Empire of Alexandria
Empire of Alexandria
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Book 5 of the Alexandrian Saga
One hundred years after the murder of Julius Caesar, the circumstances of his death could change the course of the fledgling Alexandrian Empire.
Left in charge of the treacherous Roman Senate while Agog heads north to deal with the traitor Marcus, Heron finds the game of politics maddening. Her constant missteps encourage a growing list of enemies while a mysterious benefactor proves too dangerous to trust. As the city races towards a political showdown, Heron must discover the truth about the murder of Julius Caesar—a death witnessed by hundreds and understood by few—before a perilous vote hands power back to the Romans.
- Alternative History
- Epic Storytelling
- Clash of Empires
One hundred years after the murder of Julius Caesar, the circumstances of his death could change the course of the fledgling Alexandrian Empire. Left in charge of the treacherous Roman Senate while Agog heads north to deal with the traitor Marcus, Heron finds the game of politics maddening. Her constant missteps encourage a growing list of enemies while a mysterious benefactor proves too dangerous to trust. As the city races towards a political showdown, Heron must discover the truth about the murder of Julius Caesar—a death witnessed by hundreds and understood by few—before a perilous vote hands power back to the Romans.
Intro Into Chapter One
Intro Into Chapter One
If you must break the law do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it.
-- Julius Caesar
Cold, driving rain pounded the clay tiles of the domus, rattling the brass lampworks set into the marble pillars. The inner courtyard, a wide space that in drier times had seen bright adornments and heard the laughing cadence of Roman Senators at work and had even welcomed Emperors to dine on sweet, sticky figs, was now deluged by the sudden storm.
A growing pool formed on the tiles, and Dominitus watched his servants fight through the knee-high water to unplug the drain. Never had he seen so much water at once. If he were a godly man, he might blame them, but he'd been in Rome far too long not to know that men and their ambitions were the real danger.
A searing white brilliance, as if day had come to night, burst over the house and with it a teeth shattering blast. Sitting in his favorite chair next to a smoky fireplace with a pile of warm blankets on his lap, Dominitus doubled over in pain, brought on by the vibration attacking his abscessed tooth at the back of his jaw.
When the spots had faded from his sight and the throbbing pain in his jaw had reduced enough to allow him to breathe again, Dominitus sat back against his chair and shoved his arthritic hands deeper into the blankets. It was only then he noticed a shape standing in the shadows.
"Is that you, Cultri?" he asked.
The shadow turned into a man, wearing the style of a merchant with a leather coin purse at his side and etched leather wrist guards, a fashion that had fallen to the common folk last autumn. He had an ordinary look, descended from conquered tribes, and a face that was easy to forget. Which in his profession, was a boon rather than a curse.
Dominitus cleared the phlegm from his throat in a series of coughing growls, which left him exhausted when he was finished. "You're a man of many talents, Cultri," said Dominitus. "How you reached my estate without getting a drop of rain on you is a mystery."
"A humble practitioner of the arts never reveals his secrets," said Cultri.
"Come sit," he said, patting the chair next to him, "this tired old man can hardly see across the room."
Cultri moved into the light but no further. "I cannot stay long. There is much to do since the Alexandrians took the Empire from us."
Dominitus chuckled. "Is that how you see it? Can a jackal take a lion, no matter how fierce it is, if it's crawled inside the lion's belly?"
Another crash of thunder interrupted them, this time far enough away that Dominitus could ignore the ache in his jaw. Cultri, true to his nature, did not react except to glance toward the courtyard.
"You don't see them as conquerors?" asked Cultri.
Dominitus shrugged. "An empire this size cannot be tamed by a few barbarians. A coup from the provinces, that's what this is. Once they try to rule and bed down with the Senate, they will find it a bed of vipers."
Cultri wandered to the edge of the room where the water had crept in, tapping his sandal into it, making a sucking, splash sound. "Then what line will you take? There are many courses of action that suggest themselves."
The smile was broken by a brief cough, but still Dominitus was pleased. If Cultri saw them, Dominitus would not have to guide his direction so tightly, letting the man take action where he saw fit. Especially in these chaotic times, when no one knew who still held power.
"Too much is unknown to act too rashly. I must see how Silius and his Wolves deal with the new emperor," said Dominitus.
"Isn't Tiberius a member of his faction? The legate that lost Antioch. A winter on the road with the new emperor gave him more influence than he deserves," said Cultri with disdain.
"And he seeks to discredit our former Consul Magnus," said Dominitus, "by siding with Silius and seeking reparations for family members lost in the war. A bold move, considering Tiberius shoulders some of the blame for Rome's loss."
Cultri pulled a knife from some hidden location, and began cleaning his fingernails with it. Dominitus had never known the man not to have a half-dozen blades on him, even if he appeared to be unarmed.
"Supporting their cause," said Cultri looking up from his work, "could lead to furthering ours."
Another rumble put a pause in the conversation, the storm was dying down, and Dominitus thought he caught a whiff of honey cakes. He'd sent a servant to the kitchens before the worst of the storm hit, though it was certainly possible the ovens had cooled for the night and the cakes were taking longer to make.
"A neck extended is a neck ready for chopping," replied Dominitus with a smile.
"What about Pallas? He was the one to kill Claudius when he tried to sneak out of the city with that gold, though I suspect Pallas supplied the gold to give reason to kill him."
"Pallas?" chuckled Dominitus. "It's not Pallas that rules that faction. He's a tired old man that's only recently rose to prominence. His wife, Aelia, she's the one that wields the power, and remember, Claudius was married to her once. She's held a vicious grudge since he set her aside for a younger wife. I'll remind myself of her long memory if I ever seek to cross her."
Cultri crossed his arms across his stomach, and when he did, the knife that had been in his fist disappeared as if it'd turned to smoke. "I'd forgotten about that."
"Don't underestimate Aelia and her group," said Dominitus, "what they lack in size and influence, they make up for in cunning. They're fiercely loyal to Magnus, yearn for the power Silius won't share with them, and own half the poisoners in Rome. Personally, I love my mealtimes a little too much to wait to see if my tasters fall over dead first."
"Then that leaves the Protectors, which I know you won't deal with," said Cultri.
"It's not that I won't deal with them, dear Cultri, it's that Messalina and his fellow Senators are zealots. Above everything else, they revere the power of the Senate as a force for good, and despise everything about the other two factions due to their aristocratic natures." Dominitus paused. "But that does not mean we cannot use them. A cat that spies a mouse in a mirror will launch itself into the glass with no regard for its face."
Cultri wrinkled his nose, and knotted his brow, and then his lips screwed up in thought. Dominitus watched and waited, he had patience enough to let him work through it.
"The Alexandrians, then? I've heard Emperor Wodanaz plans on leaving the inventor Heron in the city to rule in his stead while he chases down Magnus. Would you trust yourself to those fools?" asked Cultri.
"Fools? I'm not sure. This Heron intrigues me. He seems to be Aristotle, Archimedes, and Alexander all rolled into one. A man who convinces the Egyptians to start building a new pyramid when they haven't attempted one in centuries, and during a war, gives me pause. His name has turned up time and time again in the taking of Alexandria, and don't forget it's his inventions that made this conquest possible. The future of Rome balances on Heron's mechanical fist."
"Trusting to a machine?"
Dominitus felt the rumble in his stomach match the distant thunder and hoped the honey cakes would arrive soon. "His arm and leg may be a machine, but his mind is still flesh and blood like you and I."
"But will he have a mind for politics? It's a different game. A dangerous place, even for players. And Rome is the most dangerous of stages," said Cultri.
"Truth in every word," said Dominitus. "That is why I will watch and wait. And if this Heron proves to be adept at Rome's famous game, then and only then, will I offer my support, for besides the power that he so handsomely wields, there is another reason to support him, we share a common interest."
"And what common interest is that?" asked Cultri, intrigued.
"We both wish to free the Empire of slavery."