Monday, February 02, 2015

Je ne suis pas Rome

I am not Rome, just in case your silly barbarian ass was confused, I am not Rome. I am around 1600 stinking Roman miles easterly of Rome, and I am as different from Rome as night is to day. I am a port city, my districts contain the quays and docks that a Roman would have to get off their olive eating arses and trundle the 17 or so miles to Ostia to find. What is it about nations that makes them send their scum to sea? It is an article of faith that port cities are full of odd fellows, hard men, and shady characters from foreign shores that are only looking to cause trouble to the local gendarme. When the barbarian from the story below washed upon my shores, I didn't even spare him a second glance. After all, I had seen his type before, in fact, I was home to a few thousand of his type already. Why should he be any different from the rest of the exiles, reprobates, and various other losers at life that I was already 'home' to?  Being escorted off some stinking tub of a merchant ship coming from nowhere, and bound to nowhere, by two husky Roman centurions is no way to assure yourself a hero's welcome in my city. It hardly warrants a second glance. That, I think, hurt his pride almost as much as being exiled here in the first place.

Make no mistake, I've had my years of glory. Long before  stinking Rome was espousing the myth of being founded by twins suckling at a wolf's teat, I flourished.  I was founded by those "boy loving" Greeks, and I blossomed. I was the place to be on a well traveled caravan route, and became a mini version of Rome itself. I founded colonies, issued my own coinage, and even for a time was the capital city of the Kingdom of Pontus. Just because my glory has faded doesn't mean that it wasn't as bright as a summer's sun when it was new.  But, along came those stinking Romans, and their well trained, over sexed legions, and I was conquered. It wasn't hard for them to manage, after all, who can resist Rome? Not I, and I was duly colonized by the stinking Roman Julius Caesar. Of course, being the arrogant bastards that they are they duly renamed me Colonia Julia Felix.

A name is just that a name, it does not have to define you, or who/what you are. It is a place holder for some po-faced geographer to engrave upon a map, so that real men with real senses of adventure can find you without sailing off the edge of the Earth. I've no doubt that countless screaming, whoring Argonauts would have had a whole lot less fun, without the maps they carried leading them to my sheltering port. Being the difficult bitch that I am, I did have to place a small obstacle in those intrepid sailors path. A small island named (yet again a name) Scopelus that made the bigger ships take a 40 stadia detour. I may be an open city, but I am open on my terms, not theirs.  At least that is what I like to think, Rome of course had different ideas, and I was duly Romanized like a multitude of cites before and after me.

All the proper Roman buildings were erected, and the forms were duly followed that allowed me to become part of the great Empire that Rome has become. I've had many peoples claim to be my master, and I allow those temporary fools to indulge themselves with the notion that anyone can master me. Therefore, when another exile washed upon my shore I didn't really consider him any sort of threat, or any sort of potential problem. It seems I was wrong, there is a lot of detail about me, and his time in my environs that he left out of his short little tale, and I am here to set the record straight. He wasn't a large problem, those are reserved for fires that sometimes burn out of control near the quays, and wipe out large swathes of people's homes, or the occasional plague brought by some unkempt sailor staggering onto my shore.  He was just another damn fool in a city of damn fools, and I rather figured his loud mouth, and his bragging about being from Rome would get him stabbed fairly quickly.

To my surprise, he was a bit handier with a blade (and not the cooking kind) than I, and a couple of my more enterprising citizens had figured. He survived that first hard, cold winter that serves the purpose of weeding out the weaker exiles to my shores. However, I knew he wasn't built for me, the purpose driven life he was leading had one goal, and one goal only, Rome. That bitch of a city and empire that exerts a pull upon all damn fools of a certain type, and he was a damn fool of that certain type. I have a lot of damn fools like him just idly passing the time within my borders, and the "chance" meeting of him and that other damn fool Stairaid was bound to happen sooner or later. It happened sooner than I expected, but surprises are kind of like that, sudden and unexpected. Perhaps the surprise of his survival would have turned into that most rare of surprises, a pleasant one, but once he toughed out the first winter, I knew he would not be around to see the leaves change colour again.

He will complain, and tell you that while staying with me he woke up "cold, hungry, and alone." He is not the only citizen/exile in my districts to experience those feelings, and many of them all at once just like he did. It does not single him out for any sort of sympathy, and probably made him a better person in spite of himself. My winters can be harsh, food is not usually free, and he seemed loath to steal (one of his few good qualities). Perhaps he had a "lady friend" back in Rome that he was being loyal to, there were rumors that it was an affair of the heart that was the major cause of his exile, or perhaps he wasn't as charming as he made out to be. I am a city full of women with the talent to warm a man's heart and his bed at the same time. If he was cold, he had options, a warm blanket or a warm woman, which would kill two birds with one stone, if he was hungry, day labour unloading the ships that swarm to my docks is always available, and the price of a meal is easily earned.

Truth, that rarest of commodities, was something that he did not share willingly, it was, as I found out later, almost constitutionally impossible for him to trust anyone. Fair play to him for that, but his lies, which few people believed, became a source of real contention between him, and my fellow citizens. Rome was beyond compare, Rome had it all, Rome was the beginning, middle, and end of all human endeavour. That may be true, but eventually one gets tired of being compared to stinking Rome, and losing out on the comparison. I have my charms, and a fair number of men have succumbed to them.

 Certainly all roads lead to Rome, but just as many lead away from Rome as well. His obsession with "conquering" Rome will be his downfall. He is just too blinded, stupid, or angry to see it, or perhaps it is a combination of all three. He eventually screwed his courage up to the sticking point, and together with his boon companion left me for one of those roads leading to Rome. I do, once in a while, hear wild rumors  concerning him. He was killed in a shipwreck, he was captured by pirates and is being held for a ransom that there is no one to pay, he made it to Rome and was welcomed back with open arms (perhaps by his "lady friend"), he made it to Rome, and was thrown off of Tarpeian Rock for being a criminal and a traitor. All of these reports remain just rumors, wild tales told by drunken fools in low taverns, until I see either him, or his body, I will remain cautiously optimistic about his fate. He left me with that burning desire to conquer Rome, or die in the attempt. I wish him luck.

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