Four

Two years passed rather quickly in Rome and Aemelia grew older, visiting me as often as she could. I grew to love Aemelia more and more and I started to forgive Cassia for what she and her mother had done to me.

"Proximo!"

I turned to see Aemelia running to me, one of the guards trying to grab her. "Proximo help me!" Aemelia cried in terror, grabbing onto the bars of my cell. "Protect me Proximo, please! I beg you!"

In shock, I stared at my child, her eyes red from crying and her arms outstretched to me. I ran to Aemelia, taking her hands in mine. "Goodness, child, what's the matter?"

"They've cast me out for a price!" Aemelia sobbed. "To the highest bidder—I'm going to be married to some crone of a senator!"

"Leave us be." I called to the approaching praetorians, then reached through my iron cage and took Aemelia into my arms. "Don't cry, my dearest, it is the way of things."

"Please, Proximo, you must help me." Aemelia begged, pulling away, gazing at me. "You must—I cannot marry!"

"I cannot help you, Aemelia." I replied sternly. "Go home. Do as your father tells you, it is your duty."

What else could I do?

Aemelia glared at me and pulled away in shock. "You would side with them?"

"What can I do, Aemelia?" I snapped. "I am not the one with riches!"

"Then it is true…" Aemelia backed away, "I can't trust anyone, can I? Not even you…my best friend."

My heart broke. "Aemelia, please…"

Without another word, Aemelia turned and ran away crying. "Aemelia!" I called after her. "Aemelia come back!"

I regretted my rejection of Aemelia. I was her father—I was responsible for her and I could have saved her, but I took no action. Little did I know that I would have a second chance.

Later than night Aemelia came to me again, this time I met her accordingly and I at first believed she was Cassia, in a silken robe, a long sash covering her hair. When Aemelia turned to me I was shocked. "You have to help me…"

"You should go home, child—"

"I know who you are, Proximo." Aemelia interrupted me. "I know you're my father…I've known for these two years…but my mother told me today, because I demanded to know. Now you must help me, Proximo, you have to help me."

"What can I do, Aemelia?" I sighed. "I have no power—nothing to offer you!"

I could have bought Aemelia from them for I had many riches, but that would have been a foolish move. "I have nowhere else to go…" Aemelia took a seat on the bench provided and covered her face as she began to cry, "and if I marry my life will be over…I have not been home all day…I'm afraid to go back."

Women are property. To own and to sell—to bear children and to cook. It's a notion many men believe, but one that I found hard to grasp as a young man.

Taking Aemelia's hands in mine I just sighed and gazed at her. "I have friends…they can help. Guard!"

One of the men turned and stared at me. "Retrieve my gold, take a denari or two for yourself."

The guard agreed and marched off, then I looked to my child again. "You will go to the nearest brothel, just before the colosseum. Ask for Antika. Tell her who you are and give her a few pieces of gold. She will feed you and provide you with shelter for as long as you need."

Aemelia nodded, taking in my information. The guard threw my purse to me, filled to the brim with gold pieces. "Here," I put the gold in her hand, "keep it in a safe place and do not leave the brothel for three weeks time, then come to me."

"Oh I couldn't—"

"Look at me, Aemelia." I gazed at my daughter, observing her violet eyes. "I may not have been a father to you in the past, but I will be your father now. I love you, daughter, and will do anything for you."

Perhaps anything was not enough.

I was visited by others that night, searching for Aemelia, and one of them was Cassia. I had paid the guards well enough to keep their tongues crossed, as well as any other who might have cast their eye on my daughter.

"Where is she?" Cassia asked. "I knew she'd come here."

"I don't know." I replied. "She came here, but I refused her. We can only hope she is all right."

"You're lying."

"I am concerned for Aemelia as you." I growled. "Is it my fault she ran away?"

"No…no…" Cassia shook her head, "but I'm so worried…"

"She will be fine." I assured Cassia. "Aemelia is a smart girl—a good girl."

"It's my fault." Cassia bit her nails. "I shouldn't have told her, Proximo. She went mad. When she came back from visiting you she begged me to tell her…and I couldn't refuse her."

"It's not your fault." I comforted. "Perhaps you should go home and rest…come back tomorrow if she's returned and don't come back until she has. I have paid some men to search for her."

"Oh thank you." Cassia smiled, gently touching my face. "If only you weren't a gladiator, Proximo."

Aemelia followed my commands and in three weeks she came to me. My daughter was dressed like any other harlot, a red toga with long, dangling earrings, dark eyes, and lips as red as a rose. "What have they done to you?"

"I have to earn a living now, Proximo." Aemelia replied. "I can't be reliant on everyone."

I narrowed my eyes at her. "I won't stand for it, Aemelia, you're an honest girl."

Aemelia just laughed. "I thought you'd fall for it…it's only a disguise. No one would want me back after seeing me like this."

I could not help but chuckle myself. "Red is a lovely color on you." I said, gazing at her attire. "But it doesn't suit you. Don't get comfortable in it."

"Well that's an odd statement."

"Are you all right?" I asked. "Do you have enough money? Enough food? How is Antika treating you?"

"Money and food are good and Antika is lovely."

"As long as she gets her pay." I sighed and produced another bag of money. "Here, take this."

"Proximo…don't make me feel like a wench."

"I owe you this, child," I leaned forward and pressed my lips to her forehead, "now be off and return to me in a few days to tell me how you are doing."

"Thank you, Father."

My heart swelled.