Calcifer pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Look, once you get the hang of it, riding the thing really isn’t too hard,” he insisted. “And I’m telling you, it’s the most efficient means of transportation in existence.”
The Roman centurions stared at the machine critically. “It jvst looks so vnstable,” one of them commented. “How do yov not fall over?”
“As long as you keep moving forward, you stay upright,” Calcifer insisted. “I mean, we can even put some training wheels on it at first, until you get the hang of it. But you could totally hold a lance up as you ride, and unlike a horse, you never need to feed it!”
The Romans still looked unconvinced. Calcifer had to admit, the prototype wasn’t the best model he’d ever seen. He was limited by the materials of the period. The bronze chain had an unfortunate tendency to slip off the hand-ground gears at high speed, and the wooden handlebars occasionally snapped in half, which inevitably led to a crash. But he still pressed on.
“Just imagine, a line of these, bearing down on the enemy,” he pleaded. “Those barbarians wouldn’t stand a chance. You would be showcasing the technological might of the Roman army.”
“Bvt we have the finest horses,” another centurion said. “And it is mvch easier to trample a fleeing man beneath the hooves of a horse than the wheels of this . . . contraption.”
The soldiers weren’t biting, and their accents were giving Calcifer a headache. “At least give it a try,” he insisted. He was starting to regret making the bet with Gabriel that he could get the Roman army on bicycles.
The soldiers shared glances, until finally one unfortunate was selected by the rest of the men stepping backwards. The man carefully straddled the leather seat, his eyes wide with fear. Calcifer tried to calm him. “Relax, just keep on pushing the pedals around,” he said. “Keep your eyes up, and turn the bars to steer.”
“This will end vnfortvnately,” the man groaned.
Calcifer didn’t bother to wait any longer. He gave the back of the seat a shove, and the vehicle lurched forward, the man letting out a shrill scream. Impressively, he remained upright for several seconds, pedaling along, until he ran headfirst into a tree and fell over.
The other soldiers ran to attend to their fallen comrade. Calcifer gloomily inspected the shattered remains of the prototype. “Eh, I got one Roman on a bike,” he said to himself. “At the minimum, Gabriel ought to call that a tie.”
He turned and addressed the soldiers. “Okay, maybe you’re not ready for it quite yet,” he said, shrugging and giving them his most appeasing smile. “I’ll try back in another couple centuries.”
The bike-riding Roman rose woozily to his feet, drawing his gladius. “Yov jvst hold still,” he said menacingly, staggering forward. “I want to thank yov for the present.”
“Okay, time to go,” Calcifer muttered. He disappeared in a gout of smoke and flame, moments before the Roman charged forward.
Calcifer appeared back in the popina, where a comely maiden poured him a mug of wine. He gulped it down as Gabriel sidled up to him. “Pay up,” the angel said triumphantly.
“No way,” Calcifer retorted, allowing the maiden to refill his mug. “I got one of them on a toga. That counts.” Gabriel opened his mouth to protest, but Calcifer turned away, pointedly ignoring his response. He did smile slightly as he replayed the image of the soldier trying to bike. He could definitely spin this into ‘sowing discord’ in his next report to Hell.