Literary Contest III ~ Ludi Conditorum 2761 AUC (Nova Roma)/Winner

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by C. Aurelia Falco Silvana

CAST (in order of appearance):

CONCORDIA -- a Roman Goddess CLEANER -- male or female, any age ROMULUS REMUS Flavius VEDIUS Germanicus, Pater Patriae Novae Romae Marcus CASSIUS Julianus, Pater Patriae Novae Romae

n.b. : stage directions and informations in Italics or just following after a "," the speaker's name.

"Right" and "left" refer to stage right and stage left. The curtain opens. No actors are apparently on stage. Left, a sofa and love seat arranged in an L around a coffee table, all at least 10 years old and showing wear. Right, a modern desktop computer, desk and chair. On the right side wall are many bright posters for various Ludi. Next to the poster wall, a life-size cardboard stand-up of Cn. Cornelius Lentulus, Sacerdos Concordiae. A bit to right of center, a shoulder-high square pedestal; on it, the figure of a tall, stately woman in Roman dress, with a wine bowl in her left hand, and a modest cornucopia in her right, very life-like – the Goddess Concordia. Strewn about the stage: wine bottles, empty glasses, beer bottles, pizza boxes, crumpled paper, pieces of pizza, a large puddle of wine on the floor. A piece of pizza is stuck to the lower part of the woman's dress.

CLEANER enters from left, pushing a janitorial cart. Reaches center, sighs, looks around, looks up at Concordia.:

What a mess!

Hauls bucket and mop off cart, begins mopping puddle of wine, pauses. Addresses Concordia.

This sure wasn't your day, was it? Worse than a lot of them from the looks of it.

CONCORDIA her face shows surprise; she lowers her hands and looks down at the Cleaner : You mean you can actually see me?

CLEANER keeps mopping : Sure. And know you right well we do, us working stiffs.

CONCORDIA: Do you mind if I sit for a while? My feet are sooooo tired. . . I'll keep my feet up out of your way. I won't embarrass you?

CLEANER: Not at all. You look wiped out.

CONCORDIA she sits on the edge of her pedestal, feet dangling, carefully arranging her robe to cover her legs: You can hear me too. Why, oh why couldn't the bunch who made this mess hear me, or see me, or even remember that I exist?

CLEANER: Well, me, I got no power, no rank, no privilege. My kind of people, we have to listen to your voice. Always accord Concord her due, pay attention to her, that's how we survive difficult bosses, job stress, family crises. We GOT to get along with one another.

CONCORDIA watches Cleaner replace bucket and mop, then pull out a trash bag and gather the litter scattered around. She peels the pizza off her gown, extends it to the Cleaner who bags it. A large red splot remains on the gown.

CLEANER: I hear someone coming, madam!

CONCORDIA in a stage whisper: Go! Come visit me again later! I need someone to talk to!

She gathers up her gown, clambers back into standing position on her pedestal and arranges the folds of fabric to hide the splot of pizza. She freezes into statue mode.

CLEANER hurriedly tosses the last debris into the cart's dustbin, spots a rag left on the coffee table, snags it and pushes the cart off stage left. Faint whistling is heard from the wings, stage right – the theme from the film "Gladiator."

ROMULUS enters stage right, from behind the wall of posters. He prowls the stage, first peering at the computer screen and toying with the mouse, then he wanders over to look disdainfully at the worn sofa and love seat. He is wearing an expensive Armani suit in deep purple, with a pale yellow silk shirt open at the collar, and plenty of gold chains around his neck. His dress boots are the finest Italian leather. He is clean-shaven, with black hair brushing his collar. Handsome, virile and in his mid-thirties, he wears a distinctly wolfish look. As he circles back to center stage, he pauses to gaze up at Concordia.

ROMULUS, addressing the statue of Concordia : I heard they had put you up on a pedestal! Gods above and below, what are you still doing here? Doesn't look like anybody's paid you so much as a nod for generations. Too busy fooling with the wolves -- I mean dogs, of war. I suppose. Couldn't go back to nature if we . . . I mean they . . . wanted to. Nothing left to go back to.

He grins. It looks more like a snarl. He brushes at his lapels.

Still, I can't complain. This sure beats bloody goatskins!

He goes over to the computer station, sits down and becomes absorbed in trying to hack the password.

REMUS enters stage left. The same age as Romulus, he is shaved bald, wearing a loose unbleached cotton shirt and matching baggy pants with sandals on his sockless feet. He is wearing a double strand of large dark brown wooden beads around his neck, with a small satchel slung bandolier-style from his left shoulder. He steps soundlessly, like a kung-fu fighter, loose-limbed and utterly relaxed. Yet his gaze is fully alert. He pauses behind the love seat and scans the entire room carefully. His attention lingers on the oblivious Romulus for a few moments, then he looks to Concordia and his gaze softens. He brings his hands together and performs a slow, reverent Namaste. He moves over to Romulus, coming up behind his still-oblivious sibling.

REMUS he does not clear his throat as a warning : So, brother . . .

ROMULUS leaps up, sends the mouse flying, and knocks his knee on the underside of the desk : Mehercule! Who the Hades are you! What are you doing here?

REMUS: Getting your mythologies mixed up, are you? I don't suppose you'd recognize your old den-mate? Brother . . . ,

ROMULUS: Can't . . . can't be . . . can't be . . . Remus?? I sent Remus across the Styx nearly three millennia ago. Bashed his head in, ripped his throat out, did him IN! One more chance . . . who are you?

REMUS: Remus, brother to a certain Romulus, who went down in history as the founder of one of the greatest cities the world has ever known. Oh, you did reduce me to a shade for a while, but I had plenty of time to collect myself over there. The only way to keep me on the far side of the Styx was for you and everyone else to remember I was over there. A little lip service now and then wasn't enough to tie me down, and I was curious to see what you made of things.

ROMULUS thinking hard, turns away from Remus to pick the mouse off the floor, blocking Remus's view. He wraps the cord around one fist, then the other. The wolfish look is back on his face. He straightens up, begins to turn to Remus. Both men are facing away from the statue on the pedestal.

CONCORDIA moves, just her head, turns and looks down on the two brothers as they begin to face off. She clears her throat. Loudly.

CONCORDIA: WOULD you stop this, Romulus! I asked you to come here, and I asked Remus to join us. Do me the courtesy of putting aside your vendetta while you are in my presence! Besides, Remus had to travel a lot further than you. Don't tell me you're not the least bit curious?

ROMULUS: OK, I'll bite. grins wolfishly I haven't seen you around for ages. How did you stay out of my hair? and what have you been doing?

REMUS: She hauled me back across the Styx about 300 years later. It seems the Sicilians built a temple in her honor and paid homage enough to give her life and voice. We had some discussions, she made some suggestions. I drifted east, mostly. Heard about cities that were old before we were born, and thought I might learn something from them. Eventually, the Legions started moving east and I kind of blended in and tagged along -- in the medical corps, mostly. Spent ages in the kingdom of Kitai . . . you might remember, a 10,000-man legion with slaves and hangers-on was abandoned out there. We rather paddled in the gene pool . . .

Time passed, and word reached me about a certain Prince to the south, who was teaching that no amount of rank or power could impose harmony . . . No amount of glitzy, fancy trappings could bring peace or happiness . . .

ROMULUS flushes bright red. The color is most unbecoming with his dark purple suit and yellow shirt. He is still gripping the mouse cord, seeming to forget that it is securely attached to the computer.

REMUS: I thought he might have been talking to her (inclines his head back toward Concordia) and I went along to see if I could renew my acquaintance. She –

CONCORDIA, softly: No, I didn't know the man, but I wish I had . . . Romulus, you're not going to garrotte anyone today, so put that away . . .nods at the mouse. He reluctantly places it back on the desk. Did you each summon your guests, as I asked?

REMUS: Repeatedly. You said we were meeting them here . . .

CONCORDIA, stirring, loosening up her shoulder muscles and rotating on the pedestal to face fully forward: We are. They're late. They should have been here half an hour ago. Just as well. They weren't officially present for the row the cleaner just mopped up after.

ROMULUS: Speaking of mopping up . . . my descendants built you a temple too, you know – right in the Forum Romanum. I made a note he whips out a Blackberry – 386 years after I founded he looks pointedly at Remus who doesn't even blink the Eternal City. You might have stuck around and ensured a little Concordia to fortify the Republic or the Empire . . .

CONCORDIA, raises her left hand, tips her sacrificial wine bowl upside down; it is empty:

No-one poured a drop of wine to me for longer than I can remember – except that sweet man over there, starting in January this year nods to the cutout of Lentulus, Sacerdos Concordiae. And I was so thirsty after all those centuries that I didn't have the heart to tell him, I drank the lot the moment he left his altar. You two she does her best to glare at them, but it just isn't in her nature did not set a good example. Fratricide is no way to start off a nation. Kidnapping and rapine make a lousy model for others to follow. The fruits of that kind of ambition rot very quickly. She tips the cornucopia upside down. A lone peach-pit tumbles out. From him. She looks back at the cutout of Lentulus, sighs. It's been a long time. I was hungry. I ate it.

REMUS: But when you called me, you sounded so hopeful. You said there was a new Res Publica, with dreams of uniting people from around the whole world in a common purpose. You said there was talk of Pax Deorum, and a new non-material Temple of Concordia . . .

CONCORDIA: Immaterial is closer to the truth, I fear. You should have seen the row that went on just before you both got here. They ignored me completely. They ran out of words and other things to throw, so they've moved the scrap into what's-her-name's space . . . sounds like Cybele but . . . different . . .

ROMULUS: You mean "cyber" space? snaps shut his Blackberry and pockets it. Hsst. Somebody's coming.

CONCORDIA, lowering her voice and speaking quickly: You two have got to find out what's going on. I am not some amphitheatrical referee. I am a Goddess. A very tired Goddess, but a Goddess nevertheless. I can accept reverence, I can accept honor, I can accept sacrifice. I can inspire, but I cannot coerce. That's Mars' department, and he needs a vacation. The strain is getting to him. He wants time off for this, his very own month. Venus and Eros missed him very much last month.

REMUS, puts his finger to his lips: SHHH!

CONCORDIA freezes into statue mode. ROMULUS twitches the hem of her dress to hide the pizza splot. ROMULUS and REMUS stand together at the base of the statue's pedestal, facing stage left. Flavius VEDIUS Germanicus enters stage left from behind the loveseat. He is carefully togate, trailing a chain of tied-up scrolls which is attached to his left ankle. He moves with as much dignity as possible under the circumstances, rubs his right hand across his eyes and drags his chain of scrolls out to stage front and centre. He seems unaware of Concordia or the brothers.

ROMULUS: Who's he?

REMUS: I think he's the guest She told me to summon. One of the founders of this new Res Publica that gave all the Gods so much hope for better times ahead.

ROMULUS: How many centuries ago was that?

REMUS: Centuries nothing. It was only 10 years ago. I'm guessing this is Vedius, from the amount of paper he's trailing. He spent a lot of time laying the bureaucratic foundation of this Nova Roma – kind of an on-and-off relationship. But She says he was really dedicated, had a strong sense of purpose. This man seems younger than he should be . . .

ROMULUS, whips out his Blackberry, types quickly: There's lots of stuff in cyberspace about this Nova Roma. Not so much about him . . . let's ask.

REMUS, steps behind Vedius, over the chain of scrolls and around to his side stage left : Salve, Amice. Might you be Flavius Vedius Germanicus?

VEDIUS, looks up: I might be. I might not be.

ROMULUS: We need to know what's going on with this Nova Roma. We have a . . . vested interest, you might say.

VEDIUS: You might, hmm? and who might you be?

ROMULUS: I founded .. . he catches Remus's eye . . . once long ago, my brother and I had the idea for a city . . .

REMUS: He's Romulus, I'm Remus. We got off to a bad start . . .

VEDIUS, his face brightens: Oh ye Gods and Goddesses . . . the true founding spirit of Rome! he looks from Romulus to Remus and back Make that plural . . . spirits. But what on earth are you doing here?

ROMULUS: We never left, not really. Well, he left for a while nods at Remus but he came back soon enough. We have an assignment. Need to find out what you're doing these days . . .

VEDIUS: Hate to disappoint you lads . . . but I can't really answer that. I'm not really here, you see .. . er . . . don't see. Take my hand, won't you? Vedius extends his right hand to Romulus, then Remus. Each tries to grasp the hand, but fails to make contact. Both look puzzled.

VEDIUS: You see, I'm just the Spirit of Vedius Past. The scrolls are the paper trail that goes back to the beginning of Nova Roma, and I am strongly attached to that beginning . . . pun intended. Vedius grins, a little lop-sidedly. And always, I carry my original vision of Roma Resurgens, carefully wrapped and close to me. He reaches inside the sinus of his toga, and holds up a leather-wrapped packet.

VEDIUS: Me, Vedius Past, I've been Consul, Censor, Proconsul, Dictator, Lictor, Consul again. We even set up a Collegium Pontificum in our first year. Being Dictator gave me a deep sense of self-worth, real Dignitas and Auctoritas that lasted longer than the Imperium I was given. Did you know I actually wrote a constitution for Nova Roma while I was Dictator? Talk about work! I'm tired . . . I really need to sit down. Without Vedius Present, I'm not really here, you see. Which makes it really hard to get around.

REMUS guides VEDIUS to the couch, where he sits relieved and reels in his train of scrolls, piling them on the coffee table. He leans back and closes his eyes.

REMUS, looks up and to stage right. He cocks an ear in that direction.: I think your guest has arrived, brother.

Marcus CASSIUS Julianus enters stage right, from behind the posters. He is wearing a conservative blue business suit, and carrying a slim briefcase. He is searching for something in a pocket when he passes the pedestal of Concordia's statue, and is not aware that she is present.

ROMULUS, glances at Remus: uh . . . Remus, yon Cassius hath a keen and rangy look, methinks. No toga. Odd. going to meet CASSIUS: An honor sir, to find a fellow founder!

CASSIUS: What on earth are you talking about? And who are you, anyway? I have work to do. Why am I here?

ROMULUS: Not quite the reaction I expected, but I'll try that again. Glad you got my e-mail. He snaps shut his Blackberry and pockets it. Thanks so much for coming all this way on short notice. My name is Romulus, and this is my brother Remus. You'll notice that we go by just one name. You might recognize our names . . . ?? Ah, I see you do. We have this assignment, you see . . .

CASSIUS: What assignment? What are you talking about? I haven't got all yesterday. Or today. Speak sense, man.

ROMULUS: Are you or are you not one of the founding Consuls of an organization called Nova Roma? Are you or are you not Marcus Cassius Julianus?

CASSIUS: You sound like some sort of lawyer. I think you need to talk to someone else.

REMUS, intervenes: My apologies for my brother, sir. Once he gets his . . . um . . . teeth into something, he tends to be a little savage . . . pun intended. May I introduce myself a little more politely? extends his hand to CASSIUS.

CASSIUS, looks at Remus's hand: This won't work, you know.

REMUS: Why ever not?

CASSIUS, extends his hand: Because I'm not really here. Try me.

REMUS attempts to shake Cassius's hand but fails to make contact.

ROMULUS: Not another one! repeats Remus's gesture, and likewise fails to make contact. You look older than the photo in the Album Civium.

CASSIUS: That's because I'm the Spirit of Cassius Future. Without Cassius Present . . .

REMUS: Yes, we know . . . it's hard to get around. Ask him, brother.

ROMULUS: It's about the new Res Publica, this Nova Roma. We've been told by someone um . . . higher up . . . that you helped to found the organization. And since we take an interest in once and future things he dusts his Armani lapels we wonder if you can tell us about the time between the past he nods to where Vedius sits dozing peacefully and the future.

CASSIUS: It was our best-laid plan, but it gang oft aglay. Which is to say, the light of our lawmaking got refracted through so many prismatic minds that it took on all kinds of colors we never intended. We started out with one clear light, and found ourselves in a kaleidoscope getting turned around and around. Myself, I got a little nauseous from all the tumbling about. Others, it seemed, enjoyed the special effects. I have moved on. I no longer suffer from motion sickness. Anything else?

ROMULUS: What's in the briefcase?

CASSIUS: The classical world. Amazing what nanotechnology can do when I come from.

ROMULUS: You mean it's back from the future . . . in that case?

CASSIUS: In that case, in this case, in any case the classical world will survive. Now, I really must go. Be seeing you! exits stage right.

ROMULUS, tapping at his Blackberry again: Brother, do you know who that really was? That was Number Five!!! [see footnote]

VEDIUS, awakens: Five? Five? No, the number was six. There were six Pontifices when we established the Collegium . . . where am I?

REMUS: Still in the present. I suppose you need to be getting back. Anything we can do to help?

VEDIUS: Just help me lay this paper trail, so I don't get lost along the way.

REMUS helps VEDIUS to rise, while ROMULUS lays the paper trail stage left. They progress solemnly to center stage where VEDIUS looks up, bows to CONCORDIA, then leaves the brothers behind, exits stage left. When the last scroll has rustled out of sight, CONCORDIA stirs.

CONCORDIA: So the original concept of Nova Roma is safe in protective custody. And the Classical world lives on in the future. All we have to do now, is get on with building the present. Well done, you lot. You know, you are needed . . . both of you. You belong in the present. Can you give me a couple of hands? She sets the sacrificial bowl and cornucopia reverently to one side on the pedestal. It's been a long, hard couple of months. I'd like to just sit and relax among friends for a few minutes. Help me off this pedestal, will you? I promise I'll let you put me back up here later. I have to be ready for His next visit. She nods toward the figure of Lentulus Sacerdos Concordiae. He gives me strength to carry on.

ROMULUS and REMUS assist her down from the pedestal. She dusts off Romulus's Armani lapels, straightens Remus's satchel.

CONCORDIA, sighs, looks at them fondly: Still Roman after all these years! And when I look back . . . You had such a difficult early life. . . Do you think . . Could we start again, please?

ROMULUS and REMUS exchange looks, appraising each other. They hesitate, then both extend their hands at the same moment and clasp forearms.

CONCORDIA, smiles: Now where's that cleaner? A little rough around the edges, like the two of you. Practical. Both feet on the ground, unlike me. You'll get along well together. I think we've got some work ahead of us . . .


    • Aurelia's FOOTNOTE**:

CASSIUS's citizen number is, in fact, number 5. His exit remark, "Be seeing you!" is a very ordinary phrase that became famous in the British television series "The Prisoner" in the 1960's. The lead character in that series was "Number Six".

I have made other references in ordinary phrases that became "classics" -- Concordia has a couple. They are easier to catch than Cassius's.

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