The Roman Mysteries Series does not belong to me, and any characters that appear there are the property of Caroline Lawrence.
Spoilers for the later books in the series, especially the last one.
Epilogue compliant, I just added on from there.
Any feedback is greatly appreciated.
Gaius' parents always argued.
Gaius didn't understand this, and he often worried that his parents didn't love each other. He felt a little better when he saw Pater kiss Mater at breakfast every morning, but he still worried.
Gaius slept in the room next to Mater and Pater. He liked this, because when he had a bad dream, he only had to walk next door. Sometimes Mater would tuck him back in, and sometimes Pater would. Gaius liked it best when they let him climb into bed between them, and he fell back asleep nestled between their warm bodies. Gaius felt a little better then, too, because they always smiled at each other instead of arguing.
Gaius also liked sleeping next to his parents because sometimes, if he listened very hard, he could hear the murmur of their voices through the wall late at night, when he couldn't sleep. Sometimes, though, he could hear them arguing. He didn't like this. They didn't yell at each other, but their voices became more and more defined through the wall, until he could almost hear what they were saying. Sometimes, they seemed to reach an agreement, and Gaius liked that. Sometimes, though, their voices would go suddenly silent, as if someone had clamped a hand over their mouths. This worried Gaius. Sometimes when this happened, he would go next door, just to check that his parents still loved each other. Mater always gave him a kiss on the forehead, and Pater always pulled Gaius up on his lap and gave him a big warm hug, but they smirked at each other over the top of his head and sometimes Mater looked quite pink and disheveled.
Uncle Jonathan said that they loved each other. Uncle Jonathan wasn't really Gaius' uncle, but he called him that anyway. Gaius had lots of people that he called uncle and aunt that weren't really his uncle or aunt. He didn't understand why, but he liked having a big family, so he called them uncle and aunt anyway. Uncle Jonathan made Gaius laugh. He was a doctor, and whenever Gaius was sick, Uncle Jonathan came to take care of him. He always played with Gaius when his Mater or Pater or the other nursery children didn't want to. Gaius trusted Uncle Jonathan, so when he told Gaius that his parents loved each other, Gaius felt a little better. Uncle Jonathan told him how his parents used to argue even more than they did now, and didn't like each other, but then they started to be nice to each other and fell in love and married each other. He said that he knew Gaius' Mater very well, and she wouldn't marry someone she didn't love, and his Pater had proved he loved Mater by getting on Grandfather's boat. This whole story confused Gaius, and he didn't think that getting on a boat was very hard, but he felt a little better anyway.
Uncle Jonathan was almost married to Almost Aunt Rachel. Gaius liked Almost Aunt Rachel. She was very pretty, with long, curling brown hair and slanting green eyes. She always had something sweet for Gaius to eat, and she had a musical laugh that Gaius loved to listen to. She and Uncle Jonathan spoke to each other in a funny language that Gaius did not understand. It wasn't like the Latin and Greek his parents spoke to him. They called it Hebrew, and it had funny, harsh sounds. Sometimes, if Gaius was very good, Almost Aunt Rachel would teach him how to say something. Gaius liked the way it felt to have the funny words in his mouth.
Gaius also had an Uncle Lupus. Uncle Lupus couldn't talk to Gaius like other people did, and he ate his food funny, but Uncle Lupus was a great playmate. Sometimes, if Gaius begged very hard, Uncle Lupus would take him swimming in the pool. When Mater was reading to Gaius, sometimes Uncle Lupus would sneak up behind her and act out the stories. He was very good. This made Gaius laugh very hard, and then Mater would turn around and scold Uncle Lupus. Gaius wasn't afraid, though, because Mater's eyes sparkled and he knew she wasn't really mad at Uncle Lupus.
Whenever Gaius had a question that Mater or Pater couldn't answer, he asked Uncle Aristo. Uncle Aristo was very smart. He was teaching Gaius to read, but Gaius didn't like this very much. He liked it much better when Mater read to him, because she did silly voices and her stories were filled with very exciting things like wild dogs and volcanoes, and Uncle Aristo only liked to talk about people who died a long time ago. Uncle Aristo was also teaching Gaius to write. Gaius thought it was much more exciting to draw pictures in the wax, but he got scolded for it, so he sat very quietly by Uncle Aristo or Pater or Mater and tried to make the right shapes. They never looked elegant, like Uncle Aristo's, or bold, like Pater's shapes were, or pretty, like Mater's looked, though, so even though they told him he did a good job, Gaius liked to play in the garden much better than to write. Uncle Aristo was married to Aunt Nubia. Gaius liked Aunt Nubia. She was gentle and kind, and very pretty. She spent most of her time in the nursery, though, so Gaius didn't see her much. He thought the nursery was boring. He would much rather be outside, playing in the fresh air with one of his parents or Uncles or his best friend, Adam.
Aunt Di-Di liked to play with Gaius, though. She was his grandfather's wife, but she always told him to call her Aunt Di-Di, so he did. She wasn't afraid to play in the dirt with him and get dirty. She even helped Gaius practice with his toy bow and arrow when Uncle Jonathan and Uncle Lupus were too busy to help. Grandfather didn't like to play with Gaius, but he had a very good lap for sitting on. Gaius had always supposed his grandfather to be very old, since he had wrinkles and even some grey hair, but one day Gaius had seen someone even older in the marketplace, and then he didn't think grandfather was too terribly old.
All these people loved him, and Gaius liked this feeling, but it didn't make him understand any more about Mater and Pater.
At first, Uncle Jonathan had made him feel better about his parents, because Uncle Jonathan had said they loved each other and Uncle Jonathan never lied.
He had first asked when Uncle Jonathan was looking at Gaius for a cold. He listened to his chest, and squeezed up his arms and legs, which tickled, and asked Gaius to open his mouth. When he was finished, Gaius asked, "Uncle Jonathan?"
"Do Mater and Pater love each other?" Uncle Jonathan had sighed and turned around. He rather looked like he was about to laugh. He sat down on the bed, and pulled Gaius up into his lap, and then said, "Yes."
Gaius blinked at him. "But they always argue."
Uncle Jonathan blinked back. "I never see them argue."
"They don't argue in front of other people. I hear them sometimes at night. Through the wall."
Uncle Jonathan chuckled a little bit. "Everyone argues, Little Gaius. It doesn't mean they don't love each other." Most people called him Little Gaius, because his father had the same exact name. It was confusing, but his Mater said that that was normal, so he believed her. "I suppose they usually solve the problem."
Gaius nodded. "Sometimes I hear them talk about it, and then they get quiet again. Sometimes, though…"
"Sometimes they just get really quiet. Sometimes in the middle of saying something, they stop talking!"
Uncle Jonathan had laughed really hard then. Gaius didn't understand that.
"I'm sorry for laughing, Little Gaius," Uncle Jonathan had said once he stopped laughing, because Gaius was scowling at him. "Your parents love each other more than almost anyone I know."
Gaius had felt much better then. Uncle Jonathan knew lots of people, so he knew that Mater and Pater really loved each other.
He did a lot of thinking the next week, though, and realized that what Uncle Jonathan had said didn't really make sense.
The next person he saw to ask was Almost Aunt Rachel. She was baking bread in the kitchens and singing in her funny language. The house had plenty of cook slaves, but Almost Aunt Rachel said that she liked to keep her hands busy, so she often cooked in the kitchens.
When Almost Aunt Rachel saw Gaius, she smiled at him and lifted him up on the counter to watch her before dipping her hands in flour and kneading her dough.
"How may I help you today, Little Gaius?" She asked in her pretty, lilting accent.
"Uncle Jonathan said that Mater and Pater love each other," Gaius started.
Almost Aunt Rachel laughed her tinkling laugh. "Uncle Jonathan is very smart," she said winking at him.
"Do you love Uncle Jonathan?"
"Yes, I do, very much."
"You don't argue."
Almost Aunt Rachel wiped her hand on her apron. "Everyone argues, Little Gaius, Even people who love each other very much. It only proves that they love each other more, since they care enough to solve the problem." She lifted him off the counter and patted his back. "Run off and play now," she said with a smile.
Gaius felt better after talking to Almost Aunt Rachel, and for a long time he forgot about his worries.
A few weeks later, Gaius heard his parents arguing again. It was a lovely spring day, only a week after Gaius' fifth birthday, and his parents had been in the market. Mater loved to go out, and Pater went with her sometimes. They didn't see him in one of the small courtyards, where he was playing in the sand.
"I didn't like the way she looked at you. Like a slab of meat. That's not the first time that's happened, either!" Mater was flushed, and she threw the shopping basket down as she snapped at Pater.
"I didn't look back."
Gaius didn't like seeing them fight, so he closed his eyes and pressed his hands over his ears. With his hands like that, they sounded exactly like they did at night. He could barely hear the words.
"That's not the point! I have no intention of sharing you, especially not with that Gorgon!"
"And I have no intention of being shared!"
And then, just like at night, there was silence. Gaius opened one eye carefully, expecting to see something horrible. Instead, his Pater had wrapped his Mater in his strong arms, and was kissing her. Gaius opened the other eye, and unplugged his ears. He felt funny watching them, but he couldn't look away, either. Pater pulled away and wrapped Mater tighter in his arms, burying his face in her neck. He whispered something in her ear, and she laughed and kissed him again.
"Honestly, Flavia, I will never understand why you pretend such irrational jealously," Pater said when they pulled back again.
"Pretend?" Now Mater looked offended.
"I know you don't actually think they attract me. You just act jealous."
Mater stopped looking offended, and laughed again. "Perhaps because you always do such an exceptional job of proving me wrong."
Uncle Jonathan had walked in then, and that made Gaius happy. He was glad his parents weren't arguing anymore, but he didn't like watching them kiss, either.
That summer, Mater's lap disappeared. This worried Gaius, so when Mater tucked him into bed one night, he asked her where it went.
She laughed, and since he couldn't sit in her lap anymore, she stroked his dark hair.
"You're very observant!"
Gaius nodded seriously. "That's what Uncle Jonathan says. He says I'm observant and curious, like you, and thank God I got some of Pater's tact."
Mater wasn't laughing anymore. "I'll have to have a chat with Uncle Jonathan."
Gaius was impatient. "But Mater, where did your lap go?"
"Gaius, you have seen some of the babies in the nursery, haven't you? The ones Aunt Nubia takes care of?"
"Where do you suppose they come from?"
"The doorstep," Gaius said solemnly, "or sometimes the market."
"No. Babies come from Maters."
"Then why don't those babies have Maters?"
Mater sighed. "That's not really important. Babies come from Maters, dear, and they have to grow there for a while first. Similar to the plants that Almost Aunt Rachel has in her garden. Do you understand?"
Gaius shook his head.
"I'm having a baby."
"But where did your lap go?"
"The baby is growing inside me, Gaius." Mater put his hand on her belly. "It needs room, so my belly will get bigger and my lap will get smaller."
Gaius nodded tentatively.
"You're going to have a brother or sister! Are you happy?"
Gaius nodded again, slowly. "So I can't sit on your lap anymore?"
Mater sighed again. "No, Gaius, probably not until the baby is born. I may not be able to pick you up, either."
Gaius was unhappy about this, but he was excited to have someone new to play with. He sat on Pater's lap more now, and sometimes he borrowed Aunt Nubia or Almost Aunt Rachel or Aunt Di-Di or Uncle Jonathan or Uncle Lupus or Grandfather's laps as well, but he missed the lap of his own Mater.
Mater's belly got bigger and bigger, and then she would put Gaius' hand on it and he could feel something moving inside of it.
He could hear Mater and Pater talking at night even more now, and once or twice he heard Mater crying. This was worrying.
One morning, Pater woke Gaius up, instead of Mater. This was different than usual, and Pater looked different too. He looked like he was worried about something. This scared Gaius a little, because Pater was very big and very strong and he never looked worried.
"Where's Mater?" Gaius asked in a sleepy voice. "She always wakes me up."
Pater sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. "Mater's having her baby." He sounded worried, too.
"Is that bad?"
Now Pater just looked confused. "No, Gaius, it's very exciting for all of us. Why would you think that it was bad?"
"You look worried."
Pater sighed, and pulled Gaius into his lap. He felt very warm and very strong, and he smelled like he always did, of cinnamon. He also smelled a bit like the myrtle oil Mater always wore, and this made Gaius sad. Whenever Mater woke Gaius up, she gave him a kiss. He missed her.
"I am worried, Gaius."
"But I thought you said that you were excited," Gaius said in a small voice.
"I am. Gaius, when a woman has a baby, everyone is very happy. But having a baby is also very hard work. Sometimes, the work is too hard for the woman. Having a baby is wonderful, but it can also be dangerous."
"Is that why the nursery babies don't have maters?"
"Some of them, yes. Others had Maters who died after they were born."
Gaius swallowed, very hard. "Will Mater be alright?"
"I hope so, Gaius. I have prayed for it every day since I found out that she was having my baby. Everyone else has been praying, too, all your Aunts and Uncles and your Grandfather. And everything went very well when you were born, so we hope it will this time, too."
Gaius nodded his head.
"I miss Mater."
"When she wakes me up, she always gives me a kiss."
Pater looked down at Gaius, very gravely. "I'm not your Mater," he said, "but could I give you a kiss?"
Gaius nodded his head again, and tried very hard not to cry. Pater leaned down and gave him a gentle kiss on his cheek, and Gaius hugged his Pater very tightly, and that helped a little.
"Shall we go downstairs?" Pater asked Gaius. "Everyone has gathered there, and breakfast is ready."
Everyone downstairs was very quiet, and they all looked worried, like Pater did, but they all smiled at Gaius when he came down. Pater had been wrong, though, not everyone was there. Uncle Aristo was, and Uncle Lupus, and Uncle Jonathan, and Grandfather, but none of his aunts were.
"Where's Aunt Nubia, and Aunt Di-Di, and Almost Aunt Rachel?" Gaius asked as he took a sip of the warm milk on the table for him.
Uncle Jonathan cleared his throat. He looked the most worried of all, and he had been mumbling in that funny language under his breath. Gaius thought that he was praying. "They're upstairs, with your Mater. So is Rachel's mother, Hannah. Hannah is a midwife."
"Is that like a doctor?"
"Yes, Gaius, except their only job is to help women have babies. Hannah is a very good midwife."
"Why aren't you with Mater?" Gaius asked Uncle Jonathan.
"Usually only women help deliver babies, Gaius."
"Oh." Gaius finished his milk. Uncle Jonathan started praying again. Grandfather looked very pale. Uncle Lupus was drawing a picture on his wax tablet. Uncle Aristo started pacing. Pater cleared his throat.
"Shall we go for a walk, Gaius?" Pater asked.
Gaius nodded. He was starting to feel very bored.
Pater took him out to his favorite garden, and sat on the bench while Gaius played in the dirt.
"Pater? Why does Uncle Jonathan keep praying?"
"Jonathan is very sensitive about childbirth. He had a sister, a very young and beautiful sister. She was married to your Mater's Uncle."
"Yes, Gaius was his name, too. Her name was Miriam. She became pregnant very quickly after their marriage—with twins."
"Did something bad happen?"
"The babies both lived, Gaius, but having two babies at once is even harder than just having one. Miriam died."
"Your Grandfather also worries about it. He lost his sister-in-law, and his wife."
"Aunt Di-Di's still alive," Gaius said, feeling very confused. "And they don't have children."
"No, Gaius, his first wife. Your Mater's Mater. Her name was Myrtilla, and she died having twins also."
Gaius was feeling very afraid, now. "Is Mater having twins?"
"No, we don't think so."
"What if she dies?"
"I don't think she will, Gaius, your Mater is a very strong woman. I'm sorry; I shouldn't have told you all of this. You shouldn't worry."
"But what if she does?"
"I don't know. I don't know what I'd do without her." Pater looked worried again.
"Do you love her?"
Pater looked very startled by his question. "Of course I do. I love her more than anything in the world. Except you, of course."
"But sometimes…" Gaius didn't want to make Pater mad at him.
"Sometimes you argue with her."
"Yes, we do argue. More than we should, probably. But we always make up Gaius, because we love each other, and we know what it's like to lose each other, and we don't want it to happen again."
"Oh." Gaius smiled, and went to sit on Pater's lap again.
"Were you worried about us?" Pater asked. It sounded like he was laughing.
Gaius nodded his head very hard.
"Don't worry about us, Gaius. It's our job to worry about you. I will never stop loving you or your Mater."
Gaius gave his Pater a very long hug.
"What will you name the baby?"
"Marcus, if it is a boy."
"Yes. And Valeria, if it is a girl."
Pater made a little face as he said that.
"Isn't Valeria a good name?"
"Yes, it's a very good name. My sister was called that, though, and we didn't get on very well."
"It's complicated. If it's a girl, we will probably give her a nickname. Like your Aunt Di-Di has."
"I don't know, Gaius, do you have any ideas?"
Gaius nodded his head and leaned up to whisper in Pater's ear. Then, for the first time all morning, Pater smiled at him. "I think your Mater will love that name."
Just then, the silence was broken by the small cry of a baby. Pater took a deep breath and lifted Gaius off of his lap. "We should go back inside."
When they got there, Aunt Nubia was walking carefully across the room, holding a small, wriggling bundle.
"You have a daughter, Gaius," she said, placing the baby at Pater's feet. She sounded as if she were about to cry.
Pater picked the baby up off of the floor and held her carefully.
"And Flavia?" He asked urgently.
Aunt Nubia smiled. "She's doing perfectly well. She wants to see you, Gaius. And you, too, Little Gaius," she said, looking past Pater.
Mater looked tired and sweaty, but she also looked very happy to see Gaius. He climbed up on the bed beside her and snuggled into her side, and she gave him the kiss he had been waiting all morning for.
"Are you happy to have a new baby sister?" She asked him. He nodded happily.
Pater leaned down and gave Mater a long kiss. Gaius closed his eyes. "Do you want to see her?" He asked Gaius. He nodded again. She was very small and pink, and she had her eyes closed. She was sucking on one of her thumbs, and her hands were very tiny. Gaius leaned down and gave her a kiss, just like Mater had given him. "Well?" Mater asked.
"She's pretty," Gaius said.
"She looks like you, Flavia, but with dark hair," Pater said.
"She looks like my Mater did, or as near as I can tell."
Pater grinned at Gaius. "That's fortunate, as Gaius and I were discussing nicknames for her. He came up with a rather nice one. Shall we tell her, Gaius?"
Gaius looked at his Mater's happy face, and his Pater's proud one, and looked down at his new sister. "I think we should call her Myrtilla," he said. "Do you like it, Mater?"
Mater looked a little misty eyed. "I love it," she said, pulling Gaius close, "It's absolutely perfect."
And Gaius looked at his parents looking at each other, and then he knew. No matter how often they argued, they would always love each other.