In every book I write there are certain passages - anything from a few lines of dialogue to an entire chapter - which I realise that I don't need; they don't fit with the structure of the narrative, or they are leading the story in the wrong direction. Often I save these deleted scenes in a separate file; even if they cannot be used anywhere else, they stand as an interesting record of various roads not taken.
The scene below comes from an early draft of Imperial Vengeance. Although it didn't end up in the finished book, I still like it. Partly this is because of the link to the prologue of War at the Edge of the World, which portrays the Battle of Oxsa; partly also because of the interaction between Castus and his young son. But mainly I like it because it concerns a monument that still stand today: the Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki, all that remains of the great Roman imperial palace of the early 4th century AD.
‘And look here, you see the capture of the Persian harem! See – the eunuch plunges the dagger into his own neck! And here, see – the triumphant emperor!’
Leaning backwards, Castus squinted up at the carved and painted frieze on the monument. Beside him, his son Sabinus did the same; Eumolpius and a couple of slaves stood at a discreet distance. The guide, a scrawny man with bad teeth and enthusiastic Latin, was one of several who hung around the great four-sided Arch of Galerius, touting for business. Castus had passed this way many times, as the arch formed the northern gate of the palace precinct, but had never paused to do more than glance up at the frieze of vigorous scenes that covered the piers.
‘And here, Kyrios and Young Kyrios,’ the guide said, tugging at Castus’s sleeve, ‘come and you see – the submission of the barbarians!’
Castus was dressed plainly, in a simple soldier’s tunic and cloak; aside from the gold torque at his neck and his belt fittings he wore nothing to show that he held high rank. He reached into his pouch and pulled out two coppers.
‘Leave us,’ he said, holding up the coins. The guide paused, crestfallen for a moment, then took the coins with a shrug and hurried away towards a couple of newcomers.
‘Are you in the pictures anywhere, father?’ Sabinus asked.
Castus snorted a laugh. ‘Oh no!’ he said. ‘I was only a legionary when we fought the Persians. But we’ll see if we can find another battle, eh?’
He laid his arm across his son’s shoulders and they moved around the side of the pier, staring into the shadows below the arch. Eumolpius and the slaves followed.
‘There, see,’ Castus said, pointing upwards. High above them, ten feet or more, was a dramatic scene of combat. A horse reared over fallen bodies, and armoured figures clashed to either side.
‘Is that really what it was like?’ Sabinus asked, with a sceptical tone.
‘Not exactly,’ Castus told him. His memories of the battle at Oxsa were fragmented now, a shattered mosaic of bright shards. He recalled the dust and the noise, the fear as the Persian cataphracts burst through the infantry line, the pain of his wounds. Strange to see that campaign, over twenty years ago now, immortalised on this imperial monument in the city of Thessalonica.
‘Pictures like this,’ he said, waving his scarred hand at the battle frieze, ‘don’t really show what happened. They show what people want to think happened. You understand?’
‘I think so,’ Sabinus said. He raised himself on his toes, peering intently.
‘Here,’ Castus said. ‘I’ll give you a closer look.’
He knelt, and helped the boy scramble up onto his shoulders. With a grunt of effort – his son was growing fast – he straightened up. Sabinus swayed for a moment and then steadied himself as Castus gripped his ankles.
‘I can see the emperor at the top!’ the boy cried. ‘He’s riding in a chariot with mounted guards. That must be Galerius again. Who’s the man in the golden armour, fighting in the battle? Is that Constantine?’
‘Could be,’ Castus said, although he knew it was not. The guides liked to claim that Constantine was shown on the arch somewhere – he had been a tribune during the Persian war. But Galerius had never liked him, and it was unlikely he would have wanted him portrayed on his monument.
Pacing slowly, Castus circled the piers, letting his son gaze up at the reliefs in mute fascination. There were scenes of imperial triumph, parades of captives and wild animals, of sacrifice and victory. All of the emperors shown on the arch were dead now, Castus realised: Galerius himself, Diocletian and Maximian, and Constantius, the father of Constantine. He wondered how many of the other men who had fought in those battles, men he had served alongside, still lived.
They rounded the last pier of the arch, and Castus knelt again to let his son clamber from his shoulders. The boy’s eyes were wide with all he had seen, and he was smiling. Sabinus had been reticent and withdrawn during the journey from Salona, and for the last two days since arriving in Thessalonica too. Castus was glad to see his obvious pleasure in his company today; finally, he thought, they were starting to trust one another.
Meanwhile, if you want to get a good idea of what the ancient palace at Thessaloniki looked like in the 4th century, the excellent reconstructions on this website should help - The Galerian Complex.