"Multa ante temptes quam virum invenias maritus."
may try many times before finding a good husband." - Syrus, Maxims)
“Now, I’m going
to leave you two lovebirds alone to get acquainted but I’ll be back shortly.” With a sly wink Lady Marga moved
back from her slaves, gazing with approval at the picture they made. She then lifted a hand to Verona, brushing her cheek
with gentle fingers, noting the younger woman’s unease. Marga spoke sincerely, “It’s going to work out.
You’ll see.” She assured and made her exit, giving Roxtonus a warning glance as she walked by him.
couple stood in silence for a moment, hardly looking at each other, not truly knowing what to think or say.
it was Verona who took the initiative. “I think you will be happy here.” She said, clearing her throat ever so
softly, “Lady Marga is firm and sometimes ruthless but, as far as slave owners go, she is fair, humane and sometimes
“She is forcing you to marry a man you don’t love.” Roxtonus reminded.
someone I can learn to love.” Verona offered, “Our mistress has motives for everything she does. If she thinks
I – we – should wed there is probably a good reason.” However, as she said this, Verona began to lose control.
Raising a hand to her eyes, hiding tears, a sob escaped her.
Sympathetic, Roxtonus gently moved his fiancée over to
the settee and both sat down. He looked down at Verona. “I *am* sorry. I’m sure you’ll be a good wife. I’ll
try to be a good husband. This just took me by surprise.”
“Of course.” She tearfully chuckled, glancing
up at him. “Poor Roxtonus. To be sold, bought and told you’re engaged all on the same day.” Taking a breath
and gulping slightly, she looked away from him. “I’m sure you’re a good man. It’s just … my
heart belongs to another.”
“I wish it were another slave.” Verona
lamented, drying her cheeks with the back of her hand. “Our lady would probably give me her blessing if that were the
case. But I *am* a slave and he’s a soldier from a good family. Right now he serves as a guard at Goth.”
“Yes. His name is Neddus Edpicius Malones. He’s handsome and smart. He writes poetry and
would have been a scribe if his father had allowed it.”
“Where did you meet?”
with my lady when we were traveling through Athens, where he was on leave. She introduced me as her “ward” and
that’s true enough. Malones and I walk in a garden and started to talk and … could not stop. I think we fell in
love at first sight.” Verona spoke distantly.
“Does Lady Marga *know* how you feel about this man?”
He came to Ambrosia Hill and we both approached her, told her of our love, but she will not allow us to be together. She doesn’t
trust him. I don’t think she has faith in most men … and she says only the foolish marry for love.” Verona
grimaced, recalling the moment of her greatest heartache with crystal clarity. “She refuses to give me freedom so we
can wed. But she’s not alone. I doubt if his family would allow our union even if I was granted my freedom. I was still
a slave, after all. I have no dowry to give a groom.”
“So Lady Marga doesn’t like men and she wants
to keep you and all that is hers right under her thumb.” Roxtonus surmised, somewhat familiar with the dilemma.
suppose. But sometimes I think …” Verona began, looking up to Roxtonus.
looked down at her hands once again, “Nothing,” she took a breath, “But really, having said all that, Lady
Marga treats us well. The women are taught self defense and she also encourages us to learn arithmetic. She wants us to read
*and* learn to write our names.”
Curious, Roxtonus stared at Verona. He was certain she was going to say something
more illuminating about their mistress but she purposely allowed the moment to pass. “I didn’t think it was legal
for a slave to be taught such things.” He commented.
“Our lady can be very unconventional. As long as we
don’t conduct a spelling bee in front of her guests I think she feels safe.”
Roxtonus chuckled and he was
pleased to see the young woman do the same. “You know, when I was imprisoned in Goth, before the auction, there was
a guard who was kinder and showed more respect than many of the other soldiers. I’m not certain he was young Malones
but if he was I have to say I was very impressed with him.”
Verona gazed up at Roxtonus, acutely aware of his
natural charisma. “You’re not like the other male slaves here.” she said, “You’re very eloquent.
You weren’t born a slave were you?”
“No.” he admitted but did not go any further with the details
of his background, “And I’m not looking forward to the branding.” Roxtonus recalled what was done to his
own family’s property.
As a gladiator branding was not required, most of the men choosing instead to be tattooed,
but now that Roxtonus had joined the ranks of the purchased he was not deluded. He was material goods pure and simple and
would be tagged as such.
“Lady Marga does not burn her slaves.” Verona informed him brightly, pleased to
be able to send good news his way for a change. “Felix keeps close watch on the men slaves and the women …”
Verona lifted her right arm and pulled away a gauzed sleeve. Wrapped around her upper arm was a bronze band with a phrase
delicately inscribed: Brevis ipsa vita est sed malis fit longior. “This is my identifying brand.”
read: “’Life is short but trouble makes it longer.’?” He glanced at Verona, intrigued.
isn’t it?” She lowered her arm, “Each one of us has a different identifying saying on our bands. It’s
Lady Marga’s signature. She wears them too but her bands are usually gold or silver and come in different designs.”
right.” Roxtonus murmured, “Lady Marga is unconventional.”
“Well now,” Marga reentered
the room and saw the couple conversing amiably on the settee. “It's so good to see you two getting along so well.”
When they stood but made no comment she continued, “Roxtonus, I was just speaking to the Captain of my guards and Felix.
I told them that I am going to keep you in my villa as a house servant and body guard; at least until you and Verona are married.”
guard?” Roxtonus questioned, “Are you in danger, m’lady?” Despite his ambivalent feelings for the
complex woman the thought of her being in peril made Roxtonus ill at ease.
Verona instantly detected his concern, how
his toned body grew taut with more than esteem, when their beautiful owner entered the room. Masking a giggle, Verona twisted
a bit away from the others in the room to hide the expression on her face. ‘My gods, Roxtonus.’ She thought, ‘whether
you know it or not you’re fascinated by our lady. You may even be in love. And I thought *I* was the slave with a problem
Lady Marga did not answer right away, apparently uncertain how she should reply to Roxtonus question.
Then, in a dismissing gesture she said: “We’re all in danger, Roxtonus. These are dangerous times.”
Marga, leaning back on the upright pillows in her large bed, stared into the shadows which surrounded her. Everyone else in
her home, in the slave and bonded servants quarters; and in the lands surrounding her villa, had all gone to sleep hours ago.
Even Marcus Seneca, sleeping in an upscale inn less than a two days carriage ride from Ambrosia Hill, was probably asleep
and dreaming the dreams of the powerful.
“Filthy bastard.” Marga whispered. Now that she was alone it
With a deep, exhausted sigh, Marga blinked several times then pulled the covers from her lap. She
slipped out of the bed, her diaphanous nightgown glimmering in the half moon that mutely drenched the room from her open balcony.
back and forth, barefoot on the polished floor, she thought deeply about what the next few days with the visiting and very
wealthy landowner would necessitate. He had given her an ultimatum. She could still hear his oily voice offering her a preposterous
proposal of marriage.
“Marga, my dearest, I hold you and all that you own in the highest regard. While it’s
true I don’t love you, you certainly have appeal.” He said leering at her attractive figure. “However, I
am certain over time we will grow close, perhaps even find we have much in common, and even fall in love. And, if not, what
does it matter? Ambrosia Hill will be mine to do with as I please. And so will you.” He then grinned with a vulgar chirp
to his tone, “And my men will sample and enjoy the talents of the lovely ladies in your stable.”
to slap him but was stopped by one thought and one alone. Seneca knew more about her than anyone in Rome. He knew her most
damning secret, had seen her when she was most vulnerable, and unless she did as he asked he would reveal all to the outside.
The only option open to Marga was to make certain she covered most of her bases. Seneca might have her and become an heir
and owner of Ambrosia Hill, through a forced marriage, but he would not disgrace Arturus name and the ladies would be safe
from he and his subordinates.
With a deep, sad sigh Marga walked to the balcony and leaned gently over the stone railing,
gazing up at the glistening half moon. “Arturus, I miss you.” She whispered, yearning for his friendship, trust
and kindness. Marga stared into the stars, “I need your advice, my love.” Arturus Summerles had been so much older
than she, more of a grandfather than husband. Yet, six years ago when they met the age difference did not seem to matter.
He cared for what she thought, her open mindedness and tenacity, and he tested her often. Their short life together was never
sexual, Arturus claiming he was well past the pleasures of the flesh since his first wife’s untimely death. However,
he wanted someone wise in his life, to inherit his land. The intimacy they did not physically impart was shared on a profound
mental and emotional level. Their love for one another was real; the relationship deeply bonding. Arturus and Marga respected
one another implicitly. She was the off spring he and his wife never had. When the Lord of Ambrosia Hill died Marga grieved
“Give me strength.” Lady Marga murmured, fingers on both hands touching the bands of silver
on her upper arms. They had been a gift from her late husband. Slowly, taking a last deep breath of crisp night air, the woman
turned and revisited her bed.
Below the balcony, standing in a grassy niche just outside the small patio of his quarters;
that which had been assign to him as Lady Marga’s body guard, Roxtonus found himself looking into the darkness. Like
his mistress he was also deep in thought. He had never been given the freedom, whilst serving as a gladiator, which he had
in this home. However, he could never long forget that, despite the leeway, he was still a common slave.
He did not
know why Lady Marga insisted he and Verona marry. Nor did Roxtonus understand the woman’s motivation when it came to
teasing her male slave then pulling the rug out from underneath him. Looking down at the grass he shook his head like a bemused
hound. Roxtonus had long ago stopped pondering the callousness of people. When he looked up from the many amphitheaters he
fought in, watching the blood lust in the ladies and lords over eager expressions, he knew just how cruel men and women could
be. The rich and dense wanted thrills, more wealth and death. The more the better as long as the latter was not their own.
was about to return to his own bed when he glanced up and unexpectedly saw what could only be described as divinity amongst
the stars, the images of her brothers and sisters as a mere background to the lady’s entrancing exquisiteness. Lady
Marga stood there on the terrace, deep in thought and despondent. He could not get over how breathtakingly gorgeous she was,
moonbeams alighting her pale skin and the white shift she wore billowing gently in the breeze which buffeted the villa. He
wondered what might make a goddess like this, who seemed to have everything she could ask for, appear forlorn.
need a friend.” Roxtonus whispered, knowing she could not hear him. For an instant, forgetting their master-slave relationship,
he wished he could hold her and make whatever it was that was hurting his lady go away.
“Leave it be, Roxtonus.”
Felix approached from his own quarters into the courtyard. He had seen right away where it was the slave was looking, “You
may guard her body but that does not give you other privileges.”
“I didn’t mean to …”
know.” Felix nodded and watched with the new slave as Lady Marga turned and walked from her balcony back into her bedroom.
“I believe you are a man of great principles, that you would never purposely harm a man or women unless forced to do
so by the powerful and unscrupulous, but I also think you are on the hunt for something that will never happen.” Felix
now looked from the balcony directly to Roxtonus, “She owns you. She is above you. In her eyes you are nothing but mud
on her feet. You are …”
“Okay, I get the point.” Roxtonus interrupted.
The men paused,
looked at one another, and then laughed quietly.
“So, who is this Marcus Seneca? And why is he visiting tomorrow?”
Roxtonus asked and looked again to the empty balcony.
The grin instantly disappeared from Felix expression. “He
was one of the wealthiest men this side of Alexandra but lost most of his money on bad business ventures. He’s shrewd,
unmarried and wants Lady Marga with a passion that, of course, has nothing to do with her riches and fertile lands.”
Felix smirked with cynicism, “To top it off, he’s also a pompous ass and if she marries him, as I am sure he expects,
Lady Marga will rue the day for the rest of her life. He will destroy everything Lord Summerles brought to this land and everything
our lady has maintained.”
“She’s in love with this man?” Roxtonus asked, unbelieving.
of course not. I don’t know what type of hold he has over her but our lady is definitely not in love.” Felix shook
himself of the anger he felt boiling up inside and looked, once again at Roxtonus as the former gladiator continued to stare
at her balcony, coming to conclusions of his own. “But what do you care?” Felix asked, waiting for the taller
man to look down at him again.
“I’m concerned because it’s up to me to keep her safe, even if it
does turn out she is walking into jeopardy with her eyes wide open.”
“Don’t over step.” Felix
warned, “I can vent to you because Marga and I are friends and I’ve been close to her since she arrived on Ambrosia
Hill as Lord Summerles spouse. But even I can’t prevent her from allowing Seneca into her life. It’s tough enough
when the man visits as he will tomorrow … but to have him live here full time? It will be unbearable; a Tartarus for
the living. ”
“He’ll live here? He won't take her home to his own villa?” Roxtonus asked.
rolled his eyes, “He likes the weather here, the fact that we can grow rare and seldom seen fruit trees in this region.
There is still so much money and power to be made here, on this property, and he knows it. The man is like a slithery snake
or a darting lizard ...”
“And we’re going to have to call him our master.” Roxtonus exhaled,
unhappy with the outlook.
“Oh no,” Felix barked an unintentional laugh, “He prefers underlings to
call him another name. It’s absurd.”
“And what might that name be? Caesar?”
but you’re close, Roxtonus. He likes to be called … Tribune.”