Tyrant's Fall Part 1
The Roman army slowly marched towards the Padus River, implacable in its devastation; such was the retribution the Republic demanded for the fallen consul. They would not stop until all Insubre and Boii tribes had been repelled from the southern bank.
Aritimesia followed the legions as they campaigned through this country of stillness and isolation; solitude was the law of the land, the Gauls were expelled but no Etruscan daring to return home.
It was a good place for a former terrorist to disappear. All she needed was a nice hole, a few traps and a lot of blankets.
It was not a cheerful existence, days passing by without hope or future.
Her bleak routine was interrupted by an unlikely meeting. She crawled out of her hideout to find a woman sleeping under a nearby tree, her fair skin and hair darkened by olive oil. Her first instinct was to rob the woman and disappear. She hesitated; only the bold dared to travel these lands. That thought made Aritimesia feel some affinity with the woman. Her scent was homely and familiar, the human warmth something she deeply missed. She felt at ease for the first time after leaving Veii; she nested besides the other woman and rested for a bit.
Aritimesia woke up to find an arm around her, closing into a hug before she could react. The woman smiled and pressed her lips against her left cheek, the friendly kiss of peers.
“Are you hungry?” She did not wait for a reply, splitting a small bread and handing half to Aritimesia. Her stomach grumbled and she tasted meat, crushed nuts and a little touch of spicy wine. “
What are you doing here?” Aritimesia inquired, ignoring the obvious inquires about identity.
“Hiding, the only thing I’m good at. Did it for half my life and would still be at it if I had not decided to come out.” She had a sad but cocky smile, “I know what it looks like. And what feels like. Crow knows crow.”“Is that why you are being nice to me?”
“Do not think much about it. It was a piece of bread and half a paddie.” She shrugged, even as her cheeks flushed. “You were miserable and I could do you a small boon. I received love and care from others as I stumbled around the world, I learned how the little things can really improve someone else’s life. ”
“Let me repay you. Stop. Don’t hide again, no matter what you are going through; you have a lovely smile - don’t keep it from the world.”
To woman’s apparent meekness was gone. She rose and leaned against the tree, impressing upon Aritimesia how tall and athletic she actually was.
“I have to go.”
She was gone in a blink of an eye, but she had stirred inspiration in the Veiete’s heart. Aritimesia was perceptive enough to realize that by adopting a mercantile identity she could make a fortune. Soldiers fell prey to longing and malnutrition, willing to give away wages and spoils for any memento from home or hearty meal - and grateful enough to avoid questioning the woman’s past.
Weeks of bartering and gossiping widened Aritimesia’s awareness of events across the peninsula and the anxieties of its peoples. As months piled on, she had gathered a detailed list of issues and those afflicted by them; Aritimesia discreetly contacted those that could not find assistance from the Roman Republic, were alienated by certain segments of society or feared for the future of their cultural identity- establishing a network of like-minded individuals that saw the Italians as vulnerable partners of the growing Roman sphere of influence.
After much deliberation, dangerous subterfuges and grand plans, Aritimesia set in motion a meeting of worried community leaders. The site chosen was, appropriately, in the ruins of a Roman fort - once the fortified backbone of the campaign, abandoned and picked clean as the legions advanced further North.
And so we find Aritimesia, setting an improvised table and lit torches in the crumbling central building, welcoming her co-conspirators.
“I want to thank all of you for answering my convocation.” Aritimesia opened the meeting by addressing those gathered: tribal chiefs, merchants, druids, bards, municipal magistrates, priests, captains of industry and mercenary companies. “We all came from distinct lands, classes and peoples; however, we all came to nest under the shadow of Rome - be it by our own will, lack of alternatives or by the accidents of birth and conquest. We are the Socii, our future is aligned with that of Rome; I am aware that this state of affairs has been profitable for most of the present. But the circumstances have been changing and too many among us have already sacrificed too much with little or no return.”
“Those words are unacceptable and stink of false friendship!” The first voice of opposition made itself heard. A youth of the old Etruscan nobility rose and pointed an accusing finger. “How can we contemplate such treacherous talk when Romans and our kin fight at this very moment to protect all of us? You speak of our communities and the dangers of aligning with Rome, but they are not the ones erasing my culture and seizing our lands.”
“For now they fight our enemies, for now they celebrate our diversity.” Aritimesia emphasized. “How will they compensate us for our loyalty? Will the will of People and Senate always match the desires and freedom of the Italians? We should be prepared to protect our rights.”
“Do you think we are blind to your intentions?” A priestess of Venusia had raised her hand, her fingers forming a claw as she grew louder. “This is a meeting organized by a pro-Punic terrorist. She wants to turn us against Rome, just so the people of Veii have a scapegoat for their ill-earned curse. The learned among us still remember when Veii stylized itself our overlord; we were their slaves and conquests, not partners and clients. Go away, Aritimesia - or do you have Veientes friends hiding in the corners, planning to kidnap us in exchange for future support?”
Aritimesia pulled a hood from under the table, stained by pale purple and bloody pink. She picked one of the torches, setting the cloth on fire. She waited as flames consumed her past; as they licked her fingers, she threw the conflagration of memories towards the priestess.
“I reject terrorism as a false-path; activism and social justice are now how I voice my ideals.” She declared as everyone rushed to put off the fire with cloaks and furs. “However, I have not rejected my kin - be they those of Veii or the multiplicity of Italian peoples and cultures. I did not gather you together to stir conflict but to create an organization dedicated to the discussion of interests and issues that are not currently represented in the Forum or Senate.”
“Rome has been doing that since any of us can remember.” One of the merchants pointed out. “It is the cultural, military, political and economic axis of the peninsula, especially now that all trade routes must pass through ports controlled by the Republic. We should continue to bring our issues directly to them; I don’t see any problem with this arrangement.”
“You might not think much of Veii, but it is a community that represents nicely the threats faced by the most fragile and unfortunate Italians. “Aritimesia elaborated. “The majority of the inhabitants of Veii depend on subsistence farming and struggle to put food on the table; artisans and wage slaves are unable to buy bread or wheat and there are no wealthy and civic-minded individuals that can offer them patronage - they have to leave Veii or starve. Considering how much the price of wheat has been dropping these past decades, this is a bad auspice for the future of your communities. Veii is just the first to suffer. Which will be the next?”
“Things are difficult everywhere, Aritimesia of Veii.” one of the Celtic chieftains pointed out, smiling and scratching his beard, insensitive to urban dramas. “Such is the nature of war. You cannot have the pillaging of half Etruria, drafof the merchant fleet and lose of the northern buffer zone and not have serious consequences. What you are experiencing is the aftermath of a great disaster; there will be a reversal of your fortunes once reconstruction occurs and the Cenomani establish a safe land route across the Gauls towards the northern Iberian city-states. Think of all the wealth that will create!”
“I have no doubts that things will improve, but for whom?” Aritimesia pointed out, causing a few eyerolls, muffled laughter and indiscreet murmurs. “Yes, I know many here will profit directly from this war; there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But wealth needs to flow down, to be reinvested back into rebuilding and civic interests; silver and gold are meaningless hoarded in the hands of a few instead of shared with the community and invested into the welfare of its members - no matter their birth or class.”
“Do you have any evidence of such disparity, Aritimesia, or are you only speaking in hypotheticals?” One of the rich patricians of Padu inquired, rousing louder laughter. “And would it be another ridiculous story about Veii? The prosperous Veietes patrons might be miserly, that does not mean their flaws are shared by other affluent Italians.”
“That is fair, it is a sensible request.”Aritimesia lifted her head. “Tell me, do you enjoy your new estate in Rome? That nice place you bought to hide your family from the Gauls? Does it live to all you hoped it to be? And tell me, how fare the rest of the Paduans that could not afford to leave their homes? How satisfied are your clients now that they have to travel through a warzone to visit their patron?”
The man’s face flustered with rage and fury; Aritimesia was not done.
“Do you plan to return to Padua after making such investment? Have you pondered on the effect you had over the local community? Because at the same time hundreds of Roman men and women are fighting and dying, noble souls like you are taking their properties, destroying their livelihood and ruining their homes.”
“Ridiculous! I will not stand here and be insulted by a terrorist Cassandra.”
Aritimesia slapped the table with both hands.
“Then go, leave and ride to the front. Ask any soldier you find; you will find the same story over and over. How the Aventine and other plebeian neighborhoods had dozens of houses demolished and entire families taken for debt slavery. Or maybe they will tell you about how Ostia is covered with insulae, where people live like turtle-doves fattened and cooped for the profit of others. The noble remodeling of Rome is destroying its identity and threatens to start a new Conflict of Orders; the balance is too uneven towards the most affluent citizens. We have in the reconstruction and colonization of the Padus’ banks an opportunity to correct course and fix these injustices - or we stand aside and let greedy hands seize them, eroding civic values and reducing their peers to serfs. Yes, call me Cassandra, but remember that Troy still burned.”
Such accusations and concerns caused great upheaval and discussion; some members of the ennobled classes followed the man from Padua and left. The hearts and minds of those that stayed belonged to Aritimesia.
“I must apologize for my previous words, Aritimesia.” The Venusian priestess admitted. “Clearly you have spent a lot of time thinking about the threats to our most fragile siblings. But what do you plan to do? Rome always shone bright as a defender of the most vulnerable, theirs are the actions we have been emulating for hundred years.”
“We need to keep working with Rome and show them how rising inequality can erode the Republic that supports their society. Rome offers the only means to enforce long-term reform across the peninsula. We all must do our part, to improve our communities.” Aritimesia rolled over the table a canvas with a magnificent ochre bull painted on it. “I propose the creation of an initiative of like-minded thinkers that share the same concerns. Each of us is or can be a pillar in their community, spreading culture and civic-mindfulness. Every challenge and problem we encounter, we try to solve, gather information and discuss possible solutions and what we learned with other members.”
“And then what?” One of the mercenary captains inquired.
“Then we lobby the Assemblies, Forum and Senate. With our collective resources and knowledge we can make sure that the Roman Republic remains a force for good, supported by informed advisors.”
“What an wonderful idea.” A feminine voice was heard from the entrance. The tallest woman she ever saw, covered by a red cloak from which golden locks peeked inside. “Unfortunately, you must leave this meeting immediately; you are all in danger.”
Tensions rose, but Aritimesia was quick to seize control and present the Bull as an united front.
“Rome might send all the Triumphants they want, but if they think they can intimidate us, they are very wrong.”
“Wait, what? No!” The Triumphant waved her arms. “I love the initiative and must talk with you later, but you have to run. Now.”
“Corvus?” Aritimesia eyes widened as she spotted the emblem piercing the blond woman’s cloak. “I thought you were all gone. If you are soaring again, there is hope.”
“Listen to me, please.” The Corvus begged. “Quirinius Fulminator Niger has learned about this meeting and they are coming for you.”
It was incredible how quickly the fort once again found itself deserted.