Marcellus, a Spanish Centurion in the Roman Army, is unsafely ensconced in tumultuous and murderous Rome, a city that can claim its victims in an instant and give its chosen ones glory at a moment's notice. After confronting his nemesis and former commander, Anicius Pedius Gallus, in the boisterous Roman forum, Marcellus escapes yet another close call with a "Roman ally," and races home to the object of his desire--Eleyne, a feisty, British-Celtic princess. And one that is none too happy about being a royal hostage. But love counters betrayal in this harsh city, and the two are married against a backdrop of mysterious treacheries and secrecies. Even as the two start a family and Marcellus advances through the ranks, the evil Gallus seems to lurk in the shadows around every corner.
As a resident of Rome, Marcellus is no stranger to chaos, but when he's thrust into the role of commander of the Watch's Seventh Cohort and must lead a ragtag group of men to quell a bloody riot numbering in the hundreds of thousands, can he do the job? And when a new emperor takes hold of the reins, siding with scoundrels and slaughterers, can Marcellus save everyone he holds dear or will he be left alone with blood on his hands?
From the birth of Christianity to the backstabbings in the Senate, to lives of the slaves and commoners, to the behind-the-scenes of the worlds of the Roman emperors, The Peacekeeper will bring the duplicitous, colorful, and raw streets of Rome to brilliant life, and will leave you breathless until the final page.
About the Author
Jess is a retired a police detective sergeant, Long Beach Police Dept, Long Beach, CA. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Southern California in Public Administration with a minor (my first academic love) in Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations. He also served four years United States Marine Corps (1962/66). As a retired person, Jess believes in keeping very busy. You must stay active mentally, physically and socially. These are a few of the keys to a long and healthy retirement. Writing novels has contributed greatly to my quality of life. He lives with his wife, Liz, on a four-acre mini-farm in Eastern Washington. His hobby is outdoor model railroading. He has an outdoor model railroad that was featured in the June/July 2010 issue of the regional magazine PRIME NORTHWEST (www.primenw.com). Check their website for the article. He was also featured in the Today segment of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, August 18, 2012, The Longest Chapter, in which he discussed his quest to become a published author. Check the following link for the article. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2012/aug/18/the-longest-chapter/
Jess is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) and is active in the Red Ink Fictioneers writers support group in the Spokane, WA area.
Read an Excerpt
Rome, August 45 AD
Dressed in plain tunics, barely hiding our swords, we hiked along Tuscan Street, on a humid afternoon, between the Temple of Castor and the Basilica of Julius Caesar toward the Forum. A noisy stream of people jostled their way up and down its marble steps, in and out of the cavernous building's many entryways.
Crispus glanced in the direction of the usual idlers lounging about the vast double porticoes. He spat. "Can't believe some of those useless turds will soon be officers in the army."
For the space of a half-dozen heartbeats, I studied the young men in fashionable togas or tunics, now sweat-stained under armpits and down backs, looking for ladies of easy virtue. The daughters of Venus, licensed prostitutes who freely roamed the area, were easily spotted wearing blond wigs and saffron gowns.
"We've had this conversation before," I said. "When you're the son of a rich senator, you can get anything you want."
Even as we continued to walk, Crispus turned his head towards me. "What they want and what they should get is good thrashing by a centurion's vine cane on their backs and arses."
My hand reached for my waistband before I remembered I wasn't carrying a vine cane. I only wore it when in full uniform. "I'd be glad to oblige you if we were back in Britannia."
Crispus grunted. "Well, we ain't."
"That's right, let it go. Most of them won't join the army anyway.
"Thank the gods."
We continued to move through the sea of people. The pavement about the foot of the court was marked up in charcoal for gaming boards, busily played by people from all classes. Sounds of clattering dice filled the air, followed by exclamations of delight by the winners or groans and profanity by the losers. A pinch-faced member of the Equestrian Order shook his fist at the youthful winner in a ragged tunic as we passed. "You stole the last of my money, you cheat!" he yelled. "Your dice are loaded!" Onlookers either jeered or laughed.
Crispus and I grinned and kept moving.
Portable goatskin stalls lined the crowded lane. Shopkeepers hawked their wares to passersby. The smells of cooked sausages, meat turnovers, and honeyed cakes wafted on the light breeze. My stomach growled. After investigating a report on valuable stolen statues being auctioned at the Porticus of Pompey, we were heading to the home of Senator Titus Flavius Sabinus to report our findings. We came up empty-handed.
We had nearly cleared the huge, three-hundred-foot-long basilica, Rome's major law court, when I spotted Gallus coming down the marble steps. Dressed in a white toga trimmed in gold, he was escorted by an entourage of clients. Six bodyguards surrounded him — muscular, scarred-face, broken-nosed thugs — probably ex-gladiators. They wore white, linen tunics and embroidered on the right shoulder of each was the family symbols of Gallus, a golden rooster below the letter G. Beneath their tunics, obviously meant to be seen, were outlines of long daggers.
Crispus motioned his head in Gallus's direction. "Do you see what I see?"
"Aye, how could I miss him?"
A shudder raced through my body. What did I have to fear from him? Everything and perhaps nothing.
The conspiracy against the life of Emperor Claudius that Crispus and I had discovered had been instigated by Senator Gallus, the Elder. His son, the younger Gallus, had recently returned to Rome from the army's campaign in Britannia to pick up the political pieces left by his dead father. Since old Gallus had been pardoned, all the family estates were left intact. Would his father's old cronies rally around the son or shun him like a pestilence? I expected my former cavalry cohort commander, from our days of campaigning in Britannia, to seek me out. He did, sooner than expected. The hatred young Gallus and his father had for my family went back to when we were boys. Although the same age, he was Roman and I, a Spaniard.
Gallus stopped at the foot of the steps. He held up a hand, signaling his retinue to do the same. Spotting me, he glared then slowly wiggled a forefinger motioning me forward.
The fine hair raised on my arms and shoulders, sweat ran down my back. I stared back but refused to move.
Crispus was a half foot shorter than I. His copper face looked up to mine as he whispered, "Marcellus, it wouldn't be smart of you to refuse him. He's our former commander and a patrician and could cause you a lot of trouble. Senator Sabinus would have a hard time excusing your action."
I growled under my breath. "I better see what he wants." Being six years older and wiser than I, Crispus was right. Any sign of disrespect to Gallus would be excuse enough to break me as a centurion. I would never be admitted to the Equestrian Order. "Walk behind me and watch my back. His gorillas," I motioned with my head toward Gallus's bodyguards, "are looking for trouble."
Gallus waved his men to step a few paces away from him.
I turned toward Crispus. "At least he doesn't intend to harm me in public. He's smarter than I thought."
Reluctantly, I stepped forward, halted before my old cohort leader, and looked down upon him. Like me, he was twenty-five, but at six feet, I stood five finger widths taller than he. No longer pale, his slender face was sunburned and hardened by battle. Thin lines creased his forehead. A narrow scar sliced across the side of his jaw, and a tiny section at the bottom of his earlobe was missing. His pale-blue eyes still burned with hatred — no doubt for me.
"Now that I have returned to Rome, Centurion Marcellus Tiberius Reburrus, ..." Gallus's voice was full of bile, "did you think to escape my attention so easily?"
"I don't know what you are talking about, sir." I stepped away, spat, and faced him again.
His face darkened. He raised his voice. "Did you think it would remain a secret?" He turned to his retinue and to passersby coming down the court steps. "Yes, here stands a lowly Spanish tomb robber! He and his friend, another Spaniard." He gestured toward Crispus who showed no emotion. "Broke into my family's mausoleum like common grave robbers!"
A gasp erupted from his people and others nearby who had stopped to listen. They were a cross-section of men and women, draped in a variety of clothing ranging from dirty tunics to immaculate stolas.
Gallus's face turned crimson. "Did you think to ingratiate yourself with the emperor?"
I returned his glare, seeing through him as if he weren't there — the murderer of Kyar, the woman whom I had loved in Britannia. I could play the same game. "The fruits of my search speaks for itself," I answered in a loud voice for all to hear. "Your father conspired to murder the emperor! His assassins nearly murdered Lord Sabinus and killed many in his household."
A louder gasp burst from the crowd of onlookers who inched closer, some so near I smelled garlic on their breath. Others reeked of strong perfume or the sour smells of dead cattle killed in the slaughterhouse south of the Forum.
Gallus looked about and motioned to his bodyguards who snarled like animals and violently shoved the people back.
I was grateful. Roman mobs had a reputation for getting rowdy, ugly, easily incited to riot.
A grim-faced Crispus turned from side to side, hand on the hilt of his concealed sword, as he surveyed the hostile gathering.
"If so, why did he pardon my father?" Gallus finally asked. He glanced to his entourage and to the rabble as if to elicit their sympathy. "He cleared my father because the evidence was planted by his enemies — those documents were forged! He had nothing to do with assassins!" Gallus gestured to the crowd as if it were obvious.
"You're grasping for air, sir," I said. "Where is your proof?"
"I have it, and you are implicated."
Despite being pushed back, cautiously, people stepped forward again seemingly hanging on to our every word.
"You mean you manufactured it." I laughed in a sardonic voice. "Don't you know?" I paused to scan the people making certain I had their attention. "Your father offered me a position on his staff?"
There was a stirring of voices in the crowd who seemed intrigued by this bit of news. They pressed closer, and I heard one man ask, "Is it true?" The bodyguards shoved them back again brutally, using their muscular bodies like battering rams.
I looked around for an escape route. Afraid the mob would turn violent, I kept a tight rein on my nerves.
Crispus gave me a nod as if to say he understood.
Gallus pinched his pale eyebrows together and glowered. "You? I don't believe it!"
I shrugged. "He offered me a position and promised me entry to the Equestrian Order providing I would be his little boot licker, which I refused. Now, even though the emperor pardoned your father ...," I paused for effect and raised my voice, "all Rome knows he plotted against him."
Jeers in the affirmative streamed from the mob.
"You may be his only son," I added, fixing my eyes on the crowd, "and had no part in his scheme, but still by custom you bear his disgrace."
Several in the mob shouted, "A disgrace! He's a disgrace!"
Gallus's features tightened. His gaze darted about the huge gathering. His bodyguards pulled back and surrounded his side and back, leaving his front open to me. I was in striking range of him with my sword, but both of us knew I would not be so foolish as to strike him down in public. The thought was tempting, but I was no fool.
"You no longer have credibility, sir," I said. "Who would listen to you?"
"Many have listened," Gallus answered in a quivering voice, as if trying to convince the crowd. "And so will the emperor. I'm not sitting idly by allowing my family to be disgraced."
"It already is. Do you plan to purchase the Senate and Narcissus, the emperor's secretary, in order to change their minds?"
More jeers from the surrounding group.
A sinister smile crossed Gallus's lips. "Don't mock me, Centurion. When the time is right, I shall reveal my evidence." His grin reminded me of a wolf ready to pounce upon its prey.
Why was he telling me his plans, especially in public? Couldn't he keep his anger under control? What was the purpose? Surely, he knew he placed me on alert and I would inform Sabinus.
"You realize Senator Sabinus will do everything in his power to stop you?" I said.
Again, a cruel grin formed on his narrow lips. "Only this time he will fail. Be forewarned, my father's death will be avenged."
What else did he have in mind?
He turned, signaled to his entourage. His bodyguards shoved a wide space through the crowd for Gallus to pass, leaving an opening like the wake of a ship.
He walked a few steps but stopped and faced me. "I will do everything I can to see you never get another chance to enter the Equestrian ranks!"
* * *
We hiked out of the Forum and up Quirinal Hill to Sabinus's plush mansion where I also lived. The senator was also a general in the Roman Army. He had promoted me to the rank of centurion from cavalry sergeant after I had saved the life of my troop commander, Sextus Rufius, in battle. Since that time, Senator Sabinus used Crispus, now a sergeant, and me as his bodyguards and for special investigations working with Rome's police and fire fighters, the Watch. We also developed a unique relationship with the beggar king, Scrofa, who passed along information regarding the city's criminal elements. It had been on a raid to a hive of thieves living beneath the city that we discovered evidence leading to the possible overthrow of Emperor Claudius.
Meeting with him in the atrium, we reported the confrontation with Gallus.
"We knew this was inevitable," the balding, forty-one-year-old senator said. Nearly as tall as me, Sabinus wore a snow-white toga, with a broad, purple stripe down the center denoting his senatorial rank. He arrived a few minutes ahead of us from a meeting in the Senate. Walking next to him, Crispus and I strolled by the small, gurgling fountain at one end of the reception area near the entrance to the garden. Our footfalls echoed off the mosaic-tiled floor.
"Why did he wait six weeks to confront me?" I asked.
Sabinus turned to me, his mahogany eyes peering into mine. "He probably needed time after returning from Britannia to ingratiate himself with his father's old cronies. No doubt he pointed to his own heroism in battle when he and your old unit fought against the British rebels."
A revolt in western Britannia, led by the British king, Caratacus, had erupted the previous spring. Retaliation had been swift; the back of the rebellion was broken in two weeks.
"The credit should go to your brother, General Vespasian, who led the Second Legion in crushing the revolt," I said. "My old cavalry unit, First Hispanorum Vettonum, was only a part of the counter-offensive."
"True, but your old unit fought heroically," Sabinus answered. "Gallus cannot be faulted for his bravery. He has the scar on his face to prove it."
I snorted. "So I noticed he was trying to atone for his father's betrayal."
"But my sources tell me, old Gallus's friends have kept their distance — at least for now."
"They want to keep their own political hides out of jeopardy," Crispus said.
"No doubt, Sergeant," Sabinus said. "But since he has threatened Centurion Reburrus, I will send out spies to keep a close watch on him."
"And if he tries anything like his father did against you?" I asked.
Sabinus halted as did Crispus and I.
A thin smile creased his smooth face. He eyed the two of us. "We shall be ready."CHAPTER 2
October 45 AD
More than a year had passed since the death of Gallus the Elder. Despite the confrontation with his son, two months ago, I had neither seen nor heard anything further about him. During that period, Emperor Claudius grew more distant and absentminded by the day. He spent greater time and money on gladiatorial games. However, Pallas and Narcissus, his Greek freedmen and secretaries, kept his peculiarities in check.
Information supplied by Scrofa and his beggars proved steady and usually reliable. As a result, the Watch seldom bothered the beggars and apprehended several notorious felons. Scrofa's money pouch swelled, but he stayed with the beggars — they were his people.
On a rainy October afternoon, after meeting with Scrofa to plan another raid on Rome's criminal element, Crispus and I took lunch at one of Rome's cleaner cook shops. The place stood in the Trans-Tiber area along the Portensis Way, on the west bank, near the Great Naval Arena, the Augustan Naumachia. Despite the rainy weather, the street teemed with people. On days like this, we wore our cloaks, and beneath our tunics, knee-length cavalry breeches, boots, and heavy woolen socks. Hot sausages, vegetables, and spicy Calda warmed us. The coals from two braziers glowed a sunset red, and its heat was a blessing. We sat at a table on the edge of the crowded sidewalk, protected from the elements by an overhanging canopy. As we intermittently chatted with the baldheaded proprietor, the rain receded to an annoying, chilled mist.
We discussed the validity of Scrofa's information while lingering over cups of mulled wine.
Startled, I turned and saw a tall, red-headed Gaul snatch a covered basket from a young woman wearing a long tunic. She held on, refusing to let go. He wrenched the basket away, slammed her against a shop wall next to the adjacent sidewalk. Her head struck with a loud crack. She slumped to the sidewalk. Dead.
Crispus and I were on our feet instantly. The thug dropped the basket and fled. We chased him as he dodged and shoved several cursing people out his way down the congested lane. A couple of times he stumbled on the wet, cobblestone street. We struggled to maintain our own balance as we splashed through ankle-deep puddles, seeping through our boots and socks. My sword, hidden beneath my tunic, scraped against my thigh with every step I took along the trash-strewn way.
The bandit ducked into an alley to the right, one that I knew to be a dead-end. I motioned to Crispus to slow down. He nodded. Cautiously, we entered the alley enshrouded in shades of gray from the high tenement walls on both sides. The place reeked of decayed food, rotten fish and vegetables, feces, and urine. A filthy, narrow stream ran down the center, rain runoff from the apartment roofs.
In the gloom I saw the thief at the end of the passageway, his back towards us, his head looking up the side of the wall as if searching for a way out. Silently, Crispus and I moved towards him. He turned and faced us, pulled a hidden dagger from his waistband, and brandished it.
Excerpted from "The Peacekeeper"
Copyright © 2018 Jess Steven Hughes.
Excerpted by permission of Sunbury Press Inc..
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