Legacy of a Consul

“It won’t happen.”

“I’m telling you it will!”

“Not a chance, Morolus. They didn’t honour him in life; what makes you think they’ll honour him now that he’s in the Effyrian Fields?”

“Gaius Carrilus was a Consul, for Hyborin’s sake – and they murdered him! Those same bastards that are now deciding his posthumous fate! It isn’t right!”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Surely they won’t dishonour him any further?”

Tribune Aesculus Tybeticus arched an eyebrow sceptically at his naïve young friend with the face of a fiery Demon. “Why would they stop now, Morolus?”

Morolus grumbled beneath his breath and glowered at his sandals. Stood in a knot, all garbed in black mourning togas and cloaks and wearing demonic masks, the three tribunes would normally have stuck out like boulders on a pebble beach, but not this day. This day, there were hundreds of black tunics soaking up the sunshine, hundreds of Demon masks.

Nearby was a tapestry of titanic proportions – a square two hundred feet wide – decorated all over with portraits of the ex-Consul, Gaius Carrilus, along with his name and some of his more well-known quotes and beliefs. It was a garish monstrosity held up by scores of black-clad people, a colossus of clashing colours. Tybeticus loved it. It had taken a lot of people a long time to fashion, and it had cost him and his fellows a small fortune, but it made his heart sing now to see a physical reminder of Carrilus’ popularity.

“You’d think they’d see sense soon as they see the crowd that’s gathered,” the third tribune, Actavio, observed, obviously dubious at his own words. His face was covered by a scaly, green mask that looked like it had serpents for hair sticking up into the air. “He was so well-liked that half the city must have come. I can’t imagine the senators want to start a riot.”

“But they won’t want to punish their own either,” pointed out Tybeticus, reaching up under his horned, fanged, blood-red mask to itch his bearded chin. The noontime sun was making him sweat. “Maybe they think a riot will somehow sully his memory; it’s his popularity that they wish to undo.”

“Looks like they’ve failed,” Actavio growled, looking around at the great field in which they stood, which was swarming with people dressed all in black, eating, drinking, smoking baui and generally creating a hullaballoo. “Besides the dregs of the legions that we managed to band together to bring here, there must be hundreds of civilians. The Circus Maximus is packed.”

“But how many are here to show support for Carrilus, and how many are here just to find out the verdict and view the ensuing debacle?” Tybeticus wondered aloud. He inhaled deeply, savouring the scent of grass and of the olives on the nearby trees; he knew such aromas would not last long.

“Surely they are here for Carrilus!” Morolus said, mortified at the suggestion that there could be any other explanation. “See their clothes! See the ash in their hair and the tears on their faces! Our people have been snubbed! They elected Carrilus by popular vote – even the plebeians who didn’t get a vote would have voted for him! And now their choice has been taken away from them. They’re here for Carrilus and for liberty!”

Tybeticus smiled beneath his mask. While he and Actavio were middle-aged veterans who had been with Carrilus for years through thick and thin, Morolus had been a relatively recently appointed tribune before the army’s disbandment, eager to blood his sword and prove himself. He had idolised Carrilus. He did not see the corruption embedded deep in the heart of Hybor like maggots in an apple core; he saw only the shiny skin.

“Shush now,” said Tybeticus. “Looks like they’ve reached a verdict.”

Indeed, a procession was making its way from the curia, where the senators of the capital city, Masokys, put forward decrees for the governance of all of Hybor. Leading the cavalcade was the sole remaining Consul, Gnaeus Lycurgus, Carrilus’ most vehement opponent in the forum. Exempted from mourning wear like all those in positions of power, he swanned ahead of the other maroon-clad senators in a golden toga with a purple stripe signifying his rank running from shoulder to knee. A middle-aged man, he was everything Carrilus was not; paunchy, slow and soft with greasy yellow hair and eyes the blue of the sky.

Flanking the senate was a full legion in steel laminar armour bearing tall, convex shields with their hands resting on the round pommels of the swords at their belts. Tybeticus fingered his own gladius, hidden beneath his cloak. Unlike most, its hilt was embedded with tiny Kun-Yao-Lin shards that served as the source of his power. He locked eyes for a moment with the legate at the top of the steps leading up to the curia. He could not recognise the man past the plumed, full-faced helmet with cheek-guards, but he could guess who it was – Simius Narthotone, Lycurgus’ dog.

As the Consul began to speak in a rhythmic, practised rhetoric, Tybeticus felt a snarl twist his face until it matched the expression on the Demon mask.

“Gather around, good people, gather around!” Lycrugus called, though hundreds already craned to hear what he had to say. “The forum is over, and a decision has been reached. Though some senators –” he gave those in question a dirty look – “pointed out his redeeming qualities, like his victories against the Spardicans, the Cryptids and the Zamphish, his generous parades through the city and his skill in the art of debate, we – the senate – have decided to condemn Consul Gaius Carrilus as a traitor for his acts against the country of Hybor and as a war criminal for his crimes afield.” The seeds of uproar were sown in the Circus Maximus. “Thus those that removed him from power were only acting in Hybor’s best interests and are pardoned from punitive measures …”

Uproar germinated, sprouted, bloomed and blossomed. Uproar spread like it had invasive roots, rippling through the crowd from front to back. People booed and hissed and clamoured in ardent protest at the verdict, and the atmosphere started to turn ugly. Lycurgus continued to speak, but his words were lost amid the hubbub until he augmented his volume using his own energies, stored in his own Kun-Yao-Lin crystal shards. His voice boomed over the roar of the mob then.

Not listening anymore, Tybeticus wondered not for the first time where Lycurgus kept his crystals, since he generally did not wear a blade. Almost no one would be fool enough to attack one of the most powerful Magi in the land anyway – almost. Tybeticus’ eyes scanned the Consul’s frame, seeking out anything in which the crystals could be embedded, but he saw nothing overt. Whatever the source of Lycurgus’ power, he kept it well-hidden.

Ignoring the Consul’s attempts at placation, Tybeticus yelled at the top of his lungs, augmenting his volume with his own energies, “Where is justice? Where is justice, Lycurgus? Gaius Carrilus was twice the Consul you are and twice the man you will ever be! He was beloved by his people, unlike you, you toad!” The people cheered and laughed, and Lycurgus tried to retort, but Tybeticus was not done. “He was not corrupt like the rest of you! He never once took a bribe – he made his own way, forged his own path! He was the greatest general in an age, bringing Hybor to the peak of her growth by laying victory after victory at her door! He was magnanimous in triumph, too! Even when he defeated his own countrymen who dared stand against him in civil war, he did not punish the rank and file, only the leaders. The soldiers he pardoned to a man! You all declared him a traitor, an outlaw and a villain and tried to expel him from his home forever, but he returned home from war regardless, to face all you jackals that worry at his scraps! And why? Because he knew the people wanted to vote him into office for another term, despite the laws that say contrary! The people are sick of your corruption, Lycurgus! It is time you see it! For Carrilus!”

“For Carrilus!” The eulogy rippled through the crowd from Demon face to Demon face, and Carrilus’ disbanded army made ready.

Black-cloaked Demons began to slip through the throng toward the front, individually but with one purpose, one mind. It must have been evident what was coming to those at the top of the curia steps, for the soldiers there tightened their grips on their gladii and Legate Narthotone whispered in Lycurgus’ ear. The Consul paled and nodded, and the legionaries drew their blades.

Before the hiss of their unsheathing swords had faded, Tybeticus had bellowed again, “For Carrilus!”

His own legionaries threw back their cloaks and bared their swords with a long rasp then; the steel glittered gold in the sun. The senators at the top of the curia steps suddenly looked like so many chickens clucking in fear in the midst of a pack of steel-toothed foxes. Pale administrators flapped flabby hands as tanned veterans flexed taut muscles. Lycurgus, however, was not a clucking chicken, and he did not look afraid.

“Protect us!” he decreed to the soldiers. “Kill any who would do us harm!”

The soldiers moved in front of the senators, and the Demon masks began shoving through the mob to reach the curia steps. People began to realise a confrontation was imminent, and while some fled the scene, many more stayed and continued to bay for the murdering senators’ blood. All knew who had slain Carrilus; the senators, in their foolishness, had thought the people would be pleased at his death. They had announced the murder as if it had been a triumph, and the names of the perpetrators were seared into the eyeballs of every ex-legionary in the throng. Tybeticus saw the names imprinted against his eyelids at night before he slept; Thensa, Cicant and Cray. All were Lycurgus’ sycophants, his right-hand men. They did not wipe their arses without his say so. So, Tybeticus had added a fourth name to the list; his list of men to bring to justice. He stared daggers at them now, seeing them stood beside their master.

Unplanned, a chant began in the crowd, and it swelled Tybeticus’ heart to hear it.

“Carrilus! Carrilus! Carrilus!”

Some of the Demon masks reached the base of the steps ahead of Tybeticus and began to ascend them at the head of the hollering throng. Tybeticus was swept along as if by a current, amazed at the people’s fervour. Besieging the curia was not to be taken lightly, however. Built on a giant plinth, it was raised above the ground with only one easy way up – the steps at the front. As the mob made their way up those stairs, members also assailed the sides, trying to climb up onto the great plinth. Legionaries posted between the close-set, white colonnades at the top repelled them easily, however, stamping on fingers and kicking back faces both masked and unmasked. Only those at the front made any headway, and this was soon halted.

Legate Narthotone and his officers formed up at the vanguard of his forces atop the steps and, levelling their blades at the interlopers, began to chant differing mantras like a discordant chorus. Not wanting to cast the first blow, the mob and the Demon masks merely continued to ascend, waiting to see the effects of the spells that were doubtless being readied.

One spell became immediately apparent when the frontrunners of the crowd bumped their noses on a glimmering, semi-translucent wall of wavering, green energy. One of the officers had cast a shield spell to keep out all physical attacks; it did not, however, prevent energy from passing through it. So, when the other officers readied more antagonistic enchantments, they sailed clean through. A pulse of invisible energy knocked back those at the front of the throng, bowling over those behind, and humming blue blobs shot through the air to swat the fallen folk with audible whumps, bruising them and making them cry out. As more people tried to clamber over the fallen frontrunners, they too were knocked back flying through the air by the blue energy blobs.

Tybeticus saw with a scowl that the man in the plumed helmet, Narthotone, was foremost among those lobbing bruising attacks at the mob, relishing the injuries he inflicted.

“Tenth,” he roared, “retaliate!”

The men and women of the disbanded Tenth Legion needed no further prompting. The officers among them, those with the families and funds to afford Kun-Yao-Lin shards embedded in their swords, pointed their gladii at the legate and his cronies atop the steps and called out their own cantraps.

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