Got a request the other day from a lit agent asking me if I'd be interested in possibly developing a book/series featuring a Sherlock Holmes-type character hailing from Rome around the 1st Century C.E.
Uh . . . . yes. I would be very interested. Of course the request automatically reminded me of Lindsey Davis' Falco series (a roman 'detective' set in the times of the Emperor Vespasian . . . roughly in the late 60's C.E)
No. This character had to be more Sherlock Holmsian than the smart-ass little bastard Falco (and I say this in all due respect since I happen to love this series). Further, he had to be set in the 1st Century Rome . . . in the era of Augustus Caesar. And he had to be . . . naturally . . . unique.
So . . . .
Meet Decimus Octavius Virilis. Decimus, 'The Lucky.' Retired centurion/tribune with 30 some years soldiering for the empire of Rome. A distant kinsman to Caesar Augustus. One smart, tough, sonofabitch. Think of Sherlock Holmes with an attitude.
I thought I might share with you the opening chapter of the novel and see what you think of it. Feel free to praise, rant, nitpick, or howl over it. Feedback . . . any feedback . . . is good.
The title of the first novel might be While the Emperor Sleeps. Or not. I don't know yet. Hope you find it worthwhile.
With a shrug from a shoulder he slipped off the short toga he favored and then took the first tentative step into the hot bubbling waters of the bath. Behind him his servant, a pepper haired old Roman soldier by the name of Gnaeus, eyed his master ruefully and then bent down and retrieved the short robe from the marbled floor.
In the flickering light of a hundred oil lamps burning in brightly polished brass lanterns hanging from the marbled ceilings on long brass linked chains he eyed the black marble columns of the private bath, noted the rich drapes which hung from the marbled ceiling, felt the warmth of the marble floors he stood on and nodded to himself in pleasure.
The Baths of Juno Primus, with its marbled columned porch and impressive water fountains at the base of its portico steps, was the newest public baths in
It sat just three blocks away from the gigantic Balisca Juluis, the elegant and impressively enclosed public form
and administrative building just completed in the heart of the city. The baths, rumored to have been built with
donations from the Imperator himself, were equally impressive. It may have been true. He knew Gaius Octavius. An old man now known as Gaius, the Augustus, Caesar. Knew the old man was that kind of person. A trait this Caesar took after his great uncle
and adoptive father Julius. Both had a passion for building. Building large, grand structures out of the
finest marble. Converting in one life
time a once dreary, almost rural, city called Rome
into a world class megalopolis. Rome
Smiling to himself Decimus Virilis stepped down into the warm clear waters and lowered himself onto a marble bench. Closing his eyes in relief he stretched arms on either side of the bath and leaned back and heaved a sigh of relief.
He sat in the water and allowed his senses to wonder. Vaguely in other parts of the large bathhouse he heard the voices of men mumbling or the splashing of water. Somewhere a woman's voice, probably that of a serving girl, was laughing merrily. Somewhere else the tinkling of goblets clinking together told him men were enjoying their wine. The baths was a giant complex filled with senators, generals, politicians and the rich from all walks of life. Cabals were being hatched. Dark secrets were being revealed. Roman politics in its darkest, most cynical forms being orchestrated by those who lusted for power. Sighing, he gently pushed the cacophony of noise from his mind, and allowed the heat of the water to seep into aching muscles and a tired body with its soothing fingers of sensual delight.
He was an average size man in height. But the numerous scars which tattooed his flesh in a bizarre matrix of randomness, along with the amazing display of muscles he yet retained, would have indicated to any on looker this man was anything but remotely average.
Thirty years soldiering in one of the many legions loyal to Octavius Caesar had a way of hardening a man's body . . . a man's soul. From Hispania to
from Illyrium to Egypt Gaul.
One legion after another.
Fighting. Fighting Gauls. Fighting Spaniards. Fighting Romans. Hundreds of skirmishes. Several pitched battles. Stepping over friends and foes alike lying on
the ground dead, sword dripping with blood in one hand and shield in the other.
fields littered with the dead, the dying, and the cowering for as far as the
eye could see. Battle
Watching fool politicians appointed to command riding in on prancing horses, banners and Eagles rising in the sunshine, with men shouting and hammering their shields with the swords, only to, months later, see the legion either decimated and defeated. Or decimated and barely clinging to victory.
Rising up through the ranks. First as a centurion in the tenth cohort---essentially the raw recruits of a legion. Proving himself as both a leader and as a fighter. Attaining on the battle field the promotion to tribune and assigned again to a tenth cohort to begin the rise again through the ranks. But eventually . . . with a little luck at surviving defeats as will as victories . . . rising eventually to primus pilum, or First Spear; the top ranking centurion commanding the First Cohort in any Roman legion. And finally, from there, to being promoted to a tribune and given the rank of profectus castorum. The highest rank a professional soldier could attain. Third in command of a Roman legion. The soldier's soldier a legion's twenty or so tribunes and eighty or so centurions came to with their problems. The soldier expected to maintain discipline in the army. To feed the army. To provide the arms. To mold thousands of disparate individual souls into one efficiently killing machine.
But no more. No more.
Thirty years of soldiering was enough. With what few years of good health remained to him he would enjoy as a free man. He had accepted all the accolades, all the honors bestowed on him by noblemen and commoner, and retired from the army. He no longer served anyone. No longer took orders from anyone. No longer felt obligated to anyone. It was a strange feeling. A dichotomy of emotions. On one hand was the feeling of joy . . . immense joy of finally, finally being in command of his own fate. On the other hand was this feeling of extreme loss. An odd emptiness hanging just below his consciousness. As if there was something critical was missing. An order given and yet to be obeyed. Frowning, he inhaled the hot humid air of the baths and opened his eyes.
What was he going to do with himself? The need to be gainfully employed was of no concern. Retiring from the position of profectus castorum meant he left the service of the Imperator as a wealthy man. Almost twenty five years of being a tribune meant, among other things, being involved in the handling of his men's savings. Yes, most of the men he commanded spent their wages on women and drink as fast as they could. But a number of men in any legion had learned to save some money back. To throw it into the cohort's banking system in the hopes that, if the army was successful and cities or provinces were plundered, their meager savings would grow.
The final three years of his army life had been a considerable financial boon. As perfectus castorum his staff had been in charge of the entire legion's savings. Several thousand sesterces worth. If an officer was astute in his men's investments a sizeable profit could be had by all. And if a legion was fortunate to be favored by its commander, or legate, for exceptional service, the reward would be even greater.
He was not called The Lucky for nothing. Lucky in war. Lucky in investing. Lucky in being related to the richest man in the empire. Gaius Octavius Caesar. Money was of no concern to him. He would live comfortably for the rest of his life.
But what to do? What exercise to entertain and stimulate his mind? He needed a challenge. A goal . . . a . . . puzzle . . . to keep his wits about him! Without some challenge for the gray matter in his skull to dwell up life was nothing but a series of boring mannerisms to endure.
Closing his eyes again he idly heard his servant Gnaeus pouring wine in a large goblet for him. And then . . . a brief silence. An odd silence. And out of place silence. Softly followed by just the lightest whisper of heavy cloth rubbing across the leather scabbard of a sheathed gladius.
He didn't move or show any outward gesture he was aware of a new presence behind him. Resting in the water of the bath he appeared to be asleep. But ever nerve in his body was tingling with delight! He heard the soft tread of three distinct sets of sandals. With one of the three, strangely, without question an old man. Opening eyes slowly he noticed the colors around him . . . the blue of the water, the black of the marble columns, the white of the marble bath walls . . . seemed to be a hundred times more intense! For the first time in weeks he felt alive! And when he heard that distinct shuffling of feet and the odd hissing of someone finding it difficult to breathe he almost laughed out loud.
"Good evening, cousin," he said quietly, coming to a standing position and turning to face his unannounced guests.
Three of them stood above him looking down at him as he stood in waters of the bath. Two of them were big men dressed in the distinct cuirass and greaves of the Praetorian Guards. Around their shoulders were short capes of the royal purple trimmed in silver thread. Underneath their left arms were their brightly polished bronze helms. At their waists lay the short blades of the Roman gladius. The double edged weapon that had carved out a vast empire for the City of
and its people. Rome
Between the two was an old man slightly stooped over and dressed in a dark wine red toga. Around his shoulders and covering the curls of his white hair was a plain woolen cloak and hood. But there was no mistaking this man.
"Good evening, Decimus Virilis," Augustus Caesar said, an amused smile spreading across thin lips. "I see you still retain all your limbs and most of your senses."
"No thanks to you, Imperator!" Decimus laughed, making his way out of the bath completely unconcerned about his nakedness and men armed standing before him. "You've tried to kill me at least a hundred times!"
"One of my few failures, I'm sure," replied the old man, chuckling.
"So tell me, cousin. To what pleasure do I owe you receiving your company in a public bath house suddenly ordered vacated by a detachment of your Praetorian Guards?"
The old man's eyes, bright and alive, looked upon his distant cousin with mirth and pleasure. They had known each other for years. Ever since Decimus, as a boy of fifteen, ran away from home and joined his first legion. A legion he happened to be commanding in
facing Mark Anthony so many years ago.
Nodding approvingly, the old man moved closer to the younger man, took
him gently by one arm and squeezed it affectionately. Greece
"I am in need of your services, cousin. A very delicate situation has come up that must be addressed swiftly and surely. Swiftly and surely with . . . uh . . . only the talents you can bring to bear."