Just wanted to throw out a piece of another novel I'm working on about a war between a great "Roman" empire and a large island off the coast of a fictional Africa. This isn't a final draft, but then again is there ever truly one?
“Prince Vessius, please slow down!” The servant’s plea echoed down the marble column hallway futilely. It was answered by the young prince’s giggle as he ran on. Ladies of the court, couriers, poets and politicians alike were nearly knocked down by his reckless glee.
Today was an important day. His favorite uncle, the great Talgia Idrian, was finally back after nearly three years of exploring the Southern seas. He couldn’t wait to show him how much he’d grown, how much he’d advanced in his sword training. But most of all, he couldn’t wait to see what his uncle had brought him.
The servant finally caught up to him as he stopped in front of the large double doors leading to the Governor’s Round. He marveled every time he had the chance to see them, losing himself in the carved exploits of his great-great grandfather, Emperor Gideon. There at the top was where he subdued the Timock tribes, securing the Western plains. Next to that was were Altus himself heard Gideon’s prayers and sacrifices, causing a great earthquake to swallow up their enemies. Vessius smiled as he ran his hand along a smoothly carved horse. One day, he would have his own battles and have carving and statues erected for him.
“Prince Vessius,” the servant whispered, nearly out of breath. “You can’t be here. The governor’s are meeting.”
Vessius looked back, annoyed. “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? You’re just a slave.” He pulled open one of the doors slowly and carefully. “Besides, this is the upper level. They’ll never see me.”
“But my prince-,” was all the servant managed to get out before the boy slipped inside.
Vessius crept to the edge of the upper gallery, peeking in-between the railing supports at the meeting of old men below him. There was the Grand Governor sitting at the head of the circle of men, looking as serious and boring as ever. Behind him, sitting in the golden chair of his ancestors was the emperor. Vessius smiled. His father had let him sit in the chair once, just to indulge him. He’d been amazed at how powerful he’d felt, looking out over the empty oval room. He couldn’t wait until it was his turn to preside over the fate of the empire.
His attention perked up when he heard the lower doors open and his uncle swept into the room. The young prince’s breath caught in his throat. Talgia’s armor shined in the light nearly blinding him. His clothing was crisp and white to the point where it almost glowed. His hair was freshly combed, his beard nonexistent, and his skin had been recently oiled. He looked like no less than a god.
Talgia stopped in the middle of the room taking his turn in bowing to all the distinguished men in attendance. “My good governors, Grand Governor Heridos, and my dear brother and my dearest emperor, I greet you after three long years away.”
The emperor leaned forward in his seat. A smile formed. “You look as if you have news for us.”
“Yes, my emperor.” He looked around the room in the dramatic fashion he was known for. “I and my men have found the island of Agara.” He waited as the shock and surprise spread across the room.
One of the governors scoffed. “You can’t be serious, General Talgia. That island is just an old fisherman’s tale from the Southerners.”
“Ah, I am serious. We’ve been there. We’ve sacked villages. We’ve even set up a colony there since some of my men found the climate and the women very... alluring.” He smiled up at his brother again. “And I’ve brought back treasures to share.”
He quickly went to the doors pushing them open and waves of men came in carrying chests. Vessius’s eyes opened wide at the sight the suspense of what was inside eating him up. But what caught the governors’ attention was a handful of women being pulled in. Each had a collar about her neck and a chain held by a smirking soldier. Talgia nodded and his servants began opening the chests. The first five were filled with silver and gold coins, the next few with fabric, and the last with other strange items from this mysterious land.
Talgia bowed toward his brother again. “My emperor, I present to you the bounty of our first excursion to Agara.”
The emperor was nearly speechless. “Talgia, you’ve done well. You’ll be greatly rewarded.”
“The chance to explore is reward enough, my emperor.”
Vessius barely paid attention to what was being said next. His eyes were firmly set on the treasures. In particular, one of the chests in the back. Something was glittering in the faint sunlight. He leaned forward just a little bit farther to get a better view. It was round and looked to be nearly at big as his hand. It was bluish in color, but as he moved his head the hue shifted to greens and even a hint of purple. It looked almost like a fish scale.
His eyes widened to saucers. It couldn’t be.
He started when he realized the meeting was adjourned and the governors were heading out. Vessius tore his gaze away from the treasure and made his way out, as quickly and quietly as he could. “Come on,” he harshly whispered to his servant as he ran past the man. He had to speak to his uncle and he had to do it soon.
He ran, making his way through the palace until he could come down a hallway the opposite direction of his uncle. He needed to make this look like a chance meeting. He couldn’t let on that he’d been eavesdropping on a governors’ meeting. Finally, he saw his uncle walking up with his entourage behind him. “Uncle!” he called running up.
Talgia looked up surprised. “Prince Vessius? That can’t be you.” He gave his nephew a loving clap on the shoulder. “When I left you were a boy and now you’re practically a man.”
Vessius laughed. “They say I haven’t even hit my real growth spurt yet. I’ll probably be as tall as you in the next couple of years.”
The general put an arm around the prince’s shoulders. “I wouldn’t doubt it.” He looked about suspiciously. “I’m actually very glad I caught you before I got swept up in all the celebratory parties and such. You won’t believe what I’ve found.”
“What?” Vessius asked, doing his best to feign ignorance.
“I’ve finally found the island of Agara, just like I promised you.”
Talgia nodded. “Vessius, it’s beautiful. A warm and inviting place. I’d go back right now if I could.”
“Are there dragon’s there, like in my old nursemaid’s story?”
“Dragons?” The general chuckled. “Not that I’ve seen, but we haven’t seen the whole island yet, so who knows, my boy. Maybe some day we will and I’ll be sure to bring you back an egg.” He laughed again. “You’ll be the first emperor with a dragon under his control. You could fly to the farthest reaches of the empire to inspect them and be back in Caravae by dinner.”
Vessius smiled like a fool. A dragon. It would be an absolute dream to have one. He would be the most powerful man in the world if there were a dragon to back up his every word.
“Now, Vessius,” his uncle continued snapping him out of his reverie. “I do have something for you and I should hope you take good care of them.”
Talgia led him along back to the prince’s chambers, ignoring his nephew’s constant questions as to what his present could be. He opened the door to the young prince’s playroom, ushering his nephew in.
Vessius looked around in disappointment that there wasn’t a dragon waiting for him, until he saw the two children sitting in the middle of the room. His mouth hung open. They were beautiful, their chestnut skin scrubbed and oiled, their onxy colored hair. The little boy stared at them, terrified, his eyes darting back and forth between man and boy. The girl, a little older, wrapped her arms around the boy protectively her gaze fixed warily on him. He couldn’t breath. Her eyes seemed to pin him to the spot. She was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.
Talgia beamed. “This is a brother and sister we captured during one of our first attacks. “The boy is Jekaram. We think he’d about seven. The girl is Sefra, nine years old. She’s picked up the language pretty well since her capture.” He looked over to the children. “Stand up.”
Vessius watched silently as Sefra spoke quietly in her tongue to get her brother to stand. “Uncle,” he breathed, “they are... beautiful.”
“And they are yours. Take care of them. It’s not as if I can get more tomorrow.”
Vessius looked up, smiling. “Thank you, uncle.”
“You’re welcome. Now, I have to get back to grown up matters. I’ll see you at the banquet tonight.” Talgia patted his nephew on the shoulder again and left the room.
Vessius couldn’t do anything but stare at his new slaves. They were too beautiful. Then girl, this Sefra, considered him. “You... are... a prince?” she asked shakily.
He forced himself to shallow and speak. “Yes, I am.”
“The other man said we will do what you say do.”
“Yes, you are my slaves now. You will do what I say.” He looked between the two and started laughing, startling the boy. “We will have such fun!”
Vessius began rattling off all of the things they would do together, all the games they would play, how Jekaram would be his fighting partner for his sword training. At the celebration banquet, that evening, he showed them off to his father and each and every noble in attendance. He even made Sefra dance with him to everyone’s delight.
They dragged themselves back to his bedchamber exhausted, Jekaram nearly drunk from the glass of wine the prince demanded he drink. Taking their hands, he pulled them into his huge bed with him, lying in-between brother and sister. “Tell me a story, Sefra,” he said curling up.
Sefra looked at him confused. “I do not know any stories of your people.”
“Tell me a story of your lands, tell me in your language if you have to.”
She looked around, thinking furiously, then began an old story her mother would tell her. Soon the prince was soundly and happily asleep.