Lastly, King Amren affectionately wrapped his arm around Catrin. “This is my youngest daughter—the runt of the litter. Like me, she has bandy legs. Perchance …”—he peered at her trousers—“that is why her breeches are torn.”
Hot sweat flooded all over Catrin’s face as she squirmed under her father’s comment. She glanced at the big rip in her plaid trousers and looked up to find Marcellus grinning with amusement. At that instant, she wanted to hide in a cave and disappear into its walls.
The king continued jesting, “Don’t let size fool you. Catrin is the bravest of my daughters. She is—”
Senator Lucius Antonius interrupted. “What of your son?”
Catrin could feel her insides tumble when she observed her father’s smile sour. The chamber stilled like a moonless night before a tempest. She again pondered why Marrock had returned, another harbinger of potential conflict.
King Amren finally proclaimed, “Marrock is no son of mine! I renounced and banished him almost seven years ago for his treacherous acts.”
The senator remained adamant. “Rome only recognizes the birthright of your eldest male heir, not the queen or your daughters.”
“Marrock!” Amren growled with contempt. “Why would Rome support him?”
“Cunobelin, the king of the Catuvellauni, claims your son is the rightful heir.”
The senator’s disclosure shocked Catrin; she could feel her heart pounding in her chest. Even though her father and Cunobelin had been bitter rivals, they had recently forged a truce. Obviously, Cunobeline had offered her father a hand of friendship while stabbing him in the back by championing Marrock’s claims. She seethed. This is brazen betrayal. Marrock cannot become king! He will destroy everyone in my family!
When Catrin’s noticed her father’s clenched jaw, she assumed that he had also reached the same conclusion. She had seldom seen him lose control of his steel-edged demeanor, but his face blazed like molten metal. A battle-hardened warrior, he might lash out. Her mother must have also seen this, because she rose to calm him with a soft touch. It seemed to work, as her father appeared to relax, his face returning to normal color. He looked at the senator and said in a more tempered voice, “How did you hear of Marrock’s claims?”
The senator pulled at his toga. “From the mouth of the Catuvellauni king himself in Rome. Last fall, he presented your son’s case to Emperor Tiberius.”
Every new disclosure by the senator grated on Catrin; nothing made sense. Why would the mighty emperor support her half-brother’s claim to the throne if he had seen his monstrous face?
She then overheard her father grumble in Celtic, “Cunobelin, that treacherous dog.” Her mother again nudged him and shook her head. This time, the king made no attempt to hide his rage.
“Why should Cunobelin’s support for Marrock matter to Rome? This is a local tribal issue that has no impact on the empire. For that matter, neither does it affect the Catuvellauni.”
“I beg to differ,” the senator replied. “Cunobelin accuses you of blocking Roman merchants from traveling through your kingdom to trade with the Catuvellauni. Marrock promises to open trade ways through your territory.”
“Where is Marrock now?”
“Under the protection of the Catuvellauni. Marrock is married to Cunobelin’s eldest daughter.”
Shocked, Catrin gaped at the senator. How could Marrock have gained so much influence with Cunobelin without her family knowing? With the tensions escalating in the chamber, she intently studied each person’s stance and reactions as the bitter discourse continued.
The king jabbed a finger at his own chest so hard that Catrin feared he would break a rib. His voice rose like a thunderstorm as he said, “Cunobelin should have consulted me before giving Marrock safe harbor. Rome should only deal with me about issues in my territory. Our treaty with Rome is separate from the Catuvellauni. Again, what does Rome hope to gain by declaring its support for Marrock?”
The senator matched the king’s fervor. “Marrock promises to recompense sums still owed Rome from treaties bartered by your forefathers and Julius Caesar, almost eighty years ago. He also agrees to pay additional tribute in exchange for favorable trading and peace with Rome.”
“What tribute?” Amren asked incredulously. “We have always met our obligations.”
Each of the senator’s demands now rumbled through the chamber: “One thousand gold coins; fifty horsemen to serve in the empire’s auxiliary; one hundred slaves, including captured warriors to fight as gladiators.”
“We never agreed to these in our treaties with Rome,” Amren said through gritted teeth. “How can you expect us to supply you with gladiators when our kingdom is at peace?”
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