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Julian (novel)

Julian, 64

Editor’s note: ‘“Helena has her own money,” said Eusebia sharply. “She should use it. She owns half of Rome”,’ wrote Gore Vidal. When Rome was healthy, women could own no more than an ounce of gold. But in imperial times, especially after Christian takeover, in addition to the Imperial Church feminism undermined the old Roman ethos of the now gone Republic.

My wedding day… what a strange thing for a celibate to write! It seems impossible now that I could ever have been a husband. Yet I became one on 13 November 355. I shall not describe the atrocious Galilean rites. It is enough to say that I endured them, heavy with purple and glittering with state jewels which I later sold in Gaul to buy soldiers.

After the ceremony, there were the usual celebrations and games in our honour. Helena delighted in all the panoply of rank; in this she resembled her brother. I was merely dutiful and did what was expected of me. A few days after the ceremony I was summoned to an audience with Eusebia.

“What do you think of the world now?” Eusebia’s eyes gleamed with mischief.

“I owe it all to you,” I said warmly.

“And how do you find Helena?”

“She is my wife,” I said formally; again the conspiratorial look.

“She is very… handsome,” said Eusebia, with an edge of malice.

“Noble, I should say.” I almost burst out laughing. But there is a rule to these games.

“You will leave soon.”

“I’m glad,” I said. Then added, “Not that I look forward to leaving…” I could not say “you” so I said “Milan”.

She shook her head. “This is not your sort of place. It’s not mine either, but…” She left what was serious unsaid. Then: “You will go into winter quarters at Vienne. Money…”

“Will be scarce.” The Grand Chamberlain had already told me that I would have to maintain myself and household on my salary as Caesar. Additional funds could not be granted at this time.

“Luckily, you are frugal.”

“Helena is not.”

“Helena has her own money,” said Eusebia sharply. “She should use it. She owns half of Rome.”

I was relieved to hear this, and said so.

“It is my hope,” said Eusebia, “that you will soon have a son, not only for yourself but for us.”

I admired her boldness. This was the one thing Eusebia did not want me to have, since it would endanger her own position. Rather than accept my son as his heir, Constantius was capable of divorcing Eusebia and taking a new wife who could give him what he most desired.

“It is my hope,” I answered evenly, “that you will be blessed with many children.”

But she did not believe me either. The interview now turned painful. No matter what either of us said, it sounded false. Yet I believe she did indeed wish me well, except in that one matter.

Finally, we got off the subject and she revealed to me the state of Constantius’s mind. “I speak to you candidly.” An admission that neither of us had been speaking candidly before. The sad face looked sadder still, while her long hands nervously fingered the folds of her robe. “He is divided. He cannot make up his mind about you. Naturally, there are those who tell him that you wish to overthrow him.”

“Not true!” I began to protest, but she stopped me.

“I know it is not true.”

“And it never will be true!” I believed myself.

“Be tolerant. Constantius has had to face many enemies. It is only natural that he fear you.”

“Then why won’t he let me go back to Athens, where I am no danger?”

“Because he needs you more than he fears you.” She looked at me, suddenly frightened. “Julian, we are in danger of losing all Gaul.”

I stared at her dumbly.

“This morning Constantius had a message from the praetorian prefect at Vienne. I don’t know what it said. But I suspect the worst. We have already lost the cities of the Rhine. Should the Germans attack this winter, it is the end of Gaul, unless…” She held her hand above the flame of the alabaster lamp. The flesh glowed. “Julian, help me!” For a stupid moment I thought she had burned her hand. “You must be loyal to us. You must help us!”

“I swear by all the gods, by Helios, by…”

She stopped me, unaware that in my sincerity I had sworn by the true gods. “Be patient with him. He will always be suspicious of you. That is his nature. But as long as I live, you are safe. If something should happen to me…” This was the first inkling I had that Eusebia was ill. “Be loyal to him anyway.”

I forget what I said. Doubtless more protestations of loyalty, all sincere. When I rose to go, she said, “I have a gift for you. You will see it on the day you leave.”

I thanked her and left. Despite all that Eusebia did to hurt me in the next two years, I still love her. After all I owe her not only the principate but my life.