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Julian (novel) Literature

Julian, 15

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

The last official to arrive was the most important of all: the Grand Chamberlain of the Sacred Palace, the eunuch Eusebius. He was so large that it took two slaves to pull him out of his ivory and gold litter.
He was tall, stout and very white. Beneath the peacock blue of his silk tunic one could see the rolls of flesh quiver as he moved. Of all the officers of state, only he wore civilian clothes. In fact, he looked like a winsome lady of fashion with mouth artfully rouged and hair arranged in long oiled ringlets. The gold thread of his cape flashed in the sunlight.
Eusebius looked about him with sharp eyes, and I knew suddenly that he was looking for us. Half hidden by a mound of saddlebags, Gallus and I tried to become invisible, but though the Chamberlain had never seen either of us before, he knew immediately who we were. Gracefully, he motioned for us to join him.
Like slaves anticipating a beating, we shuffled forward. Since we were not certain as to how to greet him, I attempted a military salute, which Gallus imitated. Eusebius smiled a tiny smile, exposing small dark teeth; several babyish dimples appeared in his full cheeks. He inclined his head; the neck fat creased; a long curl strayed across his brow.
“Nobilissimi,” he said in a soft voice. This was an excellent omen. The title nobilissimus is used only for members of the imperial family. Bishop George never used this title with us nor did our guards. Now, apparently, our rank had been restored.
After a long scrutiny, Eusebius took each of us by a hand. I can still recall the soft dampness of his touch. “I have so looked forward to seeing you both! And how grown up you are! Especially the noble Gallus.” Delicately he felt Gallus’s chest. This sort of impertinence would ordinarily have sent my brother into a rage, but that day he was far too frightened. He also knew instinctively that his only protection was his beauty. Complaisantly he allowed the eunuch to caress him as we entered the villa.
Eusebius had the most beguiling voice and manner of anyone I have ever known. I should say something here about the voices of eunuchs. Actors and other people who try to mimic them invariably tend to pitch their voices high, and screech. Eunuchs seldom sound like that. If they did, who would ever find their company tolerable?
And at a court one must be particularly pleasing in one’s manners. In actual fact, the voice of a eunuch is like that of a particularly gentle child, and this appeals to the parent in both men and women. Thus subtly do they disarm us, for we tend to indulge them as we would a child, forgetting that their minds are as mature and twisted as their bodies are lacking. Eusebius spun his web about Gallus. He did not bother with me. I was too young.
Gallus and Eusebius dined alone together that night. The next day Gallus was Eusebius’s devoted admirer. “He’s also a friend” said Gallus. We were alone together in the baths. “He told me how he’s been getting reports about me for years. He knows everything I’ve ever done. He even knows about her.”
Gallus named the Antiochene, and giggled. “Eusebius says I’ll be a great success at court. Not only am I good-looking but I have a well-developed intelligence, those are his exact words. He’s positive he can talk the Emperor into letting me go free. He says it may take a little time but that he has some small influence with His Eternity, that’s exactly how he put it. He’s very interesting, though it’s hard sometimes to figure out what he’s talking about. He expects you to know all sorts of things you wouldn’t have any way of knowing, buffed in this damned place. Anyway Constantius does just as Eusebius tells him. Everyone says so. Which means if you have Eusebius on your side, that’s half the battle. And I’ve got him.”
“What did he say about me?” I asked. Gallus seldom strayed very far from his essential interest: himself.
“You? Why should he say anything about you?” Gallus ducked me in the cold pool. I pulled him in after me. He was slippery as a fish, but I managed to hold his head under water for a satisfactory length of time. At sixteen I was as strong as he was at twenty-one. He emerged spluttering and blue in the face. “He’s going to make a monk out of you, that’s what. Though if I have anything to say about it, you’ll be a eunuch.” He tried to kick me between the legs but slipped on the marble and fell.
He cursed loudly, and I laughed. Then we were joined by slaves who helped us dress. Since Gallus was a man, the Master of the Offices had ruled that although he was not technically an officer, he could on this occasion wear the uniform of the household troops. Unfortunately, the nobilissimus Julian was merely a student and must dress accordingly. As a result, I looked quite insignificant beside my glittering half-brother. But I was perfectly happy to go unnoticed. Let Gallus shine. I preferred obscurity, and survival.