Title: Memories of Rome
Archive: Sure, just contact me.
Summary: Long after the movie is over and the dream of the Republic is dead, Lucilla remembers and reflects on her life and her relationships with Maximus, her father, her husband, Commodus, and Lucius. This is the finished version. Reviews are greatly appreciated.
Memories of Rome: The End of an Age
Now that it is done, and the pain is past, I once again allow myself to remember who and what I was, and what befell me while I was alive.
Maximus, my husband, my father, my brother, my son-all are dead, gone, ashes swept off the funeral pyre and into the winds of time. I can see a future where their names live on, where they are remembered as they truly were. But perhaps I dream. Perhaps the future will never know our story as it truly happened, never record the feats of the great general, the philosophies of an old man, the importance of a royal woman, trapped, maneuvering around the men she loved. Me.
I am not quite human anymore, although I am no God-I have not the power to see into the future, foretell truths about men's souls. My strife is over. The pain is past me. And as I remember, there comes the soft, gentle ache, the remainder of a life of passionate emotion. I exist in this state of placid sweetness, a quiet solitude of mists and memories. But with the memories comes a dull sadness, and a flitting, here and gone longing for a safe warm place, a place I never knew in my lifetime.
As the pain is past, so is the anger, the love, the fear, the terror of being discovered by my brother, the desperation at the death of my father, the bittersweet knowledge that Maximus was happy and yet gone from me forever. Such burning emotions swept through me, because there were so many I loved.
I lived in loyalty and love. Love for Maximus, even as he rejected me, love for my father, who dared not give me power, love for Commodus, even as he threatened my life. I could never hate them. And as my brother and my love fought to the death on the sand of the Coliseum, I felt my heart breaking. What is more primal, more human, than to love two men and hate them at the same time? And it is not the worst to hate the very people who you love?
I hated my brother for what he had done to my father and my son, for what perversions he threatened me with. But I loved him, he was my brother and my only companion-and he, too, did what he did out of his love for me. And in some ways I hated Maximus more, because he had loved me and then loved another, had left me, had broken my heart. And what hurt the most was that, when I entered his cell that night, there was no love or trust in his eyes, and he accused me of the very thing that I hated Commodus for. So I loved them both and they had both betrayed me. What is more primal or human than that?
And yet, as I looked into Maximus' eyes as he died, I did see love and trust for me in his soul. Perhaps I did have that power, the power to understand a man's heart. He was looking for his family in the otherworld and was waiting to join them-I had no illusions about that. But he looked to me as he died, waiting for my forgiveness, for my blessing. And I whispered the prayer, the only prayer I knew. "Go to them," from my lips to his, a prayer of family and love. Our eyes met for that last instant. And there was peace between us. It was farewell and benediction. And he died, rose petals dancing over the sand, blown and tossed by the never-ending cycle of fate and time, his body heavy in my arms.
And I closed his eyes, running my fingers over his skin for the last time, skin I had touched and caressed a thousand times. But that was past. And I stood in the arena sand, and only my son lived. My father, my husband, my brother, my love-all dead, all gone. And I stood tall and strong, everything that I loved slipping through my fingers. I watched them lift Maximus, honoring him, and watched as they bore his body away. I watched the end of an age, an age of good emperors who ruled Rome in glory, who still carried on the dream of the republic. And I lived to see the birth of a new age, an age where men seized power with fierce armies behind them, where men plotted and schemed and slaughtered those against them. I saw a turning point in history, that day I stood on the bloody arena sand, the beginning of the end of a glorious empire. I stood, my eyes wet with fierce tears. A day when memories turned to dust and scattered like dried rose petals in the wind.
But perhaps I am not truthful, even to myself. I loved Rome, or the dream of Rome, the vision of greatness I had nourished my entire life. And what were these men-Lucius, Maximus, Commodus, my father-other then spokes in the great wheel of Fate and Time and the history of an empire? So perhaps I loved the ideal more. The men I loved, I loved because they were Rome-an emperor, an heir, a general. They were greater than any mere mortal. They held the keys to the future in their hands.
So I loved them as men, passionately, desperately. But they were parts of the whole, part of the dream of Rome. How could I not love that more?
In truth, however, I know what passed between Maximus and I as he lay dying. As he struggled to hold onto life, he looked at me and saw Rome. To him, that is what I was. I was no longer his lover, his ally, his confidant, his enemy. I was my father, I was that vision of greatness, I was the ideal of Roma Mater.
As I knelt over him, he looked at me and knew his duty. Because Maximus was a servant of Rome. He wanted nothing more than to let go, to join his family in Elysium in endless peace. But he waited, looking into my eyes, asking me if Rome still needed him. And, to this day, until the day that my soul is forever swept from the world, I know in my heart that if I had asked Maximus to stay and serve Rome, he would have fought death and won. He would have served Rome until his duty was finished. And only then would he have allowed himself to die.
But Maximus' duty was finished that day, he had suffered enough, and the Gods are merciful. "Go to them," I whispered, and as Maximus left this life I knew it was the Gods who spoke through me. It was their blessing as well as mine. Maximus was a great man, a pure and noble man, and there will not be another like him for a thousand years. I do not know what the Gods have in store for us, or how much of life is fate and how much human intervention. But this I know. Maximus too loved Rome above all else, as my father and I did, all of us loving and craving the same dream, spokes in the same wheel, spinning on towards its inevitable destiny. And Maximus looked to me in his dying moments and saw my father, and in my eyes he saw Rome. And he waited for my benediction to die.
Now that I am no longer mortal I am supposed to be wise, but I do not feel wise. Perhaps it is true that a person's innermost feelings never become clear to them. Maybe I felt too strongly in too many directions to ever truly know my own heart. Whatever becomes known to me through the passage of time, now I am alone. All I have are my memories.
They come back to me, floating in and out of my mind in bits and pieces of the whole. But now, perhaps, I do possess some of the wisdom that eluded me in life. For how could I know the deep evils in Commodus' heart or the treachery in my own? I was just human, with all of the faults and imperfections that come with mortality. You can say I was ignorant, I saw what I wanted to see, I never wanted to believe that my brother was capable of what he did. But I did not know, and the evils that befell Maximus, that befell my father, that befell my son, that befell the empire were, in some part, my doing.
Even when I knew that Commodus had killed our father, I did not truly understand the horror in his dreams. He was still the little brother I held in my arms, the child who sat in my lap and tugged on my hair. And I kissed his hand, over the dead body of the emperor.
That night I sat in my father's tent, running my fingers over his writings, his thoughts and hopes for the empire, the legacy that was now mine to bear. And as I read through the papyrus scrolls, deep into the night, I felt tears pricking my eyes. There were writings here my father had never shared with me, and thus had never shared with anyone. It is a strange thing, to re-meet a person after their death. But I became reacquainted with my father that long sleepless night, my mentor, my love, a man who I would never see again. He was my protector. And I would never feel his gentle hands on my own or see his proud gaze. We would never talk or debate the conflicts in the senate or the problems plaguing the empire. Or his hopes for the future.
Looking over his scattered papers, pieces of his heart and soul, I wept. I wept because a great man was dead, a noble man who lived and died for Rome, who had great plans for her future. I wept because I loved him as a daughter and as a confidant, because my entire life, all of my actions were done to make him proud. He was the rock in my life.
I wept because he and Maximus were so alike. Because I loved them both for so many of the same reasons-because they were noble and confidant and honest and brave. And now, the two men who could have given Rome a new future were dead.
And I wept because it was Commodus who had killed them both. Only I was alive to know what was gone forever, and to cry and scream with rage at my helplessness. Only I was cursed with the burden of knowing my father's dream was dead.
It was that night, that night of terror and pain and sadness and horror and rage, that I sat in my father's study, reading his scrolls and meeting another side of the man that I revered. And as my tears dried I looked up and saw the first shades of dawn through the flaps in the tent. My eyes were still misty in the growing light, but my heart was cold and my face like stone. It was that morning that my brother, the emperor, strode into the tent. We looked at each other for several moments, the gold crown resting uneasily on his dark hair, his childlike eyes scared and remorseful, looking to his big sister for comfort, for approval, for reassurances of love.
I will never know what he would have done. Perhaps he would have run to me, thrown himself on my lap, cried and begged my forgiveness. Perhaps he would have acknowledged the child inside him, the insecure child he was at heart. But I stared at him like rock, unable to move, unable to feel. And the vulnerability in his eyes dried up. His face turned into a sneer, into cold steel. "It is done," he said. "Your lover is dead."
He walked out, into the rising sun. And, at that moment, I knew I had lost him.
You will perhaps say that I could still have controlled him, that not all was lost. But I knew my brother and I knew my heart. He came to me, the deaths heavy on his soul, needing my soft soothing voice, needing my forgiveness. Had I allowed him that, had I taken him to my breast and stroked his hair and whispered words of love, I could have tied him to me forever. We could have shared in the horror of what he had committed. And he would always, out of fear and love and respect, be bound to my hand.
But I pushed him away with cold eyes and an unfeeling heart. In that vulnerable moment, when he came to me for redemption and I turned away, his heart sealed up. He knew I could never love him fully again, as I had when we were but children. It was that moment that the rift began between us, the rift that grew and splintered and caused the deaths of many innocent men. And began the end of what I loved so dearly about Rome.
I weep over what I have wrought.
I may not be wise, but I did learn many things, pieces of knowledge and understanding that, in time, may lead to wisdom. This, however, I learned, or always knew, as humans do, deep in my soul. Nothing is stronger than the bonds of blood.
Commodus was my only brother, my only sibling. We grew up in the palace together, able to confide only in each other. I was older by four years, and I loved more than anything to hold his body in my childish arms. He was my only playmate, a child who looked at me in loving adoration, would follow me anywhere. He looked to me for approval like I looked to our father.
But there was much sorrow at Commodus' birth, for two children were born that night, and only one--a weak, sickly thing--survived. His twin brother, skin translucent and papery thin, wiggling and crying and breathing tiny, gasping breaths, died before morning. And perhaps that is why our mother was unable to love Commodus fully, because in him she could always see a shadow, a hint of the child that she had lost.
To me, Commodus became the most precious thing in my life, and I in his. And perhaps our bond became too close, too intimate, too all-consuming. Because when I married, with my own husband and a child soon after, I could feel Commodus drifting away. Drifting away from comfort and home and safety. Drifting into the icy, uncharted lands of the human mind.
Our mother could not bear to hold Commodus herself, afraid that he would slip out of her arms or that his fragile body would break in her embrace. "Lucilla," she whispered urgently to me, "You must care for your baby brother." And I gladly took up the cause. I became his mother and sister both. And perhaps that is where the danger lay, in me assuming too many roles for him. I was his sister and his mother and his family and I cared for him and loved him. So was it so unnatural for him to love me as a woman, too?
Yes, I was repulsed by his advances, but part of me knew I was to blame. I had made myself all for him, I was the only woman he had ever loved with all of his heart. What a cruel trick of fate it was, loving me in the one form that would disgust me.
And so we grew. Commodus learned to toddle and then to walk and then to run after me everywhere, a curious and delightful child. He became my shadow, and we explored the palace and the gardens and everything we could. He would cling to my skirts during long journeys, afraid of the foreign sounds and smells. And always, my mother would watch from afar. She would hug me and whisper, "Lucilla, you must watch over your baby brother," and I would. He became my charge, my own baby, my love, and wherever I went I bore him with me.
And for a time it was believed that Commodus would grow up strong and noble. It was not until his later years, after I married, that he grew cold and dark.
I met Maximus when I was eighteen and we were traveling to Gaul to visit army posts. Both Commodus and I were supposed to learn the ways of the world--we would, after all, be leading the empire some day. Maximus was a newly made Legate, only twenty two years old. He was handsome and strong and renowned in battle. My father expected him to become a General one day.
My brother was only fourteen, and it was in those few short months when he began to change forever. Because in my childish, naive heart, I believed that I loved Maximus. And Commodus could not bear to see me love another. I was everything to him, and he believed that he was everything to me. But suddenly, as the wind shifts its course on haphazard whims, he was not everything to me anymore. He was second in my heart to a Spanish provincial, a member of the army who was everything Commodus was not.
From those early days, there were changes in him, changes we could not quantify or describe. He became a little more aloof, went more places alone. And as he turned away from me, I who was blinded by my love for Maximus and did not see, demons began to grow in his heart.
The love that I bore for Maximus was a light, passionate, childish love. It was the first time I had ever felt such an emotion, and it was a whirlwind of tender kisses and broken promises, and ultimately broken hearts. For what did I know then about the hearts of men? I knew only my own girlish fancies, my own hopes for an ardent and gilded romance.
We parted badly, Maximus and I, my own immaturity hastening our end. But I believe that it was not meant to be. And when I kissed him again, for the first time in over ten years, as he stood as a slave and a Gladiator, it was a deeper, more profound love. We were not children anymore--we were man and woman. We had both experienced unspeakable sorrow and despair, we both had sons, we were both widowed, we were both reeling from the loss of my father and fighting for the same dream of Rome. And when I kissed him again, the love was gentler and deeper and full of grief and understanding. What is it to grow and mature and become a woman? Kissing Maximus was to remember the past, to cling briefly to the bittersweet memories of youth. My love for Maximus only grew with time.
But when we first met we were both too much alike--impetuous, passionate, full of life and love and loyalty. It was the first time my heart had been broken.
I married at age twenty, as the history books will say, to Lucius Verus, whom my father named co-emperor. He was only co-emperor in name, but he was powerful and rich and kind and, in many ways, wise. He was nearly twice my age.
And by the time I was able to look around me, Commodus was distant and colder. He was
sixteen, growing into manhood, and was different and changed. But then I was pregnant, and
then I had a child to care for, a child who was not Commodus. Lucius was my own flesh and
blood son, and perhaps Commodus never forgave me for replacing him. I could no longer be his
mother, be his everything.
I only bore Verus one child, but he never begrudged me my lack of fertility. As the years passed, and Lucius grew, Verus would hug my small frame and whisper, "Do not worry! A man only needs one strong son."
But we were not together very often-he was traveling with his armies in the East or I was visiting my father in our country estates. Lucius always stayed with me, because I did not want him near the army bases, places of blood and death. When our father summoned Commodus and I to the Germanian front, I refused to allow Lucius to come. And I am forever glad that I refused him that one last time.
By that time Verus was dead, passing on to Elysium when Lucius was only five years old. And that is where I like to think of him, in his own personal heaven. Because he was a kindly man who loved me fully and without reservations. Although I could never love him back with the same intensity I cared for him deeply, as a wise man who was the father of my son. So I like to think of him, still wandering his army bases with loyal soldiers clapping him on the back. A place I am sure he was happy.
Lucius never really knew his father. He only knew Commodus. And that in itself made me cry out in regret.
So now, perhaps, I have the wisdom and foresight that I lacked while I lived. For now I see the great stretches of history ahead of my time, the great movements of peoples, the drawing and redrawing of lines on maps of the world. I saw the series of unstable emperors, rulers powerful because of the fickle armies behind them. I saw Rome weaken, saw the barbarian invasions, one after the other. I saw Rome's territory dwindle. I watched, heartbroken, as the barbarians sacked Rome, burning the Imperial Palace and the Senate. I watched as Rome sunk into the dark ages, no longer the beacon of freedom and light it had been in my father's time.
Of course this was not my doing, but the fates and the Gods, and so as everything must come to an end so did the glory of the Roman empire. Still, I weep, for what might have been.
Even if Rome was destined to fall, through my treachery and inaction I caused the deaths of so many. I was not able to see how dangerous Commodus really was before it was too late. I was too afraid for my own life and the life of my son to save Maximus.
For even as I kissed my brother's hand to save the live of my son, did I not betray my father and the dream of Rome we both held dear? Was Rome worth the life of my son?
Now, I know the answer to that question. For I have not yet told how my son died.
In the days after the deaths of Commodus and Maximus, there was a struggle for power in the heart of the city. Senators argued and raged, threw words like daggers dripped in poison. Their voices were but air. Not one of them had the support to grab the throne. Gracchus tried to remind them of my father's dream, the vision of the Republic. But they were greedy and small-minded, and the time of the Republic was, indeed, past. With each passing day it slipped further and further from the minds of the Roman people, until it was but shadows and dust.
And me and my son were a threat, a bigger threat to the throne than any of the senators individually. If they only knew how more than anything I wanted to flee the city, take Lucius away from all of the dying and bloodshed and terror. But even as they laid Maximus on the funeral pyre, and I knelt before it with tears in my eyes, they were plotting.
I had lost Maximus again and my only brother was dead. Commodus, who I hated and loved, who I had taken care of my whole life. "Lucilla, you must watch over your baby brother," my mother's voice seemed to whisper over the sand, as I looked down at his body, heavy on the Coliseum floor. There was so much that I had lost. I, too, had changed.
How, once again, can I explain my inaction? I was heartbroken, I was alone, I did not know what to do. What does one do when everything has been taken away?
I saw to the burials of both my brother and my lover, caught in my silent grief as Rome erupted in turmoil. I was immune to the politics, the potential danger, so consumed was I in mourning. And when I finally was able to dry my tears, I realized that Lucius and I would never get out of Rome alive.
We were living links to Rome's troubled past. And when Severus finally grabbed control, and Lucius and I were arrested, I held my head high. I was a daughter of Rome.
It was Quintus who appeared at our cell one evening, Quintus, who I had never truly known. He had been Maximus' friend and then Commodus' unwilling Prefect. He always seemed to be a man of integrity. And in the final moments, he had helped Maximus exact his revenge. And so, in my final moments, I knew that I could trust him.
He appeared at our cell in full uniform. He removed his plumed helmet, and stood, awkwardly, looking at me on the bench, Lucius sleeping against my soft form. I gently lifted Lucius' head, stroking the silky hair, and stood. I walked softly over to the bars and looked Quintus in the eye. We had few visitors.
"Lady," he said, reverence in his voice, and he bowed his head. I will always be grateful to him for that.
"Quintus," I responded lightly, closing my fingers around the cold metal.
He hesitated, concern and regret and perhaps self-loathing in his eyes. "I overheard the orders."
I closed my eyes. "When?" I asked.
"Tomorrow afternoon," he answered honestly.
The pain shot through my stomach. Not for my own death, but for my son's. My baby, my child. I knew Severus would parade us down the streets of Rome, humiliate us, or perhaps execute us in the Coliseum. We were important symbols, Lucius and I, and we must be destroyed. But I would never let my son or myself die at the hands of another, and my pride and dignity would never allow us to be executed as traitors.
"Quintus," I said. There was silence in the jail, and I turned slightly and watched my son sleep, his body rising and falling steadily as he breathed.
"You were Maximus' friend," I began, turning back to him, looking into his face. "And I must trust you now and ask you for one final favor."
He looked steadily back at me, and in his face I saw remorse and admiration and tenderness. "I am at your service, my lady."
I prayed that my voice would not tremor. And when I made my request I saw horror pass over his face, and then anger, and then regret, and then acceptance. And he nodded, and I watched his heavy form depart. And only then did I weep.
That morning, before dawn, a servant brought us our food. And, as Quintus had promised, the youth slipped me two small glass bottles, filled with amber liquid.
I hid them in my dress, watching my son eat, memorizing the curves in his face, the childish way he moved, the way he wolfed down his meal with the energy of a boy still growing. Because he did not understand what was happening to us and why we were imprisoned and why we were alone.
Could I kill my son to spare him a worser fate? I was a daughter of Rome. And I would not die by the hands of one who would defile her dream.
So I gave one of the amber bottles to Lucius, and I told him to drink it. He looked at me, and at the bottle, and then again at the tears in my eyes. And he knew what it was.
"Mother, I'm scared," he whispered. I hugged him and I told him that I would always love him. And that we would be going to Elysium together to see his father again.
I held his clammy hand while he gulped it down. He laid his head in my lap as I drank my own. It tasted bittersweet on my lips. And when the executioners came to lead us to the Coliseum, we were laying against the stone wall of the cell, Lucius' head in my lap. As the man leaned over to wake us, he noticed the two small glass bottles clutched in my hand. And he cried out mournfully, "the last of the Antonines are dead!" A cry that reached the Gods.
And so Lucius and I died as martyrs for Rome, for the dream of Rome, just as my father and Maximus had. We gave our lives for a noble cause. As I lay dying, and my last breath shuddered through my body, the last breath of hope for my father's dream dissolved into the frigid air. I would not give another man the power to kill the dream. It had to do it myself.
So Lucius and I died with honor, died serving the empire, died for a dream that, as I know now, could never have come to fruition. But there was nobility in it, all the same.
But I will never forgive myself for causing the death of my son.
I do believe, however, that it was the only course left open to me. Me, who had lost everything, including the power to control my own life. So, ultimately, I wrested that power away from Commodus and the other ambitious men who strove for the throne. And, ultimately, I had control over my own death and the death of the child I loved more than life itself. The child for whom I had forsaken Maximus, my father's dream, and my own dignity.
I betrayed Maximus that horrible night. I betrayed my father's hope of a better Rome. I told Commodus everything so that Lucius could live, my progeny, the only one I had left.
I betrayed everything for my son's life, only to take it with my own hand. And, as I lay against the cold stones, my breath shallow and slow, my life slowly slipping from me, I wondered if this was my destiny. I did, indeed, had many sins to pay for. Perhaps this was my punishment.
But, in the long scheme of history and time, our deaths were of little importance. Rome was destined to fall, crumbling under her own weight and the vastness of her land. Our suicides were important only to me, because I denied Severus, one who would defile my father's dream, from power over my end. The end of a long story, a story of a life, the life of a woman who wielded power, for good and evil, in her hands. But surely the fates and the Gods long ago determined the path that I would walk. As I have said before, I am not wise, nor do I hope to become so. I lived a life of privilege, of love, of loyalty, of fear, of regret. I was the daughter of an emperor, the sister of an emperor, and the wife of an emperor. Perhaps everything will be made clear with the passage of time. Whatever the future holds for me, non-mortal as I am, all I have are my memories.