Whore of Rome Prologue

Whore of Rome Prologue

Whore_of_Babylon

Here’s the first half of my prologue. I hope you enjoy reading it!

A measly crowd had gathered at the edge of Rome’s great forum, men and women clutching the hems of their tunics over their heads to shield them from the sputtering downpour. Iron grey clouds hung in the sky and the air was thin, dry after the sudden release of moisture.

Their eyes were fixed on a few shuffling figures that shambled their way over the broken rock and loose earth at the foot of the cliff. Above them, the Capitoline Hill’s twin peaks loomed dark and imposing against the turbulent sky.

Two men of the city watch, with rainwater running in sheets down their hard leather cuirasses, picked their way down the jumbled slope. They took care not to lose their footing on the slick earth, supporting the weight of an old man between them.

His back was hunched and grey hair hung lank down the back of his sodden toga. Every so often, the crowd saw him shudder with cold or fear. His frail, mud-caked feet struggled to gain a purchase on the uneven slope and failed. He seemed to surrender, letting his body hang limp and allowing the guards to drag him the rest of the way.

At the very foot of the cliff, the small party disappeared inside a narrow opening in the living rock. A muffled, ragged cheer rose from the sparse crowd and the onlookers began to move away. They would return soon for the execution. They all knew that in Rome, imprisonment was only ever a temporary measure before an executioner’s rough hands found their way to the sentenced man’s neck.

Once every spectator had gone from the rain soaked street, one of the watchmen took a package bound in tightly wrapped skin from inside his armour. He laid it in front of the old man and departed. The second guard struck a flame to the wick of a fat candle and then he too returned to the downpour outside.

They moved off a short distance, finding shelter beneath a boulder jutting out from the slope. The old man raised his face and looked around the cell. It was little more than an arched alcove cut into the wall of the cliff, but it was dry enough for his purpose.

The old man’s fingers quivered as he scratched the metal stylus across the carefully prepared and stitched skins. In its wake were left small black figures in wet ink, trailing after each other to form words which cut deep into his heart.

He was ancient, old enough that there were few things left that he truly feared. When he was younger he had been beaten, whipped and degraded. More times than bore counting he had been dragged towards the void of death and kicked back into the harsh light. But he still felt terror at the thought of what he was about to do.

The purpose of a book’s prologue or first chapter is to pose a question to the reader which makes them want to read on, or even finish the whole novel in search of answers. Did this prologue grip you and make you want to know more? Let me know in a comment. I really do appreciate all of your feedback.

Whore of Rome 3

Whore of Rome 3

Whore_of_Babylon

Another excerpt from my latest project. I’m thinking about renaming it “Babylon”. Which title do you prefer?

The hands holding my arms and legs tightened their grip. I felt something lurch inside me, cold fear, as I was lifted and dunked backwards into the stagnant water of the fountain. At first, I held my breath and waited for my attackers to grow bored of their sport. It was not hard or particularly painful.

Then a bony fist smacked into my stomach. Stale air stung in my aching lungs and I gasped for breath, drawing silty water in through my throat. Breathing the fountain’s bitter contents felt like swallowing fire, as though it was scorching my insides.

Suddenly, the fingers clasped around my limbs relaxed. I was free and splashed up to the surface. The boys were stumbling over each other, desperately trying to escape some unseen threat.

As I watched, a bright purple stain appeared on Quintus’ stark white toga and blossomed outwards over his breast. More small missiles flew through the air and burst against my attackers, painting their pristine clothes a myriad of colours. With cries of frustrated anger and, I guessed, fear at what their mothers might say, the gang fled in the direction of the Palatine.

Part 1

Part 2

Whore of Rome 2

Whore_of_Babylon

As I stood abandoned on the empty street, my surroundings began to take shape. It was not so much black that night. The darkness was grey, draining the colour out of everything around me until the world drowned in dull monochrome.

But it was not long, as I stood waiting for some sign of what I should do next, before the streets of the Subura, Rome’s slum, came back to life. It was not the same vibrant, boisterous life of the forum, but something grimier and more sordid.

An oil lamp sputtered into life a hundred yards from where I stood, at the opening to another alleyway. It had been crafted with some trick by a canny potter so that its muddy yellow haze spread no further than the doorway below it.

More lamps were ignited along the dirt street, illuminating walls smeared with grime, soot and human refuse up to their eaves. One burned more bravely than the rest, drooping from the upper sill of a slanted window.

A woman leaned out above the avenue, bathing herself in the crimson light. She had heavy curves and was naked apart from the slick brown hair which hung wet over her shoulders. In a deep, alluring voice she sang a bawdy tune to draw out the creatures of the night.

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!