THE HEIRLOOM by Arthur Browne and Sage Doyle
Art at Pouring My Art Out and I are writing a potential novel together. This page will be the story in its entirety, updated as it is currently being written and being posted weekly, more or less. Here’s what Art has to say about it:
“I am collaborating on an ongoing series of posts that tell a story. I am doing these posts with my friend, Sage Doyle…
The story… which might well grow into a novel… is called; The Heirloom. It is about a ring made by a craftsman in ancient Rome. The story follows this ring through history. I wanted to call the story; The Ring, but that name is already taken by those stupid horror movies.
What makes this story interesting for you… and a challenge for us to write… is that we are doing it in a weird way. I created the first character, the jeweler who made the ring, then did a little story about him, and at the end, I created the next character who inherits the ring. Then Sage has to take over, using my character, fleshing him out and giving him depth, all while leading to the next part by coming up with a new character, their name and a very short introduction, and how they end up in possession of the ring. Then I take over once more and repeat the whole process…
…We are actually challenging ourselves to include elements of horror and fantasy and action and adventure and historical epic and humor and romance and maybe even working our way forward to western and even science fiction if we decide to extend it into the future.
However it turns out, I hope you join us for the ride.”
And so here it is:
by Arthur Browne and Sage Doyle
PART 1 – by Arthur Browne
Titius Veranus took a moment to straighten his back as he sat upon the stool. It felt so good that he continued the motion, curving his spine past its normal, upright position. He threw his arms wide and stretched them back as far as they would go. He had been bent over his work table for far too long, and the strain in his muscles and joints had been building. He tried to maintain a more correct posture but he couldn’t resist and was soon slumped back over the small ring he had just finished crafting.
It wasn’t an overly expensive piece. The emerald, brought to Rome from the Upper Nile by his nephew, a fine young man who was growing ever more talented at tracking down gems and other precious materials, was not a large one, and contained several small flaws. Nor was the gem cut or sculpted in anyway, but remained rather in its natural state. It was now, thanks to the steady hands and eyes of the man who held it, set into a thin silver ring wrought to look like a twined grape vine. And this ring was destined to grace the hand of its maker’s wife.
No, it was not the gift he would give her could he afford something more lavish, but still and all, it would have brought a fair price could he bring himself to sell it. And truth to tell, he could only afford not to sell it because of a set of earrings bought just days before by a wealthy Senator for his mistress. Titius knew his wife would adore it, and knowing this brought a smile to his face.
He blew out the four lamps that surrounded his work table and shut and secured the shutters over the window. The light was fading from the sky over the city of Rome, and his eyes were not quite as sharp as they had once been. He was fully aware that soon enough he would have to recruit another cousin or nephew to begin the training as master craftsman and jeweler to sustain the business that his great grandfather had begun so many years before. He had other craftsmen as apprentices, but so far none had lived up to his expectations, and family was always preferable.
He bid goodnight to another nephew, a huge bull of a youth, and not one who had the nimble fingers of an artisan, but was more than adequate when it came to keeping the shop unmolested during the hours of darkness. The fact that this nephew was a former legionary who had been invalided out of the service of Rome for a bad leg wound that was now mostly healed, and that the ex soldier still wore his short sword at his belt, made Titus feel that the few materials he left in the shop were safe enough.
He wrapped his cloak about himself and began his short walk to the apartment building in which he and his wife and two daughters lived. The ring was safely hung around his neck in a small drawstring bag of soft leather. As he drew abreast of a darkened alley he had time only to note the scuffling sound of a sandal on the cobblestones before the knife entered his back, sliding effortlessly between two of his ribs and into his right lung. He lay on the cold stones fighting for breath as rough hands caressed him, searching for any valuables. He felt the tug at the back of his neck as the leather thong that held the bag around his neck was rudely ripped from him by force. He tried to yell for help but the warm blood flooded his mouth and he gave up, slipping into the waiting darkness.
Junius Julius, former mercenary and survivor of twenty gladiatorial combats before having his Achilles tendon severed and barely being allowed to live by the fickle Roman crowd, clutched the small leather bag tightly as he hobbled off into the night.
PART 2 – by Sage Doyle
Junius Julius was the son of a merchant trader. His mother died in childbirth, which caused his father to be more lenient with him than he probably should have been, as he was compensating for Junius’ motherlessness. Junius became an apprentice to his father from a young age and, once he was 13, he took sole responsibility in the task of journeying to meet with the traders in order to procure his father’s inventory. Junius was something of a pain in the ass, so his father was grateful for the times he was away.
The route Junius traveled was long, and though he frequently encountered rogues and buggers, he enjoyed the freedom, independence, and solitude. Being alone was along the lines of anonymity, enabling him to cause trouble with little recognition. This attitude changed following an incident that incited him to procure the protection of a companion. Junius didn’t tell his father what happened because he would never admit to being a victim, and neither did he want to lose his opportunity for continued travel. Thus, after escaping from a group of men who attempted to abduct him and sell him into slavery, he decided upon a different approach to his labors.
The vagrant he enlisted had skin like a dried up apple and his face resembled a goat, including the facial hair. He was aged by sun and weather, not by years, for in fact he was not much older than Junius himself. Junius passed him many times along his trade path, sharing bread and wine with him on occasion, when time was of no importance. Junius never bothered to learn the man’s name, but called him Atuatuca, which was the region from where he originated, having been of the Eburone tribe.
“I need a partner,” Junius told the vagrant. “I have a plan that will make us rich.”
“Sure,” said Atuatuca. “Why not?” He added rhetorically.
Together, they established the noble practice of thievery. It takes a lot of skill to be a thief, or a lot of stupidity. Junius was both skilled and stupid.
Alas, even they themselves were sometimes victims of thieves. This was not convenient. Junius and Atuatuca stopped traveling with their stolen goods, and instead carried only the wares from the tradesmen. They stashed most of the purloined merchandise in a cavern in the hills. The rest they would take as a means to trade for food or just to satisfy the other thieves, in order to protect the merchant inventory from pilferage.
Their exploits entailed robbery and sometimes murder, if murder happened to be the more practical method to steal, or if they happened to be bored. Junius was a disturbed individual. Truly, he was a psychopath. He found pleasure in the slashing of throats after pleas for mercy. One result of their criminality was Junius’ father’s prosperity, so that made it ok.
A long, long time passed. Word of Junius and his strange Germani friend had spread, and upon one of their ventures, Junius was apprehended by the proper authorities. Fortunately for Atuatuca, he had been relieving himself, in one way or another, behind the shrubbery and wasn’t caught. He didn’t come out during the ambush. Perhaps he thought he could be of assistance in helping Junius get freed. He may have avoided capture in order to notify Junius’ father. Either way he wasn’t finished with what he was doing in the shrubs. Hence, he hadn’t come.
As a consequence of his arrest, Junius was forced to fight as a mercenary in the Gallic Wars, ironically against Atuatuca’s people. He was one tough and sadistic son-of-a-bitch, which was a plus, until his battle skills got the attention of a gladiator trainer, who drafted him. The wars were a waste anyway, as they all tended to be.
Junius endured the gladiator matches, fought to the death, but he knew it was a matter of time before the death would be his own. Desperate for freedom, he persistently attempted to bribe anyone who had the power to help. However, despite his articulate entreaty, no one would believe the tale of wealth tucked in a cave.
He’d beseech them, “Listen, man, I seriously got tons of stuff worth a shitload, hidden out in the hills, it’s all yours if you set me free.”
They’d respond, “Yeah, right.”
His attempts were a lesson in futility until his final battle. With a brutal slash that debilitated him, the crowd wavered about his fate,
“Don’t kill him!”
“What to do, what to do!”
“I’m not sure, really!”
Junius had been a favorite of the people, voted “Most Likely To Behead”, and the majority was hesitant to see him die. Taking advantage of the crowd’s indecision, one guardsman withdrew him from the coliseum. Having considered the fact that Junius was sought for thievery, yet no valuables were recovered, the enterprising guardsman resolved to accept his offer.
However, when Junius brought him to the place where the treasures were supposed to be hidden, the cavern was empty.
“What the f—” Expressed Junius.
In response to the guard’s threat against his life, Junius promised him he would get more. They would meet back at the cavern in one month. The guardsman was assured he would defecate in his tunic at the sight of what Junius would bring him.
Junius then ventured onward to find Atuatuca, who had returned to the site where Junius had encountered him time and again on the trade path. Atuatuca explained that the cave was robbed, and Junius was grateful to know his friend had not betrayed him. Otherwise, he would have had to kill him and he needed him to acquire more. For his purposes, he chose to trust rather than to believe Atuatuca would be deviant in any way.
As the day drew near, and their collection was unsatisfactory, Junius decided to locate artisans and craftsmen who were known to work with precious stones and metals. This is how he found Titius Veranus, a man of great talent, but known of only within small circles, and too humble a man to increase his status. Junius attacked after nightfall within the isolation of a dark alley. The one item he was able to take, as he heard someone approaching, was a pouch from around Titius’ neck. In the pouch was a course green stone set in a vine of silver in the form of an intricate but modest ring.
When the time arrived to meet with the guardsman, Atuatuca hid in the bushes. He and Junius got a little greedy when they eyed their new collection and opted to murder the man. Screw him, they thought. They hadn’t expected the guardsman to return with two other men. There was a scuffle and Junius was stabbed to death. The guardsman and his men left with the stash.
It happened too fast for Atuatuca to intervene, or he may have once again been too busy relieving himself in a bush. Perhaps he has a thing for bushes.
Free of ties and aspirations, Atuatuca decided to leave Rome. He wasn’t certain where he would go, maybe back to his people, maybe wander on a solitary pilgrimage. He traipsed off into the night, reflecting on wealth and poverty, since even in wealth, he lived an impoverished life, as all the valuables were of no use while in obscurity. Then he recalled the pouched ring around his neck, which Junius had passed off to him.
PART 3 – by Arthur Browne
Atuatuca decided to keep Atuatuca as his name because he couldn’t remember his actual name. Also it amused him that his former partner-in-crime had given him the name not of the Eburone people of Germania from whence he had come, but rather of the area where his people had handed Julius Caesar his worst defeat of his conquest of Gaul, destroying an entire Roman legion as they settled into their winter quarters. As a youth, Atuatuca had been hauled back to Rome as a captive years after that Roman defeat, and he had only vague recollections of his own people or his own language. He did know that the lands were now Roman, and the idea of life on the frontier didn’t actually appeal to him at all once he set himself to pondering his own future.
He also had no desire to be cold and wet. His most notable characteristic was laziness, and being lazy in a poor climate just didn’t appeal to him. He was the only slave he had ever heard of that had been dismissed from service not because of long and faithful servitude to a grateful family, or because he was too old to be of any further use or because one of the family had grown to care about him. No, he was sent on his way because the family that had owned him for many years had finally come to the conclusion that getting any work out of him required more effort than it was worth. Or as the wife of his former master had put it; “Get on your way, you lazy lout, for it would be easier to do the work myself than to get you to do it, and you will find no more free meals in this household.”
He decided instead to set his feet on a Southerly course, and after many days of travel on the Appian Way he came at last to Brundisium, a port city on the other side of the Roman peninsula on the Mare Adriaticum. He would have been quite content to resume his life as a beggar and part-time petty criminal, but fate, as it so often will, intervened. Only a week after arriving in the city, and just as he was beginning to feel quite at home, he was involved in a brawl in a drinking establishment down near the docks and he rather seriously injured a member of a somewhat well-off Roman family.
Fortunately, one of his drinking companions was a seaman from a trading galley that was leaving the next morning with the tide. This dark-faced little ferret of a man explained how two of his fellow sailors from the ship had been rendered useless to the captain when they had ended up stabbing each other over a dice game that may or may not have been completely above-board. When the ship left the docks the next morning there were two new crewmen aboard, and one of them bore a small silver and emerald ring in a leather pouch hung about his neck on a leather thong.
The ship sailed carrying a cargo of amphorae filled with wine and a load of pigs, stopping in Thessalonica, and then skirting the Mare Internum and spending a few days in profitable trade in Antioch and Tyrus before culminating its voyage in Alexandria where it offloaded the last of its cargo and refilled its hold with wheat to make bread for the hungry throngs of Rome.
Atuatuca did not make himself available for this labor. He found the warm breezes of Egypt much to his liking. He also found the warm prostitutes of Egypt much to his liking, and before the sun had set on his first evening in the country that he now planned to make his home, he had traded the silver and emerald ring, an emerald that had been mined in the very same country not two years earlier, to a lovely and dark-eyed girl named Siria, in exchange for some loving companionship and a straw mat in a dingy hovel on which to lay his head for the next week, a proposition to be extended if he could come up with a similar sum before it had expired.
Part 4 – by Sage Doyle
Siria wandered. She had no destination or path to follow. She wore her blue faience beaded dress and, through the netting, her nude body revealed the tattoo marks of a dancer, an enshrined prostitute. As the blessing of motherhood had not yet endowed her, she had come to feel as though she were a disappointment to Isis.
Siria wandered until she arrived at the square, because sometimes it was best to be alone where people gathered. Yet as a vessel for pleasure, it was difficult to avoid the attentions of men. Men were her trouble, but not all men. By the time she found a space of solitude amongst the cluster of vendors, she had come to the conclusion that the foreigners were her problem.
Seated at the end on the edge of a stair, Siria began to manipulate a palm leaf that she collected on her way, tearing it into thin strips. She observed the people carrying about the practice of their daily existences. Each person was a strand of the palm, she thought, weaved together each in his or her place to create the design through which emerges the functionality of life. There was nothing without purpose. No one without purpose. It was her purpose to bring a new fabric into the world.
The foreign men treated her like a tool to manipulate, food to devour, an object for use at their discretion. They made her feel dirty. Her own men, the Egyptian men, revered her beauty, her divinity, and they enjoyed to listen to her sing. They knew that she and the other women in her group of entertainers were of value to the gods, as sensuality and music were aspects of nature, and sex was a sacred rite that brought forth life. This was why, she was now convinced, she had not yet conceived. Though the money and trinkets were rather nice, she never asked for these gifts, the foreigners just offered them. The Egyptian men knew better.
Siria weaved the palm strands together as she reflected. The sun beat down though she was partially shaded, and she glanced at the gold of Ra cast upon regions of her skin. Then she saw the child. She watched him engraving images in the sand with a stick. As she watched, she fashioned her weaving into a thin, small rope. He went to her when she beckoned him over.
“What is your name?”
“What are you doing over there?”
“I’m going to be a scribe. I’ll be going to school soon.”
“That’s wonderful.” Siria smiled. “I have a gift for you.” And from her finger she removed the ring given to her by Atuatuca, her most recent foreigner whom she now determined to be her last. Tying the palm rope to it, she then wrapped and secured it around Saa’s wrist. As she did so, she told him, “This is to remind you that you have a purpose in life, and that no matter where you are, you are adored.” She kissed her two thumbs then laid them on his eyelids, “so you will never be blind,” and after kissing her next two fingers on one hand, she laid them on his mouth, “so you will be true of voice,” then upon his heart, “so you will be knowledgeable.”
She kissed the top of his head, stood and walked away, knowing one day, soon perhaps, she would be able to proudly return to her family, as she would be pregnant, but not with the child of a foreigner.
Part 5 – by Arthur Browne
Saa spent two years under the tutelage of an elderly Greek scholar whom he always referred to as Master. Gone were the times when young Egyptian boys were trained in the ancient hieroglyphs of their ancestors. He and his fellow students were taught Greek and Latin. Never once during that time did the lad remove the silver ring with the small green stone that had been tied flat to the inside of his wrist by the beautiful lady. Sometimes, when he couldn’t sleep, he would watch the ring, mostly covered by the thin rope of braided palm leaf, as it rhythmically bounced to the throb of his pulse.
The Master was an important person in the court of Gaius Valerius, the Prefect of Egypt. When the master wasn’t teaching new scribes to help keep track of the tons of wheat and other trade goods that left Egypt for Rome, and the other goods that flowed back into the lands thereabouts, he was busy writing a history of the Roman conquest of this part of the world. The Master developed a fondness for Saa, and when he had the opportunity to travel throughout the region on a fact-finding mission for the Prefect, he brought the boy with him.
They embarked on a trading ship, and after a short stop at the city of Pelusium on the other side of the Nile delta, they left Egypt behind, following the coast as the ship skirted the sea, making port at Gaza in Judea. The Master decided that this was as close to Jerusalem as he was ever going to get, and so he elected to leave the ship and travel to this ancient city. He felt he needed to see the city in order to write about it convincingly in his history of Rome’s triumphs in the area. He planned to make his way to Caesarea by road after a quick visit to Jerusalem, and that it would still be possible to perform his official duties within an adequate period of time.
The trek to Jerusalem was not an easy one. Saa and the Master joined an armed caravan of merchants, and spent many a day on the road, the Master riding on a donkey while Saa slogged along beside him. On one particularly hot day, as the caravan came within sight of the walls of Jerusalem, the man who was in charge of the group, a large and splendidly-bearded Phoenician, decided to call a stop for lunch a little earlier than usual because of the large crowd that was gathered beside the road. They were all listening to a man speak.
The man stood on a small pile of boulders, addressing the crowd around him in a voice that carried well in the still, dry air. Saa couldn’t understand a word of Aramaic so he busied himself preparing food and a place for the Master to sit. While the Master took refreshment, he seemed to be listening with half an ear to the man who was speaking. Saa took note that not only were the crowd listening raptly to what the man said, but the members of the caravan were engrossed in the words as well.
“Who is that man, and what does he speak of, Master?” Saa asked, finding himself lulled by the soothing tone of the speaker on the rock.
“He is called Yeshua, as far as I can tell, young scribe, and what he is speaking of is nonsense… with perhaps a dash of sedition thrown in. But this language befuddles my ears and he is too far away for clear hearing by a man of my advanced years. Trouble yourself not, but rather put your mind to bringing me a few more of those dates for my repast, if you would be so kind.”
Saa set himself to the task at hand, and within the hour, the crowd had begun to disperse and the caravan was being packed up to get back on the road towards the city perched on a hill in the distance. As Saa carried the blanket upon which the Master had sat back to the donkey, he was jostled by a dark-haired boy about his own age. Saa had time neither to apologize not ask for one, as the boy disappeared into the milling throng of people.
The boy, one Josiah by name, of no family at all and a sneak thief and cut purse by trade, glanced down into his hand where he clutched the ring, still wrapped in bits of palm leaf cord. Cutting the cord, even though it was tight to the other boy’s wrist, was a notable accomplishment. He hadn’t even drawn blood, and his sharp knife hadn’t been noticed. Josiah looked up and stopped suddenly when he realized he was about to plow into someone. Standing before him was the man who had been speaking to the crowd from the pile of rocks. Josiah hadn’t listened to a word the man had been saying, though they spoke the same language. He had been too busy looking for his next victim.
The man said not a word, but smiled gently at Josiah, and reaching out, he put one hand on the boy’s shoulder. Josiah looked into those eyes and saw what he had never seen in the eyes of another human being since his mother had died when he was very young. He saw love. The man turned away and resumed talking to some other men.
Josiah stood rooted to the spot for several minutes, and then, instead of heading back to the slums of Jerusalem where he made his home, he took off running after the distant shapes and dust clouds of a small caravan on the road. He had no idea what possessed him to wish to return the ring to its rightful owner. He justified this strange decision by telling himself that the owner of the ring would give him a reward of some sort.
When at last he caught up to the caravan he was dismayed to find that it was not the right one. This was just a large family group returning to their homes after trading in the city. He had gone the wrong direction and now had little chance of finding the one from whom he had stolen the ring. And, for reasons he could not fathom, this made him unutterably sad.