For the Prose Challenge.
Alban and the Retributes
‘Yes?’ Alban opened the door and looked the soldier up and down.
‘I have come by order of the Emperor.’
‘What? Direct orders to you from the Emperor himself?’
‘No.’ The man coloured slightly and looked confused. Alban noted the nervous looks on the other soldiers’ faces. This was serious.
‘And what are your “orders”, pray?’
‘To search your house for … certain things.’
Alban was surprised. This was indeed serious. ‘And do you have these orders in writing to deliver to me? Remember who I am.’
The soldier was now openly confused and stammered out, ‘I will return with such a written order.’
‘I shall return with such a written order, what?’ Alban raised his voice on the last word.
‘That’s better. I look forward to your return.’ He closed the door.
Alban sat back and sipped his wine. That had been close. It was only due to the inexperienced soldiers he’d got away with it – what was the army coming to? In his day they would have been severely punished, but his men would never have stood any such nonsense.
It would take the man all morning to get to his superior, receive a dressing down and return. They had lost the element of surprise, now he had time to cover his tracks. He smiled. So the Emperor thought he could outwit a wily old fox like him? He was confident he could not, even though in the present situation there would be more to come now they had declared themselves, and he guessed that false charges would be laid if they could find no tangible evidence. He made his plans.
Alban sat on the grass, taking in the sunny day. His mother approached. ‘Alban,’ she said. ‘We’re going on a long trip.’
‘Where to, mummy?’
‘To Rome. You’ve heard us talk about it.’
‘That’s why we are called Romans.’
‘Yes, Alban, it’s where your father came from, it’s the centre of the Empire.’
Alban had been taught about the Empire in school.
‘Rome is a big place?’
‘Yes, Alban, a very big place, much larger than any place you have ever seen.’
‘Larger than Camulodunum?’
His mother laughed. ‘Much larger.’
‘How long will we be gone, mummy?’
‘We are going there forever, Alban. We will not come back here.’
‘And Grandpa and Grandma will come with us?’
His mother shook her head. ‘No, they must stay here, they are not Romans.’
‘Are you a Roman?’
‘Yes, because of your father. You too.’
Alban felt sadness at leaving his home, more so leaving his grandparents. It was not a good day.
The old Emperor smiled at Alban. ‘Alban, you have acquitted yourself well in our German campaigns. You proved to be a good and loyal soldier. And now you give me valuable advice. I count you as a friend. But I have a warning for you.’
Alban leaned closer.
‘My nephew will be my successor. He has no love for you. I think he is jealous. Be wary when he succeeds me,’
‘That will not be for a long time, Emperor.’
You are leaving the Senate? Why on earth?
Alban was aware that his friend knew his reason.
‘And what shall you do?’
‘I shall become a trader. I have enough for the beginnings of a fleet, and over time in the Emperor’s service, I have made many contacts across the Empire and beyond. I might even go back to the land of my birth.’
‘What? That little island?’
‘A source of much needed tin.’
And now they were onto him, elements of his trade that the Emperor’s henchmen could use publicly against him. The Emperor, he decided, perhaps growing older and more suspicious as he became less popular with the people, seemed to have decided to remove him from the picture, perhaps even banishment to a distant province or worse. The evidence in the house was gone, but undoubtedly they could find more if they began to search his business and contacts in earnest.
Alban had decided to return to the land of his birth. He could divert enough ships with trade goods and riches to live comfortably for the rest of his life, and his knowledge of the Empire had taught him the people of that land, even the settled Romans, were growing independent. He had good relationships with visiting traders who assured him of support and he was confident it would be so. It would take a Legion to reach him and that could never be justified for one man, especially in the Emperor’s present difficulties. So he had planned well ahead for such an eventuality. His business records and valuables were aboard a small nondescript ship they would never imagine he would leave in. Most likely they were watching his finest ship, currently in port, which he used to travel to the Mediterranean provinces. Tonight, he would sneak away. But for now, he would give nothing away. The Emperor could not outthink him!
The soldier stood at the door. ‘I am, sir, as an officer of the Imperial guard, entitled to search your house, despite your position.’ The man was confident, more determined.
‘Then why didn’t you say so? Come in.’ Alban flung the door wide and gestured for them to enter.
Hours later, the soldier returned to tell him they were leaving. ‘And have you found anything untoward?’ Alban asked.
‘That is for my superiors, not you.’ A flash of overconfidence.
‘That is for my superiors, not you, what?’
The soldier lowered his head. ‘Sir.’
They had found nothing. But neither should they have. Now to set his plan in motion.
As darkness fell, he made his way to the dock, hooded in his cloak.
As he approached the boat, there was the sound of scraping metal behind him. A sword! A pain laced his back, plunging through him. He turned, and there was the soldier. ‘Sorry, sir , but I have my orders.’
Alban realised that by this means, an unexplained murder, the Emperor would keep the support of Alban’s remaining powerful friends, and even sympathy by expressing grief, and finding his ‘killer’, probably an unfortunate, unfavoured citizen.
The last words that passed his lips were ‘wilier than me’, which the soldier did not understand.