Palatine, book one in the Four Emperors series concluded in August 68 AD with the horrible end of the man responsible for Nero’s overthrow.
Galba’s Men picks up the action in October of the same year with the arrival of new emperor Galba in Rome.
Below is the pivotal scene of the book. It is because of this conversation that much of the action and disaster in Galba’s Men occurs.
A preview of Galba’s Men:
Otho was casually examining the contents of Epaphroditus’ stern-looking desk: an apple and a jar of pinky ointment which he gave an exploratory sniff.
Holding the jar up he asked, “What is this for?”
Epaphroditus, cricking a pain out of his neck, hurriedly shut the door and snatched the jar from Otho. “Nothing to concern you.”
“For a nasty then.”
Placing the jar back in the drawer he looked suggestively at Otho’s thick locks, commenting, “Weren’t you bald the last time we met?”
Settling himself on a chair Otho told him, “You know how you always claimed that entreating the gods was a waste of effort? Turns out it isn’t. I sacrificed a load of cattle and behold, my barber invented this ingenious toupee. Wonderful isn’t it? Not a slip, I can even bathe in it.”
“I am very happy for you. What do you want Otho?”
“I’ve been up at the palace. Apparently you’re dead. I came to pay my respects to your widow, and your doorman suggested I come and talk to you personally. You can imagine how surprised I was.”
“A necessary fiction.”
“Quite so,” smoothed Otho. “Especially if Galba should wish to crack down on all those men who flourished under Nero.”
“Well, you would know more about that than I,” stated Epaphroditus coldly.
Otho raised his black eyebrows, “You’re mad at me aren’t you? Is it because I declared for Galba?”
Epaphroditus didn’t answer.
“He’s a fine fellow. Full of reforming zeal and old school discipline.”
“I wouldn’t have thought that would appeal to you. I seem to remember that you could outdo Tigellinus in the fornication stakes.”
“Don’t mention that name to me, Epaphroditus, please.”
It was Tigellinus the former Praetorian prefect who had pushed for the Nero/Poppaea marriage. Otho who had been married to Poppaea at the time had never forgiven him for it. Smoothing down his toupee he asked, “How is it that your lovely wife has failed to notice you have a nasty?”
“I do not have a nasty.”
“You should always go for virgins, that was what Nero used to say. That way you know they’re clean and you can train them up to your own particular standards. Talking of which I met the very wonderful Statilia Messalina.”
“Statilia Messalina is not a virgin, trust me on that one.”
“I liked her. She has a certain”, Otho paused, gazed up at the ceiling and then concluded, “gleam.”
“Gleam?” queried Epaphroditus, who’d always found the empress cold.
“Yes, gleam,” he sighed. “I might have to marry her.”
Epaphroditus threw himself onto his chair and regarded Otho with a twisted smile. “So now we come to the crunch. This is all some twisted revenge on Nero for Poppaea isn’t it? Declaring for Galba, interesting yourself in his widow.”
“Not at all. I happen to believe Galba is the best guy for the job and all.”
Epaphroditus frowned and asked suspiciously, “What are you up to, Otho?”
His companion beamed, threw the apple into the air and caught it in his palm. “Never could get anything past you, could I? Tell you what, I’ll do you a deal.”
“You tell me how your wife doesn’t know you’ve caught a nasty and I’ll tell you about my scheme.”
Epaphroditus thought hard. Though he’d enjoyed his break spending time with his family he was starting to get just a little bored. An Otho scheme was always worth hearing, if only for the sheer level of preposterousness it invariably held.
“Deal,” he said and shook on it.
“I am distracting her with other methods of pleasure while things clear up.”
“I am sure she is glad of the break. Don’t you have a ridiculous number of children?”
“Your scheme?” insisted Epaphroditus, who disliked having his private life dug into in such a fashion.
“Galba is an old man, right?”
“And he is childless right?”
“Oh gods no, Otho you’re not?”
Otho smiled happily. “I am going to convince Galba to adopt me as his son.”
Once Epaphroditus had swallowed this idea he asked, “Why would Galba adopt you?”
“Why so sceptical? I can’t see why he wouldn’t. My own father was exceptionally fond of me.”
“He had more time to adjust to your eccentricities.”
“Galba is very old, he has no children and is unlikely to have any. He has quite spectacularly become emperor of most of the world. Which is quite an achievement. He is not going to want his legacy to die with him. He will be looking for an heir.”
“And you think he will naturally choose you?”
“Not at all, you misunderstand.”
“Obviously it is an aim that will need work. It will need a plan, strategic thinking and all that. I thought you might like to join the team.”
Epaphroditus laughed, hard. Actually, he thought, it was worth the discomfiting disclosure regarding his inflamed genitals. “You are insane. You will never do it. Galba is not daft and by your own admission, old school, whilst you are …?” he finished by raising an eyebrow.
Otho rubbed his hands together. “But surely that is the fun of it? How utterly unlikely that I, Marcus Salvius Otho, should become emperor in waiting. It will blow the senate away.”
“That it will. Gods I wish Nymphidius Sabinus were alive to hear this.”
“Will you do it?” Otho asked eagerly. “Come on, it will be fun like old times.”
“Yes and I remember all the trouble you got me into back then,” commented Epaphroditus. “Besides I have retired from politics.”
“What a waste!” exclaimed Otho, leaning forward. “When these are such interesting times. Think about it, some old fart who everyone thought had died years ago comes from Spain with nothing but his name and destroys a dynasty that had lasted a hundred years. Juno, Epaphroditus, if that’s possible, anything is possible.”
“Otho for emperor.”
“Otho for emperor,” he agreed. “So what do you say? Will you be my campaign manager?”
Otho could sell sand to a Parthian camel merchant; he had a knack for making even the most ludicrous idea seem plausible. His enthusiasm was infectious and Epaphroditus began to sway. Aphrodite would hate it. He wouldn’t tell her.
“I know that I am going to regret this.”
“Trust me, you won’t. Remember when you told me that I would make a lousy governor?”
“I will confess you surprised me on that score.”
“Quite, and remember that wonderful girl you said was way out of my league?”
“You married her.”
“And remember that time when we were at that hellish dive in the Subura and you said that pickled egg was off and would make me sick to my stomach?”
“It was off Otho, it stank. It had mould on it. Even the damn rats were turning their noses up at it.”
“But”, smiled Otho, “I was not sick.”