Part 4. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – Livius in a Storm

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The storm hung suspended above the earth, growling, flashing in livid white from black clouds ready to burst as night came.

Livius walked along through the encampment, glad for the early darkness over the face of the world. The soldiery, auxiliaries, the wings, the visiting dignitaries were all withdrawn to their quarters. Pale lights glowed across the castra, but Livius kept himself to the shadows.

He could not remember ever having felt so lonely, so abandoned. he felt the hot flush of shame crawl across his face, even in the chill wind. The emperor had silently rebuked him before the whole Northern Army, and gods knew he deserved it.

Lightening flared, but he strode on, wincing against its fire, but not slowing, not seeking shelter. The gods hadn’t yet created a storm to match the one going on inside himself.

How in the name of the gods had the good Aurelius ever considered him capable of administering the affairs of the civilized world? And worse, how could he even secretly have tried on that purple toga for size? What a stupid fool to imagine himself ready in the least way to replace the godly Aurelius. What did he know of the troubles of the empire, the commerce, the industry, the treasury, the building, the political dealings with the senate and the magistrates of all the provinces? He was no statesman, only a soldier, and he had proved to the world today, not even a very disciplined one. He walked faster, as if trying to escape his own hounding thoughts. He heard the sentinels on duty, but he moved past without glancing toward them. He heard the enlisted men off duty yelling and arguing, perhaps drunk on their sour wine. He did not slow his steps. He found a broken javelin. He paused, knelt, picked it up and walked again, holding it in his fist. It seemed to him this weapon was itself a symbol of the men who made the Roman army great. Marius had joined the metal point of the javelin to the shaft with a wooden pin that snapped when the hurled javelin struck; Julius Caesar had made the head, except for the point, of soft iron that bent on impact of a blow. Javelins used by Roman soldiers could never be used against them. These men had made such inspiring contributions to the army and the profession of warfare. What had he done?

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He swore back at the raging thunder. Much about the present day army distressed him, but he had no answers. It seemed to him the centurions had too much responsibility and authority, and they abused it. Still, Julius Caesar had taught that the centurion was responsible for discipline, and you could not weaken their power over their men. But sometimes the brutality and immorality of these petty officers sickened him. He had seen men flogged almost to death for misdemeanors. Men of the ranks had to bribe the centurions to avoid floggings, avoid extra duties, to get any privileges. Centurions had come to count on bribes as part of their income. and some of them became inhumanly cruel and vicious. He had no answers even for such a minor, yet far-reaching problem. He had been a fool to consider for one drunken moment the possibility of his becoming Caesar of the empire. The gods forgive him.

Livius flung his head back, staring at the storm-riven sky, needing to be purged of ambition,  vanity.

A metallic flash of lightening suddenly stood the encampment watchtower in stark relief against storm-torn sky.

Livius, gazing at the structure, caught his breath. At first he thought it was a hallucination, a need for his own anguished mind in his loneliness. Lucilla stood alone on the lower platform, as alone as he in the night storm.

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Part 3. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – A Barbarian Who Thinks

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“You’ve been too much at Rome, Commodus. You— should be more with your father.”

Commodus roared. “Will you tell me how I must live? Must I try to live as you do? Like a pupil, drinking in every word of my illustrious father’s? Live you do!” His voice was hoarse. “Oh, I’ve heard all the rumors. Why Father has gathered everyone here…Why you were at his side.” His voice broke suddenly, his mouth twisting. He shook his head. “No…No, Livius, don’t let it come from you….I need you as my friend. Don’t tell me any more…I don’t want to hear it.”

In the pregnant silence, Livius sighed, deeply moved. “I am your friend, Commodus.”

Commodus stared at him, his mouth pulled petulantly, for a long time. Suddenly then, he shook off his thoughts and heeled around, staring at Xenia.

“Ah, Princess,” he said. “You boast that you are a nation of warriors…Well, then, warrior, every solider knows that sometimes his side loses–and he becomes part of the spoils of war –even a princess becomes a slave. to be used as the master wishes.” When she did not move, he shouted at her. “Do you hear me? You are lost. You are prisoners of war.” He stood up. “Come here to me.”

Xenia did not move. There was no way to tell from her expressionless face even if she heard him at all. His voice rose. “Come! Drink with me. You may as well accept that you are lost. You may as well relax.” He laughed. “You may as well enjoy it. Wine will help you put a brighter edge on everything–Drink!”

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When the slender young girl still did not move, he went around the table to her.

He knelt, offered the beaker of wine, but she turned her head away, stiffly.

Commodus caught her head in his hand, tried to pour the wine down her mouth. It ran trickling across her lips, filling her nostrils, discoloring her cheeks.

Suddenly, gasping, she struck at him savagely, spilling the beaker of wine all over him.

Commodus yelled at her, like a child in a tantrum. “I am sill Caesar’s son! Do you understand? I could have you burned alive.”

Commodus slapped at the droplets of wine splattered upon his clothing. His eyes were wild, fixed on her, his mind churning with the indignities that would degrade her, show her the depths a woman could reach when she fought him.

Suddenly he realized that Livius was watching him silently, shocked by his lack of self-control.

Commodus, trembling, managed to get hold of his emotions. He moved to gaze over Xenia’s body and then turned slowly to face Livius.

His voice was casual. “I don’t want this one after all, Livius. I thought I did. She rouses me more to rage than to passion and–that doesn’t fit my mood tonight.” He jerked his head toward Tauna. “I’ll trade you – even before I’ve used the princess at all…This little blonde animal quivering like a frightened animal is more for me.”

Livius nodded. “Take Tauna then, Commodus. She’s yours.”

Commodus stared at Livius another moment. Then he walked to Tauna and grabbed her. She bit her lip, but did not cry out. She was quivering and kept her eyes closed. Pleased, Commodus knelt, swung her easily up into his arms and strode out of the room into his quarters.

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Livius was shaken. It was as if Commodus were full of hatred and his only satisfaction came from venting it upon the helpless.

Livius took a long drink of wine, but it was tasteless, less than water. He was troubled, wondering if he would remain cold, and beyond the touch of wine for the rest of his life.

Xenia stirred slightly across the table and, remembering her, he turned, looking at her. he said gently, almost teasing. “Is it true, girl, as Commodus fears – that you think?”

She got slowly to her feet, came around the table to him, knelt between his knees, mouth parted, looking up, pale, as if waiting.

Livius did not touch her. He drew his tongue across his dry mouth, seeing the way she trembled before him, waiting, and he remembered this morning when Marcus planned with Lucilla to give her in a marriage-alliance to Sohamus of Armenia. The only woman he had ever loved; he had feared all his life that he would never marry her, now his fear was grounded, and he would not.  What else mattered? Perhaps Commodus was partly right. If only he could hear the gods laughing as Commodus did. Perhaps this girl’s kiss might waken him, and make him forget for a little while.

Throat taut, he lifted his hands, cupped them over Xenia’s ears. He turned her pallid face up, holding her with more force than he realized, but she did not protest.

“A warrior who thinks?” he said. “You’re a fool–that’s what you are–just as I am a fool to forget I’m only a solider, and trying to think. What will it get us? Where?”  He shook his head. “But I will not threaten to burn you alive–just for your crime of thinking.” His mouth twisted. “I will offer you a more generous treaty of peace. A treaty of peace. Rome and the barbarian who thinks.” His hands tightened on her head. Her eyes searched his face, shadowed, in fear and misunderstanding. Cruelty she could understand, the force of his hands, the use of her body, all this she understood–but the tone and quality of his voice troubled and frightened her. She drew her tongue across her parted mouth, trying to move closer to him, waiting.

Suddenly Livius got to his feet. Xenia fell back, eyes wide. Livius stepped over her and walked past the guard, going out of the tent. Xenia stared after him, bewildered and chilled.

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Part 2. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – What is Rome?

Excerpts from THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE Novel by Harry Whittington

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There was a silence in Commodus’ quarters that had nothing to do with noise. The sound of laughter, the tones of voices, the clatter of dinnerware did nothing against the din of silence. It seemed to Livius this terrible quiet was concentrated in him, the noises in the room did not touch him, and were absorbed in the static silence.

He glanced toward Commodus, lounging at the table, eating and drinking heartily. If there was silence or tension, he saw that Commodus was unaware of it.

The table before them was loaded with food such as Livius had not seen since his last state banquet, and wine by the flagonfuls.

At the foot of the table, neither of them touching the rich foodstuffs, the two blonde girl prisoners crouched, more like animals than women.

Tauna was disheveled, her animal-skin garment falling from her shoulders across her breasts. Her long blonde hair was matted, reminding Livius of the main of a wild horse he had seen once, imprisoned, burr-clogged.

The Princess Xenia was something else again. While Tauna was uneasy, troubled by the oil-lamp lights, the rich texture of the furnishings, the quantity and odors of strange foods, twisting, watching with awed fascination every move was made. Xenia seemed as if in catatonic trance.

Xenia’s blue eyes were dull, vacant, fixed on thoughts inside herself. Wild as she was, she had more imagination than Tauna. She knew why she had been brought here, and she gazed with deep loathing upon Commodus because she was intelligent enough to see cruelty was the kind of passion that excited him, and he would get the most sensual pleasure from debasing her since she was barbarian royalty.

Her long blonde hair gleamed in the lights, catching shafts of silver when flames flickered, but tresses fell across her face and throat, unnoticed by her and she did not even  brush them away.

Livius watched her, seeing that it was from her that this tension and silence emanated, like some mysterious aura that flooded the room. Nothing could reach her, and because of her, and because of things left unspoken, the atmosphere between him and Commodus was increasingly charged and tense.

Commodus spoke with his mouth full. “You are very silent, Livius.”

Livius wanted only to avoid the unpleasantness he saw was ahead. He had tried to get drunk, he had put away more wine than Commodus had, but it didn’t affect his senses. Steadily he became colder, more sober and aware, sensitive to every change in the brightly lighted room.

He said, placating Commodus, “Perhaps I’ve been a solider too long.”

“No. Perhaps it’s just because you don’t like the things I say- what I just said, and, ” he spoked deliberately,”what I now repeat. The Roman empire has no real meaning.” He smiled, pleased, when Livius leaned forward, cold and rigid. “If there is any logic anywhere, Livius, what Haven’t our provinces rebelled long ago?”

“Because they are not fools. Before we came to them, most of them were savages.” Unconsciously, he jerked his head toward the terrified Tauna, cringing at the tension in their voices, following each movement of their hands or heads. “We’ve brought them roads. We’ve brought them law. We’ve –”

“That was centuries ago, Livius, ” Commodus said wearily. “But now – they could build their own roads, and make their own laws, much cheaper. Why should they pay us taxes and tributes? Who are we?”

Tauna, trembling, set herself and sprinted toward the door. A guard stepped into her path, caught her roughly, and pushed her back to her place near Xenia. Her princess did not look at her, and neither Commodus nor Livius gave Tauna or the guard a glance.

“We are Rome, “Livius said.

“Rome!” Commodus laughed. “A myth holds the empire together! The truth is the provinces no longer need us. Only we never let the colonies suspect it. My father strides about, the great image of a god-like father, going about doing good for all, for them and for Romans, brining their leaders to state functions like this – or to Rome itself – dazzling them with games and banquets…and then if they still seem suspicious – crush them.”

“No. The more you talk, Commodus, the more I see your father is right. Crushing them, taxing their strength away – that’s not the sane answer. We must find new ways …change–”

“My father!” Commodus sat forward, shaken by sudden cold fury. “He is always talking about change- learning to love and understand even those who harm us! That is the one thing we must not do – change. As a matter of fact, we in Rome as living far beyond our means. If we stop, our creditors would tear us to pieces. No, no, Livius – what’s the saying? — live while there’s still light. Let’s laugh while the gods are laughing.”

Livius’ face was gray. “I don’t hear the gods laughing, Commodus.”

Commodus held his gave, their eyes clashing. They faced each other. Commodus’ cheeks were pallid. “We’re not saying everything we know, friend Livius…Something weighs on you. What is it?”

Livius was as pale as Commodus, but he did not speak. Tauna whimpered in the thick silence. Commodus shouted, “Well?”

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Part 1. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – Barbarian Women

Excerpts from THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE Novel by Harry Whittington

 

I am going to focus on the Livius and Princess Xenia scenes. This side story was unfortunately edited from the movie version. I will share the best excepts from this novel on my blog, starting with this one. Lena Von Martens would have played this character in the movie. Due to editing time constraints her character (Helva) was given a much reduced screen time. In the original story, this barbarian Princess has an affair with Livius while he is patrolling the Northern Frontier. This story also focuses on the Germanic tribes and how Livius and Timonides try to incorporate them into the Roman way of life. Livius’s love affair with Xenia epitomizes this effort, romantically speaking.

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Tauna and Princess Xenia of the Marcomanni Tribe

Slightly on edge, Livius said. “There’s much for a Roman to think about these days, Commodus.”

Commodus laughed, but did not speak and they moved past the praetorium to the quaestorium behind it where was housed the quarters of the paymaster, and the prisoner’s pit.

Walking, Commodus glanced idly into the pit at the barbarian prisoners. Among them were blonde, blue eyed women and children, the Marcomanni. All about them war loot was piled high, arms, shields, helmets.

Commodus moved on, then slowed, looked intently at the two young blonde girls chained to stakes in the pit. Something about the debased position of the two women, bound and helpless, struck at Commodus, and he felt a quickening inside him. He seldom got enjoyment from ordinary pleasures any more, but when his object was helpless, or full of hatred, or fear, or rage, like the wild beasts in the arena, ah, then this was something else.

One of the girls straightened against the stake, standing as tall as she could. Her blue eyes were glacier-chilled, fixed on Commodus and Livius outside the barrier. The girl tilted her head, crying out defiantly, straight at them, but not speaking to them at all. “Oh, great god Wotan! God of the warriors…Today we have nothing to offer you.” She spat towards the prince and the tribune. “Tomorrow – your altar will be decorated with Roman heads!”

She pointed directly at Commodus and Livius. Commodus watched her, licking his mouth with anticipation.

“What are they like- these barbarian women? he said.

“I don’t know, ” Livius said.

Commodus laughed not believing him. “Shall we find out?” He took a drink from the wineskin, extending it, laughing, toward the two girls.

When Livius hesitated, Commodus spoke irritably, “What’s the matter? Have you lost your taste for that , too?”

Livius turned slightly, glancing back toward the praetorium in the sweated heat. A bitter shadow crossed his face. He took the wineskin from Commodus, drank deeply. He flung the wineskin from hi, emptied. Commodus smiled approvingly. The two barbarian girls stood straight against the stake, staring at them, eyes burning.

Commodus shouted: “Guard!”

A guard came running, his sandals battering the hard ground. Commodus pointed to the two women.”Bring them to us.”

The guard hesitated.

Commodus jerked his head around. “Well?”

“One of them, Highness, is – a princess.” “A barbarian princess!”

Commodus laughed. “So much better. Which one?”

The guard indicated the girl who had shouted defiantly. “The Princess Xenia, Highness. The other his her handmaid, Tauna.”

“Fine.” Commodus nodded. “Bring them to my quarters. Now.”

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