Romulus sat on the high backed throne in his chamber, staring between the ornamented columns. The room was quiet, but for the gentle rush of his breathing and the occasional swish of fabric as he shifted his weight. He stared ahead for a long time, not caring that there was nothing to look at, for he was not seeing the room in front of him. Instead he saw grass and dirt under his feet and an empty sky above. He saw the rough bricks he had spent the day laying and felt the callouses on his hands. He heard his brother’s derisive snort and felt his shadow fall over him.
“What are you doing, brother, playing around in the mud?” Remus said.
Romulus’ teeth clenched and he grabbed another brick and slotted it into place.
“I’m building a wall,” he answered. “To defend my city.”
Remus snorted again and looked up to the empty hill and the lumpy line of bricks surrounding it.
“Some defense,” he said. “The only thing smaller than your wall is your so-called city. You’re a fool, brother, if you think you will build anything worthwhile on this sorry mound.”
Romulus let out a slow breath and forced himself to remain calm and keep his eyes on his work.
“It will be a great city,” he said. “The greatest.”
“When I am done building my city,” Remus began, resting his foot on the top of the wall, “my first order will be to conquer your city. We’ll need somewhere to put the pigs, after all. I doubt it will be hard.” He took a few steps back. “If all we need to do is get over this wall.” Remus ran forwards and leapt over the wall then turned back to smirk at his brother.
Romulus felt his face go red and his hands quivered. He reached for another brick.
The door to the chamber burst open and Romulus jumped in his seat, forcing his mind to push aside the memory that haunted him nightly. He looked up to see Julius Proculus, one of his senators, marching stiffly across the chamber towards him.
“Sire,” he began, his voice sharp.
“Not now, Proculus,” he said. “I asked for silence, whatever it is can wait.”
“It can not,” Proculus said, stepping forward to face the King. “Sire,” he began again, “dissent among the Senate continues to grow.”
“The quarrels of the Senate are not my concern, Proculus, that is your job.”
“Are they your concern when there is talk of deposition?’ he said, letting the word hang until Romulus finally raised his eyes to him. “Numa Pompilius has sworn to see your reign ended, and he is not alone in his desires. The Sabines–”
“The Sabines should stop thinking of themselves as such,” Romulus barked, cutting the Senator off. “Tatius is gone, his men are Romans now.”
“If you do not act there may not be a Rome.”
“Then so be it,” he said. “Perhaps it is right that Rome should not outlive me, that its walls should fall as I too fall.”
“Sire you cannot speak of such things. This city will be great and will continue to be great long after you or I are here to witness it. Your own father, the god Mars, blessed this place when you chose it.”
Romulus sunk back into his throne. “Perhaps Mars chose to favor the wrong son.”
Proculus eyed him. “The untimely death of Prince Remus was indeed a tragedy,” he began slowly. “But such accidents can only be the will of the gods.”
“It was no accident, nor divine intervention that slew my brother.” Romulus stated. “Remus should have been the one to build his city here, to sit upon this throne. And he would have, had he not died by my hand.”
Proculus recoiled. “Sire, what are you saying?”
Romulus’ grip on the armrests of his chair tightened until his knuckles were white pearls. He leaned forward to stare at the Senator then spoke, enunciating each word.
“I murdered my brother.”
“Remus’ death was an accident,” Proculus insisted. “He fell, his head struck a stone.”
“That was a lie. I killed him, I took a brick and I beat him. Then I placed that brick in the very wall that surrounds this palace. I killed him.” Romulus rose to his feet. “And the world will finally know.”
Proculus’ gaze jerked to the King’s face. “What?”
“It’s time they knew the truth of their king, that he may be judged for his crimes.”
“Sire, please, this is madness.”
“Madness? The only madness here is how long I have kept my silence. For thirty years I have carried Remus’ death with me. I can carry it no longer, Proculus.”
“Rome’s greatest strength is the resolve and virtue of its king. Destroy that now, and it is more than just your reputation that will suffer.”
“I will not continue to live this lie.”
“You must, if not for your own sake, then for your people.”
“The people deserve the truth.”
“They deserve the security you promised them.”
“This is my burden, Proculus, and the decision has been made.”
Romulus pushed past the Senator, but Proculus grabbed his arm to halt him. Romulus pulled free and drew the sword from his hip. He swung the blade around and the clang of metal filled the chamber as Proculus brought his own blade up to meet it. Romulus scowled at him. Proculus’ blade was purely ceremonial; he was a politician, not a soldier.
“Lower your blade,” Romulus ordered.
“Not until my King sees reason.”
“What your King sees is a traitor.”
Romulus swung at Proculus again, but the younger man dodged his blow and retaliated with one of his own. The stout swords clashed again, producing a ringing that reverberated off the walls. Romulus drove the Senator backwards with a series of rapid blows, until Proculus was pinned with his back against one of the columns. He ducked Romulus’ strike and darted around the base of the column, keeping it as a barrier between him and the king.
“Stay out of my way, Proculus,” Romulus said, moving away from the column. “I’ll not be a coward any longer.”
“Who is the greater coward?” Proculus stepped out to see his retreating back. “The man who would lie to his people to preserve their dignity, or destroy a kingdom simply to alleviate his own conscience?”
Romulus turned and stormed back to him. “You know nothing of my conscience,” he bellowed.
Proculus flinched, but when he spoke his voice was calm.
“No, my King, but I know of your people, and if you will not protect them, I will.”
Proculus gripped his sword, then stabbed it through Romulus’ chest.
The king’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped into an O, as a silent rush of air left his lungs, accompanied by a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth.
Proculus pulled the sword free and dropped it, then grabbed Romulus by the shoulders and lowered him gently to the stone floor.
“Forgive me, my King,” he whispered, his eyes bright.
Romulus tried to speak but his voice would not come.
“Rome will remember you,” Proculus said. “I swear it.”
Proculus stood before the Senate, as the old men in their robes bickered amongst themselves. None had looked up as he entered, too engrossed in their own plotting and arguing to care much of what else went on.
“Councilmen,” Proculus addressed, receiving no response.
“Councilmen,” he said again, loudly enough that his voice filled the chamber. The other conversations broke off as all eyes turned to him.
“Councilmen, I bring news that is both grave and wondrous, our own king, the great Romulus, founder of this city we call Rome, has departed this earth.”
“What do you mean?” one of the Senators demanded, stepping closer.
“This morning I went to speak with our king,” Proculus continued, “but he was gone, and in his place stood a ghostly figure bearing his features, who said to me that he, Romulus, was to journey to the heavens where he would become a god.”
The Senators exchanged looks and fervid whispers before turning back to Proculus.
“We are to understand then, that Romulus will not be returning?”
“Yes,” Proculus answered. “He wished for me to tell you, to tell all of Rome, that under his divine watch, this city would become capital of the world, and that no power on earth would stand against us.”
There was silence in the chamber for several seconds before one of the men raised his goblet.
“To Romulus, that he may remain in the stars.”
The others raised their goblets also. “To Romulus,” the Senators chanted then turned back to one another and resumed their earlier discussions.
Proculus backed out of the room, sighing in relief. He suspected the Senator’s acceptance of his story was due less to its believability, than to the ease with which it resolved their problem. But their belief was not what he needed. Next he would address the people.
A figure appeared and fell into step at Proculus’ side. He glanced up to see Numa Pompilius, a hint of a smile lingering on the man’s mouth.
“That is quite a thing to have witnessed,” he said.
“It’s the truth,” Proculus replied. “Romulus has ascended to the heavens to join his father and brother.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it,” Numa replied. “Such occurrences can only be the will of the gods.”
Proculus glanced sideways at him but chose to offer only a nod in response.
“Excuse me, councilman,” he said. “I must address the people.”
“Ah, yes,” Numa said. “To tell them of their newly deified king. Brave of you, to face them.”
“How so?” Proculus turned to Numa, whose smile was barely concealed.
“Is he not brave, the man who would lie to his people to preserve the dignity of a false god?”
Proculus froze, his eyes widened as he looked at Numa, realizing that the Senator had been in Romulus’ chamber too. Numa knew everything.
Numa’s smirk widened at the other man’s reaction. He turned and began walking back down the hall to the council chamber.
“Perhaps then,” Numa called back, “he is a coward after all.”