Monday, June 17, 2013

Chapter 4: The Emperor and His Sister

            The first thing that Constantia did when she arrived at Nicomedia was to see her half-brother Constantine, the new sole Emperor of the whole Roman Empire.   Constantine was on his way to a small conference room when Constantia met him.    He was about to meet a very important visitor. The fact that he was about to receive a visitor in that room suggested that the visit, if not the visitor, was a very important one.  The conference room was where Constantine discussed important affairs with his trusted advisors and generals.
“I just need a brief moment with you, brother,” insisted Constantia when Constantine asked her to wait until the dinner time, on account that he was already late for a very important meeting, “besides, I need a private audience with you, and dinner is not exactly private,” she added.
Constantine relented.  He dared not refuse the request from someone who had just lost a husband, especially since the loss was due to his order.   They went to a secluded room, away from other people.   
“How are you?”  Constantine asked while walking to the secluded room.  There was a real concern in his voice.  It had been a bit more than two months since they met, which was the day of Licinius’ funeral, two days after he was executed.  After that, Constantine came back to Nicomedia while her sister remained in Thessalonica, until Theodora her mother paid her a visit.
“I forgive you already, if that is what you mean?”  Said Constantia.
“No, that’s not what I meant.  I mean how are you doing?”
“I am as good as any widow who has just lost her husband.”  She said.  Constantine asked no further.
“When I said I forgive you already, I mean it,” said Constantia when they were inside the room.  Constantine kept his silence, not quite knew how to respond.  He was not sure whether his sister was really serious or was just being cynical.   So far as he knew, however, Constantia was quite straightforward.  But then again, her husband was just executed.  Anything can happen after that. 
Constantine also knew that he did not ask his sister to forgive him; at least not since he ordered Licinius to be executed.  When Constantia declared that she had forgiven him, without him asking for it in the first place, he sensed that there was something more to it than meet the eye.  His sister must have something up her sleeve.
“I know you don’t quite expect me to forgive you so soon, but I mean it, partly because I cannot really blame you.  In any case I want you to know that my forgiveness is conditional.”
Constantine’s eyes were widened.  What she said caught his attention even more.  Conditional forgiveness?  He spoke no word, but he was all ears.
“What is done is done.  Whether I forgive you or I don’t, Licinius is not coming back.  But I have other interest.  It is Licinianus, my son, your nephew.” 
Constantia spoke in a measured tone.
“What about him?”  The emperor asked.
“I want a guarantee for his safety.”
“Is there a reason to believe that his life is in danger?”  Constantine appeared to be quite concerned.
“You should answer that question, Constantine.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want a guarantee from you, that you will not make an attempt on his life, like you did on his father.”  Said Constantia to his half-brother, Emperor Constantine.  The Emperor Constantine was taken aback.  He didn’t see it coming from his sister.
“Why would I want to kill my nephew?”  He asked.
“You should answer that for me, Constantine.  Do I have your guarantee?”
“He is just a boy, not even 10 years old I believe.  Why would I want him executed?”
“He is a boy now, but you may fear that when he grows up, he will fight against you.  Now, do I have your guarantee for his life?” 
It may seem like an innocent or a modest request, but the consequence of that request was far reaching.  In the modern lingo, it would be akin to a catch 22: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  Constantine knew the implication of whatever answer he gave.  If he said yes, then it would mean that he is putting himself in danger, should Licinianus decide to avenge the death of his father sometime in the future.  If he said no, then it would mean that he had the intention of harming the boy should the occasion arise.  If he said nothing or gave no answer, it would mean that he could not give assurance to his sister, which would be as good as saying no. 
In that intricate moment, he decided to balance his promise with a caution, so he said:
“On the life of our father, I promise not to make an attempt on my nephew’s life, unless if he makes an attempt on mine.”
Constantia stared at his brother in a very disappointing look.  Apparently she was not prepared for that kind of promise.  A conditional promise for a conditional forgiveness!  What a fitting match.
“You don’t even have a courtesy to at least lie for the sake of your sister’s peace of mind,” the empress of the late emperor finally spoke.
“You put me in an impossible situation, my dear sister.  How else can I do?”  Constantine responded.
“So it seems,” said the sister and made her way out.  Constantine called out to his sister, but Constantia did not turn back.  It would be unnecessary to add that she did not come to the dinner that night. 
Constantine cursed himself.  Why the hell did I not make that simple promise?  After all, the thought of putting Licinianus his nephew into eternal sleep did not cross his mind, until the matter was brought up by his sister.  Constantine’s mind was troubled.  He repeatedly cursed himself and thought of pursuing his sister and made a solemn promise.  It would not be difficult to make that simple promise.  He didn’t have to be so forthright, if being forthright would mean that his relationship with his sister whom he loved would become more strained.  After all, he would not be lying were he to make a solemn promise, because he truly did not want to harm his nephew.  What would happen in the distance future would be a different matter altogether. 
Constantine was about to race to his sister when he suddenly changed his mind.  Time was not appropriate.  He had just broken his sister’s heart yet again.  It would need some time to heal.  He promised himself to settle the matter at a later day.
At the moment, he had important meeting to attend to.  But Constantine did not go straight to the conference room.  Important though the meeting was, plus the fact that he was already an hour late, he was not yet ready to meet the visitor.  Constantine was rather disturbed with the short conversation that took place with his sister just now.  He sat in his chair for ten minutes or so, cursing himself many times over, and finally tried to calm his mind to get ready for the meeting.

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