The Emperor Narcissus Turncoatius is feeling decidedly ill at ease — not surprising, given his close call with the Plebian legions of Billious Shorticus. Now the Ay Bee Cees, Fair Faxes and other gelded courtiers are muttering that he might not be a god after all
Narcissus Turncoatus, still (just) the Leader of the Patrician Party, and still (just) the First Man in Rome, stared desolately out across the Forum. His temple prostitutes, the Fair Faxes, had brought him bad news. After his flight, the legions which he had led so proudly into battle had been decimated by the Plebian upstarts. Indeed, he had detected hostility among the Fair Faxes themselves.
Only a few days ago the legions his predecessor had built up had made a proud showing, fit to roll over any Plebian opposition. He considered the scrolls he had had distributed to certain members of the Patrician Party, extolling the virtues of his father. “He taught me a lot of amazing things. He was incredibly loyal.”*
“Loyal”, what did that strange word mean? It was one of those puzzling words, like “honour” and “trust”, that seemed to keep cropping up. He wished he knew what they meant. “Loyal?”
But it had a nice ring to it, if only he could pin the meaning down. He wondered what it would be like to be “loyal” to someone. But why had those who read the message and its invocation of “loyalty” either choked with hysterical laughter or headed at top speed for the vomitorium? Perhaps it had not been effective propaganda after all, no matter how highly he regarded his own communication skills.
Turncoatius looked out again across Rome. On the distant horizon, a cloud of dust. The sign of an advancing Plebian army?
It was so unfair! The legions, and the Senators, he had bribed to connive at his predecessor’s assassination, where were they? Where was their “loyalty”. His ears strained to catch the stealthy footfall of any approaching assassin.
It was so unfair! He had almost emptied the Treasury to buy votes from the Southern Provinces by building, or promising to build, new underwater galleys there, to far outdo the great pleasure boats Caligula had floated on Lake Nemi. Yet it seemed they too had turned against him. Reports were that his legions there, as elsewhere, had been massacred. Was there no gratitude?
He knew he had led the legions to disaster, and had barely escaped with his political life. One more campaign, and the Plebians, under their crude leader Billious Shorticus, would be in Rome. Already, when he stepped into the street he could feel that the devotion of his guard, the Ay Bee Cees, whose support had brought him to power, was wavering. They and the Fair Faxes were muttering the name of Shorticus, and his instinct told him the muttering would soon grown louder.
A Roman in his position, he knew, ought to fall on his sword. But that was impossible: it was lodged in his predecessor’s back.
*Strangely, an identical message was sent to the translator a few days before the 2016 election.
Quadrant Online readers owe the translation above to Hal G.P. Colebatch