THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

The Star

I am Augustus. I am emperor of the entire world.

My given name was Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, but 27 years ago I took the name Augustus, “the exalted one,” when I became Rome’s first emperor. It is only fitting, Julius was a great and wise leader, but he left much undone. I carry his name as my birthright, but I am Augustus, the exalted one.

Now I am emperor of the world. Now Rome is the city to which all roads must lead, for I have given it life. I have created, from the ashes of the Republic, an empire. Look around me, can you not see the evidence of my greatness? My empire now encompasses Gaul, and Spain. I have brought Pannonia and Dalmatia into my circle, and Greece is my vacation suite. In the fall, I picnic under the shadows of the pyramids of Egypt, while the ghosts of pharaohs who merely dreamed of an empire such mine weep in joy at my presence. In the summer, I ride through the foothills of Germania, and the barbarians there temple at the sound of my chariot approaching.

Tonight I stand on my balcony, overlooking the city. It is a clear, cool night and the stars are bright. Beside me, Cicero pants contentedly as I scratch the fur behind his ear, careful to avoid the sharp spikes on his collar.

I am Augustus, Emperor of Rome. By the might of my armies, I overthrew that scoundrel Mark Antony, a century of civil war melted into peace under my wise, guiding hand. He himself, the great Mark Antony, saw my greatness and became my ally, and together we forged this empire. Now Antony is gone, locked in eternal embrace with his love, Cleopatra, and I alone am ruler of the world.

Is it not just? Is it not fitting that I, Caesar Augustus, should stand at the forefront of a greater Rome? Look what I have achieved! My government is honest and fair. Our harbors are the envy of every port along the Mediterranean. We have colonies in the most remote parts of the world, and the roads I have built connect all of Rome to my palaces.

I look at the stars tonight, and I see Mercury and Jupiter smiling down upon me. I give silent thanks to them and the other gods for the greatness they have bestowed upon me. There in the heavens, they shine as the glory of the empire…reminding me of the glint of the sun on the edge of a sword. Cicero, now content, lies flat and dozes. One white fang pokes from beneath his lip in his slumber, and he whines and huffs, and I am sure he is dreaming of chasing barbarians in the lush forests of Germania.

I am Augustus, First Citizen. Now the lands and the barbarians that I have embraced are my subjects, and I have brought them civilization. I have brought them the virtues of Rome: My highways link their puny towns, I educate their children and I provide all the gratuities of Roman citizenship to those who I have brought into the empire. And in exchange for all that I have given, I ask little. Taxes are a minor recompense for the glory I have brought the world, and I expect all to pay them happily, so that my work may continue.

Therefore I have decreed that all the world shall pay tribute to me, Augustus, First Citizen, and I promise the gold they provide will reciprocate a thousand-fold across the empire. Throughout the world it has been cried, from Britain to Judaea, Augustus has demanded it and it shall be done.

Today I presided over the games. Bedecked in my finest royal robes, I sat in my place in the Coliseum as the gladiators clashed. A particularly tall one, from Gaul, was my favorite of the day. His first opponent was a barbarian from Spain, but the poor devil was dispatched with such ease that the crowds booed the champion soundly. The second put up a much better show: He was from some part of the world I do not recall, captured in our last campaigns and taught to fight as a gladiator, given the pride of serving Rome. He fought well, but in the end, his blood stained the arena floor. The cheers were deafening.

The hour is late. I am weary. I stand, taking one last longing look at the sky, and pray a silent prayer to my gods as I do each night, beseeching them for continued wisdom and strength. I am just turning away when my catches something new, a bright spot among the others. I stop, stare at it. It grows brighter and brighter until soon it is the brightest thing in the sky.

Cicero awakens and growls. He rises, moves over to the balcony rail and growls again. What does he sense? What phenomenon is this that suddenly lights up the sky like a beacon to a lost seafarer?

Then Cicero whines, and he bows his head in silence.

I turn away and go to my bed. I snuff the candles and lamps and rest my head on the feather pillows. But I am restless now, sleep elusive.

When I open my eyes, through the curtains and in the mirrors of my chambers, the light of this new star overwhelms, conquers every lamp and candle.

I am Augustus. I am emperor of the world.

I repeat it to myself, as if the words will bring me some solace, relief from this unexplained dread. Something is different. Something has changed.

I am Augustus, I say to myself.

I am emperor of the world…

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