The Son of Rome

As a young patrician of Rome, and later an attendant to Gaius, I had grown used to being in the presence of powerful people. Those with physical power, those with political power, up and down the spectrum of influence within the Republic.

“Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine,” Selene counted off dutifully while I pressed against the gold and ivory mosaic floors of the late kyrios’ courtyard. ”Forty!”

I let go of Gravitas and collapsed, forehead pressed against the cool stone as I panted for breath. After thoroughly proving his point with regards to my foundational imbalance, Socrates had advised me to continue my calisthenics under the influence of the captain's virtue. I invoked Gravitas just enough to make the work nearly unbearable, but not enough to keep me fully down, and I returned to the basics until my body gave out.

It was grueling, but I couldn’t deny the results. I felt like I was a boy again, training my body under Aristotle‘s watchful eye for the very first time. Basic calisthenics that had ceased to yield any real benefit long ago felt challenging again. With every push-up, every lunge and crunch, I cursed myself for not doing this as soon as I had first tapped into Gaius’ virtue. At the same time, a more realistic part of me acknowledged that I’d held it in such high regard for so long that I never would have considered such an option if it hadn’t been forced on me first.

Still, the benefits of Socrates' training were one thing. But there was something unnerving about keeping this sort of company, even with all my experience.

The Oracles of the Coast, the Alabaster Isles, and the City of Squalls - also known as the Hurricane Heights - politely applauded while the Scarlet Oracle hopped off my back and went to grab a jug of water.

“My, you’re in fine form today,” the Oracle of the Alabaster Isles said, resting her cheek in one hand, the other holding her knee up to her chest while she lounged on her holy tripod. Her smile was teasing.

“I’d expect nothing less from the last son of Rome,” spoke the Oracle of the Hurricane Heights. She was a lithe woman, a slim contrast to the Alabaster Oracle’s obscene curves, and her hair drifted in a breeze that couldn’t be felt. Threads the color of harvested wheat drifted around her hallowed tripod, spiraling through her fingers as she idly weaved. “Tomorrow he may even reach fifty.”

“Respectfully,” I groaned, forcing an arm beneath me, “I didn’t ask the oracles for their input.”

“Respectfully, he says,” the Oracle of the Broken Tide cackled. Of the five, she was the only one that fit my mental image of what a soothsayer should be. Ancient, wrinkled, and frail. Her shawls and sashes seemed to swallow her up so that all a man could see of her were her skeletal hands, and the wispy strands of bone white hair that flared out from under her hood. Her face was thin and severe, perpetually leering. Her eyes were milk white and the pupils were trisected.

She was also, bizarrely, sitting in the lap of the Brazen Aegis’ Oracle. As it had been explained to me the first time I had met them, the Scarlet City had only one oracle despite being home to two separate cults because their mysteries were intimately related. The coast, on the other hand, had two entirely separate mysteries which their cults were built around, and so the city had enjoyed the privilege of two separate oracles.

The late kyrios had taken this into consideration and declared that eight tripods for eight cities was perfectly fair, and so they’d been forced to share ever since. Sitting together as they were, they looked nearly like a mother and her daughter.

“Men have given their lives pursuing a moment of our time, you know,” the crone of the Broken Tide said, smacking her fellow Oracle’s hand away when it tried to cover her mouth. “The richest man in the world wouldn’t be able to buy the company of two of us at any given time, let alone the five you have before you.”

“If I wanted to pay for a woman’s company, I’d go to a brothel.” I managed to sit up and accept the jug of water Selene offered me, nodding gratefully, and drank deeply. The Oracle of the Broken Tide laughed so hard that she started to choke.

“Forgive them,” Selene whispered, her shoulder bumping against mine. “It’s rare for us to meet someone we can speak freely to.”

“There are certain things a seer can provide that a prostitute can’t,” the Oracle from the Alabaster Isles pointed out. Her eyes danced, silk chiton shifting as she laid her chin on her raised knee. Her lips were painted in the shades of the Alabaster Isles, a spectrum of white-gold to canary yellow.

“Perhaps he has no use for a soothsayer,” the Oracle of the Hurricane Heights mused, weaving her hovering thread. She blew her waving hair absently out of her face. “Is that it after all, son of Rome? Have you no interest in what’s to come?”

I drained the last of the water from the jug. Gravitas struck me like a clenched fist, pressed me down, and I got to work on my situps.

“Seems you’re on the mark,” the Oracle of the Broken Tide croaked, having regained her breath. “The young barbarian fears what’s to come.”

I rose against the weight of command, and I fell. I saw another crone, in another place. Another time. Heard her eerie, rasping voice.

Beware the Ides of March

I didn’t need a soothsayer to tell me what I already knew. My future was hopelessly grim.

Selene added her weight to my exercise, sitting on my feet so they wouldn’t slide on the mosaic floor or lift up. She crossed her arms on my knees and set her chin upon them, considering me seriously.

“They’re only teasing you,” she said, her veil shifting as she shook her head. “The gods don’t speak to us anymore. They couldn’t give you a prophecy even if they wanted to.”

A sandal struck her in the side of the head. The Scarlet Oracle cried out, flinching back.

“Arrogant girl, telling me what I can’t do.” The Oracle of the Broken Tide struggled against the Oracle of the Brazen Aegis, the old crone doing her level best to throw her other sandal. “I’ve taken naps longer than you’ve been alive!”

“Just because you look like you’re older than dirt doesn’t make it true!” Selene shot back, immediately ducking the second sandal. It whistled sharply as it cut through the air and drove through the stone of the far wall.

“Honestly, Dona, she’s just a child!” The Oracle of the Brazen Aegis scolded her counterpart, wrestling the old woman’s arms back with some effort. Dona spat.

“If she’s old enough to be a wife, she’s old enough to get beaten.”

The soothsayers from the Brazen Aegis Cult and the Howling Wind Cult exchanged long-suffering looks across the courtyard, their tripods situated opposite from one another.

“Thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three-”

“Perhaps we’ve taken the wrong track,” the Oracle of the Alabaster Isles mused, and I felt her gaze as a physical thing. Something that went beyond the influence I could detect with my Sophic sense, deeper and more vibrant. I shivered as it ghosted up and down my body. “These are our leisure hours, aren’t they? Perhaps the son of Rome has something he can deliver to us.”

Selene frowned, head tilting towards her fellow soothsayer.

“Certainly not good conversation,” Dona said derisively.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” the woman with the gold-gloss lips said, smiling slowly. “I’m quite enjoying what he’s saying right now.”

I stopped, halfway through my situp. Her smile widened.

“Oh no, please. Continue.”

I stared hard at the holy woman. Then, slowly, I completed my situp.


Dona scoffed. “It’s a wonder he knows how to count. Be truthful, boy - when’s the last time you had a real conversation, without any moody deflections?”

I looked the salty old bitch in her blind eyes and said flatly, “Bar.”

Behind her, the Brazen Aegis’ Oracle fought a smile. “Bar?”

I nodded. “Bar.”

"Bar," Selene added.


“Every generation thinks they’re cleverer than the one that came before,” the Oracle of the Broken Tide said sourly. “When they’re always, always less.”

“In fairness,” said the Oracle of the Hurricane Heights, “you don’t make for good conversation either.”

“Haa? Is the whistling shrew running her mouth again? All I can hear is the wind.”

“Keep going,” the Oracle of the Alabaster Isles urged me, ignoring her peers with practiced ease. “Let’s see forty-one.” Her lips curved, wickedly amused. “Or perhaps a different movement? Something for the hips?”

Selene shoved me back into the rest position. “Forty-one,” she said firmly, and I resigned myself to more situps.

The holy women of the Greek faith continued to bicker and chat among themselves, occasionally prodding at me verbally to see what I would do. I suffered it in silence when I could, focusing on the burn of my body coming apart in small degrees so that it could be remade better, stronger than before. I was drenched in sweat by the time Socrates finally stepped out of the late kyrios’ quarters and into the courtyard. He had a finger dug into his right ear and a scowl on his face.

“Of all the world’s mysteries,” he said irritably, “the one that baffles me the most is how our late lord could relax for a single moment down here with all of you.”

Dona tilted her head his way, blind eyes swiveling as they sought out his voice.

“No,” he said before she could speak, holding out a hand. “Enough of you. I cut my dwelling out of the highest visible point on Kaukoso Mons, and some nights I swear I can still hear you barking. I’d sleep inside the storm crown if I thought it would be enough to block you out.”

The Oracle of the Broken Tide cackled, and Socrates rubbed his wrinkled brow.

“How was your afternoon, boy?” he asked me. I glanced up at him, arms trembling as I fought to maintain my plank position with the weight of command and Selene both sitting on my back.


Socrates snorted. “Good, that’s another lesson learned. Some say that cultivation only makes us more of what we are - that applies to women just the same. They only become more insufferable the further they advance.”

The philosopher raised his hand and caught a sandal before it could strike his temple, glancing scornfully at the side of the octagonal courtyard reserved for The Coast. The Oracle of the Brazen Aegis averted her eyes, putting her other sandal back on her left foot.

“Shall I tell poor Daphnis that you said that?” Dona asked, blind eyes crinkling deviously.

Socrates sneered. “Tell her whatever you like. I’ve said it to her face enough times already.”

“What an awful man,” the Howling Wind Cult’s soothsayer lamented.

“You mustn’t become like him,” the Oracle of the Alabaster Isles said, beckoning me to her. “It’s unnatural for man to despise woman as he does. This one will teach you everything you need to know in his stead.” For the first time, I saw that there was a thin line of color tattooed down her tongue, the same golden shade as her lips.

Socrates stepped over me, blocking her from my line of sight. As if I would be swayed so easily-

I scowled. “What are you doing?”

“... Just in case,” Selene said, covering my eyes with her hands. “Chara can be, ah, tempting when she wants to be.”

The Oracles were meant to be crones, that had always been my understanding of them. But aside from the Oracle of the Broken Tide, the others that I’d met seemed more like mothers just out of their prime than anything else. Chara’s laugh in answer to Selene‘s warning was most definitely not the cackle of an old woman. Though it unsettled me all the same.

“I won’t be tempted,” I said firmly, shaking her hands away and pushing myself to my feet. Selene rolled smoothly off my back, smiling innocently at the look I gave her.

“See that you aren’t,” Socrates advised. “Vigilance, always.” He clapped my shoulder and nodded back at the kyrios’ commandeered quarters. He moved, and I followed.

“He’ll never find a wife if he takes your advice,” Dona heckled. “Is that what you want for your poor student? A life of lonely isolation?”

“By all means, marry,” Socrates said over his shoulder, sarcasm dripping from every word. “If you’re fortunate enough to find a good wife, you’ll be happy. If not, you’ll become a philosopher.”

I shrugged. “I already am.”

Selene stumbled beside me, and the heckling rose to shrieks and cries for details. I strode quickly after my mentor, into the relative safety of the kyrios’ rooms.

Socrates slammed the heavy doors shut behind us, muffling the worst of the holy noise. Inside, I found the residence had changed. Socrates had kicked me out into the courtyard earlier so that he could attend to some unexplained business within the kyrios’ personal rooms, and now that work was laid out before me.

Socrates had ransacked the place, tossing aside furniture and in some cases tearing it apart completely, arranging the pieces around the room in an utterly chaotic manner. The columns that preserved the structure of the underground alcove had been worn down, as if by the sea, all their straight lines and harsh edges smoothed away to rounded curves. The walls themselves, carefully carved out of the mountain, had been given the same treatment.

The blankets and clothing were gathered in the middle of the room in quasi-nests, facing one another, and the old philosopher had torn open the bed itself and scattered its feathers around several points in the room. I could see a few puddles, places where he had clearly dumped out entire jugs of water and spirit wine. I also saw, and smelled, the fires he had made of the broken down furniture.

I squinted through the smoke, utterly baffled. “Why?

“Perfect symmetry in nature is something that does not exist,” he explained calmly, as if that explained anything at all. He stepped over a pile of burning kindling that had once been a table and sat cross-legged on one of the two nests. “So, when we seek to emulate nature in our own artificial dwellings, we must observe the same dissymmetry.”

I looked around. “What does that have to do with setting fires?”

“I’m setting the stage, boy,” he said impatiently, waving me over. Reluctantly, I complied. “Generally, we do these things out in nature, because it’s easier and a better experience overall. But as we’ve established, you’re a ridiculous child and I can’t take you anywhere until I’ve civilized you. So we’ll do what we can, now that you’ve healed up.”

I sat cross legged in the nest of silk sheets, mirroring his relaxed posture as best I could with smoke assaulting my senses. “We’re going to meditate?”

“Something like that. Close your eyes, boy.”

My eyes closed, and then opened a moment later when someone joined me in the silk nest, pressing into my side so that they could fit fully on to it. Selene settled into her own meditative stance, breathing deeply.

I looked to Socrates. The expression on his face was hard to describe.

“This isn’t an open lesson, girl.”

“I greet the master,” she said formally, bowing her head without opening her eyes. My lips twitched.

“There’s room for two,” I told my mentor. He grunted, disgusted, but shut his eyes and resumed his posture.

“Close your eyes and think of Rome,” he commanded. I obliged. “Aristotle taught you how to train your body, but it was Rome that taught you how to train your soul. We’re going to work backwards and see if we can find a Greek soul buried somewhere in the dirt.”

“Thank you,” Selene whispered, nearly too quiet to be heard over the crackling of the fires, nudging my knee with hers. I hummed and immersed myself in thoughts of home.

A note from Ya Boy

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Ya Boy

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Ironbeagle ago

Thanks for the chapter! Excellent as always :)

Euclaid Galieane ago

I wonder if Aristotle had a vision or prophecy to guide him.

Since this twin-souled stuff sounds exactly like that.

Savane ago

Thanks for the chapter!!

They only become more insufferable the further they advance.” -- he doesn't pull his punches...

FitzJames ago

Thank you for the chapter, I am really enjoying Socrates

Nelsyv ago

Selene really do be thirsting, huh

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