Citadel of God: A Novel About Saint Benedict (Chapter One) | Louis de Wohl
"Rome is finished", said Senator Albinus. He sipped his wine, then held up the goblet carved from amethyst. "Very pretty", he approved. "I wonder where they find stones large enough to be cut like this. Very pretty."
Senator Boethius frowned. 'They come from India, I believe", he said, with a warning glance towards his wife.
But Rusticiana was beyond taking notice. Her face was drained of blood, and her hands twitched. "Rome is indeed finished", she said breathlessly, "if there are no Romans left. And I see there aren't."
The boy Peter gazed at her with rapt admiration. She was as beautiful as a goddess when she was angry. She was a white flame burning.
"Romans", Senator Albinus drawled. "I wouldn't say there aren't any, Domina Rusticiana, but they are few, you know. The city prefect tells me he had great difficulty in getting the men together for the escort of honor."
"The escort of honor for a barbarian tyrant", Rusticiana said icily. "Indeed, I hope it was difficult. It is bad enough that anyone at all would comply."
"Oh, it wasn't for that reason, I'm afraid", Albinus said dryly. "They didn't want to wear armor all day. So heavy, don! 't you see, and standing on the walls and in the streets in it for hours on end. The city prefect had to grant them three sesterces for special duty. They asked for five, at first." He smiled at Rustician's disgust. "The trouble with you, Domina, is that you were born five centuries too late. On second thought, make it a thousand years. You ought to have been a contemporary of Cloelia, Virginia, and Lucretia."
"I wish I could return the compliment", Rusticiana. snapped.
"Don't you see that he talks like that only because he, too, is suffering?" Boethius asked with gentle reproach.
"Talking seems to be all that is done', she said. "If there were one true Roman left, he would act."
"What would you have him do, Domina?" Albinus asked, mockery in his tone, but not in his eyes. "Have a nice, hot bath and open his veins? Old Scaurus did that, last week, when he heard that the King was coming to Rome."
"He was eighty", Rusticiana said, her eyes blazing. "And at that age the only veins a man can open are his own. But at least he did do that."
Albinus looked at Boethius. "Do you know, I begin to believe your wife wants me to go and kill the King." He laughed. "As her husband, I trust she has given you first chance."
"A thousand years ago," Rusticiana said, "at the time of Lucretia, we threw out our own King, and not even the maddest of the Caesars dared to assume that title again. Now we are to give it to an Ostrogoth."