It is impossible to ignore the strength
in Gawley's words as he creates a world entirely his own, rich and alive. –The Canon
Primus Seneca has lived most of his life in exile. Ten years ago his father led an army against the ruthless dictator Tiberius–and was crushed. Now the general plans his revenge from the snowy heart of the Boreal forest, and sixteen-year-old Primus is eager to join his father’s legion. But once he is sworn in, Primus begins to unravel family secrets that will shake his faith in the cause, his father, and the very nature of the gods.
“I could not put it down! I was up until 5 a.m. reading this book non-stop.” –Caitlyn Burleigh, Fictioholic
“…Spartacus meets Game of Thrones with a hefty dash of The 300…” –Beatriz Collazo, Amazon Reviewer
“It’s a compelling journey… and it does not end at all as I expected.” –William Vitka, Author of Infected
“A well crafted story with convincing, interesting characters…. an enjoyable, engrossing read.” Alice Leiper, Ally’s Desk
Lilith is the governor’s daughter. For years she has attended her father’s meetings, met with his clients, and advised him in his affairs. But violence is brewing on their borders and the province is suffering. When the barbarians are at the gates, Lilith’s father disappears, leaving her alone in the governor’s chair. With few allies and crumbling support, Lilith must find a way to rally her province against imminent destruction.
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To understand the mistakes that led to the destruction of Old Arcadia, we must first understand the unique character of the man who caused its downfall: Marius Venator. Born a barbarian, enslaved at the age of nine, Marius was nevertheless able to rise to the class of knights, and even purchased admission into the Senatorial College. The bare fact that he was able to do this points to a sickening level of degradation in our culture; Arcadia was rotting from within long before the end.
–From The Life of Marius Venator
by the traitor Marcus Falco.
A covered litter made its way up the Avenue of Error, a broad and winding path from the meanest hovels near Arcadia’s gates all the way to the palatial homes of the city’s wealthiest patrons. The litter was a large enough for one man to recline comfortably within, and the loose weave of its colorful drapes shielded its passenger from lesser eyes without shutting out the breeze. It was born by a matched team of slaves: silent, powerfully built men exactly alike in height and coloring. All were shirtless, and all were pale despite the late summer sun that drummed down upon the cobblestones.
The passenger was a man just past his middle years, his gray hair combed forward to disguise its recession. His arms were thin and his frame was paunchy. Publius Naso, called “The Nose” after his most prominent facial feature, was congratulating himself on an unlikely victory. Today Naso had openly challenged a dictator–and faced him down.
The day had been too hot for the stagnant, torch-lit air of Venus’ ancient temple, so the august fathers of the Senate had met instead in the People’s Theater, where the vaulted collonades let in the breeze and a sailcloth canopy shielded them from the sun. Tiberius’ men placed his chair on the stage and the senators fanned out around him in the stands, reproducing their accustomed places despite the change in venue. Left of the stage sat Tiberius’ pets: magistrates raised up by the dictator from obscurity and elder statesmen whose debts he had erased. In the center were the moderates, who had remained aloof during the civil war, taking neither side. Naso sat with these. The right was occupied by the repentant: men who had supported Marius ten years ago and accepted amnesty when he was defeated.
“I believe the dictator’s chair has lost its cushion on the journey from the temple,” murmured Senator Velnius to Naso as the others found their seats. And indeed, Tiberius looked singularly uncomfortable on the stage. His back was straight as a soldier’s, his hands locked on his knees.
“I’d say it has more to do with the stone above his head than the wood beneath his buttocks,” Naso replied. The People’s Theater had been built by Marius before the war–one reason for his enormous popularity. The alcove above the stage had once held a statue of the man himself, dressed in a soldier’s armor as a reminder of his victories. When Tiberius drove him into exile the statue came down, but the stones beneath its empty pedestal still bore their inscription: BUILT BY GAIUS MARIUS VENATOR, FOR THE PEOPLE WHOM HE LOVED.
Once the high priest had called them to order, Magistrate Rufus took the floor. He was a small, dark man, seated amongst the dictator’s pets–in fact he was Tiberius’ nephew. He struck the pose of an orator, one hand against his chest and the other lifted to his audience. “Senators, the plague is in our streets. Every day more vagrants crowd inside the walls looking for work. A field of tents has blossomed along the river, and the graveyards are so crowded with the homeless that no man’s tomb is safe from violation. It is these poor souls who bring the plague with them, and what’s more, their hunger has driven up the price of bread. Now we receive news of wildfires in the Roane, which have destroyed nearly half the grain fields. The price of bread will surely rise again.
“Gentlemen, we must act quickly, and if not to protect our citizens, then to protect ourselves–for we know where the people’s wrath will turn when they cannot feed their children.”
It was a blunt beginning. Something drastic was coming next, Naso was sure. Rufus had been a senator for just two years; in that time he had proposed three laws. All of them were planted by his uncle, and all of them were unpopular. When the dictator wanted to propose something which would please the Senate, he did it himself. When he wanted to test the waters of opposition without commiting himself, he used his nephew.
Naso did not have to wait long to discover their plan: Rufus went on to propose that the use of slaves on plantation farms be banned within two hundred miles of the city. This would draw the vagrants outside the walls and ease the spread of plague, he claimed. What was more, he proposed to fix the price of bread at a single denarius per day.
The reasoning was transparent: with his enemy gone for ten years, Tiberius must soon step down as dictator and submit to a general election. This proposal of his nephew’s was blatant pandering to the people. And it might earn him some popularity, but it would be ruinous to the senators, who were barred from trade of any kind and who depended on their farms for income.
When Rufus finished his arguments, the agitation in the room was palpable. But despite the muttering that filled the theater, no one rose to speak against the motion.
That was when Naso found himself on his feet.
He had spoken just a handful of times in the past ten years. Avoiding entanglement in the war had been a feat of agility, and it meant distancing himself from many of his friends. Since then Naso had little support to count on, and usually avoided attention. Yet the foolishness of this motion drove him to stand. The others turned to look at him. Naso did not spare them a glance. His whole attention was fixed on Magistrate Rufus.
“Thank you, good Magistrate, for your… well-reasoned contribution. We can always count on the men of your family to be protective of Arcadia’s wealth and welfare. I know how pure are your intentions, and I salute you for them. What’s more, you are right: something must be done about the poor, the plague, and the drought. But the action you propose would be a mistake.
“You were not yet a senator when your uncle was appointed to be our dictator. If you will indulge me, I will presume to educate you.” The magistrate inclined his head gravely. From his seat on stage, Tiberius gazed steadily at Naso, his face a mask. The other moderates shifted uncomforably on their benches, looking carefully away. “Our war with the demagouge Marius was costly, and when it was over, the treasury was bare. As dictator, Tiberius attempted to stretch the treasury coffers by debasing all newly minted coins with tin. Had you been of age then, you would now recall that all state debts were repaid at a stroke–and for a time we praised our dictator’s wisdom.
“But nearly all taxes collected since that day have been paid to us in our own adulterated coin. In fact, other than our tax-collectors one can hardly find a man in Arcadia willing to accept a coin that bears your uncle’s face–for their value is well known, though we insist that it is equal to that of any other coin. You say the price of bread has risen? I believe you. The price of everything has risen, and not only since the poor began to crowd our streets.
“By all means, Senators, let us move these wretches out of our city. Perhaps it will rid us of the plague. But it will not rid us of our past mistakes. Nor can we forbid their consequences with a single law.”
When Naso sat down, there was no applause. Tense silence held while everyone watched the dictator’s face. Tiberius looked pale.
“Senators,” the dictator finally said. “I must beg for your forgiveness. You all know my health is poor; these hot days often leave me feeling faint. With your permission, let us adjourn for the day. We shall continue this discussion tomorrow.”
And with that, the session was over. Tiberius waited until the senators had all filed out before rising from his chair. No one spoke to Naso as they departed, but he caught several appraising glances from his colleagues. He had shown them something new today.
As his litter reached the top of the Avian hill and approached his house, Naso allowed himself to wonder if Tiberius would even call for a vote at the Senate’s next session. The high priest, who directed the Senate’s proceedure and kept their records, was in Tiberius’ pocket. If the dictator did not wish to remind them of his nephew’s proposal, then it would not be put to a vote. If there was no vote, then the motion could not fail. A failure would be a bad precedent for a man with Tiberius’ ambition; he could use his dictatorial power to override a consensus of the Senate, but Naso doubted that he would. It would reveal him as a tyrant just when he strove to create the illusion of democracy.
Naso dismounted from his litter inside his courtyard, and took a moment to breathe the fresh air that reached his home atop the Avian. In the city the heat was oppressive, and a warm, fetid smell rose from the sewers. But Naso’s courtyard was full of fountains, where bright little fish darted among the lilies. Flowering lavender, carefully tended by his gardener against the heat, lent a sweet scent to the breeze. Naso pulled off his heavy senatorial toga, fanned himself and called for wine, immediately setting off toward his study. He was thinking of writing a letter to his friend Velnius, urging him to vote against Tiberius’ new law, if indeed a vote should occur tomorrow. Perhaps an opposition party could be rallied; Tiberius would step down soon, and the Republic would breathe free for the first time in ten years. It was a new day, and Naso might just be the man to usher in the dawn. He could already see the words take shape as he strode down the shaded path toward his house.
But when he reached his study, all thoughts of letters were forgotten. Mathis Caelo was standing beside Naso’s scroll rack, reading silently.
Mathis was a small man. He was a few inches shorter than Naso, and a few years older. But where Naso’s shoulders were rounded, the older man’s were square as stone, and although Mathis’ hair had gone completely white, it was still thick and wiry as a badger’s. He completely ignored his host as he perused Naso’s private correspondence.
Naso stood just inside the doorway of his study, trying to force calm upon himself. His first instinct was to cry out for his household guards, but he resisted. His guards were dead. Or else Mathis had bought them. Naso was alone.
Mathis rolled up the scroll he’d apparently finished with and replaced it on the rack. His fingers brushed lightly over the papyrus rolls as he looked for something else to read. “Make yourself comfortable, Senator.” He indicated a chair in front of Naso’s desk.
“I enjoyed your little history lesson today.” When Mathis finally turned around, his smile made Naso shudder. He moved around the desk as he spoke, and perched in front of Naso. “For ten years you have been silent. You have not objected to a single motion. Today you stand up and put your dictator in his place.” He spread his hands. “I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.”
“It is my sacred duty to defend the best interests of our Republic. If I believe an idea is harmful, I must speak against it.”
Mathis did not seem to hear him. He walked back around the desk and lifted a tablet-book and broke its seal. Unfolding the wooden leaves, he read the words pressed into the red wax within. “Cargo manifest of the merchanter Cytheria, bound for Porta Orientalis in the Crescent. Two hundred casks of wine (a middling vintage, not from your estates). Fifty tubs of olive oil. Four hundred bolts of wool. Cheese. Olives. Pork.” He snapped the book shut. “Now why would a man with such rich cargo for sale be concerned over the price of bread? Or whether slaves can work on his plantations?”
Naso stared at the wax seal that hung broken from the ribbon that had bound the book. It was his personal seal–not his family’s crest, but the private signature he used for business. Mathis had retrieved this manifest from his ship. But had he searched its holds? Was he accusing Naso of violating the senatorial prohibition against trade… or something much worse? Naso spoke through a dry throat.
”The… the Senate has not yet voted on the magistrate’s proposal. In the morning I could… change my position. I could vote in favor of the motion.”
Mathis cocked his head. “You disappoint me, Senator. I thought you had become a man of conviction. I thought, perhaps, that you meant to lead our Republic once Tiberius steps down.” Mathis smiled. “If he steps down.”
”If? He has sworn to submit to an election! This is…” Naso stopped himself halfway out of the chair. Slowly he sank back into his seat. Mathis had not blinked.
”This is what, dear Publius?”
Naso shook his head.
”This is naked tyranny?”
”No. Tiberius is not a tyrant. I never said that.”
”Of course he is.”
”Of course he’s a tyrant, Publius. He means to rule.” Naso stared at him, but Mathis simply re-strung the tablet-book and placed it neatly on the desk. “Not every despot is a villain, Senator. And not every oath is sacred. Ten years ago another man tried to make himself king. A barbarian. Where would you and I be right now if Tiberius had not seized power then?” Mathis reached beneath the desk to grasp something. Naso braced himself, suddenly aware that two soldiers were standing in the doorway behind him. “I am not troubled by accusations of tyranny, Senator. It is hypocrisy I cannot stand.”
Mathis lifted a heavy purse and dropped it on the table. Naso recognized the ivory banker’s mark that dangled from its drawstring. Until this morning, it had been buried in his garden. Fresh earth still clung to the leather. “No man will accept a coin with the dictator’s face on it. That’s what you said, isn’t it?” Mathis whipped a dagger from his belt and sliced the drawstring, upending the bag. Coins of silver and gold bounced across the table. “No man, including you.”
A silver denarius landed in Naso’s lap. It was identical to an Arcadian coin in all ways but two: its metal was nearly twice as pure, and on the obverse, in place of the dictator’s head, it depicted Gaius Marius Venator. Surrounding the stern face of the exile general was his motto: Righteous, Vigilant, Relentless.
Naso looked up to find Mathis glaring down at him. “Shall I recount for you Cytheria’s real manifest? Swords. Shields. Spears. Armor.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “All Arcadian legion issue. Where were they going, friend Publius? Show me how you perform your sacred duty.”
Naso kept his hands on his knees. He could feel the sweat of his palms through the fabric of his leggings. “I do not answer to you. You have no legal authority.” Again Mathis only stared at him. His eyes were the same gray as his tunic. “I will answer no more questions,” Naso vowed.
Mathis smiled. “Of course you will, my dear Publius. You’ll answer every one.”
On the ceiling of Naso’s study was a mural of the demigod Seapus, who stole knowledge from the gods and sold it to mankind. Rough hands closed around Naso’s arms, and his chair toppled over as they dragged him from the room. On the ceiling, near the doorway, the mural showed the demigod’s punishment: his father Jupiter, king of the heavens, staked Seapus down in the desert with his limbs stretched toward the four corners of the world. Wolves came nightly to feast on Seapus’ immortal flesh; they were his father’s pets.