Man, looks like things in his region of ff are slow. If anyone out there is reading this, please review. I'm hoping there's someone out there who shares my love for Commodus :)
Chapter Two: Old memories, resurfaced
A week went by and with each passing day the Emperor had been gradually becoming more and more impatient for the arrival of his special guests. It had been a month since he had become Caesar and the celebration in honour of his late father was in full swing. He had invited all the important families from all across the empire to pay tribute to him, by now everyone else had arrived, save for one more family. Commodus was most eager to see these particular guests, indeed one of them anyway. Ana. That name. It rang so often in his head, sparking the most violent of feelings. The thought of it now gave him a prickle of irritation that started in his spine and spread down his arms. Yet he remained standing still, knowing that his pent up anger would be released given time. He had been learning a lot lately about waiting.
The Palace was almost full to the brim now and he hated it. There were too many people around and he felt overwhelmed. They laughed and chatted away but he had nothing to say to them. The only reason he had invited them was so he could show them how powerful he could really be. Soon they would see, he thought.
His wishes were moments from being set into motion as he stood at the top of the Palace steps. A veritable army of soldiers stood before him, each neatly in line with his neighbour, forming a perfect pathway down the length of the courtyard. He thought back to previous times when he had stood here, not as Emperor but as an expectant child. Ana had been at his side, as had Lucilla and Ana's sisters. All the children of the Palace were gathered there, each grasping tokens in their hands, herbs and sweet flowers usually, waiting to hand them to his father, victoriously returning from whichever land they had just conquered. He waited as impatiently now as he did back then.
In the distance, at the gates of the Palace, a carriage had pulled in drawn by four white horses. The royal crest was mounted on the side. It stopped at the bottom of the steps and the door was pulled open.
The emperor felt a tingle of…what was it? Apprehension? Perhaps. Excitement? He was unsure. Whatever it was, it gave him a strange thrill. He flexed his hands into and out of fists at his sides. He was in suspense at seeing the girl again. Though he had been young at the time, their last meeting still stuck strongly in his mind. Six years had not dissolved his anger, if anything his grudge had grown; he was determined to prove her wrong.
He watched as the figures in front of him stepped out of the carriage and began to ascend the steps. Ana followed last, he spotted her dark red hair instantly. The man who led he had not seen before, at least not recently enough that he might recognise him but he girl behind he certainly recognised from his childhood. Her name was Jana, he knew that. They were both beaming up at him as they approached. The girl behind them however, was not. Perhaps she knew what was in store for her. Perhaps she felt his hate even from this distance. She climbed the steps steadily, holding her dress up so as not to trip over it. The Emperor allowed himself to watch her. The sight of her face made him seethe and grit his teeth.
She looked fairly changed. At the age of twelve she had been on the brink of starting womanhood when he had last seen her, now she was a grown woman. She held herself with poise, with a straight back and a high chin. As she stopped in front of him and curtsied low, he noticed how the muscles in her arms and hands were tensed. When she stood again he was shocked as she looked him straight in the eyes. There was something in her expression that he could not quite place. He was not very good at reading people particularly, but he was sure he saw confusion there, mixed with disdain. Was she not sorry? Ashamed? Intimidated? Clearly not. But no matter, he would soon see to that. He would show her that he was one to be feared.
Suddenly the man before him spoke and his focus was pulled away from the girl.
"Caesar, you honour us with your invitation," he said, bowing again. The Emperor moved to embrace him and the man was taken a back with surprise and adoration towards the young man.
"Come, friend, welcome to my home," he said, gesturing that they should follow as he turned inside.
They entered the Palace in single file, with Commodus leading and the rest of the congregation following behind. His voice echoed off the high ceiling as he welcomed them. The man seemed enthralled by his very presence, as did the older girl. They hung off his every word.
"It is a great pleasure to be back, sire," the girl, Jana said, her was voice sultry and low. She moved to stand beside him, expectantly waiting for him to offer his arm.
"No, the pleasure is all mine," the Caesar replied, holding out his arm to her. She took it gladly, winding her small arm through his. Her eyes were focused on him but he did not return the sentiment. His were fixed on her sister, Ana, who stood tall beside her uncle, unflinching towards his piercing gaze. His words were slow and purposeful, tone melodic, enticing even.
But it seemed she had ignored his subtle warning. She stepped forward, following them into the room ahead, out of the way of the crowd. Her expression was angry.
"Where is the Caesar?" she asked, her voice firm and assertive. "Commodus, where is your father?"
Every face turned to her instantly. Her sister looked horrified, everyone felt horrified. Even the Emperor was shocked at her outburst. Did she not know? The whole empire knew, why not her? There were a few cries of disbelief at her ignorance. Commodus kept quiet. This news would be a surprise to her and he wanted to deliver it slowly, painfully.
"Why, he is dead. Did you not know?" His voice was cool, each word slipped over his tongue silkily. She said nothing, only looked from Commodus to her Uncle and to her sister.
"Ana," the girl at his side cried, willing her to be quiet.
"That is not my name."
Commodus could only stare at her outraged girl in front of him. He could see the anger growing inside of her. A pulse in her neck began to jump, faster and faster. Her hands formed fists, but she voiced none of this. She remained seemingly calm.
"Where is my room? I wish to go to it at once."
The Emperor motioned to a guard near to him, who signalled to the girl to follow him. He watched as she stalked off down the corridor, a servant girl continuing behind her. A small smirk strayed on his lips as he delighted in seeing her so clearly distressed.
"Sire, please, forgive her. She is tired from the journey, that is all," the Uncle said.
"Of course," Commodus replied. "I understand. Please, take the day to rest. We will talk at dinner."
The man nodded his thanks before retiring to his own quarters. Commodus let go of the girl's arm and bowed his exit, leaving her alone. She stood watching him, as if expecting something more. But he had no time for her; he had some planning to do.
She should never have come here. Eleana realised that now. How she did not think to refuse before she did not know. Any excuse would have fooled her Uncle, perhaps not at first, but she would have persisted. His own desire to go would have overruled and he would have grown quickly annoyed by her resistance. He would have allowed her to stay and taken Jana only. He would not have pondered long on the subject, far too self-absorbed to linger on the actions of others.
But now unfortunately it was too late. She had seen him besides. She had never forgotten that face. Those sharp eyes. That weak and trembling mouth twisted up into a sneer. He had not changed. Still the little boy who used to haunt her. Who still haunted her. She could not get away from him – and she had walked straight back into his net.
What would become of her here, now that the Caesar, the real Caesar, had gone? Why had she not been told? And how did he die? She knew that he was very old and frail but his death had come as a shock. She knew she had been isolated in her Uncle's home, for he was always away in Florence and they rarely had guests, but to not know about this was absurd. And to walk back into his home and not see him there was even stranger. He had always been there, in her childhood. She had expected to go back and see it unchanged. But it was changed beyond belief. To see Commodus in the Caesar's place was pure profanity. It had to be a joke.
After a time of pacing back and forth across her room restlessly, Eleana made the decision to confront the new Caesar. She had so many questions, so many words to throw at him. She left her room and demanded that the guard beside the door take her to the Caesar's room. He obeyed straight away.
They walked through the corridors of the Palace. Memories lingered in every room for Eleana, they surfaced as she passed by, searching deeply through every door for scenes from her childhood. She instantly recognised her father's old room, then Lucilla's, then Commodus', at least his old room anyway, before they reached the great chamber that had belonged to his father. She entered to be greeted by the Caesar and two members of the senate. Commodus sat at his desk, shifting through papers and writing every now at then. The senators stood either side of him, watching and overseeing what he wrote, they looked up as she entered but the Caesar did not. One whispered to him, most probably something about her – it made him scoff.
"What do you want?" he asked slowly, still not looking at her.
"I demand to know what is going on here." The senators looked at her in surprise.
"What more do you need to know? My Father is dead and I have taken his place." His voice remained still but the quiver of his hand as he put down his quill gave away his mounting annoyance.
"Taken his place?," she repeated rather mockingly. He looked at her now, displeasure clear in his eyes, she continued anyway. "You will never be as good as your father. You as Caesar? What imbecile made that decision, I ask."
"My Lady, you would do well to hold your tongue," one of the senators said, his eyes dark and centred on Eleana.
"I will not! Not while Rome is being governed by nothing more than a silly little boy!" she retorted. Commodus rose suddenly at this, his breathing grew faster and his lips trembled, as if fighting for something to say. "I suppose you are to tell me that Maximus is gone too, are you? Since I have not seen him yet, what have you done with him Commodus? Did he not do as you wished?"
"I must insist that you leave," the senator continued, eyes glaring now at the attack on his leader. But Eleana would not leave, she would not be quiet. She was getting quite angry now, though her voice was nothing more than stern. She was voicing what she expected everyone was thinking. It was preposterous to put the fate of Rome in such hands. It was fragile; he was incompetent, clumsy, and too emotional to be trusted with such an important thing. She stood there before them, absolute in her beliefs. "I'm afraid we will have to have you removed if you do not."
She locked eyes with the Caesar, he stared back. They stayed like this, silently shouting at each other. Neither flinched, neither moved. Everything stayed still.
"My Lady," the senator repeated, interrupting their soundless battle, more forcefully this time. She ignored it. She could see the young Emperor was on the brink of giving in. He never could stay in control of his emotions, they bubbled up inside him searching for the easiest, quickest way to escape. But she was well practiced. It would be over soon. Just one more second…
"Get out!" Commodus came to life all of a sudden. The silence was broken. She had won.
"Very well," she said, calmly.
She smirked slightly, barely enough for anyone to see, and then left. As she walked down the corridor she heard the faint sound of something smashing and a raised voice coming from the Emperor's room. Smiling wider, she held her head high and went back to her room, victorious.
Jana came to see her later. It was in the evening, shortly before dinner. It had taken a while before the news had reached her of Eleana's attack on the Emperor. She burst into her room without knocking.
"Do you mind?" Eleana asked indignant. Jana stood breathless in front of her sister for a moment. Eleana observed that she was wearing her finest dress ready for the evening's events.
"Did you not listen to a word I said before we left?" Jana asked, ignoring her question, her voice raised. "You are impossible!"
"Me?" Eleana replied, rising swiftly.
"Do you want to get sent back to that stupid place? Because that is where we will all be going if you do not learn to control yourself."
"Control myself? I know perfectly well how to control myself." How dare the girl accuse her of being incapable of doing the thing that she had upheld all her life? "What exactly are you talking about, Jana?"
"Don't play innocent, I see past all of your little games. Have you no sense of authority? That man is the Emperor, Eleana. You cannot go about insulting him."
"I will do as I like! Last time I looked he was nothing but a little boy."
"But your opinion counts for nothing when he is sitting on that throne. You will bring shame upon us all, unless you learn to be quiet!"
Eleana sat on her bed once more, her arms folded defensively. Jana growled in frustration.
"You had better be more pleasant to him this evening," she said. "Or you will be praying to the Gods that you had never crossed me."
Eleana sighed, exasperated. "I doubt that very much. And anyway, it is I that should be angry with you. Why did you not tell me that the Caesar was dead? Did you forget? Or did you think me not important enough to be told?"
Jana sighed deeply. "No, as a matter of fact we didn't. What do you care anyway? You always hated it here, with him."
"Do not presume that you know me, sister. You do not." Eleana turned from the other girl now, displaying her back to her. A few moments later she heard a sigh and footsteps moving away from her. She turned back to see her sister gone. Walking carefully to the door, she watched as Jana marched away.
"How did he die?" she called to her, her voice was quiet but echoed off the walls hollowly. Ahead, Jana stopped and looked back over her shoulder.
"In his sleep, Ana. They say he felt no pain."
As far as sisterly affection went this momentary ceasefire was as good as it got between the two girls. Each was as stubborn as the other in their beliefs. But Eleana was comforted somewhat by her sister's words. At least the old man had gone peacefully.
Commodus paced around his room, back and forth, back and forth, saying nothing but with a look of utter disgust on his face. The senators watched ignorant to what was causing such an emotion within him and unable to intervene. Try as they might to probe him on what was the matter he had said nothing.
"Sire, might it be wise to inform us of your troubles," the senator Falco suggested. "Then perhaps we might be able to advise you."
The emperor seemed oblivious to his words for a moment and continued to silently pace, until he suddenly burst out:
"It's that girl."
He looked at the two senators, who had glanced at each other. He knew what they were thinking: boyish, immature antics, that all he could think of was pretty girls and how to over power them. But they didn't understand, it was so much more than that. She wasn't just a pretty girl, she was the enemy, she needed to go.
"She must be punished. She cannot get away with treating me like that. First Maximus, now Ana. Soon the whole city will be rebelling. These people need to be gone, before they can fester and spread to the people."
"Sire, I do not think…"
"Senator Gracchus, I am not in the mood for arguments. Do you hear me? I want her gone."
"But she is just a girl, sire." The senators were clearly confused. Didn't they see the threat she posed against him? Behind that bright, young face was a heart of lead, hell bent on destroying him. He had seen it when they were children and he saw it still now. The way she had looked at him when he told her of his father. Her eyes narrow and her lips tight. A vein throbbing at her temple. Anger rose in his chest at the thought of her outburst. His fingers itched. How dare she?
It was the whole reason he had brought her and her family back to the Palace. With his father alive he could do nothing to her, but he was set on revenge. He didn't care how childish it was, how trivial the matter may have been to others, to him it mattered. She had hurt him. He was careful to admit that, he did not want to feel affected by her, but nonetheless he did. And now his father was out of the way. He was emperor, and he could do as he wished. No one could question him. At his realisation of this he had delighted in it. The power he held in his hands was almost overwhelming.
Of course, the senate soon reminded him of his limits. They were afraid he would be abusive of this power but why shouldn't he? He was in power now, not them. He would rule the people his way. He would destroy the senate and they would love him for it.
They loved him already; though the senate saw this as only temporary. Not that they ever told him, only with subtle remarks and jeers. None had the audacity to directly challenge him. They had their sneaky ways. They thought he was only pacifying them with the games for a short while, they thought that once they were over and the true nature of his character prevailed then they would despise him. Commodus knew better.
There were just a few things to sort out before this. One was Maximus, the other was Ana. And then there was Gracchus. The list was growing. Potential traitors they were, plotting secretly behind his back schemes to overthrow him. But he would not let the senate rule. His father had been wrong, Rome needed an emperor. It needed him.
But what to do with them? Maximus was easy enough; he was a slave now and a gladiator at that. Everything with him had inadvertently fallen into place without Commodus doing anything. Yes, the mob loved him now, but soon he would be dead. And they would see just how great their emperor was. As would Lucilla. Soon she would see, and she would love him too.
Senator Gracchus was slightly more complicated. He had not done anything openly seditious, not yet anyway. But Commodus was playing the waiting game. Senator Falco had been right – they would let their enemies come to them. He was watching Gracchus everyday; sooner or later he would slip up.
Then there was Ana. He repulsed at the name, continuously ringing in his head. Soon he would be rid of it though. He had been embarrassed by her on two separate occasions now. Her earlier outburst in front of the senators had been the last nail in the coffin. And Gracchus had seen. If he knew just how much one small insignificant young girl could influence him, he would use it against him. To tear him down. So he would do the same to her as she had done to him, only worse. She would be stripped of all that was dear to her, all her values would be turned on her, he would reduce to her to that which she hated most. She would be like a puppet on his string. He would make her weep and wail before him. She would have to fall on her knees and beg for forgiveness.
And how would he do this? He would keep her here for starters. He knew she hated it here; it reminded her of her father. He had always known what he was like, though most people did not, or perhaps they did but said nothing. Each day in the palace would slowly break her down, until eventually it would drive her mad. That was when he would act, just like with Gracchus.
He stopped pacing and breathed heavily. Turning to the senators he smiled darkly. They knew he was planning something. He would hit her at her weakest moment. And he would destroy her.