Join the Journey - Story

The Story so far…





Chapter 1 (March 2017)

Marcus and Julia sat outside the front gate of their family’s villa in Rome. Julia watched the people pass by in the marketplace across the street while her younger brother, Marcus, leaned over, picking up small stones from the ground and tossing them at a nearby tuft of grass.

“I’m bored,” sighed Marcus. Julia glanced at him, then shook her head.

“You know what father says,” she stated simply. “'Your day is what you make it.'”

Marcus scowled. “Father’s in Judea with General Vespasian, fighting rebels,” he muttered, downcast. “Even though Emperor Galba has taken over the throne from Nero, I doubt Father will be back anytime soon.” The hint of a tear formed in Marcus’ eye.

“All the more reason to practice what he taught us, so we can be prepared for his return,” Julia smiled. Marcus sniffed. His sister looked out at the crowds passing by once more. She studied the pulsating throng: merchants, soldiers, housewives, servants. Ten thousand people from the farthest reaches of the world interacted with a single purpose. Every color and shape and size of human being were engaged in buying and selling, all of them intent on greasing the wheels of commerce and trade. “What if we started a business?” she asked suddenly.

Jerking up his head, Marcus stared at her with confused interest. “What? A business? Us? We’re just kids!” he scoffed.

“So?” she replied, looking into his eyes with a smile. “Why should that stop us?”

Marcus stared at her for a moment, unsure. “What could we do? We’re not…” Marcus stopped. He thought a moment more. “Uncle Gaius sometimes needs people to help him sell cargo from the ships. He told me that he tried to get an official in the Imperial palace to buy food from his old sailing buddies. They’re merchants now, you know. Could we help him with that?”

Julia shrugged and didn’t answer immediately. In the crowd, a merchant yelled at his servant. Pursing her lips, she watched as the merchant finished his tirade, then sent the servant trotting through the masses with a message for someone else in the city.

“Not everyone can afford servants,” Julia spoke slowly. Marcus followed her gaze. She continued, “But people still need to send messages…” She trailed off.

“Couriers?” Interest shone strongly on Marcus’ face. “We could do that. If Uncle Gaius helps us, we might even be able to be couriers for important people in Rome!”

Julia smiled. “Couriers,” she affirmed, beaming.

Chapter 1 (March 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Hannah D. (age 13)

April 22, 2017

As Marcus trotted closer to the center of the vast forum, he vigilantly hunted for Uncle Gaius. After deciding on their course of action, Julia had instructed Marcus to help locate their merchant uncle and ask for his assistance in creating and building their courier business. Marcus and Julia were not familiar with the placements of the enormous marketplace’s various stalls, so they had elected to split up and search for Gaius, both of them covering opposite sides of the forum. Marcus continued to run, moving his searching gaze from left to right, trying to see his elusive uncle through the ever-changing throng of people.

Still not seeing his uncle, Marcus began to grow distracted. Because he had just reached the crowded center of the massive marketplace, the designated meeting-place, Marcus sat himself down at the side of a fountain. Minutes later, Julia arrived. Panting heavily, she addressed Marcus and told him of what she had discovered in her search.

“I met a merchant who was a companion and friend of Uncle Gaius. He told me that Gaius is going to be visiting Ostia for a month on business errands. He has only been gone for a week.” Julia paused to breathe for a moment, and then continued. “Should we start our courier business without his help?”

Although unsure of the possibility of this plan, Marcus agreed to Julia’s proposition. After discussion, the siblings decided that the fastest way to start their venture would be to simply go about the marketplace and inquire if their services would be of use. The two couriers-to-be began to ask among the merchants and shoppers whether they had a message to be delivered.

Of course, most of the individuals they met turned down the offer. They either already had a courier, or didn’t need anything delivered. Finally, the children ran into a man who was looking for them.

“Are you the two young couriers who were offering business around here earlier?” He queried. The siblings looked at each other, and then turned their eyes back to him and nodded in unison. After pondering for a moment, he handed Julia a folded letter.

“Bring this to Rufus Aemilius. He lives in a villa on the far side of the forum. Tell him that Lucianus sent it. What is your fee, may I ask?”

Marcus and Julia had already agreed on the low price of two sesterces. After telling Lucianus their price, they made all haste to the house of Rufus Aemilius. They had seen his large domus before, and needed no further instruction on its location. Jogging around the outskirts of the crowded forum, they avoided the most congested areas and made good time. When they finally arrived at the great household, they paused in awe. Looking at the tabernae out front, the children almost became distracted until a female servant came out of the front door. She introduced herself as Decima, and asked what they were here for. Although Marcus was content to keep gazing at the wares in the shops, Julia remembered what they had really come for.

“We have a message from Lucianus for Rufus Aemilius. Please tell us where to find him.” Julia requested. Decima nodded and briskly turned, leading them into the atrium of the great house.

“Wait here,” she ordered. In the atrium, a Roman guard waited with business that was probably more important than that of the young couriers. The soldier was called into the tablinum, Rufus’s office, but Julia and Marcus remained. Patiently, the messengers waited, and finally a man in a toga came out. He introduced himself as Rufus Aemilius. Relieved that their task was finally done, the children gave the message to Rufus gladly. Breathing a sigh of relief, Julia led Marcus back out into the street and back home. Marcus recounted the events of the day. As the sun began to set, he remembered deciding to become couriers, searching the expansive forum multiple times, and finally delivering the message from Lucianus. The proud couriers made it back to their cozy villa before dark and enjoyed dinner with their mother. Although still worried about their father, far away in battle, Marcus and Julia slept soundly, ready for another adventure the next morning. Their courier business had only just begun, and it would take a lot more work and perseverance to carry through with the siblings’ plans, but they were prepared and excited for the next day’s events.

Chapter 2 (April 2017)

The summer went well for Julia and Marcus. Their business was still only a trickle—only a few customers here and there—but several clients had hired them more than once, and the children knew that was a good sign. It was August now, and though autumn was just around the corner, the sweltering sun still sent scorching rays to bake the stones on every street.

Gaius, uncle to Marcus and Julia, sat writing in the atrium of his home while his niece and nephew rested. To pass the time during their visit, they had played games in front of the house. Growing steadily hotter, the day had eventually made such activity uncomfortable. Gaius stopped writing on his parchment long enough to knead his aching hand.

“That blasted Galba,” he growled. “Burning towns just because they didn’t support him – no! – just because they didn’t immediately support him when he became emperor! I’m surprised any soldiers still follow him. I know the palace guards grumble about him.”

“Haven’t you heard?” asked Marcus. “The legions in Germania refused to follow Galba. They’ve named a new emperor there.”

“His name is Vitellius,” interjected Julia.

Gaius glanced sideways at his niece and nephew. “Now, how in the world did you two know something like that?”

Julia shrugged. “We’ve been building a courier business, and we heard some of the palace guards talk about it.”

Gaius raised his eyebrows, then shook his head. He began to write again. “Well, if he’s got the support of military men, perhaps he’d be a better choice than what we’ve got.”

Julia and Marcus looked at each other. “Uncle Gaius?” ventured Julia.

He looked up at them sharply, suddenly suspicious. “Mind, that’s something not to be said to anyone else. Can you keep it our secret?” The children nodded. Their uncle stared at them for a moment more, then relaxed a bit and returned to writing on his ledger.

Julia and Marcus fidgeted nervously. Saying bad things about the emperor was not something that people did out in the open; too many ears led back to the imperial palace, and soldiers could come knocking on the door. Their uncle’s words were uncomfortable to the children.

“I want you to do a job for me,” declared Gaius suddenly. “Some of my old sailing friends have some merchant ships, but they don’t have enough customers yet, and I want to help them.” He carefully cut off a small part of the parchment he was using and wrote on it. Shaking sand on the drying ink, he then rolled it up and handed it to Julia. “You’re couriers, so I want to hire you. Can you get this message inside the palace?”

Marcus grinned as Julia responded, “We’ll find a way in, Uncle. To whom should we give the message?”

“Take it to a man named Varo in the Imperial Palace. He’s the head of the Imperial kitchens. Ask him if he has any need for another supplier of exotic food for Galba’s court.”

“I thought you didn’t like Galba, Uncle?” inquired Marcus, his brow furrowed.

Gaius huffed. “I don’t, but his money spends the same as anyone else’s. If we make this deal, your uncle just might be able to keep food on the table.”

“We’ll get it there, Uncle Gaius,” chirped Julia. As she and Marcus turned to go, Gaius put a hand on each of their shoulders and spoke quietly in their ears.

“While you’re at it, keep an eye and ear out for more about this Vitellius,” he whispered. “I’d like to know more about him.”


(Click an image to enlarge.)

Chapter 2 (April 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Lydia K. (age 10)

May 12, 2017

In the hot sun, timid Marcus and bold Julia speedily crossed through the busy market so that they could deliver an important message to a stranger whose name was Varo. Nervously, Marcus asked Julia, “Are you sure we will be able to deliver this to Varo?”

Julia, who was more confident, replied, “Don’t worry. We’re doing this to try to help our uncle’s sailing friends. They could receive plenty of customers from this.”

Since there were lots of people in the marketplace, it was difficult to navigate their way through the crowds. Hoping to jostle quickly through the crowds, they wove in and out like salmon swimming upstream. Finally, they were nearing the palace gates, ready to deliver their message.

Then, they just had to get into the magnificent palace. Noticing there was only one guard in front of the wide gate, Julia trotted over with Marcus close behind, “We have a message for Varo,” Julia informed him.

The guard, who distrusted children by nature, suspiciously eyed them, and gruffly answered, “You may not come in. Varo is too busy to see you.”

Overhearing this exchange, and curious as to what message the children could have for him, Varo commanded the guard to allow them in. The guard hesitated, eyeing the children, “Certainly Varo.” Marcus and Julia thankfully followed Varo into the palace. At the gate, the guard mumbled as they paced away, unsure about Varo’s decision.

At last, they were alone with Varo. After reading their Uncle’s message, Varo suddenly picked up a piece of papyrus and a feather quill, which both looked of the highest quality, and started writing. This is what the letter read, “I, Varo, have decided to accept your delightful invitation. I have been anxiously searching for more superb food merchants for Galba’s glorious court. I will expect it to come in seven days sharp.” The children were excited! Perhaps, word will get out and the sailors’ business will prosper. It only takes one rich customer to influence the masses! The children had more adventures but they would never forget the joy on Uncle Gaius’ face as he read the letter Varo wrote when Marcus and Julia were by his side.

Chapter 3 (May 2017)

Gaius was thrilled! The promise of imperial business made him giddy with delight, putting him into a positively whimsical mood. He immediately paid Julia and Marcus to run messages to his merchant friends near the Tiber river docks. His messages told them to place a large order of the best food to arrive in seven days. He was so confident that he’d made his fortune that he told them to order even more food to arrive in two weeks, a month, and even longer. Marcus and Julia couldn’t help but to tremble with excitement at their uncle’s good fortune!

Within a day, seven ships with billowing sails set out from Ostia, which was the seaport nearest to Rome. Then the wait began, and Gaius became nervous. With no way to send or receive word quickly, merchants had to hope and pray that their ships would complete their treacherous voyages quickly and without mishap. Sometimes ships came back with their holds full of precious cargo. Other times they didn’t come back at all. If the ships returned, Gaius was certain that his fortune would be made. But if food failed to come within a week, it would be unlikely that Varo would ever order from Gaius again, and all of the money that he and his friends spent to purchase the food would be wasted. While the children were busy finding and serving their growing customer base over the next week, they found themselves joining in their uncle’s trepidation. What would happen?

Six days after the ships left, Marcus tore through the marketplace, running with all his might toward his uncle’s house. A ship was back! Julia was with Gaius when he heard the news, and he vaulted out of his chair and made haste to the docks. After a blur of activity unloading the ship, signing various documents, loading the cargo into carts, and making the slow trek through the city, Julia and Marcus stood outside the palace, waiting for their uncle to come out from delivering the order. The sun was sinking lower into late afternoon by the time he returned. Clutching some documents tightly, Gaius looked quite angry!

“Whatever happened to loyalty? That’s what I want to know!” he fumed.

“What happened, Uncle Gaius?” asked Julia tentatively.

Gaius closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he answered with a quavering voice. “Varo bought more food,” he stated simply.

Marcus and Julia looked at each other.

“That’s wonderful!” Marcus exclaimed, then hesitated. “Isn’t it?”

Gaius shook his head. “He bought more food from other merchants for festivities celebrating Emperor Galba’s naming a man called Licinianus as his heir. Varo said that he wanted to make sure that he would receive his order if someone’s ship failed to come back.”

“But—he bought all of your food today, didn’t he?” ventured Julia.

Gaius stopped and looked at his niece, and his face softened a little. “Yes, Julia. He bought the food today, but I don’t know that he’ll buy all of the other cargo that we’ve ordered. He may buy some, but unless other people buy from us as well, I’m afraid that we may not be able to sell everything fast enough. And, if we can’t sell it…”

“The food will spoil,” finished Julia, “and you’ll lose all that money. But perhaps the people will buy from you, Uncle!”

Gaius took another deep breath, then gave his niece and nephew a strained smile. “True, and we made some money today,” he laughed. “Come, children. Let’s go get some supper. I happen to have some food we could eat.”

A week later, another ship returned. More would be coming very quickly, but they would not be returning to a Rome ruled by Emperor Galba. Another emperor had taken control! Many leaders had been angry at Galba’s choice of Licinianus as his heir, especially a harsh senator named Otho, who wanted to be the heir himself. He made plenty of deals with other government officials, and finally bribed the Praetorian Guard to help him get rid of Emperor Galba!

Gaius had not been able to sell as much of the food from his ship as he wanted to, so he paid a visit to Marcus and Julia. “My merchant friends aren’t happy, and they’ve told me I’d better sell more cargo soon, or else,” he grumbled. “But with Otho in charge, I may have a chance to sell more food to the palace. Would you take another letter to Varo for me?” The children agreed.

At the palace once again, the children met with Varo. This time, he apologized to them and refused Gaius’ request for more business.

“Otho has told me whom he wishes me to buy from,” he lamented. “I cannot purchase from Gaius now, but perhaps I may have an opportunity to do so in the future.”

The children turned to leave, disappointed.

Chapter 3 (May 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Joel H. (age 14)

June 8, 2017

As the children trudged toward the gates of the palace, they heard a voice cry out to them. Curious, they turned and beheld that the voice belonged to one of the Imperial Praetorian guards, also known as the secret police – hand-picked, adept, and intimidating warriors, whose main job was to protect the emperor. Timidly, Marcus and Julia drew near to the powerful and influential Roman warrior, each clutching the other's hand wondering what this warrior would desire of them. He beckoned them to come closer, and once they had approached close enough to his satisfaction, he began to speak.

“You two are couriers, are you not? For, this is not the first time you have come to the palace.”  Julia and Marcus, while clutching each other’s hands as if for dear life, forced a quick nod confirming his suspicion. Then the young, fully clad warrior, after quickly glancing around for listeners, began again in a low voice. “I am in need of your services. I require you to seek a man named Lucianus and take the message I am about to tell you to him. The information is secret mind you, best not breathe a word of it, eh?” Lucianus! Their anxious expressions were immediately wiped off and relief crept through them, though they knew not why. Their thoughts drifted to their first job as couriers, and they were sure Lucianus was the man who had been their first customer! After explaining why his men could not take the message, the Praetorian gave the message, which was to be relayed to Lucianus: Vitellius, a general, would forthcoming march to Rome with an army from Germania, far to the north.

They then set off for and in due time reached the home of Lucianus, their first customer, where they excitedly delivered the message. Once this task had been fulfilled, the two siblings rushed back to their beloved Uncle and solemnly recited Varo’s response. He listened frowning all the while, with a sulky attitude, muttering through gritted teeth things such as why Galba wasn’t a great emperor, and hoping that Otho would be better though he began to doubt it. Julia and Marcus just stared at him and bit their tongues reminding themselves to stay quiet.  

Chapter 4 (June 2017)

Spring arrived, and the city began to gossip and whisper. Vitellius had named himself emperor and was marching on Rome! Uncle Gaius seemed more moody, expressing excitement one moment at the possibility of a new emperor and lamenting his dismal business dealings the next. Varo had purchased some more food from Gaius, but not nearly enough, as two more ships that he and his friends had sent returned to port and unloaded more and more food that Gaius was growing desperate to sell. Grudgingly he’d taken some of it to a contact and sold it at a deep discount. He lost some money on the whole affair, but at least the food hadn’t spoiled. But the rest of the ships would return soon, and he had no guarantee that he’d have the same opportunity again.

While their uncle struggled, Marcus and Julia enjoyed great success! Their speed, low price, and great service made them very useful to some of the busy soldiers in the city. Julia had the great idea of tying blue ribbons around their heads to help make them more memorable to their clients, and as a result more and more people called to them in the street with work for them to do. Clients asked them to remove the blue ribbons for some jobs, of course, but the brother and sister put the ribbons right back on after they finished any of those tasks.

Throughout the month of June, the children’s business continued to grow, and Gaius took more and more of an interest in their activities. Whenever Marcus and Julia did work for soldiers or officials in the palace, Gaius questioned them closely about the messages they delivered. Then, once each week Gaius wrote a letter and had the children deliver it to Lucianus, the official who had first hired the children months before.

“Lucianus supports Vitellius,” their uncle confided one day as he handed them the scroll. “If I can show him that I’m behind Vitellius’ leadership, perhaps Vitellius will remember me in the days to come.”

Julia and Marcus grew grave, hanging on Gaius’ every word.

“Be cautious, children. Otho is still Emperor. We don’t know who can be trusted, so be sure not to let anyone read this other than Lucianus himself!”

Marcus cautiously took the scroll as Julia reassured their uncle, “You can count on us, Uncle Gaius!”


(Click an image to enlarge.)

Chapter 4 (June 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Eric (age 18)

July 6, 2017

Julia and Marcus’s blue ribbons fluttered in the wind, and merchants smiled at them as they navigated the crowded stalls of the marketplace. Still, Julia anxiously clasped Uncle Gaius’s message in her hand, and Marcus kept glancing over his shoulder. They both knew that if this message were discovered, Uncle Gaius could be in deep trouble. As they passed the butcher’s stand, Marcus tapped Julia’s shoulder. “I think there’s a man following us,” he whispered. Julia turned to see a cloaked man striding toward them, closing ground from thirty paces away. The man locked eyes with Julia. Then his steps quickened, and he brushed aside the folds of his cloak to reveal the menacing glint of a sword.

“Run!” Julia shouted to Marcus, then grabbed Marcus’s hand and bolted into a raucous crowd gathered around the market’s auction block. The cloaked man followed, shoving people out of the way as he advanced. Julia caught a glimpse of a slave being sold on the auction block; she was openly weeping as the crowd screamed prices. Then Julia lowered her head again, avoiding the cloaked man’s gaze. Some of the bidders cursed at Julia and Marcus as they darted through, but Julia’s plan seemed to work — by the time they broke out of the crowd, the cloaked man was well behind them.

“Over there!” Marcus shouted, pointing to a dark alley where a haycart was parked. They sprinted around the corner, then Julia clutched Marcus’s hand and jumped straight into the cart. Quickly, they scattered hay over their bodies and froze. Moments later, they heard the frustrated growls of a man entering the alley, cursing at the walls. Then his footsteps seemed to fall away. Julia and Marcus stayed silent for a few more minutes before they emerged, shaking hay off of their robes. They smelled like horses, and their clothes were streaked with filth and mud. In that state they walked to the house of Lucianus, silent and deeply shaken, taking only quiet back roads and removing the blue ribbons from their hair. When they finally arrived, Julia knocked on Lucianus’s door and held out the message which they had raced across Rome to protect.

Chapter 5 (July 2017)

It was only a month later that the city teemed with the news.

Otho was dead!

As Vitellius had drawn closer to Rome in the spring, Otho had sent soldiers to meet him in battle near a town called Bedriacum in Northern Italia. The fighting had been fierce, but Vitellius emerged victorious and marched into Rome as its new emperor! Vitellius was the third emperor to take the throne in less than a year, and no one close to Julia and Marcus knew what to expect.

No one, that is, except their Uncle Gaius. He spent the first few days in giddy anticipation for what was to come. It had quickly become known throughout the city that Vitellius and his friends loved to feast, and the amount of food being consumed by the palace was extreme! The rest of the food shipment for Uncle Gaius and his friends was due to arrive in Rome within the week. After only three days of Vitellius as Emperor, Varo came begging and pleading to Gaius’ doorstep. Marcus and Julia were visiting their uncle, and they could see that Varo was desperate for any supply of food for the gluttonous Vitellius! Uncle Gaius smiled slyly at the sight of Varo at his feet and then reassured the imperial official.

“As long as your money fills my purse, Varo,” he crooned, “Your larders will not run empty!” Gaius quoted Varo an enormous sum for the food, and Marcus and Julia watched with their mouths open as Varo stood up, smiling and thanking their uncle profusely!

“I knew I could count on you, Gaius! I’ll look for your shipments to arrive post haste!” Gaius bowed, and the two quickly worked out the details of the exchange. As soon as Varo was gone, Uncle Gaius let out a whoop and leaped into the air!

“Marcus! Julia! Never has our family been blessed by such an opportunity as this! Quickly, run down to the docks, and make sure that at least one of our shipments has come in. If it has, go to my sailing friends near the docks; tell them that we require more of the same and that I shall send them payment tomorrow before our ships leave! Make haste, children! Today I’ll pay you double! Ha!”

Marcus and Julia scrambled for the door and hurried down the crowded streets of Rome. Suddenly a familiar voice called out to them from behind.

“Marcus! Julia! Here, children! I need your help!” The children spun around and spied their old client Lucianus calling to them, excitement on his face. Julia thought quickly and then turned to Marcus.

“I’ll take care of Lucianus. You keep going to the docks to help Uncle Gaius!” Marcus nodded; then he sprinted off through the crowd. Julia strode to Lucianus, who wore a quizzical expression.

“Where did young Marcus go?” he inquired. Julia smiled and shrugged.

“It’s a very busy day for couriers, Lucianus! How can I help you?” she grinned. Lucianus raised his eyebrows and nodded.

“All right then. As you know, Vitellius has taken control of the empire.” Lucianus lowered his voice. “I have a message for the palace guard, and I think you can help me.”

It was evening before the children saw each other again. Exhausted from the day’s work, the two of them shared their day’s experience. Julia had delivered Lucianus’ message to the palace guard but received another assignment from one of the officers there! Marcus had finished his work at the docks for Uncle Gaius but picked up another customer on his way back!

“I don’t know how we can keep on doing this work! It’s like we’re getting too much business!” exclaimed Julia. “The money’s good, but my feet are killing me!”

Marcus was thoughtful. “What if we had help?”

Chapter 5 (July 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Lily (age 15)

August 3, 2017

As Marcus had suggested, it was decided that extra help with couriering was a necessity. The siblings thoroughly discussed which of their friends would be worthy employees. They finally decided that the children of a seafood merchant - Rufus, Lucia, and Tatiana - would make for excellent business partners; not only would they have had experience in the workplace, but they’d probably want to escape the awful stench of fish. The next morning, just as the sun emerged from the horizon, Julia and Marcus hurried to the marketplace to offer their friends the jobs for six sesterces a day. Just as Julia and Marcus had predicted, they were eager to accept the positions - and one of the reasons was, indeed, the smell. The courier duo had officially expanded to a quintet!

The group sat down outside the marketplace to discuss business strategies. It soon struck Julia and Marcus that they had not quite planned what they were going to do with their new employees. Rufus, Lucia, and Tatiana had absolutely no knowledge on how to draw in customers and delivering their messages all around town.

“It seems pretty straight-forward,” Rufus commented. “All you have to do is hand off some little piece of papyrus, right?”

Julia and Marcus exchanged glances. After last month’s debacle with the mysterious cloaked man, their job could not be described as “straight-forward.”

“How about this,” said Marcus. “Julia - take Lucia and Tatiana for the day and show them what this job is all about. Rufus, you can come with me.” With this, the group split up and went about their day. In no time at all, the newbies caught on and proved themselves to be a great help to Julia and Marcus.

“Excellent work today, everyone!” Julia exclaimed with genuine satisfaction. “You’re all set to go. We’ll see you all tomorrow!” Rufus, Lucia, and Tatiana made their way homeward, and Julia and Marcus did the same. Upon reaching their destination, the two sat down together and recalled their productive day. They were very relieved with their decision to bring in helping hands. They knew, however, that they couldn’t keep traveling in groups with all the business they were getting; Julia and Marcus decided to place their extra helpers in the busier parts of town, sporting signature blue headbands to indicate that they’re couriers. After a great day of training, the new helpers were ready to set off on their own!

Chapter 6 (August 2017)

Things were looking up for Uncle Gaius’ profit margins. Vitellius’ appetite for fine foods eclipsed even his political aspirations. Eating and drinking had risen to new, gluttonous heights under the new emperor and his officials. In wasteful abandon they would gorge themselves on fine delicacies until they could hold no more, then intentionally vomit to allow themselves room to eat again! Vitellius had many friends and officials, so the palace banquet costs were enormous. For good or ill, Gaius had been at the right place in precisely the right time. Varo now depended on Gaius and his shipping business for a sizeable portion of the massive amounts of food that fed the emperor and his retinue.

In the meantime Julia and Marcus and their uncle were surprised to find that Lucianus had become one of Vitellius’ officials. While they were happy for their client, Julia and Marcus decided to be much more cautious when dealing with him and anything to do with the palace. They also decided to raise their fee for any secretive work that might lead to more unsavory situations like the one they had experienced in the alley a few months before. Lucianus didn’t bat an eye when they told him about the cost increase. In fact, he had begun using them even more. Apparently, even though Vitellius was solidly on the throne, there were still people in the city who were angry about the way he’d gained his power. Others were dissatisfied with the way the emperor was throwing away the empire’s money on vast amounts of food.

One day, Marcus took a message from a moneylender to the palace. The moneylender was gruff and annoyed, and his message demanded payment for some debt the palace owed him. When Marcus delivered the message to Lucianus, the official seemed perturbed.

“This is the fourth moneylender to send me one of these this week!” he grumbled. “The man ought to be grateful to do business with the Emperor, but here he is whining about prompt payments.” Lucianus paid Marcus a tip, then the lad left to return to his uncle’s home.

On the way, he noticed something strange. He saw a boy he didn’t recognize sprinting down the street—with a blue headband on his head! Stopping at a local merchant, the boy handed the owner a scroll. As the man placed coins in the boy’s outstretched hand, Marcus felt anger rising in his chest. He turned and strode through Rome, fury in his eyes. When Marcus reached his uncle’s home, Julia was already there, having dismissed their helpers already for the day.

“Julia, did you hire anyone new recently?” he asked, gritting his teeth.

Julia shook her head. “No, why?”

Marcus leaned close to her. “I saw another courier in the city wearing a blue headband.”

Julia’s eyes widened as Marcus’ words sank in. Gaius overheard him and chuckled.

“Where was that?” he asked.

Marcus looked up at him. “Near the palace after I delivered a moneylender’s message to Lucianus.”

Gaius’ smile faded. “Why did the moneylender send a message to him?” he queried suspiciously.

Julia looked up, and Gaius raised an eyebrow as Marcus told them about the message and Lucianus’ response.

“We’ll have to watch this situation very closely,” Gaius told the children. “If you hear anything more that sounds like the Emperor won’t be able to pay his debts, we may have to excuse ourselves from doing any more business there.”

Julia tilted her head. “Why would that matter to us?” she asked. “We only work when our clients hand us coins!”

Gaius shook his head ominously. “I like the emperor, but ‘if you share your friend’s crime, you make it your own,’” he quoted the old Roman proverb, then added, “If we are too close to Vitellius and he sinks, we may go down with his ship.” Uncle Gaius excused himself and went into the other room.

Julia turned to Marcus. “We’ll talk about that later. Let’s deal with the situation in front of us.”

Marcus nodded. “Somebody is trying to move in on our business!”

Julia pursed her lips. “So, then, what do we do?”

Chapter 6 (August 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Anastasia (age 12)

September 2, 2017

Titus Pelagimus, a Greek oil merchant, barely glanced at the two children in front of his stand. “And how may I help you today?” he asked in a monotonous voice.

The one, a girl, stepped forward. “Did you use the services of a courier today?” she asked boldly. 

A frown fell on the merchant’s face. ‘’Well, yes, I did. But why would that interest you, young miss?” He stared down from underneath his bushy eyebrows at the girl with a look of suspicion. 

“My father wishes to find a reliable courier with which to do business, so we were told to ask around here about it.” The girl replied firmly.

The merchant’s face relaxed. “Well, if that’s all, then, yes, I did use the service of a courier several hours ago. Pretty good service, too. There is that all your father needs to know?’’

The girl shook her head. “One more thing. What was this courier’s name?”

Titus sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Vibius Decmitius, I think. Now run along before you start holding up business.”

The girl nodded politely. “Yes, sir. Thank you very much for the help.” And the two children quickly disappeared into the crowded street.

As soon as they were out of sight of the snappish merchant, a grin broke out on Julia’s face. "Vibius Decmitius! That must be one of Senator Decmitius’ sons. Why, he only lives a few streets down from here!’’ 

Excitement spilled onto Marcus’s face. “Well, then, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

The children’s experience as couriers had taught them much about the streets and alleyways of Rome.  Soon they were standing in front of the Decmitius residence, an imposing white building with marble pillars, a stone wall surrounding an immense courtyard, and a heavy metal gate.

A wave of disappointment poured on the two faces.

“I’m sorry, Marcus.” Julia sighed. ‘I was so anxious to get here that I didn’t stop to think about how we were to get in.”

“Get in where?”

The two spun around to see a small face peeping out from between the iron bars of the gate. The face was attached to a boy, about four years old, with brown hair and inquisitive brown eyes. “Get in where?” He repeated.

“Inside that house.” Marcus pointed. “We need to speak to Vibius Decmitius.”

“That’s my brother.” The boy remarked. “But you can’t talk to him right now. He’s working. He sends messages for people. Sometimes for Fahder, and sometimes for Fahder’s fwiends, and sometimes for oder people. But mostly for Fahder and his fwiends, ‘cause they’re plannin’ a revolt on the emperor ‘cause he won’t give ‘em their money.  An' they’re gonna revolt an’ Vibius is sendin’ messages for them so you can’t talk to him right now. Maybe later. Goodbye.” And the boy skipped away, unperturbed by the startling news he had just given to the two children.

But Julia and Marcus were worried, extremely worried. Senator Decmitius was planning a revolt? What was Uncle Gaius going to do now?"

Chapter 7 (September 2017)

“So, you planned on confronting your competition and ended up hearing more than you bargained for, eh?” smiled Uncle Gaius when Marcus and Julia relayed what had happened. His eyes narrowed. “Vitellius has been making many enemies of late.”

“Should we report Decmitius to the emperor?” asked Marcus. Gaius shook his head. “This is a dangerous time, and I think we would be wise to move very cautiously. Business competitors aside, I think it best for us to keep our ears open for as much information as we can get about Decmitius rather than to report him to the emperor. He is a senator and a friend of your father’s commander, Vespasian. He was a supporter of Otho. If Decmitius is doing something, then it’s a good bet that your father’s commander may be involved as well. We don’t want Vitellius to think that we’re unsupportive of him, but we need to make sure no one thinks that we’re too supportive of him either. If a new emperor is rising against Vitellius, anyone that helps Vitellius will be viewed as an enemy.”

“But you’ve been helping Vitellius, Uncle Gaius!” sputtered Julia. “If Father is fighting for Vespasian,” Julia faltered for a moment, “won’t that mean father will be against you?”

Uncle Gaius looked out the window for a moment, then turned to look at the children with an intense stare. “Against all of us,” he stated ominously.

Marcus looked down, and Julia struggled to breathe.

Later that week, Marcus and Julia decided to let their customers know to ask for their company by name, and that imposter blue bands were roaming the streets. The plan seemed to do the trick. Within a month, the children detected no more rogue blue bands in the city. They recruited more helpers as their business grew, and several important people in the Empire now used their services on a regular basis.

Each day, Uncle Gaius asked the children for any news about Senator Decmitius or Vespasian. They were careful to make sure that their couriers never opened any of the letters that they delivered to protect their clients, but whispers of some grumblings against the Emperor still trickled in. Reluctantly accepting work from soldiers and officials in the imperial palace, Marcus and Julia occasionally heard rumors about armies and battles in Judea. One day in early August, the children appeared at Gaius’ door, breathless. Word had reached Rome: Vespasian’s men were on the march.

General Vespasian had been fighting a war against rebels in Judea, and the children’s father had been under the General’s command. However, when Vespasian was declared emperor by his own army and the Roman armies in Egypt in early July, he left the Judean war in the hands of his son, Titus. Travelling to Egypt, Vespasian was going to ensure that he could control the grain the Egyptians grew for the Empire. Meanwhile, another army of Vespasian’s allies now marched toward Rome and would be in Italy by winter.

Chapter 7 (September 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Maddy (age 14)

October 6, 2017

Marcus and Julia arose early the next morning from the jarring sound of a messenger knocking on the door. Still on high alert from the conversation with Uncle Gaius, they were hesitant to answer- But the second Marcus opened the door, the messenger hurried through his words, ignoring their panicked looks.

“You have been summoned to the imperial palace by the newly appointed official, Lucianus. Please come with me at once.” Julia turned to Uncle Gaius, eyes wide.

“Lucianus has a messenger now? Why, he was our very first client, we’ll get to see him again?” Uncle Gaius scowled at the touch of excitement in Julia’s tone. Now was not a safe time for children to be running off without a warning, so he leaned forward on his creaking chair, tugging Marcus and Julia close enough to be out of hearing range of the messenger.

“Be careful, my dears. Official or no, these are not days for trusting all. Safe travels.”

The trip was uneventful enough to calm Marcus’ nervous, racing heart and Julia’s fidgeting hands- But the sight of the palace was enough to take their breath away in a confusing mix of worry and amazement. The messenger ushered them inside, through mazes of hall after hall, before stopping at a ornate door. He bowed as he pushed the door open. Marcus and Julia shuffled past, unsure if they should bow back. The door closed behind them, but before the children could fret over being left in the middle of the palace, Lucianus strode into the room from another hall.

“Good morning, children. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I hear your little business has been quite successful,” he said, a thin smile on his lips. Marcus and Julia nodded, mute, unsure of how to reply. “No doubt you’ve heard all sorts of rumors, information, ‘dirt’, as you will. Things that could be incredibly useful to the emperor.” Lucianus paused, leaning down to the children, smile turning a little more sickly sweet. “Things that could protect the emperor’s legacy, by dealing with those against our Vitellius. But of course, this information is quite important. Let’s keep it between you and me, shall we?”

Marcus tried to step in front of Julia, trying to turn his fright and confusion into protectiveness, but Julia simply stepped up next to him. They ran their business together, they would face Lucianus’ poisoned, honeyed words together. They didn’t want to anger Vitellius, that would be like wishing harm on themselves. They didn’t want to support the emperor in all of his doings, for the approaching army—Marcus reached for Julia’s hand as a childish means of comfort—Vespasian’s army, that their father was in, would be thwarted. They would put their own father in deadly danger if they said all they knew. Marcus took a deep breath, jutting his chin out to make a little fake confidence for himself.

“I’m afraid you mistake our couriers for snooping unprofessionals. None of them open the letters they carry.” He caught sight of Lucianus’ disbelieving arched eyebrows, and hurried to continue, “We’ll share any and all information we acquire about enemies to the emperor, I assure you!” His voice squeaked at the end, causing Lucianus to scoff lightly. Marcus cleared his throat. “I assure you.”

Lucianus didn’t speak for a few heart-pounding moments. Marcus felt a bead of sweat run down his spine. But then finally, he sighed, and waved for them to exit the room. Julia nearly pulled Marcus’s arm out of his socket by rushing out into the hall so fast. Neither one of them wanted to linger for a moment more than they had to.

Back at home, Uncle Gaius heard their retelling of the meeting, sitting patiently through every tangent and nervous stammer. A knot of worry rested between his eyebrows, one that turned more and more to anger as the story went on. Julia and Marcus couldn’t help but fall silent as Uncle Gaius flew to his feet, eyes blazing with worry and fury alike.

“Children, our family is not the type to fraternize with Vitellius, of all people! Did you so much as think of your father?” Uncle Gaius spat out. Marcus stammered for a few seconds, before managing a quick,

“People won’t think we’re helping the emperor, we’re just letting Lucianus think he’s learning new stuff! We’ll just- We’ll just repeat to Lucianus whatever he’s already heard, right?”

“Children-” Uncle Gaius took a shaky deep breath, leaning back in his chair. He looked like all the energy had been drained out of him. “Children, working for Lucianus is just an indirect way of working for the emperor. Vitellius will still use this information to rid himself of enemies. Your own father, for instance.” Uncle Gaius laughed once, leaning forward to meet the children’s eyes, his gaze filled with distaste. “You said to Lucianus that your business was professional, but you two are anything but. You’re sucking up to the emperor, you’re feeding him information stolen from others, information that dooms others!” he shouted. Julia and Marcus flinched away from the noise. “You’re no entrepreneurs now, you can only be called one thing: spies.” He spit the word out like it left a bad taste in his mouth. Marcus and Julia felt the weight of that word, felt it bury in their hearts like a lead market-weight.

Chapter 8 (October 2017)

Marcus balled his fists and felt fury rising up in his chest at the injustice of Gaius’ words. Tears ran freely down his cheeks, and he gritted his teeth as he screamed, “You were the one that got us involved with Vitellius in the first place! You’re abandoning us?”

Julia sat down rigidly, then turned her burning gaze onto her uncle. “He’s trying to make himself look good, Marcus.” Julia’s voice was cool and collected, but a touch of tightly controlled anger made the statement sound strained. Uncle Gaius stared first at his nephew’s tear-stained expression, then into the hot embers sizzling in his niece’s eyes. Looking down, he sighed heavily.

“You’re right, of course,” he stated quietly. He looked up again. “Forgive your uncle, a twice-fool for throwing his lot in with the Emperor and now a cowardly turncoat to his niece and nephew.” Tears formed in Gaius’ eyes. “It was a madness of fear, children. Forgive me!” Julia’s eyes softened, and Marcus relaxed his fists. Uncle Gaius held back a sob. “No, Marcus, I won’t abandon you. Vitellius is losing his support quickly, and Vespasian is on the move. We need to use our heads and work together, not throw each other away. We’re family, and we’ve gotten into this mess together, so we’ll get out of this mess together.”

“But how, Uncle?” Marcus ventured, no longer angry. “You said it yourself—we’ve told the emperor’s man that we’d give him information!”

Gaius’ face broke into a tear-stained smile. “By asking good questions, lad. That’s what makes thinking possible, after all.” Gaius stopped to scratch his chin. “How could we avoid falling into Vitellius’ hands while at the same time ensuring that Vespasian won’t take offense at whatever we do? How indeed?”

Brooding over the question, the three of them sat in silence together. Suddenly Julia had an idea. “I think I may know an answer. What if … what if we gave Lucianus information, but it was false?”

Gaius looked at his niece with fear and admiration on his face. “My dear Julia, do you know how dangerous a game it is that you play? If Vitellius finds out …”

“It will be no worse than if we help Vitellius now and Vespasian finds us out when he arrives,” she asserted firmly.

Gaius turned to look at his nephew. “What do you say, Marcus?” Marcus’ face paled, but he nodded slowly. Gaius looked back at Julia with a weak smile. “Now we’re all spies.”

For a little over a month, the children and Uncle Gaius played their dangerous game. When they heard information about people supporting Vespasian, they told Lucianus a different tale—that those people supported Vitellius. When they heard of support for Vitellius, they made it sound as if they might not be as loyal as Vitellius thought. They were quite careful to make sure the information never outright condemned anyone, but they hoped that it would confuse Lucianus and foil some of Vitellius’ plans. However, all the while, Gaius continued to sell food to the palace. The children tried to get him to stop, but he told them that he was afraid if he did, Vitellius might grow suspicious of him. Besides, the money was really, really good.

In late October, word came to Rome that Vitellius’ northern legions had been defeated and Vespasian’s forces even now approached the city. Vespasian’s men from Syria were still many leagues away, but a general named Marcus Antonius Primus formed his own army in support of Vespasian near the Danube River. Primus had only had five legions available against Vitellius’ eight legions. However, Vitellius had spent so much money that he hadn’t kept his army well supplied with new recruits, so the forces had actually been about equal in size. On October 24, the two armies had met suddenly along the Via Postumia Road near Cremona and Bedriacum, in almost exactly the same spot as Vitellius had defeated Otho only six months before! The brutal battle had taken place at night, and the victorious army destroyed the nearby city of Cremona. Many of the defeated soldiers switched sides and swelled the ranks of Vespasian’s legions. They now marched on Rome.

In the city, people despaired. Vitellius’ soldiers secured the city and prepared to defend Rome against attack. If a Roman army attacked Rome, many people would be hurt. Moreover, everyone was nervous about how Vespasian would treat the people of the city when he finally arrived. When Vespasian became emperor, it would mean that Rome would have had four new emperors in a single year! In fact, many Romans were already calling it “Year of the Four Emperors.”

In just a few days, the earth shook with the tromping of thousands of feet, and the enemy army came into view. By nightfall, flaming torches and campfires dotted the land around the city like a swarm of ghostly fireflies.

The gates were sealed. No one could get out, and the city prayed that no one would come in.

Chapter 8 (October 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Abigail (age 13)

November 10, 2017

Outside the City Gates

A sharp rap from the doorknocker ripped the calm night silence at Marcus and Julia's villa. Julia placed the scroll she had been studying on the sofa and nervously advanced to the door, her sandals softly patting the marble floor. Looking up from the wooden cavalry he was arranging, her brother bit his lip and craned his neck to watch her. Slowly Julia pushed the heavy door open to emit a crack of candlelight from the cozy room. As she did, Marcus leapt up and hurried to the door, compelled by curiosity. Outside stood a soldier, no taller than Marcus, who was wearing a serious expression. The soldier bowed comically. The children's fright melted into amusement. Rather confusedly Julia opened her mouth to speak, but the diminutive man had already begun his salutation in an energetic voice. Marcus noticed that the soldier carried a scroll and two very full bags of coins.

“You are the blue banded couriers, Marcus and Julia, are you not?” Without waiting for an answer, the visitor nodded emphatically to the astounded siblings. “I am Tiberius. Lucianus, official of the emperor, sent me to ask your service for a paramount task.” Tiberius puffed up his chest like a proud rooster. Handing Marcus the scroll and two purses, the soldier announced, “This missive must be taken to,” he paused for an effect of flourish, “the hidden door by the north gate leading to the Via Flamminia!”

“Which is...?” Marcus queried, his eyebrows crumpling.

“Young man,” Tiberius explained, lowering his voice, “Via Flamminia is a road trailing out of the city. Lucianus requires that you travel to the large, north city gate where you will give its guard, Titus, one purse of sesterces in payment for him to escort you to the inconspicuous door. You will leave the city secretly, follow the Via Flamminia, deliver the scroll to General Primus, then reenter the city again by way of the door. Before five days have passed, this must be done. The second purse is a reward to you from Lucianus, expressing his gratitude for your noble willingness to complete his request. Very well then?”

The children nodded. Tiberius bowed again, then marched sprightly away into the dark night. Half laughing and half serious, Julia shut the door. The siblings agreed to consult their Uncle Gaius the next day, then retired to bed, not stopping to remember that General Primus's army held them captive in their own city.

As the sun gradually awakened the next morning, only to hide in the clouds the rest of the day, so did realization creep slowly upon Marcus and Julia. By the time they had reached Uncle Gaius's house, they were filled to bursting with questions, concerns, exclamations, and wonderings about the previous night's happenings.

Ushering the children in, Uncle Gaius shut the door and greeted them with, “So what has occurred now, my dears?”

Instantly Marcus and Julia rocketed into narrating their rather one-sided conversation with Tiberius, their uncle hurrying to catch it all.

“Well now,” Uncle Gaius remarked when the two siblings finished, quite out of breath. “Supposing this isn't a trick, you should take the job, children, but I smell a rat. Lucianus, the supposedly loyal official of the emperor, needs to quickly contact the enemy general? Something's amiss.”

“What, exactly?” asked Marcus, skeptically examining the scroll.

Its seal was not intricate and official like the custom palace ones. This scroll of heavy, nontransparent paper was sealed with a plain, thick mass of inexpensive wax which appeared to have been dropped carelessly by someone in a quite a rush. The boy knew that breaking it would leave a telltale crack, ultimately spelling disaster. However, the idea was tempting.

“I wish I could know what's in that letter,” Julia expressed wistfully.

“I have it!” Uncle Gaius exclaimed.

Marcus and Julia looked up.

“We can read it! After it's broken I can repair that seal to look perfectly new, because the pattern is so simple!”

“Are you certain?” Julia questioned.

Her uncle nodded assuredly. On the wooden table Marcus meticulously broke the wax. Excitedly Uncle Gaius, Julia, and Marcus read the scroll silently. Pleadingly Lucianus had written, requesting that General Primus would permit the official and his family to secretly escape the city after two days had passed from the time the letter would be received. The two-faced Lucianus slyly offered General Primus confidential information concerning the emperor, the men who upheld him, and the soldiers and Praetorians who protected him in exchange. Soberly Uncle Gaius repaired the seal, and Marcus and Julia shook their heads, mourning the horrible things that happen when people thirst for power.

While they sat in the safety of their home, which was welcomingly warm as opposed to the rainstorm they had been in, the two children reminisced the previous hour. According to their Uncle's counsel, they had delivered the traitorous letter from Lucianus to the enemy army general. However, as a result of another of Uncle Gaius's suggestions, Julia and Marcus had also written their own epistle to General Primus. In it, the children stated that they have been working for Lucianus, and warned that the General should be wary of Lucianus's words. Concluding the missive, the children had assured General Primus that their services were available to him, and, should he ever need them, he would recognize the two couriers by their blue headbands. The children's job had played out quite smoothly, and their mother was thankful for the purse of coins, for any money that could be obtained in this chaotic time of undecided war was indeed something to prize. Sleepily Marcus rested his head on his older sister's shoulder. Julia squeezed his hand, and both children hoped that somewhere out in the rain so fierce it seemed to attack with nearly icy arrows, their father was safe.

Chapter 9 (November 2017)

Outside the city in the midst of the rain, an officer strode to the tent of General Marcus Antonius Primus, commander of the Vespasian forces. Stepping past a saluting guard, the officer pushed back the tent flap and stepped out of the torrent of water falling from a bitter, black sky. General Primus was standing over his table, charts and maps of the city of Rome strewn across its surface. Looking up, he nodded at the dripping officer standing there.

“What can I do for you, Appias Julius?” he asked, looking down once more at the contents of his table.

“An officer near the northern gate received correspondence from inside the city, Sir,” Appias replied, holding out a leather pouch.

Primus looked up quizzically as he took the pouch and reached inside. “From inside the city, you say?”

Inside were two scrolls, one sealed and the other plain, and a bag of coins. The general broke the seal and scanned the contents of the first letter quickly, then read the other more slowly. A mirthless smile played at the corner of his mouth.

“Well, well. It appears we have friends we didn’t know we had, Appias. Take a look.”

Taking the letters, Appias also surveyed them, but stopped short at the end of Marcus and Julia’s letter. “The signers of this letter bear the names of my children, Marcus and Julia.”

The general frowned. “There are certainly many Marcuses in Rome, Appias.”

Appias shook his head, “Respectfully Sir, there are far fewer who are sibling to a girl named for the Julian family.”

The general nodded slowly. “When Vespasian sent you to me by ship all those months ago to gain my support, I was glad to have a competent tribune join me. But, perhaps your arrival here has an even greater significance.”

“It’s them, General. I’m sure of it.”

The general’s smile faded. “I knew your family was from Rome, Appias, but you must know that I cannot guarantee their safety when we attack.”

Appias looked at the general with a level, expressionless gaze. “I understand, General,” he replied softly.

“But,” Primus went on, “we will warn the men to be careful of anyone with a blue headband. They are friends to Vespasian.”

Appias sighed with relief and smiled. “Thank you, General.”

“Strange things are afoot, Tribune!” the General laughed. “Courtly intrigue, and your children in the midst of it. What tales will they tell you when all this is over?”

The two men laughed, but outside, raindrops fell in sheets and the wind howled, a portent of things to come.

Three days later, a dark, sunless day dawned. The attack came suddenly. Though the storm of several nights before had stopped, burning missiles now arced across the sky and slammed into houses and businesses throughout Rome, a deadly, fiery rain. Romans fought Romans on the walls, outside the city, and in the streets. Though the city guard fought bravely, they could not stand against General Primus and Vespasian’s mighty army. When the bloody day was finished, thick smoke choked the city streets, and many Romans mourned the dead and dying.

Much of the capital had been burned, and Vitellius had been killed in the fighting. However, Marcus and Julia fared better than many. Though flaming arrows had started a fire on one side of Uncle Gaius’ house, it had been quickly put out. Wearing their blue bands, the children now watched the people of Rome as they cleaned up the wreckage and went about their business, ever mindful of the enemy forces of their own countrymen now inside their gates.

It had been a tumultuous year of four emperors. As the triumphant army marched through the streets, the children wondered what would happen. When would their father return to Rome? What would General Primus do with them? What would happen to Uncle Gaius? Perhaps most important of all, would Rome finally have an emperor who would stay in power for longer than a few months?

Suddenly, a voice called out, “Hey, blue bands! Here they are!”

Chapter 9 (November 2017) Winning Submission

The following submission is the student's own work.

Jenna G. (age 12)

December 8, 2017

Julia spun around so hurriedly that her ribbon whipped her face. Marcus' eyes widened like dinner plates as he stared at the approaching soldier.

"What would he want with us?" Marcus breathed, barely audible enough for Julia to hear.

"I don't know," Julia panicked. She felt her heart gallop away, leaving a hole of fear in its place.

The soldier's presence in front of her reminded Julia that one of them needed to speak. Glancing expectantly at Marcus, she waited for him to explain who they were. But Marcus' eyes danced all over the place, not wanting to meet her gaze.

Julia sighed and unconsciously fingered her blue headband. "I am the daughter of Officer Appias Julius."

The soldier's eyes flashed with recognition at the officer's name and he jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "General Marcus Antonius Primus is looking for you."

"The General?" Marcus squeaked. The soldier dipped his head in reply and rushed off to see to other business.

"Well, let's go," Julia shrugged. They jogged off in search of General Primus, but had to slow their pace once they reached the crowded streets of the market. People swarmed like bees in a beehive as they whispered and coaxed information out of soldiers. Julia and Marcus finally broke free from the serpentine streets of town and took a path that led toward the rolling hills. They watched, bewildered, as the General pranced up the path and stopped in front of them.

"Yes?" Marcus asked awkwardly.

"I am General Primus and, oh! You're the blue headbands!"

Julia tipped her head with pride and politely lowered her eyes with respect. She kept her head bowed as she listened to the General babble on and on about how well his men had fought and the stories their father would have to tell them. Her head abruptly popped up involuntarily and she asked, "Stories from my father? He's here?"

General Primus' eyes lit up and he started to usher them back down the path toward town. Once they crested the hill, they spied dozens of soldiers milling aimlessly throughout the village. Then Marcus glimpsed a familiar man eagerly searching every child's face. He shot off down the hill like a bullet zinging through the air.

"Papa!" Marcus yelped delightedly.

Julia tumbled after Marcus with her hair and ribbon streaking behind her. "Father!" she shrieked.

Appias flung his head around in the direction of his children's voices. "Marcus? Julia?" He hoarsely whispered, emotion sparkling through his words.

"Yes, Papa," Marcus grinned. He clung to his father's waist, tears spilling over his cheeks.

Appias held out his arms to Julia as she rushed into his embrace. "Father," she mumbled into his coat. He caressed her hair with his mighty hand and knelt down in the street.

"I'm back," he smiled as tears shined in his eyes, "with you, my little couriers."

In the months to follow, Uncle Gaius became the sole provider for the palace kitchen and soon his riches seemed to multiply while he watched with a joyous grin. Marcus whispered to Julia that he was, "As chirpy as a mother bird with her babies."

As for the new emperor, he proved himself to be a marvelous ruler. He improved roads and built splendid aqueducts that helped the people of Rome in numerous ways.

Marcus and Julia continued to work as couriers, but took less and less of the responsibilities so that they could enjoy time with their father.

One day as Marcus and Julia rested in the shade of a tree, they remembered how their courier business had started. Marcus laughed and Julia sighed. "It has been fun," she commented. "Most importantly, I got to do it with you. You know, I wouldn't have been able to do this messenger work without you."

"Thanks," he replied, "me either."

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