This book is dedicated to those who have gone before us; those brave martyrs without whose bravery in the face of adversity this tale would not be possible.
It is also dedicated to those who still endure torment for the sake of Christ today—whose sufferings are even greater and more heartbreaking than those depicted in this story (www.persecution.com).
It is dedicated with love to my mother, who spent her life teaching me not only to read, but to learn to love it.
This novel is dedicated in a very special way to Professor Toni Vanino…a remarkable woman who changed my concepts of my own writing from “I think I can” to “I KNOW I can!”
This work of my heart is also dedicated with love to my husband, Dillon. Through you, I truly believe that I have seen the love and forgiveness of Christ manifested in humanity. The ending of this novel was written to thank you for all of your lessons in love and forgiveness, no matter how hard they might be to learn.
And I’m learning.
Thank you all.
Calliliana………Bright Beauty (from Calla “Beauty”, and Iliana “Bright”)
Marcus Agrippa…………… (Marcus “Warlike”; Agrippa, “Wild)
Adrian……………Person from Hadria (Northern Italy)
Lavina……………Woman of Rome
Appius……………a common name in Ancient Rome
Quintus……………King of Five (a name traditionally given to the fifth child)
Albina……From the Roman cognomen Albinus, which was derived from Latin albus, which means, "white, bright".
Ancient Rome—a place of cruelty and malice, opulence and want; a place of great beauty and great pain, great vision and great vice. A place where one might expect to find Death lurking around every filthy corner of every fetid street, whether in the guise of an old beggar with a dagger half-concealed under his cloak, or in the form of the brutal arena. If one were to stand but half a moment in the Forum, that great Roman centre of commerce, he would see misery and fear etched into the countenances of those who passed by, whether they were noble or proud, or wretched and gaunt.
Nevertheless there were some yet in Rome—in the days when her glory had yet to fade, in the days after a Carpenter from Nazareth had traveled about Israel, teaching the ways of God—yet there were some who were nonetheless contented.
These happy few the small horde of wretched slaves did not see as they stood naked and cowering upon a block in the center of the Forum of Rome, mercilessly surrounded by the stinging lashes and vile threats of those who guarded them. An assemblage of future thralls of the empire from all over the world was amassed there, after having been transported from their homelands. Men there were of strength and stature, and women of loveliness beyond compare—yet the one universal trait they all bore was the sadness that clouded their once-dancing eyes.
“Alright, then,” crowed the auctioneer, his black-bristled face red and perspiration-dewed in his excitement, “what will you bid me for this fine specimen of humanity?”The large crowd gathered in the Forum was passively surveying the public auction of yet a new crowd of miserable slaves; it was such a common occurrence to them, there was hardly any novelty left in the action. However, as they lifted their dull eyes to the stand, prepared to observe yet another fearful, work-worn waif, a collective gasp arose from the throats of the onlookers.
Never before had a maiden so fair graced the hideous block of infamy in the Forum. It was clear to the throng at a glance that the young woman, who looked to be no older than sixteen summers, was Grecian-born. A mane of thick, undulating golden curls fell like a robe about her willowy, virginal form, which was covered only by a loose linen shift. Her dark-lashed eyes were the green of the Sea of Tiber, and her skin as fair as its sands. Her lips, now trembling in fear as she stood thus exposed to a multitude of aliens, were full, and of the soft redness that seemed to beg a man’s imprint upon them. She was tall, and regal in her bearing, yet she swayed slightly as she was forced to stand. Her hands were bound before her with thick, course rope that cut deeply into her slender forearms. The tail of the rope fell nearly to her knees, and it was soaked partially with the blood from the young woman’s wrists.
The slave-driver looked about impatiently. “Come on then! Is she not lovely? What do I hear bid for her?” The crowd erupted into a series of cries, as men of all sizes and forms attempted to forge his way through the crowd, their denarii held in eager, outstretched hands. The maiden trembled and shied back slightly, her lips pressed tightly together as if to hold back a cry. A grizzled ancient, garbed in a rich-looking toga that stretched tightly over his paunchy midsection, forced his way to the stand and cast a cunning glance at the auctioneer. His greasy face was as white as papyrus parchment, and the sunlight reflected off of his bald crown as if it were a mirror.
“You expect us to bid for the wench…without first seeing what she has to offer?” His faded, glass-blue eyes twinkled evilly, and a shark-like smile full of rotting teeth creased his face into thousands of tiny wrinkles. Shouts of acclamation and vicious laughter filled the Forum, as all present comprehended the meaning of the lecherous old man. The auctioneer smirked in agreement, and moved towards the young woman.
Still she stood, lovelier, statelier, and stiller than a sculpture: until the man began to unfasten her garment. With one swift movement, she thrust her bound arms up and out, causing the rough end of the rope to swing out and lash her tormentor across the face. With a cry of rage, the man covered his face with one hand and grasped the flailing rope with the other.
“You whore!” he screamed, as he jerked the rope cruelly, causing the maiden to lose her footing and fall heavily upon the platform. As she could not break her fall with her hands, she twisted and landed painfully upon her shoulder. She did not cry out, but lay watching the man above her, knowing full well that some hideous punishment would be the price she paid for her attempt at modesty.
“Show the lass who is master!” cried the crowd, and they laughed in delight as the slave-driver caught up a whip and brandished it above the maiden. She huddled herself together beneath him, her head buried in her arms, as she trembled, waiting…
“Stop this vile business at once!” All heads turned to see a young man, hitherto unnoticed by the teeming throng, edge his way forward. He was tall, with a fairer complexion than that of most of the Roman men in the crowd. The pallor of his face contrasted starkly with the mahogany shadows cast by his curling hair, which fell to his angular jaw. His tall body struck awe into the onlookers, for his great muscles filled even the bravest men present with jealousy and fear. His eyes were as blue as the heavens, and looked as if they could appear alternately gentle and fierce. They resembled the hue of the summer sky during a ferocious storm as he gazed furiously upon the slave-driver.
“What right is it of yours to interfere?” growled the man, hideous in his fury as he lowered his whip.
“My right is that of a potential buyer!” The young Roman thrust a bulging sack of jingling coins at the man. “I intend to purchase the maiden, and I wish her to be unspoiled.” The man opened the sack of denarii, looked into it, and gazed with wonder upon the young man’s face.
“You care not that she is disobedient?” The deep blue eyes of the younger man flashed fire once more.
“That, I think, is not your concern. I have given you more money than you shall ever see again for the girl. She belongs to me now, and I command you to release her!” The slave-driver did as he was bidden, though he cursed and spit as he released the girl from her bondage. He pushed her roughly towards her purchaser, who caught her in his arms as she fell.
She looked up into his face then, and it seemed to the young woman that never before had she seen such goodness mirrored in the countenance of man. He, in his turn, gazed upon her, and his heart seemed to melt within him as he drank in her astounding loveliness. He slipped his arm round her slender waist to support her, and together they left behind them the maiden’s first glimpse of the brutality of Rome.
The young man and maiden were not long in reaching his villa, a modest yet beautiful stone and brick structure on the outskirts of Rome. When the man opened the front door, the girl gasped aloud with surprise and delight at the beauty of her surroundings.
In the center of the lavish courtyard, directly underneath an open part of the roof that would alternately allow in sunshine and sustaining rain-water, a shapely stone nymph danced nimbly away from a faun through a glassy waterfall. Surrounding the fountain on all sides were lush carpets—Turkish, perhaps—of exquisite detail and craftsmanship, bounded on all sides by layers of pink, red, white, and golden Rose petals. The woman moaned softly as her bare, aching feet sank into the thick floor coverings almost up to her ankles. Skillful arrangements of flowers adorned every crevice and corner of the room, and luxurious silk and velvet divans hid behind marble pillars. The woman could see two floors of windows stretching up above her on all sides—windows that revealed glimpses of more tastefully beautiful rooms beyond their shimmering panes. Seeing that she was pleased, the man gently loosened his grasp from her waist, and smiled upon her.
“I think that, as you have come to live in my home, we should know what to call one another.” The woman opened her mouth to speak, but he gently laid his finger upon her lips. “I shall tell you who I am,” he murmured, “but I will not allow you to tell me who you are until you have taken some refreshment. My name is Leander Maximinus. I am the son of an affluent gem merchant of Rome. I have followed in my father’s trade, and am now a very wealthy man in my own right.” He clapped his hands, and an elderly serving woman appeared. Although her face was as wrinkled as a well-worn garment, it was yet pleasing to behold as a result of the kindness which emanated from it. The girl looked upon her with joy, for it seemed to her at last that blessings were showered down upon her, in the place of misfortune. She turned to Leander.
“How can I thank you?” Her voice, soft and thrilling, sweet and sensuous, seemed as rousing to his ears as the trilling wind-carried song of a lark on a summer’s day. He nearly stretched out a hand to touch her golden hair…but stopped himself in time.
“No thanks are needed. I wish only that you refresh yourself and take some rest.” The girl delicately bent her form into a graceful curtsey, then left the room upon the arm of the old servant woman.
“My name is Kalyca, Child. I was born in Greece, as were you, I presume?” When the damsel nodded in agreement, the old servant woman beamed an affable smile upon the younger, as she gently stroked the golden masses of her hair with an ivory-and-silver comb.
“You are very kind, Kalyca,” the girl replied. She allowed the old woman to aid her in undressing and sighed with rapture as she slid into a bath of hot, heavily scented water.
The girl had gasped in surprise and pleasure when she had beheld the bathing-rooms for the first time. The floors were made of intricately laid marble tiles, held together with smelted bands of gold. Ivy-embraced alabaster pillars supported an arched ceiling upon which painted lovers and their companions rested peacefully among artistically wrought flowering trees. Two bath-pools were sunken into the marble flooring; one was relatively small in circumference, while the other, a large rectangle, filled roughly half of the room. Soft-looking lounging tables, covered in some white fabric the maiden did not recognize, were set close to the pools, so that a bather might emerge and recline upon them to dry.
Kalyca busied herself about the room, arranging towels, combs, cloths, and fragrant oils as she surreptitiously watched the lovely young woman bathe. She seemed almost like a water nymph as she danced and floated among the little rippling waves that her slight body produced in the pool, her gracefulness evidently inborn and meticulously maintained.
The maiden was exceedingly slender, almost alarmingly so, as a result of the voyage to Rome from her distant homeland. Her honey-toned hair drifted about her lovely face as she floated in the water, framing it as if a ray of light had fallen upon and illuminated the face of a priceless marble statue. The older woman sighed to herself as she appraised the girl’s gently rounded hips and the beautiful white mounds of her small breasts, thinking of her own youth—youth and beauty that were so far gone, they seemed to be almost a myth; a dream.
When the maiden finished bathing, Kalyca dried her, massaged oils that smelt of peppermint and roses into her pink skin, and dressed her artistically in a beautiful and ornate stola. The pale green hue of the robe set off the striking emerald eyes and ivory-fair skin of the girl to such perfection, the servant believed that even the fabled Venus would turn her face from her in envy. The old women brushed the maiden’s wet hair, but did not fasten it away from her face, allowing it to dry and stand naturally, letting the glorious curls have their way with it. The young woman spoke not at all as she was thus attended to, save only to thank Kalyca for her kind services on her behalf.
At long last, the damsel was ready. Kalyca led her to Leander, noting with satisfaction the look of supreme wonder upon his face as beheld the glory of her refined beauty in the full light of day. He reclined upon a comfortable couch, an untouched goblet of wine before him, and he motioned for the girl to recline as well. Kalyca left them together then, for she sensed that the girl had much to tell her new master that she could not—or would not—tell her.
“Well,” said Leander at last, “Are you rested?” She smiled at him.
“Yes. I…I thank you with all of my heart. Such kindness…” Her emerald eyes dimmed with tears suddenly, and she dipped her beauteous head into her hands to try and veil them behind the golden tapestries of her hair. With a rush of anger, Leander noted the marks the coarse ropes had made upon her white wrists.
“Why do you weep?” he asked gently, after a moment. The girl breathed deeply to calm her torrential emotions, then forced herself to look up and meet his gaze.
“You have told me who you are, Milord. I must now extend the same courtesy.” She shifted slightly, and Leander noted to himself that she looked like the very essence of spring itself, with the fairness of her golden beauty emerging from the thin, form-enhancing green robe which she wore. “My name is Calliliana, which is Greek for…”
“…Bright Beauty. It is two names in one, and never was a name more aptly chosen.” Calliliana blushed.
“I see that you know Greek as well as Latin, as do I. My mother, Lethia, was a Grecian noblewoman, who married a Roman soldier when she was scarcely more than a girl. She gave birth to me whilst he was away on a campaign…he never returned.” The girl paused and placed a hand over her brow. “Although we were supremely happy together, Mother never abandoned the practice of rich living, even after all of the money that was left by my father had been exhausted. His family bore a grudge against her—they had wished their son to marry a Roman noblewoman, and they unjustly blamed her for the fact that he never returned to them. Needless to say, she could not have asked them for financial assistance. When she realized that she had fallen so far into debt…” A violent fit of shivering accosted Calliliana, and her voice fell so low that Leander had to strain to hear it.
“I returned home one evening, and was surprised to not find her waiting for me. After looking unsuccessfully for her, I asked each and every servant in turn where she might be, but no one knew any better than did I. I ordered them to separate and begin searching the house, for by this time I was sorely alarmed. I searched the upstairs of the house…I went into her room; she was not there. I was about to turn away, when I noticed that the door to the balcony overlooking our gardens was half-open. I stepped outside and looked about me…she was not there either. I turned to go, but something made me look over the edge of the balcony.” Calliliana paused again, and her eyes and face bespoke of the horror and the sadness she felt. “She had cast herself over the edge, Milord. She lay there on the ground, her beautiful body broken and battered cruelly by the pavement below. I opened my mouth to cry out; not a sound came. I was paralyzed with anguish.”
By this time, Calliliana was weeping once more. Ever so gently, Leander reached out his hand to comfort her, and was pleased when she did not shrink away. She allowed him to caress her hand tenderly, yet it was still several moments before she could compose herself to speak further.
“My mother slew herself as a result of her enormous debts, Milord. I was left alone in the world…and it was not long before those my mother owed came to see me for payment. I am but a young woman, Milord, only just sixteen; I know nothing of such matters.” Calliliana clenched her teeth together. “I remember well the day when a great, hulking man came to the villa. I was exceptionally weary, and exceedingly heart-rent, and I barely listened to the man as he told me that he had a solution for me, a way out of debt. He offered me a glass of wine, which I took, not suspecting anything at all…when I awoke, I found myself bound upon a slave-vessel. I learned that I had been sold into slavery to pay off my mother’s debts.” The maiden fingered the soft material of her robe as she whispered, “I do not know what would have become of me if you had not purchased me, Milord. I owe you a debt of service so great…”
“You owe me nothing, Calliliana.” Leander shifted slightly on his couch. “I know well the plight of beautiful slaves, and I could see in the eyes of the mob just what they would have made you become. I…” He stopped, mesmerized, as in one fluid motion, the maiden slipped from upon her couch and onto her knees before him. She took one of his hands gently in one of her fine, white ones and pressed her scarlet lips softly against it.
“You have saved me, Milord, from a life of shame. For as long as I shall draw breath, I will be your slave.” Leander started to draw his hand away.
“Calliliana…” The girl shook her head.
“Use me as you will, Milord, I shall not murmur a complaint against you. Every day of my life, I will remember what you have saved me from.” Leander shook his head and stood.
“I did not purchase you to be my slave. I do not believe in slavery—I have none.” Calliliana remained on her knees, a look of incredulity spreading across her fair face.
“No…no slaves, Milord? But Kalyca…”
“…Is a paid servant. I do not think it right or just to use the life and vitality of others to promote my own comfort. No, you shall find life in my household very different indeed.” Calliliana rose slowly.
“Then what am I to do here?” Leander walked to a window overlooking the gardens of his estate, and spoke to her without turning.
“It is your own decision, really. You can choose to be a wage-earning servant, as is Kalyca. You can leave me at any time, if you will. You can find work is another household, you can pay rent for your time here—or you can simply live in my house until you decide what you wish to do.” The young man turned to the girl, his handsome face and powerful physique framed by the late afternoon light which slanted through the latticed windows. “I purchased you out of pity for your plight, Calliliana, not for any evil desires on my part. I hope that you realize that…”
“I never thought that you did, Milord.” Leander shook his head once more.
“One request I would make of you—call me by my name. I am not your lord, and therefore should not be addressed as such.”
“I will do as you ask…Leander.” A bright flush colored the maiden’s beautiful face, and it seemed to the young man as he watched her that he was observing an occurrence fairer than the budding of new-born rose. So lovely she was and so pure, Maximinus felt a tender affection for the maiden well up within his heart with a desire that nearly stifled him. He wished to reach out and take her into his arms…
He turned abruptly. “You must be weary, Calliliana. I will have Kalyca show you to your room.” The girl thanked him with her eyes, and he could see for the first time just how truly fatigued she was. She leaned heavily upon the arm of the old servant woman, and the man could not help but long to have her lean against him with such trust as she bestowed upon the servant.
As she left the room, she cast one last look at him over her green-clad shoulder. Leander Maximinus never forgot the appearance of her face as it was then. A slight breeze blew through the windows and lifted her damp hair slightly off of her temples. Her emerald eyes, though weary, were alive with curiosity and thankfulness as she looked at him, her face half-hidden by a screen of golden hair. As their eyes met, a thrill of desire coursed through both of their bodies…though they knew not what the other wished.
They knew not. They knew only what they themselves desired—and they trembled.
Maximinus did not see the young woman until the next morning, when she placed his breakfast before him on the table. Although he attempted to keep his eyes from roving over her delicious form, he could not help noticing that the soft blue of her stola enlivened her fair coloring so that she seemed to be as a nymph rising from the crest of an azure sea. Her long golden hair was delicately braided away from her face, and it resembled a rope with its curling thickness as it fell to her knees like a waterfall of bright sunlight. As she reached past him to place the bread by his plate, Calliliana caught him gazing upon her and she blushed hotly. “Is this all, Milord?” He reached for her hand and drew her to the side of the table.
“I asked you to call me by my name, Calliliana. And no, this is not all.” He rose and pulled out a chair for the girl, and gently forced her to take a seat. “I wish you to dine with me.” The maiden cast her eyes upon the table and fidgeted with the cloth covering it.
“If you wish, Mil—Leander.” The young man watched her intently as she ate, noting how like a nervous nestling she was. She merely picked at the sumptuous food before her.
“You are not hungry?” She started at his voice.
“No…not really.” Leander leaned back in his chair, his blue eyes soft as he contemplated her.
“What can I do to make you smile again?” the question had started from his lips as soon as it had formed in his mind, and the girl looked at him, startled.
“You have saved me from a life of utter misery. That is enough. But please,” her voice broke, “Please, do not ask me to smile. I cannot as of yet.”
“Fair enough.” The young man knew that it made the new inmate of his house extremely uncomfortable to have him watch her as she ate, so instead he stood and paced about the room. He was unaware, of course, that the sight of his strong body moving before her only made the girl more eager to escape—she knew not what the feelings were that swayed her mind and her heart. He is so handsome, she thought, so wonderfully handsome, and so noble! Leander turned and looked at her then; she hastily lowered her eyes as a bright flush overspread her snowy face.
“I…I am finished, Mil…Leander. Is there ought else that you wish this morn?” She rose quickly and glanced about her, attempting vainly to discern some work to do. Maximinus smiled in spite of himself at her obvious discomfiture.
“No, Kalyca will take care of everything.” He moved near to her slowly, as if afraid that she would startle and bolt like a doe, and laid a hand on her slender arm. “I do, however, wish you to walk with me. Will you give me that pleasure?” The maiden dipped her head in acquiescence.
The gardens of Maximinus’ home were renowned throughout Rome for their exquisite beauty. Flowers from all over the world had been brought to fill the gardens with their lush loveliness; creeping vines of flowering, verdant green covered the walls of the Peristylium as a rich tapestry more beautiful than anything man could invent; and priceless statues had been imported to fill the gardens with their strange exoticism. Three different fountains, all beautiful, all as ornate and finely crafted as the one that graced the Atrium, were scattered in a state of skillfully designed randomness throughout all of the opulent beauty of the gardens.
All of this, though great in quantity and matchless in quality, was lost upon Leander—it was nothing to the beauty of the maiden beside him. She, however, appeared nearly intoxicated with the splendor about her. Forgetting her shyness for the present, she darted from Leander’s side and flitted from flower to flower in a state of near hysterical joy.
“How beautiful!” she crooned, cradling a rose blossom, “How exquisite!” Before he could stop himself, Leander was at her side. He slipped his hand gently beneath hers, cradling both her fingers and the rose at the same time.
“Yes. It is lovely.” He nestled his face in her hair, inhaling the pleasant scent of her still-damp tresses. “So are you, Calliliana. This rose, this most beautiful of flowers, is nothing but a filthy rag next to your loveliness.” The damsel seemed to stop breathing, so great and so deep was the emotion that constrained her heart. Leander kept one of his strong hands on her own, and gently encircled her slender waist with his other. “When I behold this rose—it’s color and its beauty,” he murmured, his face now against her blushing cheek, “I see instead the color of your cheeks when I speak to you.” Calliliana forced herself to breathe in and out, as if her lungs needed a reminder to do that which they had been created to do.
Leander let fall her hand, and in one fluid motion, leaned over her and plucked a creeping vine from above their heads. The maiden felt as though she could swoon with pleasure at his nearness, as his strong arms bounded her into a prison of sorts against the wall. “This stem here is the color of your eyes. Lovely eyes they are, Calliliana, eyes the color of the sea on a clear day.”
“This flower upon it is the color of your robe, the hue of a sapphire gem.” Leander dropped the vine and placed one arm around the girl’s waist, then slowly turned her to face him. “You are beautiful, My Darling.” Calliliana gasped.
“Milord,” she murmured, tears gathering in her eyes, “You are so good…so noble. You saved me from a life of infamy and torment, and I owe you everything.” She looked down, as if embarrassed. “Do I…do I truly please you?” The young man placed his hand beneath her chin and lifted her eyes to meet his gaze.
“You please me more than anyone…more than anything!” Before he could contemplate his actions, Leander leaned forward and kissed her. The feel of her lips beneath his was a feeling of unmatchable beauty; of heavenly perfection. He was afraid at first that she would pull away in fear or worse, in indignation, but instead she leaned more closely against him. Calliliana wound her slender fingers through the young man’s hair, pulling his face closer to hers, and lost herself in the beauty of his kiss. The two did not know how long they stood thus, nor did they care in the least—it seemed as if a splendor grander than anything else contained in the garden…in the whole world…suffused them with its glorious glow.
The love between Leander Maximinus and the fair Calliliana grew in magnitude as the weeks progressed. Hardly was one without the other, and it became well-known that the gem merchant of Rome was intoxicated with his beautiful new slave girl. Their affection for one another provided a great deal of fodder for the gossip-mongers who roamed the streets of roam; their wagging tongues as ever-present and full of filth as the rats that inhabited the crowded sewers.
“He will soon tire of her,” scoffed the old matrons to one another, as they gossiped in the marketplace, “Maximinus is a man after all. There are other women…”
“Did he not purchase her at the slave auction?”“Greek she is and a beauty besides. A thousand denarii he paid for her, I heard!”
“I heard that the young woman is one of those Christians…”
“Maximinus himself is so beneficent; he may adhere to the teachings of that faith as well…”
Leander merely smiled to himself when Kalyca brought him tales of such talk. He was quick to assure those who questioned him that yes, Calliliana was a Greek woman he had purchased from an auctioneer, yes, she was as beautiful as they said, and no, he had not paid one thousand denarii for her (he had, in fact, paid much more). Only one topic did he not discuss with the general public—the topic of his faith.
The rumors were indeed true. Leander Maximinus, the wealthiest gem merchant of Rome, was a follower of Christianity. His acts of philanthropy were well known to all who knew him and even those who had never met the young man knew of his generosity to all who needed it. Yet despite all of this, Leander had revealed the depth of his secret to no man. He had been converted to Christianity in a most unlikely place—the Coliseum, that infamous palace of torment.
As a lad scarce come to manhood, Leander had accompanied some friends of his father’s to see the “games”—one Christian after another meet their deaths in ways successively more horrific than the last. He had looked with disgust upon his fellow countrymen as they laughed and cheered the torture of these innocents; had silently wept in his heart as he watched them all bravely meet their fates. One victim in particular had inspired his pity and his respect.
A young man, no older than he, stood alone in the center of the arena surrounded only by the ghastly instruments by which he was to die. He looked up into the crowd, his fierce eyes fearlessly gazing as those who had come to watch him perish. As an executioner moved towards him, he held up a hand, and the crowd hushed.
“People of Rome,” he began, his voice strong and unafraid, “I bear you no ill-will for that which you are about to do to me. I die following the example of One far greater than I, than you, than any other on this earth—One who has forgiven me my sins and will forgive yours.”
“Enough!” cried the executioner. He lunged for the young man with his sword drawn, but the lad leapt artfully away.
“Listen!” he cried, desperately evading the strikes of the Roman, “Hearken to my words! The Christ, Whom you killed on a cross, has risen to new life! It is for Him I die, and proudly! I die with my sins forgiven—and so can you!” At just that moment, the executioner’s blade struck home. The young man fell, surrounded by an ever widening pool of his own blood. As he sank towards the gore-soaked ground, Leander leant forward to catch whatever the young man might have to say.
With eyes rolling in pain, it seemed to the wealthy young Roman that the dying man sought out one in the crowd. Maximinus followed his eyes until they came to rest on the face of a lovely young woman, a woman with skin as fair as her tresses were dark, and pitiful eyes brimming with many tears. Leander turned back to the young man, his own eyes stricken with horror, in time to see his lips move as if in farewell of the maiden. The brave Christian heaved a last, great, shaking sigh—a sigh that jetted a fountain of blood from his lips onto the filthy sand below him—and breathed his last.
Perhaps there were more voices that did not cheer the death of the man than those of the wealthy young Roman and the tormented beauty. But as Maximinus felt tears well in his own eyes, as he watched the young woman sink back into the arms of her friends and her slender body tremble in a fit of violent weeping, it seemed that the earth shook with joy at the slaughter of an innocent. Overcome with emotion, the young Roman stood and attempted to force his way over to the girl, tried to find some way to ask forgiveness for his people and comfort her in her loss…but she was hastily escorted by her companions from the arena. As he helplessly watched her leave, he wondered in his heart, Who is this who teaches men how to die?
It was after this sight that Maximinus studied all that he could of the teachings of Christ—and it was not long before the young man became a secret follower of Christianity. He told no one of his new faith—he still felt that he could not himself face such a dreadful death as the one the young man in the Coliseum had faced—but he felt a longing in his heart to share what he believed with those that he loved. So it was that one night, not long after he had saved Calliliana from her dreadful fate, that he gathered his courage and spoke to her of his faith.
She was standing in the gardens—that haven of beauty which had become her respite from life. Leander caught hold of her waist while she was turned from him, examining a budding rose, and gently kissed the back of her neck. She squealed in surprise, but allowed herself to relax in his arms.
“Dearest,” he murmured, turning her to face him, “there is something I wish to speak to you of.” The maiden lowered her eyes.
“Have I displeased you?” Maximinus laughed at the absurdity of the thought.
“Of course not! No, this is something entirely different.” He rested his chin on the top of her densely flowing tresses and stared blankly ahead. “I do not know how to begin this, Love. Calliliana…what do you believe in…or whom?” He heard the girl gasp, and felt her pull away slightly.
“Why do you ask?” Leander noted that her pale face was flushed a deep crimson.
“Are you afraid to tell me?” he countered softly, raising her chin so that their eyes met.
“Why?” The young woman took a deep breath, and crossed her arms over her slender body.
“Not long after the death of my mother, I began to question what I truly believed. I…I wondered deeply what had become of my mother after her death—where her spirit had gone.” Calliliana did not meet Leander’s eyes as she spoke, and he sensed that fear flowed through her veins in the place of blood. “I did not find answers from the religion of my people. One of my slaves, an old woman by the name of Agape, knew of my searching. She was a Christian, and I had noted that she always seemed joyful, no matter what the circumstances of life. When her husband had perished, though I was only a child, I remember that this woman had not become hardened or bitter by her loss.” A tear trembled on the edge of the young woman’s lashes. “I wished to be like her in regards to the loss of my mother.” A warm sense of joy began to flood Leander.
“Did this woman then teach you of her faith?” Calliliana nodded.
“She did…and I believed her. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that the cross of Rome could not destroy Him, nor does the tomb of the Arimathean hold His Body. I believe that He rose again…“You believe that?” Calliliana looked up in fear and surprise; emotion had made Leander’s voice harsher by far than he had intended it to be.
“Y-yes I do. Please,” she whispered, tears flowing freely now, “Do not send me away. I know what Rome does to followers of the Way…I am not strong enough as of yet to face torment and death.” Maximinus caught the girl to his breast in a crushing embrace.
“Dearest,” he murmured, nuzzling her hair, her neck, her shoulder, “Oh, Dearest. Calliliana, my Love, my heart is glad to hear you speak these words. I am a Christian myself.” The maiden clung to the young man, her sobs shaking her body and his.
“Now I know why you are so good—so kind. Why else would you have saved me from my wretched fate?”
“I could do nothing else.” Leander pulled away gently and looked at the girl before him, matchless in her beauty, radiant in her innocence. Taking her hand in his, he tenderly drew her to himself. “Calliliana, most Dear…I love you.”
“And I love you.”
“You know that I have given you the options of leaving me to start life afresh, of working as a paid servant in my household, or of simply staying with me until your mind’s desires are made clear to you. To these I add another option.” His breath caught in his throat and his eyes filled with tears as he looked deep within her ocean eyes. “Calliliana…will you be my wife?” With a cry of joy, the young woman threw her arms around his neck and kissed him with all the passion and fervor in her body. Leander melted into her kiss, its sweetness filling his senses with such intoxication he felt as if he was soaring miles above the earth. Calliliana pulled away from him and placed a soft hand on either side of his face.
“I will.” she answered. And she smiled.
“My wife,” Leander murmured incredulously, as he gazed lovingly upon the delicate form of his new bride. The wedding had been arranged as briefly as possible; the young man had hardly been able to wait to take the woman he loved to wife. While Kalyca had been the only guest in attendance at the nuptials, the bridegroom had showered his love with enough gems, precious metals, and fine clothing to have provided food and drink for hundreds more. Leander had known that these gifts, lavish as they were, were indeed but trifles in comparison to the most holy endowment he was to receive from her that night.
He touched her cheek gently, then let fall his lips on her own. As he wound his arms about her trembling, naked form, he felt himself grow tense and hard with the goading passion of his desire. Leander had kept his body all of his life as a gift for his wife upon their wedding night; he was not prepared for the amazing power and beauty of a woman’s naked form. Her soft breasts, her flat stomach and rounded hips, her long, slender legs, and oh, the astounding splendor of what lay between them, roused something in him that he had not known was possible. Calliliana was trembling against him, her whole body quivering with the intensity of her fear and desire as she felt the hard muscles of his body meld against her.
They stood thus, engrossed in one another, desiring one another, until the young man tenderly lifted her in his arms and placed her upon the bridal bed. “I love you,” he murmured softly, as he gazed deep within her eyes. He had never noticed before now quite how beautiful her eyes were. They were still large and sapphire-emerald in color, though now they were wide and wet with joy, emotion, and a shade of virgin fear. He could tell by the way she blushed that she was nervous before him, nervous as every virgin is on her first night with her husband…but to him, everything about her…her body…was more beautiful and more perfect than it had ever been. “You have nothing to fear,” he whispered, as he gently kissed her neck. The maiden moaned softly.
“Will you hold me while…” she blushed, and tried to hide her face. Leander laughed softly as he tenderly traced his fingers down her neck, her stomach, her legs…
“Of course I will.” Calliliana sighed deeply and pressed her trembling lips together, then submitted to the force of her husband’s love and desire.
There was pain—much pain at first, so much so that she felt as if she could not bear it. She cried out; Leander covered her mouth with his soft kisses and stroked the golden wealth of her hair. The agony ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and Calliliana was aware of a feeling growing deep within her being that she had not suspected was possible. Somehow, some way, the pain had given birth to a pleasure so intense it surpassed any former joy that she had known.
So this is what it is to love; to become one with another, she mused to herself, as she inwardly struggled to reign in the shocking sensation of euphoria that had taken seed and bloomed within her. In that moment, as her new husband forged a bond between their bodies that could never be broken, the young woman felt as if God had opened the heavenly realms upon her unworthy soul, and had bestowed on her a gift that she was too undeserving to have received…the gift of a righteous man’s love.
And in that moment, Calliliana Maximinus knew that she believed in miracles.
It was not long before the news of the private nuptials between Leander and his Grecian slave-girl were noised abroad. All the village gossips thrived upon this fresh news like vultures to a carcass, each one attempting to outdo the other in the story-telling.
“They say his parents disapprove of the girl…”
“Truly? I heard that it was her parents…”
“Do not be an idiot. Her parents are dead, and who on earth would disapprove of a man such as Leander Maximinus?” (At this one or two of the more romantic, younger woman would sigh with longing)
“She is young, they say, nearly ten years his junior…” (some of the more jealous girls would then add),
“So like a child she must be…in everything!”
Maximinus and his new bride were blissfully untouched by the gossip, however. It was enough for both of them that they were happy in and with one another. Everything seemed at that time to be favoring the young couple—whether it was the steady and ever-increasing demand of fine Roman jewelry which was quickly increasing the affluence of young Leander each day, or the fact that the two only seemed to grow deeper and deeper in love as time wore on.
It was not long after the wedding night that Calliliana began to grow concerned—she felt ill each morning without fail, and her monthly blood had ceased to flow. The girl had never been around young children, and her mother had neglected to inform her of what such symptoms meant. With trembling limbs and a quivering heart Calliliana approached Kalyca as she scrubbed the floor of the courtyard and spoke to her of her troubles.
“Why does this concern you, My Child?” the old woman asked, raising herself to a squat as she chafed at the lye soap that clung acidly to her fingers. The girl looked surprised.
“I…I do not know what is wrong with me! I just do not understand why such an illness would strike me now, when I am so…so happy…” Kalyca started to laugh then, a sound so unexpected at such a moment that Calliliana felt her cheeks flush with shame and anger. “Why do you laugh at me?” she asked, as tears of frustration sprang quickly to her eyes. The older woman stood and embraced her friend, as she tried to quiet the sounds of her mirth.
“Forgive me, Dear, I just could not believe that you were really so naïve! Such indications in your body are the natural birth-right of every woman—you are with child!” Calliliana started and stepped away from Kalyca, a look of shock and fear painting her lovely face a ghastly shade of white.
“How can this be? I know nothing of such things…I am so young, Kalyca, I know not how to mother a child…”
“You learn of such things when the time comes, Dear. I will help you of course; I have birthed more than my share of babes in my time!” The young woman sat thoughtfully on the edge of the fountain and rested her head in her hands.
“What will my husband think of such a thing? Do you think that it will please him?” Kalyca knelt and began wiping the clean floor with a soft rag, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
“You will have to ask him that yourself, Calliliana. However, I would be mightily surprised if he does not greet these tidings of yours with great joy. It has been my experience that every man,” here a tear slowly journeyed from the corner of her eye down the furrowed pathways of her face—a tear which the servant woman hastily hid from her young companion—“at least, almost every man, is delighted by the news that he has fathered a child.” She turned her back on the girl then and scrubbed the already dry floor with such ferocity, Calliliana silently slipped away to her own room.
The girl decided to tell her husband her news that night after he returned from his work. She prayed fervently that he would be pleased with her and with the news, yet her courage almost failed when he took her in his arms that night and kissed her in welcome.
“Darling,” Calliliana announced after the two had supped, as she reclined in her his arms, “I have something I wish to tell you.” She sighed deeply and tried to still her anxiety. Leander kissed the tip of her nose.
“Well?” She blushed deeply, and modestly lowered her eyes.
“I have not had my blood in nearly two months now. I…I am with child!” The look upon Leander’s face surpassed that of the fairest dawn. His eyes filled with tears of joy, and his mouth twisted with emotion so that he could barely smile at his wife.
“Come here,” he growled affably, gathering her tightly into his arms.
As she lay within her husband’s embrace, the young woman briefly reflected on how much joy was now in her life. A life of freedom and happiness with a man who she not only loved, who shared her forbidden faith…but now this as well—to be pregnant with his child. “Oh God in Heaven, thank You for my many blessings!” she thought joyfully. Her hands played idly with the waves of his dark hair; her mind and body numbed with the intoxicating pleasure of simply being near the man she loved more than her own life.
Leander opened his eyes then and looked upon her. His gaze reflected the innocent, helpless desire in her own as he gently removed her hands from his hair and wound his strong arms tightly around her body. As she melted into the storm-sky eyes of her husband, gazed upon his strong body and manly beauty, and thought of his goodness to her and to all, another thought came to her, unbidden and unsuppressed.
“Oh Lord…Let me bear him a son!”
Marcus Agrippa angrily wiped the streaming sweat from his dark brow, as venomous thoughts crowded into his mind like the many rats that scurried in the filth that lay in abandon on the city streets. “Who is this boy-king to send me so far from my home…and now?” he thought wrathfully, as he shifted his travel pack to a more comfortable position. Agrippa had been the most feared centurion of the Emperor’s soldiers for many years now, though he was only just distancing himself from the glow of youth. Just now, now when he so intently wished to stay at his own villa…
News had come to the soldier that the young Emperor, Commodus, was not as secure on his throne as he wished his subjects to believe. “That would mean, my friend,” Senator Gracchus had informed the soldier with a glint of evil greed in his hardened, bitter eyes, “that you would be a sure candidate for the throne. Think of it: a brave and victorious soldier, known to the people for his many deeds of courage would be sure to sway the hearts of the populace against a mere boy!” Marcus had agreed wholeheartedly; he knew without a doubt what a strong…and feared…leader he would be.
However, Commodus had seen fit to send him away from the palace…and his villa…just as he was about to begin his campaign for the throne. “I have work for you to do in the heart of Rome, away from the palace,” he had told him, just the night before. “These Christians are becoming so numerous in the empire…I will admit it, I’m beginning to be a little frightened. Who knows what could happen if they turn against us? I need you, Agrippa, to keep your eyes on them. Arrest all that you find.” The young man had laid his hand on the centurion’s broad shoulder, more than just a glimmer of fear shining in his dark eyes as he looked up at him. “You have my trust.” Of course, Marcus had assured the emperor of his devotion to him and to his cause—outwardly, at least.
“Damn it!” Agrippa shouted madly, disregarding his age, his status, and the excessively curious stares that he received from those in the crowded forum as he walked by. “I shall become emperor,” he muttered to himself, more quietly this time, “and Rome herself will bow before my will!”
The heat of the summer day was beginning to be unbearable. The seasoned soldier had been so furious when news of his deportation had arrived; he had neglected to pack sufficient provisions. He had long ago exhausted his supply of water—and he could feel his body loudly crying out for some rest and nourishment. Agrippa growled to himself as he approached a young peasant woman carrying a basket of figs on her cloth-swathed head.
“Where is a place I may find refreshment?” he snarled, pleased at the look of terror that clouded the face of the woman.
“I…I do not know for sure. A fine place you would need…”
“That goes without saying, you stupid woman.” Marcus inwardly smiled at the woman’s brave attempt to stifle her tears.
“The h-house of Leander M-Maximinus, the gem merchant, is kn-known throughout Rome as a p-place of g-great hospitality,” she stammered, then, as an afterthought, “Milord.” He smiled then, a smile of no great pleasantness…more like that of a beast contemplating its prey.
“Where can I find him?” The woman swallowed.
“Not one mile from here, Milord. You will know his villa by the beautiful gardens.” Marcus nodded abruptly.
“Take me there.
Even Marcus could not help being favorably impressed with the beauty of Maximinus’ villa when the terrified woman led him to the grounds. He casually flipped her a coin.
“Be on your way.” She scurried off, carefully clutching the piece of gold as if not believing such a treasure could come from such a beast of a man. “Like the dragon and his gold,” Agrippa thought to himself, another shark-like smile crossing his lips. He strode to the door and knocked on it boldly.
“I have come for shelter and nourishment,” he called loudly, “My name is Agrippa—a soldier of Rome.” The door opened slightly to reveal a small old woman, her eyes wide with surprise.
“Is milord expecting you, Sir?” Kalyca asked hesitantly. Marcus narrowed his eyes at her hatefully.
“No.” He pushed past her rather roughly, strode into the villa, and looked around. Even he could not keep his eyes from widening at the beauty of his surroundings. He turned to the woman.
“Your master must do very well for himself, Woman. Where is he?” Kalyca was opening her mouth to speak when Maximinus himself entered.
“I am the master of this house. And you are…?”
“Marcus Agrippa, soldier of the empire.” The centurion appraised the young man at a glance—very youthful to have done so very well for himself. Leander glanced at Agrippa in his own turn, not liking much that he saw. He, however, hid his distaste and walked towards the man with a large smile and offered his hand.
“Welcome to my home. I hope that I may make you feel welcome here.” He turned to Kalyca. “Please prepare supper now and immediately get the soldier something to drink.” Agrippa felt himself stiffen at being called ‘the soldier’, and merely touched the hand offered him.
“Much obliged,” he forced out. Leander folded his hands behind his back.
“Come with me, please.” As the veteran followed the wealthy young man to his table, he could not help noticing that in addition to the attribute of his affluence, he was an uncommonly handsome individual as well. With his striking eyes and hair, and his muscles that looked as if he could lift boulders, even Agrippa found himself slightly intimidated by him. He found himself comparing his assets to those of Leander—while the former had the fresh beauty of youth and a good nature shone in his face, Agrippa had the seasoned look of one who had seen much turmoil, and had come through it victorious. His dark eyes were hard, his dark skin was lined, and his features were as sharp as those of a bird of prey. He was handsome, yes, but in a way that made women tremble with fear, not desire.
He was cruel.
Agrippa reclined against the cushions placed around the long, low table, and slaked his thirst on the aromatic wine placed before him. “I must thank you for your generous hospitality, Maximinus,” he said stiffly. “I was told that your villa was the best place for refreshment.” Leander smiled at this.
“I do try to make all feel welcome here.” As Kalyca entered with a pitcher filled to brimming with more wine, Maximinus smiled at her. “Has your lady returned from the market yet?” The old woman nodded with an affectionate smile—clearly, Marcus thought, there existed great fondness between all in this family.
“Yes, Milord, she has just come in.”
“Will you please tell her that supper is ready?” The servant nodded and hastily left the room. Agrippa watched her leave vacantly, musing as to who ‘your lady’ might be.
I did not know that the mother of this man dwelt with him, he thought to himself as he took another large sip of wine. Then, another thought occurred to him—one that made a sly smile steal over his face. What if the woman is his sister? He narrowly appraised Maximinus once more, who was oblivious to the centurion’s close scrutiny. What a beauty the sister of this man would be! If she lives with him, she must, of course, be unwed…possibly if I… At that moment, his thoughts simply ceased forming—for there, in the doorway, stood Calliliana.
Never had Marcus Agrippa beheld a woman of such surreal beauty as the one before him now. She was still the same young woman of the slave-auction in the Forum—though if happiness adds to one’s loveliness, her beauty now surpassed what it had formerly been a thousandfold. Although her form was covered neck to foot in a long cloak of billowing pale blue, Agrippa imagined that the body beneath the fabric was as delightful as the face above. Her hair was knotted away from the front of her blushing face into what appeared to be many small coils, but the natural waves were allowed to flow freely down her back. She was blushing at the unexpected suddenness of finding a new visitor (and an important looking one at that) where she expected only her husband—though the rose-color of her face only enhanced the ocean-hue of her eyes. Leander noticed her surprise and embarrassment and quickly walked to meet her.
“Hello, my Calliliana,” he smiled, kissing her lightly on the forehead. The girl bowed her head in greeting, and respectfully kissed his hand. Agrippa himself grew slightly red and cleared his throat.
“Is this woman your affectionate sister?” he asked, his voice hoarse with hope. Leander and the girl laughed as he drew her to his cushion and reclined beside her.
“Not at all. This, Agrippa,” he said as he tenderly caressed the face of the young woman, “is my wife!” The maiden smiled and moved her arm to embrace her husband—as she did so, her cloak moved and Marcus noted that her stomach was well-swollen in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
At that moment, rage and jealousy such as he had never known welled up in the breast of the centurion like a whirling typhoon—this man, this man who was still in the very bloom of his youth, had everything that Agrippa himself wished to have. And Maximinus’ possession of this woman—this beautiful, graceful woman, was simply more than he could stand. He nearly choked on his wine.
“My name is Calliliana, Milord,” murmured the maiden, her voice gentle and low; her eyes downcast and hidden beneath their lashes. “You are welcome in our house.” The centurion forced a smile.
“My name is Marcus Agrippa, and I thank you for your hospitality, Domina.” Try as he might, he could not keep his gaze from resting hungrily on the woman. The man wrenched his thoughts away from the damsel and turned to her husband. “How long have you two been wed?” Leander grinned impishly and playfully tugged on a loose strand of his wife’s tumbling hair.
“Just long enough for her to bear my child without scandal.” Agrippa heard Calliliana gasp and watched as her face flushed an unusually deep shade of scarlet. He smiled at her embarrassment.
“Nothing to be ashamed of, Domina, I assure you.” She looked up then, directly into his eyes—and something within the hardened heart of the soldier melted at her gaze.
“Oh…did it appear that I was ashamed?” Calliliana looked then at her husband and tenderly touched his face. “That would indeed be a grave untruth.”
For the remainder of the meal, the maiden reclined, quietly for the most part unless asked a question by her husband, and observed those around her. Although nothing the centurion did aroused her immediate discomfort…there was something about him that made her uneasy. Perhaps it was the way that he looked at her, possibly it was the anger in his eyes when they rested upon her beloved Leander…she knew not. The young wife only knew that her heart would be much more at rest once the Roman had moved along his way.
“Where are you staying the night?” Leander asked him, as they stood after the meal. Agrippa appeared agitated by the question.
“I do have a villa here awaiting me, but it will not be ready until the morrow.” Leander clapped his hands, and Kalyca appeared once more.
“That settles it, Agrippa. You will stay with us until your lodgings are ready.” To the servant woman he said, “Please set a room in order for this man. He will stay the night with us—make sure that he wants for nothing.” Agrippa bent himself into a stiff bow—he could not remember how long it had been since he had done such for less that the emperor. Doing so almost forced the bile into his throat.
“I thank you deeply for your kindness.”
“What is wrong, my Love?” Leander asked his wife that night, as he settled her into bed. Her green eyes were troubled, and her brow was furrowed in thought.
“I cannot say for sure. That man…that soldier…he troubles me, Leander.” The young man looked at her in surprise.
“I will admit that I do not particularly like the man, Calliliana, but he seems harmless enough.” The young woman could not help laughing at this.
“Harmless—a centurion?” A thought, sudden and horrifying, quickly came to her mind. The young woman grasped her husband’s arms in earnest. “Leander…he is a soldier of the emperor. What if…oh, what if he will betray our faith?” The eyes of the young Roman jumped in his suddenly whitened face.
“I had not thought of that.” Maximinus forced a smile on his lips to try and comfort his wife. “Do not worry, Love, you have nothing to fear while you are with me.” He placed a light kiss on her forehead, then tenderly rubbed his hands along her swollen belly. “Sleep well, Dearest.” As he moved to go, Calliliana reached up and threw her arms around his neck once more.
“Kiss me once, will you?” The man laughed at her and leaned down to place another kiss upon his wife—this time, with more force and greater precision.
Although the room was lovely and the bed comfortable, Marcus Agrippa found himself unable to sleep that night. He tossed and turned upon his pillow, attempting vainly to descry what had disturbed—no, angered—him about Maximinus and his household.
His wife was lovely, that was true, and it was no secret the centurion’s mind that the woman was everything he wished for himself. The villa was extraordinary, that was undeniable, while that of Agrippa was still lacking. The man smothered a cry of frustration against his pillow as he thought of all that the young man, young enough to be his child-brother, had accomplished where he had failed.
“No sleep shall come this night,” he murmured to himself. Marcus stood, pulled a thin robe over his sleep tunic, and rubbed his calloused hands across his face. He opened his door slowly and cautiously, so as not to wake anyone within the household, and looked down the hall. Now, which was the door? He had heard from the peasant woman about the famed beauty of Maximinus’ gardens, and he thought that he might wish to lay eyes upon them himself. Perhaps that would cool the fever in his brain.
Quietly, the trained soldier slipped down the stairs, opened the door silently, and crept out into the gardens. Even he, the centurion who had witnessed countless battles and had hardened his heart against nearly all but feminine beauty, could not restrain a slight gasp at the magnificence around him. The scent of the garden’s numerous flowers was borne on the wind—the same wind which ruffled his bed-tousled hair like so many caressing fingers. Agrippa walked about, losing himself in the serenity of the grounds…until his eyes lighted on a female form near the gate.
Though her back was turned to him, the wealth of golden hair that covered her told Agrippa that this must be none other than the wife of Maximinus. He felt hot desire flood over him, and his feet moved as if of their own accord towards her. His breath caught in his throat as he reached out a hand to lightly touch her shoulder.
“Oh!” she cried out in surprise, turning hastily to face him. There were roses of shock in her cheeks, an obvious terror in her eyes, and her whole body was rigid. For the first time in years, Marcus Agrippa of the army of Commodus felt a hot blush rise into his face. Who was he to go about startling innocent girls in the middle of the night?
“Forgive me, Domina. I only wished to discover why you are also sleepless this night.” The woman smiled at him, although the fear did not quite leave her eyes.
“Please, call me Calliliana.” She hugged herself with her arms, and Agrippa noted the thin robe that covered her. The maiden’s stomach seemed ready to burst then and there, so greatly was she with child. “The child gives me such pain at times—and it is worse by far when I lay down. I did not wish to wake my husband, he is so very weary…so I thought I would simply steal out here and walk until the pain left me.” Wild thoughts raced through the mind of Agrippa as he stared at her lovely face, which cast a spell about his senses in the surreal moonlight.
“You are a soldier of Rome,” he thought to himself, his body tensed and at the ready, “you could have her now, here. There would be no one who could find out until you are so far gone that…” Without realizing what he was doing, Agrippa struck himself a hearty blow to silence the thoughts. He saw Calliliana’s emerald eyes go wide with astonishment.
“What is wrong?” she asked, her voice quiet. He shook his head and stifled a groan.
“Nothing.” He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at her, shivering now in the cool night air. “You are cold, Calliliana. Shall we walk a bit?” She nodded, though Agrippa thought that he sensed she wished he would leave her to her peace.
The Greek maiden showed the Roman about the gardens, naming each of the flowers they came across, and informing him as to their meanings. As they walked the perimeter of the grounds, the centurion found himself focusing more and more on the fact that there were no statues from the religion of Rome littering the place, as there were in every other household or villa he had ever been within. “Come to think of it,” he thought to himself, “there was no altar, either.” He turned to the girl, stopping her in mid-sentence. “What religion do you and your husband follow?” Marcus was surprised to see a hot blush once more cover the maiden’s face and a look of sheer terror fill her eyes.
“Why…why…we…” she stammered. “What can I do?” she thought to herself. “If I tell this man, he will most likely have myself and my husband imprisoned…perhaps killed! What of our babe?” She stood there before him like a whipped child, her eyes downcast as her mind sought to weave an answer that would not be a falsehood, yet would not divulge the greatest and most precious secret of her family. A thought came to her suddenly and she raised her eyes to meet those of her accuser.
“We follow a religion different from those of most Romans, yet it is one that wishes no harm to the Emperor or anyone within his realm.”
“Our religion is one of peace, Milord, one that desires harmony with all.” There was that in the green eyes of the damsel, as the moon shone brightly upon them and the diamond-light of the stars were reflected within their boundless depths that prevented the centurion from questioning her further. Calliliana observed this with relief and she gently placed her hand upon her stomach. “I do believe the pains have abated. Shall we…shall we go in?”
“Of course,” stammered Agrippa, as he offered her his arm. He thought at first that she would not take it, but after the hesitation of a moment, she gently placed her small hand within the crook of his elbow. Marcus jumped slightly then, as he felt the extreme coolness of the young woman’s hand upon his skin…it felt more to him like that of a corpse than of a living woman. At the same time, as he carefully walked beside her, the soldier of Rome nearly reeled with the pleasure of her nearness to him.
“Thank you for your kindness,” the maiden said softly, once the two were within the villa. Agrippa shook his head.
“Not at all.” Before he cold restrain himself, he reached out a rough, calloused hand and lightly stroked her face. “Sleep well.” Calliliana jumped at his touch, and a troubled light came into her face. She nodded hastily, dipped her head in a graceful bow, and hurried back to the room of her husband.
Marcus wiped his hand over his face, as if trying to wipe away his thoughts. “She is so beautiful,” he murmured quietly, “so innocent.” A light, like more to the fires of hell than the beauty of the sun, dawned in his hawk-eyes. The toughened soldier suddenly strode about the interior of the villa with a purpose, his eyes seeking that which he had not seen—which he was not like to see. No. There were no Romanesque statues, no altars…nothing. Leander Maximinus and his wife were Christians—or, at least Agrippa suspected them as such. The woman he would not condemn, but the man…his eyes narrowed with hate as he thought of the woman’s husband. Oh yes, the man would serve as his token to play the emperor’s favor.
As he Agrippa made his way back to his chamber to collect his things, a thought came to him--you do not know that this man is a Christian. Marcus dressed hurriedly, made his belongings into a traveling bundle, and surreptitiously left the villa. He cast a look back at the place, the hospitality of his guest forgotten.
“Oh no, Maximinus,” he whispered into the chill night air, “I do not know. But I suspect.”
That was enough.
“Morning, Precious.” Leander tenderly woke his wife with a kiss on her pretty red lips. She opened her emerald eyes wide, sleep still shrouding them with a slightly hazy look.
“Morning.” She wound her arms around his neck and clung to him tightly, her head nestled confidingly against his chest. The young man wrapped his arms around her in return, and with a shock of pleasure, he felt his child move within her.
“I can feel him,” he whispered into her ear. She started to giggle, but it turned quickly into a moan.
“I so wish the child would come, Leander. He pains me.” She attempted to release her husband to place a hand on her belly, but he was too fast for her. Maximinus flipped her on her back and expertly placed his hands on her stomach, massaging her swollen abdomen with different strengths that would have been impossible for her to do alone. The anguished groans of the young woman ceased in a matter of moments, and she thanked him with a kiss. Calliliana began to pull away to stare into the eyes of her husband, but he would have none of it. The young man held her in place with one hand, used the other to tenderly stroke her long hair, and kissed her as roughly as he dared.
Their tender love was most rudely interrupted by the sound of knocking on the door below. Calliliana, who could never quite remember that she was the privileged wife of a wealthy young man and not a servant, started and attempted to get out of bed. He laughed at her and swatted her playfully.
“Kalyca will get it, you silly girl.” Leander looked into her eyes longingly. “Stay with me.”
He was leaning in to kiss her once more, when the door to their room was roughly flung wide. He turned on his side, prepared to chide the old servant woman for neglecting to knock—and was quite surprised to see, instead, five soldiers standing before him. Calliliana shrieked softly and clutched the bedclothes about her, and Leander stood. He was clad only in a thin linen tunic, but there was enough wrath in his face to give him the dignity to inspire fear even in the mail-clad warriors.
“What business do you here, at this hour and in so rude a manner?” The tallest of the men stepped forward.
“By order of the Emperor Commodus, commander of the realm, you, Leander Maximinus, are under arrest.” Leander’s eyes were filled with anger now, a fury so great that the men before him quite visibly shrank back.
“ON WHAT CHARGES?” he cried, his voice like thunder. At a sign from their commander, three of the soldiers stepped forward. One rammed the young man in the abdomen, causing him to double forward with pain, while the others bound his hands behind his back.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Calliliana shrieked, darting forward. The men stopped then and stared at her, clad only in her thin nightdress—especially so, her beauty was much to be contemplated. Her face was flushed with emotion, and her eyes were bright with unshed tears. The commander looked at Maximinus, whose face was contorted with pain.
“You have a pretty slave.”
“Wife, you mean,” Leander snarled. Calliliana stepped forward, her hand upon her stomach.
“Please,” she murmured, “please. You see that greatly am I with child…let my husband at least stay with me until his birth…” The commander shook his head.
“No. I have my orders.” The tears that filled the young woman’s eyes fell freely now.
“I beg of you!”
“No!” One of the men laughed evilly and moved suggestively towards her.
“Unless, Commander, you would allow her to do us some favors…perhaps that would convince us.”
Leander uttered a growl of rage and fiercely fought against his bonds.
“Enough!” shouted the commander. With one swift move, he backhanded the young woman brutally across the face. She fell to the floor with a cry of anguish, trying desperately to prevent her stomach from being crushed in the fall. “As for you,” he continued, eyeing the struggling Leander—he drew his sword and struck him a mighty blow with the flat. The man fell limply to the ground, and the soldiers laughed wickedly as they dragged him away.
Kalyca did not find Calliliana until moments later, by which time she was lying gasping with the tremors of childbirth in a pool of her own blood.
“There, there, Child,” the old servant woman crooned, attempting desperately to hide the fear in her voice from the trembling girl, “The birth of a babe is a natural thing. I have given birth to eight in my time…you will be alright!” Kalyca hastily fastened Calliliana’s shaking hands into ropes she had tied to the bedposts, “to restrain you against the pain,” she had explained— for despite her brave words; she knew that the anguish would be great.
As the young woman lay shaking upon the bed, her legs and lower body soaked in her red blood, the aged Greek eyed her narrowly. Would she make it? It was true, she herself had given birth to eight lusty babes—but she had never been as young or as small as was the maid before her when her time had come! Calliliana was little more than a girl herself.
A great cry rent the air as the little wife strained desperately against the ropes that bound her, her entire body heaving and shaking with the pain. Tears cascaded down her flushed cheeks and she inclined her head towards Kalyca.
“Please…please…” she panted, her voice barely above a whisper, “Help me!” The older woman hastened to her side, gently smoothing back the damp tresses of her golden hair and bathing her perspiring face with a damp rag. Another birth-pang convulsed the young woman’s body, and the ears of Kalyca rang with the deafening screams of the anguished girl. Kalyca fought the urge to bury her head in her hands. There was no time to send for a midwife—she would have to help the maiden herself. Could she do it?
“Spread your legs, Calliliana,” she demanded, hoping that her voice sounded soothing. The girl stifled another whimper and did as she was told to the best of her faltering ability. Kalyca made a quick assessment of the situation, and a great anticipation was in her face. “It is right, Child…the babe is coming well!”
“What…what…do you mean?” Calliliana gasped, trying against the pain to keep her legs spread as she was told. The older woman rested a reassuring hand upon her bloody thigh.
“Your babe is not a breach. I can see its head, Girl…push! Push!”
The young woman was accustomed to taking orders—even in such a moment of pain, she did what she could to oblige. The anguish was like nothing she had ever known in her life…nor anything that she hoped she would have to know again. Ripping, rending…her body was tearing in half! When her husband would return to her, there would be nothing left as he knew it…her body was being slowly destroyed by this child of her Leander’s seed. She felt the hot sweat pour down her face, mingle with the blood of her mouth from her bitten tongue, tasted its bitter gall, and shut her eyes against the agony. Through her hazy fog of pain, she could just hear her old companion crying aloud to her, shouting instructions at the top of her voice.
“Once more, my Girl!” With one final push that she was sure would indeed destroy her mortal body for the rest of her life, and a cry as deafening as if the sky had split and thundered down a thousand storms…
“A boy! Calliliana, you have a son!” Kalyca held forth a child, or what appeared to be a child…so squirming, so covered in blood was it, that the maiden was not sure whether she had just given birth to man or monster. She sagged listlessly against the ropes, her legs collapsed, and dimly was she aware of the fact that Kalyca had left her side and was cleansing her little son. The old woman laid the child down gently in a cradle she had hurriedly lined with pillows and blankets, and attended to the wearied young mother. She tenderly washed her face, her hair, her body, and stopped the blood as best she could. She released the girl’s wrists from the ropes, salved the chafing away and bandaged them—then, and only then, did she deliver the babe into the maiden’s waiting arms.
The young mother peered intently at the fruit of her womb, slowly aware that a love as she had never known before was filling her heart—for though the squirming infant in her arms did not look like much, he was the seed of her husband. The child was ugly, yes, ugly as most any newborn is at first. The girl laughed to herself as she kissed his soft little cheek—he looked nothing like either his father or mother at the moment—nor like any man. His skin was red and wrinkled like that of an old man, and tiny wisps of hair only enhanced his look of age. His mouth was pursed into a cry, and he squirmed in his mother’s gentle arms.
“Shhh,” she soothed, tenderly caressing the infant, “I will never let anything happen to you!” A wonderful thing occurred then. Calliliana’s little son looked up, straight into the ocean-depths of the eyes of his mother. The girl gasped; his eyes were as blue as those of her beloved husband. One of the child’s little hands stole out from under his blanket, and as the maiden’s breath caught in her throat, she felt him lay it upon her breast.
Calliliana let the tears fall then, not heeding where they fell upon her child, as she cuddled him close to her heart. “You are Leander, my son,” she murmured, as she bared her breast for the child, “after the best and most noble man in the world.”
Leander sat alone in his cell, his body weakened from the beating he had received and his mind tormented with anguish. What had become of Calliliana? He did not know the truth of course, perhaps the soldiers had merely meant to mock and to frighten him, but many had spoken of his wife in rude, intimate terms—for the first time in his life, the Christian had wished to kill a man.
He cried out in rage, struggling against the chains that bound him against the wall. “Are you going mad?” he murmured to himself, as he sagged listlessly to the floor, “trying to escape chains?”
“Well, how do you find the accommodations?” Leander stood quickly, attempting to discern the owner of the voice—the oddly familiar voice— through the gloom of the dungeon. He felt his body tense, as if anticipating that danger would come.
“Why don’t you answer me?” the voice was moving closer to Leander’s right; the young man unintentionally made a fist.
“I cannot see you.” Suddenly, out of the shadows emerged the one person whom Leander had most feared to see. His face could not have been filled with more dread had a specter emerged before him.
Marcus Agrippa laughed at the look on his opponent’s face; he was very much enjoying putting the wealthy little dog in his place. “Did not expect to see me again, did you?” An evil look of triumph filled the face of the centurion, and there was hell-fire in his black eyes. “How fares your lovely little wife?”
With a cry of rage, Leander snarled and struggled against his bonds with all the passion in his body. Agrippa laughed in enjoyment of the spectacle; he had always enjoyed observing hopeless ones resist their fate. He struck Maximinus a mighty blow on his jaw.
The young man’s eyes went wide with surprise; he had never been struck since he was a small child. “You will not touch my wife, do you understand me?” he growled, through the blood that dripped down his chin and spewed from his mouth with every word he uttered. Agrippa’s laughter only rose in volume.
“And what will you do to protect her from where you are…Christian?” Leander’s face was unmoving, but the trained soldier saw his eyes flicker in fear. Marcus grabbed the young man by the throat and forced his face to within inches of his own. “May your belief in the afterlife come true for you, Christian. Perhaps the thought of it will provide you some comfort…for you are now in hell!”
He struck Leander in the stomach with all the force he could muster, the same place where he had been brutally clouted before, and the world went black for the young Roman.
He slumped to the floor.
“It has been three weeks, Kalyca,” murmured Calliliana one morning, as she tenderly nursed the little Leander. “Three weeks. Why has my husband not returned? Why have I had no word from him?” Although she attempted to hide the terror in her voice from the old woman, her fear for Leander was evident in everything that she did. The unshed tears in the lovely green eyes of the beautiful young maiden; the slow, almost painful way that she dragged her slender young body about her daily tasks; the tremble of her full red lips—all spoke to Kalyca more than a thousand words. She gently massaged the slim shoulders of the maiden.
“I know, Child, I know. I miss him as well.” Little Leander stirred in his mother’s arms, and his eyes met hers once more. The tears that had been threatening all day to spill fell then, bathing the child until he whimpered in discomfort. Kalyca shook her head sorrowfully, and gently took the babe. Calliliana covered her face with her hands, and gave vent to the bitter anguish which filled her soul with its poisonous gall.
“What if they do not release him?” she wailed, rocking herself back and forth on her folded legs. “What if…what if Leander never sees his son?” Kalyca kissed the tip of the infant’s nose and placed her arms around the shoulders of the weeping maiden.
“God is good, My Girl. Though you may not see Him in all that is occurring…wait. Wait. He has a purpose in all of this.”
“I will go to him.” Calliliana rose, gently pushing aside the caressing arms of her comforter and standing beside her. Her cerulean eyes flashed emerald fire, her beauteous face was devoid of any color, with the exception of two bright flames that burned hotly in her cheeks, and her lips quivered. Kalyca stood back, frightened almost by the unnatural beauty of the determined girl before her.
“Where…how…” The young wife took her hands.
“The prisons of course, and I will go now.”
“But the baby…” Calliliana moved her face so close to that of the old woman, she could feel the intensity of her hot breath upon her face.
“Please…please say that you will watch him for me.” Kalyca sighed and pulled away, her heart heavy within her.
“Do you know what may happen to you, Girl? A woman as young and lovely as yourself, traveling among the heathen Romans…”
“Do not fear for me. I know how to take care of myself.” Calliliana took down a long black scarf, and wove it about her until the splendor of her face and the glory of her bright hair were concealed beneath its shadowy masses. She then donned a cloak of the same ebony hue—even the old woman who had watched her transform herself had to admit that she never would have recognized her. The maiden crossed to the cradle, and tenderly stroked the face of her now sleeping babe. “And so I go,” she whispered, as if to the very air itself. As she grasped a small loaf of bread and pouch of coins and concealed them in her vestments, she added, “Do not wait for me. I shall return, most likely, well after nightfall.” She heartily kissed the old woman on both cheeks and embraced her tightly once more. With a sudden energy she did know that she still possessed, Kalyca grasped the girl by the shoulders.
“Do not trust too well in your status of “wife”, Calliliana. You do not know the men of Rome as do I.” Tears cascaded down her age-furrowed face, but the brightness of her eyes bespoke of the beauty she must once have possessed. “I was first purchased in Rome to be the plaything of a rich nobleman…he used me well, and there were others after him. I was old, Child, old and worn with years of pain and sorrow when your husband discovered me in the slave market once more and took pity upon me. You may thank God daily, Child, that one such as you, with all your beauty and grace, was not condemned to the same fate as was I.”
“But I do thank God…” Kalyca pulled the maiden into a tight embrace, her tears wetting her to the skin.
“Remember this. You are but a slave girl, a lovely slave girl, to a criminal. You and your honor are nothing more to these Romans. You must be careful…” Calliliana gently pulled away from the woman.
“I will be. Take good care of my son.” With one last look at the little old woman, so spent with years of grief and heartache, with one final glimpse of her beloved son, the young woman turned and made her way towards the prisons of Rome.
Without a word.
Without a look.
Without a sound.
“So, how do you fare today?” Leander could barely open his eyes, so weary was he from so many sleepless nights as a result of the pain inflicted over and over again upon his stomach. The pain of every breath was like hell-fire to his tormented lungs. Marcus stifled a gurgle of mirth deep within his throat as he saw his former rival, curled into the fetal position upon the filthy floor, his arms hanging limply from his chains. Now this, he thought to himself, this is the ambrosia of revenge!
“Not as badly as you might think,” Maximinus gasped in reply, attempting to stifle the anguish that coursed through his body with every breath that he took. Agrippa laughed and kicked him once more in the stomach, watching with satisfaction the blood that spewed from his mouth and onto the floor.
“You cannot imagine how that thrills me.” He stooped so that his face was on a level with the tormented man, and even his hardened heart could not help but admire the courage in the thundering blue eyes that met with his. “I have come for one purpose: to tell you that your fate has been decided.” Fury filled the face of the young Roman.
“Without a trial?” Marcus nodded, an evil shark-smile playing on his lips.
“Criminals such as you need none. I made sure of that.” He stood, and beckoned to a shadow that had been standing near the door. Raising his eyes, Leander saw with relief that the figure was that of a young boy, holding a pitcher of water and a thick cloth in his arms. A look of pure terror filled his face, and the youth continued glancing at Agrippa often as if to discern whether or not a beating was in store for him. “Adrian will attend to you. I wish to have you a little more presentable when you meet your end.” To the shock and disappointment of the centurion, there was no fear in the eyes that boldly met his own.
“And what is that to be?” Agrippa smirked and said a word that, while no outward signs showed in the face of the young man, turned the blood of his body to ice with fear. Marcus waited for a signal from the young man of his fear, waited for him to plead with him for mercy—but none of it came. He growled low in his throat, and the look upon the face of the young slave lad became positively dreadful to look upon.
“Now Adrian!” he barked, storming on his heel. “We must have this man ready for tonight!”
“And who might you be?” Calliliana stood before the jailer, attempting to still the fearful quivering of her slender form. The man behind the large desk covered in papers was hardly taller than was she, but at least twice as large. His thick head was devoid of any hair, except for a few straggling, oily wisps that clung to his crown. His brown eyes were the color and clarity of mud, and his greasy smile revealed two rows of badly broken, rotted teeth. The smell of the man alone was enough to make the stomach of the girl churn; she began to fear greatly that she would vomit right there in front of him.
“The wife of one of your prisoners, Sir. I have not seen my husband in three weeks and I wish to tell him…” the man dismissed her plea with a wave of his hand.
“Name of the prisoner?” he barked. The sound of his voice reminded the girl of the crack of a whip, and she trembled.
“Leander Maximinus.” The guard stopped looking through his ledger, and a grotesque, leering smile lit up his broad face. With a movement as fluid as rancid oil pouring from a jar, he stepped forward and grasped Calliliana by her shoulders. The girl attempted to cry out, but he clamped a firm hand, smelling of putrescence, over her mouth and nose.
“It is said,” he murmured, half to himself and half to the struggling woman, “that the wife of Maximinus is lovely indeed to behold.” Without concern for her hair, the grotesque man ripped her shawl away from her face. Calliliana gasped in surprise and indignation, which was quickly supplanted by fear as she met the hungry look churning the mud-waters of the man’s eyes.
“Let me go!” she cried, pushing against his mountainous chest with all of her strength. He laughed and clutched her tighter, so tightly that the maid felt she would swoon with the stench of his unwashed body.
“It is better by far than I thought. Oh, you are lovely, you little slave-whore. Wife, you say? Ha! I doubt it. However, I will allow you to see your ‘husband’—but not until you give me what I want!” He grinned at her mockingly and roughly tore his fingers through her luxuriant tresses. “Most others must give me gold to see their prisoners.” He clenched his fists in her hair and moved his lips over it greedily. “Your gold suits me much better.” Tears of fear and humiliation were coursing down the fiercely burning cheeks of the maiden.
“Please…please…let me go,” she begged, her voice pitiful. Her tormentor merely laughed at her again, moving his mouth closer to hers…closer…closer…
“What is the meaning of this outrage?” Never since she had been rescued from the slave auction had the voice of a man been so welcome to the girl. She felt the jailer’s hands slack and slip from her, and she turned with joy in her eyes to meet him who had saved her honor…only to come face to face with Marcus Agrippa. The very blood in her veins seemed to thick with cold and her eyes grew wide.
“You…” she started, stepping back. Agrippa ignored her, strode towards the jailer, and dealt him a furious blow to the side of his head.
“How dare you molest this woman?” he barked, his voice full of murder. The man cowered on the floor beneath him, shaking his head and mumbling.
“Forgive me, Commander, it will never happen again.” Agrippa snorted.
“See that it doesn’t. However, as a little reminder…” his sword flashed from its sheath and bit the man neatly on his fat right cheek. The man shrieked as the blood ran down his face and slowly made a mark upon his filthy tunic. Agrippa squatted down until he was on eye level with the man. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Then I suggest you go. Another will be found to take your place.” The man stood and scampered hastily from the room with one hand covering his face, a few drops of blood left on the floor the only sign that the man had ever been head of the jail. Then, and only then, did Agrippa turn towards the girl.
“Why have you come here?” he asked. Calliliana noted that his voice was strained and rough, as if he wished to prevent her from seeing any emotion that his hard heart might be capable of holding. She decided that she might use this hidden emotion to coax out some sympathy for her husband.
“Sir,” she murmured, falling to her knees on the cold stone floor and ignoring the pain it inflicted upon her, “my husband is innocent. I know that; there is no better man under the sun! He has not been home in three weeks, Commander, and I have much to tell him.”
“Such as?” Agrippa had crossed the room and now sat where the banished jailer had reclined. With his stern, rugged face and ebony eyes that burned her heart like coal in a fire, the young woman felt that she was being judged as she knelt thus before him.
“Milord…he has a son!” She moved then, just enough for Agrippa to note that her figure, indeed, had returned to its former loveliness. He restrained a sigh as he contemplated it; she was beautiful beyond compare. With the restored splendor of her body added to the glory of her face…oh, how he wished to leap from his chair and take her right then, right there, as was his right! Suddenly, then, another thought occurred to him. A son, the girl had said? This man whom he loathed had one to carry on his name and to inherit his fortune. He stifled a growl low in his throat. This was more than he could bear!
“Stand up,” he said to the maiden. She did so, a curious look on her lovely young face.
“May I…may I go in now?”
“No!” he thundered, turning away as if to leave. “You may not see him!” Calliliana shrank back slightly, but a fire was beginning to burn in her own eyes.
“I have come all this way to be with him. I have left my child and my home and traveled many miles here, without escort, without even a horse to carry me. I am weak, Sir, weak indeed still from the birth of my child.” She walked up to him then, and there was a light in her face so intense it frightened the trained soldier. He nearly trembled before her, before this small, frail little woman, before he stopped himself. Forcing her face to within a few inches from his, she whispered, “And you are mistaken. I will see him. I will see him! I will not leave until I see him!”
“Listen to me, Wench!” Marcus grasped the girl by the arm and forced her up against a wall. He, in turn, placed his face near to hers. “You may see him on one condition: that you never speak to an officer of the army of Commodus like that again! Be thankful that I can be merciful to beautiful women, Girl. I could have taken anything from you for what you just said!” There was barely a flicker of fear in the girl’s face.
“Then take me to my husband!” Agrippa pulled away from her so fast, Calliliana fell to the ground.
“Stay here!” he commanded her, and disappeared into the black gloom of the hallway; painfully, she slowly drew herself up on her knees and gazed after him as he left. Only then, once she had ascertained that she was finally alone, did the maiden give vent to the bitter emotions that she was feeling. Her body shook and trembled violently; she clamped her jaws together tightly so as not to let her delicate teeth rattle against one another and break. Tears of humiliation, pain, and anger flowed freely down her fiery face as she attempted to forget the feel of the loathsome jail-warden’s hands upon her.
“Oh God,” she moaned, letting fall her face in her cold hands, “strengthen me now! After all this…I must see him. Please, please let me see him!”
The maiden allowed herself to weep for a few moments, then hastily dried her eyes. “Stop, you little idiot,” she commanded harshly, as she wiped frantically at her face. “I must look lovely for him…greet him with a smile on my face to match the joy in my heart at seeing him again! No more tears, now.” Shivering still from the extent of her tumultuous emotions, Calliliana curled up on the floor, focusing her tired eyes on a small window near the top of the wall. The afternoon sun shone brightly through the grating and fell upon her form as thus she lay, illumining her as the sun’s rays on a curled flower. “Hurry, Leander,” she whispered, her words melting against the stone floor. “My courage will not sustain me much longer.”
“What have you done to so incite his wrath?” Leander let himself relax against the touch of the young slave boy’s cool cloth on his face, on his body, sponging away the blood and filth from many days.
“I do not know, Adrian, other than that I follow Christ.” Leander noted that Adrian’s ebony eyes seemed to grow only wider and more surprised as he listened to the prisoner speak.
“But you must know the horror of what they are going to do to you…?”
“If I must endure this trial, I shall. And I shall hope to do it with grace.” The boy stopped tending him then, and looked at him with concern in his face and doubt in his eyes.
“I admire your strength.” Adrian twisted the liquid from the damp cloth onto the cold stone floor, realizing as he did so that water was wrung from his own eyes as well. He turned to the older man then, a question burning in his coal-black eyes. “Who is this Man,” he murmured, his voice low, “Who teaches men how to die?”
Before he could be answered, the door to the fetid cell was flung open to reveal Marcus Agrippa, a sinister sneer on his lips. Leander met his glare bravely.
“It is time, then?” The centurion struck him a mighty blow across the face.
“I shall be the one to do the questioning, Vermin. On your feet.” Adrian’s eyes grew large within his milk-white face.
“On…on his feet, Milord? But he can barely breathe…” Wordlessly Agrippa struck the lad so heartily he lost his balance and fell to the filthy floor, clutching his wounded face. He unfastened the chains that bound Leander to the wall, and roughly pulled him to his feet. The prisoner staggered against his tormentor as the blood started its journey down his legs which had lain useless for so many weeks.
“Follow me.” Maximinus knew better than to argue, although his heart ached within him as he cast a furtive glance at the poor boy Adrian; who was manfully attempting to choke his sobs of pain into oblivion.
With an exclamation of surprise, Calliliana started up from her slumber. The room was painted in the shadows cast by the setting sun; indeed, it was almost too dark to see anything at all. “Leander?” she whispered, feeling about her in the dark for her husband, “where am I? Why was I asleep on the flo…” Then she remembered. She was not in her home, and her husband was certainly not with her…indeed, that was why she was here! Here, in this foul hell-hole of a Roman dungeon, languished the man she loved more than her life. That, in and of itself, was why she was here.
Calliliana did not stand; she remained lying upon the floor in the fetal position, her emerald eyes casting wary glances about her. The sun was high when the centurion had left her to fetch her husband…and now night blanketed her with its pall of darkness. Where was he? Why had he not come?
At just that moment, she felt a slight reverberation in her body—the floor was undulating gently beneath her with the motion of footsteps! Calliliana struggled to force her breathing to be regular as she lifted her head and watched as the door to the room slowly squealed open…
And there he stood. The fading light of a fearful day cast its dying glow upon him, and it appeared to the maiden as thus he stood, that he was some great hero of old come to life once more.
He did not see her. He must not have seen her, or he would have rushed to take her in his arms at once; he would have caressed away her fears and covered her burning lips with a passion so urgent it would inspire fear to rival the desire in her heart and body. The girl watched as her husband took a step into the room, his summer-storm eyes flashing as they attempted to discern what lay in store for him there.
“Leander?” the young man heard his name, uttered almost fearfully in the stillness by the voice of a child. He looked about him frantically, wishing that the lighting in the room were such that he could see who called him—he could only just discern a small figure rising from the floor. He started towards it.
“Who are you?” he asked gently. A little sob answered his query.
“Though it is so dark, do you not know me?” A chill ran down Leander’s spine as the voice, no longer the voice of a frightened child, but that of a most longed-for woman, once more breathed, “Leander.”
With a stride that more closely resembled a leap, Maximinus darted forward and caught his wife in his arms; as Agrippa watched from behind the grating in the door, the two darkened forms melded as one. Leander was a man, a true man, in every sense of the word. Agrippa knew this well; who else would have been able to endure the torture of both body and mind with so fortuitous a grace as had he? As he listened to the labored breathing of the lovers, perhaps the seasoned soldier respected his rival more than ever for what he did next with no shame and no remorse.
“My Darling,” the maiden sobbed, as she clutched feverishly at her husband, as if afraid that which had taken him from her would snatch him away again, “oh, how I have missed you!” Maximinus gently pulled away from her, and placed a gentle kiss upon her tear stained face.
“And I you.” With one fluid motion, the young man swept the sobbing girl into his arms (forgetting his pain for the moment) and settled her in his lap on the floor. He gently kissed away the tears which poured from her lovely eyes, and ran his strong hands over her glorious hair. “How are you?” he questioned quietly, once her sobs had abated. The young woman cuddled into his broad chest, unaware of the great pain that caused him.
“I…I miss you. All three of us miss you!” A sudden question filled Leander’s body and mind.
“Three…what do you mean three?” he asked. With a bright smile, Calliliana cast aside her cloak to reveal her figure, restored now to its former beauty—at the sight of it, her husband shook with desire.
“I have honored you, my husband. I have given you a son!” For a moment, Leander forgot where they were, forgot who was watching, forgot what was about to happen to him. He grabbed the young woman around the waist tenderly, and pressed her against him. The bright bolts of pain that flashed before his eyes did nothing to dampen his happiness—even if he was to die, he had a son! A son! The lifeblood of his body and that of his wife…his flesh…her flesh…a son!
“How proud I am of you!” he murmured against her hair, as his hands traveled slowly up her back to her neck. He tugged his fingers through the luxurious masses of her golden hair, twisted it away from her face, and gently nibbled her throat and earlobe. She sighed happily, and wound one slender arm around his neck, while she massaged the muscles of his stomach—or, she wished to.
With a sharp hiss of pain, the young man released her and started back, his hand moving to protectively cover his abdomen. Fear filled the maiden’s eyes as she read the pain in his own.
“Oh dear Lord, what have they done to you?” she cried, fury coloring her face. Leander set his jaw and attempted to smile; it would be of no use to infuriate her by speaking of his treatment.
“It is just a simple wound, Darling. Nothing time will not heal.” Wordlessly, Calliliana ripped away the thin, dirty cloth of her husband’s tunic enough to expose his stomach. She uttered a little cry at what she saw, and bit her lips to still the bile forcing its way up her throat.
The muscles of Leander’s stomach were covered in hideous, green-black bruises so large it appeared as if all his flesh must appear the same. Some of the bloody wounds had festered, and a putrid slime was oozing from them. Calliliana wondered why she had not smelt it before.
“What have they done to you?” she wailed, leaping from his lap and kneeling before him. The young man covered her mouth with his large hand, his eyes darting frantically about the room.
“Hush, Dear One. Agrippa is watching everything…be careful what you say. He may hear you!” The young woman pushed his hand away.
“Then let him hear me!” the girl was furious past all reason now—furious enough to commit a folly as grave as death. “Let him hear what a weak, cowardly, sniveling little dog I believe that he is, to beat an innocent prisoner who cannot defend himself! Let him hear that I think nothing of the woman who bore him; who did not take the time to teach him what a real man is. Let him hear me when I say that I see nothing of manhood about him. Nothing at all. LET HIM HEAR ME!”
“Be quiet!” Leander was past all reason now himself, so mad was he with fear for the survival of his family. He covered his wife’s mouth with one hand, and drew her face to meet his with the other. “Listen to me. You do not know the terrors this man is capable of as I do!” The young man gently removed his hand from Calliliana’s mouth, and placed one finger on her soft, red lips. “Think of how what you say might affect other whom you love…” Stark terror filled the maiden’s sea-green eyes.
“Will he punish you for what I have said?”
“Not just I…think of our son…” Calliliana’s eyes jumped in her ever-whitening face.
“Oh forgive me, forgive me! I did not think…” Leander sighed and drew his wife into his arms.
“I know. Calliana, you cannot be too careful around this man—he is iniquity in human flesh. It was Marcus who did this to me…” he paused as he felt Calliliana’s body tense in his arms. “Be still. Remember that our Lord forgave those who were nailing Him to a cross.”
“I wish I could be so strong.” The young woman was weeping now, her hot tears bathing her husband’s hideous wound with their healing waters. “I hate him, Leander. I hate him…and I fear him.”
“I struggle to forgive him myself, Love. It will come in time and with the grace of God.” Calliliana snuffled softly and gripped her husband’s arms more tightly, then slowly drew herself up to look into the eyes of him who she loved past all reason and sense.
“When will you come home to me, my Love? When will you become the father of our son?” It was then, as the pleading words of his wide-eyed wife smote his ears, that the dreadful doom he was about to face cast its dark shadow once more over the heart and mind of the young man. He attempted to still the beating of his heart as he clutched his wife tightly to him.
“Calliliana, my Dearest, we have never kept anything from one another, have we?” She looked at him quizzically.
“Why do you ask?”
“Answer me.” She shook her head slowly. “Do you wish me to start now? Should I tell you that I will be home tomorrow?” The maiden cast a wondering look upon him.
“I wish you to tell me the truth.” Leander held her from him, until he could look her full in the eyes.
“You must be strong if you wish to hear that which I am about to tell you—if you wish to hear the truth.”
“I will be strong.” Leander sighed and passed a hand over his brow.
“Calliliana…my dearest, most darling and beloved wife…I shall not be returning home to you.” The girl’s lips began to quiver.
“Leander…” he put his finger over her lips once more.
“Let me finish. I have a suspicion that Marcus Agrippa has been sent by the emperor to uncover Christians and condemn them as traitors to the empire. Calliliana, you surely must know what the penalty for our faith is.” Tears fell now from the maiden’s downcast eyes as she nodded slowly, almost dumbly, as the reality of what her husband was saying reached the recesses of her shattered mind.
“You are to die then?” Though she could not see him as he looked down upon her, tears were beginning to form in Leander’s eyes as well.
“I do not know.” Calliliana pushed her fist into her mouth to dull the sound of her sobbing; she had promised him she would be strong and strong she would be though it rent her heart and her mind in two!
“Wha…what is it t-to b-be?” she stuttered through her tears. Leander tightened his hold upon her to such a degree she nearly cried out in pain.
“That I will not tell you. You have enough pain in your heart now, Dearest, I will not give you more.”
In the ever-deepening gloom about them, the young man was finding it harder and harder to gaze upon the great beauty of his wife—“perhaps for the last time” he though to himself, with a deep sense of longing and sadness. He could feel, however, when she lifted her head to attempt to discern his eyes through the shadows, and he felt her slender arms wind themselves about his neck.
“Never, never say that you have brought me pain. You it was who saved me—saved me, Leander—from a life of torment of the most hellish kind. You, my most beloved husband, have only ever brought me joy—the testament of this lies in the fruit of our bodies—in our little Leander.” A thrill of pleasure filled his entire body as he felt her breath upon his face. “I pray daily that he may grow to be even half the man that his father is…”
Calliliana’s lips found those of her husband. As she tightened her nearly feverish grip upon his neck, she drank in the beauty of his kiss and the shock of desire that smote every sense of her body; she quivered with the longing she felt. She felt his arms tighten about her waist as he tipped her slightly backwards, searching her mouth with his kiss. She felt his tears fall upon her face, that sweet rain which was water to her heart and nourishment to her soul, sensed them mingle with her own and create paths of warm dew that fell down her soft skin, felt his hands slowly traverse the beautiful curve of her waist, her hips, her breasts…
The door to the poor visitation room squealed open loudly, causing the pair of lovers to jump in surprise. Agrippa strode into the room, a scowl upon his set-jawed face. He had heard everything that had transpired, everything that the ungrateful little wench had said…oh, and how he would make her pay…
“I have been more than fair, Woman. You have had time to say your farewells—on your feet.” He cruelly grabbed his wounded rival by his hair and hauled him to his feet, ignoring the shrieks of protest by the young woman.
“He is innocent, surely you must know that! He has done nothing wrong!” Agrippa shoved Maximinus before him toward the cells.
“Are you a soldier of Rome?” The maiden looked at him, confused.
“Of course not.”
“Do you know the will of emperor?”
“I do not.” The centurion turned to face her then, pure hatred flecking the hell-fires of his eyes.
“Then do not presume to tell me who is guilty and who is innocent.” The damsel attempted to step between the man and her husband, but Agrippa pushed her back firmly. “Any more efforts on your part will only wound your husband more greatly.” The maiden forced herself to become still—her eyes alone spoke pitifully of the pain that she endured.
“Yes, Commander. I shall do as you say.” Calliliana cast one last longing glance upon her husband…her heart seemed to fail and die within her as she realized that it was to be her last. “Farewell, my Dearest. May God give you strength for the trials which you are about to endure.” As she saw the tears flow freely down the set face of her husband, his face was completely obscured from her vision by her own tears.
“Farewell, my Love. Stay strong, keep to the faith, and remember this: when we meet again, it will be a place where there are no more tears, and no more sorrow to rend our hearts. Remember this, Dearest, when you think of me.” As he sensed Agrippa steel his body behind him to push him onward, Leander looked straight into the eyes of his wife and whispered, “remember me.”
“Enough farewells. Adrian!” Marcus shouted, his call hastening a frightened-looking lad with a painful-looking red welt upon his cheek from the shadows.
“Take this man back to his cell.” Agrippa looked straight into the eyes of his rival. “I will see the woman out.” Maximinus realized at this point that it was useless to argue—for what could he do? If he commanded Agrippa to leave his wife alone, he would most certainly do the opposite just to spite him. With one last look of longing and desire, and a gaze filled with such pain in threatened to shred the heart of his young wife, the strong young man allowed himself to be led from the room.
Calliliana heeded not the presence of the centurion; once her eyes could no longer see her husband in the gloom, she fell to the floor, weeping bitterly. Agrippa stood over her, an evil smile flickering about his hardened mouth—he lived for moments such as these!
“Come,” he said, attempting vainly to flavor his poisonous speech with honey, “I will see you out.” Realizing that resistance of any kind of futile and might only prolong the suffering of her husband, Calliliana allowed the centurion to haul her to her feet and lead her firmly from the room. “How much did the prisoner tell you of his torment?” The young woman stopped dead in her tracks and stared at the soldier with frightened doe-eyes.
“Torment…? He said nothing of torment to come. Only that he was to be put to death.” Agrippa smiled.
“Ah. He wished to keep the painful truth from your pretty little head, I see. Shall I enlighten you myself?” Calliliana bit her lip; she could tell that her tormentor was enjoying this.
“If you please.”
“He is to be put to death, Wench—death on a cross.” The maiden’s eyes went wide with horror, and they burned within her alabaster-white face with an almost unearthly fire.
“Oh spare him, spare him!” she moaned, falling to her knees before him. Thinking not of what she did, she hastily clutched one of Marcus’ hands and kissed it fervently. The feel of her lips upon his flesh only steeled the cruel man of Rome for what he was about to say next.
“What reason do I have for sparing his life?”
“Because he is an innocent citizen of Rome, who has unjustly been imprisoned without a trial!” Agrippa laughed.
“Citizen of Rome? I am Rome, my girl. Do not purposely attempt to thwart me with your knowledge of Roman law—I guarantee you, you will fail.” As he felt her hot tears splash upon his hand and fall to his sandaled feet, he leaned down close to her face. He slowly, almost gently, moved a dense lock of her flowing golden tresses from her ear and whispered, “However, there is a way that you might be able to save him, and one way only.” Calliliana shuddered at the feel of his breath upon her body and the very nearness of he who she loathed.
“Then tell me what it is so I might do it!” Agrippa stood over her once more, a leering grin now lighting his whole face— the conquering solder within him was awakened once more. This was it. The mouse was caught in the trap; the victory was his, he had won!
“I will have a small dinner party tonight at my house. Consider yourself invited—there I will tell you what I require as payment for the service I shall do you.” Calliliana shuddered.
“What time must I come, Milord? I must return home and get ready…”
“No need. Everything you require is ready and awaiting you at my villa.” The young woman grated her teeth.
“You are all kindness and generosity.” Agrippa bowed mockingly.
“Much obliged. Wait here; I will send for one of my servants to conduct you to my villa.” He turned his back upon the shuddering young woman and strode purposely from the room—he would have his fill of revenge upon his rival tonight!
“Is there anything that I can do to help you?” Leander smiled weakly at the young Adrian.
“You kindness is all that you can do now, Lad. I thank you for it.” The boy’s chin jumped and quivered as he struggled not to weep—here this man, who had in but a few hours time become a hero to him, was about to be executed in the way of a base criminal.
“May I at least offer you a glass of wine? I know where my master keeps it—it is tradition here to give the condemned one last drink.” Leander passed his hand over his face and sighed.
“I should like that, Adrian.” The lad smiled nervously and scurried from the room. Maximinus slowly eased himself to a sitting position on the floor, grating his teeth in response to the sharp pain that burned through his abdomen, and finally leaned his head against the wall. Thoughts burned through his brain with the ferocity of a scorching wind: he had a son! A son, the flesh of his wife…his wife…how beautiful she was…how desirable in every way…the way she looked at him, the way she felt in his arms…how like a child she was, yet like a woman when it mattered most…
The cell door squealed open and Adrian shuffled in, bearing a chalice full of wine as a last gift to the man he was only just beginning to admire. “It is not much,” he said, placing it in front of Leander’s face, “but it is all I can do.”
“It is enough, My Friend.” Leander stared down into the cup, his vision obscuring all but the drink in front of him. As his eyes gazed upon the slightly swirling red liquid, it seemed to him that he gazed upon a churning sea of blood.
“You look lovely, Domina.” Calliliana gazed quizzically upon her reflection in a tall glass mirror, and noticed as a deep red blush began to overspread her marble-pale face.
She was garbed in a tight-fitting deep red stola, the hue of which set off her coloring to absolute perfection: even she would admit that she had never looked fairer. The dress was made to artfully reveal parts of her body she would have rather left covered: her milk-white arms, neck, and one of her fair shoulders peeked from the red cloth like to a white bud encircled by scarlet petals. Her golden hair curled winningly about her face; Lavina, the servant assigned to her, had fastened it away in various places to as to make it appear even longer and enhance the natural curl. “Thank you,” she whispered demurely in response. The slave woman stepped back and gazed upon the young woman with something akin to longing—oh, how she wished it was she who had a beauty splendid enough to attract a great man!
“I wish I were you, Domina,” she murmured.
“What did you say?” Lavina looked at the girl in shock and clasped a hand over her mouth—she had not intended to speak her words aloud.
“N-nothing. I meant nothing, Domina.” As Calliliana looked at the young woman, there were unshed tears stirring the emerald-sea waters of her eyes.
“My beauty has only brought me sorrow—except for once—and I would wish it on anyone only if I wished it as a curse.” Though the servant girl obviously did not understand, she nodded obediently.
“As you say, Domina.” With one last surveying glance she added, “You are readied to perfection—shall I take you in now?” Calliliana closed her eyes, her mind racing. Could she do this? What was the price that she must pay to save the life of her dearly beloved husband? Could she endure the trials before her? Was she strong enough to…
The maiden opened her eyes. Though her lips parted, though she drew shaking breaths that seemed to stir her very soul, the slave girl barely heard the beautiful creature before her when she finally spoke.
“Take me to him.”
“Ah the prodigal at last! Though I must say, Domina, the waiting was truly worth the result.” Marcus Agrippa swept the girl a low and flamboyant bow, took one of her hands in his own, and pressed his lips fervently against it. Calliliana bit her tongue and forced a smile on her lips, all the while hoping that the centurion did not feel how her body trembled at every word he spoke.
“You are very kind to heed my request. Now, what is it that I must do to incline you to mercy towards my husband?” At the mention of Leander, Agrippa stiffened and his midnight eyes became dangerously dark.
“Come now, Calliliana. The night is young, and we have much time to speak of these matters. Recline with me and enjoy the supper that I have ordered prepared for you!” The Roman took her by the arm, with a show of gentleness but no tenderness at all, and led her to the table. The maiden reclined facing him, feeling more ill at ease with each passing second—never before had she reclined with a man other than her husband!
“Where are your other guests?”
“You are the only one.” Calliliana’s eyes widened frightfully and a rosy flush slowly infused all of her exposed flesh.
“You said it was to be a party of people…”
“I never said that. Only that you were invited to a dinner party—which this is, and you are. Now, do not bore me with useless chatter any longer…enjoy yourself!” Agrippa clapped his hands twice, and a servant entered with a goblet of wine.
Calliliana was barely able to stomach the food she was served, though it was delicious and of the highest quality imaginable—she could feel the eyes of her husband’s tormentor devouring her with every slight movement she made. She attempted to speak to the man, to make conversation that was pleasant and witty—but she felt halfway through the meal that if she was to be forced to keep talking, she would lose her mind by the end of it.
Agrippa, on the other hand, could not recall when he had enjoyed himself more. He gazed upon the woman before him, relishing the sight of her body in its revealing dress as she lay before him, one hand supporting her rose-flushed face. Oh, how lovely she was…how desirable…He cleared his throat, and she looked into his eyes; the sight of her sea-green gaze stirred the hot blood within him even more and steeled him for his purpose.
“Now that you have eaten, let us discuss the matter at hand. I promised you that there was one way, and one way only, that you could save your husband—and that I would speak of it to you this night.” The girl nodded.
“You know that I will do anything to save him who I love.” Marcus stiffened again at her words “him who I love”. Oh, how he would make her pay for every unintentional aggravation she had caused him…
“Then what do you think I shall ask you?” Calliliana looked at him in confusion—never was innocence more perfectly mirrored then in her face at that moment. Marcus smiled inwardly—how he loved destroying innocence!
“Will you free him for possessions? You know that my husband is a wealthy man. Do you wish for lands? Our villa? Livestock?” Agrippa laughed at her, and with a move so sudden it caused the girl to cry out, he caught her tightly in his arms.
“How painfully naïve you are, Girl. I want one thing only…I want you.” Calliliana stiffened and opened her mouth in a soundless cry.
“I am a married woman, Milord! I have a husband, and I have a son! I am no slave girl…” Marcus slapped her then, not harshly enough to leave a mark but with enough force and rapidity to make her cry.
“If you wish to save your husband, Wench, then tonight you are a slave girl. My slave girl.” He leaned close, and slowly let his lips traverse the trembling arc of her white throat. “If you wish your husband to live, you will do exactly as I say. This is the only way I spoke of; this is the only choice I give to you.” The centurion stood, pulling the weeping girl with him, and pressed her to him in a passionate embrace. “Tonight is the last night of your husband’s life, or it is the beginning of the rest of your lives together. The choice is yours, Calliliana Maximinus. What will you choose?”
The weeping maiden did not resist as the strong Roman carried her limp form to his room.
When Calliliana awoke the next morning, she lay still for a moment, staring vacantly at her surroundings. The bed she lay upon—naked, as it were—was made with the finest Egyptian linen that she had ever seen before in her life. The room was no larger than was her room in Maximinus’ villa, but it was adorned with greater opulence by far than was hers. Leander favored a much more simplistic and beautiful style of decorating within his home—he preferred to spend most of his time in his lush gardens anyhow.
At first, the girl was content to simply lie in the strange bed, gaze at her foreign surroundings, and attempt to collect her scattered thoughts. Where was she? In whose bed was she reclining so comfortably? Where was her husband…?
Her husband! At the thought, the maiden’s full faculties were mercilessly restored, and she sat up with a strangled cry—only to be met by pain screaming from every muscle in her body. “Oh God,” she cried aloud in anguish, as the hot, bitter tears soaked her face, “What have I done? What have I done?” For it was then that she remembered the night before in all of its hideous detail.
…Tonight you ARE a slave girl. MY slave girl…if you wish your husband to live, you will do exactly as I say…this is the only choice…What could she have done? Leander, her beloved, beautiful Leander, would have died a death of the most painful infamy known to man. What could she have done, other than comply completely with the wishes of her tormentor?
She had allowed him to carry her unresisting form to his room, and there…oh there, he had had his way with her! The maiden doubled over in agony at the memory and pressed a hand to her mouth to smother the bile filling it. Marcus Agrippa was as cruel with a woman as he was with his prisoners—to this she could attest with all certainty. When she had cried out, he had struck her, when she had attempted to plead for mercy, he had threatened her husband with various tortures so heart-rending, it had seemed to the pitiful young woman that her very blood curdled within her veins.
Calliliana looked down at her naked body and took stock of it; there was not an inch of flesh without some mark or another upon it. She was covered in livid, hideous bruises the size of a denarius, and many parts that had escaped bruising were decorated with raw-looking red marks. Every time the young woman moved, her body wailed aloud in protest; she had been used to the tender loving of her husband, whose main concern was pleasing her and avoiding her pain at any cost. Agrippa had been so rough with her, her body recoiled in horror as she recalled the pain that he had inflicted upon it, so newly divested of its glorious burden of child.
At just that moment, the door to the room opened. Calliliana stifled a scream and clutched the linens about her quivering form—but it was only Lavina, the young slave who had readied her the night before. She entered the room shyly, her eyes cast upon the floor, and every movement of her body seemed slightly afraid. Thus are those who serve this man, thought Calliliana to herself as she watched her, they…we…live in fear!
“What do you require this morn, Domina?” Calliliana narrowed her eyes at the girl.
“Nothing…save this.” She crept towards the edge of the bed and knelt there, a pleading look on her youthful face, tears shining in her eyes—tears of stained and tarnished innocence. She covered her breasts with one arm, and pressed her other hand to her forehead as if to block the painful memories tormenting her mind. “Please, I beg of you, look at me,” she whispered. “ I am not, I swear to you, some whore that this man has purchased for the night. I have a child, a son whom I adore, and a husband who is my life…it was for him I did this thing!” The slave woman still did not meet her gaze; her dark eyes flitted restlessly across the room. Calliliana bowed her head and gave vent to her bitter anguish, her sobs racking her aching body and filling the room with their sound. “P-please,” she stammered, her white hands clasped before her breast, “please. As one woman to another, meet my eyes. Do not condemn me as a whore, as I am sure that many will do, now. Let me know that God is good to me still, that I have one friend left to me in this dark and bitter hell which is my life. Please…look at me.” Lavina slowly raised her eyes to meet the face of the young woman whose beauty she had so admired and wished to possess the night before.
She was still beautiful, oh so beautiful, as she sat there, the crystal tears splashing from her emerald eyes down to her marble face. Her hair was still arranged as it had been the night before, though now it was so mussed and tousled it made an oddly becoming haystack of gold around her face. Lavina moved closer to the weeping girl, reached out a hand to touch her…it was then she saw the marks upon her.
Not one surface of the girl’s body, save her face, had escaped without some mark or another upon it. The slave girl doubled back in horror—this lovely young girl appeared as if she had just undergone the most punishing of tortures.
“Oh, Domina,” Lavina whispered, as she gently stroked the girl’s hair, “Oh, my lady, what has he done to you? Why did you allow him to do it?” Calliliana wept harder at this.
“To save him who I love past all reason; all endurance! My husband is condemned to death—death this very day, and your wicked master made it very clear to me that unless I submitted to him, unless I gave myself to him ‘in the manner of a slave girl’…my husband would die. I did what he bid me…” The woman doubled over in a fit of weeping so great, her words came out only in a strangled whisper, “I think now I have done wrong. Leander will never want to look at me…or touch me…or love me again…after what I have done.”
“Surely your husband is a good man,” soothed Lavina, who felt her own tears traverse their way down her cheeks, “he will know that you have done what you did to save him!”
“But I am nothing!” wailed the heartbroken girl. “I am used; useless! I will be like tarnished silver or broken glass to him now; like the lusterless gems he destroys in his profession!” A sob of anguish caught in her throat, and her voice fell so low the servant had to bend close to hear it. “I am nothing.” Lavina lifted the maiden’s face in her own work-worn hands, and gazed upon her reddened face.
“Never say that! I take it, by your words, that you are a follower of the Christ.” Calliliana nodded. “Did he not say that He would never leave you, nor forsake you?”
“Then where is He?” the maiden murmured listlessly. “He is not here, that is certain.” Lavina shook her head.
“God moves in mysterious ways, my friend. He is with you in the darkest places, even though you cannot see Him. He is in the dungeons with your husband now, though perhaps the man might not sense it. And He is with you, in your prison.” Calliliana met the woman’s gaze.
“How do you know so much about The Way?” she asked softly, her full lips trembling with sorrow. Lavina sat down beside her and artfully massaged her back, careful to avoid the places marked by the cruelty of her despicable master.
“Your prayer that God would send you a friend now was answered. I follow the Way myself.” Calliliana attempted to turn and gaze upon her new-found friend, but the woman would not allow it. Gently forcing her into a comfortable position on the bed, she offered, “My master is gone for the day, and you are safe. If he forced you once, it is not likely that he will force you again—at least, not if he is to keep his word.” The woman’s last words struck fear into Calliliana’s heart more forcefully than a blow.
“If he keeps his word?” she gasped in horror, as she rose again to a sitting position. “You mean I did all of this…” Lavina gently pushed the maiden back down upon the bed.
“Hush. Do not worry, my dear. Now this is what I shall do: I will salve your wounds, then get you dressed and send you on your way. You must be eager to return to that bright-eyed babe of yours!” Calliliana nodded; she had been too numb with grief to even think of little Leander. Now she realized, in a state similar to panic, that her poor little son must be famished with hunger.
“Yes, I must go to him.” Lavina began mixing various herbs she had brought with her into soothing salves and balms—she had had an idea the young woman would be in this condition, and had come prepared.
“Good, you are thinking of other things now. And perhaps, your husband will even be home waiting for you when you return! Surely you realize that he must love you all the more for what you have done to save him.”
“Yes…” Calliliana murmured, as the tears filled her eyes again and teetered precariously on the edge of her lashes, “…perhaps.”
The light of dawn was just beginning to overspread the hills with its glorious blanket of light when Calliliana Maximinus set forth from the abode of Marcus Agrippa. Lavina watched her go, her slender shoulders slumped slightly forward with her burden of shame, pain, and fear…oh, how she hoped against hope that the woman’s husband would love her the more for the price she had paid for his life! The slave woman had done her best to salve the maiden’s physical wounds—but she knew that the wounds within would be the ones that would require time and the Hand of God alone to salve.
Calliliana hastened wearily towards her home, avoiding the pedestrians that seemed to throng the roads in ever increasing number with each corner she turned. She attempted to keep her thoughts on things that would keep the memories of what had happened to her locked away…but each recollection, no matter how beautiful, was poisoned by her tormented mind. The girl squeezed her eyes shut, striving with all of her might to silence the two voices that warred with one another inside her head.
Hurry, hurry! chided one, you must get home to your son! He is famished by now…think of how his beautiful eyes gaze upon you as you hold him…
His eyes alone, at least, will not condemn you…The other answered mercilessly.
He is my son. He knows nothing, nothing, of what I have done, nor will he understand. If I could only look upon him once more, touch his hair, gaze into his storm-sky eyes…
Eyes like his father…at least THOSE innocent infant eyes will not condemn you…
Perhaps Leander is home by now! Oh, how I long for him to take me into his arms, to kiss me softly…
Whatever makes you think that he will want you any longer? You are a used woman…a bloody, soiled, useless woman…
He will forgive me! He MUST! I am his wife…
You are a WHORE!
Calliliana cried aloud then, drawing the stares of more than a few curious onlookers, and broke into a run. She heeded not the pain crying at her from every sore muscle in her body, she disregarded the sharp stones that lodged themselves within her sandals and cut into her delicate feet, she did not care that all around her gaped at her in curiosity…she saw nothing. She felt nothing.
Until she saw them. Until she heard them.
Her blurred vision cleared enough to allow the young woman to see a crowd of early-risers thronging around a public spectacle. What is it today? she wondered blankly, as she stared at the multitude. Is another hapless maiden being sold into slavery? Is a poor wretch being whipped for deserting his post?…is… her mind ceased functioning then, as her eyes took over.
For she had seen the crosses. And she had heard those upon them.
There were ten, ten blood-soaked instruments of torment lining the road—nine of which had living, breathing wretches still suffering upon them, shrieking aloud in their pain. Women of all ages, beauties, and stations clustered around them, weeping loudly—these, she reasoned, must be the families of the suffering individuals. Calliliana felt the bile rise into her throat once more at the sight, as her heart began to beat wildly. She forced her way through the crowd, disregarding completely the other bystanders—those about her gazed at her in annoyance at first, but one glance at the beautiful, wide-eyed and frantic face caused them to back away and from her with something akin to respect. Leander, My Love, she thought to herself, as she forced her way forward, I gave my very soul to keep you from this infamy…my heart is crying out to you now; if I could will you away from this place I would do so! You cannot be here…you MUST not be here…
She walked from cross to cross, her pitiful eyes searching each face…each wretched face…for her husband. Each man’s visage was so twisted in pain as to be almost unrecognizable—but the girl saw with eyes of the heart. Each man in succession was not him…not her husband…not her Leander. The beating of her heart slowed slightly, for the first time she was beginning to be filled with hope.
Calliliana passed the ninth cross, saw that it was not her husband, and moved on to the tenth—the only cross without a criminal upon it. She gazed frantically about her, until her gaze lighted upon an old woman standing near. “Please,” she gasped, snatching at her arm, “please tell me; where is the man slain upon this cross?” The old woman tilted her head and gazed quizzically upon the maiden, her face beautiful as a statue and every bit as white and colorless.
“He perished faster than the rest, Domina. They removed him but a few moments ago.” Calliliana felt as though she could not breath as she asked her next question—as it left her lips, she felt as though she would be sick, so nervous was she.
“And can you tell me his name?” The ancient thought for a moment.
“I remember hearing it before. You can see for yourself, look at the sign upon the cross!” Calliliana bit her lips.
“I cannot force myself to…I am afraid of what I might see. Please…would you be so kind as to read it for me?” The old one squinted her eyes and stepped close to the cross.
“The name…well let me see…my eyes are not what they used to be now, you know…ah! I have it now! Leander Maximinus was his name. Now then…” she turned once again to the maiden.
Calliliana stood there in front of the cross, clenching and unclenching her hands. Her face was completely white now, so white that her emerald eyes appeared emblazoned on her face, so hotly and furiously did they burn. Her mouth was open in horror, and it was with alarm that the old woman noticed blood dripping from it and staining the woman’s face and clothes. The maiden had unconsciously bitten her tongue in her agonizing grief.
“Oh my dear,” the woman soothed, as she hesitantly moved forward, “it is not good for you to be here. Please, let me take you away…” Calliliana pushed herself away as the woman attempted to put her arms around her.
“Please,” she gasped brokenly, “leave me. I thank you for your kindness, but no one must speak to me just now. I cannot bear it!” The ancient woman stared down at the girl, who by this time had fallen to her knees near the cross.
“You knew him then?” The lovely young maiden buried her face in her hands, and abandoned her wounded body to tremors and spasms of grief.
“I…I did. I gave my life for this man!”
“Your life? But what can you mean…”
“Please!” Calliliana gazed up at the woman with eyes so filled with pain, shock, and horror that the woman stepped back in fear. She had never seen such eyes, eyes that spoke of torment before, not even in the dying gazes of the men around her. “Please,” Calliliana repeated brokenly, as she returned her face to her hands, “please leave me. I must be alone now. It is too much…oh dear Lord, my heart is too full!” The woman nodded sadly…though she did not understand, she could recognize suffering when she saw it. She backed slowly and respectfully away.
Once she was sure that the kind woman had left, and that those around her were too preoccupied with their own grief to notice her, then and only then did the young woman feel safe. She closed her eyes, attempted to still the raging thoughts in her mind…but one voice only now could she hear.
You are alone now in the world. You have done nothing but bring grief to this man…he LOVED you, he gave you EVERYTHING, and what did you do? You betrayed him who saved you from a life of sorrow and pain. Perhaps with his dying breath, he discovered that you had betrayed him at the last; discovered what you REALLY are…a WHORE!
Calliliana slumped senseless to the ground.
“Wake up now, Woman. Wake up!” Calliliana awoke to the feeling of a strong hand jostling her shoulder; she shook herself slightly and looked up.
A man was looming over her, a man with a ponderously kind face and azure-hued eyes that were filled with curiosity and concern. Due to the fact that he was stooped over her, it was hard for the maiden to tell whether or not the man was tall—but she did notice that he had lovely golden-brown hair falling about his face in glorious disarray—hair bright enough to add luster to the bronze hue of his skin. “Who are you?” she asked quietly, her troubled emerald eyes roving curiously over his face and form—it was then her breath caught in her throat. The man was wearing the uniform of a soldier of Rome—and she had remembered.
Calliliana attempted to scramble to her feet—but her haste caused her world to swim before her eyes once more. The young soldier caught half caught her in his arms as she slumped towards the ground. “Are you alright?” he questioned, his concern evident in his surprisingly tender tone of voice. The young woman looked upon him as she answered, and it seemed to the Roman that never before had he seen such eyes. Beautiful eyes they were, worthy of the face that framed them—but eyes devoid of any life, of any hope, and of any love. He was gazing into the eyes of a statue.
“I knew one who was executed here this morn,” she murmured so softly, the young man had to stoop close to catch her breathy whisper. The young soldier attempted to force his facial muscles into the hard mask of oblivion he had been trained to assume—in vain.
“Who did you lose, Domina?” Calliliana began to cry softly, in soundless, racking sobs that shook her exhausted body.
“He was c-called Leander—Leander Maximinus.” The soldier scanned the row of crosses until his eyes came to light on the empty cross bearing the name of Leander.
“He died not long ago, Domina—and I hope that it brings you some comfort, at least, to know that he died bravely without a murmur of a complaint.” The girl shook soundlessly at this, and furiously wiped at her eyes.
“He was a brave man, Sir.” She stood slowly, leaning heavily on the compassionate young soldier for support. “Thank you.”
“You are in no way fit to travel, Domina. My work here is done for now; please allow me to escort you to your home.” Calliliana began to shake her head, then thought better of it. She knew nothing of Agrippa’s current whereabouts, and she would much prefer to have a strong man by her side in case she did happen to encounter him. She nodded slowly.
“You have my thanks again.”
“Where are you bound?” The young woman flogged her tormented mind for a suitable answer—she had to get home to her son…but if Agrippa hated her family so, would it not be folly to lead another Roman to where he might inform the commander on the whereabouts of his late rival’s son? On the other hand…what were the odds that that would truly happen? The young woman realized how famished her child must be by now…
“Take me to the home of Leander Maximinus, the late jewel merchant.” Calliliana felt, rather that saw, the soldier’s eyes upon her.
“Were you that close to the young man?” Once again, the girl did not know how to respond. If she gave the soldier her true name, and that she was Maximinus’ wife, he might very well inform Marcus of where she resided. Being in that man’s hands once more would surely be a fate more cruel than death…
“I was a slave in his household, Sir. I looked after his young son and tended the house together with an old servant woman. My name is Aemilia.” The soldier nodded amiably.
“And mine is Quintus. Come, Aemilia, I will take you to the villa. Most assuredly you will be able to rest better there from your grief.”
Calliliana allowed the young man to take her gently under the arm, and lead her from the place of her husband’s grisly demise. She did not look back.
As the two approached the large villa of Maximinus, Calliliana could sense that something was amiss. A dreadful foreboding filled her heart and threatened to flood and destroy her senses with its horrific potency. She rushed ahead of her escort.
“Please,” she whispered, turning to the young man in icy dread, “wait here for me, outside. I do not know what I will find within.”
“Do you have any reason to believe that something is wrong?” The damsel shrugged her shoulders and attempted to act relaxed.
“I do not know—I only wish to find out myself. I thank you once again for your kindness—it was needed more than you can ever know. But I was close to this man’s family, and I must break the news to them myself.”“Surely they would have heard that the young man was to die…”
“They keep to themselves, Sir…nothing much from the outside world slips through the cracks of these portals.” So saying, Calliliana darted through the garden and up the front steps of the villa, leaving Quintus very much alone and very much confused.
“Kalyca!” she shrieked, as soon as the heavy wooden doors were shut tightly behind her, “Kalyca, where are you?” The young woman dashed frantically throughout the lower portion of the house, her eyes skipping hastily over everything that she saw in an attempt to discern her friend and her son—so far everything in the house looked untouched—they must be safe! “Where are you?” she whispered aloud, the mounting dread she felt growing ever more intense in every fiber of her body. Calliliana scampered up the stairs, her golden hair flying out wildly behind her in her haste. With her fear-dilated emerald eyes, the pallor of her skin, and the flying halo of her flaxen hair, the woman appeared as a fair white blossom, its golden petals torn and disheveled on a wind-blown day.
The maiden reached the second floor of the villa, and swiftly trod the distance to her son’s nursery. There, she reasoned with herself, there they would most likely be found! It was still early in the morning…of course they were both still aslumber and had not heard her cries…Calliliana paused on the threshold to her son’s room, her quivering knees compressed beneath her thin linen robe. “Kalyca?” she whispered softly. Still no answer. With trepidation so great it nearly choked her; the damsel slowly opened the door.
The small room was dim, so dim—but, of course, Kalyca had not yet risen and raised the window coverings! Calliliana did so herself, chuckling mirthlessly as she did so. How could she be so silly, to think that Agrippa would harm her family! He most likely did take issue with her husband for his religion and cared nothing for the man’s family at all…
The maiden blinked against the sudden light, and shook her head slowly as if to clear it from sleep. She gazed about her then, and could easily discern Kalyca lying on the baby’s pallet, one arm wrapped protectively around him. “How sweet, you darling nurse,” the girl sighed to herself as she slowly crept nearer, careful not to wake the two. “How could I ever have been so foolish as to think that something would have happened to you both?” She gently placed one hand on Kalyca’s shoulder—the old woman fell back towards Calliliana at the slight touch. The maiden jumped back in horror, her lips parted in a soundless scream of agony as she gazed upon the scene before her.
The ancient servant woman was cold and lifeless, her ebony eyes opened towards the sky in the unseeing gaze of death. Her wide mouth hung slack, her teeth, lips, and chin all dribbled with blood, and the few grey locks of hair that wisped about her face were matted with the red liquid as well. The rest of her body—oh the rest of it! was covered in the blood from her slit throat—and, as Calliliana saw with a genuine wail of sorrow, the blood of her son.
All fear of death left the maiden as she reached out and tenderly caught up the body of her dead child and nestled it against her breast. The babe looked much the same as his elder, though he was completely covered in gore given his size. “Your throat too,” murmured the tortured woman as she rocked herself painfully back and forth on her heels, “the demons could not even spare one as young as you!” She wept then as she had not wept in her life…all of the emotions of the previous weeks…months…years…gave vent to the fountains which were her sorrow! Calliliana crouched near the body of her friend Kalyca and her tears bedewed the body of her tiny son as she emitted all of her grief in piteous, heart-wrenching sobs that filled the villa with their sound.
“Domina?” Calliliana started up at the sound of a voice and turned, a wild-animal panic in her eyes and in every move of her body. If he who stood without was Agrippa, the girl felt—she knew—that for the first time in her life, she could kill a man.
But it was not Agrippa. Quintus, young Quintus with his empathetic eyes and tender hands, stood before her, a look of horror filling his face as he gazed at the scene before him. “Oh Domina,” he murmured as he took in the dead woman and child, and the fairest creature he had ever seen besmirched with their blood. “Oh Domina.” He could not say more.
Quintus moved slowly towards the stricken woman, who was too heart-rent from her recent sufferings to back away from him. “You must have been very close to this man’s family—I cannot tell you with what sorrow I see the judgment Rome has enacted upon them.” Calliliana shook herself as if from a trance.
“Do you see this child?” she asked slowly, as she held the cadaver of her beloved little Leander before the soldier’s eyes. Blood dripped slowly from the corpse onto the pale blue stola of the young woman—as the soldier hastily averted his eyes from the scene, the two colors so combined appeared to him as though the cloudless sky was weeping blood. “Do you see what your precious empire has done to this innocent babe?” Quintus could scarcely force his horrified eyes to meet the tortured gaze of the half-crazed woman before him.
“I do see. And for what it is worth, Aemilia…I beg your forgiveness. I know not what services you did for this man and for his family, but I can see that you were close to them…” Calliliana was not listening any longer. A low, keening moan sounded deep within the recesses of her throat and she fell slowly to her knees. She had thought that she would have no more tears to cry once she saw the empty cross of her husband.
She had been wrong.
Quintus felt the hair on the nape of his neck rise with terror as he heard the unearthly wails of the woman before him, and as he saw her thus, crouching low to the ground over the babe, like a wounded she-beast with its slain young. “She must have been this babe’s nursemaid,” he thought, his eyes unconsciously appraising her slender, rounded hips and milk-full breasts. “It is said that a bond is formed between a woman and the child she cares for…she must have loved him as deeply as did his father.”
Calliliana’s sobs subsided somewhat after a short while, and she stood painfully, the body of her little Leander still clutched tightly in her arms. “What m-must I d-do with th-them?” she stuttered softly, a question burning in her tear-bright eyes. Quintus was struck by how young Aemilia sounded as she spoke to him—grief had shattered the shell of the woman about this maid, and rendered her once more a helpless little girl.
“I shall help you bury these two. We cannot leave them lying here.” The maiden shook her head slowly.
“And then where am I to go? What shall you do with me?” Again, the soldier was struck by the question in the girl’s soft young voice. He realized at last that, though she was young and she appeared untouched by the cruel world about her, she had at least learned to fear him in the way all women must fear men—that all beautiful, foreign women must fear the soldiers of Rome. He laid his hand upon her shoulder gently, and was pleased when she did not flinch away.
“You need not fear me, Aemilia, nor anyone else while I am by your side.” He stooped, and with averted eyes, began to gently roll the gruesome remains of Kalyca into a blanket. “If you wish it, you may come to live with me. I share a small villa with my sister, Sylvia, and she has been in great need of a ladies’ maid.” This was, in fact, a lie. Sylvia already was in possession of two ladies maids—more than enough for a woman of her wealth and station—but the young soldier hoped that the news would bring some comfort to the tortured woman before him. Quintus looked up, and was pleased to see what looked like a small glimmer of hope begin to dawn in the storm-tossed green seas of the maiden’s eyes.
“Oh yes, oh yes, it is good. I can do that kind of work!” Her voice was eager in its childishness, and Quintus could not restrain a smile.
“You will please her I think.” The soldier stood, his well-formed biceps bulging under the strain of the blanket-shrouded body he carried upon his back. “Come now; let us lay these poor souls to rest.”
Calliliana stood by silently as Quintus dug two deep wells within the earth of the beauteous garden—that garden in which she and her beloved had spent so many happy hours—and as he carefully laid the remains of those she loved into them. “You have wept enough this day,” she told herself firmly as thus she stood, forcing herself to stare straight ahead upon a little blue flower. She must not think of them…she musn’t…or this kind Roman would grow suspicious…
“This flower is the color of your robe, the hue of a sapphire gem…”
Stop it! Calliliana attempted to flog her mind into submission. She must not think of Leander, not now. It could only prove to be dangerous for her. The maiden gave the innocent little flower upon which her gaze had alighted a look poisonous enough to have withered it. She turned aside, realizing that the blue blossom had been what had triggered her thoughts of her husband. Instead, she trained her eye upon a little bush of delicate roses.
“Do you see this rose? It is the color of your cheeks when I speak to you…”
“Oh Leander!” she cried out, her sob of agony escaping her ill-disciplined lips before she could snatch it back. Quintus rose from placing the last heap of earth upon the second grave, a question in his eyes.
“What was the bond between you and the criminal, really?” At that moment, Calliana had a vision of herself throwing her full weight upon the man, felling him to the ground, and grinding the dirt from the path into his pitiful eyes. No one…no one indeed, should ever call her husband a criminal! With great effort, the maiden stilled her tumultuous emotions.
“It was also the name of the child.” She said no more, thought Quintus would feign have questioned her again upon the matter. Instead, the girl gathered up her small bundle of garments (she had taken care to leave all of her most beautiful clothing lest the man grow suspicious of her true place in the household of Maximinus) and walked hastily from the garden.
The villa of Quintus and Sylvia was smaller by far than the villa of Maximinus, but it was lovely and refreshing to the maiden’s tired eyes. A small fountain bubbled in the middle of the entry, its fountainhead shaped like a roaring lion. The mosaics upon the floor were lovely indeed to behold, all telling stories from the classic myths of the Romans and the Greeks. From where she stood, Calliliana could see that the adjacent rooms were also tastefully furnished and welcoming. “Your sister indeed has a gift for making a weary traveler feel at home,” she said softly.
“I thank you.” Calliliana gasped and turned to behold a tall woman, taller than many of the men she had known in her life, coming gracefully towards them. She was pretty, the maiden saw as she neared them, with dark-hued classical features and the thick, rippling dark curls of the Roman race. She was incredibly slender, perhaps as a result of her extreme height, and Calliliana could not help feeling even more like a child as a she gazed upon her. Sylvia smiled then at her brother, a mischievous light dancing in her onyxian eyes.
“Now who is this, Quintus? She is quite lovely.” Calliliana found herself blushing at the praise, and she heard Quintus chuckle behind her.
“She is a present for you, my sister. She was a servant in the household of…a merchant here…who recently departed this life.” Calliliana silently blessed the man for keeping the hideous truth to himself, and she bowed herself into a graceful curtsey.
“My name is Aemilia, Domina. I will be pleased to be of service to you.” Sylvia smiled again, her eyes growing soft as the looked at the delicate flower of a girl before her.
“I can already tell that you shall please me, Aemilia.” She snapped her fingers twice and two young women appeared so swiftly, it appeared to Calliliana to have been as of magic. The one girl was a plump and rosy blonde, and her whole face looked as merry as the dimples adorning her cheery face and her twinkling blue eyes. Though she was possibly even older than Calliliana, the maiden found herself contemplating the “fairy-child” as she thought of her with a slightly maternal air. The other woman, however, gave her pause.
She was nearly as tall as was her mistress, and her head was graced by coarse, black hair tied back from her face in an unflatteringly tight bun. Her figure was solid, sturdy, and unwomanly, not delicate like that of the newcomer—it was obvious that she was built for hard labor and had been used for such. A large hooked nose, deeply recessed and hooded eyes of a hue so palely brown they appeared yellow, thin, tan-colored lips that folded mirthlessly over large teeth, and sunken cheeks rendered the already plain face of the woman into something close to repulsiveness. Calliliana thought, with a chill of fear, that the woman, who was bending her cat-like gaze upon her with a definite look of disfavor, appeared more like to a corpse than a maiden.
“Girls, this shall be your new companion. Aemilia, I would like you to meet my two handmaids—Albina,” here Sylvia pointed at the giggling fairy-maid, “And Mara.” Mara inclined her head slightly towards the newcomer, her golden eyes flashing fire. Calliliana bowed to them, her watchful gaze never leaving the look on the corpse-woman’s face. “Now girls, take Aemilia to the baths. She will not be fit for work until she is cleaned, fed, and given a good night’s sleep.” Calliliana thanked her new mistress with her eyes.
“Thank you, Domina. Your kindness is greatly appreciated.” Quintus and Sylvia watched the beautiful newcomer leave with her companions—and the venomous looks which Mara bountifully bestowed upon her lovely new rival escaped the notice of no one.
“Come now; let us get you out of those filthy things!” Albina chattered merrily as she tested the bath water with one small, rounded white foot. When Calliliana drew back and clutched her bundle of belongings more closely across her chest, the servant girl giggled and added, “I’m hardly going to bite you, Aemilia. Now Mara here,” at this the merry spirit- maid burst into a fit of laughter, “might do something just like that!” Mara uttered a noise low in her throat that was supposed to resemble laughter…but to Calliliana, it sounded more like a loathsome growl that only further enhanced Albina’s point.
“I feel just fine, truly…” she lied, blushing hotly as she spoke the falsehood. She knew that nothing in the world would feel as welcome to her as the hot water of a bath on her bruised and battered skin…
Her thoughts were rudely interrupted by the unwelcome appearance of Mara’s swarthy face thrust into her line of vision.
“Nonsense, Girl. Orders we were given, and orders we must obey. Give me your bundle.” Calliliana instinctively clutched her belongings closer to her, not wishing the rough-looking woman to gain access to them; Mara seemed to view this as a challenge. “Give them to me, I said,” she repeated, as she roughly snatched the clothing away from the younger woman. Calliliana released them with a short cry of pain—Mara had jerked her arms with such force, the old pain from the hell-night before had surged through her once more like liquid flame. Albina looked at her curiously.
“Why did you cry out? She did not strike you…Oh my!” the young woman gasped loudly and covered her cherubic mouth with one hand. Calliliana gazed at her curiously, unsure as to what had elicited such a reaction from the normally cheerful girl…until she looked down at herself.
The blood of her slain loved ones still liberally spotted the front of her garment, enough to make it look as if she herself had been grievously wounded. Before the maiden could say anything, Mara stepped close to her once more and yanked at her tunic.
“Here now, Wench—we now nothing about you. You look as innocent as a child, no doubt, but behind those pretty flashing eyes of yours…” she looked scathingly at her new rival down the bridge of her eagle-like nose, “…behind those eyes lurks a demon I’ll wager!” The eyes of the younger woman did flash fire then, and she painfully wrenched herself from her accuser’s grasp.
“I shall thank you to mind your own business! You know nothing about me, nor are you like to, now!” She turned her back to the two onlookers, and wordlessly began unfastening her tunic. Her face burned with firebrands of shame as she disrobed—she was a modest creature by nature, and hated to be exposed before others in any way…
Though you exposed yourself before a MAN last night…of what consequence are two women?
Calliliana bit her lips to stifle the evil tormentor within—how she hated the thorny goads of her own conscience, how they pained her more terribly than would a voice from another human being!
As hastily as she possibly could, Calliliana descended, or rather leapt, into the largest bath-pool, and allowed the hot water to sooth and caress her skin, like the arms of a patient lover. The damsel had fervently hoped that her movements would have been swift enough to prevent the other girls from noticing the distressing marks upon her body—but she had no such good fortune.
Although Albina shied away from making any more comments about the state of the strange, beautiful newcomer, she had eyes in her head as well as any other young woman. She cringed inwardly as she saw the livid bruises and angry marks decorating the maiden’s white flesh—some of them bore an odd resemblance to the imprints of teeth and of fingers—but the maiden was too naïve as of yet to know what they meant.
For all of her ugliness, Mara was not naïve, and she knew. She knew.
After her refreshing bath, the two servant girls provided their new companion with fresh, clean garments, though neither of them spoke to her as they aided her in dressing. Calliliana was grateful for this indeed; her heart was still too full of sorrow and pain to say much, if anything, at all. She allowed the two to lead her to the small room she was to be sharing with them, and watched as Albina carefully set her parcel of belongings in a corner. “It is quite comfortable here,” she said softly, not quite able to raise her merry blue eyes to meet Calliliana’s gaze, “I hope that you shall like it.” Mara said nothing, though her feline eyes flashed angrily—if she had her way, this pretty little chit would soon be out on the streets!
Mara was a Jewish-born woman of Arabia who had been taken by a small party of soldiers on their way to Rome. She had been sold in the slave market as a labor-woman, due to her lack of beauty and her strong build—but something about the regal, arrogant way she carried herself fascinated one of the younger soldiers in the party. He had bid upon and bought her for himself—and thus it was that Mara of Arabia came to live in the household of Quintus and Sylvia. She was not friendly to anyone, save sometimes to the joyous little Albina—small, smiling Albina, who was not a slave, but a paid servant, the daughter of a deceased friend of Sylvia—who had somehow been able to coax the only smiles ever seen from those frozen lips. She was valued for her strength in the gardens and in manual labor that would have most often fallen to a man—but something about her bearing had appealed to Sylvia as well. The benevolent lady had promoted the woman to the much more luxurious position of lady’s maid, along with vivacious Albina. Together they had served for approximately a year before the arrival of the lovely Calliliana, whose combination of such great beauty and such deep sadness mystified and rather frightened Albina.
As Mara moved about the room, aiding Albina in setting it to rights for the other young woman, she could not keep herself from casting fervent glances at the Grecian slave. She was nowhere near as tall as she, that was certain—but oh, what beauty! What wretched, glorious beauty! Mara hated her for her sunny waves of golden hair. She despised her for her sea-green eyes that alternately flashed defiant fire and were quenched with crystal tears. She loathed her for her petite, slender figure and tiny feet and hands. But most of all she hated her for her mystique.
She knew, oh how well Mara knew, that beautiful women with a close-guarded secret secured in their hearts proved a great challenge and enigma to a man—and that his fervent desire was to win that beautiful prize for himself!
She knew that her master, Quintus, was handsome and young and otherwise unengaged—but that he was a fool where a beauty with a heart was concerned. It was obvious to her and to all that this new maiden, this Calliliana whom he had brought as a “present for his sister” was a beauty of rare quality—and that her heart was a cavern of treasured secrets, guarded more closely by her tormented mind that by a frenzied dragon in his cave.
This all Mara knew; it scorched her heart as a flame-burst and made her nearly ill with hatred.
For all the passion of this sick and twisted mind, heart, and body that slaved within the plain young woman was given in love and desire for her master.
Quintus retired early that night; he could not stop thinking of the beautiful girl he had just acquired for his sister. The young man had not yet shared the story of Aemilia with her new mistress; he was afraid that the over-kind Sylvia would try to talk to the maiden. And that would only make things worse.
The young Roman stretched out upon his bed, folded his hands beneath his head, and shut his eyes. There was the face of Aemilia, staring into his heart with a look of poignant pain and sorrow. He sat up quickly and shook his head, frightened almost by the intensity of the desire he felt for this woman—this girl.
“If only I could spare her more pain,” he thought to himself, cringing inwardly as he recalled her look of stricken anguish and remembered her tortured cries. “This pitiful little maid has been through so much—I would interpose my very body between anything else that attempts to harm her, though it would cost my life!”
And thus it was that young Quintus knew he had fallen in love.
Calliliana also retired soon after the other two maidens had finished fixing her a place to sleep; her troubled mind could not bear another waking moment and her body cried aloud for some rest. She felt all of her bruises lash at her as she fell upon the small pallet, and she stifled a whimper of pain. Mara and Albina stood looking at her for a few moments, malice and curiosity shining in their respective eyes. The young woman could feel herself being watched, even with her eyes shut, and finally raised herself on one elbow.
“I am indeed weary,” she said slowly, attempting to keep her impatience from her voice. “I have been through much this day. Would you please leave me? I find it impossible to sleep while being watched…” Although she had half expected an argument from the women, they left the room soundlessly. As Calliliana lay back on her on her pallet however, she felt as though she could still see Mara’s cat-eyes still gleaming at her within the gloomy light of the room. She turned herself on her back, careful to avoid her most tender sores, and finally closed her eyes.
There was her husband, her beloved husband, crying out her name as he was being nailed to the cross.
Agrippa laughed cruelly in his face, called her “whore”, and wrote her name in the filthy ground of Rome with his rival’s blood. He ground his feet upon it…
There was her son, happily bouncing on Kalyca’s knee…there came ten soldiers, all of whom bore the demonic face of Marcus Agrippa; they dashed the old nurse to the ground and slashed her throat…
There was she, herself, reclining at table with the tormentor of her family. He leaned in to kiss her; she moved towards him of her own free will and reached out her arms to embrace his neck…
Calliliana started up with a cry loud enough to shake the foundation of the house. She gazed about her hastily; felt the cold sweat trickle down between her shoulder blades. She had been sleeping, she had been dreaming…but where was she? Was she still in her tormentor’s house…in his bed…?
No. She raised a shaking hand to cover her face and groaned. No, she had been shown some kindness at last, and was residing as a servant girl in the house of that kind soldier and his lovely sister. Relief, or at least as much relief as she could feel under the circumstances, flooded her heart and her body, and released the lock she had put upon the vault of her tumultuous emotions. She wept in great, tearing sobs that sounded to those in the surrounding rooms (where the other maidens had decided to recline that night…away from the strange, sad neophyte…) as though her body was like to tear with them. Calliliana balled her fist and shoved it into her mouth, attempting with all of her might to stifle her loud cries—but she only succeeded leaving bloody teeth-gashes upon her knuckles.
“There, there, little maid, hush.” The voice of a woman, whispered tenderly in the dark, shocked her tears into silence. She felt two strong arms slip about her waist and draw her close; she melded against her unknown comforter and gave vent to the sorrow in her heart and in her mind. “Everything will be alright,” the unknown crooned gently, as she rubbed her back and stroked her long hair, “you will heal in time.” Calliliana convulsively clutched the front of the woman’s sleeping robe; with her eyes closed, she could almost force her tormented mind to believe that it was her mother who held her once more.
“I sh-shall n-never heal,” she sobbed, her body shaking with her cries. Her companion gently turned her around until she faced away from her, then began to tenderly massage her back. Her fingers were strong and sure, and she moved down and over her back with quick, swift movements that nearly took the maiden’s breath away. There was some pain as she burrowed her fingers deep into her sore muscles, but it was the kind of tenderness that led the maiden to believe it was doing her some good at least. She gradually allowed herself to relax against her touch, all the while imagining that it was the hands of her husband who caressed her, and the face of Leander who gazed at her tenderly in the darkness.
Until the unknown’s fingers unwittingly dug into a colossal bruise upon her back.
Calliliana stifled a scream and shifted away from the woman as hastily as she could, biting down hard upon her lip to keep the tears of pain from coming once more. She felt the bed rise gently as the woman lifted her weight from it, heard her walk hastily across the room, smelled the acrid scent of smoke as she lit a small lamp hanging from the ceiling…and for the first time, she could see who her comforter was.
Her eyes, the rich golden-brown of the sun striking the stirred ground of Rome, were clouded over now with concern. “Forgive me,” she said quietly, coming to sit beside her once more. “I did not intend to hurt you.” Calliliana shook her head slowly, and let a tear slowly traverse her pale cheek.
“It was not you, truly.”
“Then what made you cry out?” Calliliana raised a hand to quickly chafe at the tear that made its way down her face; in so doing she felt the thin sleeve of her night-robe slip up over her arm. Sylvia uttered an exclamation of surprise as she beheld the livid bruises upon the exposed flesh of the girl. “Who did that to you?” she whispered softly, undercurrents of rage threatening to burst forth like a murderous prisoner escaping his bonds. Calliliana looked at the young woman in confusion, then glanced down at the marks upon her arm and understood.
“I...I…” her mind tried to form some new excuse, some new falsehood. How could she tell this woman, her new mistress, what had befallen her? She might very well be cast out—for who wished to employ a whore in their service?
“Turn around.” Calliliana looked blankly at her mistress.
“Why, Domina?” Sylvia frowned darkly, as one unaccustomed to being questioned by her servants.
“It is not for you to ask ‘why’, Child. It is for me to ask all questions, and to give all answers. Now do as I say.” Meekly, Calliliana obeyed.
She uttered a half-stifled cry, however, when she felt Sylvia rip apart the flimsy shoulder-seams of her dressing gown, and as she sensed the torn ends of the robe flutter down around her exposed waist. “What are you doing?” she gasped, as she modestly clutched the bed-clothes to the front of her half-nude body. Sylvia did not deign to answer; she merely made a thorough examination of each and every mark upon the young woman’s naked back.
“Is the rest of your body like this?” she asked abruptly. A bright flush overspread Calliliana’s face—surely, her new mistress was not going to examine her fully?
“Yes,” she whispered softly, the humiliation of her predicament washing over her like waves over a storm-struck ship. She felt the bed rise as Sylvia stood again; heard her walk to the door.
“Lie down and disrobe. Your wounds need salving, Child—I will attend to them myself.” Calliliana did not hesitate to follow her orders this time; she eased herself gingerly down upon the cot once more and covered as much as she could with the bed clothes.
“What is this place?” she asked herself softly, as she closed her aching eyes against the agonizing brightness of the lamp-light, “and who are these people who would be so kind?” She did not have long to ponder these thoughts, however, for Sylvia reappeared once more with various pots of healing liniments and balms. As Lavina had done the morning before; the young Roman woman massaged the medicine into the maiden’s injuries, never pausing to stop even when the girl winced in pain.
“Yes, I’m sure that this hurts you,” she said, as she continued to work the ointments into the girl’s skin, “but that means that it will heal you in time.” Calliliana did not utter a sound, save an occasional whimper of pain…but her red lips were redder for the blood that her teeth produced upon them.
Finally, Sylvia straightened and wiped her greasy hands upon her robe. “Thank you, Domina,” Calliliana whispered softly, as she wriggled carefully into the new robe her mistress had provided for her. The tall young woman waved her hand in dismissal.
“How could I do any less? If you are to serve me, you must be in good health.” The maiden nodded her head, and dipped herself low into a respectful salute.
“Still, I thank you for your kindness. It means much to me.” The girl crawled into bed; she had expected that Sylvia would simply leave the room. The older woman instead made a rather impatient clicking sound with her tongue.
“Have I dismissed you yet?” Calliana looked at her with wide eyes.
“No…forgive me, Domina.” She stood again, her face full of confusion. Sylvia looked her straight in the face for several moments, a question burning bright within her sun-struck eyes.
“You may sleep, of course. But first you must tell me what—or who—made such marks upon you!” A fit of violent trembling shook Calliliana so that her teeth chattered audibly—the truth! She would be found out now!
“Domina, I…” Sylvia gently took the maiden’s chin in her hand, and tilted her face up so that her frightened eyes met her firm ones.
“No woman should have the marks upon her that you do without an explanation. I am not an idiot, Child…I know what made them.” She looked out over the top of Calliliana’s head, a vacant look in her usually clear eyes. “The most hideous of beasts it was, indeed. The one most known for its insatiable lust and hunger, the one that will stop at nothing. There are very few trainers in this world who are able to control such a beast, fewer still who can tame it. This beast is one which, in time, all women must learn to fear and respect, to feed and to satiate, to satisfy and to desire. That beast is man.”
Calliliana nodded, and in a slow, halting voice, she told her mistress all of her woe.
Marcus Agrippa strode to his villa that night with sure steps as the murky phantoms of twilight drew steadily on. A smile was on his predatory face, and the fire of hell shone forth from his onyxian eyes—the fiendish gleam of a tyrannical conqueror. He had won once more, though this was the strangest battle he had yet fought! He had desired and won the woman of another man, had slain the rival, and had subdued the woman’s pride to his own will and domination. To man, he thought gleefully as he unfastened the latch upon his door and purposefully entered the villa, no dominion was more desirable!
He wondered where the girl was now, as he made his way towards his bedchambers. Doubtless she had run off the moment she had awakened and found him absent; without question she had gone to find her husband. His eyes lit with glee as he thought of his rival’s death…
…Though it had not been entirely to his satisfaction. Leander Maximinus had died all too quickly; no cries for mercy, no pleas for the honor of his wife. Agrippa had not even had a chance to inform his detested rival of the pleasant evening before…
“Milord?” Marcus started abruptly at the sound of a voice and turned to see Lavina walking hesitantly towards him, bearing a small goblet of wine balanced precariously on an infinitesimal tray. He frowned; he did not like interruptions while he was thinking.
“Well?” The young woman trembled at the sound of his voice, causing the chalice to wobble and small drops of wine to stain the mosaic floor.
“I just wished to inform you…the woman of last night left the villa this morning.” Marcus was surprised to feel his heart sink at her words; he had known she would leave him once her part of the bargain was fulfilled.
“What of it?” he inquired brusquely, as he reached out to take the wine. Lavina drew herself up to her full height then, and even though she appeared still as a small, frightened mouse would to a ravenous lion, a bold look of defiance entered her eyes. She stepped back.
“Before you drink, I feel I must speak to you as I never have before.” A dangerous light filled the hawk-eyes of the seasoned soldier.
“Speak then.” Lavina stilled her knocking knees against one another as she hearkened to the dangerous threat underscoring his words, a threat as terrifying as the drum-beats heard before one’s execution.
“Milord, I was the first to attend to that young woman this morning. Surely you did not mean to wound her so…” As Agrippa laughed harshly, the slave woman felt sure she could hear the dun…dun…dun… of the death-drums of her doom sounding ominously within her own ears.
“She was very disobedient, Slave. I ordered her to submit to me as a slave girl, and there were times she still fought me…”
Dun. Dun. Dun.
“She fought for her honor!” Agrippa’s whole face appeared now as midnight, so dark with rage was it.
Dun. Dun. Dun.
“I will not argue with my slave. The wench was disobedient, and she was punished severely for her insolence…as will you be.” Lavina stepped back nervously; she had known that some hideous price must be paid for her defense of the maiden…
Dun. Dun. Dun.
“Appius!” Marcus roared, as he cast a haughty glance upon his terrified slave girl. A tall, muscle-bound servant man appeared, a question in his eyes and a tremor in his sure step. The fear of life…such was the only true possession of all who served this man. “Take this girl and see that she is well flogged for her disobedience.” Agrippa laughed cruelly at the look of terror that plainly overspread the features of Lavina, and at the look of discomfort that filled the eyes of the slave lad. The wine goblet fell from her hands, and the thin red liquid flowed like the miraculous River Nile1 over the stone floor.
“Oh spare me, spare me Milord!” the maiden begged as she fell to her knees, not caring in the least that she was now soaked in the wine of her master. With one swift motion, Agrippa reached out, grabbed her by the throat, and hauled her to her feet. He lasciviously nibbled at her ear and thrilled inwardly as he heard her gasp in horror and felt her tremble with displeasure.
“Take heed to whip her carefully; do not make her bleed over-much,” he commanded the red-faced Appius, whose labors dealt primarily with manual toil and never before with torturing women. Agrippa turned Lavina’s neck so she looked him full in his face. A slow, predatory smile flitted across his features as he saw stark fear mirrored in her glassy eyes. “For I do not wish my bed to be bloodied.” Lavina cried out in horror, and Marcus let her drop to the floor. “Clean this mess up first,” he said, gesturing to the spilled wine, “then, Appius, do your duty.” He strode away, never pausing to look back. If he had, he would have been filled with a fury so great he would have flogged both of his servants himself.
Appius had knelt beside the weeping Lavina, and was tenderly assisting her in washing the soiled floor. “I will do my best not to hurt you, Woman,” he said gently, thinking inwardly how much he hated to cause pain to such a pretty young creature, “and I am indeed sorry for what I must do.” Lavina attempted to still the beating of her heart.
“It is his punishment that causes me the greatest grief,” she whispered, as she wiped at the spilled wine with the edge of her stola. Appius felt a surge of hate course through his veins…how he despised his master!
“I will pray that you are not harmed too greatly. If there is anything that I might do…” Lavina did not answer, she focused instead on sponging the wine away from the tiled floor.
She could not help but notice as she did so that the wine had fallen on a mosaic depiction of a lovely, half-naked maiden. Her white skin was marred with the red drink, as was her blushing face. As Lavina contemplated her own torment that night, she felt as though she was sponging away the tears of the pictured maiden.
Tears of blood.
The heart of Mara was bitter over the arrival of her new mistress. It had been bad enough when the girl Aemilia had been a simple servant woman, such as herself…but now, now for reasons unknown, she was treated as the guest of Sylvia herself! Through whispered conversations with the other servants, Mara had come to learn that the name of the mysterious maiden was not Aemilia, but Calliliana Maximinus—the widow of a wealthy man. The slave woman had ground her teeth in fury when she discovered this; her status only made her that much more favorable to young Quintus! Mara knew then, as she stared at the beautiful woman day by day, made lovelier still by her richer adornments, that she could cheerfully slay her.
Calliliana, for her part, was blissfully unaware of the feelings of hatred she had aroused in her former rival. She and Sylvia had become fast friends; indeed, the older woman felt as though Calliliana was her blood-sister. The Grecian beauty had pleaded for a time to be allowed to do some work with the other girls, but Sylvia insisted that she stay in their villa as a guest. She had spoken to her brother not long after Calliliana had shared her terrible secrets with her; the velvety brown eyes of the soldier had never blazed with such bright hatred as they did when his sister told him of the girl’s violation.
“And yet this beast roams our nation freely, masquerading even as a Commander of the Emperor’s army!” Quintus had roared, his hand straying ever so slightly towards his sword hilt. Sylvia had hushed him with a glance.
“Be still, my brother. The girl was harmed, yes, but the death of her husband is that which causes her the greatest grief. I think that the only lasting marks Agrippa made upon her are within her heart and her mind—not within her body.”
But she was wrong.
Several moons waxed and waned in the household of Quintus and Sylvia, and still Calliliana resided with them. On more than one occasion, the girl had pleaded with her kind friends to allow her to leave and find work somewhere if they would not themselves allow her to work. “Nonsense,” Sylvia had told her brightly, as the three reclined in the garden one afternoon. “We think of you as an addition to our family—not as a burden. You are another sister to us, now—am I not right, Quintus?”
The young man did not answer at first. His rich eyes were perusing the luxurious wealth of Calliliana’s golden tresses, the modest blush upon her cheek, the delicate emerald of her shining eyes, the delicious curves beneath her robe…
“Quintus, did you not hear me?” The young man started in surprise.
“Wha…I…no, no, Sister. Forgive me—what is it that you spoke of?” Sylvia smiled knowingly, as only a woman can.
“I said that Calliliana is just like another sister to us now…is she not?” The tall young woman had to stifle a laugh as she watched a scarlet flush overspread the bronzed countenance of her brother.
“I…um…well…of course. You are just like one of the family.” He said this aloud, but whispered to himself, almost as an afterthought, “Mei Amor*.”
No one, of course, was close enough to hear his whispered words. No one, that is except a slave girl who was tending the garden nearby. A slave girl whose lean, brown corpse-face resembled something out of a nightmare as the words of her master settled upon her ears.
A slave girl whose cat-eyes gleamed a little more ferociously as their import clove its way through her venomous mind.
“Yes, my dear?” Calliana shifted uncomfortably upon her divan, thankful that Quintus had left in a rather embarrassed rush after their earlier conversation.
“I have a…a rather delicate matter to discuss with you.” A look of tender concern filled the eyes of the Roman; she leaned closer to her young friend.
“Speak then.” Calliliana picked at her purple robe as a deep flush overspread her snowy skin, like new-spilled blood on new-fallen snow.
“I…I am starting to be quite frightened. I have been in your house for well nigh five months now… and not once has my blood flowed during this time. My stomach grows larger, and larger…I…I wished to believe it was something—anything—else, so I have not spoken of it until now.” The maiden’s lower lips trembled. “I can no longer deny myself the truth.” Sylvia’s half-crescent brows raised in concern.
“Calliliana…you do know what that means, do you not?” The girl buried her face in her hands, as dry sobs shook her body.
“Yes, yes, of course! I am so afraid, Sylvia!” The older woman did her best to comfort her friend, but inwardly, her own fear was growing as well.
“It is alright, my friend, it is alright. Having a child after the death of your husband will be painful, yes. But think of this: you have one now to carry on his name, and to serve as a reminder of his father!” The anguished young woman lifted a pain-filled face to her friend, her emerald eyes like the waves of a storm-tossed sea.
“But my…my husband was in prison at the time of his son’s birth, and he remained there until his death!” A deathly, marbeline pallor slowly spread itself like a shroud over the bronzed skin of the older woman.
“Then it is…” The look in Calliliana’s eyes was enough to strike fear into the heart of any who beheld her, so great it was in its burning intensity.
“It is his child.” She needed to say no more. She stood slowly, her hands hanging limply at her sides, and she looked out sightlessly over the gardens of her benefactors. “I will not love this babe, Sylvia. I cannot—he is the child of my misery and of my disgrace. I would rather have born the marks of Agrippa’s cruelty upon my body until death…but this…this is the worst humiliation of all!” She turned then, as a new thought struck her. “What will I do? He must never find out about this child, surely you see that! If he knew…if he knew he would come for me…” Sylvia stood and hastily wrapped her arms around the trembling maiden.
“Of course he will not know, Child. You will stay here with us, that goes without question, and we will help you care for your babe.” Calliliana closed her eyes, attempting to shut up the pain with them.
“I thank you for your kindness, as always.” The Roman woman rubbed her back tenderly, her mind working quickly to formulate an answer to this puzzle.
“No thanks are necessary; you are our family, Calliliana.” She paused, a thoughtful look entering her shadowy doe-eyes. “No one need know that this child is not your husband’s.” Calliliana looked at her uneasily.
“I do not wish to lie…” Sylvia shook her head.
“You will not need to. Think for a moment—how many people, other than Quintus, myself, and the servants—do you see regularly?”
“Then who is there to know of your misfortune?” A bright look of hope entered the face of the troubled young woman for the first time in what felt like years.
“Oh Sylvia…you are so kind!” Calliliana embraced her friend heartily as a sense of relief flooded over her like sweet, spring-time rain. No one would have to know that the child she carried belonged to her despised tormentor! Agrippa himself would never know...
But neither of the two rejoicing young women thought to pay heed to the bitter slave woman, who was still tending the gardens. Her rage flared like the brightest fire as she compared her state to that of her rival—she felt the hot sweat trickle down her back, and she contrasted this discomfort to that of the lovely Calliliana, who was clean and dressed in a fine purple robe. As she swiped viciously as a strand of her own sweat-bathed hair, she observed the perfectly wrought coils of the Grecian maiden’s locks—curls that she herself had tended!
Mara leaned back on the balls of her feet and pondered all that she had heard. It was no surprise to her that her master was in love with the pretty little chit—no surprise at all, and yet the pain of it smote her bitter heart like hell-fire. It stunned her even less to hear that her mistress thought of Calliliana as a sister—this indeed had been obvious to Mara ever since she herself had been forced to attend the woman who was supposed to be yet another “lady’s maid”.
However...the woman stood, grunting heavily as she strained to lift a basket of weeds with her as she rose. That her detested opponent for the affections of her master was with child was a detail not to be overlooked. What was the name that the girl had mentioned, the name of the babe’s sire? Mara furrowed her dark brow in thought and pursed her lips in frustration. It had begun with an A; she knew that much. Could it have been Augustine? Aurelius? Agrippa?
Agrippa! A small, sly smile snaked its way across Mara’s sour face. Yes, Agrippa it was—Marcus Agrippa it must be, one of the most notorious generals of Rome! Mara knew many people outside of the microcosm of her master’s villa, and she had heard of the exploits of Agrippa often. “Indeed,” she smiled to herself as she cast the weeds into a small fire she had built earlier for the purpose, “it would be a cruelty past imagination to deny a father the right to his child!” The light of the fire danced in the wicked cat-eyes of the slave woman as she pondered this thought—at last, she had found a way to rid herself (and her master) of the intriguing young beauty!
As the heat finally became too much for the woman to bear, she turned and walked back towards the villa. She passed her mistresses as they stood together in the garden, discussing their plans in a low undertone thought to be safe from all ears. Mara continued her trek past the women…when suddenly a strange thing began to happen to her. She could not remember the last time that she had ever felt this way; it was almost suffocating her! The bitter woman held it in as long as she possibly could; tried in vain to suppress it—but at last it conquered her and rendered her helpless.
Sylvia turned in surprise when she heard the sound; she could not recall the last time she had ever heard the woman laugh. Calliliana, however, listened to the coarse, croaking guffaws of her adversary and felt a nagging fear tug at her mind. Could the woman have heard everything? Though she did not share the feeling with her friend, a sense of panic thoroughly pervaded each and every part of her body, and she breathed deeply to still the fearful beating of her heart.
“Milord?” Marcus Agrippa looked up at the silhouette of his slave girl, framed in his doorway by the light of the disappearing sun.
“What is it?” Lavina tiptoed hesitantly into the room, her body crying aloud in pain, and her mind tripping over itself with confused and restless thoughts. Ever since that first fateful night of her disobedience, oh so long ago now, Agrippa had begun tormenting her almost nightly—the great pain of her shame had become as a sixth sense to her, so ever-present was it. The pitiful young woman longed to be salved and comforted as she had consoled the beautiful young Greek woman so many months ago—but there was no one now for her.
Except for Appius—there was indeed the tender friendship of the handsome young Appius that remained to her despite her mortification. The young man had become a caring confidante to her; many were the times she had sobbed out her fear and her mortification to his listening ears. She was unaware that her recitations of her trials were becoming more and more difficult for her friend to bear in silence—he had long since come to care deeply for the pretty young Lavina, and he felt a rage against his master greater than the tossing of a stormy sea welling within his heart. He wished that he could heroically save the girl from her tormentor—but he also knew that in so doing, he would ensure a death-warrant for himself and for her. Lavina, in her turn, knew this as well—and she knew surely without a doubt that if it had not been for her Appius and her prayers for deliverance, she would have ended her own life long ago.
“Well, what is it? You are keeping me waiting, Wench.” The stern voice of her master—like a whip-lash to the back of a slave—caused the young woman’s mind to jolt back to the present with painful reality.
“There is a young woman here to see you, Milord.” Agrippa stood and stretched the knotted muscles of his legs; he had been working far too hard lately. A little pleasure with a new woman would certainly be most welcome.
“And did she give her name?” Lavina cast her eyes upon the floor and shook her head.
“She did not, Milord.” Marcus strode to the cowering slave, took her chin between his thumb and forefinger with a vice-like grip, and kissed her forcefully. Lavina had learned much in the last few months; she did not whimper or struggle. She only waited patiently until he deemed her submissive enough to set her free—free until that night at least.
He is an iron hammer, she thought. And I am the anvil.
Marcus let her go only when he himself had grown short of breath; he smiled and widened his coal-black eyes at her. With his lips peeled away from his white teeth—whiteness that matched the whites of his large, fearsome eyes—he resembled a monster of mythology to the pitiful wench before him. “Send her in, then. Do not keep me waiting, Girl.” Lavina bowed hastily and scampered from the room.
Marcus sat down again behind a large, parchment-covered table that served as his desk, and waited. He had decided long ago that sitting at this desk made him look far more magisterial, more formidable…
A black-clad woman with a scarf about her face entered the room, and the Roman was struck at once by her regal bearing. “This woman is tall enough to be a queen,” he thought, his mind appraising as much of her as it could in her loose-fitting robe. Marcus squinted his eyes at veiled visage. “Who are you, Woman? Let me see your face.” Wordlessly, the woman unwound the scarf from about her head, and any illusions that the general had had about her beauty vanished.
She was tall, that was certain, but beauty she had none—her face resembled a grotesque corpse almost more than it did a maiden. The woman stepped closer to him then, and he looked for the first time within her eyes. Pale and golden were they in color, eyes that now snapped at him and seemed to be attempting to weave a spell about his senses. “These are the eyes of an animal,” he thought to himself, “of a lioness, and not of a woman.” Agrippa swallowed thickly and repeated his question. “Who are you?”
“My name is Mara, Milord, but that is not of importance to you.” Mara leaned forward slightly, and braced her long brown hands before her on his desk. “I have some information that I know you will find beneficial.” Agrippa looked at her shrewdly; it was obvious that the woman was not wealthy, and it had been his unfortunate discovery that such women did not simply offer information for nothing.
“What price do you wish of me?” Mara uttered a raw growl that chilled the very marrow of the evil man.
“I wish only for revenge against she who has wronged me, Milord. That is all.” Agrippa’s mind whirled; never before could he remember being so bewildered! Perhaps, he thought as he gazed at the woman, those strange, cat-eyes were beginning to affect him…
“Well?” Mara’s lips separated in a bone-chilling smile, and her eyes were alight with the grotesque happiness of reprisal.
“I have news of one called Calliliana, Milord, a woman you once knew I assume?” A shock of desire coursed through the veins of the general, and his voice was hoarse when he spoke.
“And what of her?” Mara threw back her hideous head and laughed then, a sound that seemed to freeze the hot blood of life within the body of Agrippa.
“She is with child.”
So simply, so simply were those words spoken that would decide the lives of many.
Calliliana massaged her temples with a sigh as she sat at her small dressing-table that night. “What a day it has been,” she said quietly to herself, as she unbound the intricate coils of her golden tresses, “and how weary I am of this devil’s spawn within me!”
“You should talk to a friend, Domina, and not to yourself. It is not becoming.” Calliliana gasped in surprise as she caught sight of a black-clad figure reflected in her mirror, and she felt the heat rush to her face.
“Who is…oh, it is only you, Mara. How you startled me!” The slave woman approached the maiden with a forced smile, and the shaken girl could not help but think that in her black stola, and with the fierce cat-gleam in her golden eyes, the slave looked very like a specter of doom.
“Let me do that for you.” With much swiftness and very little tenderness, Mara pulled the remaining pins from the girl’s hair and tossed it over her back. She picked up an ivory-handled brush and roughly worked it through the densely flowing waterfall of gold, causing the maiden to squirm away in discomfort.
“Thank you, Mara, but I believe I am quite capable of doing this myself.” Calliliana wrested the comb from the servant woman’s skeletal fingers, gently finished brushing out her hair, and wound it into a thick rope for bed. As she undressed with her back carefully turned, she cast furtive and uncomfortable glances at Mara, who stood watching with brazenly un-averted eyes and a nasty sneer upon her face.
“Perhaps you should eat more, Domina. The slenderness of your body puts to shame the wealth of the house of Milord Quintus—you look like more like a beggar woman than a friend!” Calliliana blushed hotly at this. Even though she was several months with child now, the only large part of her body was the smooth, hard lump of life within her abdomen. The rest of her figure remained slender and white as a lily-flower—that Mara should notice this and comment upon it made the girl uneasy. She did not deign to respond to the slave’s comment, and made sure to wriggle all the more quickly into her sleeping garment and into her bed.
“Is that all you require for the night, Domina?” Calliliana stifled a yawn and nodded.
“Yes, thank you. Goodnight, Mara.” The slave girl started to leave, then slapped her forehead in mock surprise.
“Oh, but how could I fail to remember? My mistress sent you this, along with her best wishes for a comfortable sleep this night.” Mara produced a small wine goblet—which Calliliana failed to see why she had not noticed when she had first entered the room—and a rolled piece of parchment.
“Why?” The slave girl made her best effort to conjure a friendly smile.
“Of course she would not explain her reasoning to me, a lowly servant girl! The answers you seek are all here,” she tapped the scroll, “in this letter.” Calliliana took the goblet, noticed curiously that it contained a small quantity of rich, red wine, and quizzically took the dispatch.
“Thank you, Mara. You may go.” Perhaps the maiden would have been unnerved had she observed the ferocious gleam in the feline eyes of the slave upon being addressed casually as a servant—but so intent was Calliliana on reading the letter that Mara slipped from the room unheeded.