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FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.
A chill wind blew down from the Brindabellum Mountains and over Capittaline Hill as footsteps echoed across the Forum in the pale light of the long-awaited dawn. Wrapping her cloak tightly around her, Julia Caesar shivered. How had it all gone so horribly wrong?
She gazed up at the statue of her illustrious predecessor, Bennelongus Imperium. Relaxum and Comfortabilis was his motto. How ordinary these words now looked, etched in stone and covered in bird shit. Yet, she now realized, they possibly represented the greatest triumph any leader could achieve.
Passing the vomitorium, she could hear squeals of delight and faint laughter intermingled with sounds of dry-retching and puking. No doubt, she thought to herself, Slipperius was down there in his black toga regurgitating his cab charges.
Where on earth, she wondered, did he go on all those long journeys? And what debauchery went on in the back of those chariots that had so depleted the imperial coffers?
Swiftly walking past the Unionatis Hospitalis, she shuddered at the thought of her favoured son, the handsome Dobellius, taking tithes off the lowly slaves who toiled to clean soiled bed-sheets while he cavorted in the Via Bordello.
She turned abruptly, certain she could hear someone following her. Treachery and subterfuge swirled around her, clothed in darkness. Her enemies were everywhere, plotting, waiting for the right moment to strike.
But she knew she could defeat them all, she was certain of that. ” They may have knives”, she thought to herself, “but they are as nothing compared to my formidable political skills, my acute sense of timing, my renowned judgment, my phenomenal ability to communicate with the masses and my mesmerising vocal skills. Her enemies didn’t stand a chance!”
But still, that nagging feeling kept creeping back: where on earth was Kevino Septimus?
One by one she mentally ticked off her foes. There was Minimus Shortus, the diminutive former slavemaster who had recently taken to mocking her in the Forum. “Whatever the Empress says, I support” he had proclaimed to roars of laughter from the crowds, “even though I have no idea what it is she said.”
More cunning was Praaetor Smith, with his cash-starved armies outside the city walls in the Fields of Duntroon. For 18 months he had patiently waited for the moment to strike, like an adder in the grass.
And what of Senator Carcero, the great orator with the booming voice, who as tribune of Nova South Walesium had razed it to the ground with his Punic land tax while entertaining the proletariat with extravagant Games in his specially built colosseum?
She turned to look at the foundation stones of the Basilica Juia, where her statue was being built, a magnificent testimony to her legacy, emblazed with her own epithet: Nos sunt nobis: we are us. It would be the largest statue in Rome. After all, wasn’t her most towering achievement, the introduction of the Carbonara Tax, a 23 dinar levy on all pasta production, a triumphant political victory that future generations would honour her for?
Most dangerous of all, she knew, were those closest to her. Such as Quastor Waynium Swannus, the man she trusted more than any other with the regulation of marketplaces. His day of glory was fast approaching, when he would trick the plebeians by showering them with surplus bread and treasure. She felt an icy chill run down her spine. Somehow, she couldn’t help thinking, whenever a leader was overthrown it was he who was always left standing.
Or Gregorius Combatus? A soldier of fortune who’d made his name all those years ago, fighting injustice among the patrician galley-owners. He was now chief priest of the goddess Gaia, a powerful position from whence he could scrutinise the entrails. What had they really told him about her future? Even old Creaanus, could she really trust him?
She stopped to listen, certain someone was close by. She froze as she heard the serpentine hiss of steel being drawn from leather.”Julia!” a voice whispered behind her..She spun around and couldn’t believe her eye.”You?” she said. “What on earth are you….?”
But already it was too late.