The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 20

The sun was streaming in through the slats in the window shutters of his room. Romans didn’t have glass, except for opaque glass used in mosaics, so any opening tended to have shutters that kept birds and other things from flying in while still allowing fresh air through. Having lived nearly his entire life on recycled air, Ky had never thought much about the air around him before being stranded in the far past. He found it strange the surge of positive feelings he got just from taking a deep breath of the air around him.

Of course, once out on the street, those smells weren’t always pleasing, but when not breathing in the odors of others, the smell of just the air was a strange new discovery.

A knock on the door pulled Ky from his thoughts. Stretching, he went to the door and found Carus on the other side, which was a surprise. Carus headed the evening watch and should have handed the detail over hours ago.

“Consul, if I might have a moment.”

Ky stepped aside, letting him into the room and shutting the door behind him.

“I wanted to give you an update on the men I’ve been getting in place for our information update. So far, I’ve managed to get quite a few paid informants on the books here and several of the larger towns up north, as well as trained operatives in the households of some of the more notable men here in Devnum itself.”

“What do the trained men provide that you don’t get from the paid informants? Instead of having someone go through the effort of working their way up in someone’s household or on their staff, wouldn’t it be easier to just pay off someone in one of those positions already to gather information for you?”

“No. A paid informant has some limitations and some dangers associated with them. First, there’s the danger that your offer to pay that person to inform on their masters could be relayed to your target, letting them know you’re investigating them. Paid informants are better in general positions, where you aren’t asking them to provide information on a specific person, but finding someone in a position where they might hear something useful and asking them to tell us if they hear anything. That way, there’s no one specific target to tip-off.”

“The second reason is that a trained agent does more than just watch for information that might pass in front of them. They actively look for information on their own, which requires its own set of skills, especially if you don’t want the asset caught.”

“You have some of both in place now?”

“Yes. We’ve started building a network of informers among clerks, physicians, soldiers, and so on. Our placed agents are much fewer, and most of those have not made it into positions where they will have any significant access yet. That is unfortunate, but expected since it takes time to get a man in place without making the people we are watching suspicious.”

“I understand, and I’m impressed you’ve been able to do as much as you have in such a short time.”

“A lot of these were contacts I already had, and we’ve piggy-backed off of Ramirus’s operation, at least as far as our informer network. I am getting in place some of our own, independent informers, but that’s taking more time.”

“Still, you should be commended on a job well done.”

“Thank you, although that is not why I’m here. I wanted you to understand that our network had already started to fall into place so you took my next piece of information seriously.”

“Which is?”

“We’ve started getting reports of an active conspiracy against the Emperor among some of the more wealthy members of Rome. There are even hints that some senators are involved. This isn’t limited to just Devnum, either. We believe this conspiracy extends out into several other major towns in the empire. Right now, it mostly seems to be in the form of money being moved around into known provocateurs, but we believe it goes deeper than that. There is some indication that money is going to legates as well.”

“They’re paying military commanders? For what?”

“We don’t know. We don’t even know who is being paid, nor are we positive that anyone is being paid. Right now, that part is little more than a rumor. All we do know is that large sums of money are being sent out without any indication of where that money is ending up.”

“Can we stop it? If we know the men paying for this conspiracy, shouldn’t we arrest them?”

“We think there are more wealthy men we don’t know about, yet. If we arrest those we do know about, we’ll most likely force them to be more careful in their activities. Right now, we are trying to put men in positions with those conspirators we are aware of, in hopes of being able to track their co-conspirators. For now, I believe it is best to leave everyone where they are.”

“If you think that’s best, then fine. We need to concentrate on the military commanders being paid off. A conspiracy of just wealthy men is a benign threat. If they have soldiers at their command, it becomes very real. Right now, we need every sword we can get to fight off the invasion that you and Ramirus believe is coming in the spring. The last thing we can afford is to lose some of those soldiers in a civil conflict.”

“I agree, and that is our focus right now.”

“Good. It sounds like you have everything well in hand. Let me know if we learn anything new about this conspiracy.”

“I also wanted to point out that this conspiracy seems to have been in place before your arrival and doesn’t look to be a recent addition. I don’t have proof yet, but I believe they might have been the ones behind the Emperor’s poisoning.”

“Maybe. That is, of course, important to find out; but what has happened isn’t something we can change. Better to stop unrest in the future than searching for revenge for the Emperor. If we unravel this conspiracy, all of its secrets will eventually come out anyway, won’t it?”

“Yes, Consul, and we are focusing on current threats, of course. I just thought I should let you know.”

“Thank you, Carus. You’re doing excellent work.”

Carus bowed and showed himself out. Ky had a long day ahead of himself; including the first of the conversations with senatorial blocks, and a gathering of mechanics and blacksmiths. The blacksmith meeting was particularly important, considering the need for new types of arms that Ky would be introducing.

All that was pushed from his mind as he contemplated the problem of an actual military uprising against the government. It wasn’t something that had happened in his timeline, for more than a century! He was unsure of how to deal with it, but it was something he would need to begin planning for. If the threat were real, it could mean the end of everything he was working towards.

Ky followed Carus out of the palace, where he met Taenaris, the primary senator from the imperial faction. The aged legislator arranged a gathering of senators who controlled the northern districts along the border with the Picts.

“Good morning, Consul,” Taenaris said, dipping his head slightly.

“Senator,” Ky responded.

“It has not gone unnoticed that all of your discussions recently have taken place in the imperial palace. I think it is important that we position you as a power separate from the Emperor, allowing us the leverage of his support if needed. If you are seen as just a functionary, timely words from the Emperor would have a lessened impact, since your words will have already been interpreted as coming from the Emperor.”

“If you think that’s best. I’m a soldier, not a politician, and will have to trust your sense when it comes to things like this.”

“Good. I’ve arranged for us to meet at the home of Flavius Visellius Opilio. He owns a series of mines along the border and is essentially the leader of the northern faction.”

“If we convince him, will others follow?”

“Probably. Of all of the factions, the northern districts are the least unified. The men who run that region are the furthest from Devnum and tend to be more independent-minded than senators closer to the base of imperial power. Or maybe it’s just the miner in them.”

Taenaris lead Ky through the winding streets of Devnum to an impressive Villa on the northern end of town. A slave met them at the door and took them to an open area with low resting chairs laid out roughly in a circle. A man nearly as old as Taenaris rose and greeted them as they entered the room.

“Taenaris, I was surprised to hear from the Emperor’s favorite. You had good timing. Most of my colleagues were planning trips back north when your messenger reached us.”

“It wasn’t luck. You lot always head north for a final visit to your lands before the freeze sets in.”

“Do you blame us? In a month, it will be unbearable. Devnum isn’t much warmer, but this close to the sea the ground at least isn’t continually covered in ice.”

“Of course. I’d like for you to meet the Consul.”

“Ahh, the savior of Rome. We’ve heard interesting rumors about you.”

“Such as?” Ky asked.

“Such as telling the Emperor that we must change a thousand years of tradition on the governing of Rome.”

“Those aren’t rumors.”

A murmur rippled across the seated senators as Opilio’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“This should be interesting then. Please sit and tell us why you believe Rome has been governing itself wrong all these years.”

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Ky said as he lowered himself into one of the lounging couches he still found strange. “I am not saying your traditions are bad. Rome has stood for a long time, which is a testament to the strength of the Roman system. I do believe you are on the brink, though. If something doesn’t happen soon, there will be no more Rome to follow your traditions.”

“We’ve survived this long. With your help, we defeated the Carthaginian army on the steps of this very city.”

“If I convince you of nothing else, I want you to understand that was a warning, not a victory. The Carthaginians did not believe Rome offered a significant threat, and dispatched but a portion of their forces here on Britannia to sweep you aside. That was not all of the Carthaginians on this island. It wasn’t even most of them. They were humiliated, but they won’t underestimate you a second time. They are planning to use Rome as an example for others who chose to stand against them. At this very moment, the Carthaginians are gathering strength. When the ground thaws, a horde will descend on your lands. You do not have enough soldiers to stop them if you do things as traditions suggest.”

“We have you here now, though. I’m confident that you will be able to lead our men to victory again.”

“Then you’re a fool.”

Opilio pushed himself up, his face flushing in anger.

“With the forces Rome has now, that is not possible,” Ky said, talking over whatever the Roman was planning on saying in his defense. “Even if every legion Rome has is in the field, Rome will still fall.”

“So we’re doomed, then? Why bother with any of this charade if you don’t think it will work?”

“No. I believe Rome has a chance, but it requires your entire civilization to rally to the effort. We will need every Roman if you are to survive.”

“What, you want us to all join the legions? Old men and young boys standing in the fields of battle. That is desperation.”

“Again, no. When I say we need all Romans, I mean we need all Romans to contribute to your survival. I am offering new technologies that will help give Rome enough of an edge to survive.”

“From what I heard, it goes beyond new technology,” one of the men still lounging on a couch said.

“You need to understand that new weapons and technologies don’t just mean slight improvements to the ways things are now done, or magical devices delivered from the heavens. New weapons need new types of manufacturing to create them, which in turn needs new types of metals that can stand higher stresses and not break down. That, in turn, requires new factories and new ways of assembling your weapons. We need more than any skilled artisans can produce on their own, which means new ways to use labor more efficiently, which means changing labor-intensive areas to be more efficient, in order to free up that labor. Most importantly, all of this requires new ways of financing a massive explosion in technology.”

“We can appreciate that, but there is only so much we can do. We cannot bear the weight of all these changes.”

“You won’t! More importantly, you won’t be expected to provide more to the empire without getting more in return. Some of the new things I’m offering Rome include new ways of mining metals, and new metals to mine, as well as help finding new places with rich ore deposits. Beyond that, I will be able to teach you more efficient ways of smelting down your ore to get a greater yield out of all the new ore you’re able to dig out of the ground. You will be able to produce more with a smaller workforce, meaning more money for you.”

“Which won’t mean much if you convince the Emperor to take away our slaves,” Opilio said.

“I know that seems extreme now, but hopefully, in the next year, slaves will be completely unsuitable to work for you, especially in your smelting operations.”

“What do you mean?” another man said.

“As I introduce these new technologies, they will require a more specialized workforce. Eventually, you’ll find that most of your workers will need to know their numbers and how to read to perform their basic tasks. I know that sounds absurd to you now, but it’s true. When that happens, you’re not going to want slaves involved. In the long run, forced labor might be the cheapest option, but it’s also the most inefficient. With the technology you use now, that difference isn’t much. When we get most of the new ideas I’m going to be giving you in place, one worker will be able to produce five to ten times the product they can produce now.”

“Which would mean they make us more money than multiple slaves would make us,” Opilio said. “How can we be sure? The changes we are expected to make now are drastic, with the promises in the future. If they don’t pay off, we’ve destroyed ourselves.”

“That’s true, but imagine what happens to you if you refuse to change and your competitors take the risk? Even if you get the designs and ideas of everything I’m going to teach, you still won’t be able to get your slaves to keep up with your competitor’s workers. Not unless you’re willing to educate them.”

Nearly every man in the chamber reacted viscerally to the idea of educating a slave. For every slave-owning society, one of the biggest dangers was in educating your slave population, since it nearly always led to unrest at best and often outright revolt.

“Besides, one of the benefits of taking on the new policies is that you will be allowed to receive business from the empire, while owners who chose to stick to their old ways will not. We won’t interfere with your private business, but consider how much the army and new municipal services the empire will be starting will need. True, you will be footing some of that bill in the form of new taxes, but you will also be getting a lot of those taxes back. Rearming the legions and arming the new legions we will need, requires a lot of iron.”

Taenaris had advised that the best way to talk to these men was through their pocketbooks. They weren’t ideologues. Their only real allegiance was to their own pockets. If they saw value in making changes, then they would support them.

“All I ask is that you consider this when hearing out the new laws that will begin coming before the senate. If you are unsure or worried about what you’re hearing, come ask me. I will try and explain why we’re making the argument we are making, and how it will benefit you. I know at first you have no real reason to trust me. Hopefully, you will see in the coming months that I stand by what I’m saying. Lying to you might win me the support of one bill, but it will lose me your future support. The changes we really need will take years to fully enact. Because one day, we won’t be fighting to hold onto Britannia. One day we will expand beyond that, reconquering Rome’s ancient lands and, eventually, taking the fight to the doors of Carthage itself. For that to happen, I need you to support me tomorrow, next week, and next year.”

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