PROLOGUE: The Emperor's Mother

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PROLOGUE: The Emperor's Mother

Post by Damascus on Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:28 pm

Mama, I don’t wanna. It makes me feel sick.

Hush, Lucius. Drink your medicine.

Agrippina pushed the silver cup into her young daughter’s hands, urging her to drink the tonic. Begrudgingly, Lucius took it and drank the liquid down.

She didn’t like her medicine. Mama said it would make her healthy, but every time she took it she felt nauseous and her head hurt. It was okay, though; later in the day, Mama gave her another medicine that made her feel better.

Mama said she needed to act like a good girl. If she acted out too much, Mama got upset, and then she sometimes forgot to give Lucius the second medicine. That’s when she got really sick. It was okay as long as she behaved. That’s what Mama always said. And as long as she behaved, one day she would get to be the Emperor.

*******************************

Lucius’s father was a weak man. Because of that, Lucius was officially barred from ascending to the throne. When she was young, the Emperor was her great-uncle Claudius, so when he died, his son Brittanicus would be next in line. That all changed, though, when her father died.

Agrippina married Claudius not long after her father’s death, and she convinced him to adopt Lucius as his step-daughter. Just like her mother had promised, she was now in line to be emperor. To celebrate the adoption, her name was changed. Now she was known as Nero.

At age 16, she married her step-sister Octavia under pressure from her mother. The year after that, Nero Claudius Germanicus became emperor.

No one was sure why Claudius had died. He was over 60, so he certainly hadn’t died young, but it had still been quite sudden. He had gotten violently sick at dinner and been bedridden for two days before passing away during the night.

Nero had noticed Claudius and Agrippina fighting for a few months beforehand. Claudius openly derided and insulted Agrippina in public, and had begun to comment on Brittanicus soon becoming an adult. Claudius had always liked Brittanicus more than Nero; she had begun to think Brittanicus would end up being the emperor after all. It didn’t matter anymore, though. Now Claudius was dead, and Nero ruled.

The public adored her. She gave out money to all citizens, and abolished all indirect taxes. She attempted to reform the corrupt senate, though they naturally resisted. She constantly had to bicker between the Senate and her mother, who used her position to craft policies purely out of self-interest.

Her damn mother. Agrippina considered Nero only a tool for her to use. Nero would not tolerate it.

********************

Mother, would you pass the wine?” Brittanicus asked.

Agrippina smiled. “Of course, my dear.” She clicked her fingers, and one of her servants picked up the pitcher and moved it to Brittanicus’ side. It was his sixteenth birthday, so Nero had decided to hold a banquet in his honor.

Such table manners, Brittanicus,” Agrippina continued. “I wish Nero had your manners when she was your age.” Agrippina gave the Emperor a sidelong smirk as she returned to her own meal.

Nero brushed the remark off with a regal smile. “Now now, mother! As the Emperor, everything I do is acceptable! My brother should be looking up to me!

Her mother scowled openly. This was how it was now. Agrippina doted on her younger brother and scorned Nero. All because she wouldn’t do as she was told.

Curious how she always seemed to get her way. Even after Claudius’ death, Agrippina’s political rivals kept suffering mysterious deaths. Her aunt Domitia, her uncle Iunius, her late step-father’s praetor Narcissus. All so convenient.

But she wouldn’t be getting her way much longer.

Brittanicus sipped from his wine, then dug into the elephant trunks that were the centerpiece of the dinner party. Before he’d gotten three bites into the meal, he started coughing. He dropped his fork, putting a hand on his throat as he continued to cough and sputter.

Brittanicus! I told you not to eat so fast!” Agrippina chastised him.
But he wasn’t choking on food. The color drained from his face and his eyes bulged. He slipped backwards off his chair as he spat and sputtered.

Agrippina leapt to her feet in shock and ran to her son-in-law’s side. “Brittanicus! What’s wrong? What happened?” She cradled his head in her lap, her hands shaking.
Brittanicus didn’t answer—he couldn’t. Foam and blood leaked from the corners of his mouth, and he began to twitch and convulse violently.

Nero calmly stood and pointed to the guards. “Fetch a physician! Quickly, now! My dear brother has fallen grievously ill!

Ill?!” Agrippina said incredulously, looking up at her daughter with tears in her eyes. “Are you mad?! Does this look like an illness to you? He’s been poisoned!

Nero frowned at Agrippina. “How can you be so sure?” she sneered. “What do you know of poisons, Mother?

Her mother face turned stony as she realized what was going on. Her grip on her dying son tightened as she locked eyes with her daughter, seething with rage. Nero met her glare with an equal amount of hate.

******************

Agrippina’s power as the mother of the Emperor was coming to an end. Over the months after Brittanicus’ death, Nero steadily stripped away her honors and privileges, even taking away her servants and bodyguards. She would have no say in the Senate any longer. When Agrippina attempted to cozy up to her wife Octavia, it was the final straw. Nero banished her from the palace, and she was forced to live on her estate in Misenum.

Still, it wasn’t enough to keep her hands out of Nero’s affairs. She still visited Rome from time to time, and even while she was in Misenum she was still popular with the Senate. It seemed there would be no end to her manipulations.

It was time for her mother to die.

Nero considered simply poisoning her at first, or having her stabbed. But she was much too wary and her death would be far too suspicious. No, it had to look like an accident. She knew what she had to do.

Agrippina often took to ship to travel to Rome. She’d have her architects build a self-sinking ship. As soon as her mother was on board, the ship would go down, taking her mother with it. She would finally be free.

**************************

The loans we gave to the Britons can be called in at a moment’s notice,Seneca explained. “And it would contribute greatly to the Empire’s income.

That is, if the Celts can pay,” Nero pointed out. She and her mentor walked down the busy market road through the center of Rome. Only a few guards accompanied them; with most of her enemies taken care of, she feared very little nowadays. Still, just as a precaution, her trusty sword Aestus Estus rested on her hip.

They have no choice. They are our subjects.

Nero stroked her chin in thought. “We have enough allies among their Kings to ensure their cooperation. Such as… what was his name… Prasutagus?

Yes, your grace. I believe he named you as his co-heir to his kingdom. He wouldn’t dare defy your edict.

The Emperor smiled and nodded. “Very well! I will leave it to your best judgement, mentor. By the way, you are putting on one of your plays at the amphitheater next week, are you not? What one was it again?

Seneca smiled.  “Medea, your grace.

Excellent! I haven’t had the opportunity to see that one yet. I look forward to it!

Nero clapped Seneca on the back and parted ways with the philosopher, turning a corner in the road. Then, she stopped dead, eyes fixed on the figure on the road in front of her.
Mother.

Agrippina sauntered toward her daughter with a strange expression on her face. She was smiling, maybe sneering, but a deep, dark anger rested in her eyes.

M-Mother? What are you doing here?

Whatever do you mean? I told you I would be visiting Rome today, didn’t I?
Nero could only stammer wordlessly. As if reading the question on her mind, Agrippina scowled and crossed her arms.

I did happen to be… delayed by an unfortunate accident on the way here. The ship I was taking sprung a sudden leak and sank. I was fortunate that we weren’t far from shore when it happened, and a nice young man pulled me out of the water. Ruined my silks, though.

Nero was incensed. No matter what she did, Agrippina kept coming back. What did she have to do to be rid of her mother’s influence? Was there no end to her meddling? She was the Emperor! Her mother was nothing but a parasite, leeching off her power to feed her own arrogance!

Damn it. Damn it! Damn it!

This goddamn woman!

It was so curious,” Agrippina continued, staring down her nose. “The way all those holes opened up in the hull at the same time. It was almost as if the ship was designed to sink. You don’t know what kind of monster would do such a thing, do you?

Nero’s face turned red. Her hands trembled with rage.

After everything I’ve done for the Empire, this is how I’m repaid?” She fixed Nero with a particularly menacing grin. “I’m on my way to the Senate. I’m sure they want to know all about this assassination attempt. You never know who might be next.
Agrippina laughed, and walked past her daughter, heading down the road toward the Palace. Nero turned around to stare at the back of her head.

Mother…

Agrippina didn’t hear her, and just kept walking. Nero took a step toward her, then another. Before she could stop herself, she dashed forward.

Mother!!

What was that, daughter? Have you finally—

Nero’s sword plunged through Agrippina’s stomach, exploding out of her back and spraying blood across the brick road.

Agrippina let out a bestial wail, blood flowing from her mouth and over Nero’s Regalia. She tried to grasp the blade impaling her, but she only managed to slice up her fingers.

After two sickening coughs, she began to cry out. “Murder! Murder!! Nero! How could you?! Your own moth—?!

Shut up!!” Nero twisted the blade violently to silence her, eliciting another wave of blood from her mouth. Her hands trembled as she grasped her hilt tight, and her heart pounded in her head, but she felt like she was no longer in control of her body. All she could see was the blood. The red.

She was distantly aware of the screams of nearby citizens. Everyone could see her. Everyone.

Ne… ro…!!” Agrippina gasped. “I… will…!!

Nero slid the sword out of her belly, then brought it down in a firm slash, slicing her from shoulder to hip. More blood spattered her clothing. With a final gurgling cry, Agrippina fell backward onto the ground. Finally, her mother was no more.

Nero looked around to see her citizens’ horror, watching the grisly scene unfold. Some were frozen in terror, some were running to hide. They didn’t understand. They didn’t understand!

She tried to poison me!” Nero cried out. “My own mother tried to kill me! She left me no choice!

She wasn’t sure if even a single citizen heard her words. There was only shrieks of terror. By this time, some of the Roman Guard had appeared and were starting to clear the scene. Seneca had reappeared as well, having heard the commotion from down the road. He was saying something to try and calm her down, but she couldn’t make out his words.

She was too focused on the townspeople before her, staring at her and shouting. For a few of them, their panic had turned to anger. She saw one old man in particular, hurling a particular insult. A word that she’d never been called before, at least not to her face.

They had to understand. They were her people, and she loved them from the bottom of their heart. She didn’t do anything wrong. They had to understand.

The year was 59 AD, and it was the first time in her reign she’d heard that word directed at her.

Tyrant.

Damascus
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