An extract from ‘The Horse Changer’



Tuscany: 49 BC

I was sixteen when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and rode into Italy at the head of Legio XIII. I knew several of the young men in Tuscany who joined his auxiliaries and begged my father’s permission to enlist as well. He refused.

I was old enough, or so I thought, but my father possessed a farmer’s slow reckoning of time. He said I would be of more use to Caesar if I finished my education. I protested that Caesar needed me now, but my father assured me a man like Caesar would always have another battle waiting.

In the three years that followed, Caesar chased the senate out of Italy, routed the legions of Pompey Magnus in Spain and Greece, secured Egypt and sailed to Pontus on the Black Sea, where he defeated an enemy force on the very day he arrived, uttering in the aftermath of that battle the immortal words, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’ Then, when the last of the senate’s forces rallied in Numidia, Caesar sailed his wearied legions to Africa and, after a series of desperate battles, brought our great Civil War to its conclusion.

In the history of Rome, there had never been three more glorious years of war, or any general the equal of Julius Caesar. And all the while I sat in Tuscany adding summons and learning to parse Greek sentences.

Rome: 46 BC

When word came of Caesar’s victory in Africa, my wise father kissed my head and sent me to Rome with his blessing. I was nineteen. My eyes were good in those days, my feet swift, my hands strong. I had a heart brimming with ambition. Like a few thousand other young men of

my stripe, I had learned from my early childhood onwards to fight with a sword and hunt with a spear. I could box and wrestle with some skill and even had modest talents in archery. As for the art of horsemanship, I was unrivalled in all of Tuscany.

I was handsome in my youth, taller than most, with powerful shoulders and dusty brown locks. At seventy years of age, I still have broad shoulders and most of my height; the beautiful locks, however, have gone the way of all that is mortal. Judah, my secretary, smirks as I dictate this. It is always the same with young men: they can imagine any fate for themselves except old age and baldness. I was no different.

In Rome, I spent each morning for nearly a week in the vestibule of the house of Cornelius Dolabella. I had never met Dolabella, but my father enjoyed a long friendship with his great uncle, who was one of the lords of our province and the grand patriarch of the Cornelii. He had therefore instructed me to approach Dolabella before speaking to any other patrician. This seemed good advice. Dolabella, as everyone knew, was then a rising star in Caesar’s party, which happened to be the only viable political faction left in Rome. Dolabella was twenty-eight years old; in the old days that would have made him too young for command and certainly too young for a position of any importance in the government. In the world Julius Caesar had fashioned, Dolabella was a general of the legions. In fact, he had already been promised a consulship in another year or two.

To my thinking, no man could match Caesar’s accomplishments, and even with all my ambition I never imagined myself overtaking his glory, not if I had three lifetimes. But I thought I could hope for what Dolabella had accomplished. I decided all I had to do was observe his manner and conduct myself exactly as he did. Of course, I came to this dubious conclusion before I had ever set eyes on the man.

© Craig Smith