Much has been written of the Antarterans over the past millenia, and, naturally, as with any topic on which much is written, there is a good deal of scholarly disagreement concerning the matter. Much of it concerns abstractions about which only scholars really care; choices of words really: are the Antarterans two nations united by a single civilization but separated by political disagreement, or one nation tragically fractured by a centuries-long schism?
What is a nation- or civilization -in this context? Dumanum might be accurately called a nation, but could Sukaria?
Where do the Sukarian, or Ostic, or Doric, or any of the other sub-cultures end, and collective Antarteran culture truly begin?
Are Antarterans simply well-dressed and well-spoken Crataeans who happen to be far more efficient at killing than other Crataeans?
A scholar might eagerly engage in a lengthy discussion on the matter, but were you to ask the average Dumani Citizen, or Sukarian Poletoi, or Doric Municipato, you would likely receive a dismissive wave, and a simple explanation:
“This is irrelevant,” they would tell you, in one way or another.
If you had to ask in the first place, it is not worth explaining to the likes of you- they will not say this, because that also is not worth explaining.
Regardless of one’s scholarly opinion on Antarteran civilization versus nationhood versus tribalism, it is quite clear that the Antarterans themselves feel a strong sort of kinship toward one another- in a way it is not unlike the Slavs of Wallasea, but this runs far deeper.
They may speak different languages -they are mutually intelligible -and even write in different alphabets, but if you were to take two random Antarterans from different countries and put them in a room together, it would not take long for the conversation to turn to the likes of “What are we going to do about those disgusting Ulans,” or “It is good that the Varni have learned their lesson about messing with our islands.”
This is not just a superficial cultural trait, but one that penetrates so deeply as to define policy: Anaksarxos II, that great Enemy of the Dumani Senate and People, eagerly proclaimed the later’s invasion and conquest of Doria and subsequent ravaging of Sadari “Well-deserved freedom for our kin- and well-deserved justice for our enemies.”
The Dumani speak of Unitas as though it were inevitable, and the same is true in Sukaria. Children in Urbs Dumanus are taught of Ultor’s Dream even as they learn to read, and those in Irae of Enosis. It is the natural state of the world for the lesser peoples to be ruled by Antarterans. And it is the greatest tragedy of all that the Antarterans, must from time to time, spill the blood of their kin.
That is what the poets write, anyway. Ultor once wrote of his war with Sukaria as “Hygiene for Civilized Man.”
And so, the template of the meeting in the penthouse of the Domus Furia, rising one hundred-two stories above the City, would have hardly seemed foreign to their counterparts in Irae: it was, for all intents and purposes, a traditional Antarteran feast. All Antarterans, be he a Ficanian chieftain from Cissegine Yehud or a young Sukarian fresh out of the Agoge, would have at one point or another found themselves reclining on one of a dozen couches arranged in a U-shape as food was brought out, by servants if he be a man of some means, or by the womenfolk if he were not. Several courses would be brought out, and there would be a good deal of drinking- though not to excess (Yehudis excepted). For all the similarity, one thing that would vary was the food served: Ostian cuisine is known for its hearty simplicity: a good deal of carbs, often in the form of noodles or rice in a sauce, and a greater deal of meat, and so it was here. For dessert, pastries: cannulae from the consul’s favorite bakery in Rema.
Antarterans, like other Crataeans, are far more inclined to discuss business after a full stomach, or whilst in the process of filling their stomachs. Here only small talk occurs, for the Dumani are a talkative people- there will be time for business talk after they’ve finished eating.
They chat, and lazily gaze out the immense floor-to-ceiling windows at the City below. It is night time in the heart of the civilized world, and the sky is clear. A few clusters of towers (five exactly) in addition to the one they now occupy spear out from the ground, pillars of light in the darkness. Below, a luminous ocean stretching off as far as the bay and the mountains, with only the river in the middle daring to interrupt its flow. If one knew what to look for, one need only look toward the center of the six tower complexes to find the beating heart of the Dumani Republic: the Curia Tarquinia, where both the Senate and Popular Assembly meet when so summoned, and in its surrounding environs the Old City where the men of those august institutions made their homes, and where the greatest temples to the Gods stood.
Perhaps not the greatest anymore, Severus thought. This tower, the tallest of the six great residential towers, had been dedicated to Iove Optimus Maximus. The mixed-use tower to their immediate east, the Furia Magna was even taller. That one was dedicated to Sol Invictus.
“So. Sukaria,” Macer abruptly shifted the trajectory of the conversation. This was an informal (yet undoubtedly ritualistic, in its own way) post-banquet conversation, and they’d each eaten a generous portion- he did not deign to speak standing as the Dumani do in more official settings.
Severus didn’t mind. He’d had his fill, and the events of the past weeks had gotten his blood up.
“We all know Anaksarxos as a mad man,” Gaius Quirinius Capo got the first word in.
“Yet it would be a mistake to presume his actions are driven by madness,” Decimus Furius Corbulo, their host, quickly interjected.
“Surely he intends to attack- one does not strip that many troops from the border casually,” Numerius Rascius Rufus got a word in as soon as he was able.
“I’m afraid I must agree with Rufus. Even a man half-blind can see the message being sent to us,” Lucius Curtius Nero, Severus’ own kinsman, said near-mockingly, nodding toward him.
Yesterday had been slightly…embarrassing. The Mandators had rolled up the Arruntios network and sent the ones they’d caught back each missing an eye. They’d pounced so quickly that it was clear Arruntios, or one of his people, had been compromised for some time. Severus himself thought it presumptuous of Anaksarxos, for the final order could only have come from him: he’d wanted the Dumani to know that they’d been found out, and he’d done this rather than keep them under surveillance for a potentially more valuable counter-intelligence operation.
“These disturbances on the frontier are no coincidence,” Servius Hostilius Probus sipped his mica, “A trifling matter, certainly, but see how he does all he can to hinder us.”
A murmur rose as these men, the most powerful men in the Dumani Republic, all tried to get a word in.
“What, then, shall we do?” Decimus Tarquinius Maximus Mandromenus finally broke his silence. He, notably, was the first to pose a question rather than make a statement. The men of the great gentes were too proud to pose a question so quickly, yet too arrogant and fond of hearing their own voices to hold their tongues. But Maximus was old, and had long lost his patience for that sort of posturing.
For a moment they were quiet. He rolled his eyes and continued, “It is a simple question, Conscript Fathers,” he used that formal title in so informal a setting to express his displeasure, “The False Emperor is stripping the western frontier of his finest troops and sending them north- their final destination remains in question, but I’m sure you all agree the notion that this is merely an exercise, or an invasion of Volohannia is patently ridiculous,” he shook his head, and reclined back on the couch, gesturing towards them all. “So then. What course of action would be of the greatest advantage to the State?”
“We wait for him to make a mistake.”
“A coward’s gambit. We should attack immediately, while his forces are disorganized.”
“His armies are moving north, and so his south is undefended- I agree, we must attack, but with the goal of splitting his southern provinces.”
“And rule over a bunch of stinking Ubaidians? I think not.”
“We need not rule over them. Not directly, anyway. Besides,” Barbatio said with a wry grin, “The Praecovarii are distracted. What further mistakes must our enemies make before we bring the last of the Ulanni to heel?”
He looked toward Macer, “Would it not be the greatest of glories to be the consul that avenged the City once and for all?”
“Nonsense, Regulus is on the verge of an agreement there,” replied Badalius.
“He’s been saying that for over a month now. They’re stalling, undoubtedly…”
Macer’s expression remained noncommittal as the men continued their debate. More mica was poured, and more words were exchanged.
“Marbo, what do you think?”
Titus Junius Marbo had been staring out into the darkness seemingly absentmindedly.
“We are all in agreement that we must act, eventually. I’ve not heard a single man here speak to the contrary,” he continued to look out to the City as he spoke, “So, in any event, let us prepare to act. Severus, they’re redeploying all five turmae on the frontier, correct?”
“To the best we are able to confirm, yes,” he agreed.
“Those are his best units. We do not need our best to defeat his worst, in any case, and so even if we chose to act in the west we would be far better served with our finest legions in a position to check the Stratos.”
He finally turned from the window.
“It would be of greatest advantage to the State, Good Maximus, if the consuls recalled our veterans and prepared the legions for war.”