“Let me start at the beginning of my tale when I showed mercy. There was never a more traitorous Roman than your grandfather. I could have had his children who were not of my bloodline executed,” Augustus emphasized with a slam of his hand on the tabletop. “But I did not.”
Anxious about the direction the conversation was heading, I suddenly felt lightheaded and could feel the pulse pounding in my neck. I wavered on my feet, trying to maintain balance.
“You look pale,” Augustus commented, feigning concern. “Do you want me to continue?”
What else could I do but agree? My voice cracked. “Please do.”
Augustus leaned back in his chair; his eyes fixated on me. “Of course, I had to consider that Marcus had been married to my sister, Octavia. May she rest in peace. But Marcus betrayed her and his commitment to Rome when he divorced her and married the Egyptian sorceress. Does your blood boil with his betrayal?”
Dumbfounded, I could not answer. My mind continued to wrestle with what I might have done to incite the ruler’s ire. I wiped away the hot sweat dripping down my face.
“Oh, sweet Octavia,” Augustus moaned. “There was not a more faithful and dutiful wife than her. She begged me to spare all of Antonius’s children. I spared your father, Iullus, yet I could not spare his brother, Antyllus. He sealed his fate when he chose to fight alongside his father.”
Augustus lowered his eyes and rubbed his forehead as if trying to calm himself. “Your mother is so like Octavia … a devoted wife and mother, do you not agree?”
I could barely swallow before replying. “Indeed.”
“Surely you have sensed the tension between your parents,” Augustus said, his stare staked on me again.
I only nodded because of the lump forming in my throat.
His eyebrow raised. “Did you not wonder why your father has not returned home?”
A sick feeling churned in my stomach. With my mind focused on obtaining Augustus’s patronage to support my position as a praetor, I had not considered that my father had done something to draw the ruler’s attention. But I could not fathom what it was.
I stumbled for words. “Yes. But … but all married couples have issues at one time or another. Do they not?”
Augustus’s expression softened. “You do not know, do you?”
A sob clutched my throat. I looked away, misty-eyed, so I would not risk humiliating myself by showing weakness. I took a deep breath to compose myself before turning back to Augustus. “Forgive me, sire. Would you enlighten me as to what has happened to my father?”
“Before I do so, you must first answer a question,” he demanded.
“Of course,” I replied, sensing the heat from the ruler’s blazing eyes.
“Do you swear your fealty to me?”
I had enough wits about me to quickly answer him in a stronger voice. “Yes. I swear my utmost loyalty and allegiance to you as my sovereign and patron.”
Augustus gave a slight nod of what appeared to be his approval of my answer. “As a praetor, will you prosecute all traitors and enemies of Rome with utmost vim and vigor?”
“Yes, of course,” I declared. “I swear to serve you honorably. I will prosecute your enemies as if they were my own.”
“I will hold you to that oath, Lucius Antonius,” Augustus replied. “Guards!” he shouted, abruptly rising from his seat.
Panic set in as the two guards rushed toward me, drawing their swords.
“I do not understand. Am I under arrest?” I asked, horrified.
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