A thin column of dust rose in the dry air above the Plains of Heretaungus. A sentry standing on the battlements of Fortress Napierion squinted into the early afternoon sun as the lone chariot bounced its way towards him. It came to a stop in front of the town’s huge walls.
“State your business stranger,” called the sentry.
The lone figure in the chariot looked up. He held aloft a thick roll of parchment.
“I come from the commissioners with a new plan for Amalgamatus Maximus,” he yelled.
“Never heard of him,” replied the sentry.
“You might be getting mixed up with Lawrencus Yulus over in Hustings. They call him Debtus Maximus.”
The messenger checked the title of the parchment scroll. He shook his head.
“Definitely Amalgamatus Maximus,” he said. “It’s some sort of plan showing Hustings and Napierion all rolled into one. There’s a big red circle around Hustings marked ‘debt ring-fenced’.”
The sentry looked at him. Then he looked south towards the 7-wire fences surrounding Hustings, barely visible in the distance.
“Debt ring-fenced? You’d need a fence as long as the Great Wall of China to contain old Lawrencus’ debts,” he said. “You’d be able to see it from the Moon.”
“Anyway, you’re wasting your time coming here with another half-baked plan. Our leader, Bull Doltus, says he’s never met anybody who wants to hop into bed with Lawrencus. Mind you, he hasn’t talked to any sheep lately.”
Two sentries nearby sniggered, then suddenly jumped to attention as a thickset bearded figure in a toga strode along the battlements towards them.
“Hail Doltus,” they chorused.
A sharp breeze tugged at Bull Doltus’ toga, which briefly gaped open. One of the soldiers dropped his spear.
“Never mind all that,” snorted Doltus, knotting his belt securely. “What does this fellow want?”
“He’s got another scheme from those commissioners who want to steal the shingle from our beaches, turn us into a seaside museum and hide Lawrencus’ debts in a paddock somewhere with his sheep,” said the sentry.
“I’ve told him sleeping with Lawrencus or any of his four-legged friends was no competition for your famous Bacchanalian nights up at the hot baths,” he winked.
Doltus glared at the sentry, who shifted uneasily.
“Don’t they understand that nobody here wants a bar of amalgamatus maximus, or minimus, in Napierion?” said Doltus.
“As I’ve told my councillors, we’re unanimous about that.
“Anyway,” he called to the messenger, “Lawrencus can run around his paddocks hiding his IOUs and putting rings on his sheep if he likes, but we won’t be part of it. I’ve decided that Napierion will become an independent republic.”
He pulled a scroll out of his toga.
“See this? It’s the Doltus Declaration of Independence, which I’ve signed on behalf of my councillors.”
He unravelled the scroll, cleared his throat and looked at the messenger.
“We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal,” he announced.
“Excellent!” said the sentry. “So I’ll be equal to you? I could do with a pay rise. Do I get a chariot and membership to the hot baths?”
Doltus looked at him coldly.
“This is only a draft. We’ll probably have to break men up into categories, because some men are clearly more equal than others.”
The sentry nodded slowly as Doltus continued.
“We believe that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The sentry frowned.
“That right to life bit … does that mean we’re scrapping the death sentence? That’ll put a few crucifiers out of work,” he mused.
“Mind you, the pursuit of happiness sounds pretty good. I’ll be a starter for that. You might have to enlarge the hot baths up on the Paradus Marinus if that catches on,” he grinned.
Doltus ignored him. He continued reading.
“And if Lawrencus comes hammering on our door, we shall tell him that under this declaration, our people will have the right to bear arms.”
The sentry stared at him.
“Bare our arms? You mean roll up our sleeves and extend our fingers in a suggestive manner?” he asked. “We do that to Lawrencus already.”
Doltus closed his eyes, his beard twitching.
“I mean bear arms, as in holding spears and broadswords, not show him a great hairy forearm with rigid forefinger, although you could probably do that too.”
“And we also believe that every man charged with a crime shall be judged by his peers,” said Doltus.
“By his pears?” asked the sentry.
“That’s a bit odd. What if he doesn’t grow pears? Or he’s got a bit of fire blight, pear scab or leaf spot on his crop that year. You’d be better off judging a man on the size of his grapes or his plums, if you ask me.”
Doltus stopped reading, rolled the declaration up and tied it with a strip of dried seaweed. It had become painfully clear that all men weren’t equal. He would rewrite that bit.
“Tell the commissioners that because of the threat of amalgamatus, we are now a separate republic. We’ve got ourselves into a bit of a state, if you like,” he smirked.
“Once I’ve ironed out a few wrinkles in the Doltus Declaration, Napierion will stand in splendid isolation as the town where time stands still.
“And talking of time, I’m late for the Steam Society’s annual meeting up at the hot baths,” he said, hurrying down the stone steps towards the courtyard below.
“What shall I tell the amalgamatus commissioners?” called the messenger.
“Tell them we’ve made other plans,” said the sentry.