Today's Reading

"I will take your law with me," Geta said, "but I must warn you, Licinius does not favor those Christian vermin you adore so much."

"Vermin?" How dare he offer such an insult. This man knows I am a Christian too!

My hand fell to the pommel of the sword on my hip. Everything in me wanted to draw it... swing it around... sever this fool's head and hang it from a branch by its blond braid. My body knew exactly what to do after so many years of combat. It would be easy. Every fiber of my being cried out to do it.

But I refrained.

Why did I hold back? Out of Christian mercy, like before? Perhaps. Yet I also knew I wasn't prepared for war right now. My legion—a force plenty big enough to defeat the Sarmatians yet not capable of resisting Licinius's army should it close around us because of a diplomatic affront—was out here on the frontier. To slay this imperial legate, this illegitimate son of the eastern augustus, would be to slay myself as well. Licinius would have just cause to attack. I would be captured and killed.

And so I released the hilt of my sword.

Even so, I didn't back down from arrogant Geta. I stepped toward him and was gratified to see him give way to my advance. I glared at him with all the disdain I could muster. He was a tall man, but so was I, and our eyes were even. "You will take that decree to my brother-in-law," I told him fiercely, "and he will enforce it, or there will be hell to pay." My statement pleased me, for it had a double meaning. God would punish Licinius's persecution of Christians with blades in this world and fire in the next.

To his credit, Geta didn't answer with a meek reply. Instead, he said, "When I return to Hadrianopolis with this law, my lord shall spit upon it."

I could no longer hold myself back. My hand whipped out my sword in a move so quick that my bodyguards had no time to react. The tip of my blade was under Geta's chin, pressing a dimple in his throat, though not drawing blood.

"Know this, spawn of Licinius," I growled as I stared into Geta's blue eyes. "I am the only lord who matters here. Now get out of my sight, lest I send you back to your father limping in both of your legs!"

Geta grimaced and took a step back, then returned to his boat. Only after the craft had eased into the water did I shove my sword back in its scabbard and turn away from my illegitimate nephew who had dared to challenge my reign.

"Will it be war?" the prefect asked as we left the riverbank.

"Iacta alea est."

The prefect glanced sideways at me. "I only know Greek, my lord."

"Those were the words of Julius Caesar when he started a civil war. The die is cast. And so it is once again."


March 324

Even after seven years of marriage, Flavia's heart still leapt when Rex came home. He was a tall man with a purposeful walk, so the sound of his footfall was distinctive in the hallway outside. And he had a way of always bursting into their apartment with a commotion that Flavia found endearing. That was who Rex was: a big, rowdy bundle of zest and energy. Flavia delighted to welcome him into every part of her life.

"I've got lake perch!" he exclaimed as he barged through the door, holding out the purchase he had made at the thermopolium, where hot food was served. The flaky white fish was wrapped in palm leaves to keep it warm. Olive oil dripped from it onto the recently mopped floor, a minor mess that Rex hadn't noticed in his enthusiasm for the evening meal. Flavia placed the fish on a wooden platter and made a mental note to clean the spill later.

She kissed Rex on the lips—not passionately, for it was not yet time to stir those flames—but sweetly and with genuine affection. As she turned to take the fish to the kitchen area of the apartment, she felt a playful pinch on her bottom. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Rex's bearded face grinning back at her. He was thirty years old now, and truth be told, even better looking than when she met him at eighteen. Back then, he was just a boy. Now he was a good and godly man—a fine husband and provider. She winked at him, acknowledging his playful flirtation. "Let's eat on the balcony," she suggested. "Go out, and I'll bring the dinner in a moment."

"Good idea," Rex agreed. "It's another beautiful day in Aegyptus."

Flavia divided the fish onto two ceramic dishes and sprinkled the fillets with fennel and sea salt. Next to them, she arranged some pieces of flatbread slathered with hummus. A handful of dates would add sweetness to the meal, while a few olives would counter it with salt. And of course, Flavia opened a jar of beer and inserted two straws. It was one of Rex's favorite aspects of living in Aegyptus: the people here made beer like back in his homeland of Germania. Nobody wanted to drink the infectious water of the Nilus. The Aegyptian beer was made with emmer wheat, yielding a hearty and nutritious brew. Since a sludge floated on top, the straws helped the drinkers reach the fluid below, creating a sociable, communal experience. Though Flavia had been raised as an Italian wine drinker, she had come to enjoy sharing a jar of beer with Rex at the end of a long day.

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