history, writing

A Visit to Dark Ages Rome

I realize that I’ve been rather miserly with the “history” portion of this blog, instead focusing on travel and cats and so forth, so consider this a mea culpa of sorts. I just discovered this wonderful weekly blogging event hosted by K.L. Schwengel called WIP Wednesday (Work in Progress, for you non-writers), which encourages bloggers to post a snippet of the project they are working on. The snippet should have something to do with the date, 11/20. As such …

On this day in history (November 20, 269 AD), according to Today in History, Diocletian was proclaimed emperor of Rome by his soldiers. He had previously been commander of the emperor’s bodyguard. How does this relate to my WIP? The hero in my historical novel is both a commander and a bodyguard, and in this piece he and the woman he has sworn to lead to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage are visiting Rome. However, they are about four centuries after Diocletian.

The moon shone luminous upon the ruined buildings and tumbled columns, lying this way and that, broken, abandoned, and lost. Justus left Richende seated on an upright stone drum as he made his way around the area, wondering about the many festivals and law proceedings and parades that had taken place here, and reading the engraved letters on the marble everywhere. The words shouted their messages, clear and bold, to eternity: justice triumphs here; may this flame burn eternally; hush and hear the sacred words spoken.

Little gatherings of some farmer’s cattle stood huddled together just beyond the Forum, evidence anew of the way rural life was creeping back into the capital after it had been sacked by the barbarian hordes one too many times. Justus noticed, then, that Richende had not moved from her seated place, so he made his way back to her. She sat, back erect but chin tucked low, silvery tears tracking down her cheeks.

“My lady?” he asked, his heart clenching. “What is wrong?”

She looked at Justus as though seeing him for the first time, and gave a little shudder. She sniffed, and hiccupped, and spoke only after working to regain her composure for a moment. “Oh, Justus. I have dreamed of coming to this place, so filled with glory and power. How wondrous and terrible it is to know that thousands once flocked here, that they lived and suffered and loved, that they created such grandeur. And all that effort and work, all that passion and purpose and lawful attention has now fallen into this. Ruin.”

Her hair gleamed straight and golden under Hera’s glowing moon; her cheeks were smooth and unlined, her eyes dark and shadowed, but beckoning nonetheless. He did not think. In one motion his calloused, overlarge palm cupped her soft cheek. How like a sculpture she was at that moment, perfectly formed and unutterably beautiful. She inclined her face into his touch. Her tears felt cool and thin on his skin.

The chanting of the procession, now receding into the distance, carried the words of blessing clear on the night breeze. Somewhere, a dog howled in strange accompaniment.

Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here:


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10 thoughts on “A Visit to Dark Ages Rome”

  1. A wonderful sense of place you’ve captured here, Xina. I can feel how strongly Richende senses the hollowness of the tributes and accolades of years gone. And how she feels a dream dying…

    A despairingly romantic piece… thank you.

    And welcome to the WIPpet!

  2. Hi Xina and welcome to the madness! 🙂 We’re a pretty interesting bunch but I think you’ll find we’re generally well-behaved. *lowers voice and whispers behind hand* Keep an eye on ReGi and Kate, though, they like to provoke my flying monkeys. *ahem*

    I absolutely love your opening line. This is a beautiful piece. The imagery is vivid and luscious, and the characters establish themselves quickly. Can’t wait to see more.

  3. Hi there, Xina!

    I love the tag line for your blog – the “and cats” had me chuckling…I woke up today anchored to my bed by a large Squeak-cat…

    And then I got to your snippet, and – WOW!!! You lured me in immediately, engaged my senses, delighted me with the history of old places and the smaller stories that lie untold, forever.

    And that last bit, where Justus touches Richende – lovely! Swoon! I love contrasts, and classic Greek and Roman sculpture, and moments with an undercurrent of romantic possibility…

    i definitely want to learn more about these people and their stories.

    I’m so glad you found us, and shared! Please please please come back, and tell us more! =D

    1. Haha, yes, cats are awesome, aren’t they?

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the snippet! I was wondering that perhaps it wouldn’t be identifiable or effective out of context but it sounds like that wasn’t so, which thrills me. Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m delighted to be a part of this community!

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