The Sun of God

Book Award Sub-Category
2024 Young Or Golden Writer
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Woven with history and forbidden romance, The Sun of God unveils the hidden world of Ancient Rome in the reimagined past of a young, ruthless Octavius as he defies all odds and rises to absolute power as Emperor Augustus, founding the Roman Empire and changing history forever.
First 10 Pages


Marcus Antonius had a lot of debt.

That was the first thing on his mind as he entered the luxurious villa of Gaius Octavius. The second was how much he hated funerals.

Antonius could already hear the faint voices of mourners in the house. Gaius Octavius had up until very recently been a popular politician and general, but he had died at his villa in Nola from a lingering battle wound.

His widow, Atia Balba, was holding a ceremony at their family home in Velitrae, just over a day’s ride from Rome. The journey had been smooth but boring, and Antonius itched for a good bottle of wine and a game of dice.

A short hallway opened onto a shaded courtyard, a shallow impluvium at the center, its clear waters sparkling under the sunlight. The villa dripped in money wherever Antonius looked. Silver-veined marble coated each column and the walls were all painted with elaborate scenes from the Iliad. Antonius squinted at one, and sure enough, there was the Trojan Horse before the walls of Troy.

Gaius Octavius came from a wealthy equestrian family and it showed in every corner of his glamorous house. New money always left a trace, Antonius thought dryly, glancing at the statues of no-name ancestors standing proudly around the atrium.

“Marcus Antonius.”

Antonius started at the voice and looked around for its source.

Atia Balba.

The widow of Gaius Octavius stood across the atrium in a white stola, her brown hair undone in mourning. She was so still, as still as the marble statues adorning the colonnade, that Antonius had not noticed her until she spoke.

Atia had always terrified him.

He crossed the atrium and kissed her in greeting. “My condolences.”

“Thank you, Antonius.”

She turned away with her usual cold indifference. While her husband had been born to an equestrian family, Atia was the daughter of Julia Minor and therefore descended from the Julian family, which legend told began with the noble Julus, son of the famed Trojan hero Aeneas. Antonius thought it all ridiculous.

Atia glanced at him sharply. “I am sure you are well?”

Antonius frowned. Everyone knew he had been struggling to stay afloat recently, amassing debts greater than any his stepfather had before him. Atia only asked him to be polite, however frosty the courtesy.

“Very well, thank you.”

They walked in silence to the gardens behind the house, just as Antonius had suspected. There were already people lounging in couches set up across the grass, mourners milling about in quiet discussion. The men wore dark tunics with somber frowns, while the women were robed in white and wore their hair down like Atia. Some cheeks were still damp with tears, while others cried openly.

Antonius resisted the urge to scoff. Hardly any of these people knew Gaius Octavius. They were here for one reason only, and it had everything to do with Julia Minor’s watchful eyes surveying the crowds from the far side of the gardens.

Julia Minor was the older sister of the Imperator Julius Caesar and mother to Atia Balba. But if they hoped to gain favor with Julius Caesar through his sister, they were greatly mistaken. Julia was just as ambitious as her brother, and no less ruthless.

Closer to the house stood—to Antonius’ surprise and disdain—Lucius Marcius Philippus. Philippus was the rumored suitor of Atia Balba despite being a known critic of her uncle Julius Caesar.

Many guests flocked to him as a wealthy, well-connected politician, but many others kept their distance, catching the displeasure flitting in Julia Minor’s eyes. There were many men like Philippus in the Roman Senate, who openly denounced their political enemies only to turn around and conspire with them behind closed doors.

Antonius did not know why Julia Minor tolerated such a man for her daughter—a woman Antonius had always considered very beautiful and proud, too beautiful for an old and arrogant man like Philippus. But that was not the question.

Philippus’ old age and wealth provided a generous assurance for Atia and her children which Antonius could not have hoped to challenge even if he hadn’t gambled all his money away. The real question was what Atia provided him.

“Well, if it is not young Marcus Antonius,” Philippus called out to him, motioning Antonius over with his hand and a smirk.

Antonius reluctantly walked over to him as the crowd around him quietly dispersed. If there was someone at this funeral more disliked than Philippus, it would be Antonius himself, just shy of twenty-five and known more for his growing debt and scandalous love affairs than his familial connection to Julius Caesar.

But Antonius dared not offend the old man, though he felt Julia Minor’s burning gaze from across the gardens as he kissed Philippus. “It is good to see you, sir.”

“I heard you had some trouble with creditors in the city,” Philippus said as a way of greeting, then dropped his voice, pretending to look around before he spoke. “I suppose the Imperator cannot vouch on your behalf?”

Philippus never missed an opportunity to remind Antonius of his mother’s distant connection to Julius Caesar. Though she was indeed a third cousin to the current consul, unless Antonius married Atia instead of Philippus, Caesar would do nothing for his debt.

“Naturally he cannot.” Antonius saw Philippus’ smirking face and could not resist a little dig himself. “But rumor has told me that you are courting Atia Balba. Perhaps you might supplicate the Imperator for me?”

His smirk dropped. Philippus glanced across the gardens at Julia Minor, who held the same carefully polite expression that her daughter had so coldly offered as a welcome. “Very funny, Antonius. You know, when I was your age, I had already joined the army and was making a name for myself. If you don’t quit your gambling and girls, you will amount to much worse than a mere debtor like your step-father.”

Antonius tried not to betray his annoyance and snap back an insult. “And what is that?”

“Someone nobody remembers.”

The words stung more than Antonius wished. He did not give Philippus the satisfaction of an answer. Instead, he watched Atia at the center of the gardens, a small child with the blonde hair and quick smile of her late father running about her legs. She was a girl of about seven or eight, who shrieked and laughed happily at something so loud in the quiet murmuring that Atia promptly slapped her across the face. At once the girl’s eyes welled with tears and her bottom lip wobbled.

A few paces beside her stood a little boy no older than four years old, with closely cropped brown hair and steady brown eyes. He seemed scarcely moved by his sister’s pain. In fact, he looked so different from his sister with olive dark skin beside her fair, rosy face that Antonius doubted for a moment whether they were even born of the same father.

Antonius watched the scene curiously. He had difficulty imagining Philippus holding any real fatherly affection for them, as he already had three grown children of his own by a first marriage.

“Those are the children?”

The boy turned and looked at them, as if sensing Antonius’ eyes on him, angling his head to the side like a small, dark sparrow. Antonius did not break his gaze, but the boy only stared back, unmoving.

Philippus made a noise following his line of sight. “Unfortunately. The girl never shuts up and the boy never opens his mouth. But the girl will grow up beautiful like her mother. It’s the boy I will have to worry about.”

“Why?” Antonius asked, but he thought he already knew the answer. The boy had a strange air about him, too quiet and still for his age.

“He is stunted. Weak. The child falls sick every time the wind blows. If he does not die before manhood, his life will be very sorry indeed.”

Antonius raised a brow. Those were bold statements to make of Julius Caesar’s grand-nephew. But he supposed they were true. The boy did look sickly, his tan skin almost sallow.

“What was he named?”

Philippus glanced at him as if surprised Antonius would care. “Gaius Octavius. The only thing he inherited from his father.”

Antonius nearly grimaced. He could sympathize with the poor child on this. His own father, Marcus Antonius Creticus, had fallen to disgrace trying to hunt pirates and in a fit of delusion became a pirate himself—not a very good one of course, because in the end he was caught.

Though his father had long since passed away, it was a legacy that never died, and as the eldest son and namesake, Antonius has borne the brunt of it.

“There is trouble in the air, I have no doubt,” Philippus murmured thoughtfully. He was looking right at Julia Minor, who had taken hold of little Octavius’ hand and was stroking his hair with uncharacteristic gentleness. The boy did not return the affection, but Antonius thought he saw a glimmer of satisfaction in those dark eyes. “I would advise you to escape the storm while you still can.”

Now Philippus had his attention. There had been rumors of a growing discontent among the senators with Julius Caesar. Caesar’s own co-consul, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, had always opposed him every chance he had and hated him still, despite holding the same office. It seemed any day the tension between the two men would boil over into something far more dangerous than a mere Senate speech. Could Philippus know more than he let on?

“What kind of trouble?”

Philippus cut him a sharp glance of disapproval. “The bad kind.”

“I see.” Antonius was suddenly thankful Julia Minor was occupied with the child. In a family such as the gens Julia, there was no room for treachery.

“You know, the Imperator cannot help you with your debt, but I can,” Philippus said, eyeing him meaningfully. “If you leave the country, it would be easier for me to manage your affairs.”

“And what would you like in return?” Antonius asked with a touch of mockery, though his thoughts quickened at the possibility of escaping his creditors. He had buried himself in a hole too deep to get out of himself, and time was running out.

“Consider it a favor.” Philippus smiled, but it held too much cunning to be considered kind. “I only ask that you remember my generosity in the future.”

Antonius hesitated, considering. “And where do you suggest I go?”

“Greece. Study in Athens. You can always join the military later. But when the time comes and you must pick a side, make sure it’s the right one.”

Antonius wondered which side Philippus would consider the right one. On the one hand, he opposed the Imperator at every turn. But on the other hand, Philippus appreciated power, and Julius Caesar certainly had a lot of it.

“Perhaps if I study philosophy I will learn how to distinguish between right and wrong,” Antonius said, hardly hiding his sarcasm.

He did not trust Philippus, and besides, Atia Balba was now making her way towards them with the little boy shuffling in front, her daughter trailing behind tearfully.

“You do not use your wit enough, Antonius,” Philippus said dryly, watching Atia approach, her stola falling elegantly around her legs.

“Only with the women, Philippus,” Antonius muttered, before Atia stood before them.

Atia cast her eyes down in an affectation of innocence, but not before Antonius glimpsed a hard look of disapproval. Though Julia Minor could not hear them, she had been watching them and had sent her daughter over to end their conversation.

“What gossip have you two been cooking up?” Atia asked lightly, but there was a warning in her words.

“We were wondering where your uncle was to be found,” Philippus answered without delay, looking at Atia with a smile, as if this were already their wedding day and not her husband’s funeral. “He is very much missed today.”

“He had business in Rome, but has already sent his condolences,” Atia said. She looked down at her son, then Antonius, her face a picture of matronly duty save for the eyes, which bore into him like Athena herself. She was only two years older than Antonius, but it felt like she had lived a lifetime more. “Have you met my children, Antonius?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure,” Antonius said.

Though they were related, he usually saw Gaius Octavius and his family only every few years when someone either married or died. Even then, they had always been a very reserved family.

Antonius looked at the young Octavius, who stared at him in quiet curiosity. Atia pushed him toward Antonius with her knee and the boy limply moved forward. He dipped his head and kissed the boy’s cheek. “Marcus Antonius.”

The boy stepped away, wiping at his face.

His mother jostled him again. “Tell the young man your name.”

He remained stubbornly silent. Antonius raised a brow, but Octavius only shook his head defiantly. Philippus shifted impatiently beside him, and Atia sighed.

“His name is Gaius Octavius Thurinus,” she said. Her voice did not waver, instead sharpening around the name, like stone against metal. “He prefers his own company to that of others.”

“That is one way to put it,” Philippus muttered under his breath.

Atia ignored him, pushing her daughter forward, who brightened up with a smile when Antonius kissed her soft cheek.

“Octavia,” she said in a gentle, lilting voice. “It is nice to meet you, Marcus Antonius.”

He held back a smile at the way she said his name. “And you, Octavia.”

Now that the child business was done, Atia shooed them back to their grandmother and returned her attention to Philippus.

She drew up her shoulders, as if the presence of her children had been weighing on her, and from one moment to the next she looked as Antonius remembered her from when he was still a boy and she had been newly wed to Gaius Octavius. A beautiful and proud young woman, the kind of woman Antonius was always trying to find, but instead only finding the bottom of a wine glass and a brothel.

“Well then, what news?” Atia asked.

“Nothing troubling, to be sure. Only Antonius here was telling me how he’d like to study in Athens,” Philippus said, nodding towards Antonius.

Atia turned to him in feigned approval. “That is wonderful, Antonius. I will be sure to mention something to my uncle. He has many friends in Athens.”

Antonius realized with a sudden anger that they had planned this all along. Perhaps it had even been Atia’s idea. Or, more likely, Caesar had given the suggestion along with his condolences, if he had any, to brush aside a troublesome family member and secure his bribed support at the same time.

He was again reminded of the power extending beyond the tips of Julius Caesar’s fingers, like stealthy tree roots wriggling their way into every home through the soil.

If someone were to ask him now, Antonius would bet on Caesar and his sway with the mobs to win, whether it was the right side or not. Politics, after all, was just like gambling, except in this game, one bet with their life. But the storm had not yet landed, and it was always better to wait until the wind began to blow.

“That would be very kind of you,” Antonius said with a curt nod.

Philippus patted him firmly on the shoulder. “I do not doubt that Greece will do you good, son, and soon you will return a learned military man and we will hardly recognize you.”

But the curl of his lips suggested otherwise. In their eyes, Antonius was nothing more than a gambling drunk, and perhaps it was best to let them think it. For now.

“Just do not marry a foreign woman while you are there,” Atia added, “and we will welcome you back home with open arms.”

He could not help a small smile at that—which Atia eyed curiously—because since the moment Philippus had suggested it, Antonius had been picturing a beautiful Grecian woman in his head, her hand already straying to her belt.

Antonius always did have a thing for accents.