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The Locked Tower: Chapter 1

Such were the games of the Roman political system. Lies, not truth, triumphed



great wailing filled the streets of Rome. The king had died, and the people mourned. At least, they pretended to. Soldiers filled the roadways to ensure the mood was downcast, that people shed crocodile tears for the ruler who had passed away that day. A ruler that never cared for the people — who cared about the people in corrupt Rome?

The body of the ruler was carried through the streets as everyone looked on, bowing their heads as the casket passed them. As the entourage moved toward the royal burial grounds, the crowd caught sight of a tall man with long, golden blonde hair walking slowly at the back of the procession. A murmur of excitement swept through the people. The next ruler of Rome was here! When would be the next time they would be so close to him?

“May your rule prosper and be lengthy, O’ Decimus!” One of the braver peasants called out.

The new ruler of Rome acknowledged the comment with a solemn expression and nod. He truly looked the part — noble and humble. The people looked on with admiration.

At the burial, speech followed speech about the ruler. He was called a saint, a hero of heroes, a fearless warrior, and champion for the good of the simple folk. Who were they discussing? The king being buried? The man who cared for nothing more than his own royal coffers and his grip on power, at all costs? But such were the games of the Roman political system. Lies, not truth, triumphed.

Finally, it was over. The soldiers escorted their new ruler back to the palace. The crowds gathered outside the palace balcony, now awaiting the first speech from their new ruler. Decimus disappeared inside the palace, still shrouded in the black cloak he used for the funeral. After an hour of anticipation, the grand moment arrived. The doors leading to the balcony burst open as two soldiers emerged and announced the new king’s imminent arrival.

Decimus emerged in full armor, sword positioned perfectly at his side, his gaze impressive as he regally surveyed the massive crowd.

“People of Rome!”

The crowd fell instantly silent as the ruler raised one hand. His voice boomed and the sun glinted off his armor as he spoke.

“I swear I will do all in my power to keep you safe from our enemies. Under my reign you will prosper, thrive, be satisfied and happy, each and every day. I am truly obligated to you, my dear citizens. You are the ones who will weigh on my mind, as I ponder each and every need and want of every single citizen of Rome. Not for myself do I take this tremendous yoke of kingship upon my shoulders. Nay! I do this all for the good of the people, as a selfless son of Rome, I seek to give back the good bestowed upon me and all of us ever since our founding leaders established this blessed empire, the one and only shining light that reaches to every corner of the green earth!”

A roar erupted from the crowd. The people swooned over the benevolent new ruler, Decimus.

“No one will be taken advantage of under my rule. I will fight for the liberty of all of my people! I may reside in this great, massive palace, but my heart lies with you. If it was up to me, I would trade away these needless luxuries and come live among you, my brothers. I have no need for servants, wealth, or any of these vanities.”

Decimus bowed to the people, eliciting gasps of shock, approval, and awe.

“I live only to serve the people of the kingdom.”

The crowd went wild. In true Romanan fashion, they screamed and chanted the king’s name and threw things into the air in excitement.

The king bowed his head one last time in majestic humility and then turned and disappeared behind the massive, elegantly carved doors leading back into the enormous palace.

The soldiers shut the door to the balcony, lowering the deafening sound of the wild crowd to a muffle.

“Dirty peasants.” The king pulled off his armor and snorted with laughter. “I could smell the crowd all the way from the balcony. It’s a good thing I don’t have to address them regularly. Dirtier than a pack of cattle, I say.” Decimus tossed his armor into the arms of a servant who flew backward and hit the wall from the great weight.

“Get me a bottle of the finest wine, and make it quick!” Decimus snapped at another servant. “And you there, standing there holding my armor like a fool, stop staring at me and put it away before I do away with your head!”

Decimus turned to look out the window. The crowd had broken out into a full melee and energetic fighting rippled through the frenzied crowd.

“Give them a few minutes to behave like the animals they are, and then go out there and start laying into them.” Decimus pointed at the sword of the nearest soldier. “They’re too excited by my speech. They need to be reminded that Rome lives and dies by the sword — if they’re not disciplined under my rule, heads will start to roll.”

The soldiers nodded, glancing at each other in shock.

It’s not that they were surprised by the new king’s double-talk. That was standard fare for Roman rulers — all treacherous as snakes. But the extent of Decimus’s about-face was something they hadn’t witnessed before.

The servant returned with wine and Decimus lay down on his couch, feet propped up, looking as regal as a teenager lazily wasting his life away. He put the bottle to his lips and drank heavily.

“What now?” The new king looked at his soldiers with a bored expression. “I’m supposed to celebrate, aren’t I?”

And then one of the soldiers suggested something that would have great ramifications for the Jewish community of Rome.

to be continued…

Persians customarily forced their guests to drink local wine, which was so thick and sweet that it was difficult to drink. At Achashveirosh’s mishteh, he departed from this custom, and people were given wine they were accustomed to from their home countries.

It took two full years to build Achashveirosh’s throne.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 902)

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