31 March 2004

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus

[This is a writing assignment from MRhé, in which I had to use a number of words in sequential order in the text ("sap" for example). It is also completely historically accurate. — Ed.]

"Bring me the cup," said Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, 7th and final King of Rome.

"Yes my lord," replied his servant, Marcus Pinguis. "On what would you sup this evening?"

"I believe I shall have porcus, thank you."

Meanwhile, on the balcony surrounding Tarquin's palace, a man stepped from the shadows, pulled out a sap and proceeded to incapacitate the guard standing near the doorway. The intruder caught the falling guard with nary a sound but the slap of his scabbard on the flagstones. He pulled the unconscious body out of sight and left him behind a marble column.

Inside, Tarquin summoned another servant with a clap. "Where is this chap who wished to see me?" he asked.

"I shall bring him in presently, my lord."

Tarquin sipped his wine and played absently with a chip of stone which had fallen from the ceiling while he waited for his guest. The news of the kingdom was not good: the family of a woman by the name of Lucretia had arrived by ship and had managed to slip past the loyal soldiers guarding the Tiber. They brought a claim against Tarquin's son, Sextus, who they claimed raped Lucretia and forced her to commit suicide. News of the outrage had caused increasing support for the family.

Tarquin's musings were interrupted by the arrival of his evening repast and an old man escorted by a palace guard. "Leave us," said Tarquin.

"I bring ill news Lord King," said the stranger. " My master, Lars Porsena, is being held hostage by rebels and cannot bring his forces to Rome to support you. Also, rumor is ciruclating that supporters of Lucretia are assembling at the Capitoline hill.

Tarquin was shocked. The scopes of the two tidbits were too much to take in at once. All was not lost yet: there were scores of influential nobles still loyal ot the king, but how soon could they be assembled?

Outside, the man on the balcony stripped the guard, took his weapon and donned his uniform. He moved into position near the doorway where he recalled the instructions of his superior: "When Tarquin sleeps he snores loudly, so wait for the sound and the execute the plan." He checked the pouch of poisonous powder at his waist. Best not disturb it much lest it release its deadly spores.

"Send men to the spires of the Temple of Jupiter to observe what is happening on the Capitoline. And entreat Porsena to enter Rome as soon as possible—the situation is grave. The visitor quickly exited the room and Tarquin was left to ponder how he had so rapidly lost control of so many of the shires under his dominion. "As the sun shines, I vow not to relinquish this crown."

The impostor grew restless on the balcony and observed how the light from the torches in the brackets shined off his breastplate. He doused the flames so that he was completely cloaked in darkness. He listened for sounds from within but could only hear the wind as it whined through the palms.

As the guard whiled the time away, Tarquin moved over to a couch on the far side of the room. He bade his servants leave him be and stretched out to get some rest. As he drifted off to sleep the sound of his snoring wailed through the corridor.

"Now is my chance," thought the waiting man. He snuck in through the doorway from the balcony and crept over to the chalice next to the sleeping Tarquin. He opened his pouch and sifted its contents into the cup. His job done, he crept out of the room and left the palace grounds.

Days later, in the camp of the supporters of Lucretia, word came that Tarquin was leading his army against them. General Vitiosus summoned the assassin and demanded to know why he had failed. There was no response. "I shall have you flailed by my most skilled flailers," decreed the general.

And thus was the end of yet another unsuccessful attempt on the life of Tarquin the Proud.

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