(Or: The Latter Days of Romulus Augustulus, Last Emperor of Western Rome) Written by: Dan Nokes Edited by Sue Rowland Illustrations by: Dan Nokes All characters and stories within this story are works of fiction and are the intellectual properties of Dan Nokes 2022
FORWARD BY DAN NOKES I have regularly referred to myself as a “history buff”'; someone that considers himself an amateur student of the past. Certainly, not one who has the credentials to teach in the Ivy Leagues, ,let alone a bunch of kids at the local middle school, but I like to think that I have at least a decent grasp on the more popular narratives of the modern chronicle, and even know a few tidbits that I can use as “conversation fodder” at parties and small gatherings. So when something comes along that completely alters my perception and understanding of that narrative, it is, at first, disorienting, but eventually becomes a sort of rapture for me. I begin to feel like a traveler discovering a new neighborhood or city borough that is off the map, full of shops, foods, sights, and smells that one wants to inhale and absorb into themselves. That is the way I feel about the account you are about to read.
Dr. Aksel Didrikson is a professor emeritus at Northeast Copenhagen Technical Educational Center and Learning Annex who specializes in early medieval studies. He has over 20 years of experience in the field and has written what many now consider touchstones of European Dark Age Academia, including. “The Vandals: An Oft Maligned and Tidy Bunch”, “10 Things to do in 6th Century Constantinople, Before You Die of the Justinian Plague”, and “
Charlemagne: A Complete History in Cookbook Form”. Some have qualified his body of work with such terms as “revolutionary”, “cutting edge” and “trailblazing”; to others, he’s seen as “unorthodox”, “heretical”, and even “barely coherent”. However, none have ever accused him of not being original, entertaining, or grammatically correct. I have had the great pleasure of being asked to write an introduction to his latest work, a modern translation of a newly discovered account about the post-imperial life of Romulus Augustulus, penned by the man, himself, which both expands and counters most popular narratives of what happened to the Emperor after he was deposed in 476 AD by Odoacer. It is an amazing diary of an individual, a layman, amateur scholar, and historical expert, whose life is a metaphoric definition of the footnote, barely a piece of semi-insignificant punctuation on the demise of Western Rome, the human equivalent of a grocery list item that everyone forgets to jot down, the proverbial appendix of the imperial line. So the question is WHO CARES, OTHER THAN HISTORY NERDS?! The answer, in my humble and near worthless opinion, is that while all those names, dates, places, and events are the length and breadth of history, perspective is its depth. History is mostly written by the winners. They are the ones that can afford the PR firms and turn the press of popular historical record to their whims. Romulus Augustulus, by most measures and metrics, is a “loser” in history. In turn, those that won at his expense got to write his story and tell the rest of us that what happened to him was of no consequence. That he went to live on a farm like an old family pet, lived happy for all his days, and everything worked out hunky-dory. But relying on that saccharine narrative is taking out that aforementioned depth of perspective that I spoke about. It leaves the picture skewed and replete. What I hope is that this
oft viewed piece of trivia can ask for a few minutes of your time to give you his perspective on Rome, the end of antiquity, the beginning of the Dark Ages, the principal players, the longforgotten ancillary characters, and maybe even a good place to find a bite at 3am in early 6 Century Palatine Hill.
And with that I turn things over to Professor Didrikson.
DAN NOKES October 18 2020 th
AN INTRODUCTION BY PROFESSOR AKSEL DIDRIKSON ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF NORTHEAST COPENHAGEN TECHNICAL EDUCATIONAL CENTER AND LEARNING ANNEX It was a lovely June day in 2015 when I first came across the tome that would change my career. I was on my lunch break and was especially peckish. I knew of a local antique book shop and sandwich kiosk on the corner of Hornemansgade and Østerbrogade. They had the most succulent and delicious polsers, served with what one can only classify, objectively, as the tastiest pickled cucumbers in all of Western Europe, perhaps, at least, as far south as Munich. I cannot be scientifically more accurate until all the data comes in from the study I am conducting in conjunction with the Sociology Department. But where was I? Oh yes! I walked into Didrik’s at my usual time and made my way up to the counter. Though the staff is very friendly and the sandwiches are beyond reproach, the seating is a little bit cramped, and I have been suggesting to the manager for quite some time to perhaps find more spacious accommodations. I don’t think she’s been listening to my ideas and, over
the years, it has left me with a feeling of slight animosity. I so loathe those online review webpages, but perhaps if I left a comment on one of them, then my analysis of their shortcomings would be taken more seriously. However this is not why you are here and I will return to the matter at hand. I ordered my usual Rode Polser with mustard, ketchup, onions, and the aforementioned pickled cucumbers. The bread is of a crustier variety than your average street vendor, and the meat, I have been told, is handmade by the owner’s brother in a butcher shop not three blocks away. The recipe is only made for Didrik’s and all attempts to acquire these processed meats for personal home use or divulge their contents were all for naught. I even offered him over a hundred Euros Certainly anyone with any common sense wouldUm…But I digress. I paid for my polser, chips, and lemon soda and made my way to my usual table, when I found that it was occupied by several young hipster types, playing on their electronic devices, in the most distasteful of garb, and those most uncomfortable “earbud” devices plunged into their heads. I mean, just look at them! They are taking up valuable real-estate in a cramped dining and rare book establishment, and they are neither reading, nor are they ingesting any of the offered cuisine! Meanwhile, I am trying to enjoy what is possibly the gastronomical highlight of my day! I mean my wife, Agnes, cannot cook for shit, and…
Yes, ah…that is not why you are reading this introduction. I…I apologize again! I will strive to get to the point, shortly.
Being that the lunchtime rush made seating an impossibility, I went to eat on a step ladder in the book room. It was certainly awkward and uncomfortable, but it hardly would stop me from accomplishing my herculean task of finishing my meal before the chips became cold and soggy. It was while I was taking my first few bites that I noticed a strange leather-bound book on one of the many assorted stacks. It stood out for both its sheer level of ornamentation and the distinct level of preservation, despite its obvious age. It was like a well prepared polser using an aged beef and pork blend, with the right mix of spices and a casing that gives it a distinct crunch when you bite into it! I became elated and quickly finished my meal -Priorities of course! - And picked up the old chronicle. As I skimmed over its passages, I was amazed at the artistry of the craftsmanship of the text. It was like when Heidi is minding the kiosk, and she makes those exquisite designs on my sandwich with the condiments. The writing was in some form of Old English, most likely dialectically Northumbrian. It had a very distinct relish to it; much like when the shop gets in its annual shipment of Christmas Blend Polser’s with that distinct fennel taste mixed into the blend! It makes the meat taste aromatic but not gamey, like some sort of venison. You can … I am veering off again. What was I speaking about? Ah! Yes! The book!
I picked up the book and purchased it for a paltry 8 Euros, which is only 1 Euro more than their lunchtime combo meal. One can simply write a volume on that sort of value. I mean, if you only could taste the chips here, you would have some frame of reference to where we could have some sort of shorthand understanding, but otherwise, I am at a loss to explain the comparison with any sort of brevity!
I took the book back to my office and began to pour over it, breathing and inhaling every bit in, as I would when the bread arrives fresh from the bakers. They have splendid breakfast polser that they serve on Sundays, topped with egg, and lathered with a layer of melted Havarti that makes it all come together in a symphony of edible morning bliss that can only be described as… irrelevant to why you are reading right now, of course. Eventually, over the next several months, I discovered that it was written by none other than early medieval scribal talent extraordinaire, Brother Wigmund of Lindisfarne, well known for his many original works such as, , “Leprosy: It’s Not as Bad as You Think”, “How to Make a Pilgrimage to Rome on 5 Pence a Day”, and “Lent for Beginners”, not to mention his penchant for translating Latin and Greek texts into a more common vernacular. He was famed for penning over a hundred books during his lifetime. Sadly, all but sixteen were lost to time, but this find alone could be thought of as a major historical find. Unfortunately, the book’s contents make that previously mentioned fact moot in comparison. My study of the script revealed that this was a Northumbrian translation of the diary of none other than Romulus Augustulus, last Emperor of The Western Roman Empire, chronicling his life around the year 500, nearly 25 years after being deposed by Odoacer. If the account is true and validated it would contradict all previous documentation as to his fate. The find is both a revelation to what was previously accepted historical dogma and the opening of a portal into a little known chapter in the city of Rome and its inhabitants. The account you are about to read from the good Brother is enlightening, enticing, mouth-wateringly salacious, warm, friendly, and will leave you both satisfied and craving for more…much like a delicious polser from Didrik’s. For those who like to know where to find this shop or the best
days to visit, you can find this all out on my message board. I even conduct private tours by request. I’m sure my publisher will leave some sort of contact information on the back. But, in any case, please enjoy the short preface by Brother Wigmund, as well as the rest of the tale. I hope you get the same sense of fulfillment and enjoyment that I did finding it and translating it. The sense one only gets when seeing a beautiful sunset, or holding a delicate rare flower, or consuming a well prepared portion of processed sausage in a perfectly crafted sandwich, with.
PROFESSOR AKSEL DIDRIKSON December 27 2018 th
A PREFACE BY BROTHER WIGMUND OF LINDISFARNE It’s finally finished! As I pen this preface to my most recent translation, it is June the 8
in The Year of Our Lord 793. It’s a lovely summer day and the honeysuckle is in bloom. I think, after I am done with this bit of parchment, that I will take a nice lunch out in the garden. Before all that, I should tell you a little bit about this book that I just finished translating. With some verification from reliable sources, I can, with almost near certainty, -though if I am wrong, that will certainly be a proverbial smallpox outbreak on my face, that’s for sure!that this is the journal of one Romulus Augustulus, Last Emperor of Western Rome. It is a diary that he compiled around The Year of Our Lord 500, almost a full quarter century after The Fall of Western Rome, and chronicles his daily life, personal friendships, family struggles, and
aspirations. It includes a short prologue inserted by Romulus Augustulus in The Year of Our Lord 541 AD, which I think is meant to give a sense of hindsight to the events of the original text; the Elder Caesar reflecting in his waning days. The history of the original book is in itself a yarn worth telling. After the Emperor’s death it was entrusted to a Friar Benedictus of Wight, who kept it in the Priory of The Blessed Lamentation until the Year of Our Lord 555, when it The Priory was destroyed in a freakish remodeling accident. The tome then passed into the private collection of a minor Kentish Lord Aegmuld of Folkestone, also known as Aegmuld The Dullard, who is said to have used the book to prop up his dinner table. After Aegmuld The Dullard died in a truffle expedition in the Year of Our Lord 599, the book was inherited by his son Oswald The Unsteady, named most likely for his copious drinking habits and locally legendary lack of coordination when intoxicated. It was sold not long afterwards, to cover Oswald’s mounting bar tabs, to a traveling Apothecary named Bardwicke Popelstaffe or Bardwicke The Blood Letter who was later tried for witchcraft and barbering in York without a license in The Year of our Lord 632. From there, it fell into the hands of the local magistrate, Mul of York, who was said to have willed it to the local Monastery near the end of his life in 678 to atone for his various sins including coveting his neighbor’s goods, his neighbor’s wife, and eventually his neighbor. It was there that the book remained until I visited the Monastery about five years ago as a guest preacher on the subject of proper hygiene, “Clean Cuticles, Clean Soul''.
I spent my off hours at their library when I came across the journal. It had seen better days. The text was not only fading, but it also had the penmanship of a sow using her jaws to hold the pen, and the grammar of a Saturday market turnip vendor. However, it is no less a
valuable and important document providing insight into the life and times of an oft underchronicled moment in historical record. I have translated the texts into my native tongue, something that tends to be frowned upon a bit, here at the monastery. Everything here has to be LATIN THIS and LATIN THAT! Who is going to read my scrolls and books, besides bored clergy and self-absorbed nobility who see my work as an “amusing distraction”? No, I think peasant literacy is the wave of the future. The common salt of the Earth being able to read the word of God in their own language, not to mention the great classics of antiquity, the comedies of the Greek masters, the philosophy of Athens, and an array of fascinating and inspiring instruction manuals on proper diet and good housekeeping, is the future of the written word! Of course, sentiments like that are reserved for my future endeavors. For now, I leave you in the care of the great, but humble, Romulus Augustulus and his yarn for him to tell. For now, I am off to greet the mail barge. I can see them heading in through the window now. Oh, looks like we have a new post carrier! I like the make of their boats! The dragon design on the bow is especially ornate and lovely! I wonder what it means. I guess the dragon is for…dragon quick postal service! What a novel branding concept! I hope they’re a friendly bunch, and have my delivery of exquisite gooseberry jams in tow! Can’t wait to see! In any case, I have enjoyed translating this book and looking forward to beginning my next one, of the lost journals of Cleopatra VII. So far, my working title is either: Smartest Woman in The Room or No Thank You! I had Asp for Lunch. Farewell for now.
PROLOGUE BY ROMULUS AUGUSTULUS I’ve grown to despise histories. They are mostly paid advocacies of the wealthy and powerful, or the golden sparkled musings of the habitually insecure. They are either written by those that were not there at all, or by people who choose to throw themselves into the role of hero in their own epic. They record battles and conquests, kings and emperors, and the vast monuments they have built for themselves, but speak very little of what they felt, who they loved, and how they lived, and accord very few words to the paupers, prostitutes, stall vendors, sailors, or lowly foot soldiers who truly make up the fabric of a society. At the time of the completion of this prologue, I’m now 85; an old man living in a small village in northern Gaul - or what they used to call Gaul. I have outlived my friends and even my own children. Frankly, I am too old and give too little of a goat’s rancid bowel movement to
care what petty warlord is claiming this godless piece of Earth I rest my decrepit bones upon. My worthless excuse of a grandson barely ever visits me, anymore. I was Emperor of Rome! His importance is a traveling door-to-door herbal practitioner. I haven't a clue in hell what that is supposed to be, but I imagine it as some sort of cross between a professional liar and a common card swindler. I will most likely be dead soon. It’s a harsh and barbarous world I live in now, but I suppose that is what all that make it to my advanced age tend to bellow on about. The truth is that it has ALWAYS been brutal, even when it was the great Mediterranean lake that was Rome. It’s that I now lack both the ability and the inclination to either combat that world or run away from it. I simply wait now, wait for time to pay its final visit and collect its last payment, like some sort of smug tax assessor. I know I must sound bitter and angry about all that reality is quite different. I only lament the way I do, because firstly, I loved and greatly miss my friends and family, who are no longer here. I managed to secure many good and pleasant memories. I sound bitter because I missed those people and places in this third act of my life, and I wish to let people know how I happened upon it. This is partially because I have seen so many of these socalled HISTORIANS spew forth a multitude of erroneous falsehoods and outright fantasy from piss-poor, 5 rate gossip- mongers, claiming to be “reliable witnesses”. I've seen accounts of me th
living my days out in the Italian Countryside being given an annual stipend, others have me murdered in cold blood by Odoacer’s bare hands, the life leaving my eyes to his gruesome smile. Some have me spending the rest of my life in some far off monastery, or adventuring with Vandal Hordes in Africa and Spain. Still others have me finding the Holy Grail and a kingdom in Britain.
I tend to think that they have become more outlandish as time has progressed. Of course, it is the nature of folk tales and myth to gravitate towards the unbelievable with a lack of those in living memory, like my story has become. Though, with the value of hindsight and long life, I have seen how time has treated my tale. I am regarded as a metaphorical bookend by both layman and scholar. No, that is too kind. I am more of a prop in the end of the third act, which was the demise of Western Rome. I was used; I moved the narrative and was quickly discarded. To most, that was enough. It neatly ties up the historical thread into a nice bow and few think of it any further. But it’s not the truth. It’s not how the world works. The world rarely ties itself up in nice little bows and in convenient, symmetrical packages. Life is seldom as linear as one makes it out to be, and I hope what you are about to read reflects that. It was first committed to paper when I thought my life had ended and I felt even older and past my glory days than I do now. Some would call it an eight month main story with a 60-plus year epilogue. I think of it more as the story of how I discovered who I actually was. Most people stumble onto this in their young adulthood; I was nearly 40, when this happened to me. This is all I have to say on the subject in retrospect. To find out more, flip the next page to speak with my younger self. He is neurotic, self-absorbed, somewhat spineless, and had formed most of his identity based on what others thought of him. I occasionally tend to detest his petty bickering and ceaseless whining but I owe him no small measure of debt to the person I am now. Anyways, move on to the first chapter and read on about this little bastard that used to be me, if that is the sort of thing that amuses you. If not, then FUCK OFF and do something else.
Again, I am too old and -most likely by the time you are reading this, - too dead - to care what your opinion is of me.
CHAPTER I “KEVIN!” The woman that is my mother has a voice of a shrill harpy being devoured by a gorgon. This is not how I ever wish to begin my morning, but somehow I always seem to. I am being summoned to the breakfast table of Satan, by his head of house, and participation is, unfortunately, mandatory. “KEVIN! IN THE NAME OF OUR MERCIFUL LORD, GET OUT OF THAT BED AND COME DOWN BEFORE YOUR FOOD GETS COLD!!!” I groggily fall out of my warm, comfortable receptacle of unconsciousness and heed my mother’s call to action. I hastily assemble my tunic, make a quick pass to the mirror to shape the greasy, Arabesque mass that is my hair into something that my mother will not criticize, nor my step-father, angrily eyeball, and make my way downstairs to the dining room. As I enter, I see Mother, scanning over some scroll of gossip, while one of the house servants is attending to her hair. Padraig, my step-father, is half-ignoring Mother’s musings while inhaling his simple porridge and slurping his wine. My step-brother Rorric, known as Rory for short, is simultaneously eating his breakfast and using his knife to illustrate his prowess
in an altercation involving some bandit caravan he routed. Various servants are moving around the room either performing domestic work, or conferring with Padraig or Mother. They do little more than ignore me, unless they absolutely need me. , To them, I feel as if I am some kind of unassuming vase or furniture. I barely begin in on a crust of bread, when my mother glances at me, and starts to dissect various aspects of my being. “Kevin! You know we have servants that can properly dress and bathe you, right? Please tell me that you do not have the intention to gallivant out in public, looking like some sort of common drunkard tavern beggar?” This woman’s capacity for passive-aggressive banter would cause a monk who took a vow of silence to scream out obscenities. As usual, I hesitate to make eye contact with this woman. . Locking eyes with her just gives her a sense of satisfaction that she’s gotten to me. I consume my breakfast as if it deserves the bulk of my attention and respond with, “I am quite capable of dressing myself, Flavia. God helps those who help themselves, as I keep hearing the clergy balk at Sunday mass.” The fact that I called Mother by her given first name caused her slight annoyance. I could tell, though she barely showed it. She immediately retorted with, “Now Kevin, calling me by my first name may seem bold to you, but it does not change the fact that I am still your mother.” I continue to avoid eye contact with her as I become more intense on the consumption of my morning meal. Rory is, as usual, oblivious to the tension between Mother and I, as he continues to illustrate his recent conquests to Padraig, who does begin to notice our standoff,, but tries to remain uninvolved. I reply with a bit of a snarl, “Does that mean you will start addressing me as Flavius Romulus? You know the name that you and my Father agreed on upon my birth? Or
perhaps, ‘Sire, ‘Your Majesty’, or “Caesar”?? I don’t know? How does one address a former potentate of Rome? After all, I don’t have too many fellow ex-emperors that I can write for proper protocol verification?” My mother dismissed the hairdresser and began to focus her attention on me. I felt a fleeting moment of victory that I roused her enough out of her state of self-absorption to focus on me. However, it was a short-lived victory; when I realized that I was now in her sights, and she was about to psychologically eviscerate me. The only thing keeping me from experiencing her full fury is that I was her first born. “Are we going to do this again? Kevin is the name that your step-father and I agreed to give you. It is both a requirement to be part of this family, and a condition of you not having had your miserable throat slit by Odoacer on the spot when he saw you on the imperial throne. It might behoove you to show a modicum of gratitude every once in a while that we went to all the trouble to provide you with the life and lifestyle that you currently enjoy!” I swivel my eyeballs in her direction while maintaining my head in its current slouched position over my plate. “Thank you…Mother.” She smiled and turned away from me to re-engage in more important affairs. “See! That was not so difficult? We ask so very little of you, Kevin. Now, what are your plans for this fine spring day?” She asks me as more of a protocol query than out of a genuine sense of interest.
I reply with a simple grunting of a man defeated, but unable to escape the presence of the smugly victorious, “I’m going to The Saepta Julia to meet Felix and Cassia. Maybe go see the public executions after lunch.”
“Well isn’t that lovely!” she replied. “Felix’s mother is simply overjoyed at his upcoming entry to the priesthood. And Cassia is such a…spirited young woman. If she just learned to round that spirit down a notch or two, she might have a decent chance of landing herself a suitable husband.” I snickered a bit, which caught her notice. “Do you find something amusing?” she asked with a slight wince in her eye. My immediate thought was, “That would be a bit difficult considering she is a proud, raging lesbian, but please do continue your inane prattling.” I know I can’t betray my friend’s secret, so I mumble a reply “Nothing, nothing. Just remembering a joke I recently heard.” “Care to reveal this bit of humor?” She asked me with a smile that thinly veiled her contempt. “No…It’s not something that one would use at the family table”, I replied, as she looked at me with her patent expression of disapproval. I think she wanted to continue this line of inquiry further, but was interrupted by Rory, who asked her if he should wear his formal wear or military uniform for the Primate Tobias’ dinner party. Flavia moved from berating her eldest to the prospect of decorating her youngest without missing a beat. “Oh, please don’t wear the uniform. This is a formal dinner party and not a military triumph.”
This bit of language finally brought Padraig out of his daze. “And what is wrong with the boy’s uniform? He proudly serves this city and his lord. He makes his family proud! If he wants to wear his military garb and let a bunch of bloodless clergy and decrepit senators know that he helps keep them safe, then what is the harm in that?” He rises from the table and puts his hands on Rory’s shoulders in a sign of pride and belonging. “Look at this strapping lad! It feels like just yesterday that you were taking your first step. Now you are reveling in the death cries of your enemies. I tell ya’, a father couldn't be more proud!” I’ll admit that I am simultaneously jealous of their relationship and terrified at the prospect of that level of intimate contact with Padraig. I am pretty content at this stage of our relationship, as most of our communication consists of mostly scowls, grunts, and brief monosyllabic exchanges. I sit up and excuse myself from the table. I am about to leave when Flavia stops me. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” She signaled to me, as I stopped dead in my tracks, but a few feet away from the door and escape. I rolled my eyes away from her gaze, flipped around, and made my way back to mother to kiss her on the forehead.
“See, that wasn’t so hard?” she goaded, as I thought to myself “You have absolutely no idea.” I turned again and made my way through the front door, relieved that little bit of morning routine had reached its logical conclusion.
CHAPTER II I still had a bitter aftertaste of my regular morning altercation with Flavia. There were a plethora of scenarios running through my head of how I would finally break free of her grip, mostly involving some sort of horrific end on her part. Sadly, this all usually gets drowned out with an inky, immersive sense of guilt for thinking such things about one’s mother and family. The feeling douses the rage and replaces it with the lead weight of melancholic depression. I almost wanted to turn back, sneak in through my window, and go back to sleep, but I had promised Felix and Cassie that I would meet up with them at the market. At least, it was a bright and sunny day as I made my way through the dilapidated cobblestone streets. It was market day and the already narrow paths were laden with all manner of livestock and people from all walks of life. Soldiers, merchants, fishmongers, priests, prostitutes, beggars, and patricians all moved about with barely the space to lift their arms or see more than a few feet ahead. I was beginning to just meld into this sea of stone and humanity when a familiar voice broke the dull hum of background noise. “KEVIN! OVER HERE! KEVIN! FOR FUCK’S SAKE TURN YOUR HEAD LEFT YOU SORRY SACK OF SHIT!”
This is typically how my oldest, and possibly closest, friend usually addresses me. I know that this is her way of being warm, friendly, and inviting; strangely enough it works like a charm. Her voice cut through the malaise and brought a smile to my face, as I turned my head. I saw Cass waving her arms around with a comical smile and bulging, crossed eyes. To her left was Felix, who contrasted Cass’s waif-like slenderness with his short and pudgy visage. They looked like the kind of late-night comedy duo that would take the stage at the Coliseum after the animal hunts and puppet shows. “Hold on! I’ll be there in a minute!” I screamed as I made my way through the crowd. The two were holding our usual table at our favorite food stand, Titus’ World of Kebab, which, for the paltry price of 5 copper coins, you can get the best buffalo liver in all the Seven Hills! “You look like a warmed-over, wild dog turd. Christ! Did your mother rip off your balls extra hard today or was this just her garden variety castration?” exclaimed my brutally honest friend, as she simultaneously put her hand on my shoulder. Felix was a bit disturbed by her colorful use of language, being a holy man in training, and wasted no time to insert a bit of corrective commentary. “You know, the Lord does not appreciate taking his or his son’s name in vain?” Felix said, in his usual diplomatic and well meaning, but ultimately tone deaf and ineffective, manner. “Felix, if God has a problem with my language, he shouldn’t have invented the means to use them in such a manner, nor imbued me with free will and ability to read and speak; Certainly, in a spare moment, he could come down here and let me know about his deep and egregious offence at my name dropping, being omnipotent, as he is.”
Felix was slightly flustered, but also did not read the social cues that he was already thoroughly beaten and should cut his losses. “The Lord is a heavily pre-disposed and engaged God. This is why he left us the scriptures, so that we may both consult his wisdom and know his will and intention towards his creations.” Cass rolled her eyes at Felix’s generic and formulaic response. “Oh come on, Felix! He’s supposedly omnipresent and omniscient. Are you saying that your soon to be future employer does not have the ability to bend the forces of time and space to make a brief appearance to clear up a name use issue or two? And you know what else-” Cass was about to deliver her killing blow on Felix’s argument, when she was distracted by a highly attractive farm girl walking by, to place a lunch order at the kiosk. “I’m gonna hit that ass and make her call out my name, if your God is a just and fair one, Felix! GOD DAMN! She has a backside that can make a plague victim stand up and dance! Am I right, Kevin?” I looked at her half amused, but at the same time, a little uncomfortable. Not because I object to her attraction to women or even her voracious appetites, but because I consider her a sister at this point and thought of her being a sexual being with anyone is a few steps below walking in on your parents.
“Don’t be such a prude you two! You know you thought the same thing!” said as she turned her gaze from me over to Felix, who looked both horrified and disapproving. “Oh for Christ’s sake, Felix, you’ve known what I was since we were 13 years old. Are you saying your Lord and God won’t allow you to be friends with me and that I should be stoned for being who I am?!”
Felix, oddly, did not miss a beat on his response, which surprised us both. “Not at all The God I believe in loves all his children. He would not scorn or punish them sharing in happiness or joy or love with one another. Kindness and friendship are, as far as I know, virtues that God holds sacred.” Cass was moved and without a clever come back for those briefest of moments. Felix was annoyingly sheepish and anti-confrontational, with a deep sense of hierarchical devotion but he was also a good man, whose heart was usually in the right place. Of course, he’s also good at ruining the moment, “But I still don’t think he would appreciate you making light of his good name.” “Why did you have to fuck up that tender moment, Felix? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, why?” The conversation went on with a bit of small talk like that for a while, until the subject of Primate Tobias and his upcoming dinner party entered the agenda. “If I could find some way to be in the furthest reaches of the known world fighting off rabid wolves instead of attending, I would gladly take up the offer. Seriously, I don’t know why my family even wants me there … or any public gathering, to tell you the truth. No one ever talks to me there. I am less noticed than the servants, and less welcome than the vermin.” “It’s for the same reason that Felix and I have to be there also, Kev. We are members of our prospective aristocratic families, and it reflects badly on our parents if their children don’t show up for the most powerful man in the city. Besides that, you’re the damn last Emperor of Western Rome! You’re the conversation piece that everyone wants to gawk at, so they can tell their friends they saw the URBAN LEGEND, HIMSELF!”
Cassie saw that she went a bit too far with that last one, and reached out for my hand. “I’m…I’m sorry Kevin. I have a well-known reputation for talking out my ass.” “No, that's alright. You really don’t need to apologize when you’re not wrong.” I replied in a self-denigrating voice. “If it makes you feel any better, Kev, I sort of know how you feel.” “How, Cassie?” “Because I’m an opinionated woman, and you know…gay…who has to go to these parties and have her viewpoints and ideas ignored and dismissed. I can’t tell anyone what I really think of the world or how it should be. I would be laughed at and disregarded for falling into some “FLIGHTY FEMINE FIT” because “WOMEN DON’T HAVE THE MENTAL CAPACITY TO UNDERSTAND HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS”, she waved her finger quotes around wildly. “That is the best case scenario. If my father was not head of the Senate, I would probably have been sent to a convent, or the stocks, or to be stoned as a heretic for half the ideas I have and just for being who I am! Rome is full of savages and half-dead yokel dullards!” I let out a heavy sigh as I rested my head in my arms to signal my displeasure at where Cass was expectedly taking this conversation. “Ugh! Here we go again? I know where this is going, but I suppose I lack the power or agency to stop you, so I’ll play along. If Rome is this backwater hellscape of ignorance and barbaric stagnation, then where is the beacon of light and civilization, might I ask?” “CON-STANT-IN-FUCKING-NOPLE! THAT’S WHERE, KEVIN!” She said as she poked me on the forehead and gulped down her wine.
I rolled my eyes and banged my head on the table, as I ordered another round for the table. I was going to need it for the four hundred and twenty seventh time I was about to hear Cass’ tirade. “Yes, Constantinople, jewel of the East, where the “real” Roman Empire now lies, that’s right! It’s all the best parts of old Greece, and the glory and culture of Rome’s heyday, all rolled into one! I hear that women can inherit and own property out there. That they can speak their mind and even the lowest of peasant girls can learn to read and write! The Eastern Empire has no hang-up with sexuality. It’s all out and there for the taking, my good man! That is where I am fucking going to! That is where the name of Cassia Epidus will finally be spoken with a bit of respect and reverence out of people’s food-holes!” I started to tap my fingers on the table and presented a sarcastic half-smirk on my face, as I played my part in this little interchange. “Where do you get this information from Cass? How do you know anything will be any different there than it is here?” “Come on Kevin, everybody knows this! The sailors in the ports, the lepers in the alleys, the blind panhandlers…EVERYONE! Why else has everyone who we knew as kids, moved to Constantinople? Why does anyone who can get out of this decaying cesspool, do so at the first given opportunity? Why are half the buildings in this hobble lying empty and falling apart? BECAUSE ROME IS NOT ROME, ANYMORE! Constantinople is Rome now, and has been since Constantine decided to move the capitol and, conveniently, rename it after himself? We live on top of the bloated rotting corpse that used to be Rome, complete with the decrepit apes in the Senate, who make up what used to be the greatest governing body the world had ever seen. We even have a former Emperor to complete the roster at this sad little carnival!”
There was a bit of an awkward pause brought on by mutual selfactualization. Fortunately, that was broken up by an even more awkward conversation transition by Felix. “Well, I, for one, am pretty excited for the dinner party! I am hoping to put in a good word with Primate Tobias. If I play my cards right, I might just get an exciting first post at the German Frontier, Maybe even Northern Britain!” Cassie and I stared at him in unison with a combination of shock and horror. “Northern Britain? The German Frontier?! Are you mad?!? You have heard what they do to fluffy, newly minted little priests like you? They sacrifice them to their tribal deities and serve up your entrails as the main course!” exclaimed Cassie as she bit down into her Kabob and aggressively emptied the remains in her flagon of wine. “It’s true,” I glibly remarked, as I, too, chugged the last of my wine. Felix looked back at us with both skepticism and minor anxiety. “Northern Non-Christians being cannibals'' is just a fallacy, like sea-monsters or Aristarchus' lie that the Earth revolves around the sun. Just a bunch of old wives tales used to scare children…r-right?” We stared at Felix with intense dread for a split second, and then simultaneously burst into laughter. Felix pretended to be part of the joke and we begrudgingly let him believe this notion, as we patted him on the shoulders and gestured to him that it was time to leave. We continued around the market. Cassie was lured off to a fabric dealer from Alexandria, while Felix and I made our way to the adjacent book and scroll merchant from Adrianople. He was
rummaging through a Coptic Bible as I teased him about heresy. My eye, meanwhile, was lured by what looked like some very old Greek scrolls. “What are you looking at, Kevin?” “ I think Marcus might be interested in these?” I replied Felix tried hard to suppress an expression of mild to moderate disapproval. “Mad Marcus? I thought your parents told you to stay away from him. I thought anyone that had any sort of value on their reputation stayed away from Mad Marcus.” “And what’s wrong with Marcus? I’ve had plenty of conversations with him. He is a bit eccentric and has an unusual affection for the texts of antiquity, but I would hardly call him MAD?” Felix continued, “Mad, because he was removed from the Senate for his continued challenges to Primate Tobias and Church doctrine and authority. Mad, because he still keeps heretical texts like those you probably have in your hands. If you don’t want to share his fate, you might do best to listen to your parents!” I shrugged his well-meaning warning off, “One man’s heresy is another man’s enlightenment.” I gestured to the merchant to ask him how much the scrolls would cost. He motioned 10 copper pennies, which was more than fair, and I paid him on the spot. I told Felix to let Cassie know I had left for Marcus’ home and I would see the both of them at the Primate’s engagement in a few hours. As I quickly darted off, Cassie saw me through the door of the fabric shop and shouted over, “What about the public executions?!” I yelled back over my shoulder “It’s just some petty thieves today! They’re getting to the must-see bestiality and communing with the Devil executions tomorrow!”
“Ooh! I love watching pig fuckers cry! Good call, Kev!” I could hear Cassia cry back as I disappeared off into the crowd.
CHAPTER III I made my way out of the bustle of the markets to Oppian Hill, where one Marcus Posthumous resided. You can mark the change in scenery and décor as one neared his home. I ran into less and less people and more ruined, empty buildings, many of them starting to be reclaimed by trees, moss, and underbrush. As I neared closer, I could see random people dragging off bits of stone and copper from abandoned homes. Other spaces were nothing more than hollow skeletons with fire pits being used for gambling, fighting rings, and a few excellent book clubs, from what I hear. I finally reached Marcus’s villa around midafternoon.
It has been his family’s home
since a century before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. It had probably been a beautiful place that one could live at, entertain, and throw the odd orgy at. You know a great place for the wife and those children that survived infancy. Now, however, it has fallen into disrepair, which is a nice description of a moldering pile of rocks where good books go to die. The place was surrounded by feral cats which, on the good side, meant that it was one of the few places in the area that was relatively free of pests, but was perfectly counterbalanced with the constant background odor of ammonia. I would usually knock at anyone else’s place or residence, but Marcus rarely ever locked the door. Your average citizen or pillager saw little value in anything the man had lying in there. The door was half opened and a few cats were running back and forth as I entered. His interior was, from wall to wall, and floor to ceiling, stuffed with books, pamphlets, scrolls, scribbled notes, tablets, and any material that had the written word committed to it. There were a few stone slabs that, I guessed, constituted tables, but otherwise stacks of books made up most
of his furniture choices, as well. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. He also had a few models, statuettes, masks, and various cultural knick-knacks that gave a spot of color and broke up the monotony of pages and stone. I stepped my way over the various clutter while calling out the name of the master of the house. “MARCUS!” No response, as I made my way into what I believe was his combination of living room and bedroom area. I saw various plates of half eaten food and empty bottles of wine, as well as freshly written parchment scrolls and dried up ink-quills. This let me know I was probably close. I caught what appeared to be a low rumbling snore reaching my ear and looked down at the floor to see Marcus asleep on a pile of old books, with some sort of tapestry being used as a blanket. “MARCUS!!!” I yelled into his ear, as he flailed into a state that you could generously describe as conscious. . He awkwardly rose to his feet, and staggered around in a circle, trying to find his bearings, as he snorted and squinted about, finally fixating on my presence in his carefully crafted home environment. “Who? Hum? Oh! It’s you, dear lad!? What time is it? Have you seen my translations of Diogenes?” he asked me, as he scanned the room while shuffling through his various piles. “I think you were sleeping on it.”, I replied, as I peeled off several scrolls that had stuck to his back.
His face lit up as I handed it to him, “Yes, my good man! This is what I was looking for!” He cleared some space on one of his few uncluttered stone slabs, grabbed a quill and pen, and picked up where the appeared to have left off. “I received this book about a week ago from a merchant friend of mine from Jerusalem. I had a colleague in the city verify its authenticity, and I am quite happy to tell you that this may be the only known direct work attributed to Diogenes.” His eyes lit up as his fingers carefully moved through the pages. “And you are translating it into Latin? You know, Diogenes is not exactly considered on the…recommended reading list by the good and gracious Primate Tobias and the Holy Mother Church?” I asked, half sarcastically. “Pish-posh and balderdash! The magnanimous and pious Metropolitan Archbishop, defender of spiritual law, and unofficial ruler of the city of Rome can bend to his knees, and kiss my decrepit old ass! Where does he get off delegating what is sacrilegious and what is morally worthwhile?” “He’s the right hand of the Pope, in charge of what is dogmatically acceptable and heretical. Sadly, these days, if it’s not the Bible or Bible adjacent it's seen as an affront to the Lord and his one true Mother Church on Earth.”, I replied, as Marcus looked back at me with both acknowledgement and frustration. “Ridiculous poppycock, I knew that tight-assed, boot licker when he was a bedwetting altar boy trying to worm his way up the ecclesiastical ladder. Do not let the gilded vestments and quick recall of biblical passages fool you. The man uses all of it for one end, POWER. He dreams of one day being Pope and is playing church and state like a chessboard. Mark my
words, son, AVOID HIS NOTICE, AND STAY AWAY FROM HIS REACH AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE! He ruined my career! He’ll make short work of you, as well!” “So you do fear him?” I asked him, as he became noticeably agitated. His breathing was labored and his nose flared, but, as he absorbed my question, he became more calm and introspective. “No, I don’t fear what he can do to me. He’s already done it.” He put down his work and began to pace slowly around the room. “I was a senator and keeper of records. I tended a massive library that made this collection look paltry and insignificant in comparison.” He hunched over a stack of books and hung his head, stroking his scraggly beard with one hand, while supporting his weight over the rickety pile with another. “Then, the good Primate declared that many of those books were heretical and blasphemous, for no other good reason than they pre-dated the church and mentioned another God that wasn’t his!”, he said, as he slammed his fist on the table and clenched his jaw “I challenged him openly and told him he had no power to do any of this. The Pope, Theodoric, and the Senate thought otherwise. His influence saw me sacked and removed from power and position. I managed to save a few texts and odd scrolls, but thousands of works - Plato, Socrates, Cicero, The Book of The Dead, Hammurabi, Virgil, countless irreplaceable works -he burned at the foot of Palatine Hill.” He swung around and stared at me with the expression of a man beyond his already significant years who has the weight of the world and its many losses on his shoulders. “He took most everything that was of worth for Me.”, he said, as he looked around the room, taking assessment of its contents.
“But what about the books you have here, Marcus?” “These books, my good lad? These books are but objects. It’s what’s inside the books that are important. Each is a portal into who we were and how we slowly became who we are now, the civilizations and the savagery. Together, they represent a beautiful tapestry of human existence that he defiled and destroyed in a pitiful grab to extend his power, the only thing he truly believes in. The prize, at least to me, was certainly not worth the cost. On top of that, my good lad, he cost me my friends, family, place in society, and the ability to preserve all that knowledge and wisdom. That is what he took.” he said, as he fashioned a stack of books into a make-shift chair and plowed himself into it, in a wave of mental exhaustion. I remembered at that moment, the scrolls that I had in hand and decided, in all my lack of tact, to pick that moment to interrupt his moment of morose introspection and present him with a sad reminder of his current predicament. “I found this at the market today. I know it’s not much, but I wanted you to have it. I think it’s mid-Ptolemaic?” I said, as I handed it off. He lifted his head out of his slump to glare over the texts, and like an almost reflexive action, took them into his hands and began to inspect them. “Hmm? Yes, I would say these are probably from the time of Ptolemy VI. It has the watermark of The Library of Alexandria! Splendid little find you have uncovered, Kevin! Thank you so very much!” He rose from his book-chair and made his way back to his book of Diogenes. I had to admit, I, myself, became curious about it as he thumbed through the work. “So, Diogenes eh; That is a hell of a find if I may say so?” Marcus formed a coy smile as he looked back at me
through the side of his eye. “You may and have. To my knowledge this is the only known copy of anything penned by the man himself. The father of cynicism, the progenitor of stoic philosophy, one of the founders of modern thought!” he proclaimed in an animated and lively fashion, suddenly betraying his earlier frustrated depression.. “You know, he also had a reputation for begging in the street and urinating on people who disagreed with him?” I coyly smiled back at him. Marcus simply took on a fatherly stance, using condescending but playful and friendly banter. “Well, most geniuses have their….eccentricities.” “So, Tobias has a problem with Diogenes? I thought the church was all about cynicism?” I questioned in a more serious manner. Marcus just smiled, looking out his window. “The church has no problem with cynic poverty. It’s the cynic sense of shamelessness and especially the brand that Diogenes proselytizes that rubs the administrative arm of the church the wrong way.” We both nodded at one another in agreement, as we were thoroughly well aware of the church’s fetish with the concept of guilt and shame. Marcus turned to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “So, speaking of the good Primate, I hear you are going to be at his dinner party this evening?”
“Yeah, I suppose I am.”, I responded with the tone of reserve and disappointment one usually has when being dragged to interact with people and environments they have no wish to be involved with. “You’ll remember what I told you about Tobias?” “I will. To be honest, Marcus, I am quite sure that I am beneath his acknowledgement, let alone his scorn or contempt.” “You’re probably right.” he said, jokingly while patting me on the back. “But I put nothing past that man. I am fairly sure he has detailed histories on every man, woman, and child in Rome. He is a spineless, spiritual-bureaucrat and an ethically bankrupt opportunist but always thorough in anything he considers ‘his business’.” I looked out the window and noticed that the sun was starting to sink into the horizon. “I have to go, Marcus! Mother will throw a fit if I am late or show up with some bit of grime or flaw that could publicly embarrass her.”
“Understood, lad; I once had a mother, as well. Between you and me, she made Flavia look like the Virgin Mary, in pale reflection!” I let out a bit of a chuckle before making my way to the door. Marcus waved momentarily before digging his head back into his work. I stepped over the various obstacles in his ramshackle villa, ‘til I reached the exit, pushing some random clutter off to the side as I made my way out the door. I said my good-bye to the old man as he half acknowledged me back with a slight grunt, while holding a candle over the book.
“Mad” Marcus Posthumous