“Come now, you fearful things, don’t look so terrorized. Did I say I would be dismissing anyone today?"
ecimus gazed around the palace lazily, his eyes roaming across the impressive decor.
The attendants glanced at each other in confusion.
“What does the emperor want?”
“More.” Decimus stood up from the couch. “I want more of everything. Rome’s coffers should be overflowing with gold and silver, as well as my own fortunes. We need to amass more treasure, conquer more lands, pulverize kingdoms that stand in our way, and trample the citizens if they so much as entertain a single thought of rebellion!”
Silence hung in the air.
Decimus threw back his head and laughed wildly, his voice booming around the room.
“Come now, you fearful things, don’t look so terrorized. Did I say I would be dismissing anyone today? You’re on my side, so you’ll be safe and sound as long as I have the power to rule. All I need is to be entertained; keep me happy and content, and I’ll try to restrain my wild side.”
“I can think of something that you might appreciate.” One of the soldiers stepped forward. “Tomorrow we’re going on a tour around the main city so that the people may once again cheer your name and see their leader in the flesh. I propose that we make a special stop to the street where the locked tower is. I know that most leaders won’t even enter the street where the famous tower is, which no one has dared enter for as long as anyone can remember. It should be exciting for you to see the tower up close, if you choose to.”
“Wonderful idea, soldier.” Decimus grinned. “I would love to walk up to the tower. Perhaps I can even peer inside through one of the cracks. Who knows what lies within that tower?”
Decimus peered closely at the soldier, his eyes then darting over to two of the servants standing in the corner of the room.
The three men nodded.
“What is your name, soldier?”
“Well, Albanus. Since you had the idea, I am inviting you to personally accompany me tomorrow to the tower.”
“It would be my greatest honor.”
The next day, Decimus and a massive entourage of soldiers paraded through the streets as the people converged on all sides, screaming the ruler’s name and throwing rose petals into the air. When the royal group turned and headed toward the tower, the people gasped. It had been a long time since anyone had gone to the mysterious tower. There were many rumors surrounding the tower, and it was unclear when it had been built, by whom, and why.
“Here we are. The locked tower.” Albanus gestured toward the tall, dark tower that rose above the skyline of Rome like an ancient spear. “Some say the tower is haunted, others claim great treasures lie within its walls.”
Decimus climbed off his horse and approached the tower. Albanus slid off his horse and followed.
“What if…” Decimus’s hands crept across the cold stones. “What if we could get inside, Albanus? Explore the tower once and for all and discover it’s secrets? What do you say?”
“It would be too risky. I don’t want to release whatever evils spirits reside in there.”
“You are a coward,” Decimus sneered. “I fear nothing. That is why I am the ruler of Rome and why you are nothing more than a soldier parading behind me, waiting on my every command like a dog! The tower will be opened. Today.
“I want the tower opened!” Decimus barked at the legion of soldiers staring at him from atop their royally adorned horses. “Smash these chains that block the main doors and get me inside this instant!”
Only the general of the armed forces had the confidence to move his horse closer and speak to the ruler.
“Honored emperor, no one has ever opened the tower. If you were to command us to do such a thing, the people would find out, and we could not control the mobs that would descend upon us, as everyone would want to witness what lies within. Perhaps we can return tonight under the cover of darkness and open the tower away from the prying eyes of the masses?”
Decimus turned and saw the hundreds of peasants parading down the street toward them, everyone fighting to get another glimpse of their new emperor.
“Very well, general. We shall return tonight.”
That night Decimus returned to the tower. Albanus, the general, and 12 powerful soldiers followed.
The general pointed the soldiers at the massive double doors bound together by steel chains.
“Break the chains.”
The sound of metal grating upon metal filled the air, echoing through the night. But it was over before anyone could become too suspicious and leave their home to investigate. The broken chains lay on the ground, and the doors stood unprotected for the first time since they had been welded shut.
The general took a deep breath and looked at the soldiers.
“Open the doors.”
The soldiers grasped each of the doors and tugged them open, filling the air with the sound of cracking metal and wood.
The soldiers lit the prepared lanterns, handing one to everyone present.
“I’ll go first.”
The general stepped forward but Decimus grabbed his shoulder.
“Not so fast, general. Whatever lies inside that tower is mine and only mine.”
Decimus peered into the darkness once before stepping through the doors into the unknown.
There were windows built high into the tower, allowing moonlight to cast gloomy white light across the massive room inside. Shadows flew across the stone walls as Decimus and the others cast their lantern light about, trying to make out their surroundings. A heavy smell hung in the air — mildew, dust, and cobwebs.
Albanus pulled away from the group. As they advanced further into the tower, he followed his instincts elsewhere. He felt as though something were guiding him toward a certain spot. His heart beat wildly inside of his chest. Something big was happening, he just didn’t know yet what it was.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 903)
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