Friday, June 7, 2013

Chapter 3: The Late Emperor’s Queen and Her Mother


            The news of Licinius’ execution reached Flavia Maximiana Theodora, the mother of Constantia, ten days later.  Upon receiving the news, she quickly prepared herself for a journey from Nicomedia where she was residing, to Thessalonica, where the wife of the late co-emperor was staying.  The news of the execution of her son in law grieved her a great deal.  But she knew that Constantia’s grief was graver. 
“Why didn’t you tell me about your husband’s death?”  She asked when arrived at Constantia’s palace.
            “What is the use mother, he is dead anyway.”  Answered the daughter, matter of factly.  “Besides, I don’t want to trouble you with the news,” the daughter added.
“Some help you are.  Don’t you know that I will know sooner or later?”  The mother retorted.  The daughter just kept quiet.
            Flavia Maximiana Theodora was none other than the widow of Chlorus Constantius, the father of Constantine.  She was the step daughter of Maximian, the co-emperor of Diocletian.  Constantine’s father had married the step daughter of Maximian after divorcing his first wife, Helena, the mother of Constantine, in order to strengthen his position as the emperor in the West.  Coincidentally, Constantine also married the daughter of Maximian, Fausta.   That made both the father and the son the in laws of Maximian.  The only difference was that Constantine was a full son in law, since he married the daughter of Maximian, while his father Chlorus was a step son in law, since Chlorus had married Maximian’s step daughter. 
Theodora was the mother of Flavia Julia Constantia, the step sister of Constantine, whose husband he had just executed.  Intermarriage among the elite circle was common then as it is now.  The objective of the marriage was to cement close relationship between rulers, or, as often is the case, to consolidate power.
Be that as it may, it was maternal instinct, perhaps, that led Theodora to rush to her daughter’s boarding.  She somehow sensed that the execution of her son in law by his step son was a bad omen to her daughter and her other children, the step siblings of Constantine. 
Constantia had been mourning the death, or rather the execution of her husband.  It was never easy to accept the death of one’s husband.  It was even more difficult to accept when the death was caused by the decree of one’s brother.  In Constantia’s case, the difficulty was graver since it was her brother who betrothed her to her late husband.  Perhaps the most difficult to accept was that the execution came after the amnesty.  What kind of man would one day pardon the sin of his rival but to reverse the decision in another day?    Then, again, her half-brother had his reason.  Her late husband was not totally innocent.  She knew by now that her late husband had been plotting the assassination on his half-brother.  His execution was therefore justified.  That, however, did not ease her sorrow.      
“This is bad omen,” the mother broke the silence.
“He is dead mother.  What can be worse?”  Said the daughter.
“I am not talking about your late husband.”
Constantia looked at her mother in a puzzling stare.  Apparently she couldn’t make up what her mother meant.
“Then bad omen to whom?”  The daughter asked.
“Your siblings and your son.  My children and my grandson.”
“My full brothers are not my half-brother’s enemies,” Constantia said referring to Constantine’s step brothers, the sons of Theodora, “and my son is too small to be a cause of threat.  Besides, Constantine is now the sole emperor.  He has nothing to worry.”
“Even after being the wife of a co-emperor, you are as naïve as ever, Constantia.”  The mother snipped. 
“Perhaps I am, but I am sure I know about my step brother more than you do, mother.”  The daughter replied rather curtly.  That happened to be the truth, for Constantia was close to her half-brother Constantine while her mother was not.
“It is not him that I fear.”  Said the mother.
“There you go again, mother.  Whom are you referring now?”
“His mother.”
“Helena?”
“Who else?”
“Why would Helena be a source of threat?”
“Your wisdom, or the lack of it, defies you age, Constantia.”  Insulted the mother, which was not entirely fair.  Constantia may be the widow of the aged late co-emperor, Licinius, but Constantia herself was not old.  She was only thirty.  She was married to Licinius when she was nineteen years old, and Licinius was sixty three.  While she was at first not amused by the matrimony to a man more than three times her age, she later found that the status of a Queen to an Emperor had its own merit.  Besides, young girl marrying a much older man was common in those ages, perhaps more common than in the modern times.
“I have just lost my husband, mother.  I don’t need another insult.  Why can’t you just say it straight, that is, if you have a point to make?”  Constantia started to feel irritated by her mother’s insult.
“Helena’s husband left her for me, don’t you feel that it amounts to anything?”
“Still, what has it got to do with us?”
“She is the daughter of an inn-keeper, and I am a daughter of an emperor.  And now it is her son, not mine, who has become the emperor.”
“It seems that you are envious of her, mother, not she envious of you,” the daughter quipped.  Theodora stared at her daughter in a very stern look.
“When the great Theodora lost for word, she stared,” mocked the daughter.  The mother laughed cynically.
“I wasn’t staring at you Constantia.  I was looking behind your beautiful face.”  Said the mother, and added, “you know what I find?”
“Yes mother, I know.  You find nothing.  You told me many times already that I got a beautiful face without a brain.”
“And your face is still beautiful in spite of the years, only a little sad.  And yes, you still haven’t got any brain behind your beautiful face. Don’t you feel that the lives of your siblings, even your son, are under threat?”
Both the daughter and the mother were quiet for a moment.  Constantia didn’t quiet appreciate the insult from her mother, but deep down she felt that Theodora did have a point.  Constantine may not have felt that his half-brothers were a threat to his throne, for at the moment they were still paying second fiddles to him.  But soon they might be men enough to challenge Constantine, if they felt that their lives were at stake.  It was very likely that Constantine’ mother, Helena, would make him see it that way even if he ignored it.
Alas, knowing the dilemma was not the same as having a solution for it.  Fear started to slowly loom into Constantia’s heart.  Her mother’s visit certainly didn’t bring peace to her grieving mind.  Instead, it slowly started to tear it into pieces.  After fear, Constantia slowly felt a strange feeling of fury, followed by helplessness.
“And this well respected emperor, a half-brother of yours, what kind of man is he?  One by one he put his rivals to death.  And we are not talking about strangers here.  We are talking about his family members: his father in law, his brothers in law—my father who was your grandfather; my brother, who was your uncle; my son in law, who was your husband.  I put it to you, my daughter, that from this day on, none of you full brothers, and especially your son, is safe.”  The mother added more fuel to the fire.
“Even so mother, there is nothing we can really do.  The best is to make peace. I will talk to him.  He listens to me.  I am his favorite sister.”
“Don’t be such a fool,” retorted the mother, apparently more furious than her daughter who had just lost the husband.
“Whatever you say mother, whatever.  I just don’t want to have any more bloodshed in this family.”
“Some wife you are,” snipped the mother, “your husband’s grave is still wet, and you want to make a pact with his executioner already.  Poor Licinius’ soul, tormented not by the burning hell, but by his treacherous wife.”
“May gods smite your mouth with a bolt of lightning, mother, for saying such a thing.”
“Poor Licinius’ soul.  His body turns and twists in the grave, asking for revenge.  And what does he get?  He gets a wife who is going to make a pact with his enemy.”
“And if you have nothing better to say, mother, and I know you have no better alternative,” said Constantia, feeling tired, angry, furious and lousy, “I want to sleep.”
“Yes, go and sleep while your husband’s soul is burnt with fury.”
Constantia did go to her room, but she could not sleep.  Not after a venomous spit by her mother.  Twisting her body this side and that side for many hours, the poor woman fell asleep out of exhaustion, only to be rudely awakened by a scary nightmare.  She saw her son fell into a ravine.
She didn’t know the meaning of her nightmare, but she thought that it was a bad omen.  The nightmare disturbed her a great deal.  Not knowing what to do, she made preparation to move to Nicomedia.  Her going there may not help the situation, or eased her anxiety about her son, but at least she would be at a closer distance with her half-brother.  As people say, with friends be close, with enemies, closer.  In spite of her mother’s insult, Constantia was neither naïve, nor stupid.  She didn’t know what she should do, but being closer to her half-brother would be the first step.  Or so she thought.

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