Chapter I: Lions Fed by Sheep
Chapter I: Lions Fed by Sheep
While he considered simply releasing the beast into the wilderness, so that it could frolic off like a drunken Bacchus, Tiberius decided against it, not wanting his brother to find out. Instead, he’d cart it off to town, selling it off to a local tradesman. And deciding this disaster of an animal wasn’t fit for life, the tradesman would have it killed, selling it to a man in Ostia who moonlighted as a butcher, barber, and piss merchant. And through pure luck and happenstance, this off-color meat would find its way to the house of one Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, where it’d be prepared by his slaves and put in a fresh serving of copadia agnina: lamb stew. And to celebrate his new proconsulship and departure to Spain, he just so happened to be holding a banquet that night for some of his closest friends…
Naturally, Caesar would be one of the first to arrive, flanked by an entourage with his good friend, Decimus Brutus, in the wings. Always one to make a show, he’d shower his host with gifts, giving Lepidus a lapis lazuli necklace for his wife and a ritual dagger from Gaul: a good luck charm for his upcoming fight against Sextus Pompey. Once the other dinner guests had arrived, they’d all retire to the atrium to exchange pleasantries and make small talk. Obviously, Caesar’s aura would consume almost every conversation that followed, as everyone, from the sleaziest politician to the lowliest slave, all clamored for his favor. And after a bunch of exaggerated war stories, poetic proclamations, and crude remarks about Cato the Younger’s impotence, they’d all be called to dinner.
A modest man at heart, Lepidus had arranged a far smaller feast than what the average patrician would've prepared, but there were still more than enough delicacies to go around. After drinking their fair share of white wine, Lepidus, Caesar, and an unusually withdrawn Brutus, would chow down on a 3-course meal, consisting of field mice, honeyed cheesecake, and hearty amounts of stew. Before they knew it, everyone would finish eating. The early evening gave way to night, and most of the guests would soon slip out, either drunk or stuffed, leaving the trio as the last remaining. Feeling unusually sentimental, Lepidus would break open his personal stores, pulling out an old vintage from the days of Sulla, which they’d chug profusely. And as the alcohol did its magic, they’d wax philosophical about the great questions of life, eventually coming onto the topic of death. They’d debate what was the best way to die, with each man giving a different answer. Lepidus would claim that it was best to pass on surrounded by loved ones, having lived a pious life. Brutus, pensive and brooding, would claim that it was best to die in service of the Republic or a greater cause. And Caesar, ever sardonic, would argue that it’d be best to die when least expected to avoid the pain of foresight. Content with their answers, the men would call it night, each departing on their own accord. Brutus would stroll home through a cramped alleyway, wracked with guilt, knowing what he was about to do. He could feel his stomach tighten: his head pounding and intense pangs coming from his gut. He’d slip off to bed, knowing that the Ides would come, but when he awoke, he’d find himself vomiting and bedridden: rendered immobile with seething pain(1). Through what seemed to be divine intervention, his plan would not come to be.
That same morning, Cassius’s house devolved into a shitshow of pontificating and screaming. You see, at the crack of dawn, just as they were preparing to smuggle their knives into Pompey’s theater, they had received dreadful news: owing to unexpected illness, Caesar had canceled all senate meetings before the upcoming invasion. Naturally, they panicked, worried that they had lost their window to assassinate the bald philanderer. The hours would tick by and, growing desperate, Cassius would dispatch for his co-conspirator-in-chief, Decimus Brutus, hoping for some form of counsel, only to discover him writhing in pain: in the midst of a delirious coma. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage the conspiracy, Junius Brutus would confront Caesar himself, hoping to play on his pride, so that he may rescind his order(2). He’d be disappointed however to find the dictator shriveled in bed, barely able to move, and after giving him the long side-eye, Calpurnia would tell him no. It was upon hearing this news that the conspirators dropped any pretense of civility; all hell broke loose. Cassius’s atrium erupted into a cacophony of hysteria and shouting, and Tillius Cimber, ever the violent drunk, would start a fist fight with Junius Brutus, threatening to slit his throat for roping him into the conspiracy. Cassius would barely break it up, chiding them for being no better than petulant children. After barely restoring order, he urged his fellow plotters to just wait. After all, Caesar was sick, and he could die any day now. And so, after diffusing tensions with some food and wine, they went about their business and simply waited, praying that their tyrant would die…
(1): The POD. After eating some rancid lamb meat, Caesar and Brutus get food poisoning right before the Ides of March.
(2): For context, according Suetonius, Decimus Brutus did something similar, trying to convince Caesar to go to the senate that day. The difference is that, in OTL, he was just hungover and, contrary to the Shakespeare play, much closer friends with Decimus. Here, he's bedridden, puking, and Junius can't convince him.