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First Woman of Rome (The Claudian Remix)

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Atia is watching her again, from across the banquet room.

Livia Drusilla admits that she has underestimated Atia before their confrontation at the triumph. It had been easy to, given that her introduction to Atia had been Octavian's crushing of his mother. But she won't make that mistake again.

Atia may well be right; if Livia attacked her now, Livia could end up joining those women who had tried to destroy Atia before, could end up in failure and oblivion. But what Atia hasn't considered is that Livia has time. Time and patience. There is no need to attack Atia in order to destroy her.

Livia is a Claudian. By birth, not simply through her first marriage to one of her older relations. She has seen the men of her house side with Brutus and the conspirators and fail, vanquished by first Antony , then Octavian. Her father has committed suicide after the battles of Philippi. Her husband had not enough fight left in him to protest when Octavian wanted Livia for his wife. But while the Claudii might not claim descent from the goddess Venus, their ancestors have built the roads on which the Empire runs. They know how to be patient. The Julii have reached their highest peak now, with Octavian the First Citizen of Rome, soon to be awarded a new name in recognition of his unique greatness. Undoubtedly, he expects Livia, who has proven her fertility in her first marriage through the birth of two sons, to give him a son of his own, a son to provide him with the ultimate immortality. But this will not happen.

My son will succeed Octavian, Livia thinks, smiling at Atia and ordering a new amphora of Caecuban white to be opened. My son Tiberius, who is a Claudian on both his mother's and his father's side, with no drop of Julian blood in his veins. Octavian shall never have a son of his own.

A woman knows how to stop herself from giving birth. Having silphium mixed in the Caecuban white is one of the safer methods, and the sweetness of the wine will mean Livia won't even have to struggle to prevent a grimace. If, by some misfortune, someone else should taste the wine and figure it out regardless, well, the Caecuban white was a present from her dear mother-in-law, and Octavian is ready to believe anything about Atia. He will never forgive her for having loved Mark Antony.

Atia returns Livia's smile, a study in cool politeness and disdain. Your son's seed will always be spilled in vain, Livia thinks, and as for your daughter, I will deal with her and the children she raises. None of them will ever rule Rome. My son will. All your schemes, all your struggles, all your son's work: it will solely have been for my descendants while yours will cease to exist. How is that for utter destruction?

She raises her cup to Atia, and the taste of victory fills her mouth, sweeter than anything else.