The Trumpets of Mars
Copyright© 2022 by Lumpy
Ky had to leave the camp the next morning and return to town for his final meetings with Hortensius and the other business leaders before he left town. If it was up to him, he’d stay in the field with the soldiers where he was comfortable instead of returning to deal with civilians. Even separated by millennia, the basics of a soldier’s life had not changed, which made staying with the legions an almost nostalgic experience.
Of course, it might also be that soldiers were used to following orders, which made it an all-around simpler experience getting things accomplished. Even with the authority he had as Consul, he expected most of his last day would be wasted listening to complaints from businessmen who felt they were being asked to do too much or who still didn’t like the idea of paying taxes back to the government, regardless of the wealth of new ideas and technology they were given.
Of course, what Ky wanted didn’t really matter. The changes needed to get Rome up to industrialization had only barely begun and there was still a long road before they got where they needed to be.
Instead of traveling around town meeting with the different people as he’d been doing, Ky had brought them all to him, although this time it was in the largest room of the Collegium Medici, which was the only other place, save the coliseum, that had enough room to gather everyone together while the palace and forum were still under reconstruction.
The meetings were necessary, but dragged on all day and mostly consisted of Hortensius parading factory, mill, and foundry owners up to talk about where they were on their assigned projects and what they thought their timetable looked like.
The hardest thing giving everyone problems was adjusting to using the new ‘uniform measurements’ that Ky had introduced. It didn’t matter so much for the crossbows and other equipment, most of which needed the new steel which presented enough of a bottleneck that the craftsman’s approach didn’t slow anything down any more than it already was.
Ky knew this was going to be a problem and had worked it into the schedule he and Sophus had devised. Even with the rapid escalation in technology, some of the leaps needed to go through technological steps to get to the next stage. They couldn’t jump from swords and crossbows straight to muzzle-loaded rifles. Cannons would come first, since they were easier to cast than rifles, but even that was too big of a direct leap.
Even with the improvements Ky had put in so far, Roman foundries were fairly simplistic and couldn’t be used for either the precision casting needed in rifles or the larger scale casting needed for cannons. Had he shown up in some later period, he might have been able to draw from the technology used in casting church bells, but Rome wasn’t at that level of technology yet.
Once they were past the coming battle and they had enough of the new crossbows, Ky would have to talk a few of the foundries into shutting down and retooling. Of course, metallurgy was just one problem.
Rome had some knowledge of chemistry, but it was fairly basic and tied as much into mysticism as it was to actual science. Most of the people who knew even the basics of chemistry were either philosophers or alchemists. Unlike the working of metal, which was an already established industry, Ky needed to build up a chemical industry out of whole cloth before he could even start the steps of creating gunpowder in quantities to be useful.
Those were all plans for the future, however. Right now he had Roman industry focused on gearing up the legions for the coming fight and didn’t want to distract them from that.
For now, Hortensius had everything in hand and Ky was happy to leave it to him. In the long run, Hortensius would probably end up as the single richest man in the Empire. He could see how things were shaping up and he’d started convincing as many rich friends as he could to invest in new factories to supply the government with everything it needed. Even when the war came to an end, he’d figured out there would be a lot of demand for new technologies and he seemed determined to corner the market on being able to supply that demand. In the short term, that means that Rome was still increasing capacity every week. It might not be soon enough to get to the actual supply numbers Rome needed in the next few months when the Carthaginian army showed up, but it would get close.
The meetings ran all day and Ky was wiped out as they left the meeting to return to the remnants of the palace complex. Ky found himself riding next to Carus with a small buffer between them and the other men. Ky had a question that had been floating around the back of his mind and now seemed a good time to address it.
He actually wasn’t sure who to talk to about this, since other than Lucilla, who he clearly couldn’t talk to about his questions, he wasn’t particularly close with anyone. At least, not to talk about personal things. He’d opted on Carus simply because they’d had the most conversations, since Carus was as much spymaster and intelligence expert as he was guard commander. Although they’d never spoken in any way except as commander and subordinate, he was as close to a friend as Ky would find to have this conversation with.
“I have a question,” Ky said, still working through how to go about asking what he wanted to know about. “I’m not sure how to ask this, but there are cultural things I do not understand about your people that I’d like some insight into.”
“You should talk to Lucilla about it. I’m pretty out of touch with art and the like and she’s about as connected with the culture as anyone I’ve met.”
“That’s not the kind of culture I meant, and I can’t talk to her about this.”
Ky had always been impressed with how smart Carus was and the man once again showed how clever he was.
“I see. So you need advice about women.”
“Yes, well, not exactly. Where I come from, social interactions are very different than they are here, and I don’t want to run afoul of any of taboos and embarrass ... anyone.”
The sentence had been going well until the end, when he realized he didn’t want to directly reference Lucilla, even if it was plain as day. He had picked up on that social taboo at least and knew Lucilla wouldn’t be pleased if she found out he was talking to someone she might consider to be in some lower level of society. To her credit, she’d never actually talked about those less fortunate than her, which was just about everyone considering who her father was, but some of it was so built into their very DNA that she couldn’t avoid it.
“I see. And what specific social interaction are you wondering about.”
Ky hesitated. Asking for help was different than actually asking the question, but he needed, or at least wanted, to know the answer and he was already somewhat committed.
“How do people here, meaning men and women, get to know each other better. I mean if one of them is interested in the other as something more than a friend or associate?”
“Do they not date where you’re from?”
Dating wasn’t even really a word that existed in his world, although Ky had come across it many times when looking at some of the records Sophus had collected for him. The problem was, depending on the time period the record covered, the word could have a lot of different meanings, and very few of the records he found related to Rome as it was in his world.
“No. Things are very different where I’m from.”
“Clearly,” he said, and then paused. “Sorry, this is one of those things that sort of everyone just learns growing up, so it’s kind of hard to try and explain it to someone who has no concept of it.”
“I understand this kind of subject is not typically talked about between people who are not...” Ky paused, trying to find a way to say the next part of that sentence without offending Carus.
Thankfully, the man was not easily offended and finished the sentence for him, “Social equals. No, not normally but it’s fine. We are both soldiers first and this question would be considered very tame indeed in most soldiers’ camps I’ve ever been in.”
“Although that isn’t true for the barracks I grew up in, your point is well made. I guess my question is, how would a person start to go about dating someone else.”
“Well, it depends on who those two people are. For someone like me, if I found a lady I fancied enough, I would corner her in a dark corner of a tavern and whisper poetry to her until she agreed to go on a walk somewhere dark with me, where things might get more, interesting. You, however, are targeting a somewhat higher station of women, I believe, so that probably wouldn’t be the same. As far as I understand from what I’ve seen among the people at your level, you let it be known that you are interested in a match and wait as senators and businessman offer up their prettiest daughters for you to marry. Words are exchanged and vows are made, and you’re married.”
“Ohh. I wasn’t ... I didn’t mean...”
“You weren’t looking to get hitched to some random man’s daughter,” Carus finished for Ky. “I’m not sure wooing a noble lady and sweeping her off her feet is something that happens outside of poetry.”
“So it isn’t done.”
“As far as I know, not normally. You have to keep in mind, the high and mighty are always looking for ways to better their family, and marriage is usually seen as a part of that. They don’t normally leave such a valuable bargaining chip to the whims of who their sons and daughters fancy. Most of the time, the kids don’t really get a say. You exist as something of an anomaly, not having a family to better. I’m honestly surprised you haven’t had fathers throwing their daughters at you, what with your being the first Consul in a hundred years and all.”
“I don’t think I’ve given them enough time to get comfortable with me, what with armies marching on the city, my freeing the slaves, and an insurrection to distract them.”
“Give them time. Those who’ve decided you’re not going anywhere will start sending agents with proposals for ‘advantageous matches’ any day now.”
“That’s not what I’m looking for.”
“Of course not. Some will realize that and keep away, but I’m sure there’s an equal amount who won’t care and will take their chance anyway, since being the father-in-law of the Consul and architect of this new Empire your building would come with all kinds of benefits.”
“So if there is one person I’m interested in, there’s no way to do anything about it?”
“Well, I do believe I’ve witnessed her making moves of her own a few times, so I believe you don’t have to worry much about that. I’m not sure you should bother yourself much about what tradition has to say anyway. Everyone knows you’re not one of us and you’ve clearly shown that things operated differently where you came from. I figure just do what you like. They’ll get used to it or they won’t. That’s on them.”
“If it were just me, I would, but I don’t want to make ... this other person feel uncomfortable.”
“I see. I think maybe the best thing to do is ask her about it directly. I know that’ll be a weird conversation, but I’d bet she won’t have a problem with it. This other person probably has a good idea of how different you are and is clever enough to see what you’re getting at. This person also has a better idea of how people in her circle will react to whatever you two decide.”
“So, I just ask her what I should do? That’s what I was hoping to avoid.”
“Can’t be Consul if you can’t make the hard decisions.”
Ky thought that sounded a lot like a diplomatic way of saying ‘sucks to be you.’ Carus’s lack of sympathy didn’t help, but Ky did at least appreciate someone willing to tell him bluntly what he needed to hear.
Ky’s dilemma was partially solved for him when he found Lucilla waiting on one of the stone benches that had survived the fire that had ripped through the courtyard. It was permanently blackened but it still supported her weight.
“I’m surprised to see you here,” Ky said as she stood to greet him.
As with the other times, his lictore spread out, giving the pair some room to speak privately while still being guarded, since they remained out in the open.
“You said you were leaving in the morning and I wanted to see you one last time before you head north.”
“This feels very familiar,” Ky said.
“Not really. Last time I was the one going north and you had to come save me.”
“Who knows, maybe this time you’ll have to come save me instead.”
“That seems unlikely,” she said with a smile. “What time do you leave?”
“Early. It’s a several-day ride and the sooner we get there the sooner we can start making moves. Talogren’s already been waiting for us to return and I’m sure his people are impatient to find out what happened to all the men they sent south. I want to get the Fourth legion marching south as soon as the agreements are signed since they’ll need to take part in the reorganizations as well.”
“How many Praetorians are you taking to fill the gaps along the border? I know in theory the Picts will have agreed to abide by our laws on Roman lands and help guard the border, but it will take time to convince all of the ones not directly under Talogren’s control of that.”
“Which is why I’m going north. We need it pacified and preferably before the spring campaigning season. I’m not taking as many Praetorians as we’ll ultimately need, since I don’t want to deplete Faenius of his core leaders. I’ll be taking a hundred with me and the rest will have to be made up by Pict soldiers. Ultimately, I’d like the border patrolled by mixed units containing people from both regions, but that might have to wait.”
“I see,” she said, running down.
“I’m guessing you didn’t really want to hear about my plans once I get up into the north,” Ky said.
“No. I mean, I do want to know what you’re doing, but that’s not why I’m here. I just wanted to spend some time with you before you left.”
“Good,” Ky said, and he meant it. “I’m glad you’re here because I had some things I wanted to talk to you about.”