The Great Game

The Great Game by S. J. A. Turney Read Free Book Online

Book: The Great Game by S. J. A. Turney Read Free Book Online
Authors: S. J. A. Turney
Tags: Historical fiction
Rome has swatted the Quadi and the Marcomanni for the last time.’
    Lucilla straightened and cast a meaningful look at her father.
    ‘Must we endure a blow-by-blow account of legionaries beating barbarians to death, father. I for one have heard enough tales of military prowess in the past year to last me for three lifetimes.’
    The emperor flashed her a sympathetic smile. ‘Indulge me for just a moment longer, daughter. Paternus has ridden a long way in adverse conditions to bring us these great tidings.’
    The prefect bowed curtly once more and opened his mouth to continue, but was suddenly overridden by a hitherto unheard voice:
    ‘Indeed!’
    The two soldiers’ heads jerked to the right at the new speaker. The figure of a tall, athletic man rose from a seat which had been soplaced with its back to the entrance that the occupant had previously gone unnoticed.
    Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius and co-emperor of Rome, strode forth into the brighter light near the couches. The old emperor may have failed to live up to the image formed in Rufinus’ head from the addresses he had made, but Commodus instantly filled the room with his voice and personality, every inch the soldier and orator. His hair and beard, naturally curled like his father’s, shone gold in the light, but this hair framed a face that was tanned and healthy, with a quirky smile and eyes that seemed to contain every bit of the genius of the father.
    Commodus, dressed in the tunic and breeches of an officer, with a sword at his side, though lacking the armour, strode across the room and placed his hands on the back of one of the free couches, leaning forward, his face breaking into a wide grin.
    ‘It has been a cold and forbidding few days, father, filled with the monotony of camp and the wittering of women’ his mischievous eyes wandered across the room and fell on his sister. ‘I long for tales of adventure and bravery, loyalty and strength. Let us hear how good Paternus and his men strangled the barbarian with their boot on his throat.’
    The look of sheer malice that his sister shot him escaped no one in the room, though the young co-emperor, not yet twenty years of age, simply laughed it aside.
    ‘Your sense of humour withers as an olive branch with no water, beloved sister. I fear that if we stay in Vindobona much longer, your face will fall in on itself without a smile to help prop it up!’
    ‘
Enough
!’ snapped Aurelius with a voice that carried boundless authority and gravitas, born of the decades he had both ruled and served the troublesome mistress that was Rome.
    The outburst was delivered so sharply and uncharacteristically that Rufinus had jumped and was relieved beyond measure to note that Paternus had suffered a similar reaction. Commodus nodded his head and turned to his father, a modest expression of contriteness plastered across his features.
    ‘Apologies, father. I fear there is something in the air here that does not agree with me.’
    Lucilla made no attempt to apologise and simply tore her glare from her brother and rested it instead on the two men before them.
    ‘Very well. If we are to listen to the exploits of the army,
riveting
as they are, I would first know who this lowly, hairy, dirty soldier in his sodden cloak is, given how his eyes rest so easily on the fine forms of the ladies of the household.’
    Rufinus started and felt his legs beginning to tremble as he dropped his gaze to the floor.
    ‘Have a heart, sister’ Commodus replied with what sounded like genuine feeling. ‘Can you not see that the man is tired, cold and wounded, no doubt in the defence of our great empire and in the face of the Quadi with their gnashing teeth?’
    Next to him, Rufinus heard Paternus draw in a deep breath. The two men had clearly interrupted the Imperial family at a bad time, with tempers fraying. The argument must have precipitated very quickly, with Lucilla so freshly arrived. Perhaps they should have waited until

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