A Sudden Awakening

by Tarleisio

Lucius had fallen asleep. It had been a long, if delightful, night after some long and rather less delightful days. So, as Astyanax had arranged meetings, handled dispatches and couriers and attended to the petitioners in his office, and people had milled in and out the doors, Lucius, seated on that treacherously comfortable couch, had felt his eyes grow heavier by the minute, and not even the babble of Briton and Latin or the occasional creaks and groans of the armor Arrius’ bodyguards were wearing could keep him awake. The noise faded, his eyes closed, and he nodded off.

What woke him up a short while later was a sudden, dramatic hush. In an instant, the background noise had faded into nothing, the office going all too quiet all too abruptly, and he opened his eyes.

To be punched in the gut by what he saw, and immediately, he was very wide awake.

It was the Emperor. Swathed in a long, embroidered tunic and a thick woolen toga despite the warm day outside, thumping an ebony cane across the floor as he progressed, aided by a slave on the other side and trailed by two more slaves carrying wax tablets, there he stood.

Gods, he was short. Lucius was not much above average height himself, but Severus was far shorter than either his statues or his reputation. But there could be no mistake about his authority or his presence. It literally commanded your attention and noone in Astyanax’ office could look away if they had wanted to.

Lucius suddenly had an irresistible urge to pull up his socks, comb his hair, straighten his tunic, and shout “Ave Imperator!”

A pair of olive-black eyes swept around the room taking everything in, from Astyanax frantically trying to regain his composure, to the many awed people in the office, and even, for a brief breathless moment, to Lucius and his taciturn bodyguards, before they turned back to Astyanax.

“Postumianus is in his office?” Even now, Severus had never lost his accent and that staccato, guttural undertone of Punic.

It was not a question, but even so, Astyanax nearly fell on his face as he fawned.

“Yes, Augustus.”

“And the senior tribune of the XX Victrix, Gaius Arrius Nerva Rufus, is in there with him?”

“Yes, Augustus.”

“Good! I came just in time, then. Open the doors.” Severus stood as straight as the cane, the slave and his gout would allow, and motioned to the two guards who stood there.

They already had their hands on the door latch. Lucius had to suppress a laugh. Such authority! And he was tiny!

“Augustus, if I could just announce you, I’m sure that Postumianus…”

Astyanax never had a chance. Severus merely glared in his direction, and Astyanax withered like a frost-blighted vine. With a flick of his hand, he dismissed the two clerks behind him. The doors opened silently on their hinges, and with immense dignity for such a small frame, Severus walked inside, to what reaction Lucius couldn’t even imagine.

The doors closed with an ominous click, the guards resumed their impervious expression, and Astyanax buried his head in his hands.

Then, the full implications of what had just happened hit Lucius in the gut. Gaius was in there. Carrot. In that office. With the Emperor.