Enter Nero's opulent Court with all its graspers, schemers and panderers. Claudia Acte, Nero's favorite mistress, converts to the new religion from Judea.
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Enter Another Age
Enter Another Age
Claudia Acte has achieved the highest levels that a hetairi can hope for: she is the Emperor's favorite mistress, Traded in a secret deal to the next rising star, Ofonius Tigellinus, so that Poppaea can lure Nero into marriage, Acte is suddenly plunged into slavery so debasing that her only hope lies in escape. She walks away from her life of degradation into a new world from which she can never return. Recaptured, re-enslaved, but redeemed, Acte's quiet influence spreads throughout her circle and excepts no one, not even the Commander of the Praetorian Guard, Ofonius Tigellinus.
Axios opens the pagan world of First Century Imperial Rome with all its opulence and dangers and follows one woman's journey from despair into joyful expectation. A conversion that profound ripples throughout her world, changing everyone she encounters in mysterious and unaccountable ways.
“I must go to her now!” Nero decided. “So beautiful! I know she is awaiting me!”
“Your guests are awaiting you, Caesar,” Tigellinus pointed out. “They have homes to return to, businesses to run. Your mistress has nothing else to do but await your whim.”
“Of course, of course, a moment’s weakness,” the Emperor conceded. “You will be the perfect mentor for me, Tigellinus! How fortunate that my mother remembered you!”
Tigellinus smiled and offered no reply. The night was far advanced when he finally departed. Nero was sleeping soundly. His servants approached.
Seneca was waiting for him outside. “A moment, if you please, Ofonius Tigellinus.”
“Of course. What can I do for you?”
Nero’s boyhood tutor glanced around. “Serenus and I have heard some news. The Emperor’s mother is returning to Rome by the month’s end.”
“That is true.”
“It was in Rome’s best interests that she not return. Claudia Acte forced her out. But now you are recalled, and Agrippina returns. How can you explain that?”
“A series of coincidences. Your agent put on a magnificent performance tonight. My compliments. But her hour has passed. You must deal with Agrippina now.”
“Don’t ply wits with me, Ofonius Tigellinus,” Seneca frowned. “I know you are behind all of it. You know as well as I that Agrippina cannot be trusted.”
“You want an alliance with me,” Tigellinus discerned. “What do you want of me?”
“As long as the Emperor is unmarried, no one can shake his mother’s influence over him. Nero must marry.”
“He already has a wife. Octavia.”
“She is inadequate to the task. We thought Claudia Acte would succeed, but even she has failed. No one can break the hold Agrippina has over him!”
Tigellinus was thoughtful. “I think we can do business, Annaeus Seneca. I will call upon Serenus tomorrow. We will talk.”
Feeble sunlight filtered into Acte’s bedchamber. She was alone. She had played her last card, and Nero had not seized it. She had awaited him all night, but he had not come to her. The servants’ gossip was true; she had fallen.
What would become of her now? Nero had promised to free her, but he had never produced the necessary document. She still belonged to Seneca. What would he do to her, now that she had failed?
A tap on her door roused her. “Come in,” she said faintly.
“The Master awaits you,” her handmaiden announced, a sly smile of satisfaction on her face. “I am to prepare you for a party. He wishes to speak with you now.”
Acte dressed quickly and hastened into the atrium. Seneca regarded her steadily, no emotion betraying his thoughts. Acte bowed.
“Your performance was flawless,” Claudia Acte,” he said gently. “But we have been eclipsed. Agrippina conspired with Ofonius Tigellinus to secure her hold over Nero. The game has changed. You are no longer needed. But I am grateful to you for your years of service to me and Serenus. Six years you held Nero to our plans for him. In gratitude for those years, I have found another patron for you. He will take over all your interests. You will belong to him.”
Acte nodded bleakly. Seneca had traded her away in return for some undisclosed favor. “If it does not anger you, My Lord, may I ask who this new patron might be?”
“He does not wish to be revealed to you until he is ready to be revealed.” Faint pity flitted across his hard features. “I wish you good fortune, Claudia Acte. I have arranged for a generous bonus to be settled upon you. I thank you for your service and hope that you prosper.”
Acte bowed and withdrew. She passed the day in preparation. She pondered her uncertain future. She reflected upon her past. She examined her face closely in the silvery mirror’s depths. Iphanaea’s instructions rose within her memory.’
“’You must remember at all times that you are hetairi, courtesans. You exist only for the pleasure of your master. Take everything I have taught you and sacrifice daily to the goddess Fortuna. She will provide for you. With her help, you will always land on your feet. Keep your wits about you. And never, never permit yourself to fall in love!’”
Acte strung seed pearls through her hair. She wound golden bracelets around her arms. Her serving-woman entered without knocking. She tossed a parcel on the bed.
“From the Master. You are to wear this tonight.”
Acte waited until the hostile woman withdrew. She opened the parcel. There was a saffron gown trimmed in red and gold. Red silk slippers, hair ribbons, and veils completed the outfit. Acte stared at the outfit quizzically.
“A Roman wedding costume,” she mused. “What can this mean?”
Her heart plunged. She would be held up to ridicule. Her station in life would be exposed and mocked. There could be no marriage for a hetairi. All the world knew that!
She would have shed a tear if she knew how. But emotions had been rigorously suppressed during her training. She stood now without emotions, without a future, without any hope, and wondered what she would be forced to do to survive. She applied her cosmetics. She dressed herself. She sat down before the window to await her summons.