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Read this excerpt from Belisarivs, Book I:  The First Shall Be Last.

AD 521, Spring
Third Year of the Reign of Justin, Emperor of the Romans

    The Mese, a wide avenue with
porticoed shops on both sides, was the main thoroughfare and backbone of New
Rome. It passed through most of the major fora and stretched almost the entire
length of the city, from the Hippodrome to the
Golden Gate.
That particular morning, the Mese was a bustle of activity, packed with an
unusual amount of traffic moving in the direction of the Hippodrome.
Belisarius, Florentius, and John struggled to make their way against the human
current and it took them considerably longer than expected to reach the
derelict church.

     When they did, they were surprised to find the entrance
occupied by a dozen or so stout-looking ruffians. Their clothing marked them
immediately as die-hard partisans of the Green faction and though ostensibly
Romans, they wore their filthy hair after the fashion of the Huns and in all
things acted the part of the barbarian. Several of them stood loitering around
in front of the church, while a few urinated against its side. A couple of them
had taken the liberty of raiding and devouring the victuals that had been left
for the holy man as alms.

     Incensed, Belisarius and his companions approached the
scene with clenched fists.

     “You there!” Belisarius shouted. A dozen heads turned
in their direction. “Are you pagans that you treat a Christian holy place so

     “We are better Christians than you, it seems,” a tall,
lanky man with a bowl haircut and several missing teeth called out, mocking
Belisarius’s highly accented Greek. “You dare to judge our actions? Who are you
to judge? Are you not a sinner yourself?”

     “Hypocrite!” a hulking Green brute with a dirty beard
shrieked. “You are no friend of Christ!” Several of the other Greens murmured
their agreement.

     Belisarius was momentarily flummoxed by the sheer
audacity of the charge.

     “Who do you think Christ would recognize as his
friends,” Florentius picked up the thread. “Those who come to seek advice from
one of His holy men, or a rabble who devours the provisions of His holy man and
makes water on his doorstep?”

     “Look to your own sins before condemning what we do,”
another Green shouted, even as he jammed a handful of ill-gotten bread into his

     “Be ye Greens or Blues?” the tall Green challenged,
tiring of religious talk.

     “Neither,” replied Florentius forcefully. “You men be
gone from here.”

     “Come, come,” another Green replied smugly. “Surely
you biscuit-eaters must favor either the Blues or the Greens. Don’t tell me
you’re a White? Or a Red?”

     “They’re Blues! I seen ‘em in with the Blues at the
races!” a drunken pimple-faced youth lied, looking for an easy pretext to
resort to fisticuffs.

     “Blue maggots!” another called out in support.

     “And what would you do if we were Blues?” Belisarius
said, stepping forward boldly with his arms folded across his chest.

     “Let me show you,” said one of the Greens. He then
tried to lay hands on Belisarius but immediately regretted his attempt.
Grabbing the offender’s arm with his left hand, Belisarius landed a hard right
on the bridge of the Green’s nose, sending him sprawling to the ground. The others
rushed to his aid, but Florentius—a full head taller than any of the Green
brawlers—gave a loud shout and began laying waste with his fists and elbows,
sending spittle and teeth flying in every direction. John joined the fray as
well, tackling a man who attempted to jump Belisarius from behind and driving
him hard to the pavement.

     Before the Greens could attempt to use their numbers
to their advantage, a man in Hunnic garb leapt off his horse and joined the
fray. He was short of stature but fought larger men with an audacity and skill
that betrayed years of practice. The fighting prowess of the four was such that
the Greens soon lost any desire for battle and fled away down nearby streets.
Belisarius and the others didn’t bother to give chase, but instead regrouped to
take inventory of their scratches and scrapes.

     “Thanks, friend,” Belisarius said to the newcomer.

     “Rotten dogs,” the man muttered in barely intelligible
Greek. “They dare raise fist to soldiers of emperor?”

     “They respect no law,” John stated plainly.

     “I am Belisarius and these are my friends and
comrades, John and Florentius. What is your name?” Belisarius asked, wondering
at the novelty of a Hun in

     “Aigan my name,” the fellow replied. “Of Massagetae
people. Friends of Romans. King send me to trade gold for Massagetae horsemen.”

     “If all the Massagetae fight as well as you do, it
will be a poor trade for your king,” John quipped.

     “Apologies. Massagetae fight better by horse than by
foot,” Aigan replied humbly, missing the humor. He moved toward his sturdy pony
and with a single bound was seated comfortably in the saddle. Belisarius noted
how he used a strange scala or step that hung from his saddle to
accomplish this move with such ease.

     “We are going to speak to a holy man of God,”
Florentius mentioned. “Would you care to seek his counsel as well, considering
how valiantly you fought to preserve his house?”

     “I delay with fighting long enough,” the Hun replied.
“Perhaps if fortune smiles on Massagetae trade, we fight together again?”

     “We can only hope. Go with God.” Belisarius said,
extending his arm. The Hun took it and gave him a fierce smile.

     “Farewell, then, Roman friends,” Aigan cried. Strong
he thought as he rode away. There are some powerful men yet left
among them.

Visit Arx Publishing to purchase this and other great stories.


December 7, 2006 |

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