The Woman in Black
Gazing out of his window, the emperor ran his hand through his silver hair. He sighed, barely listening to the Fabius brothers, who were pleading with his stepson. “All our lives,” one of them was saying, “all our lives and more, our family have served you. On our father’s side we are descended from the great Scipio. On our mother’s…”
“Nobody’s questioning that,” said the emperor’s stepson, interrupting the old man. “Your family’s known to us, as are your connections to Titius. But you’re talking about our highest honour. What about the other families? What will they say if you’re consul straight after your brother?”
“What about the families?” the other brother retorted. “They’ll say what you tell them to say,” he added, wiping his hand on his toga and glancing at the emperor.
Tiberius fell silent and waited for his stepfather to speak. Finally the emperor answered. “Very well. You have your wish, promitto. This shall be my gift to you, Consul.”
“Thank you, patrone,” the brothers cried in unison, leaning forward and kissing the emperor’s hand one at a time.
As they left the study, a freedman entered the room, an easterner by the name of Marathus. “She is found?” asked the emperor’s stepson.
The freedman nodded, glancing down the corridor at the woman in black nursing a baby in the other room, but remained silent. “Let us get you to your wedding then, privigne,” the emperor said.
The younger man smiled politely and offered his hand to his godfather. The emperor waved it away and rose to his feet, picking up his laurel crown. The freedman hurried over to help, but the emperor waved him away too. The brothers bowed their heads respectfully and waited for him to leave.
In the passage outside the office, the old man all but tripped over his grandson Lucius, who was lying on the floor, playing with marbles. Lucius’s brother Gaius was sitting on a bench, reading.
Gaius was eight, his brother a year younger. “Watch you don’t trip up grampa,” the emperor’s stepson said, and Lucius crawled away on his hands and knees and hid under a table, glaring at his soon-to-be stepfather.
“What are you reading?” the emperor asked, pointing at Gaius’s book, but the boy tried to hide the book. His grandfather was forced to take it off him. “Cicero?” he asked, reading a few sentences and recognising the style.
“I’m sorry…” the boy replied, his hand shaking. His words trailed off. He looked at Tiberius and his grandfather, studying the old man’s face.
The emperor continued to read the words, which were even older than he was. “No,” he retorted, “you did nothing wrong. This was a great man and loved his country.”
The boy was taken aback. He had never heard his grandfather speak of Cicero before – Cicero, one of the grand old men of the old republic. “Did you know him, ave?” he asked.
“I met him a few times.”
“What was he like?”
“He was an old man when I met him,” the emperor replied, taking a breath. “Even older than I am now.
“But I can’t tell you about Cicero without telling you about another man…”