Lucius Antonius was shaken to see Marcellus as helpless as a newborn baby as the soldiers carried him on a stretcher into his headquarters. His son’s face was as pallid as the chalk-white cliffs where Lucius had rapidly deployed his troops in preparation for the two-front assault on King Amren’s line of defense. Marrock and Agrona had assured him that his son had not suffered a life-threatening gash to his belly, but he was not so sure. Marcellus was delirious, at times opening his fear-struck eyes and asking, “Where am I?”
A good question, Lucius told himself. Where have I been and how did I get to this point?
The last time Lucius saw his son, he was the epitome of a vital, masculine Roman. Lucius felt a heavy weight in his heart that Marcellus, who had shown so much promise, had fallen to the wiles of a foreign sorceress. He had hoped his son would not claim the ill fate of his forefathers. The memory of Mark Antony—the ultimate soldier’s commander, charismatic and strategic—had been erased from Rome’s history by the act of damnatio memoriae. Iullus Antonius—a poet and shrewd politician—had been branded a traitor for his treasonous adultery with Julia, the married daughter of Emperor Augustus.
No father could have hoped so much for his son as Lucius had for Marcellus. Nevertheless, his son chose the same self-destructive path that had brought his great forefathers down.
Lucius recalled that fateful day, as if it were yesterday when he had to say good-bye to his father, Iullus. How could he have anticipated his father’s precipitous fall from grace?
Iullus had risen to the upper political echelon and was beloved by Rome and Augustus, who treated him more like a son. Lucius’s own mother, Marcella, was the daughter of Augustus’s sister, Octavia. Marcella bore three children with Iullus, Lucius being the eldest. Iullus had always been a dutiful husband and father.
Or so Lucius believed.
As an eighteen-year-old man at the time, Lucius refused to believe the rumors that his father was having an affair with Julia. Tears now formed in his eyes as he recalled escorting his mother to view the corpse. Iullus had been a striking man, but the bluish tint of his corpse would forever haunt Lucius. The wiles of a powerful woman had brought his father down and shattered his own dreams of sharing political fortunes with the imperial power. Banished as a pariah to Gaul, Lucius had suffered for the sins of his forefathers.
And now, to Lucius’s regret, Marcellus had also lost reasoning to a passion for a foreign whore. He couldn’t take the blame for his rebellious, head-strong son foolishly entering King Amren’s den of wolves to be devoured. It was, after all, the king’s daughter who had bewitched Marcellus and lured him to her dangerous shores where he willingly risked his life to save hers. Lucius would never forgive Marcellus for deceiving and betraying him.
And now it had come to this.
He had bartered a deal with a demon to rescue Marcellus. The monstrous-faced Marrock now awaited him outside so that together they could devise the final scheme for destroying King Amren.
Marcellus’s anguished cry, “Father, where am I?” pulled Lucius out of his contemplation. He knelt beside his son, lying restlessly on the cot, and stroked his forehead as he had once done when Marcellus was a little boy and looked up to him as a role model.
“You are safe with me, son,” Lucius said, his hand trembling with mixed emotions of guilt and hate.
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