| "Death in Vesunna" |
Set in OTL
|Type of Appearance:||Direct POV|
|Affiliations:||Vigiles of Vesunna|
Early one morning, before sunrise, Larcius Afer a vigil who had the watch that night, pounded on Tero's door. When he answered, Afer reported that Clodius Eprius had been killed. Tero asked if he had been murdered to which Afer stolidly repeated killed.
Tero accompanied Afer to Eprius' villa. He pushed through the crowd gathered by the villa and was met at the door by Kleandros, the town's doctor. He was obviously very upset because he addressed Tero in his native Greek rather than speaking in Latin. All he would tell Tero was that he best see the body himself.
Kleandros led Tero down to the dining room. Three couches had been grouped together in one corner and one was overturned. The wall behind it bore a sinister stain. Kleandros indicated Eprius' body was behind the overturned couch. He walked around the couch and viewed the body. Despite seeing the results of violent death, both as a soldier and as a vigil, this one shook him to his core. He was in the presence of the unknown.
Eprius' body lay on its right side; a stick in its right hand. There was a neat hole over the left eye, about the width of Tero's little finger. The worst was the rear left quadrant of his head which had been torn open from the inside and left as a sickening soup of brain, pulverized bone, scalp and hair. The same caused the stain on the wall with the blood cementing the fragments to the plaster.
While Tero stood there, Afer entered the room and reported that several neighbours had heard Eprius cry out and then the roar of a thunderbolt. No one reported seeing anyone leave the villa. Titus, Eprius' valet, discovered the body and reported it to Afer. Afer also expressed the opinion that Jupiter's thunderbolt slew Eprius.
At that, Kleandros threw back his head and laughed causing Tero to fear he had taken leave of his senses. Kleandros asked how many men they knew had been killed by the gods. He had been a doctor for over 20 years and hadn't seen one. Afer replied that there is always the first one, to which Kleandros agreed. However, Eprius was not an evil man so why would the gods be interested in killing him.
Afer then demanded to know what had killed Eprius. Kleandros said he had no idea but intended to try to find out rather than moaning about Zeus (Jupiter). This heartened Tero who went and quizzed the neighbors himself. However, he didn't learn anything more than what Afer had reported. Titus was even less informative, being grief-stricken and hung over.
Tero returned to the dining room and told Kleandros what little more he had learned. His eyes kept straying to the blood on the wall until he noticed the plaster in the middle of the stain had a ragged hole. He dug into the hole with his knife and found a small button or flower of lead. He and Kleandros examined it, but didn't know what to make of it - until a chance remark by Kleandros made Tero think that if the object was made to go fast enough, then it could have made a hole in Eprius' head the way it did in the wall.
Two problems remained: how to make the object go fast enough and why aim it at Eprius. Kleandros suggested robbery to which Tero agreed. When Titus was sober, he should be able to look around and tell if anything was missing. With that, Tero turned to go home. As he was leaving, he noticed a small leather bag under one of the couches. He picked it up and found it was full of aurei. So much for robbery.
He and Kleandros examined the aurei and the latter noticed that they were fresh minted even though some bore the likeness of Emperor Trajan who had been dead for 30 years. Also, the Trajan coins were identical and did not show the normal variation in shape and thickness of coins stamped by hand. One more little impossibility among the big ones.
Tero returned to his home and then spent the day on routine work. Late in the afternoon, Titus meet with him and informed him that the gold was definitely not Eprius' and that after a quick search of the villa, nothing appeared to be missing. Tero had also consulted with Rusticius, the jeweller, who determined that the aurei were pure gold and not short weight.
That evening Kleandros came over for supper so the two could discuss the case further. Tero informed him of what he learned and a look of satisfaction spread over Kleandros' face. Tero accused him of knowing something that he was not telling. Kleandros' replied that he had some ideas, at any rate.
He told Tero of Heron son of Ktesibios who was a famous artificer from the previous generation and of some of his machines. One in particular was a caldron with a hollow ball on its lid. The ball had a tube from the caldron on one side and a pivot on the other. It also had bent nozzles around its circumference. When the caldron was heated, steam would fill the ball and escape through the nozzles causing the ball to spin. If some way could be found to block the steam for a while and then release it at once, then it could give a small pellet of metal a very strong push, strong enough to kill.
Tero was interested and the idea had appeal but there were problems. The caldron would be large and obvious. Also, Eprius would have to sit in his dinning room while someone lit a fire under the caldron, let the steam build up and then aimed the pellet at him. No, whatever had killed Eprius would have to be compact so it could be carried without being seen and be usable immediately.
Tero suggested they concentrate on who rather than how. Kleandros agreed and said that the individual had to have come from outside the Empire since they had a weapon unknown within it. Tero dismissed the Germans and the Parthians since they did not posses such a weapon either. In fact, any nation that possessed such a weapon would have made themselves masters of the world long ago. All he could come up with was Men from Atlantis. Kleandros indicated that while he held Platon in the highest regard, and while the Timaios had been one of his favorite dialogues, nevertheless Atlantis was an invention to portray an idealized way of life.
This left them where they had begun, nowhere. Tero decided to leave off at the moment and to continue studying the Iliad in the original Greek, with Kleandros. Kleandros agreed and they started where they left off, Book 16, where Homer described how Patroklos armed himself all in bronze. Tero broke off derisively, stating that a cohort of his old legion could have gone through the heroes on both sides in an hour and a half.
Kleandros had heard this complaint before and replied that just because they were better at killing people now rather than then was no cause for celebration. Tero said that he still would have liked to have seen Hektor's face if he woke up one morning to face a modern legion with earthworks, siege towers, catapults and rams. Kleandros said he would have been like Afer, thinking all the gods were angry with him. Tero thought it strange, since they would be just men with new skills and not gods at all. They settled down to continue reading the Iliad.
Tero had been thinking about his evening's talk with Kleandros. He tied together the idea that whoever killed Eprius had a godlike weapon unknown to any nation on Earth with the idea that to the ancient Trojans a modern legion would seem godlike too. Perhaps the unknown killer was from still further in the future. However, what would he want from the present, he would already have everything they had and much more besides. When Titus informed him of the missing scroll, it gave him the last piece in the puzzle. The Aleadai was rare now. It may have been lost completely in the future.
It also gave him a plan to try to catch the killer. He discussed it with Kleandros and they agreed to let it be known that he had a copy of Hieronymos of Kardin's history for sale. This work was almost as rare as the Aleadai and might interest the killer.
Sure enough, Kleandros was contacted by someone named Lucius who expressed an interest in buying the history. Kleandros arranged a private meeting at his home and Tero arranged for his vigiles to be fully armed and armored and hidden in the premises.
Lucius and his partner Marcus arrived at the arranged time and Kleandros met with them in his courtyard. They reached a price and Kleandros went and got the scroll while Lucius counted out the aurei. Kleandros returned, gave the scroll to Lucius and picked up the gold. Lucius read the work and realized it was not that of Hieronymos but of Diodoros of Sicily. As the two confronted Kleandros, Tero and the vigiles rushed them. Lucius turned and fled but was tackled and brought down to the ground. Marcus reached into his tunic and pulled out his thunderbolt weapon, firing it once before Kleandros dragged his weapon hand down. Marcus struck Kleandros with his left fist, stunning him but the vigiles were on him before he could do anything else.