Tales of Ancient Rome

By: S. J. A. Turney


“Where now, prefect?”

Genialis shrugged.

“Rome crawls with your enemies, Caesar. The circus maximus throngs with the soldiers of Severus; his agents are abroad across the forum and the Capitol. Most of the praetorian cohorts are already shouting his name. There is nowhere to go but to your chambers and prepare for death.”

The emperor stared at the commander of his praetorian guard. Behind them, Julianus’ son in law shuddered like the inveterate coward he was.

“I thought you were helping me escape!”

Genialis sighed.

“I would give my life if it would save yours, Caesar, but there is simply no escape. Rome belongs to Severus now. All that is left for you is to decide the manner of your end.”

“There is a way. There must be a way. We can leave the palace by the servants’ quarters. Make our way down the hill past the Magna Mater temple dressed as common folk and head to the docks. We can be in Ostia by dawn and then take ship to anywhere we want.”

Genialis’ lip curled. It galled him in the extreme to be laying his life on the line for such a man but, regardless of what anyone said about the praetorian guard, he had only been prefect for a month and was damned if he would be remembered for turning on his rightful emperor in a time of trouble. When it was over and Severus came, he would decide whether Genialis should live or die, but for now the rightful emperor of Rome should stand proud as the office he held demanded.

“Nero fled his palace in disguise. It gave him little extra time, and think how eternity remembers him. Come, Caesar.”

The praetorian commander ducked around the corner and ran lightly down the beautiful mosaic floor, his white cloak billowing behind him.

The ruler of the world’s greatest Empire peered nervously around the corner, reluctant to follow this man who claimed to be leading him to his end, but equally sure of the fatal nature of cowering alone in these corridors. Severus’ supporters were already in the Palatine complex somewhere and could be here at any moment.

He felt an embarrassing warm trickle and cursed his nerves.

More than thirty million sesterces he had paid the guard to secure this throne and here he was, after little more than two months under the purple, fleeing through his own palace from the rabble of a barely-literate African thug. Where had the majesty and glory of the Empire gone? Where had justice gone?

Ignoring the warm yellow pool gathering in his boot, he waved his son-in-law on with him and rounded the corner to see his praetorian prefect ahead, holding open the door to the great chamber that overlooked the circus maximus.

Running breathlessly, he pounded down the corridor in his soft, stinking leather shoes and hurtled through the door, throwing himself onto the low couch by a table covered in fruit and dining accoutrements.

“Perhaps I can appeal to them again? Severus might want to exile me? I could go and be governor of Hispania? I think I’d like Hispania. They make a lot of fish sauce there, and I like garum. Maybe I could build an estate and retire? Just grow olives or something? I could…”

He stopped rambling in shock as his guard commander gave him a stinging slap across the face.

“You are the emperor of Rome for however long you have left. Have the grace to act like it!”

Julianus stared. He hadn’t paid this man’s unit more than thirty million sesterces just to be treated like this: like a schoolboy.

“Don’t shout at me!” he burbled petulantly.

Genialis shook his head in disgust.

“I took your money and the vow to protect you. If it weren’t for that, Caesar, I would see nothing worth protecting!”

The prefect tossed his gladius into the air and caught it deftly by the blade, proffering the hilt to his master. The emperor stared at the weapon.

“No!”

“Do the honourable thing, Caesar, and I shall do what I can to protect your daughter and son-in-law. If they renounce their titles, Severus and the senate may let them live.”

Repentinus, the only recently married son-in-law of Julianus, nodded vigorously.

“Caesar, you must save your daughter!”

Again, Genialis’ lip curled in revulsion at the constant displays of cowardice and fear this family exhibited. Despite his oath to serve and protect them, he was rapidly becoming convinced that Severus, the ‘Lion of Leptis’, might just be exactly what Rome needed: a strong leader, unafraid and severe.