The Blood of Gods A Novel of Rome - By Conn Iggulden


Not all of them were marked with blood. His body lay on cold marble, the stone proof against red lines dripping down the benches. Those who walked away looked back at least once, hardly able to believe that the tyrant would not rise. Caesar had fought, but they had been too many, too determined.

They could not see his face. In his last moments, the leader of Rome had yanked at the loose folds of his toga, pulling the cloth over his head as they gripped and stabbed at him. Its whiteness was marked with mouths. His bowels had opened as he slumped and fell to one side. The smell of it rose into the air in the theatre. There was no dignity for the broken thing they had made.

More than twenty men were spattered with the violence, some of them still panting in great heaving breaths. Around them were twice as many again, those who had not wielded blades but had stood and watched and not moved to save Caesar. Those who had taken part were still stunned at the violence and the feel of warm blood on their skins. Many had served terms with the army. They had seen death before, but in foreign lands and exotic cities. Not in Rome, not here.

Marcus Brutus touched his blade to both palms, leaving a red smear. Decimus Junius saw him do it and, after a moment of awe, he marked his own hands with fresh blood. Almost with reverence, the rest copied the action. Brutus had told them they would not walk with guilt. He had told them they had saved a nation from a tyrant. Behind him, they took the first steps towards a thick bar of light leading to the outside.

Brutus breathed deeply as he reached the sun, pausing on the threshold and letting the warmth seep into him. He was dressed as a soldier, the only man there in armour and with a gladius on his hip. In his late fifties, his bare brown legs were still strong, still rooted in the earth. There were tears in his eyes and he felt as if shadows of age and betrayal had been lifted, scars scrubbed away from his skin, so that he was made new.

He heard the men in robes gather at his back. Cassius stepped to his side, touching him lightly on the shoulder in comfort or support. Brutus did not look at him. His eyes were raised to the sun.

‘We can honour him now,’ he said, almost to himself. ‘We can heap glory on his memory until he is crushed beneath it all.’

Cassius heard and sighed, the sound like a burr to Brutus’ mood.

‘The Senate will be waiting for the news, my friend,’ Cassius murmured. ‘Let us leave the old world behind in this place.’

Brutus looked at him and the wiry senator almost recoiled from what he saw in those eyes. The moment held and none of those behind made a sound. Though they had killed, it was only then that they began to fear the city all around them. They had been swept up like leaves in a gale, casting aside reason to follow stronger men. The reality was drifting through the air, Rome remade in motes of golden dust. Without another word, Brutus walked out into the sun and they followed him.

The roads were busy at first, the trades and wares of thousands on display on every spare ledge or half blocking the stone road. A wave of silence came out of Pompey’s theatre, vanishing behind the senators, but staying with them as they turned towards the forum. The hawkers and servants and citizens of Rome froze at the sight of almost sixty men in white togas, led by one in armour whose right hand drifted to his sword hilt as he strode out.

Rome had seen processions before, by the thousand, but there was no joy in those who walked up the Capitoline hill. Whispers and nudges pointed out the red smears on their hands, the splashes of still-bright blood on their robes. Strangers shook their heads in fear and stayed well back, as if the group carried danger or disease.

Brutus strode eastwards and upward. He felt a strange anticipation, the first true emotion since he had pressed iron into his greatest friend and felt the shudder that told him he had reached the heart. He ached to lay eyes on the forum and the senate house, the stone centre of the vast Republic. He had