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Vox Populli

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As soon as he returned to Condita, Titus realized that he had a problem.

His problem was not the Senate, most members of which were still in prison. The Imperial Letter Opener did tell him that during the weeks that he had been away, there had been a great many letters from aunts, nieces, cousins, and people Titus was not related to at all, all of which ordered, cajoled and nagged him to bring about the immediate release of his uncle, nephew, cousin or dear childhood friend whose name he remembered only vaguely, and not particularly fondly.

Nor was his problem the Senatorial legion, which General Agricola had also imprisoned. While they were not happy about what Titus had done with the senators, the Senatorial legion mostly consisted of legionaries who were not particularly keen on a fight.

Some of them had enlisted because they wanted a safe, easy job that paid a decent wage. Some of them had enlisted because someone they desperately wanted to impress had once commented on how dashing this or that acquaintance of theirs looked in their brand new legionary's uniform - forgetting, or perhaps preferring to pretend they had forgotten, that there was a great deal more to looking dashing than simply putting on a fancy uniform.

Some of them had enlisted because one of their relatives was a senator, and it would impress people at parties to hear their family included both a senator and a member of the Senatorial legion.

Thus, when they had been confronted with General Agricola's legionaries, most of whom not only did like to fight (if only because it was better than digging latrines all day) but who had also done so, the Senatorial legionaries had simply shrugged and let themselves be escorted to a nearby fort.

Both of these problems were ones Titus had expected to need to deal with. It was a relief to him that he did not, even if it also made him feel like all the time he had spent working out solutions for them had been rather wasted - especially since this was time he could have spent talking to Isodel instead.

Isodel, obviously, could never be a problem.

Titus loved her with all his heart, and like all men in his position, he was convinced that no one who met her could fail to do the same. While this might not be true for all young men in love, in this particular case, Titus was absolutely right.

Had he introduced her to the Senate as his wife, there could be no doubt that they would have given her a standing ovation, which was the greatest honor it was possible for the Senate to bestow on anyone who was not a senator.

Of course, as Titus had imprisoned all the senators, there was no Senate to give Isodel an ovation, or to do anything else at all to do with running the Empire.

That was Titus's problem.

 

The Empire prided itself on providing equal career opportunities to each and every one of its citizens. Anyone who wished to do so might become a senator, or a legionary, or learn how to read and write.

In this way, the citizens of the Empire smugly told themselves, they were far more civilized than their neighbors to the North, who were still ruled by kings, or to the East, who were ruled by emirs, which was just another word for 'kings', really.

Naturally, being a senator was a very important job, with a lot of responsibility. You could not become one simply by signing up for the job; you had to prove, beyond a doubt, that you would be good at it.

While this seemed very reasonable and equal-opportunity in theory, in practice, it meant that only people whose fathers or uncles or grandfathers had been senators qualified to become senators themselves. Becoming a senator required experience, which you could only get if someone who was already a senator agreed to let you work for them, usually for a very small wage or for no wage at all. It required being taught by special tutors, who were very expensive. It required special clothes, which cost even more money than the tutors.

"It all doesn't sound very fair," said Isodel, after Titus had explained all of this to her.

She had known some things about how people did things in the Empire, but as Luteria and the Empire had been at war for the past eight years, she had never visited, or talked to anyone who actually lived there. Until she had met Titus, of course.

"The basic idea is good, I think," said Titus. "After all, you wouldn't want someone who knew nothing about trade to make important decisions about who everyone else should trade with, would you?"

"I suppose not," Isodel admitted. She did not like to point out that perhaps some of the decisions the Senate had made these past years had not been very good ones. "Still, wouldn't someone who makes a living as a trader also know a thing or two about trading? It's their job, after all."

For a moment, Titus's expression brightened, but then he shook his head. "They'd be too busy trading. Being a senator is a full-time job. You can't just do it on the side, like a hobby."

Isodel considered reminding Titus that he was the Emperor. If he told someone that they should become a senator, then surely they would obey him.

However, Titus was a nice, young man, and ordering someone to take up a different career would not be nice at all.

Then again, throwing the entire Senate in prison had not been very nice, either.

"Still," Titus went on, looking thoughtful, "I know one person whom I can make a senator, at least temporarily. Now that we're no longer at war with Luteria, I'll need someone to make an official peace treaty with your father. I think General Agricola would be perfect for the job."

"Perhaps you could ask him if he knows a trader who is looking for a change," Isodel suggested.

 

General Agricola did not know any traders who might like to become senators, but the Imperial Flower Purchaser had an uncle whose wife's second cousin Aulus Aulilus had written several angry letters to the Senate to complain about firstly the pilgrim parties, which the Senate had not been able to do anything about, and later, when there had been no more pilgrim parties to complain about, the taxes on certain types of goods, which he felt were too high compared to those on other types of goods.

"I suppose he can't do worse than who we've got at the tax office right now," said Titus. He had spent a morning reading all of Aulus Aulilus's letters, and he was not entirely sure if he would enjoy meeting the man in person. He felt that Aulus might very well send him a letter afterwards, to complain about the way Titus had shaken his hand, the quality of the refreshments that had been served, and many other things that had not entirely met with his expectations.

On the other hand, Aulus Aulilus had quoted a lot of numbers in his letters. He mentioned the names of other traders he had spoken to, who had agreed with him, and even a few who had not. That last bit, especially, had convinced Titus that Aulus might be worth a try.

"Who's that?" asked Isodel. She had noticed that Tituts had said 'we' rather than 'I'.

True, it might have been an imperial 'we', but the way he had looked at her as he had said the word had left her feeling like this had not been an imperial 'we'. This had been the kind of 'we' people used to indicate themselves and another person, together.

Until that moment, Isodel had wanted to help Titus make things better in the Empire because she knew that it was something that would make him happy. It had not quite occurred to her that in marrying Titus, the Empire had become hers as well.

"No one at all," said Titus, sighing.

 

Aulus Aulilus knew a farmer who had some ideas on how to improve the Empire's current agricultural system, and General Agricola, when he returned from signing the peace treaty with Luteria, was able to suggest several legionaries who might be quite happy to work behind a desk.

Thus, name by name, little by little, Titus and Isodel created a new government for the Empire.

Titus was quite happy that he no longer had to make all decisions himself, and Isodel was happy because Titus was happy. Aulus Aulilus was happy because when there was something he did not like, he now no longer had to write a letter before anything would be done about it, and General Agricola was happy because the Empire was being governed properly again and also because the long war with Luteria was finally over, which meant he could spend more time at home.

In fact, the only person in the palace who was not perfectly happy was the Imperial Letter Opener, whose office was by now far too small to contain all the letters people kept sending.

Titus was still angry with the Senate for how they had treated Claudia. He knew that perhaps not all of them had agreed with the plan to have Claudia removed from the University to be murdered, but he also knew that none of them had come to him to tell him about it. As far as he was concerned, that meant all of them were responsible. The fact that the plan had failed did not matter.

"Perhaps you could fine them," said Isodel. She understood Titus's anger, but she also felt that it would not benefit anyone very much to keep the senators locked up forever. Keeping them in prison cost the Empire money, and while the Empire was not as poor as Luteria had been, Isodel could not approve of spending money on something that wasn't needed.

"Money will not make up for what they have done," said Titus. "Besides, they and their families are so rich, no matter how high I set the fine, it won't impress them in the least. In fact, if I fine them, they'll probably think that was my plan along. They'll think that it wasn't about Claudia at all."

Isodel saw how that would never do. The senators had to be taught a lesson. They had to come out of prison knowing exactly why Titus had put them there.

"Not a fine, then," she said. "Let them do something useful. Something that will genuinely benefit the Empire. Something they won't enjoy doing at all."

"I certainly like the sound of that," said Titus. "What did you have in mind, exactly?"

"I don't know," Isodel admitted. "But I'm sure there must be something."

 

The next time Titus's new government met, Titus told them all Isodel's idea. Everyone agreed that it was a good one, but no one was quite able to think of a way to put it into practice.

"I suppose we could make them dig latrines," said General Agricola, "except that they'll make a mess of it, and anyway, now that we're at peace, we don't really need as many anymore."

Militius, who knew a great deal about farming, nodded. "Farming's hard work, too - honest, but hard. They can't do that, either. Farmers are busy people; they don't have time to teach a bunch of nit-wits how to farm, and that's even assuming we'd have the land to spare."

Isodel snapped her fingers. "That's it," she said.

Nearly everyone in the room looked at her in surprise. Titus was the only exception.

He frowned. "I'm not sure if they're really going to be any good as teachers."

"I'm not sure if they've got anything worth teaching," said Aulus Aulilus. "What could former senators teach people?"

"Simple things, like reading and writing and calculus, for one," said Isodel. "They'll do it for free, so that people who can't afford to go to a school now can learn."

"Won't that put regular teachers out of a job?" Militius asked, looking concerned.

"Not if we make sure they only take students who can't afford to pay the regular fees," said Titus. Now that he had had a few seconds to consider Isodel's idea, he was beginning to see the potential benefits. "In fact, many of them live in houses that are far too big for them. They could easily share them."

General Agricola chuckled. "They won't like that very much at all."

"Well, I didn't like the way that they treated Claudia very much at all, either," said Titus. "So that sounds fair enough to me. And if any of them prefer to stay in prison, well, I'm sure that we'll be able to accommodate them."

"Now I'm even gladder the war with Luteria's over," said General Agricola. "To think that I might have missed all this."