Forever Rome

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Chapter 12

An emergency session of the Senate has been drawn and all the government has converged in the great domed building. The floor is abuzz with speculations about the Emperor’s assassination and the disappearance of Darius. Marcus sits in the antechamber with Lucilla and his sister, surrounded by his nieces and nephews. He soaks in the moment, preparing for his ultimate triumph: the ascension to the throne. He is the supreme leader and Caesar of the Entire Empire.

However, he is worried about the Proconsul’s unexplained absence. “Is he planning an insurgency to keep me from my prize?” Marcus wonders. The unexpected collateral damage of his mother’s death weighs on him. “She was not supposed to die. All my careful scheming could not foreseen such.”

Marcus feels uneasy that not everything was not following his carefully crafted plans. Gifts of Crystal Blue sent to the Senators will help, but how many were fully under his control? Those that are are easy to spot: they agree to his every wish no matter how absurd. The countless minds are hard to control all at once.

Things are moving fast, all the elements have been set in motion and it is up to Marcus whether he will triumph. The Senate Pro-Tem, Septimus, glides in to address Marcus. He knows he took the bait and tried the Crystal Blue. “This weakling likes to position himself next to the seats of power and do anything to get in their good graces,” Marcus thought. A wicked sneer split his face. “Septimus holds sway over most of the other Senators. Victory is practically at my door. How many other Caesars before me wanted a Senate that would obey their every command? Never has such a luxury been enjoyed.”

Marcus has the opportunity to create a dynasty to rival any of Rome’s past glories. In the traditional purple royal toga and his head adorned with the gold laurel wreath, Marcus is the very image of regality. A makeup artist applies final touches to his and Lucilla’s faces.

Around them, television crews prepare for the momentous occasion. It has been fifty years since the last coronation and they are expecting great ratings. The entire population is tuned in on regular television or the internet. Reporters have taken up places near the royal box. All the Senators file in dressed in their traditional white togas as ceremonial trumpets blare high above the floor, the chamber fills with their resonating sounds. A female reporter named Dianna Marius, a popular daytime hostess, stands in front of a television camera in a nice evening gown. This is the event of a lifetime and she beams with excitement. Her co-host, the famous gladiator Anthony Tremulous, stands at her side wearing the latest style tuxedo. They exchange the usual vapid observations and insights.

“Emperor Apparent Marcus, as he is traditionally referred to before the coronation, looks well considering the tragic events that brought him here today,” she says.

“Yes, he does. It has been an awful upheaval these past 72 hours with the assassination of one of our most revered emperors, Domitian, who reigned over a very prosperous time in the empire,” replies Anthony.

They turn to their monitor as the television camera reverses its viewpoint revealing the outside of the rotunda where thousands have gathered on the mall to be part of this once in a lifetime event. On a large screen above them flashes a picture of Domitian. Cameras hover through the crowds getting glimpses of people. The faces are alternately doleful and excited.

Over these images inside the antechamber, the two hosts explain what they are seeing.

“A worldwide outpouring of grief and speculation over his death has arisen,” says Anthony.

“Some say this man,” Dianna says as an image of Trajan is displayed, “Trajan Marcellus, went on a rampant killing spree Caused by a fit of jealous rage after his girlfriend left him which resulted in his own parent’s death. Marcellus apparently believed Emperor Apparent Marcus was involved and attempted to murder him, but the attempt failed and Domitian was slain instead.” Again the cameras switch to the crowds, who are booing and hissing at the sight of Trajan. The commentator resumes her observations. “Again, it is believed the royal couple was the intended victims of this apparent crime. However, there may be more to these horrific crimes than meets the eye since the disappearance of Darius. Reports suggest that Darius may have been the intended target all along.”

Her male counterpart agrees with her, then takes his cue.

“And now, let’s hear a word from our sponsor.”

A commercial for Crystal Blue beams around the world and into millions of homes. The first sequence is a gladiator in a heated battle as he wins and removes his helmet revealing, Anthony. “After winning a match, I like to clean up and put on my favorite cologne.” An attractive model dressed as Venus throws him a bottle and he proceeds into the locker room. Anthony wipes a mirror with his massive forearm and is shown shaving from various angles, then he applies a splash of the aftershave. He is transfixed, staring into the lens and wearing a nefarious smile. The model dressed as Venus, apparently disrobed, comes up behind him and wraps her arms over his shoulders. “Sometimes I like to wear nothing at all but Crystal Blue,” she replies as she too spritzes some on. They kiss and smile at the screen.

“Buy yours today. All hail Caesar Marcus!”

Marcus sits back, reveling in it all.

“Sire, your sales have tripled in the last five hours. Your product is topping all the markets. I myself cannot get enough,” says Septimus.

“Did you make sure all the other Senators got their coronation gifts?”

“Yes, along with your note of well wishes to each of them for their loyal service.”

So far everything was going as planned but Marcus is edgy nonetheless. He has heard report of the Ajax being destroyed, but the buzzing noise in his brain is returning. He cannot let the anxiety bother him today. His paranoia is creeping in, he had to push it out of his mind. “I am Caesar,” he repeats in his mind. With Crystal Blue distributed throughout the world, he has millions of followers. He has already seen to it that his military is using the product. Marcus tested their loyalty by ordering them to kill Clavius, but the guards he sent to do the job had been killed. What had gone wrong? He could not be certain, and it gnaws at him. Other than that, however, all opposition has been swept away.

The only person who did not appear to be under the spell is Claudia. He witnessed her use the substance yet she is still defiant as ever. He knows she suspects him in their parents’ death, but she is silent on the matter. Whether out of fear for her children and her husband or biding her time, Marcus does not know. “More than likely it is because she would lose her status in the empire and her fortune. She could not do without the comforts of her many homes and possessions. She’ll keep quiet,” Marcus thinks.

The trumpets fall silent and all the Senators have taken their seats. Septimus indicates for Marcus and Lucilla to rise. All those gathered are silent. Marcus’s and Lucilla’s long robes unfurl behind them as they rise. Claudia’s children, also dressed in royal attire, have the honored job of carrying the trains into the Senate chamber and up to the imperial throne. The children seem shy and a little scared at the undertaking. Claudia bends down to reassure them. Marcus turns around and gives them a wink. Despite all of his faults and his despicable actions, he is a doting uncle.

Marcus and Lucilla take one another’s hands and step to the door leading into the grand rotunda of the Senate chamber. A long, gold and blue carpet weaves through the rows of Senators’ seats. At the head of the chamber, up a set of eight steps, is the throne, large enough for two. It is made of marble and draped with a cloak lined with fleece that has adorned the shoulders of Caesars from time immemorial.

Marcus and Lucilla stand at the open doorway. He looks up in triumph at all the Senators and spectators. He’s on the world stage. Newsfeeds from around Romanus await the march to the throne. The air of anticipation mounts as the trumpets blare his arrival. Septimus walks ahead to make the announcement.

“Citizens of the Empire, I give you Marcus, heir to the throne!”

All the officials rise in respect. Outside and all over the world, people hold their breath waiting. Septimus steps back and the long walk to the throne begins. They proceed, every step choreographed. The little ones carrying the trains walk in step with Claudia behind.

Trying to remain stoic and regal, Marcus wants to shout out that he is their master. Many of these men two months ago wanted him censured for his obscene and reckless behavior. Now he has the final say; they will live or die by his command. The only thing remaining is the vote from the Senators to give him emergency powers. He would seize the opportunity, in front of the whole empire. He will publicly accuse Trajan of being involved in a vast conspiracy that included the missing Proconsul. The government needs a leader and he is the only one in a position to assume such a role, even if it is through simple attrition. For centuries, the order of succession has not changed. When a Proconsul dies or cannot fulfill his duties the emperor is granted emergency authority, but only until an election is held. “The foolish masses stripped the Caesars of their powers long ago, believing them to be too autocratic and selfish. How can they know what is good for them? Mere cattle. No matter. Even if some of the Senators oppose the measure, they’ll be vetoed by the others. If they block me I’ll take it to the people.”

With each step, Marcus draws closer to absolute control. He passes by each Senator as he approaches, and each one bows their head. How gratifying it is to see them cower in his presence. He looks over at Lucilla. She is passive. She was his only through the drug, but alas, what he can’t have he would take. They climb the few steps to the throne and the children release the trains to assume their places on either side. Claudia bows and walks to her place. Marcus pauses in front of the chair that holds all the power in the world. It is marvelous and he grins, but he has to remain calm. Swallowing, he turns to face the audience and the cameras.

He has practiced this so many times in his chambers, but deep down he knew his father would never let him follow in his footsteps, so this was a real triumph of will. At last, he was the Caesar. The trumpets stop and a cannonade of rolling drums takes over as Septimus walks from the back of the chamber carrying the gold laurel leaf crown on a purple, gold-trimmed velvet pillow. It seems to take him an eternity to reach the ascension podium. When he does he turns to face the Senators, holding the crown high and repeats the words that a thousand others like him have.

“From the beginning and until the end the empire is one. At the head is our Caesar, behind him is the people. We are united! An old ruler has passed and another takes his place. So it has been forever and shall remain. Death leads to life and the circle is unbroken. I give you our new leader. ”

Septimus raises the crown over Marcus’s head. Septimus whispers in his ear the saying that slaves uttered to Caesars as they stood in chariots parading before the throngs of people. “Remember sire, all glory is fleeting.” Septimus lowers the crown and secures it on his head, then steps back, snaps an open palm salute and shouts the words Marcus has dreamed all his life.

“All hail Caesar!”

The rest of the Senators join in the salute. Diana and Anthony raise their hands and shout their allegiance. On the television, it is echoed around the globe as millions cry out in unison. Marcus stands, radiant in his new glory with Lucilla by his side. He soaks it up but still has to take the momentous step of calling for a vote of confidence and the return of absolute rule. Now, he will find out how well the Crystal Blue has done its job.

He holds his hands up for calm, acting the part of reluctant leader. Moving to the edge of the steps, he motions for the Senators to sit down. There are whispers in the Senate chamber. It is unheard of for the newly coronated to make a speech.

“Citizens, I come to you today with a heavy heart, taking the reins of power with trepidation. The burden you have placed upon me is great. I now have the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I assume this role as your leader with reluctance and a little fear for the future. My father was a kind, benevolent ruler who guided us through years of growth. But this prosperity caused complacency. Greed took over the inner workings of the government, so much so that Darius, along with his henchman Trajan, both once-trusted friends, conspired against the order and killed the emperor!”

The Senators stand and applaud. Outside on the screens, the public joined in cheering. Marcus again calms them down.

“The great empire needs reorganizing. Today, while the iron is hot and our blood is boiling, we must rethink our traditional roles. Some claim the past was too autocratic and allowed too much room for error. I say our ancestors were right all along. What you heard from Septimus is not just a speech. One ruler, that is the way it should be! Let the burden of power lay in a single man. I will sweep away all the bureaucracy and accomplish what generations have failed to do. Aren’t you tired of the endless squabbling of a government that accomplishes nothing?”

On the screens, crowds smile and nod their heads. The Senators agree. Marcus has spent a lifetime reading people’s faces and knows he has got them eating right out of his hand. A few disgruntled men shift in their seats. He takes care of them later. So far so good. For their sake, he will make it look like it is only for a short time.

“I propose that the office of Proconsul be temporarily abolished and all power returned to the Caesar. We will get the empire moving forward again.”

The audience remains silent. Has he gone too far? Then they erupt in a roar of approval. The Senators stand and applaud on the screens outside the rest of the world joins in.

Septimus comes forward again and calls out. “Let it be known that our new emperor has the full command of Rome. Where Caesar failed, let Marcus Tyrannus succeed! Hail! Hail!”

He’s done it. He has absolute authority. Crystal Blue is to be distributed on a massive scale, available to the entire population. Marcus raises his hands and shouts, “Thank you, citizens! I will not let you down!”

The sounds of the crowd’s roar are drowned out by the peculiar buzzing and the smell of honey overwhelms the room. Marcus looks at the people shouting their approval, but he cannot hear them.

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