Once safely inside the Tribune Saica's house, we threw off our cloaks to reveal our uniforms. The housekeeper gave me a sterner version of the look with which he'd greeted us at the door.
"Ain't no Twelfth Legion," he said.
Ignoring him, we advanced on the exedra; he retreated before us, slamming his wooden leg down on the floor at every other step, perhaps as a warning.
The smell of food hadn't misled. We interrupted Saica at dinner, he rising from his seat to greet us, and Drusus grabbing the housekeeper and shoving him out of the room. Once Drusus closed the door, he stood with his back to it. That left him conveniently in shadow. No matter--he would have to face Saica soon enough.
Geraint stepped aside. Saica looked at me for a long moment, then reached for his glass of wine, and sipped from it.
"We are sent here from the Twelfth Legion," I said.
Saica examined my uniform as his slender fingers played with the stem of his wine glass. "I know of no Twelfth Legion," he replied.
I cast Geraint a glance. "We have traveled fourteen days from the city of Rudra to meet with you."
"Really?" Saica arched an eyebrow. "Yet I have never heard of a city called Rudra."
"Sir." I took a step closer so he could fully see my earnestness. "Our country is in turmoil. If we do not form an alliance, the Jardian will take control."
Saica shook his head. "Jardian is a name unfamiliar to me." He took another sip of wine.
"Tribune Saica! Your stubbornness does us a disservice."
"You have me mistaken, sir, for my name is Aiken Dromm and I am a farmer."
I heard the tap of a wooden leg outside the door. "Ain't no Tribune Saica," were the housekeepers muffled words.
I snatched the order papers from Geraint's hands. "Bollocks. We're in the wrong buggering story."
Opening: BuffySquirrel.....Continuation: ril
"Nice chestnuts," Saica said. "Must be really cold outside."
"You know of shrinkage," I replied.
Geraint strummed his lyre, Drusus beat a dance rhythm on the tambour, and I began to warble The Birthday Song. This would be the first and last gay strip-o-gram that I would ever deliver.
"It's a Valpoccio. A ninety-three." Saica's lips pursed as he savored the tanins in the wine.
"A fine vintage," I said, though my preference was for the far superior eighty-seven. The wine shone like a ruby in his glass. "But is that not chicken on your plate?"
The smile vanished from Saica's face and his eyes widened in fear. "So, you are indeed the Twelfth Legion?"
I turned to the housekeeper who still glared at us from the corner of the room. "Servant, step forward. Pray tell us, where's the beef?"
"So," he ventured after a second, slow sip, "what do you boys want now? Vestal Virgins? The head of Marc Antony?"
Drusus sniggered at Londinium's biggest crime lord. He got away with it because he was Saica's sister's little boy. The rest of us cringed a little inside our cloaks and pretended we weren't with the fat slob.
"I wish, boss," Drusus said. I discretely wiped the spittle from my cheek. "We gotta problem with the slaves. They want to unionize."
"Did I not tell you to break a few kneecaps, take a few heads? The pikes are bare outside the town walls, last I saw." Saica speared a chunk of bloody beef.
"Well, um, see, Uncle, we got the idea we should take over the union gig and force everybody to pay dues. First the slaves, then the trades. More money all around, see? And no end in sight!"
An eyebrow lifted. Another speared chunk entered Saica's pie hole and was masticated.
"How...ingenious." His gimlet stare swept our little huddled mass before it landed on me. "Are you sure it was my nephew's idea, Lucius?"
Aw, crap. When had he found out I was the brains behind the operation? Now my slacking days were over!
Clearly this is a chapter beginning, not the opening of the work. With no background it's confusing. Who is "we"? The narrator and Drusus? The narrator and Geraint? The narrator and someone who hasn't been mentioned by name yet? I assume I would know who was arriving and who was already there if I'd read the previous section.
I don't need "perhaps as a warning," even if that's what he's thinking.
Not sure I entirely agree with EE on this one. I found the multiple names a bit confusing, but I figured the important ones would become clear over time.
Unfortunately, because I'm a dotard and an engineering major to boot, I had to look up what a Tribune was (besides a common newspaper name). I think saying "the Tribune Saica's house" in the first line was a little jarring for me. If you just said "the Tribune's house" and then later named him as Saica, it might flow a little better.
The only other place I got a little thrown was when Geraint stepped aside. I didn't know he was in the way. If EE is right about this being a chapter beginning, then I guess we'd know who Geraint was and why he'd be in the way. But at this point, it's a bit odd to have him step aside as his introduction.
I like that you've set up a tension between the Twelfth Legion (which may or may not exist), Drusus, and Saica, with the narrator in the middle and driving the action. And now that I know that a Tribune is a protector of the citizenry, I am interested in knowing what Drusus did.
So actually, I quite like this opening and feel like I was successfully plunked down in the middle of an interesting story. I trust I'll get the other details as we move along at a rapid pace.
What's a Welsh guy named Geraint doing in this bunch of Romans?
Is the main character Siamese twins?
Which would be really different, come to think...
Beth's question reminds me of the old joke about the Hollywood producer haranguing his writers about putting more conflict into their scripts: "Say, there are two brothers. One of them wants to be a test pilot, and the other one wants to be a concert pianist. And they're Siamese twins. Now THAT'S conflict!"
Word Verification: eqbqb
Editorial queries beget quips, Beth.
When I first read this I had an opinion about it. Then I read EE's comments and changed my mind. Right now, I wonder why we have to know that they enter Tribune Saica's house and why he has a peg-legged housekeeper.
Apparently three men enter the house - Drusus, Geraint (I want to spell it Gerund) and the narrator.
"The smell of food hadn't mislead" leads me to ask, who smelled the food? IS that part of the prior story or is it new to this opening?
"Saica rose from his seat to greet us" implies one type of behavior while Geraint stepping aside and Saica just looking at the narrator and sipping wine implies another behavior.
One says that Saica's happy to see them adn the other says that they've interrupted his dinner and his is not pleased.
The strange thing is that I liked all of this opening. It has too many "hads" and a strange medicinal "Exedra" that I had to look up, I like the peg leg, and it has movement but no action other than guests entering a lodging where a man is at dinner. We don't even know it they brought good or bad news to Saica.
Why don't you open with:
We interrupted tribune Saica at his villa during dinner.
"I, Tonio Pamphilius Exoticus bring news from the 12th legion. The men are laid up with boils and fleas. We lack sufficient food and wine for a proper bacchanalia."
"If we don't get relief the men threaten to rip out toes out and roast them over the fires before our eyes."
or something like that.
Love that continuation! Oh my goodness! so funny!
The Romans took their soldiers from all over the Empire...but unfortunately Geraint is just his name. Can't seem to find a better one for him. I may have to make him Welsh....
I do like this, except there's too many characters to be starting in the middle of the action. Or I get confused easily. Or both :)
Ril -- love the continuation.
Welsh can't mix with Romans?
Of course the Welsh mixed with Romans. There are Roman ruins all over Wales.
Anyway- if this is a chapter opening - I'm already figuring I'm not gionna be fully oriented on the characters - so no problem.
I was just wondering about the word "ain't, buffy. And I'd also drop a few of the phrases that tell us too much- because I think your description works very well in a free-standing way, and better, without them.
Ex: "That left him conveniently in shadow. No matter--he would have to face Saica soon enough." I don't think conveniently works for you here - I'd just describe a little more about why he doesn't wanna face this person, and then leave the shadow speaking for itself. Maybe just a phrase or so would do it.
Good luck with your book, buffy. With your sense of humor, it should be a good one!
ril, funny as usual(no surprise!)
"he rising from his seat to greet us, and Drusus grabbing the housekeeper and shoving him out of the room." reads a little awkardly.
"on the excedra" could be omitted.
Nevertheless, I have no problems with the excerpt.
I have a sense of anticipation as a reader and quite like it.
Of course the Romans enlisted natives from all over their provinces; but they would have separate units (like Caesar's ever-present Balearic slingers) rather than being part of a regular legion. And I rather think, without checking, that "Geraint" is late-medieval Welsh, and a different version would be current at that time. I could ask my Welsh-born archaeologist friend, if you really care.
Another thing I just noticed: Saica "rising from his seat." First, I'd take out "to greet us" and perhaps change it to "confront us." Second, Romans reclined on couches at dinners, they didn't sit in chairs.
You're right, talpianna. What I omitted to mention is that this is alternate history :).
A lot depends on when this is set and just how upper class Saica is as to whether or not he'd be sitting at a table or lounging on a couch eating.
Mercenaries were inducted into the regular legions in the mid to late Empire. However, the Welsh were pretty much adversaries throughout their involvement with the Empire. Could Geraint be Germanic (Hun or German) instead?
According to behindthename.com, it's a one-off Arthurian use:
Usage: Welsh, Welsh Mythology
Pronounced: GE-rient (Welsh), je-RAYNT (English) [key]
Meaning unknown, possibly a Welsh form of GERONTIUS. In Arthurian legend he was one of the knights of the Round Table. After he wrongly accused his wife Enid of infidelity she regained his love by being submissive.
Also, there were a variety of tribunes, of different levels of authorities. The ones we are most familiar with, because they were the most important, were the tribunes of the people; but from the context I concluded that Saica was one of the military tribunes.
I asked my husband about the name Geraint - as he is from Wales, and lived there for four decades. He said it didn't matter one way or the other which name Buffy used, as long as she liked it, especially if this isn't a straight historical novel.
Thanks, everyone :).
My head hurts.
Buffy, good luck with your query.
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