The Oath-Breaker's Daemon
by Rob Steiner
I had many challenges being the only real magus in downtown ancient Rome. One
of the biggest was drawing the attention of powerful patricians. So when you're
trying to get back to the twenty-first century like I am, you can't be too picky
when it comes to jobs.
I was walking back to my flat on the Aventine Hill through the cramped, close,
and crowded streets of 6 BC Rome carrying my dinner for the night: a circle of
emmer bread, some dried pears, and a small wedge of cheese. When I got to the
rickety wooden stairs to my second floor flat/office, I saw a man standing there
waiting. I'd been stuck in ancient Rome for a year, so I was pretty good at
identifying patricians. He was young, clean-shaven, with close-cropped black
hair. While he didn't wear a toga, his tunica was white and unwrinkled, his
sandals recently oiled, and a sheathed gladius hung from his leather belt.
He certainly wasn't an off-duty Legionnaire. Those boys never dressed that well.
This guy was an officer or a patrician's lictor. And he was looking right at me.
My gut churned. I hated getting involved with patricians and their political games,
especially when they tried to recruit me into their patronage. But patricians had
the money to pay me, and I hadn't had a job in over a week. The urge to run gave
way to my yearning for home, so I continued walking toward him.
"You are the one they call Natta the Magus, correct?" he asked in the accented
Latin of the upper classes. He glanced at the baseball cap I was wearing, which
stood out in this century, to say the least. Not only did it have the yellow-on-black
colors of my favorite professional baseball club, the Detroit Wolverines, but it was
also lined with copper threads and enchantments to keep nasty spirits out of my
"I am. And you are?" My Latin had improved over the last year, but sometimes
my modern English accent made me sound like a German to Roman ears.
The man frowned slightly, probably because I did not address him with the
customary dominus that patricians reserved for themselves.
"I am Vitulus. I represent . . ." He looked around at the crowds. "Can we speak
"Sure, let's go to my office."