Monday, May 13, 2013

Chapter 1: The Deposed Emperor and His Nemesis


LICINIUS WAS GETTING RESTLESS.   The news from Cappadocia was supposed to come the day before yesterday.  It was now two days late.  Even one day late was already too late.  Two days late could only mean that something went terribly wrong.  He began to fear the worst.
He walked up and down in his room feeling more and more anxious.  If Constantine knew about his plan with Martinianus, he was sure that there will be no more amnesty.  About six months ago, his life was already at the edge of the sword.  He was granted pardon by Constantine and the subsequence house arrest at Thessalonica only because of his wife’s intervention.
Licinius, the ex-emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, who was now confined into a house arrest in Thessalonica, Macedonia, feared the worst for Sextus Martinianus.  Martinianus was his right hand man whom he made co-emperor during his civil war with Constantine.  That was before both were defeated by Constantine, who was the rightful ruler of the Western portion of the Roman Empire.  The Emperor Constantine ordered both of them executed, but Constantia, the step sister of Constantine who was also Licinius’ wife, pleaded for their lives.  Firm, but not exactly heartless, Constantine granted both of them amnesty under house arrest: Licinius in Thessalonica and Martinianus in Cappadocia.
As is often the case with human nature, the victor may quite easily find forgiveness in his heart.  Not so with the loser.  Confining into a house arrest was too humiliating for Licinius to bear.  He soon began to wonder whether death was better than being a toothless lion.  He decided that he was already too old for that kind of humiliation.  Thus, through a trusted emissary who carried secret messages between himself in Thessalonica and Martinianus in Cappadocia, they plotted an assassination plan on Constantine.  Licinius knew that he had taken a very big risk, because, should Constantine discover his assassination plot, and there was a high probability that the latter would, for he was a very cautious and distrusting man, then not even tears of blood from his wife can save his cohort and himself.
“Something must have gone very wrong.” Thought Licinius. “Constantine is supposed to be dead already.  Why is Marcus not here?”  His mind was racing for an answer, but he found none.  Marcus, his trusted emissary, was supposed to bring him the report two days ago.  Now that there was no report, Licinius feared that Martinianus his cohort, Marcus his emissary and their chosen assassins were dead already.  The thought made Licinius more anxious.  He feared for his life now.
 Licinius called his chief guard and ordered him to be more vigilant.  He told his wife to sleep in a different room on the pretext that he had something extremely important to attend to.  Constantia knew that something was amiss but dared not asked or went against her husband’s order.  Fatigued with restlessness and burdened with anxiety, Licinius fell asleep a few hours past midnight.  He had a nightmare. 
He dreamt that he was being chased by Constantine’s royal guards.  In the dream, he managed to lock himself up in a room.  There was a strong banging at the door.  The guards must have tried to break down the door. 
Suddenly he felt something heavy on his chest. He also felt something very sharp on his throat.  The weight choked him and he instantly opened his eyes.  Opening his eyes, he saw shadows of men in his room.  Two of them were on his chest, and two others standing near his bed.  He recognized that the sharp object on his throat was a dagger.  The dagger felt very sharp; the men looked very furious. 
“Constantine would like to have a word with you,” said one of them who was standing near his bed.  Licinius now knew that he was not having a nightmare in a dream anymore, but a nightmare in reality.  These were real people on his chest and in his room, and it was real dagger on his throat. 
“What happen to my guards,” his mind flashed.  Whatever happened to his guards, it was clear that they were not in his room at that moment, when he needed them the most.
The four men dragged Licinius out of the room.  Things happened so quickly and swiftly that Licinius did not know for a second what had hit him.  Outside of his room, he saw three bodies lying breathless.  Even in his disoriented state, he recognized them instantly.  They were three of his ten bodyguards.  Now he knew what happened to his bodyguards.  They were dead. 
Also outside of his room, there were three more men waiting.  He recognized none of them.
“Are we going to Nicomedia?  You’d better let me get dressed, and I need to take my provisions for the journey.”  Licinius spoke, playing dumb, because he knew that such a request would be futile.  Nicomedia was a place where Emperor Constantine resided, about a week journey from Thessalonica on horse.
“There is no time for that,” said the one who spoke to him earlier.  He was probably the leader of the captors.
“But it is a week journey from here.  I surely do not wish my brother in law receives me in this state.”
“Either you walk escorted, or we drag you.  Either way, you are coming with us right now,” said the man.  He didn’t even address Licinius “my lord” as fitting for an emperor, albeit a deposed one.
“Where are we going?” Licinius asked, again knowing that is was going to be futile.  If these captors did not allow him to get dressed, he thought, Constantine must have been nearby.  Is he in my house already, his mind racing to make sense of the episode.
“Would you like we drag you with your hands and mouth tied, or would you rather walk escorted, old man.”  Said the man again, this time more sternly. 
Licinius relented.  He was not “my lord” anymore, just “old man.”  That kind of disrespect a few months back would have earned the speaker a jail term, if Licinius felt merciful.  Otherwise the offender would be beheaded.  But that was then, when he was still the co-emperor of the Roman Empire.  Now he was a mere prisoner to a few strangers whom he believed the imperial guard of his nemesis, Constantine.
“Is Constantine here!” thought Licinius. 
His mind raced for a stratagem to escape from his captors, but they were too many and his other guards were nowhere to be seen.  He was escorted to the main hall where he received visitors and conducted his affairs.  The big room was only half lit.  There were already six people there, and there was a shadow of a man sitting in his throne.  He recognized that the man in his throne was none other than his brother in law, the Emperor Constantine.  The moment he saw Constantine’s face, he knew that his fate was sealed.  Constantine was supposed to be dead.  The fact that he was still alive meant that Licinius’ whole plan went terribly awry.  It didn’t surprise him though, for he thought as much already.
“Welcome, the brother of my wife.  What has brought you so late in the night?  You should have warned me earlier.  I could have prepared a royal reception for you.”  Licinius knew Constantine had come to have him executed, but he decided to have last fun in his life, which, for all intents and purposes, was practically ending now.  There was sarcasm in his greeting.
“The great Licinius still has time for an insult,” said Constantine calmly.  “Are you not going to appeal for your life?”  He added.
“If my brother in law wanted me dead, I would be breathless already.  There must be something really important for you to pay me a visit at the dawn like this.”  Licinius ignored the not so subtle message from Constantine.
“Is it not time to stop pretending, Licinius?”
This time Licinius kept quiet.  Constantine stood and walked to Licinius.
“The husband of my sister,” the Emperor Constantine spoke calmly, “you may want to have a final look at your partner in crime.”
  A body was thrown onto the floor.  It was a man.  He appeared as if he had taken more than a good measure of beatings; otherwise the man was alive.  It was Sextus Martinianus, Licinius’ cohort.  The poor man was tied, both in his hands and his mouth. 
“Why, the husband of my sister.  Why?”  Asked Constantine.  Licinius knew what the question meant.  It was referred to his assassination plan which by now Licinius knew had been foiled.   Licinius laughed.  His laughter was full of sarcasm.  He didn’t say a word.  The question to him was a mere rhetoric.
“You broke my heart, the husband of my beloved sister.  You broke my heart.” 
“Ahh… what an irony.  The great Constantine does have a heart, after all,” Licinius said insultingly, obviously resigned to the fate that he had no more chance to save his life. And it was.  The moment he finished uttering his brief insult, Constantine pronounced a death sentence.
“Be kind to him with a swift execution,” Constantine ordered his guards, “after all, he is the father of my nephew.”
Licinius was dragged again, along with Martinianius.  This time out of Constantine’s sight to a sure death.  Knowing Constantine well, and aware of his own treachery, Licinius didn’t make any effort to plead.  There was no use for that.  He was tired of life anyway, playing second fiddle to Constantine who was in fact very much his junior, for he was already a man over 70 years of age, while Constantine was only slightly above 50.
While things happened rather quickly, it was not without a commotion.  A few seconds after Licinius was out of Constantine’s sight, Constantia, the half-sister of Constantine and the wife of the soon to be expired Licinius, appeared.  Someone must have told her what happened.  But she came one second too late, for her husband was no longer to be seen.  Sensing the inevitable fate of her husband, she threw herself on her brother’s feet.
“He is the father of your nephew, and a husband of your sister, Constantine.  Have you not promised to spare his life for my sake?  What are you doing now?” Constantia pleaded to his half-brother Constantine quite hysterically.  But she somehow knew that her plea would fall on deaf ears.  While Licinius had kept his plan secret, his wife knew that something was really amiss. 
“I love him no less than you do, Constantia,” said Constantine, “but even an emperor cannot always follow his heart.”
A plea fell on deaf ears, Constantia tried guilt.
“But you have made a promise for the sake of your sister, who needs a husband, and your nephew, who needs a father.”   
The emperor’s mind, however, was made up.
“There is nothing I can do Constantia.  Either I take action now, or he will have me assassinated.  With the way he had been making an attempt on me, you can either have a husband or a brother, but not both.  I would love to see my sister has a husband, but not the one who will make her lose a brother.”  With those words, Constantine motioned to his guards to take away his sister Constantia, but his sister clung to his feet and was not about to be taken away.
“When our father died, you are more than a brother to me, Constantine.  You treated me like a sister and a daughter.  And I always love you for that.  I didn’t ask for a husband, but you married me to Licinius.  Now you are about to make me a widow.  What kind of a man are you?  Have you no mercy to your beloved sister?”  Guilt also did not seem to work, Constantia tried love, for she knew Constantine loved her. 
It was of course not a question.  It was designed to touch Constantine’s heart.  On his part, Constantine really had no choice.  And he reckoned that his sister too knew his predicament. He also knew the predicament of his sister, a woman who was about to lose her husband. 
There was no longer any need to reason with her, because there is no reason that can quite console the soul who was about to lose her soul mate.   Constantine touched his sister’s hands without saying a word.  He made no effort to console her, because no word can console her at this moment.  That much Constantine knew.  He then motioned to his guards to take his sister away.  This time Constantia let herself be carried away, though she was still crying. 
“Be gentle with her,” said Constantine to his guards.  “She is very distraught.  And I love her.”  He added.  
When the guards ushered Constantia away from the emperor, she turned her face towards her brother.  There were some tears in his eyes, visible even in a dim light.  She never saw her brother cried before.

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