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Authors: A.L. Jambor

Pello Island: Cassia (6 page)

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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“Can I get you anything?” she asked.  He was sitting alone in a booth in a dark corner of the lounge, waiting for Janus.  For the first time in a very long time, he had dreamt about the girl at the river, the one Cicero Gaius had killed.  Why were the Roman memories so clear?  It was starting to bug the hell out of him.

Amatus had been so sure about things then.  He was in love with Cassia, and he believed that if he worked hard enough to build his business, her father would one day allow him to marry her.  It was the one thing that kept him going.  Then Darius came along and everything changed.

For two thousand years, Darius had kept them all prisoners of the ongoing, endless loop created by a drunken god’s miscalculations.  Amatus had given up all hope of one day completing his life.  He didn’t trust Darius to do the right thing, ever, and had decided to live on his own from now on.  He wouldn’t abandon them financially, only physically.  If Cassia called, he would answer, but only if she called.

Amatus could see Janus walking toward him.  Of course, he had to stop and chat up the waitresses on the way.  Amatus smiled.  At least some things stayed the same.

“So, Barnaby is it, you’re looking good there, buddy,” Janus said as he slid into the booth.  “Could you have picked a darker spot?”

“I like the dark.  Besides, we don’t want anybody hearing us, do we?”

“You’ve always been paranoid, Barnaby.”

“Just cautious, Janus.  So, what’s up with Dulcia?  Has she surfaced yet?”

“Morta has her under wraps; that’s all I know.”

“Bullshit, Janus, you know everything about what goes on, you always have.  Don’t give me that crap about her being under wraps.”

“Look, buddy, I really don’t know where she is.  I think they’re afraid I’ll spill the beans.  Anyway, it’s not your problem, is it?  From what I hear, you’re sitting this one out.”

Amatus sat back, swirling his drink.  Yes, he had planned to sit this one out, but he hated not knowing what was going on.  He started drumming his fingers on the table.

“So, then, if he doesn’t get there in time, I just die again, right?”

“Not this time.  Apparently, the Big Guy has given Morta an ultimatum.  It works out this time or we’re all locked away in Hades for eternity.”

Amatus looked at Janus.

“Bullshit,” he said, “how could he do that?  We had nothing to do with what happened.  We’re all victims of his dimwitted brother’s stupidity.”

“Yeah, but we upset the balance of things, remember?”

“Oh, shut up.  If I hear that one more time…”

“I couldn’t resist.  Anyway, the sisters have it worked out.  Darius can’t fail this time.  I think it’s out of his hands and in Cassia’s.”

“Yeah, she told me about the marriage thing.  Why does she have to marry him?”

“I’ve been thinking about that one.  Why do gay people want to get married?  There are certain rights and privileges that go along with being married.  I’m not sure how that applies here, but it’s the only thing I can think of.”  Janus took a hit off his drink.  “You coming back for Christmas?”

“I told Cassia I would, but I don’t feel like it.  But, in the end, I’ll be there.”

They sat and listened to the sad little three-piece band as it played a mournful rendition of “Cry Me a River.”

“Jeez, this must be a hot place for depressives,” Janus said, as he put his finger to his head and pulled the trigger.

Amatus smiled and placed an imaginary noose around his neck and pulled, sticking his tongue out.

“Let’s get out of here, Barnaby, old pal.  There’s a great place down the road with faster music and obliging women.”

“That actually sounds like a good idea.  How long are you staying this time?”

“Morta gave me the week off.  I have to go to Russia, of all places; I have to see one of your former compatriots.”

“Really, who?”

Janus hesitated for a moment, not sure he wanted to talk about her.  

“Janus, you’re stalling.”

“It’s Antonia.”

“Really?  She’s still kicking around?”

“Yeah, she’s in Russia.  She’s pregnant, due any day now.  If she lives long enough to raise this one, she’ll go on.  It will finally be over for her.”

“Doesn’t she keep getting killed?  I mean, it doesn’t surprise me, she was such a sweetheart,” Amatus said sarcastically.

“You never really knew her, Barnaby.  She wasn’t that bad.”

“Yeah, just misunderstood.  The bitch knew how I felt about Cassia, and she still came on to me.  She was doing Darius, for God’s sake.”

“She was a prostitute, Barnaby, she was doing everybody.”

“Did she do you, too, Janus?”

“Let’s change the subject.”

Janus looked uncomfortable, and Amatus knew he’d hit a nerve.  He knew Janus had had a fling with Antonia sometime in the last fifty years, and it must still sting that the husband of the year cheated on his beloved Rhea.  

“Sorry, Janus.”

“Yeah, well…what do you say we get the check?”

Amatus signaled the waitress, who brought them the check.  He left money and a generous tip, and then he and Janus headed toward the loud music and obliging women.

 

For the Love of Little Cassia

Flavius secured the door to the shop and went to his room.  The room was built in a small space between the entrance to Quintus’ house and the back of the shop.  It contained a bed and a table, with one chair pushed against the wall.  Another small table sat next to the bed where a small oil lamp sat, and a third table held a small water jug and a bowl for washing.  There was a small shelf above it.

Flavius closed the door to his room and walked over to his bed.  He lifted the pallet off the frame.  Underneath was an old dagger that Flavius had kept from his military service.  It was old and rusty, with a long thin blade.

Flavius picked up the dagger and put it on the table, and took a sharpening stone off the shelf.  He checked his water jug and found it was half full.  He poured the contents of the jug into the bowl and began to scrape the rust off the blade.  As the rust disappeared, gleaming metal showed through.  The dagger still had enough meat on it for the job.

When he was finished honing the blade, Flavius examined it closely for any signs of imperfection.  When he was satisfied, he took a piece of cloth and wrapped it around the blade of the dagger.  He stuck the knife in his coin pouch and tied it to his belt.

Flavius waited until it was very late before heading to Palatine Hill.  He hoped Amatus’ description had been accurate as he didn’t like the idea of wandering over the Palatine all night.  He passed a guard patrolling a street two blocks over.  Some of the guards knew Flavius from the shop and they were on friendly terms.  For his purposes, he hoped he wouldn’t see one tonight at the Palatine.

It seemed to take forever, but he finally saw the Hill coming into view.  It was very dark, with an overcast sky concealing the moon.

Flavius walked right up to the first house and casually strolled into the courtyard.  He could hear music and laughter coming from inside.  If anyone asked, he would say he had been hired to help in the kitchen.  As he passed the windows, he found the atrium.  He wondered if this was the same party Amatus had witnessed.  On a couch at the far side of the room he saw the host.  He recognized the fat old bastard as Quintus’ dinner guest.  The other guests were quite drunk and preoccupied with the pleasures of the flesh.

Flavius doubled back to the kitchen and climbed through a window.  The slaves were busy, so he went in undetected.  Flavius saw a row of platters lining one of the tables and picked one up.  He then walked to the main hall.

The smell in the hall took his breath away.  The odor of vomit and urine combined with unwashed bodies made him gag.  All around the room were groups of three or more intertwined, while others were dancing, and still others laughed and ate.  He made his way through the writhing bodies to the other side of the room, where he put the tray down on a side table and approached the host.

Cicero Gaius was snoring loudly.  His head was back, exposing his flabby neck, and his toga was covered with food and wine.  Flavius’ fury grew.  As he looked at Cicero Gaius, he still couldn’t believe that Quintus had ever considered giving that sweet girl to him in marriage.  He stayed calm.  He knew if he let his emotions guide him, he would make a mistake.  His military training was serving him well.

The couch was near the wall, but there was just enough space for Flavius to slide behind it.  He looked around the room.  No one was watching him; he was just another slave.  Flavius slowly slipped behind the couch.  The smell of Cicero Gaius was beyond description, so Flavius breathed through his mouth.

He kept his eyes on the room as he took the dagger out of his coin pouch and unwrapped it.  He couldn’t see a slave or a guard anywhere in sight, though he doubted any of them would have cared.  He took one more look around the room before placing the dagger on Cicero Gaius’ neck and swiftly moving the blade across his throat.  Blood spurted out and Cicero Gaius made a gurgling sound, but he was so drunk he didn’t wake up.

Flavius slipped out from behind the couch, looked around, and left the room.  No one screamed or called after him.  He climbed out a window in the hallway and walked toward the street.

When he got outside, Flavius cleaned the dagger on the grass, wrapped it in the cloth, and put it back in his coin pouch.  He still hadn’t heard anyone scream.  He walked to the road and kept a leisurely pace as he walked through the city.  

When Flavius reached the shop, he went to his room, took the knife out of his coin pouch, washed it, and placed it under his pallet.  The cloth was stained with blood so he put it in the bowl and burned it.    

Quintus would be here in the morning, so Flavius decided he’d better get some sleep.  When he lay down on his pallet, he could feel the shape of the knife under his back and he smiled as he drifted off to sleep.

 

 

Cassia woke up with a start—this was to be her wedding day.  The day before, she and Novia had gone to the Temple of Juno to give an offering and make a sacrifice.  She had prayed to Juno to save her from this horrible marriage.  Cassia asked Novia if she believed the goddess had heard her.  A strong believer, Novia had her doubts, but she didn’t tell Cassia.  She merely said that yes, she believed Juno had heard her and would answer her, even if the answer was no.  They walked home slowly, trying to keep time from passing too quickly.

Cassia hadn’t slept well and now the full realization of what was to happen fell upon her. Novia came into her room and sat on the bed, taking Cassia’s hand in hers.

“Your father will be home soon.  You won’t have to go to Cicero Gaius’ until he arrives.  Why don’t we spend some time with Flavius?”

Novia smiled, trying to hide her pain from Cassia.  Cassia smiled too.  

“Yes, please, I’ll miss him terribly.  You’ll come with me to Cicero Gaius’ won’t you, Novia?”

Novia shook her head.  “I’ve been told they have plenty of servants and won’t be needing me.”

A wave of fear flowed through Cassia.  She was meant to go there alone.

“But why?  What difference would it make if you came with me?  You’re my ladies’ maid.”

“Your mother has forbidden it.”

Cassia bit her lower lip.  She had such a look of sadness on her face that Novia almost began to cry.

“Why does she hate me so, Novia?”

Novia had no answer. “Come, let’s get you dressed.”

She dressed Cassia in her finest silk gown.  She braided her hair and put on her finest jewelry.  When she stepped back and looked at Cassia, tears welled in her eyes.

“You look so grown up,” she cried.

Cassia put her arms around Novia and held her tightly.

“I’ll visit you and Flavius, I promise I will.”  Cassia was crying now, too.  

The two women walked arm in arm through the atrium.  Agatha was asleep on a couch, so they walked by quietly since neither wanted to wake her.  They went into the shop, where they could hear Flavius sweeping the floor and walked toward the sound.  When he saw them, he smiled.

“You look like a princess,” he said.

“It’s my bridal dress,” Cassia said sadly.

“Don’t be so sad, Princess.  I have a feeling this may turn out to be one of the best days you’ve ever had.”

 

Cassia's Wedding Day

Quintus arrived at midday.  He smiled broadly when he saw Cassia dressed in her finery.  Today he would finally achieve his dream of joining the nobility.  He would dine in the fine houses on Palatine Hill and be greeted by senators in the Forum.  His shop would rise in prestige, bringing in a better class of patrons.  If it hadn’t been for his beautiful daughter, none of this would have been possible.

Flavius was watching Quintus gloat over Cassia.  What a hypocrite, he thought as he watched Quintus fawn over her.  Just wait until you hear the news.  Flavius smiled.  He wished he could be there when Quintus heard of Cicero Gaius death.

“I’ve hired two litters to bear us to Palatine Hill,” Quintus said.  “After I bathe we’ll go there, and I’ll present you to your new husband.”

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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