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