Disclaimer: All things Dreamworks

Disclaimer:  All things Dreamworks...whatever...I would guess everyone knows that by now.  Well, here it is, the second part of Redemption.  Actually this is more of a prelude featuring some of the other characters, and will make more sense if you read Redemption:  Part 1.  It also fits into the context of the progressing storyline. I'm very busy, however, and while I'd love to write and read about Roman Britain, Sarmatians, Celtic tribes, and ancient medicine all day, alas, school and work both require my attention. 

As for the little tidbit of history behind this, ummmmmm....there really isn't any.  Sometimes I'm just very malicious with my characters.  I know Lucilla and Quintus are the odd couple, but in reality, Lucilla was remarried after Verus' death in 169CE  (actually, if reality comes into this story at all, Lucilla was condemned to death after the first failed plot on her brother's life, but that didn't quite mesh with what I'm writing here).  For where this story is going, it just seemed to speak to me, so forgive me all of the fans of Max/Lucilla.  It's amazing what can be excused in terms of creative license, and I intend to take free advantage of it. 


Redemption:  Part 2--The Master of Horse

Prologue:  Beyond the West Lies Death

Mid-summer 182 CE

At first, they were there all the time.  The way they watched her was similar to how she once had seen a cat look as it stalked a rodent close to its own size through the guttered sewers of Rome's back-washed alleys:  somewhat wary, ever conscious of the danger to itself, but each creature knowing with inevitable conclusion the rat would be strangled in the fangs of the feline.  That was how they watched her--like she was the rat entrapped in their jaws, wrenching her this way and that, discarding her when that last part clinging to life finally escaped.

But there was no escape.  That was why the two guards watched her, day and night.  And the Nubian girl who helped her bathe and dress in the mornings, took her clothes in the evening, slept in the same room as her.  Ever watchful, ever aware to any object--a hairpin, a brooch from her stola, the fine tipped points of her comb.  Anything that could potentially be used in hastening her escape to the afterlife.  The guards and the Nubian girl watched her like the cat its prey.  Not out of great concern for her well being, but to ensure her prison stayed just that--a prison.  Down to the very confines of her body, that nowadays, housed a mind hanging by a thread to sanity; a prison for her soul, that intangible part of herself wishing to flee to the peace of the great beyond. 

Her son was dead.  Now she wished to be so as well. 

But they wouldn't let her--not the guards, their stoic faces unmoved by the depth of her grief, silent tracks of tears the only evidence of her unending sorrow.  Not the Nubian girl, who combed out her hair every night in silence.  They simply watched.  Always watched.

Even now the guards were watching, sitting as she was on a plush divan, in the open air of the Capri morning, the blush quartz of the marble floor brightened by the summer sun as a cool breeze, fragrant with roses, whispered upon the dew filled air, blowing gently across the porch.  She looked passively at each of the them, the guards, standing on either side of the entrance to the porch, before turning to stare out across the rocky, bleached cliffs and blue gem of the Mediterranean, affording the panoramic view from the villa.

She couldn't blame them, she supposed.  They would have to answer to Virius if anything happened to her.  Or rather, if she managed to elude their careful vigilance for a precious second and fling herself from the cliffs onto the rocky shore below. 

The man was vile, pure and plain, the feeling filling her gut with the leaden weight of fear.  He was cruel beyond reason without her brother's excuse for derangement. Virius possessed that cold, calculating intention that she had always loathed in Senator Falco.  The sort of man one looked at and was immediately seduced by the beauty of his physical features--well built with olive tones only the purest Latins boasted of, dark brown hair and a nose rivaling the aquiline profiles of the original Caesars.   It took one look into his black, black eyes for the glacial indifference to be detected; that motivated caution in all who dared hold his gaze.  The kind of gaze which never flickered even as he swiped the killing blow with one cleave of his sword, ending forever the hopes and dreams of a young boy. 

Virius looked on the world with frigid contempt.  The type of man assured of his rank, believing that all living things fell into a proper order, and the greatest wrong any person could do was to deviate from their place assigned by birth, reckoned throughout life by the lot the Fates.  Slave to freeman, soldier to civilian, woman to man.  All things had their appropriate order, and to question it was to call upon the heavy hand of justice, judged by the eyes of the Eagle.  Thus did Virius view all people. 

He held her life in his hands.

Such was his gross amusement, to see a high-ranking woman humbled before the eyes of the Guard for her part in the conspiracy against Commodus.  It didn't matter that her brother forced from her the details in their entirety through the worst form of cohersment imaginable, playing her love for her son off that which she held for Maximus. 

Or that the Senate, the Guard,  her brother, and herself all landed very neatly into the hands of Falco, with Virius Lupus in the background, weaving their own treasonous designs. No one had loved Commodus, certainly not the Senate, and with Falco's name up for consul at the end of the year, with Commodus safely burned on his funeral pyre, Virius was surely promised the prefectship after Quintus's term came to an end. 

They needed a scapegoat, and she had served their ends well--the one to blame, whose son was next to inherit the throne.  A convenient excuse, accusing her of conspiracy with Gracchus so they might arrest the veteran senator, and later, kill her son, banishing her to Capri. 

As for Maximus, he was simply the spoke upon which the wheel of their scheme turned.  Use the slave of Rome to rid Her of the mad emperor, and see to his death as well should the match not go as anticipated.  Fortunately, it had all worked out very well…for Falco and Virius.  Commodus was slain, and Maximus had expended himself to the point of death.  She smiled, a bitter twist of lips, into her wine goblet. 

At least in that one dimension had she any victory.  One could even say the last word.  Staring out over the distant expanse of waters, east toward the sand spread coast of the mainland, she clung to one thought, as she had since getting Maximus out of Rome two months before.  He lives still.  So long as he lives, it does not matter what becomes of me. 

Studying the beaten gold cup in her hand, she wished, not for the first time, that Quintus hadn't prevented her from driving the knife into her breast. 

No, that wasn't completely true. She knew, even in the vast depths of her sorrow-filled mind, skating at times of the brink of madness, it was those words that kept her from crumbling completely.  He lives still.  That gave her the strength to look Virius Lupus in the eye with couching defiance, promising silently he would one day pay for the death of her son.

He knew she wasn't cowed, not permanently.  That was what fascinated him for she presented a challenge, offered unforeseen diversion, kept him from fulfilling that final task he always alluded to--taking her life.  He was not a man used to being challenged.  Most feared him--his rank, his cold, harsh justice, the grim alacrity he gleaned using that rank to see others brought low.

Gracchus hadn't feared Virius' rank.  Gracchus had feared for his loved ones, his dear wife and children, and the rest of his family, distantly removed from Rome as they may be.  It was a sentiment Lucilla could well understand.  So her dearest friend, despite Pertinax's promise of re-instatement, had given up his position with the Senate, much to the consternation of Rome's political circle, and the wider dismay of Her populace.

Now Virius was plying his time with her.  He'd come regularly in that first month following Commodus' death, at least once a week, on mornings such as this one, with the guards standing watch, one at the entrance to the insular of the villa, the other having moved, by this point in the morning, to the brick-cut wall, over-looking the villa's promontory heights.  He'd come, promising anytime soon, the newly appointed Pertinax would issue the official order for her execution.

She'd said nothing, peering at him dispassionately from where she was seated at the table while he whispered over her shoulder in his silkily maligning voice.  He'd changed tactics when he realized threats of her own death didn't move her.

Speaking of her son, however, was almost too much.  Her nails had bitten through her skin, so hard had she been clenching her hands, trying to not tremble with the suppressed shudder of her silent weeping.

When he'd left that day, she fled to her room, evading the guards who had grown lax during her month of mournful listlessness, ignoring the warning call of the Nubian girl lest she attempt escape through the outer courtyard.  She hardly had that much aspiration--to attempt escape, simply flinging herself onto her bed, moaning with stifled grief while she scratched at her cheeks in lament, curled into a fetal position of human misery, uncaring of what the guards or the servant girl saw. 

That was how Quintus found her later that afternoon, coming to look after her, ever mindful of his responsibilities when his duties in Rome freed him to visit Capri.  So distraught was she, she hadn't resisted when he held her in his arms, letting her cry herself out, cursing him, cursing her father, her brother, and even Maximus.  In a world ruled by men, there was little a woman could determine for herself, on her own terms, vying for the protection of her only child, even if she had been the daughter of one Caesar and the sister of another.

She hated Virius most of all.

By the time she had finished her tirade, somewhere between cursing her father for forcing her to marry Verus, and telling Quintus to leave her to her grief, Quintus had instead gotten rid of the guards and the servant girl.  He'd bribed the men with a flask of wine and an evening off from watching a keening madwoman, and threatened the girl with a lashing if she didn't find ought else to do with her time for the night.

That had been nearly three weeks ago now, and Virius hadn't returned to further torment her, strangely enough.

Or not so, if what Quintus had to tell her after her grief finally subsided was true.

"Helvius Pertinax is not proving to be as amenable to the Guard as Virius hoped.  He has them answering to disciplinary service if they are neglectful of duty and has cut back on their monthly wages, saying the extra funds are better used for repairing public works for Rome and renewing some of the Senatorial finances depleted while Commodus ruled, rather than on whores and wine orgies."

Lingering thoughts of intrigue fled out of Rome with Maximus, had been burned with her son--the last stone of the pyre witnessing the embers of her ambition.  Yet, she was only what she would always be:  the daughter of one Caesar and sister to another, and her political acumen, cultivated to a fine art over the years, would never fully leave her.

"Banal pleasures begin to pall when one is forced to answer for them.  Is that why Virius has stayed in Rome and sent you in his place, because he couldn't explain away his excesses to Pertinax?" 

There was a cold derision to her words, a look of ice across her chiseled patrician features that Quintus wavered from slightly before replying, " It's unfortunate, but no.  Virius is one of the more exemplary Guards.  He's the one over-seeing the disciplining of the men, rather.  I came, Lucilla, because a good man died from my adherence to duty, however misplaced I am now realizing it to have been.  He once asked me to protect the ones he loved.  I didn't and so his family died too.  I know he loved--," Breaking off, seeing her swallow hard, and look away across the wide expanse of sky and sea, Quintus changed his words, continuing hesitantly, "I came willingly this time, to do my last duty to him.  I know Virius has...not been kind to you, Lady."

She heard his words, but made no immediate reply still studying the wide vista, thinking how strange to set the villa so it faced east.  East was the source of sunrise, and new life.  The sleeping rooms ought to have been built toward the west, where it was said the sun descended every night to the land of the dead.

When she faced him again, the glacial tones of her voice, the look in her eye had softened some.  "If there is guilt to be dealt out, Quintus, then it must be shared in equal portions.  Maximus' death may lay heavy on your soul, but my son's--," her breath caught for a moment, and she was forced to master herself before continuing.  "My son's weighs upon mine."  She didn't resist when he took her hand in his own, trying to offer what comfort he could.

"You know as well as I, Maximus was simply the most convenient means to an end in ridding Rome of my brother.  Had he managed to survive, the Guard—Hades- rot-their- souls—," she bit out forcefully, "would have found some other means by which to kill him.  They are too fond of their own power, and Maximus proved too much a threat to that.  Best he died a martyr for Rome and Her people than being accused of some contrived treason thereafter." 

Silence followed her statement for a moment before Quintus, still holding her hand in gentle solace, said, "Not all the Praetorians are as self-serving as you think.  I believe in my heart Pertinax would have been good for the throne."

Her gaze shifted to him, her eyes catching the glimpse of sunlight streaming through the filmy gauze of the window terrace.  "Would have been?"  With gradual understanding painting her finely cast features to lucid sharpness, she said, "That's the real reason why you came, Quintus, isn't it?  You did not want to be party to another conspiracy.  See another good man's life taken."

Her observance had been quite accurate.  She could see it on his face, in his manner, for he looked down and away, gazing out the window of her room, the interior darkened to a soft pinkish-gold haze with the setting sun.

"That," he agreed with scarce further struggle.  "And something else."

The questioning raise of her eye-brows still reflected a royal elegance, despite her tear tracked face, and red-rimmed eyes.  For all of her acute perception into the political escapades of Rome, the years of schooling her features to courtly detachment, what Quintus said next left her speechless for long moments, mulling over his words in stunnation while she considered their implications.  Of all the things he might have asked, she never, in all her years, expected this.

And it was this for which he was coming to receive her answer this morning, waiting with as much composure as she could muster. 

"My Lady," the Nubian girl announced from the insular beyond the porch's entrance.  "The Praetorian is here.  He requests your audience."

Do I have a choice, she thought somewhat ruefully.

"Tell him he is welcome, Sekh-aten."

Quintus entered, attired in casual dress, wearing an unadorned, steel breastplate over a simple tunic, his baldric fastened around his waist, the short-sword at his side.  He'd never possessed the contained energy of Maximus, the prowling manner that had leant the man who had once been her lover a restlessness only relieved by action—be it physical or mental.  But Quintus still managed to carry himself with a remote dignity, his authority and rank unquestioned by the two guards as they exited the porch with a preemptory bow, leaving her alone with him in the delicately scented breeze of the Capri morning.

"My Lady," he said in solemn greeting. 

She nodded, motioning for him to take the other seat across from her, pouring him a cup of the cooled, sweetened white wine from the villa's own vineyards which the servant girl had brought earlier.

He waited for her to say something with well-practiced patience, sipping from his own goblet.

Finally she spoke, taking a careful breath before beginning.  "I cannot promise you love, Quintus.  My heart, I think, has been broken into too many pieces for that, can you understand?  If I marry you, love will not be a part of this bargain."

He sipped once more, placing his wine cup down with a slow gesture, studying her with eyes the color of loamy earth.  Eyes that were not unkind, and from their expression, showed he understood every syllable of what she said.

"I'm not asking for love, Lucilla.  I might hope, one day, your heart will heal, but you have known great loss, and I will not be so foolish as to press for conjugal rights."

That last statement seemed to let her breath easier.  He was doing her a favor she realized, and he noted the slight relaxation of her features, going on to say, "Regardless of how I feel about you, Lucilla, I am offering you this as a protection to yourself.  I told you already, a good man, and his family, died because of me.  I cannot let you wilt away here, too, your life slowly seeping with each passing day.  You will still be watched, so long as Virius is apart of the Guard, but as my wife, he can do you no harm, and… you will be allowed off this island."

"I do not want to be back in Rome, Quintus," she said with an almost desperate shake of her head,  thinking she could not bear to walk hallways and streets holding the memories they did.  "Someday perhaps, but not for now."

Once more he followed her thought.  "Not Rome, then.  I have a villa—not an overly large place, but with its share of grape-fields, and a small acreage for wheat and grain…some sheep.  It's on the Campagna.  The place could be prosperous, but has lost profits these last years.  The house staff is dependable, but lazy, the atmosphere soothing.  Could that suffice for now?  Until you wish to…return to the Capital."

The thought brought a small turn of her lips, though her soul scarcely felt the humor.  "I can't say I know much of running a household, Quintus."

The dignity with which he'd held himself dissipated slightly when he said with muted longing, "I realize it seems a step down in status from being the daughter of a Caesar, Lucilla, but it would give you—

"—It would keep me out of the way of Virius, and give some semblance of freedom.  Isn't that what you mean to suggest, Quintus?"

He could only nod, trying to extinguish the hopeful light rising in his eyes wishing for her acceptance, an almost adolescent worship more typical of boys new to the passions of the heart.

She didn't have anything equaling that to offer him, saying bluntly, "It might serve as a distraction for a time, Quintus, but I fear it will offer little in the way of comfort from—."  She broke off, inhaling sharply, unable to say the name of her son as yet.

"Work can sometimes be the solace the heart needs to mend, Lucilla.  Especially if one is unfamiliar to it, it takes more concentration, offers more distraction from pain.  And running a rural villa can be absorbing…you might find in time, even satisfying."

I doubt that, she thought, letting a beat of silence pass.  Is this what I've become, then, all that is left to me now? 

It wasn't, she realized.  Not quite.

"I will see Virius answer for the death of my son, Quintus."  The rising venom in her voice made Quintus sit-up a little straighter, alerted to her unspoken rage.  "Do not think I will spend the rest of my days spinning away at the cock and shuttle, weaving, and counting profits from your grapevines while I know that man still lives."

Ever non-committal, he only replied, "Rome will be waiting for you when you are ready for it, Lucilla.  Until then…well, that is what I leave for you to decide."

And decided she already had.  A woman in a world ruled by men had few options when her protectors died—either her husband or her male relatives.  While her father lived, she had been granted more freedom than most of her contemporaries because he'd learned to respect her keen intelligence, her political intuition, both in dealing with the Senate and her brother.  Even Commodus, if one thing worked for her brother's favor, had possessed a healthy appreciation of his sister's talents—over-looking the fact of her gender in light of her abilities for ruler ship.

She had still been a pawn, though, in the game of great men and their bargaining loyalties, being forced to marry Verus with never a say as to her wishes.  How could she complain, it was what noblewomen did, and she was to be wife of an emperor.  It never occurred to Verus, taken in by her youth and beauty, she might possess more talent other than that conferred on her by nature—to be a wife and mother.

Maximus, though,  Maximus had been different.  With him, it had been easy for her, almost too much so. He had granted her a dual appreciation effortlessly, regarding her femininity as a gift for each of them to derive pleasure from, while sharing her thoughts, not threatened as most men were, by the agility of her mind.  A rare thing, that, in any man, and she'd thrown it away—twice.  Once in the name of ambition, in a time when her ideals had not been his.  This last time, in the name of a stronger love. 

They were all gone now:  her father, her husband, her brother, and Maximus.  Yet, here sat Quintus, offering her a way out once more.  She remembered once, telling Maximus in the dark hours of a night long since past, after their enflamed love-making, one of her greatest fears was to grow old and rot, useless, staring at the same four walls of the same house for the rest of her years.

She was rotting on Capri, grieving for her son, suffering Virius to come and toy with her because he knew she had no other alibis in her defense.  Except for Quintus.

She would decay in mind and body just as rapidly sitting in Quintus' country villa, but he'd said himself, Rome stood waiting for her when she was ready.

I think, Lady, you have an instinct for survival.  Maximus had spoken those words to her outside of her father's quarters in Vindabona in that time before Marcus Aurelius' death, saying them from the perspective of a broken heart that had never quite recovered, in spite of his own marriage, the obvious joy his wife and son had brought him.

Be that as it may, he'd always known her best, and she could deny it no longer.  She did have a penchant for survival, and she had an even stronger motivation now:  to see Virius brought down.

Quintus presented opportunity, and Quintus, being himself, given the adoration he'd so much as admitted to, knew better than to ask for anything other than her outward cooperation as his wife.  Prudent—the word fit him only too well.

"Yes, Quintus.  I will marry you, but I will see our contract drawn up on the terms we have discussed."

The joy that lit his ordinary, pleasant face was almost too much for her to tolerate, and was thankfully quashed when he remembered this was not a decision motivated by a promise of marital bliss.

"On the terms we agreed to, then," he promised, standing.

"Yes, Quintus," she sighed, "on those terms."  She allowed him to kiss her hand before taking his leave, wondering, as she watched his retreating form, the barely perceptible spring to his stride not present when he'd arrived, about the wisdom of her decision.

She knew, too, the look upon his face when he turned to bow in parting before exiting the porch.  Again, that almost adolescent adoration, misplaced, somehow, in a man of his prime years.  Not old, but hardly a star-struck boy.  The expression of a man who felt, despite her honest warning of not being able to love him the way he did her, he might somehow re-inspire the heat of her feeling.  With time, be able to reawaken the cinders of her heart.

She hoped he might continue to delude himself as the coming years crawled by without her responding to him beyond a casual regard.  That, or he would finally grow frustrated with her, and seek his answering passion elsewhere. She did not think she would be able to see, everyday as the years passed, that look of unrequited love when he gazed at her.  Realizing, little by little, she was unable to reciprocate—breaking his soul as the illusion of love was replaced by the cold reality of her opportunism.

The guards had come back onto the porch.  She barely heeded them with a glance, staring out to where the aquatic sapphire of Mediterranean waters refracted the brilliant sun, finishing off the last dregs of her wine.  Her mind turned to Maximus, hoping that his future loomed brighter than hers promised.