The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 11

“Princeps, I would like a word with you!” Ky said as they walked up the steps of the imperial complex, away from the wildly cheering crowds.

“I thought you might. Legates, please see to your men, and ensure they all have time to visit the games while they take place.”

“Father!” Caesius said as he and his sister followed their father up the steps. “How could you...?”

“I know you have much to say, Caesius, but the games have been announced. As my son, you have responsibilities. We can speak this evening.”

Caesius gave Ky a look of pure hatred and stomped off the steps with several of the men who had been gathered behind them following in his wake.

“Lucilla, I believe you also have duties to attend.”

“Yes, Father,” she said with a slight incline of her head.

The look she gave Ky was far different than her brother’s before she too turned and walked down the steps, Ursinus in her wake.

Successive men from the group lined up at the top of the steps behind the Emperor attempted to stop them as they passed, to ask their leader questions. Although the Emperor was successful in deflecting each of them, the constant interruptions did slow the pair enough for Ky to query the AI.

“Explain what a consul is.”

“In the Republican era, Rome was commanded by a pair of consul voted on a one year term, exercising controlling executive authority over the whole of the Republic on alternating days. These powers included commanding the legions, executing laws passed by the Senate, and conducting diplomacy with foreign powers. During the period of imperial rule, the position lost most of its power, becoming largely ceremonial with some notable exceptions during times of crisis. All documents reviewed of this timeline to date suggest no consul has been named since the last Publius Vipstanus Malchus shortly before the expulsion of Rome from the Iberian peninsula and the end of this time period’s Republican rule.”

‘With all those powers, what does the Emperor declaring me Consul mean? Your explanation makes it sound like the consuls had full executive power and yet the Emperor didn’t say the powers would be any different. How does wielding executive power work if there’s still an Emperor?’

“Current data insufficient to extrapolate any likely scenario, Commander.”

“You’re a big help,” Ky thought, receiving no answer from the AI.

Finally, the Emperor getting past the throng of audience seekers led Ky into one of the offices used by a functionary. There was no door, but the emperor’s guards flanked the arched doorway, keeping anyone else from following the pair inside.

“I want to apologize to you, Ky. I realize I made my announcement of your elevation without warning you first. I believed you would have declined the offer if I’d asked you beforehand.”

“If you predicted my response, then why would you make the announcement, anyway? While I do want to help your people, I will not be bullied or tricked into doing something against my principles. I agreed to not openly tell people I wasn’t the person in your prophecies, I did not agree to have you announce to everyone I was this Sword person! I will not lie about who I am.”

“I also predicted your refusal to listen to why you must be appointed Consul. I announced you were the Sword despite your declining the title for the same reason. This morning you told me we would have to agree to make major changes to some of the fundamental building blocks of our society if you were to stay with us. I don’t think you grasp the difficulty those changes will require. We are a people steeped in tradition, and we rarely look beyond ‘the way things have always been done.’ While I recognize this is a problem, and I agree change is needed for our survival, most of my people cannot see this. They will need a powerful reason to abandon some of our oldest traditions and systems. For the types of changes you are suggesting, nothing short of a messenger from the gods would be acceptable.”

Ky frowned, his righteous indignation faltering on the Emperor’s words. While he did not like the idea of deceiving people and claiming he was something he was not, what little he had seen of Roman society did suggest the Emperor was correct. Globulus threw away his own life, and the lives of five thousand of his fellow Romans, because he could not accept Ky’s participation in the plans for the defense of Devnum.

“I can see your point, but I do not want to claim I’m something I am not. Yes, letting people believe what they want to could help get changes made now; but someday the truth will come out, as it always does. If your people are as resistant to change as you say they are, how will they feel about learning the changes they’d been forced to go through were made under false pretenses. Do you think they will realize the rightness of the changes, or will they ignore it all in anger over being deceived?”

“Which is why I didn’t have you announce you were the Sword. I am an old man. If someday the people start believing you aren’t the sword, then you will be able to lay the blame on an old man who wanted to save his people.”

“I couldn’t...”

“You can. Ky, I don’t know if you are the Sword or not. I do not know if the gods sent you or not. What I do know is, I will allow nothing to keep me from saving my people. My people may be able to bury their heads and ignore the future, for the gains of today. I, however, can recognize the impossible situation laid out for us. If preventing the annihilation of all of Rome means having you sell my legacy in exchange for legitimacy in the future, so be it. I also believe if you do end up saving our people, you will have completed the prophecies of the Sword, and my legacy will remain intact.”

“So, I can continue telling people I am not some agent of the gods?”

“Yes. Humility is one of the things our culture prides itself on, even if few of us are actually humble. They will recognize your denials for what they are, and you will endear yourself to them even more.”

“Fine. You seem to keep talking me out of the things I believe in, and getting me to agree with you.”

“Which is one of the reasons I have been able to maintain my position as Emperor.”

“So, what are my duties as Consul?”

“Your duties are whatever you decide is necessary. No one has held the position in almost a hundred years, and the last consul gave himself wide latitude in the position. He needed to get the remaining Romans in Gaul to abandon their lands and retreat to Britannia before the Carthaginians could destroy them, and gave himself whatever powers he needed. I was purposefully less than specific in my decree to allow you the same latitude.”

“I don’t understand something, Praetor. You don’t know me, and your legates did as much as I did to save your city. Why would you give me this power?”

“You forget my daughter saw you fall from the heavens. Also, in a matter of moments, you not only cured me of the poisoning, but made me feel better than I have since I was a young man. I also have heard accounts of some of your actions on the battlefield which were described as nearly miraculous. Beyond your actual deeds, I am a good judge of character, as is my daughter. We both agree we can trust you. All of this, of course, ignores the ultimate reason I decided to allow you a free hand.”

“Which is?”

“I have no choice. I have already leveraged everything in my power, and was on the cusp of losing my life and my people when you arrived. You are the only untried option left.”

Ky stood silently in front of the Emperor, trying to sort out everything he had said since they walked into this room and how he felt about the man’s words. The Emperor, for his part, silently waited for Ky to speak.

“I’m not sure what to do next,” Ky admitted.

“You knew this morning. Don’t second guess yourself.”

“I think we need to start with you hearing the overall changes I have planned. I know some of the changes I want to make, but not the best way to enact them, since I don’t know Rome well enough to know how your people will deal with the changes. After we talk, you can decide who I need to talk to, and how best to approach the people who need to be involved. Since a lot of these initial changes will involve the military, I think Aelius and Velius should sit with us as well. I would also value Lucilla’s input and anyone else you feel should be in the first meeting.”

“I have heard of all the documents you’ve been reading in your rooms. Do you have everything you need, or do you need more time? Also, if you need to make notes of the meeting, I can have a scribe sent to you.”

“All I really need is some time to put my thoughts together.”

“Fine, then tomorrow we can meet. First, however, you will have to meet with the priests. I have been putting them off, but with the games, they feel they must speak with you before they can offer any sacrifices. While I don’t need to be present for most of the games, I do need to attend the first contests tomorrow morning. Afterward, we can sit down with the legates and my most trusted advisers.”

“Thank you for hearing me out, Imperator.”

“As my newest consul, how could I not?”

Ky gave a slight bow and walked out of the office, back towards his quarters. Ky noticed odd looks by people he passed on the way, something he suspected would be happening more often thanks to the Emperor’s grand proclamation.

The celebration went on all night as the people let loose their collective joy and relief at surviving the Carthaginian onslaught. If Ky had not been able to filter out the wave of noise pouring in through his window all night, he would not have been able to get anything done. Finally, Ky, with the help of the AI, managed to assemble the beginnings of a plan.

Early the next morning, one of the Emperor’s messengers arrived and led Ky to a large, ornate temple not far from the imperial complex. A group of fifteen men in white togas with purple edging stood on the steps in front of the giant doors. A sixteenth man standing in front of the group was further distinguished by a covering draped over his head, also trimmed in purple.

“Consul,” the man in front said.

“Pontiff,” Ky replied, the AI having pulled descriptions of the notable positions in Roman society and the special garb they wore. The covering on the man’s head with its purple border signified him as the Pontiff Maximus, the head priest in Roman society who essentially ran all religion for the Romans.

“Follow us.”

The priests turned, and Ky fell in step behind the Pontiff as they walked into a large open room with a scattering of Romans on the floor bowed in prayer. At the end of the room was a huge statue of a bearded man seated on a throne, holding a staff in one hand and the figurine of a winged woman in the other. The statue reached to the ceiling of the room, which stood at well over two stories. Ky guessed the towering stone figure was at least thirty feet tall.

On either side of the statue were doors, into one of which the priests led Ky. The antechamber was a much smaller room, with an open area and an altar against the back wall. The group of them filled the room almost to capacity. Ky followed the Pontiff Maximus into the center of the room as the fifteen other men lined up along the walls, all facing in towards the pair.

When they reached the center of the room, the man indicated with a gesture for Ky to stop there before continuing to stand in front of the altar, also turning to face Ky.

“I am Lucius Vesnius Sacerdos, Pontiff Maximus of the Roman people,” the man in front of the altar said, and then gestured at the men along the walls. “The gathered pontiffs each lead and command a Roman cult for one of the dominant gods in the heavens. Our Emperor has identified you as the Sword of Jupiter, sent to answer the ancient prophecy, and deliver the Romans into salvation. We are here to determine if you are, in fact, sent by the gods.”

Ky was not sure what he needed to say and decided to remain silent, looking back at the gathered men.

“Do you claim to be sent by the gods?” one of the men asked.

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