Everything happens quickly with Augustus. He lived and breathed as though he was constantly in fear of running out of time. Perhaps it was rightfully so, as it would come to appear that death is constantly knocking at the emperor's gates. The first year of our kinship was so eventful that it hardly seemed a year but rather three.
I had then graduated from the academy, and unwittingly appealing to Augustus's secret history as common stock with my own origin, he took me on to be a general. This, initially, brought about much protest, some of which, I dare say, could have become hostile had the emperor not been there. There was jealousy and outrage among many candidates, some better suited than myself, and others only thinking themselves so because of their privileged blood.
I will be the first to admit that my rise in position was beyond my most daring dreams, that is to say, I was not an optimist when it came to status. I have known my place in life, perhaps since birth, and I was pleased to adhere to it. I have never entertained the idea of pursuing power or rank, and the offer took me by storm, as things often did when pertaining to Augustus. I was not prepared for this world. It is a constant struggle, and once you fall into power, there is never a night where you sleep soundly.
Augustus once told me that when you are king, there is never an honest word. You hear as they think you wish to hear. You see as they think you wish to see. When you are king, your closest friend becomes your most dangerous foe. These words were uttered not in bitter paranoia, but with such a sincere despondency that one could not help be pity the man who spoke them. I imagine that there was never a ruler that had not a lonely heart, and among them, Augustus must have possessed the loneliest. The rape of his youth by power and position summons forth my utmost confidence when I declare so.
At any rate, I believe there were quite a few candidates who were far worthier than I, who had much more experience in true battle than I, men who have shed blood with a smart blade. I confess that the position I was granted was neither a reflection of skill nor character on my part, but rather a blatant display of favoritism. Even the gods show weakness, so I will not lie; favoritism is never wrong when it is commit in your name.
It was during this same hectic time as I tried to establish myself as a general among a legion that despised my very existence that I met them. The two men, experienced, and ambitious, were also in Augustus's service. There was one Aemilius Lucius and one Marcus Antonius. It would seem that Antonius had served the empire's legion since the previous ruler, then proclaimed as a dictator of the state, Augustus's late, great uncle. Lucius proclaimed himself to have been master of horse to the Dictator, his right hand man. Among such impressive characters, I faded into their colossus shadow. It would prove to be a struggle from the start for me to join their ranks. Marcus Antonius had since taken the position as master of horse to Augustus, and Aemilius Lucius was one of Augustus's generals. I looked up to these men who were almost twice my age. It was Lucius who was in my respective position, but it was Antonius that I envied with a burning passion. The master of horse was almost constantly in Augustus's presence; it was not the power of the privilege that I longed for, but rather this constant companionship of the emperor.
In time, Lucius had warmed up to me, and after our first campaign together to the desert province of Alexandria, he had considered me one of his own. I learned that the General Lucius had previously fought with Antonius over the seat of dictator that was left empty after the assassination of the Great Gaius Julian, but, in honour of the Dictator's will, turned his blade upon his colleague instead to insure Augustus's throne. I had not anticipate that the man Augustus kept with him, nearly every moment of the day, was the same man that wished to do away with him in his tender age in order to procure the power left to him by his great uncle. I also learned from Lucius one evening at camp that Antonius had, since the succession, made several attempts on the young emperor's life. Confounded, I asked him, "Why then does Augustus keep him in such high regard?"
Aemilius Lucius smartly replied, "High regard or high contempt? The emperor appointed him master of horse in my place for this very treacherous nature of his. Augustus is young, but he is not a fool. He found this opportunity to keep Antonius under constant watch, and he took it behind a guise of comradery and respect. In actuality, Augustus walks always one step ahead of Antonius because of this very strategic civility, and in turn, Antonius lives in fear, constantly wondering if Augustus had seen him for his true colours."
Had I been in Augustus's stead, I would have swiftly dispatched of Antonius and made example of him. This is what sets Augustus apart from his peers. He was subtle, but in that very subtlety, so cunning that one might go as far as to say he was indeed quite the conniving youth. It made perfect sense as to why he instilled fear in the heart of his subjects. It was not out of brute, physical violence. No, such force one may yet anticipate. Augustus attacks the very psyche of those who cross him; the flesh is but a last resort. This account from Lucius would be the first I would have heard of this very calculating side of Augustus, but as time went on, I would get to witness such firsthand. It was an impressive feat, especially for a boy his age.
Alas, Lucius proved loyal to Augustus, having served his late, great uncle with such devotion that he had taken the young emperor into his guidance as he willed. The general was a good man, I can say that for certain, and in the end, it was this same goodness that saved our troops. During our campaign in Alexandria, we had run short on supplies, having stayed longer than we had initially anticipated. It was summer, and our water supply was scarce. I, as an inexperienced general, had made the mistake of over indulging myself and my troops. Had Lucius not the foresight expected of a general of his caliber, we surely would have perished. Since the passing of the last dictator, Aemilius had kept the social-political ties with what was left of the Egyptian kingdom, and it was through these ties that we garnished the resources we needed to procure in order to make our return to Rome.
The journey back was nothing worth mentioning. It was rather what we returned to that would startle me. During out yearlong campaign, Augustus had kept such a keen watch on Marcus Antonius that the man was driven half mad. I saw him cowering behind Augustus upon returning to his home. I have failed to explain previously that Augustus did not indulge in grandiose palaces. He had for himself a modest home, and perhaps several villas throughout the state of Italy. He did not wish to be a god among his people; he was as human as any, regardless how he was seen as a monster by many. His modest lifestyle was not merely for show, I would come to learn, but rather, because he himself was truly a simple man in the way that he lived.
This version of Marcus Antonius was neither valiant nor brave. He was not handsome, nor was he charismatic. He appeared a man descending from the peak of his life, spiraling into old age faster than he could have ever imagined. The fear and humility in his eyes, his mind wrapped in paranoia, his face pallid from lack of sleep; this was all that was left of him after a year alone in Augustus's company. This once proud general that served the Great Dictator, this charming seducer of women, is reduced to a pitiful shell of a man, all in one year's time. How very intrigued I was by this.
Augustus greeted me with his cool gaze, his air triumphant, and while he appeared as a marble statue standing there in the courtyard, his handsome, chiseled lips gradually curled into a smile when I went to embrace him. He returned the gesture, and it was in that very brief moment that I could tell how relieved he was that I have returned, alongside Aemilius. Augustus entertained us for supper, and while Antonius was regarded as a guest, it would seem that he was more a prisoner held without fetters or chains. Augustus granted me a seat at his right hand side, in Antonius's stead. Dinner conversation was light; he congratulated us for our success in uniting the provinces and made small talk regarding our travels, stating that he wish he had been there to witness it himself. We exchanged several secretive glances, and this sent my heart aflutter. It has been a year that had passed, but Augustus appeared to have matured into quite the young man. I must admit, I was quite eager for our dinner company to retire, as I had much to say to him then. What words could I speak that might do his beauty and wits justice? Perhaps, thinking back, it was best that our company was there to hinder me from making a fool of myself.
Antonius was uncharacteristically quiet. I would come to learn later that one of Aemilius' personal guards left behind to tend to Augustus had cut out his tongue after he spoke slander against the emperor. This was done without Augustus's approval, but it would appear later that he did not reprimand such action upon discovery either. Why Antonius was not simply declared enemy of the state for his endless follies was much beyond my comprehension. Perhaps he enjoyed making a show of humiliating the man who would take his life if given the chance. Then again, perhaps he still believed the man could change, despite the treachery he showed time and time again. It was not until the next time I would see Antonius that I would come to discover this.
After dinner, Aemilius dismissed himself to return to his wife. We saw him to the gates of Augustus's modest estate, and after he disappeared into down the alley with his guards, we returned inside. With our arms links, we strolled about the courtyard, and turning to me, Augustus smiled and spoke. "It makes my heart glad to see you return with good health. I have thought often of you since you departed for Alexandria, and often, I wonder if you think so constantly of me."
Such boyish words uttered from such an unexpected source astounded me, and I knew not what to say. I remember the brilliant blue of his eyes, the moonbeam illuminating him like an ethereal god. His skin reflected the moon's pale light so much that he appeared to glow a soft silver, and somehow, this one fleeting moment, nature and man perfectly entwining, captured the essence of his beauty much better than any portrait or sculpture ever done in his name. I faltered a moment before I was able to respond, my words humble, yet so grossly ineloquent that it pained me to hear myself. I told him, "And it makes my heart glad to see you, and hear that my return has been anticipated so." I paused for some time before hurriedly adding, "I have constantly thought so of you!"
Augustus laughed so genuinely at such a clumsy statement, and catching myself, I too succumb to laughter, aimed at my own muddled words. He spoke quite candidly to me. "I have feared on occasion that I have signed your death warrant when I enlisted you as general of one of my legions. Now, I am genuinely relieved. I need not curse myself anymore."
"Would you have sent me off to die so readily?" I asked with feigned offense and genuine curiosity.
He shook his head and smiled. "So readily, perhaps not, but we are soldiers all. Our lives: yours, Aemilius, and even mine, none shall be spared if it means preserving the empire. We live and fight for Rome."
"No. You are Rome, and we live and fight for you. I live and fight for you."
Augustus appeared for a moment a child on the brink of tears. Regardless of how he has grown into a becoming young man, his heart was, at its core, still thin as glass- the fragile heart of a boy. This I knew, and for this, I loved him ever more. He spent every waking moment of his life shielding the beloved empire he built. I spent every moment of mine shielding him from it.