He pulled his lips away from hers and glided over to the
woman’s smooth cheek, to breathe warmly in her ear. He then buried his nose in her dark Grecian-like ringlets, “Oh,
Marga, Marga, Marga …” Tribune whispered. He felt her momentarily stiffen in his arms and, for a moment, thought
she was straining against him, lost in passion. But he could tell by her quickly indrawn gulp of air that something was not
“Don’t move.” Lady Marga whispered, holding him anxiously.
Then he heard
it; a low famished growl. It sounded nearly pained.
Re-positioning, Marga very gradually brought down the dagger which
had been poised out of sight from Tribune. Just moments before, deciding on a course of action that was not easy for her -
despite whom it was she was eradicating - Marga had been ready to plunge the knife blade into his back, removing Tribune from
her nightmares forever. Nonetheless, seeing danger was fast approaching, she could only concentrate on a way to save both
their lives. ‘Damned conscience.’ Her mind snapped. Marga hid the dagger behind her back then, as she had done
before, looked beyond Tribune’s shoulder once again.
There, in the hall, was the missing Caspian tiger. Anticipating,
the animal licked her chops and hesitated, gauging the apparently sidetracked human beings before her. Marga and Tribune stood
nearly four meters apart from the beast. She craned her neck and sniffed the air. A more than tempting aroma had been introduced
to the tigress from the delicious food inside the banquet hall.
“It’s right behind you.” Marga whispered
at his nervously enquiring expression.
“How is this possible?” Tribune asked, perturbed. “My men
are guarding the grounds closest to the villa and your men are hunting near the perimeter and orchards. How could it get by
“Good question.” Marga’s tone held slight accusation. She remembered what Roxtonus told
her last night in her bed chamber, how Tribune was not a man to be trusted. Yet, he seemed so genuinely agitated at this moment.
And, when she thought scrupulously about it, why would Marcus Seneca place *himself* in danger if the Caspian was simply another
warning? Certainly Tribune didn’t want her dead. The lady of the house was his meal ticket. “Right now we have
to get out of here without being mauled.” She said, steadily.
“Any suggestions?” he asked, not daring
to turn and look at the beast.
Marga sighed and mentally acquiesced to Tribune’s seemingly gargantuan obliviousness.
“How’s your throwing arm?” she asked.
“Not very good lately. Had a shoulder injury last Spring
Marga carefully pulled the dagger from behind her. She lifted it for his inspection.
was both astonished and amused, “Cassandra, you are full of surprises. What made you bring that?”
briefly. “Premonition, I guess.” She said under her breath, fumbling slightly and averting her eyes momentarily.
“A girl has to protect herself. Oh and …” Marga’s eyes then met his and did not waver, “Don’t
*ever* call me Cassandra again.”
Tribune heard the growl behind him again and, deciding this was not the time
for a quip, nodded apologetically.
Challenger, Verona and Lydia moved rapidly across the great green lawn
between the soldiers’ quarters and the spacious wing where Lady Marga’s banquet hall was situated. They very nearly
passed the meticulously manicured hedges beside the main gravel road when Challenger stopped short and held his arms up to
prevent the women from continuing.
“Challenger?!” Verona questioned in annoyance then looked to where he
“Something is very wrong on Ambrosia Hill.” he announced in a low voice and crouched slightly,
peering between the greenery.
The women followed suit and the threesome watched as several of Tribune’s soldiers
converged on the villa’s formal dining hall. A few warriors stood outside, their swords drawn and crossbows readied,
watching for trespassers. Others stormed inside the villa. The music had stopped and astonished screams could be heard from
“What could be happening?” Lydia asked, alarmed.
“I hate to say this but I think
it may be an assault and siege.”
“A mutiny?” Verona’s looked stunned at Challenger profile,
her blond braid bobbing as she snapped her head to once again stared at the villa. “Tribune’s own men?”
She then felt her mouth grow dry as another frightening thought struck her. “Malones …” Verona whispered
“And Lady Marga and Tribune … and everyone there.” Challenger added as he and the women
continued to scrutinize the situation.
“I don’t understand why this is happening.” Lydia whined
in a whisper, “This was supposed to be a good day with food, actors and fun. And I was to meet with my lover and see
a play ….”
“We need to find Roxtonus and Cicero.” Challenger interrupted, looking past the
villa to the forest beyond. “Quickly.”
On a mission, the trio hastily moved away from the hedge.
in the name of Diana do you think you’re doing?” a portly and faintly balding gentleman in mint green robes called.
He and his companions, patrician men and women who were confused and annoyed, had been backed into a corner of the spacious
“Shut up!” The First Lieutenant raised an arm to backhand the pious man across his too
plump face. However, as the soldier made a motion downward he was stopped in mid swing by a surprisingly strong deterrent.
him alone.” Malones demanded, holding the arm firmly and scowling at a warrior who would, if he were still a Roman praetorian,
be considered his superior. Malones had also been pushed and prodded to stand in the corner with the others. “What *is*
this all about?” He released the Lieutenant’s arm.
“Call yourself a soldier?” Captain Trejan
exclaimed from behind his lieutenant and directed the query to Malones, “If I thought you had an ounce of what it took,
boy, I’d have asked you to join us. But I could see from the first day we met that you, nephew of Tribune, were nothing
but a spoiled little rich-boy. You’re a soldier for Caesar only because your family’s purse bought you in.”
The Captain’s tone held deep scorn, “You and your kind sicken me.”
“Can’t say I’m
real pleased with you right now either.” Malones barked back, preparing himself for a blow which surprisingly did not
come. “Does Marcus Seneca know about this?”
“Tribune?” Captain Trejan scoffed, “The man
is an ass. He doesn’t have the intelligence or courage to pull off something this inspired.”
are you talking about?” The green-robed man asked petulantly but quieted when a soldier placed the tip of his short
sword underneath his chin.
“We’re taking over.” Trejan stated simply. “My men and I have been
planning this for months. Seneca was the means to an end. First we take Rome’s largest villa – outside of Caesar’s
palace - and its lands as our home base then we systematically, piece by victorious piece, take over Rome. It will be done
in such a subtle and clever way that Caesar and the Senate will never be the wiser.”
“And once we have
Rome,” the lieutenant intoned with a fiendish smile, “we have the world.”
Malones blinked, unable
to believe what he was hearing. Roman warriors as “subtle“ was a foreign concept to him. “Do you really
think Lady Marga is just going to give up her villa?” he snarled, ready to launch himself at the Captain. He was held
back by a burley soldier near the lieutenant.
“No, that is why I initially decided to do away with her. How was
I to know that you and that very pretty slave girl …” Trejan’s lip curled in a cruel smile at the thought
of lovely, pure Verona. He had special plans for her once they settled in. “… were going to interfere. Then Lady
Marga’s body guard, Roxtonus, applied the final touch. He actually managed to kill Tribune’s tiger before it could
so much as take a bite out of the woman ...” Trejan shook his head at the waste of a technically well-thought out plan
which went regrettably wrong.
Malones eyes raked the room. Neither Tribune or Marga were anywhere to be seen. Roxtonus
and Verona were still gone as well. “And now, when Tribune and Lady Marga return?”
Captain Trejan glanced
at his lieutenant and exchanged a conspiratorial sneer, “Neither the Lady or the Lord will be a problem. As a matter
of fact I’m sure they’re *resting in pieces* as we speak. If not,” He pulled his sword, “they soon
Captain Trejan laughed and the soldiers, his faithful followers, chuckled around him.
looks distracted.” Tribune turned slowly, now staring at the beast which unhurriedly closed in on them. He and Marga
backed up, heading carefully in the direction of the banquet hall.
Again, the tigress lifted her nose in the air and
sniffed, not truly focused on either the man or woman this time.
“She’s hungry and smells the food.”
“Well, that’s good.” Tribune surmised, “We can let her go in then take off for
the exit of your villa.”
“And leave the men and women in the dining hall to face danger?”
is in there. I’m certain he’ll take care of the tiger before too many are hurt or killed.” Tribune explained,
With a disgusted sigh Marga rolled her eyes and shushed him, “There is only one way to keep everyone
safe and since Roxtonus isn’t here this time to do battle with the tiger …” Marga looked up at Tribune.
Marcus Seneca looked flabbergasted, “I buy and sell beasts. I don’t fight them.”
you were *good* with a sword.” she challenged.
“I am, when I’m fighting man to man, with rules and
the relative certainty that I will walk away in one piece but, in case you haven’t noticed, we only have your dagger.
I told you my throwing arm isn’t …” The tigress suddenly roared loudly, focusing on the couple again and
perhaps sizing them up as a pre dinner nosh. Frightened, Marcus Seneca made no pretense where his loyalties lay. “I’m
getting the Juno out of here, with or without you, dear Marga!”
“Wait!” she called as the man pushed
abruptly passed her and darted down the hall, toward the villa’s front entrance. Marga watched as the she-tiger, spurred
on by the sudden motion of escaping prey, took off after the man. “Damn it!” she ran after them.
nearly to the exit, was quickly taken down by the beast. He was almost dealt a fatal blow, the tigress lunging in at his neck,
when she was slammed in the head by a fly projectile. Tribune rolled away as the beast, having been thrown on its side by
the weight of the heavy urn, stood once again and looked in the direction where the assault came.
She looked at Marga
and her eyes narrowed. The tigress sniffed the air, perhaps remembering the scent of perfume from when she and her mate had
been caged. Once again she growled and, ignoring Tribune, charged Marga.
Only a few scant meters from her victim the
tigress made a great leap ...
However, a fraction ahead of the she-tiger, Marga reared back and threw the sharp and
deadly dagger she had been holding since she and Tribune left the dining area. It caught the animal in the throat, severing
a vital artery, killing the tiger almost as soon as it fell to the polished floor in front of a fallen Marga. It took two
shallow, pitiful breaths then died without a further yowl.
“I’m sorry.” a shaken Marga breathed,
speaking to the beast not a few feet few away from her.
“Marga, that was incredible!” Tribune panted and
slowly got to his feet. His expression displayed a fresh respect for the woman. “Even if my arm was at its best I’m
not sure I could do as well …” He watched curiously as Marga crawled over to the tigress and examined her body.
“I don’t think you need to do that, my dear. It’s quite dead.”
“Yes, it’s dead.”
Marga said, “But almost too easily. Here,” she indicated bloody slashes near the animal’s ribs. “This
beast was injured already. I don’t think I could have killed her without it already having been wounded by someone previously.”
looked down, not cloaking his distaste. “The wound looks fresh.”
“It is.” Marga stood, “Perhaps
one of my warriors winged it before it came back to the villa.”
Tribune looked around, “Where *are* my
guards?” he asked, exasperated. After all this time, and as much noise as we made, I would think someone would show
himself, if only to check and see if we are well.”
Marga rose to her feet, “Strange, isn’t it?”
She too looked around, frowning suspiciously. “Let’s return to the dining room. I’m going to get to the
bottom of this if it’s the last thing I do.”
The closer they got to the villa the louder the
urgent shouts became.
“I’m riding ahead!” Lieutenant Cicero announced and galloped his horse to where
the three running figures were approaching.
“They seem in some distress.” Titus called over to he and
his driver’s escort, Roxtonus.
It was difficult to see who the people were. The only thing Roxtonus knew for
certain was that they were dashing frantically and obviously had some significant news to impart. By the time they reached
the panting threesome and Cicero, Marga’s lieutenant had the full story.
Roxtonus nodded down at Verona, Challenger
and Lydia, acknowledging them, “We have Felix.” he told them, indicating to the back of the wagon.
and Lydia parted from the men, to see how the young manservant was doing.
“Challenger tells me something strange
is going on at the villa.” Cicero imparted to Roxtonus, “A possible uprising of some kind. I’m going to
signal my soldiers and find out what‘s happening.”
“Is anyone hurt?” Roxtonus asked, thinking
of Lady Marga and - for Verona’s piece of mind - Malones.
“It’s hard to tell.” Challenger stated,
“My men have a base camp about a mile east.” Cicero said, “Stall for as long as possible.”
and he galloped off down the dirt road.
“I think *we* she should return the way we came.” the driver stated
nervously to Lord Titus.
“Wait, we have to get Felix back to Lady Marga. Besides,” Titus nearly smiled,
“I think it’s very important that we stay and …” he glanced at Roxtonus who was now approaching with
Challenger, “ … help out to the best of our abilities.”
“But master …”
poor, poor Felix.“ Lydia wailed quietly, behind them. “He looks so weak and in pain.“ She lamented looking
inside the wagon and gently touching the young man’s hair, watching him shudder with delirium even as he slept.
*is* bad.” Verona agreed with an even lower voice. She then looked over at Challenger and Roxtonus as they approached,
“We have to get him back to the villa. If Felix doesn’t see a healer right away he’s going to die. Marga
keeps her own, Lucius. He‘s very accomplished.”
Roxtonus looked up and far a field, judging distance. They
weren’t too long from the villa now, only a quarter of a mile. “Go to the house and sneak through the back.”
he said, “I’m going to the banquet hall and see if I can help. Cicero told us we needed to stall. I’ll do
that if I can.”
“Be careful, Roxtonus.” Verona urged.
“Wait,” Titus removed himself
from the wagon and allowed Lydia and Verona to take his place next to his driver, “I’m going with you, Roxtonus.”
“I think it would be better if you go with Challenger.”
Challenger was about to agree when
the man’s hood lowered slightly and he got a better look at his face. Startled, he began - “What are …?”
but was at once quieted when Titus mimed a ‘keep silent’ expression at him. “No, Roxtonus.” Challenger
looked up at the man on horseback, “I think he’s right. It may be better if he goes with you.”
*want* to go to the banquet.“ Titus pressed, “I know many of the land owners, some are good friends, and I need
to be certain they are well.”
Roxtonus knew he could argue further but the thought of a long, lovely neck and
large stormy eyes raised in fear as she was put to the sword made Roxtonus not want to hesitate a moment longer. “Fine.”
He said, annoyed. He gave Titus a hand up and felt as he settled to the back of the horse. “But you better stay out
of sight and not get in the way or an uprising will be the least of your worries!”
They galloped quickly to Ambrosia
Hill's immense villa.