Senator Narcissus Turncoatius (or Turncoatius, as his cronies – he had no friends – knew him), new leader of the Patrician Party, worked his bloody dagger out of its resting place between his predecessor’s shoulder-blades. He stepped back from the prone body and allowed a pair of heavy crocodile tears to trickle down his cheeks. After bestowing a furtive kick when none were looking, he bowed his head in simulated grief as slaves carried the purple-draped, blood-dripping body away.
“Cruel necessity!” he sighed. “It had to be done!” After all, his predecessor had stood between him and the throne, and had been putting into effect a series of reforms and trade agreements with Cathay and other distant lands which, had they been given time to work, might have increased his popularity. He settled a wreath of imitation laurel on his brow, then, hardly pausing, “Let the games begin.”
His cronies, the 55 Patrician Senators who had re-allied to him over the last two years, ever since the fratricidal Plebian Party had been ousted from power by his predecessor, in fact, raised a dutiful cheer of “Ave Imperiator!”
Hail Emperor! It sounded good.
Narcissus Turncoatius (even the most sycophantic of his cronies jibed at acceding him the prefix “Honourable”) strode out onto the balcony, blood-stained purple toga swirling about his legs. His favourite client hopped and grovelled before him, holding aloft a brightly-burnished shield that threw back a reflection of his own face. There came the chipping sound of stone-masons replacing the heads on the statues surrounding important buildings and public squares with his own likeness.
The Senate guards saluted him with one hand while holding their noses with the other as he passed. His own Praetorian units, the Ay Beesees and the special body of temple prostitutes, the Fair Faxes, who he had spent so much time and care cultivating his image, prostrated themselves before him. It was all very satisfactory.
“Politics,” he told one of his clients, “Is the art of the possible.”
He took his seat on the dais beside the leader of the Plebian Party. This, he thought, would demonstrate his bipartisan leadership, and in any case, the pipes which carried drinking water to the Plebian quarters contained so much lead oxide that most of them had long since ceased to be any intellectual or oratorical challenge (a previous Plebian leader, he recalled, had pastured upon his own ear-wax as an antidote. It was much cheaper than beeswax).
Any future threat to his throne, he knew, came not from the wretched Plebians but from the 45 Patricians who had resisted his blandishments and continued to support his predecessor. In the past he had had useful relationships with several of the Plebeian leaders. And as his predecessor had learned too late, when he felt the knife going in, you had opponents in the other party, enemies in your own.
Narcissus Turncoatius wondered how many of them could be bought off, with ambassadorships to places like Cathay, or posted to Brittanicus Barbarus where, the Patricians, having disarmed themselves under their local leader, Davidius Cardhouseius, the Plebians were running amok and the wild Caledonians were massacring colonists north of the Wall. From what he had heard, Jerusalem, now called Aelia Capitolina, with its fish-worshipping lunatics and so forth, would be a good place to send some of them.
“Politics is the art of the possible,” he told himself again, uneasily.
A toady, who had been hovering at the foot of the throne, pointed. A distant cloud of dust grew nearer. The speck at its foot took shape as a chariot drawn by galloping horses. It drew close. The charioteer reigned his horses at the emperor’s box. The crowd, angered at this delay to the commencement of the games, gave an angry growl.
“Caesar Turncoatius!” cried the messenger. “The Persians and Assyrians are crossing the boarders in strength! The garrisons of our allies are being swept away! What shall we do?”
“We must have no bigotry,” replied Caesar, nobly. “Persianophobia and Assryianophobia must have no place in our country …”
To be continued….
Cato Seotonius is a spiritual forebear of Hal G.P. Colebatch, who translated this account to modern English