I pause for a moment outside the room. Cool marble surrounds me, comforts me, protects me. Strange I should have this abiding affection for the stone of this building, for this very building itself, when most people consider me to have no emotions at all.
A small breeze ruffles through my clothing, a sweet breath of air in this sweltering spring. My skin is damp, a drop of sweat trickles slowly down my spine, beneath the robes. The heat, my excitement, it doesn't matter, I need to look calm, in control, as ever. I breathe deeply, concentrate on controlling my breaths, even, deep and calm and I gradually feel my speeding heart slow down.
I hear the raised voices, can even pick out some of the speakers, voicing their opinions loudly, no thought as to who might overhear them. Some of them are foolhardy, some are brave and some dangerous. Then there are the clever ones, the ones whose voices sound as the undercurrent of whispers. But I know who they are. I've spent years studying them. I know their strengths and weaknesses, their power and their vulnerability. I understand them and know that they are mine. Body and soul. Regardless of whether they are friends or allies, enemies or adversaries.
I can feel their anticipation.
They know something is going to happen here today.
They just don't appreciate how grand a gesture it will be.
How momentous an action they are about to witness.
I'll forge something greater than the world has ever seen and they'll follow me. Even if I have to force them kicking and screaming all the way, with an army at their backs.
I walk into the room, hear the hush begin to fall as I move slowly down the stairs, murmuring greetings to allies, clasping their arms.
Then I see him, wearing armour as usual, standing with a group of white clad Senators. In such a gathering he stands out. He looks out of place. Politics was never his strong point. Always a warrior. It's what he knows. What he excels at.
Strong and honed. Athletic body, hard against the softness that surrounds him.
He reminds me of a bird of prey.
The aristocratic bearing, the way, despite being several inches shorter than me, he can still manage to give the impression that he's looking down that aquiline nose at me. High cheekbones, the sculptured planes of his face. Piercing brown eyes, yellow flecked in anger and passion. Muted browns and sables, his colours. The colours of a Mediterranean summer. Heat and dust.
He's mine. There's no softness in him.
His wildness though is tamed to my hand. Has been for years. Privately we might fight. I'm sure we will again today. I've done things again that he won't like, won't immediately understand. But he belongs to me. I let him fly free, loose the jesses from him, remove the hood, and set him to seek forth enemies. And like a bird of prey he always returns once the task is done. One day he won't. One day he'll go. Spread his wings and never come back to me or to Rome. I think I'd kill him rather than let him go.
An imperial eagle in amongst a flock of doves.
I walk over to the group. Watch as the white clad figures move, in deference, so that I can face him.
"What's the matter Brutus?"
"Do you have anything to tell me?"
He looks deeply into my eyes for a moment and I see a question there. A need for the truth. Not yet. The moment isn't right. I can't tell him here. Not now. Not in front of the entire Senate. There will be time later for me to explain. Time for him, as always, to understand. To know why I do what I do.
"Tell you? What do you mean?"
I never was all that good at dissembling around him. He knows there is something about to happen. But I trust him. Trust him above all others. The only one I can ever rely on. The one who will do my bidding no matter what. He's been with me throughout my rise. He knows exactly what it cost to put me here. He's sacrificed much, my Brutus. He knows I appreciate what he has done for me. He is the only one who knows the personal cost involved in putting me where I am today. What plots I have hatched, what schemes have come to fruition, the planning undertaken, and the darker side. The blackmail, the threats, murder. The blood on my hands and the darkness in my soul.
But some things are more important.
Rome is the most important thing in the whole world.
This we both know and understand.
"About this.... announcement... you are going to make today?" He sounds .... I don't know. Different. I've never heard quite that tone in his voice before.
"Oh that. Yes, well, at first you probably won't like it, but I plan to persuade you."
I put a little additional emphasis on the word persuade. We both know how he likes to be persuaded and how adept I am at convincing him around to my point of view. At one time, that inflection would have been enough to have brought a blush to his face, sending colour dancing along his cheekbones. Make him lower his eyes from mine lest the heat burn too bright.
Today it's different.
There is no blush. He's white. Colour standing out starkly against the darker armour. He's almost as pale as the robes the senators are wearing. And his eyes, there's something burning within, but not the expected heat and warmth. They blaze but with an icy coldness I've never witnessed there.
"Are you ready for your trip to Gaul?" I try to change to subject but it sounds clumsy even to my own ears.
He meets my eyes once more, the iciness fades for a second, and I see something looking out. A forlorn hope? A desperate pleading? Then it's gone.
"I'll be ready."
Brutus all over. Give him an order and he'll jump to obey. Never questions or argues, in public at least. It makes him my most valued commander. But there is a threat in those words. An implacable hardness to his tone. It means the subject is not dismissed. Not as far as he is concerned. He's letting me know privately, that whilst he might seem to be acquiescing to my command, he isn't quite finished yet. It's going to be a long night.
I nod once, briefly, acknowledging his response, and letting him know that I understand.
I turn and walk slowly back across the room, to the base of the stairs. Ascend the short flight again. It puts me on a level above the Senators. My head above theirs as is only proper. They have to peer into the bright sunlight to see me. I've chosen this position well to begin my announcement. I turn to face them and raise my voice.
"Good senators, patriots of Rome. Your attention please. I have an important announcement to make."
Slow, measured, I speak in a rhythmic cadence. Knowing my voice carries, reaching all corners of the room. Silence, as the last few muted whispers fade. I start to walk slowly down the steps again.
"To quell civil unrest I have decided to make an important change to our government."
I hear a few hissed indrawn breaths.
"I must supply the leadership so desperately needed....."
I can sense them moving around me. Surrounding me. Some of them have guessed. Allies or foes?
The day is mine.
"On this day, the 15th of March, I declare myself..."
A rustle of movement, soft whisper of robes.
An arm grasps my shoulder and then unimaginable pain, white hot lancing along nerves as a sword is driven into my back.
Surprise robs me of breath. I struggle to inhale, past the heat that clutches at me.
Not a killing blow.
I can survive this. I have survived worse, much worse.
Then another arm grasps me. More pain. Another sword sinking into the unprotected flesh my back.
Brutus? Where are you?
I gasp, against the rising tide of pain.
Struggle to remain on my feet. Strive to remember who might have been behind me. Marcus, Brutus and Cassius. Who else?
Where is he? I need him!
I feel the blood.
Feel it running down my back, running from those two wounds.
Then I see them. See them circling like wolves. But not as brave as wolves. Not my Senators. Oh no. More like a pack of wild dogs.
But even dogs have leaders. Only a few. One after another the least cowardly ones approach. Unhurriedly they approach.
Time seems to slow.
They walk towards me slowly, arms embracing me almost in a platonic gesture. One after another they plunge their swords in my unprotected body.
I feel the blades sheath themselves in my flesh. Feel skin tear, muscle rip.
After each thrust I see a Senator step back, his white robes decorated with bloody patches of scarlet, his hands dyed red with my life force. And his place is taken by another.
Cinna, Casca, Metullus, Decius, Trebonius.
First among the brave. The dog pack of the Roman Senate.
More blood spills.
Running down my chest and hips. Hot and wet, sickly sweet the metallic smell of corruption surrounds me. The smell of my own death. The ruin of my dreams.
I force my jaws closed against the bile that rises in my throat. I won't scream before them. Won't beg for my life.
My robes are ripped, drenched in blood. It spills across the mosaics of the floor. Staining the tiles. I wonder whether they will ever be able to remove the signs of my death from this floor. Maybe I will leave a lasting impression on Rome after all.
A bitter laugh tries to twist from my lungs, but it hurts. Hurts too much to release it. Burning, aching agony. But I won't die on my knees. Won't die gasping for my last breath, sobbing in pain. First and foremost, above all, I am Caesar.
Then I realise there are no more.
I force myself to straighten.
Impel shaking muscles to hold me upright for a little longer.
Raise my head.
There was never any doubt whose eyes I would meet when I manage to look up again.
Brown eyes stare into mine. He sees the wounds. Knows as I do that there is no recovering from this.
I'm dead already. I know that, my mind knows that. My body just refuses to accept it yet.
I suppose we both knew it would eventually come to this. Finally it would have to be me or him. Would I have killed him? Of course I would. For Rome I'd risk anything, do anything. I have done more and far worse. My hands and soul are bathed in blood. I've killed enemies, allies, friends and lovers. Why should Brutus have been different?
I want to be able to stand straight and proud before him, but the pain is too great. I can't quite make it upright.
"And you..... Brutus?"
I know the words cut at him. I intend them to. Why should I make it easy for him? My killer, my murderer, my oldest friend and my truest lover.
He steps forwards, only four or five paces. Resplendent in the imperial armour, breastplate gleaming in the light, black bearskin slung over one shoulder. Strange the things you remember when you know you're dying. The night we took that skin flashes into mind again. We'd hunted that bear together, and it was my sword thrust that killed it, just as it was about to tear Brutus' throat out. He still carries the scars of that attack high across one shoulder.
Now, now he has come for me.
The final blow is to be his.
He stands in front of me, barely a handsbreath separates us.
He wraps his arm around my back, steadying me and bracing himself. Odd how a traitor's hug can feel like a lover's embrace.
Then, with his right hand, he plunges his blade deep. Angling the sword and twisting, he jerks it upwards and flesh tears, bones grate against the blade. Blood gushes between us, hot and sticky, sweet and wet, it drenches my robes and covers his hand. My breath is driven out in a harsh grasp by the force of his blow, my left arm circling round his back, pulling his body nearer to mine. My chin rests on his shoulder, his hair tickles my face and I'm tempted to turn my head, hide against the softness of his neck. Let the world fade whilst I cling to him. But the end can't be that easy for either of us.
His breath hot against my ear. Unexpected whispered words. Just for me and him.
"I'm sorry, Caesar. Forgive me."
I hear the sorrow and sadness then. Know what it cost him to plot against me. What it has done to him to speak those last words. I'd like to be able to forgive him, but I can't speak. Too much pain, too much broken and twisted inside.
You did your job too well Brutus. I can't absolve you of this.
The last thing I feel is the warmth of his embrace. The strength of his arm holding me close to him, pressing us chest to chest, as he has so often before. The scent of him surrounds me. As intoxicating as ever, cypress and sandalwood, seeking to drive out the metallic sweetness of blood and death. I don't feel him jerk the sword free, push my body away.
I do see the bitter twist to his mouth as I fall to the floor.
For once in his life he can stand above me.