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Authors: A.L. Jambor

Pello Island: Cassia (7 page)

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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Quintus didn’t want to get the dust on his clothes onto Cassia, so he gently kissed the top of her head.

“I love you, my girl,” he said, as he smiled down at her.

She smiled back as always, glad to hear those words.  Cassia’s heart was good, but Flavius thought it was too good.  She merely accepted the awful things that happened to her as a part of a normal life.  A girl in Rome was her father’s property.  Even when she married, she still belonged to her father and he still had power over her.  Cassia had been raised to believe this, as had all the girls of Rome.  As Flavius looked at her dressed in her bridal finery, he still couldn’t believe that someone so precious could be sold for so little by someone professing to love her.

As Quintus walked through the atrium, he could see Agatha lying half on the floor and half on the couch.  Her gown was pulled up around her bottom, and her legs were spread open.  She was still drunk from the night before.  Quintus looked at her in disgust.  He would have to consider divorcing her after he had Cassia safely married to Cicero Gaius.  Then he could take a younger bride, one who might present him with a son.  He summoned a servant to prepare his bath and went to his room to disrobe.

Cassia sat in the shop with Flavius and Novia.  She was quite anxious.  Without Flavius and Novia, she didn’t know if she’d survive.  Novia reached out for her hand and could feel her shaking.

“Will you come with me in the litter?”  Cassia asked her.

“If your father will let me, I will.”  Novia kept holding in the tears.  There would be plenty of time for that later.  Right now she had to be strong for Cassia.

Cassia could see the litters arriving in front of the shop.  She held Novia’s hand harder, and now grabbed Flavius’ as well.  She was shaking all over.  Quintus came into the shop dressed in his finest linen toga.  He clapped his hands.  As he grabbed Cassia’s hand, he could feel her shaking and saw her lower lip trembling.

“What’s this?  Oh, no, dear girl.  This is a day to celebrate.  Cicero Gaius is a good man.  He’ll treat you well, I promise.” His face grew serious.  “Please, don’t do this, Cassia.”

“Why, because it makes you feel guilty?” Flavius said.  When Quintus looked at him, Flavius stared right back.  His look was hard, making Quintus feel ashamed.

“You watch yourself, Flavius.  You have a good life here.  Don’t jeopardize it.”  Quintus stared at Flavius, waiting for the other man to back down, but he didn’t.

“Well, we have to go now.  Come, Cassia.”

Cassia clung to Novia.  

“Cassia, we must be going,” he said, pulling her arm.  “Woman, let go of her.”

“I’m not holding her!” Novia cried.

Quintus reached for Cassia’s other hand and pulled her from the shop.  He lifted her into the litter while she struggled to get out.

“No, father, please, don’t make me marry him.  I refuse!  He is of bad character.  I won’t marry him.”

Quintus looked at her in amazement.  She’d never defied him before.  They were in the street with people watching, and what she was saying was true.  If Cicero Gaius was found to be of bad character, she could refuse him.  Quintus knew full well that Cicero Gaius was of bad character, but he’d deluded himself into believing that Cassia’s goodness would change him.  It was the only way he could go through with the marriage.  Now he could see his dreams slipping away, and he would have none of it.

“You are my daughter and you will do as I say!”  He pushed her into the litter and told the carriers to go, that he would follow.

Cassia sobbed into the pillows lining the litter.  She was so heartbroken.  Why would her father do this to her?  In all her twelve years, she had never been without her family - Novia and Flavius.  Cicero Gaius was a pig of a man.  As she thought about her father, a small ball of hate began to form in Cassia’s heart, but she cast it aside.  She didn’t want to hate Quintus, no matter how he treated her.  Hate just didn’t feel right in her body.

The trip to Palatine Hill took a blessedly long time.  Cassia tried to look at the people she passed to take her mind off what was happening to her.  Some would turn and stare at her, thinking she was someone important.  She tried to smile.

Cassia ran her hand over the silk of the dress she wore and marveled at its softness.  She felt the jewelry on her body and thought about the money spent on this one outfit.  She could have helped so many people with that money.

Cassia remembered a time when she was only eight years old and working in the shop with Flavius.  She was sweeping the doorstep when she noticed a woman across the road, sitting against a wall.  She was crying, and Cassia walked over to ask her what was wrong.  As she came closer, she saw a small bundle at the woman’s feet.  The bundle was moving.

“Why are you crying?” she asked the woman.

The woman looked at her and leaned into the wall.  

“It’s okay, I mean you no harm.”  Cassia squatted down to be level with the woman’s eyes.  “May I look at your baby?” she asked.

The woman softened and said yes.  Cassia pulled back the swaddling and saw the tiniest baby she had ever seen.  It looked very pale and thin, and it didn’t cry.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked.

“It’s a girl.  My people left her out to die by the river.  I took her and ran away.  I have no money and I haven’t eaten.  I have no milk for her.”  The woman began to cry.

Cassia knew some people left babies out to die, but she’d never seen one before.

“I have food.  I’ll bring it out to you.”

Cassia turned and ran to the shop.  She took the fruit and bread she’d bought for her lunch and took it to the woman.  Flavius saw her running out the door and watched after her.  He watched her give the woman the food.

“I’ll bring you more tomorrow,” she told the woman.  “What’s your name?”

“Livia,” the woman said.  She grabbed the bread and ate it fast.  “Do you have some water?” she asked Cassia.

Cassia ran into the shop and got a cup.  She filled it with Flavius’ water jug and took it to Livia.  Livia gulped the water down.

“I should make milk now.”  She took some water and spit it into the baby’s mouth, and it ran down her cheeks.

“What’s her name?”  Cassia asked.

“I wanted to call her Dulcia,” Livia replied.

“She’ll get better.  I know she will.  We have to find you a place to live.”  Cassia smiled at Livia.

“You’re so kind.” Livia smiled too.  Her hopelessness began to lift.

Flavius had called her back to the shop, and she told Livia she would see her the next day.  Livia thanked her and waved to Cassia.

The next morning when Cassia looked for Livia, she saw the bundle on the street, alone.  She ran over to the bundle and pulled back the swaddling.  The baby was white and cold.  Cassia began to cry.  Flavius ran over to her and pulled her away from the baby.

“Don’t touch it,” he yelled.  “Did you touch it?”  He turned her around and looked at her.  She shook her head.  “The guards will take care of it, Cassia.  Come back to the shop.”

Cassia had continued to cry the rest of the day.  She’d never seen a dead person, let alone a dead baby, and she was very distraught.  Flavius called Novia into the shop and told her to take Cassia home.  For weeks afterward, Cassia had dreamt about the baby’s cold dead face.

Now she was on her way to her new home.  Would she have a baby herself?  She couldn’t imagine fat old Cicero Gaius on top of her as Novia had told her he would be.  He would kill her!  Her stomach began to feel sick.

She heard one of the carriers say the Palatine was up ahead and she stuck her head out the side of the litter to look.  The Palatine was beautiful, with villas covering the hill.  She wished she was just visiting so she could enjoy seeing it.

The litters pulled up in front of Cicero Gaius’ villa.  There was a great deal of noise coming from the house, and guards were posted at the door.  Quintus exited the litter and looked at the house with disgust.

“Surely they haven’t started the celebration without the bride,” he said.

Quintus walked over to the door and rang the bell.  A tall male slave answered the ring.  He had a strange look on his face when he saw the two litters.

“Where is your master?”  Quintus asked him.

The slave still didn’t answer.

“What’s wrong with you?”  Quintus yelled.

“Sir, it’s just that, well, we weren’t expecting anyone.  Sir, the master’s dead.”


Quintus' Moment on the Palatine

Quintus stared at the slave.  After standing there for what seemed like an eternity, Quintus pushed past the slave and entered Cicero Gaius’ villa.

The house was in a state of utter chaos.  The atrium was dark and littered with debris.  There were people sleeping wherever they had fallen the night before.  He quickly walked toward the back of the house.

The body of Cicero Gaius had been placed on a large dining table.  It had taken many slaves to hoist it up there.  Quintus saw dried blood caked around the clean red line cut into Cicero Gaius’ neck and realized that the big man had been murdered.

The dining chairs had been pushed to the wall and Quintus fell into one.  He couldn’t take his eyes off the body.

Cassia was waiting for Quintus to collect her and present her to her new husband.  She was feeling very sick, and she asked the litter bearers to let her down. When they did, she ran to the bushes and vomited violently.  Mindful of her dress, she held on to the branches to steady her legs.  She was holding onto the branches when she heard her father call her name.  She quickly wiped her mouth.

“Cassia, come,” he yelled.  Cassia walked over to her father.  “We’re going home.”

Cassia stopped.  Had Cicero Gaius rejected her?  If so, then her father would be very angry.  She hadn’t been able to read her father’s mood and he’d already entered his litter.

Cassia climbed into her litter and the bearers lifted her up.  As she was carried away from the house of Cicero Gaius, the realization that she wasn’t getting married today struck her and her heart exploded with joy.  All the way to the Vicus Raciliani Maioris she thanked and praised Juno for the goddess’s intervention.

Flavius saw the litters arrive in front of the shop and ran to the door.  He saw his little Cassia and smiled.  He also saw the look on Quintus’ face and suppressed the smile.  He would have to look appropriately serious.  Amatus had arrived earlier and he, too, ran to the front of the shop.

Cassia ran to Flavius and hugged him.  She then saw Amatus and almost hugged him, too, but caught herself.  She was standing in front of him when Quintus entered the shop.

“It was a dreadful thing, Flavius, simply dreadful.  Cicero Gaius is dead.  Someone slit his throat last night.”

Flavius shook his head and feigned surprise.  Cassia looked into Amatus’ eyes.  Did he do this?  Amatus, reading the accusation in her eyes, shook his head no.  He looked at Flavius, and she followed his gaze. Of course, it was Flavius, she thought.  She knew he loved her, but to kill for her…

As he stood there watching Quintus and Flavius discussing the demise of Cicero Gaius, Amatus conceived a brilliant plan.  It came to him so quickly that it took him by surprise, yet it was the best idea he’d ever had in his life.

He decided to tell his acquaintances at the river about Quintus’ young, beautiful and cursed daughter.  He had no doubt the superstitious Romans would believe him.  He would tell them that any man betrothed to sweet Cassia would die a horrible death, unless he was truly in love with her.  Since nobility never married for love, he had no doubt his curse would be effective.  Amatus would mention Cicero Gaius’ murder and embellish the details to make it truly gruesome.  To ensure that nobility of Rome were aware of the curse, he would also spread the rumor at the Forum.  Amatus felt so proud of his plan that he almost told Cassia about it.  He truly believed that the curse would save her from ever being trapped into another arranged marriage to satisfy Quintus’ lust for power.  Amatus bade Cassia goodbye and left the shop.

Quintus went into his house to grieve the loss of Cicero Gaius.  Cassia approached Flavius and looked into his eyes, biting her lower lip.  Flavius had killed Cicero Gaius to protect her.  She was filled with the mixed emotions of gratitude and fear.  What if the guards found out he’d killed a nobleman?

“Not to worry, my little Cassia.  You’re safe now.”  Flavius wrapped his arms around Cassia’s tiny frame.  She could hear his heartbeat, and it gave her comfort.  Suddenly she looked up at him.

“I have to tell Novia!” she exclaimed.

Cassia broke away from Flavius and ran into the house.  She could see Quintus standing over Agatha, so  she stopped and hid behind a column.  Quintus had his belt in his hand and was beating Agatha with it.  All the disappointment and rage he felt was being purged as he beat his dissolute wife.  Agatha whimpered and begged, but he wouldn’t stop.  Cassia was unable to move.  She’d never seen Quintus like this before.

Novia, standing at the door of the kitchen, saw Cassia and her heart filled with joy.  She wanted to bring the girl away from the scene by the couch, but she was afraid to catch Quintus’ attention.  She and Cassia exchanged glances while Quintus whaled on Agatha.

Agatha had stopped whimpering.  She wasn’t fighting or moving anymore.  Quintus had spent his rage and stopped hitting her.  He left her lying on the floor and called a slave to prepare a meal.  

Cassia cautiously approached her mother.  Agatha was bleeding.  She had red welts covering her arms and legs. Her face had been struck so violently that it was unrecognizable.  The white lead makeup she’d used was smeared and mixed with blood.  Cassia bent down and touched her, and her skin felt cold.  Novia had run over to Cassia and put her arm around her.

 “Come, Cassia, come away.”  She took the girl to her room.  “Stay here,” Novia said and left her alone.

Novia went to Agatha.  She picked up her wrist and felt no pulse.  She pulled back her eyelids and saw no life in Agatha’s eyes.  Novia backed away from the body.  She didn’t know what to do.  Quintus had killed her.

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
5.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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