I’m so pleased to welcome our guest, Lucius Sestius, from the pages of The Emperor’s Servant! He has quite a tale to tell, too. First, let’s peek at author Fiona Forsyth’s bio to find out why she wrote this particular story, and then we’ll chat with Lucius.
From the age of six when I was introduced to the myths of Greece and Rome, I wanted to explore the differences between our world and theirs, because the people of ancient Rome are alien to us. Curiosity led me to study Classics at a time when most people told me that Latin was not useful: I then earned a living teaching it for 25 years before a family move to the Middle East gave me the opportunity to write about the people, events, themes and stories which had fascinated me for so long. A book from me will take you as close as I can – but still I don’t think it is possible to completely understand the world of Rome. And I know I split an infinitive there…
Betty: How would you describe your parents?
Lucius: My father and mother are both dead. I don’t remember my mother, as far as I am concerned the woman who brought me up was my stepmother Cornelia and she died in one of the autumn plagues that Rome is always going through, about six or seven years ago. She was lovely. My father – well, he was kind and a lot more intelligent than people gave him credit for. He lived through the fall of his beloved Republic, and he bore everything as well as can be expected.
Betty: Who taught you to tie your shoes?
Lucius: My nursemaid, I think. Or it might have been Decius. Decius seems to have run our household since we got him. He is freed now, of course, but still works for the family. In fact, I cannot imagine life without him. I’m dictating this to him now.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest failure? Why?
Lucius: I failed to restore the Roman Republic. Not to sound dramatic, but that is why I joined Cassius and Brutus after Julius Caesar’s assassination. I got through the Battle of Philippi, unlike both Brutus and Cassius, and twenty years later here I am, obediently serving as consul under our beloved leader Augustus. I failed completely there, didn’t I?
Betty: If you could change the past, what would you change?
Lucius: If Caesar had never been born, he would not have forced a civil war on us, become Dictator and been killed and we might still be a Republic. I don’t know. It depresses me to think about it. Can we go on to another question, please?
Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?
Lucius: My greatest fear? I think, having lost what I was fighting for at Philippi, I don’t really have much to lose now. Worry about the children occasionally of course, and I suppose if the family estate were taken away from me, that would be awful. It isn’t something I talk about with anyone, though I think Decius and my sisters would know, if you asked them.
Betty: Do you have a favorite sibling? Who?
Lucius: Are you kidding? Choose between my sisters? The one I put second would kill me. Let me just say that both Albinia and Tia are amazing, and I adore them. Albinia is my full sister and a distinguished poet, and Tia is my younger half-sister. I worry about them both but particularly Tia. She has never married – her fiancé was killed in a street fight in Rome. We know that the attackers were supposed to target me, but they got my friend instead. I am not sure Tia will ever get over that. I was glad my father didn’t try to pressure her into marrying again. It wouldn’t have worked anyway, both my sisters do as they like.
Betty: If you could live anywhere, where would you live?
Lucius: On my family farm in Cosa, north of Rome. It is very ordinary and I love it. The vineyard I set up there is the thing I am most proud of. Oh – Decius says I ought to have said that I am most proud of my children first. He is probably right. Decius tends to be right. But my vineyard is very fine and my vines manager, Titus, while always pessimistic, manages to produce something drinkable every year. We are now exporting our wines all the way up the coast and into Gaul. There is a real market there, hardly surprising. Have you tried beer? It’s revolting.
Betty: How do you like to relax?
Lucius: I drink. Preferably wine I’ve made myself.
Betty: What kinds of friends do you have?
Lucius: Sadly, my best friends are people who have been through terrible experiences. I’m not sure that there are many people my age who haven’t. I was at Philippi with Horace, the poet. I expect you’ve heard of him. I’m quite proud of him, but don’t tell him I said that. Did you know he wrote one of his odes to me? Haven’t a clue what it’s about but everyone tells me I should be pleased. My other great friend is Marcus Tullius Cicero the younger. Yes, his father was that Cicero, killed by order of our beloved Augustus. Makes you think, eh? We have to pretend to forget all this now.
Betty: Who would you like to meet? Why?
Lucius: I never met Cleopatra. I saw her in Rome once, from a distance. Well, I saw the crowd surrounding her. I wish now I could have seen her close up, got to know why – why people raved about her. I wish she had never met Caesar and had his son. That’s the real reason we had to fight her and Antony you know. That poor kid. Killed by Augustus at the age of seventeen, because he was Caesar’s son. No other possible challenger to Augustus could be allowed to live.
Er – Augustus isn’t going to read any of this, is he?
In the depths of serious illness, the emperor Augustus is forced to rethink how he governs the city. He calls upon the most unlikely helper. Lucius Sestius has made it through conspiracy and civil war and wants nothing more than to drink himself happy in the Italian countryside. Now he, the last of the Republicans, is invited to step up to public service. To Lucius’ consternation, he is catapulted into office just in time to deal with a pestilence sweeping through Italy. Thousands of people are dying, and the river Tiber is riding dangerously high. But Lucius is not just fighting floods and an epidemic. A conspiracy centred on the disgraced general Primus is threatening the emperor, and Lucius is expected to choose a side. Lucius’ idyllic life on his family estate is overshadowed by intrigues in which he wants no part, but a naïve act of kindness brings the wrath of the Emperor down upon him.
Redemption in the eyes of Augustus comes at a heavy price.
You’ve faced quite some challenges, Lucius. I appreciate you taking time to answer my questions today. And thanks to Fiona for giving you some time away.
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy reading!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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