The hawk floated in lazy circles above the Plains of Heretaungus as the warm air rising from the orchards below lifted it higher into the blue sky. Its eyes constantly scanned the fields below for prey. As it swung to the east in a slow curve, it could see Naperion’s villas clustered on the hills above the port. Behind it to the south, the fortress of Hustings simmered in the hot sun.
Provincial Governor Lawrencus Yulus watched the hawk from a shady bench beneath the walls of his headquarters. He studied it, wondering what it would be like to have the whole of Heretaungus beneath him.
His reverie was interrupted by one of his officials, who approached him cautiously with a large box.
“Should we keep these sire?” he asked, holding up a wad of chariot bumper stickers with the slogan “Yule be glad you voted YES”.
Lawrencus shuddered at the bitter reminder of his crushing defeat in the Battle of Amalgamatus. He had remained locked in his chambers for weeks, endlessly recounting the votes. His officials had been too scared to approach him about disposing of his campaign material.
“Chuck them all out,” he snapped.
The official left, but returned a few minutes later with another box. It contained dozens of togas with Lawrencus’ beaming face printed on them saying “Give The Bay Some Real Teeth”.
Lawrencus winced. His official managed a weak smile.
“I know a dental physician who says he’ll take them off our hands,” he said.
Lawrencus waved him away. He’d been so confident of winning he’d borrowed heavily for new battle armour, a stretched chariot and a custom-made throne for his new regional headquarters. Now his political future was in ruins, he was deep in debt again and the moneylenders were circling like the distant hawk.
Someone coughed gently behind him. He turned and saw another official standing nervously in the shadows, holding a scroll. He handed it to Lawrencus and quickly disappeared.
Lawrencus gasped as he saw the headline on the scroll: “Doltus pushing the boundaries”. He read with disbelief that Napierion leader Bullish Doltus, flushed with success after the Battle of Amalgamatus, was now scheming to extend his northern boundary up to the border of Wairorus.
Lawrencus hurled the scroll to the floor, sending a jug of water flying across the table.
“I knew Doltus was up to something when he suddenly shaved his beard off. What does he know about rural life? He wouldn’t know a pizzle from a pestle. Has he ever been up to his ankles in cattle dung or munched his way through a feed of lambs’ testicles? Wallowing in the mud with pigs, wrestling with a sturdy ewe or sticking an arm up a cow’s backside is just another Saturday night for us cockies.”
His officials glanced at each other but said nothing. Then one raised his hand.
“Doltus says he’d like to put his arm around people in Wairorus,” he said.
“So Doltus wants to get his hands on the people of Wairorus does he?” said Lawrencus. “Well, that only confirms the rumours I’ve heard about bacchanalia at the hot pools up on the Paradus Marinus.”
He looked gloomily at the marble busts of his predecessors lining the walls of the room, wondering what they would have done in this situation.
“We have to regain the initiative. We can’t just wave the white flag and give up.”
Then he had a flash of inspiration.
“A flag … that’s it! We’ll distract everyone by holding a competition for a new regional flag.”
Six weeks later an official dragged a large sack into Lawrencus’ chamber. It was crammed with brightly coloured scrolls of different shapes and sizes.
“We got 600 entries for the new flag design,” he announced. “We’ve whittled them down to the best 40.”
Lawrencus grabbed a handful and spread them out on a table.
“Most have a leaf emblem on them sire, symbolising our strong link to the land.”
“What sort of leaf? Clover or ryegrass? Surely not paspalum.”
The official shook his head again.
“A fern leaf I believe, sire.”
“A fern leaf?” said Lawrencus. “That’s ridiculous. I spent years clearing pig fern off my land. Sheep and cattle won’t touch the stuff. If we want to be represented by a weed you might as well stick a great big thistle on the damn flag.”
The official smiled weakly.
“I understand the heathen tribes in the far north of Britannicus have already adopted the thistle sire,” he said, “but there is one design here that many people like. They call it the red peak.”
Lawrencus glanced at it.
“A red peak? Looks more like an Arab’s tent to me. We’re in Heretaungus, not in the middle of the Sahara Desert.”
He swept the scrolls from the table in disgust.
“We’re getting nowhere. Hustings will have to get its own flag. The Napierions and the regional forum will want something different and we’ll also need another two for Wairorus and the Southern Bay of Hawks.”
“So the one province will have five flags sire?” asked the official.
“That’s how we do things around here,” sighed Lawrencus.
The hawk was slowly descending as the sun began to sink below the mountains in the west. Suddenly it noticed a line of magpies sitting on Napierion’s high wall. Then it spotted a second small group to the south, near Hustings. The hawk knew that magpies could be a force to be reckoned with if they worked together as a team.
But it had no worries in the skies above Heretaungus. The Napierion magpies were too busy preening themselves. Their counterparts near Hustings were huddled together, watching the Napierions suspiciously. None of them noticed the hawk’s shadow sweep across the vineyards below as it glided toward the setting sun.