The Future of Rome
After the parade of legionnaires had arrived at the Capitoline Hill and dispersed to their barracks, Patricia had likewise gone to her office in the Senate building.
Her office was an attractive and comfortable space with a window overlooking the piazza and a plush chair behind her large mahogany desk. It was kept neat and tidy though not to an obsessive degree, and there was an air of homey comfort to it. The walls were lined with bookshelves and several awards and degrees on the wall from her time as a lawyer before the Days of Revelation.
She had sent word ahead to General Hanne that her presence was requested at her earliest convenience and Hanne was nothing if not punctual. Sure enough, she only needed to wait for a few minutes before there came a sharp rapping at her door.
“Come in.” Patricia said, looking up from her notes as the sharply-dressed general stepped into her office. “Glad to see you home, General.”
“It is good to be back, Senator.” Hanne inclined her head politely. “I just wish it were under better circumstances than these.”
“Oh? Is something wrong?”
“I’m afraid my daughter Hildegard has become seriously ill. I’ve requested extra leave to see to her.”
“Of course.” Patricia nodded. “I doubt you’ve taken a single day off in two years. I have no doubt you’ll be allowed a few extra days.”
“I should hope so.” Hanne’s voice seemed to trail off as she spoke, and it was clear that stress and almost constant battle were beginning to take a toll on her. Patricia would have hoped Rome’s most valuable general would take recovery time for herself now and then.
“And I hope your daughter recovers swiftly. Do you know what the problem is?”
“Not entirely.” Hanne shook her head. “And it might not be a mundane illness, which could make all of this much more troubling…but that’s nothing to dwell on here and now, you requested my presence here by letter, Senator.”
“I did indeed.” Patricia nodded, “Though not for an entirely altruistic reason, I admit. If I hadn’t requested your presence, you would likely still be out in the field right now, wouldn’t you?”
Hanne nodded. “Yes. I tend to move between the divisions to where I’m needed most.”
“It sounds exhausting.” Patricia said. “Riding hither and yon over the countryside. Was the trip down uneventful?”
“As much as one could expect.” Hanne said. “Though forgive me, Senator, why am I here? Did you know Hildegard was ill?”
“I’d heard rumors.” Patricia brushed it off. “But I requested your presence here and the fact that it aligned with a visit to your ailing daughter was merely a bit of fortunate coincidence.”
“So why am I here?” Hanne asked, more firmly this time.
“The primary reason I admit,” Patricia said, “is because I seek your endorsement.”
“My endorsement?” Hanne’s head tilted ever-so-slightly to the side.
“For my position as Consul.” Patricia continued, her face a steady expression of positivity, concealing any hidden motive or emotion.
“Ah, right.” Hanne nodded. “I had heard you were running. But I thought Consul was decided by senators, not popular vote?”
“Life is rarely so convenient.” Patricia said. “Most senators are wise enough to know that the will of the people is not to be easily ignored. I’ve always felt that as the peoples’ representatives, our goals and decisions should match theirs, and I know many senators agree with me. So if there is a strong push by the people for a specific candidate to achieve Consulship…”
“Then the senate would conform to public opinion.” Hanne finished her sentence for her.
“Just so.” Patricia smiled.
“So rather than simply sway the senate you’d prefer to make their populous push them?”
“It is a somewhat less straightforward way, but one I have confidence in.” Patricia said. “If the people demand it in large enough numbers, the Senate will follow, particularly this early in its lifetime.”
“Who else is in the race?” Hanne asked. “If yours is drowned in a sea of names…”
“Only five.” Patricia cut her off with a wave of the hand. “And most know who the real frontrunners are.”
“Ah, of course, Lord Albion Nassar.” Hanne nodded and Patricia was satisfied to see the slight furrowing of her brow and narrowing of her eyes. Few people who knew Albion personally actually liked him. Patricia had something of a respect for his cunning and tenacity, but it ended at respect.
“Nassar is my primary competition.” Patricia nodded. “And the way to beat him is through the people, not through senators.”
“And why is that?” Hanne asked. There was little genuine curiosity in her voice. Likely she could have reasoned all this, but Patricia got the distinct sense that she was being tested, or at the very least closely observed as the spoke.
“Because I can’t beat Albion at his own game.” Patricia said. “In person, man to man, he knows how to manipulate and intimidate better than I can. I can recognize that strength of his and work around it. There is little a senator wants more than to continue being a senator, so even the most cowed representative would follow the people’s voice rather than openly turn on them if he wanted to be re-elected, particularly with the scrutiny this race has been receiving.”
“Well then.” Hanne said. “Returning to the start, you were seeking my endorsement? Why?”
“That should be obvious.” Patricia said. “You’re a famous and beloved figure in Rome and not just among the common populace. You have a number of admirers and supporters in the minor chairs of the senate. Say the word and they will flock to me in droves.”
“So in truth it’s not really my support and advice you’re after.” Hanne’s expression was coldly neutral. “It’s about having my name in your camp.”
“Something of an oversimplification.” Patricia said. “I’ve always turned to you on matters of military support and dealing with extra-Roman settlements, have I not?”
“You have…” Hanne nodded again, clearly balancing her thoughts.
“To that end you have always been a key part of my policy-building, which is more than either of us can say for Nassar”
Hanne frowned. Albion’s habit of doing things his own way certainly accomplished much. Many of his supporters sided with him purely because his decisions almost always went well, following what they perceived as the smartest person in the room rather than weigh in their own opinions. Patricia was mature enough to know that it was always worth it to listen to Albion, and she never disagreed with him purely out of spite. But they had very different ways of thinking, and Albion had a certain callousness to him that had always put them at odds.
Hanne was in a similar position to Patricia, and the senator had been counting on it.
“There is truth in that.” Hanne admitted. “We rarely agree on decisions and he has almost never sought my advice or consultation.”
“That’s because Nassar very much thinks he is the smartest person in the world.” Patricia said.
“Smart enough to go on vacation shortly before a consul election is to begin. Bold, perhaps even arrogant of him.”
“You think he believes he’ll win regardless?” Hanne asked.
“Oh I’m certain of it.” Patricia nodded. “He hardly thinks I have a chance, let alone anyone else, and I’m not about to give him the satisfaction of being right.
“Well…” Hanne began hesitantly. “While I certainly support you on a personal level…”
Patricia frowned. She didn’t like where this sounded like it was going.
“I don’t believe that I can endorse you professionally.”
Patricia kept her tone civil and polite, even as her gaze hardened somewhat on the general. Hanne was nearly fifteen centimeters taller than Patricia, and certainly broader in the shoulders and arms, but it was difficult to say which of them could be honestly more intimidating. Still, Patricia had no intent to try and push Hanne too hard. No amount of stick would move this horse.
“Care to explain why, general?”
“I don’t believe the military should exert any political influence.” Hanne said. “It sets a possibly dangerous precedent if I become too involved in Senate matters while still actively serving.”
“You think military support could lead to intimidation?” Patricia asked. It was something to which she had considered Hanne might object. If a Senator gained the backing of the military, either through policy or simple popularity, then how hard would it repeat history and march into Rome like Ceasar to take command?
“There is something of a slippery slope there.” Patricia said. “You are military certainly, but you are also a public figure even outside of your position. You have celebrity status and that comes with certain privileges…and responsibilities.”
“I don’t believe anyone has a duty to share their personal beliefs with the public.” Hanne said.
“Even a senator can keep their thoughts to themselves so long as they serve the people. I would not feel…right trying to use my ‘celebrity’ as you put it to try and influence politics.”
Patricia could not quite manage a smile. “I understand of course, though people will want to know.”
“I am sure they will…” Hanne said. “But the matter remains…”
“Let us consider for a moment,” Patricia said. “You are more than simply the general of the First Legion. Most people consider you the Hero of Sicily.”
“I hardly deserve the honor…” Hanne said hesitantly. “It was very much a joint effort. Everyone there…”
“I agree everyone who was on that mission was a hero.” Patricia nodded. “But it is how most people know you, and it is from that soapbox that you could endorse your views. You’re not speaking on behalf of military interests, after all, merely the personal political beliefs of the Hero of Sicily.”
“I am…not sure how much of a difference there really is.” Hanne’s hesitance was palpable. It was like reeling in a fish. Too slow and it would slip away, too quickly and the line could break and snap back on you. She needed to move carefully here.
“Hanne, the Wolves of Rome have already declared themselves neutral on the matter. Now even though I’ve tried to convince them, I’ll give them a pass since they’re not really human. There are not a lot of celebrities in Rome right now. Many of them, like your daughters, are still too young to be getting into political endorsements readily, and the mysterious “Thalia” is a veritable ghost when it comes to meeting her face to face. The people need the guidance of some of their leading figures in times like these.”
Hanne’s expression fell into one of conflict as Patricia pressed the seeds of doubt into her mind. She just needed a little extra push.
“Besides,” Patricia shrugged, “It’s always good to have friends in the government. I like to consider us friends after all, and a friend is always willing to scratch the others’ back.
Hanne shot Patricia a less-than-friendly look, but she remained unphased. That offer had come dangerously close to a bribe, which Patricia knew the staunchly moral general would oppose on principle and this nascent agreement would be aborted. Patricia knew, however, that it was still enough to push her a little more. Political influence was an invaluable thing, particularly when one had two daughters, one very ill, without the time or resources to do everything for them. A little extra leave at the Senator’s insistence could mean everything for Hildegard.
“It is…an interesting idea.” Hanne finally said. “Certainly I support you over Nassar on a personal level but I will need to…think about endorsement.”
“Of course.” Patricia smiled. “Take the time, go see to your daughter. Just remember that my supporters always look after their own.”
“I will.” Hanne nodded and she rose to bow and leave the office.
It was enough, Patricia decided. So long as she could appeal to Hanne’s empathy over her rigid interpretation of duty she had a very real chance. Slowly the general would come into her court.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
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