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Книга Imperium. Содержание - Roll V

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“This is Marcus Cicero, Imperator,” said Afranius.

“Good to meet you.”

He was about to move on, but Afranius took his elbow and whispered, “Cicero is considered one of the city’s foremost advocates, and was very useful to us in the Senate.”

“Was he? Well, then-keep up the good work.”

“I shall,” said Cicero quickly, “for I hope next year to be aedile.”

“Aedile?” Pompey scoffed at the very idea. “No, no, I do not think aedile. I have other plans in that direction. But I’m sure we can always find a use for a clever lawyer.”

And with that he really did move on-“Good to meet you…Good to meet you…”-leaving Cicero staring straight ahead and swallowing hard.

Roll V

THAT NIGHT, for the first and last time in all my years in his service, Cicero drank too much. I could hear him arguing over dinner with Terentia-not one of their normal, witty, icily courteous disputes, but a row which echoed throughout the small house, as she berated him for his stupidity in ever trusting such a dishonorable gang: Piceneans, all of them, not even proper Romans! “But then of course, you are not a proper Roman, either”-a dig at Cicero’s lowly provincial origins which invariably got under his skin. Ominously, I did not hear what he said back to her-it was delivered in such a quiet, malevolent tone-but whatever it was, it must have been devastating, for Terentia, who was not a woman easily shaken, ran from the dining room in tears and disappeared upstairs.

I thought it best to leave him well alone. But an hour later I heard a crash, and when I went in Cicero was on his feet and swaying slightly, staring at a broken plate. The front of his tunic was stained with wine. “I really do not feel well,” he said.

I got him up to his room by hooking his arm over my shoulder-not an easy procedure, as he was heavier than I-laid him on his bed, and unlaced his shoes. “Divorce,” he muttered into his pillow, “that is the answer, Tiro-divorce, and if I have to leave the Senate because I can’t afford it-well, so what? Nobody would miss me. Just another ‘new man’ who came to nothing. Oh, dear, Tiro!” I managed to get his chamber pot in front of him just before he was sick. Head down, he addressed his own vomit. “We shall go to Athens, my dear fellow, and live with Atticus and study philosophy and no one here will miss us-” these last few words ran together into a self-pitying burble of slurred syllables which no shorthand symbol of mine could ever have reconstructed. I set the pot beside him and blew out the lamp. He was snoring even before I reached the door, but I confess I went to bed that night with a troubled heart.

And yet, the next morning, I was woken at exactly the usual predawn hour by the sound of him going through his exercises-a little more slowly than usual, perhaps, but then it was awfully early, for this was the height of summer, and he can hardly have had more than a few hours’ sleep. Such was the nature of the man. Failure was the fuel of his ambition. Each time he suffered a humiliation-be it as an advocate in his early days when his constitution failed him, or on his return from Sicily, or now, with Pompey’s offhand treatment-the fire in him was temporarily banked, but only that it might flare up again even more fiercely. “It is perseverance,” he used to say, “and not genius that takes a man to the top. Rome is full of unrecognized geniuses. Only perseverance enables you to move forward in the world.” I heard him preparing for another day of struggle in the Roman Forum and felt the old, familiar rhythm of the house reassert itself.

I dressed. I lit the lamps. I told the porter to open the front door. I checked the callers. Then I went into Cicero’s study and gave him his list of clients. No mention was ever made, either then or in the future, of what had happened the previous night, and I suspect this helped draw us even closer. To be sure, he looked a little green, and he had to screw up his eyes to focus on the names, but otherwise he was entirely normal. “Sthenius!” he groaned, when he saw who was waiting, as usual, in the tablinum. “May the gods have mercy upon us!”

“He is not alone,” I warned him. “He has brought two more Sicilians with him.”

“You mean to say he is multiplying?” He coughed to clear his throat. “Right. Let us have him in first and get rid of him once and for all.”

As in some curious recurring dream from which one cannot wake, I found myself yet again conducting Sthenius of Thermae into Cicero’s presence. His companions he introduced as Heraclius of Syracuse and Epicrates of Bidis. Both were old men, dressed, like Sthenius, in the dark garb of mourning, with uncut hair and beards.

“Now listen, Sthenius,” said Cicero sternly, after he had shaken hands with the grim-looking trio, “this has got to stop.”

But Sthenius was in his own strange and private kingdom, into which outside sounds seldom penetrated: the land of the obsessive litigant. “I am most grateful to you, senator. Firstly, now that I have obtained the court records from Syracuse,” he said, pulling a piece of paper from his leather bag and thrusting it into Cicero’s hands, “you can see what the monster has done. This is what was written before the verdict of the tribunes. And this,” he said, giving him another, “is what was written afterwards.”

With a sigh, Cicero held the two documents side by side and squinted at them. “So what is this? This is the official record of your trial for treason, in which I see it is written that you were present during the hearing. Well, we know that is nonsense. And here”-his words began to slow as he realized the implications-“…here it says that you were not present.” He looked up, his bleary eyes starting to clear. “So Verres is falsifying the proceedings of his own court, and then he is falsifying his own falsification?”

“Exactly!” said Sthenius. “When he realized you had produced me before the tribunes, and that all of Rome knew I could hardly have been in Syracuse on the first day of December, he had to obliterate the record of his lie. But the first document was already on its way to me.”

“Well, well,” said Cicero, continuing to scrutinize the papers, “perhaps he is more worried than we thought. And I see it also says here that you had a defense attorney representing you that day: ‘Gaius Claudius, son of Gaius Claudius, of the Palatine tribe.’ You are a fortunate man, to have your very own Roman lawyer. Who is he?”

“He is Verres’s business manager.”

Cicero studied Sthenius for a moment or two. “What else do you have in that bag of yours?” he said.

Out it all came then, tipped over the study floor on that hot summer’s morning: letters, names, scraps of official records, scribbled notes of gossip and rumors-seven months’ angry labor by three desperate men, for it transpired that Heraclius and Epicrates had also been swindled by Verres out of their estates, one worth sixty thousand, the other thirty. In both cases, Verres had abused his office to bring false accusations and secure illegal verdicts. Both had been robbed at around the same time as Sthenius. Both had been, until then, the leading men in their communities. Both had been obliged to flee the island penniless and seek refuge in Rome. Hearing of Sthenius’s appearance before the tribunes, they had sought him out and proposed cooperation.

“As single victims, they were weak,” said Cicero years later, reminiscing about the case, “but when they joined in common cause, they found they had a network of contacts which spread across the entire island: Thermae in the north, Bidis in the south, Syracuse in the east. These were men sagacious by nature, shrewd by experience, accomplished by education, and their fellow-countrymen had opened up the secrets of their suffering to them, as they would never have done to a Roman senator.”

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