Blinded By Paradise

Blinded By Paradise

by Christopher Rimare

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Overview

Emperor Hadrian's personal motives are spurring him to become the most accomplished, talented, and controversial Roman emperor ever. As he rises to power through external, secretive machinations, Hadrian is driven by a lust for accomplishment and a search for provocative male companionship.

Hadrian embarks on an epic journey across the vast expanse of his empire, encountering inspiring legends and unsuspecting dangers along the way.

As his physical odyssey turns into a quest of self-discovery, he opens himself up to the ancient Mysteries of Eleusis, creates the architectural masterpiece of the Pantheon, and discovers love in an unexpected place.

As Hadrian immerses himself in an enduring love affair with Antinous, a handsome and alluring young Greek man, their relationship acts as a catalyst that pushes Hadrian's dream of spiritually inspiring his populace to the forefront-though in ways the emperor never could have imagined.

Blinded by Paradise is an intimate portrayal of a larger-than-life emperor suddenly faced with a life-altering decision to pursue either the beautiful realms of the Elysian Fields or the violent depths of Hell.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450256926
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/07/2010
Pages: 279
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

First Chapter

Blinded by Paradise

The Rise and Fall of Hadrian
By Christopher Rimare

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Christopher Rimare
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-5692-6


Chapter One

THE SHACKLED CROCODILE

Augustus 6–8 Twentieth Year of Trajan's Reign

A pair of hands soon to be fifty years old took a goose-feathered quill from across a table and dipped it into an inkwell before entrusting the quill to a more youthful set of hands. A left forefinger from the older pair of hands uncurled and pointed to a spot on a sheet of vellum parchment. "Begin here," said the woman as two olive-colored eyes locked onto a young man seated before her.

As the boy drew the quill across the vellum, the woman's left hand twitched at her side, as if she were writing out the words herself. Her right hand, however, remained clasped behind her, fingernails imbedded in her palm. That was, until both of her hands lurched on top of his and she shouted out, "Stop!"

"No. Let's start again. The letters shouldn't be so secure. They should look as if they have some—hesitancy—about them."

And so the woman grabbed the aborted sheet and set it aflame, letting it burn down to her fingertips. Then she took another parchment and placed it in front of the servant. Although this new sheet was as yet unsullied, her left hand pointed to precisely the same spot as before. "Begin here," she commanded.

The servant's hand scarcely got beyond copying the second line of text when the woman blurted out, "Better! But your spacing between the words is too rhythmical. It should be very measured in one pairing, yet spurious in another. Yes? So, again."

"Ma'am, if I may?" asked the man with a hint of growth on his chin, gesturing to the document from which he was copying. "What is wrong with the original? Your penmanship is impeccable."

"I appreciate the compliment," replied the woman in a patronizing tone, though she quickly masked any further edge to her voice by adding in a tempered manner, "It's because it is impeccable that it won't do. Not for this task." Then the woman leaned over and brushed her lips against the back of the boy's hands as she continued on, "No, this is one of those times when only a man's hand will do. So we are depending, nay, expecting your hands to more than rise to the occasion."

The young man's knees quivered as the woman's lips lingered on his hands. It was only after she withdrew her mouth that he was able to regain his focus.

When the woman saw the servant dip his quill into the inkwell and attack the vellum with vigor, she concealed a grimace as best she could.

And so they tried. Again and again. And each time they progressed a little further, though never to a conclusion.

On the fifth attempt, as the woman was using a discarded sheet to light the candles surrounding her desk, the boy sputtered out in frustration, "Ma'am? We started when the sun was still in the horizon. Yet here we are, in need of our own light now. How many times are we going to try this?"

The woman was offended by the inappropriateness of his question. "Until you get it right!" she snapped back.

It was only on the seventh attempt that the young man was able to make it to the last of the words. And as he wrote out those final characters, the woman sneaked behind him and slipped her left hand beneath his tunic. She felt for his right breast, pressed her fingers into his tendons, and released her hold only after he completed the last stroke of his quill. Then she kissed him on the nape of the neck and whispered out in Gallic, "Beautiful."

She pulled her hand from beneath his shirt and rolled the vellum up into a tight tube. Still behind him, she reached for the nearest candle and motioned for the young man to take it. Then she wrapped her right hand over his and guided him as he slowly turned the flickering white candle, letting its hot wax drip down onto the seam of the shaft of paper.

The young man eyed the congealing wax with a sense of relief.

The woman raised a hand to stamp the wax with the back of a gold ring she was wearing. Her hand froze in midair. In her haste, she almost made a mistake. A huge, irrevocable mistake. Without showing any apparent distress, she went over to an enamel box resting on a shelf and pulled out an overly large ring. After returning to her desk, she pressed this second ring into the soft milky wax binding the letter together.

"Now," she sighed, "we only need one more copy."

The young man, determined not to repeat his past mistakes, was able to produce a second document after only two drafts. It too was sealed as the first.

Once both rolls were lying safely on the table, the woman placed the oversized ring on one of her fingers. Then she made sure she burned the original document, the one with her writing on it. "You will enjoy being an official scribe now, Gaius, instead of a valet," the woman said as she attached a silver-disked pin to the top of the servant's tunic and placed a not so inconsequential amount of coins into his hands. "Roma will greatly benefit from your elevated status."

"Will she now?" he coyly replied.

"Yes," the woman responded as her lips imparted a kiss on his. But then she steeled her nerves and continued, "Furthermore, I hear the isle of Melita is in need of someone of your talents. Roma will take great pleasure in knowing you are enjoying yourself in such an agreeable locale. So agreeable, in fact, you will entirely forget us here and our time together. Roma will never see your eyes again, and more importantly, never hear your lovely voice again."

Gaius' first impulse was to let out a laugh. However, that was stifled when he saw the change in the woman's countenance. Instead, a look of puzzlement came over his face and he felt an overwhelming urge to leave. Succumbing to this latter urge, Gaius seized the money and bolted out of the room, leaving the door wide open behind him.

One of the woman's maidservants tried to take advantage of the opportunity to enter the imperial quarters. The woman would allow nothing of the sort and slammed the door on her servant. "Crepida," she shouted through the door, "fetch me the couriers Manius and Aulus!"

"My lady," Crepida shouted back, "I think they've already retired for the night!"

The woman eased the door open just enough for her chin and mouth to poke through. "Crepida. I don't think you heard me clearly. I said, 'Fetch me Manius and Aulus right away.'" Then she slammed the door again.

Once she heard the sound of Crepida's footsteps go down the hall, Plotina leaned against the back of the door, raised her head toward the ceiling, and closed her eyes.

Plotina was startled when she heard the sounds of knocks coming from the other side of the door. She must have kept her eyes shut for far longer than she had dared risk.

"Augusta! It's Manius and Aulus. You sent for us!"

Plotina regained her composure and wedged the door open, but only wide enough to let herself wiggle through with her two precious documents. "Deliver this with all haste to the Roman Senate," she said, handing over one of the sealed rolls to Aulus. "And lest there be any doubt about its urgency," Plotina added as she placed some coins in Aulus' welcoming hands, "these will ensure you make it there before two fortnights have passed."

"And you, my young Achilles," said Plotina as she gave Manius the second roll, "Antiochia awaits your heroic delivery of this." Then she untied a pouch hanging around his waist and slipped in some additional coins.

If Manius and Aulus had bothered to compare their monies, they would discover that Manius' apportionment was far heavier. However, since neither was willing to risk their small fortunes by tarrying in the least, they both left to make arrangements for their immediate departure—Manius by land toward the east, and Aulus by ship toward the west.

After dispatching the couriers, Plotina returned to her suite. She went over to her bureau and lit some jasmine-scented incense. Then she sat down on the corner of her bed. She placed her hands on her thighs, lowered her head, and took a few deep measured breaths. She watched a solid gold pendant necklace nestled between her breasts rise and fall with each breath. The pendant was an intricate figure of a crocodile shackled in front of a palm tree. The crocodile's mouth was slightly agape and its tail was curled back over itself. The pendant was a symbol of her birthplace Nemausus and commemorated Emperor Augustus' conquest over Antony and Cleopatra in Aegyptus. Plotina tired of looking at the pendant and raised her head. She stared toward the center of the door with a glazed look in her eyes.

The next morning Plotina was jarred awake by a servant rapping on the door, wholly intent on bringing a tray of food into the chamber. Although Plotina slowly made her way into the hall, she quickly closed the door behind her. "Why don't you take yourself a holiday?" she muttered to the servant. "There's no need to trouble yourself here today. I'll take this in myself."

The servant found the words hard to believe. So he left before the empress could amend her request.

Plotina placed the tray at the foot of her bed. She sat down on the same corner she occupied the night before and slowly picked at each item on the tray. Since an abundance of egg, meat, and snail delicacies covered the tray, it took her a considerable amount of time to consume just over half of the food. Grateful to get as much down as she did, Plotina went to the door, opened it up, and pushed the tray out into the hall. Then she closed the door and slid the metal bar through the hasp above the latch. After twice checking to make sure the door was secure, she retuned to her bed. Plotina lay down on her back and stared up at the ceiling.

This routine was repeated at lunch and once more at dinner. Both times Plotina handled the trays of food herself and dismissed the servants as before. And when the last meal of the day was over, Plotina changed into her safflower-dyed muslin gown and lay down on the bed, deliberately falling asleep on top of the flax and silk linens rather than beneath them. And on precisely the same spot as before.

The empress awoke the following morning and went over to her bureau. She looked into the mirror and unbound her plaited blonde hair until it was in noticeable disarray. Then she went to the door and without even so much as a muted tap, slipped the bar out of the hasp. She returned to the bed and drew back the curtains encircling it. She ruffled the linens where she slept. Then she clambered over the back of the bed and stretched her legs out in front of her. She took off the large ring she had placed on her hand two evenings ago and tossed it onto the other side of the bed, though she didn't think to remove the other piece of jewelry still on her body, a thick golden anklet. Instead, she opened her mouth and forced a few fingers down her throat. As tears welled in her eyes, she let out a wailing scream.

Three servants burst into the room to ascertain what was wrong. The first—Crepida—started crying as soon as she saw her mistress in tears. The other two ran to opposite sides of the bed and pulled the sheets back. That's when Crepida went into even greater hysterics, for there was Trajan lying rigid on the left side of the bed.

"What's happened to the emperor?" the second servant shouted out.

Plotina wasn't in a state to answer his question, for her mouth was choked with tears. Crepida didn't help matters by screaming over and over, "He's dead! The emperor's dead!"

It was only after Crepida was escorted out of the room that Plotina was able to string together a few words about what happened to the emperor. It was the last remaining servant who found out that Trajan passed away early in the morning, for Plotina recalled, "getting out of bed ... around ... the ninth hour of night ... and at that time ... Trajan was sleeping soundly ... but when I awoke ... and rolled over onto his ..."

"Where is the emperor's valet Gaius?" pressed the third servant.

"He was sent ... by my husband," responded Plotina, "on a holiday ... just like the others."

The third servant was about to ask Plotina another question when the empress made sure she added, "This isn't fair. We were so enjoying the past few days together. This place brought back so many memories. We were reflecting on how happy we were ..." But Plotina's voice trailed off when she looked over at her dead husband's body lying motionless besides her.

It was decided that it would be best to get the empress out of the room, away from her husband's body and that putrid rotting smell. Even so, it couldn't prevent Plotina from catching a glimpse of Trajan's corpse as it was being removed from the imperial suite. And when Plotina saw her husband's lifeless body again, a trickle of vomit dribbled out of her mouth.

Was the empress sick from the shock of Trajan's death? Or was it from eating two oversized servings of food at each meal for the past day and a half? Since nobody considered the latter a possibility, nobody even bothered to ask Plotina such a question.

Chapter Two

THE HOODED HAWK

Augustus 9 Twentieth Year of Trajan's Reign

The courier Manius immediately recognized the recipient of his delivery even though he never saw him before and even though he was more than a hundred feet off in the distance. General Hadrianus' authoritative demeanor left no question as to who he was or the power he was currently wielding.

The general was standing beside an armored horse on the crest of a bramble-covered hill. As Manius drew closer he could see that the general was similarly protected with a set of armor. Clasped to the general's chest was a silver breastplate covered with bronze and gold medallions commemorating past achievements. Over each shoulder were layers of additional, arching plates lapped one atop another. Beneath the armor Manius caught glimpses of a tan tunic that was bound by leather ties wrapping around Hadrian's forearms. A sword and small knife hung from a belt around the general's waist. And on top of Hadrian's head was a bronze helmet with a plume of brown and white striped feathers protruding out the back. Because of the earpieces, chinstraps, and cheek guards accompanying the bulky helmet, the only features of the general's face Manius could make out with any clarity were two silty-gray eyes methodically scanning back and forth across the land.

Manius felt a sovereignty emanating from the eyes, as if they were doing the thinking for the general and would alert his body if they detected even the slightest deviation from what they expected to see.

Indeed they would. It mattered little that the general's troops had routed a Parthian legion on the battlefield below just a few hours before or that his scouts had repeatedly assured him his camp was safe from an attack by enemy reinforcements. Hadrian wanted to verify these reports with his own eyes.

At any rate, once Manius reached the general he presented the rolled-up letter he had kept secured to his body ever since the empress charged him with its delivery.

The general frowned when he took the letter, obviously annoyed by the intrusion.

Manius tried to figure out how to convey the letter's urgency without distracting the general any further.

But Manius' concern was unnecessary for when the general recognized the seal on the letter he immediately broke it open and scrutinized its contents just like he had the land moments before. Then he nodded to Manius. The courier was dismissed.

Hadrian mounted his armored horse and stared off toward the southeast horizon as if he hadn't even read the letter at all. But eventually, a small tear welled in one of his eyes and a wide grin appeared on his face. He grabbed his horse's reins and nudged his steed forward down the hill. Hadrian let out a loud whoop.

It was twilight as the general approached camp. He passed through a deep band of sharpened pikes protecting the compound and over a wood-planked bridge spanning a narrow trench. Hadrian looked on with admiration as he passed the imperial standards shimmering in the torchlight, their gold eagles emblazoned over silver backgrounds. He also saw a few of the defeated legion's standards on display, debased by some choice graffito.

Once he was in the camp proper, Hadrian approached the legionnaires' tents crammed together at the southern end of the compound. Each tent was a mere twelve feet wide by twelve feet long and housed an entire unit as well as their belongings. Hadrian's thoughts, however, were not on things as mundane as tents. They were on that letter.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Blinded by Paradise by Christopher Rimare Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Rimare. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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