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Authors: Eva Scott

Barbarian Bride (12 page)

BOOK: Barbarian Bride
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The sun was cresting its zenith. Lucius shielded his eyes as he squinted at the sky. Unencumbered by Hetal he could hope to make up some time if he left now. No reason to stay in Ravenna. Rome beckoned and it had been a long time since he’d seen his mother. With his mind made up, Lucius prepared to leave.

***

Rome! As much as he disparaged the place Lucius’ heart still leapt at the sight of the city gates. He visited Rome so infrequently these days he didn’t bother to keep a dwelling of his own. Soon he would arrive at his mother’s house where a soft bed and good food awaited him. He smiled at the thought of his gentle mother, Olivia, and his energetic sister, Alexandra. How she would have grown since he saw her last!

Entering the gates of Rome, Lucius swung down off of his horse and led the beast along the streets. He took in a deep breath, letting the familiar scent of the city fill his nostrils. It was good to be home. Well, almost home. Lucius intended to pass through the slave market first. Perhaps they could tell him something about Klara, perhaps not. If not, he’d begin with the many
ludis
in the city. Sooner or later he’d find her, he had no doubt.

The slave market was busy, as always. Today was the day young girls and boys were sold. They stood huddled together, clearly terrified, as so they should be. Lucius’ heart went out to them but there was nothing he could do. As the son of a freed slave he was keenly aware of how close his fate could have been to theirs. Seeking out the market manager he made his enquiry.

The man listened carefully, rubbing the stubble on his chin with his grubby fingertips as he thought about Lucius’ request.

“Yes,” he said at last, “I do recall such a woman. Brought by a
lanista
if I remember rightly. We don’t get many of her sort through here. Caused a bit of a fuss.”

Lucius sighed. “That would be her. Can you tell me where she went? Who was she sold to?”

The man thought a little longer before shaking his head. “No, can’t remember. Sorry. We get so many through here it’s hard to remember my own name some days.”

“Perhaps I can help you to remember.” Lucius pulled a coin from his purse. The manager’s eyes lit up at the sight.

“Why yes, now you mention it. I do believe she went to the
luda Livius
. You want a man named Sirom.”

Lucius thanked the man and took his leave.

“Don’t quote me on that!” the man called after his retreating back, his words falling on deaf ears.

Chapter 12

Lucius opened his eyes on an unfamiliar room. Expensive silks spilled like water over the bed frame and onto the floor. Light tumbled gently in the window to pool in the middle of the room. His mother’s house. She’d redecorated since his last visit. He stretched his tired muscles and yawned, taking a moment to appreciate the sensation of the fine linen against his skin. He so rarely returned to Rome these days he’d almost forgotten what luxuries a noble house contained. His mother, Olivia, had only the best. Swinging his feet over the edge of the bed Lucius sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Today was the day he’d finally see Klara and get this whole mess sorted out. With any luck she would be whole and unharmed.

One of the house slaves scurried into the room on hearing Lucius stir, silently presenting him with clean clothes to wear. Words hovered on the edge of Lucius’ lips, words to tell the slave he could dress himself thank you very much. He swallowed them. Out in the world he was simply Lucius but here in Rome he was the son of a Senator and must expect to be treated as such.

Sighing, he allowed the slave to bring him water for washing although he drew the line at being washed. His father might be one of the most powerful men in Rome yet Lucius saw no dignity in being washed like a baby. Taking the sponge from the slave’s hand he gestured for the man to leave. “No need to trouble yourself further. I’ll visit the baths later and I know how to put on a tunic by myself.”

The slave blinked in confusion. “But–”

“Go,” said Lucius. “Go on!” The slave turned and scuttled from the room with lightning speed. Lucius chuckled as he washed his face in the bowl of cool water. Now he’d terrified his mother’s slave he’d go and break his fast with her. Slipping a fine linen tunic over his head and a pair of hand stitched sandals on his feet he sauntered from the guest bedroom into the atrium.

“There you are!” His mother rose from the table and made her way towards him. Neither the harsh morning light nor age diminished her beauty. She gracefully threw her arms about his neck and kissed his cheek. “Look at you! I forget you’re a grown man I see you so rarely.”

“Why do I feel there is a chastisement hidden in that comment?” Lucius kissed his mother and let her lead him towards the table.

“Probably because there is.” His sister Alexandra unfolded herself from her chair at his approach.

“Alex! How you have grown.” He threw his arms wide, inviting a hug.

“You’d know that if we saw you more often.” Alex stepped inside the circle of his arms and hugged him fiercely.

“Don’t you start. I expect you to be on my side.”

“That’s rich of you after you leave me alone here in this horrible city while you ride off on adventures.” Alex pushed her brother away and resumed her seat.

“You’re only a child of fifteen and a girl. How can I take you with me?” Lucius seated himself and a slave brought him a plate full of bread still steaming from the oven.

“Fifteen! You
have
been gone a long time. I turned seventeen three months ago. You really ought to pay more attention.” Alex bit into a fig and Lucius wondered if she imagined biting him with those sharp little teeth.

“I’m sorry I missed your birthday but—”

“Two birthdays, actually.”

“I’m sorry I missed
two
birthdays but I promise to make it up to you now I’m home.” Lucius tore a piece of bread and dipped it in a bowl of honey.

“And how long are you home for?” Olivia laid a hand on her son’s sleeve. “I do hope it’s for awhile.”

Lucius shook his head. “I can make no promises, Mother. Business is brisk and I am needed to oversee it. I’m only back in Rome to take care of an important personal matter and then I will return to the Empire’s frontier.”

“Your father will be most disappointed to hear that.” Olivia sighed and withdrew her hand. “He has such plans for you.”

“Plans I have no wish for myself.” Lucius hoped his tone brooked no argument. The last thing he wanted to do was upset his mother. “Father knows this well.”

“Still, it is not seemly for a son of a Senator to dabble in trade.”

“Mother, you and I both know, as does the whole of Rome, that I am the
illegitimate
son of a great Roman Senator. The only reason Senator Decimus Aurelius acknowledges me publically is I am his only living son. Should there ever be another I would be forgotten in a heartbeat.” Lucius drained his cup and gestured to a slave to replenish it.

“That is not true!” Olivia protested, one slender hand pressed to her heart. “He does so out of love for me, and for you.”

Alex snorted. “And what about me? Don’t I count for anything?”

“Of course not. You’re a girl.” Lucius shot her a sideways glance just in time to see a prune pit aimed at his head come sailing through the air. He ducked and the pit bounced harmlessly to the floor.

“Children! I must protest.” Olivia slapped her palms dramatically on the table in an uncharacteristic show of fierceness. Lucius was only too aware of the iron lurking beneath his mother’s veneer of fragile vulnerability. A freed Circassian slave, and mistress to a Senator, she had need of a great deal of strength and cunning to survive in the cut-throat world of Rome. “Your father means well. It is a difficult situation for everyone. You know he would spend more time with you if only he could.”

“It’s too late for that Mother. Lucius and I are both grown and the time has passed when we needed a father to dangle us on his knee.” Alex folded her arms across her chest, her resentment simmering in her blue eyes.

“I did not come home to argue with you, nor start an argument amongst you.” Lucius turned to his mother. “I must do what I came to do, spend some time with you both and then I will take my leave.”

“What is it you’ve come to do?” Alex asked, leaning forward. “I’m rather curious.”

Lucius appraised his sister for a long moment. Her tumbling blonde locks were caught up in the latest style. She had grown into quite a beauty while he’d been gone yet there was a glimpse of rebelliousness in her eyes which made him uneasy. How much should he tell her? Too little would make her pry and too much would encourage her to interfere.

“I am here to help a friend who found herself in some trouble,” he ventured cautiously.

“A
friend
. And what is this friend’s name? Do I know her?” A sly smile played on the edges of Alex generous mouth.

“I hardly think so. You don’t move in the same circles.”

“If you don’t tell me I will follow you everywhere and find out anyway.” She offered him the full power of her charming smile. Lucius had no doubt she meant every word.

“I can’t be responsible for you running around the streets of Rome unchaperoned.” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair.

“You need a haircut,” said Olivia. “And a trip to the barber is in order.”

He raised his eyebrows at his mother’s suggestion before turning his attention back to his sister. “My friend was enslaved while under my protection and I must do what I can to gain her freedom.”

“Enslaved? Protection? Oh, I can sense a good story here.” Alex clapped her hands and leaned forward. “And are you in love with her?”

Heat flooded Lucius’ face as he struggled to keep a calm countenance.

“You are!” Alex laughed at his obvious discomfort. “You
must
tell me her name. Maybe I can help?”

“Oh, Lucius! You haven’t gone and fallen in love with someone completely unsuitable have you? You know your father—”

“Has plans for me. Yes, Mother, I know. And yes, Mother, I have.” He couldn’t stop grinning. It was true. Every living word he spoke was true. He did love Klara. He’d loved Klara from the moment he’d run into her on the edge of her father’s camp. He’d loved her even as he left her, thinking his love could never be returned. He loved her now more than ever, even as she was enslaved somewhere in the bowels of the Coliseum.

Rising abruptly he knocked his chair over. A slave rushed to pick it up for him. “Sorry,” said Lucius to the slave who bobbed his head nervously. “I’ve got to go,” he said to his mother and sister. “Pressing business.” He winked at Alex and ignored his mother who called plaintively after him.

Striding through his mother’s villa he made a straight line for the front door and out on to the street. The sun had risen in the sky and the citizens of Rome were about their business. A smile lingered on his lips and he whistled a strangled tune causing a stray dog to bark ferociously at him. He loved Klara. He was going to save Klara. Today was going to be a good day.

***

Klara scrambled to her feet and brushed the sand from her legs. Her wrist ached from holding the heavy wooden training sword. The woman she faced was as fierce as any man she had ever encountered in a fight. The gladiatrix took advantage of the situation and charged. A series of blows rained down upon Klara, whose arm reverberated with the force of each one. The wooden practise swords made a particular sound as they connected reminding her of the sound an axe made as it struck a tree. The real swords they would use in the arena would be crafted from iron and capable of splitting them open as easily as an axe cut bark.

Klara blocked the attack, pushing back with all her strength, her hamstrings straining as her heels dug into the ground. Her opponent fell back and Klara took the opportunity to draw a great lungful of breath. Her arms ached, her legs throbbed and bruises were forming all over her body. Soon she would be the colour of a ripe plum. Suddenly fed up with her lot, the unrelenting training, the endless pain, the lack of dignity and freedom, she spun low sweeping the legs out from beneath the other woman, rendering her flat on her back in the sand. The gladiatrix lay winded as Klara placed one foot on the woman’s chest.

“Enough!” shouted the Doctore. He towered over the women, muscles gleaming in the sun. As an ex-gladiator, he had the job of training the gladiatrices in weaponry. He had no name, only the title Doctore. “Go eat.”

Klara threw her wooden sword to one of the young attendants, a boy no more than ten years old. She considered her opponent who had now pushed herself up to a sitting position. The midday sun beat down pressing them into the earth with the force of its heat. Stepping forward Klara offered the woman her hand.

The gladiatrix looked up with slow disdain before spitting at Klara’s palm. Instinct caused Klara to pull her hand away at the last second. The saliva sat in the sand, evaporating quickly in the heat. Klara took a well-aimed kick and sent it back to its owner on a shower of sand. The woman yelped with pain and surprise as grit filled her eyes. Klara turned on her heel and stalked away to find food.

Standing in line waiting for her bowl of unidentifiable slop she trembled with barely concealed rage.
Clearly there is no room for friendship or alliance in this godforsaken place
. She had been here enough days and nights now to see the limited options for gaining freedom. Someone could buy her and set her free—unlikely. She could die, killed in the Coliseum for the delight of the Roman crowd – unpleasant. Or she could win the legendary
rudis
. Every gladiator dreamed of being awarded the small ceremonial sword that only the host of the games could award. The
rudis
was given rarely, in the case of a truly magnificent performance, and meant freedom from a life of fighting. This course seemed the only one worth considering. The only way she could achieve freedom was by her own means.

Klara squared her shoulders back, elongating her spine. The other women mockingly called her the Queen of the Hun because of the proud way she carried herself.
I am Klara. Daughter to Rugila, Tribal Hun Chieftain. If they want a queen, they’ll get one. A queen who would command their death, if necessary
.

BOOK: Barbarian Bride
10.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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