The Wolves of Rome
The sound of shuffling footsteps faded from the senate chambers as the last of the active senators filed out for the day. The sun was setting low now, and all of Rome was finishing the work of the day and preparing for the business of night. Capitolina could hear them, her lupine ears quick to pick up the noise of the city as people walked or rode their bicycles home, tuned in their radios, or went to find their friends for the evening. Like the others, Capitolina’s work was over for the day, and she allowed herself a moment of peace before returning to her den under Rome for the evening.
Leaning back in her chair, she shut her eyes and listened to the noises of the night. This was not the Rome she remembered, the Rome of her sons, of the Republic, of Ceasar and Augustus. Still, it was Rome, simply another face of the eternal city, and it had grown larger by the day. She smiled to herself, pleased with the progress it had made. Still, she could not help but feel a tinge of emptiness cut through her satisfaction. Rome had gotten back on its feet. It was administrated by its effective (if somewhat prone to bickering) senate and protected by its legions. The city of Rome was no longer hanging by a thread, but it no longer needed her as it once had.
The soft patter of new footsteps entering the room intruded on her thoughts, but she smiled as she recognized the quiet padding of Angel trying not to disturb her.
“I’m not asleep.” Capitolina said, her eyes still closed as she heard the footsteps freeze in place.
“Pardon the intrusion.” Angel said in her quiet monotone.
“Not an intrusion.” Capitolina corrected her, sitting up and opening her eyes.
Angel, the black-haired and winged wolf was standing across from her. Since almost the very start, Angel had been at her side while they protected Rome. She was only part wolf, but it had been enough for Capitolina to accept her. Angel served an important purpose. It had been her abilities as a former Primordial spirit that had allowed them to safeguard Rome, and it had been her sound technical skills and supreme vision that had helped organize the city into what it was now. More than anything though, Angel was Capitolina’s close friend and confidant. While she was often at odds with Kebechet and Giovanni, she found she could always find an ear and helping hand in Angel.
Capitolina smiled, reaching out to pat Angel on her head, ruffling her hair and ears and earning a flustered noise from the wolf which did not help to make her any less adorable.
“I came in to check on you.” Angel said.
“Oh?” Capitolina asked, rising easily from her chair and stretching “Why?”
“You have seemed…tired and perhaps slightly listless of late.” Angel observed, looking her over with her calculating dark eyes. “I wanted to make sure everything was alright.”
“Everything is fine, Angel.” Capitolina smiled, petting her again. “Come on, let’s go find the others.”
Normally Kebechet would be at the temple and Giovanni would be at the Vatican, but Capi could smell them both in the building, so before Angel could say another word she set off at a quick march into the halls of the Senate offices with Angel a few steps behind her.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” The concern had left not Angel’s voice.
“I’m fiiiine” Capi said “Just thinking a lot lately.”
They found Kebechet walking the halls in the opposite direction, no look of surprise passing over her face as they came into view. Likely Kebechet had sensed them coming.
“Capitolina, Angel” She nodded politely to them both “Good evening.”
“Heya Kebe” Capitolina smiled. “How’s the Pontifex?”
“Active as ever.”
Captiolina smiled as she saw some of the weariness on Kebechet’s face. Nora Newstar had the mind of Cleopatra with the willpower of Caesar, it was part of why Capitolina had wanted her to be Imperator rather than Pontifex Maximus, and it looked like it was wearing down even a goddess like Kebechet.
“She’s dating that nymph now, right?” Capitolina asked, pulling Kebechet into step alongside them as she walked.
“Echo, yes.” Kebechet nodded “Which brings its own set of problems.”
“Sure sure” Capi nodded along “And the temple? Everyone happy? Human and god both?”
“Happy enough” Kebechet nodded “The gods are pleased by the proper accommodation and the organized reverence, while the people are pleased by the ease of location and the new abundance of fresh water.”
“I do love it when everyone wins” Capitolina’s tail wagged. “Well done, Kebechet.”
“I do what I can for the Pharaoh and the city.” Kebechet bowed her head humbly.
They talked a while longer, Angel falling into silence a step behind them as she always did as Capitolina talked at length with Kebechet. The Wolf of Rome wanted to keep herself in the loop at all times, which is what her wolves were for. Kebechet could connect with the Egyptian gods and the cults in a way she rarely could, utilizing her own divine nature and close connection to Nora. Similarly Giovanni had his Catholic connections and a good reputation among Rome’s poorer residents. Finally, it was Angel’s duty to keep her eyes on the big picture, Rome as merely one city in the world, with the Primordials to contend with. It was a good system and it worked.
They caught up to Giovanni not long after that, he had been meeting with several Catholic Senators as a messenger for the Vatican. That was much of what he did these days, acting as an intermediary between the faith and people in power. It saddened Capitolina somewhat. Giovanni had led and protected the Catholics since the Days of Revelation, and had almost single-handedly developed the plan to bring down the Hour of the Wolf, now he was little more than a messenger and a symbol.
What are you, she thought dryly to herself, If not just a symbol for Rome?
“Giovanni” She smiled as the three wolves came up to him.
“Capitolina” He gave her his subdued smile in return, inclining his head. Much as he seemed to enjoy butting heads with the other wolves, herself included, Capitolina liked Giovanni. He might be a Catholic and a bit on the tame side, but he was strong-willed, courageous, and intensely stubborn, all traits she prized in a good Roman.
He was also the only male in their pack, and while she treasured Angel above all others she enjoyed keeping Giovanni close for other reasons than his governing skill.
“How are the Catholics faring?” she asked as she pulled him along to join the others.
“Well…” He said before finally extricating his simple robe from her hand, falling into step alongside her. “They’re doing well. The Archbishop is reorganizing the College, but with the world in the state it’s in, we do not feel justified electing a new pope quite yet, not while there are still possibly many Catholic sanctuaries in the world who are now voiceless. In his stead, the Archbishop is commanding the faith.”
“Should be you in command” Capitolina smiled, half-teasing him. She enjoyed his flustered reactions, much like Angel. His greatest flaw, Capi always felt, was a crippling lack of pride. He had always pushed being humble too hard.
“I am a wolf, Capitolina, as you well know.” He said, trying to retain his aura of collected calm. It wasn’t working, wolves had a much harder time hiding their emotions than humans did. “An animal deemed the servant of Man by God, I have no authority to command them.”
“You’re a public servant” Capitolina was a Roman, and even a Roman wolf knew her rheotoric. “A proper ruler serves his people as well as himself, and I know no one who rules themselves more strictly than you do, Giovanni.”
Giovanni sighed, and Capitolina’s tail wagged as she knew she had won.
“It is a shame the younger faiths never learned to venerate the spirits of the world as their elders did.” Kebechet said.
“Perhaps it does not underestimate we animals” Giovanni said, turning next to Kebechet “Perhaps yours merely underestimates men.”
Kebechet folded her arms, but her ears remained perked upwards and her tail hanging loosely. Capitolina could tell when the two of them were truly arguing and when it was simply banter. They might be exceedingly different individuals, but Capitolina had chosen them both for a reason.
In time, however, the wolves dispersed. Kebechet, as ever, needed to meet with Nora and her own pantheon of gods while Giovanni needed to return to the Vatican. Once more Angel and Capi were the only two wolves in the Senate House, and as the night grew later they were the only people there at all.
“Capitolina?” Angel was the first to speak, as she had expected.
“Call me Capi, Angel.”
“I do think something is bothering you.”
Capitolina let out a long drawn-out sigh. “I suppose there is, but it’s nothing worth worrying over me for.”
Angel frowned, tail hanging limp, Capitolina knew there was little that the former did other than worry.
“Alright then” She relented, taking a seat for herself. “I suppose…well, there’s less for us to do now, we’re not as needed as we used to be.”
“We knew this was coming.” Angel said, sitting beside her “We’ve known it for a year. This was always meant to be temporary. Wolves can protect people but we cannot rule them.”
“They depended on us, needed us to defend and help them get back on their feet.”
“And you enjoyed that?”
“Of course I did!” She scoffed. “How could I not? It’s good to be needed.”
“None of us were ever truly needed before.” Angel said “I certainly never helped anyone but myself. It is…sad perhaps, but it is the way we knew things would go.”
“Mmm…” Capitolina fell silent as she turned to glance out the window. She had always felt somehow responsible for Rome. In a way she was. She had nurtured and raised Romulus and Remus, had known them as children before the very first stone in the foundation of Rome had been laid. In a way she was the mother of this city, for good or ill, and she had watched its history for thousands of years. It had been wonderful, elating, to be the protective mother of the city again. But just as she had before, she had to pull back and let the humans decide what their fate would be.
“Before long they will not need us.” Angel said “It is simply the way of things.”
Capitolina smiled, ruffling her hair again.
“That’s not true, Angel. They won’t need our help anymore, and that day is fast approaching. But they’ll always need us. Why do you think the humans remembered us for hundreds or thousands of years? Not because of the help we gave them, but because this city needed protectors and they came to us. We’ll be remembered, Angel, for centuries more to come…I suppose both of us can live with that.”
She smiled to herself as she leaned back in her seat. That was enough for her. Rome again remembered who its mother wolf was. Many people already had found small statues of her, once sold as curios and souvenirs in the more ancient parts of the city, and set them up in their homes. The wolves of Rome might not be needed anymore, but the people were grateful, and they would be remembered.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=7&sl=315