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Authors: A.L. Jambor

Pello Island: Cassia (9 page)

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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Cassia put her feet on the floor.  Her back was stiff from working on the spindle.  Her father still fostered dreams of Cassia marrying into a noble family, even though she was 15 years of age today.  Her mother had been married three years by that time.  Cassia rarely thought of her mother, but when she did, it was with deep sadness and regret.  Cassia shook her head, forcing the image of Agatha’s lifeless body out of her mind.  She stood up and walked over to the window.

Cassia looked out into the courtyard she shared with several other domus.  She could see the slaves tending the gardens.  Cassia had talked her father into freeing their slaves and keeping them on as hired servants. Quintus hadn’t liked the idea, but he still felt ashamed.  Since that day three years ago, Quintus had tried to atone for his misjudgment and the consequences of his anger.  Any request Cassia made of him he granted.  Cassia was aware of Quintus’ efforts and tried not to take advantage of him.  She loved her father despite everything, and she still wanted to please him.

She breathed in the morning air as she leaned on the edge of the window. Cassia loved watching the birds fly around the courtyard; they seemed so carefree.  Novia entered her room and broke her reverie.

“Cassia, we really must be going,” she said.

Novia walked over to Cassia and pulled her away from the window.  She helped Cassia change her dress, and then fixed her hair.  When Novia was satisfied, they walked through the atrium toward the shop.  Cassia would always glance at the place where Agatha had fallen.  There was a table there now and a new couch pushed up against the far wall.  The two women hurried to the shop and passed Flavius filling the spice jars.

“Good morning, Flavius!”  Cassia called as they left the shop.  For a woman of advanced years, Novia could walk extremely fast, and Cassia wanted to stroll to the Forum while gazing into shop windows as they passed.

Cassia felt so constrained by her life.  The only places she ever went to were the Forum and the Temple, and even at the Forum they only shopped for food.  She knew that if she were married, she would have more freedom, but she was loath to bring up the subject. Quintus’ single-mindedness regarding the nobility made any other choice of a husband unthinkable.  So, every day she would walk to the Forum with Novia, trailing behind and hoping to catch a glimpse of something new and exciting.

“Stay with me, Cassia, or I’ll make you hold my hand like a child.”

Even though Cassia was now in charge of the household, she still deferred to Novia.  Without the presence of a strong matriarch, Novia had taken to forgetting her place as a servant and would issue orders, even when Cassia was present.  Quintus had witnessed one such display and had taken Novia to task for it.  She’d apologized and humbled herself, and Quintus had forgiven her.  But she’d soon forgotten his admonitions and begun issuing orders once again.  Cassia didn’t really mind Novia taking over the household duties as it gave her more time to daydream.

As she trailed along behind Novia, they entered the Forum.  The crowds had thinned out and Novia frowned.

“We’re too late.  The best will already be gone.  We’ll have to settle for the leftovers,” she said.

“Oh, Novia, we’ve never had to before.  Come, let’s go to Amatus’ first.”

Cassia grabbed Novia’s hand and pulled her to the last in a long line of carts.  Amatus had earned enough to rent the spot, and every day he wheeled his cart to the Forum with fresh fish.  His business was growing every day as people learned he was a man to be trusted.  Amatus was fair, and would often give fish to the poor.  Cassia smiled as she approached his cart.

“Amatus!” she yelled.  Amatus looked up and smiled broadly when he saw her.  Amatus was 18 now, with broad shoulders, a large chest and arms well-muscled from pulling in the heavy nets of fish.  He was tall, and his wavy brown hair reached his shoulders.  The skin beneath his blue eyes was already lined from hours spent working under the sun.  Cassia pulled Novia to the cart and looked for the fish.

“Amatus, there’s nothing left!” she exclaimed.

“Isn’t it amazing?  I’m selling out earlier every day.”  He was beaming.

“But that means we don’t get any of your lovely fish.”  Cassia frowned.  “What’ll we do now?”

“We’ll go to another stand,” Novia said.

Cassia glanced over at her and narrowed her eyes.  She then turned back to Amatus.

“Amatus, how’s your family?”

Amatus had four brothers and two sisters.  They all lived in a one-room shack on the riverbank.  Amatus was saving money to build his own shack.  He hoped to buy a home one day on the Vicus Raciliani Maioris, where Quintus had built his domus.  Maybe then Quintus would believe he was truly worthy of Cassia’s hand.

“My brothers are all working the nets now.  My sisters have been married off; it’s just my brothers now.  But it’s still crowded in there,” he laughed.  Cassia smiled and shook her head. She marveled at Amatus’ attitude.  He had nothing, yet he always found something to laugh at.  She didn’t think that she would be so content living in a shack with six other people.

“I’m glad your sisters are gone.  There must be more room now,” Cassia said.

“I sleep on the beach anyway.  I always like to look at the stars.”

Novia took Cassia’s hand.  The conversation was becoming a bit too personal.

“We have to go, Amatus.  Please stop by the shop.  Flavius would love to see you,” Cassia called as Novia pulled her away.  She waved goodbye to Amatus, who waved in return.  Long after she had walked away, he looked in her direction, hoping to catch a glimpse of her walking through the Forum.

“We have to visit the Temple today,” Novia said.  “I have to make a sacrifice to Juno.”

“Why, Juno, Novia?”  Novia fell silent.  She wasn’t sure she was ready to share her news with Cassia yet.  “Novia, did you hear me?”

“Yes Cassia, I heard you.  I,…well, Flavius and I have decided to marry.”

Cassia stopped walking.  She turned to Novia and threw her arms around her neck.  

“Oh, Novia, I’m so happy for you.”

Novia blushed. “We’ve saved enough money and…we’re moving out of Rome.  Flavius wants to grow grapes and make wine.”

“But, you’re too old.  How will you survive? Where will you live?”

“We’re going north, to Florentia.  And there’s still life enough left in us, thank you.”  Novia looked down her nose at Cassia.

Cassia’s spirits fell.  She’d never been without Novia or Flavius, and she couldn’t imagine her life without them.

“When are you leaving?” she asked quietly.

“After the Saturnalia festival; Flavius is approaching your father tonight. That’s why I have to make a sacrifice.”

After Novia made her offering to Juno, the two women slowly walked home.  Cassia was thinking that the festival would come too soon.

 

 

As Cassia was mourning the loss of her lifelong companions, her father was waiting for his cousin Cletus at a seedy tavern Cletes frequented.  He was desperate to find a nobleman willing to marry his daughter, and Cletes, as a moneylender’s henchman, would surely know of a poor, desperate aristocrat, hopefully one who wasn’t aware of “the curse.”

 

 Quintus Seeks a Nobleman

The tavern was in a bad part of the city, a part of Rome Quintus would’ve just as soon forgotten existed. Quintus was growing impatient.  He would give Cletus one more hour, and then he’d go home.

Quintus could see a group of men throwing dice in the back of the tavern.  He knew that many of them were in debt to Cletus’ employer, Leonides.  He watched the young men throw the dice again and again.  It didn’t occur to him that the men in this place, noble or not, were of the same bad character as Cicero Gaius, else why would they be in this place?  Quintus’ blind spot with regard to the aristocrats of Rome continued to amaze Flavius, who had tried to discourage him from consulting Cletus.  But Quintus was growing desperate.  Cassia was fifteen now and getting older every day.  He had to find someone soon, or he would never break bread with a patrician.

Cletus was Quintus’ cousin from his mother’s side of the family.  He was a dirty man who seldom bathed and never brushed his teeth.  He reeked of an odor so foul that when he confronted his employer’s debtors, they would promise him anything to keep him at a distance.  They all feared his smell was contagious.

Leonides was a low-level moneylender who preyed on the tavern’s gamblers.  Cletus worked cheap, and Leonides always got paid with very little trouble.  Every morning, Cletus would go to the tavern to meet Leonides.  Leonides, a mask protecting his nose from Cletus’ rank odor, would tell him who owed money and how much, and dispatch Cletus to do his worst.  At the end of the day, they would meet again and Cletus always had a pouch full of money.

Today Cletus had been sent to another part of town.  A young aristocrat hadn’t paid, so Cletus was visiting his father.  The patriarchs of these noble families would pay quickly to get Cletus out of their courtyards.  The aristocrat’s father had paid, and Cletus stopped at the tavern on his way home.

He saw Quintus sitting at a table drinking cerevisia, a sort of beer.  He look worried, which warmed Cletus’ heart.  He hated his cousin, who he felt had too high an opinion of himself and looked down on the rest of the family.  He’d looked for ways to really hurt Quintus, but so far had been unsuccessful.  He wondered what would bring Quintus here, so far from the Vicus Raciliani Maioris.  Cletus approached the table and greeted his cousin.  Quintus could smell Cletus before he saw him.

“Ah, Quintus, it’s good to see, you, cousin.”  Cletus sat opposite Quintus and Quintus eyes began to water.  He had brought a handkerchief with him and held it to his nose.

“It’s good to see you, too, Cletus,” Quintus lied.

“Now, I know you didn’t come here for the cerevisia.  So, what are you doing here, cousin?”  Cletus had the look of the wolf about him as he stared at Quintus.  His eyes were drawn together and his nose was long.

“I’ve come to ask you for information.  I…know your employer has…clients with aristocratic connections.  Is there one perhaps who might be inclined to cover his debts with a dowry?”

“They all know about the curse, Quintus,” Cletus said, a wicked smile on his face.

“Cassia is not cursed.  That’s a vicious lie,” Quintus yelled.  He looked around and then continued.  “I need a man, Cletus, a man who needs money, an older man with children who is not so particular with regard to her lineage.”

Cletus laughed loudly.  “No, no, Quintus.  I deal with stupid youths who are bad gamblers.  You want their fathers, the ones I usually collect from.  Besides, it would be hard to get around that curse.  It’s well known that you’re a status-seeking merchant.  Oh, yes, they all know about you.”  Cletus let his words sink in.  He enjoyed watching Quintus’ face lose its color.

“All I’ve ever tried to do was make things better for Cassia.”

“Don’t give me that nonsense.  You want it for yourself, and you’re willing to use her to get it.”  Cletus face turned hard.  “You come back here in three days with a pouch full of gold and we’ll talk.  A girl with a curse will cost you dearly.”  Cletus got up and walked away.

Quintus sat at the table, wringing his hands.  He could see his dream slipping away again.  His coming to Cletus meant he had grown desperate, but still not desperate enough to promise Cassia to another Cicero Gaius.

The back room was filled with young men in fine togas and tunics, young men who needed an heir.  But if there were a young man without a father who needed money desperately, he might not be so concerned about an heir.

Quintus watched Cletus as he cornered a slender young man in the back of the tavern.  The young man was covering his nose from Cletus’ smell.  He was very handsome, with black shoulder-length hair.  His tunic was linen with green embroidery.  Quintus got up and approached Cletus.

“Cletus,” he said, “why are you being so hard on this young man?”

“Because this young man owes Leonides a great deal of money, and his father has refused to pay.”

Damn, Quintus thought, he has a father.

“You don’t want this one, Quintus.  He’s the eldest, and his father is very much alive.”

The young man’s name was Darius.  He kept turning his head away from Cletus, trying to avoid his odor.

“Perhaps Cletus is right; you wouldn’t be interested in my proposition.”

“Your father refuses to pay, Darius.  You know what we do with men who fail to pay.  Leonides would like to make an example of you.  It’s not often we get a chance to drown a noble,” Cletus said. He pushed Darius to the floor and walked away.

Darius looked at Quintus.  Quintus saw a young man who might be desperate enough to defy his father.  But by the same token, his father would probably cut him off, leaving Quintus with a worthless son-in-law.  He put out his hand and helped Darius up.

“You’re looking for a nobleman?” Darius asked.

“No, I’m sorry, son, but I need an older man, one with children, not one looking for an heir.”  Quintus began to walk away.  Darius grabbed his arm.

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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