How is it Hobby week again already? It’s crazy. Okay, well I’ve thrown myself off a bit after last month’s humungous story. Involving as it was to get into, I had no real intention of producing anything so big. This month I’ve returned to something smaller – a piece of flash fiction featuring Romans that slides in around the 600 word mark. (Oi, no sighs of relief, you. This ego bruises like a peach.) As ever, I’ve taken an image for inspiration (created by MidJourney) but I’ve decided to leave out the whole Key Words thing. It can be fun trying to work them in, but in this case the image was sufficient for me to get an idea, and really that’s what this is all about. Anyway, the image is above, the story is below. I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is always appreciated, as are questions and your own pieces of work in response to the images. See you on the other side…
Barbarians at the Gate
The blow came from nowhere, knocking Lucius to the floor. Cassivellaunus loomed above him, rage and spittle flying at the clumsiness of slaves, but all the boy saw was the shining Godhead beyond, vast and wondrous, addressing the Senate assembled. There had been rumours, of course, wild and speculative; he trusted those even less than the Romans. He did trust Flavia though, and her description caught his imagination. He’d bargained hard to take her place today so he could bear witness to this heavenly delegation. Cursed luck he should trip on Pyrrhus, wretched hound! He regained his knees, apologising profusely, and mopped at his master’s robe, trying at least to dry it. The stain from this accidental libation would have to wait. Cassivellaunus turned his attention back to the foreign God, waving Lucius away with a final hissed deprecation.
The boy sped to refill the wine but found his feet dragging on the way back. His wide eyes still struggled to encompass the great golden figure that dominated the room. Had he not seen it move, he might have mistaken it for the Greek Colossus, dragged all the way from Rhodes. This was no stolen memorial though and nothing in its bearing spoke of captivity. The God had arrived unexpectedly three days ago, bold as brass, seeking its audience with Rome. Foreigners came to the Capital all the time, of course. Subjects or supplicants from distant lands, hoping to placate or persuade mighty Caesar; stolen men, women and children destined for servitude; merchants and traders seeking advantage and opportunity in the very heart of Empire—but none before had arrived in such astonishing fashion.
The gate of wind and fire had opened right here in front of the Senate and he had stepped through, the God, bearing nothing but a plain staff and wearing not a stitch! (This last barbarous detail confided by Flavia with a glint and a grin.) The Roman finery it now wore in deference to Senatorial propriety had been made to measure in the days since, while their honoured guest was quartered and courted in the most subtle and luxurious of prisons. Urgent word was sent to Caesar, as the Senate debated the meaning of this extraordinary appearance in wonder and in fear. Had it been Jove himself, they might justly have expected to hear his Will in Latin, but he spoke no word that anyone could decipher, not even the gaggle of Imperial translators brought later to his rooms.
Lucius returned to his master at last, delivered the wine, then found a nearby spot from which to watch the proceedings. The God’s voice was strange to the ears, pushing the audible boundaries of upper and lower registers at once, distorting the very air that carried it to the people. At times its lips were not even moving, yet still the sounds pulsed and ground their way out. The language of his body seemed a little easier to read, though Cassivellaunus and his peers were oblivious. There was passion there, frustration, anger. Perhaps this was not a Roman God at all, but one more closely linked to Prydain, his own country. There were tales told by his forebears of giants, after all, though only old bones remained. Through it all, Cassivellaunus continued to drink and demand more wine, a pattern observed through much of the Senate as wonder turned to boredom and cynicism.
Though the gateway remained, a remarkable swirling enigma that spoke of incredible power, the God himself seemed increasingly impotent, unable to convey his simplest desire. Hours trudged past and seeds of doubt took root in the Senate, hardening into conviction and contempt over the next few days. Whatever he wanted, wherever he came from, it was plain nothing would be resolved here any time soon. Caesar’s visit, when it came, was brief, curt, and decisive. There may have been some value in this otherworldly ambassador if he were to share the secret of the gate, but this was plainly no God; it was barely a man. Stripped of his robes once more, he might have been a Visigoth or a Vandal. Circus Maximus was the place for him, providing bloody entertainment, or dying in his efforts.
The slaughter that followed the attempted capture lived long in Lucius’ memory. The staff – so plain looking, so simple – shot beams of burning fire from the tip, melting flesh and turning bone to ash. Few Roman weapons were drawn but none came close to touching him before being liquified. The slave boy hid, his screams lost in the chorus. He did not mourn the death of his master, nor any of the worthies in the room, but he took no pleasure in it either. As the last of the screams were silenced, he peered through the smoke, taking in the full measure of the carnage. Only one figure remained, a vast shadow against the swirling gate. It shook its head and spat on the floor. The word it muttered was alien, sad and bitter, but the meaning seemed plain to Lucius:
The shadow turned and strode through the gate which swirled smaller and smaller behind him, then vanished.
That’s all I’ve got for now. It feels a little bit Twisted Earth, and could/should perhaps be expanded. I do want to write a novella for that setting. Hm. The research though… Ugh. Well, we’ll see. No idea what This Twisted Earth is? It’s a setting I came up with as a kid, developed into an anthology a few years ago. I have intentions to put out a series of novellas to kick things off again, before moving on to a second anthology. Does it sound of interest to you? Drop me a line and we’ll talk.
I’m taking next week off, so the next blog will be with you on 11th October. Until then, tata!