The palace air was tinged with excitement, its golden tendrils drifting casually among the marble pillars. Senators convened in corners and balconies, stubby fingers pinching grapes, apples, and pomegranates. Floating among the halls was the sound of a lute player practicing, her golden hair a mark of territorial interests, her soft voice crooning the language of conquest. But she was drowned out by the noises of lovers and friends, their soft whispers mixing with the smoke from the temples and the smooth swinging of women’s skirts.
Taking in this scene, how must the Emperor have felt? He must have felt at least a little of what Alexander did, gazing upon the lands that had fallen to his extraordinary capabilities. In his hand, the Emperor held a golden cup engraved with images of his ascendance to the throne, and upon his head rested a crown of golden laurels, the mark of a god walking among man. Within his heart were great hopes and high expectations, eclipsing even those of the men who had come before him.
He was a man on the cusp of greatness, his name waiting for the most precious gift man can bestow: immortality in the memory of mortals.
But as the historians dipped their quills in ink, and the women spun the tales that would soon become fact, a bit of dust landed on the scale of time. This little fragment, broken from the cliffside of chance, was enough to shift the balance. Like a tsunami, sweeping away the spoils of a city with swift, sudden severity, this change would leave bodies littered on once idyllic shorelines.
As the sun arose over the seven hills, the centurions found a sleeping Emperor. As the sun set over the empire, the Senators found a country in chaos. Heirs and honest men conspired to prop up a falling pillar and watched all their prophecies disappear on the lips of a man without the strength to move his head. Historians gathered up their scrolls, readied their gray ash and quills, and the women covered up their fair hair, the jewels around their necks in shades that were muted and sombre.
No one thought he would wake.
But when he did, he was not the same. When a man sees Hades and still returns to the ones he loves, he bears a mark upon his soul. Like a tree struck by lightning, what had once stood tall was now charred and weak. The darkness in his eyes made once-boisterous Senators turn silent, the coldness in his touch made once-flirtatious women turn serious. The people that had once adored him now erected effigies of his likeness to burn.
They were right to fear, all of them. For the immortality the Emperor had hoped for would come, but not in the form of praise justly earned. No, for he would be remembered as one remembers a plague; with consternation, with sorrow, with memories of hopelessness, and most of all, with a desire for retribution that can never be exacted. He would be remembered for all the tears he drew from the city of Rome, a man who been given unchecked power and lost his senses in the space of six months. His name was Caligula, and his reign had just begun.