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One Step Ahead


Cassius was on his hands and knees frantically crawling through the long grass as it gently swayed in the late summer breeze. His horse was standing on the side of the stone road indifferently grazing while his rider muttered and cursed. Cassius was a messenger who had been charged with delivering the most valuable trophy in the whole of the empire. Failure would mean death.  Of course not before some unimaginably cruel torture that could only be devised by the sort of minds suited to wield imperial power.
He looked at the empty bag with its lose rope that was meant to hold it shut limply hanging to the side. He threw it on the ground in frustration and stomped it into the dirt. He couldn’t understand how the knot had even come undone. It had to be the work of sadistic gods who of all the people in the world seemed to take a particular delight in tormenting him. This final bit of mischief was their grand finale, and surely they’d be chuckling as they watched his head roll along the marble floor of the palace.
He was contemplating getting back on the horse and riding off somewhere to hide for the rest of his days when he saw a small cloud of flies circulating in the field.  He sprinted over to where the bloated black insects were congregating and swatted them away. Laying on the ground was the round, balding head of the former Emporer. Cassius fell to his knees and thanked the gods for the good fortune. He gripped the head just under its cold, waxy cheeks. He brushed off the dirt and other pests that were feasting on the flesh of the deposed ruler and stuffed it back in the sack. This time making sure to tie the rope into a double knot.
The horse’s hooves clapped rhythmically against the uneven stones. Cassius knew he would be a target for the bandits and thieves that stalked the arteries of the empire. The descending sun silhouetted the rolling green hills as its light receded with the falling sphere of fire. He should have reached the outpost by now, and he was getting nervous. He didn't understand how he might get lost when all the roads lead to the same place.
The outpost came into view, and Cassius breathed a sigh of relief. Cassius dismounted his horse and led it to the stables. Tending the other horses was an old man with a main of shaggy white hair that circled the smooth bald top of his head.
“My name is Cassius. By order of the Emperor you are to provide me with a fresh horse,” he informed the old man.
The elderly tenant sighed. “Are you on your way to Rome?” He asked.
“Yes,” replied Cassius. “I am carrying our new Emporer's trophy to the imperial palace,” he declared with a hint of pride in his voice.
“There’s a new Emporer?” the old man asked.
“Yes, I am carrying our deposed ruler’s head in this sack!” Cassius declared holding up the bag.
“Oh, ok then let me get you a horse,” the aged man said seemingly uninterested.
Cassius followed him into the stables. “So tell me about our new Emporer.”
“He is truly a man of greatness,” said Cassius. “He’s a highly decorated and able general who is going to restore order and raise Rome to new heights of glory!”
“Hm, sounds very similar to the man whose head you’re carrying,” was the ambivalent reply. “Come to think of it; it sounds a lot like the one who came before him as well. His head passed through here to you know.” 
Cassius didn't answer. He thanked the old man for the horse and rode off towards the eternal city so he could deliver the news to citizens of history's wheel latest turn.

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