The fool has retreated! . . . after marching through Cesarea and Beth-horon . . . clear into Jerusalem . . . right at the door of the temple! The stupid fool could have taken it. His eyes dilated, glistening. But no, he ran away, leaving all in the hands of the enemy . . . food, supplies, weapons, everything to be used against us the next time we attack. And, oh yes! He tried to blame it on Florus. His eyes darkened in rage and his mouth became thin and ugly. Cestius is to pay for this cowardly action. Did you hear me? He will pay! Now his eyes became flashing swords and his pursed lips gave way to a mouth and teeth that emerged larger than his face.
Likiaus came to Neros assistance, for he knew when the leader of Rome became so incensed the hours of insane babbling were not far behind. No one looked forward to these tirades, because Nero would not belabor for hours unless he had a captive audience. With great caution and diplomacy, Likiaus addressed the situation.
Sire, Governor Gallus had a most formidable force, no doubt. But there are many things we cannot surmise at such a great distance. Cestius sent ambassadors to tell you about the great distress they were in. The only way they could save their lives is clear now, Sire. They had to travel light. The enemy was all over them. We were bogged down with our military might. You know, Divine Caesar, that going forward is always better than retreating. Our army left behind their machines for sieges, but they kept going forward and outlasted the enemy in strength and daring.
Neros anger was calmed momentarily, but much like the eye of a storm, no one dared speak while the little dictator brooded over the situation. He sat in a slouched state with his elbow resting upon the arm of the throne, holding his face on his flattened hand. This position gave his face a grotesque, inhuman quality. Caged, mad, and ready to strike. Suddenly, a complete turnabout surged through his mind and body. He became so energetic, even his aides were caught off balance.
Bring me a map of the area! Quick, quick. I dont have all day! Although he knew he did, for where and when he tarried, so would all those around him. He jumped up, impatient with the map carrier not being fast enough, grabbed the document with much impatience, and plopped back down on his throne, crossing his husky legs beneath him. Suddenly, he looked like a little boy ready to have great fun with a new project.
Likiaus came up beside Nero and helped him unroll the map clutched in his meaty fist. His faithful aide saturated him with more pure gems of wisdom as he moved in closer. Likiaus knew the Emperor so well; he knew exactly when to speak the truth and when to lie and humor him.
We need to remember one very important factor in this recent defeat, my Lord. None of us is versed in rebel warfare. Cestius has had to deal with total barbarians. There is no rhyme nor reason for the blistering attacks. They take risks wed never take, even in our most desperate moments. They attack from emotion, not from tactical knowledge and training. Theirs is a matter of surprise and brute force. Ours is a commitment to skill and superior experience . . .
Nero kept his head down toward the map, but raising his misty-blue eyes of steel, he flirted around with his aides latest words. His eyelids lowered slightly, giving him a candid repose, enjoying the banter he always set up with his favorite aide.
I need a man to take over the entire Judean campaign . . . someone who has knowledge of the Jewish ways. He smiled at Likiaus to show that he received the message loud and clear. And yet, be able to wipe them out in a breathe, he added, beaming with glee over such a thorough mop-up prospect. As if on stage addressing an audience of thousands, he continued. No one, no one has been able to rebel against Rome and stay on this earth! He lifted his finger as a teacher giving an important head drill. Cestius had the best veteran legion to suppress that uprising. He lost the most experienced rear guard in all of Rome. Five-hundred of our finest foot soldiers, the commander of the sixth legion and Emilius Secundus. Wailing moans of fake pain flooded Nero, and he remembered to throw in a few gasps for the proper dramatic effect, then paused to get hold of his act. The commander of my best troop of horsemen. Then he addressed Likiaus in a cool soft aside, Remind me to send a roomful of medals to his dear sweet wife. An inspired thought struck him. And tell her Im thinking about putting him on a coin. Yes, shed like the idea of coining him, I should think. That should keep those quarrelsome senators arguing for at least a month.
For the first time since this unfortunate subject about Judea arose, Darius, another scheming aide who loved deceiving the Emperor, just for the sake of getting away with it, came to the throne and addressed his leader with great candor.
Divine Sir. We are all in awe of your keen supervision of Rome and her future. How Nero loved this shrewd blowhard. He reminded him of himself, and how he loved himself. We need to choose very carefully. Our reputation depends on this decision. This General must be able to handle guerrilla warfare. These Jewish fighters attack our grain storage, our supply stations. They hit and run like the cowards they are. Do we have anyone who can handle this kind of warfare, this kind of crisis, Sir?
Nero had thrown himself deep in thought, tortured by the prospect of again choosing the wrong man. As soon as the right man came to mind, the one and only capable of such a mission, his expression changed to a guarded smile. Wait, he thought, wasnt this the General who fell asleep during one of his greatest concerts? He should have killed him then and there, he remembered. But now he was glad hed graced him with mercy and just exiled him for a year. Coming out of his short reverie, Nero shot to attention.
There is only one man who can quail this rebellion. Yes! I will have to send the most successful General in all of Rome. How he hated to do this. He actually feared the mans popularity with the army and the people of Rome. Vespasian is the only choice for this job No, Nero did not approve of Vespasian at all. Besides being an artless square head, he was a political threat and a major player in the Romes future. Nero also knew that at some time in future he might have to ground this man to dust. Good heavens, how could an honest man ever hope to rule the Roman Empire?
Darius did not like Vespasian either, but then Darius didnt like anyone but himself. He also knew that Rome needed this kind of General, but for a season. Rome gave too much adoration and attention to the elite fighting men. They should never be elevated to such godly ranks. Darius was confident that when he, himself, became Emperor, these changes would be made instantly. The ruler of Rome would be the only man capable of god nobility.
Sire, would you like for Likiaus and I to summon the General? We will send for him immediately. Or whatever time you choose.
Nero found humor in his decision, because he knew it would fluster Darius. Yes. Ill send my two top aides to fetch him. That should impress the old war-horse. You, Darius, and you, Likiaus, will go at once and bring him here—he pointed to the foot of the throne—so I can deliver the good news myself. How the wicked little dictator loved to burn his eyes into a mans soul. How he loved to stare down those who were so self-confident. He jumped off his ornate gold throne and danced around the hall exaggerating, emoting, and laughing with great glee. I shall pluck my prize plum and sic him against my foe. Coming to a complete stop, he added with menacing seriousness, Sacrifice is a soldiers badge of honor, and their blood is spilled upon the ground for me. Bouncing back into reality, he said, Go! Tell him I await him with great passion. With that double meaning in his last words, Nero went into gales of cackling laughter.
Likiaus and Darius hastily left the hall. They knew the Emperor did not expect them to waste time in summoning the General. Neither of these men had ever been sent as messengers. How humbling to be used as mere errand boys and how demeaning to their high station.
At their departure, Neros close friend and treasurer entered the throne room, as if on cue. Nero looked up and gave a cheerful grin of victory. Ah, yes, Marcus Fabias, my good man, come in, come in. Ive been expecting you.
No one, but no one could be as crafty as Marcus Fabias. The ruler seemed to automatically choose men who had traits like himself. He could deal and outsmart these kinds of men, hands down, and was not afraid of them because he was always one step ahead in cunning and strategy. It was honest men that baffled and frustrated him. They didnt think in a normal realm of the gray areas of life. They were the black-and-white men, and no one but prophets spoke absolutes, did they?
Marcus spoke to Nero, not from fear, but as his most gifted student of the centuries. Nero lapped up this show of affection, if indeed thats what it was.
We are courting grave problems, my Emperor. Marcus was correct to pause and make sure Neros response was what he expected. It was, so he continued. Our revenue is very tight right now. We have not been able to collect taxes from Judea with the success we had in the past. Many of the cities and surrounding communities are closed from us, due to the dangerous uprisings throughout the country. Their unchecked rebellion has cost us dearly. One of our biggest source of revenue comes from Judea. The country is in chaos, and their rebellion against us, and each other, has literally drained our treasury to the bone. I repeat, their unchecked defiance has cost us dearly—
I heard you the first time! Nero brooded with a new vengeance. Why did you wait this long to lay it out so graphically, Marcus, my man? he snapped like a fish-wife. Marcus had every reason to watch his words. The more Nero seemed to favor people, the more he enjoyed pulling the plug on them when he had to.
Sire, the demands on our battle-fronts are very costly. We have legions on three fronts, a total of sixty-thousand men to feed, clothe, and equip. Its a very expensive time for us. The Jews gave us enough, more than enough, until now. They are, by far, our wealthiest and most prosperous province. Hoping to soothe Neros darkening mood, he added, I was not aware of these significant changes until today. The money we expected did not become a reality, because the projection on paper became nothing more than a gaping hole when we were unable to balance our books. That six months shortfall has now caught up with us. Marcus spoke very carefully to make sure the Emperor would not bend his wrath toward him. When I made the appointment to talk with you this hour, I had not studied the balance sheets. I rushed to you as fast as I could, however, with this turn of events, for I know how you hate a bearer of bad news; but since you are the master of divine decisions, it would give you time to correct and make the proper adjustments.
Marcus knew the crafty little despot could juggle the books, better than anyone in history, in order to steal the money needed to support his wretched vile habits. Some things could not be falsified though, and Nero knew it had come to that point in time.
Nero interrupted all this unsavory news with ranting of his own. Roving about like a madman, he cursed the Jews and all the problems they were inflicting upon him. He took this political news as a personal affront. I have my best Generals on three of our four fronts. The Germans are causing us misery and mayhem now as we speak! He shook his head. Theyre another exhausting problem altogether! Though he tried to concentrate, rage kept spooking his mind to babble. Even so, with all the other problems, Judea, Home Of The Jews will be my downfall if we do not act immediately! By the gods, I will slaughter every Jew in that ghastly hellhole! They will never have the chance to defy Rome again. Every man, woman, and child will bare the Roman mark. Slaughter to all who disobey Nero, Emperor of Rome! How dare they rise up against the divine head of Rome! Our justice will be quick and bloody!
How Marcus enjoyed this moment. This spectacle showed him how easily Nero could be driven off his mark. He knew there was ruin in a flood of empty words. He also knew that being a fool made one a blabbermouth. Yes, Marcus had a new and better fix on the Emperor now. Keep him off balance and you could watch him tilt into a self-destruct mode. How comforting, indeed.
Without emotion, Marcus bowed cautiously and uttered, Hail Caesar.