Marga applied her signature, rolled the stiff parchment
into a tube then carefully sealed it with wax and the Ambrosia Hill imprint.
She remembered a burly field foreman
once telling her, shortly after Arturus death, that she could now make changes. “You should use that same brand to mark
your property.” he had said, “It will keep your slaves docile and less likely to run away.”
Marga dismissed the man immediately, without preamble, deciding he was too brutal a human being to be gifted with such a powerful
position. However, she later regretted her rash and too emotional responds. It really wasn’t his fault. This was the
way things were done here in Rome; even as far as Pompeii. Marga was angry with herself for not thinking of the likelihood
of this expectation sooner. She was a slave-owner, after all. Still, she wondered why if her dearly departed spouse had never
taken up the practice then why would she be pre conceived to agree to such a suggestion? What was it about her that made men
think she was heartless?
Drawn out of her thoughts, Marga turned from the desk in
her bedroom and smiled softly. “Felix, I need your help with a delivery.” She said and held up the parchment.
he walked slowly forward and took the roll from her. Surprise was expressed when Felix saw who it was he was to present the
document to -- “My lady?”
“Take Titus. My horse is the fastest in the stable.” She stood, “If
you get stopped show the royal guards this.” Marga passed her servant a smaller parchment tied with twine, “This
is my permission and introduction. It will clear your way.” She put a hand on his shoulder and spoke sincerely, “Felix,
I need this done confidentially and as quickly as possible. I want you back here by tomorrow to help me with the banquet.
You, my friend, are the only person I can trust.”
He nodded, honored by his lady’s faith. If ever there
was a woman Felix could feel genuine affection for it was her. “Should I wait for a response?” he asked, glancing
down at the roll in his hands.
“No. There won’t be time. I’ll check on it myself later.” She
patted his shoulder, “Take care, Felix.”
“You too, my Lady Marga.” He stepped away but lingered
slightly before leaving, “And please be careful.”
She acquiesced with a dismissing wave of her hand but
understood Felix’s unspoken fear.
While the tigers, in their cages, were being taken care of by
a cantankerous Challenger, placed in an area near three great shade trees, the guards were unveiling the third smaller wagon
under Lord Seneca’s direction. It held food for the beasts and their roars indicated it was dinner time.
them but not too much.” Seneca told his captain with a wink, “It’s important to keep them wanting more.”
Captain Trejan looked from the tigers to a small group of Lady Marga’s attractive female slaves. They were standing
and conversing together on a patch of grass just outside of the villa. “The same could be said for another species of
“In time, Captain.” Seneca chuckled with his aide and studied the view, “In time.”
away?” she whispered.
“Yes. We can do it tonight under a cloak of darkness.”
hands shook slightly, encompassed in the warmth of the handsome young man who stood before her. They found a moment to steal
away, to talk privately behind an out-building. “But you’re a soldier, Malones. You’ll be committing career
“I don’t care about that.” He said, “You know I’ve always wanted to write.
We can travel all over Rome, Greece and Egypt. I can recite and become a traveling bard.”
“But how would
we live … and eat?”
“People will pay to hear the stories I tell. With you by my side I can do anything.
I’ll be the happiest man in the world!”
Verona’s hands slipped from his and she looked down at the
grass near her sandaled feet, “Malones, it’s not that simple. I am to be married ...”
to a man chosen for you by a corrupt woman.”
“She’s about as corrupt as an army deserter.”
Verona snapped. Yet, as Malone was about to retreat, feeling he had heard her final decision; Verona put a hand on his forearm.
“I’m sorry. I really am, my love, but I have such fears. Have you thought about what might happen to *me* if we’re
caught? Do you know what happens to runaway slaves?”
Malones looked up from gazing at her slender fingers on
his arm and met Verona’s eyes, “Damn, I’ve been so short sighted and selfish. Of course.” He pulled
the lovely and very sad woman close. He smelled the floral fragrance of her blond hair and felt the moisture of her tears
against his cheek. Pushing back and touching her forehead with his lips he said, “I’m sorry, my love. I’ll
think of something. I promise.”
“*We* will think of something.” Verona corrected through her tears
and let him hold her close once again
“Have I told you yet how beautiful you are?” Marcus Seneca
asked, popping a grape into his mouth as he looked at her from across the low marble table between them. He lay back on the
plump white pillows, luxuriating in the comfort provided as he and his hostess ate their light early evening meal.
Marga, sitting cross-legged, smiled mildly and turned away in a demure fashion, “Marcus, you *do* sometimes say the
He looked about the striking room, a simple dining area not far from the lady’s bedroom.
It was a space where she often took her meals alone, he knew. Very intimate – just the way he wanted it. Seneca planned
on spending many such evenings with Marga once she was his to do with as he pleased. Perhaps even as soon as this evening,
when the time was right, they would retire to her quarters and partake in a closeness that was more stimulating than the conversation
they were currently having.
Lord Seneca gazed at the woman as she drank daintily from her wine goblet. She was such
a gorgeous and deceptive little harlot. “Your natural dark hair is so much more appealing than when it was bleached.”
Carefully, she put the goblet down on the table and stared at him.
“Ah, but history can
be such a burden.” He glanced away in apology, “You know I would never hurt you, Marga. Not truly.”
her tongue, she listened. Seneca was trying hard to come off as regretful for past actions and he was nearly convincing. Anyone
else might believe his performance. Yet, Marga knew better. Still, if he was opening the door there was no reason she should
not step through and make her demands known. “Marcus, if I agree to what you’re proposing I’ll need more
than your word that Arturus name, my people and all that all I care for will be safe.”
a contract?” he asked, intrigued.
“Yes, something in writing that is witnessed by an impartial magistrate.”
my *word* mean nothing?” His dark eyes met hers.
“I need to be careful.” She spoke realistically,
“I already gave you a parcel of land in good faith. To ask me for anything more without printed reassurance would just
be foolishly accepted.”
“It makes good business sense. That I understand.” Lord Seneca could not
help a smile, “I can see now why Lord Summerles brought you home with him. It’s not just your body he wanted but
The air of friendly negotiation left Marga and her tone grew abrasive, “You know nothing of
what our relationship was, Marcus. Don’t pretend you do.”
“I don’t really care what your feelings
for the old man were.” He admitted, “But I do know you have secrets, Marga. *Deep* secrets that you want to keep
private. And I don’t blame you. If I was in your position …”
“Don’t threaten me. You’ve
done that before.” Marga stood and walked from their dining table. She stopped at a shelf which housed a small collection
of Egyptian pottery. Arturus loved Egypt and the two of them had long conversations regarding his journey there when a young
man. “Threats will not get you what you want, Marcus.”
Curious he asked, “And what exactly do I want,
“You want my land, wealth and the return of your good name. You can only get it by marrying me
and taking it as the law allows.”
“And is that *all* I want?”
“No.” Marga ran
her lower lip through her teeth. For the first time she was visibly afraid. However, when she turned and looked at her guest
once again, she did not appear at all troubled. “You want what was taken away from you in Lord Otho’s villa.”
Her eyes met his, “You want *me*. At least, you want the opportunity to have me … to crush me beneath your feet.”
my dear,” Marcus stood and walked over to her. Carefully, he raised fingers to touch her cheek, “You have me all
wrong. Our union will be one of pleasure and harmony.”
Marga doubted that very seriously. “Good evening,
His arm dropped and his expression was that of a thwarted villain. Still, Lord Seneca held the future
of Ambrosia Hill and its lovely mistress in his grasps. He could afford to be gracious. “I look forward to tomorrow’s
feast.” he bowed slightly and made a gentlemanly exit.
Roxtonus, who had been listening to the discussion from
behind a curtain, leaned into the alcove as Seneca passed him undetected. He didn’t entirely understand what it was
they were talking about but he did know that Lady Marga was in trouble. “What have you gotten yourself into?”
he wondered and slipped from the area as he watched the lady enter her bedroom.
It was evening. Darkness
and the escape of moonlight behind threatening clouds caused eerie shadows to fall across the land.
Most of the soldiers
were inside of the guard’s quarters, eating their supper and drinking while making merry with their brothers.
sentry who was selected to watch the wild beasts had been given a plate a food but, oddly, he felt very sleepy after eating
only a few bites. Quickly, he nodded off and the plate and fork fell from his hands.
Carefully, with purpose, the lock
was opened and the latch was lifted on the cage.
Slowly, with a lithe ability that was natural to their species, the
tigers slipped from what had been a prison. The male smelled the sleeping guard briefly, even tasting his salty skin with
a slow lick of his long tongue, but knew this man-creature was not what would satiate his appetite.
Warily, the tiger
walked in the direction of the villa, forgetting his mate who wandered in another direction. It felt wonderful to stretch
and saunter … but he needed more.
He smelled the blood of warm-living food, of her soft and sinuous skin. He
could imagine the feel of the female’s bones breaking beneath his teeth -- and he was *very* hungry.