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Title: The Road to Elysium
Author: Riley Magnus
Character: Maximus “Gladiator”
Disclaimer: The following story has been written with no intention of claiming
ownership or solicitation, nor does the author claim the movie character(s) as his/her
own. The movie character(s) have been borrowed solely out of a love of the particular
movie and is not intended for any other purpose but amusement and entertainment.
It is said by the old ones that the way in which a man enters his life, will also be the way
in which he leaves it; with a wail and heat of battle, or with wide eyes of wonder and a
whimper. At that moment, all elements affect the preordained path of that infant, but
those elements envisage nothing; for an exceptional man will carve his life with the tools
and stone the gods generously offer as he walks along the hard road to Elysium.
The gods were at play that dawn, casting spears of lightening that slammed into the earth
mere inches from the stone house; flashing fire and glory and heartache nearly too heavy
to bear. The young wife, scarcely past her maidenhood struggled and screamed, cried and
begged for mercy as her wrinkled grey husband paced at the foot of the bed. Wringing his
gnarled hands, he eyed the old midwife. His frugal fist dictated that no physician would
come to assist his child bride…only the old woman with eyes the color of polished gold.
She was a witch, all the village knew of it; few would even dare speak her name, but
Trudius had no options available. He will have lost one fine horse in the transaction, but
the hope of a strong, healthy son to help with his life was well worth the cost.
Glia rolled and wailed, her hands gripped at anything to hold her to her all consuming
task. A ripple worthy of an earthquake trembled her body, shaking the bed and bringing
the midwife suddenly to her feet. She focused gilded eyes on the girl.
“Strength, domina. Nothing will save you, but strength will prove you worthy of the son
you’re to bear.”
At those words, Trudius lunged to swipe the horrible old woman from his wife, but he
was stopped mid stride, watching with awe as a tiny, bloody form slid from Glia’s womb.
The infant did not move and the midwife ignored it, laying a broad hand on the young
laboring girl’s belly and pressing her full weight.
Glia was silent; the light had gone from her eyes but still, the midwife pressed, leaping
her sandaled feet from the floor to push even harder. “Assist me, you buffoon!” she
shouted but Trudius, appalled and pale stepped back, his eyes unable to leave the
deformed infant between Glia’s motionless thighs.
The midwife yelled and pushed again, the bed rocked then with a gush of blood and
fluids, another child emerged, splitting the flesh of his lifeless mother’s path. This boy
child slid to a stop against his dead brother, his tiny fingers grasped the slimy hair as if to
raise it to life…he howled the sound of a wild animal. Tears beaded at his new blind eyes
and Trudius fell to his knees.
The child was motherless, alone in ways most could not comprehend. The golden eyed
midwife wrapped him tight, swaddled warm and safe then turned. “Trudius. Go. Go into
village and get the wet nurse.”
“What wet nurse?”
“She waits at the gate. Go! Go quickly and tell her I need her now.”
“You?” The very speaking of the old witch’s name made him shake.
“Yes, say I call for her! Go!”
“But what of the dead?” Trudius was a man fearful of the old ways, a disbeliever never
fully prepared to laugh in the face of the gods, but walking the thin margin between
certainty and dread. His eyes slid from the dead infant to the living one, to his dead
young wife and the wicked woman with fire in her eyes.
“The dead are dead! We must provide for this child. Bring me the wet nurse.”
He straightened his shoulders. “I can afford no wet nurse and you know it, you old crone.
I shall milk the goat.”
“Are you mad?”
“Perhaps I am, but I will not lose what is left for that wisp of a boy.”
In three swift steps, the infant tight in her protective arms, the witch pressed her nose
against his and sneered. “The wet nurse is provided by me! Go now and get her…or do
you prefer I break this boy child’s neck and be done with it all?”
Sickened to the point of retching, Trudius left his house. He ran through the pounding
storm and to the gate. There he found the wet nurse and his stomach again turned onto
“The old witch Donum calls for you,” he gasped, wishing he had the courage to kill the
“So, the mother has perished? I suspected it would be. Lead me.”
Trudius could not move, he swallowed back bile and glared. “You are a whore.”
“They call me Calias. And what matters that I whore for my money when I have this?”
Tugging her tunic she boldly displayed a heavy breast, pale blue milk dripping from a
visibly throbbing nipple. She straightened her clothing and tilted a grin. “It is nourishing
for infants and grown men alike, Trudius. Your choice, your decision.”
He blinked, his raw tongue peeked out to swipe his lip and he grinned. “Come.”
Donum sat and rocked the crying infant, cradling him close to her breast. She was unsure
if Trudius would follow her orders, unsure of how she would protect the infant against the
man’s right to do what he wished with his property…and the boy child was in fact,
Trudius’ property. She was counting on his confusion and fear, betting that his selfishness
and miserly ways would pave her path. A path only she saw clearly. She looked down at
the red faced infant, clucked her tongue then brushed a kiss on his sweating brow.
“Your father is an evil, unscrupulous man. But I see the mark upon you, boy. I swear to
the gods that I will protect and guide you. Cry, go on and send your voice as far as it will
carry…for there will come a day when many will follow the sound of your voice.”
The boy child went unnamed as was custom in the village when an infant was not
expected to live. Months went by, full moon after full moon and still the man spoke of the
child as though he were less than the horses he sought to breed and sell. Trudius’ business
was failing, and it had been doing so since the moment his child bride came to carry
accursed twins; this according to the men he kept council with, the men he drank and
whored with, the men who had even less than he.
When a bitter illness came, sweeping through the village and killing many babies and
young children, it seemed to halt at the gate, captured just far enough from Trudius and
his unwanted son to spare the boy. And too often to please Trudius, the old Donum would
bravely stand at his courtyard, uninvited, unwanted but what was there to be done? She
provided the wet nurse for his son…and for him. There was a certain cruel justice that his
whore was paid for by a witch.
In the second year of the child’s life, the nameless boy stood upon sturdy legs on wide
feet at the door of his house. There, he watched as his father feasted on the breasts that
also fed him, as the monster rutted with the only human in his small universe to who was
consistently kind to him, and he wondered as small boys will.
He wondered of his sense of self, of his incomplete nature and often felt the touch of his
dead twin, a reminder that he was utterly alone.
By his third year, the child almost never spoke. What was there to say? Who would
listen? Still without a name he knew not what he was to live up to, what was expected of
him. And his heart continued to ache for the part of him gone forever. The half he must
somehow make up for if he was to continue.
“It is not right!” Calias shouted as she bundled her belongings, threatening to take her
nurturing breasts from both child and man. “The boy must be given a name!”
“Why,” the old man snorted. “Do I name the dung left in the courtyard by my horses?
What matter if he has a name? Call him ‘shit’, call him ‘filth’ or call him ‘disaster’. Call
him what you want.”
“It is wrong! Even a slave has a name. You will name him or I will leave this house. If
you want me to act as wife in the day light and your whore in darkness, you will name
that child! People are talking, Trudius!”
“I care not if people talk!”
“They talk at the temples,” she hissed and gloried in the tremble that rippled across his
face. “The child must be named, by the gods, that boy must be named or I will never lie
with you again. Never.”
Trudius scowled at the child across the room. “Fine. I will take him to the temple
tomorrow and he will be given a name. Now come, Calias. I hunger for you. Now.”
But before she followed him to the bed, she ruffled the boy’s thick unruly hair and
fingered the small pouch at her waist. The old witch had paid her two gold pieces to
assure that child be named. Whether Calias chose to remain with the gruff old beast after
tomorrow was her own decision. But for the child, she would likely remain. She
shrugged. For the pretty little boy with eyes the color of the sea, she could fuck the old
bastard a while longer.
“What do you sacrifice that this child be named?” asked the gnarled, twisted priest, one
of his eyes blind and filmed with a blue cloud, one of his arms, deformed and half the
size it should be.
“Sacrifice? I have nothing to offer,” Trudius grunted.
“I offer three goats and three gold pieces to this temple.”
Trudius and the little boy turned to see Donum at the pillared entry. She walked to the
priest and priestesses and bowed elegantly, then whispered into their ears, each in turn.
As she did so, each holy person turned a vicious glare at Trudius but he simply pulled a
wicked grin. The gods be damned, this child be damned, I do this for my whore and
nothing else, he thought with spite.
Blood was spilled from silent young goats, the child was painted from breastbone to
throat and the highest priestess knelt at his feet. She whispered words no one could hear
and the poor child could not understand…but he did sense them. They were words of
principle, of truth and compassion, of strength and honor, of valor and courage. The boy
felt them and stood sturdier than before, broader, with purpose.
“This boy’s name is Maximus Decimus Meridius,” she chanted and name was repeated
by all. All except for the lowly Trudius Meridius.
“It is a man’s name, not a child’s,” he protested.
“And this is good…as there is no man in this boy’s life,” insulted the old witch as she left
the temple. Her work was done for now…except for one small communication she was
long prepared to make.
In his chair, rolling his neck and wishing for silence, Marcus Aurelius tended to his
visitors from the senate. He wished as they did, to see the glory of the Empire grow and
grow. He dreamed as they did, that Rome would be a true and strong republic. But he did
not care to hear the speeches again…and again…and again. They were seated in his
palatial offices far from his dear Faustina and two active young children. The air was
heavy and hot and the wine rolled down his throat like a tasteless boulder. Ah for a
distraction, a momentary frivolity, a crash of lightening…even an eclipse of the sun or
small earthquake would suffice to break the monotony of the afternoon. And indeed, that
diversion did arrive even as he wished for it. But this was a surprise.
He accepted the scroll and unrolled the parchment, recognizing the wax seal and curious
as to the reason for old Donum’s urgent message. Raising a hand he quieted his guests to
read, re-read and once again slowly digest the brief letter. Only once before had the old
witch guided his hand and that at great risk to herself but remarkable gain for the Empire.
He would repay her for her previous assistance by accommodating her request.
It was a request that brought relief to his heart as well. A grave illness had made another
child from his wife impossible, rendering her weak and infertile. Faustina wished more
heirs for his throne, but he knew that she actually wished for more distraction to occupy
her while he was away in battle. What Donum was offering would serve Caesar on
several levels. He quickly penned a proposal and had it dispatched.
“Now, where were we, my dear Senators? Ah yes, at the boarders of the Roman Empire
Caesar’s messenger arrived when Trudius was alone in his stables. He glanced back then
returned his attention to the animal he was grooming. At the door behind the man, his
silent son stood and observed.
“You need a fresh horse, I assume. Do not think that just because you represent Caesar,
you’ll have one for free. A man must make a living.”
“I have a message regarding the boy, Maximus Decimus Meridius,” spouted the
messenger with distain.
Turdius swung and pointed to the small child. “That is Maximus Decimus Meridius. By
all the gods, what would Carsar want with a child? Now leave here, your jokes are not
The young man unrolled the scroll and cleared his throat. “Caesar offers Trudius
Meridius a yearly stipend of thirteen gold pieces in exchange for the presence of his son
Maximus. At the age of seven, the boy is to be brought to the Caesar’s summer palace
where he will live and study with the royal children. The boy will not be treated as a
slave, will be respected and given all opportunities for educational and military
advancement as well as lands for his own use when he marries and begins his own
family. He will – ”
“Wait! Wait a minute! What in Hades does Caesar think he’s doing? Buying my boy? Get
out of here, you fool.”
“When the boy arrives, your stipend will be doubled until Maximus Decimus Meridius
reached manhood, at which time it will cease.”
“What kind of offer is that? Does Caesar think he can buy my son for a mere thirteen
gold pieces a year?”
“With respect, Caesar can simply take your son and offer no gold. Think before you
speak further, man.”
Trudius did the math is his head; the figures would make him a rich man. He licked his
lips, paced, glared at the boy then turned to the messenger. “What does he really want
with a Spaniard child? This child? He hardly speaks!”
“Then I would make sure that he does before he is seven years of age,” grunted the man.
“So why wait? Give me twenty six pieces of gold a year now and take the little…child…
this very day.”
“This is not opened for negotiation, Trudius Meridius.”
Four years, four years of building wealth then another fifteen of double that wealth. He
could cope with the boy for four years, could he not? “When will I get my stipend?”
The pouch was tossed, dropping near Trudius’ feet with a clang. He snapped it up.
“You’re still not entitled to one of my horses.”
The man said no more, he left as quietly as a morning mist while Trudius sat on the stable
floor and counted his money.
Young Maximus watched the Roman messenger swing his leg over a strong steed and
Trudius’ luck had changed the moment Caesar’s messenger left his courtyard. Wealth and
success had suddenly found a man who had thus far spent his life in squalor. He could do
no wrong, only riches and good things dropped into his greedy hands and he was drunk
with it all. No longer did he cavort with men beneath him. No longer did he purchase
filthy, lowly whores when he could now afford to bed many of the beautiful prostitutes of
the temples. Even the loss of Calias, who had left him soon after the first pouch of gold
was dropped at his feet, held any concern for him. Life was good and he was pleased.
The boy did not seem to prosper as his father had. Still a quiet child, Maximus spent his
days in rags, helping his father’s thriving business, working with the horses and
listening…always listening. In seven years he had never spoken directly to or received a
comment from his son, and this suited him well. Several times each week, the old witch
Donum would silently arrive at the courtyard and Maximus would follow her. Trudius
never protested. The child always returned unharmed, well fed and as quiet as usual.
During those times, Maximus walked respectfully beside the old woman as she traversed
the village, assisted many in her strange ways and talked of the gods. Donum had
instilled a healthy fear and awe of the spiritual world within the boy’s fertile young mind.
She would talk clearly and precisely to him and anyone else she spoke with in his
presence; this in an effort to assure that Maximus would have a strong understanding of
many things. Occasionally she would play a child’s game with him, calling for him to
name things, describe things, imagine things and dream of a future filled with amazing
possibilities. She knew that the boy played along only in an effort to return her kindness,
but he was proving quite articulate, his speech clean and precise and his mind sharp as a
well honed sword. Her only dread was returning him to his father. Gold and gold alone
forced the cruel old man to assure that the boy was alive, but his health and safety were
never a concern for Trudius. She feared that without her intercession, neglect alone could
bring an end to the special child’s life.
“Maximus, do you know what is about to happen to you?” she asked, sitting under a tree
and offering him and apple.
His head shook as he crunched into the fruit.
“Say the words, boy.”
“No, I do not,” he swallowed and crunched again. “What will happen to me?”
“Many, many things. You will soon be taken to a wonderful place where you’re entire
destiny will unfold before you.”
“Will there be horses there?”
“You will not work with the horses,” she chuckled.
“Then what will I do? Will you be there? Where will my father be? Is it far?” His eyes
had lit, his voice had risen to a near squeal, his excitement was obvious and Donum
smiled. Her hand smoothed over his thick wild hair.
“You will learn, child. You will grow and watch and listen. Much will be revealed and all
will be important. You are a smart boy and it has taken much to place you in this position.
Do not disappoint me, Maximus.”
“But you will be there to help me, will you not?”
“I can not. I have done all I can and you are ready. I have something for you.”
He watched carefully as she slid a small packet from the folds of her skirt. Slowly
unraveling the fabric, she displayed a ring. His small finger reached out and touched it,
feeling the warmth of the gold. “What is this for?”
“It is for you,” Donum slid the ring on a fine silk rope and tied it around the boy’s neck.
“This is very powerful, Maximus. It will protect you in my absence. Never be without
this. Do you understand?”
Another nod as he held the large ring in his palm and looked into the old witch’s eyes,
fully believing that he would never grow into a man large enough to wear the ring on his
finger. Fully trusting that the woman had endowed the gold with her protective energies.
“I will miss you, Donum.” His voice was soft, the sound of a child, but the impact was
that of an empowered man, the man she had always seen he would become. He had never
spoken her name before and the old woman suddenly felt young and alive, potent in ways
she had forgotten. “When will I leave my father’s house?”
“Soon, soon my boy,” and she embraced him, blinking away tears of loss for surely she
would never again see Maximus Decimus Meridius after he left Spain.
After the seventh passing of Maximus’ day of birth, Trudius did nothing. Three months
later, he ignored a message from Donum that his commitment was in danger of being
breached. In the sixth month of the boy’s seventh year, Trudius woke with a start. There
was disruptive noise outside his window, the clunk of horse’s hoofs on cobblestone so
close to the window, he feared rising to peek outside. The sound of shouts, cries from
outside the courtyard walls and a pounding at his door brought Trudius from his cowering
position under blankets and into the open.
There, outside his door, six regal praetorians. His gate had been thrown opened and there
stood the old witch, an evil grin on her face. The men parted when a white steed stomped
directly up to him. It snorted, reared then steadied. Upon that horse, a large man whose
eyes struck terror through Trudius’ soul.
“Where is the boy?” Thundered Caesar’s voice and the old man cowered, dropping to his
“Caesar!” he gasped, his forehead pressed against steaming dung. “I am honored. But I
do not understand?” He raised an eye that brought an even more vicious scowl to
“What don’t you understand, Trudius Meridius? Young Maximus was to be delivered into
my hands several months ago. You have defied me and broken your agreement.”
“Oh, you are wrong, sire! The boy is not yet seven years of age. You have – ”
A praetorian dropped to the ground and drew his sword. Trudius flattened against the
cobblestones and cried out but Caesar laughed.
“You think me a fool?”
Marcus turned a glance to Donum, nodded and watched her enter the house.
It was an unceremonious exchange of property. Marcus Aurelius simply leaned down,
grasped the night shirt at the boy’s shoulder, and lifted him onto the horse in front of him.
“Your stipend is done…and this child is mine.”
Maximus sniffled, glanced back at his prostrate father then into Donum’s kind face. He
reached up and held the ring tight in his fist and nodded, then turned and watched for his
future to unfold before his eyes.
The camp was three days ride from the village. Caesar kept the child close, concerned
that he might either run or be taken under the cover of night. He did not attempt
conversation with the boy, wary that a child torn from his family so abruptly would be
volatile. Let Faustina cope with such things. The full legion traveling with Marcus was
prepared for battle another six days’ ride away. He was struck with a concern. Should he
send Maximus home with praetorian guards or hand deliver the boy himself?
The upcoming battle required little from him, held small importance, but his wife was
waiting. There were few opportunities for him to make her smile. What harm would
come if he did so now? His decision made, before dawn on the forth day, sixteen
praetorian, Marcus Aurelius and young Maximus traveled alone together.
On the twelfth day, as the boy silently ate across the table from him, Caesar leaned back
in his chair and grinned.
“Are you fairing well, Maximus?”
“Do you understand what lies ahead for you?”
“My destiny, sire.”
Marcus chuckled. “I suppose it does. Has anyone told you what will be expected of you?”
Maximus ran his hand across his chin. Savory juices trickled onto his tunic from the meat
he had bitten into. The food he was eating was more satisfying and delicious than any in
his life and he could feel himself becoming strong. But he also was clearly aware of his
position. He looked directly into Caesar’s eyes. “I do not know what is expected of me,
but I do know that I will strive to fulfill anything you require, sire.”
Marcus blinked. Ah, so the old witch was correct in her assessment of this boy. Perhaps it
was time to reveal everything and trust that young Maximus would indeed strive.
“Donum, the old woman, once assisted me in a very important way,” Caesar spoke
calmly, his full focus on the unflinching boy’s expression. “In return for her loyalty, I am
following her guidance regarding you, young Maximus. You will be taken to my wife
where you will live and be educated along side my two youngest children.” He watched
the child’s green eyes and wondered at what thoughts soared through his mind. Whatever
they were, he was not revealing them. “My son, Commodus is a year younger than you
are, his sister, Lucilla is several months older. Your education will be along side
Commodus. You will be treated as his brother, but you will not be his brother. Do you
“Yes sire. I have no royal blood, I do understand.”
“Good, good. In five short years, both you and Commodus will begin your military
careers. There you may move as high through the ranks as your abilities and loyalties will
take you. But even tough you will have had a privileged education, you will not be
treated with favor.”
“Of course. May I ask a question, Caesar? Why are you doing this? Of what value can I
Marcus coughed to disguise a chuckle. The boy held far more intellect that he had
expected; understood respect and spoke eloquently. “Your value is yet to be discovered,
Maximus…and my reasons are mine.”
“I meant no disrespect, sire.”
“And none was given, my boy. You may ask all you wish to know, but you must
understand that the answers you seek will not always come from the answers you are
And I believe you do, thought Caesar.
It was a quick strike, Caesar’s enemies always a mere step away. Marcus rolled from his
blanket and reached for the child. His sense of protection was intense as the sound of
clashing armor and clanging swords rang in the night air. Blood splattered across his face
as he turned, blade gripped tight in one hand and the other reaching desperately for the
boy who was not there. A swing eliminated an oncoming enemy and he rolled and leapt
to his feet. His eyes searched the darkness.
There, at the side of a dead praetorian, on his knees and tugging at the sword partially
buried beneath the body, young Maximus grunted then cried out with frustration. The
blade finally slid free just at the moment a man lunged for Caesar.
Marcus swung, turned a pivot on his toe but found no enemy to fight…the attacker was
down, face first in a puddle of blood. Quiet encompassed the camp. Caesar and his
remaining praetorian fought to control and calm their breath.
At the sight of the boy, covered with blood but standing straight, his frail shoulders
squared but trembling, a heavy, soiled sword in his hand, Marcus’ first thoughts were not
as he had expected. He did not think to comfort the boy; to check him for wounds or
worry that Faustina would be concerned over the event. He did not see the boy as a child
at all. A vision soared through his soul and he clearly saw the man this boy would
become. But the image that shook him was not the strong, powerful warrior he would
be…it was the amazing number of times Maximus would do as he did that very night…
place his own life between his Caesar and death. Marcus simply turned to his men.
“Prepare to leave. We will reach our destination before dawn on the marrow; we will not
stop. Maximus is to have his own horse.”
And thus the first honor of a soldier was bestowed upon the young Spaniard. It was not
unnoticed by the praetorian surrounding Caesar that such a gift was never given to a
child…even a royal child and this child was not royal. It was also not lost on the men that
the final killing blow to protect their Caesar did not come from one of them; it had come
from a child. And the name Maximus Decimus Meridius was burned in their brains from
that day forward.
Weather pummeled the travelers, delaying them at a swollen river, detouring them around
the storm and forcing nearly a full day of stagnant tedium. A single messenger was sent
ahead to alert the summer palace that Caesar was not far but that man returned, unable to
negotiate the muddy trails strewn with fallen trees. When they had finally neared the
palace, Faustina had but a few moments to prepare for their arrival…and she did not.
She was awakened from a deep sleep, having given clear instructions that she be notified
immediately upon word of their arrival. She ran from the palace on bare feet, her long
soft hair and night shift flowing free on the cool, damp night air. Marcus restrained a
threatening smile of pleasure, but it did grow as he realized that it was not he who the
domina was racing to welcome. It was the young boy.
Maximus was weary, fully exhausted from the travel and sound asleep astride his mount.
His face was pressed against the horse’s neck and his small hands were fisted tight in the
animal’s mane; the ring hanging loose from his neck and swaying. He was wet and filthy,
limp and pale.
“Oh Marcus!” cried Faustina. “He is so small! So frail!”
Marcus dismounted and helped her extract the boy from the horse, but it was Faustina
who insisted on carrying Maximus into the palace.
“Hot water,” she called to the sleepy slaves. “He must be bathed.”
Marcus chuckled. “Let the boy sleep in peace, my love. He is tired, can you not see that?”
“Yes, my husband. I can see that,” she glared. “You have driven him beyond his fragile
limits, Marcus. He will sleep better if he is bathed and fresh.”
Shaking his head, he grinned wider. Poor Faustina had no concept the poverty of the
child, that he had probably never been bathed in scented water in his entire short life.
That it might just create less than restfulness for poor young Maximus. But he followed
his wife; thrilled to have brought her what she wanted most…another soul to care for.
Faustina was an intriguing woman. She was a young maiden when he took her as bride,
barely past her first blood, but already she possessed of a nurturing quality that he found
amusing, endearing and at times exceedingly frustrating.
Maximus was not startled, when his eyes opened, the bleary view of Marcus’ encouraging
smile had consoled him. He yawned mightily, allowed the slaves and domina to strip him
of his wet, mud slimed clothing then lower him into a brass tub of warm water. Holding
his eyes opened was most difficult, and several times his head fell back, protected from
bruising by the loving hand of Faustina herself. When they placed him onto the soft
feather bed, within mere seconds he was deep asleep.
Marcus took his wife’s hand from the boy’s brow and tugged her away. “I have but a few
hours, my dear. Let me spend them in your arms before I must leave again. Will you
bathe me as well?” he chuckled.
The softness surrounding him lulled Maximus to sleep on and on, ignoring the daylight
fighting to filter through his eye lids. His body ached from the continuous rocking of his
horse and his mind flickered with images of the journey. His flesh was clean and sweet
smelling as he rolled on the mattress to groan and stretch before opening his eyes to the
Sitting up, he looked around him. Thin fabric floated at the opening near his bed as
outside breezes lofted in carrying the scents of summer blooms and herbs. He rolled his
neck and took the provided tunic in hand. The weave was fine, silky to his touch and he
fingered the stitched trim at the neck. With a shrug, he shuffled into it and stood, walked
to the balcony and gazed over the low wall.
The day was beautiful, late morning sun danced among the trees and skimmed the outside
walls of the palace. The structure alone could have held his entire village, but beyond the
palace, there was no village at all. Hills encircled him and water sparkled far to the west.
Maximus suddenly sensed a strong feeling of isolation, entrapment in a world of luxury
he had no comfort with. Beneath his feet, the cold perfect marble. Covering his body, a
tunic that might have cost as much as his father’s business would earn in a year. He
sighed, closed his eyes and prayed to the gods for sure footing. He must not fail Donum.
He must not fail his Caesar. But how was he to prevent failure if he knew not what was
expected of him?
“You sleep a lot.”
His head swung to see a lovely girl at his doorway. She was taller than he and draped in a
gown of similar fabric, a golden rope twisted at her slim waist and a brilliant smile on her
“Forgive me,” Maximus choked.
“Well, if you wish to eat before our studies, you best follow me,” she grinned. “I am
Lucilla…and your feet are bare.”
“Oh,” he quickly sat and slid into the sandals provided, carefully tying them before
standing and squaring his shoulders. For a moment they stood, scrutinizing each other in
silence. “Perhaps I should speak with your father before I eat.”
Lucilla sauntered in, walked a full circle around him then giggled lightly. “Father has
already gone. Follow me…oh…what shall I call you?”
“My name is Maximus.”
“Of course, I already knew that. But you are not a brother to me. You are not a slave to
this household. I’m just a bit unsure of how to address you.” She shrugged as he walked
at her side along the hallways. “If I call you Maximus, it gives the impression of
familiarity, and we are not familiar with each other, are we?”
“No, we are not.”
She stopped her long stride and look down at him as he was much shorter than she.
“Well, for now I will call you Maximus anyway. It seems unkind to call you ‘boy’ or
“I am not a child, Lucilla.”
She blinked, nodded. “This way to the kitchens. The slaves will prepare something for
you and I will take you to the dining table to eat.”
“I will be pleased to eat in the kitchen.” His brow curled. Where did he fit in this place?
“If that is appropriate, Lucilla.”
“You may eat where ever you wish… but,” she added in a whisper, “it would be far more
comfortable to dine at the table, Maximus.”
Faustina stood at the back of the garden and watched her two youngest children and
Maximus sit before the Greek slave instructor. That day it was numbers, counting, the
dynamics of wealth and the strength of armies that dominated the lessons. She carefully
watched her son, Commodus as he distrustfully ignored Maximus’ presence…and her
daughter as she vigilantly hid her interest in the boy.
What would come of it all, she wondered. She settled comfortably on the fountain’s edge
and ran a hand over the water. Faustina sorely missed her eldest daughter, married off
quickly to the senator who had impregnated her. But what was there to do? No abortion
was acceptable and Caesar was pleased that his eldest had chosen an easily manipulated
senator with which to lose her virginity. But Faustina was unhappy. She knew her
daughter would be unhappy and she missed caring for the girl.
But there was another girl to care for, her pride and joy. Lucilla carried herself as royalty
even at the tender age of eight years. She was a lithe, beautiful child of intellect and
kindness and she would marry well…and hopefully not quickly. For a brief moment, as
she watched young Maximus and Lucilla share a grin, Faustina wondered at the
possibilities of a marriage between those two. But Maximus was a poor child, carried no
royal blood and might well show little interest in politics. A girl child was Caesar’s
biggest pawn. She could and would be used to the full advantage of the Empire…but
still…to see a daughter happy, blessed with a pleasant marriage of joyful days and loving
nights was all she could hope for. Few in such a position had found what she and Marcus
Maximus was struggling. The concept of numbers and counting was not foreign to him,
but to place those perceptions into legions of men or pots of gold was overwhelming.
When he understood and answered a query, Commodus became irate, so Maximus chose
to remain silent throughout the lessons, both morning and afternoon.
Often Lucilla would lean close, spy his work on the wax plate and either nod or silently
point out his miscalculation. During the hours between lessons, Commodus would gruffly
throw his weight around, slamming his substantial body into Maximus’ thin frame in an
attempt to either bring about rage, or show his dominance over the boy. Maximus found
this amusing but did not demonstrate it. And Maximus Decimus Meridius was not willing
to endure being Commodus’ plaything for long.
“Wrestle with me, boy,” Commodus shouted, circling Maximus as the sun set over the
palace walls, brightening the garden with eerie, glowing twilight.
“Leave him,” Lucilla said gently, fingering a flower and pretending unconcern.
“Why? Lucilla, this boy has been brought here for our entertainment. I wish to be
“Then wait until he is a worthy opponent. Wrestle with one of the slaves. Leave him to
his studies…studies which you should be reviewing as well, I must say.”
Commodus’ nose flared, he glared at Maximus who did not raise an eye. He swung a turn
to his sister. “You speak to me in such a way, Lucilla?”
“I do. And I will until you give me reason to speak otherwise. Father will be extremely
disappointed if your studies continue to suffer, Commodus.”
The boy stomped toward his sister, his broad feet passing just as Maximus’ sandaled foot
slid forward. Commodus roared, faltered but did not fall. Maximus simply stood and
reached out to support the future Caesar.
“My deepest apologies, Commodus,” he dramatically swept dust from the boy’s tunic.
“Please forgive me. I was distracted, having great difficulty understanding this particular
problem. Do you think that perhaps you can assist me?”
Commodus blinked, ran a hand over his sweating brow then grinned. “If you had the
brains of a goat I could explain it, but as it is, this will take all night.” He sat beside
Maximus and began an elaborate…and fully incorrect…explanation that forced a
giggling Lucilla to leave the gardens.
That night, alone in his luxurious bed, Maximus closed his eyes and fought tears. His face
wet, a silent gasp at his lips, he saw the future, noted the treacherous milestones ahead
and wondered if in fact all of them would be stamped with the name…Commodus. He
whispered a prayer to the gods, a request to watch over the good witch Donum, to protect
his father from himself, and to guard pretty Lucilla from her own brother. And he prayed
for strength, honor, tolerance and diligence, for one day, he knew he would need all of it
Months passed and Maximus’ body grew sturdy and strong as did his mind. Day after
day, he withdrew in silence before the Greek tutor, but did not avoid the physical
challenges Commodus presented. He became a prolific wrestler, secretly coached and
mentored by several of the soldiers and praetorian guarding the palace. He’d forged a
wary friendship between himself and the young Commodus…created an enjoyable
confidant in Lucilla…reveled in a nurturing relationship with Foustina…and constantly
wondered at the reasons for his being a part of it all. The many facets of his destiny
seemed hidden to him.
Three slave boys stood by, cheering for Maximus as he wrestled Commodus, struggling
to hold the battle fair as his opponent was not a moral boy and would use any means to
win. His eyes caught the desperate concern in Lucilla’s pretty face and he slowed his
pace, softened his muscles and allowed himself to be pinned to the dirt of the courtyard
garden. The last time he fought Commodus, he won…and it was more than he who had
paid for such a folly.
The young prince’s retaliation took place in the middle of the night resulting in three
quiet, scratching and squeaking children in the far end of a dark hall. Commodus had
intended to attack Maximus in his sleep, Lucilla intended to warn her friend, and
Maximus was well aware and prepared. All three were bruised and bloody and under
Foustina’s critical scrutiny during the morning meal. To young Commodus’ deep
frustration, he was reprimanded in front of his sister and Maximus as much as they. His
ego was bruised and he had sworn to the gods before his mother, never to speak another
word in her presence.
The children were dismissed but Maximus glanced over his shoulder to see the tears in
the dear woman’s eyes. He paused, turned back then boldly walked toward the domina.
He sat beside her, his eyes forward and hands still on his knees. When her sniffling
stopped, she leaned down and whispered at his ear. “I thank you, Maximus. I feel
He stood, bowed his head respectfully and ran off for his lessons. At the portico, he
stopped and leaned against a pillar. He watched Lucilla’s straight back and squared
shoulders as she listened to the tutor. And he eyed Commodus. The boy was a duplicitous
collection of treachery and concocted friendship. He was dangerous on several levels and
brazen with self importance…but he was also the son of a Caesar. Commodus was as
perilous with his fists and hands as he was with his words. Maximus’ brow curled in
thought. Should he survive along side these two children of royalty, he too must learn to
use his words, to use them wisely as weapons to protect from Commodus’ pure brute
strength. In the near future, there would be time enough for them to test each other
physically. These were days of childhood and contemplation.
He worried for Lucilla, as she was victim to all of her brother’s weapons. Her bruises
were usually hidden, peeking from the edges of her hem or sleeve. She was a graceful
child and not given to clumsy injury…but even at her tender age, she was clearly aware
that she was her brother’s property as much as her father’s.
Maximus took his place at lessons and determined to no longer hold his answers…but the
slave knew well who kept him alive, and Commodus was often exalted for incorrect
responses over Maximus’ accurate answers. It mattered little, for as his knowledge grew,
so did his strength against his enemy.
My dearest father,
I write to inform you of the despicable nature of the boy you have brought as a playmate
for Lucilla and I. Maximus is a child born of low blood and lacking nobility. These base
qualities show in his ill temper and volatile nature and I regret to inform you that I have
often been required to pull him from my beloved sister. She is marked and afraid of
Maximus and I fear that in my efforts to protect both my sister and my mother from this
vile animal, I will be forced to kill him. I beg of you to remove him from our presence as
he is a deterrent to our studies and a disruption to our lives.
With love, your son
“What are you doing awake so late Commodus?” Foustina sighed as she entered his
chamber to wish him a good sleep. He boldly ignored her, sealed his parchment and slid
into his bed. His eyes gazed toward the marble ceiling as she sat beside him. He jerked to
avoid her soft touch at his brow. “You can not be angry with me forever, my son.”
“I can and I will. Leave me woman.”
She fingered the scroll. “A letter for your father?” She understood his silence to be
confirmation. “Then you should rejoice as you may place it into his hands yourself. We
leave for Rome at sunrise.”
As she walked to say her farewells to Maximus, her heart sank. Word was received that
the boy was not to accompany them to Rome. He was to be left behind with several
slaves and two praetorian to protect him. His studies were to continue and he was to be
given whatever he needed. It was Foustina who would miss his tender ways. But Rome
was all encompassing, required all of her attention and grace. In truth, during the next
seven months, she would see her own children seldom.
Maximus too was at his desk, the oil lamp low and his head bent to his studies.
“To bed now, Maximus.”
He leaned back in his chair and grinned. “Is it so late? Forgive me, I wished to
comprehend this afternoon’s lesson.”
“Do not jest with me,” she waved him to the bed and he flopped into it. As she tugged the
blankets over him she could no longer smile. “You know the lessons and most likely what
lessons are to come, do you not Maximus?”
“No, I do not. What lies ahead is a fearful confusion for me, domina.”
“It should not be so. It should never be so. Not for you.” She kissed his brow and
whispered. “When you wake on the morrow, we will be gone for Rome. Commodus,
Lucilla and I.”
“You leave me behind? Or am I to return to my father?”
“Never!” she continued her quiet exchange, hidden from listening ears and private
between them. Her breath was warm and damp on his skin. His eyes were wide with
despair. “I will never allow you to return to that horrible man, Maximus. And please do
not think that you are being left behind. There are things one must learn alone. You will
identify them and you will learn them. I came to wish you a farewell until we return.”
Maximus’ heart ached and his hands grasped tight on her upper arms. He squelched a sob
but cleared his throat. “I will miss you. May I call you…mother?”
She kissed his cheek and then his ear, softly sighing into it. “You may, my son. But only
when we are alone together. My heart is filled with the joy you bring me, Maximus. Be
strong, be well and know I have love for you.” She left so swiftly he could hardly think to
breathe a response.
There is a peril to being alone, utterly, fully alone. There were several slaves and two
guards, but Maximus was burdened with a position above them that he did not
understand. But as time passed, all around him became more comfortable with his easy
mannerisms. He brightened the cook’s days as he helped in the kitchens. He brought a
smile to the housemaids as he assisted with their daily load. He was a strong back in the
stables and an entertaining wrestling opponent among the guards. But Maximus was still
very much alone.
As he sat to study in his favorite corner of the palace one afternoon, the tutor joined him
good naturedly. “Are you in need of assistance, little master?”
Maximus fought a grin and shrugged. “No. I am not your master, nor am I little…sir.”
“Ah, and I am clearly aware of that, Maximus.” His shoulder leaned languidly against his
student’s and his voice became soft. “You are growing tall and beautiful. A man ready to
learn of his manhood.”
The tutor was correct. Maximus had grown several inches taller, had developed broad
shoulders and a strong chest, legs like tree trunks. He turned to the man who’d shown
him kindness in private, even as he slighted him to honor the son of Caesar. The Greek
slave was brilliant of mind, slight of body with liquid brown eyes and soft women’s lips.
Wishing to return the tutor’s kindness, Maximus had no desire to slight him or insult him.
This was Maximus’ first opportunity to truly use words to protect him. And a finer
challenge could not be wished for.
“My dear tutor,” Maximus began. “In an effort to learn of and understand my manhood,
is it not most appropriate to determine on which path I will begin the journey?”
The Greek’s eyes twinkled. “Yes, my student. It is a vital place to determine the future of
your base choices…and they will most certainly reflect upon your entire life.”
“Should I choose to begin my sexual passage with a male partner, at which juncture will I
know I am prepared for a female partner?”
“Must you ever be prepared for a female partner, Maximus? Perhaps your questions
indicated that you have a preference for male intercourse.”
“Ah, but that is not so, my dear teacher. I have dreams and thoughts of women. The soft
curves and gentle motion of them. The scent of them.”
The tutor visibly shivered distaste. “Then perhaps you are not ready for this conversation
yet, my student.” He stood, slightly bent to hide his hopeful erect cock.
“I am young, sir. Do not lose hope for me, I beg.”
When the tutor smiled and ruffled his hair then walked off, Max was sure that he had
avoided an experience that did not interest him. He was nine years old. He understood the
dynamics of breeding. And he already knew that under any circumstance, his preference
would be female over male. His only goal was to avoid upsetting the man he respected
and called teacher. A glow of success warmed his heart, but he did not know what was to
come…a silence from the tutor in fearful effort to avoid being sold or beaten for worse
for his suggestion to the little master.
Time slid slowly by and Maximus ached for amiable companionship, even longing for
Commodus and his distasteful manner but most especially he missed the women. He
wondered how Lucilla would greet him upon her return. She would no longer spend as
much time with her brother and Maximus, her learning would come from other teachers
and follow a different path. Would she find his new strength and physical stature
His body deceived him often. Some mornings he would ache within his bones and find
that he had grown taller as he slept, that his feet no longer fit within his sandals. Other
days he would feel weighted down with the thickness of his growing muscles. But all
days he felt a strong desire to speak the secret word to Faustina. To call her mother.
Often he would write to her, using the letters as a way to practice his numbers and words,
telling her of the summer palace stock and gardens, of the efficiency of her slaves and the
vigilant protection provided by the Roman guards. At first, she would sporadically
respond to his letters, treating him like a grown man in her comments and wishing him
well, but mere months after her departure, the letters ceased. He was forced to accept his
position in her life and respect the demands placed upon Caesar’s wife in Rome.
Seven months had passed, then eight. He became sullen and often walked or rode his
stallion along the hills alone, never even informing the household that he had left. And it
was there, close to the gods that he felt most what was lacking in his life. He felt the
nature of only being half of a whole, of gaining life at the expense of his own twin’s. He
would sit and pray, ponder and cry in mourning for the life he might have had, the
knowledge that there was another human soul caring for him and moving with him
through his days. He would think of old Trudius, of the witch, Donum. He would recall
the travel with his Caesar. Remember the moment he had slain a man to protect Marcus
Aurelius, of how he would do it again and again. And he wondered about his destiny.
It was at those moments that young Maximus felt complete. His destiny was still not
revealed…but it remained marked in his soul, seared into him, branded from his first
breath. There was a reason he walked the hills alone but someday would ride beside
Caesar. A reason a small, poor Spaniard would rise to such a place. He would fulfill his
Finally word was received that the family would return within days. At their arrival, Max
stood, pushed ahead of the slaves and in a position he did not feel he deserved or needed.
But he stood sturdy and strong, it was the place where he would first see Faustina’s smile,
Lucilla’s lovely face and discover what Commodus had in store for him. But it was a
much smaller entourage than had left so long ago.
The children seemed no longer children. Lucilla, now nearly twelve, was lithe and tall,
willowy in her demeanor. Her eyes were sad but she was silent as Maximus bowed when
she passed. Commodus had grown as Maximus had. He was not quite as tall but far more
stocky and muscular. His mouth was a cruel grin and he stopped before Maximus.
“Come and speak with me in my rooms, boy. Now.”
Maximus bowed but twice looked back for Faustina as he followed. He stood
respectfully, much as the guards he had watched, at the entry of the room while
Commodus shouted instructions for where his belongings should be placed. He rifled
through several trunks and crates before finding what he sought. Then, with an ugly glare,
he tossed several letters at Maximus’s feet. They were all opened, all twisted and read.
And they were the letters he’d written to Faustina during her long absence.
“You, Maximus Decimus Meridius will learn your place here or you will be punished,
and punished severely, at my own hand. How you dare to communicate with my mother
in such a manner shows severe disrespect for this house and my father. But,” Commodus
paced before him, his hands locked at his back and face in a scowl worthy of Caesar. “My
father had chosen to be merciful to you…so I will be merciful to you. You may continue
your studies at my side, but you are not my friend, you are not my brother, and should
you ever gain position as a soldier, you will never be my comrade. Is that clear?”
Maximus’ eyes were fixed on the scrolls at his feet. “Where is she?”
“I asked you if I have been clear with you!” shouted Commodus, his voice a crude
crackle between boyhood and a man.
“What has happened to your mother, Commodus?” Maximus asked, compassion and fear
in his heart.
“She has died, Maximus,” came the soft voice of Lucilla. “And upon her last breath, she
proclaimed love for you. You…are our brother through that love…no matter how
Commodus chooses to believe. It is the proclamation of Caesar that you will remain here
with us until you leave for the army.”
Maximus slowly turned to face her. “Dead?”
She stepped forward and embraced him as Faustina had so many times. “Yes, soon after
we returned to Rome.”
A light had dimmed and left his life. Faustina was a kind and loving woman, a nurturing
woman worthy of her position as matron of Rome, but she had not survived the winter.
Her death had become a constant ache, placed close behind the ache for his lost twin and
Maximus would carry her loss forever. He was motherless, at the mercy of Commodus
and his vile nature and growing weary of it all.
Months after Lucilla and Commodus’ return, a communication was received and boldly
delivered into Maximus’ hands during the midday meal. He bowed a courteous nod to the
messenger and was informed that a response was to be awaited. Maximus stood and left
for solitude in his own rooms to read, but Commodus was at his heel.
“Why would you treat that messenger in such a way? He is a slave, you know. One
should not give a slave that much dignity or they can not be relied upon for respect! What
have you gotten there, Maximus? Who is it from?”
Maximus turned a controlled scowl and hissed. “Commodus, I do not see your name
upon this scroll. Would you have me defy your father and ignore that he has words to
speak to me and me alone?”
“You are a prideful one, my friend. You wish me to think it is from Caesar? That he
would waste a thought on you?” The boy chuckled and fingered Maximus’ meager
possessions on the desk. “Who is it from?”
“It is from my father,” Maximus lied.
“He must need you badly to use one of his few slaves to bring you the request. I’ll
summon someone in here to help pack your…things. Or perhaps you can do it yourself,”
teased Commodus with a wicked grin. A grin further than he should have attempted.
Maximus did not even realize he was about to move before he discovered that his hand
was tight on Commodus’ throat. He released with a snap, took several deep breaths and
spoke calmly. “This is a private communication. Leave me, I beg of you.”
Commodus choked, rubbed the reddening flesh at his neck. “Of course. I was jesting,
Maximus. You may have your privacy to read your father’s letter…and I…I will see to it
that the messenger is fed.”
Commodus turned and walked from the room. Halfway down the marble hall, he stopped,
his eyes closed tight and his heart still pounding. He did not expect Maximus to attack in
such a way, but of course, his expectations of Maximus were sorely buried in his hopes of
the boy’s weaknesses. He was not blind. Maximus could be a worthy comrade, but he
would most certainly be an even more deadly enemy. Commodus glanced back. It was
time to begin his new avenue to glory…and his plans now would include garnishing the
loyalty and commitment of Maximus. A man of brute strength held little outside of vanity
and ambition. Maximus could not be expected to think from that day forward, he would
be expected to act. Maximus would from that day forward become Commodus’
protector…or he would die for not doing so.
Maximus waited several moments before breaking Caesar’s seal and unrolling the
parchment. He closed his eyes, breathed deep and faced the letter, unsure whether to be
hopeful or presume that the generosity offered to him had come to an end.
My dear young Maximus,
I write with a heavy heart and aching bones, as time and remorse creeps upon a man
slowly, and age is the only way for it to reveal itself. Am I not human, that I should fear
growing old and useless like any man?
Ah, forgive me Maximus. I am battle weary and bearing the strain of many lost lives…
those at my own hand as well as those taken from me. I come to the reason that I have
chosen to write to you, my son.
I clearly recall your courage and steadfast valor on our journey together from Spain to
Italy; so small, and already the vigor of a General. Once again, I commend you for your
loyalty. But have I rewarded you properly? With respect and honor as deserved? I fear I
There are things preying on my wounded heart this ugly day; and I feel I must share them
as a time will soon come when it will no longer be appropriate to talk of these things. I
understand from my praetorian that you are growing to be a strong and honorable young
man, Maximus. But before you cross from boyhood to manhood, I must offer to you the
words spoken to me as my dear wife drew her last breaths. Perhaps Lucilla has told you
of this, but it was Faustina’s wish that I personally pass her thoughts on to you. I laugh
alone in my tent as I write this…what an old man I am becoming, to take to heart the
sentiments of a woman. Old I may be, but I am haunted by her request.
Maximus, my wife asked that you always keep her in your heart, that you forever sense
her love for you as a son, and that you know that she will eternally petition the gods to
protect and watch over you. This would be all I might ever convey, except that her further
requests have recently become a severe concern of mine as well.
My dear boy, this is much to lie upon your young shoulders and I make this request on
my deceased wife and my behalf because you are the only one in a position to do as we
require. I have severe concern regarding the man Commodus will become. He is but a
child, and his mother was clear with me that he is acting only as a child…but soon his
behavior will not be acceptable as Caesar’s son. You are in a very special position to
influence the man my son will become. He is weak, Maximus. He is prideful and lusts for
power. I am unsure how this is my failure, as I am seldom with Commodus. But as your
Caesar, a man who calls you son in my heart, I make this request of you.
It is a simple appeal as you can do it without thought. Maximus, be the boy you are, the
man you will become, and perhaps Commodus will grow to learn from you. Do not
permit him to be demanding with you. You may tell him of my utmost respect for your
integrity if you feel the need, but a boy such as my son will only use such knowledge to
abuse you. Tread carefully. Protect yourself with honor and your unique strength of heart
and surely Commodus will grow to know such qualities as well.
These requests are not a command from your Caesar, my boy. They are the simple plea of
a far away father concerned for his son.
Regarding Lucilla, I know of her deep love for her brother, but I also know of his
intentions to rule with a heavy hand over her. She will be a grand woman one day, a
woman of wisdom beyond her years as she shows all signs of such character even now.
Honor her and respect her as there will be a time when she will rely on your heart as well
as the protection of your sword.
It is late and I must sleep. Battle rages on and on all around me and soon I will return to
Rome where the Senate will wage its own kind of war. I thank you for your loyalty and
look forward to the day when you and Commodus come to me on the battlefield, ready
and well prepared to follow me into the fire for the glory of Rome.
Blessings upon you, Maximus.
Maximus, a mere ten years old, clearly understood the weight of Caesar’s requests and
without delay, took them into his heart, making them his full responsibility. But he was
not a fool. He understood that he would face grave danger that day and for all his days by
doing so. He would not tell Commodus of his own father’s disappointment. Instead, he
would do as suggested and be the boy he was, for this was all he knew. Was he
honorable? Was he worthy of Caesar’s trust? These things he could not question.
His response was simple.
I will honor your requests to the best of my ability.
Lucilla sat still as stone and watched her face in her mirror. Had she grown pale and
ugly? Her mother told her that she would someday be a beautiful woman, but the face
reflected did not promise such things. It seemed plain and simple. Without character. She
sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. She had done the unthinkable, loosened her
tresses after the slave had worked hours to pin and twist it into a perfect form. Perfection
did not seem to suit her that morning and she chose defiance. Who would question her?
Mother was gone. Who would guide and teach her? There was no woman to lead the way
for young Lucilla. Her sister had grown deeply settled with her married life in Rome. Her
personal slave was kind enough, but not a woman of intelligence or opinion.
She would be thirteen years of age soon. Had her mother lived, had her father been a
doting kind, a suitable marriage would have been arranged for her by now. But what man
would take an awkward, ugly bride, even if she were the daughter of Caesar? Somehow
her life had grown tiresome and empty.
And she suddenly thought of Maximus. What was his life like? Did such questions roll
through his mind? He had no father to guide him. But this did not seem to deter Maximus
from being an honorable, worthy boy. Perhaps influences come from another place?
Lucilla lounged back on her bed and sighed. Perhaps this guidance came from the
ancestors. If so, there was hope for the unattractive little girl she felt herself to be that
day. Perhaps there was hope.
The clang of metal startled her from her thoughts. She groaned and stood, walked to the
opening and glanced along the marble passage way. They were at it yet again; Commodus
flailing a sword at Maximus, Maximus grinning and twisting to block metal against
metal; the Praetorian Guard smiling and grunting instructions.
It was far quieter when those boys wrestled. An occasional pop of a muscle or thud of a
shoulder onto the floor was the loudest disturbance. She leaned against the portico and
watched at first without interest. Many, many times in Rome she was present when men
displayed such skills before her father. She had grown accustomed to the swift, brutal
movements of a man’s limbs, the sudden spurt of blood when an opponent was not as
skilled and the unusual way men reacted to the champion of such a battle, planned or
otherwise. The hair on her forearms stood on end as she watched.
Maximus was remarkable. His body was strong and honed as was her brother’s. But
Maximus was brilliant in his process of thinking a movement through in the blink of an
eye. She found herself standing tall; proud of both boys as they mimicked the actions of
men at war…but in truth, they were now and would always be men at war…she only
prayed that it would not be against one another.
Over the past year she had watched a strange shift in her brother’s actions toward
Maximus. She knew Commodus, knew what motivated him and worried for them all.
Even though it had come to appear as if he and Maximus were friends, she could sense
her brother’s evil nature lurking beneath the façade and she wondered what would come
of such a ruse. Maximus was not the imbecile Commodus thought him to be. There was
something at play and she wondered if her mother was working through the gods to bring
about peace in the summer palace.
If it was so, Lucilla was grateful. For she and her brother had been ordered to remain far
from Rome, far from the influences of the city, even when her father was present there.
Had they been banished? Only Caesar knew. But if she was to be forced to live her young
days away from the civility of Rome in all her glory…then she would chose to be as she
“Please!” she shouted from her room, hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. “If you
must do such battle, I beg you hurry and kill each other and give me some quiet!”
The praetorian bowed apology and the boys stopped their noisy practice, turned to her
and smiled. Commodus quickly returned his attention to the grip on his weapon, but
Maximus gave an elegant tilt of his head.
“My lady Lucilla. I humbly apologize for any…”
Commodus had thought to better his opponent but his blow was slammed away, along
with the sword which slid all the way to Lucilla’s feet. Maximus walked to her, knelt to
lift it then looked up and with a whisper spoke only for her ears.
“You are most beautiful this morning, Lucilla.”
He lifted the sword, tossed it perfectly into Commodus’ hand and returned to their war
play. Lucilla stood a little straighter, smiled a little happier and returned to her mirror.
The storm had raged day and night, crashing lightening that flashed streaks into the
pearly dawn. Maximus stood, soaked and blood covered at the courtyard, his stomach
knotted at what he had witnessed.
A young slave, a boy of only five or six years was terrified of the weather but Commodus
had commanded that he stand at the fountain all night long for the slight indiscretion of
not responding when called. The boy was almost deaf but did well within the household,
working closely with his mother in the kitchen and usually as unobtrusive and silent as a
Commodus had been struggling with a severe pain in his head for two days, becoming
more and more intolerable as the malady increased. When the child did not bring water as
requested, Commodus would hear nothing of reason. Maximus quietly asked Lucilla to
retreat to her rooms and attempted to bring Commodus to rational thought. But
Commodus was the son of Caesar and Maximus could not stop what was to come.
Enraged, suffering with the pressing agony searing at his temples and the physicians
unable to force him to rest, Commodus became something other than human in Maximus’
eyes. Without warning and with strength unexpected from an ailing young man,
Commodus charged the crying, terrified little slave boy, beating him to a bloody pulp and
crushing his small head against the stone fountain.
Thunder crawled along the hills carrying the last of the storm with it and Maximus stood,
sickened, stricken by what he could not stop no matter how hard he tried.
Commodus had fallen into a stupor and was carried to his bed. The slave boy’s mother
was screaming out her grief. Lucilla was surely sobbing in her rooms and Maximus was
astounded, overwhelmed with concern. What monster dwelled behind Commodus’
already black heart?
There was a tender touch at his wrist. Lucilla, her eyes heavy with sadness, carefully
gathered his bleeding hand into hers. “Come Maximus. This must be attended to and the
physicians will be with Commodus most of the day. I will not see you suffer permanent
damage to your wrist. Priscus, the praetorian will know how to set the bone and I will
wrap it for you.”
He shook his head. “It is nothing. Perhaps it would be best if you care for the child’s
“Nothing will comfort her now. But it will comfort me to know you are cared for. Much
will be done to console her when she is ready. Come, my brother. Let me care for you.”
Maximus did not speak of the incident again, did not relay it to Caesar and did not forget
it. He could not.
He took one last look around the rooms that had been his for six years, the private space
to think and pray, to sleep and hope; the place of peace, far from his father, but also a
tentative place of concern, so near to Commodus and his manipulative character. But
again, life was about to change drastically for Maximus. That day, he and Commodus
would leave the luxury of the summer palace for military training and camps and a
different level of expectation. He longed to meet those expectations head on, to do his
best and work harder than ever.
As Maximus walked toward his horse, Lucilla stood at the portico with sadness in her
eyes. She would be left behind, alone with slaves and unbearable quiet until her father
saw fit to acknowledge her existence and arrange a marriage and life for her in Rome.
But he was Caesar, he was at war and his fifteen year old daughter was not at the top of
She smiled and called best wishes to Maximus as he passed and a private moan of delight
teased at the edges of her thoughts. Maximus had grown to be a beautiful young man,
strong and muscular. At fourteen, he had none of the physical awkwardness Commodus
struggled with. His body was sure and powerful, even as poor Maximus’ mind was
seldom that of the man his presence imitated.
Lucilla fussed with Commodus’ hair as he stood before her. “Be careful, my brother. Be
brave and be careful.”
“I have Maximus to protect me,” he joked, his eyes twinkling. “Now kiss me, Lucilla.”
She took his face in her soft hands and placed a kiss upon his brow. His smile quickly
dropped to a scowl then back again as he swaggered his way to his mount. Lucilla
grinned. Poor Commodus had never been outside of her sight, outside of his mother’s
protection and after Faustina’s death, the boy had never once left the confines of the
summer palace. She understood that beneath his boldness he was frightened, but there
was truth in his words…he did have Maximus to protect him.
Both young men had been fitted with leather chest protection that made them look like
soldiers already and her heart twisted with fear for them. Maximus appeared more regal
in his simple leather cover than Commodus, who had ordered his adorned with gold and
brilliant royal blue fabric. She walked between the steeds and smiled up at Maximus…for
he had in the past year grown taller than she.
“Maximus, be vigilant,” she whispered and he grinned, his head in a tilted bow. She
could not bear to have him leave without one thing, something she felt she must give to
him, that he must carry with him. The only thing that might bring him back safely. Her
fingers trailed his brow slowly, rounded his strong jaw and slid behind his neck. On her
toes, she leaned in and tenderly settled her young lips on his.
Maximus was not able to breathe, his heart was struggling and his soul had suddenly
opened like a blast of fire. He tasted, licked, sucked her lip then gasped quietly and pulled
away. The evil expression on Commodus’ face was not lost on him. It was inexcusable of
Maximus, a low born man, to do such a thing with a royal lady, young as she was. A
brilliant blush heated his face and Lucilla laughed.
“Maximus,” her laughter dissolved into a lingering smile “Be so very careful...but I ask
one favor of you.”
He nodded dumbly, expecting a request to watch over her brother and was taken aback by
“Learn to laugh, Maximus. Enjoy your life and do please return unharmed. Now off with
you both,” she turned to hide growing tears.
The day wore long and slow for Lucilla and she sat in the gardens as a lazy sun melted on
the horizon. The light played soft and magical over the leaves and she fought hard to hold
back her tears. Her heart was in turmoil. Had she failed her father? Caesar? How had she
done so? She had been a good and obedient daughter, made no complaints of her solitary
plight so far from Rome. How could she have displeased so? For surely he had forgotten
her. Tears wet her face and she no longer strained to hide them. With her brother and
Maximus gone, her life would be empty, soulless.
It had been years since she prayed, truly knelt at the alter and asked for favor. That night
she would order the candles lit, she would humble herself in a simple, unadorned shift
and beg for the safety of her brother and Maximus. It was time for her to pray, and most
certainly time for her to pray for those other than herself. Her loneliness was minimal in
comparison to the dangers Commodus and Maximus would face. The dangers her father
faced every battle…as the word was that Marcus continued to ride into the fury…even as
he aged. A shudder slid along her spine. Had she not been praying for her father?
Lucilla wound her fingers together nervously. She, of all those around her, clearly
understood the ramifications should Caesar find his death on the battle field. She stood
and walked quickly to her rooms. There she wrote a letter of hope and warning to her
father. An answer was received before she had even heard word of Commodus’ and
Maximus’ arrival at his camp.
My dear Lucilla,
I am touched by your words of concern for me. There is a distinct altering of the
mannerisms within your communication that informs me clearly that you are growing to
be a wise and formidable woman as I had always suspected.
Fear not, for I take no risks beyond the norm in battle. An army must be led, and for lack
of the right man I am the leader, my dear. It is only as it should be.
Even though you do not ask, I do also understand that you must have concerns for
yourself, Lucilla. I assure you that I have not forgotten your place within the Empire and
am striving to arrange a marriage for you. My hopes are that within the year a perfect
match will be forged. I must confess, dear girl, that a marriage had been arranged just
these past few months, but the man chosen had unfortunately not survived the day in a
particularly difficult battle. Do not mourn him. There are many who sacrifice for the
glory of Rome. He would have made a good husband for you, but he is no more. Rest
assured that I will continue along this path and you will be soon at your appropriate
As for the young Maximus and your brother, fear not. The reports I received are
favorable and both young men should excel as expected. Of course, now I will see for
myself, will I not?
My love to you, little girl.
Upon arriving at the camp, a grueling two week journey that seemed to have taken its toll
on Commodus, they stood and awaited word of orders. More than once, Maximus
reached out his hand to steady his ailing brother.
“Maximus Decimus Mreidius,” shouted a man, most obviously a soldier of standing, and
Maximus straightened his shoulders.
“You will come with me.” But before he led the way, he turned to Commodus. “You,
Highness, will follow the men to your father.”
The young men exchanged a quick glance, a sudden ripple of concern distorting
Commodus’ expression for a brief moment. Maximus offered a quick nod then quickly
turned to follow his commander, knowing full well that his path had suddenly split from
that of Caesar’s son and he was now expected to be his own man.
The camp was massive; nearly a hundred thousand men sprawled across a substantial
ridge and prepared for battle at the call of a single shout. Maximus knew not where he
was, cared not. He would follow the orders of Caesar into Hades and such details were
unimportant to him.
For several months, he slept with the soldiers. He ate and worked with them. He forged
comfortable friendships with them but Maximus was but a boy. These were men,
seasoned for war and ready to place every and any challenge in his path to bring him to
their level. Maximus was determined not to be a weak link, to pull his weight and be
strong for them.
Often they would stage battles with him, surprise him with mock attacks and worked hard
to help improve his skills with the sword. His body was large and strong, but still
growing. The men gave no consideration to that, only charged and corrected, shouted
support or instruction and he fought with every element of his mind, soul and limbs.
Often, he would suffer a small injury, as these men were not gentle or protective. They
were building a soldier and cared little for his tender age.
When the call came, Maximus stood straight and tall beside several mature soldiers,
General Mascius paced before them, eyes sharp and scrutinizing. “South, twenty miles, a
band of spies. Destroy then and return with the head of their leader,” he shouted then
looked directly into Maximus’ eyes. “Strength and honor, Maximus.” His fist tapped
lightly against the young man’s chest and he walked the line of fifteen men, doing the
same with each.
Strength and honor. It was what General Mascius was asking of him. Maximus drew in a
deep breath and squared himself against the coming clash, for surely the assignment was
not regular war, not battle play. It would require much. His brain spun, could he move
quietly, could he call the force necessary, was he in fact truly prepared? As Mascius
saluted his men, Maximus suddenly clearly understood the words spoken to him.
Strength and honor. Yes. He was ready; he would live or die proving such.
“One…two…three…four…five, no left, Highness, left. Yes. Again. One…two…three.”
And so it went for Commodus. He lived in the luxury of his father’s spacious tents and
studied the finesse of perfect swordplay under the supervision of three praetorian with
whom he spent all of his time. Caesar seldom spoke with him, seldom dined with him and
when they were together, he seldom acknowledged him. Commodus’ sense of self
importance was suffering because of a war. Would it have been better to remain at the
summer palace with Lucilla? He felt just as useless in his father’s presence.
He spun rebelliously and unexpectedly sliced the exposed forearm of one of his
opponents. An evil grin pulled at his lips. “Perhaps it should be a move to the right, my
good man,” he hissed. “Go and have that repaired. You are bleeding on the carpet, you
Commodus turned a glare to Lucius Ferris, a man of age who did not hide his pleasure at
the direct signs of defiance. “I wish to see Maximus. Have the slaves bring him.”
Lucius laughed harder. “My young Highness, you already have the attitude of a Caesar,
but I fear we can not accommodate you at this time.”
“Now! Bring Maximus to me now!”
Lucius stood cautiously. “Commodus, Maximus is not in camp.”
“Where is he?”
Lucius’ fingers twitched. There was something about the young son of Caesar that shot
fear like lightening though the older man. Wisdom should prevail, but there was a
maniacal quality about this boy that brought bile to his throat. Attempting to decipher
what answer would best soothe Commodus, he leapt back, just escaping the tip of the
younger man’s sword.
“Where…is…Maximus?” hissed Commodus.
Lucius swallowed hard. “He has been sent for a special assignment, Highness.”
“At who’s orders? This is lunacy? Why am I not there to command him?” Fire blazed in
Commodus’ eyes, his nostrils flared and his teeth showed.
Lucius bowed. “Your father, Highness. Caesar ordered that Maximus be sent under
General Mascius. They are to return soon, Highness.”
Commodus tossed his sword. It clanged loud against a post and spun across the open
space. The fabric of the large tent shifted and snow drifted into the area on a damp wisp
“When?” he shouted, grinning secretly as the older man cowered back a step.
“Soon, Highness. Caesar has received word that the raid was a success. They should
return within days…if Maximus…”
“If he’s survived,” Commodus choked, surprised at the sudden flood of love and concern
for Maximus. He turned and swept passed the man, pushing past many to reach his father
in the inner chamber where he sat reading scrolls.
“What is the good word, father?” he said, carefree as an obedient, happy son.
“The good word, Commodus? The good word about what?”
“Maximus? Father I beg you, do say that he has survived the raid.”
Marcus blinked. What were the true dynamics of the relationship between his son and
young Maximus? In one breath, Commodus spoke with aversion and disrespect for
Maximus…but on the next, he proclaimed concern for his wellbeing. Oh, there was love
there, but there was much more.
In eight months, Marcus had digested reports from General Mascius regarding young
Maximus; and he himself had watched with a close eye over Commodus’ progress. They
were different men, very different men. Marcus had long ago determined that jealousy
played a large part in his son’s distaste for Maximus. And rightfully so. He had after all,
brought a boy of low breeding to grow and learn beside the son of Caesar. Perhaps it was
misguided judgment on his part to do so. But it was obvious that the strength and
principles of young Maximus had made some positive differences in an errant son. Some.
Nothing more than could be expected, as every man not only embraces a chosen path, he
is also born with the ability to walk it. Commodus was astray for several reasons. It was
time to see what will come of the purposeful separation of those two young men.
“Oh, he has survived, Commodus. He has in fact championed the raid to its perfect
Commodus chuckled, lounged comfortably on a chair and eyed his father. “Surely they
are not already writing songs of a silly raid with the name Maximus beginning each line,
father. I need not hear of pretend valor on my brother’s part, I only wish to know he is
“That he is, Commodus.”
“Sire,” interrupted Caesar’s personal slave. “General Mascius awaits audience with you.”
Marcus eyed Commodus who had already anticipated his dismissal, but with the nod of
Caesar’s chin, the young man returned to his seat.
“I will see General Mascius, but I wish Maximus to join him as well. I will wait until he
has been brought.”
The slave bowed lower. “The young Maximus is present, Sire.”
“Good, good.” He shuffled scrolls aside and leaned back. Marcus struggled against his
growing smile as the two stood before him. It was the first time he had seen Maximus
since he had delivered the boy into Faustina’s caring hands, and he was impressed.
Maximus stood head to head with his General. He’d grown to be a strong and imposing
young man; his eyes focused directly ahead, his feet planted firmly and his hands clasped
behind his back.
“What say you, General Mascius?” Caesar sighed.
“The small camp was well hidden, Sire…” and thus his full report was made. More than
once the courage of young Maximus was spoken, and each time Caesar nodded
acknowledgement…but nothing more.
“Very well, you and your soldiers are free to rest, General.”
Both men bowed and turned to leave, but Marcus did note the extremely brief but intense
glance of camaraderie shared between Commodus and Maximus.
Commodus had said nothing as Marcus resumed his reading. When he finally stood to
quietly take his leave, Marcus cleared his throat. “Does my decision not to honor
Maximus disappoint you?”
“Yes,” Commodus grunted. “If he had in fact performed as reported, he should be risen
above his fellow soldiers and – ”
“And what, Commodus? Maximus is a soldier; he was simply doing his duty. Should I
revel in the individual valor of every man in this camp, there would be little energy for
war. But,” his eye twinkled. “I do have something I would like to do for Maximus, if you
would be so kind as to assist, my son.”
Commodus bowed carefully, as his head had begun to throb, his vision had started to blur
and he did not wish for Caesar to know of these things. The respectful nod took on and
air of frivolity and to Commodus’ pleasure, Marcus chuckled.
“I have ordered a time of leave for Maximus. Perhaps it would be more enjoyable for him
if you would accompany him. Maximus has been serving with older soldiers; he might
prefer to spend a few days in the company of a man closer to his age.”
“I would be honored, father.”
“And Commodus,” Marcus growled behind his retreating son. “He must be returned
before the week is out.”
Alone in the large tent, Maximus slowly dragged leather armor from his arm and quickly
swabbed a seeping wound.
“It looks bad,” came Commodus’ voice from the entry. He walked to Maximus and
carefully lifted the bared arm to a swatch of light drifting in with snow and brisk air.
“This should be taken care of, my brother.”
Maximus grinned wide, tugged his arm free and embraced Commodus. “It’s nothing.
How have you faired all these long months?” He slapped a hardy slam against his friend’s
back and stood a step away. “I see you are as ugly as before.” But concern pressed in his
chest. He was familiar with the glaze in Commodus’ eyes, the careful balance of his
shoulders and head. The coming of a painful episode he wished could be averted for his
brother. “Are you well?”
“I am. Maximus, I have come to take you for a pitiful few days of frivolity and
debauchery. By orders of Caesar,” he leaned closer and whispered. “My father seemed to
think we will keep each other from trouble.”
A laugh burst from Maximus chest, the first real, hearty and spontaneous laugh in perhaps
his entire life. For months he had wondered about Commodus, unsure if he was even still
in camp until he saw him with Caesar. It was not his place to ask and it had weighed
heavy on his mind.
Commodus turned, “Slave!” A young man slipped into the tent and bowed. “Bring
Caesar’s surgeon immediately,” and the slave scurried away. Returning his attention to
Maximus, he sat on the bunk across from him and grinned. “Now, tell me of this
spectacular feat. I understand you are the hero of the raid, my brother!”
Maximus chuckled, leaned in and spoke softly. “The truth, my friend, is that I was afraid.
So afraid, I fear I can not recall much of the raid at all.”
“Well, only a mad man would not be afraid, Maximus. But you have done very well.”
“And tell me of your deeds, Commodus.”
“Ah, nothing so brave. Father talks with me incessantly about matters of state, the
greatness of the empire, the troubles with the Senate,” he lied.
The doctor entered and immediately joined them in the large empty tent. Without asking a
question, he prepared a tonic and offered it to Commodus.
“You are not here for me, you fool! Take care of Maximus.”
Maximus exchanged a brief glance with the doctor then sighed. “Swallow the tonic,
brother. It will go far in helping with our few days of frivolity and debauchery.”
Commodus drank as the doctor examined the wound on Maximus’ arm. “You have
reopened this, soldier,” he grunted, applied a salve then wrapped it in clean cloth before
The two young men left the camp alone, wrapped in heavy capes against the cold. They
rode in silence to the nearby village. The town had long ago come to accept the constant
presence of soldiers within their midst and had clearly benefited by the influx of activity.
Low structures were nestled, safe from blasting wind and deep in a valley. Commodus
strolled beside Maximus and they laughed, pointing and commenting on the spectacles
before them. Men and women called from their market stalls, thrusting out their wares
with outstretched hands; food, cooked and fresh was mounded high before them and the
young men took advantage, eating as they walked, winding through the square and
watching to avoid the constant obstacles of running children. They spied priests and
priestesses chanting from the corners, and whores, boldly naked in the cold and calling
out the delights of their offerings.
At one brothel, Commodus stopped abruptly, enraptured by the beauty of two lovely,
whores standing quietly at a portal. He elbowed Maximus. “What say you, brother? The
lovely nymph with golden hair or the voluptuous one with breasts to nourish an entire
Maximus bit his lip, considered. He knew not Commodus’ preference, nor whether his
brother had yet taken a taste of the ripe fruits of such bounty. For himself, his
considerations focused on the most delight to be garnered for his first experience. The
large breasted woman had the eyes of a young doe. Her flesh was pink and full and her
hands, small and tight in knotted fists. The golden goddess held other attractive attributes.
She was lithe and willowy, her face shadowed behind her glowing mane, her very stance
one of experience and competence. His choice was simple.
He reached for his pouch but Commodus pushed at his hand. “This is my gift, Maximus.
Choose…or perhaps you wish to have both?”
Maximus turned sharply. Blinked. It hadn’t occurred to him to have them both, but
enticing as the concept was, licking hot at the edges of his brain…what would he do with
them both? No, perhaps another time.
He would accept Commodus’ gift. “I choose the one with the breasts of a Venus.”
“Very well,” Commodus chuckled and together they entered the brothel.
They were given private cubicles next to one another and by the exuberant grins on their
faces before entering; it was obvious that both were facing a whole new experience.
There was a glisten of sweat on Commodus’ upper lip and his fingers twitched. Maximus
laughed aloud and slid the fabric across for privacy before turning to his Venus.
His head rose and brow curled. “Wait, woman,” he said softly, wishing her to stop
disrobing so quickly.
Her movements jerked to a sudden halt and her shoulders trembled. “I displease you?”
“No, no. You do not displease me. I have a full hour with you and wish to learn much.”
“Learn?” She swallowed hard, a tear gathered in her eye and he slowly approached her,
as a man would a skittish horse.
“Shhh. Yes, learn. What is your name?” His finger slid a lock of thick dark hair from her
“My name? I was told no one would wish to hear my name,” it was almost a fearful sob
and he led her to the bed, sitting beside her.
“I wish to hear your name.”
“Risa. My name is Risa.”
“Risa,” he rolled it slowly on his tongue. “Risa, I may look like a man, but in your hands,
I am a boy. I wish to learn this art of love making from you.” And he leaned to brush a
chaste kiss on her blushing cheek.
“I fear we must learn from each other, sir.”
“I am Maximus, Risa. Let us begin this journey together, then.”
Commodus stood, frozen before the fair haired beauty. She was tall, a welcomed several
years his senior and he had no intention of permitting her to know he was but a novice
that day in her bed. He cleared his throat, swaggered around her and eyed every angle of
her handsome body.
“Disrobe,” he demanded and she did, showing a slight grin of amusement.
She moved like a cat, sleek and elegant, dropping each piece of her clothing at arms
length in a heap. “Do I please you, my handsome young stud?”
He rubbed his chin, slowly nodded and walked around her again. His fingers moved from
his chin to temples and pressed hard against the growing pain. This useless malady would
not taint his adventure. Determined to ignore it, he straightened his shoulders, stood at
her back and kissed her shoulder, kissed until his teeth nipped then bit hard. “You will
do,” he groaned delight and grasped her hips, slamming them back against his clothed
body hard, letting her know that he was well ready to take her.
The whore laughed and looked over her shoulder. “My young master, this is much easier
if you too would disrobe,” she teased, slipped from his grasp and turned to face him. She
took his trembling hand and pressed it against her full breast. “There is far more
pleasure…flesh to flesh. Disrobe,” she ordered, teasingly mimicking his previous demand
to her. Seeing his irritation at her words, she pulled his finger to trail over her solid
nipple, dropped back her head and sighed. “I beg of you, young master. Let me admire
the Adonis you are.”
Commodus was desperate to peel every bit of covering from his body.
Maximus kissed and licked and admired every inch of Risa, rolling her over and over on
the small bed to reach her soft places and her luscious places. He buried his face between
her ponderous breasts and breathed her in. His mouth groped like a rooting babe to suckle
her hardened nipples tenderly, draw from her whatever nourishment he could gain. His
hands pressed and massaged and roamed. He was grateful for the gift, the chance to begin
slowly with a virgin as he himself was; happy to explore and not be found foolish in his
need to do so.
Slowly, slowly, Risa softened even more to his touch. Her flesh was warm and tender and
he wondered at her age and circumstances, at why she had given herself as a whore. His
vibrating body though, was more than thrilled at her decision, especially at the moment
when he tenderly pressed a thick finger deep into her and it withdrew covered with
strains of blood and cream. She had suddenly whimpered when his fingertip passed the
obstacle deep inside. She was a whore, but he was her first, and this pleased him greatly.
He sucked the finger and his brow shot up. This was a flavor he could starve for, kill for,
ride hard a thousand miles for.
He positioned his face between her thick thighs and whiffed, groaned then kissed the lip
of her weeping sex. Risa stirred and sighed, relaxed to his ministration. Curiosity drove
him. On his elbows, between her spread legs and eyeing her closely, his fingers opened
her further and he explored. Ah! The softness, the heat. This hardness that seemed to beg!
When his fingertip slid over it, Risa gasped. He did it again, and again, sliding a rhythm
that fascinated him. Her opened flesh became more and more moist, grew hotter and
redder. Risa’s hips bucked and he rose to soothe her, kissing her mound, her belly, the tip
of a perfect nipple and finally her gasping mouth.
“I will not hurt you. May I please continue?” he whispered desperately.
Risa nodded, caressing his face as she accepted another kiss.
Maximus quickly returned to his position, but this time, fearful that the strokes of his
fingertip might cause her discomfort; he instead settled his mouth to the mysterious
trigger that fascinated and called to him.
Commodus stood, naked and proud and it was his whore’s turn to admire. He permitted
it, holding back both groans of pleasure at her touch…and grunts of growing pain as his
head felt it would explode. Refocusing all his attention on the woman, he gave his
sensations into her able hands. She walked around him, kissed his shoulders, his nipples
and belly. Her hands caressed the full roundness of his muscular ass then cupped the
weight of his sex.
She knelt before him and took his entire, hardened length into her mouth. Finally his head
dropped back and he groaned loud. His hands knotted in her hair and he forced his cock
past her throat. She would choke, but he cared not. The pleasure of the sensation was
drowning away the incessant ache in his head. His hips pounded and jerked then he
“Remain on your knees, whore,” he growled, grasping her shoulder and turning her back
to him. “I’ll fuck you fast now, and even harder later!”
She protected her face from the rough stone floor by grasping her discarded clothing as
the young buck forced himself, dry and brutally into her path. “Arrhhhhhhgggg!” she
cried out but he did not ease his approach.
Risa’s entire body had arched, she moaned and cried out his name and Maximus was
rewarded with a deluge of the flavor he craved. He lapped and sucked, kissed and blessed
her sex again and again with his mouth.
And suddenly, neither partner had need of guidance or further curiosity for exploration.
He moved over her body and licked into her mouth, sharing her gift from tongue to
tongue as his hand grasped his straining cock and pressed it to the moisture his mouth had
enjoyed. The entry was slow, tight, somewhat difficult and he stopped often for himself
as well as Risa. When he was fully sheathed within her trembling body, Maximus
whispered into her ear.
“Forgive me. Forgive me. I cannot…” His hips thrust relentlessly and again the girl
beneath him arched, cried out and clung to him, braced against what was to come.
It was an explosion as none he had ever experienced in his nearly seventeen years of life.
At his own hand, he could bring himself and ejaculate so quietly, no sleeping soldier
around him would know. But inside of Risa’s good and giving young body, there was no
control and he roared his eruption, grunting and jerking wildly, spouting in gushes again
and again until he dropped, a weakened heap over her.
And together they whispered a laugh and caressed, kissed and sighed.
Commodus could not reach his climax! His hips pounded viciously, sweat streaming
from his face and dripping from his chin. Frustrated, he suddenly stood and dragged his
whore to the bed where he entered her another way, pressing and grunting until he felt his
muscles weaken. He demanded that she straddle him with no better results, then again
tossed her to the floor to start at the beginning. She attempted to scramble away as he
forced himself into her painfully abused path and he grasped her hip so tight she could
feel his thumb press against bone beneath. She screamed and he swung a fist against the
back of her head.
He was blinded with pain and desire. Unable to rid himself of his seed or the agony in his
head. Again he dragged her, tossed her across the bed and reached to grasp his cock to
aim it at her mouth….but it had melted.
The pain had won the day, had taken his pleasure and his power and Commodus shook
with disgust. “You! You fail, you fucking whore!” His fists flew and blood spurted from
her lip and nose. Color had grown intense, the pain was streaking agonizing flares from
his head through his blood and along his spine and he grunted to raise his hand again to
the bleeding woman…but it was suddenly grasped tight from behind.
Maximus had leapt to his feet at the first scream. He quickly tugged his tunic over his
head and charged for the space next to him. Terror soared though his belly and he
remembered the day Commodus, overwhelmed with uncontrollable agony, had murdered
a young slave. He had faced fear at the raid, but he saw nothing of that as he reached to
take Commodus’ fist in hand. This time he was a man, this time he was strong…and this
time he must protect his brother from himself.
He quickly wrapped his powerful body around Commodus’ back and pulled him from the
bleeding whore. Commodus struggled, but was already so severely weakened by his
suffering, he was soon subdued, weak and limp in Maximus’ arms.
He quickly removed them to their rooms at the inn on the edge of the village and sent
word for Caesar’s surgeon to come immediately. He sat at Commodus side as the sick
man rolled from side to side and burned with fever…and Maximus prayed.
Maximus was summoned to appear before Caesar. He drew in a deep breath, and stood,
eyes forward, hands clasped tight behind his back. “You asked for me, Caesar?”
Marcus looked up from his reading and pondered Maximus a long time. He remembered
the boy and all he had asked of him. He reveled in the young man and all he had
accomplished. But the time had come to release Maximus from the overwhelming duty of
watching over his only son. He groaned and rubbed his eyes then nodded toward a chair.
“Maximus, you may sit.”
“No thank you, Caesar.”
“Ahh, you no longer take orders, soldier?”
Maximus felt his face burn red with embarrassment and he quickly sat. “Forgive me,
Caesar. How may I be of service?”
Marcus waved away the slave collecting soiled dinner platters and asked for a few
moments of quiet. A rumble of voices and clatter of armor and swords drifted into the
chamber from the connecting space. When silence was had, he looked upon Maximus.
“I have sent Commodus from the camp. He will remain with his sister until…until a way
can be devised to assist with his malady. I wished to – ”
Maximus cleared his throat and interrupted. “Caesar, I take responsibility for his
discomfort. I knew he was unwell and still agreed to go into the village with him.”
Marcus’ left brow rose. He stilted a grin then cleared his own throat. “Maximus, there
comes a time when a man must take responsibility for his own actions and condition.
Commodus should have chosen not to go into the village…but I may have encouraged
him, Maximus. I know that you and he have shared much and felt you would both enjoy
time together. It was not an order, it was an offer. But I will admit, the severity of his
condition has never been made known to me. What can you tell me of this?”
Maximus blinked. How could Caesar be unaware of anything within his empire? Least of
all the condition of his only son? Marcus had read those thoughts and chuckled.
“My dear boy, can I be everywhere? Can I see everything? I wish only to hear what you
know. The surgeon tells me nothing. Only that he has been administering a tonic for
months without my knowledge in hopes that it would help Commodus. I do not believe
he has suffered so severely since arriving here.” Marcus leaned toward Maximus. “Tell
me what you know.”
A sudden ache pressed in Maximus’ chest. Would this be betrayal? Should he be truthful
or speak only words of comfort to his Caesar? He shuffled his feet, spoke softly. “Caesar,
Commodus has suffered several years in this way. The pain in his head grows worse with
each attack of the malady. Before we came to the camp, they occurred once every few
weeks. He would take to his bed for a day and all would seem well.” His face rose and
his expression was strained. “I could see it in his eyes, in the way he holds his body. I
should have prevented it.”
“Every few weeks?” Marcus groaned. “He has hidden it well.”
“There is another thing,” Maximus closed his eyes tight and sighed a heavy groan before
continuing. “Commodus becomes…violent…uncontrollable.”
“But you were able to control him.”
“I fear that perhaps he was so weakened, a babe could have stopped him, Sire.”
Marcus drew in a deep breath, released it with a hiss through pursed lips. “Thank you
“Caesar,” he stood and bowed his head.
Maximus turned, noted the agony on Caesar’s face a wished that he were not the man
who had put it there.
“I release you from all responsibility toward Commodus. I am promoting you to my
personal guard. It is a far more dangerous position, Maximus, but also a place where you
may learn quickly. You have served me well. I wish to reward you in this way.”
“I need no reward, Caesar. I will always serve you, always serve Rome.”
And I will always be grateful. “Tell me, Maximus. How are you fairing?”
Maximus blinked, thought, blinked more, unsure of how to answer. “I am well, Caesar. I
am well. But…I am confused.”
Caesar chuckled. “Well, it is the state of all men your age.” He leaned forward, “And I
warn you Maximus, as you grow older, it will only become worse.”
He nodded, dismissing Maximus and preparing a communication meant to seek the
proper care for his son.
Lucilla had done everything to prepare for Commodus’ return. The letter she had received
from Caesar was demanding, brusque and severely reprimanding. The closing lines sliced
deeply and she gasped before re-reading it.
She was ordered to watch over Commodus carefully. Three new physicians would be
arriving shortly to care for him and she was to record their treatments as well as his
improvement or deterioration; the information was to be sent to him every week. And she
was clearly scolded for not informing him of the severity of her brother’s condition.
I am gravely disappointed in you, my daughter. Do not disappoint me again.
Lucilla, although the lady of the household, was nothing more than the young daughter of
Caesar…and living in a relatively small villa far from Rome. She had no knowledge of
any such responsibilities; believed that there were others to convey such information to
her father. She stood, stomped her foot and vowed never again to find herself in such a
position. From that day forward, she would know clearly what she should know, and
convey that information to whoever could effect change. Her mother had always told her
that a woman speaks her truths in a whisper. Lucilla’s whisper would be gentle but
mighty. She would not fail again, for surely she would never be given a husband and
never return to Rome as long as she lived.
Commodus arrived weak. He walked slowly and commanded silence. She accompanied
him to his chambers, hissing orders to the slaves for the windows to be blocked and food
to be brought. She waved them all out and helped him onto his bed.
He seemed to melt there, his eyes red, face pale. She sat silently beside him.
“I have been returned to the wretched place in shame,” he growled.
“How can you think such, my brother? Father is only concerned for your health.”
“He is concerned that I will embarrass him. For eight months he knew nothing! I would
have been a soldier, done great deeds on his behalf. But instead, he sends me to lie here
Lucilla sighed. “Surely you understand that there is a greater plan for you, Commodus.
Your health must be improved, for one day you will rule all of Rome. You must rest, my
brother. You must rest.”
As if he had been ordered, his eyes drifted closed and his breath evened. She did not
leave his side.
Another change had come into Maximus’ life and Caesar had not shielded him from the
dangers. Protection of a Caesar was an honor and a near sentence of death. He would be
the last line of defense should all others fail and he took this to heart with full conviction.
He marched and rode alongside generals and praetorian alike. He dined with them, slept
in shifts and stood watch beside them. Twice in thirty days, he was driven to draw his
sword and battle in protection of Marcus Aurelius with them. The pace and
responsibilities were grueling, but within a year, he was promoted more than once.
He knew the names and origins of every man with access to Caesar. He knew the men he
fought with and many of the men they led. And he learned.
Watching closely, he studied each general’s strategies, their relationships with each other
and with their men. He observed their senses and instincts as well as their skills.
Maximus sought out those who could improve his abilities in battle as well as policy. And
he cultivated many of his own theories regarding each general’s motivation and depth of
commitment. In twelve short months, Maximus knew who to trust, who to be wary of,
and who to clearly avoid. A young man not yet twenty and he held the ear of Caesar…he
only wished that he did not.
“What say you, Maximus?” Caesar had taken to enjoying long, private walks with the
young man. They would discuss matters of the men, the camp and news from the
Summer Palace as well as Rome. Most times, Maximus would listen quietly, but as of
late Caesar had a much more aggressive intention. He wanted Maximus’ opinion
regarding the promotion of a particular man.
“Quintus?” Maximus asked calmly, knowing he was Caesar’s most hopeful candidate for
the important position.
“Yes. What say the men of him? I have heard from my generals, now I wish to hear from
“May I ask why, Caesar? What weight can my opinion have in such an important
“Much weight. As you are the only clear option against Quintus.”
Maximus stopped, looked directly into Caesar’s eyes. Much rolled through his head and
his heart. Quintus was a good man, a loyal man and a man who commanded much
respect. Quintus was a man with a wife and three daughters. Should he not receive the
promotion, he would leave his service to live out the remainder of his days in Rome with
his family. But should he gain Caesar’s favor, his family would enjoy the fruits of his
accomplishment. For Maximus to even be considered against a man such as Quintus
seemed foolish to him.
“May I speak frankly, Caesar?”
“Of course, my son.”
“There is no comparison between the qualities and capacity of Quintus and my mere
survival abilities, Sire. Quintus is your best choice. He is driven by his loyalty to you and
to Rome…as well as his need to provide for his family. I say Quintus.”
“And what say the men?”
“They say Quintus.”
A slow smile grew on Marcus’ face. “Then Quintus it shall be.”
Lucilla searched the palace, finally locating Commodus in the small room off their
parent’s abandoned chamber. There he was bent over several scrolls and documents.
“What are you doing, Commodus?”
He stretched his hand out and she clasped it, moving close to sit beside him on the bench.
“Look what I’ve discovered. Battle records, letters, accounting reports. They are all from
several years ago, but I can learn much from them, Lucilla.”
“I suppose you can, but why would you care to?”
“Can you not see, sister? If I am to be Caesar, I must know such things. Look, this is an
accounting of grain and gold and silks. These are the accounts of recent battles. Father
never talks of them. Now I can know what he’s seen, understand it all. And soon, I can
“Commodus, please.” Lucilla stood, gazed compassionately into his eyes. “You know
you cannot return until you have proven cured.”
“And I will be cured before the year ends. They say I am nearly fully recovered now. I
will – ”
“Brother,” she sighed softly. “You have been well for months, but not fully. Father will
not accept this.”
“He will not know. The physicians will speak what I tell them to speak.”
“But I will not lie for you, Commodus,” Lucilla said and left him alone.
His frustration grew as did the mellow, constant aching pounding in his temples. He no
longer suffered the agony of intense piercing pain, but the irritant of the steady throb
would often press him to unreasonable anger. Would she betray him? Speak against him?
He commanded Lucilla to his chambers and paced.
The slave entered, dropped to his knees and begged forgiveness. Lucilla commanded that
he inform Commodus that she will not be ordered about like a slave.
He dropped to his bed and laughed. “Then ask her to please visit me here, slave. And do
He was lounging on his bed when she walked in. He tilted a careful bow. “I thank you for
gracing me with your presence, Lucilla.”
“Do not be a fool. Never order me, it will only cause you much unhappiness, brother,”
she teased. “Are you in pain?”
“I am, not bad but enough. Come, hold me, sister. It is getting dark and I’m weary of this
She climbed onto the bed and he carefully settled his head upon her shoulder. With her
other hand, she soothed his brow but he pushed her away, slid a small distance but
grasped her hand. “Stay with me.”
“What troubles you?”
“You have grown, sister. Grown to be a beautiful woman.”
“So I have. Was that not expected?” she grinned, rolled to her side and propped her head
in hand. “You have told me nothing of Maximus. He writes to you, does he not?”
“He is the important man, our Maximus. But he informs me that he has avoided
promotion. He says he has foolishly recommended another man…as if father would seek
the advice of a simple soldier.”
“Maximus is not a simple soldier, Commodus. He is among father’s closest protectors.
Someday, he may be a general.”
“I think unlikely. Do you know he told me once that he is afraid? Afraid every time he
“Would you not be?” Lucilla sighed and dropped her head back. “May I tell you what
makes me afraid?”
“Tell me,” Commodus grinned, his eyes locked on the rise of her perfect young breasts.
“I am afraid I will never marry. Never see Rome again.”
His fingers slid closer to her body as she gazed up at the ceiling, imagining the life she
wanted. “You are a beauty, you will marry well. It is I who will never marry.”
“What?” She turned as he pulled his hand, so close to her breast, quickly away. “Why
would you not marry?”
“The woman I choose cannot be mine,” he spat. “Leave me now.”
“Shall I send the physicians?”
“Leave me! NOW!”
She stood, calmly walked to the door but stopped. Without turning she spoke, softly but
clear enough for him to hear. “Commodus, never again attempt to touch me in such a
way. Sleep well my brother.”
Ten of Caesar’s personal guards slept around the tent. Against all his councilors’ advice,
Marcus Aurelius continued to travel on his own behalf between his various wars,
countries and battlefields. His reasons were his own, but his safety was paramount.
Quintus, twelve praetorian and three advanced soldiers, hand picked buy Caesar himself,
were at their highest alert.
Beside Maximus slept Quintus, newly appointed head of the praetorian. Three men were
to be awake and guarding near the fire, one was to be in constant watch at the back of the
tent. But with a start, Maximus’ eyes opened.
The night sounded peaceful but something gnawed at his gut. His eyes moved to Quintus
to find that he too sensed the danger. Rolling slowly to his side, Quintus took in the
condition of his guards. One groaned to his feet and relieved his bladder at a nearby tree,
another was rolled in a ball and growling a snore. The third was nowhere in sight.
He looked to Maximus and nudged his chin. Silent as a cat, Maximus swiveled to his
haunches and rounded the tent. Reaching the back, he met Quintus. No guard walked
there, but a man lay, twisted in the shadows; the smell of his fresh blood drifted on the
breeze. Quintus nodded toward the back wall and slowly slithered the way he came.
Pulling his short blade, Maximus slowly sliced the fabric of the back wall and slithered
inside then lay still as death on the ground next to Caesar’s cot. As his eyes adjusted, he
spied Quintus’ shadow as it inched its way to the front.
There was a sudden sound of shouting and clang of metal. Light from the fire flashed
through the tent as the opening flew wide and a man charged inside, his sword high and
ready to strike at Caesar. Maximus wedged his shoulder under the heavy cot and lifted
with a yell, dumping Marcus off against the tent wall and the heavy cot over him.
Dodging the blow of the sword, he jabbed his short blade up, slicing into the ribs of the
attacker as he reached with his other hand for Caesar’s sword. Grasping it he leapt. The
blades clanged, sang and clashed. Another entered the tent and shouted.
“Maximus! Drop!” With a wide, deft swing Quintus beheaded the attacker, the tip of his
sword slicing the air inches above Maximus’ diving body. Several Praetorian entered,
Caesar climbed from his entrapment and laughed aloud, reaching down for Maximus.
But Maximus could not be brought to his feet. The wound was deep along his thigh,
bleeding profusely. He had already lost consciousness.
His brain burned with a confusing fever, filtering reality with hallucination as Maximus
lay upon Caesar’s cot. His head rolled from side to side, slurred words fell from his
mouth and his muscles twitched in spasms. Two surgeons had worked desperately to
repair the slash along his thigh, stitching and pressing, drawing cries of pain from the
young soldier as Caesar paced behind them.
So much blood had been lost and there was little hope, but Caesar remained at his
damaged guard’s side for three long days. The stench of death drifted in the close tent.
Marcus stood, grasping Maximus by the shoulders and shaking him hard. “Death is not
for you, my son! Hold on to me, Maximus. Hold on!”
Maximus was walking through the village of his childhood, calm, relaxed. Choosing fruit
from a vendor he ate, the juices sliding down his chin; sweet, luscious nectar and he
growled with delight. Taking in the prosperity of the market, his brow curled. So long. He
had not seen that place for so long. He was but a child when Caesar came to take him.
His head shook and his teeth sank deep into the fruit again.
At the edge of the market, something caught his eye. Maximus moved toward it, clearly
aware that his stride was encumbered by the weight of his armor, the heaviness of a
ready sword at his side. Closer and closer. It was a man in a simple soiled cape that
seemed to float along the dusty ground. Maximus efficiently rounded huddles of people,
his eye honed on the man.
The hood of the cape slid to the man’s shoulders and as Maximus neared, his face turned.
Pain gripped in a heart already weary from loss and damage and Maximus gasped,
grasping his chest over molded armor. He was looking into his own eyes, eyes the color
of the sky and Mediterranean Sea. The man’s hair and beard were groomed to match his
own and for a brief moment, panic streaked through him, heating his blood to boiling and
he drew his sword…but this man…smiled.
“Brother,” his sighed and Maximus dropped several steps back. “You do not know me?”
Terror gripped his soul and Maximus shook his head, a denial of truth. He did know this
man; it was not him, but a large portion of him, so interlocked with his soul he could not
recognize a separateness. His twin, his lost self. Maximus’ mouth dropped but no words
The man’s voice was mellow, soothing. “How could you not know me? I am part of you. I
ride with you, protect you, fight beside you as I did in the womb.” A tear glowed in the
apparition’s eye. “Maximus, do you not recall? It was I who passed nutrition so that you
would be strong. It was I who battled to assure you would survive our birth. How could
you not know me?”
Bewilderment and alarm pummeled his aching chest. His fingers twitched and his
shoulders trembled as they never had in battle. Then his eyes locked with those of his
brother’s ghost. A silent dialog ensued, an exchange of truths and fears, of reality and
imaginings Maximus had always dismissed as foolish fancy. His shoulders relaxed and
he dropped his sword.
It clanged to the stone at his feet and Maximus blinked, looked around. The market was
gone and he stood alone with his twin on a road that went on forever in both directions.
The clattering clash of metal on rock reverberated, burning inside his head and pressing
at his heart until he feared he could not endure.
Focusing on the man, a clear, exact image of himself yet somehow extremely unique, he
slowly blocked the singing call of his weapon and reached a hand forward to clasp with
his lost brother’s.
But before the tips of their fingers could ouch, a voice thundered loud, shaking the very
trees that lined the road.
“Death is not for you, my son! Hold on to me, Maximus. Hold on!”
He stepped back, looked right then left and saw the old woman, Donum. She simply
shook her head and respectfully obeying her as he always had, Maximus stepped back
another step…then another…then another.
Marcus helplessly released his hold on Maximus’ shoulders, fearful that his efforts were
for naught but before his heart would release the young man to death, he stood still and
stone and watched in amazement. Color slowly returned to the wounded soldier’s face,
his breath smoothed to a rhythm, his hands relaxed and his eyes fluttered then opened,
baffled but bright with life.
“Ah,” Caesar gasped and smiled. “I see that you do still follow orders, Maximus.” And he
embraced the man he loved as a son.
Decisions were made quickly. Caesar had chosen to abandon his original plans and return
to his camp. His entourage of seven remaining praetorian and guards traveled carefully,
the wounded and weak Maximus in tow. There, more decisions were drawn and within
hours, after only a brief time of motionless rest, Maximus was bundled for the long
journey to the summer palace and full recovery. And once again, Maximus was the hero.
When the letter arrived, carried by a gasping, nearly dead messenger and written in
Caesar’s own hand, Commodus and Lucilla were frantic to assure that all preparations
made and ready for Maximus’ arrival. Commodus struggled with his conflicting feelings
about Maximus, but Lucilla had become a true Domina of her household. She was quick
and clear, curt and forceful with slaves she usually treated as family.
Commodus trailed in her wake with a watchful eye to see that all she commanded was
followed perfectly. There was little he could imagine that she had not already done or
intended to do. Having read the words of his father regarding the severity of Maximus
wounds, concern ached in his gut …but something else lurked deeper. A jealousy and
trepidation he would have wished to hide, but could not.
For months he had teased and cajoled his sister, he had attempted to lure her with feigned
weakness and pretend valor. He had formulated failed plan after failed plan to bring her
to his bed, to his arms, his lips. It was wrong, but a desire far from his control. Since his
encounter with the whore, he had touched no woman…longed for that challenge…
hungered for it. The sensations of filling a woman with his manhood, his heat, his seed.
But the woman he desired most had refused him…again…and again…and again.
And Commodus could see in Lucilla’s eyes, in her mannerisms, in her frantic need to
assist in the healing of their soon-to-arrive wounded soldier…that her heart and longing
was for Maximus.
Against his own deepest wishes and orchestrated by his continuous throbbing temples,
Commodus devised deceit and lie upon lie to bring about sure manipulation to prohibit
such a joining. But there was time. If Maximus was in fact as weak and broken as his
father had stated, there was surely time to perfect his intentions…and time to pray for the
power to ignore them. As the announcement of Maximus’ arrival was called, with
moments between Commodus and the destiny he wanted, he reached with shaking hands
and swallowed his potent tonic. He closed his eyes and hoped for strength. To show
weakness before the praetorian, Lucilla or Maximus would not carry.
Usurping all of Lucilla’s control, he stepped forward and led the men carrying Maximus
inside, announcing that he was to be placed in the finest chamber in the villa. There he
assisted in lifting the weak, unconscious patient to the bed and demanded an accounting
of his care thus far. “Will he live?” he nearly choked, seeing the pallor that streaked white
around Maximus’ lips.
“We are unsure.”
Flame blazed from his eyes at the surgeons. “Should Maximus die, you will all die. Do
not fail,” he hissed with a viciousness that caused the men to step back.
Commodus remained with Maximus, observing the care given to him and witnessing the
unbinding and cleansing of the hideous wound. He stood near, assisted in any way he
could and fought waves of nausea. His heart tightened, you cannot die, my brother. You
Pacing outside the chamber, Lucilla wrung her hands and worried. Having been abruptly
dismissed as soon as Maximus was settled, she knew nothing of his true condition, only
of her fear for him. The travel must have been difficult, severely taxing and Maximus had
arrive unconscious, unaware that he was in their care. Much clashed and battled inside
her mind. Indignation from Commodus’ disrespectful discharge of her attention and
control. Deep concern for Maximus…and also serious unease regarding her brother’s
lack of attention to his own malady. Hours and hours had passed and for several prior
days, Commodus had battled the growing misery in his head. He would need the tonic
soon. Just before dawn, she squared her shoulders and prepared to enter the chamber.
Commodus was asleep, slouched in the chair, groaning, his head rocking. Maximus was
still as death, deeper than sleep and she gasped quietly at the sight of them both. Laying a
tender hand on her brother’s shoulder, he snapped awake, focused on Maximus then
turned a glare to her. She handed him the tonic.
He accepted with a quiet grunt, swallowed then tugged her to settle on his lap. There,
they held each other, shared their concerns and sighed.
“We may lose him, sister.”
“We will not. We cannot.”
His head rolled gently on her shoulder then he placed a soft kiss on the rise of her breast.
She did not reprimand him, did not scold him or pull away. She understood this to be a
common need for comfort and he did not push further. Lucilla finally stood and slid her
arm under his. “Come, Commodus. You must rest.”
Without protest, he permitted her to walk him to his chamber and leave him alone. A kiss
would have comforted him further…or caused even more frustration so he chose to
release those thoughts, rest and refresh for the next day’s vigil.
Maximus gasped at the sudden coolness that pressed to his brow, his eyes opened to the
soft vision of Lucilla’s face glowing in the lamplight. Concern curled her perfect brow
and he strained to raise his fingers to smooth it. “Hush,” he whispered through a dry
throat. “Hush now, Lucilla.”
Blinking tears that had been falling for long moments, her smile brightened. “It is you
who must hush, my dear Maximus. You are struggling so, you must not concern yourself
His grin was small and lopsided. “And what better for me to be concerned with?” His
heavy hand dropped to the feather mattress and he groaned. “Perhaps I will sleep now,”
his voice trailed off. “Perhaps.”
“Yes, my love, perhaps,” Lucilla whispered, relieved that he had opened his eyes, that he
had spoken and recognized her. Relieved that surely he would recover. Lucilla was weary,
had not slept in her bed or rested for three days. She slowly climbed onto the mattress
beside Maximus and carefully settled her head on his shoulder. He was asleep, she could
sense his body’s peaceful rhythm, but still his arm crawled to cradle her tight. Lucilla
found slumber there until dawn when the surgeon found them that way.
It is said that a man may face death often, but never crosses that chasm until he is called.
Maximus had heard the call and its voice was that of his own lost twin. The memory of
the experience haunted him, teased at the edges of his recovery, begged for his soul to be
reclaimed. But a man will also learn that the call is only a request…there is a choice. A
soldier knows these things and can never explain them. Death is a choice. And death
takes on many forms.
As he woke, he felt the minimal warm weight of Lucilla, knew her scent, her touch and
held even tighter. Life is also a choice. And the call to continue is powerful. Maximus
knew that it was Marcus who had commanded him to live. He was also very aware that
Lucilla was reinforcing that command. His face turned and his lips found hers.
For seven nights he had dropped into a deep sleep alone but awakened embracing her,
and he wondered, would he find it impossible to return to his life without her.
Lucilla welcomed the attention of his lips, smiling against his smile and sliding from his
arms. “I have been told that the physicians talk of our mornings, Maximus.”
“Let them talk,” he grinned. “They know of my limitations. Your virtue is intact,” he
teased then tugged her hand, bringing her to another luscious kiss.
“But soon you will be strong. Soon you will be able. And soon…soon…”
“Do not speak it, Lucilla. My love for you has been growing since I first arrived at this
place. It will forever grow…but I am not suitable for you.”
“We will see, Maximus,” she smiled. “We will see.”
“Indeed we will see,” grumbled Commodus outside the door. The ache in his head had
spread to his limbs and begun to corrupt his very heart. Lucilla had made her choice, had
spoken it in frail riddles. She would give herself to Maximus, a low bred man.
Commodus’ plans would require finesse and careful execution. They would demand all
his patience and attention. And they would begin that very morning.
I wish to offer you joyful news, as our brother Maximus surely recovers beautifully. The
physicians are pleased to tell me that the wound will heal fully, and with difficult, but
important physical efforts on Maximus’ part, his leg will be as good as new. It is
estimated that before spring he will return to your service.
He and Lucilla have forged a strong bond, father, which I am sure pleases you greatly.
They are nearly inseparable. I do expect that a discussion will be scheduled to arrange
their marriage very soon. I do not question Lucilla’s virtue, and most certainly would
never bring Maximus’ intentions into issue, but I am confident that you understand young
love. And that is truly what I am watching. It is not a marriage I had always imagined
you would arrange for our dear Lucilla. It will place her far below the position she is
worthy of, but Maximus has pure and true love for her. She may want for riches and
position, but she will always be adored and blessed with his ultimate care.
He continued his letter with minor events at the palace and a simple accounting of the
slaves and livestock, all meant to indicate that the growing passion between Caesar’s
daughter and a mere soldier was part and parcel of the normal goings on of the summer
palace. He closed his letter with a proclamation of love and honor.
And he grinned, knowing full well that the message was targeted directly at Caesar’s very
soul. He had struck his first blow…and the war between he and Maximus had begun.
The wound was indeed healing and Maximus was walking everyday as far as his leg
would carry him. It ached and throbbed but he reveled in his accomplishment as each
attempt had taken him further and further from his bed. That fair summer morning, he
had managed to walk all the way to the stables. He grunted and slowly sat on a low stone
wall. His next dilemma was to make his way back. Maximus grinned and shook his head.
It was hard work, but worthy work as it would return him to Caesar’s side.
The sun was warm. Insects buzzed about creating a simple melody and Maximus leaned
back his head to enjoy the music. Many things were a delight to him. The comforts of the
palace were vast in comparison to the difficulties of being a soldier. He prayed that he
was not softening in such luxury, and often walked further than advisable by the
physicians in hopes of regaining his strength quicker, and maintaining his stamina for the
life ahead in camp. He glanced at the villa in the distance, the sparkling sea beyond.
Pleasant. Most pleasant. And so were his thoughts.
Every morning he was awakened by the soft kiss from Lucilla’s lips; tender touch from
her fingertips. It was becoming difficult to hold his body apart from hers, morning after
morning. He had no real idea of when she would climb onto the bed beside him each
night, only that she was there with the rising sun. That she managed to leave before the
doctors came to see him. This was at his request, in an effort to protect her from gossip
and unkind accusations. They had been chaste, they had been appropriate…but they had
been far too close. He feared it was time to ban her from his bed completely, perhaps that
very night. He would avoid making his evening efforts to walk in order to remain vigilant
that night. When she arrived in his room, he would ask her to leave. It was proper to do
so. And it made his heart ache more than his leg.
He rolled his neck and readied to return. There was a hill to climb and some distance to
walk. As he stood he saw her. Her lovely dark hair was flowing loose and the fabric of
her gown drifted and danced in the breeze, hugging her lovely form and making him
groan. He could not help but smile.
Lucilla joined him on the low wall, leaned in and gently kissed his lips.
“Good morning,” he whispered.
“Good morning…again,” her grin was brilliant.
“Have you come to escort me back?” he teased.
“No, I have come to talk with you, Maximus. It is time, my love.”
“Yes, it is our time. The physicians say you will be returning to my father within the
month. It is time…for us.”
Slowly his head moved from side to side. “Lucilla, I fear it would be unwise. It will never
stand, my dear one. Never.”
“Do you not love me, Maximus?”
“You cannot speak those words to me. I have loved you for as long as I have known you.
But this is not correct.”
“It is,” she intertwined their fingers and raised his hand to her cheek.
“Lucilla. You are a royal woman of noble birth. Would you jeopardize your wedding
night for such foolishness?”
“Foolishness?” she grinned playfully and leaned closer. “I risk nothing. There are many
ways to stain a wedding bed, Maximus.”
“You know such tricks, Lucilla?”
Her shoulders squared. “Yes, and I will use them in order to have you. I love you
Maximus. We must not waste this time. Perhaps it will be our only chance, do you not
see? But perhaps…perhaps…father will bless the union. Perhaps he will see – ”
“He will not. You are Caesar’s daughter. Marriage to a man such as me, a mere soldier,
would never serve your father.”
“And you will not have me without marriage?” Tears welled in her eyes. “You do not
His hand tenderly pushed a silky tendril of hair from her face. “Far too much, Lucilla.
You must never come to my bed again. I fear we will both pay dearly.”
Lucilla did not stand with an angry huff or stomp away. She did not shout or cry at his
rejection. She simply leaned for a kiss that he granted. A kiss like none he had ever
experienced. Her soft lips and tongue brought his body to tingle and crackle like fire,
sucking and lapping deliciously, making him breathless. Her gentle hand cupped his face
as she moaned quietly into his mouth…and she walked away.
Marcus Aurelius did not find great concern over the letter from his son. He read deceit
and manipulation beneath every word and groaned at the accusations. He knew Maximus
to be a good man, knew him to be honorable and correct…and he understood his
daughter to be the same. As her mother, Lucilla was a pure and chaste woman and would
be such until her marriage. Women were well honed creatures and Caesar often pondered
the soldiers they would make. They were organized, political and practical. They were
easily compassionate and quick to scold when crossed. They earned their honors day in
and day out, fought their battles in the birthing bed and deserved respect and fear from
any man alive…even Caesar. His daughter was gaining just that respect. No, he did not
worry over Commodus’ words…he worried over his son’s intentions. For as honorable
and moral as Maximus was, Commodus was not. It was not criticism, it was fact. And for
all his efforts, Marcus could not change his son’s fiber.
He carefully reviewed reports from the many physicians at the summer palace.
Commodus was not fully well and it was sadly suspected that he would never be. But
Maximus was in fact nearing complete recovery. Marcus leaned back, thought hard about
this. Bringing Maximus back too soon might cost him his life should a difficult conflict
be presented before his strength was fully regained. But leaving him at the palace might
soften him. Marcus struggled to find the center, the most effective solution. But there was
a small thorn of apprehension. Perhaps planted there by Commodus, perhaps real.
Lucilla was a lovely young woman. Maximus, a virile young man. It was not the match
Ceasar had planned. Perhaps it would be best to send for Maximus soon. But Caesar had
no idea that there would be no need. That Maximus would arrive before called … or that
it would be to no one’s advantage.
Commodus did not leave his darkened room that entire day. His eyes burned with agony
and for the fifth consecutive day, he refused the tonic, sure that it was a detriment and not
the remedy the physicians were proclaiming. Suspicion and paranoia flared. They were
attempting to poison him, hold him to his weakness, destroy him. He would not have it.
He, like Maximus, would overcome his pain, surpass his limitations. And he would join
Caesar when Maximus did, or die with the efforts.
When the sun dropped over the horizon and the light softened, Commodus ventured from
his chamber. Balancing his pain laden head precariously, he walked along the halls and
out into the courtyard. There he awaited Maximus, for surely he would return from his
walk soon. But Maximus was not there after dark, he was not there when the moon set in
the west. Commodus remained immobile on the stone bench. There was a level of
comfort alone in the night. A quality of safety he never before found in the darkness. He
closed his eyes and listened to the night creatures. He remained there for several hours,
alone except for the occasional requests of the doctors for him to return to his bed. If he
had the strength, he would have killed them all, one at a time, without mercy.
The pain seemed to have subsided in the cool night air. It mellowed behind his thoughts
to a manageable level. Devising a plan to test an idea, he returned to the courtyard every
night after that. He continued to refuse the tonic, and discovered a strange change in his
misery. Commodus discovered that the less sleep he allowed himself, the better he felt.
He then refused food during the daylight hours, but this did not prove wise, as nausea
pummeled him, distracting his night comfort. And he smiled, for surely with trial and
error, he could cure himself and had no need of physicians that knew nothing of his
Night after night he enjoyed vast improvements, day after day he avoided the sun, grew
pale but was able to smile. He slept sporadically when hidden from the daylight and
banished Caesar’s physicians from his presence. His major concern was the blinding pain
that he succumbed to during the early morning hours. Pain so intense it threatened to
drive him mad. It became his obsession to be assured that he was well hidden during the
worst of it all. And even with that, Commodus felt the glow of success.
Lucilla had followed Maximus’ request and did not return to his bed again. He could not
sleep for the loneliness he felt, could not rest for fear that she would change her mind and
slide onto the mattress beside him again. Restless, he left the chamber seeking solace
outside. What he found instead was Commodus, and the young man was smiling.
“My brother, should you not be asleep?” Maximus sat beside him on the bench.
“And I should ask the same of you. Are you still healing, Maximus?”
“I am. But this beautiful night beaconed. I wished fresh air. You are looking well. I feared
the worst, having not seen you for days. Have you been ill?”
“No, I have not. I am very well in fact and thinking about leaving with you when father
calls for your return.”
Maximus focused on his face in the dimness. Commodus did in fact look strong and well,
but was he well enough to return to the camp? He was sure it would please Caesar to see
his son. “That would be good. Very good.”
“How is it? Your leg?”
Maximus straightened it, rubbed the still bandaged wound and shrugged. “There are days
of pain and days of strength. But more of the later, I am pleased to say.”
The night air was working its magic, soothing his restlessness and Maximus yawned wide
with a growl. Commodus chuckled quietly. He congenially patted his shoulder and said,
“You should sleep, Maximus. The call for your return may just come tomorrow and you
must be rested, my brother.”
“I bid you a good night,” Maximus grunted to his feet and yawned again.
She was astute, aware of every movement in the palace and every sound out in the
courtyard. Lucilla had waited patiently. There was only one reason she had not gone to
Maximus, even against his wishes. Commodus had taken to walking the halls and sitting
long and late in the courtyard and she dared not risk discovery.
When Maximus was near death and during his weakest times, she had spent every night
at his bedside, in his bed and tight against him. But since her proposal of forbidden
intimacy and his refusal, the mere possibility of her being alone with him in that way
seemed dangerous. Weeks had passed and he was improving vastly. Soon, he would leave
and it would be too late.
Her heart was pounding and her ears were sharp. When Maximus left his chamber, when
she detected their quiet conversation below, she made her move. Before he returned to his
bed, Lucilla was settled in a dark corner chair, silent and unseen.
The aching groan as he lowered to the soft mattress tugged at her already speeding heart.
Oh to comfort him, to touch him, to have him forever. But she was at that moment unsure
if she had the courage to move, to even breathe. She remained silent until he settled,
listened to his breath, observed the rise and fall of his chest in the soft moonlight drifting
through the window.
“I know you are there,” he whispered.
“I am sorry. I could not stay away.”
His hand reached out and she went to him, fully expecting him to reprimand her, perhaps
even scorn her. But his hand tenderly slid to the back of her neck and he pulled her mouth
Maximus had been starving for her lips, unable to release the tension created by her last
kiss so long ago near the stables. It was not just her lips, not just her touch or the gentle,
lovely look of her … it was the way her heart called to his. It was the intensity of his
longing for her that had gone well past interest or even desire … it had become a
desperate, all consuming need that must be quenched.
He might die in his next battle. He might not be her father’s choice of husband for her. He
might forever regret the impetus that was driving him, but he could not resist any longer.
In fact, Maximus knew she was in his room because she was not in hers. He had gone
there to beg her to come to him but there was no need. She was soft and willing and in his
Removing her night shift, he saw what he had only imagined, the curves gentle and
glowing in the moonlight. His hands reached for her, pressing her flesh to his and he
groaned with the power of such a sensation. Maximus had been with women; whores
skilled to soothe every need a soldier has, whores wishing to please, wishing to be
pleased. He had been with young girls who oddly found him desirable, had gently taken
them with kindness and gratitude. He had been with women, often widows who had
chosen him as he strolled the village near the camp. Chosen him, taken him to their
empty houses and fed him, then to their empty beds where he fed them, offered them
solace and satisfaction. Maximus was not unfamiliar with a woman’s body … he was
unfamiliar with love.
Love. That overwhelming layer of passion, heavily fragrant with the promise of a future
pressed a tormenting need in his belly. He could not do anything without reminding
himself, this is Lucilla, her breast, her mouth. This is Lucilla. Lucilla Lucilla.
She was soft in his hands, a virgin yet not fearful. She trusted Maximus with every part of
her body and heart. She watched his hands as he learned her flesh, her moisture, her
responses and soft cries. Watched his eyes as they marveled at the simplicity of a form
she had thought without special quality. In his embrace, she was extraordinary, beautiful,
without flaw. Lucilla too moved over the terrain of his body, blessing every scar and
wound with her lips.
“Do not be afraid,” he gasped, tugging her body to his chest, desperate to have her cease
her exploration lest he loose control, forget it was Lucilla in his arms.
“I am not afraid, Maximus. I am joyous.”
Joyous. The sound of her proclamation made him wonder; had he refused her what she
deserved? What they both were meant to have? The sensation of a massive weight sliding
from his heart brought a lightness to Maximus. There was no need for control; he was not
dominating a foreign body, flesh that may not be yielding to his growing need. Together,
he and Lucilla were walking a path, climbing a rise, the pinnacle of which would show
them the way. Maximus would trust this, and for the first time in his life, he moved with
momentum, freedom and hope.
His mouth stirred from her lips to her perfect breast. Taking the pearl of her nipple
between his lips, Maximus knew it was Lucilla, he no longer needed to repeat her name.
She had become the missing part of him, replacing his losses, fulfilling his heart and he
suckled gently as a babe in arms. His hands explored as his mouth lapped and kissed,
marked her soft flesh with his needful teeth. Fingers slid to the soaked place and the very
air carried the aroma of her desire.
What did he want? What did he want? His cock wept and strained, reaching for her
tightness and heat, but his mouth watered, begged. One long lick confirmed that his cock
would wait. The nourishment she offered at the core of her womanhood cried louder to
him and he kissed, bit lightly and gobbled there, groaning his pleasure.
Thick fingers probed tenderly, respectfully, carefully, but Lucilla shifted her hips, placed
her hands on his face until his eyes rose to meet hers. “Please, Maximus. I have waited a
lifetime for you. Worry not for me. You will not hurt me, my love. You will never hurt
me. Love me. Please. Please. Please”
He was not aware of moving over her, there was no thought to his actions, only the
rousing heat that nipped at the tip of his cock when he touched her open warmth. Only
the pressure of her path, young and tight around him as he slid inch by painfully
rapturous inch, deeper and deeper. When he felt the barrier tear, Lucilla did not cry out,
did not whimper and cower from him. Looking into his face, she smiled, a tear sliding
from the corner of her eye and she pronounced her ecstasy with a kiss that propelled him
as deep as her body would receive him. The tip of his needing cock kissed the edge of
Lucilla’s womb as her tongue dove deep into his mouth.
Something profound in his heart instructed the pressure of his thrusts, directed his fingers
to move to her path and find the small hardness that would bring her to ecstasy with him.
It told him to wait for her, hold for her, take her with him.
The journey was painfully long, stretching at his recovering thigh, teasing deep in his
scrotum, begging, begging, begging. But it was not he who chose the moment to fully
claim her, it was the extreme rhythm of her throbbing passage that took him like a storm,
pulled from him his seed … and made him gasp for breath.
Sweat soaked, tangled and panting they grappled to retain a hold onto each other.
Listening to their hearts smooth, enjoying the cool predawn breeze that skimmed their
damp flesh, Maximus and Lucilla gently chuckled and kissed. They whispered their love
and adored the face of their lover in the growing light. And for the first time, Maximus
prayed that the call from Caesar would not come yet, not just yet. Kissing her tenderly at
the place between shoulder and her perfect neck, he licked softly and smiled.
“I love you,” he whispered and kissed the place over her heart. “I love you,” he kissed the
tip of a pink nipple. “I love you,” his mouth widened and he sucked that pebble deep.
Lucilla smiled, sighed, let her eyes drift then suddenly gasped. There, standing at the
entrance and glowing in the soft dawn light stood Commodus, an evil scowl burning in
his eyes. She quickly grasped at the sheets to cover herself and Maximus rose to protect
her from view.
“Commodus, I … I …” Maximus choked.
“You have taken far too many liberties, my brother,” growled Commodus through teethgritting pain and struggling to control his growing desire to kill Maximus, to slice from
him his manhood and choke him to death with it.
Lucilla cowered against Maximus back, her shaking hands holding his shoulders and a
sob escaping her chest.
“And so … my sister is a whore … and my brother is no longer welcomed here. Lucilla,
you have much to pay for … leave this room … NOW! And Maximus, you will depart
from this place and never return.”
Searing pain wrote the danger in his face and Maximus feared for Lucilla. “Commodus,”
he said calmly.
“Leave!” The face was not the face of Caesar’s son, it was the face of an enemy, red with
rage and poison.
Maximus dressed in his soldier’s armor and left the summer palace immediately. For
miles he rode, then for miles he walked in an effort to loosen the tightening muscle of his
injured leg. He did not stop; endured exhaustion and misery, thought only of Lucilla and
his own weakness for her. His love for her. The hopelessness of it, the pain and glorious
ecstasy of it. The price they would pay.
When he arrived at camp, Caesar was pleased to see him, ordering him to resume his
position as personal guard under Quintus’ direct command. Maximus said nothing of
Lucilla, nothing of his severe crime. But he awaited the worst and it all played painfully
on his mind.
Six days later, Lucilla received her monthly blood and released a sigh of relief. She
stayed far from Commodus and cried often. She worried for Maximus and hoped to see
him again soon. She even permitted her imagination to devise ways to be with him, ways
to arrange time near him, ways of telling him of her eternal love. She counted the days,
lost interest in the goings on of the palace and hoped for a miracle.
Fifteen days later, as she slept in her room, her worst nightmare came to pass. Commodus
climbed into her bed and took what he pleased. Without kindness or permission, without
concern for her body or mind or conscience, he forced himself upon her, overpowering,
brutal, with cruelty and demand. When it was done, he stood and tossed three gold coins
into her belly.
“More than most whores earn in a year, sister. I am not sure you even deserve it, to have
scorned my love to fuck a low born soldier you will never have. Take the gold and never
forget this day. I will have you whenever I command.”
Fire blazed in her chest. She scooped the coins and threw them at him then stood and
slapped him as hard as she could, raking her nails across his face and drawing blood.
Lucilla had power of her own and she would wield it.
“Do not ever … ever touch me again, Commodus! Should you attempt so … I assure you
there will be no place for you to hide from my wrath. Do not temp fate, my brother. You
do not have the strength or intelligence to endure against me!”
When Maximus was called to Caesar’s tent, he felt the burden of his sin, prepared for
more than just the anger of Marcus Aurelius, but also the pain he had caused a man who
had given him much, more than a father.
He stood at attention before Caesar, silent, his eyes ahead. Behind his fearful mind was
his breaking heart. He knew it would bring nothing but pain to both he and Lucilla.
“Maximus. I am made to believe that you and my daughter have been lovers.”
Maximus swallowed hard, nodded to the affirmative. “I am far more at fault than she,
Caesar. And I take full responsibility.”
“Yes, you do, Maximus. Indeed you do. I’ve tried long and hard to pass these accusations
for mere gossip and speculation, but – ”
“May I speak, Caesar?”
“You best speak, son.”
Again he swallowed, permitted his eyes to move to those of his Caesar. “I love her, I truly
love her, sire.”
“I do not doubt so. But this will never stand, Maximus. It is not my plan for her and your
youthful play may have ruined her chances for the marriage I intend.” He stomped a pace
and Maximus lowered his eyes to the ground. Marcus continued, his hands rose in
frustration. “It seems Caesar holds no command over youth! I cannot confirm anything
from the summer palace. Over the past months, I have heard no word from Commodus
and no word from Lucilla. I had been reduced to using spies and having my daughter
followed.” Caesar cleared his throat and sighed as he dropped into his chair with a grunt.
“This very day, word has arrived that Lucilla has aborted a pregnancy, Maximus. I can
only assume that it is yours.”
His heart dropped and his knees weakened dangerously. His mouth opened, but Maximus
could say no words, only envision the loss of his child, the danger in which Lucilla had
placed herself. Sickness crawled up his throat and burned as tears threatened to cloud his
“My daughter may have questionable virtue, but she clearly understands her position.
Lucilla knows she will never marry you, Maximus. And you … you are never to see her
again. You are as a son to me, but I will not hesitate to put you to the cross should you
defy me on this. Is that understood?”
Maximus nodded, stood stoic and respectfully even as his mind and heart battled with the
He forced his limbs to move, saluted his Caesar and turned crisply to leave.
“And Maximus,” Marcus said to the papers before him.
“I am sorry, my son.”
A full year had passed before Lucius Verris would agree to take Caesar’s youngest
daughter as wife. The arrangement was to great advantage for him, having served long
and hard under Marcus Aurelius and aged considerable during that time. A lovely young
wife was always a gem in one’s pouch, but to have the daughter of Caesar? That was a
boon. Lucius had an affluent life ahead of him in the Senate and Rome would be all the
more welcoming with Lucilla at his side … especially since the ugly rumors had finally
subsided into cruel folklore.
An examination by one of Caesar’s own physicians had proclaimed her maidenhood
intact. Verris thought … most likely not, as she was nearly twenty and one years of age,
but Rome believed the verdict, Caesar seemed to believe the verdict, and so he would
pretend to do so as well. That done and made public, he could now agree wholeheartedly
to the marriage. She was young, beautiful, just a silly trinket but something he could
enjoy in his old age. So many years in battle against Rome’s enemies had its rewards.
On Maximus’ twentieth birthday, he heard of Lucilla’s marriage to the old man. His
stomach clenched and he walked far from the camp. He had been obedient, had respected
Caesar’s command and not contacted Lucilla once. He returned every message from her
unanswered and dreamed of her every night. He worried for her and prayed for her, he
hoped even as it was hopeless that some twist of fate would change the path the gods had
set for them. That day, alone and far from listening ears, he shouted the angry cry of a
wounded animal. It was finished. As it should be. And his life was again as empty as it
had always been.
But Maximus was an honored young man among Caesar’s legions. It was his deeds that
held him so and most times his courageous acts were un-thought, unplanned, mere
reactions blessed with brutal accuracy, thanks to his many excellent teachers. But as his
heart emptied of Lucilla, healed from the pain of loving and losing her, his mind began to
function purely as a soldier.
Over time, he had moved higher and higher in the ranks, often rode with Quintus or
directly at Caesar’s side. He was trusted and most efficient … but had become somehow
so much more than that.
“Marcus, I fear we are wasting Maximus. He is far too valuable to be pressed with small
scrimmages and few men to work with. He is ready for command, Caesar. I know this,
the men know this, and so do you.” Quintus sipped from his goblet, his eyes trained over
the rim on Marcus. “What say you?”
“I say of course I know these things. I am becoming old, Quintus, I am not becoming
blind. But I must say,” he leaned closer to speak quietly, even though they were alone in
his tent for their evening meal together. “There is much that goes into the fiber of a man,
and Maximus is in need of fortification he will not find with yet another promotion
among the men. Of course they will follow him.” Caesar’s eyes twinkled and he grinned.
“I would follow him. But at this time in his life, I fear I must take care of something you
and the men are not seeing that is lacking in Maximus.”
Quintus bowed his head with an amicable tilt. “Marcus, I do understand your
commitment to him. That he has been with you since he was a boy. But our next push
will require all the best leadership can manage. Caesar, is what he needs more important
than what we need to advance the glory of Rome?”
“Ah, play those games with lesser officers, Quintus. The glory of Rome is what I choose
it to be. And if Maximus is to help lead us to that glory, he must be complete. Now, have
my horse brought and send for Maximus. Tell him I will ride the perimeter of the camp
with him this evening.”
Donum was more than pleased. All of her visions were coming to pass and the very
extraordinary living twin, Maximus Decimus Meridius was truly fulfilling his destiny.
Word had come through various sources to confirm her knowledge of his potential. He
had risen far among Caesar’s men, had stood honorably, even in the light of dangerous
gossip, and he had begun the final leg of his inevitable climb. She squelched back the
final vision behind her eyes, knowing full well that even that was ordained. The gods had
plans for all, even the lowliest of men. Even her. But the gods not only had plans for
Maximus. They, like Caesar, had taken him into their heart and strategy. His destiny was
written in the stars.
The message arrived on a frightful night not unlike the night Maximus was born. The sky
had opened, pouring cleansing rain and brisk air across the land. The sun had not shown
in days but it would soon break, the sun would burst to brighten the way. In her hands she
held a request she was most proud to have received, and a duty she was eager to fulfill.
Her search took her far from the village of young Maximus’ birth and all the way to the
town of Tujillo. There she explored, observed and closed her eyes to better see the
guiding visions. When her journey led her to the answer, she grinned and began her
intricate negotiations. She carried the seal of Caesar and that assured that all parties
would be satisfied. She was not denied or disrespected, even in her rags and obvious
poverty. And on the morning of her thirtieth day of the search, she sent word to Marcus
Aurelius with great pride. She was a very old woman and knew that within the year she
would have served every need mysteriously assigned in her life. Caesar would be
pleased, and so would the gods. She did not fear death, would welcome it with opened
arms … but first she hoped to smooth a rough road for young Maximus.
Caesar and Maximus rode in silence, skirting the large camp in darkness.
“We move to the high ridge on the morrow, Maximus.”
“I will see that my men are prepared.”
“Oh,” Marcus turned to squarely eye the young man. He shifted and grunted until
Maximus tugged his reigns to back up and sit still beside his Caesar. “You will not be
coming, my son.”
Understanding such a decree to mean he will be dispatched on a small mission, Maximus
nodded. “How can I be of service, Caesar?”
“Ahh, now that is the question, is it not?” Marcus continued to watch Maximus until the
younger man became obviously uncomfortable.
“Have I displeased you?”
“Never in life, Maximus. You ask how you may serve me, and the answers are many. But
they all can not come to pass until I have served you, my son.”
Maximus blinked confusion.
“This very night you will leave for the town of Tujillo.”
His brow rose. “What must be done there, sire?”
“Nothing for Rome. Only for you. Maximus, you are not a daughter but I love you as a
son. Your dedication to me and Rome often excludes care of yourself and I have arranged
a marriage for you.”
Maximus’ mouth opened but Marcus raised a quick hand to silence him.
“This will serve Rome in many ways. The marriage is an excellent one and the old witch,
Donum has negotiated well on my behalf. There is a substantial dowry which includes
land and a house, servants. It will serve you well, and in turn help you to prepare for your
next promotion,” Marcus grinned.
Marriage? Maximus did not want marriage, his heart was not ready for a commitment of
that nature and he found far more pleasure in the single life a soldier. “Caesar, I am most
grateful… but I…”
“You will accept this. You will be gone for no less than a year. Maximus,” Caesar spoke
softly. “This will heal your pain.”
“There is no pain.”
Marcus tilted his head. “My generals must have solid, well balanced hearts in order to
lead with strength, compassion and perception.”
“General? I am not – ”
Marcus heeled his horse and it continued ahead. “You best prepare for your journey.
Travel safely Maximus. I cannot do without you.” And he waved a hand in silent solute.
Lauria skipped into the portico, laughing with her favorite slave and just returned from
the market. She bit into a small sweet cake and it crumbled, dusting her clothing with
dark crumbs. Her laughter came to an abrupt stop and the slave gathered all the packages
and quickly disappeared.
“Uncle.” Lauria’s eyes dropped when she saw the substantial man standing with her
mother and she nervously brushed the crumbs away.
Her old uncle made a disgusted tsk tsk sound with his tongue. “Lauria. Must you always
look like a little slave girl?” He turned to her mother and growled. “See to it that she is
“Why must I be prepared?” Lauria said with a crisp snap.
His bald head shook. “Ah, I see you are a grown woman with fire in your belly, not a
child after all. But careful how you speak, Lauria. Respect, girl. Respect. Your mother
will explain,” and he huffed his way to out.
“Come, come,” her mother smiled kindly. “There is wonderful news, my daughter. A
marriage has been arranged for you.”
“Crisius?” Lauria squealed with excitement. “I was not aware that he would speak to
Uncle so soon!”
“No, no. Lauria, please, sit.”
Tears gathered in the girl’s eyes. “I am not to wed Crisius?”
“I am sorry my dear, but this is a wonderful arrangement,” the old woman attempted to
sound pleased. “A representative from Caesar himself had come to this very house. The
man is – ”
“Mama! I do not wish this. Oh please speak to uncle. This cannot be. I have loved Crisius
“And it is finished, Lauria.” The woman followed her daughter through the house.
“Listen to me. Your uncle has cared well for us for many years! He has managed all of
our family needs since your father’s death. And … he has made a very good match for
you. Come, my sweet daughter. There is no reason to cry. This is a joyous time!”
“How can this be joyous? I love one man and you say to me that I must marry another? A
man I have never seen? A man who is probably old and ugly and – ”
“He is not old, Lauria. He is very near your age and he is in the favor of Caesar. He will
soon be a general in Caesar’s army. You should be very proud. Do not cry, my sweet
“A general? Mama, what care I of Caesar and his armies and his wars? I beg of you, do
not force this upon me. Please talk to uncle.”
“Lauria, it is finished. It is done. This cannot be changed, nor should it be,” she dried her
daughters tears and kissed her brow. “And besides, if he is a general, he will seldom be
home … this could be very good, can it not?” But the girl cried only harder.
Maximus was unaware of his travel, only that the journey was long and tedious and to his
mind, a waste of time. He worried for Marcus, wondered about the movement of the
massive camp, the battles ahead. He did not wonder about the wife he would take, did not
concern himself with any element of his life with her. He only wondered how he would
fill his time for a full year; how he could convince Caesar to recall him sooner … and he
wondered if Marcus had been serious about making him a general.
The very idea stuck fear like the vicious blow of a sword into his belly. How could
Marcus think that he was suitable for such a position? He was a simple soldier and
satisfied to be such; struggled day and night to perform his simple duties well. Such a rise
in the ranks seemed unwarranted. He saw nothing extraordinary about himself. Surely
Marcus would not have thought to reward him for simply following orders? Protect
Caesar? He could do that out of his boundless love and respect for the man. Handle a
ragged group of young soldiers? He could do that … and only because he knew he was
but one of them. Turn them into substantial men? Maximus could only do that by
example and he did not feel he was a worthy teacher … even a worthy enough man. He
was only a man, flawed. Struggling. Often failed.
After all, he had soiled the daughter of his Caesar.
“Ah,” Maximus said to his tiny campfire at the side of a rocky road. “Perhaps this is
Caesar’s revenge?” But he chuckled. How difficult could it all be? A soft woman to sleep
beside, to fuck and leave when he was called. He would provide for her, be responsible
for her. He would do his duty by Caesar and the stranger he was to call wife. But in his
heart … he would always query Marcus’ reasons for insisting such. Did he not know that
Maximus would never again touch Lucilla? Did Caesar see marriage as a stronger chain
to hold him from her? It baffled the young man, as it had never occurred to him not to
follow Caesar’s requests, order or not.
When he arrived at the town, he dropped from his horse to embrace the old woman,
Donum, who awaited him as if on cue at the gate. “Ah,” he laughed, lifted her from her
feet and swung her in a circle. “It was worth this long journey just to see you again!”
“Leave me to stand and look at you, Maximus! You have grown to be a beautiful, strong
“Have I? I fear you see me through the eyes of an old woman who loves me.”
“Any woman will love you. Now come, let me take you to see your bride.”
Maximus hesitated, glanced around busy street, shifted from foot to foot. “Donum, why
has this been decided for me?”
“As with all things in your life, it is destined. Do you not wish to marry?”
“No,” he grunted, lifted the reigns and led his horse to the stable, the old woman at his
side, her head barely reaching his shoulder. “I do not. I do not understand the reasons.”
“But you will,” her eye twinkled, knowing full well the kind of man Maximus was. He
would follow the orders of his Caesar, the gods, even an old witch. Compassion and
commitment were part and parcel of the bond that held his heart and mind as one. Even
as a boy, anyone could have seen such. But Donum saw more; was blessed that Caesar
had followed her strong recommendations. And … she was pleased to have Maximus
again in her able hands … if only for a brief time.
She led him from the stables to the market where they stood quietly and watched. When
finally Lauria came into view, as usual a bit disheveled and pleasantly smiling with her
slave, Donum pointed her out. “There. That is your bride, Maximus. Is she not
Maximus watched the young woman closely. Watched her mannerisms, observed her
form, the expressions on her face. He very much wanted to be pleased, to be enticed,
possibly even excited, but these things did not come. Instead Maximus noticed the
differences. Her hair was far darker than Lucilla’s. She was taller, possibly nearly his own
height. Her eyes were deep. She seemed playful, but was that of interest to him? It was
not. It was a dire time for his heart, and he would have been greatly soothed has she even
remotely resembled the woman he truly loved. He groaned quietly then turned to the old
witch. “She is beautiful,” he commented without enthusiasm.
She chuckled. “Come, I will take you to your room at the inn and inform the family of
your arrival. The marriage will take place on the morrow.” Her hand soothed the bulky
muscle of his forearm. “I assure you, once you have accepted this, it will be pleasant.
Would you like for me to arrange a prostitute for this evening for you?”
Maximus’ brow rose. “I have arranged for my own whores for quite some time, old
woman. If I chose to do so the night before I take a bride, it will not be your business.”
“Of course. Of course.”
But Maximus did not take a whore. He did not even take his evening meal. Maximus
sought the solace of sleep that night.
The marriage was quickly prepared and before the noon hour, Maximus stood beside the
stranger and accepted her as wife. He did not see the tears in her eyes, did not even look
at her throughout the copious and lavish celebration that followed. He found it difficult to
look at her has he led her to their home, a home he did not know or particularly like. As
she entered the gate alone, he glanced around. A farmer. He was to be a farmer? What he
knew of planting and reaping was minimal … he was a soldier. And he would always be a
At the door of their bed chamber he stood just outside the portal. His eyes were astute and
sad. The room was prepared for a man to take his virgin bride in peace. The bed, large.
The surroundings, mellow in the candlelight. But gauging from the stance of his bride …
she was none the more pleased than he. Maximus straightened his shoulders in surprise.
Perhaps the soldier was heading into battle he had not foreseen.
At the door of their bed chamber Maximus stood just outside the portal. His eyes were
astute and sad. The room was prepared for a man to take his virgin bride in peace. The
bed, large. The surroundings, mellow in the candlelight. But gauging from the stance of
his bride … she was none the more pleased than he. Maximus straightened his shoulders
in surprise. Perhaps the soldier was heading into battle he had not foreseen.
Lauria swallowed hard, raised her chin defiantly and prayed. After all, she had respected
her mother’s pleas and honored her uncle’s agreement. She had married this brute of a
man who never even once looked into her eyes. So now, they were wed. Now they would
meet in the center of the marriage bed and she would endure her first night as his wife.
But if she was prepared to follow her plan, it would be the last time he would reach for
her. A tiny grin tugged at the corner of her lip. She truly believed she could deceive her
new husband. It was vital that she succeed, for why else would he choose to ignore her
for the rest of her days?
She moved her hips on a slow erotic thrum, matching the rhythm of the music inside her
head. Three times she and her slave had snuck to the unsavory part of the town to watch
the prostitutes dance. Three times she studied their enticing, lewd movements. Three
times she saw how the men tossed their gold coins to roughly fuck those whores, then
washed themselves off to leave the experience behind. There were no men of
consequence there, no men in Caesar’s favor who must uphold a standard. No men the
caliber of the man she was forced to marry. In Lauria’s mind, men like her husband
would be disgusted with such a display … and so she was determined to offer exactly that
to her dignified, honorable groom.
Lauria knew nothing of men. She was virgin. She was … foolish. As her hips swayed and
rolled, her hands swept gracefully in the air and her eyes focused on his. Those eyes were
intriguing and for a moment all her movement stopped. Those eyes were penetrating.
Strange. Beautiful. Painfully beautiful. With a small gasp, she blinked and resumed her
dance, bending back then slowly sweeping her long ebony hair along the floor before
straightening to continue her agenda.
Her fear mounted, but it also spurred her on. For if she could fully displease this man, he
might leave her, he might be magnanimous enough to leave her with her house, her
slaves, her land. He might be disgusted enough to simply divorce her, leaving her to
marry the man she truly loved. A graceful swing and turn on her toe, a flick of her belt,
shift of her shoulder and her gown elegantly slid from her body. One more fluid move
and she was on her knees at his feet, but she could not bring herself to touch him. And
again, Lauria made the ultimate mistake of looking up into his eyes.
Her heart stuttered. Her breath caught. They called him Maximus. They told her he would
be one of Caesar’s generals. What they had not told her was where his heart lay, for
surely he did not want the marriage any more than she. His glare became intense. She
stood slowly, blinking embarrassment and shying to hide her flushed cheeks.
His huge hand clamped lightly on her shoulder. “Woman,” he growled. “You are no
whore. A whore knows to never look into a man’s eyes, only to appear do so. A whore
knows that there are men not to be trifled with. And a whore wastes no time with
frivolity. Why do you choose to seem so?”
“Because I dislike you!” she spat into his face. “Because I despise you, you displease me!
I do not relish the idea of being with you, husband!” Terror made her entire body tremble,
and even though his expression reflected the insult she had intended, his strong hands
tenderly supported her, for surely she would collapse from her fear.
“You may dislike me. You may despise me, and you may be displeased by me. But you
and I have accepted this rocky road. And so we will proceed. If you truly wish to be
treated as a whore, take to your hands and knees and I will fuck you. If you prefer a more
pleasant taking of your virginity, lie on the bed and open your legs, wife,” he hissed.
Indignity flared Lauria’s nostrils. She hated this man! With a huff she turned, lowered to
the floor on her knees, her brow firmly placed to the cold stone floor. She would not give
him the dignity of seeing her tears when he tore her path opened.
Maximus’ head dropped and he groaned. She was a foolish young girl, but he was
behaving as foolishly as she. He reached down, clasped around her hips and lifted her
onto the bed. He pressed to roll her naked body over and he looked. It was a lovely body,
it was young and strong and rounded, it held promise and potential. Gripping her eyes
with his, he slowly removed his tunic and stood before her. He watched her attention drift
to his manhood and her eyes widen. Ah yes, his bride was virgin and he would be gentle.
He would just make sure she did not realize that he was being tender with her. Lauria had
chosen the battlefield. She would learn with time. The rules of marriage were clear.
He placed a knee between her legs and pulled her thighs opened, carefully exploring deep
with one finger, then two, then three until she cried out. Maximus licked the blood from
his hand then pressed her thighs wider. Rule number one: his wife was his property to do
with as he pleased. He pleased to love her, but he did not. Perhaps he could care for her?
He placed his cock at her opening. Lauria was whimpering. His lips lowered to comfort
and kiss hers but she turned away. With the push of his hand, he managed to meet mouth
to mouth, he sucked, devoured, pressed and ground his teeth to hers as his cock painfully,
slowly breached her tight path. His body’s desire was to fuck her, pummel her, forget her
pain or fear. But he was husband. He would be kind. And so he suffered the tedious, slow
Rule number two: She would stand by him and please him, whatever her thoughts. But
Lauria surely had her own thoughts, just as Lucilla had. Did she truly find him so
undesirable? Was it her intention to press her own wishes by displeasing him so early in
their time as husband and wife? To act as whore? Or did she think such a thing would
please him? Maximus was deep into a war he had no experience with. Lucilla had pressed
her wishes and he had found love. Had Lauria pressed her wishes, whatever the reasons
for them, would they find … if not love … peace?
Rule number three: she will be seen and not heard, will not intrude upon her husband’s
life or wishes or goals. She will support and stand beside him. Will she? Should any
woman blindly do such a thing?
Maximus fought to cradle her body tenderly; his hands snaked between her flesh and the
mattress to hold her close as he thrust smoothly, deeply into his wife. Her hair had the
scent of life, bubbling and fresh. Her flesh was heated with fury and her coming climax
and he smiled. If Lauria was confused, it was good. For he too was confused. As he had
said, they had accepted this rocky road. Together they would tread it. For all the soldier
knew, confusion was the only way to begin such a journey.
His body throbbed, fired, his thrusts became uncontrolled and finally, after many, many
attempts at holding his need at bay, he burst into her, seeding Luaria, planting his hopes
for, if nothing else, a peaceful year with her.
He dropped, shaking, exhausted, spent and slid his sweating flesh from hers. His sated
mind held little except the truth. The rules of marriage were foolishness. He did not, nor
would he ever own this woman as property. He would only have her as lover and wife,
and she might easily never willing come to him again. Lauria may never stand by him or
for him, she may never be silent, she may never even care of his dreams or goals. Her
mere existence as his wife indicated that no one cared of his goals. His life belonged to a
destiny designed for him long before he drew his first breath.
If she was to be a part of his destiny, the road was already placed. They would travel it,
pleasantly or not. He sighed. “Are you all right?”
“I … hate … you.” Lauria sniffled back tears, rolled her back to him and flinched when
he attempted to comfort her. Maximus rose from his marriage bed and left to sleep in
another room. He would not return to that bed until he was invited. He had fulfilled his
commitment to the bride he took. Anything more was by their choice.
Lucilla found even less in her marriage. Lucius was a selfish, demanding old man. He
seemed to adore having a young, beautiful wife, but cared little for her mind, her soul …
or her body.
Lucius could not bring himself to plant his seed within Lucilla. He would harden for her,
breach her opening, sheath himself deep within her but he could not reach fruition,
growing soft and sliding from her unfulfilled path, completely unaware and in mid-act.
All his normal desires were there, pressing within his chest, all his body could do was
travel halfway to his goal. Lucius chose to believe that Lucilla was the reason; that her
indiscretions prior to their marriage had poisoned her path, that she was unsavory and
unclean. But then again, Lucilla was Caesar’s daughter; she paved the path for his life in
Rome. In public, he treated her as his treasure. In private, he did not speak to her, touch
her or even consider sitting in the same room with her.
His ambitions were all that assured her protection, and Lucilla chose to seek comfort
elsewhere. Comfort, and the seed to bring an heir to the throne. It would take her many
long months of watching and planning, of observing and analyzing, but before it was
unreasonably long, she would conceive a child that could feasibly be her husband’s. Who
would question? Surely not the, pompous, arrogant and extremely inadequate Lucius
Unhappy as her life may have become, she was in Rome. Lucilla loved the city, loved its
energy, loved the light and the softness, the power and the simplicity. It was her true
home and she believed she would never tire of it or turn her back to it. Rome was her true
mother, her true father and her true love. All else was peripheral. All else, unimportant.
Love had long passed, walked away when Commodus gave the order and Maximus left
her behind. Love was a gift she had squandered; something that would always belong to
the young, low born man who grew up in the summer palace with her. Love for Maximus
was all that held her to her lies, to her hidden shame. And that love would never die, even
after she herself died.
The daughter of Caesar must go on. She must continue. And she set her eye for the man
who would father her child. This was critical, as her older sister had learned that no more
children would survive in her womb; her three, consecutive daughters having been born
dead and created such great damage. Commodus was ill and might not live longer than
her father. Caesar was aging quickly. The responsibility of bearing a son to lead Rome lay
on her shoulders. Lucilla must choose carefully.
Sitting alone at her desk in her ever silent bed chamber, she penned a letter to Senator
Gracus; an invitation that could quite possibly change the future of the Empire.
The old woman nearly fell to her knees. Maximus rolled his eyes and shook his head in
frustration. Lauria’s mother was even more fearful than her daughter. What was it they
feared? Every time he crossed paths with either woman of the house, they reacted
strangely, Lauria abruptly turning and walking away, her wrinkled mother groveling and
begging forgiveness for nothing he could identify. Maximus was not accustomed to such
behavior toward him and often found himself away from the big house for days and days
to avoid it.
Even the groveling, nervous slaves were a frustration for him. He had always treated
slaves kindly, spoke respectfully and intelligently with them. Never before had he owned
slaves. Lauria’s dowry brought him twenty-eight slaves and he knew not the name of
even one of them, nor duties they held. His life had become unbearable. It had to stop!
And it would stop with this old mother in law.
He reached down and gently took her arm. “Come, I wish to speak with you.” He led her
to the quiet corner of the house he liked most. It served as a study, peaceful, far from the
noise of the house. She sat on the offered chair then instantly sobbed into her hands.
“What troubles you, old woman?” he said, exasperated.
“We have displeased you! Oh Maximus, I beg of you, my daughter is young and foolish.
She knows not what she risks by closing you away from her bed.”
“And what makes you believe that she has closed me away from her bed? Perhaps I have
chosen to give her time and space to be alone?”
“She has displeased you! Why else would you shun her?”
Maximus groaned. “I have not shunned her old mother. There are things here to be …
smoothed into play … I believe.”
“But you have little time; you will be called to war and without a son, what will hold you
to your commitment? You will throw us out, leave us destitute, poor,” the old woman
gasped, sobbed, ran a sleeve under her sopping nose.
“Put you out of your own house? Old mother, are you mad? Why would I do such a
thing? Is that the reason you treat me as though I were a brutal lord of property? I assure
you, I am not. I am a soldier. I did not choose this marriage any more than Lauria did.”
“You will not put us out in the streets to beg?”
“Never! You are safe, this is your home. I can not even begin to understand the functions
of this place,” he stood and glanced through the arched window, down at the beautiful
land. “Those vineyards are as foreign to me as … as … as your daughter.”
“What do you expect from us, Maximus?” she said softly, finally calm.
“Live your lives, old mother. Keep this farm alive and profitable. Should Lauria and I
ever conceive, our son will need to be educated, to have land and a future. I am unable to
be a farmer, I – ”
“Why, young man? Why can you not be a farmer? You have many months yet to learn?”
“To what end? I will leave here, quite possible die in battle. What benefit would it be to
anyone should I learn to farm? And,” he winked, grinned at the old woman. “It’s very
possible I am unable to understand such an undertaking. Perhaps I wish to avoid failure?”
She smiled and for the first time since seeing Maximus, she reached up and placed a soft,
gnarled hand on his face. “You do not fear failure, my young son-in-law. You fear
acceptance. Accepting this life does not mean that you are weak. It is a hard life, worthy
of only the strongest of souls and backs.”
“How would I learn so much with so little time?”
“Cicero was purchased immediately after the agreement was made for the marriage. He
was purchased as your personal slave and he was chosen very wisely. Cicero was a
farmer’s slave most of his young life. He then became a Prefect’s slave. He is well
prepared to serve his owner’s farming needs, his political needs and his military needs,”
she smiled wide.
“A slave? Purchased for me? By whom?”
“Cicero was my wedding gift to you, Maximus. I knew you would face many challenges
and I only wished to please you with a perfect slave to help you. I most humbly apologize
if it was inappropriate.”
He grimaced then quickly smiled, looked around then took his old mother-in-law into an
affectionate embrace. “And who is this Cicero?”
She pointed behind them and Maximus turned. He had seen this humble slave, seen him
almost everywhere he went, following at a distance, awaiting any request or need he
might have. Maximus reached out his hand and the slave grasped his wrist and bowed his
“Come, Cicero. You have much to teach me, have you not?”
Lauria observed her husband in the fields. He watched the men work, he asked questions,
he looked often to the skies and he smiled. He talked with his slave with honest
camaraderie and respect. He had forged a kind friendship with her mother. Lauria had
begun to feel as though she were alone against her enemy.
But in the deepest fiber of her heart, he did not seem the enemy. Even though she and
Maximus had not touched again since the night of their marriage, she could still taste the
delights of that night. Still tremble at the memories of his tenderness. Still quiver when
she watched his hands move, recalling the sensations of him holding her close. Maximus
had mystified her, stolen her soul and without saying a direct word, demanded her body,
for just the sound of his voice across the house created inexplicable wetness in her private
Her mind demanded explanation. Did she not love Crisius? More than life, more than
breath? Had they not secretly met in the shadows of the village to whisper and kiss? Did
he not promise to wait until her plan reached fruition so that they could finally marry?
How could Maximus intercept her heart in the midst of such love? But in truth, Lauria
had twice over the past week fully forgotten her planned clandestine meeting with
Crisius. Had left him to wait alone as she watched her husband become a farmer, a land
owner, a friend to her mother … and the true owner of her heart.
That evening she walked the small garden, snipping herbs for the kitchen and basking in
a contentment she thought she would never know again, for that day she consciously
chose to leave Crisius behind forever. She had made a commitment and would honor it,
even if it proved unhappy, it would protect her home for her mother’s old age. Leaving
the garden, a sprig of basil twirling in her fingers, she strolled along the lines of vines.
Drifting on the night breeze, she heard his voice and slowly lowered to sit, unseen in the
“You have taught me much, Cicero.”
“I have taught you nothing that was not there for you to read, Maximus.”
“Nature moves in many ways, my friend. You have pointed out the seasons, the elements,
rain, wind, sun. You have shown me the rhythm of a farmer … but you have also shown
me the rhythm of my own nature, of the destiny I have fought. You see, Cicero, this life, a
farmer’s life, is patterned against a flow that can not be changed. It is rife with surprises;
fire, too much rain … or too little rain. A farmer’s destiny is controlled by the whim of
the gods. So is my life, my friend. So is my life.”
“Will you change how you live it, Maximus?”
“No Cicero. I will change how I … accept it.”
That night, Lauria bathed and slid a silky shift over her damp body. She dressed her hair
elegantly and paced her room on bare feet. Waiting until long after the entire house was
asleep Lauria silently went to the room in which Maximus had chosen to sleep. She slid
inside and watched his still, sleeping body.
For hours she watched, a tear sliding down her cheek and her heart breaking. She wanted
so much to reach out and touch him, to speak kind, loving words to him, to be with her
husband as she should be. But every moment she stood frozen in place, her mind worked
hard against her heart and finally, Lauria believed that whatever love could have grown
for them was forever destroyed by her cruelty. She watched his exposed flesh warm to the
rising dawn. But before his eyes fluttered opened, Lauria left to cry alone in her bed.
Maximus took his midday meal alone with Lauria’s old uncle, he at the table as the old
man lounged across from him on a cushioned couch in a Roman fashion the young man
would never understand.
The old man was a retired soldier; he still wore his Legionnaire’s ring proudly and often
talked of battle and the excitement of that life with his wrinkled friends. He greatly
admired Marcus Aurelius although he had never met him. Having his niece married to a
man of rank in Caesar’s favor was not only an honor, but also a coup among his peers.
They ate casually and talked of the orchards and vines, of the household that was now
fully in Maximus’ care and the old man was impressed. Maximus was a very intelligent
sort, perceptibly able to grasp farming as well as business, politics as well as military
strategy and it was obvious why Marcus Aurelius found him of great value.
A joyous squeal caught their attention and both men glanced through the large, opened
portico. Outside, just past the floating thin fabric and lush gardens, Lauria played with
two of the slave children, lifting one high as the other begged for his turn. Maximus felt
his lips tug into a slight smile. He was suddenly amazed at the similarities between he
and his young bride. Similarities that he did not even realize existed within himself. He
admired her strength, the way she treated those around her, how she honored her mother
and old uncle.
The old man sighed sadly, regaining Maximus’ full attention. “My son, I understand from
my sister-in-law that you may not be pleased with this marriage.”
Maximus returned his attention to the laughing children and the amazing smile on
Lauria’s face, to the way her lovely body moved beneath her gown and the sound of her
soft voice on the breeze.
“My niece is like a wild horse, soldier,” the man grunted. “She only needs to be broken in
order to serve her master.”
But Maximus had no intention of breaking Lauria. No interest in seeing her bow to his
every whim, no desire to drag her to his bed and have his way whenever he felt the call.
At that very moment he was fighting that need, his palms burning with the memory of her
tender flesh pressed beneath them. How her form molded to his touch, the fire in her
eyes. And even after the old man had left, Maximus found himself walking far from the
gardens; the mere sound of her laughter had become too much and he feared that perhaps
he was the one in need of being broken. So long a soldier, had he no clue how to be a
It had been months since their first and only encounter, he had faced these strong needs
before and as with those times, he mounted his horse and left for the town. There he
would find a suitable recipient for his desires, closing his eyes and seeing Lauria’s pretty
face to bring the experience to a higher level.
That day he would choose carefully, passing several brothels in search of a woman who
could give him more than just the searing path between her legs. As he turned the bend
and returned to the marketplace, planning to cross the space and peruse the prostitutes of
the temple, he stopped suddenly and stepped back, he positioned carefully to watch what
he had spied. Maximus’ breath caught at the beauty of his wife, strolling casually and
laughing with her favorite slave girl.
They fingered items on display, purchased a fine bolt of fabric then moved toward a
market stall boasting lovely clay vessels, large and small, painted brilliantly. He folded
his arms and smiled, feeling the voyeur for such an innocent observation … for it was not
the items she touched, it was the fact that her hands touched them, caressed them, slid
sensuously over the shape of them.
But suddenly his view was blocked by the broad shoulders of a large man; a man
standing far too close to Lauria for Maximus’ liking. He moved nearer in hopes of either
intimidating the intruder or at least overhearing what he was saying to his wife.
A public place! Such a public place and Crisius had boldly moved so near to her, she felt
her skin tingle. Before she could open her mouth to protest he had leaned in and gasped
into her ear.
“Have you deserted me, my love? I wait and I pray to the gods that there is a reason you
have not come to me. I have been patient! I have never taken you as my body demands,
and I have awaited your announcement of divorce. Why have I not seen you all these
She stepped back; pulling herself away from him but the large display booth loaded with
pottery blocked her retreat. “Go!” she whispered. “Leave me, Crisius, you must go.”
“But what of us?” His desperate voice had risen and Lauria felt those around her weave
in tighter to hear.
“Leave me alone!” She stomped a foot and hissed. “Never come near me again!”
“But what of my love for you?” Crisius shouted.
Embarrassment blazed on her face but she stood her ground. “You may forget that. I love
another, I love my husband!” Her whisper was loud enough and the crowd sighed,
nodded approval then suddenly split just as Crisius dove to kiss her mouth. His lips did
not reach hers.
Maximus had heard it all, the throng having gone so silent even the sound of a bird’s
chirp, thirty paces away could be clearly identified. He charged to them but fought his
heart’s first demand; to take his wife and drag her away in shame. He fought his desire to
kill the man who’d approached her so shamelessly, simply grasping his arm and swinging
it so that he flew through the tight gathering of onlookers and tumbled into a cowering
ball. What Maximus did not fight was his desire to comfort Lauria. He shielded her under
his arm and guided her from the market, her slave scurrying a short distance behind and
struggling to carry all the packages.
“Are you alright?” he whispered as they gathered his horse, ignoring all who watched and
gossiped. She did not answer as he walked beside her, the horse at his side and the poor
slave behind. When they cleared the gates and slowed their pace, he asked again. “Are
you hurt, wife?”
Lauria shook her head and turned away, not wanting him to see her tears.
“Who was that man?” he asked calmly. Again she did not answer, but what he did hear
were the grunts and groans of the poor slave girl behind them. He stopped, gathered all
her bundles and mounted them on the horse. Then he carefully lifted her upon it as well.
Announcing, “He will take you to the house safely,” he slapped the animal’s rump lightly
and it walked ahead, moving faster then he and Lauria and soon over the rise and out of
Lucilla sat across from Gracus in a private room at his villa. She had come secretly to
make her proposal and had spoken her words elegantly, carefully and with impact.
Gracus rolled his shoulders uncomfortably.
“My dear Lucilla. This is a remarkable proposal that you make, but I am unsure of why
you have chosen me for such an important undertaking.”
She smiled softly, eyed him carefully. There was much about this man that reminded her
of her father, and much that reminded her of Maximus. Gracus was a man of position and
a man of honor. He was a man clearly aware of secrecy and the part it played in her life.
He was a tender man with soft eyes and gentle hands. She had known for a long time that
he enjoyed the intimate company of both men and women, but his interest in buggery did
not concern her. Most men she knew in Rome used boys as well as women to fulfill their
sexual needs. It was his interest in women that was her sole focus. That … and his seed.
“Gracus, it is vital that I produce an heir for the throne. My husband is incapable and I
will not shame him by not conceiving a child.”
“And what have the physicians to say, Lucilla? Lucius Verris is a vital, healthy man by all
Roman standards. They must have a cure.”
“He will not seek it,” she sighed frustration. “There is no other solution. He does not
know my intention, but when I am with child, he will not question, I assure you.”
Gracus stood, paced with irritation, sweat beading on his brow. “But the danger to you,
“Come, sit Gracus.” He obeyed and she knelt at his feet, looked up solemnly and resumed
her argument. “The dangers to me are mine to take. There will be no signs to you and you
will be safe. Please understand me, I do not offer my body lightly. As important as it is
for me to present a son to Rome, I have chosen carefully and I have chosen you.” Her
smile was sad but sincere. “I respect and admire you, my friend. I … like you.”
His hand tenderly cupped her face and he leaned down to kiss her lips lightly. “I have
always loved you, little dear. Since the first day your mother presented you to us, a tiny,
howling infant, determined and bold even then. I have watched you grow and I have
missed you over the years that you have been hidden away from Rome. What you offer is
a massive honor. But what of my own failings, Lucilla?”
“Yes, my dear. What if I too fail to plant a seed within your womb? What if I give you a
daughter? What then?”
She grinned, her eyes sparkling for surely she had succeeded in her efforts. “Then
Gracus, we will need to try again … and again … and again.” She stood and kissed him
deeply. “For I not only seek to conceive, I also seek to fulfill my own needs. It can be a
most pleasant arrangement, Gracus. Most pleasant indeed.”
He rose to his feet, Lucilla wrapped tight in his embrace and he wondered of her past; of
the rumored relationship with the soldier, Maximus, of the whispered murder of her
unborn child at her own hands. No one in Rome truly believed that she was Verris’ virgin
bride. But virginity was greatly overrated to Gracus’ mind. If Lucilla was to become his
lover, he preferred her as she was at that moment. Willing, excited, needing what he had
to give … and demanding nothing of him but his attention. He would always love and
respect Caesar’s daughter, even without this peculiar twist of events. But now, he could
love her in a way that was not openly political, that would never compromise his
position, and would always satisfy his hunger.
His hand snaked between them and cupped her breast, fingers tightening over a begging
nipple and Lucilla moaned into his neck. “Perhaps we should being this very day?” he
Her answer was a passionate kiss, sucking at his lips and firing him further. There was no
guilt or remorse playing at the edges of his mind. He was serving Lucilla, serving
himself, and hopefully serving Rome by giving her the son she desperately needed.
For many, many months Commodus had struggled at the summer palace; struggled with
his doctors and his pain, with his loneliness and misgivings. Regrets weighed heavy on
him, pounding in his head and fighting his own intentions to overcome a disease none of
Caesar’s physicians could manage better than he alone had done.
Jealousy was his overwhelming bourdon. The inappropriateness of his desire for his own
sister was buried in the privacy of that wretched place so far from Rome. He had fallen
into a trap of safety, could wish for her until his body was out of control then flow with
his needs without thought. He had raped her and he knew it. He had very possibly
damaged Maximus, his brother and friend; by exposing the relationship with Lucilla, by
insulting and embarrassing him. By leaking the information of Lucilla’s decision to abort
and leaving it for Caesar to believe the paternal seed to have been from Maximus.
And now his sister lived and lavished far away in Rome but surely suffered in a loveless
marriage. He’d heard of the forced marriage of Maximus and a farm girl in Tujillo and he
was saddened by it all. What had he wrought with his malice and jealously? And where
would this monster end? Commodus knew that it must end with his malady.
He continued to experiment with his own versions of the hated tonic, lessening its
potency, its frequency, its ready access. He used physical activity to ward off his need for
relief, walking, running distances, plunging into the cold nearby river, even fasting and
noting which foods increased or decreased his discomfort.
Finally, Commodus and Caesar’s doctors had determined that he was well. He had
controlled his symptoms without their assistance, but understood that without their
recommendation, he would never rejoin his father at the battlefield. But even with those
sterling reports, Caesar had chosen to send his son elsewhere. To Rome. There he was to
spend his time learning and understanding the politics of the city.
Commodus was not pleased, he wished to show his father first hand the value that he
could be at his side, but he would follow the command. Such would give him opportunity
to enjoy the spoils of Rome, the power of it, and he would again be close to Lucilla.
This time, he would control his desires for her as she was wife to that sad excuse of a
man, Lucius Verris. Commodus would show respect, he would humble himself in
Lucilla’s presence and he knew that his sister would forgive him.
And perhaps … perhaps … Commodus would even take a wife. Perhaps.
Maximus and Lauria walked in silence, the heat of the day slowly dissipating into
evening chill as the sun kissed then slid below the horizon.
“Who was that man, Lauria?” Maximus finally spoke gently; sure she would run if he
showed the least aggression. She impressed him with her honest and quick answer.
“Crisius is the man I had loved since my girlhood, husband. He is the man I thought I
His step slowed and she slowed to remain beside him, her ear cocked for anger or
reprimand, her heart prepared for his wrath. But it was a day for learning about each
other, and Maximus too had secrets she did not know.
He nodded, considering. “Wife, I too had a love before the arrangement for our marriage
was made. But already I understood that I could not have her. She had too been married
off to the most appropriate man. Forgive me, Lauria, but I do understand your loss … and
I do understand your man’s loss.”
She shrugged. “Life and destiny are not in our hands, I have learned.”
Maximus stopped and she turned to look up into his face, lighted by the sunset’s
afterglow and nearly taking her breath for how pleasing he was to her eyes.
“There is no option, husband. We are … committed to one another.”
“I heard you say things to him, Lauria,” his brow curled in curiosity. “I heard you tell him
that you love your husband. Surely I have done nothing to deserve such favor, and I am
only to assume the words were spoken to save face. I do understand such things, wife, but
perhaps we should consider changing our fate. This man, Crisius loves you. You have
loved him long and true.” He cleared his throat and eyed a cluster of birds settling nearby
for the night. “Perhaps I should consider divorcing you, Lauria. Perhaps that would be the
only kindness I can offer you.”
But the pain in his expression could not be hidden. His shoulders had dropped in defeat
and even his sad sigh was audible. Lauria took a deep breath.
“Have I truly displeased you so, Maximus?”
His eyes shot to hers, she had never spoken his name before, never in his presence, and
he had not expected such tenderness in her voice. His head shook. She had not displeased
him, ever, even during their unhappy wedding night.
“I had spoken truth in the market. I do love my husband, more than I imagined a woman
can love a man. I love his honor and his kindness, the observations I have foolishly made
and not participated in. I wish to love him fully as wife. I do not wish a divorce, Maximus
… I wish a marriage.”
Commodus made the long, uncomfortable journey to Rome and hid himself in Caesar’s
palace for two full days in careful recovery from that trial. When his head was clear and
pain free, his mind alive with the extraordinary light of the magnificent city he loved, he
chose to make his way to Lucilla first. It was a far more pleasant plan than meeting with
the Senators or discussing his duties and educational responsibilities according to his
He was unsure of what he expected. His mother and father had been married long before
her untimely death. They were kind to each other when together, but that was seldom. He
might have been prepared to see a close, loving bond between his sister and her affluent
husband. He might have expected a happy playfulness, as Verus had been lucky enough
to marry a bright and beautiful young woman alive with joyful energy. He might have
thought to see many things, but not what he did witness. There was no sign of the old
soldier, no mention of his presence in her life and little reflection of marriage at all in his
sister’s demeanor, except for the regal attitude of her position.
His arrival had been announced, but there was no fanfare. Inside the door, Lucilla stood
alone, smiled and reached out her hands to him but there was a sternness in her eyes that
chilled his soul.
“Surely you can forgive me,” he whispered into her ear as they formally embraced. She
said nothing but led him to a room where they lounged on separate couches and accepted
wine from the slave.
“How is your health, brother?”
“You have not answered me, Lucilla.” His eyes begged. “Tell me I am forgiven.”
“You will never be forgiven, Commodus,” she hissed. “I will forever love you my
brother, do not ask for what cannot be given.”
He bowed his head. “I will accept your love, but I will forever beg your forgiv – ”
“Domina, Florae has arrived,” interrupted a rude slave, but Commodus did not comment,
curious as to whether Lucilla had request that their reunion be interrupted rudely and
often. He grinned, sipped from the golden goblet then thought, tapped his fingertip
against the metal.
“Florae? Surely that cannot be your silly girlhood friend? The skinny one with thin lips
and dull eyes?”
“I take offence to that, Commodus,” a sweet, playful voice drifted on the scented air.
He turned and nearly gasped. The unattractive little girl had grown to be a beautiful
woman. Not only a woman worth looking at, but a woman strikingly similar to his own
beloved Lucilla. He turned on the cushion and sat upright.
“This cannot be the same girl. This is a ravishing beauty! I am very pleased to see you
She settled on a chair and turned her attention to Lucilla. “I am sorry to come
unannounced, but I simply found that if I did not leave my house, I might surely kill my
husband.” And she offered a beguiling smile that captured Commodus heart.
“You mustn’t say such things, Florae. Brutus is a good man … perhaps a foul and
insensitive husband … but a good Roman,” Lucilla teased.
“And of course, that is most important, is it not?” Florae’s eyes slid to Commodus and
toured his form. She smiled and actually permitted the tip of her pink tongue to slide
along her perfectly shaped upper lip. “Perhaps I should take a lover. What do you think,
Lucilla? A beautiful man who can make me feel like a beautiful woman?”
“What I think is that it is quite possibly time to redirect this conversation. Will you be
attending the dinner given in honor of my brother’s return to Rome?”
She glanced keenly at Commodus, her focus strategically dropping to his crotch. “Oh,
most certainly. I would never pass the honor of welcoming Caesar’s son to Rome, now
Maximus had learned much in the past hours, learned that his beautiful wife did in fact
love him, that she did wish a marriage and was surprisingly most earnest to pursue that
When they reached the house, she took his hand in hers, laughed that bubbling sound that
drove him mad with desire for her then ran with Maximus in tow all the way to their bed.
He closed the door to their chamber and watched her joyously turn on her toes, her
clothing loose and the hem of her gown wild at her ankles. He swooped her into an
embrace and kissed her soundly, took every flavor he found and savored it, licking into
her mouth and whispering his pleasure. Sitting her at the edge of the bed he knelt at her
small feet and slowly untied the laces of her sandals. He kissed her ankle, her calf, the
inside of her thigh and slid her hem higher and higher until he could reach the tie at her
waist and remove the covering at her private place.
The scent called to his desperate tongue and he hurried to expose her to him, exploring
with his eyes and fingers, expelling a groan that brought again that lilting laughter, this
time throaty and desirous.
His mouth dove and lapped, sucked and possessed until she writhed to his ministrations,
crying his name breathlessly and begging for him to take her, to love to, to seed her.
Maximus could not remember ever finding this kind of satisfaction. It did not wait until
his explosion inside her womb. It came to him in blessed increments, slowly, moment by
moment and with every new touch, every sign of her delight, every proclamation of love
from his own lips and hers. How could this have happened? How was he worthy of such
happiness? He felt his soul bloom with a pleasure and liveliness, a complete commitment
to hold such a level of satisfaction for all the days of his life. Louria was more than a wife
and responsibility. She was more than something he had accepted to please his Caesar.
Lauria was a part of him and Maximus sensed a fulfillment he had never before
experienced. A replacement of his missing part. She would save him, make him whole
and he would forever be grateful. Forever love her.
“I will not hurt you, my wife,” he whispered as he pressed his aching, needing cock deep
into her silky, ready path.
“And I will never hurt you, my husband.”
The words made him stop, blink. Think. No woman should speak such words. It was a
husband’s full responsibility to protect his property. But this wife knew marriage to be
more than any man had learned. Lauria would be his partner. She would bring all to him
as he would to her, and this was the magic the old witch had spoken of. The power she
promised him, for surely without Lauria, Maximus would never reach his destiny. He
knew this to be undeniably true.
There was a sudden, all consuming need to sew the seed of the future in her, to assure his
legacy and satisfy her need to give him a child. His hips pressed deep and she moaned.
“Hold onto me tight, my love,” he grunted as he thrust harder and harder. “As I will hold
tight onto you.” Sweat beaded then dropped onto her face as he worked his body into a
frenzy. His readiness to fulfill his fate and bond without question to the woman beneath
him build to a heady pressure. Maximus cried out as everything he had hidden deep in his
heart since the day of his birth flooded in a speeding rush to fill Lauria’s waiting womb.
Lucilla stood before Lucius Verus in silence. Her shoulders were squared boldly and her
back was straight with dignity.
“You dare speak these words to me?” he spat. “You have shamelessly taken a lover,
become impregnated and dare to tell me this with … pride?” He was pacing feverishly,
his mind spinning with what to do next. His honor could never accept such a thing! She
was a whore when he married her, should he have expected any less than what she’d just
presented? “Who! Who is the fucking father?”
Lucilla did not blink or waver. Her voice was calm and sweet, her hands steady at her
sides. “You are the father, my dear husband. Lucius, I have done this for you. To save
face and prove to the world that you are a worthy husband, a man who can give Caesar an
heir. You are the father, Lucius. You.”
He dropped onto a chair, looked into her eyes. “Why? Why would you do this for me?
And what man laughs behind my back?”
“I am not a foolish woman, husband. No man laughs at you. And the reason I would do
this for you is simple. You are my husband and I am your dutiful wife. I am the daughter
of Caesar and I must give him a grandchild. You are a formidable man and must show the
world your prowess. I have done this for you out of respect … out of love.”
“And what of your lover?” Verus nearly choked on the question. Of course his young
wife needed to seek a lover, for herself as well as his dignity. Nothing had pained Verus
more than his inability to love his lovely wife. He had tried, he had given himself to
anger then finally resorted to ignoring her completely. If he did not face her, he would not
have to face his own weaknesses.
She did not answer, her eyes focused on his in silent command.
Lucius stood and took her hand, led her to the chair to sit and poured a goblet of water for
her. He sat at her knee and laid his head against it. “Lucilla, my beautiful wife. If what
you tell me is true, you are a most blessed gift to me. I am … sorry for my failures, but I
do love you. You have brought great beauty and satisfaction into my life even as I have
brought none to yours.” His eyes rose to meet hers as her hand smoothed his thinning
hair. “Keep your lover, Lucilla. You deserve satisfaction … but never speak of him to me.
I willing turn a blind eye to this indiscretion as it is surely my fault. But the child, he will
be called mine. He will be named for me. No one is to ever question these things.”
She bent to kiss his lips softly. “It is my solemn vow, my husband. Our son will be named
Lucius Verus and no one will ever question that you are his father, that you have given
Caesar a grandson.”
His head again rested on her knee and she caressed his shoulder, tenderly kissed his brow.
“You are a good man,” she whispered. “A loving and strong man. A good husband and I
honor you and love you all the days of our lives. And Lucius Verus, you are destined to
be a good and loving father. It is I who am blessed.”
Maximus found her, sound asleep under the noonday sun, deep in a soft cushion of high
grasses and he marveled at her beauty. Lauria had brought him everything he had needed,
making his life as a farmer and husband pleasant and most agreeable. Maximus no longer
saw his time in Tujillo as an unwanted exile from the battle field. He finally understood
Caesar’s intentions and Donum’s perfect plan. He was in the hands of the gods and he
was pleased to live so.
He carefully lowered to lie at her side, tugging one long blade of grass and carefully
tickling her nose with it. She twitched, turned and he waited a moment then did it again,
smiling wide when her eyes opened.
“Such an annoying insect,” she said lazily. “Should I crush it?” And she rose to straddle
Maximus laughed, having become accustom to doing so, having finally learned to play
and enjoy the moments most precious to him. “Am I an insect to be crushed? Or
perhaps,” he rolled her beneath him, “a beast who will overcome you?”
He hastily tugged her hem high and knelt between her legs, bringing his aching cock out
and preparing to take his wife there and then.
“Maximus, we must not,” she gasped and teasingly batted her eyes. “Someone might
“And who will see us here in the middle of our own private field, wife? You are mine and
I must have you … now.”
“Wait? But why?” He playfully buried his face beneath her shift then his head popped
into the sunlight wearing a curious expression. “There is no reason to wait. There is no
“Exactly, my love. And there has been no monthly blood for the passing of two full
Maximus blinked, leaned back on his heels.
“Maximus, you must be gentle with me. I carry your child,” she smiled softly.
His hand pushed her shift high, exposing her still flat belly and swollen breasts. His
mouth lowered a gentle kiss onto the flesh over his child then carefully suckled hot
nipples. Lauria rose and climbed up onto his knees, positioning herself and taking him in
with an easy slide. Deep, deep and complete. She leaned back against his supporting
hands showing herself to him and Maximus smiled through his tears of joy.
“My son is within you, Lauria.”
“Yes, your son … or your daughter. Will you be displeased if it is a girl child?”
“No,” he kissed her mouth and laid them onto the soft grass. “No,” he began his thrusts,
slow, gentle, fearful of hurting her. “I am pleased, wife. We have done well.”
Commodus slid from the hot sucking path between her thighs and gasped, dropped at
Florae’s side with a bounce and waited for his breath to calm. He laughed and turned to
clasp a nipple between his teeth, then slapped her hip playfully and climbed from the bed.
“Don’t you have a husband to return to, Florae?”
She stretched and languished then winked at him. “I could eliminate that husband with
just one word from you, Commodus.”
“Ah,” he chuckled, went to the table, poured himself a goblet of wine and gulped. “I do
not wish your husband’s blood on my hands today. Perhaps another day,” he teased,
bringing the goblet to the bed and sharing it with her.
She drank hungrily, ran her hand across her lips and smiled, leaning back on her elbows
and presenting her ample breasts for his approval. For this, she received another bite, this
one more vicious, bringing a stinging tear to her eye but she laughed through it.
“Actually, Commodus, I was not speaking of murdering him, at least not this time. I was
thinking of divorce, my love. I am sure that with the correct … incentive, he would
accept divorce and I would be free to marry again.”
“Who would you marry?” Commodus said blankly.
He laughed. “Why should I marry you, Florae? Our play is far too much fun to give up.”
She sat straighter. “But Commodus. We can play much, much more if we marry. And
there are ways to please you that I have not even shown. I am young and fertile. I am a
worthy wife for the future Caesar, I assure you.”
“Fertile? Woman, we have copulated for months and you have not conceived. How fertile
can you be to fuck me and your husband and still appear so completely barren?”
“Commodus, surely you realize that out of respect for you … I have taken precautions.”
His mouth twisted with disgust. This bit of information explained the unpleasant flavor at
her core, the reason he had refused to take pleasure there since their first coupling. But
Florae did have an interesting proposal. What would please Caesar more than for his son
to marry well? Florae came from a good and high standing Roman family. It was a
proposal with great possibilities, but he was not willing to show her his interest, not yet at
“What makes you think I seek marriage?” He said, sitting across the room in a chair, his
flaccid, drained cock limp between his legs and his head tilted, curious to hear her
“You do not wish a wife?”
“Perhaps I do.”
“Then a divorce can be arranged,” her smile and expression of success was maddening.
“Why should I choose you?” he chuckled evilly. “There is another woman, one in my
father’s favor. Perhaps I should choose her.” The color drained from Florae’s face and she
tugged the sheets to cover her nakedness. “Tell me why I should choose you over her?
What do you offer me?”
“Me,” she swallowed hard. “Me and …”
He waved a hand. “Dress and leave now. Go to your husband. Think for a few days.
Three days. Then return to me and tell me what you offer to sway my decision in your
“Not tomorrow? You don’t wish to see me tomorrow?”
Her eyes showed the disappointment of a broken heart and Commodus wondered if his
play had gone a bit too far. “My love, in three days I will be starving for you. Come to me
with your reasons and your beautiful body. Then perhaps we can make an … agreement.
A message arrived and Maximus closed his eyes, fearful that Caesar had chosen that
moment to call him back to battle. But as he examined the seal, he noted that it was not
from his Caesar, it was from Lucilla. The exhausted messenger, having traveled all the
way from Rome with not one but two magnificent horses, smiled a hopeful smile.
Maximus tucked the scroll into his belt and asked the slave to take refreshment, wait for
an answer and rest. Leading the beautiful horses away, Maximus groaned, concerned and
curious at the remarkable gifts.
Alone in the stables, he leaned against the wall and broke the ornate wax seal. His heart
did not flutter, it did not ache at the memories of Lucilla; it still harbored great agony
over what she had done to his unborn child. The gods had chosen all their paths and he
had accepted. He sighed and read the words written in her tight, careful script.
My dearest friend and brother,
I am most sorry to have not earlier sent greetings and congratulations on the occasion of
your marriage. Rome is a demanding matron and I have been at her feet since my
arrival. I, like you am also adjusting to marriage and very happy. I carry my husband’s
child and hear that you are equally blessed.
I have great love and fondness for you, Maximus. I wish you all good things in your life.
Perhaps one day we will again look into each others eyes and remember most kindly the
beautiful moments we have shared.
Please accept the gifts I have sent. The stallion was chosen with great care and will carry
you far in your days beside my father.
Forever your servant and loving friend,
What was he to respond? He could not refuse such gifts from Caesar’s daughter. For three
days he agonized over the words he would use, how he would say them, if they in fact
needed to be said. When finally he sat to write, his heart was so full of confusing
emotions, he simply penned what most demanded to be placed on the parchment.
I most humbly accept these beautiful animals. They are a most generous gift.
I too am pleased with the current state of my life and wish for a son as I am sure you do.
But I fear my heart still mourns the loss of another child. I will not speak my pain at
hearing of your decision. Alas, the gods have chosen, have they not? I too wish you all
the best in your opulent life. You should not be at Rome’s knees, Lucilla. Rome is blessed
to finally have her daughter.
He withheld his anger at the venom she consumed to murder his child, he squelched his
distaste at the mere idea of seeing her again. He had much to be pleased with, a beautiful,
loving and simple wife who did not find such ease and pleasure in the manipulative
nature of a political life. He had placed a child in Lauria’s belly who would not be
poisoned into oblivion. He had peace and contentment for the first time in his memory.
To convey his sickness at Lucilla’s act would serve no purpose and Maximus honestly
believed that it was likely they would never stand face to face again. And that would
please him well.
The words Maximus did not write held more power than those he had scrawled. There
were no sweet phrases of love or friendship, of fond memories or secret pleasures. Lucilla
cried bitterly, seeing clearly that the man she would love until death truly believed that
she had murdered his child.
And Lucilla must permit him to believe so. It rode on the rumor that she was not virgin
and had conceived. None of it was confirmed and she would stand her ground that no
such things ever occurred. But the ache in his heart reached out from the parchment and
choked her soiled soul. If Maximus knew that the murdered child was Commodus’, there
would be far more pain to pay. It was best. Maximus would recover, would hold his own
children and eventually forget about the one he never held … and Commodus would live
… for surely his days were numbered should she ever selfishly whispered the truth to
Maximus. This suffering, along with her many, many painfully made decisions, was to be
hidden carefully and carried until the gods saw fit to take her. There was, after all, no
But she could not release this agony. The lies she had woven required one more thread.
To protect her brother, Maximus must forever believe without doubt that it was his child
she had willingly, knowingly aborted. Parchment before her, she knew it was her only
choice. And she knew he would never speak of it again. Her twisted and untrue secret
would be safe in his hands; his honor would allow nothing less. She must cause him one
more pain before it was forever finished.
You were correct. It would have never stood. My father would not have agreed to a
marriage between us. My life is a difficult and political one; duplicity is the only path if
we are all to survive.
The messenger arrived in Tujillo and did not require or receive a response to Lucilla’s
final words ever written to her one true love.
She had waited patiently for her girlhood friend, Lucilla to return to Rome. Florae was an
ambitious woman. The husband she had accepted but clearly held great distain for was a
mere inconvenience. What she wanted was to become Caesar’s wife. At first she thought
to woo the old man, turn his head, slide into his bed and consequently, into the ultimate
power seat in all the Empire. She had fully forgotten Lucilla’s irritating younger brother.
But that obnoxious boy had grown to a substantial man, a handsome man groomed for the
throne. Finding herself in his bed had been far from unpleasant.
Commodus was not the best of lovers but lovers can be had easily enough. It was a
prominent husband she wanted. He had given her three days to present her worth and she
spent those days efficiently. Rome was already whispering rumors of Florae and
Commodus, so when she voiced the possibilities to her father, insisting that a far more
substantial dowry must be made available, he stepped into action.
Within a day her own husband was removed from her house and the beautiful house was
sold. Another large villa north of Rome that had been in the possession of her family for
several generations was also sold. Prize livestock was taken to market in droves. Slaves
were sold off and everything her father could think of was done on her behalf. After all,
Florae’s father liked the idea of seeing his daughter seated solidly beside the next Caesar.
His loses would quickly be regained with the power and honor he would receive after the
Lauria leaned over her husband’s head and planted a sweet kiss on his hair. She wrapped
her arms around him and settled her mouth close to his ear. “What troubles you, my love?
Has word arrived that you must leave?”
He had been moving through the mud of his own ill feelings toward Lucilla for days,
forgetting the beautiful wife he loved and neglecting his responsibilities toward the farm.
Cicero had carried the load well, but was but a slave and unable to make critical
decisions. Much within the household had suffered and Lauria was growing weary with
He looked up into her tired eyes and pulled her to perch on his knee. His hand tenderly
lay on her growing belly and he sighed then kissed her softly. For seven months Lauria
had glowed with health as her body expanded to hold the precious cargo. But with his
misery, she too seemed to suffer.
“No, no word has come.”
“Then what troubles you? Are you well?”
He grinned sadly. “I am well, my dear one. And you? How fares our little one?” His palm
smoothed circles at the mound as the fetus rolled lazily beneath his hand.
“I am tired. The child grows bigger and demands my attention day and night. Maximus,
have you placed a restless soldier inside of me?” she smiled.
“Perhaps. Perhaps. Will you come with me this evening, Lauria? I wish to walk the olive
orchards beside you, to see you shine beneath a perfect moon,” he nodded toward the
opened window then stood with her, draping a soft wrap over her night shift.
“I will always walk beside you husband.”
They left the confines of their room and strolled the halls. Outside he pulled her close and
sighed deeply. Finally Lauria spoke.
“The letters you have received, they were from your lover, were they not?”
He nodded without looking down at her.
“I am sorry they have hurt you. Perhaps one day you will forgive her.”
His step faltered, again amazed at his wife. Lauria held more understanding of the human
heart than anyone, man or woman, than Maximus had ever known. “Perhaps I should do
so quickly, for soon I will hear from Caesar, and soon I must leave you. There may be
little time, my love. I do not wish to waste it pouring over unimportant forgiveness.”
“It is not unimportant or it would not tear at you so. Forgiveness comes at its own pace,
husband. You cannot force such things. But when you have forgiven her, then your heart
will be healed.”
He turned and hugged her close to his chest. “You heal me, Lauria. You have been
healing me since the day of our marriage. You have taught me and soothed me in ways I
did not realize I needed.”
“But I cannot heal this wound. Will you tell me of it?”
He thought at first not to expose her to his pain, his dishonor, his loss, but realizing that
she did willingly walk beside his life and support every element of it, he chose to speak.
“Lauria, this lover and I had conceived a child. I did not know of it until I learned that she
had sought the help of a witch and expelled the innocent life from her body. I would have
never chosen to marry this woman over you, my love. It would not have been …
acceptable … to her father. I am pleased with my life … with you, my love. Far more
than pleased. But I mourn the lost child. I fear I will always mourn that child.”
Lauria’s eyes glowed in the moonlight. Tears welled then fell and she cupped his face in
her hands. “Then I will mourn this lost child with you.”
“No,” he groaned and rocked her in his arms. “This mourning must end and never be a
part of your heart. It was my failing, my disgrace and my loss, wife. You and I,” his hand
rode to her belly, “and our son, are an entire village unto ourselves. We are strong and we
must remain strong. There will be long campaigns when I will be far from you. Nothing
must interfere, Lauria. Nothing.”
“Then nothing will. Nothing ever will.”
Light seared an excruciating path from his vision to his very bones and Commodus cried
out in pain. Cloistered for his second day in the darkest corners of the palace, he
struggled to relax and think his way to the comfort and health he had been enjoying for
nearly a year. In his desperation, he swallowed far more of the hated tonic than he should,
and the putrid liquid had done as it had long ago … extended his misery rather than end
it. He rolled on his bed and refused food or wine. He refused the assistance of slaves or
physicians and bitterly fought his life long battle.
On the third day, he was able to hold his head erect, to sit and take nourishment. He
carefully chose the food he ate, when he rested and when he attempted to walk. His
experience told him that it would be days yet before he could present himself again as the
strong son of Caesar, and so he veiled himself behind closed doors.
Hiding did not protect him from Florae. Long a private and preferred guest within his
rooms; she was escorted to his sleeping chamber without fanfare or concern. He sat,
glared cruelly and hissed. “What do you want, woman?”
She did not even blink at his brusqueness; a husband had such rights and she was
accustomed to such treatment. She carefully controlled her surprise at his disheveled
appearance; ignored the paleness of his skin and the glistening sheen of sweat that coated
his flesh, made the fabric of his tunic mold and stick to his muscular form. He looked as
though he might die, but hopefully not before he would become her husband.
“Commodus, I have returned as you commanded, my love,” her eyes brightened. “I stand
before you a divorced woman with far more worth than before. I have accomplished all
Commodus reached for the stone and dagger that he was sharpening and slid the blade
rhythmically, his aching eyes lowered to his work. “I required nothing of the sort. Leave.”
Florae gasped dramatically. “But I am to be your wife, Commodus. The priests have
confirmed and blessed this union, I – ”
“No priest or soothsayer of mine has said such. Go,” his teeth grit against pain and anger
and his eyes glared.
She stood firm, her mind spinning with all she had forced her family to sacrifice on her
behalf. She could not have possibly misunderstood him. She could not have displeased
him. He asked her to stay away for three days and she had obeyed. “No,” she spat. “You
asked these things of me and I stand before you prepared and worthy to become your
wife. I know that you have not chosen another. This is written by the gods, Commodus.”
“Nothing is written!” he shouted, grunted against his misery as he stood abruptly. “Leave
me or I will put you out like a dog, woman!”
“I will not! I am to be your wife and I will stand until you are prepared to take me.” She
cupped her breast and smiled an ugly grimace. “This can only be had when you accept
me, Commodus, we have come to the crossroads and you may have all you want.”
His anger grew, shaking him to his core and bringing fear even he had not expected. Such
emotions and discomfort bred uncontrollable contempt. When she suddenly reached for
him, attempting to wrap her body against his, he stepped back and tightly gripped her
arm. “I tell you now, leave me!” He pushed hard and she dropped to the marble floor with
a thud, the fabric of her gown catching the tip of the dagger and sliding it to her
Florae gripped the ivory handle tight and crawled to her feet, her eyes ablaze with hate.
“You will not refuse me! Not deny me! I have done as you asked.”
Weak as he was he was stronger than Florae. With little concern for the dagger in her fist,
he took her wrist viciously and dragged her from his room. She stumbled and cried out as
he pulled her along the hallways and toward the gates. Slaves and praetorian alike stared
in their wake, watching to see what was to come. The guards offered assistance in
removing the woman but Commodus was blind and deaf to their efforts, determined to
eliminate her from his sight by his own power. The huge gates opened and without
stepping over the threshold, Commodus tossed Florae out onto the street.
She scrabbled to retrieve the blade that had slid from her grasp and two guards drew their
swords. All stilled, silent as death as she gasped, her breath heavy and fearful. Knowing
nothing of Commodus’ illness, the appropriate posture and politics did not apply in her
muddled mind. To kneel at his feet and beg forgiveness were beneath her. To send her
father to speak for her was unthinkable. Florae saw only the hopelessness of the moment
and envisioned no possible salvation.
Commodus watched as she turned the blade to her belly and drove it expertly up and
deep. The beautiful woman who had been his lover dropped heavily onto the stone road
in a massive puddle of blood. No one moved or took their eyes from her, already a corpse
at the door of the palace. The sound of a far off wagon, its wheels rumbling along the
stones, brought Commodus to his senses. He abruptly turned on his heel and returned as
the gates were dramatically closed on the gruesome scene.
In his room, he finally took a breath, leaned back against the heavy wood door and
sobbed. He had loved Florae, adored her spirit, she was a worthy opponent and partner, a
perfect match politically and physically … and she was dead. Gone from him forever.
Word had arrived. Maximus was to return to Caesar’s side as soon as his child was born.
Lauria prayed for time, prayed that she would hold onto the living being inside her belly
as long as possible and thus hold her husband just a bit longer.
But this was not to be and she tenderly shook Maximus’ shoulder, waking him deep in the
night to ask that he send for the midwife.
It was a night not unlike the night of Maximus’ birth, but it was a night filled with
prevailing mystery, magic and sadness for old Donum. As a trickle of fluid and blood slid
from Lauria’s womb, Donum saw there the signs of treachery and manipulation that
would fulfill all the prophecies she knew regarding Maximus. She saw death and despair,
pain and triumph. She saw the fall of the empire that had controlled her entire life and she
witnessed the vision of Caesar’s murder. All in one moment she knew what would
become of the world, and she fought to control tears.
She had arrived with two assistants, two young women learning the craft of midwife as
she was too old and fearfully feeble to handle the birth of this child alone. Maximus
paced at the bottom of the bed as she spoke softly to Lauria.
“My little dear, everything is as it should be. You are doing very well. Your husband
though … he appears to be in far more misery than you, I fear.” For this she received a
smile from her patient. She turned. “Maximus, come sit near your laboring wife. Hold her
hand, offer support, young man.”
Like the boy he once was, he immediately obeyed Dunum. He knelt at Lauria’s face and
soothed her speckled brow, kissed her lips tenderly then grasped her hand. It would be a
long, painful night. But if the gods were with them all, a son would be presented to him.
A son he would soon need to leave behind.
Lucilla stood to personally serve her husband his evening meal. She took the roasted
meat from a platter and settled it artfully onto his plate then scooped juices and
vegetables for his enjoyment.
Lucius waited until she had dismissed the kitchen slaves and was pouring his wine before
reaching for her. He carefully settled her onto his lap and ran his calloused palm over her
huge belly. Then Lucius bent to place a soft kiss on the rolling mound.
“My son,” he whispered and Lucilla smiled.
“Yes my love, your son … or your daughter.” She kissed the top of his head and placed
her hand on his soft, grey beard. His eyes rose to hers and his smile dropped slightly.
“Lucilla, I do not claim to understand the workings of a woman with child, but I beg of
you, remain home until this child is born.”
Her heart ached. She wished to see Gracus, to sit comfortably in his arms and whisper of
the world as they had corrected it. Her friendship and love for him had grown over the
many months since they became lovers. She trusted him completely and wished only
blessed happiness for him.
But Lucilla deeply loved Lucius as well. He was steady and strong, kind and tender,
willingly taking the child she offered him to protect her future and his reputation. He
understood her needs and he understood her desires. And … he would soon be recalled to
Caesar’s side, as his skills were required in the upcoming battles in Germania. Much had
transpired there and Marcus was well aware that only his best would serve his needs.
In truth, should the war become vicious and costly, Lucilla could lose all she loved.
Maximus. Lucius. Even Commodus would be called to stand at his father’s side and
wield a sword. And her father was an old man. In the blink of an eye all of Rome could
change. Inside her womb rolled the Empire’s only sure future. Perhaps Lucius was
correct. Perhaps she should remain inside her own walls, for her time was nearing and
travel, even across the city under cover of night, was becoming uncomfortable.
There was also the matter of Commodus. His ailment had escalated since that foolish
Florae took her own life. It did not appear to be the scandal and cruel whispers causing
his illness to worsen, it was clearly the loss of the woman he loved. Commodus had come
to Lucilla immediately after the bloody display at the palace gate … and had not left
She had written her father, begging for assistance, for learned physicians, for a kind word
on his part to help her distraught brother, but Caesar was fully occupied with his war to
expand the Empire. He had asked Lucilla to convey his need for Commodus at the battle
front, perhaps hoping that such news would shake his son into health. It had not.
She was surprised from her thoughts when Lucius gently repeated his request. “I beg of
you, wife. Remain safe in these walls until our child is born.”
There was a pain in his voice, a knowing that his inability to love her had sent her to
another man, a man he did not even know. Lucilla’s heart fluttered at his courage and
bravery in such a situation. At his tolerance and his limitless love for her. Another man
would have scorned her; another man would have thrown her aside and shamed her.
Lucius had stood beside her.
“I will not leave, husband. You need never beg or even ask. You may order me to remain
here, I am your wife.”
“But I will always ask, because you are my wife. Is there anything you wish from me,
Lucilla? Any way I can make you more comfortable or happy?”
“Yes,” she was surprised at what she would request, as she had never even dreamed of
asking such a thing. Since their disappointing wedding night, they had not touched or
slept near each other once. Perhaps he would grant her that wish. “Permit me to sleep
beside you this night, husband. Permit me to feel your warmth and hold you close to my
For several moments he was silent, then nodded. Without finishing his meal, he stood and
took her hands. Lucius led his beautiful wife, ponderous with child to his soft bed. He
removed her gown tenderly, smoothing his hands along her swollen belly and adoring
every inch of her soft flesh. And he lay beside Lucilla.
They whispered and touched, they smiled and kissed and Lucius realized a full desire for
her that he had never felt before. In truth, Lucius Verus had not performed a sexual act for
several years, had struggled to gain and retain the strength and hardness required to enter
a woman or to even bring about a climax in his own fist. There was a sensation of heat
and desire that suddenly, surprisingly washed over him.
“Lucilla,” he sighed, taking her hand to his cock and pressing it against the growing
She kissed him madly then carefully rolled her back to him. On the night before his son
was born, Lucius Verus finally consummated his marriage with the woman he loved more
than life. It was slow and gentle, it was exhilarating and satisfying. And it would be the
last time for a long time, as he, like the soon to be General Maximus, was to return to the
war when his son was born.
Maximus held his son high and laughed loud. The labor had seen night and day and it
was well into twilight before he was presented with the wailing, wiggling infant. Lauria
was weak with exhaustion but smiling at what she witnessed.
“So, you are my son?” Maximus said. “I can only hope that you are as brave as your
mother.” And without warning, the tiny squealing boy splattered urine on his father’s
face. Maximus laughed harder, released the child into the women’s hands and washed his
face. “I have been blessed I see.”
“Yes,” old Donum whispered. “You have been most fully blessed.”
He clearly knew she did not speak of the baby boy’s perfect release of urine. His brow
curled and he took the old woman aside. “Is Lauria well? Will she recover?”
“She is and she will.”
“And the child, will he grow and flourish?”
“What do you know?”
She sighed. “I know that this is all part of your destiny, young man. But before you leave
for your journey to Caesar and his war, we must speak alone.”
He nodded and helped her with her shawl. “I will come to you on the marrow. For now, I
must prepare to leave … and I must hold my brave wife,” he smiled.
“Hold her long and tight, Maximus. She has done well … and so have you. We will speak
But Maximus never again spoke with the old witch who had guided his life through her
visions and steered Caesar’s hand with her prophecies. That very night, alone in her
shabby bed, old Donum died uneventfully. She was never able to pass along the warnings
she intended for Maximus. Never able to speak her visions of treachery to Marcus
Aurelius … never able to alter the future she knew could not be altered.
Commodus heard the scream in the night and ran from his chamber seeking the source,
knowing full well it was Lucilla’s voice and coming from her husband’s room. He carried
with him a sword, prepared to murder the man who would hurt Lucilla, but upon
slamming into the room, he blinked in wonder.
Lucius was dressing quickly and comforting Lucilla. He turned, glared at Commodus.
“Do not stand there like a fool! Send for the midwife! Hurry, boy. Send for the midwife
But Lucilla’s labor was extremely fast and painful. Before the midwife had even settled at
her bedside, young Lucius had slid free of the womb and cried louder than his mother
had. Commodus had never left the scene, unable to take his eyes from Lucilla’s strong
face. He slumped against the wall and rubbed his aching temples.
“I have never seen such courage,” he whispered.
“Nor I,” groaned Lucius, holding his tiny son proudly and averting his eyes to avoid the
repairs being made on his wife’s torn path. The midwife had said that she had never seen
a child so desperate to be born! It was surely a Caesar in his arms.
Maximus lay long beside Lauria, his flesh touching hers and the tiny infant between
them. “We shall name him Marcus, my love. For it was Caesar who has brought me to
“And it is Caesar who will take you from it,” Lauria whispered through tears.
“I am a soldier, my love.”
“Will you return to me whole and alive, Maximus?”
“I will,” he rested his head on his hand to look down at the vision of mother and child. “I
will. In three years I will return, Lauria. I will have another year with you and Marcus
and your old mother on this beautiful farm. Perhaps when I return, we will not wait so
long to begin our attempts for another child?” His teasing eyes glittered.
“When will you leave?”
“Two days time and I must be on the road.”
“So soon?” The tears rolled down her cheek and he caught them with the pad of his
thumb. “I will miss you, my love.”
“And now you must rest, my wife. I have much to do.” But she grasped his hand and
pulled him into a deep kiss. “Lauria, I will miss you, I will love you every moment. You
and Marcus will be in my prayers and in my heart and I will return to you, my love. I will
return to you.”
Commodus felt an instant love for his sister’s infant son and this was healing. He
gathered his mind and wrapped it around everything he knew of his ailment, everything
he understood about it and everything he could do to control it. And as he stood alone
under the stars that night, he vowed to never again release his control to anyone … man,
woman or Caesar. Commodus would be his own man and strive for the leadership he
deserved. The throne he was born to, had suffered for … had earned.
He prepared to leave with Lucius and stand beside his father. He steadied himself to face
Maximus again after demoralizing the man a few years earlier. Commodus needed all his
strengths, and Maximus was among his greatest. If he had Maximus at his side, he could
succeed at anything. But loyalty would be easy to recover. He was the son of Marcus
Aurelius and Maximus was bound by honor to show respect and loyalty. No. What
Commodus craved was the friendship of their boyhood, precarious as that was, it was a
friendship. For every man knows that loyalty without such a personal benefit was
precarious and more than dangerous.
Maximus sat with Lauria’s old uncle and her mother. Outside in the courtyard, Cicero
packed everything and prepared the horses for their long journey to Germania. Word had
been sent to Caesar and all was in order.
He watched his guests; his shoulders squared, and spoke his wishes clearly. The old
soldier nodded, giving great respect and attention to everything Maximus said.
“I have worked closely with Cicero and the slaves to cultivate the northern slopes, they
should yield well, the grapes are from strong vines. I wish a report when you take the
harvest to market.”
“Yes, Maximus. I have already begun speaking of these grapes with the merchants, and
many are voicing great interest in buying them. You had done well with your choice of
vines from the south. They are hardy and will command a good price, produce a very fine
Maximus ignored the gregarious compliments and only hoped that his choice of vines
would in fact prove profitable. He did not wish to return in three years to a sad farm and
crumbling house. “I trust you will be as vigilant over my family as before,” he said in a
clear dismissal of the old uncle. Maximus turned to his mother-in-law.
“Old mother, I plea with you to watch over Lauria’s health and her happiness. Help her
with the child and remember that you are all in my thoughts and prayers.”
The woman sniffled, nodded. “Please take care, Maximus. A good and loving son-in-law
is not easy to replace. Know that you are in our prayers as well.”
He stood, nodded then left to see Lauria. She was weak and resting that warm afternoon,
the babe sound asleep at her side, his mouth still latched to a nipple.
“I envy him,” Maximus whispered through a smile then softly kissed her brow. “I will
return, my love. I will return.”
“And I will be here, husband. Awaiting your arms. Kiss me farewell and travel safely.”
The road was dusty and long, the travel mundane and tedious and Maximus found his
mind often wandering to his small family in Tujillo. Would they fair well? Had he
planned and prepared the farm enough? He would not be there for the harvest, were the
slaves trained sufficiently and would the pompous old uncle know when help was
required? All these thoughts rolled and melted with his curiosity regarding Germania and
All of the letters from Marcus had clearly indicated that Maximus would not be returning
to his old duties as personal guard. He would not be a part of the regular army, nor would
he be sent on small scrimmages in protection of Caesar. But no clear word was given as
to his new rank, new responsibilities or the dangers entailed. He worried that leadership
would be too difficult, squelched concern about power and the pitfalls of it all. And he
worried for Caesar’s health.
Each communication gave brief glimpses of the old man’s aging, small complains of his
withering body and the loss of sharpness of thought. None of these were clearly evident,
only words on parchment that Maximus found hard to believe. Marcus Aurelius was a
formidable man and only a year had passed. Surely he had not deteriorated so. But it
would remain to be seen. Aging or not, Caesar had his plans and ambitions. Maximus was
to be part of those aspirations.
His sixth night on the road, finally tired of body and mind and relieved of the heavy
bourdon of leaving home, Maximus began to dream. Rolled in his blanket, his mind slid
into Lauria’s bed. At her side he reveled in the things he had never learned about her, had
no time to discover. His eyes toured her lovely face and delved into her mind. There he
saw her fears for him and he kissed her sleeping lips softly.
“I will return to you, my love. I will return.”
The next night he again dreamed, this time of the farm. Maximus was planted in the rich
black earth, struggling to grow from seedling to bloom, to reach for the sun and to offer
fruit. His heart expanded as his head broke the crust of the land and he saw so many of
his newly planted seeds growing strong and tall. He was drenched with rain and blessed
with perfect warm days, cool nurturing nights.
“You will be well cared for, my love. Until I return, you will be safe and well cared for.”
The night before arriving at camp, Maximus had one more dream. This dream held power
and pain for him. He sat on a throne in full Roman General’s regalia, the red plume
brilliant on his helmet and his armor shining in the sunlight. Before him stood a thousand
men calling his name, beside him sat Marcus Aurelius astride a great white steed … and
beneath Maximus’ foot, dead and bleeding lay Commodus.
Maximus woke with a start, panting and shaking. Dawn was licking at the horizon and
the early morning chill teased at his sweat speckled brow. He shook Cicero’s shoulder.
“Let us move ahead,” he grunted and they prepared for the final leg of their long journey.
Commodus arrived in the camp with a flurry of pomp and importance and immediately
left the comfort of his traveling wagon to mount his horse and trot brusquely up to
Caesar’s tent. Inside, he was refused entrance to his father’s solitary chamber.
“This is madness. My father will wish to see me now!”
“I am sorry, young sire. But Caesar will see no one until all of the summoned have
“That is absurd!” Commodus shouted.
“Let him enter,” the voice called from the other side of the thin curtain and Commodus
pushed past the slave.
“Father,” he dropped to his knee. “I am pleased to be of service.”
“Stand on your feet, boy. Take a seat.”
“You look well,” Commodus lied, hiding his shock at the paleness of his father. Was the
old man truly about to die? Or were those only rumors he was hearing along the roads?
“Yes, I look well. You look strong and well too, my son.” The sarcasm was evident in
Caesar’s voice and Commodus winced.
He chose to shift the subject and lightened the mood. “Father, I have grand news. You are
a grandfather. Lucilla has given birth to a strapping boy child.”
“Ah, I am pleased. Has Lucius come with you?”
“Yes, he has. Tell me father. What is this important gathering to accomplish? Are you
prepared to eliminate the enemy?”
Marcus grinned. “I am preparing to ask the advice of my best men in order to do just that.
I await all before moving ahead.”
“Well, I am here, father. You may speak freely.”
“I’m sure that I may, but with your permission … son … I will follow my plan and wait,”
“Well,” Commodus sighed and stood. “Perhaps you need your rest, father. I await your
But before he could leave, the guard entered. “Caesar, Maximus has arrived.”
“Then we can begin.”
“Ah … Caesar … Maximus most humbly requests the services of one of your surgeons.”
“Is he injured?” both Caesar and his son asked with concern.
“No sire,” the Praetorian ignored Commodus and spoke softly to Marcus. “But his slave
has been severely wounded. They were attacked just five miles from the edge of camp.”
“Cicero? Severely wounded? Send my best surgeon. And Praetorian, inform them all that
we will meet at dawn. All must be present.”
“Yes, Caesar.” He saluted crisply and left.
“His slave? All of Rome stops and waits while a slave is attended to? Father, I apologize.
Maximus has always been far too soft where slaves are concerned. I will speak with
“It matters not. The days of all night strategy have long passed me. You will not speak to
Maximus, son. Now leave me.”
When Maximus asked permission to speak with Caesar, the old man was about to lay on
his bed, but stood with anticipation as the young man entered.
They clasped hands at the wrist and Caesar looked deep into Maximus’ eyes. “Will he
“I thank you for the assistance of your surgeon, and my slave will recover. The attack was
brutal, nine men against two. I fear there are many such assassins watching along the
boarders of the camp, Caesar. Perhaps a tighter guard is required for your protection.”
“Ah,” Marcus groaned into his chair. “For all of our protection. I am pleased to hear that
Cicero will recover. I knew his mother … very well.” The old man’s eyes sparkled. “I
was greatly satisfied to hear that Donum had arranged for Cicero to be with you. How is
the old woman, Maximus?”
“I am sorry to say, she has died.”
“Ahh, so you and I are truly alone,” his voice trailed off softly. “She had a sight unlike
any I have seen in all my days. I will sorely miss her. I hear you have a son, Maximus.”
For the first time in days, Maximus smiled. “I do. A strong, healthy son.”
“It is a joy to hear. Have you been told? We meet at dawn. For now, this old man must
rest. Maximus, you are weary from travel, you too must rest.” Caesar moved to his bed
and lay back on the soft mattress. “Sleep well, Maximus.”
“Good night, Caesar.”
“And Maximus … I am most pleased to have you here.”
Maximus walked directly to his tent where Cicero was still being tended to. He paced
outside the door and stopped only when Quintus approached with a smile.
“So, you finally return to us, Maximus. You look well and unharmed. I hear there are
more attacks along the boarders of the camp than earlier. It must have a lot to do with the
men Caesar has called for this summit. It is at dawn, you know.”
Maximus ran a hand down his face, still muddy from the attack. “What is it about,
The man shrugged. “Seven generals, Lucius Veris has been recalled, you and me. Caesar
has not been secretive about this gathering.”
“What has happened to him?” Maximus said in a whisper.
“Wounded in the last battle. Infection has taken much out of him but the doctors are
saying he will be robust and strong again. I think there is much on his mind, Maximus.
This gathering will change the face of the Empire, I can feel it.”
“Why am I here? What have I to offer such learned and strategic thinkers?”
“Do not fool yourself or attempt to convince me that you do not know your qualities,
Maximus. We need you. He needs you. It is your time, my friend. Much will happen in a
very short time. You will see.”
A shiver ran down Maximus’ back and he nodded.
Dawn came like a whisper behind a heavy veil of clouds. Marcus sat in his chair and
watched his chosen men enter. Last to come in was Commodus and for a brief moment
Caesar was proud to see that his pompous son had finally learned his true place among
real soldiers. But within seconds it was clear that tardiness alone had delayed Commodus.
The young man quickly slithered past the men standing in line at attention. He pulled a
chair close to Caesar and sat with a slouch. Marcus rolled his eyes, but only Quintus
squelched a threatening grin.
It was an impressive gathering of Caesar’s most valuable men. General Pomponius was
summoned from Egypt. Marcus’ trusted friend and strong military strategist, Lucius
Veris. Generals Livianus, Glaucia and Metellus recalled from Rome. General Lucius
Decumius was brought in from Seria. Valued leader and praetorian, Quintus and finally,
the young Maximus.
Caesar walked the line of men in inspection. All were fit and strong, even old Veris
seemed impressive that gloomy morning. When Marcus reached the end of the line, he
“My loyal and good men. We have much to do in a very short time. But before we begin,
I must announce the promotion of Maximus Decimus Meridius to full Roman General.”
No one seemed surprised but Maximus and Commodus at the announcement. Caesar
turned and accepted a blood red plumed helmet from Quintus and handed it to Maximus.
But as he humbly accepted this honor, Maximus’ eyes caught the expression on
Commodus face and the dream soared through his heart.
This could not be prophecy! Maximus thought desperately. The simple imaged of the
night did not make the future. The helmet in his hands, he struggled to listen as Caesar
moved his agenda along, welcoming them all to sit, for the gathering promised to be long
Maximus listened. He listened to Caesar’s intention and the ideas of men far more
qualified that he. And he listened as Commodus stretched, yawned then finally left the
tent without even a request for dismissal.
Caesar leaned over the map on the floor. The men sat in a circle.
“We move this camp to this location along the valley of these hills. Additional legions are
arriving daily to fortify the base here,” he pointed, “and I plan to circle the base of the
mountain on three sides.”
“Caesar,” Maximus spoke his first word and all eyes turned. His heart choked but he
lowered to a knee and pointed to the mountain. “Caesar, I suggest we not circle the base,
but instead continue the camp up this ridge. It should give us more free mobility up and
down the terrain with the safety of the encampment on all sides and clear observation of
enemy activity north of our position.”
Silence exploded in Maximus’ ears as all present examined the map.
“This can eventually create a funnel should they attack, sire,” Quintus said and all heads
“I can have men and weapons stationed here and here,” Pomponius slid his thick fingertip
just beneath the ridge. “And these vantage points will serve well as outlook for miles.”
Marcus rubbed his chin. It was not as he had envisioned but offered a distinct military
advantage. The new structure could protect more than five thousand men above and
beyond his original plan and Quintus was correct. If they manipulated Germania
correctly, the funnel flowing down the mountain offered a clear advantage on all sides for
He stood and paced, his eyes on the map and seeing it differently. “This strategy and
fresh point of view could easily bring Germania to its knees. With so many Romans right
here, they will flock to the battle. We will be saved from the small skirmishes and bloody
clashes at their choosing. We have much to do. Let us continue.”
His eye rose to Maximus and winked encouragingly. He was a brilliant man to promote
that boy so soon. Maximus would see the fall of Germania at Caesar’s side, he was sure
of it. And he said a silent prayer in thanks to the gods and Donum, the dead witch who
had placed a poor boy in his hands so long ago.
Discussions continued well into the night and finally Caesar sat in his chair and groaned.
He rubbed his eyes.
“And so we have it. I will move this camp within a month. General Pomponius, you will
return to Egypt. Three months from now you are to bring seventy-two legions and attach
your camp to the west of mine.
“General Livianus, you will remain here to lead the coming additional men.
“Lucius, you will return to Rome and oversee recruitment and training of no less than
forty legions to join me by summer.
“General’s Glaucia and Metellus, there are over thirty thousand men scattered throughout
Germania in a hundred guard units that must be pulled together and lead. Within six
months I expect them here, east of my camp.
“General Decumius, your men will join us immediately.
“General Maximus, you will take leadership in Vindabona. There you will serve for two
years then your men are to be brought to complete the plan and station along the ridge.
“Six praetorian will accompany each of you safely on your journeys.” He finally fell
silent and closed his eyes. A smile crept across his lips and he sighed. “You are all
dismissed. General Maximus, give me a few moments before you leave.”
The men slowly filtered out into the night, many nodding congratulations to Maximus
and Quintus took the liberty to press his fist to Maximus’ armor covered chest with a
smile. When they were alone, Marcus invited Maximus to once again sit and offered him
“Maximus, you leave in the morning. I will send Cicero when he is strong enough. In two
years, when you have brought your men and joined me, I will give you leave to see your
family, but I warn you to stand ready to be recalled.” Marcus yawned.
Maximus nodded and stood at attention.
“You have done well this day and I am pleased. Be safe, Maximus. There are many who
need your strength.”
Lauria held her child close and rocked him, whispering a lullaby before laying him
carefully in his cradle. Looking down she permitted a tear of frustration to slide to her
chin then brusquely brushed it away. Her husband was gone. Far away as their son grew
and flourished. More then six months had passed and he had not seen a moment of his
child’s life since birth. He was gone to war. Caesar’s war. What cared she of Caesar or his
She went to the kitchen and sighed until her mother shooed her outside. “Fresh air will
repair your muses, daughter. Go, laugh, enjoy the day! Go!”
She walked along the vines and dropped with a plop on her behind, buried her face in her
hands and sobbed for Maximus. Her body ached for his touch, she longed to see his
smile, hear his resonant voice, feel it tremble through her heart. Six full months had
passed and she cherished his letters, but they were only a part of him, obviously shielding
her from the perils he faced beneath loving words and questions of the farm and his son.
Lauria longed for more of him, craved all of him tight in her arms and she swore that the
next time she held him she would make precious every moment. For now Maximus was a
General and would never refuse orders.
A bundle of grapes cradled in her skirt, Lauria slowly returned to the house. Her breasts
felt the call of her soon-to-awaken son and she was grateful for her responsibilities to
him. They filled her loneliest moments with joy. Before she entered the house, there was
noise at the front gate as an elegant littler was carried into the courtyard by several slaves.
She stopped and turned, curiosity peaked. She stepped closer. “Who is this?” She asked
the praetorian walking toward her.
“You are the wife of the General Maximus Decimus Meridius?”
“I am. Is he hurt?” Panic laced her voice and the grapes dropped to the dust at her feet.
“He is well. My lady, the daughter of Caesar wishes to speak with you.”
Graceful and beautiful, the lithe woman stood from the litter and stepped forward.
“Lauria, I am Lucilla,” and she reached out her hand.
It had been six months of learning his role as General. He was guided by his men who
responded to his every word and helped lay the groundwork for his leadership. He was
not unsure or without confidence. The situation was clear and simple. Across the dry,
open plane camped an enemy that multiplied as swiftly as his own camp had expanded.
Reports stated a near even battle but Maximus did not intend to move without advantage.
The location was not best. The heat, oppressive. But his men were lean and hungry, ready
for advance. There was something more needed and Maximus chose to await whatever
that might be.
Days passed. Soothsayers and witches requested audience to advise him. At first he
indulged them as it seemed to soothe his men.
“You must move on the marrow,” stated one.
“You should have advanced yesterday, General. The stars were in your favor,” said the
“This very noon you ride with the gods. Prepare your army,” commanded the third dusty
Maximus ignored them all, awaited a sign more solid than words spoken by possible
spies. The camp was large and he strolled it, his eyes sharp and ears perked. A mere
glance from him would straighten a slovenly soldier or send a slave for refreshment to
comfort the General. It was heady stuff for one so young, but he had already proven
himself, thinking ahead of his enemy at every turn and avoiding major confrontation by
thwarting small bands of untrained and unruly renegades from across the vast expanse.
But he knew that the stand off could not continue. A straight on battle was dangerous, too
uncontrolled, without focus. He entered his tent and lay back on his cot, the whispers of
many outside the walls reaching him.
Would they move today? What plan did the General have? They were sure of success
whatever the General Maximus asked.
He closed his eyes and pretended silence. Begged for it to soothe his concerns. What plan
did the General have?
To wait. To be patient. The right moment approaches, said the voice deep in his brain.
And so, they would wait.
Morning blazed unbearably hot and his men brought grave news of serious activity across
the emptiness. Agitated soldiers watched his every move, licking their lips and longing
for blood. If they stood their ground, they were trapped by the hills behind. If they moved
ahead, they risked penetration from stealth enemy attack circling behind. Had he placed
them in the worst kind of jeopardy?
Maximus gathered his leaders and spoke clearly. “We are forced to act, but this is our
battle. We will advance our line toward the ridge and wall-solid.”
“And then?” asked his most trusted captain.
Maximus grinned. “And then, Pommius, we listen. We remain tight. We must draw them
together and cup them into our lair.”
They smiled, seeing the rationale … and extreme dangers of such a formation … risking
the worst outcome of finding themselves cupped instead in the enemy’s grasp. They stood
with Maximus and knew the men would do the same. It required timing, deception,
patience and readiness. For this General, they would do it and they would succeed.
Carefully lined, facing the ragtag advance from the other side of Hades, Maximus sat
astride his steed and sweltered under the relentless sun. His eyes scanned his men, stoic
and strong, sturdy and showing no sign of confusion or concern. When he returned his
focus to the slowly coming enemy, he blinked several times.
There, very near and almost at his own position, waving in the heat and seeming unreal,
walked a man in a dark cloak. An offer of surrender perhaps? He thought to lower to the
ground and step ahead to meet the man but another blink warned him not to move. He
held his breath.
When the apparition stopped at his side and looked up, Maximus gave a silent gasp. His
long dead twin had not come to him in quite some time. Was this a sign of nothing good?
“It is not, brother,” said the spirit. The heavy dark hood slid from his head and he smiled
kindly. “I have come to advise you to stand strong, do not move or change formation. The
gods will assist you and you will be victorious. Stand strong. Stand strong. Stand strong.”
Maximus blinked as the form blew in the dust and hot breeze then disappeared. Could he
stand strong? Should he?
Closer and closer came the throng, crying out and mad with bloodlust. Less than a quarter
mile and they would be upon his men. Panic did not grow. He stood strong and his
legions stood strong beside him. Then suddenly it began and the gods rumbled their
The earth trembled, shook violently and cracked a wide swathe between the Romans and
those who would try destroy them. Men dropped to their knees but stood again at
attention, fighting the roll of the ground.
Chaos gripped the enemy and they scattered, falling to the earth and crawling away until
the sound of their leaders drifted to Maximus through the din. The earthquake had come
and gone quickly and as the dust settled, sparking like stars in the vicious sunlight, the
young General’s army stood lean, hungry and ready for a battle, the strategy designed by
the gods themselves!
The insult of seeing Rome stand against any and all dangers inflamed the opposition and
they charged without guidance, funneling over a precarious land bridge to reach General
Maximus’ men. Curt orders spouted from the General and filtered down with precision
and efficiency. The funnel fed into the lair Maximus had hoped for.
In the end, he had lost three hundred men but won a battle that was predicted by Caesar
to last no less than two years. The cheers were as thunderous as the quake had been and
there was no man willing to claim luck as part of their General’s remarkable strategy. No
man present who would not follow him to the end. Not one man.
And Maximus realized that he would soon gather his legions and join Caesar in Germania
… eighteen months sooner than expected. Would such a triumph reward him with a leave
to see his wife sooner than expected too?
Lauria did not take Lucilla’s hand. “Are you sure he is unharmed?” her voice croaked in
clear contrast to the mellow music of Caesar’s daughter’s lovely words.
But Lauria was taken aback by the sudden compassion that marred the perfect face. “Oh,
my dear! I had no intention of giving you such fear. Maximus is well and strong, he is
unharmed. In fact, I have come for several reasons. One of them is to tell you of a
remarkable victory! Your humble husband is a great General worthy of honor and
“But when may I honor and respect him? When will he come home to me?”
The old mother ran from the house, alerted to her daughter’s regal guest and breathlessly
bowing to Lucilla. “Please, please come in from this heat. Please, let us offer you
refreshment. Come. Come.”
Lucilla reached out and settled her hand gently on Lauria’s elbow. Together they entered
Maximus’ humble house and were soon alone to talk. Lauria held her baby and loosened
the tie at her shoulder to nurse. As the infant latched into her nipple, her eyes closed in
ecstasy and Lucilla smiled.
“He is a beautiful boy. Much the same age as my son. Does he move about like a crab?”
she chuckled and moved to kneel at Lauria’s knee.
“Sometimes.” Lauria finally permitted her eyes to meet her guest’s. “Tell me, Lucilla,
daughter of Caesar, why are you here?”
Lucilla straightened her shoulders. “To tell you of your husband’s great victory.” She
blinked, suddenly aware that her answer sounded more like a question and this
“I care little of battle or victories, my lady.”
“Lauria, I know this does not comfort you, but Maximus is a soldier,” a smile tugged at
the corner of her lips. “He has always been a soldier, even when he was a boy. Did he tell
you that once he saved my father’s life? Only eight years old and strong enough to wield
a sword in protection of his Caesar.”
Lauria was not impressed. Her thoughts were latched tight onto something else. “What is
the true reason you are here?”
Caesar’s daughter blinked and cleared her throat. “I have brought wedding gifts, Lauria.
And a pony for your beautiful son.”
“You … you were his lover.”
Lucilla elegantly stood and returned to her seat, amazed at the instinct she did not expect
from a simple farm girl. “Maximus and I were childhood friends; we have known each
other long and have a strong, caring friendship that will never end. Nothing more.”
Lauria shifted the baby to her other breast and offered a knowing glare.
“I have done things … things I am not proud of doing, but I assure you, Lauria. They
were done to protect those I care for most. Maximus is your love and your husband, not
“And the true reason for your visit?”
“To see for myself that he is happy and loved.” She stood and prepared to leave but
calmly watched the mother and child with a growing love and respect that would affect
her life from that day forward. “I know that you long for him, my dear friend, and I
assure you that I will do all in my power to influence my father to send Maximus home to
you. But do never forget … he is a soldier and will always stand with his Caesar.”
Lauria nodded and permitted tears to roll down her face.
“And … I promise that I will always do everything I can to protect him for you, to make
sure that he will be with you all the days of his life.”
Lauria stood, the baby still snug at her breast. “I thank you, Lucilla, daughter of Caeser
… my dear friend.”
Lucilla gently hugged her then lowered a kiss to the suckling baby’s forehead. “Such a
“His name is Marcus.”
A tear gathered in her eye and she sighed. “My father has been honored. I must leave
now, my own son will need me. I bid you a farewell, Lauria, and promise my protection
Her exit was a bustle of pomp and glory but Lucilla did offer a kind smile to the
meddling elderly mother and wondered what Maximus thought of the old woman. She
wondered many things, but it wasn’t until her litter cleared the courtyard that she allowed
sobs to escape her aching chest. She had learned what she came to learn. Maximus did
indeed marry well and would be forever joyous in his union, for surely there was no
better woman suited for him than the beautiful Lauria.
She could now move ahead, now release her questions and sadness and truly wish him
the best of all things. And she would keep her promise. In her mind she composed a letter
of respect and request that Caesar give his newest and most successful General leave to
visit his family.
“General Maximus. Maximus,” hissed Cicero desperately as the General rubbed his eyes
and shot to a seated position on his cot.
“Yes. What is it?” Maximus pulled the blankets around himself and rolled his neck. It had
been a hard six days journey and with so many men, they were still weeks from joining
Caesar. Weeks, and only at the same relentless pace.
“A messenger from Caesar.”
Maximus stood as the filthy man strode into the tent, his armor muddied and his helmet
in his hands. “Quintus! By the gods, what has happened? Sit, sit, man. You look terrible.
Are you injured?”
“No, no. General Maximus, Caesar has sent me to intercept you. General Glaucia had
gathered over a thousand Roman soldiers from throughout Germania and put together a
strong militia. They were moving to join Caesar when they came across a massive
gathering two days west of this exact position. You are to lead your men to the battle and
assist, if it is not too late.”
Maximus took his arm and led him to the cot. He called for wine which Quintus gulped
thirstily. “I have the last communication from Glaucia here,” he handed the scroll over.
“There’s not much time, General.”
With a nod, Maximus unrolled the parchment and examined the information briefly. He
leaned outside the tent opening and summoned his guard. “Ready the camp to move
immediately.” Turning to Quintus, he pointed to the cot. “You must rest before you leave,
“I am fine. I am to remain with you. I need no rest.” But a glare from the General
dropped him back to the mattress.
“You are far too valuable to enter battle unrested. It will take time to dismantle the camp
and get the men on their feet. Rest.” Maximus spoke as Cicero helped him with his
armor. Without another word, the General left and Quintus grinned. The boy had truly
become a general in every sense of the word. His words were delivered as compassionate
law and all obeyed, even Quintus and this pleased him.
Outside the tent Maximus discussed his plan with his officers. Quintus listened from
inside, as sleep was elusive and the prospect of battle too exciting to ignore.
“What time will we lose if we take this route? Place our fresh legions behind the enemy?”
Maximus’ voice rumbled.
“No time will be lost if we alter the route and make our drive through the forest. In fact,
we will cut the journey by half. But General Maximus, these Germanian bastards are
unstructured. We could be looking at far more peril moving through such terrain. They
could be hidden behind every tree.”
“It is acceptable,” grunted the General. “All will be at ready for attack. There is a good
likelihood that the enemy is far too pleased with themselves on the battlefield to expect
us to march directly against their back, especially if things are appearing as hopeless for
General Glaucia as expected. Are we prepared to move?”
“Yes General,” came the resounding response and Maximus entered the tent to find
Quintus already dressed and at ready.
Within hours, led by the General and head Praetorian Quintus, the massive line of men
moved toward the forests, reaching the thick, cool dimness of summer foliage before
noon. If all went well, they would be at the other edge before sunset and ready to
obliterate the men fighting General Glaucia’s army. Maximus’ legions outnumbered the
Germanian force by nearly two thousand and he had the element of surprise.
No attacks came as they moved silently through the trees. Thousands of ready men stood
firm at the border to an opened field scattered with bloody men and rumbling with the
shouts of ongoing battle. Maximus raised his sword and spoke two words. “Unleash
To Quintus’ amazement, General Maximus led the charge himself, swung his mighty
weapon deftly and inspired his men into a frenzy of war. Sooner than he could have
imagined, it was over. The men shouted “Maximus!” Glaucia’s weary soldiers calling out
along with them.
“Where is your General?” Maximus asked a wounded officer, the first man of rank he
could find among those Romans left alive on the field.
“Dead, General. Only moments before you came from the forest like a charge of the
gods,” the man gasped in pain, but grinned ear to ear.
“There were no gods, my good man. It was but the speediest way to assist you,”
Maximus said quietly but the man did not hear him. He had died in his arms.
Nearly half of Maximus’ legions were still streaming from the trees and behind them, the
slaves and supplies. Maximus groaned loud and turned a full circle, taking in the carnage.
It had been a long and bloody struggle for Glaucia’s few, brave men and the death of the
General was a great loss. There were less than seven hundred strong enough to join
Maximus in his journey to Caesar. A clear thousand had been lost and the waste of life
curdled in his gut. It was not new to him, not so distasteful that the call of another battle
would not bring his heart to race. But those were the moments when he understood why
he fought, why he followed Caesar and why he attempted to lead as best he could. Those
reasons were simple and few. Lauria and his infant son, Marcus.
Miles from the blood and rotting flesh of the battle filed, Maximus ordered the men to
camp. He sat quietly with Quintus to take their evening meal.
“You are a unique leader, Maximus,” Quintus said through a full mouth and the General
curled his brow.
“Is that unacceptable?”
“It is most acceptable and I will venture to say that Caesar will be pleased. You carry an
element of the unpredictable along with your remarkable dignity. These are qualities all
his generals should learn and embrace … but who am I to say, my friend? I am a mere
praetorian and will never be more than that. Oh yes, Maximus. Caesar will be please, he
will be most pleased.”
“How is Caesar faring?” Maximus asked, attempting to hide his deep concern for the old
“Very well! He has fully recovered from his wounds and is as much the man as you
remember. He is – ”
“General,” spouted a guard from outside the tent.
“We must speak.” It was Damius, one of his most trusted men and Cicero turned a
concerned glare. Maximus and Quintus left the tent to see more than fifty bloodied, filthy
men standing at attention in a perfect, straight line.
“What is this?” Quintus grunted.
“These men were gathered far from the battlefield. Deserters all.”
“Deserters?” Maximus bellowed, a dangerous scowl on his face that made several of the
men drop their eyes. But one brave man spoke.
“No, General. Not deserters. May I speak?”
Quintus took three long strides and pressed his nose close to that man’s. “You can all be
sold into slavery! Desertion? You can be put to death, you fools!”
“Let him speak,” Maximus said in a quiet voice that seemed to silence the entire camp as
all listened intently. “Say your piece, then I will decide what is to be done with you all.”
The man straightened his shoulders and stared ahead. His voice was clear and sure. “We
are not deserters, General. The combat had gone hopeless. General Glaucia gave these
men an order through me that we were to save ourselves. We – ”
“Save yourselves?” Spat Quintus but he silenced at Maximus’ grunt.
“Yes. To save ourselves for Caesar. I was told to leave the battlefield and take as many as
I could find with me to join Caesar as quickly as possible. We were on this road, just a
few miles ahead when your men brought us here. We are at your service, General
Quintus stepped ahead and turned to face Maximus. “I don’t believe them.”
Maximus smoothly stepped around Quintus and walked the line of men, eyeing each one
carefully. “Did any of you hear this order?”
“I did, General. I was with Brutus when it was given.”
Maximus turned to the first man. “And you are Brutus?”
“Brutus of the Rutilius family of Rome, General.”
Maximus raised a hand to quiet Quintus from another outburst. “But Brutus of the
Rutilius lineage is a high ranking officer, second under General Glaucia. If you are this
man, where is your armor? Your helmet? Your signs of rank?”
The man beside Brutus took a step forward. “He stripped of it at the General’s command.
General Glaucia placed that armor on a dead man and urged Brutus to lead as many of us
to safety as possible.”
Maximus turned to Quintus. “What say you?” he asked quietly.
“I still do not believe him … but … it is something I would expect from Glaucia,”
Quintus whispered. “He would wish as many men to reach Caesar as possible and would
have the presence of mind, even in such a dire situation, to protect his officers. I don’t
know … what will you do with them?”
Maximus grinned. Obviously Quintus had no taste for making such decisions. He turned
to the men. “Brutus Rutilius, this will be a matter for Caesar to decide. Until then, you
and your men will remain at the edge of this encampment, stand guard along with some
of my most trusted men. You will be watched and you will travel at the rear of the line. Is
It was very clear. Brutus and his men were not trusted, would carry the brunt of easy
attack in forced protection of General Maximus’ men … and they would be left to
answer to Caesar for their actions in the end no matter how they performed the assigned
Maximus expected them to crumble under the mere suggestion of such pressure and
lowering of rank, for he fully suspected that of the fifty, several wore the markings of
officers only a few hours earlier. But his brow rose in surprise when the men saluted in
unity and called out his name.
“We are honored to serve you in any way you see fit, General Maximus. Strength and
honor.” Brutus snapped and turned, his men following in a strong march, their exhaustion
only betrayed by an occasional limp.
“They will desert again, Maximus. I will bet a year’s pay on it,” grunted Quintus.
“I do not gamble,” grinned the General.
None of the fifty had deserted and all had served well. Three were lost to small attacks
and were honored for their sacrifice in protection of General Maximus and his men.
Brutus and his men would not face Caesar in judgment, but would be rewarded for their
courage and determination to follow their general’s orders to the letter.
As Maximus entered the camp in Germania, he shifted and turned in his saddle to take in
the vastness of Roman power. He instructed his men to make camp along the ridge as he
was assigned and moved his steed at a trot toward Caesar’s tent. The first to greet him
was Commodus, moving briskly with arms as wide as his grin.
“You have arrived!” he called up as the animal came to a halt. “You have arrived!”
Maximus reluctantly slid from the steed and embraced Commodus. “You are well?”
“I am! I am! What news from General Glaucia? My father wrings his hands like an old
woman,” he chuckled.
Maximus handed the reins to a slave and stepped ahead.
Commodus walked at his pace. “I can only assume it went well, I see not a scratch on
you, my friend. I am pleased.”
As his pace accelerated, Maximus grunted, “I must speak with Caesar.”
“You must speak with me!” shouted Commodus and Maximus stopped but did not turn.
“Brother. Speak with me,” Commodus said as he joined him, speaking quietly at his
shoulder. “Come. You must forgive me for my terrible indiscretion regarding you and
Lucilla,” he whispered and Maximus turned a glare. “She is my sister,” his voice became
softer as did his eyes. “You must understand my … reaction. It was an attempt to protect
her, brother.” His hand gripped Maximus elbow.
The General blinked, shaking himself and suddenly aware of the disrespect he had shown
the son of Caesar, a man he once held as comrade and brother. “I am weary from the
travel and from battle, Commodus. Forgive me. The combat was harsh and bloody,
General Glaucia … lost. I must speak with your father.”
Commodus stepped back, swallowed hard and nodded. “We will meet later, after you
But that time never came. All of Commodus’ plans to rekindle the friendship he once had
with Maximus were swiftly thwarted when the very next morning he was ordered to
return to Rome. Caesar had other plans for his son, and distracting his new General was
not among them.
Lauria gazed at her beautiful, healthy son. Much time had passed since her meeting with
the lovely Lucilla. Weeks and weeks then month after month slid by. One harvest then
another. Her son was nearly two years of age, weaned from her breast and walking but far
from independent, as his small fist was always locked tight at her skirt no matter where
Marcus was a delightful child who said words that made her laugh and did things that
made her marvel. And her resentment grew. How could Maximus be away for so long?
How would his son know him? She had long lost faith in Lucilla’s words that she could
influence her father. Even the daughter of Caesar was but a woman and Lauria realized
that she should not have hoped.
Letters from her husband held sweet sentiments and questions of the farm, but gave no
indication as to when, if ever, he would return. War was such foolishness to her mind;
grown men playing boyhood games of superiority and aggression. Would that they only
limit their play to simple battles like that of husband and wife or shop keeper to shop
keeper. She cared nothing of the glory of Rome, but held none of this against Maximus.
Lucilla was correct and she knew she had to accept the fact that her husband is a soldier,
would always be a soldier, would live and most likely die … a soldier. But he was not
dead yet and there was always hope of changing his loyalties from Caesar and Rome to
home and family … if she could only have him in her influence. Just for a while. Just for
And this had been her prayers, the words she spoke in her chants at the temple, as she
sacrificed the blood of a new spring goat or a portion of the harvest profits to the priests.
If she could just have Maximus for a while, she would show him the reasons to remain
with her. And he would choose her. She knew it.
Marcus sat on the dirt as Lauria inspected a gathering of grapes. The courtyard was alive
with summer birds and the hum of insects. The grapes seemed sweeter, the sounds felt
like vibrations against her flesh and she suddenly stood. “Open the gate,” she called to a
“No one has knocked, my lady.”
“Open the gate!” She stood and Marcus scrambled to fix his fist at her hem. There in the
view suddenly available to her outside her walls, came several Roman soldiers. As they
neared her heart calmed then quickened, for Maximus was among them, at the head of
the troop of riders, his shoulders square and head erect. She stepped to the opening and
his hand rose.
“Your papa has come home, Marcus,” she whispered through restrained tears and stepped
back for the riders to enter. She was suddenly struck by the regal appearance of her
husband. A general. A man of substance and quality. The same man she married … only
now honored by many. She was planted in place, unsure of how to welcome him.
Maximus slid from his mount and met her in two long strides, wrapping her close against
his polished armor and reaching an arm to include her old mother in the embrace. He
laughed and knelt, then lifted his son high and bellowed. “I am home!”
The child was a wonder to Maximus. The smallness of his form, the depth of his dark
eyes, the amazing sharpness of his mind. A miracle of great magnitude that he wished to
repeat in the short time he would be with Lauria. But the returned General was but a
farmer the moment he entered the gate, a farmer with much responsibility and
accountability and many to speak with before he could truly rest in his wife’s loving
Lauria’s old Uncle was the first to command his attention, arriving breathlessly at the
gate before he had even released his small son from his embrace. After an extensive
perusal of the farm’s profits, Maximus was expected to inspect the land. The vines he had
planted with his own hands were maturing beautifully and he was told that they had
garnered great demand for his grapes and olives. Next, the livestock was to be looked
over and Maximus chuckled. There were far more goats and chickens and cows than
when he had left two years earlier. He was assured that few were purchased during his
absence, and that his livestock was a fertile as his lovely wife. From that moment
Maximus found it nearly impossible to continue with his revue of property … a fertile
wife awaited him and his need could wait no longer.
“I must beg forgiveness,” he said to the old man and slaves. “I am weary and must
inspect the inside of my bed chamber.” The glint in his eye told all and none protested.
What emergencies lie unannounced? It was a farm, not a battlefield. All would hold until
he was prepared to give it his full attention.
Maximus sighed and entered the cool darkness of the house. Inside he roamed from room
to room, finding Lauria with her mother in the kitchen preparing a feast for his arrival. He
leaned close, wrapping her in his arms and speaking desperate words quietly into her hair.
“The feast I wish is already in my grasp. Will you not dine with me?”
Maximus had almost forgotten the softness of peaceful life, the tenderness of touch and
gentleness of a voice in the darkness. After extracting his small son from his mother’s
skirt hem, he led Lauria to their room and slowly closed the door, trying hard to recall the
sensations only his woman could awaken in him.
He turned and watched her, standing silently in the center of the room; the warmth of a
brilliant sunset danced along the draped fabric of her dress and glowed through the soft,
loose wisps of her hair. Her smile was inviting but her eyes danced with more than
invitation. They were alive with joyful anticipation and his heart could wait no longer.
“I have missed you sorely, my love,” he whispered and reached to loosen the tied belt at
her slender waist. Carefully, easily, he unwrapped his wife, exposing all her golden, sweet
flesh and blessing it with his lips. He quickly disrobed and lifted her body into his arms,
kissing her mouth with relish and panting for breath.
There was not a part of her he could ignore, every inch of heated flesh called his attention
and her delighted sighs spurred him on. Laying her across the bed, he kissed her eyes, her
nose and mouth, diving his tongue deep to savor a flavor for which he had been long
starving. His lips adored the lithe length of her neck then nuzzled between mature breasts
that enveloped his senses until he could barely hold himself in check. Maximus opened
his mouth wide and took in a nipple, sucking hungrily and pulling the flesh around it
deep until Lauria writhed beneath him and cried his name.
His fingers trailed to the soft curls at her mound and his mouth followed quickly, lapping
wetness and twisting his tongue until it strained for the scent that cried out to him.
Positioning himself carefully, he settled her legs over his shoulders and groaned as he
lowered painfully slow and encompassed her heated openness with lips and mouth and
whipping tongue. Maximus was home. Where he was meant to be. His mouth devoured
her honey and the tip of his tongue drove deep before his lips clamped onto the pebble
hardness and sucked a rhythm to match his raging heartbeat.
He could not be patient, could not allow her the fullness of her extraordinary climax or
time to come to calmness. His hands gripping tight at her opened thighs, he pressed his
entire length, without delay, deep into his wife. Only then, only at his fullest depth could
he breathe, calm and soothe her. Her path sucked and trembled tense around him and he
closed his eyes tight to endure such blissful punishment. When he began the journey
toward his own fruition, he was lost in Lauria, war and bloody battle suddenly forgotten
and only the needs of he and his wife holding any importance. His hips thrust and drove
deep, bringing cries from her but he could not stop. He could not slow what was destined.
He pounded relentlessly and Lauria gripped her arms tightly around his neck to hold onto
Sliding a hand beneath her perfect ass, he lifted to help her receive even more and
Maximus truly believed that at his final thrust he had penetrated her deeper than ever
before, than ever possible. His seed poured like fire and his grunts were animal … but his
prayers were for another son.
Commodus was again in Rome, unhappy with his plight and all those things he was
commanded to learn and understand. He sat silently, day after day at the back of the
Senate and listened to the political, manipulative babble of pompous old men. What was
there to gain from this? What would he learn that he did not know? The Senate was a
collection of lower beings, self endowed with the power of the masses. There should be
nothing but the throne and Caesar and Rome. Nothing else mattered for surely one Caesar
could manage his empire far better than a collection of graying men who argued like
women, Gracus among the worst of them all.
One year passed, then two. Among his few joys was his young nephew, Lucius. The child
radiated with royal blood and an intellect Commodus at times envied. But Lucius was a
child to be loved and pampered, adored and entertained in ways neither he nor Lucilla
had ever experienced. Commodus, a man with much in his future, chose often to ignore
his assigned education of human frailties and the rumble of the Roman mob to talk and
play with the boy. Those times were suddenly expanded after Lucius Verus was recalled
to Caesar’s side in Germania.
Lucilla was deeply disappointed, hoping beyond reason that her husband’s age would
save him from the difficulties of military life. At first, she was inconsolable, but seeing
how her brother had stepped in to perform her husband’s fatherly duties brought her from
her depths. Commodus spent more and more time with Lucilla and the child and his black
heart began to pump the poison that had once ruled his needs.
He watched her from afar at first; attempting to thwart his desires, satiate them with
whores or slaves, boys and self masturbation but none satisfied. He thought to roughly
just take her as he once had, against her will, scratching and crying as it had pulled a
strange thrill from his belly, but Lucilla was far too visible with her household slaves for
such an attempt. Had she planned it that way? Did she suspect his rekindled desires?
Late one night as he spied her leaving under cloak and secrecy, Commodus thought that
surely he had found his wedge. If she had a lover, what problem to have two? If she
aspired to be unfaithful to her husband, what worse to be incestuous with her brother? All
seemed small steps, insignificant within the full realm of royal life.
He controlled his powerfully growing need and awaited a perfect moment, finding it as
she stood, watching over her sleeping son late one night.
Commodus stood close behind her. “He sleeps so soundly because he is loved,” he
“He does,” smiled Lucilla. When she attempted to step back and leave the room,
Commodus did not relinquish space. Instead he wrapped his arms possessively around
her waist and pulled her tight against his demanding manhood.
He kissed her tenderly below her ear and whispered. “Will you not love me? Stay with
Her body had tightened but only slightly. Lucilla had long hidden away the horrors of that
encounter so long ago. Buried them deep behind her heart in a dark place even she would
not admit existed. She had a loving husband who adored her and offered her all she
needed. She had a lover who was kind and pleasant and had provided her with a child.
She had a son who would forge the future of the Roman Empire … and she had an
incestuous brother who felt he could threaten all she had created. This would not be.
Lucilla braced herself, placed a perfect smile on her lips and turned to Commodus. There
was a playful glint in her eyes and she chuckled carelessly. “Oh my dear Commodus, you
are a silly boy still. But you do know that it will never again happen, do you not?” Her
hand tenderly pet his shoulder. “Surely you know … one foolishness in a lifetime is
enough for any Caesar.” She laughed softly and walked away, struggling hard to control
the tremble of her knees and fingers.
Commodus removed himself from her presence, only visiting the house when Lucilla was
not present and he could enjoy his nephew’s laughter. The child lightened his heart and
soothed the rotted wounds of his soul.
But when he sat alone in crowd of elegant Senators or attempted sleep to ease the
throbbing that had reclaimed his head, his thought were always of Lucilla. No matter the
caliber of spy, Commodus could find no knowledge of who Lucilla’s lover actually was.
This agony grew painfully in his head as well as his belly and without knowledge or
intent, Commodus unconsciously chose to focus his jealousy and hate upon Maximus.
She had once and quiet possibly would forever love the boy become general. A general
who had taken most of his father’s love as well. A boy who had taken Lucilla’s virginity
… leaving nothing but hate and rancor in his wake.
These thought expanded to encompass everything, to color everything, to deaden all
within his days and paint his dreams with horror. Commodus knew no other way.
Revenge would be his, perhaps soon, perhaps later. But it would be his.
The fields were rich and green in the midsummer Spanish sun and Maximus rode the
parameter of his land. Sitting astride his steed, he shifted and twisted his neck to take in
everything. Atop a rise he watched the summer grasses whisper and ripple in the breeze,
roll like the sea down the slope to the house. It was a vision that had held his mind to
sanity more than once in battle. Knowing his family lived and breathed down there
heated his heart to the commitments he had made to Caesar, to the gods and to his wife.
Below in the courtyard, Lauria glanced up at the striking image of Maximus on
horseback. Her belly churned and her heart ached knowing that at the slightest word from
Caesar, her husband would again be gone from her eyes and her arms. It had been nearly
a year and she felt the tug of failure, for she could not convince Maximus to remain at
home, to be a farmer forever and hold her close every night of his life.
Her very breath ached with the memories of every time he had touched her since his
return; the joyous moments and the tearful sadness only three months earlier when her
body chose to refuse shelter for the growing infant inside. Maximus had been
heartbroken, choosing the stoic path and staying apart from her ever since. But Lauria
would not stand for this, could not bear to have him leave again without loving him at
least once more. His thoughts and beliefs were valid to him, but she did not care.
Having lost their second child in an ugly, bloody puddle brought him to mind of the
carnage he had faced day after day away from her. He could not imagine causing her to
lose her life. Would not risk such, for better Lauria be alive to hold and adore chastely,
than dead at the mercy of his ego’s desire for another son.
Lauria was not giving up. No consequence would keep her from him. That very night she
and Maximus would meet the priest and soothsayer to ask of their future. She prayed with
every fiber of her being that the word was good and true, that she would hold her husband
to her and if not, at least cling unto him once more before he left again … for in her soul
she knew the call was coming soon.
Together they stood before the priests as the dirty men chanted relentlessly. Lauria was
desperate, had done all that was prescribed, sacrificed and fasted, offered great sums of
money secretly in hopes of perfect results. Maximus was silent and her eyes trailed to
take in the peripheral vision of him … sturdy … steady … strong. They were asking if
there would be more children in their future, if they had carried a misdeed or curse that
could have taken their second son from them. But Lauria was praying for much, much
more, but she would accept any small kindness from the gods.
The old priest mumbled and garbled, chanted and swayed until she felt herself sway with
him. Then … suddenly it all came to a stop. The soothsayer reached out for Lauria’s belly
then placed a hand upon Maximus heart. He calmly and without fanfare informed them
that Lauria was now barren. That the gods saw fit to bestow only one child upon their
marriage. Relief washed like a downpour over her at the confirmation and she felt herself
strain to hide her smile.
Next to her, Maximus’ brow curled, confused with the dichotomy of his emotions he
faced. There would be no more sons … but there was no danger to his wife should he
love her. No seed of his would take root, but Lauria would forever be safe in his embrace.
There was little time remaining before he again left her behind. He would love her until
that moment, Lauria and his child Marcus were his passion and his life, his reason for
The decrepit old priest returned with miniature carvings of a woman and small boy. He
wrapped them in leather and pressed them into Maximus’ palm. “These are your sole
reasons, General. Hold them dear and pray for their safety.”
Maximus was humbled and shocked at such immediate answers to all his needs.
“Perhaps you will conceive another son with a slave girl?” Lauria stated softly as they
rested after vigorous lovemaking. Her skin was slick with perspiration and her chest rose
and fell as she panted to catch her breath.
“But you must release your seed, Maximus.”
“Must I?” he grinned, his body pleasingly emptied and his heart overwhelmed with
“Yes. Choose a whore or slave woman and I promise that I will happily raise your son by
her. Buy her and she will be here, for separation from one’s child is most painful and I
would not wish such unhappiness on any woman, slave or whore or noblewoman.”
“Let us talk none of these things, let us love and be happy. I have a son with whom I am
greatly pleased, and a wife to whom my heart will always be enslaved. Nothing more
matters, my love. Nothing.”
But that very night Maximus woke with a start, his chest heaving and his mind awash
with terror. It was the third night in a row that he had experienced the same dream, but
that night, as he slumped at the edge of the mattress, he recalled every nuance of it.
It was his lost twin, alone on a cliff and calling to him. With each shout of his voice,
Maximus found himself closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, to stand beside his
brother and listen intensely.
“Maximus hear me now,” the mellow voice rumbled. “There are three messages and all
three are untrue. Be forewarned, my brother … the first message was bought to soothe a
tender heart. The second message is manipulated by a self serving patriarch. But the third
will cost the lives of all you love if unprepared for its approach. Awaken and save your
self. Awaken and save your wife and son. Awaken and save Rome.”
Maximus stood until dawn at the window, his naked flesh unaware of the predawn chill
and his mind aflame with warning. Just as the sun brightened the horizon he spoke
“Lauria, rise now. Take Marcus, your mother and one slave and go to your uncle’s house
“What? Why, husband?”
“Do it … now.”
At that instant there was a tap at the door. “There are riders coming, Maximus,” Cicero’s
voice drifted through to them.
“Yes. See to my family then bring my armor and weapons.”
“Maximus,” panic gripped Lauria and she quickly dressed. “You will not send me away
before you leave.”
“Leave, my love,” he embraced her tightly. “Leave now and do not turn back. You will be
told when it is safe to return, but there is little time.” A rise of dust alerted him to the
nearness of the riders. The men numbered six, were Roman, but there was no standard, no
banner. The helmets, praetorian, but he had no official word of a coming escort. He
hurried Lauria from the room, kissed her hard and led her to the back of the house. “Take
the dark road, move swiftly … and know that my love goes with you.”
Maximus had no time to don his protection, but he quickly took the dagger from Cicero
and tucked it into his belt, folding his tunic to hide the blade. He then commanded that
Cicero disperse his remaining blades and sword amongst the most able slaves and hold
them in hiding until the word was given to defend their master.
The troop of men did not alert the household at the gate, but boldly entered. They did not
await greeting there, but instead pounded relentlessly at the door. They did not even await
the slave, but instead charged inside.
Maximus stood with his back to the intruders. “Yes?”
“Maximus Decimus Meridius. You are ordered by Caesar to Rome.”
Maximus slowly turned, his face lowered at a tilt. As he swiveled he took in the speaker’s
sandals … not a Roman soldier’s boots. His eyes moved slowly up the man, all else
seemed in order, the man was large and straight, but not a praetorian. Nothing in his
demeanor betrayed a true praetorian’s dignity.
Maximus sighed casually. “Caesar is not in Rome. He is in Germania. And do you forget
yourself, praetorian? You address a General.”
The man spat, mucus missing Maximus’ foot by mere inches. “General Maximus, you are
to be escorted to Rome … now. These are the orders.”
Maximus knew Marcus Aruleus’ hand, had been receiving letters from Caesar since
boyhood. The orders were fraud as was the seal. “And should I refuse?”
“You will die.”
And Maximus felt the press of a blade at his throat, the wrap of a muscular arm around
his chest, and the fearful concern in his heart. And as his fingers gripped the blade handle
at his waist, he prayed to the gods for assistance.
… And Maximus felt the press of a blade at his throat, the wrap of a muscular arm around
his chest, and the fearful concern in his heart. As his fingers gripped the blade handle at
his waist, he prayed to the gods for assistance.
A pitiful yell came from outside the door and it distracted the man before him long
enough for Maximus to move. He tightened his grasp on the blade handle and twisted,
slicing it deep into the side of the man behind him. As the wounded assassin bellowed,
the sword slid swiftly from its sheath ahead and Maximus dropped quickly. The wide arc
of the swing caught the wounded man, severing his head, giving Maximus the split
second required to drive his short blade up and into the soft, lower belly of the other.
He dropped hard onto his back and the General crawled over him, his hand deftly
twisting the blade and soaked with blood.
“Tell me who has sent you with this treachery!”
“Never,” growled the dying man.
“Tell me or I will kill you!” hissed Maximus.
“I will die anyway!”
With an intense thrust, the General drove the blade even deeper. The man coughed with
the pressure, spitting blood and groaning.
Maximus suddenly felt the weight of what had occurred, the terrifying implications and
dangers to his wife and son. He slid the blade out and slowly, with his eyes deep in the
man’s, pulled a final lethal slice across his neck and rolled away.
“Maximus!” called Cicero.
“Yes, Cicero. How many wounded?” He climbed to his feet.
“None. Three of the assassins dead, three had run.”
“No one is wounded?” Maximus blinked. He had two healthy, strong young slaves, the
old man who worked with the vines and the old woman cook. “How is this so?” He
walked out of the house to see the cook wiping blood from her knife and a dead body on
the stones at her feet.
He turned to Cicero. “How is it that they did not run to save themselves?”
“Never!” shouted the cook with a toothless grin. “We are here for you, Maximus. We will
always stand to protect you and your family.”
“We would give our lives for you, General,” grunted the old man as he helped the others
drag the bodies away.
“You are well protected,” Cicero smiled.
“No, Cicero, I am not, nor is my innocent family.”
Days passed and Maximus sat silent at his desk. In his mind he penned a letter to Caesar,
a letter to Commodus, a letter to Quintus, but no words met parchment. Lauria knew of
the events that had bloodied her house, but quietly cleaned the memories away and put
things to order. And she watched her troubled, silent husband.
“Who could have done this?” she gently asked one evening. He did not answer and
Lauria stood her full height, hands on hips and glared down at him. “Maximus?
Husband? Am I already dead to you?”
Tears filled his eyes and he reached for her, drawing her onto his lap and holding her
close. “No, no. No, my love.” He kissed her tenderly and looked into her lovely dark
eyes. “I know not who has attempted such a thing, understand the reasons even less.”
“I understand the reasons,” she sighed and captured his mouth with another soft kiss.
“You are important to Caesar and Caesar has enemies. To kill you is to leave Caesar
without his strength, Maximus.”
“I care little about me, wife. And Caesar will always have men to protect him. It is you,
you and our son who I fear most for.”
“Then never leave us unprotected, Maximus. Stay with me.”
“It is not possible, Lauria,” he groaned and rubbed his reddened eyes.
“So, you would leave us at an assassin’s mercy to go and protect Caesar? To fight for
Caesar and Rome?” Her voice had risen and her face grown red.
Maximus slowly put her on her feet and stood, gripping her shoulders firmly and
speaking in a quiet, lethal voice. “Wife … I do this for you. I do this to change what
could threaten you. I do this to preserve the future for our son.” With a quick snap he
released his grasp, turned on his heel and left her alone.
Deep in the olive groves, late and in darkness, the moonless night played with his
thoughts. It toyed with his imaginings and molded new ideas from old. The dream
repeated in his mind. Three treacheries, three lies. The third prophecy had come to pass,
and without the loyalty of his slaves he might not have survived. The first, an untruth
bought to soothe a tender heart. The second, a manipulation by a self serving patriarch.
Maximus did not presume an ability to interpret or understand such warnings. But he
somehow did not trust those who proclaimed such skills. He sorely missed old Donum
and her truthful ways. He had come to suddenly trust no one.
A purchased untruth? Who would do such a thing? A manipulative patriarch? Caesar?
“No! No! That is not so,” he growled over the night creatures. “No.”
Lauria had cried herself to sleep for several nights. He husband was greatly displeased
with her, for why else would he leave her in her unhappiness and alone night after night?
Weeks passed and he had finally conceded to join her in their bed. Months past and he
had continued his fearful vigil over them.
When ten riders came from Caesar he was tense, unsure, until he recognized Quintus and
his face brightened.
“You are well?” asked the praetorian as he leapt from his mount in the courtyard.
“I am, come, come.” He led Quintus inside and sat at his desk, cleared his throat and
waited. He was unsure how to disclose the attack, now months past. “Is there news? Am I
to return to Germania?”
“There is news, Maximus. But you are to remain here for a while longer. I have been
charged with informing you of several assassination attempts against Caesar’s most
trusted men. None have been successful, but several have been brutal.”
Maximus nodded. “Here, two months past. Six men posing as praetorian.”
“And they demanded that you accompany them to Rome?”
“Yes,” Maximus straightened in his chair. “Who is behind these acts of treachery?”
Quintus shrugged and accepted a goblet of wine from a slave girl. His eyes sparkled as he
watched her leave the room and his lips smacked long before the wine had even touched
them. “Behind it? Caesar has his suspicions. The last attempt on his life was nearly
successful, so this has become very much his priority. Commodus has been put to spying
on the Senate … a task he seems most suited for,” Quintus grinned. “Caesar trusts that it
is far from discovery and wishes you to remain here, with your family, to hold them safe
… and yourself as well.”
Maximus nodded thoughtfully. “How goes the efforts in Germaina?”
“Stagnant, quiet. Boring, Maximus. The men ask for you often, knowing that the
extraordinary battles always come at your heels.” Again his eyes slid away, to the hallway
where the slave girl, Prisa prepared to bring refreshments to Lauria and young Marcus.
Maximus grinned. Prisa had been Lauria’s personal slave for many years, had been close
to his wife and loved by the entire household. Should Quintus request to share a bed with
the girl, how angry would Lauria become? It was a small dilemma. One that held little
real concern, as the household slave can be used in any way the master saw fit. But Prisa
was a sweet young woman. It concerned Maximus slightly more that Prisa would not be
pleased with Quintus than if Lauria was not pleased with him.
Such joyful foolishness had only found a place in his thoughts due to Quintus’
information. The attack was not intended for his family, it was targeted to him. Lauria
was correct, the reason was quite simple and Quintus was confident that the source would
be found soon enough. Commodus had a duplicitous nature that was sure to gain vital
knowledge and win the day. He was also a man in great need of respect from his father.
Solving this particular problem could bring Commodus to Caesar’s side … a place he had
longed for since boyhood. All would work well.
“Maximus, I find that slave girl most deliciously enticing,” Quintus said quietly.
Ahh, thought Maximus. There is always a dilemma at hand.
“Forgive me if I seem to not control my property and slaves, but Prisa is Lauria’s slave
and, well …”
Quintus laughed loud, a hardy rumble that vibrated against the walls and brought Prisa’s
attention to him. She smiled shyly and turned back once before leaving their sight.
“How is this possible?” Lauria sniffled, distraught and frightened, Prisa at her side.
“What troubles you so, my lady?”
“How can this be? He told me that I am barren. How can this be?” Lauria had not seen
her monthly blood in nearly three passings of the full moon.
“Who told you? That ragged, filthy soothsayer?”
“Yes. I did everything he asked for a true and sure answer. Everything!” Lauria sniffled
“Oh my lady! I do not trust that man, no one trusts that man. It is known by noblemen
and slaves alike that he will say whatever one wishes for the right price.”
“Price? But all I did was make my offerings, Prisa.” She blinked, dropped with a bounce
to her bed. “Twice, nearly thrice what he asked. Oh … oh. I am used. Maximus will never
touch me again if I am not barren. He fears for my life should I lose another child. I can
not bare it. How can I tell him?”
Prisa shrugged. “You must. Is coupling with him so important?”
Lauria’s mouth dropped. “Prisa, have you never loved a man?”
Her head shook.
“You are virgin?”
“No, my lady. Before I came to be in your father’s house, my master took me but only
once. It was most unpleasant.”
Lauria smiled through her sadness. “My dear, dear Prisa. Love is … is … most pleasant.
It will bring your body to its bloom, your heart to its fullness, ripen your life. Is there no
man who interests you?”
Again the girl shrugged. “Tell me of the man speaking with your husband, my lady.”
“Quintus?” Her lips twisted into a knot. “I know little about him. He is Maximus’ trusted
comrade. Does he please you?”
“Perhaps,” Prisa’s eyes twinkled.
“Wait here,” Lauria stood and left the bedroom. Her troubles would find their way to
solution, but a poor slave girl needed help to find her happiness. A slave girl? Prisa was
only still a slave because Lauria had yet to ask her husband to free her.
She walked into Maximus and Quintus presence without announcement and they both
stood, almost at attention.
“Quintus, this is my wife, Lauria.”
The man’s eyes were straight ahead and his head erect; his back as sturdy as a tree trunk
and his shoulders broader than even Maximus’. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady.”
“I thank you. I have a question for you, Quintus.”
His eyes darted to Maximus whose brow had risen in surprise.
“My slave girl, Prisa. Have you seen her?”
“Ah … yes.” He finally looked at Lauria. “Yes I have, my lady.”
“Does she please you?”
“Lauria!” Maximus almost choked.
“Well, does she?”
“Ah … I … ah … yes, she is most pleasing to look upon. Why do you ask?”
Lauria grinned and leaned closer. “Because,” her voice was a whisper, “she also finds you
“She does?” Quintus had lost his stiffness but still seemed most uncomfortable, wary,
“Perhaps you would enjoy speaking with her in the garden … later of course … when
you and my husband have completed your business.
“That would be most enjoyable, my lady,” Quintus said as she left.
Lauria turned at the door. “And Quintus, Prisa is only a slave until my husband grants her
freedom. As a free woman, you may choose to marry her … if you like.” And she walked
Maximus laughed. “My poor man. One fanciful look at a slave girl and you may find
yourself unfortunately a married man.”
Quintus looked around the room good-naturedly. “It seems to suite you, General.”
“It does … most times my friend. Most times.”
The morning was wet and dreary but there was great activity in the courtyard. Lauria’s
old uncle had arrived but not with his usual swagger and pompous demeanor. This time
he was accompanied by several stern and angry men. Maximus walked out and observed
them carefully. Most were successful merchants he had seen in the marketplace. One was
a banker, another, the wife of an elderly politician returned from Rome retire in his large
peaceful villa on the hill near Maximus’ groves. They were all most brusque and
disrespectful to the old uncle.
“What is this?” Maximus asked in a low voice, quieting the rabble.
The old woman was bravest as the men cowered back. “I am Lilia, wife of Proudius
“I know who you are, my lady,” he said politely. “What I do not know, is why you are
shouting in my herb garden.”
“This man,” her boney finger pointed, “your wife’s uncle … has made us penniless!”
Maximus glared around at the faces, the only one lowered was in fact, that of his wife’s
uncle. “How has he done this thing you accuse him of?”
“He has taken our money and wasted it! Lost it in a gamble we knew nothing of,”
shouted one of the merchants. “We bring him to you as no one will stand for him.”
“He must die for this!” cried the banker.
Maximus raised his hands to quiet them. “I do not believe he should die for it, but I
assure you that I will speak with him. He will come to an arrangement for repayment that
is satisfactory to all. Leave my house and I will send word as soon as this is corrected.”
The throng turned to whisper and grumble then finally left the courtyard again in peace.
Maximus led the old man into his stables, unwilling to permit Laruia and her mother to
overhear them. He paced and glared at Gaetuli, spat his name and marveled at the fact
that he had never once spoken disrespectfully to the pompous old man before. It was not
a surprise to Maximus that one of Gaetuli’s investment ideas had caused such trouble.
The man was notorious for risking not only his money but the money of those who had
trusted him. He had always managed to work his way clear of debilitating debt and retain
his status in the village. But this time it was not lucky for Gaetuli. Many shouting for his
death over bad investments were once loyal and good friends.
“What have you done old man?”
Gaetuli paced, wringing his hands and panting. “Nothing! Nothing that I do not do all the
time! I invested their money where I saw fit. Most times it goes well … but this time it
did not. I am their savior when they become richer!”
“Did you tell them of this investment?”
The man glared. “I never tell anyone of my dealings! How is a man to retain his secrets
for success if he blathers such things?”
“Old man! Be still. Sit! Tell me of this investment.”
The agitated old uncle finally sat, panting like a cat in labor. He ran a hand over his
reddened bald head and groaned. “A man came to me. He had good information
regarding a shipment of fine oils from Egypt.”
Maximus brow curled. No shipments from Egypt were ever brought directly into Spanish
ports. All must move through Rome first. Merchants there would then disperse everything
as they saw fit for their own profit. Could Gaetuli be so gullible as to believe such
rumors? “Go on.”
“The payments were made and all arrangements for optimum profits. Money changed
hands, Maximus. So much money but there was much to be made in return. Yesterday the
ship arrived and I stood at the docks to receive my goods …” He rubbed his eyes, would
not even look at Maximus. “Nothing. Nothing. I have lost everything, Maximus. And …
and … so have you. So have they all.”
“Everything?” Maximus felt his stomach clench. His military earnings had grown since
becoming a general and he had carefully used it to advance his vineyards and groves,
improve the quality of his harvest and increase his number of slaves to care for the land.
If the old man was correct, Maximus, like the angry mob who had just left his courtyard,
was also penniless.
“How could you do this, old man? How could you take such a risk? You know that no
such cargo reaches our shores!”
“I do! I do, Maximus. But the information came from Rome! From the young Caesar
“What?” Commodus? Was it possible?
“I have the letter!” Gaetuli reached into the folds of his robe and produced the parchment.
“I have been careful not to damage the seal, Maximus! See!”
He examined the wax. It was indeed a seal of Rome, but most certainly not a seal of
Caesar. “Why did you not show this to me earlier? It is treachery, untrue. This is not the
seal of a Roman official. Gaetuli, this is most dangerous.”
“Dangerous? They will not kill me over such frivolity. I will redeem myself in their eyes
and regain all their losses. I just need time, Maximus! A small amount of … time.”
“There is no time, you old fool. How much have you lost?”
Over the next weeks Maximus worked diligently in all efforts of protecting the old man
and helping him repair his damages. He took Gaetuli into his own house and sold the old
man’s luxurious house in the village. He slowly sold most of his cattle and sheep, several
horses and finally a large portion of his fertile land.
He carefully sold slaves to those purchasing the land, explaining that they were most well
trained and suited for the care of the new grapes and olive groves. When Gaetuli’s debt
was finally repaid to all who had called for his death, Maximus stood on his depleted land
and vowed never to lose another inch of his son’s inheritance.
Now his land was much smaller, his property easily managed and controlled by less than
a handful of slaves … and his house … full. Quintus had remained in protection of
General Maximus and his family. He had married the newly freed woman, Prisa. Cicero
too was living in the house as the slave’s quarters in which he had resided was sold.
Lauria’s old mother took many of the remaining female slaves and shared her rooms with
them. And of course, there was Gaetuli.
Gaetuli took up residency in the far corner of the building, remaining in his rooms day
and night, fearful of everything and withering away. He died less than thirty days after
the final settlement was made and the family mourned him … but the village found
nothing but great pleasure in his passing.
“The gods have repaid him for his selfishness,” Lilia, wife of Proudius Guis chanted in
the marketplace as she purchased several bolts of expensive, luxurious silks. “The gods
have repaid him.”
Maximus mounted his black stallion, the gift from Lucilla that he could not bear to part
with. The animal had seen battle with him and had carried him far. It was a part of him he
would not sacrifice. The loss of property meant little to Maximus. He worried most for
the future of his son. Trailing the newly defined perimeters of his land, he stilled the
stallion and watched the sun set.
His mind mulled over past events. The dream had again predicted correctly. There was a
manipulation by a self serving patriarch. He had trusted Gaetuli as did many. He now
worried for the third and final warning of the fateful dream. But how could such a
warning be dangerous? An untruth bought to soothe a tender heart. Perhaps this would be
the least of them all. Perhaps it had already come to pass unnoticed. Perhaps he could lay
his head down that night and sleep restfully.
Caesar was displeased with the reports from his son in Rome. Commodus had nothing to
report, but rumors laced with possible truths ran ramped, reaching Marcus’ own ears in
Germania. He brusquely penned one more command.
You report nothing, although I have placed you in the seat of a diplomat. You learn
nothing, though you daily walk among these thieves and murders. Have you not seen my
plan for you? How will you run the empire I forge unless you understand Rome and her
politics? You surely disappoint me, my son. As permitting you freedom to move in such
circles has not opened your ears to the men behind these heinous murder attempts
against my favored generals … I will direct you! Learn well, I have long been a master at
Follow and report on all actions made by Senator Aemilios Sulla Rufus. He is not suspect
but his son, Pontifex is most suspect. Follow and report on all actions of Consul Marcus
Scaurus. Follow and report on all actions of Senator Gaius Drusus.
Your efficient performance in this matter will greatly improve my faith in you.
Commodus, you are my son. Remember the four virtues we must live by and protect Rome
from the evil that dwells within her.
Caesar Marcus Aurelius
Pontifex sat quietly at his table, his ponderous form overflowing the large stool and his
eyes scanning the platter placed before him. He eyed the man standing at the door then
waved him to enter, dismissing all slaves from his presence.
“What have you?” he mumbled through a full mouth. Greasy fingered slithered among
olives and roasted meat and grain until he had captured the juiciest morsel and popped it
into his mouth. “Well?”
“General Lucius Decumius has died of wounds receive from the attack.”
Pontifex nodded and gulped from his goblet. “And?”
The man’s eyes dropped. “General Livianus recovers and has reported to Caesar’s side
Germania ... unscathed.”
“This is a disappointment. And?”
“The General Maximus was unharmed.”
“Maximus lives? This is not news. Do you have anything I do not know, you fool?” Food
and spittle sprayed across the table and Pontifex rocked in his chair.
“He is ruined, master. Maximus is penniless.”
“Ah, finally, good news. Guards!” Immediately three men entered, one sliding the tip of
his sword fully through the spy before dragging the body away and closing the door.
“So,” came a voice from the shadows. “You find your informants so disposable,
“I do, Commodus, I do. Now come, dine with me, we will celebrate your triumph.”
Commodus ran a hand across his chin; he found the idea of dining with Pontifex even
more distasteful than dining amidst the blood of the murdered slave. But he would
tolerate the swine a bit longer in order to free himself of all suspicion. He had entered by
a secret passage and would exit the same way. No one had ever seen him speak with
Pontifex in public or private. No one knew how unproductive the man had been for
Commodus. No man knew the promises made.
Commodus had reached the crossroad. Pontifex was a man blessed with resources for
success and yet, had failed. Of nine murder attempts, only Livianis had met his demise,
and this surely only the cause of his incompetent, well meaning physician. The son of
Caesar had faltered in his thinking. Had Caesar lost several of his most respected and
effective generals, he would have been pressed to call Commodus to his side. It was a
noble and well thought plan, but Commodus knew when he was defeated. His desires
would best be served another way and it was time to end this folly.
He sat across from Pontifex and grinned. “Celebrate triumph? We are far from success,
“Ah, worry not. There are more to do the job, many scrambling to kill for money. It just
may take more gold and more time we had originally planned.” He stuffed his mouth and
chewed thoughtfully. “Perhaps we should plant assassins within the camps? The generals
will be recalled soon.”
Commodus sighed and stood, strolled around the table twice, Pontifex ignoring him,
focused on the feast.
“Pontifex, you have been trying that for nearly two years. These men you use, they are
not trained to battle true soldiers. Perhaps … in order to uphold your end of this
arrangement … you should make personal financial investments … seek out deserters to
finish what has begun … perhaps?”
“My own gold?” The massive man spat food from his mouth and rocked in his chair until
he had turned to face Commodus, dangerously close behind him. “I think not! You were
to pay for the services rendered! I was only to provide the men and information. We are
doing fine … it just takes … Commodus! What are you about?”
Commodus had drawn a gleaming blade and turned it in his hand, watching the light
catch and flare from polished metal, streaking a flash across Pontifex’s face.
“I am about ending our … agreement … permanently. But we have been friends, have
we not?” Commodus offered a congenial grin. “Yes, yes, of course we have. So, in
respect for that friendship, I give you a choice. The blade …” he fingered a small vessel
and held it over the plate of food. “Or the poison.”
Pontifex gagged, struggled to stand to swing his arms in protection.
“Ah … come, come now. I do expect a Senator’s son to face death with far more courage.
But,” Commodus shrugged, sheathed his short blade and simply pushed the man’s chest
with a grunt.
Pontifex was a mountain of a man, his torso ponderous and round, his arms and legs
nearly useless, weak, flailing as he dropped to his back on the marble floor.
Commodus pressed a knee on the thick chest and debated. Would the blade penetrate
deeply enough for a quick kill? He thought not. Pressing fingers into the struggling man’s
mouth, he dug deep until repeated gagging opened the mouth wide enough to pour.
Before Commodus stood, Pontifex was dead.
When he returned to the palace, he would report all he knew to Caesar. That Aemilios
Sulla Pontifex was indeed behind the attempted murders. That letters of treachery were in
his possession proving that Pontifex had purchased the services of assassins and had been
doing so for over a year. He’d bow to his father’s superior understanding of political
treachery and honor him forever for knowing where to guide his son to discover the truth.
And he would most respectfully speak of the death of the enemy, Pontifex; explaining
that all of the man’s household had hated him and that most unfortunately … someone
had taken the pleasure of a public execution out of Caesar’s hands.
He would then most humbly suggest that political life is not the path he is most suited for.
That his father, Caesar Marcus Aurelius may find most satisfaction by having his son at
his side at the battlefront.
Marcus waited several months, considering Commodus’ proposal, seeking proof that the
assassination attempts had in fact ceased before choosing to bring his son to his side. To
what end? He could not predict. But the young man had done something Caesar had
never seen before … he had humbled himself.
His letter to Commodus was sent along with the others. Caesar Marcus Aurelius had been
six long years in Germania, scuffling with barbarians who held his ultimate respect for
their undying resilience and capacity to fight. But he was prepared for the final drive. The
conquest would not come about easily or without great cost. It would not happen quickly,
as these people were unwilling to pass their freedom into Rome’s hands. But it would
Marcus was weary of the tedium, focused on deciphering the lessons learned from it all.
The Empire would be complete, total, and all at his own hand. He longed for his generals
to begin the push, he longed for rest. Caesar longed for peace.
Maximus was on his knees, pressing the soil to protect a young vine from slumping in the
damp, rich black soil. He and Cicero had been moving along the rows for hours, working,
discussing the possible fruit to come next spring, the hopeful market value at harvest. He
had managed to retain most of the fertile new land along the slope of the hill, a large
portion of the fig and olive groves, enough of the animals to provide for his family.
Maximus was preparing to leave; his very bones resonated with the call that had yet to
“Maximus the farmer,” Quintus teased, coming up the path to meet them. “I still find it
hard to imagine.”
“Well, Quintus. You? A husband? Not there is a strange fiction. How fairs Prisa?”
“Well enough, well enough. She had desperately wished pregnancy before we are called
away, but,” he reached out a scroll, “it appears that is not to be.”
Maximus swallowed hard but did not open the parchment. Instead he grinned. “Now this
seems difficult to believe, my friend. You have most certainly tried, have you not?” He
ducked a playful blow but both men knew it was the end of such behavior. Soon they
would be with Caesar. Soon they would don their armor and walk as soldiers. Lead as
they are meant. Do Rome’s bidding, their lives and loves far, far away.
The news of Caesar’s call was distressing to Lauria for several unhappy reasons. Her
husband, her love, her never ending support and dearest friend would again be long gone
from her side. Many marriages survived such things, but she could hardly imagine day to
day life without Maximus now that he had been in her arms for so long.
He had bedded her that night tenderly, with gentle, loving efforts to attend to her needs as
well as his own. She committed each touch and moan to memory, knowing full well that
it would not be the same when he returned. Maximus had been much changed the last
time he came home to her, was a different lover than she knew that night. At his first
touch then, he resonated with a desperateness that struck fear and sadness into her heart.
She imagined that his time at war was severe, uncomfortable, unhappy. She was sure that
he had taken whores with whom to release his sexual needs, but she chose to believe
those encounters to be cold and detached. Unloving. It had taken some time for him to
return to himself fully. To connect with her the way they were meant.
He rose before dawn and left her sleeping to begin preparations for his departure. She
waited until the door had close behind him to cry, great, shuddering sobs of loss and
pending loneliness. She had not yet told him of the growing babe in her womb. Perhaps it
would be good news? News that would help him focus on his own safety so that he could
return to her whole and unharmed? Her fears that he would be angry or concerned began
to wane. Maximus loved her. He would surely forgive her for making such large offerings
to the soothsayer that would cause him to say an untruth, state that she was barren. Yes,
Maximus would understand. Telling him would be as a gift for the General to carry in his
heart all the days he was away.
Excitement charged through her chest and she quickly pushed her tears away. Why had
she not made this decision earlier?
She stood to dress and was stuck to her knees with a tearing agony through her belly.
Struggling to raise to the bed, heated blood gushed down her legs. This is why she had
chosen not to tell her husband of her condition. This is what he would face and worry for
and be angered by, and for the first time, Lauria feared for the conniving soothsayer’s
With weakening strength, she wrapped a blanket around her nakedness and shuffled to
the door, opening it only inches and calling out. “Prisa! Prisa!”
“Yes, I am here,” the girl came close, yawning, sleep still lingering to her usually happy
“I need you,” Lauria let the door open slightly and Prisa gasped, seeing the growing
puddle of blood on the floor. She pushed inside and assisted Lauria to the bed.
“My lady! Oh, my lady! Again? Let me get Maximus.”
“No,” Lauria curled to her side against the rolling pain rippling along her body. “No, get
the midwife, a doctor, my mother. But do not let anyone else know. Do not let Maximus
know. Hurry Prisa, I beg of you, hurry!”
Maximus reviewed his supplies; spoke at length with Quintus regarding which guards
would remain at the Tujillo house and which would travel with them. Quintus, now with
a personal investment of his own and power above even a General with such decisions
regarding the Praetorian, stated clearly his choices and Maximus bowed to the decision.
Laurai, his son Marcus and Quintus’ wife, Prisa would be well protected, thus affording
one less concern in the General’s mind.
He did not see the slave riding madly from the house for the village; was unaware of the
midwife’s arrival, the woman slipping up the spine of the hill and well covered by heavily
laden olive trees. He and Quintus were focused on possible dangers to their women from
an enemy … fully without knowledge of a severe danger attacking even as they worked.
Lauria’s mother frantically washed sweat and blood from her daughter. The midwife
clicked her tongue and prepared a tonic.
“This will end it quickly and protect you from bleeding to death. Drink.”
Hours passed. Lauria writhed in her misery and cried. Then, before the sun reached his
height, the pain slowly began to subside. The midwife remained at her bedside until she
was sure all was well.
“He told us … he told us I could no longer conceive. He told us!” Lauria gasped and the
old midwife turned to Prisa for explanation.
“The filthy old soothsayer,” Prisa sighed and the midwife nodded.
“He told you what you wished to hear, did he not?” she gathered her herbs and tools,
bundled them together with a knot. “The brute is never to be believed, but he brings much
gold to the temple, so the priests allow it. You must have offered him a great deal to say
such a lie.”
Lauria’s tears ran free.
The midwife sat at Lauria’s side with a groan, she pressed a cool hand on the suffering
girl’s brow. “Ah well, my lady. It seems unimportant now … as this has rendered you
barren … fully and truly barren. Rest well. I will return on the marrow to see to you.
And,” she grinned as she stood, “I will leave as silently as I came. No one will ever know
I was here or why. May the gods watch over you and the General and all of this house.”
She offered a tilted bow of her head and left.
Against her mother’s and Prisa’s commands to remain still, Lauria struggled to pull her
self up and sit. “I must speak to Maximus. He must know.”
Prisa sadly nodded but the old mother simply huffed. “No. No Lauria, he must never
“But mother – ”
“Lauria,” the old woman hissed. “Would you send him away with this weight on his
mind? On his heart? He is going into battle, daughter! Protect him from such frivolity. It
is done. It is over. Let it lie, Lauria. Let it lie.”
“But I have always been truthful with my husband!”
“Have you? Then why did he not yet know of the child?” Old mother paced the foot of
the bed, her voice strong but carefully hushed. “Your instincts were correct in not telling
him of the pregnancy, and mine are correct now that it is lost. This is not something
Maximus should know! It was never to be and now, must remain never to be spoken of!
You must follow my advice with this, Lauria.”
Nightfall would come within the hour, but Quintus and the General were determined to
leave that day, travel through the night before taking rest. All was prepared, letters
written, slaves sent ahead to make arrangements at an inn nearly a hundred miles west of
Maximus had not seen Lauria all day. His flesh tingled from their touch before dawn and
his heart ached to hear her voice. He walked from the stables, seeking his love and was
surprised to see her, flanked by her old mother and Prisa, there in the courtyard. Laura
sat, pale and quiet, a warm cape wrapped around her against the early evening breezes.
He immediately lowered to a knee at her side.
“Wife? Are you unwell?” His hand caressed hers and his nose stung with the odd scent of
blood. Was his mind already at the battlefield, already prepared for the stench of death
and fear? He pushed her silky black hair from a flushed cheek and tenderly kissed her.
“What is it, Lauria?”
She blinked away a falling tear and smiled sadly.
“She is distraught, Maximus. So very sad at your leaving,” the old woman offered.
“Well, Old Mother,” Maximus reluctantly stood. “It seems you will have your hands well
occupied with two sad young women,” he grinned and kissed her cheek softly, then he
placed a hand on Prisa’s shoulder. “And you, young bride, you will have each other to
care for and support. Quintus and I will return to you all, it is a vow.”
He returned his attention to Lauria, wishing a moment alone with her which seemed
impossible, as the other women would relinquish not an inch of their strange protection.
Ah, the power of women to bond and stand strong, he marveled.
Maximus turned and swept his young son up high before clasping him tight to his
armored chest. His son. Healthy, bright, beautiful. The time apart would wear hard on
Maximus, but he had planned carefully and felt secure that all would fare well for his
family. He tenderly lowered the boy into his mother’s outreached arms then wrapped
himself around them both.
“My love is eternal, my wife. I will return. I will return.”
“And I will forever wait, husband. Wait for you with love and promise. Be safe, husband.
Be safe, my love. Be safe.”
Late afternoon and Maximus sought sleep in his hot, cramped room at the inn. Sweat
coated his body and he rolled to his back, remembering Lauria, her pallor, her weakness.
If it was sadness alone, it pained him to have caused her such unhappiness; but he was
bound to Caesar, would follow his commitment without concern as all was done to
protect and serve his family first and foremost.
He rolled to his back, permitting the dry heated air to skim the dampness on his bare
chest. Daylight sifted through the slats of the uneven shutters, reminding him of his
physical exhaustion and he prayed for slumber. It came to him suddenly, like the drop of
an axe and he dreamed.
He was alone in a barren land, sun bounced from the sand and obscured his vision, but
before him he clearly noted the coming of a figure, one he had often seen and spoken
with over the years.
“I have not seen you in a long time, brother,” Maximus spoke softly.
“Well,” said the figure so similar to him, only his face visible beneath the black robe and
hood. “Your mind had been otherwise occupied, Maximus.” The hood slid down and
Maximus viewed the ugly bumpy shape of the bald head, blue veins webbed against grey
flesh. “I come this day to offer my condolences for the loss of your child, brother.”
“That was long ago. Over a year.”
A gnarled finger rose to scratch the apparition’s chin. “No, my brother. It was just
yesterday. You know, I would kill the woman for her lies and deceit.”
Maximus turned his back to the figure, his eyes squeezes tight against all he had already
suspected. It was illness that had painted Lauria white; it was the stench of blood that had
reached his nose. But, it was his love who had suffered so.
“Kill her, Maximus. She had bought the prediction of her inability to give you more
children. Bought it with money you were sure to need soon afterwards. She called it a
donation to the priests, but it was a sordid and deceitful purchase all the same.”
And so … the third and final prediction of a long gone dream had come to pass. Come
into his life with misery and pain. He clearly recalled the warning; a treachery bought to
soothe a tender heart. Lauria’s tender heart.
“Kill her, Maximus. You can leave now, do it with your own hands and join your men in a
Maximus turned, his head tilted in a vicious scowl. “You have not lived, brother. You
know not the love of a man and woman.”
The dead brother’s ugly gnarled hands opened. “It all seems foolishness to me, brother.
Would you humble yourself for the needs of your body? Needs that can easily be satisfied
fucking a whore? Kill her. You do not need her.”
“Leave me! I wish not to see you again!”
“Ah!” the figure grunted a laugh. “You think you do not need me?”
“I do not!”
“I … I gave my life for you!”
“And I have mourned since the day I took breath! The mourning must end! Leave me!”
As he watched, the dead brother appeared to crumble before his eyes, twist and rot, roll
slowly into a helpless, broken heap beneath the black robe. He swallowed back burning
bile that threatened to gag him at the sight.
Maximus stepped closer, lowered on one knee. “Go, brother. Go to the ancestors. It is
where you belong. They will make you whole; give you the joy of a full and happy
afterlife. Go. It is well past time for you to go.”
But before the quivering, decaying mass climbed to his feet, he pushed opened his robe to
gather to his chest two grey, dead infants. He rose slowly, his head lowered and sunken
face drenched with tears. As he turned to leave, his eyes met those of his living twin.
Maximus saw the brilliant blue of them drain, become the color of a dull, grey sky.
“I will see you there, by brother,” Maximus said with true sadness in his heart. “I will see
The apparition took several steps before glancing over his shoulder. “She is truly barren
now, brother. You may love her safely again. Fare well. And do not join me yet. Not yet.”
Maximus awoke as sharply as he had dropped into slumber. He sat, gasped, ran an arm
across his soaked brow. Tugging a tunic over his head he stood, threw opened the shutters
and watched the bustling village below. The dream could not have taken but a moment. A
moment that had so greatly affected him that he could hardly breathe. He gasped, sucking
in the stifling heat then closed his eyes. Lauria.
He calmly sat and penned a letter.
My dearest wife,
I write only to assure you of my love. You need never speak of your sad secret, need never
worry over my trust in you. We have both lost much, but gain within each other’s
strength. Know that you are and will forever remain, most dear and precious to me.
Three full weeks of travel. Maximus and Quintus finally stood before Caesar, dusty,
exhausted but straight and firm, eyes forward and awaiting command. Beside Caesar sat
his son, Commodus. Without intention, Maximus found his eyes wander to the man,
watch him, analyze him. This was a version of Commodus he had not yet seen. This man
sat sturdy and powerful beside his father, often leaned to whisper in Marcus’ ear and eyed
both men before them with scrutiny intended to intimidate. Were these pretensions the
things he had learned in Rome? Or was Commodus portraying the man he thought his
father expected. For most of his life, Maximus had watched the struggle between
disappointed father and disappointed son. Had they made peace? And at what cost?
“You are late, but I am pleased you have arrived,” grunted Caesar.
Maximus ached at the appearance of the once robust Marcus, withering now with age,
seemingly to dwindle like a dying vine. They stood several moments before they were
joined by two more generals, men Maximus did not know. Both young, both eager, and
unfortunately, both untried. Caesar stood and walked the line, inspecting each man
closely. When he returned to his chair, there was a small sound of pain that accompanied
his movements and Maximus strained to keep himself at respectful stance. What had
happened in Germania? He had often wondered at the reasons he had not been recalled
sooner after the assassination attempts had ceased. He swallowed hard, focused his eyes
ahead and waited.
At a whisper from Commodus, Quintus was dismissed. This did not concern Maximus.
He trusted Quintus as the man trusted him and much would be explored regarding the
current situation at camp.
“Six long years,” grumbled Caesar. “Six bloody, ugly years and we have made no
significant advancement against Germania.”
Maximus felt his brow curl. There had been great advancement. He could tell by the
formation of the camps, the closeness to the ridge. What game was Caesar playing at?
Was it for the benefit of his new generals?
“You, Maximus. Do you see all around you? This … this is what is left of me. Three
trusted Generals and no more. No more … as most of my generals have … chosen,” he
spat, “chosen to stay behind, to rebuttal and quibble and question. There is no place for
such things and it will no longer be tolerated.”
He stood again, shouting a groan and pointing to a map. “We will continue with the
strategy. We will continue with the scrimmages along the edges of the enemy until we
have weakened them.”
“And then?” Maximus asked, watching Caesar’s finger trail the map.
“Enough!” shouted Commodus and Maximus’ face rose. “There is to be no more
questioning. Maximus, do not assume importance because of your past. The plan is set
and it will stand.”
“Forgive me, sire,” Maximus replied but his eyes caught Caesar’s. “Forgive me.”
“Leave me, all of you.” Caesar returned to his chair and the younger generals filed out,
passing before Maximus who stood immobile and disbelieving.
“Permission to speak, Caesar.”
Marcus sighed, looked up at Maximus then turned to Commodus. “Leave us for now, my
Commodus glared at Maximus but tenderly kissed the hand of his father before walking
Sweat rolled beneath his armor but Maximus did not sway, did not show disrespect or
look into the eyes of the man he loved as father.
“Maximus. You were an honorable boy, an honorable young man. Are you still an
“Sire?” His eyes shot to Marcus.
“Many have spoken things in my ear, told me of your dealings and questionable tactics as
a leader. Many, Maximus. Many.”
“Caesar,” he said, his voice steady, his heart unconcerned. “How can these things be so? I
have been long banished from your side.” Finally his eyes focused on the old man’s face.
“Marcus, tell me what has happened here.”
“What has happened? Can you not see? My final charge for the Empire’s greatness is
crumbling before my very eyes.”
“Why did you not call for me earlier, why have you not spoken of these things in your
communication with me?”
“Treachery. Treachery eats at my very breath.”
And Maximus’ mind floated to the vision of Commodus, whispering in is father’s ear. He
knew the desires both men had, and he knew the impossibilities of it all. He carefully
chose his words. “I am pleased to see Commodus at your side, sire.”
He could take no more. He stepped forward and dropped to one knee beside his Caesar.
“Marcus, you must tell me what has happened here. There is progress, I can tell by the
terrain, yet you say there is not. Perhaps you are just displeased with the slowness of your
“You presume much, Maximus. Leave me. I am weary of this, weary of all of this.”
“Father,” Maximus said softly and the old man looked at him. “I will find the solution.”
Caesar, weak and sunken waved an arm and walked away.
Maximus did not go to the comfort of his tent, did not seek rest he sorely needed. Instead
he walked the massive camp, watching, listening, learning. Many, hundreds shouted,
calling his name and raising their arms. But some stared in disbelief, as though they had
never suspected the General Maximus to return to Caesar’s side again. What insanity
Maximus did not speak with anyone, did not ask questions, he only followed orders and
watched with an intense vigilance. A month passed, then another and another. Scrimmage
after scrimmage, some in the darkness of night like thieves or murders, some in broad
daylight. Nothing intimidated the Germanian throngs. For why should it? What fear can
be drawn from a small group of armed men nipping at the edges of Germainia’s cape?
Had Caesar gone mad? Or had he been bewitched by an idea from the most treacherous
of them all? His own son, Commodus? Or … was there a hidden request in Caesar’s
Over a year, things deteriorated slowly, men deserting by the hundreds, good men, men
who had followed Caesar for years, followed Maximus, fought for Rome with passion
and diligence. There was an ugliness afoot and he feared it must be divulged at any cost.
His watchfulness grew more specific and Maximus witnessed many questionable
conversations immediately before every attack. Huddled whispers centered around
Commodus and the commanders; surrounding the new young generals and their men.
There was only one way to unearth this treachery, and unfortunately, the general
Maximus would not be trusted among men already rotted with deceit.
“Cicero,” he said one evening. “I have a need my friend.”
“Yes, Maximus. I understand. I will be discreet.”
“Cicero,” Maximus sighed, pleased with the depth of the man’s understanding, his
courage and loyalty. “I do not wish to find you dead, my friend. You must be far more
He sat the night at the edge of his cot, worried for Cicero, deeply concerned for Caesar
and afraid for the outcome ahead. Before dawn, Cicero slipped silently into the tent and
knelt at Maximus knee. He whispered words suspected, words that required action, words
that could undermine everything Marcus Aurelius had spent his life building.
“What will you do with this knowledge, Maximus?” Cicero stood, fear etched on his
“I do not know. I do not know.”
“May I suggest …”
“Go on, Cicero,” Maximus grinned for seldom had his trusted slave offered a suggestion.
“Caesar need not know the … enemy … at his very side. He need only take action against
the results of such disloyalty. All will fall into place when that is done, Maximus.”
Maximus leaned back, grinned pleasantly. “When had you become a great thinker, my
“I belong to a great thinker, Maximus.”
Qunitus sought out Maximus’ council more than once with concerns of his own but the
General intended to protect Quintus from what he was about to do, avoiding such
discussions again and again. Oddly enough, it was Quintus’ slave who had made the
contact confirming Maximus’ worst suspicions, and this done in a way that made the
“My master requests that I pass this information into your hands, General Maximus.”
“Information?” Maximus saw no scroll, no official communiqué, no actual reason the
slave would do such a thing.
“Oh, I am to speak it, General,” the man rolled his shoulders and began. “Fourteen
hundred, one thousand and sixteen.”
“And what does this mean?”
The slave shrugged, fought a grin and continued. “It is not the number of deserters, the
number of dead or the number of black souls, General. I can only assume it is the
accounting of wheat, wine and medicinal herbs.”
“Ah,” Maximus waved the man to leave and his very soul thanked Quintus for the final
piece of the puzzle. He had only one more avenue to explore before he made his move to
correct Caesar’s war. Commodus.
Lauria had healed well, her soul and body recovering and growing strong, sturdy with the
changes and mature with experience. She focused her love and energy onto her son, now
four years old; a pleasant, happy child who brought her great joy. The boy had flourished
as had the small farm, but Lauria ached for Maximus.
He wrote seldom but often in his letters spoke words of love and concern for her and the
farm. Beneath those words, radiating from the parchment he had touched with thoughts
of her, Lauria could feel the difficulties he never conveyed. Her need for him battled with
his need to protect his family through Caesar’s war. And she often cried tears of fear for
his safety, unable to imagine losing him to Rome’s foolish hunger for conquest.
As she walked home from the market with Prisa, she was quiet. Her dear friend smiled
and twirled on her toes, the hem of her simple dress flailing out in ripples to match the
soft sound of her laughter. “Is it not a magnificent day, Lauria?”
“It is, Prisa. A most lovely day.”
“It is a day for joy and happiness, a day for pleasant rejoice and playful moments!”
Lauria shrugged and tried to smile.
“But you, my lady? You look like an old woman, walking in a way an old woman walks,
with the scowl an old woman wears. You are young, Lauria!”
“Why are you so happy this day?” Lauria stopped to watch the very broad smile on her
friend’s face. She and Prisa had grown to womanhood together, she knew every smile the
girl had and this one was new. Bold. Glowing through her very eyes. “Have you heard
“No, not since the last time. Have you heard from your husband?” She danced and
skipped backwards, grinning.
“I have, I have.” Lauria’s hand pressed a fingertip against her aching heart. “I miss him
so, Prisa. Do you not miss Quintus?”
Prisa turned to walk beside her. “Of course I miss him, but …”
“What is it?”
“Lauria, we are young women with needs. My husband knows this, knows this very well.
He had told me to find physical satisfaction should I need it … but,” her eyes twinkled,
“to save my heart for him.”
“What?” Again Lauria stood still, a stone statue reflecting the shock in her mind at such a
thing. “You have not taken a lover Prisa … have you?”
“I have. A pleasant enough man.”
“But Prisa! How can you do this thing?”
“I have a need, Lauria. Just a need. He has a strong cock and warm hands and blessedly
as little love for me as I have for him. It is an … arrangement. A very satisfying
arrangement. It makes my heart long for my husband and keeps by body ready for his
return. I am surprised that you do not do the same.”
“Please, my lady. Do not show contempt or displeasure with me. My husband is wise. I
have only taken his advice, as he assures me, you may see Maximus long before I may
see him again. I am surprised that Maximus had not made the same suggestion to you.
Has he not?”
“He has not. Nor would I consider such a thing.”
“Perhaps you should,” Prisa thudded her hip against Lauria’s playfully. “Perhaps you
should.” They again walked closer to home. “It is not an unacceptable practice.”
“Perhaps it is not unacceptable, but it is not an option for me. Had Maximus made such a
suggestion I would have declined.” She looked into the happy face beside her. “I can see
that it is a good thing for you, my friend, and I rejoice in your pleasures.”
“Do you think Maximus takes whores when he needs them?”
Lauria shrugged. “I am sure he does, as well he should.”
“Does it not hurt you? Knowing this?”
“He loves me. He returns to me. He is in Germania for Caesar but ultimately to protect
those he loves. No, it does not hurt me. I am grateful to those women for their service to
him. I live in relative comfort and safety, but my husband suffers death and brutality
every day. I am grateful for his moments of respite, even as they are offered between the
legs of another woman.”
Prisa’s step faltered until she stilled. “I had not realized such. I surely had not realized
such things.” Her smile had dropped and her shoulders drooped.
Lauria slid and arm around Prisa’s waist and tugged her to continue. “You must do as
your husband has guided. It pleases you and it pleases him. Do not become me, my dear
friend. I look like an old woman, walk in the way an old woman walks with the scowl an
old woman wears. You are young, Prisa. We are young. Be happy with your life here, for
soon Quintus will call for you to leave me for his home in Rome. You will be the mistress
of your own house and we will be far from one another. Let us enjoy our history, our
similarities and our differences until we are far apart.”
“But, I must consider your words. Perhaps I will stop seeing this man.”
Lauria laughed. “But how then will either of us be happy? At least this way, you have the
pleasures of the body you most need.”
Prisa turned and looked into Lauria’s eyes. “Perhaps neither of us need a man to be
fulfilled. Perhaps we can find private moments to please each other. I would find no
displeasure in bringing your sexual needs to fruition, my dear friend.”
Laughter burst from Lauria’s chest, tears rolled down her cheek and she struggled to
“Lauria. It is not unheard of,” huffed Prisa.
“It is not that, my loving friend. It is just that …” she fought more laughter. “That … you
… you are not of my … interest. Keep your lover, Prisa. And I will hold my intimacy for
my husband’s return.”
Prisa shrugged. “Perhaps it is best.”
Bitter cold descended upon the camp causing twigs to snap with brittle frost and snow to
blow in razor shards of ice. Many huddled around fires or shivering in tents as the
darkness intensified the cold to near unbearable. But Maximus was heated by his mission.
He wrapped beneath wool and armor and wolf’s pelt and honor to face his enemy with
the full force of his intellect, for surely it was the only weapon worthy of such battle.
It did not take long to locate his prey. A grinning Commodus rushed through the weather
toward his own luxurious tent and the heat of a flaming brass brazier. Maximus eyed the
tent Commodus had exited. None other than a low commander. The windblown flap of
fabric displayed the two young generals, loud and drunk, shouting and laughing with the
others crowded inside.
He stepped forward. “Commodus,” he called. “Brother.”
Commodus turned, shivering and suspicious but grinned at the wide smile on Maximus’
face. “Are you mad, Maximus? A leisurely stroll on such a night?”
“I am not mad,” Maximus chuckled. “I am freezing. I have not had time to visit with you
since my arrival, Commodus,” he playfully slapped the man’s frosted shoulder. “Far too
long. Far too long.”
Commodus longed for the pleasant approach to be truthful, as he longed for the smile of
his brother. He strode a lonely life that increasingly became more treacherous and solitary
as he moved ahead. A pleasant evening with Maximus would serve his soul well. For he
did not distrust the general, merely distrusted the remarkable level of honor the man
carried, much the same way he carried his sword or his helmet; a part of him all men
either respected or envied.
Commodus wished to be of the first variety, but inevitably, at the end of the battle, would
always be of the later. But that moment and that cold night, there was a joyful sparkle in
the eyes of the man he loved as brother through most of his life, a promise of laughter
and comfort. Maximus was not a man to be manipulated, and thus, Commodus most
truthfully believed, not a man who could or would manipulate. He welcomed an evening
of warmth with a soldier and friend who knew him well, knew his weaknesses and his
strengths and had never sought to exploit either.
“Far too long. Come. I have food and wine and a good hot fire to warm us both.”
Maximus pretended comfort in Commodus’ company. He smiled and talked of his home
and family, even discussed the problems he had faced with his wife’s uncle, the wealth
lost and land sold in repayment for the old man’s foolishness. This was an offering to
Commodus, a ruse designed to make the man feel comfortable exposing his own troubles
in return and soon Maximus felt the glow of success.
“I would be most honored to replace the money lost from the old man’s mistake, my
brother. I too was aware of the deceitful information regarding shipments to Spain. But ah
… are there not always greedy men who will believe anything they are told?”
“There are,” Maximus groaned, looking into his wine goblet and not at the man, fearful
that his intentions would be read clearly should he face Commodus. It was not time for
such confrontation. But soon. Soon.
Suddenly the tent flap shuffled and two beautiful whores entered, their cheeks red from
the cold but their smiles wide and pleasant. They were lovely and clean, among those
reserved for Caesar and his highest officers. Maximus had no interest in a woman at that
moment, but knew he had far to go to gain the trust needed, to redirect Commodus away
from his harmful goal and give Caesar back his war as it was meant to be fought.
Commodus grinned a young man’s grin and opened his hand. “Choose my friend.” Once
before Commodus had offered a woman first, and Maximus had gained the loss of his
virginity to that whore. He eyed the women carefully, had interest in the tall, lithe dark
haired one, but instead chose the robust fair hared woman.
The whores began their work immediately, slowly disrobing themselves and the men as
Maximus and Commodus talked of the camp and the impotent scrimmages, calmly,
easily, ignoring the women’s activities … until neither could ignore any longer.
Commodus let his head drop back as his engorged cock was sucked deep into his
woman’s mouth. Her hands were nimble and quick, smooth and agile and soon he was
groaning, grunting, his hands hard against the back of her head as he jerked himself high,
deeper and deeper into her throat. When he cried out, he was weak and pulled the pretty
whore to curl on his lap as he sipped wine and sighed contentedly.
The woman before Maximus used her mouth minimally but masterfully, bringing him to
a full erection that was hard and painful before she straddled his thighs and impaled
herself upon him. He leaned back to watch her face. She was in ecstasy, her mouth
slacked and eyes closed as she moaned and sighed. Taking her hips tight in his hands, he
buried fingers deep into her soft flesh and thrust up once, twice, three times until she
cried out, tightened, trembled with a squeal and he waited. Then he thrust harder, again
and again until he had filled her.
They were quiet as the women washed them clean and redressed the men. When they
were dismissed, Commodus sighed a long groan and looked to his brother.
“I have need of your advice, Maximus. My father has followed my guidance but the
strategy is not producing as it is meant to.”
Maximus grunted to sit up. He propped his elbows on his knees and watched the man
closely. How much was truth? How much lies? “Tell me, Commodus. Why has Caesar
put so much of this burden upon your shoulders? You are most worthy, my brother; but in
truth, you are also untried in the field. Forgive my honesty, but it plays heavily on my
mind that you may fail.”
“I will not fail, Maximus,” his voice was sad, his words already slurred from too much
wine and sex. “I should not fail. Is it a flawed plan?” His fears were clear, drawn upon his
brow and deep in his eyes.
“No, Commodus. It is not a flawed plan; it is an inexperienced plan, one that carries little
understanding of this particular enemy. Do you understand the Germanians, Commodus?
Have you imagined this proud nation an easy conquest? It is not, nor will it come without
great cost. I would only alter your plan slightly for far better results, my brother.”
Maximus controlled his grin, tilted his head thoughtfully. “Perhaps more substantial
attacks, true battles rather than small scrimmages. A scrimmage these people understand
well, it is and has been their strategy since the beginning as was evident during our
original stance on this front. To surprise them with larger scale battles where and when
they least expect it may turn the tide. And brother,” Maximus leaned closer and
whispered. “All men need is success to become stronger. You will see far less desertions
and far more enthusiasm.”
“Are you sure?” The man’s eyes were wide, starving for something, anything to show
strength in his father’s eyes.
“I am. You will have won the day, set the army into a sturdy position for strong
advancement, and found the joys of success on a battlefield. Will you not ride and fight
with your men, Commodus?”
Again, fear streaked across the man’s face but he cleared his throat. “I will, I have.”
But he had not. Maximus understood that what he was doing could easily become a
painful sword in his heart, could possibly cost him his life, or at the least, the life he
loved as a soldier. But his first concern was for Caesar. The man longed to see his son
succeed. His second concern was for Rome. She must know her Caesar was a powerful
conqueror. But he had to make one more effort to in addition take care of his own
concerns. He sighed and stood, donning his cape and wolf skin.
“And, my brother, I have only one further thing to impart. My great love for you. I beg of
you, leave this place. Your father has long groomed you for Rome and her care from the
inside of the Senate. Do not break his heart. And do not break mine by risking your life
further in this terrible place. Now, I will take my leave as I am scheduled for a scrimmage
very soon. I bid you good night.”
“No!” Commodus stood, called for his slave. “Bring me the commanders and generals
immediately. Do not disturb Caesar. Hurry.” He turned to Maximus. “There will be no
scrimmage this night or again. And Maximus, I warn you out of my love for you. No one
will ever know of our conversation this night. Should I hear word of it; I will assure that
you will loose everything. Your land, your remaining wealth and your family.”
Maximus leaned close, hissed with belligerence. “My brother, no threats are needed. Who
would believe that the son of Caesar had taken advice from a low born man. Need I say
“Leave, Maximus. And be careful on the battlefield as my father will need you. I … I will
return to civilization soon. Perhaps we will see each other again.”
“Perhaps,” Maximus tilted a bow and returned to his own tent, assured that all he had
hoped to accomplish had been won.
The battles were planned, Maximus leading over three hundred men under cover of a
stormy night riddled with ice and blasting wind. They huddled near the Germanian camp
and at sunrise, announced their presence with drum and horn. He had taken down more
than a thousand Germanian warriors that day. The younger Generals, ready and in place
with the same number of men had not brought success, had run from the battle and would
Within a week, Maximus again stood before his Caesar. Beside him, seven senior
Generals of great standing and experience. Marcus stood with a spryness and brilliant
gleam in his eye Maximus had not seen since returning and it pleased him. Inspecting his
generals, Caesar grinned.
“And now, we have a war. Let us begin,” and he revealed his plan. A strong plan all felt
worthy and showing promise. As Caesar returned to his chair he sighed. “It is good to
have you all at my side once again.”
“And what of Commodus?” Lucius Veres grunted and Caesar controlled his smile.
“Commodus has returned to Italy where he will care for Rome and the Senate,” and his
grin widened, “and his sister during your absence. For now, all is correct and we move
ahead. You may leave.” But as they walked from the tent Caesar called, “Maximus.”
He tilted a bow and stood at attention.
“I have done nothing, sire.”
“Lies are not your strength, my son. Accept my gratitude and sleep well. We fight hard on
the marrow and every day hereafter until it is ended.”
Lauria controlled her sobs of sadness but was unable to control her tears as she helped
Prisa pack her belongings for the long journey to Rome.
“Why do you not come with me,” Prisa sighed, her own eyes wet and red. “Surely
Maximus can come for you when he is able.”
“This is my home, my dear friend. It is my husband’s home. I will miss you sorely but it
is time for you to go to your husband’s home.”
She thumped onto a closed trunk with a groan. “Perhaps I should refuse.”
Lauria smiled. “Do not be a silly girl, you can not refuse. Think of the adventure, Prisa.
The excitement of Rome, of becoming the lady of your own house, of your own slaves.
Of shopping in a market far more wonderful than our own little square in Tujillo. You
love to shop, my friend. That alone should peak your interest and enthusiasm.”
“I love to shop … with you. I love you, my lady. I loved you as a child and as your slave.
I love you even more as your friend. How will I manage without you?”
“You will manage as I will manage. You will make a new friend, perhaps even Lucilla.
She is a woman alone, her husband far away on the battlefield with Quintus and
“She is royal, my lady!” gasped Prisa. “She will never wish to speak with a freed woman,
much less create a friendship. I will be alone and lonely. Come with me.”
Lauria embraced her and together they cried, tears wetting their garments until laughter
gathered them both into a better heart. “We will be together again, Prisa! It is destined.
Our husbands have love for each other as we do. Do not fear, and write long letters to me,
tell me of the majesty of Rome, of the friends you will have and the parties you will
attend. Rome will have no power to ignore the beauty and joy you will bring her.”
“And who will protect you when I am gone?”
Lauria shuddered. The summons for Prisa to leave had come only that morning and had
commanded that two of the four praetorian leave with her. The remaining guards were
sufficient and there should be no concern or fear … but Lauria’s heart trembled with an
ominous premonition. She shook her head and smiled brightly. “I am well protected,
Prisa. Now hurry, you are to leave soon. Would you like to take my silken cape?”
Nearly three years had passed. The war waged on and the Roman army had finally begun
to set the line exactly where Caesar had always intended. More legions were traveling to
join the massive effort and soon it would be done. But how soon, Marcus could only
Three years and over that time each of his generals had taken leave to be with family and
care for their responsibilities. All but Maximus who had stood strong at Caesar’s side;
steady, with honor and intelligence and a strength that called all to respect and follow
him. The loss of Lucius Veris was difficult. Marcus ached for his daughter, knowing by
the way the old man spoke of Lucilla that they had indeed forged a loving relationship of
support and tenderness. Without Veris, he had found a desperate need for Maximus, one
that had grown selfish and unkind on Caesar’s part and it was past time to correct it.
He had called for Maximus late in the evening, the decision final but the words he would
use had taken the full day to formulate. What he felt for the young General was more than
military admiration, more than respect for his skills with the men or in combat. It had
grown to a true fatherhood and Marcus often struggled with concern should Maximus be
lost in the carnage of the battlefield.
He paced his tent and pushed back his thinning hair. Looking at his hands, growing weak
and gnarled with age, Marcus regretted his mortality, feared his dreams for Rome would
die with him. He had long since stayed far from the battlefield, long ago discovered that
the once powerful strength and accuracy of his sword had grown feeble. He had become a
fragile old man in what seemed the blink of an eye.
How long had he been in Germania? He worried for his men, concerned that they go
home periodically in order to be reminded of what they are fighting for. He worried for
his generals, that they are well satisfied with clean whores and time for home and family.
But with the death of Faustina so long ago, Marcus had not ventured to Rome again. He
grew weary and vowed to remain until it was ended, to return to Rome having given her a
proud Empire and a future of peace and prosperity. To give Rome her true self.
Much had solidified in Marcus’ mind over the past three years. Much that would not sit
well with Commodus or most of the Senate or possibly even Rome herself. But the
choices had been made as surely as the cast of a steel sword. It could not and would not
be changed as long as Marcus Aurelius drew breath, and if done correctly, would stand
until the gods chose to end it.
He groaned into his chair as he heard the sound of Maximus entering the tent.
“Sit, sit my son. We must talk.”
Maximus’ heart came to full alert. Only four times in his life had Marcus called him ‘son’
and on each occasion, life was sure to become more difficult for him. He sat, sighed and
watched his Caesar struggle with what he wished to say. For several moments the man
was silent, fingering a parchment and looking at his hands. “Marcus?” Maximus said
“Yes, yes,” he sighed again, finally looked to Maximus. “I recall the first time I saw you,
a dirty little boy in that filthy courtyard the day I came to take you from your father.
Donum was a crafty old one,” he grinned and Maximus nodded. “She had several times
redirected my path with predictions that were shockingly accurate and powerful. But
where you were concerned?” He stood and moved to a chair closer to his young General.
“Where you were concerned I thought surely she had lost her touch, for what could a
small boy bring to me that would assist in my destiny? I was incorrect to question her and
you have proven yourself again and again, my son.”
Maximus blinked, he had called him his son once again. Maximus thought to correct
Caesar’s comment, to explain that all he had done was out of loyalty for Marcus’
kindness and guidance, but instead he watched the man think and sigh.
“Did you know that Donum had directed me to my wife? To Faustina?”
Maximus shook his head, growing more and more confused as to the reasons Caesar had
called him into his presence; surly not to reminisce and babble like old women.
“I was told the young girl would bring a strength and wholeness to my destiny and I
doubted this. Faustina was not a perfect political marriage, she brought little to the throne
or the palace … ah but she brought much to me. Strength through those things only a
woman’s love can instill, am I not correct?”
Again Maximus nodded, pressing a hand to his aching chest without realizing he had
done so, images of Lauria and visions of his son floating in his aching heart.
“And I see … I do apologize for forgetting your youth, Maximus; for forgetting your
needs. At sunrise you leave for home, my son … but do not be there long. I will need you
here in the spring, for we will press hard for the final drive. You are displeased with my
The General’s heart was torn. He had stood strong beside Marcus out of love and
concern, out of loyalty and fear for the aging emperor. But the offer of home and his land,
the opportunity to touch his wife and hold his son … these things collided with his
worries for Caesar. “Sire … perhaps if we drive sooner … perhaps we will end this thing
and we shall all go home.”
“No, Maximus. There is a time to all things and this is a time for you to replenish. Go
now and prepare for your journey. Do not be foolish, do not run off alone. You are to take
a compliment of soldiers and a praetorian as well as your slave.” His eyes twinkled. “Did
you not think I could see what you wanted? To race off to Tujillo as fast as you can
alone? To reach your wife’s arms as quickly as possible?” Caesar grinned. “It was not so
long ago that I too was young, Maximus. Go with care and return strong and ready.”
“What of the battles while I am gone?”
“The men know your strategy; will see your mark on every move and every drive. Your
spirit will be leading us all. Now, go … before I change my mind.” His smile was
brilliant and brightened even more to see Maximus stand with great energy and bow
before leaving. The General’s mouth opened to speak but Marcus raised his hand. “Go …
before I change my mind, my son.”
He could not press them. The sixteen soldiers were battle weary; Cicero was exhausted
by the hasty travel preparations. The praetorian alone, a man called Poutius, was rested
and strong. Poutius was a man Maximus had often spoken to, often watched and much
respected. They rode together, side by side at a slow pace.
“General Maximus, may I speak?”
Maximus grinned. “Speak, my friend. We are far from the formalities of camp.”
“Maximus, I suggest you camp early and permit the men to rest. With the loss of one day,
you will gain a day as they will be replenished and stronger.”
“Have we prepared for such a delay?” Maximus turned to Cicero.
“Then make it so. I see a grove ahead. Send one of the men to scout the area for fresh
water and shelter. Poutius, perhaps you and I will hunt for additional game. Weary men
gain much from fresh meat,” he leaned closer to his friend with a grin, “and I enjoy
hunting at your side.” The prospect of the things of peaceful life enthralled both and they
chuckled. To hunt, to travel unencumbered, to go home. Poutius too was a Spaniard and
his joys at seeing family and home was evident in the glint of his eyes.
A man rode ahead but did not return before the group neared the trees. Poutius scowled.
“Take the west route, Maximus. I will join you as soon as I discover the delay.” He rode
hard toward the trees.
Two miles, three. Four miles and five and finally Maximus called the men together.
“Make camp here. Cicero, assure that we stand ready to move quickly.”
Maximus did not await opinion or comment; he did not seek approval or understanding.
His orders were clear and he lowered to his stallion’s neck to spur him faster. Words he
had spoken to Commodus filtered through his concerns. The Germanian warriors loved
the scrimmage, they chose it over any form of battle and they were most efficient at it.
Had he sent a soldier and his friend to their death?
Darkness rose from the eastern sky transforming the small grove into an ominous
cropping of menacing gods from Hades. His pace slowed as he neared; his eyes sharp, his
ears attune to any sound that would alert him to danger or death. Maximus slithered along
the soft earth, moved with the silence of a night animal. Near a clearing he heard the
trickle of water, smelled the mossy wetness of a stream, but no fire illuminated the depths
ahead. No marking of human presence showed itself. Then, sharp and sudden, the stench
of fresh blood drifted to him. He stilled, waited, listened and watched.
Rounding the clearing he discovered it all and nearly wretched, burning bile caught in his
throat and he slowly stood and spat. A sliver of light from the rising moon eerily
illuminated the gory scene. Three Germanian barbarians, bloodied and dead at Poutius’
hand. The Roman soldier, beheaded, his limbs torn from his torso, his cock severed and
far from the body.
Poutius? Maximus moved reverently toward the mortally wounded praetorian only to
step back in surprise.
“Did you think me so easy to kill, Maximus?” rasped a growling voice, the sound of
blood bubbling in his chest and the fire of anger in his bloodshot eyes.
“The gods must love you,” Maximus knelt at his side, carefully removed the armor to
expose a gaping belly wound. “The gods must love you, my friend.”
At dawn, Maximus returned to his men, the body of Poutius over his horse and the weight
of the loss heavy on his shoulders. It was not the first attack Maximus and his men would
encounter. He rested them when safe, but drove them hard where his instincts alerted
danger. Before they entered the gate and traveled the road to his house in Tujillo,
Maximus had lost six men and was wounded himself.
Late at night, greeted by the two praetorian stationed to protect his family, Maximus slid
from his horse and walked into the house. He stood a moment, desperate to take in the
scent and comfort of home.
“Where is Lauria?” he asked the slave quietly.
“My lady sleeps, as does your son. But the old mother is preparing to feed you and your
men. Come, may I bring you wine? May I help with your armor?”
He looked into the girl’s face. He did not know her. “No. Nothing. Send old mother to her
bed. The men and I are too weary to eat; we will do so in the morning.” His feet were
heavy, his body aching. The woven cotton knotted over his arm wound was filthy and
smelled. Before taking to his bed he washed the dirt from his body, re-wrapped his
wound and accepted a goblet of wine. Perhaps he would not frighten Lauria if he did not
seem a filthy beggar.
With careful movement, controlling the need to groan against the miseries of his body,
Maximus slid next to his wife as she slept. He tenderly nudged her onto his chest and
wrapped her sleeping form against his heart. Maximus grinned. She had not forgotten
him, even in sleep she knew her place safe in his arms. But as she slowly became aware,
he felt her body stiffen, her heart and breath race.
“I am here, my dear one. I am home.” Her tears wet his chest and he closed his eyes.
“Sleep now, my love.”
Lauria was beside herself with joy. She had not received notice of his arrival and found
herself concerned that all was prepared for him. Waiting for the soft snore of his deepest
sleep, she extracted herself from his tender embrace and hurried through the house.
She was informed that his men were asleep in the stable and she immediately demanded
warm blankets taken to them. As she bustled toward the kitchen she noticed the
Praetorian Lucanius standing patiently inside the house. Seldom had the guards entered
and she worried for the reason.
“My lady, several of the soldiers are wounded. I have sent for a doctor, but I fear
Maximus must be seen to first.”
“Maximus is wounded?” She cried, her feet running for the bed chambers and her heart
pounding. Several lamps were lit and she sat at his side, her hand shaking and hovering
over the bloodied bandage. He was silent, still, pale. “When the doctor arrives –”
“He will be immediately brought to you,” interrupted Lucanius and he left her alone with
She placed a cool hand on his face, felt the growing fever and quickly ran for water and
cloths to sooth him.
“What has happened?” Lucanius demanded of the captain.
“Several attacks,” the man choked against his exhaustion. “More than Germanian, sir.
Nearly all the way to this very house, the last … fifteen miles outside of Tujilo. I have
lost six men, Poutius among them. Something evil is a play and the General Maximus is
The man nearly swooned and Lucanius led him to a barrel on which he sat gratefully. He
nudged his chin toward the sprawled men. “Gaius Trudius will die; he is severely cleaved
about the stomach and chest. That soldier there,” he pointed. “That man should already be
dead. Lucanius, I swear to you, there is no limit to what these men will do for the
General. They have held their strength until he was safe in his home. I cannot promise
how much longer they will last.”
The doctor stepped into the stable and shook his head. “You are to tend to the General
first,” commanded Lucanius as he rose to his feet.
“Yes, and the General tells me I am to tend to his men first. Shall I disobey him?”
Maximus lay sweating a groaning on his bed, his head rolled from side to side and his
fevered mind flared with hallucinations, creating a madness he was far too weak to battle.
Around him sat many of his beloved, long gone family and ancestors. The gods had
surely forsaken him or already he was dead.
“He can not do this, I beg of you all, bring him home to us!” shouted his ugly, gnarled
“Quiet, you fool! These are not words he must hear!” Donum paced at the foot of the
bed. “You know not what this man is capable of!”
“But he is so withered, so drained of life. To ask so much will surely destroy him!” cried
a gentle, beautiful woman Maximus had never before seen.
“Hush! Those are a soft mother’s words! This man is a soldier of Rome! A general!
Valued by Caesar. He is far stronger than you imagine,” old Donum hissed.
“Too much! It will be far too much.” Those, the words of Lauria’s dead uncle. “It has
been too hard a life; no man, soldier or general or favored of a Caesar should be asked
to endure so much!”
“But his destiny has dictated such. It is out of our hands. The gods have decided.”
Dunom sighed. “He will be strong enough. He will prevail. It will be trying, it will cause
him to lose heart and wish death but this is not the moment for such things. He is strong
“Strong enough?” Maximus growled.
Lauria soothed his brow, tears in her eyes. “Hush my husband. You must rest.” She turned
a desperate look to her slave. “Why has the doctor not returned?”
“I will go for him.”
“No,” Maximus shouted, a loud command that nearly blackened his consciousness. “He
will see to my men first,” he whispered, groaned and again saw the apparitions.
“I am here,” the physician rushed in and quickly unwrapped the wound, puss riddled and
“General, two have died. The Captain is in a bad way.”
“Have him brought into the house, Lauria. Make him comfortable.” Maximus cried out as
the doctor pressed a finger along the ragged gash.
The slave ran to follow the General’s order.
“Where is Cicero?” Maximus hissed against the pain.
“I am here, Maximus. I am unharmed.”
“You are brave. You will remain with my family when I return to Caesar.”
Cicero glanced to Lauria who had averted her eyes from the ugly wound. “Maximus,
there are two Praetorian here, hand chosen by Caesar to protect us. Cicero has protected
you many times and I wish him to remain at your side. Please husband, you must rest.”
“Drink this tonic,” said the doctor and Maximus refused.
“Bring me the Praetorian. I … I … must speak to them … now.”
Cicero left and the doctor sliced the wound as Lauria gasped. “He must be bled, Lauria.
The puss is putrid and must be eliminated. Here,” he handed her a small packet and
nodded to the nearby goblet. She carefully poured it into the wine, hating the deceit but
fearful of losing her beloved husband.
“Sip this wine, my love. Your mouth is dry.” Maximus sipped then spat, tasting the foul
powder but not angry with her.
“After I speak to the praetorian, Lauria.”
“Forgive me, Maximus.” Tears slid down her face.
“Forgive me, my love. Praetorian,” he grunted as the men entered. “Why are you here?”
The men blinked at each other then stood at attention. Lucanius spoke. “We are here to
protect the General Maximus’ wife and child with our lives at the command of Caesar.”
Finally, Maximus nodded. Finally he calmed under the doctor’s hands and finally he
accepted the herb laced wine. “Will I lose my arm?”
“You will not, General. You must rest before you can heal. Sleep, General. All is well.”
But the physician worried for the extensive corruptness of the wound. As the General
slumped in his deep sleep he looked to Lauria. “He must be bled again within hours. The
wound will become worse before it heals.”
Lauria whispered. “And if it does not heal?”
“He will die.”
“Take his arm,” she choked, her face wet with tears.
The old man stood with a groan. “Then he is useless to Caesar.”
“I care nothing of Caesar!” she hissed, her eyes wild with fear. “If you take his arm he
will surely live, and live long with me! He will never be required to return to Marcus
Aurelius and his foolish war!”
The man grasped her arm and tugged her into the corner, far from listening ears. “What
you speak is treason! Do not do so again. Maximus is strong and he will recover. We
must only be vigilant, Lauria. And … we must be most careful what is said. Do you
“No, I do not.”
“Then we will all die. We will be crucified. Maximus. You. Your son and me. Is this what
She collapsed into his arms and he held her. “Hush now. Cry all you must but regain
yourself as Maximus needs us. Hush.”
Caesar’s personal surgeon traveled fast and hard. His horse was replaced twice and the
guards he traveled with were exhausted but finally they charged into the courtyard of the
General Maximus. When he entered the room he quickly examined the wound. He sat,
nodded and asked several questions of the doctor.
“You have done well and Caesar wishes to reward you.”
The old man took the heavy pouch of gold but blinked concern. “I have served Maximus
and his family for many years. Am I being dismissed?”
“You are not, good doctor. My orders are to reward you and watch over his recovery. You
have sat vigil over this man for four days. You now must rest before I need your good
hands again for I too will require sleep soon. Go now. I wish to speak to the General’s
Lauria felt a ripple of terror as the large man approached her. Had he heard of her
treasonous words? Was she to die and how would she save her son and husband from her
fate? She straightened and looked defiantly up into his eyes. The man actually grinned
then tenderly patted her squared shoulder. “You are well?”
“Who wishes to know how I am? My husband is the only concern.”
“Caesar wishes to know, for you are as valuable to him as the General.”
“I fear you jest. He has heard of my distrust of his war.”
“Ah … perhaps he has and perhaps he has not. But you are the wife of his most trusted
General. He would be most surprised if you did not voice your disapproval of his war, for
surely your concerns will always be for your husband’s safety.”
“It is … and … is Caesar well?” She suddenly remembered Lucilla. Marcus Aurelius was
her father and surely she worried for him as Lauria worried for Maximus.
“Caesar is growing old, but he is well. I will extend your kind concern to him.” He turned
and walked, Lauria at his side as he sought the fresh air and comfort of the courtyard.
“Maximus is healing, but it is slow. Has your doctor bled him?”
“I fear perhaps far too much, but the wound is clean, is it not?”
“It is most clean,” he leaned down with a grin and twinkle in his kind eye. “And I may
agree with you, perhaps your doctor’s vehemence was slightly overzealous. But he has
not gone so far as to harm the General. Has he taken food?”
“He has not. How can I entice him to do so?”
“You are his wife, my dear. You can entice him to do anything you wish. For now, I beg
that you sit at his side as I must rest.”
“Of course. You will be made comfortable … and doctor?”
He tuned another kind grin.
“May I please ask that the Captain be seen to? My husband is most concerned for him.”
He chuckled through exhaustion. “Ah yes. General Maximus is always concerned for his
men. I will see to the Captain immediately.”
Fifteen days has passed. When Maximus opened his eyes the day was clear and cool,
crisp with the brilliant scent of his ripened grapes drifting on the air. Caesar’s physician
proclaimed him well on the road to full recovery and bade his farewell, quietly reminding
the General that he was to return to Caesar by spring, strong and prepared for the final
drive that would end the long war with Germania.
Maximus sat up and took food, he grew stronger and smiled as Lauria entered the bed
chambers, a room that he was quickly beginning to dislike as his favored activity there
was sorely lacking due to his weakness.
“This can not be my son,” he gasped as the little boy stood shyly at his mother’s skirts.
“Come, Marcus. Let me look at you.”
“He is nearly five, husband,” Lauria beamed proudly. “He is strong and intelligent. His
tutors are most pleased.”
“As am I my wife, you have done well.”
He moved over on the bed and bade her join him, Marcus finally finding comfort with the
stranger he was to call ‘papa’ and snuggled sound asleep in the crook of his arm.
“Lauria, my love. I must speak to you.”
She took the boy to his room and returned quickly. Lying long beside her husband, a
joyful beat of her heart lightening the heavy fears she had carried for so long.
Maximus tenderly kissed her lips. “May I ask that you remove your clothing?” he
“Surely you are not strong enough –”
“I only wish to hold you, flesh to flesh.”
She stood and slowly disrobed, his eyes dancing at the sight of her lovely body, rounded
and soft, exposed to his eyes then pressed close to his body. He wanted to speak many
words to her, words of love and promise of passion and hope. But there were words he
must speak first. He held her tight and spoke slowly, softly.
“I leave in the spring. I will leave you with a heavy heart but a heart filled with promise
as this will be the final drive and it will soon end. Caesar had agreed to release me from
my duties when it is done. I will return to protect and love you and our son for the
remainder of my days. You must be brave. You must be strong. And you must trust that I
will return to you, Lauria.” He sighed quietly and kissed her deeply. “I will always
protect you, my love. Do you trust these things I tell you?”
Lauria was lost in the sensations of his warm flesh against hers, the power of his words
and the strength of his commitment. “Maximus, I trust these things, I believe them as I
believe you. I will wait, but for now, I will hold you to me and love you as hard and as
long as I can. Caesar will have you soon … but I have you now.”
Caesar had moved quickly and decisively. At the end of the day, there were twenty-two
men crucified for the attempts made on General Maximus’ life. None would confess who
had placed the gold in their hands to do the deed, even under extraordinary torture … and
this greatly concerned Marcus. So much fidelity against him was profound in its
He knew it had not come from the Germanians, as this enemy would not know the deep
love Caesar held for Maximus, could not know the devastation his loss would mean to the
old man. There were enemies everywhere and Marcus pondered this thought. In the
Senate. In his army. Amongst those he had already conquered.
And within his own family? Marcus Aurelius could not face such a possibility. His
decision to disclaim Commodus as his successor had never once been spoken and no one
could know. Commodus was not a moral man, was not capable of grasping the truth of it
all, the logic and heart behind what Rome was meant to become. Marcus knew as well
that his son was not a man of great, decisive intellect. Commodus did not even suspect
that he would not become Caesar upon Marcus’ death. He did not hold within him the
intelligence or humble nature to see such things. But perhaps someone else had seen?
Caesar concerned himself with Maximus’ recovery, repeatedly convincing his heart that
this concern was for nothing more than the battles ahead, for what the young General
brought to the war and its sure victory. A victory Marcus acknowledged would be most
difficult if not impossible without Maximus and the commitment of the men to their
Pride welled in Caesar’s chest. Maximus was indeed the son he should have had. The son
he loved. The son he would raise above all. And Marcus had been deceitful, untruthful,
for the young General needed to believe that he could have those things most dear to him,
his farm, his family, his simple life. But Maximus Decimus Meridius was not destined for
simplicity. He was … pure and simple … built to lead an Empire.
Lauria carried several bundles as she walked slowly from the market and up the hill to
her home. A sweet memory teased at the fringes of her mind. A time before she fully
loved her husband, before she knew he was to be her life. A time when she suddenly,
miraculously saw the entire world open before her and it was the face of Maximus. As
she walked, she mourned the loss of two children, dead and gone before they had
breathed life. She mourned her failures and mourned her simplicity, for surely her senses
and ideas about war and the Roman Empire were plain at best.
She had never seen Rome, had only read of it in beloved letters from Prisa. What she read
thrilled and enthralled her, but did not entice her or interest her in the least. A full day in
Maximus’ presence among the horses and vines, along the olive groves and upon their
bed was all Lauria wished. All she wanted and all she could hope for. She had found
herself often praying at the temples, often offering sacrifice and often musing at what life
would hold once Caesar had finished with her husband. But she did not speak of such
hopes. Maximus would not understand, nor did she wish for him to concern himself with
them as he fought for his life on the battlefield.
“Please let it end soon,” she sighed, fixed a pleasant smile and entered her courtyard.
“Keep your heels down, my son,” Maximus called and smiled delight.
He had been recovered for nearly the passing of two moons and was grateful for yet
another month of peace before he must leave again. He had worked hard in the field,
regaining his strength and stamina. He had loved his wife with every fiber of his heart
and flesh as often as he could. And, he had spent as much time as acceptable with his
young son, gently teaching him the things of manhood, of the harvest and the seasons, of
family and of love.
Marcus was but six years old and not ready to leave his mother’s skirts, but Maximus
knew his time was limited. He knew that the final push against Germainia would not be
simple or fast. He knew that many hardships lie ahead before the Empire embraced peace
as a way of life. And he wondered what his son would be like when he returned, what
would be required to regain the boy’s love and trust. What he would think of the stranger
he was again told to call ‘papa’.
“Do not let him forget me,” he whispered to Lauria, tight within her womb and concerned
even more for his family.
“I will not, husband, he will not.”
Maximus counted the days, feeling them slip between his fingers like the rich black soil
of his land. He secretly prepared for his leaving, hiding those neatly packed parcels and
unhappy thoughts from Lauria and loving her and his son and his home stronger than he
The week before he was recalled, he and Lauria mourned the loss of her sweet mother.
Death. A thing the General was well acquainted with but had never become a welcome
part of life, even as a soldier. He comforted her and waited as long as possible before
telling her of his leaving.
Sitting astride his horse, covered with armor and all the trappings of his station within
Caesar’s army, he took one long look down at Lauria. It was time and nothing would
make it easier. He nodded a regal tilt of his head, a salute all soldiers give to their wives
and left his courtyard.
The riggers of war were far more trying than they had ever been. It required more focus,
more tenacity and far more patience than Maximus was prepared for, but he held his
strength and loyalty, fought hard and well and had become confident that all would end
and end soon. Years passed and Maximus toiled, suffered wounds and difficulties,
worked with and against his men until he reached a point of total surety.
He stood alone, apart from the men and pondered the coming battle … the final battle. Of
this he was positive as his heart and very soul sang with the promise of an end to it all.
The night before, he penned a letter to Lauria.
… it will end on the marrow, my love. And I will return to you.
He returned to the line and sought Quintus. Awaited the answer.
“They say no.” His heart sank, for Maximus had hoped to see the conflict resolve simply.
And thus, the gods had chosen and he must fight. His eyes scanned the massive army, the
men he knew and respected, many would die, many would suffer harsh wounds, but all
would follow him and he prayed to the gods for strength and clarity of decision.
Marcus sat above the battle, regal and apart from the war he had begun so long ago.
Caesar would have Germania. Rome would have Germania. The Empire would be
complete … and soon, should he escape Elysium, Maximus would have his wife and son
and his farm for the remainder of his days.
Commodus woke, crumbled to the ground; his dead father in his arms. The pain and
anger had swept through him so quickly, he could not recall anything after hearing, ‘My
powers will be passed on to Maximus after I die’. He knew there were more words, tears,
the fearful pounding in his head; but how Caesar came to be pale with death in his
embrace was a frightful mystery. The night had grown deep and freezing. No one had
discovered the treachery and Commodus’ heart leapt into action.
He had murdered Caesar. He had moved with a deep seeded need to protect his own
future. As he heaved the fail body over his shoulder, he knew there was much to put into
play, for surely nothing could deter him from what he had secured for himself … the
throne, an empire … his empire. There was little love for the man who was his father;
few opportunities in his life to gain such love, for surely Caesar had done exactly what
Commodus had done. Marcus Aurelius sought to protect the vision of Rome he and he
alone held fast in his heart and mind. It was no longer Marcus Aurelius’ time … it was
now Commodus’ time and the new Caesar’s intentions for the empire were very different.
Commodus did not see Lucilla watching from the shadows and cared little. She was a
woman, unimportant in the scheme of his design. She was the woman he loved beyond
reason and without morality and he, Caesar, would now control her. Lucilla was not his
concern, and as she entered the room he simply commanded; “Assist me, our father is
She was bitterly silent, refusing to reach out to help. She sat aside, a visible tremor along
her lithe form. Commodus did what he could, smoothed the old man’s thin, white hair,
straightened the blanket over him, tucking it tight to cover obvious bruising at the old
man’s neck. Sliding a glare at his sister he knew there was more to do.
“Bring Quintus,” he hissed. When she did not move, he stomped to the edge of the tent
and shouted. “Quintus!”
Turning a glare to Lucilla, Commodus reached and gripped her arm tight. He pulled her
face close and growled, the sound of a wild animal struggling for control. “I am Caesar
and you will yield to my demands, woman. You will be silent and I will protect what is
“Commodus,” stated Quintus, his voice strangled with what was before him. “How may I
Watching Lucilla’s face and not turning to the praetorian, Commodus spoke calmly,
seeking and receiving the reaction from his sister that he required.
“Quintus,” he sighed calmly. “Your young wife, Prisa? I hear she enjoys living in Rome
at your house. Am I correct?”
Quintus’ eyes locked onto the slow tear that rolled down Lucilla’s cheek. “She does,
“And,” still not looking directly at Quintus, “you do wish to see her continue to love her
life in Rome, correct? You do wish to see her continue to … live, correct?”
Quintus could not speak and Commodus finally turned. “I see that you clearly understand
me. I am now Caesar and you will do as I command. Maximus has refused to commit his
loyalty to me twice now; once on the battlefield after the victory … and again at the feast.
He will not survive his next refusal. Am I very clear?”
Visions of Prisa, the smooth flow of her tender letters and the sound of her gentle voice
wracked Quintus. Maximus was a dear, loved friend and comrade, unworthy of what was
to befall him and Quintus prayed to every god he knew that the General would be
He was not.
Having heard the announcement from the messenger, the words she had only dreamed of,
Lauria danced her joy in the center of the courtyard.
“It is done,” the exhausted slave stated to Lucanius. “Germania is now in Caesar’s hands
and it is finished. Maximus has the honor of the conquest, Lucanius. The General sends
word that he shall return to his family soon.”
Her nights had been long and lonely, quiet and hopeful and now all would come to her.
She spread her arms wide and spun on her toes. Young Marcus laughed at his mother and
joined in her dance. “Papa is coming home, my little love! He’s coming home to us!”
“My lady,” Lucanius interrupted gently, his own smile controlled but clearly evident.
“Much should be prepared for your husband’s return. I and Judius are pleased to assist.”
Yes, he was correct. Soon the two loyal praetorian would be called to return to Rome. She
glanced into Lucanius’ handsome face. “Have you a wife, Lucanius?” Lauria asked,
disappointed that she had never thought to ask before.
“I do not, my lady.”
“That is most sad; you are a good man, Lucanius. A pleasing man to look upon. I find it
surprising that you are not wed.”
His smile widened and for the first time in many, many years, Lucanius permitted the true
power of his emotion to be openly displayed. “My lady, the woman I love will have no
soldier as husband.”
“And still, you smile?” But her own smile broadened. “Perhaps she loves anyway?
Perhaps you will see her soon? And perhaps with the end of this hated war, you will no
longer be a soldier?”
“Perhaps, perhaps. But for now, how may we assist you to prepare for the General’s
There was much to be done, the harvest was soon to be embarked upon and many slaves
would be offered to Lauria to help. She hired another cook, sure that Maximus would
arrive with several soldiers who would require food and wine. She found herself unable
to sleep with the excitement of his return.
Silent and alone on a steaming night, her fingers trailed between her trembling thighs; to
the path Maximus would find, to the moisture that would usher his body into hers and she
sighed, tears sliding down her face. She rolled to her side, imagined him there, his face
close and calm. She imagined all the things she would tell him, all the sensations having
him near would bring to her. She stood and lit a candle, ran her hands along her form.
Had she changed? Was she thinner or fatter? Would he be pleased?
She knew he would be most pleased with Marcus. The child was a gentle boy with strong
intellect but already aware of his position within the household. He had protected his
mother from a stray dog, the temperamental goat and at least once stood between her and
a stranger who came to the gate seeking directions. On that occasion, Lucanius stood
aside, not far but enough to allow young Marcus the feeling of success when the man had
bowed respectfully and left without causing trouble.
She had been correct. Lucanius was a good man. For several years he and Judius had
been part of her household, like the livestock and the olive orchard, like the stable and the
house … but Lucanius had been so much more. More often than she liked to think, he
had been there, in the shadows, watching in protection as she cried alone in the vineyard
or sought solitude in the stables. He had heard her fears and her pain, had witnessed her
outbursts of displeasure at Rome and Caesar and all of his ambitions. He had even once
held her as she sobbed; terrified that surely she would never again see Maximus alive.
Lauria owed Lucanius much. On the morrow, she would create a way to reward him.
Maximus would not be angered if she bestowed a portion of the harvest profits upon a
good man. Lucanius would refuse, but she would determine the best way to make him
accept. Perhaps pry the name of his lover from him and send the reward to her.
Maximus tore the armor from his body and gathered three horses, rode like the wind as
the day dissolved from misty Germanian morning to the heat of the flat lands. Most of the
blood on his hands was that of the men who intended to murder him. His only wound
seeped painfully but his heart drove him and the animals until the first horse died beneath
“Your family will meet you in the afterlife,” Quintus had said. Quintus had given the
order and the men who took Maximus away were not men he knew, not men he trusted.
The murderer, Commodus had played his hand well, but not well enough. Maximus lived
to reach his family before the soldiers could.
His mind spun and calculated. He was one rider, fast and agile. How many men would
Commodus send? Were they aware of the praetorian with Lauria and his son? How could
he send word for them to flee? There was no time. No time. No time. Then there was
suddenly nothing but time, for when the second horse dropped, Maximus too fell into a
deep unconsciousness that demanded that he still, rest … pray.
Blessed father watch over my family with a ready sword. Whisper to them that I live only
to hold them again.
An unnatural weakness washed over him and Maximus dropped precariously into a
profound sleep. In his dreaming he called to his ancestors for assistance. Many stood
before him; his twin, Lauria’s mother and uncle. The beautiful woman he knew to be his
own mother. But it was Marcus Aurelius who stepped forward to speak and Maximus the
General stood at full attention.
“My son,” the fallen Caesar said sadly. “Your dear mother wishes for you to die now, to
be here to greet your family when they arrive … for there is nothing you can do to save
them, Maximus. Nothing.” He sighed achingly. “Your ancestors wish you with us … but
Donum whispers in my ear that there is still much for you to do. Awaken now and do as
“No!” Maximus awoke, covered with sweat, shaking with terror. He leapt onto his
remaining horse and pressed him on, fearful images of his family’s gruesome death
spurring him into madness. “No!”
Laughter rumbled across the heavens and one massive god shook his golden curls in
disgust. “He will prevail!” he shouted. “Maximus will prevail!”
The simple god with the round face of a child chuckled. “This mortal has served you well
for quite some time now. Perhaps it is time for another to win?”
“He will prevail,” the golden god repeated and sipped honeyed wine.
“But now,” bellowed the dark god with fire in his eyes. “Now you have Commodus to
contend with. Now, it is time for my wagers to bring fruit.”
The golden one snorted. “Commodus? He is but a speck, an irritant. Maximus will
A lithe god with feminine features grinned and tossed his head playfully. “I do hope that
soon these games will end and we can move on with another. You have what you wanted;
Rome is an empire to be proud of. Leave it. Can we not move on to something more …
entertaining?” He yawned wide but the dark god grumbled.
“Look now. This will undo your mortal General. Look.” He pointed to the shimmering
pool and all gazed down. “I wager he takes his own life!”
“Maximus will prevail,” shouted the golden god as he pressed himself for a perfect view.
Lauria drew in the sweet air and smiled, her son playing with his pony, Lucanius quietly
grumbling over her insistence upon rewarding him. He sighed and turned full circle.
There on the hill he had full vantage, could protect her and the boy easily … but what
could there be to protect them from? The war had ended and Maximus should return
within the week, could most likely be on the road at that moment.
“Keep your heels down, young Marcus,” he called to the boy who lowered from the
animal to watch it circle gracefully.
Lucanius had noticed the beauty of the General’s wife, a loveliness that glowed since
learning of her husband’s return and he envied Maximus. Thoughts of a deeply lewd and
colorful nature drifted through his imagination; images of the General’s well earned
pleasures and the blessing of his good and moral wife … a lady far more willing than
chaste in those imaginings and he grinned. Perhaps he would find the same. Perhaps,
“Papa!” Shouted young Marcus and all eyes turned. The boy had indeed recognized the
coming soldiers under the Roman insignia. Lucanius turned to watch the joy on Lauria’s
face and mentally prepared to leave what had become his home. He calmly strolled
toward the road below behind the running child.
The shock of seeing the boy crumbled beneath speeding hoofs took but a split second.
“Judius! Call the men to arms!” Lucanius cried and attempted to stop Lauria from
running to her son.
The clash lasted less than ten minutes. Judius, beheaded with one swift wing of a sword.
The six soldiers assigned to Lucanius, taken down, cleaved and bloodied before he had
even reached the men. Lucanius fought with everything he had, endured blows and
wounds but was overwhelmed, the numbers clearly in the enemy’s favor.
As Lauria was taken into their control, he shouted. “I am Lucanius! Praetorian to Caesar
Marcus Aurelius! Who dares defy Caesar? Leave this woman and child!”
The captain kicked hard against Lucanius chest, knocking his battered body to the dirt.
“Marcus Aurelius is dead. Commodus is now Caesar and he has ordered the death of this
woman and boy for the treason of her husband, Maximus Decimus Meridius.”
“It is not so!” He reached for a discarded sword and swung fruitlessly. For his efforts, he
was beaten nearly senseless, his nose broken, his face sliced beyond recognition and still
he struggled in protection of the General’s family. He had sworn he would protect them to
his death and he would not fail.
“Stop!” Lauria cried out. “Leave him! I will do as you wish!” tears soaked her dirty face
and she permitted the men to strip her, rape her, beat her and finally crucify her. Lauria
only saw the body of her already dead son. She only saw the images of her murdered
husband. With her last breath she looked down upon Lucanius. “You are a good man,”
she whispered and died.
“Captain, what shall we do with this praetorian?”
“Bring him with us,” the man grunted and spat. “He is a prisoner now. Lower than a
slave. Burn this house and we return for our payment, men.”
Thunder pounded but Maximus did not feel the rain. The storm passed and another
pummeled him, but he was numb, his body seeming already as dead as the bodies he had
buried. For three long days and nights he slept there between the mounds of the shallow
graves. Three days and three nights he awaited death for surely nothing would comfort
him but the oblivion of nothingness.
The golden god bellowed delight as the others groaned. It seemed Maximus would not
die, would not take his own life and would continue to prove a winning bet for those
willing to take the wager. As they watched, the slaver gathered up the fevered, weakened
General and it would go on. The games would continue, and the golden one grinned,
hoping that it would be as he wished, that Maximus Decimus Meridius, his favored
mortal … would indeed prevail.
I am Gladiator. Slave. Not Roman soldier. Not general. Not husband nor father nor
owner of property. Slave. I have flayed the sign of Rome from my flesh, those who had
controlled me as gods. Those I have honored and served. I am finished. But … as
Proximo speaks I know that I must die as a man. For I must prove … I lived. What we do
in life echoes in eternity. What comes before me will fall at my sword … and
He gathered a handful of putrid dirt at his feet, was comforted by the texture of the earth
in his fingers. I will die as a man.
As Maximus was taken from his tent, Quintus looked to Cicero, stepped close to the thin
fabric separating the slave and the Praetorian.
“Cicero,” Quintus struggled to speak against the wave of agony pressing in his chest. He
watched the slave draw the General’s sword but stood strong. “I … I have ordered the
death of a man I have loved. I have dispatched men to murder his wife and son. I am
rotted from my belly to my heart.” He groaned, wished for the slave to swing the lethal
steel and end his miseries but Cicero was still as marble, his eyes wild with pain and loss.
Quintus reached into his armor and retrieved a crushed scroll emblazoned with the seal of
Rome. He held it up. “This … this is all that I can do for Maximus. Go. You are a free
man, Cicero. Go.” He dropped the scroll to the floor and left.
Cicero fell to his knees, placed the tip of the blade to the center of his chest and begged
his strength to thrust, but there was a whisper from the gods; a resounding hiss in his ears
beneath the pounding of his heart. He must heed the orders, for freeman or not, he was
forever in the service of the gods. He quickly dressed in warm clothes and hid the sword
beneath his cloak. He gathered the tiny figures of Maximus’ family and the papers
proving his freedom then mounted the lesser of his master’s horses and rode away. He
was not stopped or questioned. The camp was eager to move, break, take the road to
Rome or home and all were occupied.
A master tracker, Cicero rode from the soldiers and stopped in a stand of trees. Three
bloodied, dead men; not one of them, Maximus. Cicero closed his eyes. “If I am to
follow, I must have guidance,” he asked of the gods. He gazed at the rising sun and
turned toward the west. He rode hard.
All signs proved he was not far behind Maximus, that his master had survived the
attempted murder, was still alive and this did not surprise him. When he spied the
bloodied, discarded armor, a dead horse and still smoldering fire, he heeled his mount and
pressed hard. Maximus was going to Tujillo, home. Perhaps he could assist to protect the
But Cicero was on the far hill when he saw the slaver pull Maximus, weak and prostrate
from between the two burial mounds. He followed all the way to Zuccabar. Hidden deep
beneath his hood and cloak he watched Proximo leave the slaver’s block with his new
purchases … but Cicero did not see Maximus again until he stood in the crowd and
witnessed his master, bound to a massive Nubian and successfully fighting in the arena.
Months passed and the Spaniard had grown loved by the mob, had slain many but Cicero
feared for Maximus. The light in the General’s eyes had died, extinguished by his pain
and plight. Cicero battled his meager mind for a way to free Maximus, but the god’s
whispers had become shouts.
The time has not yet come!
And so he waited, watched. But when he followed Proximo’s caravan to Rome, Cicero
finally smiled. Maximus was strong, alive. He suddenly understood the gods’ plan, and he
knew his master’s intentions. Maximus would kill Commodus. A joyful laugh burst forth.
The time had not yet come, but it was near. Very near.
Lucanius was raw with agony and bitterness. He sat, filthy and angry in the bowels of the
Roman Coliseum. Across the massive space, he saw him again. They had recognized
each other instantly and for many months circled or pummeled each other, expending
desperation and the frustrations of slavery upon each other in and outside of the coliseum.
Pacus, the deserter and Lucanius, the failed praetorian. Hate inflamed his blood again and
he stood, charged, but his motion was blocked, a massive arm tossing him to the floor
where he was mercilessly kicked until his owner stood, shouting down at him.
“I will kill you both myself should this continue!” Denius bellowed.
His ill destiny was written when he took on the two slaves. Both wearing the mark of the
Legion, he had mistakenly assumed they would fight strong together or apart, but all they
did was fight each other. This would not do! As he reached for a weapon, intending to
eliminate the mutated once-praetorian at his feet, he caught activity at the far entry. Dust
filtered down as cheers roared overhead and Denius fought to hide his laughter.
Proximo’s arrival was a joke. He was nothing to be concerned over, no longer a gladiator
worthy of fear. Nothing more than a simple fool playing at his own games in Zuccabar.
And … Proximo was a selfish one; this, a great advantage for Denius. Slaves who had
been trained by the Roman army made exceptional gladiators, spectacles in the arena …
but they also held displaced values Denius had reached his fill of.
“Take him, hold him,” Denius hissed to his chief gladiator and he carefully waited until
Lucanius was fully subdued before reaching out a hand and calling a congenial greeting
“Denius!” Proximo smiled a suspicious grin as they grasped wrists. “You fare well?”
“I do, I do. But I have two gladiators who must be sold. The money is not as it used to be
my friend, and I cannot feed so many and make my profit as well.”
A light flashed in Proximo’s eyes. “Which two? I have need of more; perhaps we can
assist each other? Have you any soldiers?” Proximo’s mouth watered. He had full
intentions of gathering more disgraced soldiers-turned-slaves as the Spaniard had proven
most profitable to him. How wealthy could he become with several like him?
“This … and that one. You can take them now and pay me later. I’ve a showing soon and
must get my men to it.”
Proximo eyed the two. One, a large, robust man with a hideously scared face. The other,
an immoveable stone block of a man. He examined them; both carried the mark of the
Legion, both in good strength and health. And Proximo grinned privately. Perhaps Denius
had fed them too well? “I will take them,” he turned to Hagan and the monster
Germanian gripped the men and pulled them along with the rest.
Proximo’s gladiators were assigned quarters. Not luxurious. But he was in Rome and
Proximo would have the freedom to move about and enjoy the city, to enjoy the benefits
of the success that had brought him to the Coliseum again, this time sure of fortune.
He did not see what followed. He had left to observe the spectacle, to confirm that his
men were as well trained as the best of Rome and Proximo was pleased.
Even Hagan could not control the men. They struggled to reach each other, kicking and
swinging until he opened his arms swiftly and tossed them apart. “Do you wish to die in
the arena or here at my hand?”
Pacus groaned in the corner and Hagan gripped Lucanius’ neck in his hand. As the man’s
eyes’ bulged, Pacus suddenly and most uncharacteristically stood to fight the big
Germanian off. Lucanius glared in distrust.
“Leave him! We’ve bigger battles out there and you need us both!”
Lucanius dropped, choked but eyed Pacus suspiciously as the man helped him a bench
and sat near. “Leave me!” Lucanius hissed.
“Open your eyes, you fool! Look,” Pacus pointed to Proximo’s men filing into the space.
Men sitting on infested bunks then falling with exhaustion into sudden, deep sleep. Men
standing alone or gawking through the bars. When Lucanius’ mouth dropped, Pacus
chuckled. “This may well become an interesting time for us, my friend.”
Lucanius gasped as his heart fell. Maximus. The General to whom he had vowed
allegiance, had guaranteed the protection of wife and son. Maximus. Enslaved. His eyes
slid to Pacus.
“It’s him, is it not?”
“What care you … deserter!” Lucanius hissed.
A fist, fast as lightening and silent as night buried into Lucanius’ ribs. He bent, spit and
“I am no deserter,” growled Pacus. “I was given permission to return home. My wife was
dying and I was sure to return to the battlefield before the next drive.”
“And … you did not,” Lucanius attempted to straighten, to assure that the rib was not
“I could not. She did not die quickly,” Pacus spat.
Finally Lucanius focused on Pacus. “I am sorry for your loss.”
Pacus shrugged. “The witch is still alive.” He returned Lucanius’ grin then nudged his
chin toward Maximus. “And so is he. Things are soon to alter, my friend.”
Lucanius watched Maximus, the man stood alone, his vision blank but deadly. Even in
slavery, rank prevailed and Lucanius squared his shoulders. “When the time is right … I
will approach him, Pacus. You stand down.”
Pacus tilted a bow and leaned back against the crumbling wall. “Is the rib broken?” His
expression was a maniacal grin that exposed his vicious nature.
“It is not.”
Lucilla despised the games, sat at Commodus’ side as it was the command of her Caesar.
It also fed the promise of controlling her brother, of finding ways to thwart his malicious
plans and undermining his authority with great finesse and veiled manipulation.
She had been spending time with Gracus; time in the man’s arms for comfort and in the
man’s ear seeking assurance that something substantial could be done to end the tyranny
Commodus was implementing.
The malady had returned to the young Caesar, was eating at his mind and no physician
was able to control it. She tenderly assisted her brother in his hours of pain, using the
hated tonic and using it with a heavy hand. This offered her great blocks of time as he
would sleep the slumber of the heavily drugged for hours. During those hours, Lucilla
plotted and schemed, explored her ideas with Gracus and struggled to find the solution.
And she cried for all she’d lost.
Her son was all that remained to sustain her heart. Even Gracus understood that she
would do anything to protect the child … he too would be swayed toward solutions that
did not place Lucius in danger. For the boy was his son. No one would know such except
he and Lucilla. It mattered not. Lucius was the future of Rome and must survive.
But even as he held Lucilla, her flesh soft and warm against his, her tears searing as she
cried against his chest, Gracus was at a loss. A solution would not come easily, would not
present itself like a beacon for guidance. The solution was elusive and must be watched
Maximus watched the boy walk away from the bars and slid to the side, his eyes scanning
the crowd outside his captivity for Lucilla or Commodus, for Quintus. No one must know
he was there. Not yet.
He lowered to a bench and rubbed his eyes. All around him cautiously move away,
allowing the Spaniard peace, permitting his energy to become controlled; as surely he
would explode with rage as he did in the arena should they venture too near.
But one man did come close. Lucanius slowly approached the General and stood. As
Maximus raised his eyes to gaze into the face, Lucanius dropped to his knees and set his
brow onto the foot of the General.
Maximus shuffled, kicked in disgust. “Leave me,” he hissed and the man looked up.
The face was mutilated, scars and slashes along his neck; melted, burned flesh, red and
purple covering one side. His hair was gone from most of his head and what remained
was a wisp of wiry threads. One of the man’s eyes was gone, the lid sunken and sewed
shut. But something about this slave held dignity and Maximus blinked. “Who are you?”
Lucanius spoke so quietly, Maximus lowered his head to hear.
“I am Praetorian. I loved and respected your family as I have loved and honored you. As I
still honor and serve you … General Maximus Decimus Meridius. I am … Lucanius.”
Maximus slowly stood and Lucanius did the same, his eyes tight on the General’s and his
heart holding still against the storm.
“You!” Maximus hissed. “You were to protect my family! Why are you not dead?”
“Kill me, General! I have wished death since the moment I watched your brave wife
release her last breath. I have suffered the horrors of what I witnessed and could not
prevent. Forty men. But they would not kill me, would not let me die. Kill me!”
Maximus stepped back, the flame of his rage blinding him.
“Kill me General,” Lucanius sighed. “For if you do not, I will continue to honor and fight
at your side, I will die protecting you in that arena. The gods have a reason for me to be
here, to belong to Proximo. To stand at your side. Kill me or accept me, Maximus.”
“Leave me!” He glared a hard fire at the man. “Stand away!” But as he watched the once
handsome praetorian deflate, accept his failure and turn away, Maximus gripped his arm
and swung his face close.
“You will never speak my name in this place. Never speak to me or approach me. If the
gods wish you dead … it will be at another’s hand. Your failure is your remaining life in
Lucanius tilted a regal bow, stood straight and saluted his General before retreating to the
“Proximo’s Gladiators! To the gate!”
Moving along the bowels of the Roman Coliseum, Maximus gawked as many of his
fellow gladiators, enthralled and amazed at the activity around them; pullies raising men
and metal to the surface far above, the stench of blood and the cries of the wounded. The
thunder of rising cheers throbbing through the catacombs and dust filtered subterranean
avenues along which they walked.
His heart and mind swam with what he knew; that Commodus was so near, that Lucilla’s
son was watching … that perhaps even Lucilla would be seated with pomp and glory at
her brother’s side. He squelched memories of growing and learning at the summer palace,
of love and comfort, of triumphs and the testing of one another, of years at Commodus’
side. Of the deep concern he had once held for his brother’s malady. All unimportant, all
useless emotion as he would soon find a way to kill the man who had slain a Caesar.
Fearful of being recognized, he carefully chose a helmet designed to protect and hide his
features. Irritation slithered down his back along with rivulets of sweat, trickling, teasing.
Beside him, Juba. Not far behind, the fallen praetorian, Lucanius. And as they entered the
opened space with awe, those two men stood strong at his side, the loved and the hated.
Maximus stood, awaiting the coming siege, steeped in the reminiscence of real battle that
thrummed through his veins … true war, war for the advancement of men, of Caesar.
Memories of fire and mud, dirt and courage borne on the need to survive the day … to
thrive … to win for the glory of Rome. His last true battle amidst war cries and floating
snow, flames and the desperate desire to have done with it all and return home. Home.
All gone. Valor and honor … gone. Home … gone. Lauria’s soft flesh and the laughter of
his son … gone. All that remained was a spectacle designed to entertain a mob who knew
nothing of the wars fought to offer them such greatness. And Maximus sighed, ahh, that
a sword would find his already dead heart and pluck it from his chest. But there was more
to do. One more thing to do. To kill Commodus … to maim and kill him and to look into
the man’s eyes as he did so.
A mob, wild and massive, loud and overwhelming. Mad with bloodlust that served no
purpose. The crowd did not see men, flesh and brittle bone standing before them … they
saw beasts to be disposed of for their pleasure. The center of the area was a putrid, hot,
sand covered universe for the perverse pleasures of a people led by a monster. Heat
rippled and distorted the colors, the sun pounded relentlessly on the metal of their
helmets and armor as thousands cheered for their blood.
Nothing of these things mattered, nothing but the lust to see the light extinguished in
Commodus’ eyes. And to do this thing he was alone. No one knew who he was except for
Lucanius. He had never spoken his name to Proximo, to even Juba and this secret held
power. He boldly refused to salute the young Caesar and recalled the words of Proximo.
“Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.” He cared for no freedom but death …
but death was not ready for him until he had fulfilled his responsibility to Marcus
Aurelius and his revenge for Lauria and his son. To win the crowd was to gain leverage,
lure Commodus into his grip. Win the crowd.
Long gone were the days when Maximus could call for true soldiers to follow him into
hell. But as he heard the announcement that they were to participate in a reenactment of
the Fall of Mighty Carthage, nothing could control his natural instinct to lead. He needed
to win the crowd, but he also needed to survive the day or his intentions would not come
“Anyone here been in the army?”
“I served with you in Vindabona,” Pocus stated, his mind spinning with possibilities.
Pocus was an intelligent man and a worthy soldier. He was at ready, clearly
understanding what the General Maximus was about to command. He turned to Lucanius
who silently nodded agreement. The only way they would survive, was if they fought
As with any battle, there was always one loner. The monster called Hagan was just that
man, imagining he was still battling in Zaccabar’s minor arena and unaware of what he
was to face in Rome. The Coliseum exploded with the roaring crowd and the maddening
approach of chariots, and as expected, the massive man moved of his own accord. It was
Pocus’ intention of moving to rescue the injured deserter. They needed every fighter they
had. But beside him, Lucanius fell in a puddle of blood. Pocus dragged him beneath the
protection of shields as Maximus tugged Hagan to safety. Lucanius was disoriented,
flailing and Pocus swung hard, catching the mutilated face at the jaw. He watched
Lucanius shake his head and actually shout a thank you before moving ahead to follow
Maximus’ bellowed orders.
“Single cover! Single cover!”
And it all crumbled for the enemy. Maximus sat strong and tall on a brilliant white steed
with his sword raised and the men cheered loud as the crowd. Pocus swallowed the
fearful rise of his heart as Commodus strode onto the Coliseum sands. What he witnessed
excited and fired him. Maximus was far more dangerous that even he had suspected. It
was acceptable that the fallen commander be brutal or enflamed with anger, having
dropped so far from beloved General to slave … but to have endured what he had
described, removing his helmet and facing Commodus without fear … this would be a
battle worth dying for and Pocus intended to remain at the General’s side. If he must die
in the arena, he’d die beside a man worthy of such a sacrifice. It was a show … but it was
Lucanius hobbled beside Pocus, his mind speaking the same words as they entered the
gate, leaving the rumbling crowd and searing heat behind. “And so it begins,” he grunted.
“And so it begins,” Pocus repeated and assisted his comrade to seek repairs for his
Lucilla was aware that she was being followed. She quickly requested her carriers to
move away from her destination and across the city to one of the seven hills. She spouted
an address that had long been in her heart. As she was granted entrance to the front gates
of the humble but affluent villa, it was the lady of the house who greeted her.
“My lady, I am honored,” Prisa bowed her head, hiding tears at the news received but
struggling to move with appropriate behavior no matter her broken heart. Knowing of
Maximus’ murder, of the deaths of Lauria and her young son, and now the sudden
awareness that the General had resurfaces as a slave in the arena was far too much to
Caesar’s sister had never visited the home of Qunitus and Prisa had never been invited to
the palace. During the years of Marcus Aurelius’ siege in Germania, she was even more
ignored, as her husband was not present to smooth the rough edges of her freed woman
It had been a hard life, a difficult life she never shared in her letters to Lauria. Prisa had
found no happiness in Rome, forced to face down and raise the belligerent children of her
husband and his dead, but high born first wife; a daughter and son well grown but not yet
old enough to be placed in the army or arranged into a marriage. Nothing in her life
indicated that the likes of a royal woman would call upon her and she was immensely
concerned. Had Quintus not been sitting in the garden at that moment, she might have
feared the worst, that her husband had found death at Commodus’ side or in protection of
the horrible man. She bowed even lower as Lucilla stood from the littler.
“Please, Prisa. I fear I am beyond low for having never called on you, never reach out to
you. But this day, I seek friendship as our common acquaintance is in grave danger.”
Prisa’s eyes rose and she whispered. “Maximus.”
“Yes, my friend. Tell me, is your husband present? I wish to speak to both of you this
evening. Do please forgive the late hour, but it is most urgent.” She bustled toward the
door, Prisa rushing at her side, her legs far shorter than the royal lady’s, her sandals
clacking on the polished stones.
“You are forgiven anything, my lady.”
“I am not,” a tear glittered in Lucilla’s eyes as they entered the large house and passed
through the portico into the gardens. “I am not. Ah, Quintus, may we speak?”
“My lady!” He quickly stood, smoothed the front of his simple tunic and waved away his
whining fourteen year old daughter. “My lady! Come, sit! Prisa, send refreshments for the
royal lady, immediately. My lady, how may I serve?”
“No refreshments, Quintus,” Lucilla sat elegantly on a bench and glanced about at the
gardens that reminded her of the courtyard at the summer palace; of a simpler, happier
time. Those times were no more. “And do not dismiss your lovely wife. I am here to
speak with you both … to speak of … Maximus.”
“Yes,” Quintus eyes scanned the area, concerned for total privacy. He apologetically
reached for Prisa’s hand and she lowered to sit at his side.
“We are alone, Quintus … as alone as we were at my slain father’s beside … when
Commodus threatened Pisa’s life in order to assure your full loyalty … to assure the
disposal of the General. I come to discuss many things, first among them; a way to
protect you against suspicion. Did you know Maximus was alive?”
Qunitus groaned, rolled his neck then looked into the Lucilla’s compassionate eyes. “I
had but hoped. Only one man returned from the detail, swearing himself the sole survivor
during the commanded slaying of the General. I reported such to Commodus and it was
he who rewarded that soldier for bravery … against my recommendations or any
substantial proof, Claudius Pius is now a full Captain of the Coliseum Guard.”
“Ah,” Lucilla sighed, her mind spinning. “This is good. Am I then to believe that we
stand together in our concern for and protection of Maximus?”
The man swallowed hard, aware of Lucilla’s power, but far more aware of his beloved
wife beside him; of Commodus’ greater power over him.
Lucilla sighed, spoke quietly. “Quintus. I know many things of my brother’s dealings and
I have grown weary of holding them secret. Things you may not understand. Things of
your first wife’s death that …”
“Speak not the words,” Quintus groaned as Prisa’s hand shot to her chest and her eyes to
her husband. “We stand together for Maximus, my lady.”
“I am most pleased. There are many standing at our side in the shadows and it is there
that we must begin our work. I had intended to face Maximus but was followed. I have a
great and heavy request to make of you, Prisa, if you would be so willing.”
“Of Prisa? Must we –”
“It is too late, husband. I am already involved … and I will help in any way you see fit,
Lucilla hid her grin at the once slave woman’s defiance of her praetorian husband. But
was it truly defiance? Was not this woman dear to Maximus’ dead wife? Would she not be
willing to assist for the sake of justice? And what else could a man in Quintus’ position
do? Command her to help? Demand that she refuse? He would not. And … was that not
relief hidden beneath the pride in his eyes.
“This must not risk her, my lady. I will not risk her.”
“There is little risk. Prisa, if you would don my veil, ride in my litter and deliver a
message to a slave waiting in the square, it is all that is required.”
“A message?” Quintus grunted.
“Yes, Graccus’ slave awaits word from me. After she has delivered the message, she will
be taken to the temple where she will await word for her return here. You, Quintus, will
accompany her, as you would me.”
“And … where will you be?” Prisa asked, already reaching for the elegant, bejeweled silk
“I must speak with Maximus. I will be taken in your litter to the Coliseum, hidden
beneath your veil.”
“I have nothing so beautiful.”
“The simple hooded cape is best, Prisa. We must hurry.”
Maximus had sent her away. Sent away the woman he once loved, telling her that his soul
was no more, that she could only help him by forgetting he ever lived, by never returning.
Sent Lucilla away, lovely as she had ever been … but still the woman who had destroyed
his child … poisoned it into the afterlife before it had drawn breath. But of course,
Lucilla had a talent for survival. Perhaps he should be happy for her, joyous that she was
risen to her rightful heights … and perhaps he should also revel in her terror and fears for
Nothing of it held his aching heart. Her offer of assistance was true and heartfelt … but
he could not ask it of her. This hell was his alone. Alone. And he was powerless to help
her. If he found his way to Commodus, the man would die and hopefully that would
protect Lucilla and Lucius. But even more, it would heal his own destroyed soul.
He was led in chains from the room, the scent of Lucilla still in his nose. He sat on his cot
and attempted to ignore the drama before him but he could not. His belly churned,
knowing the suffering he was witnessing in the next cell. He moved and knelt; through
the bars he gripped Lucanius’ hand as the man screamed in agony. The butcher surgeon
was removing the man’s foot. What would become of a gladiator without a foot? He was
useless as a fighter, useless as a slave. He would be put to the streets to beg and starve or
be left to die on his cot … unless he found a way.
“I will fight at your side, Maximus!” he cried out in pain. “I have seen many do it, on the
battlefield, in this arena … and I too will do it. But only at your side!”
The man was begging forgiveness Maximus could not offer. “Die, Lucanius. Perhaps it is
“I will only die at your hand … or I will be forgiven at your word … but I will fight at
your side no matter!”
Another wail and the foot was finally severed. Blood spurted and rags were wrapped
around the stump. “He’ll fight if he wants to fight or not,” the surgeon hissed. “I know
Proximo, he will not let this expense be forfeit. In Zuccabar, this man’s body would serve
to feed the beasts. Here, he is nothing but a slave destined to die before the mob.”
“I will not die.”
“Die, Lucanius,” Maximus choked, his voice filled with pity. “Do not lose your dignity.”
“I have no dignity, no honor, no life without your forgiveness.”
“And,” Maximus retained his tight grasp on the man’s hand, his brow pressed against the
bars. “What is there to forgive? I have lost my family, Lucanius. You watched them die
but not without great courage and sacrifice. I am a brutal and broken man. My
forgiveness means nothing.”
Lucanius turned his pain filled eyes to the General. “I will always fight at your side,” and
is eyes darkened into unconsciousness.
“Then you are a fool,” whispered the General. “At my side, we will both die.”
“Then we will all die with honor,” sighed Juba from his cell and a soft cheer rose among
Ostia, the breezes from the sea chilled the late night air, the nearness of Rome palpable in
the silence. Cicero sat in the shadows and whispered to the soldier sitting guard.
“Are you sure?” gasped the man as he scratched beneath his armor in disbelief.
“He lives. How many are you?”
“Over four thousand. You have seen him?”
“I have, and I must tell him if you are with him.”
“Must you ask such? Four thousand are with him. The generals assigned by Commodus
to lead us are baboons, weak and foolish, drunk with wine and power. We sit here for
months now with nothing to do and little to show for our past efforts. I’ve heard our pay
is held to support the games! This will not stand … many speak of desertion. An easy slip
of coin and steerage can be gained. Freedom from Commodus had grown more important
than loyalty to Rome for many.”
“You must convince them to remain, Maximus will need them. But for now, all must
remain as it is.”
The man grunted and turned as laughter rose from nearby fire, the men reduced to
whoring and gambling, wasting the little pay they had. “Again, are you sure he is alive?”
“I am sure,” Cicero gulped, praying to the gods that Maximus had survived yet another
bout in the arena. “He is alive … and he will need us all.”
“Then … we will stand ready. I’ll keep them together. For General Maximus, we will
always stand ready.”
“I will return in three days time.”
“Travel safe, Cicero. And tell the General we rejoice in his survival. The gods wish it so,
and the gods wish that we assist him.”
The road from Ostia was harsh and long on foot but Cicero moved with surety. If he
could manage to speak to Maximus, all would be well. But he had watched the General
from afar, even sat in the Coliseum during the games and this … this was not the man he
had known. As he trudged the road, Cicero found himself praying to the gods that some
influence would come to Maximus and bring him again to the man Cicero knew. The
honorable soldier, the good brother and comrade, the powerful leader.
Nearing Rome he worried. Even as darkness rose in the east to obliterate the light, many
traveled to the city and they all spoke of the astounding return of Maximus. The General
could not have known the love the people of Rome had held for him, the songs sung for
him, the stories told of his many brave deeds. It was not until he walked beside a
particularly full cart that he learned the truth of it all. Neigh on fifteen strapping men
laughed and talked, sharing stories and experiences of the General Maximus. Some had
been soldiers, some had served under the General, but most were tradesmen seeking an
opportunity to watch a skilled master in the arena. When finally they spoke words Cicero
could permit into his heart, he sighed and dropped his head back in relief.
“Abominable that Maximus is slave. All his sacrifices at Caesar’s side?” one shouted.
“More than that, I have heard from my brothers in Rome that it was Commodus who had
commanded the death of the man’s family. Maximus? For what? Seems nothing is sacred
anymore. Why should a soldier offer himself at a Caesar’s side if such things can
happen?” responded another.
“Ah, but with this turn of events, I see something far more important ahead for us
brothers, something far more interesting than the viewing of Rome’s best gladiators.”
Cicero turned sharply. This man’s voice he knew, clearly recognized. It was none other
than the retired General Corpulius, one of the six generals who had taken Maximus under
his wing before his promotion. Corpulius was a good man, a strong man but not a
wealthy man and for the first time Cicero was made to wonder if the life of sacrifice to
Rome had much worth. For an empire rich in conquest, it’s most revered heroes were
aging and living in squalor … or worse yet, stripped of their rank and properties and
fighting in the arena for the entertainment of the mob.
“What do you see, General Corpulius?” Cicero asked, looking up at the men riding in the
cart and unsure of a favorable reception.
“Who are you?” The old man grunted, shifted his bulk and leaned over the edge. “Cicero?
By the gods … can it truly be Cicero? Stop the cart! Stop the cart I say!” He reached a
large calloused hand out to Cicero who smiled and grasped it in his own hands.
“It is I, General. You are well, sir?”
“Climb in, for you do not look so well my friend. You have been walking far?”
Cicero struggled onto the crowded conveyance and the circle of men immediately
protected the conversation which had suddenly gone very quiet. “I have walked from
Ostia,” whispered Cicero.
“And so the rumors are truth. Maximus does live.” The man’s beady dark eyes darted
around, assuring all inside the cart were listening and none outside it could hear.
“He lives, General.”
“The men in Ostia?”
“Fat and bored, sir.”
“Does Maximus know?”
Cicero groaned. “I fear the General Maximus believes himself alone in this.”
“You have not spoken to him?”
“I have not,” Cicero accepted a flask of wine and gulped hungrily. “I have been unable to
get close enough.”
“That will only become more difficult. Who is with us?”
“I am unsure, but many. Perhaps even many in the Senate.”
“Then we will assure that you reach Maximus on the morrow. He must know of his
support. You will sit with us in the Coliseum and we will carefully place you close to his
trek from the arena to the cells. Tell me, how does he look?” Corpulius’ eye glowed with
concern and growing excitement.
Cicero looked at all the men surrounding him. “Lean, hungry … and dangerous.”
“Then we have much to celebrate for Rome will soon correct herself at a good man’s
Prisa was unsure but determined. She understood that should she be discovered, much
could go badly for Quintus, but if she was to be sacrificed to her cause … a mere freed
woman … it would not damage her husband. She was nothing, a possession, and one
many had criticized him for taking as wife. Quintus heart would be damaged, but no
more than another man’s. He would continue, be strong and persist in the battle from his
silent position at the enemy’s side.
It was long dark and the streets had become silent. Her litter was simple and unadorned,
but she carried the pouch of gold that would assure her private time with the now famous
gladiator. A brute of a man led her to an ugly, dark cell. A fire blazed in one small hearth
and near the wall stood Maximus, patient as two guards locked the metal cuffs and chains
at his wrists.
“It seems you’ve won the women of the crowd,” grunted the old man before he left her
alone with Maximus.
His eyes rose slowly, brilliant, the color of the sea reflected in the firelight. They were
dark and brooding, angry and cold. But within his chest beat the heart of the man she
remembered. She could tell by the way his knotted fists softened, the way his breath
caught, his head tilted.
“Why are you here?” he growled and she stepped closer, then closer. He glared down into
her face. “Does your husband know you are here?” he hissed with a sneer.
Prisa stepped even closer, so close she could feel the living heat of his flesh. He did not
back away but did not soften further. “Yes, he knows I am here, Maximus,” she
whispered and laid her hand softly on his chest.
“Has he sent you? Why? Does he not know I would kill him for the orders he gave?”
“Quintus did not give those orders,” tears blurred her vision.
Maximus lowered his face and glared hard, his voice was a rasp. “I heard him order my
death and the death of my family!”
“Maximus?” Her voice softened even more, forcing him to quiet his energy to hear her
words. “Do you not know why? Do you not realize the threats Commodus had presented?
And do you not know how many nights I have held Caesar’s chief praetorian as he cried
for you, for Lauria and for your son?” Her voice broke. “Maximus … Lauria … oh by the
gods … my heart bleeds for your loss.” She moved closer, pressing her body against his
and she raised her arms to encircle his neck.
Maximus blinked, stepped back but she did not give him space. She moved with him,
tight against him and as he thought to raise his hands to toss her away he felt the shudder
of her sob, the wetness of her tears and as slow as ice melts in the north, he felt himself
too melt … dissolve … relinquish his heart to the mourning he knew would never end.
His arms encircled her and he slowly lowered them both to the cold stone floor. And there
he held Quintus’ wife … his own wife’s dearest friend as she cried for his loss and her
As her tears flowed, so did an agility of mind he had long forgotten. Brutality was all he
had come to use for his survival, but so close to another who understood his pain, he was
relieved of the burden to burying that pain beneath shouts and weapons and strength.
There was a power to weakness, a blissful freedom of soul that came with the dissolution
of his struggle. Prisa sobbed quietly against his shoulder and his hand tenderly rubbed her
Tenderness? How long had it been since he found reason for such a luxury? He blinked
and gazed into the fire. Slithering memories of Prisa, young and playful, singing and
dancing along the road from the market to the house with Lauria … memories of the
sounds of women’s voices floating through the house; talking of the important and minor
things of life, of the special and blessed things. In his arms was all that remained of
Lauria. In his arms, the only soul who truly understood his loss.
Perhaps Quintus too understood, for he had chosen his own wife over Maximus and his
family. Would he have made the same choice?
“He cried but he hoped, Maximus. Quintus never released hope that you had managed to
“And … this is survival? I am a slave, Prisa.”
“You are the salvation and many know this. Many, Maximus. So many.” She finally
looked up into his face and settled across from him, their knees touching, their voice in
whispers. “I have been sent by many. There is much to tell you and much you must
“Speak,” his suddenly alive mind was ready. “Who has sent you?”
“Quintus, who assure you that he stands at Commodus’ side, but stands for you. He will
do all he can to guarantee you will succeed.
“Cicero, who has gone to Ostia on your behalf, to assure you have the strength you need.
“Old General Corpulius who promises the loyalty of all he knows.
“The Senate, Senator Graccus in particular, who represents full support.
“And … Lucilla.”
“Lucilla? I have told her –”
“Yes Maximus, I do know that you have told her to stay far from you … but even the
gods cannot hold her heart from you. She will die doing what she can to help you.”
“She required me to kill her brother, nothing more,” he hissed angrily. “There is no love
in such a need.”
Prisa leaned back and gazed at him, seeing all his confusion and all his agony in that brief
moment. “By the gods … you do not know.”
“I know all I must know.” He readied to stand. “You must leave this place, woman.”
“You do not know,” she said again in such a way that he remained on the cold floor, his
focus stolen by the sound of her simple words. He swallowed his fear and waited.
“Maximus, I must tell you something … but first you must fully believe the love Lucilla
has for you or this knowledge will mean nothing.”
“Love? Prisa,” his head tilted and he struggled to control his need to roar. “Lucilla can
not love a man if she could murder his child within her womb!”
“Maximus,” a tear slid down her face. “Lucilla did not murder your child.”
“She was raped, Maximus. Raped by her own brother. Lucilla could have never murdered
your child. Her love for you is eternal and strong. Had she been carrying your child, she
would have sacrificed everything to hold it … and you … to her heart for all her days.”
“She lies. She sends you with this fiction to fire me.” But a familiar ache in his gut told
him it was truth.
“She does not lie … and she had sworn me to secrecy. I was never to tell you this thing.”
“Why would you break such a confidence?”
Prisa smiled, pushed a stray tear from her chin. “Because I can see that it is something
you must know. Maximus, you are not alone. Your enemy is potent but your legions, far
more powerful; an army of men, women, soldiers and politicians stand and await your
command, General. You need only speak the word.”
Prisa leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on his stubbled face. “I must leave here.”
“Yes. You must remain safe.”
“What shall I tell them all, Maximus?”
He did not speak, knew no answer. He would pray the entire night for understanding and
Commodus sat silent and alone in the darkness. For a brief few hours he was without pain
and he realized that he had suffered the agony in his head since the moment his own
hands took the life from his father. He looked down at his opened palms. And now …
I must kill Maximus. I must kill my brother … the only man I have loved … trusted … the
only man ever to return my love with respect and concern. He should be at my side …
advising me … helping me … not suffering in the gladiator cells. I must kill the brother I
His mind slid to the tigers he had arranged for tomorrow’s games. He envisioned the
vicious cats gnawing at Maximus, licking his blood, devouring his still beating heart.
I have no choice … I must kill my brother for if I do not, he will win the crowd … I will
be forced to give him his freedom … and he will take from me what I want most … he will
“Guard!” he shouted and the praetorian came into view. “Where is Lucilla?”
“She is in her chambers, sire.”
“Go and be sure.”
Moments later the man returned with his well rehearsed lie. “Sire, she is asleep in her
“You are positive?”
“I am, sire. I looked upon her face.”
But it was a slave and not Lucilla sleeping in the luxurious bed. Lucilla was not far away,
sitting with Senators Graccus and Gaius, the retired General Corpulius and chief
And Lucilla schemed with the best of Rome to regain the republic her brother was
determined to destroy.
Late, almost dawn and the scheming meeting to repair Rome had ended. The participants
filtered silently, slithering like snakes into various directions. Lucilla hid behind the
curtains of her litter and called a strange order. “Quintus, I wish to see Maximus.”
“Now, my lady?” He was already concerned for the hour, concerned that Commodus may
Maximus was surly, awakened from fitful sleep to be taken to the private chambers. What
woman would wish him at this hour? A whore who had collected enough to afford a
coveted encounter with a gladiator? Or worse yet, a high bred woman seeking revenge on
a negligent husband? Neither interested him. In the corner, he could see the caped and
covered form cower silently. As the cell gate lock clanked loud and the footfalls of the
leaving guards dissipated down the corridor, he growled.
“You cower and perhaps you should, woman. I have no interest in this foolery.”
“Maximus,” the voice was low, a raw hum of misery and sadness. She stood and slid the
hood from her face and he stepped back.
“I told you to stay away, to stay safe.”
She stepped without pause, directly into his arms and he embraced her tenderly. Aches he
had long forgotten pummeled him and he groaned quietly.
“I wish for you to be safe, Lucilla. You must stay away.”
“I cannot. I am burdened, I must speak. You must know –”
“I know, my lady. I know.”
She visibly melted and stepped back.
“Prisa came to me this night … and she told me of the rape … of the child … that it was
Her hand rose to press against her heart and her head shook, a wry smile on her lips.
“Perhaps speaking that truth to another soul was wrong.”
“Why have you never told me this thing?” His brow knotted and his hand gently
squeezed her chilled fingers.
“You would have killed him.”
Maximus grinned sadly, tilted his head and watched her shrug at the silliness of the
statement. “And now, I only have but one more reason to kill Commodus.”
Lucilla nodded, her eyes lost in his, her lips shined with moisture and her breasts moved
with desire beneath her gown. “Maximus … I have loved you since the day you came to
be with us. The moment you looked into my face. And I have loved you every moment
since. I …”
His fingers rose to cover her lips. “No more. Much has passed and there is nothing for it
all. Just as our love would not stand so long ago … it can not stand now. Leave here,
Lucilla. It pains me to know you are in danger,” his eyes darted to the corridor outside the
“I can not. It is not foolish love I carry. It is full and powerful. It is … eternal. The love
you had for Lauria was the same and I truly know I will never overshadow it. But
Maximus, you must be served, your body and mind must be clear to survive the arena.
My brother will continue to strive to make this harder and harder for you. He fears killing
you in the darkness. He needs you to die at the foot of the Roman mob in the hot sun of
the Coliseum. I offer you flesh to feed upon. Warmth to replenish you –”
“Comfort in your misery, Maximus. Comfort … in mine.”
“We will not.”
She tugged her hood over her head, half shielding her stricken face. “You must be
serviced, my love. I will send a slave if you will not have me.”
“I will refuse her.”
“Then I will send another … and another … and another. Guard, I am finished with this
slave.” Maximus watched her leave, a pain thrumming in his empty heart.
He had few options, but the retired General Corpulius took his opportunity where he
could. He could tell his addled, older brother little of the mission except where he was to
go and to whom he was to pass along the precious scroll.
“Perius, awaken. Quickly. There is a vital service for you to render.”
The balding, wrinkled man grunted and pushed his brother’s hand from his shoulder,
rolled to his massive belly and hissed. “Get a slave to do it. I’m no slave, brother.”
“I trust no slave with this responsibility.”
As designed, the statement perked Perius’ ears. He shuffled and sat up, brought the candle
closer and rubbed his eyes. “What responsibility?”
“You will travel alone so you must pay careful heed to my words. You must leave
immediately for Ostia.”
“The sea? Why should I do that when Maximus fights in the arena on the marrow? Send
“It must be you. Here,” he tossed a heavy pouch of coin into the man’s lap. “Enough to
buy you a horse and cart, a room if you need one … even a whore after you’ve fulfilled
“Duty?” Perius huffed, bouncing the pouch in his palm, feeling the weight of coin and
responsibility that came with it. “You are no longer a General and you have never been
my General. What is it you want me to do in Ostia?”
“Deliver this message. It carries my seal and vitally important information for … for the
“Are you a soothsayer?” Another grunt. “I’m to believe you see the future?”
“I see your future should you not comply. Brother, I have carried you all my life and this
is your opportunity to rise yourself. To do something worthy.” Corpulius eyed him
“And how worthy will it be if no one knows I’m doing it?”
Corpulius snatched the pouch and Perius grabbed it back. “I did not say I wouldn’t do it.
What is in the message?”
“Nothing you need to know, it will be safer if you do not know. Now, you must leave
“Under darkness, carrying a secret message to protect the future only you see,” the man
grumbled as he rolled his clothing like rags into a ball and tied them securely with a
leather thong. “I will do this thing. Am I to await an answer?”
“No Perius. You are to return home after you deliver the message. No hands shall have
this and no eyes shall see it except for Captain Marcus Livianus. None other, do you
“I understand. I am to be your slave, deliver a message and return home. I will not return
home. I will return to Rome and if Maximus still lives … I will watch him fight!”
Corpulius lay a kind hand on his brother’s hunched shoulder. “I fear that if you return to
Rome, you will witness more than Maximus fighting. You may see all of Rome fall
before she can again rise. Do not mistake my cryptic explanations for frivolity. This is a
dire time and it requires careful planning to survive. Speak to no one, carry this scroll
well concealed and travel with the gods, Perius. Do not fail. Do … not … fail.”
As Lucilla left the slave cells, she spoke to a guard, handing over several pieces of gold
and the man nodded. Maximus was not returned to his small cell; he remained in the
private chambers and slid down the grimy wall to sit on the floor. For nearly an hour he
sat alone, unsure of the reason for his solitary position. Then … the women arrived, one
at a time, speaking the same words.
“My lady sends me to comfort and service you.”
And another. “My lady sends me to comfort and service you.”
And yet another. “My lady sends me to comfort and service you.”
His eyes burned with exhaustion and his body ached with need, each slave girl that came
before him, more beautiful than the one before.
“My lady sends me to comfort and service you.”
He imagined that it was well past dawn, that the others had long been to practice in the
opened yard, eaten their meal. Later he would again face the opponent and he had yet to
find rest. Was he destined to find it in the soft arms of a woman? But this woman? No.
“Tell your lady I will have none but her best,” he spat. “Leave me.” With that, Maximus
was sure it had come to an end but still, he remained chained in the private chamber.
Another loud clank and he refused to look up. When all was silent he shouted. “Leave
“But my love, I have brought my best to comfort and service you.”
His eyes shot to the gate. No one watching, no guard standing near. Beneath the hooded
cape, it was Lucilla, against all his commands and all his wishes. “You are a fool!” he
“I am. But I can do nothing else.” She pushed back the hood and slid a soft mask of
feathers over her features then dropped the dull cape to the floor. Her simple gown and
shift fell in a puddle at her feet and before him stood, the glowing body of a woman he
had once loved more than life. A woman he still loved and respected. The woman he once
knew well and had wronged, believing the worst of her. He could not even stand to face
her. Lucilla stepped close and knelt, she took his trembling hands and placed them upon
the soft, heated flesh of her breasts. “Do I displease you, Maximus?”
He did not wish it, did not will it. He had carefully chosen the path of agony and misery,
fair chastisement for the death of his family … and all due to his pride. Had he kissed the
ring of Commodus, the problem of Rome would have been resolved far earlier. Had he
done as Quintus, he could have stood closer to his enemy, armed and prepared. And …
Lauria and his son would be alive. Tears soaked his face and Lucilla leaned close, sucked
his lips and sighed.
“You need not seek punishment, my love. You could not have foreseen Commodus’ plan
… could not have stopped it. Could not have changed anything … until now. The gods
have woven a terrible story, but they have placed many golden strands along this weave.
You were always to be the savior of Rome. It was clear to my father … is clear to me …
clear to the Senate … the mob … and now, it is clear to my brother.”
Her lips lowered to kiss his chin, his neck as she pulled at the rough tunic to free him
from beneath. Her hand lay soft and hot on his belly and he gasped. “You need to be
touched, Maximus. You need to know the love many have for you. You must learn that
you fight for more than the memory of my father or the memories of your slain family.”
She had worn him to nothing and he could not fight her … for why should he? Every
gladiator was rewarded with a woman or a boy as he wished. It was only Maximus who
had repeatedly refused … and why? Already, the mere heat of her hand was bringing him
again to life, quickening his heart, heating his blood. Chains clanged as he took her face
in his hands and kissed her hard. Pressing her to the stone floor, Lucilla was pliable, soft,
easily receptive to what his body demanded. And he feared his needs would press too far.
“Leave me,” he gasped, sucking deeply on a pebble hard nipple, his hands grasping her
hips tight against him. “Leave me or I fear I will …”
“Take me, Maximus. Take me as you require. Take me as much as you want and take me
as the gift offered. I have no fear of you, my love.” But she gasped loud as his painfully
hard cock plunged deep, fully sheathed in one desperate thrust. “Take me,” she whispered
and he kissed her wildly, pressing her to the cold floor, pushing away to brilliant blue
feathers to kiss her eyelids, to press his fingers deep into her thick hair.
He was alive with the fury of his passion, his losses, his overwhelming need. That a mere
woman could render him so helpless was terrifying but a fever crazed his mind. Shifting,
he thrust harder, deeper, creating a pounding rhythm that could not be controlled. And
when his explosive seed spouted and poured, steaming hot and continuous into her
wanting womb, Maximus suddenly felt a tingle on his flesh. Life. He was alive. With a
final press for depth, her path shuddered and quaked, quivering tight around him and
Lucilla arched with a climax neither expected, sucking more and more from him and
together they cried out.
He gulped for air, shot a glare to the gate. Listened. Silence. Quickly he replaced the
mask and with shaking knees, rose to lift her to the soft bed provided. The metal bondage
clanked quietly as he lay at her side, kissing her lips and whispering regret.
“I am unharmed, my love.” She moved tight against him. “Let me offer all you need.”
And Maximus realized that his requirements were not yet fulfilled. With the nearness of
soft warmth and willingness, he was again desperate to have her. But he found the control
to be gentle, to speak softly even as his body pillaged and pounded.
Hours later, duly covered and silent, Lucilla left him deeply asleep on the bed. Much
more than Maximus suspected had transpired that morning. She had counted her days,
was knowledgeable of her last monthly blood … and sure of conception. A child.
Maximus’ child. It was what he would most need to hold him strong. She had given him
comfort but more than he could know … she had given him reason. Less than fourteen
days and nights and it would be certain. She must be sure of his survival until then. She
Proximo was paid a large amount of gold to permit Maximus to slumber peacefully alone
that day. He did not ask where it came from nor why he must agree … he understood the
needs of a gladiator facing the daily battle. The General turned slave was far too valuable
to waste if he was too tired or weak to perform. He chose to protect his investment … and
thus accept the gold.
That day, the tigers paced in their cages deep beneath the sands of the Coliseum, hungry
and awaiting their meal. It would not come that day and they would wait longer.
Commodus did not worry for it. The beasts would be all the more starving … and the late
arrival of Tigris of Gaul would combine to make a tremendous performance sure to end
in the spectacular death of Maximus Decimus Meridius. The day would be his … it
would just be tomorrow, and he grinned.
Maximus woke strong and alert, his heart beating smoothly in his chest and his vision for
what he was to do suddenly clear in his mind … and all at the soft touch of a woman. He
was briskly removed from the private chamber and taken to the others where he sat at
Lucanius’ side, Juba at his feet and Pacus pacing silently. There, in a calm quiet his heart
had not known in a very long time, Maximus spoke of his duty to Rome, to the memory
of a murdered Caesar, of his slain family and of all who had followed his command.
“Marcus Aurelius had a dream of Rome,” he said softly. “This is not it. This is not it.”
The men were fired with a brilliant light, empowered with what they understood and
what they knew to be designed by the gods.
“We will all willingly die at your side, General,” Pacus shouted and the gathering men
“I wish for no one to die at my side,” Maximus looked at the many varied faces around
him. “Protect yourselves. Fight together when you can. You must all live to see what is to
come.” His head shook sadly and he looked down at the mortally wounded man.
Lucanius was weak, the flesh at his removed foot festering, the stench almost unbearable.
“I wish no one to die at my side, least of all you, my brother.” He placed his palm on the
man’s chest, over the fluttering, straining heart. “Least of all you, Lucanius. My friend,
you have served Rome well, you have served me well. Now, you must sleep, brother.”
And the men watched as Lucanius’ mutilated, scarred face became serene, a smile on his
lips as his eyes closed for the last time.
Events moved with power, a sluicing rush of activity and thought that did not affect or
alter his resolve. Beneath the brutal afternoon sun, the tigers were denied their meal yet
again and Tirgis of Gaul was offered his life, a blessing from the gods, the Roman mob
and Maximus the Merciful.
Cicero, with the help of Corpulius, had managed to speak with his General and Maximus
was pleased to see his friend alive, glowing with health and bearing news of the men in
“Tell the Royal Lady that I will speak with her politician,” he whispered, and the slave’s
eyes brightened with the promise of things to come. And so, it begins, Cicero marveled.
Perius was a corrupt and selfish man; refusing to spend even one gold piece in his efforts
to reach Ostia. Choosing not to purchase a horse, even an old nag for the journey, he
walked and rested throughout the daylight and into the night. He was still far from his
destination and scheming, a bitter grin painted upon his face.
Near dawn, he joined a group of men on the road and put his plan into action, convincing
them to stop for a spell and engage in a friendly game of chance. Perius was sure he
could turn the nice pouch of gold into massive wealth, as the men seemed harmless and
unknowledgeable about throwing the bones for profit. Oh, to finally be above his
pompous brother would be such a joy! To have Corpulius at his feet, doing his bidding
from that day forward would be his biggest accomplishment in life!
The games began with friendly banter, Perius cajoling them into betting more and more
as he won occasionally, sensing success just at the next roll. But the men were not
ignorant to his ploy. Having seen the pouch, the thieves knew that they had but two
choices. They could wait until dark and kill him for it; or they could steal it from him
coin by coin with expertise and enjoyable playfulness.
But in the end, it was Perius who became suspicious of their cheating, suspicious because
he too was attempting his own deceitful and less effective methods. His anger flared and
he scooped all the coins from the center of the blanket, demanding retribution for their
The scuffle was minimal but frightful to the old man. He struggled and flailed, begged for
mercy. In the end, Perius lay dead in the trees along side the road, the blood soaked
parchment scroll still beneath his clothing, pinned to his heart with his own blade.
No Captain in Ostia would receive word, no legions would prepare for battle at the
General Maximus’ side. All that had ridden on the delivery of the message was lost.
Baffled, Commodus took to his litter immediately after he’d again spoken to the slave
turned gladiator. Oh he had done his best to work his malicious plan and provoke the
gladiator into spontaneous battle. His praetorian were prepared to lunge and finish
Maximus if even the slightest step had been taken closer than acceptable. But Maximus
did not show physical aggression. He did not break. He spat his response loud for all to
hear and more than once, his eyes slid to Quintus.
“The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end … highness.”
There … nothing … nothing even a Caesar could force the Roman mob into accepting as
an attack. He stood long after Maximus had walked away; stood, enraged and shaking as
the crowds stood to leave the coliseum. A sudden urge to escape overtook Commodus, a
feeling of captivity, of loss, of finality and he turned, his soldiers at his heel.
Even as he moved brusquely, he could hear the roaring words cried from the leaving mob
… Maximus the Merciful! Maximus the Merciful! It blazed and burned in his pain rattled
head. Fear pulsed through his veins. His decision was made and that day confirmed; he
would kill his brother … but how? The beasts could not take Maximus down, the world’s
best gladiator could not destroy the General. There were few choices, but which to select?
His concern and paranoia enflamed, his suspicions moved from the larger world of the
Roman people to those he loved most within his palace.
He knew that his own men had lied to him and had long ago arranged for new, secondary
spies to watch Lucilla. They too found almost nothing. She had become fast friends with
Quintus’ freedwoman wife, visited often. And, he grinned at the thought, that once slave
woman had apparently become amorous with Maximus, visiting the cells more than once
and remaining for carnal interaction. Commodus grinned at yet another thorn to pierce his
chief praetorian’s side. Unfaithful wives were tremendous tools and Commodus used
them well in his efforts.
The litter slowed and he grunted. He had no wish to return to the palace as yet. A few
hours to privately think were required. “Take me through the circus!” he shouted,
knowing he was hidden behind silken curtains on a rather average conveyance. In the
marketplace, the traffic would slow their pace. He could listen; perhaps overhear the
words of the people. Learn of their true opinion when it is not fired by the blood and gore
of the arena.
But as his bearers moved, he heard little, many growing quiet as he passed. A small gust
of early evening breeze caught the fine silk and fluttered it aside, and thus Commodus
received far more than he had hoped for in that one moment.
Across the square, boldly displayed in an opened littler was his beautiful and dear sister.
But on his knees at Lucilla’s side, her guards steps away to provide a tentative isolation,
he clearly recognized the poorly clothed man. Could he not recognize Maximus’ beloved
slave, Cicero? It was impossible, for he had many times seen the man at the General’s
side in Caesar’s Germanian camp. He’d understood the immense loyalty Cicero held for
Maximus, the love and care given when the General was injured or in need. How had he
As the slave stood, bowed and walked from the departing litter, Commodus growled his
order. Cicero was no a trivial matter, he must be dealt with … and dealt with at
Commodus’ own hands.
“What is his plan,” hissed Commodus, his right hand vibrating from the wielding of a
whip that had marked the naked slave from neck to ankle, mutilated the soft flesh at his
sex and exposing bone at his hips and knee.
Cicero trembled, gasped for air but still did not speak.
His hands bound high, rough rope knotted to a railing far above the thrown room, Cicero
was spun and fevered open wounds were pressed against freezing polished marble. He
howled with the agony. But still, he held himself strong, still he silently prayed to the
gods for guidance and help as the searing slice of slam after slam marked his back until it
was a bloody pulp of shredded flesh.
Commodus dropped to his thrown, anger creating a hideous scowl on his sweat speckled
face. The exertion had oddly relieved the misery in his head, but it had all been for
nothing, Cicero did not speak.
“Take him down to the prison below this palace. I may still have use for him.”
Like Maximus, the events slid mercilessly across the young Caesar’s eyes. He learned of
a strange eel from a maniacal Senator. His body drained, he lay to rest, only to wake and
learn something even more dangerous from his beloved nephew.
“I am Maximus! The savior of Rome!”
“Who said that?” He held the boy close and listened to the whispered word that tore away
his last threads of humanity.
“Mother,” the boy whispered. “Mother.”
Immediate action was made. Graccus arrested, only because he and Lucilla had been
known to speak together. Pria arrested, taken to the gladiatorial prisons and beaten as she
had been known to speak with Maximus.
And Lucilla … what was to be done with Lucilla? But she was not present in the palace.
His guard proclaimed that she was asleep, but Commodus himself charged to her
quarters, drew the sward from Quintus’ sheath and murdered the pretty female slave
sleeping in Lucilla’s bed, then sliced and pressed the blade swiftly into the deceitful spy’s
He turned to Quintus, noting the shock and terror behind the man’s eyes. “Your wife is
imprisoned and near death. Should you take one step from my side, she will find the path
to Elysium at my own hand. Do not doubt me, Quintus.”
“You risk too much,” Maximus heart struggled, watching Lucilla stand strong, regret her
chosen path as well as the one the gods had designed for her.
“I have much to pay for.”
It had all gone awry, become broken and splintered but still Maximus heart thrummed
strong and intense. He would reach his goal; return Rome to her true self. And … he
prayed Lucilla would survive Commodus until it was finally finished.
The cell was opened and the keys handed to Juba. The men had rallied to protect his
escape and Maximus understood that the gods would have their way, play their own
game, protect their favored … but all would be as it was destined to be.
As battle raged, he slithered along to the catacombs beneath the cells. Darkness, a voice,
then two, then three. The caverns were many and twisted after Maximus had descended
the stone steps.
“This way, my brother,” called a familiar voice and he gasped as a gnarled hand took his
elbow. He looked down into a face he had not seen for years! A face long dead but fully a
part of himself. His twin was twisted, struggling to pull Maximus along and he followed.
Before he could whisper his gratitude, another voice called.
“This way!” Another hand, so much smaller clasped his. Terror slithered through his heart
and he glanced down in the darkness. The glowing eyes of his own dead son smiled up at
“This way!” Another voice, female, old, the sound of hissing gravel. “Quickly!” She was
behind him, pushing his back but he knew her energy. The woman who had always
pushed him toward his destiny. The old witch Donum again guided him.
“Here, Maximus! Here!” And as he ran down another dark set of stone steps, soft light
from the burning torch showed the ethereal form of Proximo, standing beside the armor
he had given, the gladius he had used in the arena.
“I am sorry, my friend,” Maximus grunted, fitting the armor around him quickly and
understanding that the old man had already found death.
“Just don not let it be for nothing, Maximus. That way. Hurry!”
But outside the opening, as cool, fresh air wafted across his sweat soaked face, he felt the
power of evil. Smelled it as one smells the wanting sex of a woman or the demand of
food calling to an empty stomach.
A whistle as he spied Cicero astride a horse in the darkness.
And Maximus was taken as he watched the light of life leave Cicero’s eyes forever.
In the heavens, even the gods were silent to watch what was to come. No bets were
wagered, no egos battled, all eyes were glued to the Savior of Rome.
The orders had been given but Commodus, after only moments of witnessing the beating
of his bound brother, left. He was sickened to the heart and stricken with his ever present
agony. He removed himself to the palace where he wished rest in preparation of what lie
ahead, but sleep eluded him. He paced and rubbed his throbbing temples, glared at
Lucilla’s tear covered face and stomped an even more angered pace.
She was his sister, his blood. She was to belong to him! Her love for Maximus was wrong
and only his father could be blamed for such an atrocity. Had not Marcus Aurelius
himself distained the match? Withdrawn Maximus from Lucilla’s company and found the
soldier an acceptable wife to distract his attentions? He had indeed. Commodus was
never incorrect in his imaginings. Ceasar had not approved of the match. Would he
approve of the match Commodus commanded now?
It did not matter. Old Caesar was dead, had made numerous mistakes and thus all of
Rome was confused. There need be no Senate. It was clear to see. Why would the
children of Caesar care to rule themselves when they could be lovingly guided by their
father … him … Commodus? He did not waver from his choices.
“Am I not merciful?” he shouted with fury, mocking the childlike mob and overwhelmed
with the power he finally envisioned moving his way.
He stepped to the side and twisted the small blade in the pool of poison, unaware that
even his most trusted slaves had turned on him, not knowing that the poison had already
been diluted with pure rain water, rendered almost useless. “Am I not merciful?” he
whispered, his belly trembled with the fear and excitement of it all. To fight in the arena,
to champion his cause and gain the full love and admiration of the mob. To have them see
that Maximus was nothing, that he … Caesar … was everything. Their father. Their
leader. Their salvation. “Commodus, the savior of Rome,” he grinned and poured more
poison into the flat bowl, flipping the blade again and again.
But even as he turned to watch his trembling sister, a slave had reached over, dribbling
pure water from a flask hidden within his sleeve to again dilute the hateful poison.
Tight, twisted rope held his wrists taut, burning opened, raw flesh and holding nearly all
his weight. Long a Roman soldier, trained through the most pitiless manner under
Caesar’s direct command, Maximus understood that day why he was to endure such
ruthless preparation. It was not because Caesar had wished to punish him, to make him
strong to endure the difficulties of battle or long sieges or captivity. It was not because
Marcus Aurelius had intended for him to be a General, to fight at his side. Not because he
believed that Maximus was too weak and required guidance in all manner of
withstanding pain. It was something else. Something far deeper.
For had not Maximus endured such since the moment of his birth? A father who managed
his surviving son with distain and brutality. A difficult, poor life. Old Donum was indeed
correct. There was a reason for it all, and there was a destiny that required a layering of
pain and passion, loyalty and love, hard and soft.
Behind his closed eyes, he was not asleep or unconscious. The punishing abuse had
ceased, but the men stood guard and Maximus felt his heart warm, suddenly knowing
what those men had done. When Commodus had withdrawn, the beating continued, but it
was far different, dare he even imagine, gentle. It was the second rest period he had been
granted. Were the men concerned for his strength? Did they know what was planned for
him? Could he endure?
“Foolishness,” the familiar voice came from behind, and within the darkness of his closed
eyes, all became light and clear. Ah, but a very different vision formed in this altered
reality. The guards were there, but watching him with care and respect. They did not hold
whips and chains with which to torture him. One held a tray of refreshments, another a
wad of fresh, fine cotton to bind his wounds. But they did not come forward with these
comforts, their eyes on the powerful form behind him.
Maximus had no need to turn, he could sense all and his lips curled with a pleasant twist.
“Sire,” he whispered.
“It has all come to this, my son,” Marcus Aurelius finally stepped around and into view.
His eyes were sad but fierce. “Do you understand, Maximus? Do you understand your
“Duty. I do, father.” He gasped, shuffled and again held his weight on his feet, planted
sturdy, his strong thighs quivering, his head high. “I will not fail you, Caesar.”
“Oh, my son,” a tear glittered in Marcus’ eye and his gnarled hand cupped the face of the
General he respected and loved. “It has never been my concern that you would fail me.
But it has grown beyond me. You must not fail Lucilla, you must not fail Lucius, you
must not fail Rome … and … I trust you may never understand this, but … you must not
Maximus blinked in his netherworld vision, straightened his shoulders and watched
“Commodus is not a moral man, my son is not a good man, my son –”
“Sire, are you aware that your son –”
“Yes, Maximus. I know full well that my son is in grave agony; that he has been since he
was a boy. That this malady will eventually kill him … but he must be removed from
power long before he can destroy the Empire … and through his pain … he will.
“Maximus, do you not see? Had Commodus been well and strong, had he been born with
the ability to comprehend wisdom and communicate compassion … none of this would
be necessary? You were born to this life … placed here … in my hands … in the hands of
Rome … to fulfill this duty. I beg of you, Maximus. Put my son out of his misery and
save the dream that is Rome.”
“I will kill him for many reasons, Marcus.”
“No, Maximus … you must purge your heart of them all. Put Commodus out of his
misery and save Rome. All else is wasteful distraction.”
“What he had done to Lucilla! That is not distraction!”
Caesar’s eyes watched Maximus.
“What he had commanded! The murder of my wife, my son! This is not distraction!
Cicero’s murder! That child long ago at the summer palace!”
“Maximus,” Caesar said quietly.
“These are not distractions! These are –”
“Maximus, do you not see? What man worthy to rule could do such things? I have asked
much of you throughout your life, my son. To follow, to lead, to risk all and now to
recover what could be lost on a breath of an evil breeze. I have offered no rewards as like
me, you were born to this, destined to this … all of it. And now, I wish to speak my final
words while you breathe and live …”
Maximus blinked to clear his vision, steadied his heart to accept and hear. Finally, he
“While I am here in Elysium, I have been with your family Maximus. With Lauria and
your son. With her parents and your twisted, loyal twin. I sit with Cicero and Proximo.
And … I watch over them all for you. I hold them safe and in favor as we all await you.
Now … I ask only this … that you return such kindness, my son. Watch over and protect
my family, Lucilla and Lucius, the Senate, the people of Rome and the Empire I toiled to
create. And … most importantly I ask … watch over the soul of Commodus, send him
home to me.” A tear slid down the long dead Caesar’s face. “He can endure no more …
and Rome will not survive his pain.”
Prisa had been repeatedly raped by gladiator and soldier alike, bound tight on a cot; her
wrists and ankles chained and still a long line of filthy men awaited their chance. A slave
since birth until love for Quintus had brought her joyful peace and comfort, she reverted
to that persona. Never an easy slave, many scars marked her flesh. And she endured.
“I am the wife of Quintus,” she hissed as the next man lifted his tunic, displaying his
diseased and mutilated cock. “He will kill you all for this.”
The man laughed and fell over her, forcing himself brutally into her raw path as she spat
into his face. “He will kill you all!”
Quintus was in turmoil, his heart quivering beneath his polished armor as he assisted
Commodus to ready for battle.
“Should he prevail,” Commodus sighed, “should the battle appear to be lost for me, you
will order the men to fall upon Maximus and finish him. If you do not make the
command when I demand, word will be taken to the cells and Prisa will be tortured to
death before your eyes. Do you understand, Quintus?”
“Yes, Highness. I understand.”
“Ah,” grinned Commodus evilly. The cloud of agony was in his eyes, the lifelong misery
had reached its apex and nothing would sway him. “Love. Such a powerful tool, is it
not?” The young Caesar chuckled bitterly and led Quintus from the palace.
Standing before the bound and broken Maximus, Quintus held his heart steady. He
listened as his comrade and brother defied Commodus even as he faced the end and
Quintus knew he was to play a role in how it would all end. He watched Maximus’ eyes,
read his expression. Even as the poisoned blade pierced the General’s back, a knowing
message flowed from Maximus to Quintus.
He had fallen far. To hold his position and protect Prisa, he had done the unthinkable …
turned from Maximus. There would be no more if it. Should Maximus fail in the arena,
Quintus himself would put sword to Caesar. He would sacrifice his wife for he had
nothing else to offer for such an important outcome. He looked into Maximus’ eyes and
slowly blinked his.
With that sign, Maximus finally understood that he was not alone. That perhaps he was
Only moments later it came to just that.
“Sheath your swords!” Quintus bellowed and stomped forward for all his men to hear as
well as see his command. “Sheath your swords!” And the men did so without question. In
fact, not one had actually brought blade from encasement, as though they had been
waiting, hoping. Quintus sought Maximus’ eyes and nodded. All was now in the hands of
Lucilla, her knees weak and vision wavering behind a veil of tears, had stood beside her
son to watch. She had lost all hope, had relinquished her dreams and fears together,
melted into the din of the mob screaming for Maximus. But as the battle crumbled and
Commodus withdrew the hidden blade, young Lucius could watch no more. He turned
and buried his face desperately against his mother’s breast.
“Maximus is the savior of Rome,” he cried.
Looking down into the eyes of the man he had called brother, all that had been spoken to
him, all he had seen and learned from his first breath … all had collapsed into that
moment. Strength and power that could have only come from the gods propelled him
against all odds and it was now the moment. The blade, inches from Commodus’ throat,
Maximus listened to the silent words communicated.
“No, Maximus! Brother, no! My love for you is strong and eternal! Do not take from me
“You have had no true life, by brother. You have suffered and struggled, fought agony
that has twisted your mind and damaged your very heart.”
“I will change!”
“You can not.”
“Maximus! I beg of you! Rule at my side, take my sister as wife! Live as I will live! Rome
at our feet and all will be as it should be!”
“Rome is to be a republic, Commodus. Your father has entrusted me with the dream that
is Rome. I am to return Rome to her true self.”
The blade neared, pressed, sliced. “I have loved you Commodus. I do this for you, my
brother. For you … for your father … for Rome. Farewell, my dear brother,” the blade
plunged and Commodus eyes begged one more time. “Farewell.”
Before Lucilla could reach the sands of the coliseum, she knew all was lost. Commodus,
dead and ignored. The mob, silent in their astonishment. Maximus … at death’s very
“Go to them,” she sobbed. He had done all he could do, given all he could give for her
and Rome. There was nothing more to say. “Go to them.”
The first sound he heard in the afterlife was the laughter of his son, the first face he saw,
that of Lauria, smiling wide and glowing with love. Together Maximus and his family
walked to the beautiful house he once owned, but this was no longer Tujillo, this was
Within the gates, the courtyard he had loved was set and dressed with a long table laden
with a feast. Marcus Aurelius, stood from the head of that table and waved for Maximus
to take his rightful place. He sat, astonished, fulfilled for the first time. All had been
accomplished, all would be well. He held Lauria’s hand and looked upon her. So
beautiful and soft and true. His son laughed and squealed, talking playfully with the two
lost infants he and Lauria had never seen take breath. His heart swelled and finally his
eyes rose to take in the others.
Old mother laughed with Lauria’s father who had died long before Maximus had met her.
Old Donum argued playfully with Lauria’s old uncle. Cicero sat alone, a smile on his
scared face and nodded welcome to Maximus. Proximo was eating copious amounts of
All around him was comfort and peace. But then his eyes fell upon two men seated at the
far corner of the courtyard. They sat in the shade of a tree and talked quietly. A light
radiated from them, a calming, blue hue that he had never witnessed before and his
curiosity grew. He stood to step closer but stopped.
There together, both having found relief and serenity, sat his true brothers … his twin and
Commodus. Both flawed, they had found their peace within each other.
And for Maximus Decimus Meridius, the road to Elysium had reached its destination.
Destiny had been fulfilled.
Lucilla oversaw the re-empowerment of the Senate and election of new Senators.
Retiring from public life, she left Lucius in the hands of his true father, Graccus; sure that
the future ruler of Rome would learn well, understand and respect the reasons for the
At the summer palace, she walked the courtyard night and day, hearing inside her heart
the sounds of her lost childhood, the memories of Commodus and Maximus, the life long
gone and forever locked within those walls. Often the ghosts of those two formidable
men came to her, sat at her side near the fountain or as she strolled the gardens and
offered playful support for her growing condition.
Rome would never know of her confinement. Only Graccus and Lucius were aware,
visiting often and sharing news of Rome. Rome. Ah, Rome. For her entire youth she had
done nothing but long for the excitement of the city. No longer did her heart crave such
things and it made her smile. The foolishness of a young girl. Life was meant to be a
collection of important moments, not a circus of intrigue. She had found her true home
oddly at the peaceful summer palace she had once hated.
It is said by the old ones that the way in which a child enters its life, will also be the way
in which it will leave; with a wail and heat of battle, or with wide eyes of wonder and a
whimper. At that moment, all elements affect the preordained path of that infant, but
those elements envisage nothing; for an exceptional man or woman will carve their life
with the tools and stone the gods generously offer along the hard road to Elysium.
The gods were at play one dawn in late spring, casting spears of lightening that slammed
into the earth mere inches from the summer palace; flashing fire and glory and heartache
nearly too heavy to bear. Lucilla labored long and hard, well into the fiery day pierced
with flashes and the rumble of thunder. And as the midwife spoke calmly, the first of two
infants slid from Lucilla’s womb. And then … the second. The wails sliced through the
still air and Lucilla sobbed her joy as both infants quieted and calmed at her breasts;
whole and beautiful, wriggling and healthy.
Graccus held her hand tight and kissed her sweat soaked brow. “Maximus would be
pleased,” he whispered and she blinked. She had not spoken the name Maximus since the
Savior of Rome was placed in an ornate tomb along the Apian Way. Was it that Graccus
was so astute? Were the people of Rome so astute? “No one knows or suspects, my love,”
he whispered assurance and again lowered a kiss, this time onto her swollen lips.
“Maximus would indeed be pleased.”
She looked down upon her children and smiled softly. “To have daughters who will never
rule Rome? Never face the tangled demands of public life? Yes, I believe Maximus would
indeed be pleased.”
As a spear of sunlight broke through the heavy clouds and filled the chamber, her future
was suddenly made clear. She would remain at the summer palace to raise Maximus’
daughters until Lucius was prepared to rule Rome. Known only as the new Caesar’s
distant cousins, the girls would remain behind to live comfortable lives until suitable
marriages could be arranged for them.
Lucilla would do her duty to Rome as Maximus had, stand beside the new young Caesar
and secretly love the children of the Savior of Rome … knowing that his lineage