Here is something a bit different. A short piece I wrote on Julius Caesar’s assassination, which took place on the Ides of March (March 15, 44 BC in Rome, Italy). It’s entitled The Senators are Waiting.

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Mark Antony was already making his way to the Senate, which lay just beyond Pompey’s theater, behind the public gardens resplendent with cypress and umbrella pines. Caesar caught a glimpse of Antony, rushing up the uneven marble steps, leading to the large polished bronze doors.

“We must hurry Caesar. The Senators are waiting.” Decius, Caesar’s long-time friend, glanced at the great man as they walked together through Rome’s crowded streets.

“They can wait a little longer.” Caesar’s smile held a trace of annoyance. The sky to the south was a wash of dirty mauves and violets, a gentle breeze signalling a cool, if unsettled, day ahead. Caesar heard nightingales in the distance call farewell to the night.

“Calpurnia begged me not to attend the Senate today. My wife listens too much to the soothsayers, always declaring their dark prophecies.” He’d had a restless night, awakened by rolling thunder.

Street vendors hawked salted fish, warm pans of smoking sausages, and jars of wine. “For you, Caesar. A jar of my finest red wine,” called a mottle-faced man as they swept by. His throat was choked from the dust of the streets, and he considered accepting the cool, ruby
liquid before a member of his guard intervened. “Caesar, it could be poison,” he cautioned.

Caesar took in the guard’s oval leather shield, with its distinctive markings of moon and stars, the white horsehair plume of the helmet, bobbing in rhythm with the movement of his head.

“Oh, to be at war again Decius, instead of dealing with these wretched Senators. Always niggling about land and status. We could don our helmets and leave them to their squabbles.”

Caesar dodged a large earthenware pot, one of many placed at intervals in the streets. “Watch out Decius, it’s a blasted piss pot.”

“There’s death in every open window, Caesar. A piss pot or two could come down and crack us on the head at any moment.” Decius squinted his eyes from the rays of the wintery sun, as he looked up at the four-storied tenements that lined the streets and narrow passageways. Paint chipped turquoise doors, the only brightness in the gloom of poverty.

Stumbling towards them, hot with wine and young blood, four men in scarlet cloaks, escorted home by the awakening light of the new day.

“Caesar, we should return to the main thoroughfare.” The same guard, with a rough hand poised on sword hilt.

“I will be thankful to reach the safety of the Senate. I fail to see why you always want to walk in these dirty streets.” Decius covered his nose, the sweet scents of myrtle and cypress oils he’d applied earlier in the morning, failing to mask the sulphurous stench of Rome’s sewers.

In the shadow of the public baths just ahead of them, restless hooves were beating the ground, as the parade horses were readied for the afternoon gladiatorial display. A mulberry-hued saddle blanket was being placed on his horse, who whinnied as Caesar approached. He whispered into silken ears: “Ah, Jupiter. Soon we will fly through fields of scarlet poppy and yellow mustard.”

They reached the steps of the Senate, and Caesar paused to look at the deep marbled veins of the steps. “Decius. I’ve not noticed this before. It’s like life itself coursing through.” The sky was now overcast and sullen, the murmur of thunder in the distance. “Caesar, I….” Decius could not meet Caesar’s gaze.

Caesar was greeted by raised voices. The Senators swathed in draping white togas, turning to face Rome’s dictator. “Senators, I trust we won’t be locked in debate for hours. Jupiter is anxious to join the parade later today.”

The mosaic tiled floor was an intricate serpentine pattern. Caesar was always amused by the entwined blue serpents with red eyes, for he could match each serpent to a troublesome Senator. The terracotta wall to his left, contained niches for honorific statues.

“I see that bastard, Pompey, has joined us.” Caesar sniggered at Pompey’s marble statue before taking his seat, his well-built frame hugging its winged arms, his fingers drumming the wood. Light streamed through the high windows, softening Caesar’s hard blue eyes, and making gold patterns on the tiles.

Tillius Cimber walked forward. “Caesar, I wish to petition on behalf of my brother, to recall him to Rome. You sent him into exile last year.” A tall man with jittery movements, he looked towards a group of men, gathering behind Caesar. Coming closer, he grasped Caesar’s shoulders, pinning him down, awakening every nerve in Caesar’s body.

Shouts and the hands of treachery and deceit stabbing, slashing. Caesar’s voice tight with pain, the great man fell at the feet of Pompey’s statue, his life draining and seeping into the cracks between the mosaic tiles. “Cassius, Brutus. Even you?”

Mark Antony, delayed by Caius Trebonius in a hall outside the Senate, sunk to his knees before Caesar. Blood pooling around him, he looked into the wild eyes of assassins. “Brutus, Caesar loved you like a son.”

Caesar felt the cold sting of the tiles against his temple, his vision blurred by a red toga. A slaughterous red. He hadn’t noticed Decius wearing a red toga as they walked to the Senate.

He clutched a silver dagger, drenched with blood. Caesar’s eyes settled on the carved bone handle with its coiled serpents, uncovering the lies of Decius. “My friend, why?”

© Kim Martins 2016

 

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