Chapter Eleven: Noble Men Part 2 –Defending the Faith “Where did you say he’s from?” Caesar asked. “Some place called… Cal-ix-tla-hua-ca,” Mencius, the Confucian High Priest said carefully. The High Priest stroked the dapper, neatly-trimmed beard upon his chin thoughtfully as he sat across from Caesar’s desk in the Consul-for-Life’s office in the Basilica Romanus. Not for the first time, Caesar reflected on how successful the descendants of that lowly group of captured Chinese slaves had become. Confucius himself had been a great-grandson of a Chinese slave; Ling Lun, the great artist, Lao Tzu, the scholar who had founded the competing yet complimentary philosophy of Taoism in Ravenna, and Mencius, the greatest Confucian scholar since the Master himself, sitting before him today, could also trace their lineages back to those humble roots. Every generation of their descendants seemed to find new ways to prove how they thoroughly deserved that treasured prize of full Roman citizenship. The High Priest shook his head uncertainly. “At least I think that is how it is pronounced. These Aztec place names…” “Yes, they’re tongue-twisters, aren’t they?” Caesar said, a bemused grin playing upon his lean features. Mencius smiled and nodded once. “They probably say the same about the names of our cities,” he remarked. “I suppose so,” Caesar replied. “Now tell me, old friend, why you’ve come all the way to Rome to see me regarding this humble pilgrim?” The Confucian High Priest took a deep breath. Caesar’s chummy choice of words did not make Mencius forget the place of his faith within Roman society and its immortal leader’s grand plans. In Caesar’s shrewd, ice-blue eyes, he well knew, Confucianism was not a religious faith, nor a system of philosophy, but a tool—something to be used, then potentially—and herein lay the danger—tossed aside once its usefulness came to an end. To the High Priest, of course, the complex ethical, political, social, and religious system of Confucianism was no mere utensil. He was therefore determined to work with Caesar to prove its utility and thus ensure its preservation. Which was why he had brought the old Aztec pilgrim to Rome, and why he chose his words carefully now. “His pilgrimage—even his very existence, Caesar—has potentially vast political ramifications. As that is your area of expertise and governance, I thought it appropriate—no, urgent—that I bring this humble but significant man to your attention.” Caesar smiled knowingly. “You’re far too humble yourself, Mencius. At least a third of all Confucian treatises delve extensively into political thought, and very intelligently. Rome’s caste system is based upon Confucian principles. Some of the best writings on the topic are yours, in fact.” The High Priest nodded at the compliment. “All the more reason for me to bring this man’s existence—and predicament—to your attention.” “Predicament?” Caesar asked pointedly. “We have not had an open borders agreement with the Aztec Empire for centuries, as you know,” Mencius went on. “Yet somehow, Confucianism spread to this distant corner of that mysterious land. Itzcoatl is the first of his people who share our faith to make the pilgrimage to visit the Kong Miao, and I hope he will not be the last. However…” The High Priest paused and shook his head sadly. “What’s the problem?” Caesar asked, even though he shrewdly knew what it was. He needed the High Priest to state it baldly, however. “The Aztecs,” Mencius said, “are even more fervently Buddhist than their Spanish brothers and sisters of that faith, as remarkable as that sounds. The Confucian minority is, therefore, ostracized and persecuted, more so because the Aztecs believe that Confucian lay with Rome rather than with their homeland. Confucians are forbidden to exercise their faith; any caught with Confucian works in their possession are severely punished. In addition, a holy pilgrimage such as Itzcoatl’s is absolutely prohibited. It’s a miracle he made it all the way to Antium, and testament to his devotion. He could have been killed just for attempting to make the journey. We have even heard stories of Confucians being used as victims in ritual human sacrifice…” The holy man shuddered. “My Spanish counterparts regard that as a sacrilege and a heresy to Buddhism, yet the practice continues in parts of the Aztec Empire.” “What would you have the Senate and the People of Rome do, Mencius?” Caesar asked, though he knew the answer to this question before he asked it as well. The way he phrased the question, however, was significant; he was reminding Mencius of the fact that Caesar no longer ruled Rome autocratically. Both the Plebeian Assembly and especially the Senate, which governed foreign policy, would have to be convinced of any course of action. The High Priest returned Caesar’s shrewd gaze with one of equal clarity and perception. The two men understood one another; they may be on separate paths, with different starting points and end goals in mind, but each recognized that those paths were parallel to one another, and that they could and should act in one another’s mutual self-interest. Mencius leaned forward and spoke fervently. “The Confucians of Calixtlahuaca need our aid, Caesar. We need to extend the protection of Rome’s might to this persecuted minority who share our faith. Montezuma must agree to respect their right to worship and grant them free passage to travel to the shrine in Antium. No one who meets this elderly Aztec holy man can deny this.” Caesar nodded and steepled his fingertips together thoughtfully. “I agree with you, of course. What you say strikes me as only reasonable. Montezuma, however, is not a man one can reason with. Or so I understand.” “You’ve never met him?” Mencius asked in surprise. “No, but I aim to change that, and soon,” Caesar replied. “And if Rome cannot convince him… then we may have to force him.” The Roman ruler’s gaze was like cold and hard, like steel; Mencius knew that Caesar was likely looking forward to taking on his Aztec counterpart. The difficulty lay in convincing the Senate and the People to go along with it. How very convenient that Mencius, thanks to this lone Aztec pilgrim, had laid the means to do so very tidily in Caesar’s lap. And yet, Mencius did not seek reward for himself; the High Priest’s concern, as always, was with the preservation and proliferation of his faith. “The Master said, ‘To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage’,” the High Priest said reverently. “I know from our history and from our friendship that you do not lack for courage, Caesar. Thus I know that you will do what is right. Our brothers and sisters of the faith are suffering. It falls to the Senate and the People of Rome to alleviate that suffering.” Caesar’s ice-blue eyes levelled an even stare at the high priest. “As I recall, Confucius also had strict guidelines on how to recompense injury.” Mencius nodded. “With justice,” he said.