aj_crawley: (sword)
aj_crawley ([personal profile] aj_crawley) wrote2009-06-10 10:45 pm

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Afterwards, Crowley goes west. He doesn't pick a good time for it, but then, that's sort of the point. There are children to be attended to, two at least: a curly-haired bastard in Pergamon, whom Crowley has not seen since its squalling infancy, and the swollen belly of the queen, heavy with the glances of all the hungry generals. And there's that, too, to deal with: the dividing of the world. KratistĂ´i. Crowley hasn't the stomach for any of it. So when the sky above the city is still stained with smoke, and the streets and squares of Babylon are still thick with the stink of incense and wailing and burnt fat, the demon packs just enough to have something to carry, and goes west.

Sometimes he travels by caravan, when the roads are good and the horses too placid or too tired to spook. And when there are places he can't avoid, places where the past is ground into the feverish earth by ten thousand marching feet, he flies instead, wings beating around him like a heart, vast and shadowy. Mostly though, Crowley walks. There's no reason he can't. For all his love of luxury, he doesn't need anything to see him through the desert and the rocky plains. Not when every wadi and oasis east of Siwa seems much the same as before - muddy and extortionate and nothing worth detouring for unless you have to water an army. Crowley walks because it feels good, pushing away the solid ground-miles behind him with the swing and sinew of his legs; miles between himself and places that he's grown tired of; miles between himself and places that have no right to be the same.

He takes his time (there's no reason he can't). He hasn't got anywhere to be, and a long list of places to not be, so there's   no reason he can't. A month here, a fortnight there - why not? He spends a few weeks sunning himself on the banks of the Red Sea, playing silly buggers with the market price of tuna and flirting with the inn-keeper's daughter (who either doesn't notice that he forgets to keep his eyes the same colour as the day before, or doesn't care). It feels like an eternity since he's had fresh sea-food. When Kafafah palls, she persuades her fisherman intended to give him passage on the next crossing, which is worth it just for the sour glares Crowley gets all the way across.

He strolls back into the empire near Thebes. Thebes is better. It's got an actual upper class, for one, which is all Crowley needs to inveigle himself into some lavish guest quarters, a soft bed, and proper booze. That lasts a while. He's thinking about wintering there when the news arrives: an heir apparent. They all toast him a long life, and privately agree that he's not likely to get one. Crowley crosses the Nile in December, heading south and west, west west west.

It's a long, wide circle to avoid Siwa, detouring deeper down into the sands. Crowley doesn't see the coast until summer; until he knows the name on the coins but no longer recognises the face. He likes Lepcis well enough. It's not very big, but it's independent, and - bridging east and west, sea and sand - quite important as far as trading centres go. Plenty to do, and a bubble to do it in: little power-plays and little politics, and changing the larger trading patterns no more than they could change the tides that carry them. Crowley likes Lepcis.

He doesn't much remember coming to Carthage, but that's all right; he likes Carthage, too.

And so it goes.


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In Capital City, Lavinia, the high-end urban real-estate market is a place only for the very quick, the very bold, and the very rich. And, generally speaking, the very unscrupulous. But by now, even the tenants of one particular apartment block have given up wondering when a 'FOR SALE' holosign might materialise outside, advertising in shimmering 3-D the three-storey penthouse not-so-recently vacated by their previous landlord. Still, it's not as though it matters much; no neighbours is as good as great neighbours, they still pay their rent through the same firm, and the ownership transition was so swift and so smoothly efficient that if the building's new proprietors (the blandly-named Q Holdings) choose not to sell just yet, then the tenants can hardly begrudge them their reasons.

It's just a little weird, is all.

Inside the former residence of Andronicus Ji Crowley (d.), behind the best security that money can't buy, all the furniture is draped in dust sheets.

Otherwise, everything looks just the same.


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Tidings come much slower to kingdoms without much reason to care - and Carthage, ancient and prosperous, doesn't have much reason to care. The empire in the east is long fractured after all, torn up by hungry teeth, and nobody here expects to see it reunited. It's three years late and by way of idle eavesdropping at court that Crowley hears: his grandsons are dead, aged seventeen and fourteen.





In Sicily, he bumps into Aziraphael. Quite literally, in fact - each of them scanning the tavern for the other ethereal presence they can sense, and neither of them watching where they're going. It's quite a nasty shock, and not just because Crowley loses half a pitcher of decent, unwatered wine over Aziraphael's plate of sweetmeats. Still, they talk for a little while about nothing in particular, and then for a little while longer about even less in particular, and after that, it doesn't seem quite as bad. Crowley doesn't mention but vaguely why he's there or what he's been up to the past few decades, and Aziraphael evidently feels that two can play at that game, so what they find to keep them going for over a week of random encounters and accidental lunches, Crowley can't rightly say.

Later, he'll remember that Aziraphael, too, looked exactly the same, which was as good a reason as any at the time to suppose that he hadn't been doing much out of the ordinary. And he'll remember admitting to staying on somewhere in the east when the angel had reached out and touched his hand (walnut-brown, like the rest of him), and said: "My dear, if it weren't for the fact that I'd recognise you anywhere, I'd hardly have recognised you."

Crowley dies in the Apennines that year, because it's winter, and because he's still walking, and maybe just because he's forgotten that it could be that cold. When he comes back, though, it's summer, and that's a good time of year to be in Campania - even if they are a little rustic, and even if it does take Crowley a full month just to figure out their calendar and work out how many summers he's missed in the meantime. The world seems slower there, soaked in the kind of honeyed time that, in Crowley's opinion, is the main redeeming feature of bucolic nowheres. It trickles down from the mountains, seeps over the rich cornfields and the green pastures, through the lemon trees and the olive groves, pools in the wide blue bay that cradles Vesuvius, where the ash makes for fertile, forgiving soil. The crops grow, are harvested, are sown, and grow again; the fruit is plucked, pressed unmourned, and reappears. There, the earth has no memory.

Eventually, time isn't the only thing to trickle down from between the jagged peaks, and when the mountain people meet on the plain with the men from the north, Crowley slithers behind the likeliest front line, and heads up along the coast. North - for Latium, and the seat of government, and for the seven hills.

It's a good call. The war isn't the longest that Crowley's ever seen, but it's long enough; the sort of endless, jagged skirmishing that churns up the ground and never gives anybody any peace. Better to be in the city. Once he readjusts, finds a comfortable place and some reliable slaves and a person to be, Crowley's certain of that - far better to be in the city, loud, and proud, and flush with its own growing power. Not young, but somehow new. They win, as of course they must, and only Crowley (who, perched on his rooftop, sees the heralds clatter into the forum late one evening, early in the summer of the consulship of Rufinus and Dentatus), has reason to think the date is some sort of sadistic joke. When the next morning dawns, bright and pink with eagerness, it's been thirty-three years, and Alexander the Great has been dead longer than he was alive. All anybody can talk about, even the philosophers and the Hellenophile senators, is the Samnite victory, and how lavish a triumph will be accorded the hero Dentatus.

Rome, Crowley decides, is definitely where it's at.