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This piece was inspired by Dan Brown, and was an Author Study for my english class.
Rome, Roman Empire
April 25, 10 A.D
This was supposed to be his day. His day of birth. Recently found guilty of murdering his father, he was about to face the worst ending. The Poena Cullei; A shameful death in which the receiver would be shoved in a sack with animals and then thrown into the water. Scratches. Bites. Then the sweet relief of death from your lungs painfully filling up with water.
As he walked to his death he tried bargaining. Yelling that he was innocent, despite knowing the truth. He tried escaping, yearning to find someone who could help him. He tried to find a chance to live. Lucius had one job before he died, and he was about to fail.
In his villa at the center of the glorious Roman world, Marcus glared at the man in front of him.
“Why have you brought me here?” The man demanded.
“I think you know very well why I brought you here. You are the lead spy of the Praetorian Guard, aren't you? I am a squad leader and I might need your help.”
“Yes, I am a spy in the Praetorian Guard. Might I ask again why I am here?”
“I have reason to believe that there is a plot to assassinate the Emperor, and I need you to stop it.”
Augustus smiled upon the Field of Mars. Beneath him the new recruits from the military trained for his Praetorian Guard. Spies. Police. Elite fighters. Trained in deceit. Trained to kill. With great power, comes great responsibility, and thus, corruption always follows suit.
His lieutenants saw the greatest potential in two recruits; Lucius, the and Marcus. Lucius was not of the usual build for a guardsman. His smaller, more athletic stature was advantageous for a spy. He was a good rider, liar, and thief, which is why he was put into training instead of serving his sentence.
Marcus, on the other hand, was a brute. He was strong, with a muscular stature and an expert with the sword. He was perfect for the Emperor's personal unit, and had the potential to become a commander.
On the field, Marcus and Lucas were in deadlock. Marcus was a bear, moving as little as possible, waiting for the moment to strike. Lucius was a rabbit, bouncing back and forth, circling Marcus with quick, fast attacks.
Lucius, trying to lure Marcus in, started to tempt him. “You can’t stand there forever.”
“All I need to do is stand here until you stop running!” Marcus countered, with a hint of annoyance in his tone.
It went on for what seemed like an eternity. A clash of swords and shields, until Lucius won a pyrrhic victory. Both were bruised from the practice swords. Both were exhausted from the length of the fight. But Lucius stood above Marcus, with his sword on his chest.
Since then they had mostly forgotten each other. Three years later, the fates would reunite them with the most cruel and important of tasks.
Cornelius adored the Republic. He was a man of virtue, a man who loved his country and hated what it had become. Since Caesar took over, Cornelius had been terrified. Terrified of powerful men with bad intentions, not looking out for the good of Rome. He remembered the Republic as a young adult. He remembered voting for who he supported. He remembered having a say in who represented him.
That all changed.
While Cornelius had nothing against Augustus himself, he despised the title he held, Emperor. He had tried to enlighten his sons to the ways of old, but all they knew was the empire. They saw Augustus as a savior, reuniting the Empire and bringing the Pax Romana. All Cornelius saw was the potential for disaster. He needed his republic back.
Marcus knew how much Lucius adored Augustus and Julius Caesar. He was ecstatic when he heard that he was accepted into the Praetorian Guard, and he dedicated his life to serving his country and Emperor. When Lucius heard him speak of the plot, his reaction was no surprise to Marcus. “Have you told anyone else about this?”
“No, Lucius,” He responded calmly, “If I did then the implications would be huge. If this gets out it will give conspirators a rallying point. All of the conspirators will join the plot, and I want to keep it as small as possible. This is why your task is so important, and why I chose you.”
“I will do anything to help the Emperor, sir. What needs to be done?”
“I need you to uncover as much information as possible. I will deal with the rest after that, unless the situation looks more dire.”
“Why do you need me to do this? It doesn't seem like a task for the lead spy. This is child’s play in comparison to some other things I have done.”
“Lucius, I need you for your easy access to the main guy in charge.”
“What do you mean?” Lucius interrupted.
“If the information I have is correct, then the lead conspirator is your father, Cornelius.”
Appia’s relationship with Lucius had been as complicated as the Roman Gods. Their marriage had been arranged by their fathers, with little regard for love. The marriage, in nature, was purely political. When Appia pleaded to her father to not go through with it, because she loved another man, he simply ignored her. The marriage was to take place on March 1st, just a few days away. Appia wanted to stop it, but she wasn't willing to go to the extent which was needed.
Today, as the marriage neared, Appia was in the shopping district of Rome to buy all of the necessities for the wedding. And that was when she saw him. Her fiance Lucius, walking gravely down the street. She rushed over to him. “What's wrong honey?” She said, trying to convince herself that she could love him. “One second some men ask if they can have a word with you and half an hour later you come back looking like someone just told you your grandfather died!”
“I wish I could tell you, but you know how it is with my job.”
“Yes, I know,” she sighed, “Always sneaking around on some important mission, never able to tell me anything. But what's so different about this one? You are always so excited to run around the Empire and assassinate people.”
“This one is different Appia, it's just… ” He started, trying to hide the truth from himself. A tempest of emotions crashing inside his head wanting to escape through his mouth. He had to restrain himself. “ It's just different”
“Whatever this is, I don't like it,” she responded, concerned this time, “Something seems fishy, and I don't want any good people to get hurt.”
Both of them were so caught up in conversation that they didn't notice the mysterious soldier listening in on their conversation. He didn't have anything to report yet, but soon he would.
After Lucius bid farewell to Appia, he finally felt at ease. She was always curious about his job, his missions, his secrets. Part of him wished that he could tell her, have someone to talk to but he knew he couldn't. He held some of the Empire's greatest secrets. Who the government had eliminated, secret plots to overhaul massive parts of provinces, etc. He now held a new secret in his vault of a brain -- the latest plot to assassinate the Emperor. This one was very different for him. If Marcus was right then he would have to help imprison or even kill his own father.
Having left the Forum, Lucius went to investigate. It was still late morning, and he wanted to report back before dinner. Despite being April, it was still like a brisk fall day, and he didn't want be caught out in the cold at night.
He knew the logical place to start was with Marcus’s lead; his father. He desperately hoped he could disprove the claim. Cornelius’ house was only a few miles from the city, so he would be done quickly. He was so eager to prove his father innocent that he didn’t hear the horse following 100 yards behind him.
Appia knew something was wrong. Lucius was acting like he never had before, and she needed to get to the bottom of it, and she knew to start with Marcus.
As she walked her familiar path from the Forum to Marcus’s house, she felt a sense of urgency in the air. Approaching the steps, the doorman knew the drill and discreetly let Appia in as he was instructed to do by Marcus. He didn't know why, but he had his assumptions when he overheard the two talking late into the night weeks prior.
Appia walked briskly down the hall. She was greeted by house slaves and the family of Marcus, but she didn't have time to chat, only shooting back quick hellos. The members of the house never knew the true reason why she was there, but they all had their thoughts on the matter, and decided to become accustomed to her. What is this all about? She knocked on the door to Marcus’ study, and was welcomed with a sharp, “Come in.”.
“Hello sir, how-”
“-- Appia, what are you doing here at this hour?” Marcus interrupted.
“I talked with Lucius earlier in the Forum, and he was acting different than usual. He said he was given to some sort of mission, and I thought a powerful man was a good place to start. ”
“Since when have you cared about that rascal? I thought you loved me, why do you need to know where he is going?”
“I don't know… he just was acting odd, and I thought if we are going to get married soon then I should start caring for him, even if it is not true love between us.”
“Ok, fine, but only because I trust you. Lately, I have heard reports that there has been a plot forming to kill the Emperor. This one, however, was indeed different, and that's why I needed Lucius. If my sources are correct, than the main conspirator is Lucius’s father Cornelius. I thought it would be advantageous to use Lucius’s close connection with him to get the information I need to arrest him”
“Marcus, you even said it yourself, Lucius has an extremely close relationship with his father, don't you think that might get in the way of any investigation?”
“Lucius may be devoted to his family, but he is one of many who worship the Emperor as a God. He would do anything to serve him, and I think that is why he’s so troubled. I told him that if it comes to it, and there is enough evidence to prove Cornelius will assassinate the Emperor, that he has the order and duty to kill.”
As he approached his home, Lucius feared what he might have to do, but he didn't know if he could; even with all of his training. Having killed so many people, if it came to it, this would be the hardest.
The weight of this on him was more than Atlas holding up the sky. He repeated the same task he had done thousands of times before, and walked in. He knew his father had gone to the city earlier and should be back within the hour, so Lucius started his investigation.
He started in the first logical place, his father's office. If there were any plans they would be there. After only looking for a few minutes, he was in tears. Letters of conspirators. Blueprints of the Emperors Palace, guard rotations. Everything needed for a plot to assassinate Augustus. Worst of all, there was a date on one of the letters sent to a co-conspirator. Today.
Overcome by hatred, denial, anger, sadness. Lucius knew he had little time to spare. This was ample evidence to prove Cornelius guilty, and there was no time for a trial. Lucius, his son, would be the judge, jury, and the executioner.
Knowing he had little time to spare, he ran back to his horse to grab his weapon of choice; the bow. He knew it would cause little pain. All he had to do was wait. His father would be home any minute.
As Lucius knocked the arrow, he had come to terms with what he had to do. The man he was about to kill was not his father anymore, but a traitor to the Emperor. His years of training had prepared him for this moment. He heard the metronome of horse hooves coming towards the house. He lined up his shot, pulled the arrow back and fired. This is for the Emperor.
He had become so focused on the task at hand that he had not seen the unit of guardsmen marching just over the hill, or his mother standing at the door of the villa. Her blood curdling scream resonated throughout the empire. Lucius, in shock, ran, but it was too late. The guardsmen had already reached him. Lucius had no chance of escape. He tried to explain the plot to the guardsmen, but when they searched for the papers, they were nowhere to be found.
Now the man stalking Lucius had something to report. With planted the documentation from Lucius’s house in hand, he road off the the city.
The jail cell was cold. Damp. Solemn. To think that just one day ago he was talking to his fiance in the bright Forum plagued him. He didn't care that the love between them was not solid, but marrying her seemed like heaven compared to this hell he was put in. Why hasn't Marcus explained my situation to the guards?!
The most Lucius could hope for now was for Marcus to come to the trial, and for the trial to come quickly. It was just then when Lucius heard knocking on the cell door, followed by the entrance of prison guards. “Time for your trial, you dog.” The guard exclaimed, motioning Lucius out as he spoke.
Lucius’s blood raced, this was it. He knew the penalty for patricide.
A brutal death.
Time slowed as he walked through the doors of the courtroom. He scanned the room for the one face that could save him. The one face which could get him out of this. And there he was.
His one trustworthy partner. The only one who had known the truth. He promised in their fateful meeting just days ago that if he got in trouble, he would be there to bail him out. If he hadn't had been there, Lucius would have been dead for sure. He didn't know what arguments Marcus had to get him out, but he was confident that he would live. So confident in fact that when Lucius was called up to testify, instead of attempting to testify and probably end up worsening his case, he did not go. Instead, he called Marcus to the stand, possibly the worst, and last, decision of his life.
Instead of testifying for Lucius, Marcus exposed everything he did.
Appia watched in horror as the man she thought she loved crushed any hope that Lucius had. Now, in addition to being accused of murdering his father in cold blood, he was named a coward for having someone else admit what he did. Appia knew there was nothing anyone in the courtroom could do to save her future husband.
Marcus, having finished his testimony, left the court early, as he had business to attend to in the Praetorian Guard. Appia couldn't stand for this. She had to talk to Marcus. She had to make things right. She stormed out in anger.
“Marcus!” She shouted, trying to get his attention, “Marcus, come here!”
“Appia, If this is about what I just did, then I will explain later. I need --” he started.
“No, you will explain now! You sent my future husband a mission, had him kill his father, and are now saying you had nothing to do with it!”
“There is so much more going on here than you know Appia, if you would please let me deliver my report, that would be nice.” Marcus was annoyed.
“No! You are explaining this to me now!”
“Fine. follow me.” Marcus motioned her into a side room. “Appia, Ever since I was a boy, I have had one goal, to become head of the Praetorian Guard. I have worked my way through the ranks since I joined the guard, and have gotten close, but not close enough. With a new head of the guard named, there is no foreseeable way I could get the position.”
“Marcus, no… don't say what I think you are going to say…”
“For my whole life I have trained for this. Prepared for This! Appia, this one man can not stand in the way of my life goals. He has to die.”
“Marcus, that is treason! You know the punishment for treason don't you?”
“Yes, I do. I am fully prepared to take that risk. As head of the guard I could do whatever I wanted!”
“Marcus, this plan is childish! Besides what does this have to do with Lucius?”
“Lucius was in the way. I have seen his skills as a spy and investigator, and he was the only one who would be able to uncover my plot. I had to get rid of him. Not only was he in the way of me becoming head of the guard, he was in the way of our relationship Appia! Now with him and his father out of the way, the marriage is off and we can fulfill our dreams!”
“At the expense of the lives of two innocent men? Marcus, I thought I loved you, but apparently I was wrong. I could never love an animal like you.”
“But it is finally our chance! We can do whatever we want and no one will get in out way! We love each other!”
How could men be so bad! Appia stormed out the room. Appia knew the punishment for patricide, and there was no escape, even for a top spy. Unless…
Recently found guilty of murdering his father, Lucius was about to face the worst ending. The Poena Cullei; A shameful death in which the receiver would be shoved in a sack with animals and then thrown into the water. Scratches. Bites. Then the sweet relief of death by your lungs painfully filling up with water.
As he walked to his death he tried bargaining. Yelling that he was innocent, despite knowing the truth. He tried escaping, yearning to find someone who could help him. He tried to get some chance to live. Lucius had one job before he died, and he was about to fail.
While yes, he murdered his father in cold blood, no one was supposed to know. Lucius hadn't even gotten a chance to report to Marcus that the deed was done, but he found out at the trial. His only duty left was apprehended those who unjustly deceived him.
Lucius neared the waterfront and moved from pleading for help to thinking of a way out. Getting out of the sack wasn't the issue. He once intentionally put himself in one to listen in on an enemy generals conversation, so he was trained to get out. The problem was the animals. With them attacking him, there was no way he could concentrate long enough to free himself.
He was running out of time. This was it.
Accepting his fate, he jumped into the sack. He knew this was it. Paralyzed by fear, he barely felt the animals drop on him. He felt no bites or scratches, only the ice cold water on his skin.
Lucius realized something was off. This was supposed to be painful, yet he felt no pain. Then it hit him. As he started to sink into the water he was hit with the greatest sensation of hope since he got into the guard. The animals weren't moving.
They were dead.
Lucius could spend no time wondering why. He had one thing on his mind and that was escape. He took his last breath from a tiny air bubble in the top and went to work.
Lucius was in too panicked to realize how the sack was tied, but he knew it was some knot around a hole in the top. The hole was just wide enough to fit one hand through. It would have to be enough.
He was losing breath fast, and estimated that he only had another 45 seconds or so to escape. He found the knot after moving his hand around the rim of the sack. It was tied in a simple bow, so all he needed to do was find the right string to pull. He felt his lungs begin to ache, urging him to take the fatal breath.
He found it and pulled, pulling it about ¼ of the way out. He tugged it again, moving it further this time, and repeated that until the knot was undone. He was freed.
10 seconds left.
The blackness of the murky Tiber river surrounded him. Which way is up!? All he could do was guess. The blackness around him started to get blacker as his body was losing oxygen. Everything in him was telling him to breathe. All that was holding him back was his will to live. He swam in a direction and prayed.
No one walking above but Appia saw the lifeless body on the bank of the Tiber. She immediately recognized who it was, and hurried down to him.
“Lucius,” She said in a muffled cry, “Lucius don't leave me, you're all I have left to love.” Unable to contain herself, she started to cry. She laid herself over Lucius’s body in tears.
“Where am I?” he muttered, almost inaudibly. “Appia, is that you?
At the sound of his voice Appia jolted up, her cry of sadness becoming tears of joy.
“Thank Jupiter you’re alive, I knew you would make it! I know you almost just died, but the fight isn't over yet. We have to get out of here, I'm not the only one who's been following you. When you left town the other day I noticed a man following you, and I think he was with Marcus”
“How did you know I would be here? I should be dead!” Lucius responded, with a second wave of adrenalin flowing through him.
“Lucius, I will explain the whole story later, but in short, I bribed the executioner to kill the animals as he threw them in with you. I'm going to be honest, I never loved you before because I loved Marcus. When he told me his master plan, I had to make a choice, and I chose you. We will have to move quickly though, Marcus is going to give his report to the Commander, and I think that he going to kill him then.”
“Why is Marcus going to kill the Commander?”
“I’ll explain on the way, do you know how to get to the barracks?”
“Yes, it is only about a mile away, do you have your horse with you?”
“No, so we will have to run.”
“Well then we better be quick”
Marcus had been looking forward to this moment for his whole life. He had gotten rid of the only thing which could stop him, and he was ready to start his new life in motion. Every month, he had to give his report to the head of the guard, and the stars aligned for all of the previous events to occur before this deadline.
He worked out the plan in his head. It was simple. He had already coated the inside of the letter with poison, when the Commander touched the letter, it would get the poison on his hands. While it was not toxic to the skin, if he touched his eyes or mouth, he would be dead. Marcus was next in line. He would assume command. He would assume power. He would create a legacy that would last as long as the human race. His name forever engraved in time.
He arrived at the barracks late because if his encounter with Appia, so he ran straight to the commander's office. The guards at the door, recognizing his face, let Marcus in.
“We're almost there! I can see it just over there!” Lucius shouted, still in his prisoner’s tunic, “We will have to go around back and sneak in the through the window of the commander's office.”
At that, they entered a dead sprint to the barracks. They knew time was running out. “Let me do this alone, Appia, this is my problem, not yours.”
“No! Are you crazy? You have been in a prison cell and almost drowned! You are in no shape to fight!”
“Fine, follow me.”
Lucius entered a crouching stance, and Appia followed his lead. Fortunately, there were few guards at the entrance, so they easily made there way around the side of the building. If anyone spotted them the alarm would sound and they would be dead. Lucius knew this building well. It had been his home in the early years of training, and he, like Marcus, would give monthly reports on their deeds. He spotted the one room on the whole eastern wall with a window. The commander's office. “Here's the plan,” he said to Appia, “I am going to jump in through that window and grab the Commander's sword off of his wall. If my memory is correct, it should be on the right hand side. I will take if from there. Both of them should be unarmed. Your job will be to guard the window, if Marcus tries to escape, stop him at any cost.”
“And then what?” Appia questioned
“Then we pray that I don't get killed by the first guard that walks through that door. On the count of three. One, two, three!” On that Lucius ran towards the window at full speed like a bull. Time slowed as the glass shattered around him, and at first glance of the battle ground, he plotted his attack. He saw the sword hanging on the wall. Just as I remembered. Having completed his roll on the ground, he popped up and yanked the weapon off the wall.
Marcus and the Commander, shocked by the spray of glass falling on them, hardly even noticed the swift figure blurring past them. By the time Marcus could react, there was already a sword on his throat.
“GUARDS!” yelled the Commander.
Lucius quickly slid over to the door, Marcus in tow, and locked it. “Commander, don't touch anything Marcus has given you. Drop that letter now, and don't touch your eyes or mouth!”
“How the hell did you get here!” murmured Marcus so the sword wouldn't get pushed further on his throat
“My fiance saved me from your dirty scheme.”
“What is this all about!” the Commander asked.
“Marcus is trying to kill you! He told his scheme to Appia earlier, and he probably put poison on something he gave you, probably that report.”
“Aren't you supposed to be dead! You killed your father, what right do you have to accuse one of my highest officers of attempting murder!”
“You test that letter, I would bet my life on it.”
“Your life is bet on it! If this letter is clean, then you will be charged for treason and patricide.” The guards were banging on the door now. “Stand down, Lucius, and unlock the door.”
“Fine, but test that letter quick, I don't want to be in a jail cell any longer.”
“You won't have to. I want to end this situation now. Guards, fetch me a slave!” the banging on the door stopped, and Lucius unlocked it.
“Appia, it is safe, you can come in now.”
“She helped you with this! Appia, when I am freed from this accusation, you will be jailed too!” Moments later, after Appia came in and reunited with Lucius, the guards entered with a slave and forced the letter into his face. About 15 minutes later, he was dead, and Marcus was jailed.
It was days later now. Marcus had his trial and was to be executed soon. Lucius was freed, and was now at his wedding. The band was playing as he and Appia walked down the aisle. Both of them had smiles on their faces.
They came to the end of the path, and faced each other. The time had come to give their vows. After two heart felt speeches, they were ready to make it official.
“Will you Lucius, take the hand of Appia in marriage?”
Lucius, with passion in his voice, stated, “I do.”
“Will you, Appia, take the hand of Lucius in marriage?
With a tone equivalent to Lucius, she said, “I do.”
“You may kiss the bride.”
And at that, Lucius and Appia kissed. However, It was not forced as they thought it would be only days ago.
It was love.
This was supposed to be his day. His day of rebirth into what was supposed to be the start of his new life. Now ruled guilty of high treason against the Empire, he was about to face the worst true end. An inescapable death. Crucifixion. Days of starving, dehydrating, and blood loss would plague him until the end.
As Marcus hung from the cross, motionless, lifeless, he was made an example. An example of what happened to enemies of the state. The time for bargaining was up. Any hopes he had of bargaining his way out were gone. He had one goal before he died, and he had failed.