Dare Quest - Queen CleopatraBrian Smith / Actions & Adventure
By Brian Smith
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Acheron – name of a river the dead must cross to reach the underworld
bireme – a ship with two rows of oars
Charon – name of the ferryman who ships the dead across the River Acheron
legionary – a soldier in the Roman army
medicus – the Latin word for a doctor
portarius – the Latin word for a doorman
pukka – great, excellent, genuine
senate – place where senators meet to make laws
senator – a member of the senate
sepulchral – very gloomy
slave – a person who is not free and is owned by someone like a thing
via – the Latin word for road
vigiles – Roman police
woe – deep distress or misery
Welcome to a new world...
Did you think you’ve seen all the dangers that there are? That’s what Edward and Anthony thought too! They have to face fresh challenges and dangers as they leave behind their home and those they love. Why? Because Princess Geetu has given Edward and Anthony a DARE!
Will they rise up to the challenge on this quest? Little do they know, but they will need all their courage to face the most terrifying danger in the whole world if they want to save a friend and themselves. Can you guess what this danger is…?
Read on to see how your heroes fare.
Edward, Anthony and their Indian friend Princess Geetu came through time and space in a whirl of stars.
“A cruise with Julius Caesar and Queen Cleopatra!” Edward said in outrage. “You couldn’t have found anything harder to do.”
Geetu smiled happily. “I’ve always wanted to see Caesar and Cleopatra and now we can go on a cruise with them together. Maybe we’ll go up the River Nile. That would be soooo romantic”
Edward banged his forehead with his hand in exasperation.
“I don’t want to go on a cruise,” he said. “I want to go home and…”
“Of course you want to go on an adventure. You told me how much fun and how exciting your other adventures were. And just imagine meeting Caesar and Cleopatra!”
“There’s no ship here,” Anthony said. “Just a long road.”
He looked up and down the road. It was a straight cobbled Roman road and it was very long. In each direction the road stretched out all the way to the horizon. On both sides of the road was an area of grass, which the Roman Army kept short so there was no place for bandits to hide, followed by bushes and trees.
“Yes, it does look like a long way to walk,” Geetu said as she realized that they weren’t anywhere near a river, let alone a ship.
“Welcome to another pukka adventure,” Edward said sarcastically.
Geetu laughed happily. She was always a cheerful and optimistic person.
“Oh come on,” she said. “Things will be just fine and I’m sure we’re going to have lots of fun together. But let’s not stand around here or we’ll never get anywhere. What direction shall we go?”
They looked in both directions but everything looked the same.
“I wish I knew where we were,” Anthony said.
The sun was high in the sky and it was hot, though not as hot as in India. The air was dry and there was a pleasant scent of pine trees.
“I think we’re in the Mediterranean somewhere,” Edward said. “Maybe in Italy. Our shadows are pointing away from the sun so south must be there.”
He pointed in a direction that led away from the road. “That means we can either walk south-east or north-west. I say we go south-east. That way we’ll get to Rome if we’re in Italy,” Edward said.
It was a shrewd assessment of the situation and as things turned out Edward was right.
The children agreed to follow his lead and set off towards Rome. They had walked for more than an hour when they saw a sharp bend in the road ahead of them. There were some trees growing near the road which led across a small river. As they came nearer they heard shouting and yelling and someone calling for help. The three children rushed forward. When they came around the bend they saw a horse cart. Around it several men were fighting. Two men were protecting the cart while three were attacking them. Another five men lay dead on the road. From inside the cart a girl’s voice was calling out “Help! Bandits are attacking us! Help!”
By the time our three heroes reached the scene two more bandits and a defender were dead and the last of the men defending the cart was badly wounded. Only a few more moments and the bandit would kill him too. The children ran forward, grabbed weapons that were lying on the road and attacked the bandit. Now the tables were turned!
“Here, take this you dirty villain!” Anthony shouted as he struck the bandit.
“And this and this!” Edward and Geetu cried out.
The bandit was unable to fight against so many and in no time at all they had defeated him. Sadly the last man defending the cart also sank to the ground. He was mortally wounded.
“Save her,” he said and died.
Edward pulled aside the canvas that covered the opening of the cart and looked in. He ducked away quickly because the girl in it threw a pot at him. The pot fell onto the road with a loud clanging sound.
The girl buried her face in her hands and began to cry.
Geetu climbed into the cart and put her arm around the girl’s shoulders to console her.
“It’s all right,” Geetu said. “It’s over now. The bandits are all dead. We’ll help you.”
The girl looked at her in surprise.
“You mean you’re not with the bandits?”
“Certainly not,” Edward said. “We were walking along the road when we heard you calling for help so we came and helped to defeat the bandits.”
“What’s your name?” Anthony asked.
The girl looked at him and wiped her tears.
“My name’s Flavia. Help me get back to Rome and my father will reward you most handsomely.”
“So this is the road to Rome,” Edward said triumphantly. “I knew it.”
Flavia looked at him strangely.
“Of course this is the road to Rome. Where else would it go? You really didn’t know what road you’re travelling on?”
“I think we’ll explain it later,” Geetu said quickly. “For now I think it’s better if we leave this place as fast as we can. Who knows if there are more bandits in the woods here.”
That was one thing they all agreed on so Edward and Anthony sat at the front and somehow managed to get the horse going while Geetu spent time in the back getting to know Flavia better.
Sitting on a horse drawn cart was much better than walking and the children, whose feet were a bit sore already, were glad they had met Flavia. The cart rumbled along the Via Aurelia towards Rome. ‘Via’ is the Latin word for road, so they were on Aurelia Road which leads from Genoa to Rome. As they got nearer to the capital of the Roman Empire the road became busier. They were relieved not to be travelling alone anymore and when they encountered some legionaries
Flavia informed them about the attack on her cart. A group of legionaries quickly set off to investigate. At last the greatest city on earth came into view and after they passed the town gate Flavia directed the boys to her home through the bustling noisy streets. It was sunset by the time they stopped outside a huge villa.
The portarius, as a doorman is called in Latin, opened the huge wooden front door. As soon as Flavia told him about the attack a hue and cry was raised over the mansion. Flavia’s parents came running and were overjoyed to find their beloved daughter unhurt.
“They saved me,” Flavia said as she pointed to her new friends. “Without them the bandits would have taken me, but my friends arrived just in time and defeated the bandits in a fierce fight.”
Her father, Lucius Flavus, walked down the steps to our three heroes.
“You have saved my only daughter, my light and joy in this world. From now on my family shall be your family and my home shall be your home. I am Lucius Caecilius Flavus, member of the senate and friend of Julius Caesar. All Rome is open to you my friends.”
Geetu prodded Edward with her elbow and whispered in his ear “See, I told you this would be a pukka adventure!”
That evening there was a great rejoicing in the senator’s villa and they all ate and drank happily, the senator and his family because Flavia had been saved and our three heroes because their fortunes had reversed dramatically. Instead of being homeless vagrants on an unknown road they now were members of one of the most important families in Rome.
The children spent several wonderful days in Rome. Flavia was delighted to show her new friends around the eternal city. They watched a chariot race at the Circus Maximus and they even got to see Julius Caesar during a meeting at the senate. Lucius Flavus introduced them to Caesar on his way in and the great man gave them a smile and a nod as sign of recognition.
It was summer and the heat in the city was stifling. After leaving the senate they stood in front of the building not knowing what to do.
“It’s too hot to walk about the city,” Edward said.
“Have you forgotten India already?” Geetu teased him.
“I wish we could have some fun in the water,” Anthony replied.
“One of my uncles has a large pool at his estate,” Flavia told them. “It’s not far from Rome. If we take the cart we can be there in an hour.”
They all thought it was a good idea and a bit later that day their cart drew up at the estate in question. Flavia’s uncle was in Rome, but the slaves at the estate knew her well and were only too happy to allow the children access to the pool.
It was a large pool, shallow at one end and then gradually sloping down towards the middle where it suddenly became deep. They jumped into the shallow water where they could all stand, and happily splashed about.
“This is fantastic!” Anthony grinned. “Why didn’t we come here before?” He dashed water at Edward.
After splashing around for a while Edward challenged the others.
“I race you to the far side,” he said and began to swim.
Anthony and Geetu tried their best to overtake him, but it was no good. Edward reached the other end of the pool first and shouted happily “I'm the winner!”
It was only when Geetu and Anthony reached him that the children noticed Flavia hadn’t joined them. She was still at the other end of the pool and didn’t look very happy.
“Flavia!” Geetu called. “What’s the matter?”
“I can’t swim,” Flavia replied.
The children quickly went back to Flavia.
“Come on, Flavia,” Geetu said. “I’ll teach you how to swim. It’s not difficult.”
While the boys were splashing about, Geetu showed Flavia how to move her arms and legs properly. The boys were getting quite wild at the shallow end of the pool and water often splashed into Flavia’s face, so the girls began to move towards the middle of the pool.
There was a long hedge at one end of the pool. On the other side one of the household slaves was trying to ride in a wild horse. It was a beautiful brown horse from far away Arabia that Flavia’s uncle had bought a fortnight before. It was also a very wild and stubborn creature that had so far defied any attempts to ride it. On this particular occasion the slave, a strong man with piercing blue eyes and blond hair called Alric, tied the horse to a wooden post and then jumped on it from behind. The horse reared up in panic and tore the rope from the post. The slave still clung to its neck. The horse kicked violently and then leapt forward across the hedge. The slave was thrown off and the horse landed on the tiled floor around the pool. It skidded on the tiles and fell into the water somewhere between the boys and the girls. The horse thrashed wildly in the water and made a horrible noise. It was a frightening spectacle. The boys climbed out of the pool to safety. The swimming lesson was forgotten. Geetu stared at the wild horse in horror while Flavia backed away from it. Flavia didn’t realize she was getting into deeper water and she forgot all about the sudden drop in the middle of the pool. Another step backwards and another step and Flavia lost her footing. She slipped under water. When her head went under she forgot everything Geetu had told her. Flavia thrashed her arms in panic and when she couldn’t get her head out of the water she screamed for help. Nobody heard her.
The horse slowly managed to get to shallower water where it climbed out of the pool. It had calmed down again and let the slave take hold of the rope round its neck.
Edward and Anthony watched the slave as he tried to pull the wet horse away from the pool. Only then did Geetu remember Flavia. She turned round but couldn’t see her friend anywhere.
“Flavia!” she called wondering where she had gone so quickly. She called louder and attracted the attention of the boys and the slave. Edward walked over.
“She’s down there!” he yelled and pointed to the deep water.
Geetu quickly dived and pulled Flavia up to the surface while Edward jumped into the water to help her. All the noise and shouting attracted more slaves from the house who came out to see what was the matter. Flavia was pulled from the water. She didn’t move. Anthony and Edward quickly rolled her onto her side to help her breathe. They opened her mouth and pushed her chest. Some water came from her mouth, but she didn’t breathe.
“Send for the medicus,” someone said. A medicus is what doctors were called in ancient Rome. Alric rushed to get another horse and rode for the nearest medicus. They only came back an hour later.
All this time the children were shaking in fear and horror. Flavia, their friend was dead. Her father had trusted them with his daughter’s life, had taken them into his home and his family, and now she was dead. It was an unimaginable nightmare.
The medicus just took one look at Flavia and shook his head.
“She has no more need of a medicus,” he said sadly. “She needs a priest.”
Just then Flavia’s uncle came back. He rushed to the poolside where he found his niece dead.
“By the immortal Gods!” he cried. “What evil has befallen her?”
When he had heard everything he started yelling.
“You will be crucified!” he shouted at Alric. “And you horrible children will be thrown to the lions! Just you wait till Flavia’s father hears about this!”
He rushed off in anger and sent messages to Flavia’s father and to the vigiles who are the police in Rome.
The three children were crying bitterly. Alric merely stood in silence with his head bowed. He, who had once been a mighty and respected warrior, to be crucified, to die at the cross like so many other criminals in the Roman Empire! The shame was unbearable.
The slaves picked up Flavia’s lifeless body and carried her into the house. Only one man stayed behind. He was a middle aged man. His hair and eyes were dark and he had a large beard. With sadness in his eyes he looked on as Flavia was carried away. His name was Philomenus. He was a Greek slave who worked as a teacher in the household. It was his job to educate Flavia’s three cousins and he also knew Flavia well as she was a frequent guest. He turned to Alric and the three children.
“Redemption,” he said sternly. “Redemption is the only course open to you now, unless that is, of course, you want to die a most horrible death.”
“What do you mean?” Edward asked. “What is ‘redemption’?”
Philomenus frowned. “Redemption means that you redeem yourselves. You must pay for what you have done and buy back your freedom and your life.”
They looked confused.
“Are you also talking about Roman punishment?” Alric asked acidly.
“No,” Philomenus said gently. “What I mean is that you have to undo what happened here today. Only you can make this happen and if you don’t want to die a terrible death then I suggest you follow me and do as I tell you to.”
“I still don’t understand,” Alric said, “but whatever he’s talking about can’t be worse than dying on a cross or,” he looked at the children, “being torn to pieces by lions.”
He followed Philomenus.
“Unless anyone’s got a better idea,” Anthony said, “we should go with him.”
Their hearts heavy with sorrow and their knees weak with fear the children quickly ran after the Greek slave.
“No time to be lost now,” Philomenus called out. “Quick Alric! Get the five best horses and come round to the front.”
While Alric dashed for the horses the children helped the Greek slave to gather some things from the house. Most importantly he took a bag of gold coins from the master’s office.
“Don’t do this, Philomenus!” some of the other slaves said. “You know what happens to runaway slaves. You’ll end up on a cross like Alric or even worse!”
But the harsh and inhumane punishments he would have to face if authorities caught him didn’t deter Philomenus. He knew what he had to do. Others might think he was helping fugitives from the law, but he knew better.
Within minutes they ran out of the building and found Alric waiting with the horses. They mounted them and rode off at top speed.
“To Ostia!” Philomenus shouted. “Our only hope is to catch a ship bound for Greece.”
They knew that they had a head start of an hour at the most, then the vigiles would come to arrest them.
When the vigiles arrived at the villa and discovered the criminals had fled they sent out messages in different directions to alert troops all over Italy to be on the lookout for two runaway slaves and three children who had murdered a Roman citizen. Then they arrested all the slaves in the villa. Under Roman law all slaves in a household were put to death if one of them killed their master. It was not clear if the law applied as Flavia had not really been their master, but the vigiles decided to leave the matter for a court to decide. Their heads bowed and some of them crying, the slaves were taken away in chains while Flavia’s body was placed in a carriage and returned to her parents’ estate.
One of the messengers sent by the vigiles took the road to Ostia. Thanks to the efficient Roman stage post system the rider could change horses at regular intervals so that he always had a fresh horse to ride. By the time the fugitives arrived in Ostia the messenger was just forty minutes away from the port.
Against regulations Philomenus rode straight onto the docks where many ships from across the Empire lay moored.
“Transport to Greece,” he called as they rode past ships. “We seek transport to Greece.”
“We are Greece bound,” a short stocky man said in Greek.
“We need immediate passage,” Philomenus said. Have you got room for five passengers? We’ll pay you well.”
The man looked at each member of the exhausted party. They were dusty and sweaty and had obviously ridden hard.
“We sail this evening,” he said, “to Athens.”
“Sail now,” Philomenus said, “and we’ll pay you double.”
The man looked at them critically.
“I don’t want no trouble with the law,” he said.
“You can have the horses too,” Alric said.
“But we must depart at once,” Philomenus urged. “To Matapan.”
“Matapan?” the man said in surprise.
“Here, open your hand,” Philomenus said and gave the man a handful of gold coins. It was enough to hire the entire ship.
The man greedily eyed the bag from which Philomenus had taken the coins.
“Step right aboard,” he said. “We sail at once.”
The ship with our fugitives on board cleared the port at the very moment when the messenger from the vigiles arrived with an urgent order for the portmaster to be on the lookout and detain two slaves accompanied by three children.