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THE BIRTH OF ROME
Synopsis of Chapter 10: Sibylline Prophecies
Lucumo was elected king by the council of elders. A wagon train of Etruscan pioneers crossed the wooden bridge and continued south to establish a colony in Campania. Lucumo's brother Arruns was with the pioneers, serving as their physician. Marcus learns many lessons from their short war with the Sabines of Tibur, chief among them being the need for a cavalry wing, which he pays for himself. Marcus marries Aurelia and builds a house in "the Etruscan style." Lucumo conducts a Tour of State, visiting the Latin cities accompanied by the entire legion, a not too subtle show of strength. The legion digs the moat around the Etruscan colony while Lucumo visits the Greek city of Cumae. In a cave near Cumae lives the Oracle called Sibyl.
Excerpt from Chapter 10: Sibylline Prophecies
A few days later, while work continued on the moat, Lucumo walked down to the River Volturnus to look the countryside over. He saw a gently rolling and very fertile countryside disappearing towards the southern horizon, framed by a violet ridge in the far west. Someday this will all be surveyed and fenced and cut by farm roads, he knew, but today he appreciated the unspoiled beauty of the scene. A good place for a colony, with room to grow.
He sensed a presence behind him, and turned to find an old crone dressed in a faded black cloak. He usually was more charitable, but the woman's aged, spotted, lined and toothless face warranted nothing more apt than "crone." She smiled a weird, toothless smile, a smile that reached her eyes and made them sparkle. Was she mocking him? What manner of creature was she?
"You seek the oracle, chief of no tribe? Why bother yourself with fruitless travel? I have nine times the knowledge right here, and you may take it with you."
She stepped aside to reveal a stack of palm leaves. Upon closer look, Lucumo noticed writing in Greek letters upon the leaves, and leather tabs dividing the stack into smaller sections.
"You are generous, mother, as well as convenient. But what interest might I have in a stack of leaves?"
"Greater men than you have an interest in these words, I assure you, first man in Roma," replied the crone. "And I am no more generous than any mortal being. So I will trade you, value for value. I value these words. You value precious metals. Give me three hundred gold pieces, and take away knowledge beyond price."
"In Roma we have a man who was injured building a bridge, and was too long in the water before we found him. He now talks all day to the river, and I am sure he considers his words to be of great value. You are confused, mother. I am here to see the oracle, as you guessed. Why should I value your words above the oracle's? Who do you think you are?"
Her stringy gray hair was trapped by the hood and she turned away, laughing.
"The King of Roma, a Latin-speaking Greek from Etruria, asks me if I know who I am?" she cackled. "Man would better ask the question: 'Who do I want to be?' These leaves are the words of the oracle, Tarchna Cneve. Believe! Promise me your gold, and take away to Roma the Sibyl's prophecies."
Lucumo was breathless for a moment. She knew his birth name, and she claimed these writings were prophecies from the Sibylline oracle herself. His true name could be learned; it was not a secret. But Lucumo's instinct told him she was telling the true. Still...
"No, wise woman, I will not promise you anything. I do not know what is truly written here."
"You know I tell the truth, wise man. But if you will not value these words, then neither will I."
She took the top three sections off the pile and set them aside, then with a wave of her hand they burst into colorful sparks. Lucumo was familiar enough with sulfur from his visits to his father's mines, and he had also seen Tanaquil use powder to produce colorful results very similar to this, but trick or not the leaves burst into flame and disappeared within a few seconds nonetheless. Lucumo had hesitated - and now one third of the stack was gone.
"Gold!" demanded the crone. "Give me what is precious to you, and I will give you what is precious to me!"
"How much do you ask now?"
"The price is the same!"
"The same price? But there is less to buy now -"
He never had a chance to finish. The crone removed three more sections and they too disappeared in a flash of light and a trail of smoke.
"No! Wait!" Lucumo exclaimed, but it was too late. "Alright! I promise! Three hundred pieces of gold for the remaining three sections."
"You are a man of your word, oh king. What remains is yours. May you learn from your doubts today." The crone stepped behind the tree while Lucumo bent down to scoop up the remaining pile of leaves. When he stood up and looked around the trunk she was nowhere in sight.
"We will meet again soon, Sibyl of Cumae," Lucumo said to the empty air.