sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Castor's Garden

Castor’s Garden

A fictional short

When Castor was killed, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality 
with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation 
Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as 
St. Elmo's fire.

A crude furnace blazes in the darkness beneath Castor's Garden. Filthy, sweat-covered men feed it with wood and charcoal, an endless task given the ferocity of the fire. To one side of the oppressive, low-ceilinged furnace room, small boys endlessly toil at two large bellows, feeding the flames with jets of air. Shadowy figures come and go with barrow loads of wood. In the space above the furnace there is a mass of dangerously crude clay pipes, oozing water and steam at every joint. 

Above the heat and filth there is a different world. Some refer to it unofficially as the Temple of Bacchus. It is a clean, beautifully tiled world of lazing figures, droning conversations and resonant laughter. It is the hot room of a bathhouse in Castor's Garden, in Londinium, circa 121 AD. All of the people relaxing in the water look prosperous and comfortable with themselves. Slaves wait in attendance, some around the edge of the pool, others in the water rubbing backs and massaging shoulders. There are three or four times as many slaves as bathers. The proprietorial way that the slaves look after their masters gives the place the odd atmosphere of a kindergarten for over-indulged grown-ups. Seated in a small marble throne, Clodius Aquinalinius Passienus, governor of Britain, makes deals and bestows gifts. Castor's Garden  lays at the center of the governor's private residence.

The setting feeds Clodius' substantial ego. He's a physically unimpressive man with a weak chin, pot belly and small, soft hands that have never known calluses. The appointment to govern Britain came from Caesar as a sop to his wife, Clodius' sister. The governor is expected to profit handsomely from the office and to kick a generous portion of the graft back to his benefactor personally. 

Within the past forty years, Londinium (London) has expanded rapidly,  becoming the Roman province of Britain's largest city, replacing Camulodunum (Colchester) as the capitol. Its forum and basilica are the largest north of the Alps. The Emperor, Hadrian has plans to visit the following year. He is coming to visit his brother-in-law both as a show of filial support and to find out why the anticipated treasure has not been forthcoming. Hadrian has heard reliably that much of the credit for Londinium's success has been ascribed to Clodius, whose bath house is the place to see and be seen in the city.

Clodius' building projects include a Mithraeum, which serves a sop to the army officers who want a temple of their own to express devotions to their bloody god. While Hadrian understands the need to keep the army happy, that interest is subordinate to his own financial share of the loot collected in the process of governing.

A short, but powerfully built man with a face like a basilisk, and intense eyes enters the water and calmly strokes to a place near Clodius' bench. SPQR is tattooed on his shoulder, the mark of the Legion. Men who have congregated near where Clodius is seated move off at the arrival of newcomer. They know that he is a man to be avoided.

"Sire, you summoned me?"

"Yes, Lucinnius, I have work for you."

"I am here to serve you and my Emperor."

The problem with engaging Lucinnius to solve a problem or find an answer always rested in the certain fact that he served two masters. The person commissioning the activity and the Emperor, whose eyes and ears he remained.

"Do you see those men with the Phrygian slave girls?" Clodius pointed in the general direction of three men and women, frolicking. A man tattooed strangely oversaw their activities more as a guard than as a slave, waiting for a command.

"Yes sire. I have seen men with the druid before. They druid speaks strangely accented Greek and the men speak a foreign tongue unknown to me."

Those are the people. "I need you to follow them, discretely."

"Is that all?" Lucinnius' skills were usually employed when a high-end assassination needed to be carried out such that it appeared to be an accidental death.

"For now, yes. The druid brings them in twos, threes or fours. Sometimes they breed with slaves, sometimes they kill a slave for sport with permission, but always they pay in gold, in quantities that far exceed the going rate for such activities. I am sure such availability of quantities of finely minted gold would also be of interest to our Emperor. They come and go by the road to Noviomagus (Chichester) on horseback. And Lucinnius, I have sent four other men to follow them, and none ever returned with a report."

The men and their druid remained in Londinium three more days, staying at the best brothel in town paying with finely minted gold. One fleshy man killed an unarmed slave scheduled for crucifixion, provided by Clodius using a gladius.

Then on the morning of the fourth day, they mounted and road south toward the ocean on the Noviomagus Road, as the governor predicted. Lucinnius followed on foot, so as not to alert the horses, which snort and call to each other at inopportune times for a spy. Lucinnius could trot all day down the road at a steady pace. He had done it as a legionnaire following officers on horseback, in formation, but this time he had no armor or field kit to weigh him down. 

A bit over ten legua outside of Londinium, the group turned off the road and took a traveled path that led to a stoutly built stone building and Lucinnius felt that they would spend the night. They brushed the horses, and turned them into a large, fenced pasture.

Two days later when none of them came out of the building, Lucinnius' patience ran out. He forced the strong wooden door by prying on it with his gladius and made entry. The door had been forced before and he thought on the four men before him who were trusted with the same mission that he carried out.

Inside the building, there were floors of tightly joined stone and not much else. There were no men, no bodies nor was there any sign of habitation.  The building had no windows and only one door. Lucinnius doubted that they could have crept past him. The only thing in the room was a strangely crafted metal arch which he walked through, and vanished.

If he could have read English, he may have noted the manufacturer's label on the arch, Time Travel Tourism, Inc.

index

21 comments:

  1. I enjoyed that. Let's hope, for his sake, that the former soldier didn't find himself in the White House.

    No, wait, maybe that'd be good. He has a sword.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wanted to take this story further, but if I had, it would not be a "short".

      Delete
    2. I like the short, but would also be happy to read the "long".

      Delete
    3. Maybe we can work on that from this end.

      Delete
    4. I second Jenny, but not too long. Our friend simply arrives in the Oval Office -- note story arc thematic tie/in with gubernatorial Roman baths -- with his gladius and works his way through.

      How he ends up in Austin with the time travelers is another episode.

      Delete
    5. Ok, I'll make them shorter.

      Delete
  2. That photo is of the Roman Baths in Bath, I’m sure.

    Good story, nice detail. I have a penchant for Roman stories. It was probably the Doctor Who Tardis that he went into.

    A very nice twist.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm working on a trilogy of shorts set in ancient Rome, so you might like those.

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. Cue John Denver:
      "Quantum foam, take me home,
      To the place I belong..."

      Delete
  4. But do they come back? Damn! There ya go making me use my imagination again. What if they came back with an M1 Grand or an M16 or a M249 SAW? Or a cigarette lighter? Or not at all... Dammit!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They'll be back with more belching tourists who want to murder somebody or want to have congress with slave girls.

      Can Lucinnius come back? The question begs the postulate that if he (and the other four) don't come back that people won't be born, etc. and it changes the future. The slave scheduled for execution that is killed is another thing. Or maybe the prostitute slave girls become pregnant and the guy is his own great, great, great, great grandfather?

      Delete
  5. Another good one, but...
    geez the surf must be up, cause they are gett'n shorter not longer...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's tough pandering to my readers and knowing whether you all want more or less.

      Delete
    2. To answer if we want more or less the answer is YES!

      Delete
    3. Just face it Life is hard... if you're a panderer...
      So, write more shorts, please.

      Delete

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