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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 19: Thunder and Lightning

Synopsis of Chapter 19: Thunder and Lightning

Roma is torn by vendetta. Young Collatinus marries the king's younger daughter, Tullia, while a son is born to Lucius and Tarquinia. Lucius forms the Celers Club, a secret group of friends sworn to support the ambitious grandson of Lucumo. Lucius undermines the policies of King Servius Tullius. Lucius has an on-going affair with Tullia, and they decide to murder their spouses and marry. Lucius takes over the throne and Servius Tullius is ridiculed, then murdered.

Excerpt from Chapter 19: Thunder and Lightning

The broken body of Servius Tullius had been quietly carried away by members of the Celers Club and Lucius looked down only on his lover, Tullia, and the thousands of pale faces looking up at him from the moonlit Forum floor. No one cheered, no one hailed him, yet he imagined that they loved him and had gathered there to show him their support. He smiled, he raised his right hand in a stiff-arm salute, and he imagined that the crowd below saluted back. Cowed Senators scurried down the steps on either side of him, bound for home.

"It is a great day, my love," Lucius called down the steps to Tullia. "Have your driver take you home. No, not to home, to our apartment. I will meet you there later. We will celebrate our new beginning together."

Tullia had ridden down to the Forum in a hired cart, eager not to miss the action in the Curia Hostilia when word had reached her of Lucius' march on the Forum. She called the cart over and instructed the driver to take her to an apartment insula on the Esquiline, where they held their private trysts. They rumbled through the streets, deserted for the most part as they traveled away from the Forum. As they turned a corner the driver suddenly pulled on the reigns in surprise, spotting the white bulk of a body lying before them in the street. The driver tied the reigns to the cart's cleat and stepped down into the street to examine the body. It was badly bruised and disheveled, but he was still able to recognize it.

"Mistress," he called, "it is your father, the king."

His announcement was met with silence.

"Mistress, do you not understand? It is the king. It is the body of Servius Tullius."

To his dismay, Tullia took up the reigns and snapped them on the flanks of the two horses. With a start they suddenly advanced and stepped over the body lying in their path, while the driver leaped to one side. The cart continued until the cartwheels ran over the body, crushing the corpse and picking up blood on its wheels. The shocked driver ran to the cart and climbed aboard, snatching the reigns from the woman. Her eyes had a wild quality to them, as if she had been driven mad by the spirits of her late husband, and sister, murdered just the evening before. Did he see it? Did she actually smile? No, no a trick of the light, a cloud passing over the moon. Without another word he drove on, dropped Tullia at her apartment, and continued on his way. Let a woman like that find her own way up the stairs safely, he thought.

The next morning he washed the blood of a king off the wheels of his cart. His cart had been defiled, and water alone would not be able to wash this away. He shuttered for his city. The spirits of the dead would not rest easy after this, nor would the gods. Wickedness had come to Roma and taken control.


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