The weather changed suddenly in the evening and the sky was lit with lightning. The thunder roared and sent children scattering to hide under their beds. The heavens opened and the rain came down. Cicero, the famous orator, had been caught in it and was battling his way home, pulling his cloak tightly around himself. Turning a corner he almost bumped into someone, and saw that it was one of his fellow senators, Casca.
‘Good evening, Casca,’ he said. ‘Did you see Caesar home? Why are you so breathless and why are you looking so scared?’
‘Aren’t you scared when the whole world shakes like some infirm thing?’ said Casca. ‘I’ll tell you something, Cicero: I’ve seen storms where the punishing wind has uprooted knotty oaks, and I have seen the ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam, trying to rise right up to the threatening clouds. But never, until tonight, did I go through a storm that was dropping fire. There is either a civil war in heaven or else the world, too insolent for the gods, has provoked them to send destruction.’ He pulled Casca into a more sheltered spot in the entrance of a building.
‘Is that all?’ said Cicero. ‘What else did you see?’
‘A common slave – you know him well by sight – held up his left hand, which was flaming and burning like twenty torches joined together: and yet his hand seemed fire proofed – it didn’t get burnt. And,’ continued Casca, ‘I still haven’t put my sword away – right in front of the Capitol I encountered a lion, that stared at me and then passed me haughtily without molesting me. And there were a hundred terrified women gathered together, paralysed with fear, who swore they saw men, all made of fire, walk up and down the streets. And yesterday an owl sat over the market place at noon, hooting and shrieking. When these unnatural events all meet at the same time, no-one can say that there are reasons, that it’s natural. I believe they are ominous things pointing to the place where they are happening.’ He slid his sword into its scabbard.
Cicero nodded thoughtfully. ‘Hmmm. It’s certainly an unusual time. But people interpret things the way they want to in ways that have nothing to do with those things.’ With that he dismissed the topic. Casca made a move to leave. ‘Is Caesar going to the Capitol tomorrow?’ said Cicero.
‘He is,’ said Casca. ‘Because he told Antonius to tell you that he would be there tomorrow.’
‘Good night, then Casca,’ said Cicero. ‘This isn’t the weather to be out in.’
Casca waited in the entrance for a moment then, as he stepped out into the blinding storm, he heard a voice beside him say: ‘Who’s there?’
Casca drew his sword again and stepped back to the sheltered spot. ‘A Roman,’ he said.
The other man joined him. It was Cassius. ‘I recognised your voice,’ he said.
‘You’ve got a good ear,’ said Casca. ‘What kind of night is this?’
‘A very good night to do honest things,’ said Cassius.
‘Whoever saw such menacing skies?’
‘Those who have lived in times when there have been as many disorders as there are now,’ said Cassius. ‘For myself, I have been walking about the streets, submitting myself to the perilous night. And lightly clothed like this, as you can see, Casca, I have bared my chest to the thunder clouts. And when the blue lightning seemed to open the very heart of heaven, I presented myself right in the very aim and flash of it.’
‘But why did you tempt the heavens so much? It’s our place to fear and tremble when the most mighty gods send such dreadful messengers to astonish us.’
‘You are dim-witted, Casca, and you’re lacking those sparks of life that should be in a Roman. You either don’t have them or you’re not using them. You look pale, and you gaze, and you put on a show of fear, and you throw yourself into a state of wonder on seeing this strange impatience of the heavens. But if you were to think about the real cause of it: why all these fires, and these gliding ghosts, why birds and animals of every kind, why old men, and fools, and children can understand why all these things are reversed from their natural state to such monstrosity – then you’ll see that heaven has sent these things to warn us of some monstrous state here in Rome. I could name a man who is most like this dreadful night. Who thunders, flashes, opens up graves and roars like the lion in the Capitol: a man no mightier than yourself or me in personal action, but yet grown as huge and fearful as these strange eruptions are.’
Casca grinned. ‘You mean Caesar, don’t you, Cassius?’
‘Let it be whoever it is,’ said Cassius. ‘Romans have muscles and limbs just like their ancestors had, but sadly, our fathers’ minds are dead and we have our mothers’ minds. Our willingness to be enslaved shows us to have become feminine.’
Casca nodded. ‘I know. They say that the senators are planning to establish Caesar as king tomorrow. And he’s going to wear his crown on the sea and the land everywhere except here in Italy.’
Cassius looked around furtively. ‘I know where I’m going to wear this dagger then,’ he said. ‘Cassius is going to liberate Cassius from slavery.’ He held the dagger up against his throat. ‘With this, you gods, you will make the weak strong. With this, you gods, you defeat tyrants. Stony towers, and walls of beaten brass, stuffy dungeons and strong iron chains can’t defeat the strength of the spirit. Life, when tired of these worldly barriers, always has the power to end itself. Of all the things in the world that I know, I know this: if I am the victim of tyranny I can shake it off at any time I please.’
‘So can I,’ said Casca. ‘Every prisoner holds the power to cancel his captivity in his own hands.’
‘And how is Caesar able to be a tyrant then?’ said Casius. ‘Poor man. I know he wouldn’t want to be a wolf if he didn’t see that Romans are only sheep. He couldn’t be a lion unless the Romans were hinds. Those that want to make big fires start it with small straws. What trash Rome is, what rubbish, and what offal, when its only function is to make such a vile thing as Caesar great!’ Cassius paused to allow his anger to subside. He shook his head slowly. ‘But oh grief, where have you led me to? But perhaps I’m saying all this to a willing prisoner. Then I know you’ll attack me. But I’m armed and all dangers are a matter of indifference to me.’ He turned to go.
Casca put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘You’re talking to Casca,’ he said. ‘And to a man who is not a fawning tell-tale. Wait. Here’s my hand. Do something to organise others and I’ll go as far as all the of them.’
Cassius took the proffered hand. ‘It’s a deal, then. Now you should know, Casca, I have already persuaded some of the most noble-minded Romans to join me in a noble but dangerous project. And I know they’re waiting for me at Pompey’s porch. Because of the weather there’s no-one out doors. The state of the weather is like the work we have before us – bloody, fiery and most terrible.’
Casca pulled him back as he was about to go. ‘Wait, stay hidden for a moment. There’s someone coming. He’s in a hurry.’
‘It’s Cinna,’ said Cassius. ‘I recognise his walk. He’s one of us.’ He stepped out and stopped the senator. ‘Cinna, where are you going in such a hurry?’
‘To look for you,’ said Cinna. ‘Who’s that with you? Metellus Cimber?’
‘No, it’s Casca, one of us. Are they waiting for me, Cinna?’
‘I’m glad he’s with us,’ said Cinna. What a terrible night this is! Two or three of us have seen some strange sights.’
‘Are they waiting for me?’ said Cassius. ‘Tell me.’
‘Yes, they are,’ said Cinna.
Cassius made to go and Cinna stopped him. ‘Oh Cassius,’ he said, if only you could get the noble Brutus to join us.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Cassius. ‘Good Cinna, take this letter and put it on Brutus’ magisterial desk where he’ll find it. And throw this one through his window. And stick this one on his father’s statue. When you’ve done all that go to Pompey’s porch where we’ll be. Are Decius Brutus and Tebonius there?’
‘They’re all there apart from Metellus Cimber, and he’s gone to your house to look for you. Well I’ll hurry and put these letters where you told me to.’
‘When you’ve done that go to Pompey’s theatre. Come Casca. You and I will see Brutus at his house before morning. He’s three-quarters with us already. And the whole man will be ours at our next meeting.’
‘Good,’ said Casca. ‘He’s so highly regarded by everyone that things that would appear offensive if it were just us, his involvement will change to virtue and worthiness.’
‘You’ve judged that correctly,’ said Cassius. ‘We need him and his qualities. Let’s go because it’s after midnight. We’ll wake him up and secure him before dawn.’
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