685 AUC (69 BC), summer
Corduba, Capital of Roman Province Hispania Ulterior
Caesar sat in his small office in the official headquarter of the province, holding a letter in his hands from his mother Aurelia. He looked out the window, but his eyes could not focus on the clouds floating by. His mind drifted back to a conversation he had with his wife late last winter on an especially cold day, colder than any other winter he remembered.
“So that means you will be gone for a whole year?” Cornelia asked Caesar.
The couple sat around a small portable coal brazier burning on the desk of Caesar’s study. Their six-year-old daughter Julia was with her tutor in one of the open alcoves off the atrium, where a huge Caminus burned big pieces of split wood, staving off the chill of the day.
“Yes, definitely a whole year. As soon as the spring weather permits, I’ll sail to Hispania Ulterior. Gaius Antistius Vetus is governor there this year, and I’ve been allotted to serve him as quaestor,” he answered.
Cornelia sternly looked at her husband, folding her arms over her slightly swollen stomach.
“That means you will miss the birth of our second child. I have a feeling you only did this because you don’t want to be here when there’s no sleep to be found at night, with a new baby crying.” When Caesar cringed, his lovely Cornelia grinned from ear to ear before squeezing his shoulder.
“I am teasing, Gaius. You waited long enough for your election as quaestor. I know how much that means to you, and to our future. If I would have thought the timing through beforehand, I would have kept you out of our bedroom for a few months.” Caesar laughed, leaning over for a kiss. Cornelia moved in to hug him tightly instead.
“Do you think there will be war in Hispania? Is it peaceful there right now? It’s only been two years since the traitor senator Sertorius was killed,” Cornelia inquired, her tone very serious again.
“As far as I know, the province is quiet, and as quaestor, my focus is on the finances and the assessment of local taxes. Meaning my traveling around the province will be limited to inspections. Otherwise, I’ll sit in an office at headquarters, tallying numbers. I doubt Vetus will let me do anything else; he wants to know the numbers as soon as possible to see how much he can squeeze out of the locals for himself.”
Cornelia relaxed. “No war, that helps. I don’t want to have to deal with a new baby and worry about you fighting or being in danger again all the time,” she replied.
His mind drifted back to the present. He looked at the scroll on his desk, which contained the message. It was the second letter his mother had sent him to Hispania. The first had told him of the passing of his aunt Julia, widow of Gaius Marius. But now this. He had a hard time seeing the writing clearly, his eyes betraying him.
Childbirth had not gone well for Cornelia. His mother had explained the details, but he had stopped reading beyond the fact that both his beloved wife and their second child had died.
My whole world ended while I sat here every day, far away from you, drafting ledgers, sorting accounts and auditing these damn taxation lists.
He sat for a while in silence, not able to process the variety of emotions raging through him. Finally overcome by his inner turmoil, he wiped everything off the table. He stood up, voicing his anger at the world in a deafening, visceral scream. He grabbed his chair and threw it against the wall, picking up and throwing the bigger pieces one more time. Next, he overturned the big desk, which landed with a deep thump. He kicked one of the table legs until it broke, screaming throughout.
The door flew open and several guards rushed in, looking for the expected attackers killing their quaestor. With nobody else in the room they looked at Caesar for guidance. He held his breath. Unable to utter a word, he successfully waved them back out the door with balled fists. Alone again, he slid down the wall. The rage left as quickly as it had come, and he started to sob, laying his face into his hands and surrendering to his grief.