One never knows.
I was putting the finishing touches on one of the Aculeo & Amunet stories that will be collected in the next A&A ebook (coming in september, barring accidents), and I noticed that a number of throwaway characters had proved to be tougher and much more fun to write about than expected.
Centurion Nennius Britannicus is a short, balding man that looks somewhat like Bob Hoskins in my mind’s eye – a second-tier officer with a tendency to get on his commander’s nerves.
When we meet him in The Hand of Isfet (the immediate sequel to Bride of the Swamp God), he’s on patrol duty in the streets of Alexandria.
He’s not exactly enjoying the ride.
I introduced Britannicus and his men as a complication, to make the going of my characters harder, and more fun – Britannicus gets wind of Aculeo’s whereabouts from an informer, and moves to arrest the deserter.
Also, I saw the guys as a bit of comedy relief.
I liked the idea of a bunch of Roman legionaries doing police duty in a city not their own, feeling bored and out of place.
“Alexandria’s full of weirdos” observes Britannicus right hand man, decanus Dunius Clericus.
I also liked the idea of these characters using a lot of modern slang and anachronistic expression in their speech, sounding like tough cops or soldiers from a modern time.
He walked up to his men.
“All right, kids, looks like we have a sweetheart situation,” he announced.
His men groaned and cursed.
“A pox on it,” one of the soldiers said. “Not in this heat!”
“Yeah, boss, let the guy have a good time–”
Britannicus sighed dramatically. “C’mon, guys, show some loyalty to the Emperor.”
“He’s got no chicks shortage, the Emperor,” Dunius Clericus spat. He was the decanus of the contubernium, and probably too smart for his own good.
“That’s worth the birch, man,” Britannicus said.
Clericus shrugged. “Some days I’d do a runner myself,” he said.
“No girl would run away with you, Clericus,” one of the guys laughed.
The decanus ignored him and eyed their informer. “You trust the crackpot, boss?”
Britannicus turned and watched the old man where he stood.
“It’s been a slow day, we might as well check his story,” he said.
The soldiers mumbled more complaints.
“But first,” the centurion continued,”you take the snitch somewhere quiet and teach him respect for the Legion, while I try and finish my meal.”
The men nodded, grim.
“Heracles be my witness,” Britannicus said, “I hate snitches more than deserters.”
But then, when the time came for Centurion Britannicus and his merry men to stand in the way of Aculeo, do their number and be gone…
Well, the guys just won’t die.
They held on to their lives with all they had, and they helped each other, and kept their cool under pressure.
And they were clearly on Aculeo’s side.
This meant rewriting the final 3000 words of the story, but believe it or not, what was a good closing for the tale became much better. More action, higher impact, much more satisfactory.
And Britannicus, Clericus and the rest of the guys got out of it bruised and broken-limbed, and they’ll have to answer a lot of questions, but they walked away with their lives, which is more than I had planned in the beginning.
And I must say I find the guys so entertaining and fun to write, I might do a story or two just about them. After all, I coined the umbrella-like title of Peripheries of the Ancient World just for this purpose – to be able to write other stories in the same universe in which Aculeo and Amunet are doing their thing.
It would be a nice change of pace, writing about Britannicus and his men.
Something like Hill Street Blues, but set in Alexandria, in the Third Century.
A city filled with zealots, fanatics, weirdos and loose women.
With Lovecraftian creatures.
It would be fun.
For startes, I’m statting the whole squad using the Savage Worlds rules and the Weird Wars Rome supplement.
Just to have their character sheets handy, and start loading them in Scrivener.