Copyright 2004 – Stephen Redgwell
In the days of the Roman Empire, when soldiers were busy collecting taxes and sticking folks with pointy objects, there lived a young man called Artemus.
Artemus lived in one of the Empire’s outer provinces, Bulemia, which was famous in the capital for its lithe young women, potent pin cherry and gooseberry wines and the most sophisticated plumbing of the time. So great was their knowledge of water and ducting, that artisans from Bulemia were fetched to Rome, where they built the first vomitoriums. Yes, these novel rooms not only made it convenient for Roman citizens to party and purge, but they also reduced the cost of street clean ups, vomit related slipping injuries and improved the air quality as well.
As a young boy, Artemus loved to walk the hills of his home, exploring all the rocks and crevices, looking for friends. Quite the ordinary life for a person of the time. It was around Artemus’ eighteenth birthday that all the years of searching paid off. He discovered a friend! From a deep hole on the side of Mount Rancid, Artemus saw the small head of an old man sticking out from the dirt. He approached and met Sputum, a hermit from the neighbouring province of Anerexia.
Sputum was surprised to see anyone near his mountain hideaway. The initial meeting was tentative, with Sputum hurling the standard hermit insults, curses and warnings common to people that live alone. Artemus wouldn’t leave however, so the tiny hermit exited from his hurling place and invited the young man into his cave in the mountain.
As Artemus’ eyes grew used to the dark surroundings of the hermit’s hole, he began to see the wonders of Sputum’s life work. Leather garments, whips, masks, binding straps and a strange invention the hermit referred to as ‘underwear’, made completely of sheep’s hide. In those days, no one wore underwear and so Artemus questioned its purpose.
“Young man,” said Sputum, “its purpose is simple. It covers your monkey. Should ye need to wash your garments, ye will not stand naked in the square for all to see!”
And with that, he struck the young man with a studded, multi-stranded whip. Oddly, this attack pleased young Artemus, and he secretly hoped that he would be punished some more. First however, he had to discover why Sputum wasn’t selling any of this apparel in the village market.
“If a person were to see such a thing, they would buy one in the blink of an eye! Why do ye not go down to the village, sell them and become rich?”
Sputum was annoyed at the suggestion and once again Artemus felt the sting of the whip.
“Stupid boy! Do ye not think that I have thought of this? It is a simple thing to do what you suggest, but many years ago I made a promise to my best friend, Fettish of Sodom, that I would not. For he was the real creator of the garb, but feared that should it fall into Roman hands, the Empire would fall!”
Artemus was confused. How would a plain hide garment cause such trouble?
“Sir, I do not understand. Are these things bewitched? What power do they hold that they could destroy mighty Rome?”
Sputum looked at the boy up and down, his right eye twitching, and said, “Try these on…”
Artemus could not wait to adorn himself of the sleek leather clothes. He discarded his own coarsely knitted shorts and shirt and reached for the underwear. Once again he felt the whip and the strange sensations that followed.
“Simpleton! Bathe first! Ye must be made clean!”
Artmeus quickly jumped into a frigid pool of water and scrubbed himself thoroughly.
“First, put on the mask, that ye shall not be recognized! Next, the underwear, being careful to tie up the front with the straps, but not tether thy manhood! Finally, ye shall wear the black breastplate and rope. With this, ye are finished…”
Artemus did as instructed and stood in front of the pool gazing upon his reflection. Again, the strange stirrings infected his being. Waves of throbbing pleasure enveloped him. He did not care to wander the hills anymore or go back to the village to his family. He was truly bewitched!
“Now ye know.” Sputum began, after seeing the boy’s glazed over look. “Should the senators of Rome discover these things, they would turn away from government and everyone would suffer. They would become too self absorbed to care about Rome’s troubles and the Empire would die! They must be hidden for all time.”
And Sputum was right of course. For in all the years that have passed since this odd meeting on Mount Rancid, no good government has ever employed the whip or forced anyone to wear underwear…