The first volume in a new series!
The Future. The civilised world has crumbled and only small isolated communities remain. The Aristocrats rule, the Workers struggle to live while slaves perform menial and degrading tasks for their owners.
Criminals and bankrupts no longer face monetary penalties or prison. Now, there is only one sentence – slavery!
The civilised life of the twenty first century has faded into myth. This is New Rome – where life is simple, harsh and often very brutal!
New Rome 1 – is available now!
I rode my horse up to the hill and then walked through the vines. The grapes were maturing nicely and, with some continuing fine weather and some luck, I would be able, at last, to make wine.
A good vintage meant many sales to the community of New Rome and then, I would pay back the debts that hung around my neck like a millstone.
After inspecting the vines, I rode back to my villa. Marius was standing by his cart and horse when I rode back down. His two male slaves were feeding his horses.
‘Marius,’ I said, greeting the friend and advisor to my late parents warily. He was a second tier Aristocrat but my mother and father still heeded his advice.
Lately, however, Marius always seemed to come with bad news.
‘Famio,’ he said warmly and we embraced quickly.
‘Come inside from the heat,’ I politely invited the older man.
‘Thank you,’ he said and followed me into the villa.
‘I remember when your mother and father built this villa,’ he said, looking around. ‘It feels like yesterday.’
‘It wasn’t,’ I laughed. ‘I was born here and I’m twenty eight.’
‘Time shortens as you get older.’ He looked around the villa. ‘You have closed off the rooms?’
‘Yes. I had to. There is only me and I do not require much. Can I offer you some refreshment?’
‘How?’ Marius asked. ‘You have no slaves so how can…’
‘I can do it myself.’
I could tell Marius was shocked but he hid his feelings.
‘I’m fine. Let’s sit and talk.’
He arranged his robes around him and sat down.
I sat opposite him.
‘Is your wife well?’
‘Julia is,’ Marius said, ‘and sends her regards and wishes, as does Masaya.’
Masaya was his daughter and a woman that I had never seen eye to eye with. She had all the arrogant attributes of the Aristocrats, even though she was beneath my family in class and exhibited none of the virtues of noblesse oblige.
She also sought to be a close friend with the woman to whom I had once been betrothed, Bhatia.
Bhatia came from a very powerful family and our betrothal was short lived when my parents died. Once the debts of my family were known, Bhatia quickly dissolved our connection.
Duranio, Masaya’s brother was a hard man who ran the family business well. He was successful but, I had heard, extremely cruel to the slaves.
I knew Marius had something on his mind so I waited, idly examining my leather sandals.
‘It’s been two years since the death of your parents,’ Marius said at last.
He looked around the dim villa.
‘Once this villa used to ring with the sounds of laughter and gay parties and dinners. Your mother always managed to find the best chefs amongst the slaves so her dinner parties were always well attended.’
‘I remember. She did wonders with the wedding. How is Bhatia?’ I asked idly.
‘She has been appointed to the New Rome Council.’
‘She has? I hadn’t heard that.’
‘You are cut off out here. Don’t you ever get lonely?’
‘I can’t afford to, Marius,’ I said firmly. ‘I need to concentrate on the grape harvest. I need a good one to be able to pay off my father’s debts.’
‘I know,’ Marius sighed. ‘Is that a dream?’
‘No. The grapes are ripening and full of juices. In a few weeks, I will hire some slaves and harvest. I’ll crush soon after and the first bottles and carafes of Capuleta Wine will be available in a few short months. The harvest will solve all my problems.’
‘Are you sure about that? The magistrate will not wait forever.’
‘I’ve spoken to Taigio,’ I said, ‘and he understands.’
‘A Magistrate that understands? That is a rare thing indeed,’ Marius laughed.
‘I need time to harvest. He is willing to wait for that so I can clear the debts of my parents.’
‘I have also spoken to the Magistrate,’ Marius said quietly. ‘He has reassured me he will give you until the harvest is done to clear the debts.’
‘See? All goes according to plan, Marius.’
‘Maybe so and I hope so. However, the magistrate has said that there will be no second chances.’
‘I won’t need any further chances, Marius. My plan will work and I will clear all the debts of the family once and for all.’
‘You are a good man, Famio. Many men would have run away when they discovered the debts of their parents.’
‘I could not do that. The Capuleta name is old and far too important to do that!’
‘It is indeed. I will take my leave. When you need slaves for the harvest, see me. We have fifty you can borrow.’
‘Thank you, Marius, you are a good man.’
Two nights later, I woke in a panic.
I smelled the flames before I saw them.
The night sky was alive with flickering orange and red with pale smoke drifting across the cloudless sky.
The entire vineyard was on fire and I saw the flames burning up the hill, the vines twisting and dissolving in the fiery glow.
I fought the flames but it was useless. Alone, I didn’t have a chance and, as the sun rose on another hot day, I sat on the hill in the middle of my charred vineyard and wept.
Marius and his son, Duranio arrived the next day and looked around the charred vineyards.
‘Did you have lamps in the vineyard?’ Duranio asked and I shook my head.
‘It might have been lighting,’ Marius suggested.
‘There were no clouds, no rain, no thunder.’
‘Heat lightning,’ Marius countered.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I think it was lit deliberately.’
‘By whom?’ Marius laughed. ‘Everyone wants you to succeed. No one would have done anything to harm such an old name as Capuleta!’
‘Then how did such a fire begin?’ I demanded.
‘It is nature’s will.’
‘That I be destroyed?’ I cried. ‘It is nature’s will that the Capuleta name be destroyed?’
‘Surely,’ Marius soothed, ‘there can be something saved? Were all the grapes destroyed?’
I nodded dumbly, still reeling from the shock.
Marius clapped his arm around my shoulder and led me towards the orange grove.
‘Famio,’ he said in a low voice, ‘you must run. The Magistrate will hear of this and will quickly know you cannot repay your father’s debts! Run from New Rome before he sends soldiers to arrest you!’
‘Where would I go, Marius?’ I said bitterly. ‘More importantly, how? I have no money and only a good horse.’
‘You must ride to the river Apia and swim your horse across. I have heard that the communities of Quegar and Mallinstone are more open, more forgiving. The Aristocrats are not welcome there. It is only Workers…’
‘And escaped slaves! What would I do in a low place like that? I am from one of the finest families! We have fallen on hard times and I am sure the Magistrate will recognise that!’
‘Don’t be so sure, Famio,’ Marius warned. ‘Permit me to give you funds so you can begin again across the river! It is the only sane approach!’
‘No,’ I said firmly, ‘I must protect the good name of my family!’
‘You are a fool,’ Marius said with a shake of his head. ‘A fool!’
Duranio smiled thinly and walked back to the horses.
‘Think, Famio,’ Marius urged.
He walked from me and I heard him call to his son. They walked to their horses and their slaves knelt so Marius and Duranio could stand on their backs to mount their horses.