Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising Book Series Preview II
The Gods & Heroes team is happy to reveal the second excerpt from the the upcoming book series based on Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising. Book one of the series is titled, “Blood and Laurels” and we have Excerpt II for you today. You can read Excerpt I by clicking here. The series is being written by an award-winning author; more will be revealed as we get closer to publishing the first novel.
Book One of the Gods and Heroes Series
By noon of the third day, Atellus Fabius Camillus, centurion of one of the ten centuries of the Primi Ordines, had marched his men in silence to within two miles of the town of Selci in Rieti, and encamped in thick woodlands at the base of a hill so they might not be discovered. His orders from Rome were to visit Tito Mania, a former Roman magistrate who had given up his citizenship to become a socius, an autonomous ally of Rome.
Atellus surveyed his goal. Selci sat on a shallow hilltop, giving it command of the area below. There was no quick way to know how fortified the town might be. The land had once been home to the Sabine nation, whom the Romans had conquered and then conquered again. Now the area was allied to Rome and subject to provincial taxes. Mania was the magistrate for this seemingly inconsequential village on the hill above.
Most soci, Roman allies, gladly paid their levies and taxes in order to remain under the protection of Rome. Yet a few had a bad habit of paying too late or too little or, in the case of the man he had come to see, not at all. When this happened, there was usually a rebellion in the making. He had been ordered by the Consul of Rome to discover Mania’s true purpose.
They came into the village by the main road so that the arrival of Roman soldiers would not cause undue excitement. Once at the gate, Atellus realized that he might not have bothered. There was no guard at post on the outskirts of town. Only a stray cur slunk out from the doorway of a hut and hurried away. Cheerful noises erupting from the town center offered a clue as to why. There was a celebration going on. Atellus did not bother to wonder what holiday it was. The Latini were always celebrating something. He headed straight for the merrymaking.
They walked undetected through a narrow dirt street that opened onto a paved square filled with people. While the inhabitants were not dressed for a festival, it was easy to see what had drawn them. A spear, sign of a slave sale under public authority, was set up by the fountain at the center of the square. Beside it was a roped-together throng of men, women, and children. They looked dusty and tired, as if marched a long distance quickly.
Atellus now understood why Rome had sent him here. Public slave auctions were forbidden by law unless overseen by Rome, or its representatives, the army.
His gaze shifted from the center of the square to where several well-dressed citizens stood dipping cups into a basin of wine. Wholesale slave dealers usually followed an army. Yet there was neither a quaestor present nor word of a recent Roman battle victory to account for the slaves for sale this day. The buyers seemed to be wealthy individuals of the province.
Finally, someone turned and noticed soldiers, swords and shields at the ready. The laughter and music came to an abrupt halt.
Atellus made his way through the parting crowd with his men flanking him, his gaze upon the man revealed at the back of the square.
The man sat beneath an awning of bright green, held up by poles manned at each corner by a house slave. The awning shaded a number of others, ranging in age from ancient to youth, but the magistrate was Atellus’s only interest. The man in the summer toga of linen was broad of face and belly. His features were those of a youngish man, no more than thirty.
Yet dissipation was already disfiguring what once might have been a pleasant face. No soldier, by the look of him. Too florid, too fleshy, too much of everything: this must be Mania. Instinctively Atellus disliked him. But that would not determine his judgment. So far, Mania had broken two laws. There would no doubt be more examples to follow.
None of these thoughts showed in his expression as Atellus approached. “Tito Mania, I bring you greetings from Rome.”
The man did not rise. No deference shown to Rome. Atellus marked the slight.
“Welcome to Selci, —ah.”
“Centurio Camillus.” Mania spoke Latin but his accent was different from Rome. His gaze shifted beyond Atellus and after a moment he smiled. “You and your men are welcome.”
Atellus was certain Mania had counted the number of his men before that smile.
Mania appeared to relax. He smiled and indicated the bowl the dealers had abandoned. “Wine, Centurio Camillus?”
Atellus ignored him. “You hold an illegal sale of slaves, magistrate. From where did they come?”
“We have an informal arrangement with the Etruscans.” Mania shrugged. “They are at war with the Gauls and have more slaves than they can readily sell. The republic is ever in need of slaves. One might say I do this sale as a small service for Rome.”
Atellus’s gaze moved from the man to the family arrayed behind him. Mania’s family was well-dressed. Even his servants wore fresh togas. Clearly the man spared no expense in his pursuit of comfort. “There is a tax imposed on imported slaves. And why are these slaves offered for sale without their feet being whitened with chalk to mark them as foreigners?”
“A minor detail, surely.” Mania smiled confidently and rose to his feet at last. “I’m sure we can come to an accommodation, Centurio.”
Atellus did not share the man’s smile of confidence. “I am here to collect Rome’s share.”
“Rome’s share?” Mania paused, as if to give the matter thought. “Certainly, certainly. As soon as I have recouped my outlay. As you can see, my expenses have been steep in order to secure these laborers. I must make my sales before I can possibly begin to pay the tithe required by the Senate.”
“It is a sacred tax for the Temple of Apollo.”
Mania’s smile soured. “I stand corrected. The gods must be appeased.”
“I will take their share with me. Along with the military levy you have neglected to pay. You may recoup your debts later.”
Mania’s good humor vanished. “Did you not understand? I have no recourse. My house is a pauper’s den until this lot is disposed of.”
Irritation flicked through Atellus. Was the man a complete fool? To contradict Rome was hazardous at best. To deny Rome was madness.
He stepped forward, planted his feet, and placed his hand on his sword hilt. “You are in violation of Roman laws, Tito Mania. You pay no taxes. You spurn the levy and you have been found selling merchandize that is not within your jurisdiction.”
“You are too hasty in your judgments, Centurio.” The man’s expansive tone was belied by the rage simmering in his black eyes. “Will you not sit in the shade and drink a cup of wine? It is from my own vineyard.”
Atellus turned to his men. “Prepare to kill every male in the village over the age of eight who refuses to join the legion.”
Mania swore, rage showing in his face, at last. He moved toward Atellus in quick angry steps. “You have no authority here, as you will very soon learn!”
Atellus faced the magistrate with a look that halted him in midstride. “The authority of Rome extends everywhere. You should have remembered that.”
The color in Mania’s face had deepened to an ugly hue. “I have friends in Rome. I am a client of Senator Livius!”
Atellus did not respond directly. “I give you leave to send a message to your patron. We will be done here before the girl of your choice can reach the Tiber.”
He turned and walked purposefully toward the line of slaves, linked together by stout rope. He chose the biggest and brawniest specimen, a captured soldier sure to bring the best price among the lot, and freed him from the others. “Kneel.”
The man obeyed. Then he did an unexpected thing, he looked up straight into Atellus’s face. It was the kind of insult to earn a slave a severe flogging, if not death. Yet in the instance their gazes met, Atellus saw something other than the expected fear or defiance. The steady blaze in the man’s eyes signaled his approved of Atellus’s actions.
He did not know the man’s story, would never know it. But in that moment he understood some things. The man was a veteran soldier, perhaps a patrician among his people like Atellus, and one who found a quick death preferable to a life of enslavement.
Atellus lifted his sword and brought it down swiftly, severing the man’s head from his shoulders in a single slash. He turned away even as the hot wash of thick blood spurted across his feet. He had given the soldier a swift death, the closest thing to an honorable one he could provide. It would be what he would have wanted had they exchanged places.