Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Vyst moved, in his underground chamber, for the first time since a hundred years.

Jupiter was having yet another party in Olympus. Banquets were laid out for all the gods so that they could eat till their hearts content. Recliners were put out, covered in the softest velvet. A son had been born to him finally. His name was to be Perseus. He would be a healthy boy with the world at his feet. Slowly the boy grew up. Gods grow at a rate of 3 human years per minute until they are 16, when they stop growing. As Perseus grew he began to resemble his father. The gods watched in awe. This little one was so much like their king yet no one knew what his future would hold.

Vyst could feel his fingers now, and soon his toes. The gods had paralysed him when he and his minions had first broke out of their domain in Vesuvius. They had planned to overthrow the gods and over take the world. They captured the city of Pompeii before the gods could stop them and buried the whole city in ash before giving themselves up. Now that Vyst was beginning to regain his powers he could plan to take revenge on the gods. From one of his hypnotised minions he found out that a son, the heir to his kingdom  had been born to Jupiter. Vyst had puzzled out how to take revenge on the gods, yet he still needed to draw a proper battle plan.

Jupiter was very anxious to protect his son’s. He made sure that he was accompanied by the strongest of forces, constantly. After all this was his one and only heir. Though one day Perseus complained that his bodyguards were always scaring off his friends and he wanted to go out on his own. After a lot of persuasion his father finally gave him permission to go out on his own.  Perseus’s joy knew no bounds. With his new born freedom Perseus immediately ran out to meet his friends, when he spotted an odd looking shrub nearby. He went to investigate the cause of the abnormality. Though as soon as he walked towards the shrub he was sucked in.

Vyst had spent ages on this plan. He needed a safe and secure stepping stone to hatch his new idea. First he thought about killing Juno, yet this did not seem possible as the gods were always protected, especially Jupiter’s wife. Secondly he thought about manipulating Pluto, God of the Underworld. Though this idea seemed far fetched. After a few hours of toiling and eating tacos he finally got to a conclusion. He knew exactly what to do. He knew from his minions that Perseus was always whinge about not being allowed to go out on his own. As soon as Jupiter gave in and let him free, he would ambush Perseus and kidnap him. Jupiter would deeply regret his decision and all the gods would be angry on him for losing the son and heir of Olympus .

In Olympus, Jupiter was getting a little worried. Perseus was not back yet from his daily excursions and he started to regret his decision. As it started to get late. He sent out a pack of bodyguards to find Perseus and bring him back. Though the search party came back in vain. Jupiter was at his despair. Being the god of the world he had an advantage. He scanned the earth all over for him. He found traces of him near a shrub that was not far from Olympus. ”Aha!” thought Jupiter. Perseus had vanished off the face of the Earth at the entrance of the Underworld. This could only mean on thing, Perseus was in the Underworld!

Vyst had manipulated the minds of the guards of the Underworld. He had made them disloyal to Pluto and loyal to him. They allowed him to capture Perseus in front  of their very own eyes. He was gagged and blindfolded. Vyst laughed “Watch out Pompeii,” thought Vyst, ”I’m making a come back. This time I am bigger and better than I was before.”

Jupiter himself entered Pluto’s domain. When Pluto had found out about Vyst’s master plan he was gob smacked. Yet the big problem was to confess to Jupiter about the disappearance. He knew his brother well, and he knew that there was no limit to his temper. Pluto was waiting at the entrance to greet his brother. He had dismissed his guards when he found out that they were Vyst’s spies.

Vyst smiled wildly when he found that Pluto was not entirely oblivious to his plans. Vyst wanted Pluto to find out a little about his plans. Vyst’s idea was to let the gods watch their planet demolish. He would set them free yet they would have nowhere to go to.

Before Jupiter went to go and see Pluto he went to consult the Oracle. As the green smoke cascaded out of the Oracle’s mouth it said ”You will find your inner strength when you sacrifice the family you love for the life you love.”

Jupiter was now trying to digest this information. Pluto was now telling him that Vyst was fully awake, powerful, and he had captured his son. Jupiter’s eyes danced with anger as he threw a thunderbolt. The ground shook with fear. Jupiter cursed Vyst with the worst possible things he could imagine.

As the silly gods were still thinking Vyst had already gathered his minions and was ready to overthrow Olympus, Perseus was lying in the corner unconscious. Vyst was about to give his battle cry when the ground erupted. Jupiter in his almighty form pushed through the earth. Yet Vyst was no coward. He told his enemies to attack. They charged at Jupiter with every ounce of their strength. Jupiter was already losing his balance and he had to hold onto a rock to keep stable. “Give up now"cried Vyst, "Give me your son and all will be well” Jupiter was shocked by this remark that his knees gave away crushing a few dozen of Vyst’s warriors. Jupiter could see the damage that was being caused on earth, volcanoes were exploding and earthquakes were erupting. He knew what he must do. He recalled the Oracle’s words " sacrifice the family you love for the life you love." He was ready to accept his destiny, he just hoped Perseus would accept his. His last words to Perseus were, "I’ll miss you kid, but Uncle Pluto will take care of you" and he left for all eternity.

Vyst kept his promised and was never seen again.

Nirali Patel's fun story about a taco-eating Titan and a father's sacrifice took third place in the youngest age group of the Golden Sponge-stick Competition for 2011

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wanted for Murder by Diana Luc

Shadows seethe at my unwelcome presence as I retreat once again into their dark depths. Hidden, unseen and invisible, I watch as people pass me by, their faces glowing alive in the ever-still rising sun. They do not stop. They do not stare. Why should they? I am no-one. I am the dead.

I turn to the face on the wall.

I am one of the wanted.

And apparently a murderer too, I remind myself.

A shift in the market does not go unnoticed by me. There. A pair of keen grey eyes locks onto my own, paralyzing me, boring deep into my mind, searching hungrily for information. They are very old eyes, I tell myself.

For a moment, I wonder if I look like that.

Yet that thought vanishes as another rings out urgently in my mind: Has he made the connection? Have I been discovered? Panic fills me as my heart rises with fear. With one shaking hand, I tear the parchment so that my face rips in two; with the other, I pull my hooded robe up. Hundreds of shards of paper cascade onto the rich soil, squashed under my cheap, wooden shoes. Just like that, my identity crumbles away in my hand, and I free it into the sun and the wind, watch it as it is swallowed up by the blue, blue sky. They remind me of the mosaic patterns in Master’s bedroom; the vivid painting of the thousands of swan swimming in the huge lake still haunts me to this very day. Even though I know it must have perished in the fire, and even though it would have been stained in Master’s blood when I killed him, I briefly close my eyes to savour the sweet memory of happiness, of safety, of Young Master.

The illusion of peace is swept briskly aside as I return to danger. Wincing as I gingerly take my wrongful place in the sun, I disappear into the crowd.


It doesn’t take him long to find me.

‘Minerva Tiberius.’

It is not a question but a simple statement.

‘You will address me as Juno,’ I say with weak confidence. Juno is the goddess of family, of marriage, of women. She is the wife and sister of Jupiter. Minerva is a horrible name; I don’t want to be clever and learn poetry and medicine; that’s what boys do. It is much simpler to stick to the uncomplicated matters of life, the safer side of the world. But I know with a sinking heart that safety is beyond my reach now. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons why I threw away my old life.

‘Juno.’ His voice sounds bored, like he is just toying with me. It makes me want to hurt him, scratch him with my nails, push him hard so that he knows what it’s like to fall down to the bottom. Instead, I clench my fists into an angry ball. This time, I know Jupiter will not forgive me if I murder another innocent man, annoying though he may seem.

‘Follow me,’ the man says almost lazily, bringing me back to the present. ‘And wipe your tears. It is drawing too much attention from the crowd.’
I hadn’t noticed I was crying. I am surprised he can even see under my cloak; although I suppose that is the basic things an assassin must learn to do – to be observant. I must confess, even after a month on the run, I am still not good at spying. I can’t differentiate between a lie and the truth. I can’t distinguish who is my friend or enemy.

My instinctive reaction is to obey his orders, and for a few moments, I stumble after him, weaving my way through the noisy market crowd. Then I stop, because I remember I am not a slave-girl any more because my Master and Mistress are dead, and the only person I will ever follow is not here, perhaps even dead like his parents before him.

The man notices I don’t follow and turns back to me. Already I can see the signs; his muscles are tensed and his stance is strong. He is not afraid to use force if he has to.

‘Why should I trust you?’ My voice is barely audible but I know he can hear it.
There is a moment where we both stare at each other, daring each other to make a move.

Then: ‘Minerva?’

My name is called out in the silence, even though the market is not silent at all. The world is polluted with noise but my heart remains dead to the world. The clanking of sestertius’ being exchanged in the market stalls clink to the beat of my thundering heart that is furiously pounding away. I recognize that voice.

A familiar figure emerges next to me and clutches my arm. Young Master leans in towards my ear and whispers fervently, ‘Minerva, we must go. This place isn’t safe. We can talk more on the boat.’

I do not understand but I nod my head, lost for words because I am so happy that the person I love is right in front of me, talking to me, pulling me along –


As we move steadily through the throng, my senses turn on again. Now that Young Master is here I can breathe once more, take in the smell of grapes and olives and apples and onions. It does smell good, I realize. Perhaps there is some joy in life after all.


Inside the ship, I meet a whole crew of people just like the grey-eyed man. I think to myself – friend or foe? Do I really trust these people? As soon as I think this, however, Young Master’s hand slips through mine, and gives it a sharp squeeze. I know I can trust him.

One of the lads scurries over and hands me a tin of Picenian bread; the fine biscuit crumbles once inside my dry mouth.

I set down the empty metal tin in the folds of my robe. Confession time.
‘I’m so sorry, Young Master. They killed Mistress right away. I tried to save her, I really did.’ A pause. ‘Then they started to burn the villa.’

His eyes are blank as he asks me the question I’ve been dreading all along.

‘What about my father?’

‘We could have escaped.’ I hang my head in shame as I confess all of this. ‘We could have escaped the villa. But Master wouldn’t go. He said he wasn’t going to leave Mistress. He said what was the point anymore when there was nothing worth fighting for. I said he still had you but he simply refused to leave the villa. He asked me to cut his throat. I- I – I…’ I what? What should I say?

I’m sorry? I did what I was told?

What young Master says next surprises me. There is no sadness in his voice but raw determination and confidence. ‘I need you to come with me to Caligula’s palace.’ His eyes search over me. ‘The people of Rome hate him. You know it, I know it. He is crazy, unfit to be our emperor. The crimes he has committed…they are unforgivable. Tonight, we are going to assassinate him. But you must help us first. Please, Minerva.’
And I have made up my mind.


Caligula lies asleep before me. Even now, his sleeping face loses none if its hostility. His sister, Lady Julia, lies before him, drunk and unconscious. I pity them that the last moments they have together is the time they use for vulgar intimacy.

Young Master was right; Caligula is evil. Yet why then do I still hesitate when I see Young Master raise his knife? In the seconds the silver blade moves towards where the emperor’s heart lies, I sprint to take the blow.

I don’t even feel it when the knife comes crashing into my chest. Red colour blossoms on my white dress where the knife connects with my body and I topple forward onto Young Master.

His chin rests upon the crown of my golden hair and my skull vibrates with every word he cries out: ‘Why, Minerva? Why did you defend that villain? Don’t die on me…’ And he weeps right there, my beautiful Young Master who is so confident actually starts crying.

I have only seconds left. ‘Don’t kill Caligula. You’ll only regret it. This is revenge for your father and mother; it needn’t be like this. I love-’

Caligula wakes up. His mind must be foggy from all the wine but he can still comprehend what is happening enough to call out to The Praetorian Guard outside. The rest of our crew flee for their lives but Young Master just holds on tight to me even when I plead for him to let go. The last thing I see is Young Master’s brave smile as he shelters me from harm and danger.

This great short-story by Diana Luc from James Allen's Girls School, Dulwich, won first prize in the 11 - 13 category of the 2011 Golden Sponge-stick Competition. Well done, Diana!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Perfect Crime

1: Nex-violent death, murder
“Laws are silent in times of war” Cicero

A quick, rapt, knock on the door - that was all it took for me to become embroiled in a crime like no other. Perfect, almost, in its attention to detail, its clues spanning decades, its conclusion leading me deep into the murky circumstances surrounding the end of the Roman republic. Julius Caesar is busy trying to find the conspirators, tearing his dictatorship apart from the inside, while Cicero bemoans the loss of his second wife and daughter - by the end of next year they will both be dead. It is the day before the Ides of March BC 44. This is the story of my life.

My name is Aulus Cornelius and on the day before the last flames of the dying republic flickered back into life again, I was sitting in my small, but pleasing garden, watching the light from the brazier quiver and then disappear. I felt my eyes begin to grow sleepy and then gradually close, the papers I had been reading earlier lying forgotten and forlorn on the dewy grass...

Clash! The fierce pounding at the door awoke me from a dream of chariots at the Circus Maximus exploding along the well-trodden, scorching sand... I splashed a little water onto my face to fully waken me from the dream, before, dressed only in my tunica belted at the waist, I hurried to the atrium to see who my nearly-blind door slave had let in this time. Praying that my wife had not been disturbed, I saw a man, lacking a toga (probably a slave), a grey band on his finger (confirmed slave), looking agitated and in a definite hurry.

Realising time was of the essence, I made a move to quickly change in to my toga, but the man waved his hand (mute), indicating this wasn’t important. With his other tired hand, he thrust a ragged piece of parchment in the vague direction of me, which I carefully unfurled. The message shocked me to my very core.

Stopping on the way only to grab a snack ladled with a generous helping of garum (fish sauce) and to utter a hurried prayer to Jupiter, we soon arrived at the house of Cicero. I took another quick look at the message, in disbelief - “Come quickly Aulus!” Scribbled at the side, almost illegible - a single word. NEX.

2: rhetor - orator, speechmaker
“All pain is either severe or slight, if slight, it is easily endured; if severe, it will without doubt be brief.” Cicero

The mute slave escorted me quickly through the handsome back-courtyard of the Cicero household, up a sharply curving staircase and through a wooden door, attended by a dim glow of light from a brazier (lit around 5 hours ago.) Cautiously, I rounded a corner, finding myself abandoned by my guide and stepped into the triclinium. Mosaics of cavorting fish and all manner of other sea-life glistened all over the floors, accompanied by a simple geometric pattern as a border. A single rose stood in one corner of the room, but, paying this no heed, I was transfixed by the two men in front of me. One sat in the corner (Name: Tiro, Cicero’s freedman), calmly ready to take notes on a wax tablet (Tironian Shorthand, a method formulated himself), while the other, a man known as the finest undisputed orator to cross the face of the world, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who, in a change to his usual manner, was frantically  pacing back and forth.

Cicero explained in detail the strange events plaguing his household over the past few days, which I will summarise for you here. On the Nones of March, his papers were scattered all over his house, like the shattered remnants of the Pompeian forces, dispersed after the Civil War. Only a few papers were too badly damaged to be repaired, those containing notes on Sextus Roscius (Cicero’s first major defence.) A few days later, a statue of the Goddess Minerva was stolen from his house; similar to how Verres (a successful prosecution for Cicero) had pilfered whatever he pleased from his unfortunate Sicilian people. Finally, and here being the crux of the matter, just this very day, a slave of Cicero’s was found dead, stabbed repeatedly in the sizable garden of the house (again representative of a case of Cicero’s, namely, this time Clodius killed on The Appian Way.) Someone was terrorising Cicero and they must have had help from the inside. I was on the case.

Lightning illuminated the inky black sky, enveloping the city of Rome, as I carefully reclined next to Cicero to quiz him on how he had let evil run amok in his very household.

“Why can I believe you?” I asked him, taking a sip from a glass of water, thankfully placed by my side.

“If you can’t trust me, who can you trust?” he replied, before reinforcing his respectability as an orator.

“Anyway, what reason would I have to lie?” He queried, “Did I ruin my (which he emphasised) own papers and kill a trusted slave of my household, just for the sheer fun of it?” he demanded

I left the question unanswered.

Next, I prompted him further, taking him back through the mists of time to the fateful incident a few hours ago. “When did you last speak to your slave?”

“It must have been a few hours ago... yes... yes... it was, around the third hour of the night (it being around the 5th hour now), while he was going around lighting the braziers. I had passed him on the stairs, paying him no attention...and the next thing I knew he was lying dead in the garden.”

“Can I see the body?”I asked.

“Of course, of course,” he answered (he seemed to be averting the topic), “But surely you need to talk to the witnesses first?”

“Ah, yes...the witnesses,” I said humouring him slightly (I’ve done this job for 20 years, as if, I’ve never come across a witness before) and let him usher me out of the room and down the corridor. As I walked, I pondered why Cicero, the great orator, he who had stood up to Sulla, he who had fought for the rights of the Sicilians, the last honest man in the republic, had lied to me.

3:  perfectus – perfect
“It is a true saying that “One falsehood leads easily to another” Cicero

I was sitting in a room I didn’t want to be in, sipping a cup of well-watered wine I didn’t want to drink, speaking to a man who very clearly did not want to speak. Marcus Tullius Cicero had led me across an inner courtyard, the sound of gravel cracking under my feet and into a room, which, at first sight, appeared to be a slave’s quarters.

I interviewed Tiro in this room, allowing the bad omens of things to come (the increasingly darkening sky) to not cloud my judgement. He couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already and I began to pine for the warm, heavenly covers of my bed with my wife beside me. Before another (so-called) witness of minimal importance could be forced upon me, I slammed the cup of wine heavily down onto the table (but spilling little) and demanded I see the body. Cicero received me with as much courtesy as he could muster, before leading me back down the same corridor and into a small recess. My disillusions with the case were beginning to fester - how many more lies would I have to stomach before the night was up?
Cicero drew back the sheet lying in the alcove and with a convincing gasp announced that the body was gone. I had had enough. “You blithering blockhead, “I ridiculed him, “Gods immortal, why didn’t you leave (I stressed this) someone guarding the body?”

Cicero tried to reply but I cut him off, with a swift cut of my hand through the air, “What’s more, you don’t seem to want this case to be solved at all! Surely you of all people would know that the killer could be at loose at this very moment, hidden within these very walls. Do you want me to solve the case or not?”

And suddenly, it all clicked into place.

4: Idus -The Ides
“The first duty of a man is the seeking after and the investigation of truth.” Cicero

The sun gradually pulled itself from the horizon, poking its tender head over the trees on the Field of Mars. “At first, I suspected Tiro,” I began, “After all, who knows you better than Tiro himself? But on reflection, it couldn’t have been Tiro; he would never have harmed your works no matter what.”

Watching the red and orange embers climb higher in to the sky, I continued, “The first thing that drew my suspicions was the red rose in the triclinium. It couldn’t have been placed there for me, as if I hadn’t found you, I would probably have met you in the tablinum. Thus I assumed it was put there before, but not too long, as if I remember, the petals hadn’t wilted yet, so maybe, a private discussion between you and your slaves.”

Cicero smiled, but faintly. “Another point of interest - the lighting of the braziers. You told me you last saw the dead slave two hours ago, lighting the braziers, but I clearly remarked to myself the flames were dim - thus lit around 5 hours ago.”

“Couldn’t he have lit some lamps first before becoming distracted?”

“He could have done,” I replied “but I found it unlikely. Why on earth would he light the braziers three hours after the setting of the sun?”

“Let us assume, therefore, you were having a secret meeting with your slaves (sub Rosa = secret) before I arrived and from then on proceeded to lie to me at various intervals. I wouldn’t call you a stupid man Marcus, so you must have been planning something and lying deliberately. You said to me, if I can’t trust you, who can I trust? The answer was no-one and the conclusion? A hoax.” I took a breather, exhausted.

Cicero, a morose twinkle in his eye replied, “The law courts are rendered useless because of Caesar. I abandoned my wife for some young, arrogant play-thing, who mocked the death of my only daughter. I am a bitter man Aulus. I’ve engaged you and I’ve entertained myself with this charade, why can’t you allow an old orator a bit of fun once in a while?”

“I could have had other cases, important cases going on,” I protested.

“In the middle of the night?” he queried.

“As a matter of fact,” I answered and it being the last thing I ever said to him, “I was meant to be assessing Caesar’s safety for tomorrow; today, now.”

“I’m sure it was of no importance,” he sighed, “Well, I really must grab some sleep now. I’ll see you for the senate meeting in a few hours, I trust?” He swept out of the room, the twinkle back in his eye.

And despite, all my workings, my deductions, my cleverness and my reasoning, I realised I had been played by Marcus Tullius Cicero after all.

This very clever and assured piece of writing (with a twist!) by Adam Cunnane from Cheadle Hulme School, Cheshire shows the young author's admiration of the orator Cicero and of Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. Nothing wrong with that; it's how we all learn to write. It took third prize for the over 14s in the 2011 Golden Sponge-stick Competition. (It must have been hard to choose, Jerry!) Well done, Adam!