Iason Hirudo, Discipulus in Veritas

(Reading time: 6 - 11 minutes)

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Iason was quickly singled out. ‘Looks too posh, talks too posh’ said one; ‘probably never worked a day in his life, just a dilettante’ said another, while a third suggested ‘he’d learnt to ride by sitting on the gardener’s back and trotting him round the estate.’ 

“Fortunately others appreciated his warm smile, amusing retorts, quick mind and mobile facial expressions. They also viewed his willingness to help others as indicative of a morality usually lacking in modern Rome, though they deplored his apparent lack of business sense. 

‘Nice guy, seems intelligent, but probably useless down at the market. He’d end up selling everything below cost and, finally, burying his poor kids who’d died of starvation.’ Then furtively looking around, one added ‘however, he’d probably make a better consul or senator than some of those we have now!’

“The women named their team Evolvere while the boys, at Iason’s suggestion, plunked for Conari - to try hard. ‘You want to win, but you won’t always do it!’ he emphasised.”

“Then came team leaders. One woman, Iaz, a teacher, quickly volunteered and was accepted. On the men’s side, Iason saw group indecision and decided to put his hand up.

He seemed highly confident, saying ‘his effortless superiority would pull him through.’ Again there were no objections, but many feared his lack of business sense would make him the first roman candle.”

“Today’s task was to sell a cartload of goods to either the merchants, in one of the front rows, or the citizens. Both teams were supplied with 50 barrels of fresh drinking water, 200 Egyptian grave dolls with a moving arm that gave an imperial salute, 25 leather capes, 15 lyres and 50 drinking mugs with the Emperor’s insignia.

They’d 2 hours to make their sales, and, rather unnervingly, the stake was already being hammered into the ground, and hay and wood stacked ready.”

“The crowds howled with laughter as the goods were pitched at the buyers, and all strained to hear the words as the contestants went quickly and nervously from one merchant to the other, bargaining, pleading - in fact doing everything possible to unload their wares. Those citizens in business loved it.

Through the contestants, they could see all the mistakes they, too, had made at the start of their careers”

“Two hours later sales were halted and a tally made. The result was close, but Conari had outdone Evolvere by 58 sesterces. So a woman would burn, but which one?

There was a hush, then a muddle of screaming, shouting, backbiting and loud accusations rose in the air, as each began to fight viciously and mercilessly to avoid being chosen.”

“Senator Saccharon smiled. There was nothing he liked better than watching people squirm to avoid death. “Ladies,” he purred. “You lost!” The women glared at him.

On the one hand they wanted to scratch his eyes out, on the other they couldn’t. There was no other option but to humiliatingly force fake smiles to their faces. And Saccharon loved it; his antennae could feel their fear and it tickled his innate sadism!”

“Slowly he turned to the team leader with the musical name, Iaz. ‘Choose the two people you feel helped the team least,’ he said. And, despite violent protestations, she quickly chose the Oriental woman and another from beyond the Caucasus mountains.”

“Saccharon let them sweat as he slowly pointed out the errors made, making each one feel they’d be chosen.

Then, in a dramatic movement, he pointed at Iaz. ‘You were brave to propose leadership ... but you didn’t really lead, did you?’ He raised his eyebrows in a dramatic gesture, waited a full five seconds, then pointed a finger and calmly uttered: ‘missos facere.’

“The crowd roared. This was what they had come for; the fun of seeing a beautiful woman struggle and dance in the flames as she slowly died, but others were quiet.

Even in Roman times they were not all without feelings. And from the men’s team rose the sound of a prayer as they called on the gods to lessen her suffering. They were sad, but also relieved it wasn’t one of them.”

“Iaz knew she’d die, but was too shocked to make any reply. She stood motionless and silent, in a world of her own.

But the others, relieved it wasn’t their turn, now clustered round her and showed sympathy. Someone brought a pitcher of strong wine. The more she drank, the drunker she’d be and, hopefully, the less she’d feel the searing heat of the flames before she died.”

“It was another hour before the survivors made their way underground, to the labyrinth of gladiators’ cells. Brought food, few ate with any appetite. Most just drank to forget.

They’d just seen the first instance of the merciless and horrible fate that would happen to fifteen of them over the next few weeks; and the vivid memory of Iaz’s piercing screams coming through the crowd’s approving roar, as the flames reached her, didn’t encourage calm sleep for anyone.”

“And as Iason tried to eat, he couldn’t help remembering the story of Odysseus trapped with his men in the Cyclops cave, knowing that two men - the first two the one-eyed giant would scoop up each morning - would become the monster’s breakfast each day.

But he also remembered that Odysseus had finally escaped by tying his men to the bellies of the sheep that were led out to graze. It was an interesting gem from mythology, he thought, but was there any way it could have a meaning for the Discipuli?”

Vellars stopped and looked up at his silent audience. “Well! Isn’t anyone going to get me a drink?” he muttered, snorting like a disgruntled bull.

And as two good souls rushed to order a couple of pints, a young girl with brown glasses and mousy looking hair, piped up: “what happened next. What did Iason do then?”

“That, my dear young lady, will have to wait till tomorrow, won’t it,” Vellars replied with a smile.


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