Excerpt from the Historical Mystery E-Book Set in Ancient Rome
An historical mystery set in ancient Rome and Judea. The perfect blend of history and mystery!
Join Caesar Tiberius, Herod, Pontius Pilate and his wife Claudia Procula, as they struggle to
navigate the tumultuous politics of ancient Rome and the back-water province of Judea.
We know you'll enjoy this sample chapter of our e-book, The Centurion.
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Copyright, September, 2006
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THE HEAVY VELVET of a hot August night lay over the peaceful basin of the Mediterranean. Above the city of Nola, stars blazed in the heavens, their fire distorted by the humid air.
Tiberius Nero paced the small courtyard of the rented villa. His sleeveless tunic clung to his body in a damp mass that did little to lighten his mood. Nola was on the sea and a night breeze should be blowing from the water to cool the land, but the air, the land and the sea were quiet, hushed, as if all creation were holding its breath in anticipation of what was to happen now.
The Guardian of the Imperium, the Father of the Nation, had left his earthly domain to take his place among the immortal gods. Tiberius ran his hand through his thinning hair and scratched at his prickly skull. He cursed as he examined several wispy stands of hair trapped between his fingers. The itching problem was becoming more frequent of late and the humid weather didn't help. He allowed the hair to fall to the paving stones as he resumed his pacing.
Where was his mother? Livia had asked that he meet her here an hour after cena. The evening meal was over long ago.
Already rumours were spreading that she had hastened the death of Augustus. It didn't help matters that he had hated Augustus, and in turn Augustus bore no love for him. It was also common knowledge that Augustus had chosen him, the adopted son, as his successor only after all the more favoured heirs had died.
A tray with cooled wine, a jug of water, and two red pottery cups sat atop a nearby table. Tiberius crossed the space with a few long strides, splashed wine and then water into one of the cups and raised a toast to the heavens. "To a swift passage, Augustus."
The wine washed some of the bitterness from throat.
A thought came to mind. Earlier, a servant had told him that while on his deathbed Augustus asked whether he had played his role in life well. Tiberius chuckled. Few men, even Emperors, had any choice in their destiny. What really mattered was how they fulfilled that role, even if it was unpleasant.
He raised the cup again in salute. "You played your part well on the stage of life."
A sigh escaped him. It would be hard to follow in the footsteps of a leader who had ruled the empire so efficiently. If only Augustus had managed his family, and in particular his daughter, Julia, as well as he had the business of the nation.
His thoughts turned to his wife and his mood darkened even further.
Yes, he had hated Augustus. Hated him still. The man had forced him to divorce Vipsania and marry Julia. It drove him to the point of insanity to realize that the woman he adored had been given to an empty-headed senator. He gripped the neck of the fragile cup harder. He suspected Livia's hand in the forced marriage.
And he had given up his beautiful Vipsania for a whore. Julia's conduct as his wife humiliated him. Their hatred for each other was mutual and her weapon of choice in the war between them was her sex. A steady stream of men passed through her bedchamber and rumours were rampant that she had held orgies in their country home. She made a laughing stock of him in the Senate. Who hadn't she slept with? The whole of Rome took delight in his embarrassment.
When Julia had antagonised him to the limit and he thought himself forced to either kill her, or descend into madness, he withdrew to the island of Rhodes. His mother protested, arguing that the move could weaken his position with the Emperor.
"Reconsider, Tiberius. If you go through with this self-imposed exile Augustus may favour one of Julia's sons as his successor."
"At this point, Mother, I don't care. If I leave Rome, Augustus will be forced to deal with his harlot of a daughter. He's trying to pass his morality reforms and her behaviour goes against everything he's trying to achieve. If I point out her behaviour to him he'll turn a deaf ear. Let someone else do it. He'll have to act then."
It gave Tiberius no small pleasure to know he had been right. Finally Julia's behaviour became so scandalous that it defied all decency. Even Augustus could no longer overlook her antics. What was that statement that had finally done her in? Oh, yes. When someone commented that her children actually resembled her second husband, she had quipped, "That's because I never take on a passenger unless I already have a full cargo."
Even now rage gripped him at the thought.
He ceased his pacing as he willed himself to stay in control. Deep breathes calmed his ragged breathing. Once Augustus' will was read in the Senate he, Tiberius, would be ruler of Rome. The first thing he would do would be to cut off Julia's allowance. She was banished for life to the barren island of Pandataria with only her mother for company. Well, she would soon have to learn to live off her mother's income.
Caesar, he would finally be called Caesar. Fifty-five annual sacrifices to his genius natalis had been made from the time of his birth until this victory. How should he handle it when he stood on the Senate floor? Perhaps he should demure about accepting the title. Augustus had done that and they had given him even more power.
He was travel weary but his mind was over-excited. And what was the little problem his mother wanted to discuss? He needed to calm down. Perhaps another drink? He returned to the table and poured another cup of the ruby liquid. This time his hand by-passed the water jug. He had been a moderate drinker in the past, moderate in everything in fact, but only because he felt the watchful eyes of his stepfather peering over his shoulder. Now he could relax. He drank the un-watered wine and savoured the full-bodied taste of it, then withdrew the scroll from his belt.
While on route to Illyricum he had received the dispatch from his mother telling him Augustus had fallen ill and lay dying. When the courier overtook him on the road he had read it hastily, just enough to get the essence of the message. Augustus is ill... return immediately... imperative that your presence...
Now he had time to give it a more thorough reading. He unrolled the parchment and settled on the edge of the fountain where the air was cooler.
Tiberius Claudius Nero Imperator... the scroll began. As he whispered the words they fell sweet on his ears. Then he sobered. She was reminding him that he'd achieved the title with her help.
My dear son, the dispatch continued. I write this in haste, that the message might reach you before you have travelled many leagues. It grieves me to say that my beloved husband, and your father, the Imperator Augustus is ill. He is most certainly on his death bed and is asking for you that he might formally appoint you his heir and successor. You must return immediately to Nola...
He had returned to Nola, but too late. Livia had met him at the entrance to the villa.
"He's gone, but all is well. There were witnesses to his statement that you are his successor. He also had a will and it's in the hands of the vestal virgins. There is one small problem though. Meet me in the garden tonight after the evening meal and I'll explain."
A dry chuckle escaped his lips, but it lacked mirth. For his mother, a problem was never an obstacle. It was merely a bump on the road to her ultimate goal.
I know your ambition, my dear mother, and I know you're possessed of an unscrupulous nature. You'll use whatever means you can to ensure I reach the goals you've set for me.
Several years earlier, the deaths of Julia's two young sons by a former husband had made the people of Rome suspicious, especially anyone familiar with the dubious practices of those desperate to grasp political power. Many understood how inconvenient the presence of Julia's children was for Tiberius' advancement. But there was no hint of foul play in connection with the deaths. Augustus had trusted Livia implicitly.
Trust. The word stuck in Tiberius' mind. Who did he trust? Not many, least of all his mother. The woman was quite possibly mad.
He heard her step on the paving stones and rose to meet her.
"Ah, there you are Tiberius. Have you had a chance to rest yet?" She kissed his cheek but there was no warmth to the caress.
"No, not yet. And I'm weary. You said there was a matter of importance you wanted to discuss." He noted she was dressed for mourning. With her tattered dress and her thin grey hair uncombed and falling about her shoulders she was the picture of a grieving widow.
Livia poured a generous measure of wine for each of them and led him to the fountain where the sound of the water would distort their conversation to listening ears. Her little problem was a sensitive one then, one that would undoubtedly be solved with intrigue. The realization did not surprise him. A breath of cooler air made a swift passage through the courtyard then was gone, a temporary and fleeting reprieve from the heat.
"It's a small problem really. One that, if handled swiftly, will remove a greater danger down the road. A week ago I would have handled it myself, but since you now hold the reins of power I felt it important that you know about it."
She rearranged her skirt then lifted her hair from the nape of her neck. The gesture exposed the skin on the inner part of her arm. It hung loose, a slab of pearly, dimpled flesh. She was becoming an old woman and old women became desperate when they felt power slipping from their hands.
Livia brushed a fine line of perspiration from her upper lip and continued. "A certain man by the name of Clemens has surfaced in Ostia. By all accounts he's a former slave, yet he's claiming to be Postumus Agrippa."
The shock of her news stilled his breath. It was preposterous. Julia's son by her marriage to Augustus' commander, Agrippa? Word from the island where Postumus had been banished for the crime of rape, said he was dead. From the look on his mother's face, she had full knowledge that Postumus was indeed dead. Livia's paid spies and assassins were everywhere.
Livia continued, a note of petulance in her tone. "Of course this man's claim is ludicrous, but the rabble in the harbour is beginning to listen to him. As Julia's son, the real Postumus would have had legal claim as a successor. Steps must be taken to silence the impostor." She raised her cup and smiled at him over the rim as she drank.
For the first time Tiberius wondered if the question of his succession had even been discussed on Augustus' death bed. If it was, why was his mother so eager to eliminate a potential threat?
As Livia lowered her cup he read the smile for what it was. Her eagerness to eliminate the potential contender to the throne was really a warning.
She's letting me know that she has no intention of withdrawing from the position of power she enjoyed under Augustus.
He smiled back, but the smile was a mask. Augustus' words on his deathbed came to mind.
My scheming mother, I will play the part of a dutiful son, and as unpleasant as it is, I will do it well. But there is no love here for you.
His role now was to be the Emperor of Rome. But whom could he trust? He could no longer trust his mother, for her role was an ambitious one that centred solely on her. To be able to trust someone he would have to know that person would give up his life for him. But where would he find such a fool? What could a man gain by offering his life for that of another? Death was the end. There was nothing beyond death but darkness, unless of course, you were a god.
End of Chapter Two
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