Kumori - Journal Entry 12
Sulpicius had been an acolyte of Mars for as long as he could remember. He had no memory of his parents; he had been left as a foundling on the steps of the temple to the Red God by parents who were likely slaves. He himself considered himself a slave to the the God of War, but it was a relatively comfortable and prestigious slavery, so in the few moments he spent in any kind of self-reflection he was grateful for his lot.
On this morning the sun had risen bright and hot, and he stood his ceremonial watch just inside the shade cast by the temple’s portico, atop the marble steps. Trajan would likely have called him a slacker, but Trajan was a zealot even to his fellow priests, and Sulpicius presumed that Mars would want his priests to be practical. In the heavy bronze helmet and lorica squamata, standing in the sun would be an exercise in fruitless self-punishment. He let his eyes pass over the broad street and the crowds moving along on their daily business. In the distance he could hear criers advertising the next gladiatorial games, and his eyes tracked a group of young slave girls carrying water from the public fountain. The foreigner almost caught him by surprise.
He stood half a head shorter than Sulpicius, who was not tall, and he was not built as broadly or as heavily as the priest of Mars. His complexion was a strange sort of honeyed brown, his eyes were dark as anthracite, and his hair a glossy jet black, pulled back into a strangely-folded queue. His armor, too, was alien, like a legionary’s lorica segmentata, but not, with overly-large shoulder guards and worn over patterned silks. Sulpicius started to smirk at the small man’s dandied appearance, but stopped when he saw the foreigner’s eyes. As a priest of the god of war, Sulpicius could recognize a killer.
The foreigner bowed as he approached. “Temple to war god, yes?” He motioned with his off-hand to the open doorway, and spoke in strangely-accented Common. Sulpicius nodded, and stepped aside. The foreigner bowed again, and stepped inside. Sulpicius followed.
Within, the temple was shrouded in gloom. Small, high windows let sunlight into the room in thin shafts visible in the pall of smoke created by the ever-burning flame at the base of Mars’ statue. The walls were decorated with tattered banners and broken standards, and weapons of all kinds were arrayed against the walls. The foreigner stopped and took it all in. Sulpicius felt a swelling of pride and answered the foreigner’s unspoken query. “Gifts, all brought by victorious soldiers of the Empire to repay Mars for his favor.” The foreigner nodded, his expression unreadable. He stepped across the flagstones of the floor, looking up at the statue of Mars behind the altar. It stood twelve feet high, sculpted of polished bronze and clutching a broad-bladed spear. The foreigner strode to the fire, and removed a folded strip of bright red paper from his armor. He turned to Sulpicius.
The priest nodded. “If it’s what you have, though armor or a weapon, or for that matter a fat ram, would be better.”
The foreigner half-smiled. “I have not won, yet. For now, prayer.” he flung the paper into the fire, and Sulpicius saw it had been written on in alien letters. Then the foreigner actually did take Sulpicius by surprise by clapping twice, sharply, the sound echoing from the stone walls. He chanted a sonorous invocation in a loud voice, and the word “Hachimantaro” was repeated several times. When he had finished, he clapped again, twice, and bowed deeply to the statue from the waist. He turned to leave.
“If my prayers are answered,” he said without turning to Sulpicius, “I will bring a very fat ram.”