“The Augustus has serious matters consuming his time,” Olympius explained. He sat on a couch in front of me, his legs crossed, foot swinging. Slaves brought him a cup and offered me one.
I declined. “This is an important matter.”
“What matter?” asked the Minister. “Maybe if you tell us, we can convince our glorious Augustus of its importance.”
We were in a room similar to the first with the same oblique arrangement of bronze couches split like wings. At the union rested a marble bust of Honorius Augustus like the Sun-King, sun-rays circling his head. The Minister’s position forced me to see the statue whenever I looked at him. I kept trying not to look at the ugly thing, but its very appeal was in its repulsion. “Has he even been told I’m here?” I asked, turning away. “I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t see me.”
“The Augustus has an entire empire to care for. Its well-being depends on his well-being. At a time like this, when traitors are all around, he must be cautious. He was nearly murdered at Pavia. Brothers, fathers, sisters, wives—all these things can be sacrificed, but not the Augustus. He’s cautious because he loves his people. His life is more precious than even the bones of the saints.”
It was clear how Honorius could come to rely on this man. But he was a fool not to suspect that the one who killed the officers and threatened the emperor’s life at Pavia was the one who would benefit most from the massacre. “If you fail to tell him I was here,” I warned, “you will regret it.”
He cocked his head. “Are you leaving us already, Tribune?”
“You have no authority to hold me here. The Augustus will see you for what you are.”
“If you cared for your uncle and emperor, you wouldn’t have assaulted the palace with those Huns. It’s fortunate you were stopped. What might have happened, we wonder, if you achieved your goal?”
I felt the hair on my neck rise. “They were an escort.”
“We have their weapons and fifty heads mounted on spears by the towers.”
Nausea rose. “There were fifteen and no weapons. No one will believe you.”
“They’ll believe what they see. The Augustus already does. As we’ve told you before, you’re fortunate you have such a devoted uncle. He’s trying to find a way to solve the problem he has with you. He doesn’t want to solve it the way he’s been forced to solve your father.”
“No,” was all I managed to say.
“The Augustus is willing to grant you clemency if you prove yourself a loyal subject of the state. That means you’ll worship him as regent of the True God, and you’ll worship the True God in the most devoted way a man can.”
I didn’t realize I was terrified until there was a chance I might live. For one cruel minute, it didn’t matter the options he gave me. I would have agreed to anything, and I did.
“Your uncle’s a pious man,” he replied happily when I agreed. “He feels that nothing, not even treason, should stand between a man and his god.”
On Sunday, the twenty-third of August, when chariot races were set to entertain Rome, but before the people yet filled their churches, my father left his sanctuary. He went with Count Heraclian’s assurance that he would be able to speak with the Augustus. But the guards bound his hands just beyond the church doors and produced a second letter stamped with the emperor’s purple seal. Without a trial, without once facing the man who preserved his heritage and his very life, the Augustus had ordered his Patrician’s immediate execution.
Making his last sacrifice to his beloved Theodosius, my father obeyed the final command of Theodosius’s son, and on the steps of the tiny church at the edge of the world, he knelt under an imperial blade. His head was removed and stuck on the end of a pike. There followed a terrible silence.
Copyright © 2015 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Historical fiction |