Adrianople

The Visigoths poured into the city like blood torn from an artery, a merciless tide overwhelming those who stared. Most Romans had the presence of mind to run but there were those, Maximinius Crassus among them, who simply could not. The glory that was Rome was ever the refuge of the rhetoricians, a vaunted heritage lost between the centuries that saw Scipio Africanus go to war with Carthage and the disaster that was Adrianople. The Visigoths were no Hannibal, Crassus could see that. They were mounted on horses, not elephants. They came to plunder, not conquer. They hardly seemed worthy to trod the roads of the eternal city, and yet those roads had led them here, as they led all men in all times. In they spilled, black blood for this black day, terrorizing the children lost crying in the markets, chasing women down the zig-zagged alleyways of the Subura.

Crassus saw in his mind’s eye the destruction of his manor, the fountain befouled, his family’s death masks smashed and five hundred years of heirlooms looted and lost forever. Even now he knew the fates of his wife and daughter, who hardly left the manor in life and would leave it now only for death. His wife would take his grandfather’s gladius, hung on the wall, run through Livia and then throw herself atop it. Thus would Crassus’ legacy end.

And he, staring unmoving at the Goth that aimed to ride him down, would find his own death in this common arcade beneath the hooves of a stinking horse, at the blunt edge of the barbarian’s hammer. Rome, thought Crassus, deserved better than this ignominious end, taken like a shepherdess by wild men from the north. But Rome, thought Crassus as the horse thundered on the stones, was truly no better. She had wandered from her father’s fields to pick the lush fruits that were there, and straying from the eyes of his gods she would be stripped of their protection, forced to concede her glory, taken by one of the many godless tribes that civilization could not civilize.

It felt inevitable, like the crack of his hand between hoof and cobblestone. What could be broken would break, what could be had was plundered, what the gods allowed to thrive would now wither, crumble and fade. The hammer fell, and Crassus cursed it just the same.

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