This is a story that I have been working on with my best friend IFoundHopeInYourHateForMe (go check out her account, it's well worth it!). I hope that you enjoy it!
The carriage jostled as it made its way down the rode that lead to where Marcus Aurelius was waiting with his soldiers, but it didn't disturb the royal children that it contained. Lucilla had fallen asleep sometime ago, curled up in the space that she had claimed for her own personal use, leaving her siblings relieved to be rid of her harsh comments. Candace was curled up with Commodus, his arm wrapped around her under the layers of blankets that covered them. Tessa lounged on her own cot across from them with the furs tugged up right to her chin.
Commodus broached the question that was on all of their minds, as was so often the case. "Do you think he's really dying?"
Candace shrugged, a slow effortless roll of her shoulders. "He's been dying for ten years," she said.
"But if he weren't really dying he wouldn't have sent for us," Commodus said.
"Maybe he just misses us," Tessa said.
Commodus regarded his sister with an incredulous look. "And the Senators?" he said. "He wouldn't have summoned them…" He trailed off as Candace gave his arm a firm squeeze, shaking her head.
"Please, Commodus, it's been two weeks on the road," she said. "Your incessant scheming is hurting my head." She shared a laugh with her sister while Commodus looked between the two of them with a smile.
He began to run his hand across Candace's head. "He's made his decision," he said. "He's going to announce it… He's going to name me." He slid his hand down until it was tucked under Candace's chin, turning her face towards his. "And you know what I shall do first when that happens?"
Candace knew what he meant; she had known it for years now: Commodus planned to make his relationship with her public as soon as he became emperor. This was one of the rare occasions when their opinions weren't the same, however, so she withheld from giving him the answer he wanted. "You will honor our father with games befitting his majesty, of course." It pained her to watch that self-assured smile slip away from her brother's face, but it had to be done.
Tessa let out a soft sigh as tension descended throughout the carriage like a heavy blanket. It always fell to her to diffuse situations such as these that arose commonly within her family. "Well, the first thing I shall do is have a hot bath," she announced.
Her siblings did little more than stare at her for a few moments before bursting out into laughter. And just like that the tension that had been there before dissolved as though it had never been there.
Then there came a knock on the back of the carriage as it came to a sudden halt. "Your Highness?" a voice called.
Lucilla stretched out on her cot, her eyes fluttering open. "Are we there?" she asked.
"Yes, sister," Tessa replied. She was rising up now, abandoning her piles of furs in favor for a warm cloak.
Lucilla rose from her own cot, moving over to join her. She examined the intertwined bodies of her other two siblings with a decisive snort. "I should hope you can find it within yourselves to separate soon," she said. "Unless you want the troops to gossip more."
Candace scowled at her sister as she stood up, brushing past her towards the platform that was already being lowered for them to walk down. Tessa hurried after her, moving her hands soothingly across her back.
Commodus sent her a gracious nod for looking after his love, which she returned. Then he turned to glare at Lucilla. "Was that really necessary?" he asked.
"Of course it was," Lucilla said. "Someone has to remind you of common decency." She strode off after their sisters before he could respond to her.
He took a deep breath, in order to calm himself, before following after her. It wouldn't do to strangle his elder sister in front of the soldiers.
There was a soldier waiting for them at the end of the platform, but there wasn't any sign of their father. "Where is my father?" Commodus asked.
"He's still at the frontline, Sire," the soldier replied. "They've been gone for nineteen days. The wounded are still coming in."
Commodus requested for his horse to be brought for him an order that was quickly carried out. Before he went towards the horse, however, he turned towards Candace, sliding off his cloak so that he could wrap it around her still bare shoulders. "Kiss?" He murmured.
Candace flashed him a wide smile, standing on tiptoe in order to press a kiss to his cheek, ignoring the low hiss of anger that came from Lucilla.
Commodus sauntered off to his horse with an enormous grin fixed on his face as he rode off towards the frontline.
Tessa hid a small smile of her own within the folds of her cloak. It was her belief that the people would have to accept the love between her siblings if only because of how brilliantly their love for one another shone.
She gave a small start as Lucilla knocked her shoulder against her own. She had to force herself not to pull away as the woman brought her mouth close to her ear.
"So, don't you get to see your precious Maximus again?" Lucilla whispered.
Her words caused any sense of contentment that Tessa had had before to be torn away. She could feel a coldness settling into her body, despite the heat of the cloak wrapped around her. She hadn't seen Maximus in six years…not since that fateful day…
Her eyes widened in surprise as an arm wrapped itself around her shoulders, pulling her away from Lucilla.
"Lucilla, shut up," Candace announced. She cast a gentle smile at Tessa before leading her back into the carriage.
Lucilla stood there in astonishment for a few moments, surrounded by the chuckles of the soldiers, before she gathered her wits enough to storm after her sisters to sulk back in her cot.
Candace sat at the small table that had been placed within Tessa's tent, shuffling the cards to prepare for their game. There an enormous celebration raging outside, but it was reserved exclusively for the men with the Princesses confined to their tents. She lay the cards out on the table, turning to look at her sister who was hovering near the flap of the tent. She rose from her chair with a frown, hoping to draw Tessa towards the game, only to hear something that made her freeze. It was spoken in a hushed whisper that she very nearly missed.
Candace allowed her face to soften in the way that only did around the two people closest to her in her family. She linked arms with Tessa, cocking her head to peer through the small gap in the folds of cloth. It didn't take her very long to pick Maximus out from the crowd. He hadn't changed very much from the last time she had seen him six years ago, except for some added muscle and height along with a beard that he certainly hadn't had when he left Rome.
She sighed as she felt how tense her sister had become. Tessa had been dreading this moment ever since their father had summoned them out here, to a place where Maximus was certain to be.
"Come, sister, leave the past behind for now," Candace said. "In a place where it cannot hurt you." It took little more than a slight tug on her arm to lead Tessa over to the table where Candace was determined to distract her so thoroughly with their game of cards that she would have no time to think of Maximus.
Candace came back into her tent with a triumphant smirk on her face. She had succeeded in what she had set out to accomplish, trouncing Tessa so thoroughly at cards that she became competitive, the need to win drowning any memories of lost love. She had only left upon the request of her sister, who claimed that she wished to retire for the night.
"If only you had been born a man, what a Cesar you would have made."
Candace whirled around to find her father stepping out of the shadows of her tent. "Father," She murmured. She kissed him on each cheek as he drew closer just like she had done since she was a little girl.
"You would have been strong," Marcus said. "But I wonder, would you have been just?"
"I would have been what you taught me to be," Candace said. Isn't that what you always wanted? For us to obey your word, despite what pain it might bring us?
Marcus nodded in response to her answer before changing the course of the conversation. "How was your journey?" He asked.
"Long." A wry smile tugged at the corners of Candace's mouth. "Uncomfortable. Why have I come?"
"I need your help with your brother," Marcus said.
"Of course," Candace said, amusement in her voice. It had been well-known, even when they were only children, that she was the only person able to control Commodus.
"He loves you, he always has," Marcus said. Candace was gratefully that he didn't remark on just how much her brother loved her. "And he will need you now, more than ever." He paused for a moment, just staring down into her face, which she was sure showed just how confused she was. "Enough of politics. Let us pretend that you are a loving daughter and that I am a good father."
There was a hint of sadness in the smile that Candace gave as he pressed a kiss to her forehead. "That would be a pleasant dream, wouldn't it?"
When Maximus left the emperor's tent he was so lost in thought that he almost didn't realize where he was going until he sensed someone watching him. He was going to turn to see who it was, but a voice made him stop in his tracks.
It had been six long years since he had last heard that voice in reality. It had flittered through his memory and, at times, even his dreams, but it had never invaded into this part of his life.
He could hear the soft patter of footsteps behind, but he remained rooted to the spot refusing to turn until the sound came to a stop. There was a small part of him that was still hoping that this was just a figment of his imagination, but it was not to be. She was there before him as real as she had ever been all those years ago.
He reverted back to his instinct simply because he didn't know what else he should do. "My Lady." He missed the pain that flashed across her face as he bowed his head to her. When he raised his head she was looking off towards her father's tent.
"I see my father still favors you," she said.
Maximus bit down on the inside of his mouth to stop himself from saying what came to his mind: that he could never rise high enough in the emperor's favor to claim the princess for his own.
"It was not always so," Tessa murmured, almost to herself.
"Many things change," Maximus said.
Tessa's eyes slid back over to him again. "Many things change," she said, "but not all."
Maximus knew that he should leave now before he did something that he would regret. He was married now, no longer able to languish within the love of a princess, even if there was a part of him that he wanted to. He dipped his head respectfully towards her before turning around to leave.
"Maximus, stop!" It was the note of distress in her voice that made him stop, if only out of surprise.
Tessa scurried out in front of him a frown on her face. "You look distressed." She reached out a hand, nearly bringing it to his cheek only to hesitate at the final moment.
Maximus used that moment to step away from her. "I've lost many men," he said.
"I'm sorry," Tessa said. He knew her well enough to know that she was sincere about it, unlike other nobles who saw soldiers as mere tools to be used to advance themselves. She paused for a moment, seeming to sense that a change in the conversation was in order. "What did my father want with you?"
Maximus couldn't stop the words that rolled out of his mouth in response. He supposed there was a part of him that was more vindictive then he thought, some part of him that still wanted to cause her the pain that she brought him. "To wish me well before I return to my family."
He was surprised to see that amusement instead of pain in Tessa's eyes. "You're lying," she said. "I was always able to tell. You might have been able to fool the others, but never me."
"It use to be the same with you," Maximus remarked. "But I suppose that is one of the things that must change."
Tessa turned her face away from him, the humor disappearing from her face. "Perhaps," she said. "If one has no choice about it." She paused, glancing back at him with a frown. "Does it hurt you so much to see me?"
You have no idea… "No, I'm only tried from battle."
Tessa furrowed her eyebrows downward. "It hurts you to see my father so weak," She said. She let out a quiet sigh. "Consider yourself fortunate that you haven't had to listen to my brother's scheming. Commodus thinks that our father will announce the succession in a few days. Will you serve my brother as you did my father?"
This was the first question she had asked him that Maximus could answer easily. "I will always serve Rome."
He knew it was ridiculous to feel pleased about the smile that his response brought to Tessa's face. He had dallied in her presence for far too long, it was time to end this.
He averted his eyes from her, unable to say the words to his face, they were still too painful even after six years. "I was sorry to hear of your husband's death. I'm sure you must have grieved him."
"Yes, of course," Tessa said. "Titus was a good man." The touch of warmth with which she spoke the man's name wounded him even further.
"And I hear you have a son," Maximus said. He could sense Tessa stiffen at his side, although he wasn't sure why. He glanced her out of the corner of his eyes, only to find her face an ideal mask of motherly devotion. Where there had been only a hint of it with her husband, the love in her voice seemed to overflow as she talked about her son.
"Yes, Decimus," she said. "He will be nearly six years old."
"My son is also nearly six," Maximus said. There was a touch of pain in those dark eyes now, but still there was a touch of tenderness there, as though she could sense the pride in his voice. He was about to step around her when her hand shot out, making him stay.
"You should know," she murmured, her eyes lowered, "that I still remember you in my prayers."
Those words cut through Maximus's defenses. He laid his hand over hers, bending his head down, as though to share a secret with her, as they had as children. "Thank you for your prayers," he said. Then he stepped away, their hands falling apart as he walked off towards his tent, ignoring the eyes that he could feel on his back.