The geologist carefully picked up the deeply tarnished plate. He rubbed some of the dirt off and uncovered a name: Lawrencia.
It confirmed his instincts that this pile of rubble and half-completed seating was some form of monument, or temple, to the reign of the regional governor known as Lawrencus Yulus.
He guessed that the tarnished plate was to be placed on the building when it was completed. For some reason, the Lawrencian Colosseum had been abandoned, possibly about the time of the uprising that had followed the combining of the two settlements on the Plain of Heretuscany.
There was little left of the old settlements now. People had moved away over several hundred years, unable to afford new water taxes, grass taxes, the air tax and the crippling grandiose monuments levy.
Behind him in the distance, the arid hills looked like parchment. A handful of goats could be seen but otherwise the land was empty of livestock. He took measurements of the plaque and placed it in a box.
Around him long-abandoned vineyards had become entangled with empty clumps of orchards. Roads were largely empty. People living near the old port relied on tourist ships bringing visitors to see the ruins of the Artus Decus city of Napierion.
The more adventurous made the arduous trip to the old site of Hustings, only its partly-disintegrated clocktower rising above the ruins of its shopping malls.
Now a few organic farmers subsisted on produce grown on their small holdings and sold at a weekly farmers market. An enterprising few sold coffee beans to the great city of Jaffas in the north.
. . . . .
Two centuries earlier, a centurion had been standing guard on the wall forming the border with Napierion.
He turned east and sniffed the air. A south easterly wind coming over the Hills of Havus carried a foul smell. The centurion knew it was marsh gas from the Tukus River winding along the valley below Martyr’s Peak.
The centurion, Incredulus, was scanning the Plain of Heretuscany for any trouble. The water wars which had wracked the region for a decade had briefly died down but now it was spring, the unrest would begin again.
The rotting smell seemed to be getting worse these days. The river had died several centuries earlier and as the seasons got warmer, it had finally oozed to a stop.
Its flow had already been choked off by the Waipukus people to the south, who had diverted its flow from the rugged mountains to the west. They now fiercely protected their valuable water behind thick limestone battlements.
The Waipukus were a tribe of stone collectors who had been stockpiling shingle around their riverbanks for centuries. When the land became denuded, the fine stones and lush loams of the Waipukus became highly prized for stone cottages, resulting in lavish stone-clad villas being built on the dry slopes of the bay’s hills.
Many of the older tribespeople had been teens around 60AD, a decade often regarded by historians as the Second Stone Age. Many still paid loud tributes to their stone collections at special gatherings such as weddings or 60th birthday celebrations.
. . . . . .
The centurion walked along the wall above the river which flowed into the bay just a few hundred yards away. Incredulus was always uneasy when he was on duty near Napierion, with its solid, multi-storeyed homes looking south toward Awatotus, once a dilapidated collection of rusting buildings, now a giant dung works providing gas to the hilltop villas and heating public baths on the seafront.
Incredulus had reason to be uneasy. Only six months before, followers of the prophet Bertus had stormed the north gate, waving colourful cravats and brandishing umbrellas. Some had carried banners showing pictures of Barbarus Arnottus and the date 210AD.
Barbarus had been the Bodicea of the Antipodes, the Iron Maiden of Marineland, as Napierion had previously been known. She had single-handedly fought off the Hustings army of Lawrencus when it had swarmed toward her walls that year.
Lawrencus had made his move earlier, offering the Napierions six months of bottled water and a free braeburn apple tree to merge the cities into one big forum.
But Barbarus was not beguiled by the notches on Lawrencus’ belt. She liked her air salty, not sulphurous. Napierion’s port was its crown jewel.
Why shack up with a country bumpkin when you could get on board with a sailor? she thought.
Barbarus knew she could always rely on seafarers and ships to save her city. They had come to its rescue after the great quake of 31. In fact she had toyed with the idea of making the city’s slogan “Hello sailor.”
On the day of the ballot, as Lawrencus carefully girded his loins for his hoped-for forced marriage with the Napierons, Barbarus had slipped into her leather riding gear and raced down the twisting lanes of the Napierion hill in her chariot, whipping her councillors into a fighting frenzy.
“Friends, voters, Napierions,” she told them.
“We must fight for our honour, our leadlight treasures, our sunburst frontages and our Corinthian columns. We need a groundswell at the Soundshell.
“They want to put their clay sheep in our palm-fringed boulevards, swap our blazers for black singlets, our silk dresses for home-spun cardigans.
“They see us as some quaint seaside museum, inhabited by odd people who like dressing up like their great-grandparents and entertaining seafarers.
She tapped her riding crop for silence.
“So we have a choice: Their soldiers or our sailors?”
“Hello sailor!” roared the councillors.