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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 26: Republic At Any Cost

Synopsis of Chapter 26: Republic At Any Cost

The structure of the Roman Republic is falling into place. Brutus and Collatinus are elected Praetors by the whole people, sharing power for only one year. The Senate is expanded to 300 and returns to its previous power. But Superbus tries to retake the city, with the help of some Etruscan adventurers. Horatius defends the bridge against an entire enemy army, until it can be dismantled behind him. The youth of Roma vow to never rest until the enemy king is eliminated, and a captured zealot impresses the king that Romans are determined to live free or die. A plot within the city to return the king is revealed, with tragic consequences. In a final battle, Brutus dies defending the city, ensuring the success of the Republic for future generations.

Excerpt from Chapter 26: Republic At Any Cost

Neither Porsenna nor Superbus made an appearance that evening and with the dawn came the usual preparations for a new day. After breakfast the trumpets sounded assembly and the soldiers lined up to receive their pay, an important event for a mercenary army. They came to a reviewing platform to receive their pay in copper coin, a new form of currency modeled after the spoils from the Phocaean Greeks of Alalia. But there were two men on the platform dressed in purple robes, Lars Porsenna and his secretary, and they both counted coins out of the strongbox into the palms of the soldiers. Which was the secretary and which was the king?

The platform was right below him, a perfect opportunity to strike before anyone could possibly intercept him. But which man was the target? Mucius decided to leave it to Fate, who could sometimes be a fickle mistress, and readied his dagger. With a rush he ran from the brush, leaped up onto the platform and slit the throat of the man on the right, ensuring his instant death. But Fate was mischievous this morning, and directed Mucius to the wrong man. Lars Porsenna jumped up and pointed, while guards secured the assassin before he could strike again.

"How dare you! Who are you?"

Mucius noted that the king was breathing deeply and there was sweat on his brow, though he done nothing to exert himself. The king was afraid. Though he himself was lost, Mucius still had a chance to use the king's fear against him and further his cause. "I am Gaius Mucius, a citizen of Roma," he said, "but that doesn't matter. Behind me there is a long list of others to take my place. We have sworn to make war against the man who makes war against us. You shall know no peace, King of Clusium, for there will always be one of us lurking in the shadows, creeping towards you with your death. This is the war which we, the youth of Rome, declare against you. You have no pitched battle to fear. The matter will be settled between you alone and each one of us singly."

This struck a cold dagger of fear in the king's heart. He knew it to be true. This fanatic and a long line of others were bent on his destruction, him alone, regardless of what might happen on the battlefield. He knew they would try again, and again. "Tell me more about this. Will you only come one at a time?" The king exclaimed with increasing terror. "Will you use dagger, or arrow, or poison? Speak! Tell me what you know, or I will have you roasted alive!"

"Ha!" Gaius Mucius laughed, plunging his hand into an open flame burning on the nearby altar. "You cannot threaten me. We have sworn ourselves to a greater cause, and against that our flesh means little."

The flesh of his right hand began to blister and char, and yet Mucius appeared not to feel it. Porsenna was astounded.

"I tell you now, oh king, that we Romans prefer death to tyranny. We will never - never - accept the rule of a king again. To this we have all sworn, to the very last man."

The fat of his hand was burning now, and Porsenna saw a zealot's shine in his eyes. He knew beyond question that this Roman fanatic believed what he said.

"Stop!" cried Porsenna. "Remove your hand. You have been a worse enemy to yourself than you have to me. If you were acting on my behalf I would applaud your courage. Go. Return to your people. Tell them that I believe what you say. We can never hope to defeat a people so determined. And, I must admit, I respect a people who display such warrior spirit. Tell your people that I intend to withdraw and return to my own lands. If you will leave me in peace, I will leave you in peace. Now go, return to your people and tell them what happened here."


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