Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss
Volume Two of Jars of Clay
a novella by
by Lee Strauss
Copyright © 2012 Lee Strauss
Cover by Steve Novak
This is a work of fiction and the views expressed herein are
the sole responsibility of the author. Likewise, characters, places and
incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are represented
fictitiously and nay resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual
event or locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
Jars of Clay + Broken Vessels = Romeo and Juliet in Ancient
Jars of Clay (volume 1) and Broken Vessels (volume 2) contain
strong religious themes and scenes of sensuality and violence. Recommended for
ages 15 and up.
*based on a true story*
With no way to prevent Helena from marrying another, Lucius
flees to Rome to seek his fortune and mend his broken heart.
In a loveless marriage with a child to care for, Helena
finds comfort in the most unlikely place--with her brother amongst the
Christians. The religious group is mostly ignored by the Pagan populace, until
the Emperor returns to the city and celebrations are planned. There's a
shortages of criminals for the games and Christians are now sought out for
Fate brings Lucius back to Carthage, where his only wish is
that he will get a glimpse of the girl he still loves. But when he finally sees
Helena, it's under the worse possible circumstance...
Lucius held limply onto the rail with another round of gagging as
vomit spewed from his mouth and overboard, becoming chum for the fish in the
sea. A deep seated moan erupted from his belly as his knees folded beneath him.
Blasius, a shipmate who walked with a limp, tossed him a mop.
His greasy hair was tied back with a piece of string, and a sneer of contempt
crossed his narrow bird-like face.
“If you don’t stop with this filth,” he said, “I’m going to
toss you to the sea gods myself.”
Lucius leaned against the mop like a cane. He breathed deeply
of the briny air, filling his lungs and hoping for respite from the onslaught
of seasickness. But he resisted offering a prayer to the gods for help. They
were of no help to him, and if he were going to get back on his feet, it would
be by his own strength.
He braced himself against the rail and mopped up his filth.
He was glad of one thing: that Helena hadn’t run away with him
after all. This ship was no place for a lady. He could barely manage to take
care of himself, much less her, and in the way that she deserved.
When he’d forced himself to flee from her side that morning
three days ago, his chest had felt like it was on fire. His legs pumped toward
the sea in a failed effort to outrun the torment.
He was glad he’d had the foresight to say his farewells to his
family before he’d delivered breakfast to her, and also to be greeted with some
good fortune when he arrived at the docks. One of Captain Decimius’s three
slaves had died suddenly creating a timely vacancy.
“Your name!” Captain Decimius demanded. He was a tall, bulky
man with legs like cedars from years of balancing on the unsteady ship’s deck.
His bald head glistened with sweat, his face was weather worn with deep lines
creasing his skin like a road map.
“Lucius of the house of Vibius.”
Captain Decimius eyed him critically. “A runaway slave?”
Lucius thrust out his chest. “I am a freed man.”
“Have you traveled the seas before?”
“No, it has not yet been my fortune.”
The swarthy man crossed his arms and peered down his bulbous
nose. “The journey to Rome is not child’s play.”
Lucius, sensing his opportunity slipping, begged, “Captain, I
have labored all my life as the son of a freedman. I’ve worked hard for my
former master and I will work hard for you if you will consider me.”
The captain huffed. “All right, then. However, if you
disappoint me, I’ll have no qualms about tossing you overboard.”
Though Captain Decimus had repeatedly cursed him since and his
crew had continued to laugh and mock him, they had yet to throw him into the
sea. Lucius doubted his luck would continue if he didn’t get his sea legs and
He tied the mop back into the cupboard then sneaked back down
into the darkness of the sleeping quarters, and curled up on his mat.
The next morning, Blasius kicked him in the leg.
“Get up you lazy swine.”
Lucius stood, and though the ship continued to rock and sway,
miraculously, his stomach no longer lurched with the sea. He had new hope that
he could perform his duties without hugging the rails and hurling his
He climbed the wooden steps to the ship’s galley, and for the
first time since boarding he was able to take in his surroundings with a clear
Built from oak and cypress, the round-hull ship was modest in
size and easily manned by a crew of five. Captain Decimius had told him the
prized cargo below deck was a shipment of olive oil stored in amphora, clay
bottle-shaped jars, corked and stacked tightly in the hull. It was Captain and
crew’s responsibility to deliver the shipment to the buyer in Rome unscathed.
Lucius wondered bitterly if the olive oil originated from the Vibius Mill and
if he was accompanying a supply that he himself had pressed.
Captain Decimus and Blasius, who was apparently second in
command, were seated on the port side of a wooden table that was scarred with
knife cuts and candle wax. The two slaves sat at a smaller table on the opposite
side. Lucius hadn’t made it for a meal, and he was uncertain at which table he
should sit. Blasius indicated with a slight tilt of his head that he should
take a spot on the short bench beside him.
One of the slaves sprung from his seat and brought Lucius a
plate of fried kipper and eggs freshly laid by the hens on board. A primal
hunger gripped him. He was aware of nothing else in that moment, only the heady
scent and taste of food and the urgency to fill his empty stomach.
The captain laughed, blasting Lucius with a waft of foul breath
that almost brought his food up again. “You must be feeling better, boy!” he
He picked his pasty yellow teeth with a dirty fingernail.
Lucius tried to focus on his food.
Once his plate was cleaned, he accepted a steaming cup of hot tea.
“So what you running from?” Blasius said.
Lucius shook his head. “Nothing.”
Blasius smirked, his tongue finding a dark gap from a missing
tooth like a fleshy worm peeking out in the light. “You’re not a sailor, that’s
obvious,” he said haughtily. “And you don’t look like an orphaned waif, so what
is it? The law? Family troubles? Love?”
Lucius’s eyes widened slightly at the word love, and Blasius
was quick. “Aha!” He laughed boisterously, and Lucius held back the desire to
punch the fleabag in the mouth.
“It’s love. The boy is running away from a girl. Oh you poor
Lucius stood quickly, turning his bench over backward. He
turned to the captain, ignoring Blasius’s mockery. “I’ll be on deck attending
to my duties.”
The captain shrugged, amused. “It’s about time.”
The days were long and lonely, and Lucius regrettably had
plenty of time to think about Helena. The nights were worse. He’d lie on his
back, his eyes scanning the black skies, the stars and the moon taunting him.
He failed shamefully to do that which he’d set out to do: banish all thoughts
of her. On the black screen of his mind, she was the North Star, her beauty
taunting—the sparkle in her eyes, the dimple in her smile, the way her auburn
hair fell in waves on her creamy shoulders.
Their last night together as he wrapped his arms around her,
her back pressed into his chest, his chin tucked into her neck—the memory was
both a soft blanket and a thousand lashes.
Lucius turned onto his side, his hip bone digging painfully into
the wooden cot that was his bed. The ship was lilting heavily and he shot his
arm out against the wall to brace himself. The ship rocked violently again,
throwing Lucius back from the wall and onto the floor.
Suddenly the Captain’s raspy voice rose from within the
darkness. “All hands on deck!"
The storm had blown in from the north without warning.
The crew worked proficiently with the ropes, lowering the mast.
Lucius felt like he had ten thumbs, uncertain what to do and fighting a rising
sense of panic. Frigid water sheeted over the rails drenching them all.
Adrenaline kept Lucius from dropping to the deck in a frozen, crippled heap.
The angry storm was insanely loud, and Lucius could barely hear
the captain’s instructions, though his curses pierced through the roar. The bow
and stern jerked back and forth like a child’s rocking horse, and Lucius’s once
stable stomach heaved again. Salty spray stung his eyes as he bailed the water
that threatened to sink the craft. His arms and legs burned as he hefted heavy
buckets. The slippery deck made keeping his balance impossible.
Thrown precariously close to the rails, Lucius thought the gods
would do what the captain had not— thrown him overboard. Bile and a sour taste
of the evening’s dinner burned his throat. He had never felt so miserable and
death seemed a welcome relief. Maybe he should just offer himself up to the
gods in sacrifice. Captain Decimus would save his cargo, and he would be at
peace in the underworld.
But the gods refused. As quickly as the storm rose up, it
passed. The wind calmed and the rocking slowed. With trembling legs Lucius
joined the others, scooping water and mopping the deck, and repairing ropes and
In the morning he spotted land, and relief overwhelmed him.
Soon this nightmarish trip would end and his new life would begin. Once he had
helped to unload the cargo at the harbor in Ostia, he gathered his pay and
caught the next carriage to Rome.
As was his normal routine, Cassius paused midday from the work
he did alongside his father to go into town. He was never missed, as Brutus
often rested during the heat of the day.
He walked swiftly past the theater and amphitheater, with the
strength and agility of a man in his youth. His garments were of the highest quality,
and he basked in the prestige and honor that was extended to him by virtue of
his family name.
It was a feeling he enjoyed immensely, the nods of respect and
recognition given by fellow patricians and the deference given to him by the plebeian,
or the common people.
However, his gait of confidence this day gave way to a slight
stooping of the shoulders. He was weighed heavily by the burden of truth, a
perturbing truth concerning the affairs of the one he loved.
How could he have not noticed it before? Surely she must have
given him some sign, some hint of her true identity?
Her smile was unfailingly bright and genuine, he thought, and
when she spoke to him, she never flirted, or made unbecoming suggestions like
other girls he knew. She and her family had an impeccable reputation for sound
business practice; they never tipped the scales.
Yet, how he had missed the fact that he had never spotted her
or her family at any of the temples or festivals? Of course, Carthage was a
large city, and it would be understandable to go weeks, even months, without
seeing everyone one knew.
But during the summer festival, it was unmistakable.
Priscilla’s house was left undecorated. It could only mean one thing, and
although he should have roused up the courage to confront her about it before
now, his frustration and concern for her piqued his emotions. It was his
intention to speak to her of it today. He rounded the corner of Cardo V, and
she was there with the cart of produce, as she was on most days.
“Hello,” she said, then when Cassius refused to return her
smile, she added, “Is anything wrong?”
“Priscilla, would you count me among your friends?”
To call himself her friend was a huge presumption on his part.
Their acquaintance revolved solely around the short interactions they engaged
in as he bought his piece of fruit each day. He was pleased when she didn’t
hesitate to respond.
“Of course, Cassius. What is troubling you?”
“Can we speak in private?”
She hesitated then said, “Just a moment.” Priscilla went over
to her mother, spoke softly, and returned.
“Let’s go inside.”
Cassius allowed himself to be led, but cautiously scouted the
streets both ways, not wanting to be seen entering the home of a plebeian. If
Priscilla noticed she made no gesture to indicate it.