It’s a funny thing, hypocrisy. When a society wants to keep slaves off its homeland but does not want to forego the convenience they provide, it often circumvents its own ideals through a mere technicality. This is why we Romans – I like to at least think of myself as one of them – created the job known as apparitor. Alas, I am not writing this record to lobby against the injustices of society – though that will certainly come up now and again – I am sitting here with quill in hand to honor a man far greater than me. Not necessarily a better man, as like all men he had his moral faults, but I strongly believe that he performed his patriotic duty in ways that few people before him can attest to having done.
My first encounter with Gaius Octavius Celer was in the first year of Rafælus Caesar Augustus, when he was 28 and I only 21. I was in the service of Titus Bibilus Gerius the elder, the Prefect of Constantinople at the time. I was still a slave then and so, like the rest of the furnishings, I could not interact with Celer - a guest - unless I was required to do so. At the start of his quaestorship, Octavius was in need of a personal assistant to keep track of the important, and often highly classified, information that went through his hands. I am told that Bibilus spoke highly of my ability to speak Greek and understand Roman Law but that such skills would not be able to serve a retiring politician. And so it was that he gave me to Celer, as one gives away clothes that no longer fit, to be the latter’s chief secretary.
During the first couple of months under his employ, Celer appeared to pay me very little attention. I assumed at the time that he was accustomed to having a personal writing pad because he treated me almost exactly as such. When he needed something to be copied, he handed it to me to do so and when he wished to write something down he simply started dictating it to me. That entire time we probably made eye contact only a handful of times and never once exchanged words that were not immediately put into a writing pad.
On 17 March of that year, I remember the day well, Octavius was called to the office of the Mensarius Superbus to discuss tax collection in Italy. He was told that his shift in Greece had ended and he needed to report within the week to the Prefect of Mediolanum. Unexpectedly, my master protested this,
‘And what of my attendant?’
‘You can keep him at another villa, sell him, I don’t think it really matters. Does it?’
‘Well actually, I have become accustomed to his help and since I lack the time to go over the proper paperwork, I request that you use your imperium as city prefect to free him on my behalf.’ From birth I had been taught to restrain my emotions while at work but I must confess, I could not contain myself at that moment and broke out into a cheerful, foolish smile. When I noticed that my face was making an expression, I tried quickly to conceal it by looking down with my head against my chest. Celer almost certainly saw me because he chuckled a little to himself. But it was settled, this ridiculous little slave was to become a freedman.
The next day – the greatest day of my life – I was freed in a private ceremony at the Provincial Palace before being taken to the Cathedral of Saint George to receive a proper Roman baptism. Though still only a freedman, I had most of the legal rights of a Roman citizen, including the permission to set foot in Italy.
From that point on, I was the faithful apparitor of Octavius Celer – soon the legendary Octavius Celer when he proved his skill in the command of a Roman army at the battle of Weawaq in the tenth year of Rafælus Caesar Augustus. As had become the norm, I was with him, onboard the Mars Invictus off the coast of Australia. Nearly an hour into the battle, which was occurring on land far away from us, I came to inform him that we had just lost several Japanese testudo divisions and our own infantry was under pressure from the enemy on all sides. In spite of this, he was standing on the bridge, bristling in his continental commander’s red and gold uniform and displaying a disturbingly serene expression, seemingly unaware of the carnage the Empire’s armies were being subjected to. I could not possibly imagine what was going through his mind right then, but I was nonetheless disheartened that the news I had brought him could not have helped him.
According to the chatter of the other commanders, it seemed as if the plan was to wait for our aircraft to arrive at the battle and provide assistance. However, the Nautilus had only arrived several minutes ago with the air support and it would take almost an hour for those craft to reach the insignificant island on which the fighting was taking place.
After almost everyone on the bridge had sat down to idly await the battle’s end, a message came for my master from artillery control relaying to him that “All guns are in position.” When I told this to Octavius his faced warped from a look of godlike serenity to an unquestionably confident smirk.
‘Fire at will,’ he yelled, his voice echoing through the silent bridge.
With great vigor, the helmsmen relayed his orders by intercom to the rest of the ship. In seconds the metal floor beneath us was reverberating with the recoil of the Mars Invictus’ titanic guns. Clearly the others were not so impressed with this display of imperial majesty because one of the commanders, Jaudastus Heryon, who was subordinate to Octavius, was enraged at the implications of this barrage.
‘He’s firing on the battlefield,’ he turned to speak to my master, ‘This is madness! Our men are there!’
Unfazed by Heryon’s anger, Celer complacently retorted, ‘I have imperium. You will address me with the proper procedure or you will not address me at all.’ Only further flustered, his imposing aggressor was nevertheless speechless for several seconds at the pomposity of his response. Still, the man recomposed himself and calmly replied,
‘Imperator,’ he briefly looked down before staring directly into his commanding officer’s eyes, ‘you are killing Romans.’
‘I do not doubt that there will be some friendly casualties. But you misjudge the accuracy of our weapons and the magnitude of our losses should we take alternative measures. While you commanders sit around commanding less than the attention of seagulls, I am taking actions that will ultimately save lives.’
This was perhaps his finest moment. His ‘actions’ completely threw the enemy off guard, making them believe that the entire strength of our space artillery was upon them. Well aware of the situation, the Legion surged onto the enemy line briefly taking control of the battle. In another twenty minutes, a Seraphim satellite passed over the island and subdued the remainder of the enemy forces. Forty-five thousand legionaries out of fifty thousand survived the battle that day, along with another eighty thousand of our allies. There is no doubt in my mind that they would have all been all dead or in prison camps by the end of that day if not for the brilliance of Octavius Celer.
(To be continued...)