It is mentioned in book 4 (The Assassins of Rome) that Flavia keeps a journal. This story is written on the assumption that she has, indeed, kept journals from that day forward.
This story takes place after The Man From Pomegranate Street and its epilogue.
I do not own characters or events from this series.
Gaius Valerius Flaccus couldn't sleep.
This happened often enough, but usually he was able to focus on the calm breathing of his wife lying next to him, or the rhythmic chirping of the cicadas outside their window and drift off. Tonight, however, it was too hot for even the cicadas to chirp, and Flavia was as restless as he was, tossing back and forth. They had tossed the covers on the floor long ago, and she lay as far away from him as possible, sweaty hair clinging to her forehead. Tonight was too hot to even sleep.
He gave up, finally, and rose from their bed, hoping that pacing the cool floor would give him some relief, but even this minimal movement was too much for the night, so he took a wall torch and left the room, wandering aimlessly around the huge house.
The gardens? No. The triclinium? No. Even the pool held no appeal. He wanted… he didn't know what he wanted. Yes, he did, he wanted ice. He wanted winter. He wanted to be able to hold his wife without stifling the both of them. He wanted this to be over.
His wandering footsteps took him to the luxurious library, where he collapsed in his favorite chair and slumped over the desk. Well, as long as he was up… he reached for the open wax tablet and stylus, and started making notes for his next case.
Within minutes, though, he was finished. The case was too easy, he had several credible witnesses and even the paperwork. The only reason the man was claiming not to have freed the slave in question was that his wife was a gorgon who had threatened his life if he didn't get her favorite slave back.
Flaccus closed the tablet and stood to go, when he knocked the clay lamp on the corner of the desk off with an elbow. It wasn't lit, but it shattered on the floor and a pool of oil quickly spread across the floor tiles.
He bent to pick up the shattered pieces, swearing quietly under his breath, when he noticed something he hadn't before: what seemed to be a small cupboard, painted so expertly that it matched the wall perfectly. He looked searchingly at it, but he didn't find a handle anywhere. He pressed his hands along it lightly. About halfway down he hit some sort of catch, and the small door swung silently open.
There were stacks of parchment inside, neatly rolled, labeled, and organized. Someone else in this house had obviously found the cupboard before he did. He seized the first roll, and rolled it open. It was handwritten, neat rows of small letters marching across in perfectly even lines. The work was divided into paragraphs. The handwriting looked maddeningly familiar, yet somehow, he knew he had never seen it before.
I have decided to keep a journal, he read, seeing as how we've survived mad dogs, a volcano, pirates, and even a spoiled patrician brat who turned out to be a very good friend. Today was Jonathan's birthday, and we all gave him gifts. I gave him a scroll of poetry, Lupus gave him rocks for his sling, and Nubia gave him a new collar for Tigris. Miriam made his favorite desserts, and brought them out to the garden for us. Despite all this, though, he seemed very sad, even before he was reminded of his mother. Thinking of mothers makes me miss Pater even more. He's been gone for an entire month now…
Flaccus stopped reading. Miriam had been dead for years, so this scroll must be quite old. Jonathan was mentioned, as was Lupus and Nubia… Who had written this? The answer hit him so suddenly he literally gasped.
Flavia had survived mad dogs and volcanoes. The spoiled patrician friend must be Pulchra. Flavia would miss her father, gone for long periods of time on sea voyages. He saw her handwriting every day, but this handwriting was that of a young girl, which explained why he didn't recognize it right off.
He turned to the end of the parchment. The last bit mentioned Pulchra and Felix's surprise visit, Jonathan's mother, and some sort of tent. None of it made sense, but he hadn't even known Flavia then.
He replaced the parchment and took the last one out. It was only half full. The last entry was one from only two days earlier, and Flavia had written about a new orphan who had come to join them. This was uninteresting, he knew about this. But if she had documented everything from the time she was ten until now, almost eight years later… he grabbed another parchment at random, labeled with the number VII, and opened it.
One of the last nights here in Greece before we sail back home. Aristo comes back tomorrow and we leave the day after that. Helen, the owner of the hospitum…
No, too late. He must want VI then…
FINALLY, we are off to Greece! I have wanted to travel here for as long as I can remember. Greece, home of philosophers, heroes, and monsters! Pater is convinced that our voyage will be riddled with chaos, though ever since his catastrophe he has paid entirely too much attention to bad omens. The only bad omens I can see are our travelling companions. Most of them seem alright, and there are several handsome young men on board, but one is a sailor, one is a slave, and the other is his owner, the most spoiled, arrogant patrician pig I have ever met! He was quite charming until he opened his mouth… or didn't, as the case may be. He completely ignored us! This is Lupus' ship, and my father is captain! The insolence of the man! I don't care how muscle-bound he is, there is no excuse for that sort of rudeness! He's a lawyer, or something, and he's travelling to see the seven sights… I started to talk to him about it, and he just turned away, rather coldly. His name is Flaccus, which means floppy, and that is exactly how I shall think of him. His hair does sort of… flop. Plus, he was chomping on something the whole time he was talking to the others… We are also forced to endure the presence of Ostia's former junior magistrate, who is the only person aboard who seems qualified to enjoy the presence of our precious Floppy. Actually, that's not true; he did speak to Aristo and Pater… Perhaps one has to be a man…
Flaccus chuckled. He could remember this perfectly, the first time he had ever laid eyes on his future wife and her friends. At the time, he had thought her insolent, butting in on his conversation. He quickly realized, however, that her precociousness stemmed from a brilliant mind and a genuine desire to do good, and he had tried to rectify his first mistake for the whole voyage. It had taken a while, but by the end of the trip, she had come around. Hadn't she?
He scanned the text for the next section that mentioned him. It wasn't actually about him, however, but about his former slave and Jonathan's dog. He couldn't help but laugh when he remembered the captain's fury, and Jonathan's misery. He had genuinely liked all of the children, once he had adjusted to the idea of them on board the ship, and had sympathized with Jonathan's desire to bring his pet. Flaccus himself had struggled to leave Argos behind…
Floppy's slave boy, Zetes, found Tigris today. Pater was so angry I thought he might toss both Jonathan and his dog overboard… he seemed to calm down when Jonathan promised to take care of Tigris all by himself. I almost wish Zetes hadn't found him, but it had to happen eventually. Zetes is a strange boy… he's quite pretty, unlike most slaves, and he is singularly devoted to serving his master…
Flaccus winced at the memory of the noble boy he had enslaved for years and quickly moved on.
Where to begin… one moment we are all standing at the railing and Floppy is sniffing a lemon in a sort of conceited way, and the next, Jonathan is lying on deck, gasping for breath. I ran for his medicine as fast as I could, but I'm sure it felt like an eternity to him. And no sooner had he managed to start breathing again than Lupus fell in the water that seemed to have killed everything in it! We managed to get him back on board with no harm done, and everyone seemed concerned, barring Floppy of course. All he could do was inform us that the water would probably kill him! How can he not understand that when one of your best friends could be dying, you really don't want to hear about why he's dying! I am so frustrated with that man… At least he managed to catch Jonathan when he collapsed again. Should I be impressed that he dropped his precious lemon to do so?
Her anger was palpable, her sarcasm dripping. He had forgotten about that day, the panic she must have felt watching two of her friends in immediate danger. He had thought he was only doing the right thing, he hadn't even considered how she must have viewed it.
I am so confused… how could a man so horrible write something so beautiful? We caught sight of Ithaca today, and Floppy recited verses that were so beautiful they took my breath away. He had written them himself. If he has the body of a gladiator, and the mind of a rhetor, he has the heart of a poet. He didn't realize I was standing right behind him, and he turned away almost immediately, but when I caught his eyes for that brief moment, I could tell he was moved too. There was something in his eyes I can't quite describe… a sort of softness I never would have expected. I have sworn to hate him, but I find it harder and harder to do!
Thinking back, he realized that was perhaps the first moment he had felt something for Flavia besides the affection he felt for her friends. She had looked so tearful, so torn, and, yes, so confused that it had confused him. The ropes she had been standing on had raised her to his eye level, and he had held her clear grey eyes, so full of appreciation for the simple beauty he had crafted with words, for a second before turning away, startled. He had known she was there, but he hadn't known that when he turned, it would bring them almost nose to nose. Her closeness, not her presence, had startled him.
Floppy almost learned of our mystery today! He walked in on our discussion about going to Rhodes, and I had to make up some obscene story about the Colossus being one of the seven sights. He nearly called my bluff, so I had to make something else up about going to get Rhodian things. I could have slapped myself! What else would you find in Rhodes, Corinthian things? He looked so skeptical that I said the first thing that came to mind. Unfortunately, he had just come from the baths, and he was wearing scented oil, so that was the thing that I said. Oil. Ugh. The only thing that made it any better was that Bato jumped in and said something plausible… and Jonathan too. He mentioned chickens, because there was a rooster crowing, and the look on his face when he realized that he was right was hysterical! Then, to top it all off, Floppy saw me toying with the… rather inappropriate necklace… that Alma gave me for luck before we left. He smiled! I can't get him to pay any attention to me when I talk, but when I make a complete fool out of myself, he can't contain himself! I'm sure he thought I was completely daft. No, I don't care what he thought.
Flaccus felt a laugh bubbling up inside him, and struggled to contain himself so he wouldn't wake the sleeping household. How could he have forgotten that necklace? He had actually thought that her story about Rhodes was plausible, and it wasn't the necklace that made him grin, it was the rosy blush that had spread across her face as she had realized her mistake.
I had thought that my friends and I agreed on the subject of a certain patrician whom we shall neglect to name. Apparently, we don't. Jonathan is getting boxing lessons from him. I don't care. At all.
He could exactly picture the expression on his wife's face as she had written this. The one she got when she told herself she didn't care. The only problem was, everyone else could tell that she did.
There was a terrible accident involving some piece of wood that fell on Bato's arm and dislocating it. The plot of our mystery thickens! Anyways, we had to find some way to know who knew about the parts of a ship, and I thought of a way to interrogate Floppy discretely. He taught us a lesson on the parts of ship, and he definitely knows them all… I've told my friends it could be him, but somehow I don't think it is. Somehow, I feel like he can see right through me when he looks in my eyes… like he did today. I don't know how to explain it, but I'm fairly certain he didn't sabotage the ship. Even if I told my friends otherwise. I can't admit I was wrong now… they need to trust me!
Flaccus rubbed his drooping eyelids in despair. She had told them that? Somehow, that didn't surprise him at all. She had planned up that whole lesson as a ruse? Somehow, that surprised him even less.
Lupus injured Nubia today with his stylus, so Jonathan and I went to the hold to get some ointment. When we came back up, Floppy was talking to Nubia. I pretended I didn't hear what he said to her, and said something about patrician snot, but now that I'm alone I can't stop those horrible words from running through my head: "… bossy little domina. I pity the man she marries." He left as soon as he saw me, too. Am I that bad? If possible, I am even more confused. I feel more repulsed by him yet more drawn to him every passing day.
If he hadn't felt sickened, he might have laughed at the irony in those long forgotten words. "I pity the man she marries." Yet who had married her but himself? Still, he hadn't had any idea that she had heard those horrible things. He shouldn't have said them, not to her best friend, not when he didn't mean them. He realized now that he had simply been trying to convince himself of those words. He hadn't done a very good job.
For the first time, Floppy has seemed more human and less God to me. He's nearsighted! Now all those cryptic clues about his 'disability'make sense. As soon as we learned that however, he was back to snobbish, exchanging those looks with Bato, as if we are so naïve for not knowing about political exile. Anyway, we have Lupus back.
Flaccus felt sqirmish, as he always did when he thought about his vision. He had been so embarrassed that he couldn't see what the others had so easily spotted. He remembered Flavia's shock as she questioned him about his vision. He remembered his relief that Bato had saved his by asking about the isle of political exile. He had never once, however, thought that Flavia was naïve.
Everything makes sense now. Zosimus has been behind everything onboard the ship. Zetes is freeborn. And Floppy didn't know. I feel so bad for him… he looks so tortured. We finally got the truth about the messages Zosimus has been sending all along, and confronted him. He went straight for Bato, still weak from his accident, but he was quickly subdued by Pater and Floppy. If Pater hadn't stopped him, I think Floppy might have killed Zosimus. He seemed so powerful. I knew all those muscles had to be good for something. Anyway, Zosimus told us about the slave ring when Lupus threatened his precious pigeons, and that's when we learned about Zetes' true birth. Something snapped inside Floppy when he heard, I think, and he went on a sort of rampage. He killed every one of those pigeons… all that raw power. Nobody really blames him though, he must be heartbroken. He was lied to his whole life. Plus, no one except Nubia and Zosimus, of course, mourns the pigeons. Floppy has been oddly quiet all morning, and he's even started being nice to me. I pointed out that Zetes was on deck, helping prepare for the storm that was moving in, and he didn't even contradict me, simply got up to help. He gave me one of his lemons, to help with the seasickness, and he looked me in the eyes again. It felt like he could see my soul. It was the first time he has ever called me by my name. If everything makes sense, why does my world suddenly feel so shaky?
And there it was, the worst chapter in his life, his darkest moment, laid out for him to see through the innocence of a child's eyes. Flaccus sighed, and then forced himself not to dwell, to keep reading.
The storm is over, but the battle has just begun. Zosimus told us where the ring headquarters are when Floppy threatened him with a jellyfish swim… He lifted that full grown man right over the railing as if he were a feather. I am starting to realize how much of a good thing it is that we have Floppy on our side.
She was starting to sound… grudgingly admiring. Well, at least she didn't hate him anymore. That was a step in the right direction.
It's all over, and we have won. We sailed into Rhodes this morning, and eventually we cracked the ring… at least at this level. When we first sailed in, I recited one of Floppy's verses, the really beautiful ones, and he turned to look straight at me. Even Nubia felt it: it was like time stopped and we just stood there, looking each other in the eyes for the longest time. He's still being really nice to me, he pulled out my chair at breakfast and didn't say anything rude all morning. I don't know what to think. Anyway, he helped us solve our mystery. And when we were betrayed by Magnus and Sextus, father's old sailor, he went after them too. Apparently it was only because he's such a good boxer that Bato escaped unscathed… perhaps it's not so barbaric after all. If Magnus hadn't escaped, everything would be perfect.
He remembered being amazed that she had remembered that line so perfectly, and Nubia had been right, when they met each other's gazes, the world had seemed to fade away for the moment. At least, until they had chased slave dealers and giants… He was at the end of the parchment now, but there was still one final paragraph, and it, too looked to be about him.
Wonderful news! Floppy is going to continue our search for the missing children and he is going to stay in Greece and look for the 'big boss', as Nubia says. He said something rather pointed though, about people thinking he was just a spoiled patrician lawyer… I hope he hasn't heard what I've been saying about him, because I was utterly wrong. He also said he "just wanted to do what's right," and I felt a strange sort of flip in my stomach. Maybe it was because he was looking at me with those soft brown eyes again, and I felt as if I was the only one there... He also asked me to call him Gaius, but I'm afraid it will be a while before I can stop thinking of him as Floppy… which, by the way, he told me he hates. Oops. Anyway, I think we have found a good, loyal friend in Gaius. Our voyage is complete. "Arriving there is what you are destined for."
Her handwriting had gotten more and more cramped as she had run out of room, and the last line, his line, was almost indecipherable. Flaccus rolled up the parchment thoughtfully and replaced it, careful not to disturb the others. He shut the door to the little cabinet, making sure the latch caught, and took the wall torch again. He had no doubt he would be able to sleep now.