19 February 2009

Thursday Excerpt: Penny Ash

CAESAR'S MERCY OF LOVE is a joint project between Penny Ash and Jade Morrison featuring drama, excitement, time travel and true love. It's due out in print in early March from Phaze Publishing. Here's an excerpt!

***

Laurentius stared at the gladiators slashing away at each other in the arena below him, bored. All the usual entertainments, the banquets with their dancing girls and acrobats paled. His exotic animals and people from the far reaches of the Empire did nothing to please him. The beautiful spring day was not enjoyable. And even watching the Senators grovel and plot no longer gave him any amusement.

He turned his gaze on those Senators seated nearby. They nervously watched him for any sign of his displeasure being turned on them. Several were probably wondering if their plotting had been discovered. He smiled, a faintly knowing smile, and took note of those who paled and those who didn't. Laurentius missed nothing, not even the slightest hint of subterfuge, those who appeared to have something to hide would be questioned. One never knew when one would turn up an assassination plot or a plan to steal from one.

He stood and the crowd's screaming grew louder. He gave the arena his attention once more. The last gladiator stood expectantly and waited for the signal from Laurentius Caesar. Would the vanquished opponent live or die? Laurentius followed the gladiator's victory turn around the Colosseum, gazing at the crowds of Romans calling for blood. It all bored him beyond imagining. For the first time since his ascending to the throne the Emperor left without giving the signal.

His sister, Silvia, looked startled at his departure. He waved toward her, ignoring his pale, unhappy concubine seated beside her. "I give the vanquished gladiator's fate to you dear sister. See to it," he said in a terse voice and stalked from the box. From the corner of his eye he saw as she stood and turned, giving the signal. Thumbs down as the crowd demanded. For a moment there he's thought Silvia might spare the man. It was certain Tacita would have spared her crude lover. He almost laughed sometimes it was good to be Caesar.

***

Quintus Caesar was in an ill temper. He was sick of the Colosseum games, bored with the politics of Rome and tired of his latest female companion. Like the others before her, she seemed incapable of giving him the one gift he wanted most and now he was faced with a decision. What to do with the lady? He couldn't banish her to the country, for she had not been unfaithful to him. He couldn't accuse her of stifling him because she was not overly demanding of his attention. Indeed, she was so pliant to his wishes as to be nonexistent. Quintus thought a future empress, and mother of heirs to the empire, must have at least a minimum of spirit about her. Now, he was faced with issuing her dismissal from the royal bed, and he wondered if at last, she would show emotion. Sighing heavily, he decided that it didn't really matter. She was not empress material.

Quintus's sexual appetite and excess with women was legendary in Rome. The emperor had bedded enough courtesans to satisfy a hundred men. Yet he was not fulfilled. Worse, he had learned that keeping a past lover at the palace was dangerous. Perhaps he could find Sophia a wealthy husband and all would be well. If she had a husband to occupy her, Quintus wouldn't have to banish her as he had so many of his previous mistresses.

With such thoughts weighing on his mind, he sat sprawled on his throne, chin in hand, steadfastly ignoring the long-winded speeches being served by an endless parade of Roman senators. His fixed scowl challenged anyone to disturb his dark thoughts. No one dare ask Caesar for his endorsement of legislative policies while he was in such a foul mood. Therefore, the senators conducted their business around him, holding their collective tongues on matters that required his approval. Even Caesar's most loyal companions didn't want to risk making him angry.

When the last articles of business had been conducted, and the voice of the people had fell quiet, the emperor broke his silence with an impossible question. "What is next for Rome?"

As one, the senators exchanged worried glances, not at all sure of what Caesar expected of them. In his current mood a wrong answer could prompt a trip to the Colosseum.

"Whatever you wish, your Highness," one quick thinker blurted out nervously.

That brought a brief smile to Quintus's handsome face. "Whatever I wish," he repeated to himself in a whisper, as if savoring the thought. After a moment of deliberation, he lifted his head to impale the politician closest to him with a direct gaze of his hazel eyes.

"I want a war," he said aloud.

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