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Brand of Victors
Act 9: Antonius Sixt, Conductor of Plebes
© 2024 James LaFond
Descent, Caesarsday, Second Day of Sepulcher
The train belched to a hissing stop, calling Antonius from his dreamy reverie of some other, better life, where he might have been born into the guild of Footmen or Coachmen. A footman’s son, when he was young, could hope to be a conductor of Merchants or Patricians, a coachman’s son possibly an engineer lording it over the coal-shoveling or wood-chucking company slaves. But no, it fell to him to conduct the horde of beaten, to bitter, to resentful “freedmen” who had been manumitted off farm and estate to slave harder than any ploughman, for such a pittance that they ate not nearly so well as the lowliest picker, reaper or thresher slaving upon some Patrician estate.
Antonius, had, in part, been awarded this position as Conductor of Plebes upon Eagle I, the Manhattan Main Train, due to his father’s death in the Plebe-Mob War eight years gone. As such, his honor was dubious and his obligations numerous, for he owned support to his mother, wee gimp sister and his own increasingly disgruntled wife. The great dame of their hovel of a rat trap flat, Dear Mum, was tolerant of his bare fare wages what only afforded meat on pay day. Wife though, Betsy by name, who had been plucked from this very train due to her striking good looks, had thought conductors to be rolling in coin and had not imagined them just getting by.
“Ye need a racket, ye stooge,” she had rude spoken to him just yesterday…
Antonius, so hopefully named by a good guildman, was a religious man who went to mass on God’s Day and had not the mind for a racket, least wise, since it was the mobsters who ran such rackets who had slain his dear Pa.
Above all, he was dutiful, the prime requisite of the Conductor. So, as the heels of his boots hit the station platform announcing to his left hand that it could let go the coach railing, he scanned the platform of Bell Station for the character of the crowd there. This was done by rote now, after six years of spotting trouble that might be let within his coach if not sorted first.
Eagle I, that traversed Manhattan from east to west and back again, ran usually one Patrician Coach, between the baggage car and the engine, fore of the crew car, who were sworn to protect the Patricians in their ornate dining car from any intrusion from the Plebes in the six coach cars. Each Conductor of Plebes must rule over a horde of sixty workmen, slaves, sluts, crooks and knaves as the line served the various factories, works and foundries along the way. Only on Carnival Day, when the munera were held upon the Censorial Sands, the various theaters plied their trade, and the races at the circus were packed in tens of thousands, were double engines and extra cars of both sort added. On Ascent day, additional Patrician cars, usually two, were added.
Antonius raised his voice and bawled, “Detrain, right,” as the mob that should have been fixing to board left awaited, there stood instead, but a handful. To his chagrin a great booming voice, one either belonging to a sergeant of the legions or a gladiator, drowned out his own, “Make way for Minicus Thrax, fresh sword of Scots!”
And there, beyond the cresset, where the crowd waiting to board, had gathered back towards the blasted Well of Sprites—before the cheering whores no doubt complicit in his Pa’s death—parted the mass of his waiting passengers, making way for some tiny ragamuffin brat hung with sword and medals. Behind this swaggering brat shambled Antonius’ own favorite gladiator, for he was the first of that Highland House who had avenged the death of the conductors at the Slaughter at Bell Station eight years gone, when the Highlanders had come thumping down mobsters to Hell with their blackthorn rods.
Max Born, near naked but for armor, kilt, codpiece and boots, shambled as if he had been hit by this very train, behind what seemed to be a brat of a mobster apprentice.
Antonius stood agape as the weary stevedores and sailors, waterfront whores and reeking fishery scalers piled off the coach behind him.
The crowd of factory workers headed up town, rather than rush to his coach, gathered about the gladiator who approached the cresset with Bruno the Lictor.
As his coach emptied and those weary folk began to awaken to the weird occasion, the scene became more strange with the flurry of tiny Jap children, girls and boys, in white suits, what scurried and flitted about sketching the scene.
‘How would I seat these little Japs, stacked one upon the other in the same berth?’ mused Antonius.
‘Bugger that,’ worried he, ‘the other coaches are half-loaded with the Plebes further down the platform. I can’t hold the train up, lest I go in for review!’
“Conductor!” roared a voice he had heard once before, when that storied brute had asked, “Editor, shall I spare this worthy slave of Mahound?”
The answer had been a thumbs down, indicating the death stroke, prompting Antonius to seek confessional the next day, over his being caught up in the crowd’s adore for such theatrical doom. Father Rent had counseled him that even Saint Augustine had once enjoyed the spectacle of the blood-drinking sands, and that an enemy of Christ had been dispatched to Hell where he belonged, there to share his hideous master’s dim plight.
Antonius pointed dumbly to himself as the entire crowd looked his way and his fellow conductors sternly judged him from under their beaked caps, “Me?”
His own personal hero of the arena answered, “Honored Conductor, please certify this brand, after holding the train.”
Antonius Sixt, Third Conductor of Plebes on Eagle I, certified his demotion to Sixth, as he called with his whistle for a halt and stalked numbly towards the cresset, to the shadow of that grim giant, leaning upon his hawthorn rod, as Bruno the Lictor used the branding tongs to heat a medal in the cresset coals.
He noted with an official kind of horror, that two Jap boys sketched his appearance on small white sketch books with strange pencils. Another, a one little girl, wore a headband pierced with many pencils as she sketched his engineer boots—the pride of every conductor, to wear the boots designed for the engineer’s industrial work.
The gladiator nodded to him gravely, “Thank you, Conductor. Whatever your fine, the Barrister of House Thrax shall make it right thrice—MY, Word.”
His tight shoulders suddenly relaxed and he felt at ease, while the gladiator tore away the short sleeve on the brat’s tunic—for Antonius recalled this brat once thieving a ring from a merchant on the platform, in broad daylight!
“Brother,” said the gladiator down to the tiny tyke, “I have branded men before, but none with an arm less broad as the medal. Yours will be special, as it will read longwise down ye arm.”
The boy nodded, gritting his teeth.
“Ye swear to Christ must be done before the Chaplain in Chapel, before the gathered swords of Our House. There you will be back branded.”
The boy nodded, seeming a boy now, a bit of fear riding in his eyes.
“We can see swords in his eyes, Max,” spoke, Antonius, nearly to his own surprise, being such an avid reader of the Gladiatorial Gazettes that he knew every one of those that staffed the Manhattan Houses by name and record.
The boy looked up at him with tears clouding his piercing blue eyes as Max Born, rumbled, “Indeed, Our Conductor is a man who knows. Minicus, would you also take the heart brand?”
The gladiator pointed with his right thumb to his left breast where a second brand like the one on his right arm was burned, “For when we go to war our arms are sometimes blown away by canon, and we would not want Saint Peter to not know our brand, and perhaps bar our way?”
“Yes!” snarled the boy, of a sudden now frightening to behold, as the crowd cheered.
“Yesss!” boomed Max, as he reached out his hand for the brand, still plunged into the red coals of the cresset by the Lictor’s tong. Branding on train platforms were to be attended by Lictor and Conductor.
The Lictor hissed, “Another ten seconds, Max.”
With a theatrical flare, that combined the stage actors who trained these bloody-handed slaves of God to deliver their signature phrases in style, with the booming bawl of the sergeant, the gladiator counted down with his open left hand held high for the brand, as his right hand held the boy in a fatherly way across the upper back, the hand span nearly equal to the breadth of that little back.
Antonius was holding up and bracing the boy’s arm for a good brand, its quality reflecting on Lictor, Conductor, Master and Slave.
By the time Max had counted down to four the entire crowd were adding their chant to his roar:
The brand was taken in the manicad hand by a steaming tail from the Lictor’s tong, and pressed long ways down that tiny arm as the brat growled savagely, “Yess!”
When that sure brand was withdrawn it was right away pressed to the breast above that little criminal heart, the great hand at the back of the small body pressing the boy like a pancake into the griddle as the brand in his little breast sizzled.
“Aweee!” screamed the boy.
But though he swayed, before he staggered forward and spread his arms for all to see he was branded with one of the most honored brands in Rome, the vicious little brat did not fall or vomit. Antonius recalled well that he was one of the few of his class who did not swoon or puke when they were branded under the arm. [1]
The crowd cheered the fresh little slave of swords on as he was conducted with what pomp Antonius Sixt could manage, first up the cast iron coach stair.
-1. Freemen who are branded as sign of lifelong loyalty to service, such as Lictors and Conductors, are branded under the arm, against the side ribs. Only those gladiatorial and military men intended for Colonial, Heathen or Saracen Service, are branded on the arm, as an indication that they are Rome’s long reaching arms.
-2. Colonial Service involves conquest and subjugation of nations not willfully but “naturally” non Christian, who have not yet received God’s Word, such as Australians and Polynesians. Heathen [northern European] and Saracen folk are enemies of God and Christ. There is much debate whether the Hindus of India or the Chinese, both of whom have fought Saracen oppression, are heathen or colonial nations, with most authorities suggesting a period of 20 to 60 years upon the placing of the first church there for “naturally” non Christian Colonial folk who do not convert to earn the infamous appellation of Heathen.
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