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February 75CE

 

Rome was a city of huge opportunity for people who were willing to seize the day. Carpe diem. It applied to slaves, foreigners, princes and paupers. The streets were in reality lined with rubbish but, to the poetically minded, that could be pushed to one invisible side and in its place be pure gold. The right person, with the right skills and the right mindset, could achieve almost anything. His own father had been one of those people. A distinctly run of the mill equite, he had invested the profits of a lifetime’s career in milking taxes out of Syrians into bankrolling the extravagances of the slothful, indolent, turgid senatorial aristocracy. Their debaucheries needed deep pockets which, of course, they did not have. His father had happily lent loans here and there, well secured against land and had come out an incredibly rich man and, on his death, was one of the leading private bankers in Rome.

 

Well done, pater. But just think how much he could have achieved if he had decided to go after power as well as wealth. Money was only useful for what it bought you. Possessing it in and of itself was worthless. And what was more valuable than power?

 

Nothing, thought Titus, as he strode through the Forum Romanum. The tepid spring noon bathed the complex in a weak heat and dullish light. The heavy scent of rain earlier still emanated off the earth. His return to Rome had been unexpected. An overzealous official in the ministry had decided he was overdue a new appointment. Thank the Gods he had been able to exert some influence and escape languishing as Subpraefectus of the Misenum Fleet for the next few years. He could imagine nothing worse than bobbing on the water with a bunch of crusty old sea dogs, facing no action whatsoever besides a round of interminable society parties and escort duty to grain fleets. It was therefore with a lot of luck that he had been able to manipulate the Praefectus Augusti of Aegypt, where he had most recently been stationed, into proposing him for a vacant Tribunate in the Praetorian Guard. Whilst not perhaps the best promotion he could have hoped for, at least it was not the sort of living death that the Fleet would have been.

 

The Guard were a sorry lot, really, although they thought very highly of themselves. The problem for them was that – honestly – no one really liked them. To the soldiery of the regular army, the Praetorians were seen as a bunch of overpaid, soft lackies who lived a sweet life of doing faff-all besides guard the Imperial latrine and sample the wines and whores of Rome. All fancy uniforms but about as much use as a glass hammer. To the citizens of Rome they were the over-paid bully-boys of the regime. Throwing their weight around and getting away with murder. There was a reason that Praetorians rarely ventured into the city alone. Finally, even to the Princeps, their supposed master, they were at best a necessary evil. Too often the Guard had proved fickle and, when not actively doing away with Imperials, had a nasty habit of often plotting to do it again.

 

However, the fear they engendered in all three of those parties gave them a clout which kept the institution alive. The Praetorian Prefects held great sway over political, legal and military affairs. Their gravitas filtered down the chain and gave each member of the Guard a sense of superiority that could manifest itself in something as simple as a swagger in his step or a feeling of immunity from all wrongdoing they may choose to commit.

 

His III Cohort had been discharged from their turn on the rota of attendance on the Palatine Palace. Titus was glad of it. It had been a tedious stretch. Little to do save for do regular rounds of the sentries and ensure there was no slipping in standards. The novelty of wearing his new uniform had long worn off by now. As soon as he had formally handed over custody of the Palace to the Tribune and men of the IV Cohort, he had rushed to change out of his formal kit and into an only slightly more comfortable toga. The bulk of his Cohort had been dismissed back to the Castra Praetoria but – unwilling to head back just yet – he had kept with him his First Centurion, a grizzled, bovine time-server named Marcus Valens and several of his pet goons as an escort. Well, the men appreciated a day out every now and again, it did well to bind them to him through friendship as well as fear.

 

As no military uniform was allowed in the city by soldiers when not on duty, his escort had likewise to change into the civilian attire. In a sense this was almost just as menacing. Tall men with close cropped hair, bulging muscular arms covered in scars and military tattoos, all wearing better than your average cut of tunic. As they were escorting a Tribune of the Guard, they carried thick and gnarled vine branch staffs. Pugio daggers were carried concealed under the fold of their clothes.

 

As he walked across the Forum, his “entourage” (shall we call them that?) ensured his path was cleared in a none-too-gentle fashion. Most people made sure they scampered sharpish as they approached, noticing the unmistakeable mark of the Guard and deciding that they didn’t want any trouble. Anyone too slow was shoved aside. One storekeeper who foolishly decided to remonstrate with one of his men who had cheekily swiped a pie off the platter he was bearing got a sharp crack on the leg with one of the vine clubs. He doubled over with a shout and his friends dragged him away. Titus carried on, paying no notice.

 

He was headed towards one of his favourite drinking haunts: an open air taverna which stood opposite the Curia. A sea of tables was spread out over a corner of the paved forum and surrounded by a low fence. A circular bar stood in the middle and an ever busy crowd of slaves hurried back and forth bringing surprisingly good quality wine to the patrons. Situated here in the forum, it served a huge plethora of society – from senators fresh from the Curia, to businessmen, to tourists and simple gawpers. The prices were on the steepish side but – when you were a member of the Guard – that was not a problem.

 

The taverna’s owner saw the small group coming and Titus smiled as he saw him hurriedly talking to his staff, visibly panicked. One slave dashed off and told the persons sitting at Titus’ favourite table that they had to leave, now. Another hurried to decant several jars full of his favourite Falernian, knowing what he liked to order. Tucking his thumbs into his belt, the portly owner hurried to greet Titus as he arrived, casting worried looks at his grizzled, rough looking companions.

 

Tribune Titus Cornasidius, it is a pleasure, a pleasure! You have had a good day, yes? You and your men must be thirsty, it is hard work protecting Caesar and the day is so hot!

 

It is not hot at all, in fact I think it is decidedly cold for this time of year,” Titus replied, as the host led them towards his table. He way toying with the man.

 

Actually, yes, n-n-now you mention it I think it is the coldest Spring I can remember for a long time.

 

No, I think it is actually the hottest for at least a decade.

 

Yes, yes, of course, sorry, it is unseasonably warm.”

 

Gods, the man was a fuckwit. “We are thirsty, how about you do your job, fellow, eh?

 

Titus took a seat, rolling his neck and letting it give a pleasurable crack. That bloody helmet was a bugger to wear. All ornament and no comfort. He ran a hand through his dark curls. Valens sat a discrete distance away and his 6 other men further back still. A servant girl brought over a tray with the wine and tried to escape but found a thick arm from one of the men wrapped round her waist and he dragged her onto his lap. Several nearby tables got up and moved elsewhere. Suit yourself, Titus thought, just gives me a better view of the world. Still, best not to let things get out of hand – at least not this early anyway.

 

Valens, make sure the boys don’t cause a fucking scene, would you? I don’t want to be hauled up before the Prefect.” Valens gave a toothless smile of acceptance. Titus certainly didn’t need to get dragged before the Prefect like a naughty schoolboy. Ordinarily there were two Prefects in the Guard – one of those many crafty scenes designed by the Deified Augustus to divide and rule. The Guardsmen also found it helped too as often the two Prefects were at each other’s throats so – in the same manner that a child might go to one parent when denied by another – they could often escape punishment by pleading to one of their bosses about the other. Alas, at present the Prefect was the son of Caesar. In Titus’ view, a pompous prig. He was never pleased to hear tales of the Guard winding up the citizens of Rome and vice versa. In short, he was a wet blanket who very often spoiled the Guard’s fun. If Titus was to be in this posting for now he intended to make the most of it.

 

He filled his glass and took a long, satisfying sip. He had nowhere to be. He enjoyed sitting back and watching the bustle of the city. It is amazing what you could see if you just let yourself look.

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