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Ashes Book I

Ashes Book I

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Ashes Book I

181 pages
1 hour
Jan 2, 2017


It is ancient, late-Republican Rome, and, denied the freedom he was promised, successful merchant-slave, Ariston, sets fire to his master’s Palatine villa, rescues a slave-girl, Felicia, from crucifixion, and both escape to the distant Umbrian mountains where they marry and raise a family, setting in play an odyssey that spans generations, an odyssey that leads from the cruel streets of the slums of Rome to chariot races in the Circus Maximus, from bloody, no-holds-barred street boxing to the pursuit of fugitive slaves across the length and breadth of Italia, from the great landed estates of the Roman countryside to the law courts of the Roman Forum.

Jan 2, 2017

Tentang penulis

Among other pursuits, Theodore Irvin Silar has served variously in the capacities of bricklayer, auto worker, accountant, cab driver, teacher, historian, musician, composer, graphic artist, inventor, and writer. Holder of a Ph.D. in English Literature from Lehigh University, he leads an interesting intellectual life.

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Ashes Book I - Theodore Irvin Silar

Ashes Book I

A Novel of the Poor of Ancient Rome

Theodore Irvin Silar

Copyright 2016 Theodore Irvin Silar

Published by Theodore Irvin Silar at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Caput I ♦ From Rome to Umbria

Caput II ♦ From Umbria to Rome

Caput III ♦ The Streets of Rome

Caput IV ♦ The Fora of Rome

Caput V ♦ The Roads of Italia

Caput VI ♦ Circus Maximus

Caput VII ♦ Forum



About the Author

Other Works by the Same Author

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Incipit Liber Primus

Caput I ♦ From Rome to Umbria

You must see it from my perspective, Ariston. I know full well that I promised you manumission on your sixtieth birthday, but things have changed. I just cannot afford it. You are just too valuable to me. The cost overruns on the new wing alone are draining me dry. I have but to blink, and Servilia and her fawning architect are concocting some mad new decorating scheme. Take it as a tribute to your indisputable talents. Do I not spoil you unconscionably? Do you really find it so onerous living like a prince in the bosom of my household?

Ariston had expected as much. He had watched with apprehension his master’s character erode over the years. The magnanimous boy had become the beleaguered, self-absorbed man. Most of them did, the ones who did not go in for degeneracy. On the other hand, it was arguable that Ariston had dug his own grave: his mastery of the art of speculation was unequaled: he bought corn in feast years and sold in famine, he hoarded wine in good years and sold in bad, he underwrote armorers in peace and milked them in war. Pirates, storms, wayward winds never delayed his cargoes: Ariston’s ships always came in, in the process making him rich and this hourglass of a man sitting before him resplendent. Thus, his predicament.

Ariston walked to the window. And what of this, Servie Servilie? Can you do anything about this?

A young woman hung crucified there in the midst of the garden. Flowers bloomed at her feet.

Is it not horrible, friend? We are as one on this. Of course I would like to do something. A waste, that is what it is, nothing but a cursed waste, to give such a, delicious young thing to the pit . . . But you know my wife. It would be, how shall I say, injudicious, to say the least, to provoke her in these matters. You know how irrational she can be over her, prerogatives. It is a shame, it is a pity, it is a grotesque waste, I could shout it from the Tarpeian Rock. But you know as well as I do that I am unequal to the task of amending the situation, that is, if I ever want to know peace in my life again.

The bile rose in Ariston’s throat. How could he so ingenuously have submitted his dreams to the vagaries of this hapless imbecile? What a Boetian he had been, sowing the sand. The baseness of the Servilian house was proverbial, fathomless apparently, but with all their hypocrisy, they never stooped so low as to fool themselves. For once in his life, he had no idea what to do. All he knew was that he had to do something. To hide his outrage and his humiliation, Ariston strode wordlessly from the room.

Returning home from a heartening night, fortified with overindulgence in cheap wine and the melodious sound of tavern cut-throats reviling the very generosi he reviled with a coarseness he could only commend, Ariston saw a light glowing in the depths of the new wing. Investigating, he found a smoldering tripod in the nearly finished ground-floor room, by the side of which a night watchman snored. An empty wine pitcher lay beneath the watchman’s dangling hand. Without a second thought, Ariston went to work. First, he went to his well-appointed room, strapped on his money belt, donned his severest tunic and his most nondescript cloak, and armed himself with a small sharp knife On his way out, he hesitated at the door, and then returned and seized an extra tunic, stuffing it into the pouch of his cloak. From the kitchen, he retrieved an oil-lamp, and, lighting it with a coal from the tripod, he used it to search out and collect stray shims and wedges the masons and carpenters had left lying about. With these, he crept from room to room, doorway to doorway, shutter to shutter, wedging shut all routes of escape except for the servants’ entrance, which he knew no one but slaves would think of trying. From the stables he retrieved bundles of hay and firebrands and from the pantry he retrieved an ampulla of lamp-oil. Laying a path of hay and rag and firebrand the few steps separating the burning tripod in the new wing from the atrium of the main house, with its wealth of wonderfully combustible curtain and tapestry and woodwork, he doused all in oil and upset the tripod. The night watchman was stirring. The conflagration would wake him, and he would escape in time. Then, without waiting to see the progress of his handiwork, Ariston went straight to the garden, cut the ropes that held the crucified girl aloft, eased her down, and slipped the extra tunic over her naked body. She had hung there in the garden, next to the fountain, with its gilded statue of Hebe, for less than a day, and so, when he sprinkled water from Hebe’s bowl onto her face, her eyes opened and brightened immediately with a mixture of relief, gratitude, and fear.

Do not be afraid, said Ariston. Whatever we are in for, it cannot but be better than this. Can you walk? For we must flee.

Her legs would not support her. Ariston was neither tall nor stout. On the contrary, he was short and lean. There being no help for it, gritting his teeth, the old man heaved the girl onto his shoulder and set out for the nearest gate in the city walls, saying, I am sorry. I can do no better. We must get away.

Do not worry yourself, said the girl, her voice trembling with his tread. After the cross, your shoulder is heaven.

It was just as well Ariston had acted impulsively, for his luck held, the streets he trudged through deserted, the night dark and the moon new, and brigands occupied elsewhere from the route he traveled. When they arrived at the gate, sweating with the effort, Ariston gently lay the girl down in the shadow of a shrine and, apologizing as if to a lady, proceeded to massage the numbness from her hands and feet. She clenched her teeth, enduring the agony of returning sensation with hardly a groan.

I think our brother and sister cōnservi must have whipped me lightly and tied me loosely, she finally whispered, flexing her fingers and wiggling her toes, or I would be useless. Tell me they will not suffer for what we have done.

Do not worry yourself, replied Ariston, trying to smile with assurance. Immo vero, we should envy them. The poor country cousins who will inherit them are old and kind, clement as a June day. They will live the lives of Sileni. Country feast-day without end.

Nearby sat a group of carters, their shadows flickering in the firelight against the wall just inside the portal, awaiting the morning and the opening of the gates. Insinuating themselves among the coarse rustics, Ariston and the girl soon made the acquaintance of a friendly carter with gray goatish hair, bound for far Umbria, glad to take them along for a pittance and the company. Fortuna smiled once more upon them when a late-arriving dignitary, lictors and full retinue in tow, insisted on admittance on pain of someone’s losing his head. In the confusion, the Umbrian carter and his new passengers slipped out the gate without so much as a word from the preoccupied night watch.

The sky was a pristine blue, cheerful clouds studded it like peacefully gliding swans a glistening mere, and forests, as if in greeting, waved in the refreshing mountain breeze, as they turned off the mountain track and into a chestnut grove, at the center of which stood a weather-beaten but commodious-looking thatch-roofed hut.

Their trip from Rome had been swift for a cart pulled by two mules. It had taken them twelve days traveling up the Via Flaminia through the blooming poppies to the Fons Clitumni, where the carter had headed up a precipitous track into the highest mountains Ariston or the girl, life-long Romans, had ever seen.

At first, trundling northward in the shadow of the great, lowering walls, they had hidden in the cart beneath a thin covering of fodder, trembling for fear of discovery whenever a galloping rider passed, or when an owl sang, or when protestations of love chortled like doves from behind a tomb of the necropolis.

It pleases me to take a shortcut, the carter had announced, as if blind to his passengers’ terror, and set off through the fields. That night, they had pushed the cart through fresh-plowed fields and over hills, navigated sodden woods, and splashed through a ford of the Anio. Dawn had found them swimming the Tiber clinging to cartwheels.

Near midday Ariston and the girl had awoken in the back of the cart, where they had fallen into an exhausted sleep seeking warmth in one another’s arms. The carter was placidly nodding over his reins as the mules once more trudged their accustomed Flaminian Way.

Easing him into the back, they had looked at one another, made the mano fico, said a charm, and taken the reins, sitting upright in the sun where any idle magistrate might spy them.

To their surprise, almost to their disappointment, what few officials they saw had clattered by them without a look, couriers had overtaken and outstripped them like flying arrows, tumults of cavalry had rushed by in a cloud of dust. But for the waves of fellow carters and the entreaties of a few beggars, it had been as if they were invisible.

Soon, it became unmistakably apparent that no alarms had been raised, no searches were being prosecuted, no one, it seemed, was looking for them, and then the blossoming Sabine lands had opened up to them like the doors of a great basilica on a festival morning.

As it turned out, they could not have asked more of a saviour than the carter. When they had tried to tell him as much as they dared of their plight, he had stopped them in mid-sentence. He had had tales of his own to tell. In a quaint Umbrian dialect that wrung tears of heroically suppressed laughter from the eyes of his city-bred passengers, he told of being forced off the road and into the ditch by a herd of rich man’s parasites as if he were some idle dog, of the rich man’s incomprehensible Roman feuds that had somehow trampled his beloved Umbria underfoot, of the impunity with which they took whatever they wanted from him and sneered at his demand they pay. His loquacity had made the miles vanish, coincidentally providing a screen behind which Ariston and the girl could conceal their suddenly apparent shyness.

That very night, seated on up-ended logs around a rough-hewn table, downing rough-hewn bowls of sweet wine, wine drawn from a goatskin and watered with the clear water of a spring that bubbled not far from the hut’s door, their fortunes changed yet again. Not much older than Ariston in years, but much older in world-weariness, it seemed that the carter had long yearned to sell the farm, the cart, the mules, everything, and go down into the valley to live with his daughter near Spoletium.

Late the next morning, what few arrangements necessary completed, Ariston accompanied the carter much farther down the mountain than courtesy demanded. Two old men, walking side by side a mountain track, the carter jovial, frequently chuckling to himself at the sound of the denarii ringing merrily in his pouch, Ariston pensive, they had little to say to one another. Finally, when the Fons Clitumni hove into view below them, they parted with a firm handshake and a strange sense of affinity.

Be at peace, good man, said the carter as he waved goodbye. Mountain men are always free.

Upon his return, the girl had built a warm fire in the hearth. Ariston assuaged his restlessness by talking. "Our friend has given us a peerless gift, has he not? Refuge. Asylum. Who would think to look for two city-bred house-slaves out here? Once we are settled in, once we have begun to

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