Some years later, a great crowd filled the villa near Capua owned by Gaius Vibulenus. The occasion was the ninth birthday of Gaius and Quartilla’s first child. The boy they had named Ulysses, but called simply Sam.
Clodius Afer, one of the boy’s four godfathers, had been disgruntled by the name. “Sissy Greek name,” he’d muttered, speaking of the official cognomen. And he had even less use for the nickname.
Pompilius Niger, the second of the godfathers, also thought the name was a bit odd, for a Roman. But, unlike Clodius Afer, the simple farmer rather liked the simple “Sam.”
Julius Rusticanus, the third godfather, was delighted by the name. As well he should be-it was his suggestion in the first place. Unlike his two fellow legionnaires, Rusticanus knew that the boy had not been named after an ancient Greek adventurer. No, Rusticanus had become quite the student of world history-as befitted a man who had recently been elected, by an overwhelming majority of Italians, to the Confederation’s most august legislative body. The former first centurion, born a peasant, was now-what would his father have thought, he often wondered?-a senator.
Ulysses had been named after another, much later man. The man who led the armies which destroyed chattel slavery. Ulysses “Sam” Grant. Rusticanus had great hopes for the boy. Especially now, watching the child bouncing in the lap of his fourth godfather, demanding an explanation for the new toys.
The boy, though large for his age, was almost lost in that huge Gha lap.
“What do you do with them, Fludenoc?” demanded Sam. “How do you play with them?”
Rusticanus grinned. Fludenoc hu’tut-No. He was now Fludenoc hu-lu-tut-Na Nomo’te. His epic poem-the first epic poem ever written by a Gha-had won him that new accolade, from his clan. Fludenoc now belonged to that most select of Gha poets, those considered “bards.”
The epic had been entitled the Ghaiad. Rusticanus had read it, twice. The first time with awe, at the Gha’s great poetic skill, which came through even in the Latin translation. The second time with amusement, at the Gha’s wry sense of humor. It was all about a small band of Gha, long ago, who had been driven into exile by rapacious conquerors. Wandering the galaxy-having many adventures-until they finally settled on a new planet and founded Rome. (With, admittedly, a bit of help from the local natives.)
Fludenoc, like Rusticanus, had also become an avid student of human history.
“Tell me, Uncle Fludenoc, tell me!” demanded the boy. The child pointed at the new toys which the Gha had brought him for his birthday. “How do you play with them?”
Fludenoc’s huge, bulging eyes stared down at the tiny Ossa/human child in his lap. As always, there was no expression in the giant’s face. But the boy had long since learned to read the subtleties of Gha breathing.
“Stop laughing at me!” shrilled Sam. “I want to know! How do you play with them?”
“I was not laughing at you, Sam,” rumbled Fludenoc. “I was laughing at the Doges.”
Sam’s slightly iridescent, softly scaled face crinkled into a frown.
“When you grow up,” said the Gha, gently, “you will know how to use them.”
Sam twisted in Fludenoc’s lap, staring down at the peculiar toys sitting on the floor.
A small plow.
A bag of salt.