Roxtonus & The Lady
Chapter 11
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Conclusion
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*~~*

“Please Lady Marga, let me speak.” He urged. Marga entered her elegant home through the front entrance, just slightly away from the main banquet hall. Malones was waiting for her. He now followed the woman and spoke quickly but sincerely, “I think somewhere along the line you got a bad impression of me but I …”

Annoyed, Marga stopped her progress down the hall. She turned, her dark shoulder length curls bouncing as she looked at young Malones. More than anything, especially now, Marga only wanted to concentrate on getting through the afternoon and doing what she must before it was too late to take action. However, there was no avoiding the would-be lothario. “Malones, I appreciate that you nearly sacrificed yourself last night to save my life.” She glanced down at his legs. White bandages still hid the damage done by the Caspian. “It was a gallant not to mention remarkably stupid act. But I didn’t *ask* for your help and I will not be pressured into doing something I’m dead set against.” She paused and looked hard into his eyes, “Things have been arranged. Verona is lost to you. Accept it.”

“You may be right.” He murmured, now looking down pitifully at his feet in regret.

“What do you mean?” she asked, puzzled by his too hasty surrender.

“Verona is devoted to you. I don’t pretend to understand it After all, you only think of her as a slave. Unfortunately, knowing how you feel about me, she wouldn’t leave even if I promised her the supreme blessing of Cupid himself.”

Marga could not hide her amused smile, “I don’t think of Verona as *only* a slave. I’m very fond of her.” She spoke softly but truthfully, “Verona’s quite a girl.”

“And you sincerely think she will be happy with Roxtonus?”

Marga’s expression turned firm again, “He’s a fine strong man. When she can’t protect herself he will be there to watch her back.”

“*I* can protect her.” Malones pressed once again. He gulped slightly and decided to speak frankly, “Maybe in the back of my mind I thought facing off with that beast last night was a way to sway you over to my side but you have to believe me, Lady Marga, when I tell you I truly love Verona.”

“I know you love her.” Marga sighed and looked almost on the verge of regret, “But you also have obligations.”

“Obligations?”

“To yourself and to *family*.”

The young solider appeared puzzled for a moment then, as if awakened from a bad-confusing dream, Malones thought he understood. “So that’s it!" He exclaimed with exasperation, “Look, I’m sorry I’m not as close to Tribune as you would like but the man does questionable things!"

“What?" Marga was visibly stunned for a moment.

“I know you and he are getting ready to announce your engagement. You’re upset by some of the things he’s said about me, aren’t you? *Some* of it may even be true but there are times when you can’t compromise – even for an Uncle.” Malones huffed, oblivious to the woman’s taken aback expression, “No, we’re not close. I don’t even like him much. But, I tell you, some families you’re born into without say. Personally, I’d like to start my own family and find myself with commitments of another kind.”

Marga stared at Malones for a few moments, trying to decide if he was being honest or very clever.

****

For more than two hours Roxtonus and Cicero traveled the many paths which lined Ambrosia Hill. Occasionally they would come across a guard on horseback who could tell them only that they had spotted nothing. The men’s horses were as exhausted as themselves and, feeling as if they were chasing after an enigma long past gone, the Lieutenant and slave were discouraged.

The two men were considering a return to the villa when the sound of heavy wheels on stone was heard. Soon, they saw a modest wagon with two male figures sitting to the front.

Its driver hailed them, “You there! We need direction!”

Roxtonus trotted his stallion over to the wagon, with Cicero beside him. He noted that the driver and his passenger were not especially affluent. Their wagon was soundly crafted and well used but not spectacular.

“We are trying to find the villa of Lady Marga Summerles.” The dark green cloaked passenger announced. “We’ve seem to have lost our way and it’s quite urgent we get to her home as soon as possible.”

“You’re on the right road.” Roxtonus spoke slowly, curious but wary. “It’s about five miles up the hill. You’re attending the banquet for Marcus Seneca?” he asked.

“Yes, you can say that.” The passenger indicated behind him, “We found this poor wretch on the road. He’s barely alive. I believe I recognize him as Lady Marga’s manservant.”

Cicero quickly moved closer and looked into the back of the wagon. There, lying in a makeshift bed of hay and mangled blankets was Felix. He was mauled and moaning. His eyes, mere swollen slits, looked upward but saw nothing. “It’s him.” Cicero called to Roxtonus with a combination of relief and trepidation. “We’ve been looking for him.” Cicero explained to the men, “I am Lady Marga’s First Lieutenant and we will escort you to the villa.”

As they continued up the path, Roxtonus asked, “Did you see the beast that did this to Felix?” He was worried for the young man, feeling regret that they did not get to him in time to stop the battering.

“No.” the driver said, “We wouldn’t have seen him at all if my master here hadn’t …” He suddenly bowed his head, embarrassed.

“No need for modesty.” The man in the green cloak, his voice gruff with a deep chuckle, looked up at Roxtonus who was riding his horse closest to the wagon. “I got out and found this poor man lying behind the bush I had chosen to relieve myself near. He was very bloody when found and I thought him dead. I suspect a great deal of the blood was from whatever animal it was he battled with.” The man bent down and picked up a dagger at his feet. He lifted it for Roxtonus inspection, “His blade is stained to the hilt.”

Roxtonus now felt very concerned for Lady Marga. Not only was her friend in a bad way but the Caspian that mauled him was loose and wounded. Not a good combination. “You didn’t see the tiger itself …?”

“My name is Titus.” The green cloaked man unpredictably changed the subject and raised an arm to shake amiably with Roxtonus.

“Roxtonus.” The ex gladiator nodded, clasping the man’s lower arm in a warrior’s handshake.

Titus stared at him for a moment, as if assessing the man on horseback, then released his arm.

“A tiger?” The driver suddenly appeared appalled, recalling the question.

“We have other soldiers out tracking it.” Cicero assured the men.

“We better hurry.”

‘Titus.’, Roxtonus mused as they continued onward. Just like Lady Marga’s favorite horse. He might have found it humorous if the unfortunate Felix wasn’t mortally wounded in the back of the man’s wagon.

*~~~~*

It was nearly three thirty. The cheerful attendees had drank, eaten, listened to music, watched acrobats, jugglers and also listened to a young woman reciting *An Ode to Mars*. Now dancers were performing.

With a yawn, Tribune leaned in close to Marga and whispered into her ear: “Love, I think it’s time to make our announcement, don’t you?”

“Well yes, I suppose we could …" Marga whispered in return and placed a hand on his arm. “But I want to talk with you first.”

“We talked last night.”

“There is something further I need to discuss with you. Something has changed.”

“Yes?"

“Not here.” Marga said, looking about at her guests then behind them at Trejan who was standing, as always, at attention. “Can we step out of here, just for a moment?”

“Marga …” Tribune began, suspicious.

Her fingertips, light on his lower arm, now traveled further up, almost intimately. “I’ll make it worth your while.” She promised with a teasingly grin.

A half smile parted Tribune’s lips, “How can I refuse when you put it like that?” he asked with a chuckle.

As her companion stood, Marga once again felt her upper leg, where the holstered dagger was strapped. She then, with the help of his outstretched hand, stood and they departed together.

Neither took note of the silent snarl of contempt from Captain Trejan. He looked over at a few of his underling guards and nodded, signaling them.

*~~~*

Acting on a hunch, Challenger stood beside a large oak tree, partially hidden by its bulk, and watched the young woman. She paced, her long white toga rippling with the brisk motion of her long legs. She looked over her shoulder occasionally to see if the person she was expecting was near.

“What do you assume you’ll find?” Verona asked beside him, entirely hidden by the tree. When Challenger didn’t immediately answer she reminded: “Lady Marga is expecting us back at the banquet.”

“I know and we’ll go back in a moment.” He raised hand to quiet her. Challenger then whispered, “After we stabled Titus I saw Lydia cross the lawn from the villa and head in this direction.”

“The soldier’s quarters?” Verona looked puzzled and peered over his shoulder to look at what Challenger was watching, “She has no business here.” Something Lieutenant Cicero told she and Roxtonus earlier came to mind. “Do you think she's here to …?”

They saw the young woman stamp a foot irritably, “Where are you?” she cried, holding her opposite arms as if she were either cold or exasperated. Lydia’s fingers drummed her brass upper arm bands with frustration.

“She’s obviously waiting for someone and I think we should ask her who it is.” Challenger said and mimed Verona to follow him.

The girl was so caught up in her anger at being stood up that she did not hear either approach from behind until Verona called her name. “Oh!” Lydia turned quickly, “What are you doing here?”

“The question is what are *you* doing here?” Challenger watched the slave girl, seeing the flush of fear or embarrassment coloring her cheeks.

“Nothing.” She said too quickly.

“Aren’t you supposed to be serving at the banquet, Lydia?” Verona asked.

“I was.” She began to wring her hands, “I’m on a break. Penelope took my place.”

“Why did you come here?” Verona questioned, looking at the door of the soldiers quarters.

“Were you meeting someone here, Lydia?” Challenger gently questioned, not wanting to frighten her.

“What? Me?” Her large eyes widened, “Who would I …? I mean – NO. Of course not. Lady Marga has forbidden it. I’m not meeting with a soldier.”

“I didn’t ask that.” Challenger said, “I just asked if you were meeting with *someone*.”

“Lydia,” Verona reached forward and gently took one of her hands, “Tell us who you are going to meet.” When the girl looked as if she might fib once again, Verona inserted, “Our Lady may be in danger, Lydia. We want to make certain you or the person you’re meeting isn’t involved.”

Once again, Lydia’s brown eyes grew wide. “Oh no!” she said, “It’s nothing like that. Honestly!” She looked from Verona to Challenger then softly bit her lower lip. Coming to a decision she said, “He’s going to be so angry but I don’t want to see him in trouble. You see, I’ve been keeping company with Captain Trejan’s First Lieutenant …”

Verona nodded, recalling what Cicero had said.

“We met last time Lord Seneca came to visit and he is such a handsome soldier. A true gentleman.” The girl was in a love-hazed fog for a moment but quickly blinked herself out of it, “We talked yesterday, shortly after everyone went into the house, and he apologized for not bringing me a gift. But he was going into the city that very day and was going to bring me back something …”

“Oh?” Challenger lifted a quizzical brow and looked at Verona. “Come to think of it he wasn’t around last night when the tiger attacked Lady Marga. It was Trejan and Cicero.”

“But he was part of the party that took off later after the tiger. He returned just before the banquet started.” Verona remembered. She looked again at Lydia, “Did he say why he was going into the city?” Verona asked her.

“No.” Lydia shook her head then spoke matter-of-factly. “He just asked me to bring him a sample of lady Marga’s favorite perfume and he would have some of it made just for me …”

Both Challenger and Verona felt like they had been struck between the eyes.

“What did you use to bring the sample to him?” Challenger asked, brusquely.

“What? Just a handkerchief.” Lydia looked up at him, suddenly afraid. “I didn’t *steal* it. It wasn’t even one of Lady Marga’s better handkerchiefs! She probably would have given it to me if I asked …” She swore, “But really, I was going to bring it back once he brought me …”

“Lydia,” Verona took the girl firmly by the upper arms, “What did the handkerchief look like?”

“Light blue with a gold stitching.” Her voice trembled.

Challenger nodded at Verona, “That was the one I found near the tiger cages.” with Lady Marga’s perfume still heavy on the fabric, he silently added.

“So you think it’s Trejan’s Lieutenant? *He* wants Lady Marga dead?” Verona asked, unsure.

“I think he’s part of it but I think someone else is pulling the strings. Now we need to find out who and why.” Challenger looked to the villa, “And I think we need to return quickly. I don’t like the idea of Lady Marga being unprotected.”

Verona patted Lydia on a slightly sagging shoulder, “I’m sorry, dear, but I don’t think your Lieutenant is going to be meeting with you.”

Sighing, the girl followed Verona and Challenger, “It’s okay.” She said somewhat dejected but looking on the bright side, “He wasn’t much of a kisser anyway.”

*~~~*

‘There will be time.’ Marga deliberated silently to herself as Tribune, his cool hand with its long tapered fingers, gripped her own. He led the woman from the banquet hall into her home’s wide airy hallway. She had wanted to wait until Felix returned. She wanted to speak directly with him, to make sure preparations were well in hand, but Seneca was not cooperating.

Marga thought he would want to wait as was customary, to make the formal announcement tonight before their guests turned in for the evening - as was appropriate - but the man was impatient and crafty. She underestimated Marcus Seneca’s impulsiveness but this was a mild miscalculation. The plan could still work. She would just have to be careful.

Eyes scoured the hall, checking to see if anyone was near, and Marga felt relief. They were alone. Now she would have to steel her courage for what was to follow. She had held off until the last moment. Marga had hoped it wouldn’t have to come to this but Tribune left her with no choice. He was taking away a life she had worked too long and hard to attain.

She could not let it happen. Arturus deserved to have his memory and land preserved, away from the evil that was about to overcome it.

“Now,” Tribune turned her about rather abruptly. They were face to face, “What did you want to talk about, My Dear?”

“Marriage is a big step.” She said, “Not something to be entered into lightly.”

“Stalling Marga?” he asked, looking down at her expectantly.

He was right and she was angry that she appeared so transparent.

Marga smiled coquettishly, “Can you blame a girl for being a little nervous?” She stepped slightly closer to him, laying a hand on his chest. “But I’ve had time to think,” She gently licked her lips, causing him focus on her and nothing else, “And matrimony between us may not be such a bad thing after all, Marcus.”

Intrigued but also leery, Tribune studied her closely, “Really?” he asked.

“Whether I want it to happen or not, my dear Tribune, you’ve left me with little choice. I can either go down cursing and stamping my feet or concentrate on what a union between us *could* mean. It’s not as if you have no authority. In Campania and Upper Germany you are still a very influential man. That could benefit me as well as Ambrosia Hill.” Marga continued, easing in on him slightly, noting the upturn of his lips into a smile.

“My thoughts exactly.” Tribune nodded; distracted slightly by the seductive tone of her voice, her sweet perfume and softness, the lovely face before him, and a pompous feeling that he had played all his cards perfectly. “And is there anything else?” he asked.

“You are not an all together unattractive man.” Marga purred, looking into his eyes and sliding her hand from his chest up to the back of his neck, “I imagine you may be a rather satisfactory lover as well.”

Preoccupied, Tribune did not see that her other hand disappeared from his and her view. He didn’t notice as the dagger was removed from its hidden belt; how Marga brought the blade behind her back, fingers tightly gripping the handle, out of sight.

“Many have said that I’m better than satisfactory. You might be very surprised.” he gloated, “And pleased.” Tribune’s head bent down, his lips reaching for hers. His eyes closed as they kissed.

Marga reached around him, the dagger held high as he embraced her.

She had wanted to bury the blade in his chest but stabbing the wretch in his back, as he had figuratively and literally done to so many others over the years, would be just as gratifying.

*~~~*