Rome's Fallen Eagle(9)
Author:Robert Fabbri


    Claudius turned to a senator, in his early thirties, standing close to the dais. ‘That is what he said, isn’t it, Geta?’

    ‘It was, Princeps, word for word,’ Gnaeus Hosidius Geta replied, looking smug. ‘I was ashamed that a consul of Rome could state such untruths about …’

    ‘Yes, yes, that’s e-e-enough. No need to overdo it, praetor.’ Claudius jerked his attention back to the mortified Consul. ‘Can you think of one reason why I should not have you executed? In fact, can anyone think of one reason why I shouldn’t have the whole S-S-Senate executed?’

    ‘Because you wouldn’t have anyone worthwhile left to dominate, Princeps?’ Herod Agrippa suggested.

    There was a moment’s stunned silence before Claudius exploded with laughter. ‘Ah Herod, you do cheer me up, my friend.’

    Herod smirked and bowed extravagantly, his hands upon his chest.

    Claudius acknowledged the gesture and then turned back, his face set rigid again with displeasure, to the Senior Consul. ‘As to the army n-n-not knowing or loving m-m-me, you are mistaken. I am the brother of the great G-G-G-Germanicus; they will love me as they loved him because I will love them as he did. I will …’ Behind him Narcissus subtly pressed a hand on his shoulder and Claudius immediately fell silent. Pallas bent down to whisper in his ear.

    ‘I think we’re getting a foretaste of what is to come,’ Vespasian mused. ‘But at least we can still consider Pallas to be a friend.’

    Gaius frowned. ‘Let’s hope so, although past friendships can’t always be counted upon when the political landscape changes. How are you with Narcissus? Has he forgiven you for cashing that bankers’ draft of Claudius’ whilst you were in Alexandria?’

    ‘He owes me a couple of large favours but I assume that cancels one of them out.’

    Claudius nodded at his freedman as Pallas stood back up, having given his advice, and then struggled to his feet to indicate that the impromptu audience was at an end. ‘I shall retire to bed now; you will attend me tomorrow at the second hour and lead me to the Forum where you will announce your unanimous decision to endorse the will of the Guard; then you will swear allegiance to me in the Senate House. I expect all of you to be there. Now go!’

    Claudius was helped down from the dais by Narcissus; Callistus and Pallas tried to outdo one another in courtesy by offering the other the honour of being next down the steps before descending together. The senators and the Urban Cohorts broke out into a series of ‘hail Caesars’, whilst the Guard, in two swift motions, sheathed their drawn swords and then snapped to a resounding attention.

    Claudius disappeared into the ranks of his now very wealthy Praetorians and the senators turned to go.

    ‘Well, that went as well as we could have expected,’ Gaius observed.

    Vespasian grimaced. ‘I don’t think that we can expect too much favour from the new regime. We should have gambled, like Geta and those others, and got here to offer our loyalty before we were forced to. Once the Guard supported him it was inevitable, as Herod Agrippa said.’

    ‘I’m so glad that you appreciate my wisdom,’ a voice oozed from just behind Vespasian’s ear.

    Vespasian turned and looked into the cold smile on Herod Agrippa’s face.

    ‘Claudius’ freedmen appreciated it too; so much so in fact that they’re going to recommend to Claudius that he confirms me in my kingdom and makes a couple of very lucrative additions to it. Would you like to know why?’

    Vespasian shrugged. ‘Do we need to?’

    ‘You don’t need to, but it just might interest you all the same. You see, not only have I helped Claudius secure his position for the present, thereby making his freedmen very influential; but I’ve also advised Narcissus and Pallas on how to hang onto their power by instituting a new precedent to discourage the Guard from making a habit of changing emperors. Did you see your friend Clemens in his rightful place as Praetorian prefect next to the Emperor? Or for that matter his tribunes, Cassius Chaerea and Cornelius Sabinus? No, of course you didn’t.’

    Vespasian was unimpressed. ‘They signed their own death warrants by killing Caligula.’

    ‘Of course, although Claudius unwisely wanted to spare them, reward them even; especially after they claimed to have done some deal with Narcissus and Pallas, brokered by that weasel Callistus. Naturally Narcissus, Pallas and Callistus have denied all knowledge of this because, as you have just intimated, it wouldn’t do to have people assassinating emperors and surviving. However, my refinement was to take it a step further.’ Herod Agrippa paused for a moment of self-appreciatory reflection. ‘The second Praetorian prefect, Lucius Arruntius Stella, who wasn’t part of the plot, has also been arrested. I suggested to Narcissus and Pallas that perhaps it would be a good thing if, in future, the prefects realised that an important element of their duties is to keep an eye on their colleagues. Narcissus and Pallas thought that was an excellent idea and so Stella is going to be executed along with all the conspirators.’ Herod Agrippa thrust his face closer to Vespasian’s and looked at him with mock innocence. ‘And by the way, I intend to make sure that it will be all of them.’





    CHAPTER II


    CAENIS LAID HER head on Vespasian’s chest and traced the outline of his well-toned pectoral muscles with a slender finger, working her way slowly down his stomach. ‘It’s an empty threat, my love; there’s no way that Herod Agrippa can link you to Caligula’s assassins.’

    Vespasian kissed her full, black curls, savouring their sweet scent, and then stared up at the dim, whitewashed ceiling of their bedroom. They lay in the house that Antonia, Caenis’ former owner, had gifted her, along with her manumission, on the day she opened her veins. The first rays of dawn seeped into the room as, outside, a dove cooed – a soft, reassuring sound. He took a deep breath and sighed. He had not had any sleep in the few short hours they had been in bed: too troubled about what Herod Agrippa had meant. ‘Sabinus is married to Clemens’ sister; that links me strongly to him. Perhaps Herod is just speculating.’

    ‘Why would he do that?’

    ‘Vengeance for Antonia having him imprisoned six years ago; it was Sabinus who read out her evidence to the Senate.’

    ‘Then he should take his revenge on Sabinus.’

    ‘Sabinus is hundreds of miles away; perhaps he feels that his younger brother will do.’

    ‘That’s not revenge, it’s just malice.’

    Vespasian grunted with satisfaction as her hand moved even lower, massaging and kneading gently. ‘I also witnessed his humiliation in Alexandria and told the then prefect of Egypt, Flaccus, about his illegal stockpile of grain.’

    ‘How would he know that it was you who told Flaccus? Besides he’s had vengeance for his lost grain two years ago; it was his damning letter to Caligula supporting the Alexandrian Jews’ embassy complaining about Flaccus that got him executed. No, my love, this is nothing but an empty threat.’ She began working her hand more vigorously whilst playing on a nipple with the tip of her tongue.

    Vespasian found himself relaxing for the first time since his confrontation with Herod Agrippa. ‘Now that Caligula is finally dead,’ he murmured, stroking her hair, ‘it will be safe for you to go out in public.’

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