Flame. My world was flame. The conflagration licked and seared my skin, the fire scorched my throat, and the blaze consumed my eyes. Coughing sent me into fits. I collapsed. My world was pain. My skin, my throat, my eyes, my lungs, my stomach flared red. Pain consumed me. Pain absorbed me. I was pain.
I could not breathe.
I was about to meet my fate. My end. A cursed and ignoble end. But how I got here, a slave in the desert frontier of Atlantis aquilonem, that was a tail in and of itself. An golden little epic: Epilium Aurelia.
Being forced to work the pepper fields picking them, drying them and packing them had brought me to this state. Slaves here lasted very short periods. And I was a slave. It was my punishment. I had been sentenced to the latifundium on the Roman frontier in the desert for my actions. I had betrayed my charge, my employer and attempted to rob and murder him. Thinking him dead in the swamps of Terra submersi, I returned to the Roma Nova.
Roma Nova, second only to Roma Patre for grandeur: the Byzantines were utterly wrong. The gold, turquoise, marble and obsidian of Roma Nova was far, far more beautiful than Byzantium. It was the center of Roman Terra Nova, the Green Sea (Mare Viridium) was the Mediterranean of this New World, more beautiful and virginal than the Old World with Atlantis aquilonem to the north, Atlantis Meridium to the south and Altantis Isthusum between.
The wealth flowed through Roma Nova from the Atlantean continents to Rome Patre. Gold and silver, spices and stones, woods and even foods. Obsidian tiles were also popular, as were the ridiculous turquoise column. Iron wood also flowed east to the old world as did chile, potatoes, maize and others. The Roman diet of the 15th century since the founding of the city was radically different than in the Principate. Someone had been brilliant and turned loose horses and cattle on Atlantis aquilonem: every year traders venture from the Mare Viridium to capture horses and bring them back for the never ending wars on the Gothic and Persian Frontiers. Wars did not exhaust the Empire because the wealth of the New World flowed into Rome’s coffers without competition.
My employer, named Septimus Julius Tlascus, had been an old world Roman with some long lost family history in the New World. He came as a scholar, an explorer, chasing legends and wanting to document the lands in a book. He had been ambushed walking in the port city of Kuutsmulus. He had been fighting off, badly, a handful of would-be muggers when I happened by. I was curious about the man dressed in fashions of the Old World and with such a fancy sword that I intervened. I saved his life and he hired me.
He wanted to tour Mare Viridium and document everything he could for his book. He was also curious about the great city of Prymis, on the mainland with its great, if faded, giant white pyramids were giants and stood in the midst of the city in the cleared, if encroaching jungle.
He also sought the truth of his family history. Supposedly, he was of an imperial family, one of the Christian crusader families who had put down the Venerian worshipers, worshipers of Venus the Mad, the goddess of war, death and love; the weird hybrid cult that had merged the New World beliefs of Venus with the Old, grown to prominence and attempted to take over the empire when the old prechristian religion began to fail. Septimus’ ancestor was the one who had secured the Atlantean provinces from the Venerians and gone onto lead the crusade against the Venerians in the Mediterranean. It had been a long and bloody war. Septimus was from a minor branch of the imperial family, but wanted to document the origins of the family amongst the Maia. He thought there might be clues in the libraries of the city his grandsire originated from.
He also whispered of wanting to seek the Fountain of Youth. He had what he claimed as irrefutable proof of its existence in terra submersi, the drowned peninsula of Atlantis aquilonem that jutted into the Mare Viridium. I believed him. He spoke with such eloquence and energy and belief that I fell under his spell. So, I agreed to be his guardian and guide.
We ventured from isthmus to island to peninsula, swamp to jungle to sea, city to wilderness, I followed that man and his dreams and his scholarship. The adventure was great. The reward was equally vast. However, I grew restless. What I truly sought was eternal life and youth. This man had promised me that.
Then, in the miserable swamps of terra submersi, fed up, I confronted him. Septimus cheerfully admitted he might be wrong, but wasn’t the exploration exciting and fun! I became enraged; my rogue nature had been so long shackled in order to accomplish my goal of eternal life, I exploded. I attacked him and threw him into the alligator infested waters. I had stabbed him as well and I was confident he was doomed. I stole what we had and left.
Returning to Roma Nova and my old life I had placed on hold for three years.
What I could not have imagined was that he would return, that he would survive his ordeal in the swamps and return to seek justice against me. That he did. That he succeeded in as well. I had vastly underestimated him. I had underestimated his imperial familial connections even more. Once he had returned, he hounded me until I was caught and once I was caught, he did not seek my immediate death. He was a believer in law, a true Roman.
He sought my punishment through the law and the courts. He had me put on trial before the Church. The courts had long ago, as part of the reconquest of the old world, the old empire from the Venerians, had taken over the courts. Three priests sat in judgment of my actions. I had hired a lawyer, but, again, I had underestimated Septimus. He was the one Roman in the New World who could represent himself and did.
I was found guilty and Septimus’ speech arguing for my sentence was beautiful. It was terrible. It led to my fate.
“I do not seek to usurp God’s punishment for this man, this betrayer, guilty before the Law and Church. I do not seek his death, for only God can order a man dead for his sins for Thou Shalt Not Kill. I shall not seek to send him before his time; I seek rather he be sentenced to imprisonment, but imprisonment where he will be useful for society, useful in a manner he never was in life and to take the place of one who has had no sin in the church save for his fate of birth. That is the punishment that befits his crimes. Not death, not usurpation of God’s rights, but useful labor.”
The priests agreed.
And so I as sent. Sent to burn and rot on the frontier in a latifundium picking the fiery red chiles that were dried and sent to the old world. The dust from the dried chiles burns and burns badly. Over time, in my shackled slavery, I deteriorated.
Until now. And now, I, Flavius Valerius Constantinus died in fire and pain, but untouched by flame.