The Sword of Jupiter
Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
Ky shut the door behind quietly as he left, taking one last look at Lucilla sitting on a small stool next to her father’s bed, looking equally hopeful and worried as he continued to lie, unmoving. As the door shut and blocked the two figures from sight, he turned to find Clovis next to several of the men who’d questioned his presence before seeing her father. They had been listening to Clovis whispering to them, gesticulating wildly when Ky’s eyes fell on them. The group hushed instantly, returning his questioning gaze with much less friendly expressions.
“So after standing next to the old man for a few minutes and setting a few strips of cloth on him, you just declare you’ve figured out what’s wrong with him and you somehow miraculously fixed him?” The man Lucilla had called Caesius said, separating himself from the small group.
“If I am inventing my diagnosis for some reason, as you’re implying, wouldn’t I be disproved quickly? Your own physician here said he would die at any moment. If I am the fraud you seem to suggest, wouldn’t I be exposed as soon as he died?”
“You are an unknown who just happened to stumble across my sister and her party and come back with her in time to save Father. Maybe you have friends here who poisoned him and gave you the antidote.”
“My Lord,” Ursinus said, still standing close to the door, waiting on Lucilla, “I was there when he fell out of the sky. He saved us from Carthaginian soldiers not once, but twice.”
Caesius’ eyes tracked to the soldier, his gaze filled with poison, “And how did the Carthaginians overcome all of your soldiers, Optio? You travelled on one of the smaller roads, how did they find you?”
“My lord, are you suggesting...”
“I,” the younger aristocrat said, interrupting the weathered soldier, “am saying this situation is suspicious. From your initial report, it seems my sister was intercepted by Carthaginian troops who just happened to come across your trail. A man shows up to ‘save’ her, convinces her to bring him home to see Father, where he declares he has found a cure in a handful of minutes simply by standing next to him when our best physicians were able to do nothing. I would say that is suspicious.”
“If it had been a natural sickness, our treatments would have worked,” Clovis called out from the small group that now stood at Caesius’ back. “Even he had to admit it was poison.”
“My lords, you don’t understand,” Ursinus said, stepping away from the wall to stand next to Ky, “he fell out of the sky with wings of flame. He threw fire that melted a much larger force of Carthaginians. He threw a sword at a man, picking him off the ground and pinning him to a tree as if he were a flesh and blood Scorpio. My lady and I believe...”
“Ursinus...” Ky warned, seeing where he was going and wanting to stop the well-meaning soldier.
Ursinus was on a roll and waved off Ky’s objection, only pausing for the briefest of moments, “We believe he is the Sword of Jupiter.”
The low-level hum of whispering that had been passing between the small groups of men in the room outside of the confrontation stopped at the declaration. One person, Ky wasn’t sure which, his attention on the group in front of him, sucked in air in surprise. Caesius seemed more angry than shocked, however.
“Now you’re claiming to be some kind of god?”
“I didn’t claim anything!”
“Your lapdog did. I won’t stand for this blasphemy. I’m not sure how you managed to bribe an officer of the legion or my sister, but I must protect the people of Rome, and I will do my duty. I will not let you bring your lies and abominations into the palace nor bring any more honest citizens under your sway. Guards,” he shouted, “Arrest this man.”
Ursinus stepped forward, putting himself between Ky and the two guards who had been a few paces behind Caesius’ group, putting his hand on the hilt of his sword even as the two men began moving forward, hands going to their own weapons.
Ky grabbed the back of Ursinus’s cuirass and pulled the older soldier back a few steps, behind Ky. From his peripheral vision, Ky could see the surprise on the soldier’s face, but to his credit, the man didn’t flinch or fall. He just reset himself after Ky pulled him out of immediate danger, clearly annoyed but accepting of the move.
“Stop,” a voice called out from behind the group.
Shaky and raspy, the voice somehow retained a tone of command that cut through the sounds of the soldiers and murmurs of the crowd. All eyes turned to the bedroom doorway, to an old man leaning heavily on his daughter, unsteady but with a face as serious as any other man in the room.
“This man is here as a guest of your sister,” he said, taking a few shuffling steps forward with the help of Lucilla. “I will not have him accosted while he is under my roof.”
“Father, you should be in bed. Let me...”
“I’ll be fine. I want you to go summon the commanders. Your sister has brought back information from Glevum. Optio, would you take our new friend to the guest quarters.”
“Father, this man...”
“No,” the Emperor said, not willing to let the younger man get a single sentence finished. “You will follow my orders. Now.”
Caesius glared at Ky and Ursinus once more, turned, storming out, several of his friends following on his heels.
“Princeps, you should be resting,” Clovis said, moving to help hold up the older man.
“Yes, I think that would be for the best. Optio, please take our friend to his quarters for now, and then return. Lucilla has told me some, but I’d like to hear more about what happened since you left Devnum.”
Ursinus slapped a fist to his chest in salute and turned to Ky, “Come with me, please.”
Ky gave a smile to Lucilla, nodded at her father, and turned to follow the soldier out of the room.
Maharbaal sat on a large chair that rested on a slightly raised platform at the end of the audience chamber. This had been The Senate when the Romans had built it, years before. Maharbaal had not been in charge during the invasion five years ago, nor the capturing of Londinium two years after that. But once the Great One had decreed that the island would be a new province, he had assigned Maharbaal to see to the pacification of the island and final destruction of the Romans.
Maharbaal had been an active officer in the army with enough field experience to be acceptable to the commanders and high enough in the nobility to be acceptable to the council of lords. He also had the required experience since this was not his first experience in running a province. During the time Londinium was conquered he’d been a vice governor in charge of the southern region of Gaul where he’d just successfully put down a revolt. While he had all the qualifications to satisfy the upper levels of Carthaginian society that he was suitable for command in Britannia, Maharbaal did not consider the island suitable for him and had tried his best to steer the command to someone else.
The idea of leaving the mild weather in the southern parts of the province, its adequate supply of slaves and the proximity to Mediterranean ports had not appealed to him. He had been comfortable, and soldiers who returned from the invasion told stories of how miserable the island could be, with its harsher winters and frequent rain. Add that with the limited port traffic, due to the wilder nature of the seas around Britannia, and corresponding reduced taxes he’d be allowed to manage and personally profit off of made the entire notion taste foul to him.
However, the pacification of the southern third of the island had gone much faster and easier than Maharbaal had thought it would. In just two years, he had a secure base from which to launch the final invasion of the last remaining Roman cities. If he could manage to crush the Romans and the painted barbarians further to the north quickly, the Great One couldn’t help but notice his contributions. The rewards that come with favor from the Emperor were immense and would make up for all the hardships he’d been forced to deal with during his tenure as Governor.
“My lord,” A man said, standing just on the threshold of the audience chamber floor.
The Romans believed in an open seat of government, without doors or barriers to keep ‘the people’ separated from the body that made their laws. That, of course, had always been a farce. He’s seen the double-dealing and treachery from Roman nobles many times over in his career, finding them particularly easy to corrupt. The men who governed the once-mighty republic weren’t any more eager to let the people in on the process of government than any other nation’s ruling class. They liked the traditions of democracy, but in truth, those traditions were usually more symbol than fact.
Still, it ended up forcing Maharbaal to govern from a building without doors, which annoyed his sense of propriety.
“Come,” he commanded.
The man strode forward, carrying a pouch in one hand, his clothes covered in a layer of dust and smelling of horse. Normally, Maharbaal would not have suffered a soldier coming to him in such a state, and the penalty would have been severe for the man who offended his sensibilities. He had, however, ordered his men to report instantly any news from the front, and had been specific that any delay would be met harshly.
“How goes the campaign,” he asked the soldier, as the man handed over the pouch.
As nobly born as he was, Maharbaal had led enough armies to appreciate the perspective of the average soldier. Commanders had a bad habit of glossing over problems and hiding defeats.
“Very well, my lord. Glevum has fallen and our losses were light. Lord Zaracas already marches towards Devnum. Even riding my hardest, I will probably return to the army only a short time before the attack on the Roman capital begins.”
“Excellent. And Germanicus’ daughter? Was our spy’s information correct?”
“Yes, my lord,” the man said, a lot more warily than Maharbaal would have expected, his eyes darting, refusing to make contact.
Sitting up in his seat, his gaze burning into the man, Maharbaal asked, “We got her though, right? She is dead or in our hands?”
“No, my lord. We destroyed her escort, but she escaped with a handful of soldiers. Lord Zaracas sent men out to stop them, but there was a ... umm ... wizard.”
“That is what the men who ran from the battle, after they had caught up with the escaped Romans, said. I didn’t witness it myself, but I saw the bodies afterward. The wounds were ... extreme.”
“What do you mean extreme?”
“Men cut in half. Holes melted through a line of five men in a single blast.”
“And you believe one man did that?”
“No, my lord,” the man replied, sensing rightly the answer Maharbaal was looking for.
“I do not want some Roman trickery, or the desecration the bodies of our soldiers, to scare Zaracas from the attack. Ride back to him and tell him he is to push the attack faster. In two days I will either have the head of their Emperor in my hands or the head of the man who failed to deliver it. Do you understand?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“You,” he said to one of the black-robed figures who’d been standing silently against one section of the tiered senate seating. “Take some men and return with him to the army. Make it clear to the General what will happen to those who fail me.”
The man didn’t speak, the face mask painted like a featureless skull dipping as he half bowed to the governor. The man’s neck was wrapped in black cloth, and the skin around his eyes rubbed black with charcoal, enhancing the skull-like appearance of him and the men with him. The messenger’s face turned ashen at the order but bowed as well and backed out of the chamber, casting side glances at the death cult members who drove fear into every Carthaginian.
Ky sat in the room Ursinus had led him to while the Emperor recuperated. It was so different from what he had known in what he was already thinking of as ‘his old life.’ He couldn’t tell if the room was nice or plain. A bed sat in the center of the room, its mattress thin and hard. A few chairs and a small table were in an open area on one side, away from the bed, and a short, backless couch was close to the door, also against the wall.
Ky was sitting in one of the chairs going over the data the AI had sorted, trying to get a handle on what he was dealing with. The structure of who was in charge and how it worked was alien to him and he wanted a chance to understand what he was going to have to deal with, at least until he figured out what he was going to do.
The AI had reminded him of the importance of seeing records but considering how close things had come to blows outside of Lucilla’s father’s room, not to mention the two guards currently stationed on the other side of the room he was currently in, suggested this was not the time to go exploring. Ky was starting to accept he wouldn’t be going back home, intellectually if not emotionally, but he hadn’t figured out a plan for what to do now.
The AI had offered some options but they had all been generic to the point of being worthless. To be fair, they didn’t have enough information about the world they now found themselves in to get much beyond the generic theory stage. As someone whose entire life had been planned out since birth, assigned to a batch to be raised as a pilot and soldier, always given commands of where to be and what to do, the uncertainty was causing Ky a lot of trouble.
The idea of just finding a quiet place to live in obscurity didn’t appeal to him, but neither did getting involved in some war that he didn’t have a stake in either.
A knock on the door drew Ky out of his thoughts. Clearing the data currently overlaid across his vision, Ky stood and said, “Yes?”
The door opened and Ursinus came into the room.
“The Imperator would like to see you.”
“Okay,” Ky said.
He wasn’t familiar with the protocol in civilizations like this, but he was pretty certain an ‘invitation’ from the absolute ruler wasn’t something people turned down. Ursinus took Ky’s response as acceptance at any rate, and went back out the door, leaving it open for to Ky to follow. Ky had expected they would retrace their earlier path back to the Emperor’s rooms. Instead, however, they turned a different direction out of the guest room and down a winding set of corridors passing scores of unmarked doors.
Ursinus lead them through an external door and down one of the covered walkways Ky had noted earlier and into one of the external buildings adjacent to the larger one he’d entered originally. After a fairly short walk, Ky was led into a small room that contained a small table, currently covered in what Ky would have described as scrolls. There was another door in the adjacent wall and a large map on a third wall showing Britannia with a surprising degree of accuracy.
The most surprising thing in the room wasn’t what was in it, but what was missing. Specifically, any people other than the Emperor. Ursinus didn’t even come in, just gesturing Ky through the door, and then shutting it behind him. There were guards on the outside of the door, but it struck Ky as notable that someone this important for the Romans would meet alone with someone who was, essentially, a stranger.
“Sir,” Ky said, unsure of how he was supposed to address the man.
This also gave Ky his first indication of who the man was. The non-standard address did not go unnoticed, answered with a slight twitch of his eyebrow but otherwise left unaddressed.
“From Optio Ursinus and my daughter’s tales, I understand I owe you not only my own life but theirs as well. Before anything else, I wanted to thank you. Especially for saving my daughter.”
“You’re welcome,” Ky said, feeling awkward unsure of how to react in a situation like this.
The Emperor’s skin was still on the ashen side but considering the ordeal he’d been under that wasn’t surprising. Even with the medical nanobots repairing all the damage they could before their lifespan ran out, it would still take some time for him to get his strength back.
“That being said, I have many questions for you. I have been told of your unusual arrival and abilities, as well as the army currently marching towards us. Ursinus said he did not see that van of the army, just the detachment that was sent after him and my daughter, but that you were able to see them clearly and estimate their size.”
“That is essentially correct.”
“I know you are not one of my subjects, but I’d like for you to brief my legates on what we face. If Ursinus or I guess your estimate is really correct, we don’t have much time to come up with a plan of defense. Of course, if we could add a fantastic new weapon to our arsenal...”
“Sir, I was happy to help you and your daughter but I think I need to explain my situation. This is not my home and I do not want to get caught up in your war. I sympathize with your situation but I just want to get back to my own home. As for the abilities and tools that were described to you, I made it clear to your daughter and her guards that they had a limited amount of uses. I couldn’t defeat an army by myself, even if I had to.”
“While I’m sad to hear that, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to get involved in our war. Could I impose on you for one more request and ask that you give my legates your first-hand account of what we are up against. You would still have plenty of time to get out before the assault begins and it would help my people immensely.”