Lawrencus Yulus limped to a halt outside the doors of the mausoleum. He had led a small group of soldiers on a 20-kilometre march to the new building on Napierion’s Paradus Marinus.
He was covered with dust and the heels on his new leather boots were killing him. He wished he’d worn the calfskin sandals with strap heels and cushioned soles.
Then he saw the letters MTG carved over the entrance.
“Why is it called the MTG?” he asked a sergeant.
“Depends who you talk to,” the soldier shrugged. “The most popular opinion is it’s because the exhibits inside are MTG — mighty thin on the ground.”
“Others say it means Mind The Gap — the difference between how many treasures they told us the building would house, and what it actually can.”
“I heard it stands for ‘Mighty God’ because that’s what visitors say when they hear it costs 15 drachmas to get in.”
The ground vibrated and the doors shook as a tandem-axle log chariot thundered past. Lawrencus banged his broadsword angrily against the sturdy doors. Moments later they were opened by a man in a plaid toga and silk scarf. He bowed and introduced himself as the mausoleum’s curator, Laudus Jenkus.
“I’ve come to inspect the mausoleum,” said Lawrencus. “Because I, on behalf of my loyal subjects, have a million drachmas invested in this building and we want to make sure we got our money’s worth.”
Laudus Jenkus sniffed. He looked at the dust-covered country bumpkins from Hustings and gave a faint shudder. The soldiers smelled of bad wine and sheep urine. He rewrapped his scarf to cover his mouth and nose. He ushered them inside the mausoleum’s vast foyer. It was empty, except for a wooden table, covered with trinkets.
“This is the reception area,” murmured Laudus Jenkus. “It’s designed to handle the huge numbers that we estimate will be lining up for tickets anytime soon. There’s a little lull at the moment,” he added.
Lawrencus peered at the Visitor’s Book. There were three entries. Two had fulsome praise for the mausoleum. One signed by Laudus Jenkus. The other by his patron, Barbarus Arnottus.
They climbed a flight of stairs to the first floor, their voices echoing through the empty rooms and wide corridors. Lawrencus hobbled into the gloomy interior of one room. Dozens of clay pots and cups lined a set of shelves at one end.
“The scullery?” he asked.
Laudus Jenkus gripped his scarf.
“A priceless collection from a pioneer studio potter,” he said through gritted teeth.
“We chuck out our old cups,” said Lawrencus.
They found another room containing a sparse collection of clay figures with animal heads. One figure with a yellow bull’s head reminded Lawrencus of the half-men, half-sheep that once roamed the hills behind his family farm. He shook his head.
“That’s historically wrong,” he said, nodding toward the figure. “That’s not us. We’ve never been bull-headed in Heretaungus, because we think like sheep. You Napierions are getting us mixed up with Greek centaurs.”
“It is an artistic interpretation infused with Egyptian iconology,” replied Laudus Jenkus.
“I’m sorry we didn’t have space for some sheep statues but of course you have already filled that gaping cultural void in Hustings.”
He silently led the way to the building’s basement and into a dim room. Lawrencus saw a scroll on a wall depicting a shattered Napierion street, piles of rubble and two fallen arches. They made Lawrencus remember his sore feet. He was about to sit on a stack of bricks and take off his boots when Laudus Jenkus gripped him by the arm.
“Do you mind?” he hissed. “This exhibit recalls the earthquake of AD31 that levelled Napierion, upturned our beaches and destroyed our roads. It apparently did a bit of damage over your way too. The deaths and widespread destruction of Napierion are symbolically encapsulated in these few bricks.”
He marched Lawrencus quickly back up to the foyer and headed toward the front door, but Lawrencus held his ground.
“Is that it?” he asked. “Is that all we get for our million drachmas and the half million you want us to pay each year to keep a roof over some old pots and a few stacks of bricks?”
Laudus Jenkus was breathing with some difficulty through his scarf. He’d wrapped it so tightly it was cutting off his air supply and making his voice sound shrill.
“We’ve hidden most of our treasures and collections somewhere else because they’d take up too much room here. We’d end up cluttered like the old mausoleum, where everything was on display.”
Lawrencus took off a boot and shook out a stone before leading his men out into the street. Another log chariot laden with logs rumbled past as they reached the southern gates. His subjects were not going to be happy when they found he’d spent a million drachmas on a building that was too small for their history but had room for old pots and bricks.
As he led his bedraggled soldiers on the long road back to Hustings, Lawrencus began to think about the war of amalgamation that lay ahead. He decided that once Napierion had fallen, he would find himself new headquarters in the town, somewhere with good views, close to the hot baths and fresh sea air.
Then it struck him. The mausoleum would be perfect. It was hardly being used and by changing just one initial it would become the MTH — the Mighty Throne of Heretuscany.