The Hero of Heretuscany
With the Napier warrior queen’s whip in his hand and her prized red leather boots on his feet, the Hero of Heretuscany, Lawrencus Yulus Amalgamatus, led his conquering Amalgamation Army through the streets of Napierion.
The shining black chariot lurched as it clattered across the many potholes and uneven surfaces of the streets of Hustings. Bracing himself against the swaying sides of the vehicle, Lawrencus Yulus, newly re-elected consul of the Heretuscany District, slowed his sweat-soaked horses to a trot, nodding at a bystander who raised two fingers at him, presumably saluting Lawrencus’ victory in the recent senate elections.
As he hauled his chariot to a halt outside his headquarters, sunlight reflected off his highly polished breastplate, adorned with intricate brass mouldings of grapes and sweetcorn cobs framed by silver containers of beans.
Lawrencus was feeling quietly satisfied. Now that the tiresome elections were behind him he was looking forward to his final and, hopefully, most illustrious term of office. He had once again faced a challenge from his sole rival, Simon of Nixus, whose visions of lighter-than-air machines had not seduced rural Heretuscans who liked to keep their sandals firmly on terra firma.
Most of the old senate had been re-elected, along with six new faces. Lawrencus planned to bury the newcomers under piles of papyrus, leaving him free to pursue his goal of amalgamating Hustings with its rival northern neighbour Napierion.
He had played his amalgamation card a year earlier, wrongfooting political rivals and his own council by not mentioning it beforehand. But a hoped-for groundswell of support from the public had not eventuated. Several of his councillors, miffed at his lack of consultation, had even muttered about letting the people decide.
Not a snowball’s chance in Hades of that, thought Lawrencus. Too many ungrateful citizens had barely been able to decide whether he deserved a fourth term, so he wouldn’t trust them again. And Napierions couldn’t be relied on to have any vision of the future when they lived in a town whose architecture had not changed in 80 years.
Lawrencus strode through the stone entrance of his headquarters and on an impulse, turned left into the portico where portraits of past rulers of Hustings lined its roughcast walls. He paused to stare at the paintings of his most recent predecessors, a garment seller, a Celtic drainlayer and a teacher. Their portraits were the only visible relics of their terms in office. At least Lawrencus had the refurbished Operandus House and his still-unfinished colosseum on the town’s outskirts as his legacies to ratepayers.
But mere monuments were not enough. Lawrencus wanted to be remembered as the far-sighted leader who settled the long-running rivalry between Hustings and Napierion once and for all. His initial plan to let ratepayers decide the amalgamation issue in a year or two had been quietly shelved after they trimmed his majority in the elections. And now his hand had been unexpectedly strengthened by the toppling of the veteran regional forum leader Alanus Dickus in a bloody coup.
When the orgy of back-stabbing had finally stopped, only one councillor, Friendless Wilson from the northern hamlet of Wairoria, stronghold of the mercenary Mongol Mob, had been left standing. Critically weakened by its infighting, Lawrencus knew the regional forum and its untried leader would be no threat to his latest amalgamation plan.
It was now early December in Heretuscany and off the coast of Napierion, the great sea of Oceanus Pacificus had a heavy swell running. A pale Lawrencus gripped the wooden railing of his 40-man trireme as it ploughed through the buffeting waves. The movement of the ship made him queasy and he would have much preferred to be on his horse Trojan, advancing on Napierion from the land.
Behind him he could see another 10 ships of Heretuscan warriors brandishing swords and spears, supplemented by smaller numbers of slaves and rural workers armed with pruning shears, crutching gear and tanks of lethal spray. Ahead lay the Port of Napierion, key to the hilltop fortress commanded by the legendary warrior queen Barbarus Arnottus.
The Napierions had not noticed the invasion fleet approaching from the sea. Their eyes were looking to the south where Lawrencus had amassed a diversionary army of council engineers, their bright reflective jackets and orange headgear visible to the jeering Napierions on the hill above. The engineers were manhandling battering rams and huge wooden catapults into positions carefully marked with red cones and roped off with lengths of yellow ribbon.
Their missiles were earthen jars of putrid gas, bottled at the Stenchus Maximus sewage works on the coast. On the hills above the town, the Napierions were being whipped into a frenzy by Bertus, leader of the Status Quotus cult, staunch opponents of any contact with the outside world. They scattered in panic as the heavy jars began to smash through the roofs of their hilltop villas, enveloping them in sulphurous fumes.
A mile away on the coast, the ship carrying Lawrencus shuddered as it struck the shingle foreshore on the Paradus Marinus. The rest of the fleet was close behind and with savage roars, the Heretuscan hordes began swarming up the beach. Suddenly alerted to the seaward invasion, Barbarus Arnottus tried to wheel her chariot around to face the new attack only to find a multi-wheel chariot carrying tourists from a Germanic cruise ship blocking the narrow street. Within minutes the defending Arnottus army was gridlocked in a confused mass of horses, chariots and stein-wielding Germans.
As Lawrencus and his followers rampaged along the Paradus Marinus, Napierions realised that the battle of Heretuscany was over. Distraught Status Quotus followers began hurling themselves off the hilltop, striped blazers flapping like dying ducks, their straw hats fluttering down behind them like autumn leaves.
Barbarus Arnottus desperately turned to her loyal councillors to make a stand but they had already slunk away. Alone, the Iron Maiden of Marineland surrendered her sword, prized red high-heeled boots and her leather whip into Lawrencus’ strong hands. He would put them to good use.
There was one final battle to be fought. Lawrencus led his Amalgamation Army to the headquarters of the regional forum. Friendless Wilson’s makeshift Praetorian Guard, a handful of Mongol Mob mercenaries, slouched in the doorway. They took one look at Lawrencus, now wearing Barbarus’ high-heeled boots and slapping the whip against his firm thigh, and stepped aside.
Adjusting the leather belt around his girth, Lawrencus strode triumphantly across the blood-spattered tiles of the regional forum’s entrance. Its bulging coffers would now allow him to double the size of his colosseum near Hustings.
He would celebrate its triumphant opening with a week of gladiatorial contests, chariot races and his favourite sport, naked wrestling. And when he rode into the colosseum in his black chariot, the crowd would stand as one and hail him as the greatest leader of them all, Lawrencus Yulus Amalgamatus, the Hero of Heretuscany.