Beth was without fear or worry. She had a mission to be sure, but no care. She was entirely young and pretty in both the eyes of God and his children. Her image began to float earthward. On his bed Constantine sensed her. As the priests taught, he forced his mind to matters not of the flesh

“In the morning when thou art sluggish at rousing, let this thought be present: I am rising to a man’s work.” Constantine tried but it was not easy to emulate Marcus Aurelius. Come to think of it, Marcus must have had the same problem getting up, otherwise he’d not have had to encourage himself. “Flinch not, neither give up nor despair if the achievement of every act in accordance with right principle is not always continuous with thee.” Constantine rolled out of bed with a small smile on his lips. Maybe the old emperor wasn’t such a perfect model after all … Stodgy though.

He was growing up and he knew it. Last year he had been betrothed to the daughter of Charles of the Franks and this year his military training had begun in earnest. For two hours each day he trained with sword and ax and bow. For another hour he studied strategy and tactics at the palace command school. This was the first time in his life that he had shared a classroom with other boys rather than studying alone with a tutor; but these things were not arts to be studied alone. He had to match and hone his own skill and insights against other boys in argument and tabletop war games. Then too, when he would come to command armies he would need subordinate commanders whose judgment and abilities he understood as well as he did his own. Commanders in the Byzantine army came from many places, including the ranks, but it was those he knew now who he would most trust in battle because he knew what they would do. As a later commander would say: “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

Yet Constantine was not so old that he did not enjoy lying abed with a pet cat and that was what he would do this fine morning. Old Furface was not just any palace cat. A social climber, she had somehow become the emperor’s own pet many years before when they had both been very young. Not that Constantine wouldn’t stoop his serene self to chuck a rival under the chin; but there was a special place in his heart for this animal which shared the imperial bed and could be counted on to wake beside him each morning with an annoyed look, wondering no doubt why her friend had to always rise so early.

They both had breakfast and, although it was not the usual thing, Constantine then returned to his chambers with Furface, or rather he followed the cat back to the bed. The sun was bright and warm through the marble lattice and while they’d been eating breakfast the pale green and white marble room had been cleaned and decorated with small sculptures and brightly colored flowers. Just as it should be, the cat was probably thinking if it was thinking anything at all. Her eyes were slowly closing and the emperor lay quietly so as not to disturb her. Though Constantine was still young, Furface was not as the lives of felines go. At best she was middle aged going on elderly and the emperor dreaded the day which must come when she would die. Of course being emperor, he already had enemies. It was possible that she would outlive him. He was unsure which thought depressed him more.

Am I brave or a coward?, the young emperor questioned himself. He did not know and Furface, if she knew, was not answering either. When will death come? When I am young or old, or sometime in between? The question was pointless as Marcus would have noted. It would come at God’s chosen moment and that was that. But how he would meet it worried the boy. A shepherd or farmer, even a soldier, might die crying and soon no one would remember either him or his death; not so one born to the purple. He must die well as he must live well. It must have troubled old Marcus Aurelius despite all his protestations. After all, their memory among men was all the pagan emperors had to trust in. For a certainty, he too had known fear and been uncertain of his own bravery. “Do not worry about it,” the patriarch had assured Constantine: “You will die well if you have lived well.”

Is that so? Constantine hoped so, for he was trying his best to live well. The priests had given him the martyrs to emulate and John Pikridios had given him old Marcus. What was it Homer sang? “It is not unseemly for a man to die fighting in defense of his country.” He could try to die well if he died in some battle against some enemy of his people – he owed them that. But how would he face some assassin in the night without his friends and comrades about him to steady his resolve? What if he were wounded and his dying took days or weeks? How can a man die well like that? I am not an ancient hero. I will try, but I am not a hero. What if I am tortured?