north americaeurope


the last lament of the sun
shamir nandy
page 06:09

It was then that she literally ran into Tertinia, the local prelate's wife. She had a scarf pulled over her head, but the collision knocked her hand askew and revealed her face. Lucia had thought she had been walking hunched over as an old crone, but now she understood Tertinia had no other choice. Her spine had succumbed, her face was marred by black lesions dripping a pale and sickly yellow fluid. Tertinia shrieked, and dark rotten blood oozed out her mouth. Lucia pulled away in disgust, but not before noticing how familiar the pus oozing out of the lesions looked. They said they closed the gates to keep the plague out, but in truth, they just kept it in.


Lucia spat again, contemplating the coiled strings of contagion. Not that she cared, she was bound to die one way or another, and now she had a weapon against which the barbarians had no defense. She had heard that many people died from the plague, but some people managed to survive it. Lucia desperately hoped she would be one of the lucky ones. Before she gave herself back to memory, o rogue question tore across her mind: Is it death or life that's lucky?


Honorious didn't go to Ravenna . He ran . He ran, and left Rome to die behind him. He knew what was coming, oh, he knew. What was Rome to him? Julius Caesar made Rome what it became, Trajan fought to make it greater, Constantine brought Christ to his murderers. Great men came before Honorious, but always there were the weak. Never this weak though. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, why not? Such destruction is best set to music, at least Nero never fled . They say Caligula made a horse a Senator, call it madness or call it irony, at least he never fled . But that's what Honorious did.

What Lucia did, is leave her mother and her slumbering Adonis. Carefully, she wrapped a light blanket around Gally. He hadn't been coughing, and whatever form the contagion took, a cloth over the mouth had always stopped it. Or so she had been told. She knew she had something, and it didn't look good. But with the city closed only a few days, Tertinia had got the consumption, and badly. Lucia had no lesions, nothing except a wracking cough every now and then, and some disheartening coils of yellow in her spit. But she had never been one to give up, and she hadn't died, wasn't near death – she would never give up, never!. Her mother was past reasoning with, she was convinced the plague was meant to purify Rome , and only those of tainted blood would perish.

Lucia biterly laughed at her, and took Gally. They would find their way out of the city. The Salarian Gate was the most heavily guarded, yet there was still a ‘Peasants' Way'. Small enough to remain open, it wouldn't close except under siege. She had money, they could make their way to the coast and hire a Galley to escape. It only seemed fitting.

The traffic was worse than she had ever imagined. The crush of humanity was deadly. Literally so, as she saw one or two people actually trampled under the crowd. Never mind, she wasn't stupid. She had taken one of her father's ceremonial short swords out, and now she found plenty of reason to unsheathe it. Maybe it wasn't so much the steel in her hand as the look in her eyes that cleared her way. Whatever it may have been, Gally laughed happily, and oftentimes tried to struggle free.

Lucia despaired sometimes, but as difficult as it would have made things – she had hoped for a more vigorous resistance. Regardless, with the traffic and all, it was well past midnight when she made the Salarian Gate. An uncountable number of torches illuminated the walls, with a greater number in the plaza below. Lucia had never seen such a number of men at the Gate, and she knew instantly Caius had been right. Even if it wasn't the Visigoths, it was something. Something her and Gally didn't need to be around. Lucia turned to leave, but was arrested by a horrible creaking sound. She turned, slowly, and to her horror, the great Salarian gates began to creep open. She saw a madness among the flickering lights, and it seemed they abandoned the gate to a world of darkness. She tried to back away, but did so only slowly, her eyes fixed on the yawning oblivion of Rome 's proudest gate.

It was not dark for long. Within moments it was lit by the flame of a thousand torches, and the stillness of night was torn apart by the soulless screaming of tens of thousands of barbarians. And they came, screaming as well, on foot in the dozens, faces indistinguishable in the night. The Salarian gates no longer crept open, they blew open, and the Visigoths surged through, laughing and screaming. They did not ride alone, death and pain rode on their shoulders, brave enough companions. They thought only the soft meat of maiden Rome as it lay whimpering before them. They should have known better. They may have butchered the people of Rome , and thought themselves victors. They should have known. Rome waited sealed in for weeks. The largest city on earth. They came for the slaughter, with nothing to stand against them. Yet Rome had still one champion. The Plague rode against them.


Lucia stood up, her hands smoothing the front of her tattered dress, feeling her wracked body. It feelt like her skin has grown far too much faster than the rest of her, and she had too much of it. Except around her stomach, that felt different. When she pushed against it, it felt like a grudging liquid. That is, something that used to be firm, and only recently has begun to collapse upon itself. She knew what it was, but she didn't really care any more. She stood up in the ruined solarium, illumintaed by what filtered crimson of sunlight trickled down through the wracked sky. It's almost revolting. It's the dirtiest red, filthy enough to make blood pure.

Lucia laughed for a few moments, until it gave into a fit of coughing. She spat some more, and was perversely proud to realize her spit was more yellow than red today. She shook out her curls again and instead of water and a basin she found only ash and broken marble. It didn't matter to her, she felt oddly happier today.