Aquila:On the Palatine
|This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".|
The winner of the 1st edition of the Certamen Petronianum is
Mr. Kristoffer From (25, Sweden)
with the tale On the Palatine.
"This is out and away the best of the stories, a charming subject that is written smoothly and sustains the reader's interest from start to finish. [...] It's original, its English is good, its structure and layout excellent, its characters real people. Bravo! It's a clear winner." Dr. Colleen McCullough
"'On the Palatine' is a fine piece of work, well-informed and with a good new twist to an old story. It's the winner by a mile." Prof. Peter Wiseman
On the Palatine
by Kristoffer From
History will remember where they came from. How their mother was made a Vestal by her uncle, instead of being driven away, like her father, or killed, like her brothers. How she, in spite of this, became pregnant and, in time, gave birth to a pair of healthy boys, identical twins. How they were exposed by their great-uncle while their mother was thrown into prison.
Why the she-wolf did what she did will never be known, but I believe a god inspired her. She must have recently lost a cub of her own, perhaps to sickness, perhaps to tarvation, but whatever the reason, she had milk to offer. And suckle them she did, as well as care for them as were they her offspring.
When I came upon them, perhaps half a year later, she was licking them clean. Perhaps I should have left them there, in her gentle care, but as they were human like me, I slew the wolf and brought the twins to my wife, Larentia. I sometimes wonder if that was my crime and why the gods have kept punishing me, the killing of the adoptive mother of two infants before their eyes.
Larentia, being barren after a miscarriage, shared my desire for children and welcomed the boys into our household. At first, they shied away from her, as though unaccustomed to a human caretaker, but they soon learned to accept her. They never expressed the kind of affection regular children do, though, perhaps a sign I should have taken closer notice of.
During these early years, I spent most of my time looking after my sheep and providing for my family. Most of what I know of their infancies, I learned from my wife, when she expressed her concerns to me.
"There is something wrong with them, you know," Larentia told me over dinner, not quite a year after I brought them home. "They should be walking and talking by now, or at least have taken their first steps and said their first words."
Washing the piece of bread in my mouth down with some water, I considered her words. "Not all children develop at the same rate," I told her. "Besides, they're still getting over their time with the wolf. Let them be, I'm sure before long they will be running around and spouting enough nonsense to wish they weren't."
Half a year later, I was proven right, as they went from crawling around on all four to running all over, seemingly overnight. A couple of weeks after this, Romulus was nowhere to be found. Searching all around, I couldn't seem to find him until a hunch led me to the cave where I had killed the wolf.
There he lay, curled up and soundly asleep on the same spot where I first saw him and his brother. Picking him up, I carried him home to my wife claiming I had found him under a nearby tree. She was apprehensive enough without knowing where the child's instincts had led him. Only a few months later, the boys both uttered their first words, one shortly after the other. Somewhat mollified, my wife had no further complaints, as they seemed to be fully capable of learning to speak, only a bit slow in doing so.
Some years later, when the boys were not only walking and talking, but also running around and getting into the occasional scuffle, my wife again voiced her concerns.
"They fight all the time," she mentioned one morning when we awoke to the sounds of some disagreement of theirs. "I have tried to stop them, but they refuse to play well with each other, not to mention other children."
"Oh?" I questioned, yawning. "Well, not all forms of play appeal to all children. Perhaps they would better enjoy something more competitive, like wrestling practice?"
"You and your sports," Larentia said with a snort. "This is serious. If they can't play well with others now, I fear they will join the bandits when they grow older."
Considering her words, I got out of bed and had a word with the boys about not fighting each other. At the time I thought they had learned their lesson, but now I think I only taught them to fight where their mother and I couldn't hear or see.
Not long after their eleventh birthday, they took notice of girls, or in particular, the oldest girl of a farmer living not far from us. The girl took no notice of either, being four years their senior, but this didn't stop their feud for her favour.
Even if we still never saw them fight, they frequently came home for dinner with a black eye, scratches or torn clothing. When Romulus one day came home with a deep bitemark in his shoulder, next to the throat, I took Remus aside and told him in no uncertain terms that the feud was over. He agreed.
The next day, Remus courted the girl to no more avail than ever, but this time without the interference of his brother. Their last fight seemed to have settled the matter once and for all, with Romulus backing off completely, though his eyes could tell anyone that he resented it.
The girl eventually married a young farmer, but the situation between them seemed stabilized. Remus seemed more at ease with life, sometimes even wearing a grin. As neither boy ever smiled, this was remarkable enough that I took careful note of how his brother acted in response.
Romulus was showing for him very unusual behaviour, stepping out of the way when Remus approached, not reaching for the food until after Remus had already stacked his plate and generally being deferential.
This pattern remained in place and further evolved during the next several years, until the time when their true heritage was revealed. I watched the twins as their grandfather Numitor recognised them as his rightful heirs and saw how Remus' features lit up with pride. What worried me was how Romulus' eyes narrowed into thin slits, looking towards his brother for a moment before returning his gaze to the old king.
It may have been my imagination, but I believed that his eyes momentarily locked upon his brother's throat. Shivers ran down my spine, but I quickly convinced myself that I was mistaken. Today I wonder.
After the brief but decisive war against Amulius, they were both rather proud of themselves, both boasting several kills and together having regained their grandfather the throne of the Silvian house. I was apprehensive, though, as I had seen who followed them into battle and recognised several local bandits. It would seem the rumours I had been denying about their associations were indeed true, which made me wonder if perhaps the rumours of how they celebrated Lupercalia had some basis in reality.
With Numitor as king once again, the twins returned to where I had raised them, bringing along not only their followers from the fighting, but also a large party consisting mostly of young men from Alban and Latin towns in the environs. As now recognised as being of royal birth, they felt it only appropriate to have a people to call their own, which would require a city to be founded.
Here problems arose, perhaps because Mars, their supposed father, was not sated with the blood spilled already. Remus considered the Aventine hill a superior site for the founding of a city, whereas Romulus, as always, preferred the Palatine hill.
The brothers exchanged a hard look, then each withdrew to his proposed location, to consult the auspices. I saw the six vultures fly near the Aventine, then followed the messenger sent by Remus to his brother, to tell him the auspices had spoken.
"Lord Romulus," the messenger said, kneeling before him, "your brother has seen six vultures near the Aventine hill. The gods have spoken, a site for our city has been chosen."
I could see the spark in Romulus eyes as he spoke. "Indeed, but not the Aventine hill, for I just saw twelve vultures arise from the Palatine hill," he stated in a hard tone.
The brothers both claimed their omen to be the supreme one, no agreement could be reached and so both went about founding a city on the respective hills.
Remus, ill-accustomed to his brother opposing him, was frustrated about what he considered Romulus' stubborness. Several times, he went over to the Palatine, attempting to persuade his twin to, once again, yield, mostly through belittling him and the start of what was to become a city.
"Little brother, don't you know that I'm always right?", Remus asked Romulus one day. "We discussed the matter once, if you would remember. Now give up on these burrows and piles of rock and come help me found our city."
Romulus steadfastly refused to answer him, but I could see his ire rising with each taunt. I feared what would happen should Remus take things too far, which happened one day. I wasn't there myself, but I've been told that Remus made fun of the outlines of a wall by repeatedly jumping over it while telling Romulus how his efforts were wasted.
I arrived on the scene shortly after this, having been summoned by the roar with which Romulus tore into his brother. I found my adopted sons rolling around on the ground with Romulus gaining the advantage, aided by a wound in Remus' side, inflicted by Romulus' now discarded dagger.
With a feral snarl, Romulus went for his twin's throat and bit deep. Remus tried to cry out, but only managed a gasp before Romulus ripped out his jugular. Shocked by the act, I froze before the horrific scene, as Romulus let out a howl of victory. Getting to his feet, he wiped away some of the blood from his chin before addressing the crowd.
To this day, I cannot recall what he said, but his brother's people accepted him as their new leader and the Palatine as the proper site for the new city, which was named Roma after my surviving son. I returned to the present when Romulus in mid-speech stopped before me, placing his hand on my shoulder.
"The goddess of the Palatine hill," he was saying, "Palatua Diva, will need a Flamen to conduct her rites and keep our city safe and strong."
I couldn't quite grasp what he was saying, the enormity of his previous act still had me shaken to the core.
"Faustulus has lived near here his whole life and served the goddess well," he continued, "as can be evidenced by him being chosen to rescue me, after I was left to die. He will be the Flamen of Palatua."
Not being a man of much faith, this disturbed me, although nowhere near as much as the death of one of my adoptive sons, but Romulus' hand on my shoulder gripped me hard.
"No, Faustulus," he said. "Deny not your piety, for I have witnessed it myself. With a flamen as dedicated as yourself, how can we but prosper?"
With a grin showing a bit more of his teeth than I was comfortable with seeing, after so recently having seen them in use, he released me and continued his oration to his people.
I went home to Larentia and told her about the death of our son, though I couldn't bring myself to tell her how it came about. We mourned his passing, but were interrupted early the next day when some of Romulus' followers showed up and brought me back to the new city, where I was shown the proposed location of the temple I was supposed to head.
I agreed with their plans, then sought out Romulus and took him aside, intent on refusing the position. Instead his gaze burned into me as he snarled quietly.
"I remember my mother, old man," he said, "and what you did to her. You will serve as I tell you, in penance."
Flustered, I protested my innocence. "I have always treated Larentia with fairness and..."
"Not that cow," he cut me off. "My real mother, whom you slew and stole us from. You will serve as her Flamen and honour her memory, as it is the only thing that remains of her."
Recognising the madness in Romulus' eyes for what it was, I nodded, not daring to speak out. He stared into my eyes for several seconds, before nodding sharply and walking back to the men constructing his city.
I sat down, a feeling of anxiety for the future of my home region rising in the pit of my stomach. In the distance, a single vulture lifted from the Aventine hill.