Whore of Rome

Whore_of_Babylon

Sorry that I haven’t posted recently. I got unexpected inspiration from a comments chat with John H. Loase and ended up starting a new project. Here’s an excerpt from it!

Don’t be fooled by the title, it is not erotic fiction. The title is inspired by the Whore of Babylon from Revelation.

It was a straight road where the Appian Way ran on between two of Rome’s many hearts. After a while, our sore calves and mangled feet would not carry us any further. Petro led the way down a narrow break between the tall buildings on our right.

The alleyway was shaded and cool. As we staggered through it trailing thick droplets of blood in our wake, I desperately wished that we had some water. I said as much to Petro and he waved me forwards.

“Look, there’s a hill right in front of us.” He said. “Out in the country you’ll always find at least one spring on a hillside.”

As he spoke, we reached the end of the alleyway where the backs of the shops and houses had been either built up to the foot of the hill, or else carved out of it. Petro scrambled hand over foot up the beginning of the steep cliff.

I watched him climb, nervous about following him and wondering what such a great cliff was doing in the middle of a city. In my mind, the city had always been a flat place with every street paved with gold and rare silks. I was already beginning to realise how childish those thoughts had been.

“I told you so!” Petro cooed from a perch more than twenty feet above me. “Come look at this.”

My skinny legs and arms carried me over the sharp ledges and up the short faces of bare, living rock. What Petro had found, I soon discovered, was nothing near to being a clear mountain spring. It was a trickle of yellow-brown liquid seeping down among the little crags of the hillside.

“That doesn’t even look like water.” I said.

“It’s not clean, I’ll admit that. But would you rather drink now, or wait until you’re really thirsty and wish you had.”

He laid a comforting hand on my forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. Still screwing up my face in mingled disgust and uncertainty, I looked on as my young friend bent down to lap at the murky stream. When he turned his face back towards me, he flashed me a bright, toothy smile which was betrayed by the queasy look in his eyes.

“Go on, it’s not that bad.”

The sun was bearing down on us in full force out on the exposed cliff, high above the red-tiled roofs of the city, so that the rock shone a harsh silver-grey, almost white. My throat was so parched that my voice croaked and my tongue had begun sting every time saliva hit its dried out surface.

I drank hastily until my belly was full, not wanting to waste an opportunity which might not come again. The water tasted scummy, like it had been used to wash out cooking pots or drained from a private bath. But it was wet and served to distract me from the throbbing pain in my head, arms, legs and every other part of my body.

“Jupiter wept, look at that.” Petro gasped.

He was staring out over the rooftops and across the street down which we had run. I followed his gaze and saw that another hill rose on its other side. Nestled in the valley between the two was a great open space, long and thin with tiered wooden stands to seat thousands rising around its edges.

“What is it?” I asked. “Do people live there? What’s it for?”

“I’ve heard of this.” Petro whispered, too amazed to speak in full tones. “My old master spoke about going to see it once. It’s the Circus Maximus, the largest racing course in the world. Or so they say.”

“Do you think there’s a bigger one out there?”

Petro dragged his eyes away from the structure in the distance and turned to look at me. There was a light sparkling in his eyes, something bright and wild which fitted well with the mottled black and red bruises marring his face.

“Who knows? It’s a big world out there, full of adventures for a freedman like me to enjoy.”

“I’ve seen enough of the world; I’m ready to settle down.”

His laugh was melodious and ringing, like a cowbell jangling in the distance. We began to scuttle back down to the street, his shoulders jouncing with mirth and threatening to shake him loose from his handholds.

“You’re going to settle down here, find a wife and herd your sheep?” He called back to me. “We’re in Rome, Marcus. Come on, you have to have at least one adventure. You know what they say.” Another dazzling laugh escaped his mouth and Petro hung down from the ledge, letting his body fall the last few feet. “When in Rome…”

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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