I watched Lyra toss back another mimosa while I slowly sipped kölsch. Our Italian restaurant stood on the riverside. Lyra and I dined at an outdoor table with a view of the Rhine, a remarkable bridge, and the small island where the Shokoladen Museum waited for our planned visit later that afternoon. The warm sun and clear sky made it a beautiful — I had no idea when we were. Pulling up my left sleeve, I examined the device on my wrist. August 10, 2010. Lyra and I had only been talking for about a week, but I somehow convinced her to take a trip with me just to grab lunch in Cologne, Germany. Pulling the time travel card could be very persuasive.
I pushed my unfinished carbonara away from me and downed the rest of my beer. “So,” I said, “would you like to hear more about Cletus? Not me Cletus, but caveman Cletus.”
Lyra hissed through her teeth. “I don’t know,” she said. “The more you tell me, the more it starts to make me worry. You’re just piling on hang ups with every new story.”
“How am I making you worry? They’re just stories.”
“Yeah, no, they’re not. If Cletus had a movie, it’d be called Rape and Murder Through the Ages.”
“It was a different time. Plus, I’ve been super vague and nondescript about any potential rape.”
“But it’s still there,” Lyra said. “Plus, the fact that Cletus must have millions of children. It makes me not want whatever this is with us to even happen because we are at least tangentially related because of your ancestor.”
“I mean, research states that all males on the planet can be linked back to a single male about a hundred and fifty thousand years ago,” I said.
“And that guy was probably Cletus.”
“Do you want to hear the stories or not?”
“I like stories,” Lyra said, “but I already know most of these stories. You’re just adding in a little Cletus flair to them.”
“You’re an anthropology student,” I said. “You should be interested in learning about an aspect of history that you can’t learn anywhere else.”
“Fine. Let’s hear the next one.”
Wailing woke Cletus. He pulled himself out of the thick mud. A basket floated down the river. A screaming child flailed inside the basket. Cletus sighed. The caveman crawled through the slop into the raging river. He swam with the current. Cletus bobbed in and out of the rapids before grabbing the basket.
Angry waters swept away Cletus and the rescued baby. Cletus luckily grabbed a tree root that grew through the riverbank into the water. The river beat Cletus against the rocks and roots around him. Cletus could not pull himself from the water without letting go of the child. The caveman considered releasing the child. The idea offended Cletus in a way he failed to grasp.
Cletus heard a low growl. A massive, black wolf stood on the riverbank. The wolf clenched a tree branch in its jaws. The wolf lowered the branch into the river. Cletus quickly let go of the roots and snatched the branch. The giant wolf dragged Cletus and the baby onto dry land. Cletus collapsed next to the child. As Cletus rolled over from a violent coughing spell, the wolf bashed the side of the caveman’s head with its enormous paw.
Darkness surrounded Cletus when he woke. “Am I dead?” Cletus asked the emptiness.
“You live,” a woman’s voice answered in Cletus’s mind.
Yellow eyes glowed in the blackness. As Cletus adjusted to the dim light he saw the silhouette of the wolf form around the brilliant eyes.
“Where am I?”
“In my home,” the she-wolf said into the caveman’s thoughts again.
“Where’s the child?”
“The boy is with me. He feeds. You should do the same.”
“Why’d you bring me here?”
“You have been marked with a burden. You are destined to erect a city nearby. To do so, you must be strong. Come, feed.”
Cletus approached the she-wolf. “Where’s the food?”
“No food. Feed from me.”
“Feed from you?” Cletus asked. Images flew through his mind of the child suckling from the she-wolf. “Oh. No, thank you. That’s disgusting.”
The she-wolf growled. “Feed, child. Grow strong.”
“I could just kill you and eat you instead.”
The she-wolf pushed the baby to the side. “You are welcome to try. If you win, feed upon me if you wish. If I win, you must submit and feed from me.”
Cletus jumped at the she-wolf. Almost instantly, she pinned the caveman down. She bit Cletus on the throat, hard enough to hurt but not break through the skin. The she-wolf returned to her corner in the cave with the baby. “Now, child,” she said. “Come, feed from me.”
Rolling onto his stomach, Cletus crawled to the she-wolf. He cringed as he took her into his mouth and began drinking her milk. “Good, child,” the she-wolf said. “I am Lupa. I am your mother now. With me, you shall grow strong.”
Cletus and the boy lived on the milk of Lupa. Time had no meaning in the cave. To the best of his abilities, Cletus separated day and night by the cave being dark or darker. Each day Cletus challenged Lupa. Each day the she-wolf wrestled the caveman into submission. Years passed quickly before Cletus finally bested Lupa.
“You have finally become cunning and strong,” Lupa said. “Now, it is time for you to leave, my child. Take the boy. Follow the river north out of the swamp. In the fields you will meet the next step of your destiny.”
“I’m sick of always being the chosen one,” Cletus said as he and the boy left the cave.
Cletus walked along the river with the toddler stumbling along beside him. They left the swamp behind and found the vast fields beyond a large number of hills. A man with a flock of sheep approached the two. “You there!” the shepherd shouted. “Why are you boys naked?”
“We got caught in the river while travelling,” Cletus said. “Lost everything, even our clothes. Is there any chance you could spare some for us?”
“I think I might be able to aid you. Come with me back to my cabin.”
“Thank you kindly, stranger.”
“I’m Faustulus. What do you call yourselves?”
Cletus thought for a moment. Faustulus eyed the caveman suspiciously during the long pause. Cletus finally said, “This here is Remus, my younger brother. You can call me Romulus. We’re travelling from Greece.”
“Might want to keep that to yourself. Lots of Grecians coming up this way. Lots of people don’t take kindly to Grecians. Most here view you as trying to impose on the simple life we have here.”
“Well, we just left Greece to find a simpler life ourselves. Maybe we could even find a home and work in this area.”
“You don’t say. Any chance you have any experience shepherding?”
“I’ve herded cattle in the past,” Cletus said. “I’ve also dealt with numerous other animals as well.”
“Well,” Faustulus said, “maybe we could help each other. Don’t have any cattle, but lots of sheep and dogs. No children of my own to help me out. If you’d be willing to work for me, my wife and I could provide for you to a degree. Couldn’t pay you, but we could put you two in a bed at night and food in your belly.”
“I could only hope for such a kindness,” Cletus said. “It’d be better than my life in Greece.”
Cletus stood before a crowd of men. Most carried spades, staves, and bows. “Those bastards from Alba Longa kidnapped my brother Remus,” Cletus said to the crowd. “Let’s get him back.”
Cletus led his shepherd militia from the Tiber River to the nearby kingdom of Alba Longa. Along the way, the shepherds attacked towns and villages in search of the now adult Remus. The small army grew as it marched to the castle of King Amulius of Alba Longa.
“Where is Remus?” Cletus shouted as he tore down the doors to the King Amulius’s court. “Where is the boy?”
The grey-haired king stared at Cletus. “You come looking for Numitor’s bastard grandson?” Amulius asked. “I take it you are the other twin. You were supposed to be killed before being thrown in that river.”
“Yet here I stand,” Cletus said. “Where’s Remus?”
“In the dungeon with your grandfather.”
Cletus rushed forward and crushed Amulius’s skull with his iron staff. The caveman freed Remus and Numitor from their cells. “Brother,” Remus said, “I’d like you to meet our grandfather.”
The white-haired old man grasped Cletus by the shoulders. “I’m glad that you live,” Numitor said. “Are you ready to take your throne?”
Cletus shook his head. “The throne to this city is yours, Numitor. I can make my own way.”
Numitor reclaimed his rightful place as king of Alba Longa. The shepherd army returned to the great fields on the Tiber. Cletus decided to abandon the life of a shepherd.
“I’m going south,” Cletus told Faustulus and Remus. “There’s land there that no one has claimed. I plan to start my own city there.”
“I’ll come with you,” Remus said.
“I’d prefer to go alone.”
“Nonsense. We could have ruled Alba Longa together, but you threw that away without even asking my opinion. I want to come with you.”
Remus followed Cletus south along the Tiber. Within a day, they reached the many hills the two had passed two decades before while leaving Lupa’s den. Cletus set out for a hill close to the river but beyond the swamp where the she-wolf lived. Remus protested.
“We should build the city on the hill nearest the river,” Remus said.
“No, that would mean building the city inside the swamp. That’s an awful place to put the city. We build on the next hill over to avoid the swamp and still be close to the river.”
“Let’s have a contest then. We’ll use augury to decide where to build the city.”
“I have no idea what that is. I’m leaving now. You do whatever you want.”
Cletus began to build a wall around his hill while Remus wandered into the swamp. Days went by as Cletus gathered and placed stones around his hill. Cletus found Remus sitting against the wall. “So, augury has decided that our city shall be built on the hill closest to the river,” Remus said. “I stood atop the hill and saw six eagles.”
Cletus rolled his eyes. The caveman wiped sweat from his brow into his messy hair. “I saw twelve eagles on my hill,” he said. “So, I think I won. I went ahead and started building a city wall. Why don’t you help?”
“I don’t care if you saw twelve eagles. I saw my six first. That means that I won. We’re building a city in the swamp.”
“Kid, you’re starting to piss me off. We’re not building a city in the swamp. It would be a damn nightmare. Either help me build this wall or leave.”
“You call this a wall?” Remus jumped over the stones. “This isn’t going to stop anyone. I’m going to kill you brother for denying me my birthright as a king in Alba Longa.”
Remus drew a sword and stalked toward Cletus. Cletus wrapped a single hand around the boy’s neck. “I’m not your brother, you annoying pissant,” Cletus said as he squeezed until Remus’s throat collapsed.
Cletus continued to build his city. Surrounding shepherds and farmers joined the construction effort. The city wall expanded from one hill to seven. Cletus named himself king of the new city, Roma. The new city welcomed all. Farmers, soldiers, exiles, refugees, criminals, and slaves made Roma their home. Cletus selected the richest noblemen in the city to serve as the fathers of Roma to care for the city and all its people. Cletus formed a council of one hundred elders called the Senate. Cletus developed an army of legions made up of three thousand infantry and three hundred cavalry each as well as his personal Praetorian Guard. The caveman established a system of government and social hierarchy to control the city.
Roma took in the world’s unwanted children, but most were men. The city suffered a vast shortage of women. Cletus invited the neighboring tribes, the Sabines and Latins, to a festival. As the men played games and drank wine, Cletus ordered the Romans to seize the women and drag them into the city.
Romans married Sabine and Latin women after strong persuasion. The Latin tribe attacked Roma, but Cletus led his legions into battle. The Romans easily triumphed over the Latins. Cletus annexed the Latin towns. Cletus divided the conquered lands among Roma’s citizens. Cletus allowed the Latins to remain free within their lands rather than being enslaved.
King Tatius marched the Sabines to battle with the Romans. The two kingdoms fought for days. One side would gain the upper hand only to be pushed back by the other kingdom. The war stood at a stalemate when the captured Sabine women interrupted the fight. The women begged Cletus and Tatius for unity between the kingdoms rather than more fighting.
The Senate developed a truce that all agreed upon. Cletus and Tatius ruled together with one hundred Sabine elders becoming Senators. The cultures blended in all aspects from clothing and food to military equipment. Sabine armies joined the legions. The joint rulers overcame the Albans and added their colonies to the lands of Roma. Cletus and Tatius served five years together before Lavinians assassinated Tatius for a previous slight, leaving Cletus Roma’s sole king.
Roma continued to grow. Cletus organized the city into multiple tribes with elected officials to represent them in the Senate. Cletus further separated the tribes into curiae and curiae into gentes, expanding the voting system of Roma. For two decades, Cletus waged war with surrounding lands to gain new territory. When Numitor died, Alba Longa named Cletus their new king. Cletus applied his Roman model to the city and made Alba Longa yet another Roman territory.
One night, Cletus walked one of the many hills of Roma. A storm brewed in the sky above him. Dark clouds and lightning blanketed Roma. Blue, electric eyes formed in the darkness. A booming voice called out, “I’ve found you, ape.”
Storm clouds launched from the sky and engulfed Cletus. The whirlwind of rain and lightning sucked Cletus into the sky and flung the caveman over the horizon.
Sand clung to Cletus when he woke. The storm tore his robes from his body. Cletus struggled to his feet and walked inland. Beautiful singing resounded across the entire island. The song stirred within Cletus. The melody pulled forward the smells of cedar and juniper in the caveman’s mind. Owls and eagles and crows majestically harmonized with the unseen woman’s hymn. Cletus marched through fields of violets and parsley as the sing tugged his heart along.
Alder and cypress trees surrounded a cave opening. The island’s lullaby drifted from the cave. Cletus trampled into the cave. A stunning blonde worked a loom in the cave as she sang her melody. She paused when her gaze fell upon Cletus. “So, Jupiter finally sent you,” she said.
“Don’t stop singing,” Cletus responded.
“You wouldn’t like to know why you’re here?”
“No, I just want you to keep singing.”
So she sang throughout the day as she worked at her loom. At the end of the day, the young woman finished her work. She brought Cletus a tray of bread, cheeses, eggs, fruit, and fish as well as milk and wine. “My name is Calypso,” the young lady said. “I am the daughter of Atlas. You are Hercules.”
“No,” Cletus said, “I used to be Heracles, but now I call myself Romulus.”
“You’re unaware of the gods’ new aspects,” Calypso said. “Many things have changed since your war with the Olympians. They returned, but they’re different now. Stronger. Angrier. More hungry for war. The change happened because they felt weak after their defeat.”
“Zeus attacked me with the storm.”
“No, Jupiter attacked you. Zeus is gone, but his power and essence took a new form in the Roman god Jupiter.”
“Where are we?”
“Ogygia,” Calypso said. “My prison, and my home. It’s an island that is nowhere and everywhere. It’s impossible to escape.”
“Why are you here?” Cletus asked.
“I supported my father during the Titanomachy. I can never leave here.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Cletus said. “You’re quite gorgeous. I would have taken you with me.”
“You cannot leave either. This is your prison now too.”
“Olympians can’t stop me.”
Cletus spent days tearing down trees around the cave entrance. Calypso fed him and laughed at his efforts. Cletus fashioned a raft. Calypso gave a bundle of thick cloth to use as a sail. “You won’t get anywhere,” Calypso said as Cletus pushed his raft into the sea.
Cletus left Ogygia behind for open waves. After hours in the sun, Cletus spotted another island. Pulling ashore, Cletus found Calypso waiting for him.
“I told you,” Calypso said, “you cannot leave Ogygia. The gods must give their permission for you to be able to leave.”
“I’ll build a bigger ship,” Cletus said.
“It won’t help.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?”
“Come inside,” Calypso said. “Eat and rest.”
Cletus bowed his head and dragged his feet through the sand back to Calypso’s cave. Calypso filled Cletus with wine and food. Calypso produced countless foods from cheese and berries to fresh meat. When Cletus refused to eat anymore, sweet juice and grease soaked his beard and gallons of wine spun in his head. Calypso helped the stumbling caveman to her massive bed deep in the cave. Calypso lay Cletus down onto the pile of cushions, and then Calypso lay with him.
Cletus and Calypso remained intertwined in bed for days. Cletus allowed his lust to control him, pushing away thoughts of escape to be replaced by Calypso. By day, Calypso filled Cletus with meat and wine. Calypso sang and danced at her loom, entrancing the drunken Neanderthal. At night, Cletus ravaged Calypso until exhausting both of them. Weeks on the island bled into years with little changing in the couple’s routine.
One morning, Cletus woke to find the cave empty. Cletus wandered the island until he found Calypso on the shore arguing with a thin, blonde man. A chicken and a tortoise circled the man’s feet. The man wore a winged hat and shoes and carried a staff entwined with snakes. Cletus recognized the small god instantly. “Hermes!” Cletus growled as he sprinted at the god. “Has Zeus sent you to announce our next fight to me?”
The god stepped away from Cletus and lifted the caduceus in defense. “Stay back from me, ape,” the god said. “I am not Hermes. I am Mercury. Hermes died at your hands. I’d prefer not to do the same.”
“Why are you here, thief god?” Cletus asked.
“Don’t say a word to him,” Calypso said to Mercury. “Just leave us in peace.”
“I will deliver my message, witch,” Mercury said.
“You don’t have to do this. Leave my island at once.”
“Speak your word and begone,” Cletus said.
Mercury pushed past Calypso to Cletus. “Jupiter sent me to fetch you, Hercules,” Mercury said. “You are to be freed from this prison. I will provide you a ship to return to the mortal world.”
“He doesn’t want to leave,” Calypso said.
“Yes, I do.”
“What? Why would you leave? We have a life together. We have children. We’ve been lovers for seven hundred years. Why would you leave me?”
“This is not my life,” Cletus said. “My life is not fucking the day away with a lesser goddess. My life is out there. Exploring and fighting and fucking random people. Zeus promised me a life of adventure. Staying with you is not adventurous.”
“This is Odysseus all over again,” Calypso said. “I’m done with all of you. Gods go about raping and coercing all the women you want. When a goddess wants to have a single man for all time, the rest of you bastards get up in arms about our unavailability to you. I hope you all rot in Tartarus.”
Calypso stormed away from the beach. Mercury shrugged. The god tapped his staff on the tortoise’s shell. The chicken and the reptile exploded into lights and flames. The brilliant color leaped into the sea foam and formed a small, azure sail boat. “All yours,” Mercury said just before he sprinted across the waves.
Cletus stole meat, cheese, and wine from Calypso’s cave. He loaded supplies onto his boat and set sail across the ocean. Cletus sailed peacefully for days before a storm brewed upon the seas. Cletus caught the wind and futilely tried to outrun the storm. Dark clouds overcame the small boat. Cletus sprinted about the deck, shifting sails about trying to heave the boat to a stop in the storm. As he worked, Cletus grunted and grumbled about not knowing how to sail a boat without a crew. Waves reached higher than the boat, spraying salt water into the grey-green skies. Water surged onto the deck, throwing Cletus against the cabin wall. Cletus struggled to catch his breath. He climbed to his feet on the rocking deck as a maelstrom swirled around him. Cletus brandished his fists and shouted, “Have you come to claim my life, little pond god? You won’t have me, Poseidon.”
Wind gusted so powerfully the boat’s mast tore away and disappeared into the storm. Laughter louder than the storm rumbled across the violent sea. A twelve-foot, naked man carrying a trident rose from the waves on a chariot pulled by strange, half-horse, half-fish monstrosities. The god laughed at Cletus. “They call me Neptune, now, boy,” the god said. “I’ve not come to kill you. I’ve come to help you leave these immortal waters to return to the human realm.”
Neptune continued laughing as he stabbed his trident into the raging seas. The small sailboat capsized and dumped Cletus into the water. The frothy, green waters faded to darkness as Cletus spun deeper beneath the waves.
Cletus awoke in a small tent surrounded with a young woman and an old man watching over him. “Where am I?” he asked.
“Please, be calm, Spartacus,” the old man said. “You are safe with the Maedi.”
“What did you call me?”
“Spartacus. You appeared in a storm of great wind and rain. You fell from the clouds. We knew not your name, but your clothes are that of Greece long ago. The symbols and colors are that of Sparta. So, we all simply called you Spartacus.”
“It’s a fine name,” Cletus said. “Where am I?”
“Where is not important,” the old man said. “Where the Maedi are changes with the sun. I am Brasus, leader of this tribe. This is Decaeni, our priestess. She has watched over you while you’ve recovered.”
“Why have you helped me?”
“The Maedi wander. So, we help those who also wander. Though, we do expect from you in return.”
Cletus joined the Maedi tribe as Spartacus. The tribe wandered the edge of the Roman Empire, in the small country of Thrace. The Maedi raided villages and kingdoms for supplies from time to time. When not at war with neighboring tribes, the nomads herded visent through the mountains and valleys. Cletus married Decaeni and fathered many children. Cletus prospered along with the tribe. Until the Romans came.
During a raid on a Macedonian village, Roman legions fell upon the Maedi tribe. Nearly ten thousand trained soldiers battled with the nomads. Within minutes, the legions killed or captured the Maedi. Cavalry separated Cletus from his wife and children during the fight. The descendants of his own city enslaved Cletus.
A Capuan man purchased Cletus and condemned the Neanderthal to a gladiatorial school. Day and night, Cletus trained to fight with a small, hooked blade and round shield. Cletus survived off a meager diet of beans, barley, nuts, small fish, and very little sleep. He fought savagely in the coliseums, gaining fame for the name of Spartacus. His master prized Cletus as the perfect slave, but Cletus could not live as another man’s property.
Cletus organized a small revolt. He and seventy other gladiators raided the kitchen. Using knives, forks, and skillets, the slaves attacked their guards. The gladiators stole horses and wagons filled with weapons and armor. The small force escaped high into Mount Vesuvius. On the volcanic mountaintop, the freed slaves voted on leadership. The group divided their desires for leaders among Cletus and the Gallic warriors Crixus and Oenomaus.
Within days, Romans cut off the only paths to and from Vesuvius. Cletus organized the former gladiators and showed them how to tie ropes from the vegetation growing on the mountains. As the Roman soldiers sieged the freed men, Cletus prepared his counterattack. Using the vine-and-sapling ropes, the gladiators climbed down the sheer cliff side of Mount Vesuvius. Cletus led his men from the unguarded cliffs around the mountain. The former slaves snuck upon the sleeping Romans early in the morning. Cletus and his men slaughtered all the Romans except for the leader, a Praetor.
“Leave with your life, Praetor,” Cletus said.
“Kill me,” the Praetor said. “I take no mercy from revolting slaves.”
“Then take it from Romulus,” Cletus said.
The caveman and his men left the Praetor and walked back to their camp atop Vesuvius. “I’m leaving,” Cletus told the other leaders. “I encourage everyone to do the same.”
“You would abandon your post and your men?” Crixus asked.
“These are not my men,” Cletus said. “I owe no allegiance to any of you.”
“So, you would just leave?”
“Yes. That was a Praetorian guard and a group of militiamen. The Romans are not taking us seriously. Next they will send legions to fight us. Seventy men cannot stand against three thousand or more.”
“Most of us are not cowardly Thracians,” Crixus said. “We are Gauls, and we will fight.”
“I am not Thracian. I am Roman. I will not stay to die. Any of you that value your lives are free to follow.”
Cletus left Mt. Vesuvius and wandered north.