I am dead. The world bore solemn witness to that fact. Even a child of unsteady gait, its world beginning to dawn, knows I left a mad brother alone to grow madder. There are brave men who can take you into the tombs and stand before the gods and swear that my ashes lie there in an urn next to the rest of my family. My brother made me a god, so that I may always be with him and guide him as I did in life.
I failed as a sister, a woman, an empress, a guide, and a goddess. The only thing I have succeeded at is the one thing everyone would swear I did not do: live.
Still, there is little I would wish different, few moments I would change—but for leaving him to his lonely fate, carrying only his scent with me into the unknown. It was the hardest thing I ever did, harder by far than facing the rage of an ancient and debauched emperor. I left, rather than face the fate the gods held for me. I let the world believe me dead. And so I left the world to ruin.
But can a lie before the gods truly be a lie, if I myself am one of them?
My life cannot be pinned down like the histories of Ovid or Virgil or even those by my old Uncle Claudius. But that is what history is, after all: crazed and tumultuous and endless as water through a mill. I can only bear witness to the atrocities I survived. I pray I may give voice to the many who did not, and if I am blessed perhaps I may do justice to the passions of those who forever claimed a part of my soul.
Only the gods can make whole that which is long-dead. I must now become a god. For I hold a skeleton in my hands and must show to you the whole: organs, flesh, sinew, heart and mind. The long-dead must rise, look about with roving eyes, give voice to many tongues.
A smattering of shoeless feet on stone pulls my attention from my ink and paper.
“My lady Drusilla?” One of the priestesses has inched near, and I feel a stone in my gut at the name: the weight of the past, crushing my insides. “It is you, is it not? There have been rumors. Even here, we hear them.”
I give a nod.
“And … you wish to see the Oracle?”
Sighing, I answer. “I need an answer to the greatest riddle of my life.”
“And you have payment?”
I kiss the ring upon my heart-finger. His sigil, the symbol of everything I have loved and lost. I know not what to do next, peering through the abrupt shadow cast by an unknown future. She prompts me by holding out a hand. I take off the ring and hold it forth—my two-faced Janus ring, carved in carnelian stone, dangles over her eager palm. I am loath to let it go. I let it fall. If the oracle’s prophecy bodes well, then I will hold him, living and breathing, in my arms again.
True, there is a chance I have come all this way to Seluecia to find nothing or to be told to search my own heart. Oracles never give straight answers. I do not blame them. Human questions fall like snowflakes, millions and millions alike, and they melt away so quickly.
“How did you come to be here?” she asks, gesturing me forward. I follow her and she respects my silence and asks nothing more. We move through stippled shadows of cloth overhead.
In fact I was shipped here like cargo, unaware as wood, all sense of life gone but for the enormous and terrifying feeling of my son’s tiny life. I wake often just to listen to him breathe, terrified the gods will take him from me if I sleep. He shines a light into the murky places of my soul.
I let a long queasy breath out into the air; I have come to such a different world. The color of this place is white. The lengths of silken sky are smooth as bolts of pure cloth. The countryside is dotted with fat white sheep and small outholdings. The air is clear and fragrant; breezes waft with the moist smell of Syrian pine. Human endeavors vie with one another to reach the heavens in this place of blinding whiteness. There is no purple, which I’d worn daily as a royal princess; here, it is the color of madness.
The color of Rome is red—lurid, opulent red. Spawned from Sabine and Etruscan blood, severed necks, bloated corpses. Seen by the gods, Rome is a great, hungry tongue. Lion’s mouth red, arterial red.
I huddle, alone, inside of myself, inside the slow footsteps of loneliness and growing age.
Let history think what it will. It matters not one bit, in the end. I alone remember.