THE DRUID KING
by Norman Spinrad
The country of the tribes of Gaul extends from the sere and
rugged cordillera of the Pyrenees in the west to the grandeur of
the snow-capped Alps in the east, from the dank fog-bound coast of
the northern sea to sunny southern reaches where the balmy tang of
the Mediterraean can be smelled drifting up through the mountain
But in truth, the lands of the Eduii and the Arvenes, the
Carnutes and the Belovaques, the Turons and the Santons and all
the rest, their farmsteads, their cities, their pastures, are but
islands in an ocean of trees. For it is the mighty green forest,
cresting over hills and rolling down valleys, that fills the
greater part of their world, it is the oak which reigns supreme,
Deep within this endless oak forest is a round clearing, its
grass sprinkled with wild flowers, mushrooms, mossy rocks. Waiting
silently just within the ferny undergrowth fringing its margin is
a circle of leaders of a score and more of the tribes of Gaul,
wearing pantaloons in their tribal colors, woolen shirts, leather
jerkins, their scabbards empty of swords. Each of these vergobrets
stands beside a pole bearing aloft the sigil animal of his
tribe--boar, hawk, bull, bear, stag, wolf, and the like, roughly
carved in wood or cast in subtly-modeled bronze or silver.
In the center of the clearing, illumined by the bright noon-
day sun, stands Guttuatr, Arch Druid of all Gaul, a tall, slightly
stooped, man in early old age. His hair and neatly-trimmed beard
are silvery gray. He wears a white robe with no tribal colors. The
cowl of the robe is drawn over his head, but does not hide his
face, with its hawk-beak nose, its deeply-set green eyes that seem
to look through this world and into another. He bears, but does
not lean upon, a gnarled oaken staff as tall as he is. Atop the
staff is fixed a fallen star, a roughly spherical piece of dark-
gray pockmarked iron twice the diameter of an apple.
He looks up at the sun, then down at his own shadow, severely
foreshortened as the sun passes through its zenith. Then he raises
his staff one-handed, the fallen star now a quarter of a man's
height above his head.
From the four quadrants of the wind, their white robes
trimmed in the many colors of the tribes of Gaul, cowls shading
their faces, druids emerge silently past the vergobrets and into
They form a inner circle around the Arch Druid, then stand
immobile. Guttuatr grounds his staff once more upon the earth. No
one moves. No one speaks.
And then the ghostly pale midday moon begins to move across
the face of the golden sun.
The vergobrets gasp as a shadow begins to cross the clearing
and the forest beyond, as the sky slowly turns a deeper blue.
The Arch Druid Guttuatr speaks.
"As in the heavens, so upon the earth. The gods of night seek
to conquer the day. Those who serve the dark war against those
who serve the light. As upon the earth, so in the heavens."
The moon, like a mouth open wide, swallows an ever-growing
portion of the golden sun, as if bent on devouring it entire.
The tribal leaders moan and shuffle their feet in distress.
The druids stand silent, knowing eyes fixed upon Guttuatr, as if
waiting for some signal.
Nothing is to be heard but the shuffling feet and softer and
softer moans of the vergobrets, then the confused cries of day
birds returning to roost and night birds awakening and the faint
far-off baying of dogs and wolves, as the blood red light of false
sunset falls upon the forest.
And then the breeze of onrushing night swirls Guttuatr's
robe, and with it, night itself descends. But this is no natural
night. The sky turns black and the stars appear, but the sun is
still visible, its face a void of darkness, but rimmed in a gauzy
light like hair and beard aflame or the fiery crown of a celestial
"The night destroys the day!" Guttuatr shouts, and brings
forth cries of terror from the men beside their tribal standards.
"The dark devours the light!"
And the druids begin a slow stately circling round him.
Guttuatr begins a slow stately chanting.
"But the Great Wheel turns and we turn with it..."
The circling druids answer.
"That which is eternal, that which passes..."
"As in the heavens, so upon the earth..."
"The Great Wheel turns, and we turn with it...."
"As upon the earth, so in the heavens..."
"We turn, round, and round, and round..."
"Let the Great Wheel turn with us!" Guttuatr shouts, raising
his staff high above his head as if to command the heavens.
"Night into day! Darkness to light! Let the Great Wheel--"
Suddenly vergobrets and druids alike cry out, a great collec-
tive shout not of terror but of wonder. The druids abruptly cease
their circling, and turn to stare at something above and behind
Guttuatr, and all at once the solemn spell is broken, and an
unruly crowd is pointing at the sky, shouting and babbling.
Guttuatr himself whirls around, looks up to see--
A point of light emerging from nothingness, growing brighter,
and brighter, and brighter.
A new star being born.
Guttuatr's jaw drops slack, and his staff lowers as if of its
own accord. His eyes widen in awe, as those of a man beholding the
visage of a god. Or of something even greater. But his expression
is one of knowing wonder.
"Once in a thousand years..." the Arch Druid whispers.
The vergobrets do not move, but the druids crowd close to
him, glancing back over their shoulders, questioningly at Gut-
tuatr, and one of them dares to speak, in a low voice meant for
his ears alone.
"What means this, Arch Druid?"
With enormous reluctance, Guttuatr slowly turns from this
"This is the sign of a Great Turning," he tells his fellow
druids uneasily. "This Great Age will die to give way to the
"But what will--"
"No man of the age that is passing can see clearly into the
age that is to come," Guttuatr says quickly and more firmly,
seeing that the vergobrets have summoned up the courage to draw
closer to their inner circle. "We have conjured more than those of
the world of strife should know. We must finish the rite before
the heavens finish it for us!"
And he raises his staff aloft once more.
"Behold!" he shouts. "The heavens themselves declare their
favor! Light from darkness! Day from light! The Great Wheel
And the druids hastily and somewhat clumsily resume their
circling and chanting. The vergobrets draw back.
"We turn round, and round, and round..."
"Let the Great Wheel turn with us! Guttuatr commands.
And, as if to obey, the moon begins to disgorge the light it
has eaten, and the sun begins to emerge from its maw, and the sky
begins to brighten in a gloriously luxurious purple and deeply
golden false sunrise. The sky continues to lighten, the night
birds flock to their roosts, the day birds arise, the forest
awakens, and blue skies and bright sun once more look down upon a
world of verdant green. The rite has succeeded.
Or so it might seem.
Half a dozen roasting boar and as many sheep dripped their
fat on crackling log fires, perfuming the air with deliciously
pungent smoke. Baker-boys pulled planks of steaming loaves from
the ovens and set them out to cool. Peasants brought in wicker
baskets overflowing with ripe red apples, pale white turnips and
bright orange carrots, dark green nettles, savory and freshly
picked. Bards toyed with their harps, and here and there, servants
sang with them.
It was the happiest day of Vercingetorix's young life, trot-
ting to keep up with the mighty strides of his father as they
crossed the outer courtyard of the family homestead in the bright
afternoon sunshine before the great feast to be given by Keltill
to celebrate the inauguration of his year as vergobret of the Ar-
Though robustly-built and brawny, Keltill was but of average
height for a Gaul, yet in the eyes of his fourteen year old son,
he was a giant.
His lands and his riches and his rule might have been passed
down to him by the will of the gods as the druids proclaimed, but
what Vercingetorix saw in the eyes of his father's people was
something no god could bestow. Nor were the smiles that greeted
him bought with the gold coins he tossed with gay abandon into the
air as if they were so many sprigs of mistletoe.
Keltill was loved by his people.
Keltill grinned and he made a great show of smacking his lips
as they approached the brew master's cart. Seeing this famous
enthusiast of his wares, the balding fat-bellied fellow drew two
foaming horns of beer from two different barrels.
"This one I would say has rather more flavor, Keltill," he
said, offering the horn in his left hand, then raising the one in
his right. "But this one has a bit stronger spirit."
Keltill quaffed the first, then did likewise with the other.
"Well, which one do you favor?" asked the brew master.
"When did I ever taste a brew I didn't favor?" said Keltill.
He laughed, then grinned at Vercingetorix. "What do you say,
Vercingetorix, would you care to favor us with an opinion?"
Like any boy of Gaul, Vercingetorix was familiar with wa-
tered-down beer given when hot weather made milk curdle or cows
went dry. But this would be his first taste of the full strength
manly brew. He took a hesitant sip of the "more flavorful" beer.
It was thick and sweet. Under the watchful eye of his father, he
took a more manly gulp. Now a bitter aftertaste emerged which he
found less than pleasant.
"Well?" asked Keltill.
"Uh...good. Nice and, uh, foamy."
Keltill handed him the second horn. This time, Vercingetorix
took a full adult mouthful straightaway, and made a show of roll-
ing it around in his mouth thoughtfully before he swallowed. Less
bitter, less sweet too, nor quite as thick either.
"Even better!" he declared sincerely.
"Like father, like son!" Keltill said, fetching him a mighty
clap on the shoulder. "My sentiments exactly! You heard our beer-
taster, we'll have twenty barrels--of each of them!
"Of each?" said the brew master, eying Keltill skeptically.
"About the money...."
"Name your price! I'll pay you double whatever it is when
we've both died and gone on to the next world in the good old
"Very generous, Keltill, but if I, my family and my brewers
don't eat in this world, we'll find ourselves waiting there for
you to arrive for a good long while, so if you don't mind...."
"Well, if you're going to be that way about it..." Keltill
said impishly, reaching into the leather pouch from which he had
been so freely dispensing largess and extracted but a single coin.
The brew master was not amused.
Keltill laughed at his sour expression.
"Come along then," he said. "There's plenty more where that
He held the coin, which Vercingetorix knew bore his own
portrait, closer for the brew master's inspection. "Handsome, are
They crossed the outer courtyard and passed through a gate in
the wooden palisade that enclosed the inner courtyard. Within was
the great round house, with its well-hewn plank walls caulked with
wattle, its tall conical roof freshened with newly-cut thatch for
the occasion, and still redolent of earth and hay. The roof, as
always, was crowned with a carved wooden bear, sigil animal of the
Arvernes, but now a bear cast in bronze stood on a pole before the
doorway--the standard of their new vergobret.
At the front of the house, trestle tables had already been
set up and servants were setting out benches, dressing the tables
with platters, and piling up logs for a bonfire.
Keltill crossed the courtyard to a wooden shed. Vercingetorix
had been inside and so knew what to expect, but the brew master
didn't. Two artisans were beating lumps of soft gold into sheets
with heavy broad-faced iron-headed mallets and two more were
stamping out coins from the sheets with round-faced dies and
tossing them into big leather sacks already brimming with the
fruit of their labors.
Keltill led the gaping brew master to one of the sacks. "Take
what you consider just," he said. "No more and no less."
The brew master gave Keltil a look of amazement, which trans-
formed to gratitude, and thence to greed. He dipped both hands in
the sack and came up with as much as he could carry.
He froze. He looked at Keltill.
Then he slowly dribbled half his load of coins back into the
sack and departed.
"You just trusted him to take what he would!" Vercingetorix
"I trusted his honor. This is our way, Vercingetorix. Honor
is to be trusted. Fortune is to be shared. Else what are we?"
He scooped up a great handful of coins and stuffed them in
the leather pouch tied to his belt.
"Of course it does not diminish a man's reputation for gener-
osity for his likeness to appear on his largess so that those who
receive it never forget from whence it came," he said. Then he
laughed. "Not every notion of the Romans is foolish."
Keltill picked up another handful of coins and held it up
before Vercingetorix's eyes. "On the other hand, the way they
whore after this stuff to the point where they will even let it
buy their honor for it is pitiful!"
"Indeed! They forget what gold is for. Do you know, Vercinge-
Vercingetorix could only shake his head.
"Consider," said Keltill, "you cannot eat it, you cannot
drink it, you cannot ride it, you cannot even forge a sword from
this pretty but otherwise useless metal."
"But you can buy food and drink and horses and swords and
more with it!"
"Exactly! cried Keltill. "Life is not to be spent in the
making and hoarding of money! Meat is to be eaten! Beer is to be
drunk! Horses are to be ridden! A year as leader of your tribe
is to be celebrated freely!"
With a wild laugh he tossed the whole handful of coins into
the air. "Money is to be spent on the pleasures of living!"
By the time the sun had set, the festival had begun and it
could fairly be said that much money had indeed already been spent
on the pleasures of living.
A horde of guests had arrived. Most were Arverni nobles,
their families and warriors, and the ordinary folk of Keltill's
holdings who had been favored with admission to the outer court-
yard for the feast. Some few were invited nobles from other tribes
of Gaul, some fewer still were druids in their white robes trimmed
with tribal colors who had the right to invite themselves to any
feast, any time, anywhere, in the lands of the Gauls.
While the eating of meat awaited the lighting of the bonfire
by the host, the drinking of beer was already well underway.
Everyone had their foaming mug of copper or pottery, open barrels
had been set out everywhere and the fumes alone were enough to
make the very old and the very young lightheaded.
Not that anyone was relying on their noses for the beer to
work its happy magic. Nor, having savored his first true taste,
did Vercingetorix fail to quaff his fair share and then some.
By the time father and son had progressed from the outer
courtyard to the inner, the torches seemed to him haloed by rain-
bows, the final handful of coins tossed by Keltill cascaded
through the syrupy air like flurries of golden snow, and the music
and voices melded into the wordless song of a burbling stream.
Keltill's entry into the inner courtyard was greeted by a
collective cheer. And while this was not lacking in whole-hearted
affection for the man himself, stomachs spoke as loudly as hearts
as Keltill strode up to the bonfire, for the host's lighting
thereof would be the signal for the eating to begin.
A warrior handed Keltill a torch. Keltill made a grinning
show of hesitation. "Surely, my friends, you have not yet drunk
enough beer to truly whet your appetites?" he said. "Best we wait
a bit longer before going on to the meat."
This was greeted by a mighty collective groan.
Keltill shook his head disapprovingly. "When Brenn was king
and we were all heroes, Gauls would not even remember they had
bellies until enough beer had passed down their throats and
through their bladders to wash Ariovistus and all his Teuton
tribes back across the Rhine on a river of piss!" he declared to a
roar of laughter.
He shrugged. "But now I can hear your guts rumbling even over
my own mighty words of wisdom, and so...."
Keltill tossed the torch through a gap in the loosely built
pile of seasoned logs into the kindling at its core, which burst
into flame with a whoosh of air and puff of smoke. Logs then
caught fire, and the piney aroma mingled with the odors of roast-
ing meats and the effects of beer to drive all present into a
state of joyous famishment.
Vercingetorix wobbled behind his father to the host's table,
his knees performing a clumsy dance, his head reeling, his belly
growling, his vision glittering with sparkles drifting starward
from the torchlight and the bonfire.
The table was an oaken top set on trestles in front of the
house with a bench on one side only so that those seated behind it
faced the festivities. Upon it were laid loaves of bread, knives,
and planks laden with roasted fowls, bowls of turnips, carrots,
boiled nettles, apples, ribs and joints of mutton and boar, and
for this special feast, whole roast suckling boar, obtained at
great expense and with no little difficulty.
Vercingetorix had not yet achieved such an exalted state that
he could fail to recognize his own mother Gaela among those seated
behind the table, and was even able to discern his uncle Gobanit
and his wife Ette seated to her right. To Gaela's left were the
empty spaces reserved for his father and himself, and to their
left was a stern-looking woman in middle age who seemed vaguely
familiar, and to her left--
Once Vercingetorix's gaze fell upon the girl who sat there,
it had no interest in lingering elsewhere.
Pleasurable stirrings had of late arisen in his loins, and
Vercingetorix, growing up on a farmstead, knew full well what
bulls and rams did to relieve themselves of such delicious itches.
But this was the first time they had found an object of desire.
She looked to be about his age, with long golden tresses held
off her fair rosy face with a garland of flowers, and slim grace-
ful neck arising from the bodice of a yellow dress gathered tight-
ly enough to reveal budding breasts. Her eyes were of that elusive
hue that seems green one moment and hazel the next, her lips
seemed made for kisses, her nose was straight, her chin was
strong, and both were elevated to send a haughty challenge to
Vercingetorix's manhood that set his teeth on edge and his blood
Something in his eyes must have betrayed his state, for she
met his gaze with a look that was enough wilt crops in the fields
and make him feel as if he were standing there with his tongue
hanging out like that of a panting dog. It was certainly enough to
banish any notion of summoning up the courage to speak to her.
The feasting began with a will. The legs of fowl were ripped
off with bare hands, ribs of pork and boar torn into individual
morsels, everything else carved up with knives, and all was con-
veyed straight to devouring mouths as efficiently and quickly as
possible, washed down by endless mugs and horns of beer kept full
Vercingetorix gobbled up his fair share of food and swilled
at least that much beer, but throughout kept stealing long glances
at the blonde girl, who displayed an admirable appetite, a sign
that her appetite for other pleasures might prove equally hearty.
But he wished she would sip less daintily at her beer, for
the drunker she got, his fantasies proposed, the more likely they
would pass from the realm of dreams into this one. The only thing
he could think to do was set her a proper example.
Thus, by the time Keltill banged on the table for attention,
Vercingetorix was feeling no pain, or not much of anything else
"Is there enough meat?" Keltill bellowed. "Is there enough
The drunken roars and collective table-thumping of approval
went roused Vercingetorix from his dosing torpor.
"It is the tradition for the new vergobret upon beginning his
year as leader to praise the wisdom of the Arverni nobles in
electing such a hero as himself," Keltill declaimed, "but as you
all know, my single flaw is that I'm far too modest to do my own
Howls of good-natured laughter and amused hoots and jeers
erupted from his audience.
"--so I'll let a better man do it for me--my noble son, the
Vercingetorix, who had never made a speech before, whose head
was reeling, and whose tongue, far from being silver, felt like a
piece of dead wood in his mouth, sat there stunned and quite
But Keltill yanked him to his feet, and there he stood, the
glow of the torches gauzed by his drunkenness, the bonfire nearly
blinding him, staring into a field of faces, eyes sheened red by
the firelight, as all sound died away into a dreadful expectant
He found himself glancing sidelong at the blonde girl, who
met his gaze for an instant with eyes as blank and impenetrable as
polished jewels and an expression of amused contempt.
And then it was that the magic happened.
He looked away, his gaze following the sparks from the bon-
fire skyward. The roaring firelight washed away the glow of all
but the brightest star, which in turn seemed to be gazing down at
him, bestowing, so unlike the girl, its favor. And when he looked
back earthward into all those eyes glowing like embers which a
moment before had terrorized him, the silence behind them had been
transformed into an invitation to speak.
And so he did.
"As...as Keltill is my father, so now is he yours, Arvernes,
for the vergobret is the father of his people. And to have such a
man as Keltill as your father makes you the most fortunate tribe
in all Gaul. But I am more fortunate still. I am the most fortu-
nate boy in Gaul. For you will have him as a father for but one
short year. I will have him always."
He paused, lifted a horn of beer in a toasting gesture, a
horn of beer that seemed to have been magically placed in his hand
by the same gods who had given him this moment.
"To Keltill! To the vergobret of the Arvernes! To honor that
is to be trusted and fortune that is to be shared and a life that
is to be spent on the pleasure of living!"
The roars and cheers as everyone drank were gloriously deaf-
ening. They seemed to grow even louder as Vercingetorix gulped
down his entire horn of beer in five continuous swallows.
This, however, finally proved too much for him, and the last
things he heard before collapsing unconscious into the arms of
Keltill, were good-natured laughter, and the affectionately amused
voices of his mother and father.
"Like father, like son!"
"My sentiments exactly!"
"All Rome is waiting to watch you fall," said Decimus Junius
Brutus as they made their way towards the baths past eyes that
looked away and backs that always seemed conveniently turned to
"Jackals are good at smelling blood, Brutus, but they lack
the courage to attack even a wounded lion," Gaius Julius Caesar
told him contemptuously. "And this fox still has a few tricks
left, to mix a predatory metaphor."
Brutus gave him a a quizzical look.
Caesar laughed. "It means you would do well not to wager on
them bringing me down, my young friend."
So young, so naive, so innocent, Caesar thought. Was I ever
thus? Perhaps suckling at my mother's teat? More likely, I was
simply unaware of the political intrigue already swirling all
around me as a fish fails to notice that it is swimming in water.
Caesar's clan, the Julii, were old patricians, but by the
time he was born rather threadbare ones, and the only road to
riches in Rome for a scion thereof was politics. Unfortunately,
the reverse was also true: any office in Rome worth having was won
by election and winning the favor of voters cost money--to finance
feasts, games, bribes, favorable attention in the forum. Thus,
unless a politician was born to riches, he was constrained to
replenish his depleted coffers from whatever office he had
achieved in order to finance his election to the next rung up the
political and economic ladder. Since this was the only means by
which a man such as Caesar could pursue a career of public serv-
ice, as far as he was concerned, it was the height of cynicism to
call it corruption.
Not that cynicism was ever in danger of going out of fashion
in Rome, Caesar thought as they entered the thermae.
The baths were divided into three large main chambers: the
cool frigidarium for those who sought the illusion that they were
rugged Spartans, the tepidarium, where the temperature was kept at
the civilized level of a fine spring day, and the caldarium, too
hot for Caesar's taste, but, fogged with steam from the central
hot pool, an appropriate venue for a political assignation with
Marcus Licinius Crassus.
Crassus was not the sort of figure displayed to best advan-
tage without his toga. Blubbery and out of shape, he lay on his
belly on a poolside couch with only a towel over his behind as a
gesture to esthetics, sipping wine from a golden goblet.
"You know my young friend, Decimus Junius Brutus?"
"Hail, Brutus, I believe we may have have met somewhere,"
Crassus said, looking the poor boy up and down as if it might have
been in a brothel where Brutus had served as a catamite.
He raised a bushy eyebrow at Caesar and gave him a look that
seemed to assumed that Brutus was presently serving him in the
same capacity. "I thought this was to be a private conversation,
"Does he now?" said Crassus in a lubricious tone of voice.
Caesar knew that his propensity for mentoring promising
youths was often taken for boy love in the Greek manner. But he
had found nothing a boy could do to please him that a woman could
not do better, and by his lights sex with a protege like Brutus
would be all too akin to doing it with one's own son. Indeed he
suspected that the homosexual Greeks who extolled the intellectual
communion of such love above all others did so out of pining for
"Brutus is like the son I unfortunately do not have," he said
pointedly, without letting his true feelings show, an art at which
he was adept, and particularly around Crassus. The man might be
his benefactor and he would not have been elected to his present
without Crassus' financial backing, yet try as he may, Caesar just
could not love him.
"And what is the subject of this conversation which you have
so urgently requested?" Crassus asked fatuously, as if he didn't
"We have reason to discuss these ridiculous charges of embez-
zling public funds," Caesar replied.
"Really, Crassus," said Caesar, "any Roman over the age of
ten knows that anyone elected to anything requires money to lu-
bricate the machineries of the Republic."
Crassus took a slow sip of wine and regarded Caesar ingenu-
ously. "I see," he said, "you've simply appropriated public money
to do the public business. None of it, of course, managed to find
its way into your private coffers."
"Whatever may find its way into my private coffers exits soon
enough in the service of election to my next public office,"
Caesar replied. "And, since I am acknowledged to be among Rome's
most able political leaders, may justly be said to serve the
interest of the Republic."
"You always were a diligent student of the Sophists, Caesar."
"Better a skilled practitioner of Sophist rhetoric than a
devotee of the philosophy of the Cynics, Crassus."
"Even as we have a god for every taste, the Greeks had a phi-
losophy for every purpose," said Crassus.
"Spoken like a Pragmatist!" said Caesar. "And one pragmatist
to another, Crassus, you do not really want the Senate delving too
deeply into my finances, now do you? Do you really imagine
our...mutually-advantageous dealings would remain hidden?"
Crassus put down his goblet, rose into an upright position
and regarded Caesar with a colder eye.
"Is that a threat, Caesar?"
"Not at all, my friend, I merely seek to protect you," said
Caesar. "After all we both know that what may have stuck to my
fingers since you and I and Pompey were elected Consuls has also
stuck to yours."
"What do you want?" Crassus said sharply.
"The Proconsulship of Cisalpine Gaul," said Caesar.
"Governing a sleepy province in northern Italy where nothing
much has happened since we threw out the barbarians seems quite a
comedown after a Consulship in Rome," said Crassus, eying Caesar
"The only reason the Senate hasn't charged me yet is because
a Consul is immune from prosecution during his term of office--"
"And yours is shortly to run out--
"But the Proconsul of a Roman province is also immune from
prosecution by the Senate."
"I had forgotten you were a lawyer," Crassus said dryly. "But
why a backwater like Cisalpine Gaul?"
"Because it's available," Caesar said. "Because it's a back-
water. Meaning that enough of my enemies would vote with my
friends to grant it to me just to get me out of Rome."
"Very clever." Crassus smiled at Caesar smarmily. "But how
can I put this delicately...? It seems I can't." He shrugged.
"What's in it for me?"
"Aside from avoiding an unpleasant investigation into our
previously profitable dealings?" replied Caesar. "More of the
same. Much more."
"Cisalpine Gaul is hardly a cornucopia of riches," Crassus
"But the rest of Gaul is," Caesar told him, baiting the hook.
"Gallia Narbonensis? Wine, olives, fruit, good ports. A
little better, but not by much, and besides, you said--"
"No, no, not our old Mediterranean province! The whole thing,
Crassus! Transalpine Gaul! What lies to the north of Gallia Narbo-
nenis! The great heartland of true Gaul! A vast territory rich in
gold, silver, iron, jewels, rare dyes, cattle, grain, and prime
"Inconveniently inhabited by tribes of warlike Gauls and
"The Teuton tribes may be savages," said Caesar, not bother-
ing to add that they were going to provide the perfect cassus
belli. "But the Gauls are rich, and sophisticated enough to be
eager for the benefits of commerce with us. Why they've got a
trade delegation in Rome even now."
"Rich naifs ripe for the picking," said Crassus, rolling the
baited hook around in his mouth thoughtfully.
"First come our merchants," Caesar told him, "then our en-
gineers to build roads for the commerce, and artisans to build the
rich Gauls proper Roman villas and dress them in style, and slave
dealers, and of course they will need skilled Roman bankers to
manage their new economy."
"I see," said Crassus, taking the hook. "A proconsul of
Gallia Narbonensis who understood this could reward his friends
with handsome concessions."
"Indeed!" said Caesar. "Those whom I favor will become richer
than Crassus...I mean Cresus."
"But wait!" said Crassus. "It's the Proconsulship of Cisal-
pine Gaul that's vacant, not Gallia Narbonensis."
"True," said Caesar, "but if the Proconsulship of Gallia
Narbonensis should become vacant later, it would be easy enough to
persuade the Senate to combine the posts, would it not?"
"I suppose so."
Caesar cast a sidelong glance at Brutus, considering how far
he cared to go in corrupting youth in the service of political
"And it will become vacant," he said. "Soon after my appoint-
ment, the present proconsul of Gallia Narbonensis will develop a
"How do you know this, Caesar?" asked Crassus.
"You forget I was not only once a pontifex, but elected
pontifex maximus," said Caesar. "I read the omens in the entrails
of last night's roast chicken."
"It's a hot climate. Hang a pheasant a day too long, or eat a
bad oyster in the wrong season...."
Caesar glanced once more at Brutus, who sat there gawking at
him like a young girl observing for the first time what really
goes on in the parental bedchamber. But the boy's face quickly
became an unreadable mask. And that showed promise. Everyone had
to rid themselves of their virginity sooner or later.
His appointment as Proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul had left
Caesar with little need of strong drink to buoy his spirit, and
he, Brutus, and Junius Marius Gisstus reclined on couches around
the banquet table awaiting the arrival of the Eduen envoy sipping
at well-watered wine.
"Well, my friends, farewell to the pit of vipers that is
Rome," he fairly burbled. "We're off to win fame and fortune in
"I can believe the fortune part," Gisstus said sardonically.
His lips seemed carved in a permanent ironic grimace, there
was something about his eyes that said he had seen twice as much
as any other man of his middle years and had not been particularly
impressed by any of it. Caesar's spy master's face was one only
his mother would trust. And even her not very far.
Nevertheless he was utterly loyal to Caesar out of pragmatic
self-interest, for Caesar had raised him from centurion to his
present position, and there was no way a man of his modest and
shady background could rise any higher.
"But fame, Caesar?" said Brutus. "By holding down Cisalpine
Gaul, a province in Italy that's been pacified for a hundred
"You're forgetting Gallia Narbonensis."
Brutus frowned. "I wish I could," he muttered glumly.
"What's troubling you, my young friend?"
Brutus shrugged. "Perhaps my conscience."
"Have it removed at once," suggested Gisstus. "I know a good
"Perhaps it can be eased without the knife," suggested Cae-
"Don't you intend to...remove the Proconsul of Gallia Narbo-
nensis in order that you might replace him?" Brutus said queasily.
"Which is to say murder him."
"The proper term is assassination," corrected Gisstus.
"There's a difference?"
"Indeed there is," said Caesar. "A murder is personal act.
An assassination is the killing of a man for reasons of state. An
act of political necessity."
Brutus seemed less than convinced. Perhaps a bit of Socratic
"You are eager to attain the rank of general and win glory by
defeating the enemy?"
"Of course, Caesar."
"And how is the enemy to be defeated?
Brutus' silence was eloquent.
"Yes, my young friend, by killing as many of them as possi-
"But that's war!"
"Thousands of killings for reasons of state. Thousands of
assassinations performed out of political necessity."
"It's not the same thing!" Brutus insisted. Then, a good deal
less certainly, "Is it?"
"Perhaps you'd care to elucidate the moral difference?"
There was a long moment of awkward silence.
"I still don't see how holding down even two thoroughly con-
quered provinces will do much to enhance your reputation," said
Brutus in an equally awkward attempt to break it.
"Explain it to him, Gisstus," Caesar said.
"There are bound to be Teuton attacks on the trade caravans
we send into the lands of the Eduii and the other tribes of Gaul,
and of course Rome can hardly let such outrageous banditry go
unpunished. Order will have to be established up there in Transal-
pine Gaul, and since the Gauls have not proven up to it...."
"We will have to teach the Teutons a lesson," said Brutus,
beginning to get it.
"Many lessons, I'm afraid," said Caesar. "They may be relied
upon to be slow learners. Unfortunately, in the end we will have
to dispatch many more troops than we orginally anticipated to
secure the trade routes and save Rome's friends from these blood-
At last the light of comprehension dawned on Brutus' visage.
"And once established in the lands of the Gauls, we will be in no
hurry to leave...."
"You'll make a general yet," said Caesar.
"But I still don't see how something like that is going to
make you a famous hero in Rome."
Caesar laughed. "Never fear, Brutus, it will sound like Great
Alexander's march through Persia into India in the dispatches sent
back to be read in the Forum and the Senate!"
"How can you be so certain?"
"Because I intend to write them myself. And perhaps collect
them in a book to preserve the glory of my conquest for the ages"
Gisstus made a show of choking on his laughter. Brutus ob-
viously didn't know whether to regard this as boast or jest, and
truth be told, neither did Caesar.
He habitually led his legions from the forefront, wore a
cloak dyed a brilliant crimson with rare and costly Tyrian pur-
pura, and forbade the hue to his generals and lieutenants other-
wise entitled to wear the purple, thus turning the color into his
personal ensign, and thereby proclaiming his position on the
battlefield to friend and foe alike.
For like it or not, leadership in war was part of statecraft.
And gods help you, Gaius Julius Caesar, like it, you do.
"What do you think of GAIUS JULIUS CAESAR, CONQUEROR OF GAUL
as a title?" he asked.
"Too cumbersome," said Gisstus. "Why don't you just call it
THE CONQUEST OF GAUL?"
"You may be right," Caesar said dryly. "People do favor a
certain modesty in their heroes."
As Gisstus laughed, Calpurnia entered to inform Caesar that
the Eduen envoy, Diviacx, was arriving.
"Remind the slaves not to water his wine," Caesar told her as
he rose to greet his guest at the gate like a proper host.
"Of course," said Calpurnia. "After all, water rusts out
iron. Imagine what it would do to a Gaul's insides. Whereas wine
may preserve them by pickling."
"The more the better," Caesar said, giving his third wife a
wink as he departed.
Calpurnia might not have quite the beauty of Cornelia nor the
sexual hunger of Pompeia, but while she might not inspire his
passion as purely as the first, nor arouse his lust like the
second, she was the only one of the three with the intellect and
instincts to become his confidant.
Caesar had never before met the leader of the Eduen delega-
tion, but he knew that the Eduii were perhaps the most powerful
and civilized of the Gallic tribes, and he had been informed that
Diviacx was a member of their grandiloquently self-styled
"senate." The man he greeted at his portal was tall and robust,
with near-shoulder-length iron-gray hair and big matching moust-
ache and a saturnine visage; your typical Gaul, from all he had
But his cowled white robe trimmed in blue was something of a
shock and Caesar had to exercise his thespic skills to avoid
showing it. The leader of the Eduen trade delegation was a druid!
Little was known about these Gallic priests, if that was
indeed what they were. There seemed to be many more of these
priests than were needed to leech off an equivalent population of
Romans. It was said that they were also magistrates. And perhaps
tax collectors. It was also said that none of them paid taxes, an
advantage, alas, that Caesar had not enjoyed during his brief
stint as pontifex.
Priest? Senator? Merchant? Some bizarre combination? This
might complicate things. Best be wary.
It seemed prudent to greet him a simple "Hail, Diviacx."
Diviacx replied in kind with a "Hail, Caesar," and it was off to
join Calpurnia, Gisstus, and Brutus at the banquet table.
Though styling the repast a "banquet" would have been hyper-
bole, since there were only five diners clustered on couches
towards one end of the table, and not so much as a single musician
to distract from the conversation.
Caesar had, however, laid on an impressive display of Roman
cuisine. Impressing the Eduen with the civilized luxuries of Rome
was certainly called for, never mind the expense.
The first courses were brought out with the wine as soon as
Diviacx was seated--honeyed dormice, figs poached in wine and
cinnamon, assorted smoked songbirds, grilled langoustine served in
warm saffroned olive oil, red peppers stuffed with whole sardines,
a paste of spiced mashed eggplant served with four kinds of bread
for dipping, plates of both vinegar and oil cured olives, nuts,
fruits, small pies of pheasant and lamb forcemeats, pickled octo-
pus, fried squid.
Diviacx went at it like a good diplomat, trying everything,
visibly turning up his nose at nothing, an impressive feat as
Caesar knew from his travels, since one people's delicacies might
very well be another's abominations.
While it was obvious to the careful observer that he regarded
the squid, langoustine, and octopus as species of loathsome sea
monsters by the way he picked listlessly at them and he turned a
bit green around the edges when constrained by politesse to sample
the dormice and songbirds, Caesar had the feeling that Diviacx had
steeled himself to at least nibble gingerly at a turd should one
be placed before him.
The rest of the appetizers he wolfed down as if they were the
only course, displaying an impressive barbarian appetite, and
equally barbaric table manners.
During all this, Gisstus, not much for small talk, and Bru-
tus, somewhat overawed by the company, said little as Caesar and
Calpurnia kept the conversation light--the nature of the cuisine,
the relative merits and flaws of Gallic and Roman climates and of
beer versus the wine which the slaves poured so freely, and which
Diviacx seemed to favor, judging by the diligence with which he
Caesar did not venture into deeper waters until the slaves
began clearing the detritus from the table in preparation for the
main course, and then attempted to ease into them by way of in-
quiry into the true nature of Diviacx's office, a subject of his
"If I understand correctly, Diviacx, your robe indicates that
you are a druid...."
"This is so," said Diviacx, reclining torpidly, but neverthe-
less sipping at his wine goblet.
"And yet here you are, a priest at the head of a trade mis-
Diviacx carefully placed his goblet on the table, as if now
sensing it would not do to befuddle his brain further. "Not all
druids are priests," he said.
"My husband was a priest for a time, you know," said Calpur-
"But like myself, more a man of this world than the other?"
"Like yourself?" blurted Brutus. "I had heard you all were
"In our tongue, 'druid" means not 'priest' but 'man of knowl-
edge.' And as there are different kinds of knowledge, so are there
different kinds of druids. Magistrates. Teachers. Many bear the
knowledge of this realm, a few bear the knowledge of the other."
"The other realm?" said Brutus.
"The Land of Legend."
Diviacx turned from Brutus to lock eyes with Caesar, and
though his eyes were rheumed and bloodshot with wine, they had the
power to hold Caesar's own.
"You know whereof I speak, do you not, Caesar?"
"Do I?" said Caesar, staring back unwaveringly, for he had
learned this trick too, not as a pontifex, but from his studies of
oratory on Rhodes under the master of the art, Molon.
"I have heard it said you consider yourself a man of
"Guilty as charged," said Caesar.
"And the spirit of Great Alexander reborn."
"That, my friend, is metaphor," said Caesar, dismissing the
notion with a laugh, albeit one that sounded hollow to his own
ears. This druid had seen more deeply into his soul than he found
comfortable. For while he had had difficulty taking the gods and
their otherworldly realm seriously even when elected to perform
their rites, he did feel a lineal connection between his own
spirit and that of the long-dead Alexander.
Not that he believed that he was Alexander reborn; on the
contrary, he believed that Alexander had been his primitive fore-
runner, as his own father King Philip had been a more modest ver-
sion of Alexander. Caesar believed that his destiny was to
succeed where the Macedonian had failed.
Alexander had conquered the largest empire the world had yet
seen, and it was said he had wept for lack of more to conquer.
This Caesar doubted, since all he would have had to do was turn
his attention westward--towards Gaul, for example. If he had wept
at all, it was probably because, being a great general but no
genius as a political craftsman, he had no notion of how to turn
his conquests into a nation that would long survive him. He
started as a king and died as an emperor, leaving the posterity of
what he had built to be inherited and squabbled over by the usual
Caesar would start with a republic and build upon that not an
empire but something yet nameless ruled not by his heirs but by a
political system of his creation. Which would be his monument,
greater than the Pyramids or the Colossus of Rhodes or the Library
Greater because it would be built not of the stone and cement
of the material world but of the immaterial stuff of the world
inside his own cranium. Caesar shuddered. How deeply did this
druid see? For that realm of future destiny was indeed his Land of
Legend. A secret realm known to him alone. Or so he had thought.
"Are you all right?" said Calpurnia, leaning closer to whisp-
er in his ear in some agitation. "Not the falling sickness?"
"Perhaps he has had a vision?" suggested Diviacx, a shade too
knowingly for Caesar's equilibrium.
"Perhaps," said Caesar, breaking eye contact, and shaking his
head no, both to return his focus to the here and now and to reas-
sure Calpurnia with the same gesture. "In a metaphorical manner of
Fortunately, a moment later four slaves carried in a huge
bronze platter bearing the main course and it was Diviacx' turn to
At no small expense, Caesar had ordered up one of those
layered mixed roasts designed to impress dignitaries at state
banquets or, as in this case, to impress a foreigner with the
wealth and lavish style of his host, and hence his economic power.
At large banquets, the outer layer was usually a whole ox or
stag, though Caesar had heard stories of elephants, but for such a
small dinner a boar sufficed, glazed with honey, holding an apple
in its mouth, and wearing a crown of laurel. Inside this was a
whole lamb roasted over rosemary branches mouthing an orange.
Inside the lamb was a peacock with a plum in its beak, inside the
peacock a pheasant with a grape, inside the pheasant a pigeon with
a wild raspberry, inside the pigeon a tiny thrush with a single
currant impaled on its beak.
Caesar watched in amusement as Diviacx' eyes fairly bugged
out as the slaves sliced this nested confection of beasts and
birds open with swords and ceremony, stepwise revealing what was
hidden within, extracting it, and laying it out upon the table.
"Fortunately, Diviacx," said Caesar, when this had been
completed, "you had the foresight to pick delicately at the appe-
Gisstus rolled his eyes skyward. Brutus covered his mouth
with his goblet. Calpurnia nearly choked on her laughter.
Diviacx made a heroic effort to at least sample everything,
washing it down with more wine, and by the time he had consumed
what politesse required, his face was sheened with sweat, his eyes
were glazing over, and it was time to negotiate.
"As you know," Caesar told him, "I've been elected Proconsul
of Cisalpine Gaul, and am therefore in a position to greatly
enhance trade relations between your people and Rome."
Diviacx managed to perk up at this, though it obviously took
quite some effort. "It is no secret that that is indeed the pur-
pose of my mission."
"Well consider it a success, my friend!" Caesar exclaimed.
"You will return home a rich man!"
"I am here to enrich my people, not myself," Diviacx replied
"Of course, of course. Still, there's no reason why a man
should not do well by doing good. It is what makes Rome great and
makes its friends prosper."
Diviacx levered himself into an upright position, a magical
feat in itself, considering how much food and wine he had con-
sumed. "What are you proposing, Caesar?" he asked carefully.
"My intent is to shift the route of exports of dyes, chari-
ots, horses, metalwork, and so forth from the lands of the Eduii
south through my territories to my Mediterranean ports and thence
to Rome by sea rather than overland--"
"A rather circuitous route--"
"But a more secure one, passing as it does only through the
lands of the Gauls and my own and then via sea lanes pacified by
Roman galleys. And since it will be more secure, it seems to me
only just to levy taxes on their passage, say the tenth part of
their value for passage through the territories of the Gauls, and
the tenth part for passage through mine. I have heard that the
writ of the druids crosses tribal boundaries...."
"This is true," said Diviacx.
"I have also heard that their are circumstances under which
druids collect such levies..."
Diviacx's eyes lit up with a greed that seemed very much of
this world and not some other. "This too is true," he said.
"May I thus presume that I can leave it to you to find admin-
strators to take care of the collection on the Gallic end...?"
"That should prove no problem."
"Likewise the same taxes will be collected on the Roman wine,
furniture, foodstuffs, arts, marble, instruments and tools of
architecture, medicines, and everything else moving in the other
direction by the same route...."
"As is only just," agreed Diviacx.
"Moreover," said Caesar, "the flow of trade will increase
from the present trickle to a mighty torrent, for I will send
Roman engineers to build roads to speed this commerce, why we
"You're forgetting a few things, Caesar," Gisstus interrupt-
ed, as had been previously arranged. And Caesar gave him a prear-
ranged scowl of annoyance.
"What, Gisstus?" he demanded harshly.
"In the first place, there are other tribes between the lands
of the Eduii and Gallia Narbonenis who may not appreciate--"
"Why not allow them the benefit of the same arrangement?"
Diviacx interrupted hastily.
"He's right, Gisstus," Caesar said. "You just heard our
friend say that the law of the druids crosses tribal boundaries."
"Well what about Ariovistus and the Teutons?" said Gisstus.
"We can hardly send engineers to build roads through territory
overrun by savage marauders."
"There is that..." mused Caesar.
"The threat is highly exaggerated," Diviacx said. Unconvinc-
ingly. "Our warriors will protect them."
"They haven't been doing that well protecting your own people
lately, now have they?" Gisstus said dryly.
Diviacx had no answer to that, and Caesar let the ensuing
unhappy silence go on a while before he deemed it appropriate to
display his spontaneous inspiration.
"I have an idea!" he exclaimed.
"You do?" said Gisstus.
"I'll dispatch a Roman legion or two to rid your lands of the
Teutons once and for all, Diviacx! I'll lead it myself! I per-
sonally guarantee that Roman troops will make short work of such
marauding horse barbarians! And since it won't take long, the
cost to you will be modest."
"The Senate of Rome can hardly be expected to finance an
expedition to rescue a foreign land from rapine and plunder.
Someone has to pay for it."
"I don't know about this, Caesar..." Diviacx said unhappily.
"Believe me, Diviacx, getting the money out of the Senate is
a political impossibility," Caesar said quite truthfully. Having
gotten him safely out of Rome, the last thing his enemies were
about to do was finance his raising of an army at whose head to
return in triumph.
Once more, Caesar let a silence go on for a long moment, then
brought the drama to its happy climax.
"Of course!" he cried, whacking his forehead with the heel of
his hand as if angered at his own stupidity. "We'll do it at a
profit! To both of us!"
Now Caesar locked eyes with the druid, and if he lacked the
power to peer into Diviacx's soul, he lacked not the power to
grant him a vision.
"Why think of the Teutons as a liability, when they are in
fact a valuable and abundant commodity?" he purred. "Physically
robust, not excessively intelligent--ideal slaves for quarries,
galleys, farm labor, if not households. And the best of them will
fetch great prices as gladiators. You will pay the expense of
collection, and we will split the profits right down the middle."
"Sell the Teutons into slavery?"
Caesar favored Diviacx with a vulpine smile. "Have they been
so gentle in the process of pillaging your lands and raping your
women that selling the ones we do not slay into slavery would not
sit well on the conscience of your people?"
"Hardly," said Diviacx, and broke into a grin himself.
And Caesar knew that the deal was sealed.