The Apostate Saint: Chapter 17 – The Deadlock

“Regardless of all of that, the fact remains that we now look like complete fools, utterly unprepared for disaster that could be just around the corner. We must do better to understand the dangers that lie in wait, or we have no one to blame, save ourselves, for the inevitable downfall of our great republic.”

Senator Hector Salinator had gotten bolder ever since he first campaigned for the office of Senate Consul, the seat which he lost to Kaius Tegula who was now serving his second consecutive year in said role. Ever the opportunistic politician, he found the chaos of the Stranger’s arrival to be the ideal opening to up his combative rhetoric against Kaius, his great rival. VALORICUS CABALLARIUS, on the other hand, saw disunity in the Senate during great societal upheaval as a larger threat to the republic than the cult of personality that had stolen away with his son. The Senate had a way of dealing with charismatic men; it did not have a fool-proof protocol to follow to deal with a lame legislature and constant in-fighting in times of crisis – aside from the rarely-used tool of electing a temporary dictator with emergency powers to see them through the discord.

The Senate Consul shared power equally with the Religious Consul, so that the doctrine of the Torian Church would always remain in balance with the voice of the Senate. That was the way that it had been ever since the departure of the First Man, and that was at the very top of the list of laws carved in stone at the reformation of the City so many years prior. That didn’t stop the loudest voices of the Senate from trying and failing many times, to undermine the authority of the Torian Church throughout the years. It never ended well for them, as the Church had full freedom to declare anyone stationed in the Church as an apostate or anyone on the Senate as a heretic.

The Senate had met this day to once again discuss the impact of the Stranger, the immense support he had with the populace and the warnings about the infrastructure of the City that now had the public worried and demanding answers from their government. Valoricus, who had earned the name Aesculus in mockery for what his enemies perceived as his hard-headedness, wore the title willingly as a warning to any of his contemporaries who might think his will would bend with the wind. He was slow and methodical with each decision he made, but when he made one it was nearly impossible to change his mind. Especially not through bribery, which made him rather unique among the senators. He still had not yet finalized his opinion about whether the Stranger was, in fact, the rightful heir to the Toriad.

“We must act, and we must act promptly and definitively to address the concerns about the weakening foundations of the City,” Hector continued his impassioned oration. “If we wait, we risk not only the Stranger being thought right, but the Stranger solving our problems for us. He intentionally left us without resolving the concerns he so infected upon the public, so in triumph he could return and prove our ineptitude to the masses. We cannot be at odds with the Church in this if we seek to protect the City from a hostile takeover.”

Kaius, presiding over the court, pointed out the hole in Hector’s plan. “And if we redirect all of our efforts to bolstering the City’s foundation as you suggest, we might as well prepare the crown to place on his head upon his return. You acknowledge the army sieging your walls, yet you fail to see swords they carry. Once they have starved us out morally, they will cut in twain every man who had challenged their authority, once they fully capture the hearts and minds of the populous.”

“So your plan is what, exactly?” Hector must have thought he had Kaius right where he wanted him. Both of them certainly had a point, but Hector was the only one so far who had actually offered a solution, albeit a radical one. Valoricus wasn’t sold on Hector’s plan to reroute all efforts to bolster the weak points in the mines and to pause the work in the quarries entirely, however, so he was curious as to what Kaius would suggest.

“We’ve done little at this point to even validate the claims,” Kaius said. “The economic impact of marching headlong into doing what you are suggesting will be felt for many months or years, even, depending on how long it takes to complete the project. Meanwhile, homes where people live will fall into disrepair, construction currently in place will cease, leaving buildings in dangerous, incomplete states for an indeterminate time.”

“You mean Primisian homes, Primisian buildings,” Hector said. Hector, like the other minority of Solumians that managed to hold enough wealth and notoriety to be gain a seat on the Senate, harbored much resentment toward the Primisian class. He may have been a Senator and one of the wealthier ones at that, but he was still Solumian, so there was no way he could overcome the invisible but fortified barrier of success in the City.

“I think you and I both know whose homes would sustain the lion’s share of the destruction if the mines collapsed. I wonder what your viewpoint would be if, instead of the tenement blocks, it were your ancestral manor that sat atop the mines. Do you think at that point there would be time for inaction and months of surveying to find out what we already know, yea, what warning the public has already received?”

“The placement of the mines is irrelevant!” shouted the Urban Praetor Tolamirus Aurumantian. “You so badly want to turn this into another argument about class, because you always make everything about class. You have been standing on the backs of the Solums to climb high in your career, but what have you done with all of your wealth to improve the status of the people who have put you where you are? You shout and cry foul any time you can twist any issue to be about them, but I see you every night going home under protection of your personal guard, just like the men here that you so castigate.”

“Say what you will to deflect my argument,” said Hector, not skipping a beat. “But if the vast majority of the mines collapse and the working class are crushed along with it, who, then, will remain to rebuild? Do you imagine that your sons and daughters will adapt well to hard labor when they are called upon to pick up the pieces? Let me see your hands, Praetor, that I might count the callouses.”

The Praetor, red-faced, hesitated long enough to miss his chance to respond, as it so often happened in the Senate. Tolamirus had risen up the ranks on the coat tails of far greater men, blanketing himself with the glory of what honor was possible when there was no foe to conquer. The fact that he held the most important position underneath the Consul for the City was a testament to the man’s fine art of licking his superiors’ boots. Valoricus would never stoop to such lows, so he was stuck simply being a respected senior Senator and never a real contender for higher office. Not to mention he hated campaigning, something the three men arguing on the floor had absolutely no qualms doing.

The one thing Valoricus did have in common with Tolamirus was that both of their sons were now out playing soldier with a man who neither of them fully trusted. Valoricus blamed Kaius’ inaction for allowing the whole series of events to go on unimpeded. The reality of the day would never had come to fruition had the consul simply acted sooner and not allowed the Stranger to ride the momentum he had created by crashing through the Holy Gate.

“We must act, now,” Valoricus said, calmly but with great volume. The place he had chosen as his seat in this forum was no accident – it had the best acoustics in the entire building, so when Valoricus did speak, the others would listen.

“Hector is right to say that we do not have time for inaction. But Kaius is correct that we cannot simply follow the orders of an outsider based on hysteria, a hysteria that he himself created. We are the governing body here. The City looks to us for guidance, even if they are smitten by hero worship. We must calmly and with great wisdom and union with one another, spend what resources we have. At the same time, we must put aside our differences and form a coherent plan to address what happens if the Stranger return victorious. This will require a joint decision from both Consuls, so that whatever we decide, we will have the support of the Church. Make them feed the masses whatever we need them to believe, so that we do not simply roll over to the command of the outsider. We cannot act alone, and we must act now.”

As Valoricus sat down, he listened to the murmur of the other Senators discussing amongst themselves what he had just spoken. That was always the measure of his effectiveness as an orator – how long it took for somebody else to raise their voice after he had finished speaking. No mere Senator would challenge him this time.

“Senator Valoricus,” said Consul Kaius. “If you seek to align the Church with the Senate, then you better be prepared to deal with crazed zealots and madmen who have already declared the outsider the Son and heir of the High Seat. Consul Quintus already has his hands full trying to prevent his priests from calling a special election to replace him with the Stranger. You speak, as always, from a high moral ground, as if your words were not yours but the mouth of the Namer Himself. Your idealism has always pervaded your stances in this venerable body, and you fancy yourself a great mediator between parties, but in practice, surely you understand by now that there are many issues that have irreconcilable choices. A government cannot choose to be both merciless and merciful at the same time. There are many hard choices that must be made, and negotiating a solution between two extremes negates the benefits of both options. If one commander calls the army to scale a wall, and another commander calls for the army to dig under the wall, the army would crash against the wall and be destroyed if you convinced both to meet in the middle in their actions.”

Valoricus felt embarrassment, but kept himself composed. Never before had Kaius attacked what Valoricus considered to be his greatest strength – mediation. He suddenly feared for the survival of the republic. If the two sides were to be stuck in deadlock, they were never going to be able to survive the upheaval that Valoricus knew was already in motion.

“But, in these circumstances, you have a point.” Kaius gave Valoricus a look that spelled trouble for Valoricus. “Consul Quintus may have already denied my request to appear on the bargaining table with me, but perhaps I have not exercised every option to gain his support.” Valoricus immediately knew where Kaius was going with this. “I understand your wife’s brother is quite the influential cardinal in the Consul’s inner circle. Have a chat with him; see what you can accomplish.”

Valoricus said nothing more but eyed the Consul with contempt. His brother-in-law Stasius hated Valoricus, and Valoricus would rather forget the name of the man altogether than ask any favors of him. But, there was no middle ground between going to speak with Stasius and denying the Consul’s request. Valoricus was forced to choose, and he already knew what choice he had to make.

“I will go and speak with him.”

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