Tales of Ancient Rome

By: S. J. A. Turney

Marcus Didius Julianus, master of the world, hugged the couch and wept like a little girl, his nose running, mucus matting his moustache.

“Get up!” Genialis snapped at him.

The heap of toga, shuddering and whining, remained exactly where it was, the cowardly Repentinus gingerly embracing his father-in-law, ostensibly begging him to save the young princess. Genialis was in no doubt as to whose skin the young man was really interested in saving.

“Get up!” he barked again.

Reaching down, he grasped the emperor by the throat, bunching the folds of the toga in his fist and hauling the man to his feet with a grunt. The waxy, pale Julianus, tears in his red-rimmed eyes and mucus in his beard, staggered, his knees quaking, the stink of urine about him.

Genialis thrust the gladius into his unwilling hands and folded the emperor’s fingers around the hilt. Julianus stared down at the weapon and raised it hesitantly, gesturing at the prefect. Genialis sneered and simply batted it aside.

“Killing me would hardly help you, Caesar.”

“Perhaps I can appeal to the masses? To the army? I still have a fortune. They’re gathered in the circus maximus, you say? I could shower them with sesterces from here! They will hear me and they will love me and I’ll be safe and they’ll kill Severus and I’ll rule Rome and I’ll be safe forever and…”

Another ringing slap stopped him chattering. He pulled away, the sword in his hand, and started toward the balcony before stopping dead again. His son-in-law was standing on the hem of his partially-undone toga, shivering, while the praetorian prefect glared at him with barely concealed loathing, his arms folded.

“Repentinus!” he barked, but the young man remained where he was, reached toward him, gripping the blade of the gladius in the emperor’s hand and gently pulled it from his grasp.

“Yes, yes” Julianus nodded. “I won’t need that, you’re right. I can buy them off. I will buy their love.”

Repentinus nodded and turned.

Genialis’ eyes widened as the young, cowering son-in-law drove the blade deep into the praetorian officer’s side, above the cuirass and below his folded arms, pushing the hilt with a grunt and listening to the grating as the blade slid between bones and vital organs. It was a masterly blow, worthy of a soldier; an almost instant kill.

Silenced first by shock and then simply by the journey to Elysium, Titus Flavius Genialis, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, collapsed in a heap, his legs buckling beneath him as blood rushed from the mortal wound in his side. A single gasp escaped his lips. Repentinus let go of the sword hilt and helped lower the dead man to the floor with a surprising show of respect. Fumbling with his toga, the young man stood.

Julianus, his eyes still wide with shock, started to nod madly, grinning like an idiot.

“Of course. Good boy. He had to go. He would never have let me live. Now we can buy them off and I can…”

His voice tailed off as Repentinus stood again. The respectful lowering of the body and strange toga-fumbling had simply been the boy removing the prefect’s dagger from his belt. Now he brandished the leaf-shaped blade with a sad, resigned look.

“What is it, Repentinus?” the emperor squeaked.

“You see, Caesar, there is a problem. Genialis would never manage to save us. Severus will kill him for simply being in your guard, and Didia and I will follow quickly. But he was right that you simply have to die. No amount of generosity and coin will save you now. But there is still time for me to secure my future.”

Reaching out with his free hand, he grasped the emperor’s toga and bunched it in his fist in the same fashion as Genialis had done.

The emperor stared in shock and panic.

“But you’re my family!” he wailed.

“Sadly you’re no longer in mine, Caesar.”

Julianus tried to say something. His last words may have been profound and noble, though they probably weren’t. Whatever they may have been, they were inaudible as Repentinus drew the knife across his throat, watching as the blood began to gush and spray, soaking his own toga.

Letting go of his father-in-law as he fell, Repentinus ignored the thrashing as the emperor tried to hold his throat closed, making hissing, rattling sounds. Reaching down with the knife, he began the onerous task of sawing through the prefect’s neck with the razor-sharp dagger and removing the head. Moments later, treading through the blood-slick, he repeated the process on the now-expired emperor.