March 25th, 2023
It had taken nearly a week, with meetings for nearly ten hours a day, before even a temporary government structure could be agreed upon. Everyone wanted their opinions heard; everyone wanted their demands met. It began to grate on all of them, Giovanni included, but they sat it out, even through the tirades, the walkouts, and the threats. They had to stay; this was the future of Rome being decided, after all. It almost made Giovanni long for the simple days of being a mindless beast in the woods. Those were bad times, but simpler ones. Politics made everything more difficult than it needed to be.
Rome was to have a senate. Even deciding the name of that governmental body had taken nearly five hours of debate. It was to be a representative council with a number, to start, equaling one senator for every fifty citizens. While adequate for a population as small as the current one (though in that very week alone it had grown to approximately five hundred and fifty strong), if they ever reached old Roman numbers again the Senate would need to be capped simply to prevent bureaucratic sprawl. While hotly debated, that was to be a problem for a later period, for future representatives to decide.
Still, the need for a singular leader had been strong. A speaker for the Senate, chosen by popular election, was to hold executive power over the council. Capitolina had offered the name Consul and it wound up sticking, though many still used “Speaker”. The council came to the conclusion (though hardly unanimous) that the Wolf of Rome would hold the position of temporary Consul until a proper election could be held. They might have decided on this all but arbitrary government, but what the people needed was stability, and that was now the point of order.
The new Senate chamber (formerly Council Meeting Room) was much emptier than it had been on that first meeting day. It now held the ten senators (a recent refugee group of forty-seven individuals had yet to choose their representative), Capitolina as Consul, their aides, and several others including Giovanni himself. He had refused a polite offer of senatorial seating and had given representation of the Vatican to a recently arrived Bishop from the Diocese of Padua. Humans needed human representation. He was the church’s defender, not its leader, nor would he be so long as he could avoid it. Still, he could not help but notice the authority people seemed willing to give him.
“The fact of the matter is that Rome will not trust its government if that government cannot bring stability.” Even after all this time, Lord Albion Nassar’s voice cut like a knife. Giovanni could tell Capitolina was silently furious that he had won representation among the mages of the city, but it could not be denied that he was a skilled politician. “Even after all the work and arguing we’ve done, if we don’t make results we’re just a bunch of people bickering uselessly in a room.”
“And what would you suggest, Nassar?” Asked another Senator, Patricia Bello, a popular figure among the city. She and Albion were the two most favored candidates to replace Capitolina as Consul…if such a feat could be done.
“Simple” He said. “What the people of this city want is their city back, and I believe we need to give it to them. It is the only way to consolidate our authority and garner legitimacy.”
“We lack the funds, the manpower, and the capability.” Patricia said. “Are we supposed to build a new wall encircling Rome? Who is going to man it? The rangers still number less than forty people and that number goes down almost as often as it goes up.”
Giovanni frowned, they were back on this subject again. Patricia and Albion had argued this point back and forth for the better part of a day. Most of the other senators now kept their peace on it, having openly sided with one or the other. The Senate was tied, and Capitolina was speaking in hushed tones with Angel.
Giovanni, not wanting to listen to this argument again, turned in his chair to face Stella, who was still scribbling away on her notepad.
“I’m sure you’ve taken these notes several times before.” He said “What could you be writing now?”
“Hmm?” Stella glanced up, and as she did Giovanni could tell from the expression in her eyes that she was as bored as he was. Several times he had heard her stifle yawns.
“Oh I’m actually just doing some work for the church on the side. I’m not much of a professional scribe.”
“And it’s not a job I would wish upon you for this debate.” Giovanni leaned back in his chair. In truth, most of the senators knew they were stalling until Capitolina found a solution to the problem, or until somebody in the senate cracked and changed sides.
It was several more minutes before Capitolina rose to speak, quieting the bickering Senators.
“Angel has a possible solution.” She said, smiling at the soft-spoken wolf behind her. “I will let her speak.”
Angel stepped forward, footfalls heavy on the floor as she spoke to the assembly in her usual deadpan. “The best solution to keep the monsters from Rome is not a mundane one, but a magic one. Most of the malevolent creatures have a common source in the Primordials. It is possible to erect a magic field that rejects the Primordials’ essence.”
This news sent a rush of murmurs through the Senators, several sending their aides off to inform others.
“How large of a field exactly?” Patricia asked, hands folded on the table before her. “Large enough for the city?”
“If properly built, it could protect most of Italy.”
Instantly there was an uproar. Giovanni wasn’t surprised. If they had always had this solution, they would demand, why not use it earlier? Why let so many die if they could be protected by this magic field? It seemed to be a common reaction to Angel’s announcements. Still, his own wolf ears perked up as Angel spoke again. She had, at least, made this meeting interesting again.
“The answer is because I am afraid the materials necessary are hard to acquire.”
“It makes sense.” Nassar interjected. “Magical solutions require magical equipment.”
“Not just magical.” Angel said. “In this case, the implements we would need are divine.”
“And where exactly does one get the toolkit of a god?” Nassar asked incredulously. Angel didn’t waver.
“From a smithing god’s workshop, of course.” She said.
“Of course!” Patricia remarked sarcastically. “I daresay we’ve got one right down the street by the bakery.” She frowned, folding her arms over her chest. “We’re rather limited in our resources and ability. Where exactly can we find one of these workshops?”
“There are several scattered around Europe.” Angel said and Giovanni caught a glimpse of light behind her dark eyes. He wondered if she was looking at them right now through her own supernatural vision. “Most are unreachable given our ability. Ilmarinen’s forge is in Finland, well outside our reach. The Sons of Ivaldi keep their workshop in another world entirely. However, there is one that is relatively close. Vulcan, also known as Hephaestus, keeps his forge on Mount Aetna in Sicily.”
“Ah yes, Sicily, just a stone’s throw away.” Now it was Nassar’s turn to be sarcastic. “Mount Etna is five hundred kilometers from Rome. And most of that is ocean that’s teeming with monsters.”
“It is not without risk, but in the greater scheme it is infinitely closer than our other options.” Angel said, not showing even a flicker of discontentment in her voice.
Patricia raised a hand to note an objection as she spoke next. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you not say a week ago that one of these Primordials we are trying very hard to avoid used to live in this very same volcano?”
“Indeed” Angel nodded “Mount Aetna served as Typhon’s prison, and the fire he belched from his mouths heated Vulcan’s forge. However, I have seen since his release he has not returned to Aetna, preoccupying himself with laying a slow siege to Mount Olympus.”
“Well that makes me feel much better.” Patricia was still frowning. “Still…it may not be an impossible task for a small group…you’re absolutely sure the tools we need are there? And that they could make a field that would knock the Primordials out of Italy?”
“I am sure. I would not have suggested otherwise.” Angel nodded.
“We have boats on the river, and this just has to be a smash and grab operation.” Captiolina stepped in, letting her charisma replace Angel’s definite lack. “It could take as little as seven days if we’re quick on our feet, and less than half of the rangers.”
“Half the rangers? We stand to lose a lot if they get gobbled up by a sea serpent.” Nassar frowned.
“And we have more than a small chance at safeguarding most of the country.” Patricia spoke now instead of Capi. “Countless lives could be saved, even outside of Rome.”
“We’ll take it to an initial vote then.” Giovanni knew Capitolina disliked votes. He could see by the way her ears flattened. She was far more in favor of saying what should be done and having it enacted with all efficiency, but the humans had made their desires clear, so she pushed elections whenever possible. Privately, she had admitted that she respected the way it forced people to make decisions. “All in favor of discussing plans for an expedition to Sicily to secure what we need from Vulcan’s workshop?”
Seven hands went up, Nassar’s hand was not among them, but Patricia’s was.
“It’s decided.” Capitolina smiled. “Let the discussion begin.”
The discussion soon snowballed into a hurricane of activity. Captain Hanne would need to be called in as military advisor of the project. Boats would need to be secured and repaired, which required skilled workers in turn. Gas was growing scarcer and most of it had gone bad, meaning their best chance were sailboats, slowing the operation down extensively. Maps of Sicily would have to be made and altered. Nora would need to be contacted to try and gain approval from the forge god himself.
Giovanni rose to leave soon after it was begun, with Stella rising behind him.
“Leaving already, Mister Giovanni?” She asked, to which he simply nodded.
“The debate’s not over.” She continued, following him, writing tablet in hand as they left the chamber, pursued by the echoing voices of the senators before the door swung softly shut.
“My part in it is.” Giovanni said. “If the expedition is to occur we have work of our own to do.”
“We do?” Stella stepped up alongside him, glancing at him sideways.
“We do.” He said. “Many of the rangers they send will be good Catholic men. We will organize a service to wish them luck and bless their voyage. Not to mention many of the craftsmen in the city are still seeing to repairs in the Vatican.”
“Of course of course…” Stella said softly as she slightly trailed him. “Do you think it’s a good idea, Mister Giovanni?” She asked before they fell into complete silence.
“I don’t know” Giovanni admitted. “I don’t pretend to be an expert on magic or to understand how this supposed field might work.”
“Can we let the handiwork of another god protect Italy, including the Vatican?” Stella asked.
“There is no ‘other’ God, Sister Notaro.” Giovanni said. “Vulcan is an extant spirit, and his work may protect us yes, but do not fail to see the hand of God in this.”
“I don’t understand.” She said.
Giovanni continued. “Tools from Hephaestus might make the field. But the tools will be taken by men, and who guides their hands? Most of the Senators in that room came within inches of death months ago as did we all, and why did they survive where others didn’t? Angel herself is from distant lands, what ensured that she came to Rome rather than another city? God is not direct and God does not content himself with fighting monsters and bickering with incestuous brethren. Do not look for God in earthly spectacle, look for him instead in the underpinnings of the world, the hand of fate that drives our actions forward. God does not sit atop a mountain and decide who to bless and who to curse at the whim of offerings, God loves and God guides where we do not see.”
Stella smiled at him. “You’re a fine speaker, Mister Giovanni.”
Giovanni shrugged. “No I’m not, I bark a lot like any wolf. If God had a proper voice in the city still, then Nora would be out of a job.”
Stella giggled slightly and Giovanni found himself smiling as well. “Hurry along then, Sister Notaro, there’s a lot of work to do.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
((JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=24&sl=586 ))