Disclaimer: I only own Aurelia and Horatius and I just slapped a random name on Maximus's wife. Please enjoy this wee ditty, R&R, too!

Aurelia's Apparition

My first time out of Rome. My first taste of real freedom. I gazed at the clear blue sky above, celebrating my emancipation with me, and I thought of my life in Rome one last time, glancing back only once more and smiling.

Far in the distance the colosseum glowed in the midday sun, the bustling city could be heard even miles away, and the stench of the place was fading as well.

I had never felt home there, my home had always been in my dreams, the stories my mother had told me as we lay together on the hot Mediterranean nights. "Goodbye, Mama," I whispered into the northern winds, taking the brooch out she had given me, "I won't forget you."

Turning, I faced the north, using the aqueducts as a guide to the mountains that would be the greatest challenge of mine. The pack I carried was very light due to my worldly possessions being limited, as well as the money I had left after paying off my family debts to my masters. I was supposed to take their name as my own, but I wanted nothing to do with my old life. A new one waited for me, just over the mountains.

The first day of my journey was the best and I covered many miles on my trek northward, to the Alps. Their daunting, silver peaks showed clearer as I traveled onward, hitching a ride when I could, and stopped at a nearby stream to take a drink or ask for directions.

When night spread her winds, she appeared more beautiful to me than ever before. I gave my praise to my goddess, Diana, and then lay down to sleep—one that I very much deserved.

You may say I am a fool, that it was impossible, but I was determined to go north to my mother's beloved lands. My father had offered me many things for my journey, money, a man to accompany me, and even as carriage for the ride, but I refused everything. Until yesterday I had not been his child, I was the slave woman's bastard and now, when I wanted nothing of him, not even his affection, which I so craved for as a youngster, he offered everything.

My stubbornness would prove itself the worst later, but I had to show him that I wanted none of his pity and nothing of him any longer. His wife was glad to see me go.

I was not even twenty and yet I had already the pride of a lion and the head of a bull. My mother loved me for it and laughed at my foolish attributes, but marveled at my wit. When I was brought to fan the young master at his lessons, I watched carefully, learning to read small things and add digits, which was most important in the world of men. I tried to teach my mother, but she wanted nothing of it. Knowledge, she said, was mine to keep.

Despite being used to hard work, I found it awful to rise the second day. Clouds rose, blocking the morning sun, and thunder threatened in the distance. For a moment I considered turning back, for I had not gone so far, but my stubbornness pulled through and I went north again—to find my home.

I was a silly girl.

Rolling hills appeared first, slowing me only a little, and I passed small villages here and there, then passed through gorges where towns were built on great mountains.

After eating a small meal of bread that the cook had insisted I take, I felt ready to conquer the world—or at least I thought so. A downpour broke the dense clouds by afternoon on the sixth day and I ran into the thick woods that signaled my entrance into the mountains. Things were not so heavily guarded here and a Gaul could be lurking anywhere, but I had been smart enough to take a heavy knife from the kitchen before leaving.

Rome was far away now, only a memory to pass, and when sharp rocks began to cut into my feet I knew my journey was not so splendid after all. The rains grew colder, the hills steeper, and soon I broke into the mountains. I could see their silver caps, now, glimmering in the distance, daring me to conquer them.

I was losing time those days, patience and food, too, but I went on even when I heard the sounds of wolves nearby. I came by some strange speaking people, but found they used my own language with a different sound to it. They invited me to their camp, the women preparing the evening meal, and the men talking about a strange figure that had been reported on these mountains for some time. I took no heed of their talk.

When I was asked why I was alone, I told my story and the women seemed to smile while the men scoffed. "A woman alone in these mountains?" The head man laughed. "Only the biggest fool of a man would brave these alone, but you?"

"I'm not afraid." I said simply with a smile. "I'm going home."

"Where to?"

"The north." I proclaimed. "Where my mother came from."

I was given a place to sleep and in the morning, after the women gave me a fur blanket and food, I was off.

A fortnight had passed before I knew it and I was growing weary, though I refused to allow myself to believe so. Soon, I ran out of food, and I was pushing myself to get through the days. Now and then, I would see a figure in the distance, standing atop a ledge, watching me, but when I looked again, all I would see was rock and sky.

The eighteenth day proved to be my worst. My feet were raw and red, my legs not nearly as bad, but they ached as my head. The water and food were slim atop these mountains and I had not eaten anything at all for two days.

As I scaled a steep mountain side, my foot slipped and was cut badly, deep enough to nearly let me lose grip on the side of the mountain. Pushing myself to the top, when I reached it I collapsed, just breathing, prepared to give up and die. The vultures circled above already.

"You've gone so far already." A voice said from above me.

I was so exhausted I did not even lifted my eyes to see who was nearby. "Will you stop now and let the mountains best you?"

Annoyed, I opened my eyes and turned to the voice, spying a man, not so large, but with great golden armor on, a wolf skin about his shoulders, and a blue eyed gaze on me. "Who are you?"

The man smirked at me and knelt down beside me, his voice soft, deep, and soothing. "Some food and water will get you thinking clearly again."

I closed my eyes again, this time falling into a deep sleep.

Upon waking my stomach growled like a hungry bear at the smell of freshly cooked meat. Rising, I groaned from my aching body, but was aided instantly. "Careful, you don't want to hurt yourself now, do you?"

"Leave me be," I shoved his help away, "why do you toil yourself over me?"

The man laughed, a bubbling brook came to mind, and I saw the man's face clearly in the firelight. "You are stubborn, aren't you?"

When I was situated, the man offered me a plate with stew in it and at first I just stared at it. "What's this?"

"Food." The man replied. "Go on, take it."

I did not hesitate and snatched the bowl from his grip, eating the meal as if at any moment it might jump off my plate. I remembered I was being watched and slowed myself so I would not waste the food. "Do you live in these mountains?"

"No." The man sighed, gazing at the sky, dark as his hair. "Do you?"

"Certainly not." I wiped my face on my sleeve and continued slurping down the meal. "Then where do you hail from?"

"Spain." Said the man. "I've been looking for my wife and son. They are lost somewhere in these mountains, I fear."

Pausing, I glanced at him for a moment. "Have they been gone long?"

The man only smiled in reply to my question and then changed the subject. "What is a girl doing all the way up in these mountains all alone?"

"I'm going home."

"Yes," the man nodded at that, "home is a place of dreams, isn't it…what's your name?"

"Aurelia."

"Aurelia?" The man raised his brow. "A good name—a strong name to match the like of you. I am Maximus."

"Maximus?" The name struck me as familiar. "Are there many Spaniards with the name Maximus?"

Maximus just laughed. "Only one that I know of."

I had finished the meal and placed the clay plate down. "Thank you," I said, "for all you've done."

"No worry." He replied. "Tomorrow I will help you find your way home."

"There's no need—"

"You should rest." Maximus insisted. "Tomorrow's journey will be your worst yet. We must cross over the mountains completely and we will continue downward."

As I lay down to sleep I wished it could be forever, but when morning came I was woken by Maximus by a splash of cold mountain water. "What was that for!" I cried in horror as I shivered.

Maximus nodded ahead. "We've got the whole mountain ahead of us, come on then."

While Maximus prepared for the journey, I rose and did the same, but then the richly clothed man turned and presented me with something. "Sandals?"

"Put them on." Maximus commanded. "It will soften the journey."

I had never worn sandals before and so as I began to put them on I noticed that my feet were bandaged. "Here," Maximus laughed, helping me with the tangled strings, "I will show you the right way."

Perhaps I was dreaming still.

We walked all day, Maximus catching me every time I fell, as if he knew, and when I wanted to go no further he ordered me to. By nightfall we were finally over the mountain and began our descent where we could see the green lands just beyond us.

"You're strong," Maximus slapped my back, nearly making me choke, "if you were a man, the army would certainly enjoy you."

"Then may it be said I am blessed not to be a man."

We laughed together then and I gestured to the armor he always wore. "You're a high ranking officer."

"Was," Maximus corrected, "that was very long ago now. When your namesake, Marcus Aurelius ruled I was general."

"A general beneath Marcus Aurelius?" I asked amazed. "Then you've met an emperor?"

"He was a friend," Maximus nodded sadly, "and a father."

I looked to my food, unsure of what to say. "I saw an emperor once…Commodus. He was so close I could nearly touch him."

Maximus smiled kindly, but I could see something irked him with the mention of Commodus's name. "What of your home, then Aurelia, where do you hail from?"

"I don't know." I replied bluntly. "Until I reach a place where the summers are sweet and the winters are kind and wild flowers line the house, then I will be home."

"Sounds like home to me." Maximus agreed. "My wife, Estrella, she used to say something like that of our home. When we are far apart, I think of her then…holding our son. Do you have family in the north, too?"

"No." I bent my head a little. "You must miss them…your wife and son."

"Very much."

Maximus was a kind man, a gentle man, and incredibly knowledgeable. The old general treated me as an equal and never doubted me because I was only a woman. Those few days I spent with him proved to be some of the finest days of my life.

"Keep going straight." Maximus directed, pointing down the valley. "Pass two farms and the last is a man that will take you in. There will be a boy there, tell him who you are and who told you go there."

"Thank you, Maximus." I smiled, reaching my hand out to him. "I could not have gotten so far without you."

Maximus smiled at me in reply and embraced me kindly. "Have a safe trip home, child."

I turned and continued on my own, knowing now how to deal with the mountains a little better. Midday I was in a forest again, much denser than the one before, and thorns grabbed at me as I tried to pass, but as I went to exit the woods someone crossed in front of me, blocking me.

At first I thought it was Maximus, but the figure was much taller and remained silent as he approached. When I turned to run I met someone closer to me and knew I was trapped. "Give us your money."

I had sewn my golden brooch in my tunic days ago, as Maximus had insisted, and other than that I had nothing. "I don't have any. I'm a commoner, like yourselves, just passing by."

"There's a toll for these woods." A roaring voice said from behind me, frightening me. "And if you can't pay with money, you will not pass."

"Stay away from me." I commanded, bringing out my knife and moving so I had both of the men in my sights. "I'm not afraid of either of you."

The men only laughed and suddenly I felt a hand cover my mouth while another took me captive. I tried to scream, but one of the men already had my knife and began to cut at my tunic with it.

"Stop!" I struggled. "Leave me go!"

"Careful, bitch!" The man snarled, the knife between my eyes. "The knife may slip."

Suddenly the man with the knife gasped and fell over while the other turned, only to be cut through by a sword. The man holding me let go and ran, making me fall. Someone helped me to my feet and shoved my pack into my grip. "Go, Aurelia."

"Maximus!"

"Go!"

From the tone in Maximus's voice, I would not disobey him, and quickly ran off in the other direction, taking my shelter in the woods nearby as I heard the screams of a man ring through the forest.

I covered my ears and hid until nightfall.

When morning came, I searched for Maximus in the forest, calling out his name in vain. I only found the dead thieves.

That day I exited the woods, glancing back at the mountains, hoping to see Maximus, but there was nothing and so I continued on with my journey. When I reached the last farm I found it in ruins—ashes from a fire long ago everywhere, and the stains of fire against the burnt farmhouse.

The poplars that lined the entrance were overgrown and a few had fallen over. I came across only two graves, crosses marking their resting places, and in defeat, I sat on the stones of the farm and sighed.

How much farther had I to go? I couldn't go any farther.

"Who are you?"

I turned to see a young man, bronze from his days in the sun, his eyes dark, but soft and gazing at me intently. "My name is Aurelia." I replied, standing and moving toward him. "A man told me to come here, that I would be welcomed."

The handsome boy furrowed his brows, a hint of a smirk showing. "A man?"

"His name was Maximus. He was a general."

For a moment the boy looked at me in dismay and then began to laugh. "Maximus?"

"Yes," I shook my head eagerly, "do you know him?"

"I knew him." The boy corrected. "General Maximus Decimus Meridius was my brother in law; he died nearly two years ago in Rome at the hands of Commodus."

"But I saw him," I insisted, "he helped me cross the mountains no more than two days ago, showed me how to come here—his name was Maximus, he was looking for his wife, Estrella, and their son."

"His wife and child lay there."

I glanced over my shoulder incredulously, staring at the marked graves, and then I looked to the boy. "That can't be…I saw him."

The boy became serious then, walking toward me. "I believe you, then, but Maximus is dead."

Confused and frustrated, my eyes fell upon the land—I had dreamt of this place, even though it was now grown over and in desperate need of attention. Then I saw the house, though it was burnt and in disrepair, I could see wild flowers dancing about it in the wind. This was my home, I just knew it. I looked back to the boy, who did not look at me as if I was crazy now.

"What's your name?"

"Aurelia."

"Well, then, Aurelia," the young man smiled, outstretching his callused hand, "my name is Horatius and, if you will come with me to my father's farm, you will be welcomed. Any friend of Maximus's is a friend of ours."

"Are the summers sweet and the winters kind?"

"What?"

"I need to know." I replied. "Tell me."

"Yes," Horatius smiled, "the summers are sweet and the winters kind."

"Then I am home."

I hope you guys liked it. I just came up with it randomly.