The stones were cold and hard beneath Marcus’s knees. Pulling a purse from his toga, he tipped the contents into a bowl at the feet of the statue. Gold coins reflected flickering candle light across the carved body of the goddess.
“Hear me, oh mighty Bellona.” Marcus did his best to mimic the humility he had seen in others. There was little reason for a senator to be truly humble. “I bring you this offering, and more to come. Please grant me your power as a leader and orator, that I may humiliate Tullius on the senate floor tomorrow, and ensure my control of the port taxes.”
There seemed little point in lying about his purpose to either a god or a statue. Any god of Rome must know what business preoccupied the city’s senate, and no statue would hear or care.
“I can grant what you ask.” The voice was rich, booming and so unexpected that it made Marcus jump. He had seen the gods grant power, but never before had one deemed fit to speak to him.
None of the temple’s attendants were looking his way. Only he had heard the voice.
“Thank you, oh glory.” He smiled and bowed low. “I will bring you more offerings once I have-”
“I will not grant this power for your petty cause.” Bellona’s voice cut through his thoughts like a sword blade. “But I have need of a voice in the senate. Turn your efforts to stoking war with Carthage, and I will make you a mighty orator, a leader among men.”
Blank faced, Marcus considered his options. He had no desire for war, whether as a leader of a follower. It was a waste of talent and time. But if he was careful, he could get what he wanted from this.
“Or course, oh great one.” He bowed more deeply. “Grant me your power, and I will prove your greatness on the senate floor.”
“Worm!” The voice was a hammer pounding in his brain. He pressed his head against the cold stones, hoping to find some relief from the agony. “You seek to trick me with your slippery words! Implying obedience to my will, while committing to no path but your own. You think I am a fool?”
“That is not what I meant.” Even with his brain feeling like it might spill out through his ears, Marcus could still see a way forward. “I will use your power to make the case for war.”
“Very well.” The goddess’s voice become gentle, washing away the pain. “My power is yours.”
A taste like warm honey flowed across Marcus’s tongue and down his throat. Poetic turns of phrase sprang unbidden into his mind. There was a rumbling richness to his voice as he spoke.
“Thank you, oh great one.” Even he found his new tone charming. “I will do as you ask.”
Rising and turning to leave the temple, he finally allowed himself a sly grin. It was not the first time he had lied for what he wanted. By the time Bellona knew, his work would be done, his argument won with her power. After that, he would make do with attending on the other gods. It would be worth it for the riches at stake.
“Marcus.” Her voice caught him as he reached the doorway. “I have other servants. It will not go well for you if you betray me.”
A temple attendant looked his way as he stood blinking at the sunlit street. The man’s hand lay on the knife in his belt. His eyes gleamed like an iron blade.
Marcus hesitated, contemplating the possibilities ahead of him. Lead a war he didn’t want, or spend months looking over his shoulder for angry priests. Maybe next time he wouldn’t try lying to a god.
Or maybe he would just do it better.
* * *
If you like your fantasy with a classical setting then you might also enjoy my novella Ocean Gods, Roman Blades, available as a Kindle ebook. And if you’d like to get more short stories like this one, straight to your inbox each Friday, then please sign up to my mailing list – it’s free, you can unsubscribe any time you want, and you’ll even get a free ebook.