities. “Why don’t you come along? It’s a handsome new building, and it would be good for you to stretch your legs, talk to some other Romans.”
    “I don’t know…”

    But after a few more minutes of gentle cajoling from his friend, he agreed.

    ***

    The new Basilica Romanus took up one whole side of Madrid’s central city square. It was three storeys high; the façade of the lower two storeys was comprised of a series of sixteen high, broad arches. The upper storey was slightly smaller than those beneath it and less ornate. Inside the arches was a long, two-storey high hall set before a long, bare concrete wall. Set into the wall were doors leading to various offices and shops, as well as stairs to the upper two levels.

    “I just have to see the governor,” Metellus explained, then rolled his eyes. “Something about how much were paying the locals for billets, and are we being overcharged… the man’s a damn bean-counter. These people suffered through the war. So what if they’re overcharging!”

    “You go ahead,” Ling said. “I’ll wait for you here.”

    Ling sat down upon a stone bench in the middle of the great entrance hall and stared at the blank concrete wall ahead of him. The large, empty space was cool, sheltered as it was from the heat of the summer sun, but light reflected from the pale, polished stone floor and lit the interior with a pleasant, soft light.

    The young artist sat there for some time, his thoughts still tortured by the magnificence of the Pyramids and the horror of the mass grave. He could understand why the soldiers were keeping people away from the grave, out of respect for the dead. But no one knew about all those people, certainly no one in Rome. Had they died in vain? Would no one tell their story, make them as immortal as the monument they had died building…?

    Suddenly, Ling gasped. He rose to his feet and stood staring straight ahead at the high, long, blank wall before him. His almond-shaped eyes were open wide as they ranged back and forth, studying the wall from one end to the other.
    His friend found him, still standing and staring like that, a half hour later. Metellus glanced at the blank wall his friend seemed to be intently studying and frowned.

    “Ling?” he said. “Are you all right?”

    Ling said nothing, but nodded distractedly, his eyes never leaving the wall. Metellus followed his gaze, mystified.

    “What are you looking at?” Metellus asked him.

    “My masterpiece,” Ling said reverently.

     
  2. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

    Joined:
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    Chapter 9: Great Works, Part 2



    Caesar finally made the trip to Madrid the following summer. He’d long meant to; the last time he’d been to the former Spanish capital had been at the head of a column of triumphant Roman troops. The city had been a shambles; the Spaniards had fiercely and bravely defended their city, though the fighting meant much of it had been damaged. To honour their courage, Caesar had allowed each captured Spanish city to retain its original name, unlike the Japanese cities that he had renamed.

    A symbolic gesture, but it helps appease a conquered population, Caesar thought, reflecting on the resentment some Japanese still harboured and expressed by referring to their cities as “Kyoto” and “Tokyo” rather than “Brundisium” and “Pisae”. Why not allow the Spaniards to be both Spanish and Roman?

    I like to think I’m learning a thing or two in my old age, he thought. Not that he was actually aging, of course.

    As he entered the city’s gates, Publius Rutullus Lepidus, his appointed governor of Iberia, as the Romans called the conquered Spanish territory, came forth to greet him. A long-time and trusted confidante, Lepidus shook Caesar’s hands warmly, and his leader favoured him with a dazzling smile reserved for only his closest friends.

    “It’s good to see you, Caesar!” Publius Rutullus said.

    “And good to see you, too, Publius Rutullus ,” Caesar replied, then cast his eyes towards the looming peaks of the Pyramids. “And to see Madrid again, and behold its wonders,” he added in a voice he lifted to carry to the crowd, especially to the locals present.

    “We’ve added another wonder since your last visit,” Publius Rutullus said quietly.

    “Really?” Caesar asked. “Ah! Are you referring to that mural by that young chap, what’s his name…”

    “Ling Lun, Caesar,” Lepidus said.

    “Yes! I hear it’s quite remarkable, I should like to see it.”

    “You will, and you should meet Ling as well….while there’s still time.”

    Caesar frowned at that, but Publius Rutullus turned and led him forward before he could explain himself.

    ***

    Caesar stood in the centre of the Basilica’s great hall, his cold blue eyes taking in the astonishing sight before him.

    The mural was called, simply, Madrid. It occupied the entire wall of the basilica’s entrance hall, its full length and height. At its western end, as if indicating the direction of the monuments themselves, was a depiction of the Pyramids, the sun high above them, their polished limestone and gold caps gleaming even in the diffused reflective light of the great hall. A crowd of people were painted before the Pyramids in a mix of Roman and Spanish dress, many of them linked arm in arm in an expression of hope for brotherhood between the two peoples after many years of war.

    As the mural spread across the wall to the east, the scene changed. An unfinished Pyramid was depicted; broad earthen ramps spiralled around it, and the tiny figures of people, small as ants, stood upon it. In the foreground was a depiction of these workers, dragging a great stone block on broad lumber rollers. Heavy ropes and chains connected the workers to the stone they pulled, the heavy cords cutting into their flesh until their blood flowed and stained their rough clothes and the ground at their feet. The mural depicted one man fallen from exhaustion, while a foreman towered over him, his whip flung back above his head as he prepared to strike and urge the poor wretch back to his assigned task.

    The workers were dragging the huge stone not towards a Pyramid, but to a huge pit, the depiction of which made up the eastern third of the mural. The workers, still carrying the heavy ropes, were marching into the pit; each worker in the gang was painted as progressively more gaunt and desiccated, until those at the forefront were nothing more than walking skeletons with only bloody remnants of flesh hanging from their bones.

    At the mural’s eastern edge, the skeletons lay down, row upon row of them piled upon one anther in a mass grave. And finally, at the very end of the mural, stood Queen Isabella, looking westward over her great achievement and her great atrocity with a smug smile and a cold, approving eye.

    It was riveting, and Caesar could not tear his eyes away from it. He’d heard talk of it in Rome, of course. Most of the critics who’d seen it attested to its brilliance, though some sniffed and called it distasteful. But what none could deny, including Caesar as he stood before it, was its power.

    Not even the local Spaniards. Far from it; the Spanish were among the mural’s greatest admirers. Spanish culture did not shy away from depictions of death or suffering; to them, death was simply part of the cycle of life. And for a Roman to have captured and depicted their great accomplishment and their great suffering under Isabella… Well, many Spaniards and Romans alike attested that the mural had almost single-handedly ended the revolt in Madrid, by showing its citizens that these foreign conquerors were capable of understanding and respecting them. Despite its depiction of suffering and death, the mural, ironically, gave people a sense of hope for the future.

    Of all of this, Caesar was well aware, and his mind considered it as he stood, rapt, before the great mural. Then Publius Rutullus Lepidus coughed softly, stirring Caesar from his reverie.

    “Caesar, may I present the creator of this great work, Ling Lun,” Publius Rutullus said.

    He indicated a slight young man standing to his right. Caesar had to suppress a gasp. For Ling Lun looked like he had walked out from among the dying wretches he’d depicted in the eastern half of his great work. His body was gaunt and bent, his dark, almond-shaped eyes hollow and sunken. He could barely stand; a towering hulk of a man stood beside him, holding the artist upright, as tenderly as one would an aged relative. From his insignia, Caesar recognized the artist’s helper as the Primus Pilus of the 7th Legion.

    How could this poor, wasted soul have created this great work? Caesar marveled. He’d heard that Lun had worked tirelessly, day and night, like a man possessed, but had thought the stories mere exaggeration. The sight before him proved otherwise.

    Caesar raised his hand in the traditional Roman greeting. “Ave, Ling Lun. I am Gaius Julius Caesar.”

    Lun weakly raised his hand in response. “Ave, Caesar. I am… most honoured… to make your acquaintance, sir,” he said, his voice a quiet rasp.

    “The honour is all mine, young man,” Caesar said, smiling gently. “Tell me…”

    But before Caesar could ask his question, Lun bent over, his frail body wracked by a violent, hacking fit of coughs. Through sheer force of will alone, he manage to quell it, and straightened to look his leader in they eye again.

    “You are…not well, my young friend,” Caesar said, his face expressing his concern.

    “I am dying,” Lun said matter-of-factly, though Caesar noticed a fleeting expression of pain flash across the face of his tall, sturdy companion. “Like…the poor souls in my painting, I fear I have… worked myself to death…” Lun said. Then a weak, grim smile curled his lips. “It probably didn’t help… that some of the paints I used… are toxic.” If Lun saw the look of shock that appeared on Caesar’s face, he did not indicate it; instead, he turned to glance at his great work. “But the colours… they had to be… just so… to capture the light that…”

    Again, the young man’s body was shaken by coughs.

    “I should get him back to bed, Caesar,” the tall Legionary assisting Lun said.

    “Of course,” Caesar said quietly. Just before he went, Lun quelled his coughs, and Caesar spoke to him. “What you have bestowed upon Madrid and all of Rome is… extraordinary, Mister Lun. As I regarded it today… I was profoundly moved.”

    Lun smiled, then nodded, but said nothing more. He turned to leave, his friend at his side.

    ***

    Caesar could not get the images out his mind. Not the astonishing vision of the mural, nor the ruined body of the extraordinary young man who had created it. He tried to distract himself with work, as he usually did when sleep would not come, but for one of the few times in his long life, he could not focus his attention.

    So much death…

    Among them, of course, Queen Isabella’s.



    Fanatical to the last, the Spanish Queen had fought Caesar ferociously in this very palace, screaming and calling him heretic and infidel as she swung her fine Spanish rapier wildly at his broad Roman shield. Eventually he had tired of her vicious but ineffective attacks. He’d let her come in close, then he’d lifted his shield suddenly so it rapped her harshly beneath the chin. As she fell back, hopelessly exposed, he’d swung his sword across her abdomen, gutting her.
    As she had awaited his final blow upon her knees, her cold blue eyes had looked up at him, full of malice and spite.

    “You will… burn in hell,” she’d spat at him, blood spilling from her lips.

    “Ladies first,” he’d said, then he’d finished her and had taken her quickening along with her head.



    He’d rested that night in this very chamber, in her own bed, and quite well. But not tonight.

    Caesar rose from his desk and walked out upon the balcony that adjoined the luxurious lodgings. Though he was in the former Queen’s chamber, it was not her ghost that haunted the place and kept Caesar from his slumber. Nor was he truly troubled by the deaths of the Spanish soldiers who died fighting his Legions; a soldier knew such a fate could befall him, lived with it daily. No, he was haunted by the many thousands of Spaniards who had died building the Pyramids, and by one more soul, not yet departed, but soon to join all the others.

    Lun is just one more. One more mortal. There are so many of them, and they die like flies. What of it?

    “It’s not just him,” Caesar said quietly in response to his own, internal devil’s advocate. “It’s all of them. The woman was insane, her lust for blood knew no bounds…”

    Oh, so that’s it. You’re comforting yourself with the notion that you’re not like her.

    “Well, I’m not. She was a fanatic.”

    Irrelevant. Haven’t you sacrificed mortal lives, by the dozens, by the hundreds, even, to serve your ambitions?

    “Not like this. Not on this scale.”

    Ah, I see. It’s a matter of degree rather than of kind.

    “I am nothing like her!”

    Of course not. You just keep telling yourself that. Maybe someday you’ll even start to believe it…

    A gentle rapping at the door stirred Caesar from his internal dialogue.

    “Yes?” he called. “Come In, the door is unlocked.”

    The door opened and Publius Rutullus Lepidus entered, looking tired, sheepish, and more than a little sad.

    “I apologize for disturbing you, Caesar,” he said. “I saw a light beneath your door, though, and…”

    “Think nothing of it, old friend,” Caesar said. “What brings you to me at this late hour?”

    “I just received word myself, and I thought you’d want to know…” Publius Rutullus said quietly.. “Ling Lun died tonight, not more than an hour ago.”

    Caesar stood stock still for a moment, then took a deep breath and nodded. “So passes the last casualty of the Spanish campaign,” he said softly. “Thank you, my friend. You were correct, I did indeed want to know, as sad as the news is. He has family in Rome, doesn’t he?”

    “I believe so, yes.”

    Caesar nodded sadly. “I’ll deliver the news and my condolences to them myself. I’ll leave for Rome tomorrow. Good night, Publius Rutullus.”

    “Good night, Caesar.”

    Publius Rutullus left and quietly closed the door behind him. Once his friend had left, to his own great astonishment, for the first time in several centuries, Caesar broke down and wept.



    ***

    “This is astonishing, Caesar,” Publius Rutullus Lepidus was saying to him, a little more than a month later, in Caesar’s great office in the Basilica Ravenna in Rome. “Do you really mean to go through with this?”

    “I would not have recalled you all the way from Madrid for a mere jest, old friend!” Caesar replied.

    “But Caesar,” another of his close advisors, the grey-haired Portius Scipio, said to him, “what you’re proposing is… unprecedented!”

    “That fact saddens me more than words can express, Scipio,” Caesar said. “But the time for second-guessing is over. Come. The others are waiting.”

    ***

    A short time later, Caesar sat upon a curule chair in the centre of a large oval chamber, surrounded by three hundred prominent Romans, heads of the oldest tribes and families that had been present when the city was founded. The ancestors of every man in the room had, for centuries, served Caesar in some form or another, as military adjutants, as counselors, as diplomats, and in so many other roles.

    “Conscript fathers of Rome,” Caesar addressed them, “yes, conscript fathers I call you, for that is what you are, not just those of you in this chamber, but your ancestors as well, fathers to Rome all, called forth to serve your city and your nation.

    “As I have been called. Long have I led Rome, conscript fathers, to her prosperity and greater glory. I have done my utmost, I hope, to ensure that all our efforts serve the greater glory of Rome. This is why, I firmly believe, I was bestowed with immortal life by the gods, so that I might lead Rome to its destiny.

    “But the citizens of Rome are mortal. They live, ever so briefly in my eyes, and they die, some… far too soon.” Caesar paused, then collected himself and continued. “I have been fond, profoundly so, of all Romans, and your ancestors. Granted, some have been closer to me, fonder to me, than others, but all Romans have a place in my heart.

    “And yet I must keep myself a step removed. Some of you have known the terrible sorrow that comes to a parent when he loses a child. Imagine, then, my own immortal sorrow, for you are all my children, yet I must bury you all. So I have restrained by love of my fellow Romans for centuries. Therein lies a danger, that Rome’s immortal leader may grow too far removed from the concerns of his mortal subjects to rule them wisely.

    “For this reason, I present to you, today, a plan for a new government of Rome, laid out in the documents you hold in your hands. Our growing and expanding empire will no longer—can no longer—be ruled by a single man, immortal though I may be.



    “Instead, what I propose is a more… representative form of government, where the citizens of Rome have a voice, and a hand, in the running of the state. This august body,” he said, sweeping his hand around the room, “this Senate, is part of that, comprised of the head of each family of the patrician class, will serve as a council of guides to the new government. The people of Rome shall also elect representatives to a governing council where the voice of the majority, not one man, shall rule. We shall work together, patrician and plebeian, to bring Rome to its bright, assured destiny.

    “For myself, I propose to retain the position and title of Consul-for-life. But at my side will rule a co-consul, elected annually from the members of this chamber. Thus, Rome will have the best of both worlds: an immortal leader to guide it to its destiny with an eye to its glorious past; and a mortal leader to ensure that the concerns of mortal men are given voice.

    “I should point out that our first point of discussion will be these proposed reforms. I expect, encourage, and daresay demand your input, contrary to my own vision though it may be. I hope to offer my unique perspective, my guidance, and whatever wisdom I have gleaned during my many years here on earth. Together, we will, through our on-going dialogue, formulate the best future for the People and the Republic of Rome.”

    Caesar paused, glancing at the three hundred men gathered in the new Senate chamber, their purple-bordered togas marking each one as the head of the oldest, most noble families of Rome. One could have heard a pin drop in that oval-shaped room, and not just because of its excellent acoustics. To a man, they were stunned into silence. None had ever considered that the immortal Julius would share—would relinquish—his absolute power! But that was exactly what he was proposing.

    “Have you nothing to say, conscript fathers?” Caesar gently prompted them.
    A moment went by, and then Lepidus slowly rose to his feet.

    “I yield the floor to my colleague, Publius Rutullus Lepidus,” Caesar said, and even that simple act, proving his sincerity, amazed the chamber anew. Caesar sat in the curule chair upon the rostra, the raised platform at the centre of the chamber. He looked at Publius Rutullus expectantly.

    For a long moment, Publius Rutullus said nothing. Then he slowly raised his hands, held them open before him, and clapped. And clapped again, and again, until he was clapping passionately. Slowly, the other Senators followed his example, until every man in the chamber save Caesar himself was standing and applauding enthusiastically. Some cheered, many were smiling broadly.

    Gradually the applause died down and the Senators resumed their seats.

    “Well,” Caesar said, allowing a pleased smile to play across his lips, “thank you. Now that the self-congratulations are over, we have a great many items before us to consider, discuss, and decide.” He drew a scroll from inside the folds of his toga, beneath his left arm, and unfurled it. “Let us get to work. First, we must consider the proposed abolition of slavery and the implementation of a merit-based caste system based upon Confucian principles…”

    So began a new era in the history of Rome… the era of the Republic.

     
  3. Ashlord

    Ashlord Steeler Fanatic

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    Very good addition to the story. I was wondering what would be the cause of death for Ling Lun and the toxic paint was something that I had not thought of. Also wondered if you would abolish slavery after reading Ceasar's reaction to the mural. Keep it coming.
     
  4. kirbystarfan

    kirbystarfan Chieftain

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    Yay! An update! Well, that was quite moving. I had a feeling that Caesar would abolish slavery upon seeing that mural, but he representation surprised me a bit. Keep up the great work, and thanks for the extra long chapter. It was worth the wait.
     
  5. biggamer132

    biggamer132 King

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    Great entry. Hopefully we don't have to wait as long for the next one. :)
     
  6. carl corey

    carl corey Deity

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    Excellent! I've just realized how much this story depends on details like taking over the Pyramids, managing to build the Great Lighthouse, getting first to Music, etc. You've really managed to do wonders (eh...) by adjusting to the game itself. Makes for a great reading so far. Keep it going!
     
  7. wenamon

    wenamon Warlord

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    another great update. I love the emphasis that you are placing on character development. I only have two concerns. 1) poor caesar seems to be growing lonely watching all of his dearest friends and associates pass away around him. Could we not build up an eternal girlfriend or something for him?
    and 2) please update more frequently! I love this story you are writing and check this forum regularily only for this and a few strategy threads.
    Great job!
     
  8. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Especially given that most historians hold that Caesar ended the Republic (though I'm sure he would have argued the point), and here I have him creating it. :lol: Artistic license is a great thing.

    Frankly, the whole idea was to use the game and specific elements within it as the springboard for a series of linked stories. In this case, I was inspired by the idea of certain uses of a Great Person that, essentially, do them in. :sad: I always thought there was, potentially, a poignant story behind the idea of a great artist who gives his life to create his masterpiece.

    1) Quit peeking at my story notes. ;)
    2) I'll do my best. I tend to get distracted by the ALC game, and off-line game I play while waiting for responses to the ALC, posting here... and, oh yes, I have a job and a wife, don't I? I thought I did... I was sure they were around here somewhere...

    The next update may take longer because I suddenly got a flash of inspiration for a much better story that I originally had in mind. Unfortunately that means starting over from scratch. Please be patient, it'll be worth it!
     
  9. Yakk

    Yakk Cheftan

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    Just curious -- what civic changes?

    Monarchy->Representation and Slavery->Caste system?
     
  10. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Correct, sorry if that wasn't clear enough, but then again, I'm telling a story rather than giving a play-by-play account of a game.
     
  11. Steel General

    Steel General Master of Temporal Fugue

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    Another well-crafted installment! :)
     
  12. Nuka-sama

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

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    good update :)
     
  13. Sanovice

    Sanovice Chieftain

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    i like it!
     
  14. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter 10: Good Queen Bess



    “So she’s coming here?” Caesar asked.

    “Yes,” Gaius Lucius Gracchus, just returned by caravel from the distant continent freshly discovered on the other side of the globe, answered as he helped himself to another grape from the bowl on the table. “She was insistent upon it, in fact. Well, in her own way…”



    “What do you mean, ‘in her own way’?” Julius asked, eyes narrowing.

    Gracchus thought carefully as he considered his answer. He knew exactly what Caesar was asking: what sort of person is this Elizabeth, Queen of England? Already, he was seeking to prepare himself for their meeting.

    “Well, she’s…very much a Queen, Caesar,” Gracchus said. “She’s quite beautiful, but extremely reserved. Regal,” he said with a nod.

    Caesar, however, grunted impatiently. “As far as I’m concerned, Gracchus, “queen” and “regal” mean exactly the same thing, and “reserved” could be a way of saying you discerned nothing about her. And I don’t give a toss whether she’s pretty or not. Tell me something useful

    “She’s…” Gracchus began to say, then threw up his hands. “Oh, you’ll just have to meet her yourself and see! I’ve never met anyone like her, Caesar.”

    ***

    Caesar sat, waiting patiently, on the ivory curule chair high on the dais in centre of the chamber. His oak crown was upon his head, his purple-bordered toga resplendent, an ivory rod cradled in his left elbow. The Senators were fidgeting impatiently, but were doing their best to imitate their leader, who was sitting impassively, like a statue, as though he could wait there all day.

    The Senate had convened outside of Rome’s city limits, in a spacious meeting hall built especially for this purpose, pleasantly situated upon the northern shore of Lake Tiber. The Curia Tiberius was rarely used, but was nevertheless painstakingly maintained, and was larger and grander than the Curia Hostilia, its usual meeting place situated in Rome’s forum. For the Curia Tiberius was where the Senate of Rome met with foreign rulers, for no king or queen was allowed within the sacred boundary of Rome itself. Given its purpose, the Curia Tiberius had to be impressive, and it was. The walls, the floors, and the columns supporting the high ceiling were all composed of the finest, highly-polished marble; the ceiling had been plastered and decorated with colourful frescoes. The meeting chamber itself was vast, but acoustically perfect, ensuring that even a pin dropping could be heard throughout.

    The great oak doors of the chamber opened. A trumpeter, standing beside them, blew a brief fanfare. As Caesar and the Senators watched, Elizabeth, Queen of England, walked into the chamber. No, not walked; floated was a more accurate description. Her broad, hooped skirt and her graceful, regal bearing created that impression, even when she came down the marbled steps into the centre of the chamber. She seemed ethereal, otherworldly.



    Her appearance only added to the impression. Caesar was immediately struck by her hair: it was bright red, such as he had never seen before, and artfully piled onto her head beneath her crown. Two strands of that fiery hair decorously framed each of her ears. She was tall, nearly as tall as Caesar himself. Her face was thin but not gaunt, pale but not unhealthy. Her blue eyes were cool and, Caesar could tell, extremely perceptive. Her forehead was perhaps a little too high, her cheekbones as well…but her features, in combination, were pleasing to the male eye. She had a certain haughtiness about her—after his encounters with Queen Isabella, Caesar had come to expect that—but she seemed to carry herself without any hint of the late Spanish ruler’s arrogance.

    And, of course, she was immortal like himself. The tense tingling in his neck and shoulders confirmed it. She would be sensing it as well, but she gave no outward sign whatsoever.

    Caesar rose from his chair.

    “Greetings, Elizabeth, Queen of the English Empire,” he said, his voice echoing sonorously in the oval chamber. “On behalf of the People and Republic of Rome, I bid you welcome.” He placed the fist of his right hand over his heart, and bowed.

    When he raised his head, he saw the slightest of smiles play upon her lips ever so briefly. Caesar was suddenly struck by a desire to see that slender face alight with a full, delighted smile. He nearly gave his head a shake. Now where did that notion come from? he wondered, but knew the answer full well. He reminded himself to be careful.

    “Hail, Gaius Julius Caesar, Consul of Rome,” she said, her voice light and lilting as she spoke the words in impeccable, almost unaccented Latin. “We bring you greetings from the English Empire.” With that, she daintily clasped the skirt of her dress and favoured him with an elegant curtsy. She then straightened and regarded him expectantly.

    Caesar quickly stirred himself from his reverie. Stepping back, he held out his hand towards the curule chair, indicating she was to assume it and from there, speak to the chamber. After the merest moment’s hesitation, which almost made Caesar wonder if she would turn down the offer, the Queen walked—no, floated, Caesar reminded himself—to the dais.

    She held out her right hand. He took it. Her fingers were slender and delicate, but strong. Like the woman herself. Caesar gallantly held her hand as she climbed the steps of the dais and lowered herself upon the chair. She arranged her skirt as she sat, so elegantly that one was barely aware she had done it. She sat in the curule chair as though she, not Caesar and the Senate, ruled here. She released Caesar’s hand, and he actually felt a stab of regret at that. He chided himself silently, then stepped back from the dais.

    “Conscript fathers,” the Queen said as she began her address to the chamber, “it is our sincerest hope that this is the beginning of a long, close, and fruitful friendship between Rome and England…”

    ***

    “It was a splendid speech,” Caesar remarked to her later.

    “Thank you, Caesar,” she replied equitably.

    They were eating dinner together, in his dining room in the Consular palace, which commanded a fine few of Lake Tiber. They were alone; they had lunched with their various ministers and attendants, but Caesar had always found that, one-on-one, people, including rulers, relaxed, opened up, and became more…well, human. Some wine—especially an excellent late vintage from Capua—was intended to help in that regard.



    Elizabeth, however, had not relaxed. Not that she seemed tense either; but she sat in her chair, her back straight, and maintained the same air of reserve she had exhibited the entire day. Caesar tried to draw her into conversation, but she did not venture far beyond pleasantries and vague statements of policy. And she kept using that royal “we”, which rather irked Caesar, who was so committed to republican governance.

    Caesar sighed a little. He’d been so entranced with her earlier that day, when she’d entered the Senate and he’d seen her for the first time. But nothing, it seemed, broke through that reserved, icy exterior. Talking with Tokugawa had been easier, even if all the man had done was say no to everything. But he’d thought—or was it hoped?—that alone over dinner, she’d thaw… just a little, even if only regarding trade negotiations.

    “What are you thinking about?” she suddenly asked him.

    Caesar looked at her, surprised. It was the sort of question a teenaged girl asked her beau, not a query one expected from one ruler—especially another immortal—to another. “I beg your pardon?” Caesar said.

    “You were lost in thought,” she remarked, then sipped some wine from a finely-crafted gold goblet. “I wanted to know what you were thinking about.”

    Was it here? Had he seen it? The same fleeting grin she’d favoured him with earlier that day, when they’d first seen one another in the Senate chamber? He couldn’t be sure. But favouring risk as he always did, he decided to charge ahead. He decided to be honest.

    “If you really want to know, your majesty,” Caesar said evenly, “I was thinking how long it’s been since I’ve dined alone with a woman.”

    The Queen’s thin, red brows rose; Caesar’s answer spoke volumes, and he knew it. “We find that surprising,” she remarked. “We had not considered that the ruler of mighty Rome should ever be lonely, or lack for…female companionship.”

    “I did not say I was lonely,” Caesar replied. “In point of fact, I prefer a certain amount of solitude in order to concentrate on my work. As for female companionship… well, when you live as long as we do, the fires die down after a while, don’t you find?”

    She did not answer him. She only watched him. He thought he saw that little smile play across her lips again, ever so briefly. She daintily took another bite of her food.

    Ah well, Caesar thought, perhaps honesty isn’t always the best policy. She’s probably still a virgin, this one, he considered crudely.

    “I do not,” she said.

    Caesar glanced at her in surprise. “Sorry…?”

    “The fires burn as bright and as hot as they ever have,” she said evenly, but Caesar heard the intensity behind the words. “One does not survive, rule, and guide an empire for several centuries without a fire in the belly.” She paused, her slender face thoughtful, and let her words sink in. “That is, I think, the first lie you have told me, Gaius Julius. Perhaps you did so because you are lying to yourself, but I will thank you not to do it again.”

    She had looked at him directly as she had spoken these words, and it was as though a mask had been stripped away, and the real woman was revealed: strong, bold, passionate, confident… and brilliant as the sun. It took his breath away. He barely noticed that she had stopped using the royal “we”. For possibly the first time in his life, he was speechless. She was staring at him boldly, her blue eyes fastened on to his. He felt a desire, a need, deep within him that he’d not felt in years…centuries, perhaps.

    “Tell me, Gaius Julius,” she asked intently, as if reading his thoughts and daring him to express them, “what do you want

    Caesar considered for a moment. No, he decided, he wasn’t going to tell this Queen exactly what he wanted at that precise moment; whatever else might be going on here, decorum had to be observed. But he considered briefly, then plunged ahead. Let the dice fly high, he thought.

    “What I want,” he answered her, his intensity matching her own, “is for my nation to rise and become the pre-eminent power and culture in the world. I want Latin to be the language of choice in every corner of the globe. I want one world, one nation, with Rome as its center, its capital, its heart. I want,” he concluded, “to be the one

    They sat silently, holding one another’s gaze, for a very long time.

    “Well then,” she said, “there’s something we have in common.”

    ***

    They finished their dinner shortly afterwards and the Queen retired to her room. Caesar went to his own, though he found it hard to sleep at first. He laughed softly as he realized the cause: frustration. He’d thought himself long past that. He considered sending for a woman, then reconsidered. With the Queen visiting and his indulgence in that area being so infrequent of late, word would spread and people would draw obvious conclusions. Besides, he thought, it wouldn’t be the same…

    He yawned and, a moment later, was asleep.

    ***

    The Queen spent the better part of a two weeks on the continent. Caesar gave her a guided tour, proudly showing her the all the ancient and recent wonders Romans had built. He took her to a hill just outside Rome’s sacred boundary which offered a splendid view of both the Hanging Gardens and the soaring spires of the Hagia Sophia.



    They went to Ravenna, where he proudly showed her the Great Library. He then took her to Antium to show her Stonehenge, the Oracle, and the Great Lighthouse. While there, they also paid a visit to the Kong Miao, the Confucian holy shrine.

    “It is unfortunate that you have fallen under the sway of a heathen religion,” the Queen remarked, rather archly, at one point. But a sparkle in her eye and that by-now familiar little grin told Caesar that the words had been uttered to placate the Hindu priest in the English delegation.

    “We all have our faults, your majesty,” he’d responded slyly, and was favoured with another brief, slight smile. If the sight made his heart beat a little faster, he was careful to give no outward sign.

    They traveled to the east and visited the sun-kissed wine estates outside Capua. As Caesar and Elizabeth enjoyed the best wines the vineyards had to offer, their negotiators worked on several trade deals that would be lucrative to both sides.

    “We must have a steady supply of these wonderful Roman spices,” Elizabeth insisted to her chief advisor, Lord Burghley. “I am sure that our supple English silk would be much appreciated in exchange…?” she said with a sly glance at Caesar.



    And then it was time for the English Queen to return home. As she boarded the English caravel that had brought her to Rome, she turned to Caesar to say her farewell.

    “It is unfortunate that England and Rome are so distant from one another, Caesar,” she said evenly. “Though perhaps it is fortunate as well,” she added, one slender red brow rising.

    “Indeed,” Caesar responded, understanding her meaning all too well.

    “You should visit us in London someday soon,” she said. “We assure you that in England’s heart, Caesar would receive a most warm welcome.”

    Again, the fleeting grin played upon her face. And did he see something else? A flash in her eyes that told him this was more than just a standard invitation for a state visit? She was so hard to read, this one. He had to pay close attention to every word, every gesture, every expression to get some sort of read on her. But there had been that moment, just the one, over dinner, when she had stripped the mask away and revealed just a hint of her fire, of her passion.

    He liked her. He liked her very much indeed. When he’d met the other immortal leaders, the first and foremost thought in his mind had been when and how he would take their heads. But with Elizabeth, he pushed the possibility aside. An ocean separated them and their nations; it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    She turned and boarded the ship. Caesar watched her go. Yes, and it would be useful…instructive to visit the distant continent. He could visit not only England, but also Greece, and Mongolia as well. A good idea, for diplomacy, for trade… for so many reasons. None of them personal.

    Or so he told himself.

     
  15. Helmling

    Helmling Philosopher King

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    Hi there. I just returned to the Stories after a long absence and I saw how massive your thread is. I started browsing through the most recent posts and was really impressed with your attention to detail and with how well you were accounting for in-game events.

    So imagine how flattered I was when I went back to start from the beginning and read your forward! Thanks, and you seem to be rocking all on your own here. I'll catch up with your story as soon as I get a chance...but for now, I'm off to bed.
     
  16. Yakk

    Yakk Cheftan

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    Pump out those missionaries. :)
     
  17. wenamon

    wenamon Warlord

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    great job sisiutil. looks like I did read your notes :)
     
  18. IPEX-731BA5DD06

    IPEX-731BA5DD06 Deity

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    Great Eye for detail "Juliius Ceasar".....

    Nice the way you blend in the games pictorial events into your story.....

    Not much on our friend and feind....Motazuma.....what's happened to him....

    Did he only sacrifise 49 slaves in your honour.............:cry:

    And what will you do with those great prophets
     
  19. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Funny you should mention Montezuma. ;) And you'll see the fate of one GP at the beginning of the next story.

    Speaking of which...

    The next chapter kind of ran away on me. Not in a bad way, I hope. It just started as another chapter/short story, and then, well, it took on a life of its own and kind of turned into a novella! Because of the subject matter, there won't be as many screen shots, but I'm hoping you'll enjoy it anyway.
     
  20. Sisiutil

    Sisiutil All Leader Challenger

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    Chapter Eleven: Noble Men

    Part 1 – The Kong Miao



    He had been watching the young man for several minutes before he decided what to do about him.

    The Kong Miao received anywhere from dozens to hundreds of visitors a day, of course. As the primary shrine of Confucianism, it was an object of reverence to the faithful and one of curiosity to the tourists. Mencius saw no end of visitors when he wandered the peaceful, immaculately manicured grounds of the shrine. Some got a polite nod from him, but he could grant them no more of his attention than that. The High Priest, as one would expect, was a very busy man.

    So why should this one young man have arrested his attention this morning? Granted, the fellow was good-looking, but Mencius’ tastes had never run in that direction. The young man looked quintessentially Roman: tall, dark-featured, with jet-black hair in close-cropped curls. Clean-shaven, as was the fashion amongst Romans and had been for centuries. (Mencius, in contrast, wore a long, nearly snow-white beard.)

    Perhaps it was how he was dressed that caught Mencius’ attention—or rather, how he wasn’t dressed. The young man, though obviously Roman, was not togate, wearing only a simple white tunic with no stripe that would indicate he held rank as a patrician or even a knight. Yet the way he held himself, back straight, broad shoulders thrown back, and especially with that muscular left arm of his held bent at a right angle, as if to support the folds of a toga, suggested that he was used to the dress of a high-ranking Roman—or had been.

    Most of the mysteries the high priest wrested with would never be solved in his lifetime. The one standing before him, in contrast, should be relatively easy to resolve. That prospect—the unusual chance to deal with a relatively straightforward enigma for a change—made up Mencius’ mind. He walked over to the young man.

    “Greetings, my young friend,” he said in Latin. “Welcome to the Kong Miao. My name is Mencius.”

    The young man turned from his study of the Hall of Great Perfection and regarded the older man with piercing blue-green eyes. He blinked in surprise, then bowed low.

    <I am honoured to make your acquaintance,> the young man said in Mencius’ native Chinese. He straightened. <I confess that I did not expect to meet the High Priest on my pilgrimage. This is an unexpected and most welcome honour.>

    Mencius smiled beneath his neatly-trimmed beard, pleased not only by the young man’s most polite and proper greeting, but also to hear his native tongue spoken by one who was obviously not of that lineage. Even centuries later, some Romans still never let his people forget that they were descended from escaped slaves. Mencius could tell that this young Roman, however, held no such prejudices.

    “You are Confucian, I take it?” Mencius continued in Latin, implicitly inviting his new acquaintance to speak in his own native tongue; it was only proper, since Mencius had initiated the conversation. The high priest gestured towards the Hall of Great Perfection, the centre of the shrine and the heart of Confucianism, and he and his new companion turned and casually strolled towards it.

    “Yes, as my father was before me, and his father before him,” the young man said. “Forgive me, I forgot to introduce myself. I am Lucius Rutullus Lepidus.”

    Now it was Mencius’ turn to blink in surprise. “Your name seems very familiar to me, Lucius Rutullus Lepidus, but I cannot place it,” he prompted his young companion.



    And there it was, in the young man’s suddenly tightened expression, the slight sigh of sorrow and exasperation that escaped his lips. It told Mencius everything he needed to know before Lucius Rutullus filled in the details.

    “The Rutullii have served Rome in general and Casear in particular for centuries,” he said proudly. Then he pressed his lips together and seemed to sag, just a little. “But the family has… fallen on hard times. Too many sons and not enough money or land to go around is how my grandfather, rest his soul, used to put it.”

    Mencius nodded. He now recalled hearing of the fate of this young man’s family, one of the oldest and most Patrician, descended, legend had it, from Remus himself. Nothing dramatic had occurred—no sudden fall from grace—just a gradual erosion, over time, of the family fortune as it was split repeatedly amongst each new generation, until there was, now, no fortune to be split. Once the Rutullii had been senators, praetors, consuls, and provincial governors. And now…?

    “I grew up in the Subura,” the young man told him in a matter-of-fact tone even though he had just admitted his once-noble family now lived in the seething tenements of Rome amongst the lowest of the low—the “head count”, as they were called. “That’s where I learned Chinese, and a few other languages to boot, from the neighbours in our insula.”

    Again Mencius nodded. As a young priest he had ministered to those in the dense, crowded apartment blocks of Rome and Antium, where people of different nationalities and tongues lived cheek-by-jowl beside and on top of one another. That this young man’s speech and bearing indicated that he still clung to his Patrician background was remarkable. But Mencius said nothing; he knew that the young man’s pilgrimage was infused with purpose, especially since it must have been exorbitantly expensive for him to undertake, given his limited circumstances. All this talk was leading to something.

    Lucius Rutullus stopped just outside the door to the Hall of Great Perfection. His eyes sought the priest’s, and his brow furrowed.

    “All the master’s teachings,” Lucius said, “have, as I have been given to understand it, one purpose: to show us our place in the world, and how to accept it and live properly within that place. But I no longer know my place!” the young man cried, his arms spread in exasperation as he finally revealed what had brought him on this pilgrimage. He shook his head and looked at the ground. “I should, by rights, be planning my political career. I should be looking forward to entering the Senate in ten years, on my thirtieth birthday, as is my due. But I’ll never qualify. I should be holding my head high amongst my fellow Patricians. Instead I mingle with the head count.”

    He glanced up at Mencius, who was listening to him attentively. “Do not misunderstand me, revered sir. I don’t look down upon those I live with and deal with every day. They’re my friends and neighbours; of the few Patricians I know, most can’t be bothered to acknowledge my mere existence. It’s just…” Again his spread his hands in exasperation, then let them fall and slap uselessly against his thighs. “I try to live up to the Confucian ideal, to be a noble man—not one through birth and blood, though I have that, but through thought and deed. But it’s hard, master. Very hard.”

    “Is that all that troubles you, my young friend?” Mencius asked after a brief, respectful pause.

    “No,’ Lucius Rutullus said quietly. He glanced at the high, gabled roof of the Hall of Great Perfection and sighed. “There’s… well, there’s a girl.”

    “Ah,” Mencius said. “Permit me to hazard a guess: she’s a Patrician.”

    “Yes,” Lucius admitted with a dejected nod.

    “But her family’s circumstances are… different from yours,” Mencius said delicately.

    “Oh, like night and day!” Lucius said with a bitter laugh. “Her name is Claudia Pulchra.”

    Mencius couldn’t contain his reaction. He inhaled through his teeth. The Claudii were one of Rome’s highest-ranking Patrician families. The young woman Lucius Rutullus was referring to was the daughter of Marcus Claudius Pulcher, who had been Consul twice and was currently one of two men holding the esteemed office of Censor. From all reports, she lived up to the family’s cognomen, which meant “beautiful”, in both appearance and personality. Such was her reputation, and that of her family, that even the High Priest of the Kong Miao in Antium knew of her. But then, Mencius was a prudent man as well as a holy one, and ensured he kept one ear to the ground regarding the goings-on in the capital.

    “You aim high, Lucius Rutullus,” he remarked.

    “Too high,” the young man said morosely. “She’s engaged to another man.”

    “Forgive me for asking, my young friend, but how did you ever chance to meet her? I would assume you move in very different circles.”

    Lucuis Rutullus smiled grimly and nodded. “Quite so. But, strangely, we shared the same pedagogue. An esteemed Japanese tutor, Akiro Matsugane.”

    Mencius’ snow-white brows rose high on his head. “Now I know why your name is familiar to me, Lucius Rutullus Lepidus, and not just because of your esteemed heritage. Akiro Matsugane is one of my oldest friends. Our duties—mine here in Antium, his in Rome—keep us apart too much, unfortunately. But the last time I visited him in Rome… it must be, oh, four years ago—he mentioned you to me.”

    “Did he?” Lucius said in mild surprise.

    “Of course,” Mencius said, grinning now. “Did you never wonder, Lucius Rutullus, why one of the most esteemed teachers in Rome accepted you as a student though you could not afford to pay his fees? Which, as I keep telling him, I consider ridiculously exorbitant,” he added with the good-natured disdain one long-time friend often had for another.

    “I always thought it was because he felt sorry for me,” Lucius said with a shrug.

    Mencius snorted derisively, a most un-priest-like sound. “Does Akiro Matsugane strike you as the soft-hearted type?”

    “No,” Lucius said, his hands rubbing together unconsciously as he remembered the many times his stern tutor had administered a leather strap to them in discipline. “Far from it.”

    Mencius nodded. “He took you in because he saw great potential in you, Lucius Rutullus. Potential that would have been wasted otherwise. Potential that you have not yet fulfilled. But you are young, and there is all the time in the world for you to find your way.”

    “But how, Master?” Lucius asked. “As a civil servant? I’ll be old and grey—no offence—before I climb that cumbersome ladder high enough to achieve anything even close to my family’s former prominence. And I don’t have a head for business either, I can tell you that. Normally, a man of my age would join Rome’s Legions and make a name for himself there, but we’ve been at peace for decades now.”

    Lucius laughed briefly. “Would you believe I even tried acting? Yes, a Patrician Rutullus, on stage!” he said in response to Mencius’ surprised reaction. “There were two thespians living in our insula, and they convinced me to give it a try. They made quite a fuss over me.” He grimaced. “Too much of a fuss, if you catch my meaning, which is why it didn’t last.”

    “You must be patient, my young friend,” Mencius said when the young man grew silent. “The world has a way of putting things in our path that we need. We usually regard them as obstacles, when in fact they are opportunities. And sometimes they are difficult to recognize as either. The Master said…”

    But Mencius got no further, for from behind him, within the sanctity of the Hall of Great Perfection, a loud, keening wail pierced the air. Before the old priest had even turned his head toward the sound, Lucius Rutullus was running past him towards its source.

    There, beneath the many richly-decorated pillars, the dark red walls, the high roof, was the central altar. At one side of the large, intricately-carved marble block knelt the source of the cry Mencius and Lucius Rutullus—and several other priests, now converging on the altar—had heard. He was an old man, his clean-shaven head and snow-white beard giving him the appearance of a holy man, while his long green robe, decorated with colourful feathers of blue, yellow, and red,, made him resemble some exotic bird.

    His hands shook even as they clung to the altar like a drowning man to some piece of flotsam. Another loud wail of anguish and rapture erupted from his weathered lips, followed by a stream of what could only be loud, reverent prayer spoken in a strange, guttural tongue. Tears streamed down his withered cheeks and moistened that long, white beard. Lucius was already beside the old man, his strong arm attempting to be a comforting presence on that elderly shoulder. Mencius caught up to his young acquaintance and knelt down beside the aged, distraught worshipper.

    “My friend,” the High Priest said, then waited patiently for the old man to notice him and for his reverent wailing to cease. “You are most welcome to the house of Confucius,” he said reassuringly. “Be comforted—you are among friends. Might I ask who you are, and from where you hail?”

    The old man only shook his head and muttered incoherently in his strange tongue. Exasperated, Mencius looked at the other priests standing nearby, as perplexed as he, to see if any of them understood the man.

    “His name,“ Lucius Rutullus said, “is Itzcoatl. He’s Aztec”

    Mencius and the other priests started in surprise, both at the information and that this young Roman had somehow understood it. Rome was a mosaic of the various cultures of the continent, that was true, but the Aztec Empire had long been a closed book. One of the few things Romans knew about that mysterious land, home to a particularly fundamentalist strain of Buddhism, was that travel from it was forbidden to its inhabitants--on pain of death. Very few Aztecs made the hazardous journey to Roman lands, though evidently this man had—and, it seemed, so had at least one resident of the insula where Lucius Rutullus had grown up. The young man turned to the old man and spoke to him gently in his strange, mysterious language.

    “He also says,” Lucius added, with no small amount of astonishment, “that he is a Confucian.”

    With this remarkable declaration now translated, the old man broke down in tears yet again, leaving Lucius, Mencius, and the other priests staring at him in amazement and confusion.
     
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