Provincial Governor Lawrencus Yulus* adjusted the thick leather belt around his broadening girth as he gazed out on the Plain of Heretuscany.
He glanced admiringly at his image in the polished coat of arms at the door of his headquarters in Hustings, a city straddling the main road south. Its motto, Urbis Et Ruris Concordia, proclaimed town and country were in harmony, But he’d had enough of words. It would soon be time for action.
Once protected by swampland, Hustings had been turned into orchards during the reign of the fruit merchant Jamus Watticus and then into vineyards by later invasions of the Huns and the Vidals.
Those vineyards now stretched away to the foothills in the west, where as a boy Lawrencus had stood on his family farm overlooking the plains below. Like then, the only pieces of raised land were the rugged bluff occupied by the Napierions near the coast and Matyr Peak, rising above the wealthy enclave of Havus Northus to the east. Havus Northus had been absorbed into Hustings boundaries decades ago after a minor battle.
The next battle would be a much bigger challenge.
A parchment map lay on the heavy table in front of him. The two major cities were marked in big letters. Thick wriggly blue lines between them showed the course of the two mighty rivers, Tutaetus Curus and the Narus Rorus. They had been a natural dividing point for the two cities, but not for much longer if he could help it.
Standing on the town wall of Hustings, Lawrencus looked to the coast, where steam from a dung-drying plant on the shore at Awatotus sent a plume of steam into the blue sky. The mid-morning sun hurt his eyes, but he smiled quietly to himself. The Napierions would never expect him to attack into the sun and he would be at the golden Statue of Aphrodites on the Paradus Marinus before they had time to react. Once they had reached the fabled Sound Shell and the golden bell of Veronica, the city and province would be his.
His secret weapon would be thousands of gleaming coins, all bearing his face, which would be used to reflect the sun back into their eyes. He had forewarned them of his plan to unite the two cities, but they had laughed at him. Now he would have the last laugh.
Lawrencus knew that Napierion, destroyed in 31BC and rebuilt during the reign of Artus Decus, was vulnerable, relying on boatloads of tourists from Germanicus and sales of straw hats and old furs to survive.
Its popular ruler, Barbarus Arnotus, had declared that Napierions did not recognise anyone outside their walls, but Lawrencus suspected she was in the hands of a fanatical Napierion cult called Status Quotus, led by a man called Bertus, who wanted a return to the times of Artus Decus. His supporters were preparing for a week-long celebration in Februarius and Lawrencus planned to strike when the streets were clogged for the parade of the old charioteers.
The governor strode out of the red-tiled building to his chariot, frowning as he saw a scribe from an underground newspaper, Baybus, coming towards him. He knew this ferret wanted to question him again about the city’s planned amphitheatre on the outskirts of Hustings and the role of the moneylender, Sam the Celt, but Laurencus ignored him.
The amphitheatre, which would be named the Lawrencian Colosseum, was to be his legacy and a fitting reminder of his years of rule and conquest. He would soon pass the earthworks for the amphitheatre on his way to the chariot port on the northern outskirts of Napierion.
It was an important day. He had been summoned by the Minister of Regional Forums, Roddus Hidus, who shared his bold ambition to bring the people of the plains together. The minister had recently enraged the warlords of the northern city of Jaffus with his own plan to have a single ruler for the entire city.
Lawrencus had been impressed with the minister’s almost arrogant strategy. He wished his own campaigns had been as bold.
A costly, drawn-out battle over a proposed new settlement at the Beach of Oceania several years ago had left him scarred. He had hesitated in the face of popular revolt, but would not make the same mistake with the amphitheatre. While the townspeople had complained that the amphitheatre was too far away and only a few javelin throwers and members of local chariot clubs would benefit, he had determinedly pushed on. Even when Sam the Celt had swept his IOU off the table and walked away, he vowed that the Lawrencian Colosseum would rise from the fertile fields.
He didn’t need them any more because Lawrencus was cultivating friends in high places. His old Torus Party held the coffers in the capital, Wellingtonius, and he knew his bold move on Napierion would be seen very favourably by the minister. Who knows how far down the corridors of power this could lead?
As he boarded the chariot for the journey to the capital, Lawrencus looked up at the hills of Napierion, the light glinting off the now-vacant infirmary on its skyline. That had been the first real victory, the turning point in the long struggle for supremacy between the cities.
Gradually the boundaries had changed with Hustings now almost encircling Napierion.
Beyond the northern and southern borders of Hustings district, the rural hamlets of Wairoria and Waipukuraurus were desperate, burdened by rising land taxes for years, their lands ravaged by droughts. They would be next, thought Lawrencus.
As his chariot gained speed and the twin cities disappeared into the haze behind him, he began to think of more important matters. Like a new name for the amalgamated region.
Lawrencium sounded about right.
[Note: You can listen here to an unforgettable reading of this dramatic story by renowned historian and Latin scholar, Johnus of Newland.]
*Historical note: Local peasants might better recognize their Provincial Governor as Lawrencus Yulus Amalgamaticus, reflecting his mother’s lineage.