R.A. Strobel
by on December 7, 2015
The men camped on the hill were loud. The drums echoed through the streets, their voices rang out in cheerful song hours after all of the shops had closed and taverns had closed their doors. Caecilia only wished she had a window to gaze out with the hopes of catching sight of the flames or hearing the music clearer. Instead, she was trapped in her bedroom, as she had been all night in the hopes of keeping her away from the guests. Nerva had never liked the men of the tribes, but he especially detested Merovech. Caecilia could never make sense of the jealousy and the fear, all bundled with his hatred of the tribes and his elevated opinion of himself.
When her father had announced Caecilia’s engagement to Merovech shortly after he was honored by the Emperor in Rome, Caecilia had been enormously excited. To marry such an honorable man was every girl’s dream. Nerver, however, had not seen it that way. He had thrown what Caecilia could only describe as a tantrum had insulted the chieftan and Merovech to their faces. Her father chastised him and punished him, only to break the betrothal the following year. Nerva had made no secret of the fact that it was his doing and now she found herself engaged to the high and honorable Senator Rogatus. He was quite possibly the most vile man she had ever encountered.
“Lady Caecilia,” a gentle voice called out. “Your bed is ready.”
Caecilia sighed, placing her comb down on the table. She did not understand why she even tried. The years of abuse and bleach to her hair had ruled it terribly frayed and damaged. No amount of brushing would tame or repair it. “Please don’t call me that, Livia.”
The little blonde servant girl blushed and ducked her head in apology. “Forgive me,” she responded quickly. “It is only because I served at the party tonight.”
Caecilia smiled gently, walking over to the girl and taking her hands warmly. “Well, in here, you are Livia and I am Caecilia, right?”
Livia nodded with a light giggle. “Right.”
The two girls continued to laugh as they crawled into the bed. Livia as always so glad to get off of her feet and the sight of relief she let out every night made Caecilia smile. “How was the meal? How were our guests?”
“Honestly?...They seemed rather uncomfortable.”
Caecilia sniffed a derisive laugh. “Yes, I imagine the fine comforts of Rome are not to their liking at all. Who was here?”
Livia gave her a careful glance, knowing what her mistress wanted to know. “There was a tall redhead with pale eyes.”
“Merovech,” Caecilia interrupted.
“And he brought two men with him,” Livia continued “Both blonde. One was huge. The other, I think, had been here before. He was very polite.”
Caecilia smiled. “That sounds like it may have been Guntram. It is odd that Merovech did not bring his brother…”
“Yes, lament the absence of the pig rather than rejoicing in it, Caeci.”
Caecilia and Livia both let out a surprised squeak and Livia quickly lifted the blanket to her chin. Caecilia looked over at Nera, standing smugly in her doorway. This was not the first time in which Caecilia despised the lack of doors inside a Roman villa. It meant that her brother or mother could come in at any moment and act all superior to her.
“Tired of your back room rendezvous, Nerva?” she asked, glaring at him.
He sighed. “I simply cannot enjoy myself when in the company of such filth,” he answered on a sigh. “I cannot understand why father allows those animals in the house.”
“Perhaps if you spent more time on the battlefield and less time on your hair, you would understand.”
Caecilia’s gaze snapped around to Livia, whose face was now pink, flush with shock and embarrassment. Apparently, she had surprised herself by saying such a thing. Caecilia chuckled loudly.
“What did you just say to me, slave?” Nerva asked loudly, stepping into the room.
Caecilia quickly hopped out of bed and placed herself between her brother and Livia. Nerva stopped his advance, his eyes alight with anger. “She is not a slave,” Caecilia argued.
He exhaled a disbelieving breath. “She is a slave, just like Sabinus is a bastard.”
Caecilia flinched at the mention of her baby brother. It was widely known around the household that her mother had had an affair which resulted in her pregnancy with the boy. The suspicion was that his father was one of Merovech’s father’s men. The red hair that Sabinus shared with Merovech simply did not exist among Romans. But, Caecilia’s father had never questioned his paternity--at least not out loud--and had claimed Sabinus as his own son. To hear Nerva call him a bastard hurt her heart. “We did not buy Livia,” she responded strongly. “We do not own her. She is not a slave. And Sabinus is not a bastard. Father claimed him the day he was born. He is his son, just like you are.”
Nerva visibly stiffened but had to rebuttal for her. Instead, he chose to change the subject. “Are you all packed to accompany your fiancé to Rome?”
Caecilia felt sick to her stomach at the mention of the man she was doomed to marry. “You are just so proud of that, aren’t you?”
He tried to look offended. Instead he just looked arrogant. .”If I had not convinced father to let you marry the Senator, you would be living among heathen barbarians. Your husband would share you with his father. They eat their horses, Caeci! I have even heard they eat the daughters they do not want!”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Caecilia snapped. “You know they do not eat their children. The point is you should not have meddled! I was ready to marry Merovech! Our marriage would have brought new citizens to Rome”
Nerva laughed. “You idealistic fool. Those beasts will never be Roman citizens. And he would have tossed her to his friends once he had his fill of you. No, Caecilia: you deserve a good Christian marriage.”
Caecilia had not forgotten that the people of the tribes were pagans. It was a detail of their marriage that would have caused debate, but it was not a deal breaker in her opinion. Many of the tribes in the South had already converted; it was only a matter of time before the North followed suit.
“You should not have interfered,” she said quietly, looking down at her feet. She had wanted to marry Merovech, had wanted to learn about a new culture and help lead them to Rome. Merovech himself had been honored by the Emperor and was well on his way to becoming a Roman citizen. More importantly, she had wanted to be a wife and mother. She wanted to have a family. This new arrangement would have her being more like a forgotten piece of furniture in an abandoned room.
Nerva wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the crown of her head. “This is better for you,” he soothed. “You deserve the glamorous life in Rome, not to be the unfortunate slave to a beast. You will be happy.”
Caecilia pushed him away. “Leave, Nerva,” she ordered. “We need to sleep.”
For once, he left on her first request, leaving Caecilia standing in the middle of the room. She wanted to hate him. She wanted to lash out at him, despise him for taking away her future. But, she couldn’t hate him. He was her brother.
Livia said nothing as she crawled back into bed, having no response to the conversation. Caecilia could not stop her thoughts from turning sour as she compared her former fiancé to her current one. Rogatus was going to take her back to Rome by the week’s end. They would marry and she would die tragically under the weight of her new husband on the wedding night. This was her fate, thanks to her brother. If it had not been for him, Caecia would probably be out dancing to the drums with Merovech and his men
“I used to dream about running away with them,” Caecilia admitted. “I would happily stow away with them.”
Livia exhaled a laugh. “Then we should go to bed so that you can dream those dreams again.”
Caecilia had difficulty sleeping. She had been so excited to be able to see Merovech again, but had been denied that. She could not make sense of the disappointment coursing through her any more than she could make sense of the disappointment in Merovech’s stare. Caecilia had convinced herself that to be rid of her, any ties or obligations to her, would be an immense relief. He could carry on with his life of military glory and she would be crushed to death by a giant pig. The expression on his face, the range of emotions in his eyes indicated that the breaking of the engagement was not a relief, though. Had he been as hurt as she had been?