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Making Ends Meet

Rising Brook Writers 2017


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DISCLAIMER: To the best of our knowledge and belief all the material/images etc included in this publication are in the public domain or has been reproduced with permission and/or source acknowledgement e.g. Wikipedia. We have researched the rights where possible. RBW is a community organisation, whose aims are purely educational, and is entirely non-profit making. If using material from this collection for educational purposes please be so kind as to acknowledge RBW as the source. Contributors retain the copyright to their own work. Names, characters, places and incidents are imaginary or are used in a fictitious way. Any resemblance to actual people living is entirely coincidental. SPECIAL THANKS: The Rising Brook Baptist Church Volunteer Library Team who provide shelter for our weekly workshops PUBLISHED BY: Rising Brook Writers RBW is a voluntary charitable trust. RCN: 1117227 Š Rising Brook Writers 2017 The right of Rising Brook Writers to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 & 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 DEDICATION This comedy is dedicated to Clive M Hewitt, a former Chair of RBW, and a Roman re-enactor, who lost his valiant fight with cancer whilst taking part in this project.

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Scribes of Trentbilious Clive Hewitt Nigel Peckett Anne Picken Ann Talbot Lee Fones Joy Street Steph Spiers Christine Williams Jayne Cawley Penny Wheat


Making Ends Meet

The introduction Roman Britain: somewhere very near to Penkridge on the, being constructed, Watling Street Year 130AD early March so the grand opening is supposed to be on the 15th (it had to be, didn't it) .... Trentbilious Fort (aka Gailey) Site of Fort and Vicus, for the building of the Watling Street, an arterial road for straight troop marching ... Road building has started in Deva (Chester) and at Londinium. The two ends of the road are supposed to join at Trentbilious. A Senator has already started marching up from Londinium for the celebration and Gladiator games which are to be held at great expense. Cast of characters: Vicus: Magistratus : Nigellos Bluddschotticus, in charge of road construction. Viola Bluddschotticus, his shrew of a wife.

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Bean counters: Titus Purcious (Librarius, book keeper) and Teflonicus Maximus, Gias Velcrow (simple scribe adopted by Titus‘s sister-in-law Angelica when found in a basket ... ) Agnes, Angelica‘s sister. Nero Purcious - runaway brother to Titus Boris Bluddschott (no icus) Brother of Nigellos, (Welsh) wife Blodwen, dim and jealous, son Bulch, lazy and hairy and Cassy, the elephant girl Forum: Soothsayer: Cassandra Fort: Commander Fattassius Fattallis; Daftus Brushius (second in command) Regional Commander/Senator Marpellius Domestios coming to open the joining of the roads Guards: Nero Purcious Commodious, Road Surveyor Banksius (aide to Senator and part time fresco artist) Temple of Vesta: Vera and Gloria aged Vestals and keepers of the sacred flame Temple of Queen of Heaven: Isadora, High Priestess;


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Aristarchos nephew. Galenodorius, Greek Doctor; Hilarious the cheerful, Theatre Owner who puts on terrible plays

Animal wranglers: Minibus and Maximus Gluteus, Catharticus and Infectious

Gladiators: Trompilius, Clintunius and Faraggio

Time travellers: Hovis Brightonus, Bacon Fryus and Inspector Pearmainus

Bathhouse slaves: Smerkio and Belisha

Calpernia the mare, Hercules and Hera the elephants

Undertakers: Habeous, Corpus and Gallicus Associates: Ludicrus and Sepsis Bertha Velcrow: keeper of the Spread Eagle, mother of Angelica and Agnes, mother-in-law of Nero Grandmother of Gias Honoria Libida: keeper of the House of the Rising Sun brothel Terrible dentist: Helitosis Toothinjario, his patient Petrafidio Liontameous and a pink concrete covered lion called Lionel Magnus Violentus: blacksmith Sigismundius: therapist Chinese travelling acupuncturists (yes, they really existed)


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Roman Britain: 130AD ... Monday 1st March: The Bean Counter‘s Office in the Vicus of Trentbilious Fort. Our story opens with Teflonicus, who was poring over a scroll, shaking his head. ‗How much, this time?‘ asked Titus Purcious his mouth set as tight as a cut in best liver. The under bean counter shivered: ‗Too much. We‘ll never be able to hide a loss of this magnitude.‘ Teflonicus was starting to sweat. ‗Bluddschotticus has way over spent on the games.‘ ‗Ahh... the games,‘ sighed Titus. ‗All part of his master plan.‘ ‗Roman Citizenship?‘ ‗Nay, numskull, Plebeian ... What that Freedman wouldn‘t do to please ‗er-in-doors.‘ Both men shuddered. Viola Bluddschotticus had that affect on mere mortals. ‗He‘ll bankrupt the whole province at this rate. Anything to curry favour with Marpellius.‘ ‗Grovel to the Regional Senator, oh yes, without a second thought about paying the legion‘s wages.‘ ‗It‘s those three Gladiators. All the way from Roma.‘ ‗All the way from Londinium, but his geography is suspect.‘ This truth was not lost on either men. It was Nigellos Bluddschotticus who was, amongst other things, the architect-cum-surveyor-cum-subcontractor-cum–everything that wasn‘t nailed down for ―the road‖. ‗Who‘s counting? Most of the Vicus can‘t read the posters.‘ ‗Let‘s hope they can‘t do sums, either.‘ ‗Where‘s he accommodating these Gladiators?‘ ‗Bertha Velcrow‘s establishment, of course.‘ ‗What? That den of iniquity beside the Temple of Vestal, the one next to the Forum. Its prices are scandalous ... erm ... so I‘m told.‘ ‗Best pizza in town,‘ grinned Teflonicus. ‗Besides, he‘ll get a discount, he‘s a good customer.‘ At this point there was a sneeze. Both men stared at the corner table where their forgotten scribe, Gias Velcrow, was scribbling away


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on a scroll. ‗Gias, my boy, what are you doing?‘ ‗Minutes, uncle. Writing down conversations like you told me to.‘ Titus covered the floor of beaten mud in two paces and tore the scroll into scraps which he then threw on to the tiny brazier which was meanly doing its best to fill their shack with smoke without divesting itself of any heat. Britain in early March can be dreadful. ‗By all the Household Gods do you want to get us all killed?‘ muttered Teflonicus as he strode outside to gasp a breath of fresh country air, not that there was much freshness about the Vicus that morning where they were slaughtering pigs. He did notice a lot of soldier types rushing about in their hob-nailed sandals which was a bit strange for those lazy beggars, but then his attention was caught by the sight of their two tubby Vestals on the way to the market in the Forum, so it wasn‘t until much later that it occurred to him to wonder how much else that dozy scribe, Gias, had duly recorded for posterity, and where were these incriminating scrolls. It Seemed a Good Idea at the Time: Nigellos Bluddschotticus, or ‗Nige‘ as his wife Viola called him, looked out of the window at the rain. The garden was looking well, even if a bit damp. He had done well financially and was hoping for a quiet day, after all he had a made a fair bit of money on subcontracting out some of the road building drainage to his ‗mate‘ Spurious Furious. However, Viola was never content she always wanted something more than the neighbours. ‗When are you going to get Roman citizenship Nige?‘ nagged Viola How he hated ‗Nige‘, even so Nigellos replied, ‗Well, my love,‘ he had his fingers crossed, ‗do we need to be full citizens, you know we‘d have to butter up all the important Romans with money, do public works and hold lots of parties?‘ ‗My friend Salmonella Gastritis says that her husband, Fluxius, is going to try to be a Roman Citizen.‘ Nigellos knew he was never going to win and said, ‗We will need to something spectacular like paying for animals at the games that are


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going to be held when Marpellius Domestios comes to open the new road.‘ That‘s when the trouble started for the Bluddschotticus family. Our ‗Nige‘ was not very good at drafting letters; here is what he dictated to the scribe.

‗To the animal procurers Maximus and Minibus Gluteus in Londinium. Esteemed sirs. There will be games held at Trentibilius on the Ides of March. Please send many lions and any other animals as you see fit. Your expenses will be met by myself. Magistratus Nigellos Bluddschotticus.‘ Maximus read the letter, delivered by pony express, some days later and thought, I‘ll take all the animals I have, they‘re costing a fortune to feed. I reckon I can make that Bluddschotticus pay through the nose.

Blodwen the Frustrated 'Right, to milk the sheep I am going,' said Blodwen, throttling her midriff with apron strings. She was a small woman with bright eyes and black hair in a thick braid down her back. Bungo, her husband, continued sharpening his spear. 'Wish she'd ditch that fronted adverbial and talk like the rest of us,' drawled their son Bulch when the door had banged behind her. 'How long is it since she bid goodbye to the land of her fathers? It's barbaric. She embarrasses me in front of my mates.' He was sprawled as usual on the heather couch cramming stuff into his mouth. This time it was a venison burger dripping with melted cheese. 'You two been having words again?' 'None of your business,' muttered his father. 'And how much do you think you embarrass her? Great lazy lump. You lie on that couch like some sort of vegetable gazing at the moving pictures in the fire and making animal noises through the door to your friends until it's time to go out and get drunk. Where you get the money from I don't know.' 'What else can I do?' said Bulch, nimbly setting his dad on the usual rant in order to avoid further speculation in this direction.


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'There's nothing to do.' 'You could come hunting with me for a start. Develop a few skills. You're 10 years old for goodness sake. You know you reach recruitment age next year don't you? Those Romans will have you in a road gang unless you can prove you're more useful somewhere else.' Bulch was only too aware of this fact, but at the moment he chose to skate over it. 'Out of date skills, dad. Who wants hunting when we've got farming?' 'Those who put away as many of those burgers as you do. You'd never get them if it wasn't for my being Forest Champion.' Bulch grinned to himself. They were now safely in the groove. 'Please dad, I know you bring home the venison, but mum's told you till she's blue in the face she's got enough. Look around you, we can't move for haunches being smoked. She's practically giving it away to uncle Nigel and he's expanded his shop. Do you realise that?' Bungo said nothing but rubbed the sharpening stone even harder on the spear, as Bulch knew he would. Yes, he realised. And he also realised his younger brother Nigel was selling it to the Romans for a profit that was helping to make him as rich as the Regional Commander. Little brother Nigel knew exactly what he had to do to earn his wife's pleasure because she'd told him plainly. But for Bungo, well, Blodwen was total mystery. 'Just stay you here and make love to me instead of being always away to the silly old forest,' she would say. 'Why do you think I married you? Yourself is all I want.' That was very well, and nothing he'd like better, but what was his self? A man can't grab all and give nowt. Not this man anyway. Bungo's self needed to earn what he enjoyed, and he hadn't a clue how to earn Blodwen. He'd forbidden animals on his farm, except for the sheep, of course. His wife needed something to weave into the material for the garments she made for them all; that was how he allowed her her place. And he, the man, should be allowed his place. He should be provider of meat. Trouble was, with this new road being built the forest animals were being driven further and further away. Trees were being mercilessly felled for one thing, and the noise of digging, shouting ham-


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mering was sending them further and further into any cover that was left. Lately he was spending moons away from home before he sighted anything so Blodwen was getting more and more exasperated. If only those pesky Romans would go away, build their road somewhere else… Suddenly, Bungo had an idea. New Men? Maybe 'It is done!' The shouted words from the temple echoed around the forum. There was a snort as Gnaeus Musius Habeous awoke from a preprandial nap. 'You what? What's been done, who did it and did we get our cut?' Gnaeus Musius Corpus, who was frying meat – best not to ask what it was or where he got it – over the office fire, replied, 'No. That priest says we didn't earn it.' 'He can't say that! We got him that antique statue of that god of his didn't we? You can't get statues like that! It didn't fall off the back of a cart you know!' ‗I know. I helped lift it onto the back of ours, and I haven't got the paint off my best tunic yet.' A hand was waved, wafting the problem away. 'Needed a bit of a touch up to get it into first class nick, didn't it? Ancient Greek gods need touching up. Everybody knows that!' 'What do we say if somebody comes asking, bro?' 'Nice statue, wonder where he got it from, of course. For a commission, of course, you might be able to use your extensive contacts to find something similar. Couldn't guess the price, though something that age is bound to be expensive. What else?' 'Can we? Get him another one I mean. Anyway, who is that god? I don't recognise it.' 'Sylvanus I think. Yes, definitely Sylvanus … probably.' 'Ri-i-ight. You think we could get another ancient Greek statue like that one?' ‗No problemo bro. Cousin Tarquine Superbus is knocking another couple up for somebody in Londinium. He's also got some bronze cu-


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pids aging in his saltwater bath, says a couple of market days in there puts a thousand years on them. With that dopy lot of soldiers coming up here for the new road opening, we'll make money hand over fist. What's for dinner?' 'Chicken, Gallic peas and turnip mash. Scrounged from the Vestigial Virgins. Told you that my being an altar server would pay off!' 'Not one of them temple chickens, is it? One of them they uses to tell fortunes with.' 'Course not. Well, not one they'll miss anyway. Feeling poorly it was. Fell right off its perch it did. I did the best I could but I told them, I‘d had to bury it in case the other birds caught it. Very sad it was … should taste good though.' A Cunning Plan It was in fact not a million miles from Bulch's idea – i.e. Let's make the Romans skedaddle. Bulch, who was not half as green as he was cabbage-looking, had worked out that if they'd just decamp a few miles to the west they'd hit a large settlement that would provide all the road-making labour needed and leave him and his mates free from the danger of imminent conscription. They met at Bertha's every night to ponder this one and she let them sit in the corner with a jug of small beer between them in return for frequent haunches of venison thieved from Blodwen's overstocked larder. (Blodwen was surprised at the losses, but too relieved to mention them.) The danger of even earlier conscription had intensified lately because the Road‘s opening day was fast approaching without there being anything to open. 'You mean the Ninth Legion has already started marching?' Bulch's beetle-browed mate Brad had gasped last night. 'Definitely,' said Bulch. 'Collectus Alloto had it from a bathhouse slave who overheard Daftus Brushius talking when he was scraping his back.' 'And the slave can understand Latin?' piped the third member of the triumvirate, little blondie Bran. 'Probably been to your classes, eh Bulch?' grinned Brad.


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It was true. Bulch did run Latin classes, at a small consideration. His ear was so good that not only could he irritate his father with those animal noises as they all could, he could imitate the dialect of all the soldiers in the area. And by putting in a few hours every night at Bertha's he learned to translate most things into his native tongue. His classes were eagerly sought by those wishing to serve the conquerors, for who can provide adequately if they do not know what is required? The Bathhouse ‗Smerkio. Is that you? You old dog!‘ called out Teflonicus towards the back of a hastily retreating figure. No-one in the crowded market took much notice of a slave being yelled at. A woman selling Samian wares actually grinned and waved her scarf in Smerkio‘s direction. Teflonicus took chase down an alleyway soon catching the rotund Bathhouse worker. ‗Samian dishes? You can‘t afford luxuries like that, can you? Not unless you‘re using my money.‘ He emphasised the point by clapping Smerkio between the shoulder blades. ‗Ciao, hail my friend. Hail. I didn‘t see it was you,‘ he said. ‗How fortunate, I was on my way to seek you out.‘ ‗I bet you were,‘ said Teflonicus pressing the tubby slave up against a wall. ‗To pay me back those denarii you borrowed. Three denarii.‘ ‗Borrowed? That word is open to interpretation, my friend. Surely, it was more of a wager in a joint business opportunity.‘ Keeping tight hold of his robe, Teflonicus towered over the sweating figure, the memory of his money fading into the distant past. ‗Never fear, dear friend, I have a plan.‘ Teflonicus closed his eyes in resignation. He‘d heard all this before. Why did he ever listen to Smerkio and his opportunities and plans. ‗Go on,‘ he said. ‗I could wangle you a free, access all-areas, pass to the Bathhouse.‘ Teflonicus blinked. That would be worth a lot more than three


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denarii. A fortune, ‗A lifetime free pass, access-all areas? I accept.‘ This was, of course, before Smerkio had chance to apply conditions to the pass, such as on the third Wednesday of the month at 5.00am or some such nonsense. Teflonicus loosed his hold on the robe and watched Smerkio scuttle up the alley, only then did it occur to him that Smerkio, as a Bathhouse scribe, may not have the authority to issue such a pass. He‘d just been paid off by the promise of a forgery. A forgery with an official seal*. He wondered what the punishment for that would be if caught. * Dear Reader: For travellers who may be unaware of the splendour of the Bathhouse complex at Trentbilious, which many thought had delusions of grandeur, it is said the building was much finer than any in Londinium because it had been built for the use of the Emperor Hadrian. At the time of his visit, the, soon to be, Emperor was on his way up to inspect the proposed site for a Wall prior to its construction in the north. This visit was more than 20 odd years ago, but he must have been suitably impressed by his accommodations as the Spaniard spent over three weeks in the town which was considerably smaller then and had resembled a building site. Trentbilious has basked in the glory of this visit ever since even though it still resembles a building site. Not On The Same Page Bungo stopped sharpening his spear and considered his idea. The more he thought, the more he liked it. That pesky little Nigel, calling himself Nigellos Bluddschotticus for Flip's sake – who would believe he would ever be a Roman citizen, however much his daft wife wanted it. Well, he would be taken down a peg or two if the road builders moved away, see if he weren't. All those queues at his shop, all the games arrangements he'd taken upon himself – wild animals, gladiators, all that bunting — what a pantomime to impose on quiet folk who just wanted to get on with their lives and run their homes as


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they'd always run them. What was wrong with that path as it had been since time began? It had served them well enough for centuries and what's a bit of mud compared with all the dust and row and general disruption they were suffering now? Bungo grinned as he began to plan. He'd wait for dark, put on the Mari Llwyd that was hanging in the barn and go out and terrify the guards. Then when they'd run away he'd upend those stakes they pushed in to mark the next bit to be done and fill in those pesky ditches they dug along the edges so it would seem they'd made no progress at all. A couple of nights of that would convince them this was definitely not the place to mess about with good folks' way of life. Blodwen was surprised to see him still there when she returned from milking the sheep. 'Staying in tonight bach are you?' she smiled, thinking thank the gods I've got through to him at last. She would wash at the stream and change into her sprigged muslin which was naughtily transparent if you stood carefully against the light. She would roast up a joint of venison with turnips and follow it with pears she had been storing in the barn, steep them in sweet juice until it ran dripping down his chin. She'd give Bulch a denarius to go to the amphitheatre and then she would have her man all to herself for the whole lovely night. All these thoughts had Blodwen melting into zingy softness in the two seconds before Bungo answered. 'Only until it gets dark,' he said. She gaped. Saw her dreams flying off in fragments. 'You going out?' she faltered. 'Well the meat's not going to come in, is it?' She banged down her milk pail and slammed the door behind her. 'That door's going to be off its hinges unless you two get it together,' drawled Bulch. Bungo drew a deep breath and raised his cuffing arm, but the lad was on his way to Bertha's before his father finished his famous roar. It‘s Not Much Fun Being a Roman Legionary ‗How far today?‘ grunted the centurion. You could tell he was a


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centurion from fort Deva because he was sitting on a mule; an ugly brute which bit and kicked but did have a fleece across the saddle. ‗Half a Roman mile,‘ replied the legionary leaning on his shovel and sweating like a porka. ‗It‘s too slow,‘ sighed the centurion peering towards the horizon across what would eventually be called the Cheshire plain. ‗In fifteen days we have to be in Trentbilious.‘ ‗It‘s the clay,‘ ventured the road builder. ‗Sticky! You could make pots with it.‘ The centurion knew the man spoke true; his legs and arms were caked in the stuff: ‗and, will the Senator be impressed with an excuse if the Trentbilious games don‘t open, and the road isn‘t joined?‘ ‗No Centurion, he won‘t,‘ nodded the legionary. ‗If we could ease up a touch to get out of this marl, get the slaves into sandy soil, that would speed things up.‘ ‗A touch northwards?‘ ‗Only a few hundred paces ...‘ ventured the old soldier with his fingers crossed behind his back, with a wink to an auxiliary. ‗Do it,‘ snapped the centurion, kicking his heels against the flanks of the protesting mule. ‗Adjust north by two hundred paces.‘ And, thus by such small decisions our story of woe unfolds. Bungo‘s Plans Bungo returned to his spear sharpening. This was strictly an illegal operation as all weapons should have been confiscated by the Romans. But he could easily make them as could all his neighbours so what was the point? That seemed to be the view of Daftus Brushius who let sleeping dogs lie on the whole. Anything for a quiet life, thought Bungo. Well, he'd find life was not quite so quiet in the next few days. It was reasonably dark now, so Bungo went out into the barn where he kept the carved horse skull and sheet and took it down from its peg. 'There now, Mari Lwyd,' he crooned. He'd made it originally to celebrate Calan Gaeaf the year he and Bronwen were wed. The men would carouse round the village with it, singing songs at


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each door to keep bad winter spirits away from the homes of folk who rewarded them. This led to several mead fuelled adventures where they woke with surprise in foreign places. Bungo recalled the magnificent jape whereby he had been tied naked to a tree on a stormy mountain top and had to strangle a deer and wear its skin to avoid freezing to death. The Mari Lwyd was a gruesome thing to many, well it had to be to frighten the spirits, and it should do a good job of startling the unwary, particularly if accompanied by the famous Bungo roar. He raised its pole over his head, arranged the sheets around him, and went out. He walked down the track and soon came level with the new road. Two guards were playing with dice at one end and two were sharing a tankard of something at the other. 'Roar!' went Bungo. Dice flew in all directions and the men spun round and screamed. Good night, thought Bungo as they disappeared from view. The drinkers were slower to rise. Bungo approached, nodding the skull menacingly. 'Roar!' went the skull again. The men flew. Bungo laid aside his costume and turned his attention to the line of posts hammered in to mark the way of the next bit. There was also a pile of them lying on the ground nearby, obvious swiping tools. Bungo swiped. Soon the lying pile was twice as high as it had been and there was no indication of where further construction should be effected. Now for the drainage ditches bordering the causeway. Well, if they'd been dug, they could be un-dug. Spades were lying round in untidy profusion – Blodwen would have gone crackers thought Bungo as he picked one up. When he got home she was asleep. He thought of waking her because his conscience now felt so much happier about all that worthiness stuff, but quite frankly he was knackered, so he didn't. The Die is Cast ... North it is! On the road camp, the centurion from Deva, slept well that night wrapped up in his military issue cloak with his toes toasting by the camp fire. The day had gone well. The legionary had been right, the speed of building had more than doubled since they squelched out of


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that band of clay. Tomorrow the tree fellers would progress, the ditch diggers would dig for their lives and for Roma, the wheels of the pebble carts would not be covered in clay and if he doubled the wine ration perhaps, perhaps with a fair wind, they could make up some of the lost time. The legionaries from Deva, also slept well. They were full of rabbit stew flavoured with guarum. Pity a case load of their best breeding coneys had escaped into the forest after the wheel came off the cook house transport in the mud, but that‘s another story entirely.


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Moonlight Manoeuvres In the moonlight six eyes had watched the flight of the guards. ‗It‘s your dad with his daft Marie Lwyd,‘ said one of the three voices accompanying the eyes. ‗What does he think he‘s doing?‘ said another. ‗Making matters worse as usual,‘ said the first. ‗He‘s just left them even more work to do before the opening ceremony. Look at that pile of posts to be hammered in now. Bet you we‘re conscripted by this time tomorrow.‘ Bulch was furious. Although he had to agree with both his friends and although he wished his father far enough, he felt he had to defend him. ‗They‘ll not get guards again in a hurry,‘ he said. ‗We‘ll have a clear stage for our plan.‘ ‗Oh yes,‘ said Brad. ‗The plan. Just remind me again of the plan?‘ Bulch exploded. ‗Am I the only one with a brain? Must I do all the thinking while you pair just sit around? What have your wonderful ideas been? Oh, that‘s right, you haven‘t had any!‘ This outburst, though justified, didn‘t get them very far. As one, the six eyes glowered into the middle distance. And then, into a pool of moonlight that circled the piled up posts, stomped a ludicrous shape. Made of four tree trunks and a grey sheet, which hung untidily in two large flaps on either side of a rope, with a smaller rope the other end, it stopped and swayed. Bulch hid his head in his hands. He‘d seen this sort of thing when two men tried to get under the Mari Lwyd as autumn nights drew on and mead flowed free. His father had probably dragged in Fred from Over the Hill. But they‘d lost the horse head and dragged the sheet through a bog by the looks of things. He peeped through his fingers. They were regarding the posts. Then suddenly, by some mechanism Bulch had never seen before, they extended the bigger rope and In the moonlight six eyes had watched the flight of the guards. ‗It‘s your dad with his daft Marie Lwyd,‘ said one of the three voices accompanying the eyes. ‗What does he think he‘s doing?‘ said another. ‗Making matters worse as usual,‘ said the first. ‗He‘s just left them


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even more work to do before the opening ceremony. Look at that pile of posts to be hammered in now. Bet you we‘re conscripted by this time tomorrow.‘ Bulch was furious. Although he had to agree with both his friends and although he wished his father far enough, he felt he had to defend him. ‗They‘ll not get guards again in a hurry,‘ he said. ‗We‘ll have a clear stage for our plan.‘ ‗Oh yes,‘ said Brad. ‗The plan. Just remind me again of the plan?‘ Bulch exploded. ‗Am I the only one with a brain? Must I do all the thinking while you pair just sit around? What have your wonderful ideas been? Oh, that‘s right, you haven‘t had any!‘ This outburst, though justified, didn‘t get them very far. As one, the six eyes glowered into the middle distance. And then, into a pool of moonlight that circled the piled up posts, stomped a ludicrous shape. Made of four tree trunks and a grey sheet, which hung untidily in two large flaps on either side of a rope, with a smaller rope the other end, it stopped and swayed. Bulch hid his head in his hands. He‘d seen this sort of thing when two men tried to get under the Mari Lwyd as autumn nights drew on and mead flowed free. His father had probably dragged in Fred from Over the Hill. But they‘d lost the horse head and dragged the sheet through a bog by the looks of things. He peeped through his fingers. They were regarding the posts. Then suddenly, by some mechanism Bulch had never seen before, they extended the bigger rope and grabbed one. Then they turned in remarkable co-ordination for such drunk men, and carried the post high into the depths of the forest. A splash was heard. A gasp went up from all three boys. ‗That‘s strong, that is!‘ ‗What‘s your dad doing now?‘ By the time the astounded Bulch had removed his eye-shielding fingers, the men were back and engaged in extracting another post. Nothing was said as the men came back again and again. What superhuman feat was this? What herbs had they found to give them the strength? What magic? Had they bargained with the twylwyth


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teg? If so, shivered Bulch, what exactly had been the terms? He wished now he had not sought to wind his father up so frequently, had gone hunting with him, helped more about the farm. He tried not to think about the stories he‘d heard about folk abducted by fairies, tried to concentrate on the sounds about him, which were the crashing of vegetation as his father and Fred lumbered through the forest and the splashes as they dropped the posts into the river. ‗Well that‘s torn it,‘ said Brian as the last post disappeared. ‗We‘re sunk now,‘ agreed Brad. ‗It will be all hands to the road laying by tomorrow morning. ‗They‘ll be heaving the babies out of the cradles to break up stone.‘ Both turned with exasperation to Bulch. ‗Why can‘t he keep his daft ideas to himself?‘ said Brad. ‗Why doesn‘t he think?‘ said Brian. Bulch could say nothing. Half a mile of unmade road lay before them, a road that would need to be re-made and quick. ‗Perhaps they‘ll be discouraged and go?‘ he ventured. But his voice was quavering and lacked conviction. ‗Perhaps you could persuade your dad and his magic mate to put things back as they found them?‘ said Brad. ‗The posts will have been carried out to sea by now,‘ said Brian. His voice had a certain gloom. ‗No!‘ cried Bulch, the first ray of light penetrating. ‗No! They‘ll be all caught up at the big willows. You know, where the roots tangle up from both sides. Nothing can get past there!‘ ‗Bet they do,‘ said Brian, determined to hold on to his mood. ‗Bet it‘s us the Romans force to bring them back,‘ said Brad, getting up. ‗You Bluddschotts,‘ said Brian following suit. ‗No good to man nor beast.‘ Without even a ‗see you‘ they stomped off into the night. On the Newly Built Road From Londinium At the head of a column of wagons were the two animal suppliers for the games, Maximus Gluteus and his younger brother Minibus


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Gluteus. Both had been in Roman army for some time and had acquired the rank of venator immunis. This meant they were exempt from most normal duties, all they had to do was catch wild animals. Most of the work was actually done by their trusty private Catharticus with help from his friend Infectious. Maximus was chatting to Minibus. ‗How many lions did that Bluddschotticus want?‘ ‗He said as many as possible ,‘ replied Minibus. ‗So he ought to be pleased with the fifty lions then?‘ ‗I suppose so. He said he wanted lots of other sorts of animals too.‘ ‗Catharticus, come here,‘ called Maximus. ‗Yes, boss,‘ replied Catharticus, after he had he ridden up to the front of the travelling zoo. ‗How many and what animals have we got all together?‘ ‗Let me think now, mmm. Do you want the whole list now?‘ ‗Why did you think I asked?‘ ‗Alright, here is the list: fifty lions, ten tigers, fifteen leopards, forty elephants, nineteen camels with one hump, twenty seven camels with two humps, forty six ostriches, eighty baboons and twenty crocodiles,‘ recited Catharticus, who couldn‘t actually count when he‘d run out of fingers. ‗You missed out the eight gorillas, sixteen rhinos and the twelve hippos,‘ interjected Infectious. Catharticus continued, ‗The food bill is enormous and the amount of manure we are getting would fill the Coliseum in a week. Who‘s paying for all this lot?‘ Minibus replied, ‗Some Briton called Bluddschotticus.‘ ‗Well he better had pay or he will end up on the manure heap the hard way, after passing through one of the lions ,‘ muttered Maximus. ‗Are we nearly there yet?‘ asked Minibus ‗How should I know, we seem to have been travelling for weeks. The smell of this lot is getting right up my nose and the food is dreadful. Do the Britons really live on turnips, cabbage and over boiled mutton? I have to spend hours in the lavatorium or more often in the bushes,‘ moaned Maximus.


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‗Another couple of days should see us there ,‘ said Catharticus helpfully. ‗Hoo-bloody-ray,‘ shouted Minibus, ‗the rain, food and smell is driving me mad.‘ ‗Cheer up boss, we will soon be in the bath house having a good wash. After that some good old fish sauce with some proper food ,‘ said Infectious cheerfully. Luckily, they did not know about the catering arrangements that were to come. So let us leave this travelling menagerie slowly plodding up the road leaving behind a trail of animal and human manure. The Mosaic Floor That morning, as the cock was coughing and spluttering, Angelica Velcrow, sister to Titus Purcious was at her toilette, combing her hair and squinting into a solid plate of polished copper. (Actually, she was sister-in-law to Titus whose brother Nero had legged it many years ago to join the legion, him being a sensible man who‘d rather face


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barbarians and hardship than stay another day with Angelica.) ‗But, why can‘t we have some?‘ she bleated. ‗All the other villas are having them installed.‘ Titus sighed. He knew this would happen. Once his burden found out the floor layers had been ordered for the Commander‘s villa, he had been counting the days, before she pressed him to order mosaics for their humble abode. ‗It‘s too expensive, my dear one.‘ ‗Rubbish. I want one,‘ the brushing started accelerating. The house slave holding the mirror tensed in anticipation. When the mistress wanted something most people gave in immediately to spare themselves days of pain and aggravation. ‗Even squares and simple twisted bands of tesserae cost a small fortune.‘ ‗Rubbish. I‘m not asking for tiny, tiny, tiny blocks just medium sized would do and no elaborate portraits of the gods, a simple boy riding on a dolphin would be fine. It‘s not much to ask. Your brother ...‘ ‗Yes, yes ...‘ said Titus leaving the table, his bread and wine untouched. He couldn‘t stomach another lecture on the failings of his departed sibling so early in the day. If truth were known, he‘d like to beat the living daylights out of the swine for dumping him with this loud mouthed woman, whose only saving grace was her devotion and love for Gias, the babe she had told everyone she had found floating in a basket and promptly adopted twenty years ago. ‗I‘ll ask them for a quotation,‘ he said as he left, ‗but no promises.‘ ‗Boy on a dolphin,‘ smiled Angelica setting down the brush as her electrified tresses exploded into static. ‗Boy on a dolphin,‘ muttered Titus as he squelched through the quagmire towards his office in the Vicus and pulled his cloak up over his head as the rain deluged down. ‗Boy on a dolphin.‘ The End of the Road The rain started before dawn and varied between ‗sodding rain‘ and ‗blow this for a game of soldiers‘. Maximus couldn‘t face the


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breakfast of cabbage porridge and contented himself with making everyone‘s life even more miserable until the menagerie was on the road to Trentbilious. The column arrived just after noon and Maximus made haste to Commander Fattassious Fattallis. ‗Where‘s the compound for the animals for the games, Commander? Some Briton Bluddschotticus asked us to come,‘ asked Maximus. ‗What compound, what animals? Oh, Bluddschotticus you say, he couldn‘t organise an orgy in the Temple of Venus. You‘ll have to build your own,‘ laughed Fattassious. Maximus strode off into the rain which just about boiled when it landed on his head. ‗Right you lot commandeer Plebs and Britons to build enclosures for the animals. If they don‘t help let half a dozen baboons loose in their house and take two lions as well for extra encouragement,‘ shouted Maximus. Some hours later Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious came back, having built a compound from the surrounding forest. Catharticus reported: ‗All animals housed, fed and mucked out. The baboons encouraged most people to help. Except for one house ‗that knew its rights‘; still that will reduce the food bill for the lions and free up a house for the slaves.‘ The rain continued enthusiastically. Maximus, Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious dripped their way to the bath house. ‗A good oiling, a really good scraping with a strigil and into the caldarium (hot bath) for a good soak,‘ enthused Catharticus. They arrived at the baths where things were not going well. The wood for heating the baths was wet, not surprisingly since the wood had only been cut last week and had not been helped by the unending rain. The fire was sulking and the chimney was belching smoke or more probably steam. The hot bath was cold, the tepid bath was colder and the cold bath really lived up to its name. Maximus stripped off, oiled himself, had a quick scrape and leaped into the ‗hot‘ bath. He screamed and leaped out again. At this point the dialogue will cease for a little while but the temperature in the hot bath room rose. The bath slaves, Smerkio and Belisha, ran for


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their lives. Our four trusty animal handlers were downcast and dripped their way to a nearby tabernium (fast food restaurant). They ordered a cheese and onion pizza with fish sauce (tomatoes hadn‘t been discovered yet) and some wine. Unfortunately, the pizza base was soggy, the cheese mouldy and the onions had died some years ago. Don‘t ask about the wine. ‗That does it,‘ screamed Minibus, ‗cold bath, rain, pizza made from smelly socks and grass, fish sauce that tastes like carp (he was never good at his letters) and wine made from vinegar and cat pee.‘ The others just wept into their wine. It may take a soothsayer to predict the future but the next day does not look good for the Bluddschotticus household. Meanwhile Somewhere in the Woods Three foot soldiers trudged unwillingly through undergrowth, hacking away at weeds and thorns as they made slow progress south. ‗Ouch!‘ Number One yelled, having got tangled in a bramble. ‗Don‘t be such a baby!‘ Number Two snapped, unsympathetically. ‗You‘ll never make centurion grade if you can‘t put up with a thorn prick!‘ ‗It might be a good idea if we were to fan out a bit.‘ Number Three suggested. ‗We‘ll cover more ground that way.‘ ‗Hmm. Get back to camp quicker too.‘ Numbers One and Three nodded. He continued, ‗You go off in that direction…‘ pointing south-east, ‗you go that way…‘ pointing south west… and I‘ll keep going on this course. If you find anything, call out. It MUST be round here somewhere. Stands to reason.‘ ‗Reason doesn‘t come into it!‘ Number One asserted, wandering off to the left. After ten minutes or so, he heard voices. He stopped to listen. Not the voices of his two compatriots, that was for sure. He didn‘t recognize these voices. ‗My bunions are killing me! All this tramping!‘ one said. ‗Don‘t be such a baby.‘ Another commented, ‗You‘ll never make centurion if you can‘t cut a bit of foot slogging.‘


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‗Not so sure I want to,‘ the first voice retorted. ‗It MUST be around here somewhere, surely?‘ a third voice implored. ‗Stands to reason!‘ the other two said in unity. ‗Reason doesn‘t come in to it!‘ the first insisted, stumbling through a pothole, hidden by a thick patch of docks. He looked up, and saw Number One standing in front of him. He grabbed at the knife, hanging from his belt. ‗Who in Zeus‘s name are YOU?‘ ‗Whoa, soldier!‘ Number One held his hands up in submission. ‗Just a poor footpad like your good self.‘ Zeus‘s friend continued to regard Number One with suspicion. ‗What do you want?‘ ‗Sounds crazy, I know, but a road.‘ ‗A road? What sort of road?‘ the aggressive one asked. ‗Well, I myself am not fussy. But one going vaguely north /south from Deva to Londinium is what I‘m required to find.‘ The inquisitor‘s eyes grew wide. ‗That‘s strange. We‘re looking for that road too!‘ blurted out Zeus‘s friend‘s friend. ‗Quiet, you fool! Don‘t give anything away until we can be sure of his credentials. Information is power!‘ Just then he was interrupted by the arrival of Number Two and Three on the scene. ‗We were wondering where you were. You were meant to keep in touch by shouting, but it all went quiet. We thought you‘d fallen into a bog or something.‘ Zeus‘s friend brandished the knife again. By way of reply, Number One nodded his head in the direction of Zeus‘s friend. ‗They with you?‘ ‗Yes, friend. They a part of the search party too.‘ ‗Searching for….you?‘ ‗No. For the ROAD! I told you!‘ ‗Strictly speaking,‘ Number Two interjected, ‗for the road AND YOU.‘ ‗Look, can‘t you just accept that we are all on the same fool‘s er-


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rand, and then we can join forces to solve this, and get back to barracks asap?‘ Everyone but Zeus‘s friend nodded vigorously in agreement. ‗Well… so be it,‘ he said reluctantly, feeling his leadership under challenge. ‗We have a road up there behind me… about one quarter mile away to the north east.‘ ‗And we have a road down there behind me… about one quarter mile away to the south west!‘ Zeus‘s friends shrieked in triumph. ‗Great! Let‘s get back home to a nice glass of ale!‘ Number One suggested. ‗But hang on. Aren‘t they meant to meet up?‘ Number Three queried. ‗Let me see… that wasn‘t our brief.‘ Number One consulted a stone tablet removed from a pouch hanging from his waist. ‗No, as I thought, the job description makes no mention. So, I suggest you lot walk back to where you bit ends, and mark the spot with a pole, and we‘ll walk back to where our bit finishes, and mark the spot with a post. Then we‘ll high-tail it back to camp and leave the rest for others to sort out.‘ He grinned, as did the rest of the company. Zeus‘s friends had already headed off to do the deed, with no word of farewell. Number One tutted disapprovingly. ‗These southerners. Stuck up lot. They think nothing exists north of Watford Gap.‘ ‗Well, does anything?‘ Number Two asked nervously. The Call of the Lion The roar rent the air like a knife. Teflonicus sat bolt upright in his cot. He sniffed. Yes, it was. It really was. He hadn‘t smelled that smell in many a long year, not since his boyhood. Lions. Definitely, lions. The early dawn call of the alpha male, that unmistakable hot stink layering the air. Titus heard it too as he squelched through the Vicus towards his place of work. ‗They‘ve arrived then,‘ he grumbled as he pushed through the soaked curtain. Teflonicus, who lived on site, stumbled into the main


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office rubbing his eyes to see Titus shaking rain from his cloak. ‗And, they‘ll be wanting paying ...‘ said Teflonicus trying to look concerned. ‗Good job they were killing swine yesterday,‘ Titus mused. If there was one thing of certainty regarding a menagerie it cost a lot to feed it. ‗They‘re much too early. It‘s another two weeks to the games.‘ ‗Fourteen days. The ides of March,‘ added Gias helpfully, a tiny squeak from his corner cubbyhole. He had a secret. He was bubbling with excitement to tell it. ‗I know, I know,‘ grumbled Titus still smarting from his domestic difficulties, boy on a bloody dolphin indeed, only the most expensive mosaic pattern conceivable and way above his pay scale, that was if they ever were paid, ever again. ‗Does Bluddschotticus know they‘ve arrived?‘ asked Teflonicus. ‗That lion‘s a bit of a clue,‘ cheeked Gias. ‗And, the Gladiators will be coming if the road‘s got here ...‘ ‗How‘s he going to pay them?‘ moaned Titus as the boy‘s words struck home ... the road from Londinium must have arrived or how else could the animals have got here on the old track? But, where was it? Where was the road? ‗Has anyone been to the amphitheatre?‘ asked Gias, who was being really annoying that morning. ‗Why?‘ said Teflonicus scratching his chin, he needed a shave and a quaff of ale all this bad news so early in the day was upsetting his equilibrium. ‗Been raining in the night again.‘ ‗No, no,‘ said Titus, the full horror of the situation coming into view. Gias added, ‗Oh yes. The spring that feeds the bathhouse is well backed up. Nobody cleared the ditch, did they?‘ ‗So it‘s flooded into the amphitheatre?‘ sighed Teflonicus. ‗How deep?‘ ‗Deep enough for it to be full of baby crocodiles, and still rising,‘ grinned the boy trying not to laugh. Grown-ups were funny they took everything so seriously.


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Road Works 'She wants what?' Gnaeus Musius Habeous spluttered into his cup of wine. 'It'll cost a packet to do that!' 'I did say it wouldn't be cheap, bro. Didn't give her a price of course, said I'd have to check with me contacts first, like. You think Tarquine's up to it?' 'Maybe. If he's back from Londinium o' course. Course I wouldn't say as how he's the right bloke for the job. Good with ancient Greek gods; but fancy pavements!? 'Got the wrong Tarquine there, bro! I'm thinking of cousin Gallicus. 'The Gaul?! No way. Just look at the mess he made of floor in the council chamber entrance.' 'Habeous, he got that right! Just what they asked for there; not a tile out of line there, even the old magistrates agreed.' 'Yes; but the council asked for a guardian in that hallway and what did he give them? ―Beware of the Dog‖ and the picture of a dog on a lead. Not the same thing at all.' 'But we got paid for it, bro. Anyway, I've got him a three day painting job.' 'Go on - tell me what it is.' 'Big money Bro, big money. Election stuff! We've been retained to paint this year���s election slogans on the walls of the Theatre. Two gold pieces a throw, we provide the paint and brushes; all we've got to do is talk Gallicus into it for one gold piece for the lot. Easy!' After another slurp on the wine Habeous sighed and said, 'Corpus! He can't read or write, not properly, he's good with a brush but …'


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'Tush, bro, tush! You get your pen out an' write it out, clear like, for him to copy. Simple that.' 'Okay then, who are we plugging this year?' 'It's an old mate of yours, Habeous. One you went to school with; not that you'd ever admit it of course.' 'Not Bluddschotticus!? Who'd want to sponsor him? He's a clown!' 'The fish sauce makers, of course, who else did you think? Wording to the usual formula.' 'I know … I'd like it to be something else but it'll have to be the dreary, ―The Fish Sauce Makers Club supports Bluddschotticus Nigellos for Magistrate, he will look after your money‖. What that means is that it'll end up in his purse instead of somebody else‘s. Who's standing against him?' 'No idea.' 'He sounds good! I'll vote for him instead. What's for dinner?' 'Mutton braised in fish sauce, beans and mashed carrot.' 'Sacrificial lamb I suppose?' 'You're joking! No way do the Vestigial Virgins give that to the poor. No, I found this one wandering about all lonely. Feeling poorly it was. Right off its food as well. I did the best I could, but, I had to bury it in case others caught it. Very sad it was … should taste good though.' In the Swim A scream, followed by many screams woke Maximus from a dream about warm Roman sunshine and dry feet. He shouted: ‗Catharticus what the merry Hades is going on?‘ ‗Some baboons escaped and let out the hippos and crocodiles.‘ ‗Get the others and don‘t hang about,‘ ordered Maximus. He met them outside and was greeted by mayhem. Britons chasing baboons, baboons chasing Britons, interspersed by baboons and Britons fleeing from enraged hippos and crocodiles. ‗Damn it, where are the rest of the hippos and crocs?‘ he shouted above the uproar. ‗In the amphitheatre, it flooded in the night,‘ he was informed by


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Infectious. ‗Get nets, boats and grab some Britons to help. I‘ll meet you there.‘ Luckily the Britons had coracles and nets because they fished in the nearby river Trent. Half an hour later it was like being back in good the old Roman Coliseum apart from the cold and rain. Boats chasing hippos and crocodiles and vice versa. Boats being overturned, screams as the swimmers swam for their lives. Two hours later Minibus reported back. ‗All the animals are back in cages, a few Britons bitten, two slaves eaten by the crocodiles, Infectious has a sprained ankle and I have a nosebleed.‘ Maximus was furious ‗Someone is going to pay for this,‘ he fumed. ‗Funny you should mention that?‘ replied Catharticus. ‗Why?‘ ‗Well, some bloke called Titus was charging people to see us capturing the hippos and crocs.‘ ‗What!‘ Maximus screamed, it was day for screaming. ‗Polish my armour and yours, sharpen all our swords. We‘ll pay him a visit, he can pay for the food bill for the animals,‘ he ordered. Temple Upon Temple Having paid evening homage by shutting up the shrine to the Goddess, Queen of Heaven, the cult adopted upon Rome‘s addition of Egypt to its empire. The shaven head priests went to their quarters, and priestesses to theirs. Isadora went through the door in the wall behind the temple courtyard, going into another temple and health sanctuary complex to the God of Healing, Asclepius, a further adopted cult from another of Rome‘s empire acquisitions, of Greece. At the far end was the lavish townhouse villa of her and her husband, Galenodorius, the physician, also from Greece. The tables had been set by the kitchen slaves, before each well cushioned reclining sofas.


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Galenodorius turned, ‗How‘s your day been, my love?‘ ‗Quite profitable, but the British cold air is putting folk off going about.‘

‗But the cold, damp British spring is bringing many customers here to the massage treatment to unknot pained and seized neck, back and knees, and the ills of feet and ankles injured by long marches along the coming new roads.‘ Their son Hilarius the cheerful joined them, along with his wife, a retired Vestal Virgin, Psyche. Soon they were enjoying their lavish meal and goblets of wine, poured by attending slaves from pitchers. ‗The council have requested a music recital and part of a mime from a farce comedy, as part of the celebrations for the roads joining up, and I‘ll put up that temporary wooden stage and skene aback and side of it out by the road. I‘ve got time to spruce up my skene of the tall architectural timber façade of a fine Roman two storey villa. My slaves are hollowing out a space to house the theatre and make the tiered semi-circular seating in front of the orchestra area for the musicians, choir and dancers,‘ informed Hilarius.


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Galenodorius replied, ‗Your mother and I will lead a ritual procession, with dance and music through the Vicus to the joined up roads, in celebration of them finishing.‘ ‗Let us pray it is not the usual weather of these northern primitive lands,‘ chuckled Hilarius. A Note Dear Reader: Next we meet Honoria Libida who runs a house of easy virtue called Villa Ortu Solis ('The House of the Rising Sun'). A Narrow Escape Maximus, Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious marched off into the rain. Maximus asked, ‗Where does this Titus Purcious live?‘ ‗Dunno‘ replied Catharticus. Maximus asked a passing Briton who, unfortunately for him, was a bit of a joker. ‗Excuse me do you know where Titus Purcious lives?‘ ‗Yes thank you,‘ replied the smirking Briton and walked off, but not far. He stopped when a very sharp sword point was pushed up his nose. ‗It would be very good for your health, if you could help us, sir,‘ smiled Catharticus. ‗Certainly, certainly, follow me,‘ gulped the comedian. Two steps later and the procession stopped. From the bath house came cries of humanity in distress followed by a stream of dressed, half dressed and undressed men chased by a hungry crocodile. ‗I thought you caught them all,‘ shouted Maximus. ‗So did I,‘ said Minibus. ‗How many crocs did you catch Infectious?‘ asked Maximus. ‗Nineteen.‘ ‗You silly private (a rough translation from the Latin), we brought twenty,‘ said Maximus. ‗Oops!‘ grinned Catharticus. As the trusty quartet watched there came even more screams but issuing from the Villa Ortu Solis owned and run by Honoria Libida. ‗What the Hades is going on now?‘ asked Maximus


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At this point several young ‗ladies‘, also in various stages of undress, ran by. Catharticus grabbed one and asked, ‗What‘s the problem miss?‘ ‗A great hairy man came in and none of us want to ‗entertain‘ him,‘ she whimpered. ‗I bet a ruddy gorilla has escaped now,‘ said Minibus. ‗Right Minibus, go with Catharticus a catch that croc. Infectious you come with me to the Villa Ortu Solis,‘ ordered Maximus. After a wild croc chase the crocodile was netted and put back in its cage. Minibus and Catharticus were exhausted, went back to their hut and had a large drink of wine. Meanwhile, Maximus and Infectious went to Honoria‘s villa to see what was going on. Honoria was a well matured ‗lady‘ who ran a tight ship. She looked after young ladies who always seemed to have a plentiful supply of ‗admirers‘. She regretted that the same was not true for her. Maximus and Infectious went in through the open door and were bowled over by a terrified gorilla. The gorilla legged it down the street as if chased by a man-eater; well, it was not far wrong. Down the stairs came an unhappy Honoria. ‗Have you seen my friend? I took him into my room, took off my toga and got ready to entertain him, when he ran away,‘ she sighed. Honoria took a good look at our intrepid zoo keepers and said, ‗Ah, two strapping soldiers, come with me and I can give you a good time.‘ The two brave soldiers looked at each other and ran; the gorilla was overtaken by Maximus and Infectious shortly afterwards. Much later all four soldiers retired to bed, worn out. Titus Purcious did not know how lucky he was. Pick Your Own Hercules, the elephant, was bored and hungry; he raised his trunk and sniffed the air. The smell of apples, the last of the winter store, tickled his palate. The following thoughts passed slowly through his mind: Apples, hmm, tasty. What‘s in my trough? Hmmm, mouldy hay


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and dirty water. Hmmm. Sod it, I‘m off out of this dump.‘ Hercules pushed over the fence. Trunk raised, he tramped his way to the barn containing the apples, eating thatch off of the Britons‘ huts as he passed by. The barn door was bolted but a quick nudge opened the door and Hercules munched his way through the apples. Trunk raised and a good sniff sent more messages to Hercules‘ brain. Cabbages, hmm, tasty. I‘m still hungry. Off went Hercules through the fields with the barn door frame still round his neck. Hercules perambulations had not gone unnoticed. A three ton, ten foot high animal walking through a Vicus, eating roofs, trampling gardens and wrecking barns caused another civil disorder for Maximus and company to sort out. A frantic hammering at the door roused Maximus from his sleep. A Briton shouted: ‗An elephant has escaped and is eating everything.‘ Maximus burst into tears and called out, ‗Minibus, Catharticus, Infectious sort it out.‘ He pulled the bedclothes over his head and wept some more. Meanwhile, Hercules wandered off for more food. Hmmm, I smell a garden with some nice shrubs to eat. Hmmm a clean pond too. Nigellos Bluddschotticus was proud of his garden; it had a walkway around it, shrubs in the middle and right in the centre a pond and fountain. Hercules pushed over the entrance pillars and gate, ate a few shrubs and settled down for a wallow in the pond. Nigellos, alerted by the crash of the gateway, ran into the garden and shouted at Hercules. An unfortunate action. Hercules filled his trunk and gave Nigellos the ancient equivalent of a jet wash. Catharticus was first on the scene, Hercules recognised him and ran off. Nigellos shouted, ‗You are going to pay for this.‘ Catharticus replied, ‗Hang on, you haven‘t paid for the animals for the games yet, just take it off of our bill which runs into the thousands of denarii.‘ Nigellos ran inside and locked the door. He had forgotten he was


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paying for the animals at the games. Hercules ran happily through the Vicus only pausing to eat the occasional roof. On the way he passed the state Bank, an imposing building. He decided to leave a large deposit at the Bank which took a long time to remove. Catharticus called the others and chased Hercules back to his compound. Hercules was content, he was not hungry he had had a good wash and had a bit of fun as well. He was thinking: Hmmm, what fun shall I have tomorrow. Our zoo keepers locked the door, drank a lot of wine and added several hundred denarii on to bill of Bluddschotticus.


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Road Trip Blues Marpellius Domestios, nicknamed ―Squeaky‖ by the Ninth Legion because of their Commander was a stickler for cleanliness, some went as far as to say he was ―clean round the bend‖, was not happy. He was swallowing a sickly feeling and had gone green about the gills. Every step in the swaying litter he had been forced into using was disturbing the wine, oysters and olives he had enjoyed for his breakfast. Each bounce was an affront to a volatile temper. ‗Stop! Stop, I say,‘ he yelled, drawing back the curtain and adjusting the cushion under pained buttocks. A face appeared as the curtain opened: ‗You called, governor?‘ asked the centurion guardsman unlucky enough to draw bier duty. ‗Of course I called, you idiot. Fetch my horse.‘ ‗Is that wise, sir? You know what happened yesterday. Proper unfortunate ...‘ ‗I do not need you to remind me, nor my physician, not that useless soothsayer either. My backside has nothing to do with the Gods. I‘m sure they have more to do than concern themselves with my affliction ...‘ The guardsman thought the pain in his lordship‘s posterior hadn‘t dampened his volume levels. By now Marpellius was swinging a pair of hairy, matchstick legs over the sides of the swaying cot and pulling his toga about himself, probably a good idea as the Britannic rain was persisting down as usual. Torrents of downpour were all he could recall of Trentbilious, maybe not entirely all ... he had been a strutting young buck in those days after all. ‗Put a fleece on the saddle,‘ he shouted towards the retreating back of the centurion who was disappearing into the mist. A fist was raised in acknowledgement, then he was gone. As the column of soggy legionaries stamped and grumbled at yet another delay due to their illustrious leader‘s piles, an affliction which was common knowledge, Marpellius was alone with his thoughts staring into the mirk overlooking the settlement of St Albans. Hundreds of miles to ride horseback, it would be agony. ‗Trentbilious!‘ he muttered.


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‗What‘s it like, m‘lord?‘ ask Banksius, his servant, who was a shy spotty youth who avoided outside company and much preferred drawing and wall painting. He did a bit of freelancing as a mural artist and mosaic designer specialising in sea creatures not that there was much call for such creative works of art north of Londinium. ‗I‘ve only been there once,‘ he replied almost glad of the distraction. ‗I accompanied Hadrian on a tour many years ago.‘ ‗Anything of note?‘ shivered the youth. ‗I remember a girl, Angelica. Golden red hair, fiery temper. But, I expect she‘s long gone ...‘ Getting the Bird Maximus looked out of his window at the stars, it had been a whole eight hours without trouble. He relaxed and poured himself some wine. Unfortunately, Fortuna, the god of fate, had rolled her dice and got double six or more probably double thirteen. The ostriches had not taken kindly to the cold and damp, they wanted to be warmer and drier. A few of them had managed to squeeze out through the bars of their cages. In the dark they wandered about and found ostrich heaven, a chicken farm. They jumped over the fox-proof fence, went into the chicken warmed barn and started eating the chicken feed. The chickens went berserk and made a tremendous racket. ‗Owen the egg‘, as the locals called him, ran out of his house carrying a large club. ‗I bet a fox is in the chickens again, I‘ll get him this time.‘ He shouted and sprinted into the barn. He‘d never seen an ostrich and thought his chickens had grown somewhat. He shouted to his wife ‗Myfanwy what have you been feeding to the chickens? They are seven feet tall and have drumsticks as big as your father‘s backside.‘ Blodwen ran into the barn and replied ‗What are you moaning about, imagine the size of their eggs.‘ Fortuna rolled her dice again. You have guessed it, another double thirteen. Some of the escaped baboons had hidden in the roof of the barn. All the shouting had frightened them and they jumped down from the


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rafters and landed on the backs of the ostriches. The ostriches ran away with the baboons clinging on for dear life. Maximus was roused from his reverie as half a dozen ostriches and baboon riders ran past his window followed by more screaming Britons. He put down his cup, picked up the large wine jug, drank the whole lot, pulled his underpants over his head and was found later gibbering under his bed. Before Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious had caught the baboons and ostriches, Titus had seen an opportunity, started a book and called out, ‗Ten to one on the black ostrich winning the race.‘ He made quite a few denarii which he promptly lost when Infectious saw what he was doing. Titus found out that the pen is not mightier than the sword, unless it is six feet long, very sharp and poisoned. Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious plodded back home and mentally added five hundred denarii to the bill of Bluddschotticus. Divine Insurance Priestesses paid homage by fragrant incense from chain-swung censer over the flower-bedecked fane, as the virgin-choir gave gentle song, accompanied by hand-held harp, lyre, lute and double reed flute to honour the shrine to the Goddess, Queen of Heaven. The assembled dignitaries of Vicus and fort were spending their day gaining as much divine protection from Roman and Empire gods and goddesses as they could muster, going from temple to temple, service to service. The entwined painted carvings as if a gold-stemmed rosesbedecking arbour, were sweet scented with rose water. Amongst these sweet scented beautiful carvings lurked the almost real statues of cobra rearing snake and open-mouthed crocodile, symbols of the cult of the Goddess, Queen of Heaven, soft lit from a small round window as if lit by the moon. Flickering olive oil fuelled lamps were enhanced by the light reflected from gold paint at foot and head of bright painted columns, frames of murals on the walls, and the gold coins in a corner fountain‘s pool of donations seeking divine insurance.


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From inner sanctum emerged the High Priestess Isadora herself in full regalia for the occasion, of flowing purple ankle-length gown, golden breastplate and gold band holding rearing cobra figure at front, upon her head. And from the inner sanction rumbled a deep-throated sound that made the Roman guards of the camp commandant nervous. Was that what they thought it to be, so feared from Egypt‘s wide River Nile? The Racket 'The roadies are getting behind time, bro! The Ides are the target and that nobby bloke, what's he called? The Constant or somethin' init? Anyway, he's on his way up here, prob'ly get here next week. He'll want some classy entertainment!' 'We can do that, Corpus. No problem there, not at all!' Habeous counted them off on his fingers. 'We've got a set of: Musicians, we can't use the mutes and mourners of course. Flute girls and clowns, stand-up philosophers, dancers, mimes, all sorts of entertainment; and all ready to go at the drop of a denarius.' 'Maybe, Bro. Maybe. I mean we got cooks as well, but I wouldn't eat the food they turns out. I suppose – well – hmm, the dancers we got, neither of 'em's too bad but they gets mixed up with being clothes recyclers don't they?' Habeous nodded and replied, 'Wears a lot of 'em an' all. Now then, tell me, why the road gang are behind the times?' 'No stone at the job front, bro. No stone, no road. That bog they gotta go through is swallerin' all the rocks as fast as they throws 'em in.' 'But didn't that chap, the one with that surveyors‘ cross-staff thingy, tell us it were only knee deep?' 'Yer, he did. That's 'cos he'd broke 'is measuring rod and that were all the length of it he had left!' There was a considerable amount of ale quaffing, wine drinking, and head scratching, before; 'I got it bro! Easy! We tells 'em, ―Well go 'round it then! Never mind the keepin' it straight bit, find a way round it you plonkers!‖ Cheaper that way as well.'


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'Errm! Sort of, but what's Bluddschotticus going to say about us leaving the straight line. You know how he is with straight lines.' 'How would he know about it? He's as straight as a dog‘s hind leg anyway. Him puttin' up for magistrate this year, a low ranking one as well, proves that!' 'Well! You know what it says up at the council chambers, Cave Canem. Which fits him just nice as the dog to beware of?' ‗Does it Corpus? How do you reckon he‘ll do that then?‘ ‗Easy that! Stand still long enough and he‘ll widdle up your leg! Right then I‘m off to see them road wreckers. Tootle pip!‘ The Sacred Grotto Within the health sanctuary was a small temple carved into a rock from which emerged a waterfall, rising up from a spring welling up from deep underground. The waters were diverted then from the stream through stone channels to a font, then onwards again back down to nature. Isadora softly stirred the clear spring water in the font and slowly an image came into focus of a young girl full of fear and giving a warning sign of foreboding by hand and by frightened eyes, to escape, to flee. The image faded away. Isadora sat down dumbstruck at her vision, only to see a shadow pass over her, look up and see Athena Nike, goddess of wisdom and victory, in her usual Greek army helmet, breastplate and flowing gown, holding her shield, and with her spear, the goddess indicated towards an alcove niche in the temple wall. The goddess nodded to Isadora and vanished. Isadora went to the niche and held up her olive oil lamp, which revealed to her a small mosaic depicting a man stabbing another in the back. The calendar date was an Ides, a holiday in March. The funny thing was the man doing the stabbing seemed part beast, part man, and the victim stood on the strangest thing ever seen. A round road.


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The Plan Isadora was enjoying a drink of wine after dinner with her nephew, Aristarchos the Beast Master, visiting up from Londinium. ‗What on earth are you doing out of the city, here in the countryside at the edge of empire?‘ ‗I‘ve heard a family here has the effrontery to want a palace standard mosaic floor, that exquisite boy on a dolphin design.‘ ‗Yes, Ari.‘ ‗So it is him. His niece, Agnes the Chaste will be close by, locked in, never let out of their family villa.‘ ‗Locked. Poor soul.‘ ‗Yes, back in Rome her uncle caught her just in time before losing her amateur status.‘ ‗So how do you know of his niece?‘ ‗During our Rome master class residency to teach the Romans the finer points of mosaics, our villas were attached and a garden wall door wasn‘t as robust as thought. We came together by a hidden fountain of a golden dryad nymph, the beautiful tree spirit.‘ ‗You romantic fool. So how come you didn‘t ruin that poor girl‘s reputation and leave behind you a life-long reminder of your selfish whim.‘ He chuckled, ‗You Greek dramatic writer.‘ And then continued his tale, ‗I looked into those sparking brown eyes framed by long ebony hair cascading over,‘ ‗Enough, young man.‘ ‗Then I was smitten, my heart leaped, time stood still. I couldn‘t harm that innocent rose. So we held hands, entwined in agape not eros. Until one day, she vanished. I‘ve sought her across the empire since.‘ ‗So you intend to sue for her hand in marriage?‘ ‗No chance of that. She‘s promised to higher than the likes of us.‘ ‗So what‘s the plan, genius?‘ ‗I‘ve had a cancelled order so have the marble and other coloured stone tesserae ready. Already paid for by the non-refundable deposit.‘ Isadora smiled knowingly, ‗You rogue, but so what?‘


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‗I‘ll lay a mosaic floor fit for a Caesar‘s palace in Rome itself and might even lay marble and coloured glass mosaic on the walls to make them shimmer whenever the sun shines in this grey land, and beggar her father, unless he offers his niece to me.‘ ‗I hope she‘s worth it?‘ Oh Now I realise Isadora came suddenly awake and reached and looked again at the small framed mosaic of the part man part beast depicted as stabbing a man in the back. Looking again at the creature, she realised it was indeed the son of her Goddess Queen of Heaven, being Sobek Psosnaus, the crocodile headed god, which also had the attributes of being a healer and warding off evil and defending the innocent, in his protection of rebirth of the just dead in their after life, but also to punish the sinful


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deceased. So Sobek Psosnaus depicted on the mosaic was not killing a mortal man, but punishing the evil dead. But what of the vision of the young girl with frightened eyes warning to flee? Escape from what, from whom? And why did Athena Nike come to her in a vision to show her the place where the mosaic had been hidden? Defending the innocent? Athena Nike was also a protector of towns, Isadora thought, and of the craftsmen within the town, the weavers, the potters and others such crafts people. The man depicted on the mosaic was not wearing Roman attire, but some primitive clothing. What was it? Then it came to her, they were those barbarian Britons. The Britons, trying to attack the town? What a silly idea, but yet the gods were giving warning against those who did human sacrifice and ate their beaten foe. Isadora set about her temple duties to start her day, but then hurried to warn the camp commandant of the impending doom. Cold Night Bulch stayed staring into space until he became aware of the freezing night wind. A moment before his blood congealed completely he jumped up, shook himself and forced his legs to run down the hill towards home. Past the swaying oak grove he ran, past the big ash trees and into the open, past bedraggled beet fields and leeks and turnips, past Bertha‘s and the shops and the baths, over where the new road was supposed to be and into the home straight. The path became tangled with brambles and twisting stems of spring honeysuckle. Pale stars of daffodils were ghosts in the moonlight. Bulch refused to let himself wonder how many fairies were grinning at him from their cups as his feet stumbled through thorny stems and treacherous vines. Suddenly he heard a cry. His hair stood upright. It was a moan from the side of the path. He‘d been warned about such things, all local children were. Along with the Will o‘ the Wisps that lured folk from proper paths with a light there were these much more


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dangerous Will o‘ the Whisperers that used sound. For sounds can prick one‘s conscience as lights never can. This sound was definitely pricking Bulch‘s. It sounded for all the world like a girl crying, a sound Bulch could not stand. He tried to continue forward, away from it, but found he couldn‘t move. It was not the chaos of brambles and vines on the path, it was something within him. I am bewitched, he realised, and knew himself to be lost. Ah, cruel father, he thought, to give up your son to the twylwyth teg in return for a little strength. But there was absolutely nothing he could do about it so he stood straight, threw out his chest and strode forth to meet his fate. The sound was coming from where a tangle of low branches shedded down from a tree across a ditch, making a snug shelter. So this is where they live, he thought. He had to admit he‘d expected something a trifle less ordinary. Anyway, he supposed they‘d know he was there so he just stood in the moonlight and waited. Nothing happened. The sounds made no signs of abating and Bulch‘s discomfort with them increased. At last he could stand it no longer. He had come, for goodness‘ sake, why would they continue to torture him when there was no need? He was ready to be as co-operative as they could wish. He‘d do anything if only that crying would cease. At last he could not stop himself. Bending low he parted the branches, stuck his head through and said, ‗I‘m here.‘ There was a scream. Bulch jumped, as did the inhabitant of the shelter. She looked like a girl, about his age, with a dirty tear-streaked face and ragged dress. She stared at him. ‗I‘ve come,‘ he said. She continued to stare. ‗Who are you?‘ she asked at length. ‗I‘m Bulch, son of Bungo. My father bargained me away for strength. ‗What?‘ ‗He gave me to you so you‘d give him strength to make the Romans go away.‘ ‗He never.‘ ‗He must have done.‘ ‗He never.‘


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There was a long pause. ‗Then how did he manage to lift all those logs and throw them in the river?‘ She resumed staring. ‗You should have seen him,‘ said Bulch desperately. ‗No ordinary humans could have done what he and Fred Overhill did with those logs. Lifting them one by one and carrying them away like that.‘ Suddenly she burst out crying again. ‗He sounds like Hercules,‘ she sobbed. ‗Yes,‘ said Bulch hastily. ‗That‘s exactly what I thought. Hercules. That big statue the Romans worship for his muscles. I didn‘t know how he did it, where he got the strength...‘ ‗But all elephants can move logs.‘ ‗All what?‘ ‗Elephants. We‘ve brought some up for the games. I didn‘t want to bring Hercules because he‘s my friend...‘ ‗What‘s an elephant?‘ said Bulch. Now had he and his friends been less fond of confinement to the fireside couch he might have been aware of the circus his uncle Nigellos Bluddschotticus had yesterday imported for the games he was arranging to celebrate the opening of the new road. Had his knowledge of current affairs transcended Bertha‘s ale house he might have known what was held deep in the woods beyond the boundary ditch, and had he analysed the sounds on last night‘s air instead of merely assuming it was Brad and Brian saying goodnight as usual, he might have investigated and found that quite a few chunky four legged grey headless Mari Lwyds were in fact to be found not a million miles away. And had he asked in the right quarter he would have learned their generic name. But he hadn‘t, so the girl had to explain. Then she resumed her sobbing. ‗They‘ll kill him, they always do. And he knows. That‘s why he broke out. And I don‘t blame him, I would have helped him, even though my father will beat me. I was supposed to be looking after them all while he went to the alehouse. I don‘t care if I‘m beaten, but I don‘t know where Hercules is. He mightn‘t be safe you see. He can‘t swim very well and if he falls in the river he‘ll drown.‘ Fresh tears overcame her and Bulch felt his nerves shredding like


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bark from a birch tree. ‗Stop,‘ he pleaded. ‗Please stop crying. I know where he is. I‘ll take you to him. I‘ll show you the ford where you can walk across with him and let him go free on the other side. He can get up into the high hills where they‘ll never find him. He‘ll be safe. And you can go with him if you like. It‘s easy to live in the hills if you know what you‘re doing.‘ Oh Let Us Wallow Our intrepid animal handlers slept well after all the excitement of the camel race, as did the baboons. Maximus‘s first words of the day were, ‗Anybody seen Hercules?‘ ‗No boss‘, replied Catharticus, ‗he‘s vanished.‘ ‗Well at least it is quiet, let‘s have some food‘ answered Minibus, tempting fate. ‗Pass the bread and honey,‘ said Infectious. ‗Anyone fancy some dates or olives?‘ queried Maximus. The room went quiet as breakfast was eaten. An ominous silence spread over the Vicus followed by the now familiar leitmotif of Britons running and screaming. ‗Not again, what animals have escaped now?‘ asked Minibus. His question was answered quickly as Britons ran past the window followed by some happy hippos. The market of the day before had reconvened to make up for lost trade. The hippos hit town with a simple shopping list which comprised cabbages, apples and any root crops in season. Maximus went out to survey the damage. The market stalls were scattered and most of them were now fit for the hypocaust. Thus, at least the wood sellers were happy. The biblical expression ‗wailing and gnashing of teeth‘ was apt, all the stall holders were gathering up any unbroken wares. The men were gnashing and their wives wailing or was it the other way round? ‗How in Hades did they get out?‘ screamed Maximus. By the way, Maximus now had a sore throat from all the screaming and was gargling with honey in hot water several times a day. The hippos escaped by simple expedient of charging the gate of their compound.


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Not many gates can stand up to a high speed animal weighing nearly two tons. Again the wood sellers were on the spot, blessing the menagerie for making their fortunes. Off ran the weary animal collectors chasing the hippos, who were running off their large breakfast. The lead hippo raised his nose and smelt the nearby river and trotted off happily; he fancied a nice postprandial drink, swim and wallow. On the way he sniffed again, detected some water much closer than the river and smelt his favourite nibbles of the British reed sweetgrass, which grows nicely on the sides of ponds and lakes. Can you guess where he is leading the herd? Well done. A few minutes later the hippos were having a good time swimming, eating and wallowing in Nigellos Bluddschotticus‘ garden. Perhaps garden was not a good description, it looked like the after effects of a stampede of wild elephants; the soil was in heaps, the shrubs trampled flat and the pond was muddy. Nigellos was looking out of his window, also eating breakfast, when the hippos charged in and dived into his pond. He burst into tears, wailed, gnashed, had to be put to bed and given a large sedative. Astride camels, Maximus and crew rounded up the hippos, retired to their house and got very drunk, or as they say in Latin, totally crapulatus. The Power Play It must be serious when Titus Purcious and Nigellos Bluddschotticus were holding a pow-wow. It was well known the two men couldn‘t stand the sight of each other. Titus hated the Magistratus‘s delusions of grandeur for which he had to find the money. ‗How much?‘ Titus lips hardly opened, it was more like a quiver, because his jaw was clamped so tight. ‗A few animals, not much at all, a few bales of hay, a couple of pigs.‘ Titus then drew out a scroll hidden in the folds of a poorman‘s wannabe lookalike toga and proceeded to read a list of the damage


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done by the monkeys, the crocodiles and the elephant. After a sharp intake of breath, he continued: ‗The bill for accommodations and provisions so far in the one day has exhausted the budget for the entire games. Where does the money for the next thirteen days come from?‘ Nigellos was doing his best to look bored. It wasn‘t working very well, he was sweating profusely and knocking back a jug full of the local red. (Which wasn‘t at all bad considering the rotgut plonk was from vines growing this far north.) Titus had the high moral ground and he wasn‘t giving it up: ‗And then there‘s those three Gladiators you‘ve ordered. Who‘s paying for them? If ‗you‘ want things ‗you‘ have to pay for them.‘ ‗Since when?‘ said an outraged voice and Viola flounced into the room. ‗My husband was commissioned, yea commissioned, by Fattassious Fattallis himself to ensure these celebrations to mark the joining of the roads were spectacular.‘ ‗So I‘ll bill him then, shall I?‘ smirked Titus. ‗Or better, I‘ll send all the invoices to the Fort paymaster for payment.‘ ‗No ...‘ shrieked Nigellos. ‗No don‘t do that. I‘ll get back to you.‘ ‗Ciao,‘ said Titus bowing to Viola as he strode out of the Magistratus courtyard and into the muddy forum in high dudgeon. Maximus Gets the Hump, or the camels are coming, hurrah, hurrah. ‗Where‘s Hercules?‘ inquired Maximus, he was worried. ‗He disappeared in the night and hasn‘t been seen since,‘ replied Infectious ‗Five tons of animal with a huge appetite and nobody has seen him?‘ ‗No, boss. He‘s just disappeared.‘ Maximus was about to get more worried. Both speakers became aware of a lot of noise in the distance. Several Britons ran past, followed by some Roman citizens. They were not best pleased, running in a toga is difficult, rather like trying to put a duvet in its cover with one hand behind your back.


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‗What‘s going on?‘ asked Maximus, looking puzzled. At that point several horses and carts came past. Whatever the speed limit was in the Vicus, the carts were exceeding it. In fact chariot drivers at the hippodrome would have been pleased to get up to that speed. The cart drivers were holding on tight, most with their eyes shut, praying for something soft to land on and hoping to stop near the latrina. ‗What the blazes is going on now?‘ Maximus screamed. He found out. The baboons had escaped again and after discovering the joys of ostrich racing they had branched out into camel racing. The two humped camels seemed to be the favourite mount for the baboons, the one humped camels were harder to sit on. So, past Maximus galloped the camel corps. The two humped camels each

with a baboon between the humps and an occasional one humped camel with a baboon hanging upside down on its neck.


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It was market day and on each circuit of the Vicus the camels had frightened more animals. In addition to the horse and carts, were sheep, cows, the occasional dog and some extremely angry bulls. Some chickens came along for the ride and sat on the camels‘ heads. It was like the circus parade with attitude. Anyone venturing into the street either ran very quickly or became intimately acquainted with the road surface. Eventually the camels ran out of puff and fancied a drink and a feed. Remember Hercules? Remember that Nigellos Bluddschotticus‘ garden had no gate but did have shrubs and a nice pond? Nigellos had heard the rumpus and looked out of his portico. He soon ran inside again when about thirty camels rummaged through his garden, eating his shrubs and drinking out of the pond. Maximus, Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious arrived with many slaves and herded the camels back to their compound. Nigellos ran out and shouted, ‗What are going to do about the damage? I‘ll send you a bill that‘ll make your eyes water.‘ ‗A bill, a bill? When are you going to pay us?‘ replied Maximus with a dangerous glint in eye. ‗I‘ll tell you what, we‘ll put up all the animals in your garden until you pay us,‘ he added, reaching for his sword. Nigellos ran back inside and visited the latrina. A Man in His Cups It didn‘t take Teflonicus very long to establish Minibus wasn‘t the sharpest knife in the box. A jug full of home grown Viroconium, last year‘s vintage, vino da plonko did its work well. The taverna was going round and round and Trentbilious was the most beautiful city in the whole wide Roman empire. ‗Tell me my friend,‘ he whispered across the table in a bar so dark and dingy only the roughest rogues frequented it, and where Teflonicus, obviously, had a slate. ‗Friend, yes, yes you are my friend. My friend indeed, you are,‘ slurred Minibus. ‗Where‘s the road ending?‘ it sounded a perfectly normal question. ‗Where? Where‘s what road?‘


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Suppressing the desire to throttle the fool, Teflonicus tried another tack: ‗You walked the animals up from Londinium...‘ ‗All the way. Long way. All along the new road. Very nice. Bit rough. Not worn in yet,‘ he added talking and drinking at the same time. ‗Then what?‘ ‗Ahh ... I see. I see indeed,‘ Minibus grinned, his legs rocking on the bar stool. ‗And, then what happened?‘ ‗We walked along the forest track, of course.‘ ‗Forest track? How far?‘ Minibus waved the empty jug for a refill, which was impressive. Teflonicus would have congratulated the fat oaf on his capacity if this information wasn‘t so important. ‗Last leg, oh about five Roman miles I‘d say before ...‘ the refill arrived in the shape of a comely wench with a knowing wink at Teflonicus, who was too distracted to notice. ‗Before what?‘ ‗Before we headed north then we were here, of course.‘ ‗North? You had to change direction and come north?‘ There was a thud. Spark out Minibus‘s head had hit the table. The interrogation was over. Teflonicus threw a denarius at the Tavern keeper, who bit the coin and couldn‘t believe his good fortune, as he scurried out into the night; should he wake Titus to tell him his worst fears were true? This was indeed terrible news. The Deva section of Watling Street was coming to meet the Londinium section at Trentbilious as were two southern minor roads. It was already being rumoured in the Vicus that the Deva section was running a bit high and could miss, but now if the Londinium section was both low and coming in too far to the south and would miss without a right-angled turn, what did it mean? Could the two ends under construction not meet at all? Whoever heard of a Roman legionary road with two right-angled turns? Did Bluddschotticus know? Had he got a plan? At which point Teflonicus became distracted by the wandering soothsayer Cassandra carrying a lamp: ‗The Ides. Beware the Ides of


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March,‘ she was shouting as she dodged vessels of unknown liquids being thrown at her from upper storey windows. Teflonicus had a gut feeling that the bedraggled foreteller of doom might well be right. The Call of the Wild Followed by More Trouble. Hera, the elephant, was pining, her mate Hercules been gone for several days. She wouldn‘t eat or drink and was in decline. Then, during the night she heard Hercules trumpeting in the distance. Hera pricked up her ears and listened. Yes! It was Hercules calling. She put her head down and pushed open the gate of her compound and slipped away into the night, following the distant sound of Hercules calling. The next day the Maximus and company awoke with headaches and felt dreadful. It did not help when a slave knocked on the door to report more missing animals. In the night a female elephant called Hera has escaped and four ostriches had gone missing too. ‗Only five animals missing,‘ said Maximus, ‗I‘m going back to bed.‘ He managed another half an hour before there was a loud knocking at the door. ‗Oh dear me,‘ said Maximus. That is a rough translation from the Latin. ‗Special delivery for Maximus Gluteus,‘ said the wagon driver with DTS on his coat. ‗Sign here,‘ he said presenting a wax tablet. ‗What are you delivering?‘ asked Maximus ‗Twenty zebras, fifteen bears, and twenty five wild boars,‘ came the reply. ‗Don‘t tell me, let me guess. A bloke called Nigellos Bluddschotticus has ordered them for the games,‘ sighed Maximus. ‗That‘s right, they‘re in the wagons outside,‘ replied the delivery driver who jumped on to his horse and galloped off. ‗Right everyone out of bed, no breakfast, get the slaves and build some more compounds,‘ ordered Maximus.

Note: DTS - Decuria Tres Semi - A delivery firm ‗Group three and a half‘


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Teflonicus Springs into Action Teflonicus was sweating. It was early morning. The sounds and smells of the Vicus were growling along at ground level they hadn‘t started the thunderous riot of noise of a normal day. The stalls in the Forum weren‘t awake yet, the market wasn‘t alive with the cries of the bread vendors, the butchers hadn‘t yet begun the daily cull of wise-eyed beast. The aroma of newly baked bread was reaching his nostrils and reminding him he was yet to break his fast. He was hurrying, his sandals slipping on dew covered grass: before he started making wild accusations he needed to check things out. Was the Deva road coming in too high? Exactly how far south of where it should be was the Londinium section? The only way to find out was to go there himself. He needed to go south west and then to go north east. He needed to borrow a horse. He had never actually ridden a horse before but how hard could it be? Then the Gods smiled and he saw a familiar face in the gloom: Smerkio, the slave from the bathhouse was creeping out of the taverna and wrapping his greasy body in a big toga-esk garment. ‗Ciao, Smerkio. Hail and well met.‘ The slave groaned and his head dropped towards is chest: ‗Ciao, Teflonicus. What is it this time?‘ ‗Funny you should ask,‘ he said dropping an arm around the slave‘s podgy neck. ‗I need a horse.‘ The slave actually shuddered: ‗Funny indeed,‘ he said. ‗Horse stealing, that‘s death in the amphitheatre; you do know that? Blood, guts ... big men with swords and lions and ...‘ Teflonicus had already seen that scenario flicker through his frontal cortex, he didn‘t need the reminder. ‗I still need a horse, a big one. One that‘s a bit docile.‘ ‗You can‘t ride, can you? This gets better and better.‘ The neck grip tightened. ‗Horse! Who‘s got one?‘ ‗It‘s your neck,‘ said Smerkio. ‗Daftus Brushius has got an old nag, never rides it.‘ Teflonicus grinned, of course, Daftus! His old mare. She would be


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perfect. ‗Now all we have to do is steal it.‘ ‗WE! What‘s with the we?‘ squealed Smerkio as he was dragged along the pathway towards the fort. On Manoeuvres. In the fort Commander Fattassious Fattallis watched as his second in command Daftus Brushius put the soldiers through their paces. First of all the troops marched up and down while maintaining perfect formation. Fattassious was really impressed, Daftus must have spent a lot of time working with the men, he thought. He was looking forward to the visit of Senator Marpellius Domestios, who was going celebrate the joining of the roads at Trentbilious. The troops looked smart and efficient. ‗Try the battle manoeuvres, they look really impressive using the cornu* to give the signals,‘ said Fattassious. ‗Yessir,‘ replied Daftus. I will start with the old favourites from years ago he thought. ‗Company form phalanx and advance in good order.‘ The cornicen (horn-blower) blew the signal. The phalanx formed and moved forward. ‗Company reform in triple line and retire in good order.‘ This looks good thought Fattassious. ‗Company reform in testudos.‘ The troops obliged Daftus tried the wedge and orb well. ‗Reform in Centuria and stand easy,‘ Daftus ordered. ‗Well done Daftus, the cornu sounded really impressive,‘ Fat-


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tassious praised Daftus. Unknown to both of them Rebellious, the rhino, had got bored and was looking for food, a walk and bit of adventure. He wandered about and found his way into the fort parade ground. Daftus and Fattassious looked at Rebellious and he looked at them. Unfortunately, Rebellious did not like loud noises, especially ones that sounded like elephants trumpeting. He had had a bad experience years ago when he had met a herd of mother elephants and calves. They chased him for miles before giving up. ‗Blow retreat,‘ shouted Daftus. Rebellious charged the cornicen, who showed great promise for sprinting in the coming games. The troops formed testudo, orb, and wedge in quick succession followed by the traditional manoeuvre of running in circles, screaming and shouting, ending up by running into the barracks. The cornice threw away his cornu and joined in the rout. Rebellious trampled the cornu into the dust. He felt honour had been satisfied and trotted off for a drink and feed. He found just the place, a muddy pond with some shrubs that had been trampled down ready for Rebellious. He was just having a bite to eat when Nigellos Bluddschotticus shouted at him. Rebellious looked round and charged. Nigellos ran inside called for wine and shut himself in his bedroom. After Rebellious left the parade ground Maximus was summoned to meet Fattassious whose dignity was somewhat marred by his dented helmet and muddy face. ‗Get that rhino back under control or I will feed you to the lions,‘ shouted Fattassious. ‗Yessir,‘ replied Maximus, saluting smartly. He executed an about turn and found his compatriots who all had a good laugh when they talked about Rebellious‘ military adventure. Minibus and slaves found a contented Rebellious who was happy to go back to his compound for a rest. Nigellos stayed in bed. Sepsis peered round the corner of his house, and gazed with be-


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wilderment at his brother, Ludicrus. There in the peristylium or colonnaded garden, the young man had erected a makeshift gymnasium and was engrossed in ‗pumping iron‘, or to be more accurate, vegetables. He had affixed two of the overgrown marrows his father had tossed onto the dung pile, because they were too tough to eat, to a long wooden pole and was standing legs apart and clean and jerking the vegetable bar to his shoulders and overhead. Sepsis could tell from the grunting and sweat glowing on his brother‘s brow that a). He‘d been at it for some time and b). He wasn‘t very fit, probably because he preferred to weight lift veggies rather than eat them. Hanging from the column in the far corner was a coarse sack, stuffed with straw. Ludicrus tired of the weights and turned his attention to the sack. He picked up his ‗gladius‘ or sword and lunged at it with great intent and violence. Unfortunately, he missed the target, which was hanging there quite motionless in the still air, and crashed into the surrounding wall, bending the point of his blade and causing his Roman nose to bleed. Ouch! Sepsis thought, under his breath, experiencing his brother‘s pain for him. Over in the far corner and lying in the shade, was a very large and very hairy dog. It wore a makeshift harness, to which was attached a basket, capacious in size, with two rickety wheels strapped beneath. The dog‘s nostrils quivered slightly, as Sepsis‘s scent wafted downwind towards the giant canine, and it lifted its head and languidly turned in his direction, causing Ludicrus to turn towards his brother too. ‗Hey bro!‘ he called out cheerily, if somewhat breathlessly. ‗Hey!‘ Sepsis replied. ‗What‘s all this about?‘ he indicated the gym equipment. ‗Practice, brother, practice.‘ ‗For what?‘ Sepsis enquired. ‗Why for the Games, of course, brother.‘ ‗The Games? What Games?‘ ‗The Games that are to be held to mark the opening of THE ROAD of course! I am determined to win a laurel wreath, so I need to train hard!‘ the younger man explained. ‗I‘ve never won anything before. I


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couldn‘t get the hang of the abacus in maths, and that stylus thing we had to write with, well, nobody could ever read what I‘d put. So… it‘s time to show them what I‘m made of! I intend to enter the weightlifting and the chariot racing, and who knows, maybe something else as well.‘ ‗I see.‘ Sepsis nodded, uncertainly. ‗But, where did you find the dog?‘ ‗Oh, he was just wandering around the streets, so I grabbed him. Nearest thing I could find to a horse. He‘s quite good-natured. Trouble is, he doesn‘t seem very keen to run anywhere. Would rather lounge around under a tree.‘ ‗Maybe you could hang a carrot from a stick in front of his nose.‘ Sepsis suggested. ‗I believe it works with donkeys.‘ His voice tailed off. ‗Great idea, bro!‘ Ludicrus said enthusiastically. He sprinted over to the said tree and yanked off a long, whippy branch. The dog only registered mild interest. Then Ludicrus ran into the house and emerged with carrot and string. ‗Here, give us a hand.‘ They soon had the carrot attached to the string, the string to the branch and the branch to the front of the ‗chariot‘. They turned it towards the street. Ludicrus leapt into the basket. ‗Mind out, bro!‘ He shouted. But instead of tearing up the road with the basket and Ludicrus in tow, the dog simply sniffed the air, yawned and lay down. ‗Maybe he doesn‘t like carrots.‘ Sepsis suggested. ‗Now what?‘ his younger brother asked. ‗I know. We need a bone. All dogs like bones.‘ And he ran into the house and emerged with a large and meaty ham hock his mother had intended for tea. Immediately the hound‘s nostrils began to twitch. The carrot was removed and replaced by the ham bone. Ludicrus barely had time to jump into the basket before the canine hurtled forward down the street in hot pursuit of the dangling treat. The last Sepsis saw of his brother that day was him, the dog and the basket enveloped in a large cloud of dust and careering into the distance, with loud barks, shrieks and whoops.


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Deep Thoughts About Dinners ‗Never could understand them foreigns!‘ Corpus said to the assembled multitude. Not, when it was just Habeous and Gallicus, that there was much of a multitude. Still it's the thought that counts. ‗You could never understand your wife, Corpus, and she's not foreign; coming from Eboracum doesn't count as proper foreign.‘ Habeous replied. ‗Not the way we count it anyway!‘ ‗No-o, not the wife, it's her mother, and her mother-in-law come to that. They've gone all strangely adventurous in the kitchen!‘ Corpus was being cryptic. Gallicus put it down to him losing the Annual Village Memory Contest for the thirteenth time running. ‗I mean what's it coming to when a man comes home, after a hard day at the temple, expecting a proper dinner, to find it's egg fried in cabbage?‘ Habeous, magisterially, looked down his second best beer before nodding. ‗Could be worse, Corpus. I mean how would you like a diet of the same thing every day? Three times a day!‘ ‗Know what you mean, Habeous.‘ Gallicus remarked with a shudder. ‗Know what you mean! Happened to me once. Sausage casserole it was, very nasty is sausage casserole three times a day.‘ ‗Sausage casserole? Great stuff is sausage casserole, Gallicus! You was lucky to have that nectar of the Gods.‘ Corpus was going a bit OTT, but the others didn't blame him. ‗No, Corpus. Not when it's Sausage Giblets and Swede with some greens thrown in to give it some colour.‘ The face of Gallicus went blank at the thought of it. ‗Giblets? That's foreign food.‘ Corpus was nonplussed at the idea. ‗In Aegyptus it was,‘ Gallicus continued. ‗Took some Romans out


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on a Safari and they wouldn't eat the local food. Perfectly good Crocodile steaks or Hippo haunch was too rich or something, they had to have what they called 'proper' food. ‗Proper food? What do them foreign Romans know about proper food?‘ Corpus was being inquisitive. ‗Tried some of their proper food I have; went to Deva once to try it, and you don't get more foreign that that - except for Apulia, or Wales, of course - giblets and chips or Bratwurst and Cart-something or even Crepes Suzette and Caesars Salad; whoever they were.‘ Habeous interjected before Corpus could get into his stride about food. ‗Seems to me,‘ he said, ‗seems to me that what we eat has been changed over the years. You know what I mean? Once it was Fish on Friday, Boiled Beef for Sunday, Fried up leftovers on Monday, Bacon on Tuesday, Liver on Wednesday and whatever on Thursday.‘ ‗Had a lot of that we did. In me younger days of course!‘ Corpus mused. It was a good muse, mainly a sort of blue with frilly pink edges. ‗A lot of what, Corpus?‘ Habeous asked. ‗Whatever o' course! Reg'lar helpin's of whatever. Course it weren't very filling, 'cept you had a lot 'o peas an' gravy with it. Makes you think it do. Real food for thought. Like them Shall's, what Habeous has been waffling on about.‘ Habeous was busy musing, but his was mainly grey and wasn't as colourful, ‗Have I?‘ he asked. ‗What Shall's?‘ ‗Wine all round I think,‘ Gallicus replied. ‗No water in mine.‘ Oops! With sincere apologies to the Bard of Avon, who, hopefully, had a sense of humour.

Isadora was ushered immediately into the camp commandant‘s office and was greeted as befitted her station as High Priestess, escorted by her chief priest. Only to come upon an interview between the camp commandant and her nephew Aristarchos, and they kissed cheek to cheek being family. The camp commandant stood, bowed in respect and Isadora waved a hand granting divine insurance.


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On the table were examples of sections of mosaic designs made up, sample stone tesserae and sketches on rolls of papyrus of whole mosaic designs laid out. Pride of place was the boy on the dolphin mosaic top design. Isadora was invited to sit on the best couch. Isadora related her visions to the camp commandant and her conclusions that the Welsh were planning to attack the town. A burst of laughter came from beyond the door, that then became infectious and spread around the fort. Then a voice bemoaned in a long wail, ‗Woe, woe and thrice woe, we‘re all doomed. Doomed, I say.‘ ‗Oh that wailing Minnie, the dratted Soothsayer, who thinks she can see the future but always sees it with the goblet half empty,‘ chuckled the camp commandant. Cassandra raised her arms imploring to the heavens and was about to speak when a spear came down into the fort courtyard. The guards made to scramble into battle formation only to laugh some more as into the fort strode a clown, escorted by a prancing double flute player.

‗All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts,‘ said the clown to all and sundry, in theatrical

booming voice. Isadora sat crestfallen for there was her son Hilarius the Cheerful dressed in, what, some kind of cloth leggings that the Celts wore, a frock and a woollen close woven shawl over his shoulders and back, held fast by a leather belt round his middle. And a very silly hat all girthed in spring flowers. Then followed more fools dressed as a dragon, a rider as if riding a horse and men all dressed in jackets as if made from many torn small rags, who then began what seemed a mock fight with wooden staves. ‗Ah,‘ said the smirking camp commandant, ‗we‘re being invaded by the barbarian hordes, I see.‘ Hilarius approached, ‗Hail and well met mother, oh High Priestess of the Goddess Queen of Heaven. If we shadows have offended,


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think but this and all is mended, that you have but slumber‘d here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream. Gentles do not reprehend: If you pardon, we will mend. And, as I am an honest Hilarius, if we have unearned luck now to ‗scape the serpent‘s tongue, we will make amends ere long.

Isadora nodded and the camp command let out a guffaw, ‗Well played, Hilarius. This will do nicely for the entertainment at your temporary stage out at the meeting of the road at its grand opening.‘ Hilarius tripped, fell to earth and the ensemble scattered in panic only to re-assemble in confusion. On the Way to Steal, err... Borrow the Old Nag The closer the dubious pair came to the fort stable block the noisier it became. The guard had been roused. Hob nails were tramping on cobbles in that annoying way of theirs‘. An officer was shouting above the din, weapons were clanking. ‗Obviously, there‘s a flap on,‘ grinned Teflonicus, gabbing Smerkio by the collar and pushing him up against a wall as a group of soldiers clattered by at the double. ‗Recruits,‘ grumbled the bathhouse slave. ‗No pay as yet. Always wanting credit.‘ At which, he sniffed in distain and to Teflonicus‘s amazement shouted out: ‗What‘s amiss?‘ ‗Elephant‘s broke out,‘ replied a voice from within the throng of recruits. Teflonicus grinned again. ‗The gods are smiling on our venture.‘ Smerkio didn‘t like the ‗our‘ as far as he could see he‘d been coerced and threatened with violence to take part in the theft. He had decided this would be his defence if caught, as been apprehended seemed very likely. ‗A diversion‘s just what we needed,‘ said Teflonicus pulling the unwilling slave down an alleyway. At that moment they both turned as the voice of Daftus Brushius could be heard and from their concealment the two men saw the leader of the guard waving his short sword about above his head and shouting as he tried in vain to keep


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up with the recruits; unfortunately, his short, fat, hairy legs were having more exercise that they were used to and with him being so short and the recruits being so tall, he cut a figure of fun especially as his helmet was slightly too large and kept falling over his eyes. Spotting an advantage, Teflonicus grasped Smerkio‘s shoulder, ‗Come on, there won‘t be any guards left at the stables.‘ Smerkio cheered up: ‗Famous last words,‘ he muttered and then as they exited the alley, he did something completely out of character by throwing a coin at a young baker‘s lad as he liberated a hot loaf from the boy‘s tray. Teflonicus‘s jaw dropped in amazement. This was indeed an auspicious day and to cap it all straight in front of them was the stable‘s paddock and tied up to a fencepost was the mare Calpernia all shiny brushed and ready for the off. Teflonicus beamed: ‗See I told you the gods were smiling.‘ Smerkio thought it more likely they were wetting themselves with laughter but didn‘t comment as his mouth was full of hot bread. Washing the Elephant So Bulch took Cassy down to the river where the sound of splashing soon led them to the strange creature sucking up water through his front rope and then squirting it all over his back. ‗Hercules!‘ Cassy shot at it like an arrow from a bow. ‗Hercules!‘ So that‘s an elephant, thought Bulch. He could see now that the big rope at the front might well be a trunk as Cassy claimed, although he couldn‘t for the life of him imagine why any creature would need a nose that long. And the rope at the back could easily be a tail. And the huge flaps of material hanging down – were they really ears? The creature paused, turned, and then let out such a loud trumpeting that Bulch would have in normal circumstances fled. But these were not normal circumstances. For Cassy had her arms round the enormous neck and the creature had his trunk around her. When at last this strange embrace loosened, she whispered something to the creature and they both started towards Bulch. ‗Hercules will follow me and do as I say.‘ So the strange procession set off in the moonlight and soon came


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to the ford. ‗There you are,‘ said Bulch. ‗There‘s quite a busy path straight ahead but he can easily get off it and hide in the trees and stuff. Plenty for him to eat if he just wants leaves like you say.‘ Cassy patted the creature and whispered in its ear once more. It raised its trunk, let out another mighty trumpet and trotted off through the ford. Then it was lost in the night. They stared after it for a while, then Cassy turned and faced him and said, ‗Thank you Bulch. You‘ve saved the life of my friend.‘ He looked at her and for the first time that night his spirits lifted. In fact they soared. She was so lovely – dirty, yes, ragged, yes, skinny, yes – but her eyes, more huge and blue than any eyes he‘d seen before were regarding him in naked worship. ‗It‘s nothing,‘ he said carelessly. ‗Can I take you back to your house?‘ ‗What?‘ she said. ‗Go back there? Oh no, I‘m going to live in the forest with Hercules.‘ Bulch gaped. ‗You can‘t,‘ he said. ‗There‘s wolves, and boars, bears even. Not to mention wild men.‘ ‗But you said it was easy to live in the forest if you know how.‘ ‗I meant for Hercules. He‘s so strong he could live anywhere. But you...‘ ‗He‘ll protect me,‘ she said, and skipped off through the ford. Bulch tore after her, caught her, spun her round to face him. ‗You can‘t go in there,‘ he shouted, shaking her. ‗You‘ll be dead before morning.‘ She stared at him. ‗If you don‘t want to go to your house, come to mine. I‘ll hide you in the barn until we decide what to do.‘ ‗We?‘ she said. ‗We? I decide what I do. What business is it of yours?‘ Bulch frowned. Of course what a woman did was a man‘s business. Always had been. Always would be. That‘s what men were for. Suddenly he felt very tired and knew he had had quite enough of this nonsense. He pulled her arm behind her back and marched her before him back to his parents‘ steading. ‗Stop screaming,‘ he said. ‗If you waken my father he‘ll club you.‘


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He pushed her into the barn gritting his teeth against her sobbing. ‗There‘s plenty of clean straw to lie on,‘ he said, ‗I‘m going to chain you up so you don‘t do anything stupid, but I‘ll get you some food and water.‘ She drew herself up and spat at him. ‗Missed,‘ he said, knowing women frequently behaved this way, and went to raid Blodwen‘s larder. Bulch dreamed of a rhythmic pounding on his shoulders, back and head. He was also aware of flashing wild eyes and teeth and an unholy shrieking. Behind this vision stood a smaller, blurrier one, making a noise that disturbed Bulch so much he was dragged from the depths of his dream. Where he discovered a furious Blodwen and a weeping Cassy. ‗With this broom will I beat the living daylight out of you,‘ his mother was screaming. ‗To chain up a poor girl, what were you thinking? Is she an animal? A cow, a horse? Is she one of the poor creatures your idiot uncle Nigel has assembled for our entertainment? Have you gone Roman? Do you think torture is clever then? Do you? Do you?‘ At last she collapsed, exhausted, and the sound of Cassy‘s blubbing took over. He covered his ears and shouted, ‗Stop!‘ with such force that she actually did. So then, although his head ached like a beating drum, and his back felt broken in several places and his shoulders were falling off, he concentrated his remaining sliver of strength on explaining his intentions. ‗I didn‘t want her to be hurt in the forest. She was going to run away and live there.‘ Blodwen slowly transferred her eyes from her son to the weeping girl, and in the journey they softened from furious to incredulous. At last she spoke. ‗Oh, no cariad,‘ she said softly. ‗You mustn‘t go into the forest. There be beasts of all descriptions.‘ Sudden Changes 'Well, I think it's a shame,' said Habeous. 'All that stuff getting here for the new road building. I mean there's absolutely no rhyme


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nor reason for it, is there?' 'Not so much a shame,' said Corpus. 'More like an absolute liberty if you asks me. There you are! One day and everything in the garden's lovely and the next thing is you've got twenty seven horses parked on your front lawn, a stable blocking the drive and fifteen workmen using your outside loo... and demanding a toilet sponge!' 'Dunno about that,' Gallicus remarked. 'The toilet sponges I mean. From what I can see, she's making a fortune on jugs of beer and bacon butties though. Making hay while the sunshines she calls it. Mind you, the Vestigial Virgins have a lot to do with it if you ask me. Not that it's admitted of course! Not keeping it in the family you may say; well it couldn't be, could it! She's not local isn't the Chief Vestigial. No, she comes from down Letocetum way I hear, that's probably why she's so nervous.' 'Noted for it they are,' agreed Corpus. 'Them posh folks from down Letocetum, my old Granddad always used to say, when he was sober o' course, that they was more nervous than them folks what used to stop with the Mercurians.' 'I didn't know the Mercurians knew anybody,‘ Habeous said. 'A few from up North of course, I knew they was from the North when I saw 'em wearing skirts at one of them parties.' 'Well, they was bound to be from somewhere,' Corpus remarked. 'Mixed in with a few of us proper British Romans. They didn't like some of our customs I can tell you. Wouldn't come near a mince pie flinging contest and as for the custard pie hurling competition! I tell you it was dead loss. Insisted on wearing ear protection and watching it from the top of the Temple tower they did. That's probably where they met the Chief Vestigial.' 'Ah well you know what they say?‘ said Gallicus. ‗So what do they say?‘ asked Habeous. ‗Nothing sensible I‘ll bet!‘ ‗They say that the first step is the hardest,‘ Gallicus replied. ‗Ah well! Yers, I can see that,‘ Corpus mused aloud. ‗Specially if you was in the Temple tower and missed the top one. The others would be hard as well, on the way down they‘d regret them all!


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Just Get on The Horse ‗Give it the bread, stupid,‘ snarled Teflonicus rubbing his backside and pulling himself up from the damp ground. Mounting a mare shouldn‘t be this difficult, should it? ‗Always, the slave comes last,‘ sighed Smerkio reluctantly breaking off a wedge of the loaf and wafting it under the nose of the reluctant mare, who was tied to a tree deep inside the copse by the stream, well out of sight of the fort. Fortunately, the sounds of elephants trumpeting could still be heard in the direction of the forum. The mare‘s nostrils twitched in appreciation and its lips wiggled. ‗Bend over and put your hands on your knees,‘ Teflonicus commanded. ‗I‘m not that sort of slave,‘ replied Smerkio without a flicker of a grin. ‗I need a step to climb up, idiot,‘ snapped Teflonicus. At which point it dawned on them both that he‘d always need a ―step up‖ and a ―step down‖ and a slave to lead the mare. ‗Now wait a minute,‘ said Smerkio. ‗That adds running away to horse stealing. You really will get me killed. You do know what they do to runaway slaves, don‘t you?‘ ‗We‘re only borrowing the mare for a few days,‘ said Teflonicus as he took a run at Smerkio, who had, obligingly, bent double beside the mare‘s flank. Any fool could see the mare wasn‘t going to like such rough treatment from complete strangers; she only tolerated Daftus after being plied with large quantities of carrots. So, as Teflonicus launched himself into space attempting to mount, Calpernia reared. Thus the hapless bean counter landed astride as the mare rose up to meet his straddled undercarriage with a wallop which could be heard for miles. ‗Bet that came sharp,‘ said Smerkio patting the horse and rewarding her with a nibble of bread. Teflonicus couldn‘t reply as tears were spilling down his cheeks. It was going to be a long hard trek towards Deva‘s new road. The three exited the wood and waddled off, led by Smerkio, the mare resigned to have to tolerate two stupid humans until she could offload them and trot off home, the slave resigned to being whipped


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and murdered in the games and, a still weeping, Teflonicus to probably never fathering offspring. The Inspiration Aristarchos came to see how his slaves were getting along with the floor mosaic in the camp commandant‘s best living room, where Fattassius Fattallis hosted the local and visiting highest dignitaries. Looking at the design advancing from one corner to cover the whole floor, Aristarchos revelled in the boy on the dolphin. The top priced mosaic was well advanced. He asked the foreman slave, ‗Have you had a chat yet with the house slaves? Where is the daughter to the camp commandant?‘ The foreman slave hesitated to answer, ‗Not yet master, it is difficult.‘ A passing guard overheard and looked perplexed at Aristarchos, ‗The Commandant has no daughter, not here nor back in Rome. You are misinformed.‘ ‗No daughter, then another young woman relative then?‘ ‗The Commandant has no-one like that living with him in the fort or down in the Vicus.‘ ‗Who then is Agnes the Chaste?‘ ‗Who is chasing Agnes, you say?‘ Cassandra, the soothsayer, passing the Commandant‘s quarters, in the corridor to the courtyard, added, ‗But you know full well who Agnes must be, as you also do a mosaic for the master of the household where she lives, the home of Titus, the book-keeper, down in the Vicus.‘ ‗Agnes is the wife of Titus, then?‘ Cassandra sighed, ‗No, no. Agnes is the younger sister, also living under his protection, of his sister-in-law Angelica, abandoned, poor thing, by her husband with nothing to live on. Titus took pity on her until he can find her another husband.‘ They all parted and Aristarchos hurried to his other slaves hard at work in the best dining room of Titus Purcious, where they were laying the floor mosaic. The mosaic was advancing inwards from each


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corner. But already Aristarchos could see the inferior tesserae and more basic, and thus, cheaper design meant for the camp commandant‘s work contract. ‗Oh Zeus,‘ muttered Aristarchos, rushing off to find a quiet corner to re-design both mosaics to swap back over to right contract. A crocodile ambled past, then a slave clad in old gladiator garb that had seen better days, brandishing a net and heavy leather strapping, he assumed to bind the beast‘s great maw. Ah, thought Aristarchos, a gladiator and beast battle, great idea. Pork Scratchings Maximus was lying on his couch after a light lunch and letting his thoughts drift and was wondering why we say ‗wild boar‘ not just ‗boar‘ or ‗male pig‘. He was about to find out while these thoughts ambled across his consciousness. His confederates were even more relaxed than he was, they had just come back from the baths and were lightly snoozing on their beds after a liquid lunch. No such deep thoughts troubled their minds. In their pens the wild boars were not happy. One minute they had been happy rooting round in the forest eating acorn, wallowing in mud and occasionally terrifying a passing peasant. Next thing they knew they were being chased by dogs into an enclosure, bundled in nets, shoved into carts and dumped in a small pen with no food and no water. The chief boar was the pig equivalent of Marc Anthony, he surveyed his troops and grunted. Now follows a translation: ‗Friends, boars and grunty-pigs, lend me yours tusks; are we going to stand for this treatment? No, we are going get out and make those Romans pay for locking us up in this pigsty.‘ A great grunting and squeaking followed this oration and again follows a translation: ‗Down with Romans, up with boars, no more bacon, no more apple sauce,‘ and other such stirring stuff. With that the boars charged the gate and with one mighty grunt they were free. At this point Maximus awoke fully and soon learnt why boars are usually called ‗wild boars‘, so did the local townsfolk who again were


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in fine voice and screaming wildly. Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious were abruptly awoken too. ‗What the Hades is going on now,‘ shouted Maximus, ‗can‘t I ever get a decent sleep without some animals escaping?‘


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Minibus wisely said nothing. Catharticus interrupted, ‗Shall I get the nets, dogs and slaves, boss?‘ Maximus sighed and said, ‗Go for it, you‘ve had enough practice.‘ The intrepid animal catchers trotted off after the rampaging pigs. Meanwhile, the boars had sniffed the air and smelt food and were trotting off following their leader. Unfortunately, the smell that had attracted the boars was coming from the garden of Nigellos Bluddschotticus where he grew carrots, one of his favourite foods. Unfortunately, it was one of the wild boars‘ favourite food as well. Shortly afterwards Nigellos looked out of his window and saw his lunch disappearing down the gullets of the wild boars. It must be said that his prized garden was now being to look like an agricultural disaster area. He wept into his wine and sent a slave to find Maximus. Maximus also wept into his wine and went to bed. Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious rounded up the wild boars and put them to bed too. Too Far North Riding bareback for five miles even at walking pace had made its mark on Teflonicus so it was Smerkio riding the mare as the dubious pair of searchers of the truth, - don‘t laugh, our heroes are doing their best - reached the hilltop overlooking the plain. ‗Oh crikey,‘ said Smerkio. ‗By the gods and spirits,‘ added Teflonicus. Any fool could see the road was following the edge of the marsh to the north. ‗They‘re north of the plain,‘ said Smerkio. ‗That‘s not right, is it?‘ Teflonicus rubbed his face with shaking hands. If even Smerkio could see the road was in the wrong trajectory they were doomed. ‗No, it‘s not right. They should have gone south of the marsh to reach Trentbilious not north.‘ ‗You going to tell him?‘ asked Smerkio sliding down from the mare who breathed a sigh of relief. Teflonicus spotted the ‗him‘ in question, a grizzled centurion swigging from a jug. ‗Nahh, he wouldn‘t listen to me and definitely not you,‘ said Teflonicus leading the mare towards the trackway back the way they had


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come. ‗Come on, don‘t just stand there it‘ll be dark soon.‘ Just then a light drizzle began to fall, Smerkio sighed, all he needed was being on the run in a damp night spent in a wood with an angry mare and no dinner. Teflonicus shivered: ‗Tomorrow we double back towards Trentbilious and then head southwards.‘ ‗You can do tracking, can you?‘ asked the slave wiping his nose on his sleeve. ‗With no track and no guide and no ....‘ ‗It‘s south and right a bit, how hard can it be? Look, idiot, we can see the fires of Trentbilious from here.‘ Smerkio let it rest. It was true from up here they could see the smoke from the Vicus but that wouldn‘t be the case once they were in those wild woods skirting the town. Trying to head south when you couldn‘t see the sky would be challenging. Sort of Roman! ‗No way,‘ said Habeous from leaning on the front of the bar. ‗There‘s no way that it can be right! I mean what on earth does the way the road is going mean? It‘s all going right when it goes wrong and turns left.‘ ‗There‘s always the old fall-back position,‘ offered Corpus, collapsed at a table and sucking musingly on the end of his beer. ‗You remember my grand-father? Before he ran off to sea I mean.‘ ‗No he didn‘t,‘ opposed Gallicus. ‗No he didn‘t what?‘ Corpus replied. ‗You mean he didn‘t run away to sea?‘ ‗Course not!‘ Gallicus said. ‗He couldn‘t run anywhere, wobbled maybe, but run? No way.‘ ‗What did he do then?‘ interjected Habeous. ‗Got a job down south somewhere last I heard. Rolling roads out and paving and things. Got good money as well. Sent a bundle to his wife every week he did. Absentee father he was.‘ ‗Huh‘, snorted Habeous. ‗Not a good thing being an absentee father! I know that one. My son keeps telling me about it.‘ ‗Well,‘ said Corpus, ‗what are we going to call it then? Not really


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your Goddess of the North is it? Too small for one thing, and we aren‘t in the North either.‘ ‗Muddle in the Middle, maybe?‘ Corpus offered. ‗It‘s not so much what it IS; it‘s more a matter of what we calls it. I mean it‘s only about as tall as a short fat man on stilts, and, if we wanted to get it noticed, we‘d need to put up so many advertising boards you couldn‘t see it. What we want is a snappy title.‘ ‗Jason!‘ said Habeous ‗We could call it Jason‘s road.‘ ‗W-e-e-ll,‘ said Gallicus, ‗we could to be sure. We could call it Sack o‘ Swedes as well. We don‘t want daft names with obscure meanings, none of them argue-noughts here please. We wants a typical local name, keep it away from them Roman-ish sayings what‘s getting in on the act.‘ ‗What you on about? We are Roman-ish; all of us,‘ said Corpus. ‗Ahh! Yes, but we‘re all Briton Roman-ish, not Roman Roman-ish, got to keep that in mind,‘ said Gallicus. ‗Hmm,‘ reflected Habeous. ‗Let‘s have a think about it for a bit. A short, snappy, title that reflects the Middling Roman-ish Britonness of a short fat man on stilts who looks like a sack of swedes! Right, we‘ll be having another planning meeting next week.‘ Corpus waved his cup about. ‗I‘m dying of thirst, come on, get the wine bar open. First round‘s on the house!‘ A little later, Habeous scratched his beard ... good idea about advertising boards. If he could have a few knocked up and bang them in at the side of the new road he could sell the board space for signs such as ―Bertha‘s Guest House‖, or ―Sid‘s Pizzas‖ or ... the possibilities were endless. His brother-in-law Bill was good with a paintbrush. He‘d ask Bill to knock up a few boards and paint them all gaudylike; lots of red and gold. Nice little earner! He made a mental note to mention it to Titus to cut a mutually beneficial deal before the accountant had time to claim the idea as his own. Always had to make sure the bean counters had their cut, or Bill‘s boards would be matchwood overnight.


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Where is Teflonicus? Titus was in no mood for the news. He‘d already had an earbashing from his sister-in-law over some over expensive tesserae, he‘d had no breakfast and Teflonicus was missing. ‗What do you mean, he‘s disappeared?‘ he demanded of the guardsman who had barged into his sanctum. ‗Not disappeared! No sir, he‘s absconded.‘ Titus pulled his damp cloak about his middle and straightened his shoulders. ‗Now you wait a minute. He‘s not a slave. My assistant‘s free to go where he likes.‘ ‗Not on Daftus Brushius‘s mare, he isn‘t,‘ snarled the guardsman as rain dripped off his sodden crescent helmet and moist, leatherstudded skirt onto the floor of the tax keeper‘s office where it pooled into a puddle of mud. In the corner, hidden behind the screen, Gias watched the puddle growing and lent his ears to the enquiry. Teflonicus had stolen a horse! He couldn‘t ride! The man had two left buttocks, he couldn‘t sit a horse. ‗A mare. He‘s accused of stealing a mare? Never in the wide empire. He can‘t ride.‘ Titus almost grinned. ‗Smerkio can,‘ snapped the guardsman. ‗Seen they were. Two of them, and the mare, heading west.‘ ‗Smerkio? Smerkio, the bathhouse slave?‘ puzzled Titus. ‗It‘s all news to me. I‘ve no idea what‘s going on.‘ There was an air of sincerity in the voice which the guardsman accepted and stamped off, hob-nails splashing mud from his very own puddle over the floor and nearby footstool. ‗Gias, put down some dry rushes,‘ ordered Titus who couldn‘t abide mess. ‗Then go and fetch me a hot roll and some mulled wine, the market holders will be in soon to pay their stall fees and you‘ll have to do Teflonicus‘s work today.‘ Gias beamed, promotion! Dead man‘s shoes. It‘s an ill wind, he thought as he squelched towards the bakery. Teddy bears‘ picnic part one


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The day dawn bright and fair. Sorry I got that wrong. The day dawned grey and wet. The escaping animals had taken up so much of Catharticus‘ and Infectious‘ time and energy they decided to go to the local popina (wine bar) to indulge in deep thought and conversation. Infectious spoke, ‗red wine or white wine Catharticus?‘ Catharticus replied, ‗Red I think.‘ ‗With or without water?‘ ‗Hmm, no water thanks.‘ Maximus and Minibus were having a nap. All was quiet on the western front of the Roman Empire. No, that‘s wrong; nearly all was quiet on the western front. There was a grumbling coming from the bears‘ stomachs. The bears were getting restive, they had not been fed for some time. A few quick swipes of a bear‘s claws will do a lot of damage, so in no time at all the bears were on a hunger march. The Vicus was not short of food, there were bakeries, butchers, and popinas full of food and drink. The bears did not have any cash but any animal over six feet tall, weighing a thousand pounds, with dinner plate sized hands and claws several inches long usually gets served very quickly and granted unlimited credit. Today was no exception. The bears entered a bakery and the owners left by the back door. The bread and cakes were very welcome. The bears sat down near the oven for the warmth and tucked in. After a while, they moved on to a nearby butcher‘s and had some tasty sausages. Again the owners left by the back door. After all this food the bears wanted a drink and popped into a popina. Several flagons of wine later and the bears were ratarsed. No, they were bear-arsed but very happy, they were warm, well fed and slightly drunk. When humans get in this state they do silly things and next day they say ‗well, it seemed a good idea at the time.‘ The bears were no exception so they staggered off into the Vicus. About this time there was a hammering on Maximus‘s door. The Vicus was in fine voice and Maximus found out it was noisy on the western front.


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In the Woods ‗What by Jupiter was that?‘ said Teflonicus grabbing Smerkio‘s arm. Twilight was upon them and the pair were trying to lead the disgruntled mare through the lengthening crepuscular shadows of the woods. ‗You heard it, too?‘ replied Smerkio, who had thought it might be just his empty stomach rumbling. The rumble, rumbled again, so loud they felt it through their sandals. The horse whickered and stamped her feet. Her big brown eyes rolled and her ears pricked forward in fright – she knew what that noise was and shook off her annoyance and switched into full flight mode. She took off. This did not bode well for Teflonicus and Smerkio who had been walking to give Calpernia a rest, so they claimed, but really because their bottoms were too raw to ride any further. It was a bear. That bear roared again. They tried denial but that didn‘t work. It was a bear. A big one and very close at hand. What they couldn‘t know was how close they were to the fort where so many of the performing animals were treating their confinement


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more as guidelines rather than enclosures. The pair stared into each other‘s eyes as truth dawned – it took a while – wide-eyed with terror they took off in different directions. Calpernia didn‘t look back, with a toss of her mane she was charging through the thicket with Teflonicus in her wake. Sensible mare decided in an instant everybody for themselves, and if those two dumb clucks wanted to take on a bear, good luck to them, she, the only one of the three who had a sense of direction, knew she was within spitting distance of her warm stable and a good dinner. Stuff a long walk in the dark woods with a bear on the loose. Teflonicus didn‘t know he could sprint, neither did Smerkio, who found he couldn‘t run what with him being so tubby, but he could climb; so that‘s what he did. Teflonicus was doing very well until Calpernia suddenly leapt into space for no reason. Clever that horse. She‘d spotted the old Vicus latrine pit covered over with bracken and jumped it. Teflonicus wasn‘t so fortunate. Meanwhile Smerkio was having much better luck as the bear, full of cider looted from a binge in the Vicus, still clanging its chains, had chosen his tree to have a snooze under. Within minutes it had curled into a ball was soon snoring. It‘s wonky. Definitely wonky! Commodius the planning consultant to the ninth legion scratched his head with the end of a knife. He couldn‘t understand this at all. The road was wonky. It hadn‘t been wonky before. But, it was wonky now. He commenced with the pacing and the screwing up of his eyes and squinting, never a good sign, thought Pilatus as he scurried behind his master carrying and dropping the scrolls with the route maps. ‗It just doesn‘t look right,‘ said Commodius. ‗It‘s almost right but not quite.‘ ‗Is that important, master?‘ asked the slave. Commodius considered. Was it all right? Would a few degrees to


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the left make that much difference? Little did the good architect realise his off sightings were not in his imagination, the deviation was the result of the Briton‘s sabotage of the line posts and then subsequent reinstatement, albeit in an approximation of Commodius‘s original lines of sight. ‗I hope not,‘ he replied kindly. ‗We don‘t have time to relay the surface let alone re-dig the ditches or foundations.‘ A cart trundled by laden with timber heading south. Roadside trees were being felled, to provide little hiding for ambush attack, as the two men contemplated the route. Commodius consulted the map drawn up by the pioneers which largely followed the ancient Briton‘s trading and droving tracks wherever possible with the odd tweak here and there to straighten out the kinks. Breaking his thoughts, a dispatch rider was seen galloping towards the cutting edge of the Watling Street advance guard. ‗Now what?‘ groaned Commodius as the horseman skidded to a halt. Breathless the messenger fell to his knees and handed over a tablet. Commodius sighed, ‗Oh the joys of Jupiter, Senator Marpellius Domestios has already set out from Londinium. That settles it, we plough on regardless and hope the drift off course, if that is what this wobble to the south appears to be, won‘t matter by the time we reach Trentbilious. Don‘t just stand there man, crack on, crack on, we‘ve a road to build and precious little time to reach the fort.‘ Pilatus gazed towards the North where, when the clouds lifted, he was sure he could see smoke from a hundred cooking fires, another day or two and he‘d be able to smell the cooking; hot bread and perhaps a jug of hare stew would go down well. It didn‘t occur to the slave to mention the smoke to his master who was still dutifully heading the road builders towards the West. Lend Me Your Lug-holes Hilarius, owner of the theatre by the baths in the Vicus, was addressing his acting and musical troupe, mostly failures from the Londinium circuit.


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‗If only you could remember your lines, come on correctly from right and left stage and stand on your right parts of the stage, we‘ll be fine for once,‘ grumbled Hilarius waving a script of grubby velum. He‘d bought it from a pedlar in Londinium many years ago, who had sworn it was a translation from Greek and written at the time of Antony‘s death a hundred and 50 or so years ago. One wag countered, ‗We‘re supposed to be doing farces?‘ ‗I‘ll feed you to one of the circus beasts and that will bring a laugh from the audience. It‘ll be the funniest thing you ever produce,‘ retorted Hilarius. So another of the cast, to deflect Hilarius from that idea, asked, ‗So what is the play we do now, in between rehearsing for the parade and short farce and the pantomime for when the roads meet?‘ Hilarius then ran through all the actors‘ characters to be played in an excerpt from an act in the old play (a draft of which would many years later be found by a historian and written in a dusty old tome which by a fluke many years after that be borrowed by that chap from Stratford and the rest is history), The Holiday Ides in March. ANTONY ‗Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ear-holes; I come to bury Syrus, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Syrus.‘ Main actor interjected, ‗So what‘s the back story to Antony, chief?‘ Hilarius sighed angrily, ‗It‘s a funeral dotard, and he‘s doing the speech over his grave. Back stories are for wimps. ‘ Hilarius waved to continue with the play. ANTONY ‗My noble compatriot Marcus Hath told you Syrus was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault, And grievously hath Syrus answer'd it.‘ The first bit player whined, ‗Is he alone going to talk all through the play?‘ The main actor arrogantly answered, ‗What of it, minion?‘ A fight nearly broke out for Hilarius‘ booming censure, ‗I say who speaks what, end of.‘


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Hilarius continued the play. ANTONY ‗Here, under leave of Marcus and the rest -For he is an honourable man; Come I to speak in Syrus‘ funeral.‘ The main actor asked, ‗By the way chief, how did this Syrus die?‘ Hilarius answered, ‗Oh yes, he got back stabbed by some craven cowardly cur, not in a upstanding honourable fight.‘ Then Hilarius continued, ANTONY ‗He hath brought many captives home to Rome , Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill. Did this in Syrus seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Syrus hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.‘ Main actor sneered, ‗The rich weeping for the poor, that‘s a good one, chief.‘ Hilarius replied, ‗It‘s fiction, artistic licence, fool.‘ Hilarius continued, ANTONY ‗You all did love him once, not without cause: What cause withholds you not to mourn for him? O judgment! thou art fled to brutish


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beasts, men have lost their reason.‘ The third bit player complained, ‗Oh he‘s after an Oscar now, is he?‘ (O order of S stage C craft A award R Romanus followed by the year) Hilarius guffawed, ‗Any of you lot going to get that, I don‘t think.‘ Hilarius continued, ANTONY ‗Bear with me; My heart is in the coffin there with Syrus, And I must pause till it come back to me.‘ Fourth bit player, ‗Crocodile tears, hey?‘ Hilarius then said: ‗And here are your parts, bit players.‘ First Citizen‘s aside, ‗Methinks there is much reason in his sayings. ‘ Second Citizen cried out, ‗Poor soul! his eyes are red as fire with weeping.‘ Third Citizen opined, ‗There's not a nobler man in Rome than Antony.‘ Fourth Citizen shushed them saying, ‗Now mark him, he begins again to speak.‘ First bit player complained strongly, ‗One line each, big deal.‘ Hilarius countered, ‗At least you‘re all wearing posh togas, what more do you want?‘ Hilarius waved them to continue: ANTONY ‗But yesterday the word of Syrus might have stood against the world; now lies he there. And none so poor to do him reverence. ‘ Second bit player asked, ‗By the way chief, where‘s our pay?‘ Hilarius laughed, ‗What, you want denarii as well. I should charge you for the privilege?‘ Hilarius continued, ANTONY ‗But here's a parchment with the seal of Syrus; I found it in his closet, 'tis his will: Let but the commoners hear this testament ... And they would go and kiss dead Syrus‘ wounds, And dip their cloaks in his sacred blood, Yea, beg a hair of him for memory, And, dying, mention it within their wills, bequeathing it as a rich legacy unto their issue. ‘ Third bit player whined, ‗He‘s going to get an Oscar, while we never get a look in.‘ Hilarius encouraged, ‗You‘re on stage flashing thighs at well o ff


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wives, what more do you want?‘ Hilarius turned to the bit players and further enthused, ‗Now all your bit players can say these emotive lines, and act for a change.‘ Hilarius continued, ‗All cry out, ‗The will, the will! we will hear the will. ‘ ANTONY ‗Here is the will, and under Syrus‘ seal. To every male Roman citizen he gives, seventy-five denarii. Moreover, he hath left you his walks, His arbours and orchards, On this side Tiber; he hath left them you, forever, common pleasures, To walk abroad, and take the sweet air. Here was Syrus! When comes such another? Then we Exit.‘ ‗Oh by all the gods, I have to learn all that for tonight?‘ groaned the main actor, now downcast. ‗That‘ll teach you. Be gone and learn well for the show by tonight,‘ smirked Hilarius, ‗and don‘t forget to get that grinning mask fixed, it‘s not a comedy.‘ And as he said the words he remembered, erm ... actually, the play was supposed to be a comedy. Oh dear. Travel Sickness Maximus looked up and asked, ‗What is that in the sky, it looks like a great big jelly fish or humungous bag pudding?‘ Minibus scratched his head, ‗I dunno but the animals won‘t like it.‘ He was not wrong. Drifting across the sky came a strange apparition. It was big round and looked like a pig‘s bladder expanded by thousands of times. Underneath it was hanging, what looked like an enormous shopping basket with people in it. The town‘s folk could hear that the people were shouting at each other. One shouted, ‗Is this Trentbilious?‘ Appearing over the side of the bag a head moaned, ‗Yes, I am bilious,‘ and promptly was sick over the side. Another voice said, ‗Watch out for the wineskins, don‘t sit on them, or my lunch.‘ ‗Sod your lunch I feel terrible, that wine must be off.‘ ‗No it isn‘t, it is the finest wine that I could afford.‘ ‗Oh, the gods‘ help us, you have the palate of a drunken pig.‘


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The aerial argument continued. ‗Don‘t pull that rope you idiot.‘ ‗What rope?‘ ‘The rope you have wrapped round your leg.‘ ‗I am going to sick again,‘ another load of liquid descended from the sky. The town‘s people looked up in amazement, the luckier ones wearing hats and the brighter ones ducking into doorways. The voices continued: ‗Leave that rope alone and stop being sick over the side, do it in the bucket. If we throw out stuff we go higher.‘ ‗Stop treading on the food.‘ ‗Bugger the food.‘ ‗What is this rope for?‘ ‗Don‘t pull it, don‘t pull it, don‘t pull it!‘ ‗Why not, it is getting in my way?‘ ‗Don‘t pull it you fool, you nincompoop, too late.‘ The enormous bladder deflated rapidly and headed downwards. Meanwhile, the animals were going berserk. The carnivores thought it was a great big lunch arriving and the rest of the animals thinking they were going to be the lunch. The elephants led the charge. It was going to be a busy day for Maximus and crew. Time Travellers From the depths of the sky an inanimate object appeared, no Roman had a clue, what the flipping heck it was. Nearly all ran in fear of this unsightly sight. What it was left them rather dumbfounded. It crash landed awkwardly, into a beautiful roman outdoor spa pool, where some unsuspecting ladies were therapeutically bathing, the three all ended up more than just in hot water. ‗Gosh, Bacon Fryus that was the worse landing I‘ve ever been in.‘ Inspector Pearmainus said with a bloodied nose and badly bruised eyes. Hovis Brightonus staggered around the edge of the well-to-do spa, ogling at the ladies. ‗Hey you three get here now‘. A voice boomed they found them-


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selves encircled by an armed guard of Roman soldiers. The three stood laughing, not knowing where they were. ‗Where are you from?‘ the voice demanded. ‗We came from Trentby Island,‘ Pearmainus, retaliated. ‗Trentby Island, I‘ve never heard that one before.‘ The whole armed guard engaged in laughter. ‗How did you arrive here?‘ he retorted. ‗By hot air balloon, obviously,‘ Bacon Fryus exclaimed. The guard stood there scratching their helmets, looking somewhat bemused. ‗Hot air balloon never heard of one of them, show me it.‘ At which prompt the newly arrived threesome dived into the spa and dragged it out, leaving the heavily laden basket at the bottom of the pool. ‗That‘s just a damp piece of cloth, how can that be of any use to anyone? Hot air balloon indeed, send them of to be reprimanded, and be made to use as slaves. I have a feeling these three reprobates need to be well scrutinized, with their attitudes.‘ The three were marched off and stripped of their clothes. ‗This is worse than Trentby Island,‘ Hovis Brightonus shrieked. ‗Feels like we‘re in a Roman film,‘ Bacon Fryus said inquisitively. ‗Shut up you two,‘ Inspector Pearmainus insisted. They were then marched to a slave market and placed naked upon three wooden pedestals that kept rotating round and round and round, with a notice stating, ―Three useless slaves, who came from a balloon, starting price one denarius each‖. ‗I feel extremely giddy,‘ said Hovis Brightonus, who seemed to be attracting a fair few maidens towards the slave auction. ‗I‘m feeling embarrassed,‘ Bacon Fryus, whinged. ‗Me too,‘ said a red-faced Inspector Pearmainus. ‗I could do with a good stiff drink.‘ This is the last we see of the time travellers for now, sufficient to say they end up in the household of Nigellos who has them working for their keep until he off loads them after the games to a travelling circus at a small profit; naturally.


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Night Manoeuvres That night as the moon shone down, four humans and two elephants made their way to the partly repaired road. A couple of familiar figures sat on guard. ‗Brian! Brad!‘ exclaimed Bulch, springing from the forest, but he got no smile of welcome from his friends. ‗Oh, you‘ve turned up now, have you?‘ said Brad. ‗After we‘ve been grafting all day.‘ ‗Wearing the skin off our fingers,‘ said Brian. ‗Breaking our backs.‘ ‗I‘ll never walk properly again.‘ ‗All because of you.‘ ‗Me?‘ said Bulch. ‗Your rotten family.‘ ‗Whose idea was it to unmake the road?‘ ‗Your grasping uncle Grab-it-all was going spare. The Romans are threatening him with boiling in oil if it isn‘t finished by the time the Senator gets here.‘ ‗Would make it worthwhile, what you did, except they‘d probably boil us too. We‘re the foremen.‘ ‗When does he get here?‘ asked Bulch. ‗Two days.‘ ‗We‘re just having a couple of hours‘ rest before we start again.‘ ‗Most people have gone to sleep. Look.‘ Bulch looked. At the side of the road, sprawled among bushes, shovels, carts of gravel, lay bodies of all shapes and sizes from which snores of varying ferocity rent the spring night. But then there arose another, more powerful sound, a sound that filled the valley and echoed from the hills. Brad and Brian leapt into the air, clutched themselves on the fluttering descent, froze. ‗It‘s okay,‘ said Bulch. ‗It‘s your rescuers.‘ And out of the forest came the two elephants, each waving a waypost aloft in its trunk. They were preceded by a skinny girl and followed by Fred Overhill and Bungo. Bungo grabbed two spades. ‗I‘ll dig here and you dig there,‘ he told Fred. ‗Then we‘ll drop the posts in and that will give us the guidelines. And you keep bringing the posts up please Cassy.‘


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‗Hercules and Hera will,‘ said the girl. ‗Good,‘ said Bungo. ‗If I could undo it all in one night we should easily be able to get it back before morning. In fact there‘s no need for you folk to stay here at all.' He gestured to the resting figures, now resting less comfortably thanks to Hercules and Hera. 'Just come back tomorrow and claim the credit. Go on, off with you, foremen and all.‘ He shook his spade at them so they, who needed little telling, could now justifiably say they had been intimidated if any stickiness were to ensue from the other Bluddschott brother. For a while Bulch watched as the elephants brought post after post back from where he had rightly guessed they had been caught in the river. Then he went into the forest with Cassy, just to see how one so small could perform such miracles. Bungo and Fred dug like men possessed but as soon as each hole was complete a post was in it, until at last there were none left. ‗Right,‘ said Bungo, ‗Now we dig the drainage ditch following the line we‘ve made.‘ And the men set to once more. Bulch regarded his father with pride. So smoothly he worked, so strong, so sure. He picked up a bowl lying at his feet. ‗I‘ll get you a drink, Da,‘ he called and ran down into the forest. Bungo straightened up. Watched the boy with pleasure. He was a good lad really. His eye also fell on Cassy. What a treasure his boy had found there. Clever lad. An idea struck him. ‗Could you persuade your friends to pull those carts of gravel and drop them between our ditches?‘ he asked. ‗Of course,‘ she replied and in no time at all the stuff was down and spread. ‗Here we are,‘ came a voice from the forest, and there was Bulch, balancing a bowl of water on his head. When they had all drunk they surveyed their road section with pride. ‗A good job.‘ ‗Brilliant job. Almost in the same place, give or take a pace or two.‘ ‗Like to see old Nige‘s face in the morning.‘ ‗Right up to where it was to start with, almost.‘ ‗Much better surface.‘


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‗Last for years, that.‘ ‗Just in time and all.‘ ‗You‘re a genius, dad.‘ ‗Couldn‘t have done it without you, lad.‘ 'Or my friend.' ‗Or my friends.‘ ‗You‘re brilliant, all of you.‘ In such jovial moods they repaired to their various places of rest, Bulch saying he would see Cassy to the ford again and make sure the elephants were comfortable. So he did, and waited a little just to be certain, and as they were sitting on the bank in the moonlight Cassy said to him, ‗Bulch, where exactly is the road going? And what about the other road?‘ ‗The other road?‘ ‗The one coming in from the north west to join up with this one.‘ The Masterpiece The night mist drove a larger than usual audience to the theatre seats. An audience well perfumed from the baths and well fed from the ovens of the restaurants. An excited buzz rose from the audience for a new play from Rome, instead of the usual fare. The torches were dimmed and the only light was on the stage, set as a mausoleum and statue lined cemetery. Behind a line of mausoleum came a warrior upon a chariot drawn by a puppet pair of horses. All went well until half way onto the stage the pulleys jammed and the actor nearly fell off his chariot. A mild titter ran through the crowd. Hilarius whipped two slaves onto the stage to push the chariot to the centre, where awaited the other mourners at a beflowered mausoleum. This brought great guffaws and shouts of, ‗Whip the curs, get ‗em go faster.‘ Finally the chariot reached the allotted spot, but of the mourners there was no sign. Hilarius sighed in exasperation and bent behind


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the mausoleum props to see what had become of them. He found one entangled in the pulley rope meant to drag the chariot on stage, a second on the wrong side of the stage props, a third fallen off stage, and the last, fourth drunk in a seat on the front row. So Hilarius rushed off, quickly pulled on a clown outfit, and came on stage for a quick sketch of falls, juggling and acrobatic falls that went awry, to laughter and applause, as did the epilogue he spoke to conclude the play before any more mishaps befell them: ‗All

the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts. If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended, that you have but slumber‘d here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream. Gentles do not reprehend: If you pardon, we will mend. And, as I am an honest Hilarius, if we have unearned luck now to ‗scape the serpent‘s tongue, we will make amends ere long. ‘

Dear Reader: That sound you can hear is the bard spinning in his grave.

Teddy Bears‘ Picnic part two Maximus and Minibus were roused from their beds by the hammering on the door. ‗What‘s wrong now?‘ asked Maximus, facing the irate crowd. The next bit has been translated from the rather earthy Latin replies. ‗Your delightful bears are causing a bit of a problem in the Vicus,‘ or words meaning much the same but lot more descriptive and colourful. Maximus replied, ‗Oh dear me, I will sort it out immediately,‘ again a translation. Maximus and Minibus found Catharticus and Infectious in the popina looking very relaxed. ‗Get up off your backsides and round up the slaves. The bears are on the loose now,‘ shouted Maximus.


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Meanwhile, back in the Vicus the bears had gone for some rest and relaxation. The bath house was their first port of call. The occupants of the various baths ran out in various states of disordered clothing shouting, ‗Gosh, there are a lot of bears in the bathhouse, let us run away,‘ a rough translation. The bears tried all the baths cold, tepid and hot. The hot bath suited them and indeed, it was just right. After a bit of a soak the bears fancied a nap, wandered around and found the Villa Ortu Solis. Honoria Libida was not pleased when all her young ladies ran away. She was even less pleased when the wet bears went to sleep on the couches and beds. Catharticus and Infectious found the bears and managed to wake them up. The bears ran away. Not so our two soldiers, Honoria had trapped them in a bedroom. It was some time later before they escaped with disarranged clothing and looking very tired. ‗I say, that was an unexpected and tiring experience, old chap,‘ sighed Infectious (another translation). ‗Yes, rather,‘ replied Catharticus. The bears were enjoying their holiday and sniffed the air. The chief bear grunted and set off at a run. ‗Honey‘ said his nose and it was not wrong. The bears ran into what once had been a garden but now looked like a building site and found some beehives up against a south facing wall. The bears tucked in. Looking out from his window Nigellos Bluddschotticus saw his beehives disappearing as the bears feasted. It was just too much, he started to gibber; his wife shouted for a slave to get Nigellos‘ therapist Sigismundius. He came from Germania and was jung at heart. ‗Vot seems to be ze problem?‘ asked Sigismundius. ‗Why is my garden being destroyed by animals?‘ cried Nigellos. ‗Have you been dreaming about your muzzer?‘ At this point that Maximus and company arrived to take away the bears. Let us leave Nigellos lying on a couch telling Sigismundius about his muzzer, the bears happily snoozing while Maximus and team drink away the afternoon. One bear, a big one, had a bit of a wander off and was found later


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snoring under a tree in a near-by wood. It was coaxed back to his pals with copious amounts of apple cider. Being in a drunken stupor, fortunately, the bear had no memory of the tubby slave who had fallen on him earlier from a great height and legged it at a remarkable speed for a personage of his girth and level of unfitness. A Less Than Triumphant Return Titus stared open-mouthed. The sight on his doorstep was a lot to take in so early in the morning. Teflonicus was dripping in goo, the stench was indescribable. The scribe was dithering and rubbing his arms. ‗Great Jupiter,‘ exclaimed Titus pushing his assistant away from the door and closing it as he hastened Teflonicus towards the cowsheds at the rear of the Forum. The cowsheds were a stroke of genius, within minutes Teflonicus had started to warm up and was rubbing the mire off with the aid of fresh hay, much to the annoyance of the cattle waiting to be milked. Teflonicus, assisted by a slave of the cattle sheds who wisely said nothing, was soon downing sweet hot milk and feeling much more like himself again. Titus had been keeping watch in the lane, the last thing he needed was to be caught by the guard harbouring a horse thief. ‗Where‘s the horse?‘ he asked in a loud stage whisper, thus confirming the slave‘s opinion that all Romans were potty. ‗Run off,‘ muttered Teflonicus piling hay over his legs in the hope of warming them. ‗I expect she‘s gone home by now. May the gods know of her black soul.‘ ‗It‘s your soul you should be more concerned about,‘ whispered Titus, ‗and, where‘s that runaway slave?‘ ‗He didn‘t runaway, he came with me to lead the horse,‘ explained Teflonicus as if it was a perfectly reasonable thing to have done with someone else‘s slave and Daftus‘s mare. ‗Where did you go?‘ asked Titus leaving his post by doorway as a figure was approaching. ‗Ahh ... it‘s as well I did go,‘ replied Teflonicus as he noticed


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Smerkio running into the cattle shed. ‗Smerkio, you‘re alive!‘ ‗No thanks to you,‘ grumbled the bath-house slave grabbing a beaker of milk from the milking-slave who had already decided whatever happened it wasn‘t his fault, he was only following orders. ‗Left me up a tree with a bear underneath. A big one!‘ ‗Never mind him,‘ grumbled Titus, ‗what is going on?‘ ‗The roads won‘t meet,‘ bubbled Smerkio through a mouthful of milk and wearing a creamy white moustache. At which point Teflonicus, who had been waiting for the right time to break the news with lots of emphasis on his own brilliance, threw a beaker at Smerkio and missed, unfortunately hitting a large cow on the rump who took against this rudeness and lifted her tail, hot spraying the three men with stinging cow-pee. The milking slave had to bite his tongue to suppress a smile as the three tumbled out into the lane swearing and dripping. Thus proving cow-pee is a great social leveller, so he thought. In the Dentist‘s Chair Toothinjario said to Liontameous: 'Open up.' The figure in the chair replied, 'Well, when I was seven my father was strict and I didn't sleep well and I ...‘ 'Not like that you idiot.' Toothinjario screamed, 'Your blooming mouth, open it! Ouch, let go of my hair you gods forsaken barbarian, you may fight lions, mostly toothless, but I will truly totally batter you if you don't let go! 'I, Helitosis Toothinjario, do not remove teeth from cowardy custards. You need to grip hard on the chair not my head and scream from the back of your throat in a dull tone more like a grunt please as I can't stand screamers.' Helitosis, a tall lanky pole-vaulting sort of man loomed over his dental patient in a preying mantis stance. His right leg rose and as he jammed it in the chair to get leverage, he pulled. 'Ahhhhhhhhhghghhhh,' cried Petrafidio Liontameous. 'My, my, my, you wretched creature, how much wine do you need to put you under?'


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In the wash of pain Petrafidio still managed to muse on how vocal and rude this preying mantis dentist was and how he looked forward to head butting him when he had finished pulling on his tooth. Coward, creature, wretched, he'd have him! His eyes expressed his thoughts more than the words he babbled. With a little more composure and professionalism Heletosis said, 'Now Sir, let go of this tooth to the Gods and you will feel much better and your lion will get calmer and your customers will come and watch your show because right now you stupid creature your breath stinks and your holding me up!' Ooh very tetchy, thought Petrafidio through his drunken haze very, very tetchy! After prizing Petrafidios's fingers from his hair and blowing the fluffy tufts from his hands he smoothed himself down. Petrafidio blubbered. ‗You stupid man shut up!‘ He so wanted to punch his patient. Helitosis decided he must further consider the Anger Management Group at the Coliseum on Thursday nights only one denarius for the over fifties. With one further swift pull the tooth came out. Not the rotten brown tooth he'd expected but a perfectly healthy one! 'Oops,' said Halitosis and swiftly popped it in a jar out of view. 'Wrong tooth!' He blurted out! 'Oops, take no notice of me, all done, off you go, your lions need you. Shut up you twit, get up. Stop blubbering.' He opened the door and shoved Petrafidio through it. Slam. He grabbed the wine and took a long swig. Gods please tell me why I wasn't born and blessed to be a flower seller.


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Bath-house Hot Room Through the fog of steam sat Nigellos, his rotund nakedness covered by a handkerchief of towel. His modesty thus preserved, he waved at valued colleagues and nodded to fort officials like some grotesque beached whale. He needed to see and be seen, good public relations were important. His bonhomie was disturbed by the shadow of Titus looming out of the mist. The beak like skeletal figure enrobed in a sheet whispered in his ear. ‗What?‘ Nigellos was staggered to his core, a very long way down under rolls of tubbiness. He grasped the hot seat tightly and instantly regretted it. ‗The roads won‘t meet!‘ repeated Titus, who was so enjoying this experience and having to think really hard to keep his facial muscles from a forming a wide grin. ‗It‘s true. Teflonicus and Smerkio have been to see the Deva route. It‘s skirted the marsh and it‘s coming across too high. It won‘t join with the Londinium road without a rightangled turn.‘ Nigellos mopped his streaming brow. His florid cheeks had turned puce and his hand was shaking, ‗Turn! A turn! Are you mad?‘ ‗What will you tell Fattassious?‘ asked the accountant, in all innocence.


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At this point Smerkio who had been obscured by the heavy steam came forward carrying more hot coals for the steamer. His ears had been flapping like a pigeon in flight. A fat, ugly pigeon in flight. ‗Tell Fattassious,‘ muttered Nigellos as the huge calamity gelled in his mind. People had been thrown to the lions for less. ‗Nothing yet,‘ he replied gathering his wits. ‗Did Teflonicus go to the southern road?‘ ‗Not yet,‘ blurted Smerkio. Both free men stared in amazement at such effrontery. ‗We‘d need two ponies this time and some food!‘ Nigellos almost choked at his slave‘s cheek. Such impertinence was unknown. Titus was more pragmatic. ‗Time is short. You do need to ascertain the southern route for certain.‘ The ―You Need‖ was not lost on Nigellos, who was still puffing and blowing in uncertainty. Titus filled the silence, ‗Good idea Smerkio. Run and tell Teflonicus. They can take your two ponies, can‘t they?‘ A football shaped head wobbled. Smerkio took this as assent from his master, so did Titus. Both men exited the caldarium chuckling, thus proving catching a foe with his pants down is a positive strategy. Somewhere South West: down a bit from the Vicus Finally, road builder, Commodious had noticed that smoke plumes from the fires in the Vicus were not where he expected them to be according to the sketch plan on a scroll, which was turning out to be more like a guideline than etched in stone. He was instructing a scout to ride north when Smerkio and Teflonicus arrived at the avant-guard campsite of the Londinium route layers. Both men were out of breath after shifting cross country, and blundering through woods and coppices, to the south of the Vicus at the gallop, or more like a bumpy trot if truth were to tell. ‗Hail friend, advance and be recognised,‘ called Commodius who was big on formality and glad of any news even from such messengers as these.


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Smerkio looked over his shoulder, the big-wig military bloke in the furry hat with that proddy looking sword wouldn‘t be addressing him. Teflonicus tried his best attempt at a bow and promptly fell off the pony landing in an undignified heap at the feet of Commodius: ‗Hail and well met,‘ he said, scrambling to his feet. ‗Our master Nigellos Bluddschotticus sends his salutations and asks you swing the road north immediately by means of a ...‘ at which point words failed him and thus he bent his arm at the elbow and pointed at the angle at said elbow nodding furiously. Nigellos hadn‘t actually given any such instruction, but Titus seeing an opportunity had whispered the said instruction to Teflonicus while they were in the stables borrowing the ponies for the clandestine surveillance operation. Smerkio‘s face was a picture of innocence. Nothing to do with him. Total deniability seemed the best course of action. If he said nothing, if he heard nothing, and saw nothing, he could claim total surprise and be spared a flogging, or a part in the games as bait for the lions, and thus a survival plan formulated the slave closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears. Commodius nodded towards the slave on the pony with eyes closed and hands over his ears and raised an eyebrow. Teflonicus smiled, ‗Take no notice of him, he was dropped on his head as a child.‘ Revenge is Sweet, sort of. Maximus was tired, as were the rest of the intrepid animal catchers. It had been a long day with animals everywhere. ‗Bath, beer, food and bed,‘ he said. ‗Me too,‘ came chorus of voices. The town‘s folk had had enough. They had formed a committee to get their own back. While our intrepid animal catchers were washing, boozing and eating, there were a few people with dark clothes creeping through the night to Maximus and crew‘s house. You have heard of apple pie beds well there was going to be an apple pie house. Unfortunately, the pranksters had drunk rather too freely of the cheap


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wine in the taberna before they set out. The beds were the first port of call, no tying down of sheets or hiding the bedclothes, this was war. The various frightened animals had left a trail of ordure through the Vicus. The beds were filled with a fair bit of this. A lion was tied to the bedroom wall and a gorilla was trapped in the living room. Above the entrance door was balanced not a bucket of whitewash but something wet, runny and brown. No problem so far. Wrong. Inevitably, the drunk pranksters had picked the wrong house in the dark and had chosen the blacksmith‘s house. He was a big, strong man who could crack walnuts with his bare hands and had an extremely short temper especially if had been drinking, which he had. His name was Magnus Violentus which suited him very well. The tricksters hid in an alleyway opposite the house waiting for the fun and games to start. It did. The bucket fell on to Magnus, the lion roared, the gorilla beat its chest. Magnus roared too. The lion fled, the gorilla ran and Magnus ran out. He saw the culprits laughing in the alleyway and went into berserker mode. Maximus heard the screaming and moaned ‗Not more bloody escaped animals?‘ He looked out of the window and saw the lion leading the pack followed by a gorilla, followed by some drunks and chased by Magnus waving a large club. ‗Ok chaps, no problem, someone has upset Magnus.‘ Minibus went to the door, ‗Nothing to do with us then, have another drink Infectious.‘ ‗Don‘t mind if I do, how about you Catharticus?‘ Catharticus replied, ‗Just a small one and leave the door open, I want to see the fun. The fun lasted for some time before Magnus caught the culprits. He dragged them back to his house and made them clean up. It was that or a long stay in the hospital. Maximus and friends retired to bed pleasantly drunk and pleased the latest troubles were nothing to do with them


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Belisha the Fragrant Smerkio couldn‘t believe his good fortune. His master Nigellos had given him a denarius tip and Titus, Teflonicus‘s boss, had given him a tip as well and then a beaming Teflonicus had shared a very large bread roll with him, on the whole he‘d had worse days all things considered. He patted one of the returned ponies as he left the stables and headed towards the Forum wearing the grin of a man who knows more than is good for him. He was stopped by the slave from the laundry Belisha, poor soul stank to high heavens of pee, well what could you expect treading sheets in urine vats eight hours a day. Belisha was a beacon of bleached cleanliness in a very grubby world. ‗Hail Belisha,‘ he said, holding his nose and keeping the warm bread roll behind his back. ‗Ciao, bella ...‘ ‗Don‘t you hail me, where‘ve you been?‘ she asked with a prodding finger. Smerkio backed off, he wasn‘t prepared for an interrogation in an alley, walls had ears and loose lips cost lives ... even if it was only his own that he was particularly bothered about. ‗Bet you can‘t guess ...‘ she said in that annoying way some women have. ‗I‘ve got a new job opportunity.‘ ‗In the tannery?‘ he asked, hoping not as she stank enough already and the idea of a girlfriend who spent all day treading doggy do and other stinky stuff didn‘t bear thinking about. ‗Naah silly. On the road. I‘ve got to hold up a lamp at entrance to the amphitheatre. Master Nigellos says he doesn‘t want anybody falling over in the dark and suing him on games day.‘ ‗For how long? You‘re just standing in the road holding up a lamp ... What the ...‘ ‗Don‘t go and spoil it for me ... it‘s my big chance ... I‘ll be a lady with a lamp. A shining example of ...‘ ‗Who told you that you ninny? You‘ll look a right dolt! How much are they paying? Oh I know, it‘s a voluntary extra job, isn‘t it?‘ At that point Belisha‘s patience ran out and she shoved her so wannabe playmate, when it suited him on a Friday night, onto his chubby backside, thus flattening both his pride and his soft bread roll.


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Trouble at Temple Vera was awake and lay watching the sky turn a cloudy blue, that was the trouble with this country, clouds, always clouds, another rainy day and nothing to fill it except keeping the eternal fire alight. Vera sighed, turned over and went back to sleep, who would be a vested virgin. The next thing she knew was Gloria was shaking her awake. ‗Vera! Vera wake up! The fire it's almost out. The slaves have not woken us.‘ Vera sat up rubbed her eyes and looked around. A dish of various breakfast goodies was perched on the side table at the end of the bed. ‗Look see, they've bought in the food but left us to sleep. Go quickly to the wood pile and I'll try and rescue the fire.‘ Gloria scurried off to pile of wood stacked in the corner of the room. Oh she was getting too old for this performance, twenty nine years and ten months and in another two months she and Vera would be thrown out of the temple, made redundant. On one hand she herself would be overjoyed but on the other hand what would happen to them? Taking a handful of sticks she went towards Vera who was poking the eternal flame. It was in a sorry state with just a few embers yielding to Vera's touch. ‗Cast the sticks on one at a time,‘ ordered Vera,‘ Just our luck for this to happen now just within weeks of us becoming free.‘ ‗Oh Vera, I do think we ought to talk about what we are going to do,‘ ‘Not now, let‘s get this flaming fire going or we won't need to worry about our future if it goes out.‘ After what seemed like an age the sticks began to catch alight and glow. ‗Thank goodness for that,‘ said Vera wiping her hand across her chubby face, ‗that was a near thing. We must be more carefully in future, sleep in shifts. You can take the first part of the night and I'll take the second. We cannot have any slip ups again Gloria, it's too risky,‘ ‗Oh!‘ cried Gloria, ‗we are just too old for this sort of thing. What


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is to become of us Vera? We shall be set aside like a pair of worn out sandals. No one will want us, what shall we do? Where can we live?‘ Vera smiled, ‗We need to find two middle aged Romans who would be delighted to obtain a well upholstered wife each. After all we are still fine figures of womanhood.‘ ‗And a little too well upholstered if true be told,‘ added Gloria. ‗Nonsense we are a good catch for some man,‘ ‗But how can we meet such a man when we never go out alone?‘ Vera suddenly had an idea, ‗We could advertise, give the scribes a tablet. However, the other alternative would be to find ourselves a job. There must be something out there that two middle aged ladies could do to keep the wolf from the door.‘ The Strategic Importance of The Spread Eagle Nigellos Bluddschotticus was doing his best to stand to attention, or more like stand up straight which was difficult when his rotund belly found a way of making everything tricky. Watching him squirm was Fort Commander Fattassious Fattallis and his second-incommand Daftus Brushius. ‗You do realise in fifteen days the Senator will be arriving?‘ ‗Oh yes, Commander,‘ muttered Nigellos leaning towards a side table laden with imported wine and all manner of goodies, obviously, not laid out for the likes of him. Daftus banged his swagger stick on his palm with more vigour than intended and let out a yelped ... ‗And the Ninth Legion and Gladiators. Three Gladiators. Have you any idea how much this lot is costing, you dope?‘ He rubbed his throbbing hand on his bottom in the hope no-one had noticed. ‗It‘s a cock up worthy of being thrown to the lions,‘ added Fattassious, who was none too sure if wouldn‘t be himself facing those menacing gnashers and thanking all the stars he had opted for Gladiators and not wild beasts for the entertainment. Nigellos was studying the chart. He‘d never actually clapped eyes on the actual map of the road he‘d been in charge of building before. Considering he didn‘t understand road construction methodology or


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geography, personally he didn‘t think he‘d done too badly: they were only about a Roman mile out and getting closer every day. If it hadn‘t been for Teflonicus and Smerkio‘s adventure they‘d all have been none the wiser and the fallout would have been too terrible to imagine. ‗It won‘t meet. The two ends. They won‘t meet.‘ ‗Four ends,‘ interjected Daftus. ‗One from Deva, one from Londinium. Then the other two coming up from the south west. Four ends.‘ ‗Yes, yes, thank you Daftus. For spouting the blood shedding obvious.‘ Nigellos saw an opportunity and changed the weight from one foot to the other. Rain pounded on the tiled roof of the Commander‘s official residence. Another month had turned and not turned out well. Everywhere was turning into a mud bath. ‗They aren‘t far off though, are they?‘ asked Nigellos meekly. ‗This is our Roman legion, we‘re building the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Appian Way, the Wall for Hadrian ... ―not far off‖ doesn‘t cut it ... you blithering idiot.‘ ‗We haven‘t got time to reroute, have we?‘ asked Daftus studying a chart, which if truth were known, he couldn‘t even tell which way was north. At which point, too agitated to speak, Fattassious forgot himself and set down his wine beaker on the chart while he wiped his face with a convenient cloth and sat down to regain his composure. Why did the Gods hate him so? What had he done to be posted to the backside of the world to this rain sodden backwater where he was surrounded by fools? He took another drink and indicated to Daftus to refill his beaker. Nigellos stared at the chart. ‗Oh,‘ he said. ‗Brilliant. That might work.‘ Daftus and Fattassious stared at the chart where the beaker had left a perfect wine red circle. ‗What‘s that in the middle?‘ asked Daftus in all innocence. Nigellos and Fattassious both knew the answer. In the middle of that perfect circle to which all roads now joined was the inn, the House of the Spread Eagle, landlady Bertha Velcrow,


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and the amphitheatre where the games were to be held. The three men shared a moment of overwhelming relief and a plan to hoodwink the Senator began to take shape. The Han(g) Glider Agnes the Chaste sat on the chaise longue in her living room, idly looking out to the courtyard through the open door. ‗Great, a prison even with the door open, not allowed out whenever I want out to the Vicus. Sitting here wasting time, watching the ebb and flow of some slave or other scurrying on their tasks.‘ A lull came as slaves left the villa to get the supplies for the comfort of Titus. A flurry of small whirling breezes gained strength, twirling the fountain waters up into the sky. A bird seemed to be dancing on the wind, but as it descended its wings became huge. As it reached below the roof eaves and the wings swept up in the up-draught, she espied a man the likes she had never seen before, in silk gowns, hanging from beneath the great bird, that swooped and banked and the man jumped to land and then lashed the bird to a column, leaving it to glide still aloft. She cried out, ‗Not today, thank you. Not in a shopping mood.‘ ‗No pretty lady, not sales, but salvation. When next out shopping, look to the skies for a good luck dragon kite, for prosperity, luck and your wishes to all come true, honourable lady or espy our boat with its dragon painted prow.‘ And the man, wearing a silk hat and braided long hair, bowed deeply. ‗Oh the games will even have dragon dancers for the bestiary, but I‘ll not be let out for that,‘ she moaned. ‗The games?‘ ‗Yes, the games to honour the Senator come to open the meeting of the roads. Do keep up?‘ ‗Ah so, the games. But you‘ll go to the shops before the games?‘ ‗No during as everyone will be there but me, as unmarried so kept indoors mostly,‘ informed Agnes, sadly.


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‗Ah so, during the games everyone from the Vicus and fort will be there.‘ ‗Yeah, a whole army could invade for all the folk would care, the games might be life or death, but are more important than that.‘ ‗So an army could just walk, in surely not?‘ ‗Nothing interrupts the games and whoever comes will just turn Roman, we‘re the most civilised.‘ A smile spread from ear to ear of the man before her, but he stifled a laugh with a cough or two. ‗Anyway, are you not well? Where are you from?‘ ‗No kind lady, I am well. I‘m from the Middle Earth whence comes your silk and spices.‘ ‗China.‘ ‗Ah so, you‘ve heard of us. So enlightened, honourable lady.‘ ‗Yes. What‘s this jade Buddha all about?‘ ‗Ah, a happiness Buddha.‘ ‗Oh how nice.‘ ‗I must take my leave of you now, honourable lady.‘ With that he untied the great cloth bird, as she now realised, and took a run carrying the bird wing aloft into the sky in spiral flight. Having time on his hands, he enjoyed gliding in the unexpected blue sky of an English spring, enjoying the rare sunshine. Higher he went until he espied high slate grey hills of Wales in the far distance, then looked down. In shock he spoke out in astonishment, ‗The roads aren‘t meeting. But, what, a round road could bring them together? Oh drat, the Romans are going to take credit for inventing the roundabout.‘ A Grand Day Out, (possibly) After all the excitement Maximus decided they all needed a day out for rest and relaxation. ‗How about a jaunt to Pennocrucium?‘ he asked. Pennocrucium was a little town a few miles north of Trentbilious or as we know it today ‗Penkridge‘. ‗Why not?‘


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‗Good idea.‘ ‗Anything is better than this dump.‘ ‗Make mine a sextarius.‘ (A roman measure of about one pint or half litre) Were some of the replies. After a light breakfast they set off. Maximus and Minibus on horses. Catharticus and Infectious rode camels. They intended to give people rides; well not give but ask them to pay. A couple of slaves trailed behind with some baboons and gorillas in a cage on the cart. Again a money spinner. Luckily it was not raining and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. ‗Nice day for it,‘ said Infectious. ‗Not bad at all,‘ replied Catharticus. They joined the road to Pennocrucium and found it was quite busy; They were given plenty of room because any horse that had not seen or smelt a camel bolted with the rider hanging on, the same applied to the carts. They set up the camel rides away from the market and took it turns to take the money while the others walked around the market. The gorillas and baboons were a great success too. Well, that was until a small child undid the catch on the cages and let them out. It was a repeat performance of Trentbilious. People running and screaming, stalls turned over and general mayhem. Maximus wept, ‗Why can‘t I have just one day off from chasing and catching animals?‘ Minibus had to deal with the irate traders and all the money made on the camel rides was paid out. Infectious and Catharticus kept very quiet but were sick of Trentibilius and especially Nigellos Bluddschotticus who had dragged them up from Londinium . After they got back and Maximus and Minibus were asleep, they crept out to the animal compound. They took an especially grumpy lion and led it to Nigellos Bluddschotticus‘ house, opened the front door and pushed it in.


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They stood in the dark garden and waited. The resultant screams were most gratifying. ‗Most satisfactory. How about a drink?‘ said Catharticus. ‗A good idea and some nibbles too,‘ replied Infectious. The Bluddschotticus household was now quiet, everyone had locked themselves in the latrina which was not only a refuge but a now a necessity. Vera and Gloria. Vera kicked off her shoes and collapsed onto a chaise longue in the Temple of Vesta. It groaned under her ample rump. ‗Ooooh, my feet are killing me!‘ she complained. ‗I haven‘t broken these new sandals in yet, and the leather thongs are rubbing my heels something rotten!‘ ‗Sounds like they‘re breaking you in!‘ Gloria commented, somewhat unsympathetically. ‗They don‘t make sandals like they used to, that‘s certain. That new shoemaker cuts corners and uses cheap hide, if you ask me.‘ Vera snorted. ‗Been on my feet all day, and for what?‘ she continued. ‗It‘s not as if there is a glut of vestal virgins round here, needing my assistance.‘ ‗Can‘t recall when I last came across a virgin round here,‘ Gloria contributed. ‗Nor even a whole lot of vessels, for that matter, unless you count that old clay pot we keep our lamp oil in!‘ ‗I know. Let‘s face it, we are redundant. Our services are no longer required and it may well be time to throw in the towel and find employment elsewhere.‘ Gloria looked glum as she considered Vera‘s assertion. ‗But what on earth can we do? I‘m not trained for anything else.‘ A tear welled up in her puffy eyes. She dabbed at them with the hem of her stola. ‗You mean you had training?‘ Vera was incredulous. ‗Well, a full quarter hour…‘ Gloria‘s voice tailed off. ‗I have no such worries,‘ Vera snorted. ‗Someone like me can easily find a new position. In fact, I think I may have already done so!‘ ‗Really?‘ Gloria‗s puffy eyes opened wide. ‗Yes indeed.‘ Vera was triumphant.


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‗Oh do tell!‘ Vera wasn‘t at all sure she wanted to share it with Gloria. ‗Oh please!‘ Gloria pleaded. ‗Very well, but do stop blubbing!‘ she snapped. ‗I noticed a notice on the wall of the Vicus this morning. They are advertising for lollipop ladies to man the New Road. Thought I might just apply. It‘s got to be better than this, sitting around all day waiting for things that never happen!‘ ‗Lollipop ladies? To man The Road? Forgive me Vera, but what are lollipops, what have they to do with The Road, and, er… I‘m not being rude, believe me, but you are a woman, and an ample woman at that… so how can you man The Road?‘ Vera groaned by way of reply. ‗I‘m not too sure about the lollipop thing myself,‘ she admitted reluctantly,‘ But as to the rest, I was speaking figuratively, not literally.‘ ‗But your figure is definitely female,‘ Gloria insisted. ‗Listen, forget all that. Are you interested? It‘ll be a lot more interesting than working here. They‘re expecting a lot of traffic once The Road‘s opened. They need responsible folk to see folk safely across.‘ ‗Might it be rather dangerous; all those chariots hurtling along?‘ Gloria was unsure. ‗Chariots contain charioteers… nice, strong, handsome, fit young men!‘ Vera reminded her. ‗Um, yes. I guess so.‘ Gloria‘s eyes were no longer damp. They had a puffy twinkle in them. Her mouth was watering. ‗Besides, it pays quite well. I could afford to sling these lousy sandals and buy twenty new pairs from that Jimmy Chouius shop.‘ ‗Really?‘ Gloria was warming to the idea. ‗Yes. AND the uniform is pretty good too!‘ ‗Uniform? We get to wear a uniform?‘ ‗Of course! It‘s a very responsible job, and we have to be distinguishable from the common throng, the hoi polloi. We have to stand out from the mob.‘ ‗I wonder what the uniform is like,‘ Gloria mused. ‗There was a drawing on the parchment. White tunic with orange stripe. Very fetching.‘


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‗Why the stripe?‘ Gloria asked. ‗Why, to make us easy to see of course, you clod-brain! Well I‘m off, before someone else snaffles the job. You coming?‘ And with that, Vera was gone, pursued by Gloria, ten paces behind. Cross Purposes Isadora was doing her regular purification ceremony upon the statue of the Queen of Heaven in her inner sanctum temple chambers, waving a censer on a chain of perfumed smoke. Her priest and priestesses were out in the temple tending to worshippers. She sat down to rest between her daily task, only for a shadow to fall upon her and looking up saw Athena Nike, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Isadora cried, ‗Oh Goddess, I mistook your vision for a portent of invasion by the natives and made a right fool of myself in the eyes of the camp commandant.‘ Athena spoke to her, ‗Yes the visions got confused, for you saw but the play you knew your son Hilarius the Cheerful was to put up as entertainment on the opening of the road. Not the vision intended at all. Your son may have to carry off his love by elopement, to steal her away, as his plan is as full of holes as his mosaics will be.‘ The Goddess Athena Nike‘s image faded away. Aristarchos had heard the words through an alcove beyond the inner sanctum. ‗Holes in my mosaic designs? Elopement?‘ He inwardly groaned. Galenodorius was sat mixing herbs as Aristarchos came upon him, ‗Father mine, we need to find the next freight ship back home to Greece, setting sail off the coast of the Celts.‘ ‗What trouble have you got yourself into this time, my son?‘ ‗I can ‗t think any other way of gaining my love, Agnes the Chaste, other than stealing her away in the day from her shopping day out.‘ ‗Well my Chinese acupuncturists are setting off to return to Rome, but I can easily change their minds to go to Athens. Just as profitable for them. I‘m sure they can devise a diversion so you can steal her


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away from the Vicus and hide her in plain sight along the road to Wales. Or even on the river.‘ Tooth Ache Petrafidio grappled with the darkness as he wobbled towards his beloved moth eaten tattered lion Lionel. 'Help me Lionel' he squeaked' 'I'm in pain and overcome. 'I have tooth ache and the dentist assured me I would be well.' The worn giant cat peered through his dreadlocked mane with a look of distant disdain. 'Help you, help you,' he mumbled 'What about me, I'm so low I could end it right now! Can you not see what's happening to me! I'm like a patchwork quilt having to fight blooming savages has cost me dear. I'm stitched up and sown down. I've been stitched so tight in places I have got the mincing flipping walk of one of those blasted arrogant sacred moggie's that are allowed to wander any temple because they can catch blooming mice. They're a disgrace to the cat family. Cats with benefits! I eat people and nobody gives a togas. It's so not good. Get lost Petrafidio I'm depressed. Melancholia has its hold!' He humphed to the ground and further buried himself in to the mound of Toga washing pile. Lionel the lion was prone to the lows of depression and the highs of mania. Presently dark days bestowed him. Petrafidio Liontameous focused upon his lion friend and grabbing wine on the way scurried across the floor and climbed untidily under the mound of clothes. 'Snuggle up Lionel me old mate I'm freezing.' There they stayed until morning. Petrafidio Liontameous yawned activating his aching tooth and noted that morning was glinting into his home. He nursed his head spat out a piece of lions mane and removed Lionel's tail from the corner of his mouth, which worried him slightly. Why was he eating Lionel's tail, he thought. He vaguely caught the distant thread of a


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dream about nibbling a sumptuous kebab. Oh dear he thought. He closely observed Lionel's tail. Images of a major Lionel hissy fit came to mind if he had any more fur missing. It looked okay just slightly chewed. 'Yuk' he said Lionel stirred and arose from the toga pile. He resembled a God of sorts, pantaloons drooping from his head. He swung his great head around and took a long look at his tail. Then took a long look at Petrafidio. Their eyes met, they both said nothing. Just looked. Weirdo, thought Lionel. Lionel humphed and grumped. Petrafidio Liontameous thought it was time to challenge his friend 'Lionel, since you've had PTGD (Post Traumatic Gladiator Disorder ) you have been hell to live with. Up and down like a blinking yoyo. We have to get you help. There was this bloke Heraclitus who once said 'Day by day what you choose and what you think and what you do is who you become, you must get a grip. I will grab you some poppy extract and donkey milk. They are said to help, we must get you and I back in the arena to earn some denarii. But for now I need to see that blasted useless dentist Toothinjario, it seems I have another poisoned tooth. At this tooth loosing rate we are going to have to chew our food between us!' Lionel pursed his lips, feeling nauseous at the prospect of both chewing and sharing food and drinking a dum asses milk. Over my dead body he thought I would rather starve, then gloomily proceeded to pick this idea apart seeing the head lines 'Lion ends it all due to incompetent dentist.' Petrafidio Liontameous left the building. Lionel reflected upon why he had become a lion and not a horse. Maybe this Heraclitus bloke had a point. He so admired the horses he had met in the arena, they were so funky and contemporary. He wondered why they were allowed to dress up in stripes and call themselves Zebras. He had always wanted to be a crazy cat with colour. Ruby red or pink. The name Lionessa appealed he would ditch Lionel. An idea developed. He smiled. He set to it. Lionel felt a high


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coming on. Whoooohooooo! Melancholia over! Helitosis Toothinjario was opening his dentist shop to a bustling busy market street when he clocked his patient Petrafidio Liontameous from yesterday who he had so wanted to punch for being such a cowardy custard. Assuming there was trouble ahead thinking Petrafidio had realised he had pulled the wrong tooth Helitosis slammed the door and ran around the room squeaking. Petrafidio Liontameous timidly opened the door and blinked into the darkness. 'Excuse me are you in?' 'No' said Helitosis abruptly before he could stop himself. 'Damn' Helitosis blurted out. Petrafidio was confused and slightly scared. 'Erm, you are in because you've just said so, in fact I can see your feet sticking out from under the screen your hiding behind and your head out of the top. 'No I'm not out I am in, I am hiding, damn, I've said it out loud, damn, oh I give up, here I am.' Helitosis stepped out smiling neurotically. 'Morning, how can I help you Sir?' Helitosis and Petrafidio had sat sharing a jug of wine for an hour they were both very drunk and feeling a little emotional having shared deep things. Petrafidio shared his worries about his traumatised lion and Helitosis talked of his overwhelming desire to blurt things out punch his patients and to give up being a dentist and become a flower seller. They felt close. 'Okay tooth time.' He loomed over Petrafidio one hand behind his back with fingers crossed. 'Okay Sir,' Helitosis said putting a professional air on hoping it would help him to know what to do next. 'Here goes, let's try and pull the bad one out this time, he stabbed his probe into a tooth, hurt?' Aghhhhh Petrafidio yelled. 'Shut up you stupid under developed miserable stupid twit or I will punch you!' And off it went again. Meanwhile back at the Lionel art class for one, Lionel was busying


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himself. Feeling elated he slapped his home made pink substance all over him, liberally. Whilst watching Petrafidio render the walls he had contemplated the idea. 'It sticks on those walls really well and adding wine will make it pink.' Ta Da, good idea, just like an Olympic torch being lit the idea had sprung into life. Tum ti tum he hummed. He added feathers from an earlier plucked chicken. How elegant he mused how totally 'now darling.' Lionessa is to be created. Petrafidio made his way, he hoped, in the direction of home, he was too intoxicated to be sure. The dentist chair had been left with a straddled Halitosis passed out and modelling an enormous black eye and two missing front teeth. Petrafidio had eventually hit him with the wine bottle as Helitosis's outburst of honesty had got a little too observational and he took offence when he shouted he had a nose like an aubergine. Petrafidio also had two more missing teeth and still had pain as Helitosis had got it even more wrong. The door opens Petrafidio shouted, 'Soup for tea Lionel me ode mucker.' Then 'Oh eck.' Lionel was pooped. Popped his paws, gone to the gods. Petrafidio Liontameous felt a rush of panic and anxiety. He tried to action his mindfulness breathing exercises but as usual all this mumbo jumbo mindfulness twaddle never works out of the classroom. Breath in for a count of seven out for eleven , notice your breath and relax' nope not a blooming chance. Hyperventilating he thought that maybe rushing around and screaming may work or should he collapse into a mourning posture and whale. What to do? He couldn't quite work out why Lionel was pink, covered in feathers, laying on his back with all four legs pointing to the ceiling, dead, stiff as a board. Then one beady Lionel eye swivelled towards him. Petrafidio Liontameous was petrified, pulling on all of his supposed bravery for taming lions he sidled over to his pink cat, feeling far too sobered up for


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comfort. Dropping to his knees he poked him, yup stiff as a board. He shuffled around looking down directly into Lionel's face getting an unusual view up his nose. Ooh hairy! Lionel swivelled his eyes. Right, left ceiling, floor. Petrafidio Liontameous gasped, 'You‘re alive Lionel you‘re just trapped!' Blooming idiot how can a man be so astute, Lionel thought. Petrafidio then caught site of his rendering pot. 'Oh Lionel you've been rendered and feathered who's done this to you!' With help Petrafidio managed to stand Lionel upright and place him on a trolley. Petrafidio marvelled at how strangely beautiful his lion looked. Other than the flip flop that had inadvertently got stuck on Lionel's leg. He popped some flowers in the flip flop loops. There, he thought, gorgeous. With sweat and toil he wheeled him through the street to find the Potter in the hope they could relieve Lionel of his plaster cast. Gasps and applause of onlookers and skipping children followed them. They threw money and flowers. Lionel puffed a little with pride only slightly though as he was rather restricted and thought he may go pop. He loved it. Petrafidio had a business idea developing. Smile somehow Lionel, smile lad. I'm a star, Lionel glowed, they love me. I'm no longer the half stuffed terrified lion being had over by Gormless Gladiators and being expected to want to eat wrongly accused thieves. Horrid things get stuck in your teeth rotten. I'm now beautiful and gorgeous, pink and proud, feathered Lionessa. From now on I'm a Lioness called Lionessa. And from today I think vegetarian. He swivelled his eyes in appreciation of his cheering audience and mentally took a bow. Noticing an arrogant peacock looking down his beak at him he made a mental note to self. 'I'll be wearing you soon mate!' Lionessa mentally took a bow to his audience and settled into her new journey.


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Dragons At Dawn Galenodorius could scarcely believe his eyes as the young dragon strolled past, munching on something big that had been feathered in life. ‗Could that be an ostrich, surely not?‘ He muttered to himself. An irritated Chinese voice gave the dragon pause, and one of the two temple‘s acupuncturists called the beast to heel and they wandered off towards the Buddhist shrine. Galenodorius asked, ‗Where is your friend?‘ ‗My friend is out having a flight on this fine day and not due back for a while yet.‘ ‗He‘s riding dragon back?‘ ‗No I‘m the only one that can do that, he‘s out gliding under sky sail.‘ ‗Well I‘ve a task for you two on your way to the Celt port and you‘re going to Athens not Rome.‘ Just then a griffin, part lion, part tiger, sporting great wings, came and nuzzled the acupuncturist seeking the titbit treats he knew were kept in his Dragon Whisperer‘s pocket. ‗Whose opened that cupboard door by the lamppost again?‘ groaned Galenodorius. Canvas bellowing on the wind alerted as the other acupuncturists came to land, running to a stop before the Chinese quarters. ‗Hello Chief, how goes it?‘ ‗Are you trying to freak out these superstitious Romans, flying over the countryside. You‘re lucky you didn‘t ditch amongst the cannibalistic Welsh.‘ ‗Ah, but some Welsh are buxom young wenches with soft red curly hair and gentle natures.‘ ‗Never mind your love life amongst the primitives. You two start getting packed to travel back to Athens. My son will be going with you.‘ ‗Athens. Oh I thought we were going to Rome itself.‘ ‗And where do you think the Romans learned everything, if it weren‘t from us Hellenic types?‘ ‗Yeah, you far too clever folk learning from all the civilisations of


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Africa and Asia.‘ ‗Why are you being especially smarmy to get on my good side? What are you up to? ‗Your son is going to get himself crucified in trying to elope with Titus‘ ward. Since when has his romances not caused him grief and never success of stealing off his love.‘ ‗Oh my son‘s already had words with you two. Very well, it must be soon. His slaves and mine say his two mosaic contracts are mixed up, he‘s unlikely to be paid and more likely to be thrown to the lions.‘ ‗The Fort commandant has a gold Buddha I‘ve espied through a window, glinting in this rare Britannic sunshine.‘ The other acupuncturist then informed, ‗Titus has a diamond encrusted silver Buddha.‘ ‗What care I about Buddhas. All respect to his enlightenment. My son will have nothing to show for his mosaics and no contracts back in Athens lined up. He‘ll get all maudlin.‘ The griffin spoke, suggesting, ‗It‘s only fair as the floor mosaics will be finished soon and of such craftsmanship as a Greek designer‘s, the best, for fair payment. The mosaics can be kept covered in their centres to keep pristine until the Senator goes the rounds of formal visits.‘ ‗Now, that is a plan.‘ Meanwhile in the Bean Counter‘s Office Smerkio rubbed his belly and wrinkled his nose, no, he couldn‘t make head or tail of what Teflonicus wanted him to do. ‗Say that again,‘ he said frowning. ‗My head hurts. I don‘t know what you‘re on about here.‘ Titus shook his head at Gias. Gias raised eyebrows at Teflonicus who pinched the bridge of his nose between this eyes and taking a deep breath began again to explain what they had to do to carry out the plan Nigellos and Fattassious had come up with to save their bacon and at the same time make absolutely sure the plan was carried out at arm‘s length with zero chance of them both personally seeming involved in any way and with a total deniability factor of thou-


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sands to one. After a few minutes Smerkio grinned: ‗Got it. By the Gods of chance, that‘s a cunning plan.‘ ‗Lot of work though,‘ said Teflonicus. ‗Lot of palms are going to need greasing.‘ His gaze settled on Titus, the Vicus purse holder, who sighed the sigh of the defeated. ‗First things first,‘ said Smerkio. ‗Bertha Velcrow needs bringing into the fold. Come on Gias, let‘s go see your grand dame.‘ He stopped at the doorway. ‗Best bring a full purse, your old lady doesn‘t do anything without a coin in her hand.‘ As they left, Teflonicus remember something: ‗Those advertising boards Bill‘s painted ...‘ Titus nodded, finally an idea with low cost implications. ‗Tell him he can have a free rental period for a month if he puts them up on the roadside both on the incoming road and the outgoing road but not on the two sides of the circle.‘ He pointed with a gall-ink stained finger. All eyes scrutinised the scroll map with the circular red wine stain so they were all au fait with the plan, which was something of a first for the hierarchy of Trentbilious. The Plans of Mice and Men ‗You are not to go out shopping this day of all days. With absolutely no-one to guard your honour, your reputation,‘ boomed Titus. Tears streaking down her face, Agnes held back her sobs to plead, ‗Can‘t I, at least, come with you to the games?‘ ‗I‘m not having you as a distraction, worried about keeping an eye on you, to spoil my enjoyment of the games,‘ hurled Titus back, enraged. Titus stormed out of Agnes‘ living room. At which point Agnes wished that small mouse could leap upon her occasional table sporting a sword aloft, ‗Fear not, gentle lady, your salvation is at hand.‘ ‗But how?‘ howled Agnes. ‗A dragon painted boat does this way come. Be all ready to seek that which you seek.‘


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With that the mouse she had dreamed of leapt from the table up high and alighted upon a swooping wren bearing a tiny saddle and soared up, up and away.

Note to Reader: It is worth mentioning at this point that there was a considerable amount of vino de table (as in ‗falling off‘ a table) being drunk in Roman times and a serious amount of hallucinogenic herbs and spices smouldering away in perfumed braziers ... Not to put too fine a point on it ... most of them were off their heads for a lot of the time ... this clarification is just in case any reader was wondering if they had inadvertently wandered into a pantomime and it might come in handy later on. Shh, It‘s a Secret. It was late evening, dark and raining heavily when a hooded figure knocked at a hut door. A hatch slid back and a voice asked, ‗Does the moon quake with fear?‘ The reply came: ‗Only when the knees of the leopard are green with envy.‘ The response was, ‗Oily are the olive groves of Tuscany.‘ ‗The ides of March are yet to come,‘ carried on the dialogue. ‗The fish are swimming against the tide.‘ At this point the wet door knocker retorted: ‗Open the bloody door, I am getting wet and if you don‘t let me in I am going to throw the pizzas into the gutter. You know it‘s me, Brother Sex (Number 6).‘ ‗Are you are sure you are Sex?‘ ‗One more sodding question and I‘ll stick the pizzas where the sun don‘t shine.‘ ‗Ok then I‘ll let you in but Brother Unum (Number One) doesn‘t like it if the rituals are not done properly.‘ The door creaked open and Brother Sex dripped in. A brief explanation at this point will enlighten the reader. Not all Britons wanted the Romans in their town and had formed the ‗British Underground Movement‘ or BUM for short. In Trentbilius there was an offshoot that disagreed with killing animals as well as disliking the


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Romans. Their group was the ‗Trentbilious Region United Mammal Protection Society‘ or TRUMPS. Thus, in Trentbilious there were BUMs and TRUMPS. Returning to the hut where the pizzas were being eaten by the TRUMPS. Brother Unum chastised Brother Sex, ‗My pizza didn‘t have enough fish sauce on it. You are demoted to Brother Decem (Number 10) and he is promoted to Sex.‘ ‗Blast you then, you can get your own pizza in future and besides that you owe me for the last three pizzas I bought.‘ ‗There‘s no need to be like that, here‘s the money I owe you.‘ ‗Thanks, but am I Sex or Decem?‘ ‗I spoke hastily, you are still Sex. Let‘s get down to business. There lots of animals that are going to be killed at the games. We must save them all and disrupt such a cruel spectacle.‘ ‗Easier said than done Brother Unum,‘ said Brother Tredecem ‗Are you questioning my authority, Tredecem (Number 13)?‘ ‗No, Brother Unum what do suggest?‘ ‗I am thinking. Does anybody have any ideas?‘ ‗Not at the moment Brother Unum but I do have two urnas of wine (an urna is about three and a half gallons),‘ added Brother Duo. ‗Let‘s have a drink and put our heads together,‘ ordered Brother Unum. Two hours later, after many drinks of wine and indeed heads were put together. Mainly by wives by wives smacking heads together or just smacking heads with rolling pins. Thus the inaugural session of the BUMs and TRUMPS did not come to any clear ideas about saving the animals but everyone agreed that they must have another meeting very soon. The Games: Arrivals Accompanying the Senator The three gladiators, Trompilius, Clintunius and Faraggio, had been brought to Trentbilious by camels and so had developed a certain odour which reminded me of dead squid in winter. I had led them here as part of my role as producer of a cult Roman show ―I‘m


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a gladiator, get me out of here‖ where they had been the final trio to survive. The show was coming to Britain and would feature a balloon debate on ―All roads come from somewhere, but where do they lead?‖ which was ―A Roundabout production.‖ Trompilius is a rosebud-lipped large man, with an interesting turn of phrase. Loyal only to himself and those like him and anxious to build walls rather than build bridges. He has salt and pepper hair with a comb-over which he greases with strange concoction and adds camel fat when he is fighting. He is famous for his small hands and known best for his head- banging which is his secret weapon and the cause of his sporadic brain malfunctions. Trompilius likes to travel with an entourage of elephants and rhinos and his wife, whom he had purchased in France, was a timid beauty who gave lie to his hu-

manity. Clintunius is a transgender gladiator with uncharacteristically wide eyes given that his desire to create a dynasty was potentially resonant of Chinese lineage. Most famous for denying sexual relations


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with either eunuchs or vestal virgins, as a woman he had given birth to twins who were now in the care of their father in Greece. As a man, he has so far only been able to indulge in limited sexual activity and combat is a release for his masculine emotions. Clintunius is someone who can talk his way out of things, but isn‘t always sure which things he says are true. Faraggio has made a living for twenty years as a gladiator. He took money for fighting while running a campaign with the slogan ‖Take the fight out of fighting‖. Fundamentally opposed to violence, he nonetheless felt you had to be in it to win it. He is bucolic and makes friends with local vintners wherever he goes. He continues to develop a following among the underclass and their blind support is beginning to sway the emperor‘s views about the benefits of using local labour for Imperial works. As a result, efforts to find more Romans to travel abroad are underway, but they didn‘t want the jobs, being happier to be poor in the sun, than rich in the rains of Europe apart from their families and local entertainment. I had been pleased to get rid of them into the bacchanalia so that I could get some peace and quiet and get away from the smell of unwashed travellers. A Cunning Plan? Brother Unum woke up next morning with a splitting headache thanks to Brother Duo‘s gallons of wine. Unum thought at the next meeting there would be more doing and less drinking and eating. Brother Unum called a meeting and announced his plan. ‗Brothers and sisters,‘ he announced. ‗Sisters. What sisters?‘ queried Brother Duo. ‗I have decided to enrol sisters, Brothers.‘ ‗Women as TRUMPS. What a silly idea.‘ ‗This is not a democracy. I have decided to enrol sisters. So shut up.‘ At this point there was a general mumbling and grumbling until Sister Una took the stage. Even though she wore a loose fitting robe it was apparent that Sister Una had assets that plugged straight into


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the male TRUMPs‘ libidos. The grumbling stopped. Sister Una thought that the male TRUMPS would be easy to manage, or more correctly she thought. What a load of weedy blokes, I will be able to twist them round my little finger. Brother Unum continued, ‗Brothers and Sisters we are going to free the animals held in captivity.‘ ‗Hooray, Hooray!‘ came the chorus ‗How?‘ asked Duo Brother Duo was beginning to annoy Brother Unum and Sister Una. Sister Una explained patiently, ‗We are going to dig tunnels to the amphitheatre, the animals‘ compounds and set them free.‘ ‗Where are we going to put all the earth we dig out and where are we going to get the wood to hold up the tunnel?‘ asked Duo. Brother Duo was seriously getting on the Brethren‘s and Sistren‘s nerves. He thought he was being helpful whereas everyone else thought he was being a wet blanket and pain the lower back. ‗Waste soil will be carted out with the night soil of the Vicus,‘ answered Brother Unum. He also thought that Brother Duo might also be carted off with night soil, preferably at the bottom of the cart underneath a nice brown overcoat and then dumped in a field. Dumped being the operative word. The plan took shape, tools would be stolen from the road builders, the wood from the trees cut back from the side of the roads. The tunnel started next day and everything went well for a short while. Unfortunately, the tunnel was routed under public latrina and was too near the surface. The latrina drain was damaged and the night soil, or more correctly slurry, gave the TRUMPs a smelly surprise. The miners carried on manfully, mainly because no woman was daft enough to go into the tunnel or as it was now called the Cloaca Maxima. The tunnel was rapidly rerouted and the offending section blocked off. The tunnellers worked on day and night and managed to get the exit out to the nearby woods. Soon the animals would be free or would they? The exit route went under Nigel Bluddschotticus‘ garden, what could possibly go wrong?


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Private Enterprise in the Bathhouse Cellars In the darkness the only flickering spark coming from a rush light held with Smerkio‘s one hand aloft, on her knees in the soggy bottom of the emptied grand bath was Belisha her tiny hand wedged deep into the drain hole: ‗Nearly, nearly, I can feel something ...‘ Smerkio‘s hopes didn‘t rise, the last ―something‖ had been a glass bead. Needless to say this clandestine piece of private enterprise wasn‘t exactly part of his job description as keeper of the bathing pool and drain scavenging was not a daylight activity, too many others would want a share of the action. ‗Keep going,‘ he urged his sometime adored one. Soaking wet with an arm deep inside the drain, Belisha grinned and wriggled her body further into the abyss: ‗Got it!‘ she called backing out and raising the treasure towards the flickering light. ‗A big one!‘ Smerkio grabbed the sparkler and, giving Belisha the lamp, drew a magnifying lens from the inner recesses of his garment layers. Squinting his good eye he examined the jewel rubbing merk on Belisha‘s smock to clean it: ‗definitely the missing ruby,‘ he grinned his gold tooth glinting. ‗Daftus‘s sparkler?‘ asked Belisha rubbing life back into her frozen arm. ‗Silly ass, fancy wearing a fine ring in hot water, don‘t he know glue melts.‘ Smerkio didn‘t reply, he was too lost in admiration of the stone, glowing and huge. Yes, the hugeness was, well ... huge. Daftus claimed he‘d won it in a bet at the games at the Isca Augusta amphitheatre the previous summer, most folk thought he found it, or nicked it from some poor drunkard while on guard duty in Glevum. ‗What shall us do wiv it?‘


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came the little voice in the darkness. Smerkio wasn‘t at all pleased with the word US ... ‗Don‘t you worry little head about that. I‘ll think of something.‘ With that he shuffled away taking the light with him, leaving Belisha shivering in her wet smock deep in the under-croft . As this was where she usually slept she wasn‘t unduly perturbed and felt her way along the walls until she found her hole in the curtain-wall near to the furnace which was lined with firebrick which thus retained heat throughout the night. Snuggled under a sack and steaming she was soon asleep dreaming improbable dreams of wedlock and freedom. Meanwhile, Teflonicus and Gias had found their way to the Mancius of the Spread Eagle; the inn wasn‘t hard to find as it had a beacon on the roof, keep alight by two lapsed Vestals, very lapsed if rumours were true, and a gilded tree trunk carved with a golden eagle in full flight as an advertising sign just in case anyone missed the roaring fire on the roof ... The Spread, as it was known, wasn‘t into subtlety. ‗My little chicken pie,‘ gasped the ancient crone grabbing her grandson‘s chubby cheeks in a vice-like grip. ‗Come to visit your old Gran. What a little cherub of the gods.‘ The cheek pinching stopped, only to be replaced by vigorous hair rubbing, which Gias found deeply disturbing. Teflonicus thought the pleasantries had gone on long enough and rattled the purse of coins reluctantly donated by Titus. The hair attack ceased immediately at the first chink. Queen of the underworld and procuress extraordinaire of the Vicus, Bertha Velcrow eased her voluminous folds onto a throne-like chair: ‗Time for business gentlemen ... what did your masters have in mind?‘ The Three Gladiators The wine was flowing in the bacchanalia and the three gladiators were behaving like the celebrities they felt themselves to be.


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‗I deserve a Vestal Virgin after that journey‘ said Trompilius. ‗A man can only go so long with a camel between his legs before he gets the hump you know‘. Nearby slaves laughed obligingly. Faraggio guffawing downed a pint of some pale brown frothy liquid that had come not from the usual vessel but from a shallow, wide-necked piece of crockery that appeared to be British in derivation and had been recently under the bed of Trompilius. Clintunius simply replied ‗It‘s the camel I felt sorry for, having to put up with your bits blobbing around between its humps, it‘s a wonder you didn‘t flatten them out with your weight. Have a drink and shut up.‘ ‗You know I don‘t drink, it makes me say things that get me into trouble and I can‘t afford to do that here.‘ ‗Don‘t worry about the Brits, Trompy, they do amazing things like tossing tree trunks, they can cope with a bit of politically incorrect lingo.‘ ‗D‘you think British women will be attracted to my hairstyle, my rosebud lips and my tiny, delicate hands‘ mused Trompilius, demonstrating each feature as he described it. ‗I had so little luck with the beauties of Rome, even when I killed handsome men or tigers.‘ ‗Only way to know is to have a go, Trompilius. We all need to build a following here if Roundabout Productions are going to keep their word and make ―All roads come from somewhere, but where do they lead?‖ Got any ideas Clintunius? ‗Well, we‘re in the right place, because roads are definitely being built here; and after the journey we had, I‘d say they certainly need them. The producer has never been very clear what he wants us to do, on this show has he?‘ Both Faraggio and Trompilius shook their heads in agreement that none of them had a clue. Suddenly, but not wholly unexpectedly given his propensity, Trompilius, let out a gigantic fart – this was something for which he was famous. Indeed his name came from that particular talent. His birth name had been Julius, but at three weeks his parents were so fed up with answering questions about smells or seeing vacated rooms, they re-named him Trompilius in honour of an undoubtedly special skill


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and as a gentle warning to the unexpecting. ‗Dead squid in the room!‘ screamed the producer who reluctantly had returned to the Bacchanalia to get his hands on some grapes. ‗Everybody out.‘ He shouted, trying to move the hoards and knowing full well it was a pointless effort. Nobody moved far, that would have been too impolite in the company of such celebrities, but hands covered mouths, veils covered eyes and some did heave productively into spare receptacles. Clintunius and Faraggio were inured to these smells and continued to imbibe. Clintunius, remaining so in touch with his feminine side, still loved small glasses of vino and he used a piece of dried grass to blow bubbles into his wine and called it Pro Secco which he thought meant ―in praise of the second‖ – a reference to his second and preferred gender. No-one let him know he was mistaken and he set a trend amongst many of the females in the bacchanalian rooms. The bubbles made people squiffy more quickly and led to generalised, but delicate flatulence which Trompilius didn‘t like. He wanted to be number one Farter in the whole world. ‗I‘ve an idea about this show of ours‘ said Faraggio, (who had already drunk quite a lot) putting his finger to his lips as he whispered intently ‗why don‘t we each start on the same road, on our camels and be blindfolded and see where the roads take us?‘ ‗Grreat idea‘ slurred Trompilius and was quickly supported by Clintunius who could just about hold up his right arm in youthful agreement. ‗No time like the present.‘ They looked at each other and decided to have just one more for the road. Meanwhile: A Mosaic Too Far The Dragon Whisperer Acupuncturist banked his dragon kite-cumhan(g)-glider squadron into a formation of just the one. Galenodorius had asked for a diversion to help Agnes escape, during her shopping day out. He landed the glider only to find all the shops closed and Agnes not at Titus‘s villa. A DWA apprentice was crying in alarm. ‗Hey Bro, look at what I‘ve


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put together.‘ The Dragon Whisperer Acupuncturist looked across the field and gasped. A whole Greek barge hidden beneath a great painted dragon sail, plying the wind under was gliding effortlessly in full sail towards the jetty. Agnes waved from amidships, held in the arms of Aristarchos. Their beaming smiles suddenly frozen as they saw Titus and the Fort Commandant‘s enraged faces accompanied by a contingent of Roman soldiers with a ballista, the Fort‘s catapult siege engine approaching on the double. ‗Where‘s my boy-on-the-dolphin mosaic? not the mishmash you left with that gory beast and gladiator that made Angelica sick all over every floor on her way to take to her bed,‘ screamed Titus. Fattassious, the Fort Commandant, boomed: ‗A Roman fort with a mosaic of gentle muses, dancing girls wrapped from head to foot. A girlie design in a fort! I‘ll feed you to the crocodiles in the games.‘


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The Dragon Whisperer Acupuncturist (DWA for short) boomed as well, ‗You‘re too late, our riders have released the circus beasts.‘ (This was a slight example of ‗post truth‘ – they‘d only managed to open a few pens and as it was feeding time none of the beast were in any hurry to escape.) ‗Games without gladiators fighting beasts and folk condemned to death! The games will be a derisory fight against professional gladiators,‘ moaned the Fort Commander. ‗Come back here. We‘ll put you and your Greek crew in the arena.‘ The DWA roared with laughter, ‗You and whose army? No Roman can beat us.‘ Achilles Junior crowed down from the bow of the barge, ‗And you think you can defeat us legendary Greeks? Huh!‘ A DWA rider further added, ‗You forget our fantastical beasts that could get a taste for humankind.‘ Fantastical? Painted on cloth more like! Too much magic mushroom imagination, me thinks, thought Titus. Not to be outdone: ‗We have invoked a god for protection. You try that and you‘ll be turned to stone,‘ sneered Titus, feeling brave with a soldier at his side: ‗You‘ll turn into mere gargoyles for decoration of our villas.‘ While crowing with defiance Titus was not looking when he was going as he strode along the road and fell head first into the ditch, becoming sodden in reeking watery mud. Very foul, very dark. Fattassious, Fort Commandant, tried to alight from his chariot but the three horses had had enough all the weirdness going on and stampeded off. Never a good horseman, Fattassious fell off the sprung webbing floor into a rubbish pile, crying out in amazement as he sank into the sodden rotting remains: ‗Ah that‘s where my favourite naughty, painted-pottery went.‘ Thus proving there‘s always a silver lining in any adversity. A Little Later The three gladiators, now suffering from the effects of several hours in the Bacchanalia, each tried to raise themselves from their habituated prone drinking positions. Trompilius slumped, Clintunius,


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tripped and Faraggio, old stager that he was, stood straight up and withdrew a hankie form his toga. He held the beautiful key-patterned fabric aloft and shouted ‗Follow me – who dares wins, let‘s get out of here, we‘re celebrities and we can find where these roads take us.‘ Plagiarism was his undying skill. Although Trompilius hadn‘t drunk a thing, he was still intoxicated by the atmosphere and stumbled his way to the stall where their camels were resting. Each camel greeted its rider with a distinctive spit and, having learnt form the master himself, they all raised one rear leg and farted to add subtlety to the greeting. It was dark, save for beacons and torches, the odd brazier and firefly and the three men, astride their trusty beasts, were struggling to identify any sort of road at all. Then they spotted it - Belisha‘s beacon showing them the way. Unfortunately, on this occasion, their efforts were quickly stifled by a series of rather unfortunate incidents. Trompilius, being a large man, with a substantial amount of fabric in his garments, was just setting off from the camel stand, when his toga got entangled in the top of a brazier. It caught light, and being impregnated with stale methane and various alcohols from the bacchanalia, it set fire completely within seconds. Against his better judgement, Clintunius gingerly set himself down and went to the aid of Trompilius whose small hands and lips were no match for the flames however hard he blew or patted at them. He was now crying for his mother ‗Mummy, Julius needs you, I‘m on fire, put me out - help! I‘m too young to die, I have a destiny to lead my people… please mummy.‘ Tears were streaming down his increasingly waxy face. Clintunius, his maternal instinct revived by such a calling-out, found the nearest vessel of liquid and poured this over Trompilius. As the flames started to subside, an aroma of heated camel urine filled the air. (This was more usually reserved for tanning leather.) Faraggio had picked up a glass of liquid too, wanting to be helpful, but instinctively chose to drink it. Although the toga was now mostly burnt to a crisp and had left Trompilius naked, his combed-


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over, wiry gold and silver hair was now glowing so bright that it lit the whole sky. Trompilius didn‘t feel a thing, except the urge to pass wind which he knew from previous experience near flames, was not a good idea. Faraggio, always on the look out to be leading edge, asked Trompilius what dressing he used on his hair. ‗I use sodium something or other, mixed with an oil my mother makes from yak‘s milk, she gathers it from their pens at home. Why do you ask?‘ said Trompilius enjoying the crowd-pleasing spectacle of his own nakedness. ‗Well,‘ said Faraggio, as far as I can see, you would be able to patent that stuff – your hair, the sodium and the yak‘s milk – when it‘s on fire, is bright enough to light up any road. Just pop a few of those along the roadside – could even line slaves up and set their heads on fire at night - and we‘d have street lamps. I reckon we‘re onto something‘ ‗Don‘t give him big ideas,‘ jumped in Clintunius with a wagging finger – ‗if he has the patent he‘ll take all the money and never pay his taxes.‘ ‗Well we need to be able to sell the idea all over the world, so I say we patent it here and now with our names on it,‘ agreed Faraggio. Meanwhile, Trompilius, still glowing brightly, was finding the night air a little chilly and threw a blanket from one of the camels round his ample stomach. There was now a significant crowd and Vestal Virgins had lain themselves at the feet of Trompilius, first at the glimpse of his burning manhood and now at the thought of his riches. The producer was pleased at this outcome, an audience in advance of the main event was always a good thing – and at no cost to Roundabout Productions either. In his most haughty manner, Trompilius chipped up ‗I will patent it myself; you guys will just end up paying unnecessary taxes on the invention. I have always wanted to see my name in lights, in front of a house that‘s all white and shiny. That‘s where my road‘s gonna lead … lots of filthy lucre for me.‘ Trompilius, without an iota of intention and planning, had now invented two things that eve-


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ning – the sodium lamp and the strip cartoon. Clintunius could only look on, amazed. Faraggio sniffed the air and tore off a segment of smouldering toga that was still glowing on the floor. He rolled it round some aromatic leaves he found nearby, sniffed and then lit it from the upturned brazier. He had made the first togar ever to be smoked. He sat down among the ordinary Britons and Romans and puffed away, chortling about the day‘s affairs and people like Germanicus running a country that welcomed immigrants. Trompilius stood tall and erect through the night like the brave and foolish soul he was, until his hair had burnt away – though he did enjoy the attention and distraction of several eager and power -hungry ladies of the night which kept him from being bored. Clintunius wished himself a girl again, secretly fawning at both his colleague gladiators and couldn‘t help wondering which way to turn next as both the roads he‘d gone down hadn‘t given him any satisfaction at all. What Can Go Wrong… (will go wrong) Maximus called for a meeting with the animal handlers. ‗Right, we will need to work on the amphitheatre; we need animal cages, some gates to let the animals in and out, some rooms for the gladiators to change in and we need to find a way of flooding the amphitheatre for the water battle.‘ ‗How long have we got?‘ asked Minibus ‗About two days.‘ ‗What, we can‘t do all that in two days.‘ ‗Well if we don‘t then we will be lion fodder, or worse still back in the ranks as munifex (privates).‘ ‗Catharticus, Infectious round up the slaves and any Britons you can find and get back here quickly,‘ shouted Minibus. ‗Right boss,‘ said Infectious setting off at a run. Half an hour later they all assembled in the centre of the amphitheatre. ‗Minibus, take some of the crew and find a water source and pipe it to the amphitheatre.


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‗Catharticus, build some cages.‘ ‗Infectious, you sort out gates and rooms to change in.‘ Off they all ran and were soon busy as beavers. The water was not as difficult as they thought the river ran nearby and a ditch ran very near to the amphitheatre. It didn‘t take much digging or piping to get the water ready. ‗Can we have a quick water test Maximus,‘ queried Minibus. ‗Yes, everyone can go for a lunch break, just get on with it.‘ Meanwhile, not far underground the TRUMPs were nearing the amphitheatre. The tunnel led from the woods to the centre of the amphitheatre. However, our intrepid miners were too near the surface. When the water flooded into the amphitheatre the roof of the tunnel caved in and the water rushed in. Remember the problem with the public latrina? The water raced down the blocked tunnel and the Roman occupants of the latrina were treated to a reverse flush. The bidet had been invented. The water carried on and surfaced under the pond of Nigellos Bluddschotticus. The statuary washed away, the plants washed away, indeed, the whole garden rushed off into the surrounding countryside. As Nigellos looked out of his window he could see that his villa was surrounded with water. So not only the bidet had been invented so had the moat. All that was now needed was the invention of the drawbridge to let Nigellos leave home without a boat. The Senator Arrives ‗He‘s coming, he‘s coming,‘ called Daftus in a school-boy high pitched voice, in response to which nearby guardsmen shook their heads. What an idiot! Jumping up and down their fearless leader waved and shouted in his excitement from the top of the Gatehouse. Watching from their villas, Nigellos Bluddschotticus and Fort Commander Fattassious were not so gleeful. Dusk was falling but would it be dark enough for their plan to work. On top of the roof of the Spread Eagle Mancius, Teflonicus and Titus were of the same mind as they watched the on-coming procession approaching much faster than hoped, crowds were streaming


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out to line the route waving and cheering the Senator. The bill boards were a simply brilliant idea. Unfortunately, unbeknown to Titus, there hadn‘t been enough time to prepare as many boards as were required. Fortunately, Smerkio had come up with a cunning plan. Thus a team of slaves from the bathhouse (most being paid real money to keep quiet) were stationed with a pony and cart at the furthest end of the already erected boards on the Londinium section. Thus hidden in the trees the happy band were enjoying an afternoon off furnace watching, even if they were blinking a bit in the unaccustomed daylight, and were downing mead (supplied unwillingly by Titus, blessings upon him and may his clan increase). ‗This mead stuff‘s a bit of all right chaps,‘ said Hovis. ‗Not half bad,‘ agreed Pearmainus. The other slave was too blotto to comment. As the last mule in the Senator‘s (who didn‘t believe in travelling light), baggage train disappeared from view and entered the Vicus, the band nipped out of hiding and began uprooting the bill boards. It took longer than anticipated. Some idiot had had some of the posts cemented into place. Some cursing by the gods ensued, but by midnight the cart was full of boards and part two of the cunning plan began. In the darkness the cart with its heavy load and angry pony, set off up the track which formed the western side of the roundabout having first removed the pair of double billboards which had concealed the trackway from view from the Senator‘s procession. Smerkio lumbered out of the darkness carrying a small light. ‗Hail, Gias!‘ he whispered in a very loud whisper. ‗Don‘t you, hail Gias me,‘ came the reply as a youth sodden in mire squelched from behind the cart. ‗Why did I get this job? And, who cemented the posts in?‘ Smerkio cast a fatherly arm round the youngster, which in some circles could have earned him a flogging. But, these were interesting times and some of the rigid class boundaries were falling by the wayside as all concerned were more concerned about keeping their heads on their shoulders. ‗All is well, the holes for the posts are being dug as we speak, we‘ll


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have these up in a hour tops.‘ Gias groaned, he‘d heard grown men‘s approximation of time before. In his opinion as a book-keeper, he knew all jobs actually took three times as long as planned, needed twice as many slaves and cost four times as much as expected, or budgeted for. ‗No Smerkio, ―you‖ will have these up. Me, I‘m off to Gran‘s. I‘m supposed to be helping with the feasting of the Senator. She told me to be there or else!‘ Hardening his nose into a sneer, Smerkio removed the fatherly arm with a jerk, as Gias disappeared into the darkness heading towards the town. He didn‘t supposed for one minute that he‘d be required to help out with any feasting at the Spread Eagle. ‗Come on lads, we‘ve got to get these boards up on the Deva Road and that pony back to Nigellos before daylight ...‘ The Time Has Come to Talk of Many Things ‗The time has come to talk of many things ...‘ said Bertha Velcrow as she piled the Senator Marpellius Domestios with a jug of vino ploko. The evening had gone well, the Spread Eagle had done the Vicus proud. All agreed it was a much better spread at the Spread had ever was served up at the Fort. Fattassius and Daftus were nodding and beaming with glowing red faces in the lamplight, dancing girls were dancing in their skimpy veils and feathers which was asking a lot in early March in Britannia. The music was soothing and the food platters never ending. Marpellius was resting on a low couch and his bruised and battered buttocks were happy for the first time since setting out from Londinium, he expected milk of the poppy was liberally being imbibed from somewhere in the feast. ‗Handsome looking lad,‘ said Bertha as her grandson Gias refilled the Senator‘s goblet. ‗Not into that sort of thing thanks all the same, my dear,‘ smiled Marpellius, but his aide Banksius raised an eyebrow and grinned at the handsome fellow. ‗Remind you of anyone?‘ the inn-keeper asked in all innocence. ‗Flaming red-hair, skin pale as dew, big blue eyes ...‘ she didn‘t add,


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shrew like temper and mouth of a fishwife. Marpellius sobered up: his eyes wide in the candle light. Could it be?

‗What is his pedigree? Who is his family?‘ Bertha smiled, ‗Hard to say my lord. It was claimed (big wink) Gias was found by my daughter Angelica floating in a rush basket in the bulrushes at the side of the river when but a babe-in-arms, long before she married that ne'er-do-well husband, who in no time at all ran off and joined a legion in foreign parts, he‘s now presumed long dead, leaving my dearest daughter under the care of Titus the bookkeeper, her brother-in-law.‘ Shaken to his core, ‗Angelica,‘ asked Marpellius. ‗Is she still here? Is she well?‘ ‗Why yes, my lord, both she and Gias are under the patronage of Titus until her husband returns, not likely as he is deemed demised.‘ ‗Demised,‘ echoed Marpellius. ‗What legion?‘ Bertha grinned she knew when a fish was wriggling on the line. ‗The ninth, my lord. Do you know of them?‘ She also knew the bulrushes story was just that, a story... Her


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daughter‘s child had had to be introduced as a foundling or she‘d never have been spliced to Titus‘s brother the following year. She had always wondered which one of Hadrian‘s Centurions had been playing fast and loose with her daughter all those years ago and it wasn‘t until Angelica‘s sudden interest in the arrival of the Senator that she had realised what an amazing opportunity had dropped into her lap especially when she espied the birthmark on the Senator‘s hand, when he held the goblet, which matched Gias‘s own hand to within a hair‘s breadth. She had to draw the identification mark to the Senator‘s attention with a Grandmotherly pat as Gias was wine pouring, didn‘t she ... The Replacement

A scene acted out some weeks previously – near to Verulamium (St Albans)

The soldiers looked about them as they marched and could see no sign of roads off to country villas. Nothing but deep forest either side, barely touched by axe and saw. The centurion enquired of the Senator, ‗Hail Sire, might a spot of lunch be in order now?‘ ‗Yes indeed,‘ agreed the Senator. Slaves set up fold up tables and stools from the kitchen wagons. The Senator strode off into the forest to make room for his meal. Four soldiers looking about, up and down, then followed, with purpose in their stride. The rest of the soldiers kept watch along the road. The slaves sat staring blankly to await whatever. Meanwhile the centurion had changed into high fashion befitting a senator, and strode haughtily towards the lunch table, and the slaves scattered into their servant stations to wait table upon command. Meanwhile in the forest the dread deed was done upon the newly elected Senator, to send him to Hades, the depths of the underworld. The four soldiers fingered the gold coins gained from the purse off the Senator‘s belt, to add to their booty from the politicians from Trentbilious. ‗It‘ll be to your benefit, be assured.‘ The politicians had told them


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in the Londinium tavern, The Fallen Horse. The soldiers had not understood why their newly elected Senator on his way north on a tour eventually to Lincoln should be done away with, but no chance of riches could be set aside to escape this primitive land back to Rome and a nice country villa close enough to city pleasures. The centurion meanwhile had sent the newly elected Senator he thought due to visit Trentbilious along the new road with soldier friends. Unfortunately, other politicians from Trentbilious mistook as to the tavern in Londinium and had gone to The Lost Horse. Word had got back to the centurion from friends of friends, so he sent another centurion friend in his place to share in the good fortune, i .e. selling the same thing twice. ‗We‘ll do them right and proper,‘ his fellow centurion had chuckled. But the best laid plans of mice and men. The Lost Horse Centurion also had yearnings for greater things, of all the pay offs and tributes for access gained to higher orders. And the other newly elected Senator fell victim to ambition. But the centurion and soldiers were also new to Britannia and could not understand why the sea was not reached on their right hand, but only unremitting forest either side of the road. As the centurion from the Fallen Horse tavern had gone into the closed wagon as befitted his new raised station in life now, they were overtaken by another retinue, completely unknown to him. The centurion commanded a loitering slave, ‗Find out who that is?‘ The slave trotted off to slaves at back of the passing retinue, returning swiftly, ‗Hail Sire, it is High Senator from Rome en route to Trentbilious.‘ The centurion leapt out of the wagon and gathered his troops, ‗We‘ve got to way lay that Senator.‘ His second in command suggested, ‗Why not send him to Wales, he‘s not to know where Trentbilious actually is. After all, for all he knows Wales is on the way to Deva.‘


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Meanwhile the spies of the Emperor had not lain silent in their beds and a cohort from what was left of the legion of the ninth led by none other than our action hero Senator Marpellius Domestios (who had a reputation for cleaning up) had rounded up the conspirators and doppelganger Senator replacement and marshalled them all in chains into the oars deck of a swift galley set fair for Roma. Thus clearing the way for his own triumphant (if damp and bumpy) procession along the newly paved Watling Street. The conspirators‘ chicanery had only delayed the triumphant progress towards the celebratory games and official road opening and naming as the Watling Street by a few weeks, which, as fortune has it, gave the Trentbilious great and good (and slightly terrified) a little bit longer to devise their own deception to cover up the most monumental cock up in Roman road building history, or, as history in hindsight saw it, the invention of the roundabout and settlement bypass. Returning to the Spread Eagle Feasting – a spanner in the works ‗The ninth legion,‘ said the Senator beaming in his cups. ‗My dear Bertha, the ninth legion, or what‘s left of them, is camped outside the city walls. They‘re my escort in such turbulent times.‘ He didn‘t add the last of the ninth were an embarrassment throughout the empire after being beaten by the warlike painted people near where Hadrian was having his wall built and he‘d been paid handsomely to take the remnants of the worst legion in the army on as his ceremonial escort. The gamble had paid off and the ninth had rounded up a conspiracy which could have had his head on a spike so Marpellius was conflicted about the ninth and tended to view the vicious killers with a warm and fuzzy glow. Bertha paled and refilled his goblet as the music‘s intoxicating beat rattled the shutters of the Mancio. Angelica must not find out that her errant husband could be close at hand. Trust that idiot Nero Percious to spoil her plans just as history was to be set to rights and her abandoned daughter set fair to be whisked away to Rome, or somewhere else, anywhere would do as long as her grandson went as well. In her mind‘s eye she saw Gias wrapped in a toga strutting amongst the


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Senators in the Senate, what a grand sight that would be. Just at that moment, the said Nero, a legend as the drunkard of the ninth - which took some doing - was quaffing a few swift halves in the Fort canteen with his fellows and drawing the short straw for guard duty. He had intended to keep his head down in the hope his brother, to whom he owed much money, and his former, deserted, wife remained blissfully ignorant of his presence. As he told his troop leader in a cider-tainted breath report: ‗No trouble at all, glad to do the night shift, you can rely on me.‘ His troop leader replied, ‗That‘ll be a first Nero, just try to stay sober and stay awake. The Britons round here aren‘t as quiet as I‘d like ‗em to be. You keep a close eye on the menagerie and the road. I‘ve got a cold feeling in my water about tonight.‘ Money Talks and Animals Walks Maximus was getting annoyed there was no sign of Nigellos Bluddschotticus coughing up any money for the animals that had been so laboriously brought up from Londinium. It was raining – again. The door was knocked very softly and a hooded figure slipped in. ‗Who are you, what do want? and bugger off,‘ said Maximus. ‗Sssh, quietly, I have an offer to make to you,‘ whispered the visitor. ‗Clear off!‘ ‗There‘s money in for you and your helpers.‘ ‗How much? We are owed at least 10,000 denarii from Bluddschotticus?‘ ‗How does 20,000 denarii sound?‘ ‗How much?‘ ‗OK, 25,000 denarii.‘ ‗How much?‘ screamed Maximus. ‗Sssh, 30,000 is the most my boss can offer,‘ whispered the hood. ‗You are talking my language, what do you want and when?‘ whispered Maximus. ‗We want all your animals for the games in Camulodunum


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(Colchester) in about twelve days.‘ ‗Sounds good to me but where‘s the money?‘ said Maximus loosening his sword in its scabbard. The hood pulled out a heavy leather purse and whispered: ‗Here is 15,000 denarii now and 15,000 on delivery.‘ ‗Done,‘ gloated Maximus, ‗Shake on it.‘ They shook hands and the figure slid into the soggy night. Maximus went round to all the animal crew and shook them awake. He assembled them in his room and said: ‗Okay chaps, we are going to get at around 10,000 denarii if we get the animal to Camulodunum in twelve days.‘ He was thinking that 20,000 denarii in his pocket would buy him early retirement and he wasn‘t going to tell anybody about that. ‗Right get all the animals ready and pretend we are going to the games.‘ ‗All of them?‘ asked Minibus. ‗No leave a few sick ones in the compounds. You know, all the grumpy ones with bad tempers. Especially those damn zebras; they kick and bite everything in sight. The prospect of money, that is money that goes clink and is not fairy gold, made everyone work amazing quickly. By 4am all the healthy animals were ready to move. The convoy started off down the new road towards the south. A soldier asked what was happening. Maximus said, ‗We are exercising the animals before the games so that they are hungry and ready to eat, kick or sit on anything in the arena.‘ ‗Okay,‘ said the sentry. Off went the menagerie down the new road with Maximus, Minibus, Catharticus and Infectious all singing their new song, ‗We‘re all Going to the Zoo Tomorrow‘. The Wheel Clamp ‗Move that wheel or we‘ll clamp it!‘ said the guard with his hand on the handle of his gladius for emphasis.


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‗Hang on soldier,‘ spluttered Teflonicus. ‗We can‘t move the wheel, it‘s stuck.‘ ‗Not my problem,‘ said Nero, the guard of the night watch who had that unmistakable odour of strong liquor about him. ‗Orders see, We‘re supposed to watch out for suspicious activity tonight. Heightened security see. Top secret. Hush-hush. Them wild folk mustn‘t find out the Senator‘s here with only the last of the ninth to guard him. Last of the ninth ... that‘s me and him see.‘ Him was taking the opportunity to water a nearby tree. ‗Wild folk! No, no. It‘s us. You know us. We‘re from the accounts office. It‘s me Teflonicus. I‘m following orders. It‘s a delivery. ‘ ‗Following orders! So am I matey,‘ the guard of the watch unsheathed his short stabbing sword with the sharp stabbing point. ‗Alright, we‘ll unload it here and try to move the cart,‘ sighed Teflonicus who was already sinking in freezing mud up to his ankles. ‗Smerkio unload the cart!‘ ‗Naff off,‘ came the reply. Smerkio wasn‘t happy. It was well after midnight judging by the moonlight, it was persisting it down with rain, he‘d had no dinner and this moving the bill boards ‗little job‘ was turning into a muddy nightmare. ‗There‘s money in it,‘ implored Teflonicus, narrowly avoiding the sharp end of the sword. ‗There‘s only this last one to do and we‘re finished.‘ ‗I‘m finished now,‘ snarled Smerkio. ‗This is my night off, I was on a promise.‘ ‗Ten denarii,‘ pleaded Teflonicus with no idea how he was going to acquire the said ten denarii. ‗Why didn‘t you say so,‘ said Smerkio. ‗Put that knife away Sonny, you be cutting yourself.‘ The guard, Nero, snarled and sheathed his weapon. He wanted to avoid any confrontation, as it dawned that him being called up in court to give evidence would show to the Vicus that he had indeed returned. And, worse if Angelica found him ... he‘d have to keep her well away from his sword or she‘d use it on his ... well let‘s not dwell on what she‘d use it on to punish her absconded husband. ‗Don‘t stand there, we‘ll all need to lift this off,‘ said Smerkio taking


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charge of the situation now there was a cash incentive. The idea of bonuses, another good invention. Thus with the help of the night watch, Smerkio and Teflonicus and their tired band of soaked-to-the-skin slaves, including Hovis Brightonus, Inspector Pearmainus and Bacon Fryus, finally completed their mission to move the bill boards from the Londinium road to the Deva Road. They also rescued the miserable pony and freed the cart wheel to save Titus from having to pay to have it unclamped and then explain why the cart was out in the rain and mud that night before the magistrate Nigellos ... who actually already knew all about it because they were acting on his orders ... but, as it was a secret mission which at all costs the night watch security guards for the Senator must not find out about ... Oh dear! In the Cellars of the Spread Eagle ‗That went well,‘ said Bertha Velcrow wiping her hands on a napkin. A face full of rich flaking pastry Smerkio agreed with a wobbly nodding of his several chins. He patted his pocket and grinned a crumb-filled grin at the happy sound of chinkiness. Now lit by burning torches, the stone-vaulted cellars of the Spread Eagle were a marvel of engineering, built to last a thousand years, guaranteed by the building‘s contractors, apparently. These labyrinthine tombs dedicated to Bacchus had acquired a new resident. The slumped body of the guardsman, Nero, was now chained to the furthest wall and sleeping peacefully. ‗Well spotted Smerkio,‘ said the matriarch. ‗You‘ve earned my gratitude.‘ Smerkio beamed, he‘d have known that plonka Nero Purcious anywhere, he never forgot a face that owed him money. The patronage of the proprietor of the Spread meant he‘d never go hungry again. Carrying the comatose body of Bertha‘s errant son-in-law down the cellar steps had been a bit tricky but apart from that the abduction had been a doddle. When a bloke‘s paralytic it doesn‘t take much skill to kidnap him.


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‗What‘ll happen to him?‘ he asked casually as if he didn‘t really care. ‗He‘ll wake up with a sore head and be collected by Daftus Brushius long after the Senator has departed. He can spend his days under the watchful eye of the camp commandant.‘ ‗Nice one,‘ said Smerkio who had an inkling that Bertha had a bigger plan afoot which he wasn‘t party to. Dressed in their best, Gias Velcrow and his dear ‗adoptive‘ mother were at that very moment being introduced to the Senator in the feasting chamber some floors above. Garlanded and shiny of cheek, Marpellius was entranced at the revealing revelations and had come over all emotional. Gushing and sparkling Angelica knelt at his feet in a haze of spun silk and candlelight: ‗Oh Marpellius, my darling, you have a son,‘ and words to that effect. Needless to say Titus was so gobsmacked he almost bought a round of drinks, but thought better of it; he caught Bertha‘s eye and immediately knew when to keep his mouth shut. Bugger his brother if it meant he offloaded Angelica, who it must be said terrorised his household and could eat and swear like a fish-wife. ‗My dearest one, I didn‘t know. I had no idea. What joy! A son, an heir. I never hoped...‘ Well, let‘s give the Senator some slack, thought Titus, he was being plied with a bucket full of the house red and under the influence of the nostalgia of a misspent youth. Bertha had tactfully insisted that the fictional ―found in a basket and adopted‖ had been left out of the family reunion saga and the later, convenient, marriage to Nero (Titus‘s brother, the one in chains in the cellar) also not again mentioned what with him being presumed dead. Nero‘s proximity not even told to her dear daughter Angelica who might be tempted to do the fellow a mischief of a permanent nature. Silence is golden, thought the matriarch. After the night of feasting and debauchery when the rays of the sun flickered and went out briefly above the crown of the Wrekin and songbirds coughed their signal that a new morning was begun, it had all been agreed with Titus‘s many blessings and Bertha‘s sighs of re-


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lief. Gias and his mother would be departing for Deva with the Senator on his grand tour of Britannia during which, with much ceremonies. Their union would be blessed at the biggest and most public of temples (can‘t fault the Senator for a sense of good PR, thought Nigellos) once they reached Londinium via the scenic route. The final word went to Marpellius, ‗Ceremonies in Londinium my dear, once I have seen for myself that very expensive military wall Hadrian has been building to keep back the wode painted people, not that it will be fit for purpose, walls never are; any fool knows that! We need to build bridges not walls to join the empire together.‘ Angelica nodded, so did Gias and he wrote down the quote just as he had been taught. The Eve Before the Games ‗They want a procession. They want you to lead the procession,‘ said Daftus as he gulped down the offered wine. Amazed the Deputy Commander had called upon him in person, Nigellos beamed his best beam. Him, leading the procession. What an honour, what joy. What pleasure it would give his dearly beloved Viola. He puffed out his chest, and pulled in his girth, which was a mistake. As his tartan winter trews slithered knee wards he grabbed the errant garb and nodded his agreement. ‗The honour is all mine,‘ he stumbled. It wasn‘t until a few minutes later he realised ... who else would be in the procession to open the games? When? By the Gods, the games were starting tomorrow at noon and it was now almost the close of eve. Daftus had already departed, the buck safely passed. ‗Typical,‘ he called out to a house slave, who shrugged and carried on with his sweeping; the mud was everywhere it was ruining the new picture floors. Why every animal in the zoo made a beeline for the garden of Nigellos was a complete mystery. ‗Never mind that, go and find Titus I‘ve a job for him.‘ Thus it was that Titus arrived some time later a little out of breath and out of sorts he had been looking forward to a knees up at the Spread Eagle wining and dining the dignitary but that was looking de-


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cidedly dicey now. ‗Procession, you say. A procession of what?‘ ‗I‘ve no idea ... since when have we ever held a procession?‘ It was true. The amphitheatre was usually only used for soldier drilling and training and the odd theatrical performance, and some of those had been very odd. ‗Where is the procession from and to?‘ ‗Not the Spread for a start,‘ Nigellos sighed. ‗I suppose the Fort to the amphitheatre gate.‘ ‗Not far then. Very well I suppose we can rouse the Vestals and the Soothsayer and that bunch of weirdoes at the Temple of whoever it is.‘ Religions had never been Titus‘s strong point, he was a clever man whose allegiance changed depending on who he was talking to, he swung all ways. The cult of Mithras was good for one day and Christianity for another, the old gods of the Empire were never far from his thoughts and at a push he could be tempted by the deities of the Britons if the wind was blowing in that direction, especially if a small donation to their gods meant a better deal in negotiations for supplies. Thus it was as the crowds gathered, Titus‘s hastily trail of religious weirdoes blowing trumpets and carrying totally unnecessary torches led the triumphant procession with Nigellos puffing and blowing the fifty paces between the Fort gate and the gate to the amphitheatre. They were followed by the garrison guard in their best armour and finally the Senator carried on his bier, who was waving his best wave even if he had a slave with a bucket close at hand as he was decidedly queasy after last night‘s feasting at the Spread. Pity about the torrential rain. But what can you expect in Ancient Briton in mid March. At least a soggy Belisha finally had to do her bit with the torch waving at the gate supported by Smerkio, literally; he had to hold her legs to stop her falling off the wall. And as the elephant trumpeted, the costly Gladiators and the motley animals filed in two by two to damp cheering, all were gathered inside ready for the triumphant games to begin to mark the auspicious meeting of the ends ... and nobody said a word to the contrary.


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Another triumph for self-interest and the Roman way. As the Celebratory Games Begin It was time for the gladiators to take their part in the games. Clintunius was dressed in gold armour trimmed with peacock feathers – a reminder of his feminine side. The chest area had conical protuberances that comprised circles of gold plate with turquoise silk between and they moved, carousel-fashion as he walked – due to his gait being somewhat off-balance as a result of stack-heeled sandals. The skirt of polished brass also had a turquoise under-layer which flounced and he marched into the arena. His helmet had filigree wings made for him by a Tuscan silversmith lover and they were much more solid than they seemed. He wore Kohl eyeliner to emphasise his vapid look and his pouting lips were reddened with cochineal. Faraggio was adorned with brassware that had woven hops inscribed into its main elements. He was the most erect of the three and although quite slight had the look of a tortoise going into battle, his gnarled neck and receding chin seeming to pop out of his armour as would the creature from its shell. Hus feet were in sandals that had bindings round the toes as he was embarrassed by the athlete‘s foot which plagued him as a result of his constant saturation in alcohol. Trompilius was a prime specimen of a gladiator. His singed hair spiking out from beneath a helmet with fat cherubic creatures blowing trumpets, each with a conical spiral showing the hot air produced wherever he went. His armour was the brightest and shiniest with decorative mirrored mosaic plating at the back in the figure of a snake in the grass. Beneath his outfit he wore a white robe with fullhead hood with holes for the eyes a and he too had given himself black eyes so that he looked almost like a ghost from the knees up. His legs had been pre-soaked in mustard oil and had an almost luminous orange hue so that if he moved fast he would resemble fire rampaging over the sand. His feet were, like his hands, under-sized for his body so he donned toe extensions made of heavy boar sausages and these were then dressed in sandals. Only the bend of the natural joints gave any indication that something was afoot. The three stood beside each other drinking in the applause of the


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crowd and waiting for their chance to shine at the games. Their producer had staged much of the action but rehearsal time had been short, so he was not sure how things would go. He encouraged them to huddle before the show in order to clear up and agree who was doing what. They duly huddled. Sections of armour clashed and jangled as their arms jockeyed for position. Trompilius found himself locked into the left armpit of Clintunius causing his right shoulder to contort and be raised into a very uncomfortable position. Faraggio then attempted to loosen the bind. ‗Clintunius, stand up on your feet, Trompilius, bend down a bit – on your right, not your left, you wally…‘ Faraggio gave instruction but got nowhere. In fact he served to make things worse because now Clintunius was almost in tears as some of his peacock feather had got caught in Trompilius‘ filigree headgear. ‗Faraggio – look what you‘ve done, My feathers are coming out…… stop. Bloody hell, you‘ve got yourself stuck now – we‘re going to have to cut one of those hopped plates of yours off‘ ‗Never!‘ screamed Faraggio. I will not go into battle without one of my plates.‘ The producer walked calmly towards them and, from outside the huddle began to intervene ‗Stand still you nincompoops, let me see if I can fix this. I presume you‘ve talked about the fight?‘ ‗Of course,‘ Trompilius lied ‗Yes,‘ agreed Clintunius. Faraggio was still trying to repair his crestfallen breastplate. ‗Right,‘ said the producer, ‗remember in the last show, you each go for the vulnerable spots on each other until Faraggio wins.‘ ‗Why can‘t I win?‘ asked Clintunius. ‗Because you are too beautiful. You need to be knocked out first so that we can save your looks, darling.‘ ‗So I could win, technically?‘ queried Trompilius, ‗Yes‘, said the producer, but no-one really believes that could happen so Faraggio, experienced as he is and Teflonius-coated as he is, has to be the people‘s choice. He will come up smelling of roses


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every time. This way you can all survive to fight another day, because Faraggio cannot do the final deed and kill anyone.‘ Faraggio smiled. With that ancient reptilian face of his, it was hard to know whether he thought himself more capable of killing than the others did. The battle was then heralded. Each took their place at the edge of the arena. This triangle of men, imperious in their armour, fashionable in their skirting's and undoubtedly interesting specimens of manhood beneath their skirts, stood erect and willing. Their loins were girthed and they each took up their weapons and walked to the centre ring. Trompilius took the first swipe, hitting Clintunius on one of his conical bosoms. It shuddered then sent itself into a tethered orbit around his own chest making the sound of a thousand gnats gnawing at a kilted Scotsman. Faraggio moved into the fray, yet stood just aside from it and began commentating: ‗So you can see how the armour withstands penetration and the fabric gives us flexibility. This…..‘ He was mid-sentence when Trompilius struck a blow to Faraggio on the neck. Blood was everywhere as the nicked jugular vein of a man whose hobby had been to consume jugs of beer rather than play dead, spurted into the air. Clintunius, was now sprayed in crimson, a stark contrast with the turquoise of his under-garment. ‗Oooh Trompilius, look at me, I‘m covered in blood, my outfit is ruined – what‘s happened to Clintunius… my Gods. Oh no, he‘s going to die… look at the …‘ At that point, Clintunius fainted on top of the other two, making the already unhappy scene melt into complete disarray. The producer was holding his head in his hands and was in bits, wondering if anything could rescue his career. The next act was supposed to be with animals, but if they couldn‘t even avoid each other, what would they do in that situation? By Heck, Flaming Chariots The audience at the games hushed in anticipation after the inau-


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gural speech of military and civic dignitaries. Most had fallen asleep, but awoke happily with a start as out from a tunnel came at a gallop wildly heaving chariots pulled by beasts of all kinds in harness, making their voice of rage each one. Hanging on for dear life were charioteers from all over the Roman Empire, adding to the tumult with cries of encouragement and barking commands to barely tamed beasts, who paid no notice. Of stallion horses there were few in the traces, who kept trying to bite any competitor stallion, turning about nearly overturning 2wheeled or 4-wheeled chariots.

Camels tried to bite and spat at man and beast. Zebras, asses and big donkeys kept wheeling about with their great strength that even big muscled charioteers had a hard time keeping in check from amorous play. The race was to be clockwise round the amphitheatre. No-one had told the beasts and so some turned to run anti-


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clockwise around the grounds. Turned with plunging defiance against harness desperately pulled by screaming angry charioteers, who got ever more enraged as the inevitable wheel hitting wheel took bits off chariots. As wheels ploughed into soil with chariots only one wheel left on the ground, grinding wood began to come alight. As chariot under-carriages came aflame, charioteers realised their plight and jumped onto the backs of the panicked beasts, slashing through leather harness holding the beasts to the chariot yoke, but the beasts were still held together by harnesses. Flaming chariot crashed into flaming chariot, causing beasts to do what animals do in fear. Spray manure in all directions in high arcs. Stallion horses tried to mount any female beast whilst the luckless charioteer hung on for dear life on now vertical backs. An ostrich pair pulled chariot crossed the finishing line as the winner, but no-one noticed. The charioteer being disappointed at such lack of applause then began to attack any other chariot not on fire, still upright, still being pulled by various beasts. The ensuing battle of lashing whip and reins kept missing their mark as chariots slid all over the place on piles of steaming brown, as did the pairs of beasts lashed together still with a rider. The audience were wetting themselves with laughter and falling off their seats in heaps. A Chinese 4-wheeled chariot pulled by elephants dressed as dragons with painted fire out of huge maws then hurled over the finishing line, grabbed the prizes of two Buddha statues, one gold and one silver, bore them proudly aloft and their elephants sprayed the crowd with water from mighty trunks. As the audience moved about in the interval after such fun, one wag said to the other, ‗Well what do you know, we even saw dragons.‘ ‗Yeah, the wine on offer was strong enough, let‘s get some more.‘ It‘s An Ill Wind On his barrow Lionel, the pink concrete coated lion, had been


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wheeled into the place reserved for wheeled chairs/barrows and slave carried biers etc at the front of the amphitheatre. Petrafidio had finally located the Potter at the games also in the front row, what with ticket prices being what they were ... Extortionate, Massively Reduced Extortionate or Plebeian (Titus was never good with spinning public relations). His swollen jaw supported by a wide scarf, and spitting blood, Petrafidio was a sorry sight. He was having difficulty explaining the situation to the Potter what with chariots whizzing by and mud being churned up everywhere, especially as the Potter had placed several bets and wasn‘t the slightest bit interested in his predicament or freeing a lion. It was as Petrafidio was about to give up and leave when the Gods intervened in the shape of a flying chariot wheel (and thus the Frisbee was invented) which smashed into the stiff concreted lion and rebounded onto Petrafidios's jutting jaw knocking them both off their feet. As the lion shook off the casing, he looked across at his master who was spark out with his legs in the air. What a plonka! But then as Lionel was about to lick some life back into the poor fellow‘s face, he noticed something trapped in the wrappings of the scarf. It was a tooth. A black rotten tooth! And somewhere on Mount Olympus, or wherever, a goddess smiled. Zebras Crossing The zebras were not happy, it was cold, wet and muddy. The leading zebra, the especially large and grumpy one, had had enough, the gate took three good kicks before it was off its hinges and the zebra was off its rocker. The zebras took to the woods and waited for revenge. They did not have long to wait. A procession headed off down the road towards Deva with Marpellius looking forward to going home, or at least going to a dry place with good company, good food and a comfortable bed. The zebras charged the feed wagon full of hay, kicked it over and


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had a feast before retreating to the woods. The procession restarted but the zebras shadowed the convoy in the woods and every night they charged out and raided another hay wagon. Thus it was a slow journey for Marpellius towards Deva, he vowed to Angelica that when they finally got back home to Londinium after the tour of the provinces that he would never leave except to go to Rome. He never wanted to see a zebra again especially one crossing the road. All‘s Well That Ends And what of Smerkio and Belisha? ... Did they live happily ever after? Funnily enough they did ... Smerkio had the good sense to off load that dodgy sparkler to Bertha, which she in turn presented to the Senator as a dowry type gift. Thus Daftus couldn‘t say a word about it‘s origins, especially as he‘d lifted it himself. Smerkio used the cash to buy his freedom and to buy Belisha from Nigellos, who was only too happy to ensure Smerkio kept his mouth shut. Nigellos then rehired Smerkio to carry on running the bath house, and almost every one was happy. Nero wasn‘t that happy until one morning he was spied by his brother Titus who, now off-loaded of the responsibility of the two sisters, was only too pleased to accept Nero back into the fold of his family, especially as the drunken sot would be leaving for a spell of duty on the northern Wall anytime soon. EPILOGUE A New World – many months later The new road was a conduit for news, the Vicus fell into stunned silence as the news crier spread the dread news of the violent death of Caesar in Roma. Off duty soldiers enjoying a drink in the tavern showed no surprise on hearing the terrible news. One soldier informed, ‗A Greek merchant up from Londinium heard


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that the ambitious Centurions cast down into the slave ships for doing away with Senators, had joined with the conspirators to stab Caesar in the back.‘ Another informed, ‗My cousin down from Deva heard from merchant sea traders that the artisans rose up in revolt and those high born rich have lost everything and now are the slaves themselves, serving those who were the poorest.‘ A third soldier said aghast, ‗Even women hold high office and sit in the senate and council forums, with equal voice. I heard of such things from the Greek histories of Lydia in Greece‘s eastern Kingdom cities of Ephesus and beyond.‘ Two ladies, seamstresses by trade, looked between each other and hurried from their meal to the women‘s bath house section.

Once there, such outrageous ideas spread like wild fire, with one lady, granted an education by her vows to temple life, even said to the group altogether, ‗Any of us can speak our mind and even men mind what we say.‘ A slave overhearing such wild talk spoke of this to his master, the


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baker, who then spoke of it to other artisans in the men‘s part of the bath house. The guild rep of honourable beeswax candle makers and olive oil lamp burners, stood up and gave speech, ‗Let us usurp those corrupt high born and take ourselves the wealth we created for them.‘ An old grumpy man, reliant on his tavern owning son in old age, whined, ‗It‘ll never happen in my lifetime so far from Roma and we must get help from the soldiers.‘ ‗That can be arranged with such lack of plunder offered in this backwater,‘ and a Centurion strode up to give support. Spies for the Senator hurried to inform him, only to fall foul of the five soldiers from the tavern now with the usurpers amongst all lowly folk ambitious for more. The camp commandant was overpowered by his men, whilst morosely surveying the girlie new mosaic in his fort quarters. Titus counting his money realised too late of the gathering of market traders behind him and was cast down and dragged off. Soon all those of wealth and privilege were in chains apportioned to the various artisans and market and tavern owners as slaves. All the trade guilds‘ reps met and began the process they had learned from the Greeks, to elect men and women to public office. The potter stood and gave speech, ‗Comrades in arms, brothers now all. Everyone will share in the wealth and not a tiny few jealously hoard such from us all.‘ ‗Hurrah,‘ cried one and all.


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Thank you dear readers, to all of you who hung on in there to the very, very end. In case you were wondering how our comedies come about, or perhaps ‗why‘ they come about, RBW workshops aim to provide opportunities for all kinds of writers and to write fiction through play. Many of our comedies are written by people who have never written fiction, any kind of fiction, previously. The journey starts with a roll of wallpaper on which six or seven scenarios are plotted in workshop. A vote is taken and one plotline wins to become that year‘s comedy. The comedy grows like a washing line with each new page being hung out for scrutiny by the other writers and published in our weekly online bulletin before being added to the master manuscript. It is like a jigsaw puzzle where the picture on the box keeps changing. If you have ever wanted to ‗have a go‘ at creative writing then pop along to Rising Brook Library, Monday 1.30pm. All are welcome and no experience is necessary. All workshops are free of charge.


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RBW Workshoppers had a great time on this field trip to Viroconium and managed to squeeze in a visit to the near-by vineyards as well ... No surprise there then ...


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Real Roman floor


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Making Ends Meet Acknowledgements

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Where possible images were sourced from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License Finding who took the pictures of images on the web is very difficult where many pages claim they hold title to the same image. RBW has requested permission where possible where copyright has been stated. If anyone’s copyright has been unintentionally impinged please let us know and we will remove or attribute the image in any future e-publication. Cover Images Roman Road & Eagle (Aquila) with spread wings emblem (Public Domain) Page 18 & 19 Roman Centurion Re-enactor (Image Luc Viatour) & Roman Roads Map (Public Domain) Page 24 Boy on a dolphin mosaic, Chichester (Image web sourced) Page 31 Crocodile (Public Domain) Page 34 Stage Roman theatre Jerash, Jordan; the structure at the rear is the scaenae frons (J Klein) Page 39 Roman mosaic elephant (W Ferrebee) Page 45 Folly Temple (CM Hewitt) Page 52 Camel mosaic Tunisia (Public Domain) Page 57 Cornicen — horn player (Austrian Re-enactor) Page 61 Re-enactment cooking pot (CM Hewitt) Page 72 Wild Boar mosaics (Public Domain) Page 78 Roman mosaic bear Villa Fortunatus in Fraga, Zaragoza (Public Domain) Page 82 Mask of comedy (Public Domain) Page 95 Lion hunting mosaic fragment (Public Domain) Page 119 Three gladiators (Public Domain) Page 123 Stonework, Bathhouse, Bath (SM Spiers) Page 127 Judgment of Paris mosaic (Public Domain) Page 134 Fresco Roman Feast (Public Domain) Page 149 Chariot, Imperial Baths Trier Germany (Public Domain) Page 152 Main bath - Bath, Roman baths (SM Spiers) Page 154 Roman Mosaics N. Israel (D Venables) Page 159 Roman flooring (M Murphy) Field Trip images (SM Spiers)

The last laugh ... in 2017 it was reported an archaeological dig was to begin in the car-park of the Spread Eagle at Gailey ...


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RBW annual comedy & Poetry/Short Stories/weekly e-mag Free e-books www.issuu.com/risingbrookwriters www.risingbrookwriters.org.uk

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Welcome to Roman Britain A period of massive expansion of their famously well made road network. Straight as a die Watling Street is being constructed from London to Chester via Gailey ... One small difficulty ... road building started at both Deva and Londinium. On the ides of March the ends must meet in the middle at Trentbilious (Gailey) Why? Because a Senator — one who holds the powers of life and death — is coming to open the celebration games. What could possibly go wrong?


making ends meet 2017