Marga’s pulse beat faster when she saw his fine carriage
being driven up the pathway to her villa. She galloped Titus earlier in the morning to the orchards and waited to see what
might pass in the valley below. Marga laughed with glee upon seeing the striking carriage, with its owner’s seal, knowing
he would be on time.
They had been parted for well over two months, Lord Roxtonus taking care of the intricate business
of reestablishing his name, house, lands and position. He sent her three tender missives during this time, which Marga read
over and over again, telling his former owner the progress which was being made in the restoration of his life.
days ago a man on horseback rode up to the villa and presented Marga with a parchment, baring the Roxtonus family seal. It
was written in his master’s own masculine handwriting. Marga was so inwardly excited that she nearly walked away to
read in private before the horseman said: “My master requests a reply.”
Curious, she unrolled the parchment:
I am going to be in Rome in two days and would
like to stop by the villa and see you. There is
a matter of some importance which I believe we
should discuss in person.
‘Very short and to the point.’ It could mean nothing. It could mean
everything. Marga told the messenger to wait. She wrote a return correspondence, just as simple, telling Roxtonus that it
would be a pleasure and she hoped he would accept the hospitality of her villa for a night’s stay or more.
she looked completely calm and chic, draped in a black gown with gold accessories, including her upper arm bands, Marga felt
faint when Roxtonus impressive carriage stopped before her and the door swung opened. He stepped out, wearing a striking olive
colored toga with silver embroidery at its sleeves and hem. Somehow, the ensemble managed to make Roxtonus look both noble
and intensely masculine. His dark hair had grown slightly longer than she remembered and was swept back away from his tanned
face. His eyes, those eyes which had nearly looked through her during a night of near passion so long ago, were clear and
– if she wasn’t mistaken – sparkled with the pleasure of their reunion.
smiled, taking her hand and bowed slightly, arrogance apparent but also a new resolve and calm that he wore very well “How
“Good. And you, Lord Roxtonus?” At his nod Marga smiled and took an extended arm.
walked the grounds; reminiscing, visiting Felix’s grave, talking about Verona and Malone’s wedding – which
Roxtonus was disappointed having missed – and feeling a sense of peace and happiness, in one another’s company.
you hungry?” Marga asked him when they approached the front entrance of the villa once again.
always hungry.” Roxtonus chortled, gently.
“Good. I have a meal prepared. Come.”
did not eat in the dining hall or salutation room but in a small space adjacent to Lady Marga’s personal quarters. He
remembered Marga and Tribune lunching here the evening of his arrival. It was private and, Roxtonus assumed, it was a place
where Marga felt she had control.
“While Verona and Malones are away on their honeymoon I’m building them
a home on the few acres of land Marcus Seneca returned to me.” she said.
“Malones is a proud man. Are you
certain he’ll accept the gift?”
“His term as a soldier will soon be up and he wants to become a bard.
Malones will need a home for the family he and Verona plan to have. He’ll accept or go homeless. Besides, it’s
a wedding gift. It would be an insult to decline.”
Roxtonus smiled as he popped a grape into his mouth. Marga
was as confident as ever.
Fruits, fresh vegetables, cheeses and broken meats were served then, at Marga’s wave,
the servants disappeared, leaving the two of them alone. They ate quietly for awhile, speaking of common things, the land,
her crops and the conditions of their households. Roxtonus was pleased to learn that Challenger stayed on at Ambrosia Hill.
He not only perfected the orchard irrigation system Marga was having such problems with but also, she said, managed a few
“I’ll show you one of his undertakings very soon.” Marga whispered mysteriously
between bits of spring melon.
“I look forward to it.” He replied, intrigued.
Marga watch Roxtonus
for a moment then suddenly announced, “I have a new man now”
The Lord quickly looked up, “Oh?”
name is Cassius and although he’ll never be Felix’s equal he is a wonder. He manages the household and even has
my foreman under his thumb. His mother lives with us as well. She is a good maid and her olive bread is marvelous.”
smiled and nodded, relieved. “I have a woman running my house.”
Marga had a small piece of cheese halfway
into her mouth when she started, “Yes?”
“A vivacious widow.” He said, casually.
she … umh … Does she do her job well? Satisfy *all* your needs?”
“Nearly.” He said with
a peculiar pause. “She and her children live in an outbuilding on my land. Her husband died of a fever last autumn and
she was in desperate need of work.”
“How desperate?” Marga asked with an uncontrollable bark. Then,
when he glanced up at her, with a mock-startled expression, Marga added, “I mean, with *children* I imagine she is a
rather *mature* woman … Hm?”
“Twenty six in a looking glass.” Roxton smiled, lobbing another
grape into his mouth.
Anxious, Marga halted briefly then, with an inward sighed of relief, said: “She’s
sixty two years old?”
“And very capable. The woman has nine well behaved children so you can imagine her
stature. No nonsense.” He grinned fondly, “She reminds me of you.”
“I *would* take that as
a compliment but, knowing you, it’s probably not!” Marga picked up an olive and playfully threw it at him in aggravation.
chuckled, “But it is!”
Marga’s face sobered and she decided to change the subject, “You know,
I’ve always called you *Roxtonus* but never bothered to learn your full name.” she said regretfully “I noticed
on the last note you sent that you wrote J. Roxtonus.”
He nodded. “My full name is Jonsephus Meridius Aulus
“Jonsephus?” Marga pondered, “Sounds Hebrew.”
“My mother and
father knew a man called Josephus. They liked the name but decided to add their own touch.” Again his face broke into
a fond smile, “Willmus usually called me Jon.”
“Jon.” Marga repeated the name, “I like
Again, he nodded but his expression quickly turned serious. “Marga, I came here for several reasons
but there’s one thing we need to get out of the way right now.”
She said nothing, unsure if she was going
to like what he said. Roxtonus appeared all at once ill at ease and that was not a good sign.
“I told you my
brother, Willmus, was killed. Do you remember?”
“Yes, in the arena. Jon, I *am* so sorry …”
there *is* something you need to know.” He hesitated, looking into her eyes from across the low table. He felt she deserved
the information he was about to impart but now, telling her like this, Roxtonus had his doubts he could explain it well. “Willmus
was hit from behind, a mace cracking his skull.” His voice dropped down to a near murmur and he looked away from her,
remembering. “He didn’t die right away. He lay there without motion, his eyes wide and unseeing. My brother was
a living and breathing man of flesh and blood but with no conscience … no spirit ….”
a cabbage.” Marga offered, not unkindly.
“Yes.” Roxtonus whispered, recollecting the day. “Willimus
and I had made a pact long ago. If ever anything like that were to happen to either one of us … the other would take
swift action.” His eyes met hers now, “He was laying there, bleeding, looking up at me but not seeing and I …
I killed my brother.”
Marga lifted a hand to her mouth but not because she was repulsed by Roxtonus’ action.
She felt a deep sorrow for the man. He had clearly been wallowing in guilt for far too long. “You promised him …”
there might have been a better way …” Roxtonus said what he had been thinking for the last fifteen years. “I
might have helped him. I could have …”
“You couldn’t have done a thing.” Marga spoke
gravely, “You were an owned man, a gladiator, and he was a victim of our times. He would have been taken back to an
infirmary and if he hadn’t died there some unscrupulous charlatan of a healer would have made him an experiment. You
allowed Willimus to die with the dignity he deserved, Roxtonus. You were with him, doing as you pledged, and I am sure –
wherever he may be now, whatever god it is he is serving – Willmus is remembering you and thanking you for your love
“Maybe you’re right.” Roxtonus said, not appearing completely convinced, “I
“Life goes on, Jon. It’s time you started to look to the future and not the past which
was so ruthlessly taken from you. Think only of new beginnings.”
Hearing the conviction in her voice, Roxtonus
lifted his head and nodded. “I would really like to do that, Marga.” And he gazed at her with an unmistakable
“Besides,” Marga sat up on her pillows and looked vaguely uncomfortable, “you’re not
the only person with a past you would like to forget.”
Roxtonus cocked his head curiously then lay back on the
plump pillows. She had opened the door and he quickly put a foot inside before she closed it. “Tell me your secrets,
Marga. Trust me.”
She looked down at Roxtonus. How relieved and relaxed he appeared now that she had accepted
his secret. He watched her with an expectation she was almost certain he would eventually regret, despite his own surreptitious
past. However, after everything that had happened a couple of months previously, Marga *did* trust him. She hoped what she
was about to reveal might finalize something between them. They needed closure.
Roxtonus, seeing the conflict in her
expression, lifted himself up on an elbow then reached forward, across the low table to touch one of her hands.
glanced at his larger hand on hers and allowed her vision to elevate slowly aloft, moving up her own arm to gaze at her ever
present armbands, “I always wear these. Have you ever wondered why?”
“I figured they were a part
of who you are. Your signature.”
“True enough but there is a simpler reason.” Slowly, she lifted
a hand to trace over the pattern of one of the golden bands. It read “Fortis fortuna adiuvat.”* Marga gulped then
very carefully removed one band then the other.
Roxtonus sat up and stared at both her upper arms. Light blue letters
and numerals were present. “A brand?” he asked, awareness dawning. “Marga, you were a ...?”
but worse. I was a harlot, rented out on a bi-nightly basis by my master.” She spoke quickly, hoping the disclosure
would not hurt as much if she spat it out all at once. Then, after a pause, she watch Roxtonus coming to terms with this newest
revelation, Marga said: “Let me explain, Roxtonus.” She took a deep breath then started at the beginning: “I
never knew my real family. My adoptive father told me they found me somewhere in Britannia. He and the woman I knew as my
mother were vacationing, walking the countryside, with several of his servants, when they came upon a cluster of cloaked men.
They were gathered about a stone altar outside a druid temple and as my mother and father drew closer they saw a baby laying
there.” Marga nearly smiled, “Actually, they heard me before seeing me. Father said I had a very healthy set of
“What were …” Roxtonus began, resisting the urge to lift fingers and gently caressing
the underside of her chin as she spoke. He knew how difficult it was for Marga but also knew she was sharing something of
herself that would bring them closer together. It was a cleansing, just like his revelation about Willmus, and he would gladly
be there to soak in all she had to impart.
“Father said I was to be sacrificed to a druid god or goddess of some
kind …” Marga cleared her throat, watching Roxtonus eyes widened in horror. “They rescued me and ran the
druids off, killing a few in the process. They brought me back to their inn and Mother fell in love with the little dark-haired
baby. Unknown to anyone but my father, Mother could not have children. So … they took me and when they returned to Rome
eight months later no one knew I wasn’t truly theirs.”
“They saved your life.” Roxton breathed
out his relief, “And you grew up in a privileged household?” he asked.
“Ironic, isn’t it? But
please, Roxtonus, let me finish …”
He gently caressed the fingers of the hand he was holding and kept quiet
as she continued.
“When I was ten years old I was brought to the royal palace of Claudius. My father and the
emperor were childhood friends. He had been very kind to Caesar when they were children, despite Claudius’ limp and
stammer. Caesar never forgot him ... and I was introduced to his daughter, Octavia. She was such a beautiful care free girl
and became my best friend.” The smile on Marga’s face was poignant, “We were inseparable. We shared everything
… except …” Now Marga’s smile disappeared altogether.
Roxtonus stayed silent as she requested
but his heart ached for her.
“Nero.” She explained, “By the time I was fourteen and Octavia was sixteen
he had become her adopted brother. Octavia was quite smitten with him. When Emperor Claudius announced that she and he were
to be engaged Octavia couldn’t have been happier. But Nero did not love his step sister. He … he wanted *me*.”
again, Roxtonus glanced at her upper arm, at the brand. Things were beginning to fall into place.
“By the time
Nero and Octavia were married I was a ward of the palace. My mother and father had died in a tragic chariot accident a year
before. Nero was just a month or two older than his wife. The next year Claudius died and Nero became emperor. Not long afterwards
he sent for me and said he wanted me to be his mistress. I refused.” Marga’s jaw twitched as her teeth momentarily
clenched together, “It wasn’t just because Octavia was my best friend … Nero was very *strange* and cruel
and I saw it right away, even when we were children.” Now Marga’s lip trembled, “But if I had known …”
She gulped, keeping her tears in check. “He divorced Octavia and had her executed. He took his revenge out on everyone
I loved. And he and Lord Otho, who would become my master, had me branded.” She looked once again down at one of her
upper arms, “The awful things they made me do. The cruelty …”
“Sh.” Roxtonus squeezed
her hand. It made perfect sense now why she never had her own slaves branded. “How could you have known? You were a
victim.” His free hand reached her shoulder, pushing luxurious strands of dark hair away.
“That was their
intent, yes. I was theirs to use and abuse as had been done to so many other men and women before me. But the difference was
that I had grown strong. I would persevere and not weaken. I would *not* stay a victim for long, Roxtonus.” Even now
her tone took on a severity that was absolute and a little frightening. “I knew one day I would find a way out. And
I *did* find it … with Arturus.” Marga closed her eyes, pained. “I’ll always feel ashamed of my initial
perception of Arturus. I thought him a fool, someone to be seduced and deceived. But he was so much more than I knew.”
She mourned, feeling Roxtonus’ fingers move from her shoulder and trace gently down her arm, past the branding. “Yet,
in a way, I did seduce him. It wasn’t sexual but, nevertheless, it was deceitful. I played with his conscience, toyed
with his heart, and we talked – had so many things in common. How could he not grow fond of me?”
was Lord Summerles in Lord Otho’s villa in the first place? From what you’ve said of him I find it hard to believe
that Arturus could ever be his friend.”
“Arturus was educated but not well informed when it came to his
friends. He knew Otho’s father when they were young men. He had no idea what a degenerate his son had become. Arturus
had hoped to talk with Otho about a transport contract.” Now Marga nearly smiled, “I’ll never forget poor
Arturus expression, when he walked into Otho’s salutation room and saw him seated on his “throne”, and a
half dozen naked female concubines were laying prostrate at his feet.”
“You were one of them?”
nodded, “I had been there for over three years, long enough to learn about the men who would be visiting my master,
to do research on them” Marga cleared her throat, “I looked much different than I do now.”
hair.” Roxtonus recalled over-hearing something Tribune had said to Marga.
“I’ve always been a brunette
but Otho was partial to blonds. He had all of us bleach our hair and wear heavy eye make-up. He once had an Egyptian mistress
that must have made a great impression.” Taking in a deep breath, Marga pulled her hand from Roxtonus grasp and lay
flat on her back on the cushions, tucking her arms underneath her head. She continued. “On a night two days before he
was to leave, I slipped into Arturus bedroom. He was surprised to see me but I told him some story about being afraid because
one of the other slaves caught me reading. It was forbidden for any of us, particularly female slaves, to read. He asked me
what I read and I told him I had an interest in history. We talked and talked the night away. We spoke of books, poetry and
even botany. He was stunned by how learned I was and who my parents had been. I was just as surprised that he hadn’t
made a move to take me to his bed.”
Roxtonus watched as Marga looked up at the vaulted ceiling, her thoughts
on a place far away.
“Arturus told me that he and his late wife had always wanted a child to share their interests,
to pass along lands and his name, but they had never been blessed by the gods … and it reminded me of my own mother
and father. He feared for me and asked me to marry him right there.” She chuckled slightly, “Here, I thought he
would take me away from Otho as his concubine but to realize Summerles wanted a daughter … I fell deeply in love with
him; his kindness and affection. I was so young when my father had died and my mother had left me filled with such confusion
….” Marga shook her head in a motion of denial.
Roxtonus caught the wavering, “What did your mother
“Nothing. I’ll leave that for another time, Roxtonus.”
He acquiesced, not wanting
to push Marga too far. What she was telling him now was more than he ever thought she would divulge. “And you lived
happily ever after?”
“Nearly.” Marga smiled, “Arturus managed to get me away from Otho without
his knowledge. Otho had so many naked female slaves it was easy to lose count. After all, I had served my purpose long ago
and Nero was on his way out. Rome had burned by this time … Anyway, when I came to Ambrosia Hill my hair was back to
its natural color, the garish makeup was gone and having once been called Cassandra, I was now Marga, the wife of a noble
land owning Lord. Nero was not yet dead but his idiocy kept him away from the palace. He had forgotten all about me. In time
so had Otho, who died two years ago of a venereal disease. Not surprising,” Marga frowned, “But there was at least
one man who did *not* forget …”
“Tribune.” Roxtonus said with only a brief hesitation.
Marga stared at Roxtonus. Obviously he had been thinking about this since their parting. “Yes. I never slept with him
but once, while we were alone and he was noshing, Tribune dropped a mug and was surprised when I didn’t quickly run
to pick it up. I was in a stubborn mood that day. He found me “delightful” and Otho promised Lord Seneca I would
be his when he visited next. I was gone before he came back. He wanted what he was promised and I disappointed him.”
glad.” Roxtonus said with growl and meant it. Whether she had or had not slept with Tribune was a mute point as far
as he was concerned but he was pleased, for Marga’s sake, that she had never been forced to be with the unprincipled
“Anyway,” Marga attempted to speak a little brighter although the subject matter did not deserve
her pardon, “Tribune recognized me at Arturus funeral and he’s been blackmailing me ever since.”
“No.” she smiled and looked at Roxtonus, “Not anymore.”
picked up his wine goblet and clinked it with Marga’s still sitting on the low table, “Here’s to Caesar.”
He toasted, “And I never thought I’d hear myself say that.”
Marga chuckled and stared at Roxtonus
as he drank. She was moved by his acceptance of her past. There were not many men who could see beyond the “harlot”
portion of her confession. With a gentle clearing of her throat she decided on a slight shift of conversation. “Arturus
and I lived well together for nearly three years before he was taken ill. He taught me everything he knew about produce, fruit
trees and the managing of soldiers and slaves. He was so kind to everyone … especially me. But there were things he
could not give me and he offered to get someone to fulfill the duties a husband should for his wife.” She smiled, recalling
the uncomfortable conversation and the woe on Arturus face. “I told him “no”. I respected him too much to
be unfaithful, whether it was with his permission or not.”
“And do you still feel that way?” Roxtonus
tone was a temptation.
“He’s been gone for four years. I think I’ve grieved and honored his memory
properly. It may be time for someone else to show me that I can be genuinely desired, cared for and loved in an entirely different
way than my dearly departed.”
Marga once again sat up on the sofa. She reached for the hands of her guest and
smiled confidentially, seeming to change the subject yet again. “You must be very tired, Roxtonus, after your long journey.”
She looked in the direction of her quarters then back at the man, “In my room I have a large round tub built from stone.
Hot water has been piped in and it churns. Challenger made it possible. He calls it a bubbler.”
Challenger. He’s a genius.” Roxtonus grinned, “Was *that* your surprise?”
“Part of it.
I have found the motion of the water is soothing and releases aches and pains … I would be honored, Jon, if you would
He gazed at her for a long while before saying: “I would be honored, Marga.”
* Fortune favors the brave.