Marcus Scribonius Furius stood upon the rostra, gazing upon the crowd as they gathered before him in the Forum. His bald pate burned in the midday sun, brow tickling as sweat gathered on his face and soaked into his toga. Not that the heat is uniquely responsible for my perspiring so heavily, he thought as his nervous gaze flicked back and forth between the nefarious individuals which lurked on the periphery of the crowd.
He recognised them as street enforcers of the Hostilii clan. He bit his lip. How could he not recognise them? Their notoriety proceeded them by miles since they’d so brutally and so brazenly butchered Laelius, And the deeds since attributed to their leader, Hostilius; would they not shame even Orcus and his issue?
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Concentrate, he thought. Now is not the time for recollection and fear. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to take control…
It was the month of July, the month when the plebeian aediles were elected. Whoever placed their candidate for aedile into office could indirectly control prostitution, public building, public festivals and even the enforcement of public order. He opened his eyes and glared in turn at each of Hostilius’ thugs. If elected, such a candidate would be a goldmine for the likes of Hostilius. Furius gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. He would not let that happen. Today he drew a line in the sand; a line he swore Hostilius would not breach...
Behind him on the rostra stood Titus Aufidius Orestes, the rival to the Hostilius candidate. Shoulders back, chest out, chin raised and stomach sucked in, Orestes looked very much the candidate…
…And now it was time for Furius to ensure he was elected.
“Citizens!” he shouted, projecting to the gathered and attentive crowd. “I call upon you to contemplate. I call upon you to contemplate the avenues and alleys of Rome. Your avenues. Your alleys.”
He paused, allowing the whoops and cheers of approval from the crowd to swell and blossom, washing over him and Orestes.
“Now consider those streets. Consider those alleys. Consider how you would feel if you were shown how, whilst you sleep, those streets and alleys come alive. Alive and yet haunted by the spectre of death!” Another pause as he let this last statement germinate in his audience. “These alleys and streets become a battleground in which brother fights brother, and sisters slaughter their sons, their fathers, their daughters. A battleground which echoes with their battle cries, their pleas for mercy … and their dying screams.”
The chatter of the crowd subsided, the masses subdued by Furius’ dark oratory. Furius smiled; this was exactly the reaction he had hoped for. Now he had them. Now they were in this palm of his hand…
…Now it was time to tighten his grip.
“And now consider, friends, how that feels. How that feels to live in a Rome where only the deadly, the murderous and the immoral can survive.”
Boos and jeers rose from the crowd, boiling and broiling as fists were raised and thumbs were pointed toward the ground…
…Exactly as he had hoped.
“Take a look around you, and you will see the violence. Take a closer look yet and you will see the victims. Listen to the honest man who would stand against these criminals. Listen to his oratory in the market square. Listen to him…” He paused for effect and to swallow, parched and thirsty in this fierce sun. “…And then read how he died.”
More shouts, more boos. Louder now, more vociferous.
“I ask you, citizens,” he bellowed, sensing his moment. “Is this any way for a citizen of Rome to live?”
More shouts, more boos, more calls of ‘No!’ and ‘Never!’. Screams of ‘Take it back!’ and ‘Fight them!’
“Is this any way to live? In the avenues and alleyways where a man must choose a side, and bleed… Nay! Die! …For that side? Where every man, woman or child is doomed? Is this the way for a citizen of Rome to live?”
Furius paused for breath, and smiled, allowing himself a moment of self-satisfaction as the crowd roared and stamped in defiance. He had them. He could hear it in their voices. He had them in the palm of his hand. Meliglossos himself would be proud…
“But how do we wrest Rome back from those who would drown it in the blood and viscera of those we love? Is there no man who can deliver us from these ghouls, from these servants of Orcus, from these devotes of depravity and murder?” He clasped the middle finger of his right hand to his thumb and indicated toward Orestes. “I say yes! I say the noble Titus Aufidius Orestes is the man to prevail against them!”
Wild cheers and exultations washed over him and Orestes as the masses jumped and pumped fists into the air, chanting Orestes’ name. Furius allowed himself a smile even as he narrowed his eyes and searched this excited crowd for the Hostilii thugs. Ah yes, he thought as he saw them fighting their way toward the rostra, shoving people out of their way, no doubt in a bid to silence him and … dissaude Orestes. There they are…
…Right where I want them.
Furius projected his bass profundo tones above the tumult.
“There, citizens of Rome!” he bellowed, pointing in turn to the thugs. “Behold the brutes that would control our very existence from the shadows. These are the fine men that beat the honest baker to a pulp, that broke the legs of the fishmonger, that shattered the hands of the fuller. Here they are now, in our very midst. What say you, citizens of Rome?”
The response as was deafening as it was spontaneous, as passionate as it unified. “Get them!” roared the crowd. “ Get The bastards!”
His work done, Furius turned away, grasping Orestes’ shoulder and giving it a congratulatory squeeze. Orestes smile froze on his lips, eyes widening as he looked out and into the crowd. But Furius did not to look. He did not need to; he knew what shocked Orestes so. He could hear it. He could hear the roar of the crowd. He could hear the cries of the so-called ‘hard men’ of the Hostilii as they were besieged, fighting and shouting as they fought in desperation to fend off the incited masses.
But it will avail them nought, thought Furius as he turned Orestes away to spare him the bloody horror of the Hostilii’s fate.
“Shouldn’t we do something?” asked Orestes in a tremulous voice. “Those poor men—”
“Those ‘poor men’ have earnt they fate, and that fate will be a clear message to Hostilius and his kind,” Furius shouted in Orestes ear, voice raised so as to be heard over the baying crowd and the screaming of the Hostilii thugs.
“Message?” Orestes turned away from the crowd and looked at Furius, brow creased in confusion. “What message?”
“Isn’t it obvious, my friend?” answered Furius, shouting in Orestes’ ear. “Rome is the mob…
“…And the mob belong to us.”