Claudia groaned uncomfortably against the hard wooden chair, it was nothing like her soft quail feather bed that her husband bought for her so many years ago. She wished this session would end. She wished the applause would end, at least.
She looked down at her own applauding hands, and almost hated herself for them.The Senate building was a beautiful white marble on the outside and was only outclassed by the intricate wall paintings and ceiling murals. Claudia sat in the leftmost corner of the 300 chairs that were arranged in the circular room.She looked down below and standing alone on the middle platform in the center of thereat room, bathed in light, was the dictator. Not long after Claudia’s initial musing did the dictator raise his hands for silence.The applause stopped abruptly.At that moment, Claudia wondered how in the Jupiter’s name she wasn’t ousted as a women weeks earlier. It might have been because her father was a well-loved senator that was voted by the consuls for his wise judgment and reliable advice many years ago.
It was only because of the recent expansion of the newly formed “empire” that he had to appoint his “firstborn son”, Claudia, to make his decisions for him. It was amazing how many people were willing to ignore if they were paid some denarii. Claudia was saddened on how the republic that her father had worked to keep was being torn apart by the wretched man standing in the center.Wise men being replaced with sycophants and bootlickers while people like her father were becoming the minority.In the midst of her thought, she felt a nudge against her shoulder, and she fought the urge to grin.
Only one person would do this in the middle of the dictator’s speech. It was unrespectable to have any easily obvious emotional reaction during the dictator’s speech.Keeping her face stoic, she glanced to her left side while being careful that she wasn’t moving her head. In the corner of her eye was a middle-aged man. He had a lithe frame, stern face, and a terrible reputation within the new empire.
She couldn’t recall his name at the moment but always remembered they referenced him with his terrifying voice.”Seven denarii says he’s going to start off with the horrible decadences of the Old Republic and the necessity of vigilance to keep our growing empire strong and secure,” the man said dryly.His voice was soothing and sounded very different from the booming and imposing sound she was used to hearing from him. She wondered if this quiet tone was his true voice.Claudia maintained her appropriately severe expression, but mentally, she allowed a laugh. “No thanks,” she whispered. “I don’t consider bets I know I can’t win.”She didn’t directly look at him.
She knew he was standing unobtrusively beside her, as a guard and visual deterrent. No one wanted to look at the vicious military man. She also knew that he unnerved most them and that there was collective agreement to ignore his presence. She couldn’t behave any differently, lest she blows her cover.Below, the dictator was decrying the excesses of the previous republic and praising the vigilance, security, and military achievement of the empire in comparison.Claudia sighed mentally. “I think I must have heard this same speech at least fifteen times,” she whispered, unaware that lithe man could overhear her.
She felt a something akin to a hiccup beside her and noticed it of disgust. “Only fifteen?” He whispered to her, “How dreadful that must be.”His current tone was sardonic.
Claudia fought the urge to laugh again. “What? Don’t tell me he’s been using the same speech for over six years?””Longer”, he said flatly, and then, “our empire is kept strong through order and vigilance. We will prevail over this barbarian threat, because the forces of order always prevail over those of chaos, and because we are Strong and –Claudia had to bite her lip to keep from laughing, and even that almost wasn’t enough. It sounded like an echo. Below, the dictator was still speaking, and it was nearly word for word the same as the speech she heard besides her.”Why Imperator!” she quietly exclaimed to the lithe man, “Your speeches are so memorable! So inspiring!”She felt a deep chuckle her right.
“Oh yes,” the lithe man said. “I recite them to myself every morning, you know. It keeps me motivated.”Claudia snickered. I just bet it does, she thought.The dictator was still speaking, but Claudia had lost the thread of his words a long time ago.
It didn’t matter. He wasn’t saying anything new.She wondered, sometimes, why he bothered. She’d even asked The lite man once, but he’d just laughed, with a loud deep boom in his voice. “It’s pointless,” he’d told her.”That’s the point.”She hadn’t understood that immediately, but she did now. The dictator had absolute control of the Roman Republic.
The Roman Senate was currently a joke, and that became more and more obvious every day. They were there for appearance’s sake only. The dictator seemingly weekly speeches, each more pointless than the last, only drove that home.He was rubbing their faces in their own irrelevance, and they applauded him for it.
Suddenly even their mocking conversation wasn’t quite enough to make Claudia laugh.Fourteen denarii says he’s going to end the session early, before the consort bill can come to a vote, she murmured viciously.Lithe man, though, felt amused. She wasn’t surprised. He always seemed to have a very bleak, almost despairing, sense of humor.”I’m not fool enough to take that bet, either my lovely friend,” he whispered.Claudia huffed. It would be nice to finally win one of these small bets.
“You’re no fun”, she grumbled.I’ll make it up to you, said the lithe man, still clearly amused. Meet me after the sundial hits the first quarter in the usual place. I have something for your father.
Below, the dictator raised his arms grandly, bringing an end to his speech and announcing that the Senate session was ended for the day. The applause rolled again.I’ll be there, Claudia thought, and let her hands join the clamor. It was true the dictator had made the Senate a joke. But in the end, she thought with a fierce twist of humor, the joke would be on him.Sic Semper Tyrannis.