The Snake and the Mirror

Political Leverage

September 20th, 2024

Albion Nassar enjoyed his rare leisurely mornings, the few unscheduled morning hours where he could rest in his comfortable bed as the morning sun streamed in through the soft white curtains, where he could read the latest news, listen to the radio, and plan his next engagements over the coming busy weeks. Albion never truly rested, but there were times where he felt more…relaxed. Certainly helping this feeling of relaxation was the fact that his bed was no longer empty.

“Mmm, morning already?” Circe’s head rose groggily from the pillow, her hair a tousled mess of glittering silver that hung wildly around her shoulders. Of course, Circe never looked disheveled or unglamorous. She was a goddess, and thus even in the ugly first moments of waking she carried an impossible elegance and beauty to her. Her hair fell in such a way that it highlighted her eyes that flashed divine gold, and it tumbled over her shoulders in the perfect manner to draw his eyes down to where the light scattered over the flawless skin of her neck and shoulders, and where the soft white silk sheets had been drawn up modestly, but also teasingly, over her breasts. She was, at any given moment, like the subject of a Renaissance painting.

“I’m afraid so,” Albion said. “It happens every day right around dawn.”

“Disgraceful,” Circe tutted as she used her free hand to brush her hair temptingly from her shoulder. “I should talk to my father about that.”

“Do as you like,” Albion said, giving her a slight smile. “You always do.”

“Tending to business already?” Circe’s eyes moved towards the papers that Albion had been sorting through. They were documents that had been handed to him by one of his many eager understudies. The secretaries, assistants, and go-getters who could see where the political winds had been blowing were often more than eager to jump at his command, even if it meant jumping on the faces of their supposed candidates. Politics in this new Rome were fluid, there was little party loyalty beyond what power and charisma could afford. The only person with a larger powerbase than Albion was Patricia Bellos, but Albion had already proven that size wasn’t everything.

“It never stops,” Albion said, but it wasn’t a complaint. “Especially not with the election so close.”

In three weeks, the Senate would formally vote to decide who would become the first Consul of Rome. For the past year, Capitolina Lupa had been acting-Consul, but she had no desire to continue and Albion could see the strain of the position already acting on the shoulders of the proud wolf. Capitolina was a symbol, a battle standard to march at the head of a Legion; she was ill-suited to politics, and Albion had every intention of taking her place.

“Though I will be needing your assistance again today,” He added.

“You scarcely seem able to act without it,” Circe smiled at him, moving through the sheets to lean against his shoulder.

“Oh, I would be managing,” Albion said. “Though you have certainly made the process of becoming consul more enjoyable.”

“Is that all,” Albion saw her eyes flick dangerously towards him. “I am ‘enjoyable’?”

Albion didn’t miss a beat. “You, my beloved Sorceress, are nothing short of divine intervention in its most elegant form. Where Zeus might send his lightning bolts, you need only an opportune glance of the eyes to change the course of nations. As my divine aid, as my counsel, and of course as my lover you are without equal.”

Circe was never a woman to be underestimated. She was a man-eater and even as she grew more affectionate her traps and machinations grew more powerful. Albion had little doubt that if he let his guard down for even a moment he would be her gibbering love-slave, or perhaps more likely some mindless beast left to roam in her garden on Aiaia. He was no Odysseus to try and tame her, he didn’t have a Greek Hero’s strength or perseverance.

But Albion was willing to bet he could match the wits of even clever Odysseus.

“…Acceptable,” Circe said after a deliberately drawn out pause, giving him an affection kiss on the cheek before rising from the bed. “I’m going for a wash, don’t waste anymore of the morning, dear Albion.”

She gave him a final alluring smile before she sauntered off, giving Albion a full view of her divine body as she glided from the room. For all his planning, resistance, and tact in keeping himself in her good graces and keeping his mind on task, he allowed himself to occasionally indulge in simply admiring Circe’s beauty.

Albion had never been in love. A year ago, he would have found the idea laughable, and six months ago he would have thought that he was simply under Circe’s spell, but months in her presence had given him time to reconsider things. Albion didn’t simply love her beauty. Every man on earth loved Circe’s beauty, that was hardly enough for him to say that he loved the goddess herself. But over the last few months Albion had become familiar with her silver-lined tongue, her shrewd candor, and her truly exceptional cunning. He would have been attracted to these qualities in a mortal, but in the body of a goddess they were irresistible.

Albion rose form the bed and stepped to the window, looking out over Rome as the sun bounced shone over the waking city. Albion had never considered love to play any part in his future, and was more than happy to keep it that way. As a mage, he had a responsibility to continue his bloodline, and the closest thing in his mind to finding romance was choosing an appropriate partner with whom to produce an heir (Nora Newstar was the ideal candidate. Abigail White was too unpredictable and Catarina was still too young for it to be seemly) and his plans there had been stalled for the time being, but Circe had made him reconsider. He had expected for them to part ways after he became Consul. The goddess would become bored and the city would demand his full attention, but now Albion found himself reconsidering. What if he didn’t want her gone? He enjoyed her company, her barbs, and of course the incredible sex. He even enjoyed her treachery. She was a woman who challenged him, who demanded that he treat every interaction like disassembling a steel trap. It was exhilarating.

 

An hour later he was on his way towards the Capitoline hill. Albion always kept himself smartly dressed in a dark suit, pale blue shirt, and elegant tie. In the colder months, he wore a long coat that added to his image as a more cultured kind of mage. Rome might be embracing tis ancient heritage, but Albion was not about to start wearing a toga.

At his side was his campaign and work assistant, Lutetiana. He had suggested the name from his knowledge of botany, and Circe had been amused at the moniker and adopted it eagerly. She was dressed somewhat more loudly, her suit jacket and pencil skirt were both a soft lavender, and while her white buttoned shirt was pristine and buttoned to her neck, the lines of her jacket still deliberately accented her chest, just as her skirt drew eyes to her legs. She insisted on maintaining her hair color, but given the rising abundance of unusual hairstyles, a young woman with silver hair was not seen as too unusual. To her credit, her impressive appearance never overshadowed his own unless she was doing so deliberately. Eyes were kept on him, but so long as she stood at his side, they never left.

Many believed that they were having voracious love affair behind the scenes, and it was a rumor that Albion actively cultivated. For one it made it much simpler to actually engage in his relationship with Circe, which had become intensely physical over the last few months. It also actually improved his image to many. People disliked an asexual candidate, even being homosexual would have improved his standing in some eyes (Pontifex Nora’s relationship with the nymph Echo was something of a widely-accepted open secret). But a bachelor candidate with seemingly no interest in romance or sex was seen as untrustworthy, cold, and robotic. The rumored affair between Senator Nassar and his gorgeous assistant Lutetiana not only quashed those rumors, they gave him an edge. He was now the man every man in Rome wished to be.

Albion didn’t have any senatorial duties until mid-afternoon, but his real work had already begun. He was on the hunt, and he had his eyes set on some very particular prey.

“Roberto,” Albion said happily, hand taking hold of the shoulder of Senator Roberto Gallus of the third Equis District. “We had business today, I hope you hadn’t forgotten.”

“Oh, Mister Nassar, n-no I hadn’t forgotten,” Gallus was a rather round man, and his weaknesses extended well past his appetite for food. To his credit, he was still a stubborn idealist, albeit one for a pointless cause.

“Excellent, then walk with me,” Abion said, his hand strong on Roberto’s shoulder as he steered him away from wherever he had been going. “Now the rumors I’ve been hearing are that you’re still going to throw your vote in with Senator Willem.”

“I’m not going to discuss my vote with you,” Roberto said, and Albion released his shoulder without a fight as he stubbornly pulled it away. “We’ve been over this.”

“And yet you’ve ignored me at every turn,” Albion said. “Willem is a dead horse. He ranks under five percent confidence in every poll over the last two months.”

“You might not get it, Albion,” Roberto was putting on his best ‘brave’ face. It was an impressive attempt at least. “But some of us are more concerned with standing up for our vision of Rome than with a sure chance of victory. Besides, if I wanted that I’d throw my lot in with Senator Bellos, not with you.”

“A noble gesture, Roberto, to be sure,” Albion nodded. “But there is more to this than ideals, isn’t there? Come now, Willem’s views are vague and his platform insincere. I would laud his standing for his ideals if any of us knew what they were.”

Albion felt the subtlest tug at his wrist as Lutetiana stepped forward, just as Roberto was distracted by his flustering. Albion had been weathering the man down for weeks, but he was surprisingly resilient, and his one true skill was hiding what he didn’t want found. It had made him the last seal holding Willem’s fairweather supporters from flooding to his ranks, but if Albion misspoke or pushed to hard they would run to Patricia’s open arms instead. Some people needed to be intimidated or browbeaten, while others needed a subtler instrument. And there was no knife more subtle than Circe.

“Of course, what Mister Nassar means to say is that Senator Willem simply does not seem to have sufficient confidence in his own viewpoints,” Lutetiana had the tone of an aid doing damage control on her candidate’s comments, but Albion was content to step back and let a master work. The second Roberto’s eyes passed from him to her, they would never wander until she wanted them to. As she spoke, Albion could see the truths that she had fished out on her own, the artful deception she had engineered, and the cunning tongue of a witch-goddess at work.

“You have an admirable loyalty to your candidate,” Albion could read the translation in Circe’s words and Roberto’s face: He had other reasons for staying in Willem’s good books.

“He is an exceedingly charismatic man,” Willem likely had some hold on Roberto, either extortion or favors owed.

“But such a troubled campaign can bring so much undue stress on a man,” An affair? Roberto was married, but that wasn’t political suicide by any stretch. Hiring prostitutes maybe?

“And his home life,” Roberto’s wife was having the affair, and Roberto was hiring escorts as petty vengeance and satisfaction. Albion had to wonder how much of this Circe knew, or had she simply intuited upon meeting him?

Roberto’s eyes were lost in Lutetiana now. She was, at that moment, everything he desired. So long as he looked at her, his wife and the women he hired were only attractive in the ways they compared to her. She was now his ideal, and he was putty in her hands.

“But Senator Willem is not what is best for Rome, nor is he what is best for you,” She was what he wanted in Rome now, and he knew what he would need to get that.

With the subtlest gesture of the fingers, she called for Albion to speak again.

“I can be what is best for Rome, Roberto,” Albion said. “And what is best for you. Willem shouldn’t be Rome’s problem, and he won’t be yours.”

If he wanted Roberto on his side then Albion would need to remove that blackmail, or make Willem persona non grata. Either was acceptable, and he would bring Circe along as well of course.

“I-I will…consider it, Senator Nassar,” Roberto said, but his eyes never left Lutetiana.

“I know you will,” Lutetiana answered for him. “And we will be grateful.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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