Early the following day Lady Marga called for her favorite
horse, Titus, and told Felix she was going to ride out to Ambrosia Hill’s south quarter. She wanted to inspect the fruit
baring trees because the harvests of lemons this year turned up slightly smaller than last year’s crop. Marga wore her
dark robes, nothing ornate, and a brown cloak against the cool morning air. Her hair was brought to the back of her head in
a simple braid.
However, what was supposed to be a solo ride suddenly became a twosome. There, sitting on Titus and
waiting for her was Roxtonus.
“What are you doing?” Lady Marga demanded, stunned by the temerity of the
man. “I don’t need an escort and my stallion does not like strangers riding him.”
down and rubbed the horse’s speckled neck, “Titus seems to like me well enough and, mi’laldy, you *did*
make me your body guard.” He reminded, “It’s not a duty I take lightly.”
not mean I can’t take a short trip to the orchards by myself.”
“Just pretend I am not here.”
Roxtonus replied, unflinching as he extended a hand to help her up.
Irritated, Marga’s tone was caustic, “That
shouldn’t be too difficult.”
The Lady had the power to call to her guards and have Roxtonus forcibly removed
from Titus but, too weary to argue, she took his strong hand and slid her foot into the stirrup. Marga then hoisted herself
onto Titus back, behind her chattel. As Titus move away from the villa, Marga tried hard not to notice Roxtonus exposed flesh.
The low dip to the back of his toga and cape once again revealed his brawny and lightly freckled – and “charming”
- shoulders. She sighed lightly. Marga did not need such distractions. Nor did she need insomnia. She did not sleep well last
night, nervous over Seneca’s impending visit, and the interfering Roxtonus wasn’t helping matters.
she knew he was right. Her slave was only doing as his owner instructed. Still, he needed to know his place and she wasn’t
going to make it easy on him, “Don’t you know *how* to ride a horse, Roxtonus? I don’t have all day, you
know. I still need to oversee preparations for our guests’ arrival tonight.” She spoke irritably, purposely finding
what fault she could with the man.
“Whatever you say, My Empress.” Roxtonus murmured, then: “Hold
on tight.” He started to trot the horse then, feeling the woman’s hands and arms tighten around his waist, Roxtonus
was encouraged to throw caution to the wind. He urged Titus into a gallop. The faster he rode, the firmer his mistress gripped
his body. He like the feel of her soft and perfumed body pressed so closely to his back. It felt strangely natural to have
her cling like this to him.
Marga, on the other hand, felt annoyed – and preoccupied. She had many worries, more
than this pushy – albeit handsome and somewhat charismatic – slave could ever imagine. She watched as the land,
heavy with an early morning fog, loomed before them. Marga had wanted some time alone, to look out over Ambrosia Hill and
be reminded of what it was. Soon her home was going to change. In her heart and soul she knew it was true. That was, if she
*allowed* what was anticipated to happen. There *was* a way to end all of this torment and, if she maintained courage, she
would have the opportunity to implement it in the next few days. But she needed to be strong, brave and very cold blooded.
She had acted the part of being ruthless before, when Arturus relied on her clear head near the end of his life, but that
was different than stepping over the line and committing herself to someone’s destruction...
Roxtonus called over his shoulder, “Why is your home called Ambrosia Hill?”
She nearly told her slave to
be quiet but, instead, Marga asked: “Do you know what Ambrosia is, Roxtonus?”
“It’s the food
of the gods, isn’t it?”
“That’s right.” She spoke into his ear.
Her breath against
his cheek made Roxtonus feel abnormally warm, “And?”
“And that’s what we grow here. Or, more
specifically, we grow and harvest citrus fruits that are not typical for this region. Apples, pears and pomegranates are plentiful.
Any farmer can grow them. However, Ambrosia Hill grows oranges, lemons and limes. They are very unusual, our climate doesn’t
usually allow for it, but we can grow because the soil is blessed. At least, that’s what the vestal virgins and priests
would tell us.” She nearly chuckled, “We cultivate and get a nice commission for distribution to all the villas
in the area and *also* Caesar’s palace, at a very healthy profit.”
“You must be proud.” Roxtonus
commented, sounding neutral although he was secretly impressed with his mistress.
“Very.” Marga spoke unashamed,
“Arturus, my husband, was a brilliant botanist and business man. He could make anything grow. I really do believe his
spirit remains here on Ambrosia Hill, watching over the harvest.” Then, in a lower voice, “Perhaps he’s
even watching over me.”
“Very romantic.” Roxtonus whispered curtly, the comment undetected by his
mistress. Lady Marga obviously adored her husband and still mourned his passing. The slave could not help but feel a pang
of envy, knowing she had loved so deeply and he – a gladiator who was never truly given the opportunity – did
not. He had never enjoyed sincere passion with any woman, not like Marga so obviously shared with her spouse.
were almost near the south quarter but Roxtonus had one more question before Lady Marga slid from the horse and was away from
him, examining her trees. “Mi’lady, when I was brought here on the cart I notice that you had purchased a great
deal of produce in the city market. If the land is so rich then why don’t you take an acre or two and grow some of these
“We used to.” Marga said, grateful he could not see the abruptly troubled expression on
her face, “We had a parcel of land sectioned off just for this purpose but …”
Roxtonus heard the
hesitation in her voice and he immediately became curious, “Mi’lady?”
Her voice grew firm and unwavering,
almost as if she was tackling an accusation. “I gave it away, Roxtonus.”
“*Gave* it away?”
it away.” Marga repeated, “Enough questions. Remember, I’m not supposed to know you are here.”
was silent but puzzled. His mistress was a very curious woman.
After the inspection, when the fog had
lifted, and Marga declared a better irrigation system would have to be considered for next year, the couple sat on the side
of a gently sloping, grassy hill and ate breakfast. Both savored the freshly picked fruits and warm tea which Roxtonus brought
in a sealed flask prepared by Felix.
Close to them, just down the hill, Titus grazed.
“This place is paradise.”
Roxtonus commented, looking down into a lovely flower dotted valley and feeling the warmth of the brightly shining sun against
his tanned skin. He sat cross legged beside Marga and attempted to disregard how, out here in the open, the woman’s
beauty glowed with a warmth that was as inspiring as it was natural.
“I know.” Marga agreed, in a dreamy
fashion, tossing aside a flap of orange peel. “When I first moved here I used to come just to enjoy the view.”
She mused, “And to think.” She added, “I’d try to get Arturus to come with me but, even back then,
he was not well. He couldn’t come here as often as he and I liked.”
Roxtonus examined her expression. He
saw love but also recognized deep regret. “How did he die?” he asked.
She half smiled, “He led a
very full life. In the end his old body just lost the will to go on.”
“Was he much older than you?”
Roxtonus asked, all of the sudden becoming aware of something he suspected wasn’t sure about..
Marga looked at
her slave. He had no idea. Of course he didn’t. How could he? “You are very bold to ask such a question, Roxtonus.
If he were still alive he would be your master. Remember that. I would have loved him had he been twenty nine or ninety nine.”
meant no disrespect.” He said, looking away from her and down into the valley once again.
Marga came to realize
that she knew very little about the slave she had purchased, “How long were you a gladiator, Roxtonus?”
to gaze into the valley, Roxtonus thought about her question for a moment. He wondered what Felix had learned about him while
questioning the slave auction cashier. This was going to be the interview they didn’t have yesterday when he was in
her greeting room. “I was a gladiator for a little over fifteen years, mi’lady.”
Startled, Marga’s eyes grew wide, “Why did you never buy your freedom?”
“I wasn’t allowed.
When I was sentenced as a slave Nero decreed that I and my brother, Willimus, would stay enslaved for the rest of our lives,
never to be given our freedom. Read the contract signed when you bought me. I’m sure it’s stated in big, bold
letters. I’m just hoping you’ll find a way to break the rules when the time comes.”
say … Nero?” Marga nearly gasped out the name.
Roxtonus quickly looked up at Marga, noting what seemed
to be dread.
Fearing she may have revealed something of herself to the slave that he need not know, she said: “Nero
has been gone for quite sometime now. Did *you* never think of contacting the Flavian? From what I understand our current
Caesar, Vespasian, is said to be a wise man …”
“Nothing changes.” Roxtonus lay back on the
hill and pulled a piece of grass from the ground where he lounged. "When Nero died I tried to contact a few of his successors
but none of them lasted long enough to do any good. Then, when my master heard I had managed to get letters to the praetorian
he swore to grind my bones into dust if ever I tried to do it again. You see, I made him money. I was a famous gladiator –
How could he ever let me go?”
“But he did.” Marga reminded.
“Yes. Finally. When I decided
I didn’t care if I lived or died anymore; when I was tired of all the blood and violence and wanted out any way possible
… my master knew he lost whatever hold he had on me. Then another innocent boy had to die …” Roxtonus gulped
and tried to push the thought from his mind, “It would be better to sell me to the public and recoup some of the gold
he would lose. And now,” he finished, looking up at Marga - “I belong to you.”
“Yes, you do.
And, if you are a good slave I *will* give you your freedom, Roxtonus. I’ll find a way.” She promised because
she felt he deserved the hope, “You can take Verona away and live happily together. I may even …”
do you want me to marry Verona? I don’t love her and, more important, she doesn’t love me. She loves …”
know who she loves!” Marga suddenly barked, “But he’s not right for her. He could *never* be right for her.”
do you say that? How could you know him that well?”
“I know his family.” Marga turned very quickly
and changed the subject, “You mentioned a brother. Willimus? Where is he?”
Roxtonus eyes narrowed. There
was so much his lady was not telling him. The sobering part was in acknowledging that he had absolutely no right to be acquainted
with what it was she was hiding. “Willimus died many years ago in the arena.”
“How terrible to be
born into such a life.” she whispered, averting her eyes and looking at Titus as he whinnied gently.
weren’t.” Roxtonus informed his mistress and felt her eyes on him again, “My father was a very powerful
senator who disagreed with Nero on a few major areas of discussion. For a lifetime of service to Rome he was rewarded with
execution and was called a traitor. His land, home and children were destroyed at the whim of a boy!” Roxtonus tone
had risen and his teeth gritted in memory, “An evil demon that should have been crushed to death when he was born!”
Marga exclaimed, visibly appalled and somewhat afraid when she saw his fingers ball into fists.
Roused from a horrible
recollection, Roxtonus gazed at his mistress, his expression softening. “I’m so sorry mi’lady.” he
quickly apologized, “Please forgive me. My past burdens are not yours.”
“You have the right to be
bitter.” Marga said, staring at his pensive profile. “You’re forgiven.” But what Roxtonus didn’t
know was that his lady forgave him not only because she felt sympathy for his plight but because she understood his anger.
She had plans for this slave. Marga had wanted to break his spirit and force him to do things he and even she might one day
regret, but none of those deeds included the side attraction of the lady of the house feeling empathy for his sorrows.
and Marga gazed at one another for a moment, lost in something neither could define but not pulling away. “My Lady …”Roxtonus
Titus whinnied once again, alerting them to a new development.
She looked away from him, “What’s
They looked down into the valley, to the dirt road below in the distance.
“Looks like a
caravan.” Roxtonus replied, “There are three carriages, maybe more, and two large covered wagons.”
can’t be … Tribune?” Marga moved to her knees and bent forward, her eyes narrowing, mirroring Roxtonus action.
“What’s he doing here so early?” Marga asked in frustration. “It’s Seneca. He’ll be at
the house in two hours. He wasn’t supposed to arrive until nightfall. Damn! We have to get back.”
stood and gathered their things. They then quickly ran to Titus. Roxtonus, quite unnecessarily, helped Marga onto the stallion
and this time he was delegated to sit on the back of the beast behind his mistress. Roxton could have swore, as he mounted,
that he heard Lady Marga whisper: “Damn the man.” And wasn’t certain if the comment was meant for Marcus
Seneca or himself.