November/December 2758 auc
Fr. Apulo Caesare C. Popillio Laena consulibus
Marcus looked first at the horrified look on the woman's
face, and then followed her pointing finger. There hidden by the brush
was the outline of a man' foot and leg. Marcus quickly brushed aside the
ground cover and listened carefully at the man's chest. He heard the faint
pulsing that his past experience and his command surgeons had assured
him were signs of life. Marcus got his arms around the limp body and lifted
him upright. As he did so, the man's head lolled against his own, and
he caught just the briefest breath from the injured man across his cheek.
If he was a slave, why was he alone out here far from the city or any farmstead?? Why was he armed -- unless -- unless he had acquired the weapon and the pouch at the cost of someone else's injury or life. That made it serious, really serious for the possibility tainted anyone associated with the man. Marcus was wondering at all this as he moved toward the horses with his burden, thinking hard about all the possibilities of this new discovery.
The woman however, for the first time since he had met her, seemed to take an interest in something. She dabbed at the man's mouth with a wetted rag from the canteen on her saddle, and attempted to wipe away some of the filth on the wounded arm. As she finished with those tasks she said in a determined voice looking at Marcus squarely." Help me get him into my horse," she said virtually making the request an order. Then the woman astonished Marcus by lowering her eyes, and adding, "Please Commander!" This so surprised Marcus that he almost dropped the limp body. She addressed him a second time by his rank and said Please! This had not happened previously, and Marcus thought that there is something definitely going on here!
"Just where do you propose that we take him," asked Marcus skeptically.
"I propose," said the woman mimicking Marcus' tone of voice,"To take him back with us to my room. This man needs help, he is hurt and looks exhausted as well. If you will not help me, I will do it alone." Her determination was very apparent in the sound of her voice.
"You are not thinking very clearly at all," said the Commander, still holding the man in his arms. "We know nothing about him, where he came from, or who he is. He may well be a runaway slave and if he is with that knife in his possession he is automatically under a sentence of death!!"
The woman looked at Marcus thoughtfully for a moment weighing
his words, and then apparently coming to a decision, she reached over
"No, of course not," returned Marcus angrily,"however the things that I have mentioned are nevertheless important whether you realize them or not. This is Rome. There are laws here, and we are possibly about to break several of them. Keep that in mind woman, as we may well regret what we are about to do!!!"
The woman looked down in submission and maintained her silence. Again Marcus was surprised, as this was not the woman's normal response to being corrected or cautioned.
"Here, you take his injured arm and try to protect
it as much as possible, while I will try to lift him into the saddle,"
said Marcus as he shifted his hold on the man's body to a more secure
one. The woman took the arm gingerly and held it as Marcus heaved the
man up straight, and then with his hands under the man's armpits hoisted
him high. Holding the man against the side of the horse, which thankfully
stood firm, he maneuvered the man's leg over the saddle. "we should
tie him in place so that he will not fall," said Marcus balancing
the man carefully
The woman immediately took the hem of her tattered cloak , and skillfully ripped a strip from the garment, holding it out to Marcus. "Will this be enough," she asked evenly. "I will tear another strip off the hem of my gown to tie his feet under the saddle."
Marcus was about to object, but then seeing the woman
interested in something for the first time since her recovery from her
wounds, he simply
I still don't like the idea of taking this man into town, If he is recognized we could well be----------."
The woman interrupted him by flinging off her cloak and throwing it over the man's head and upper body. Then she looked again at Marcus now clothed in only her slave's ripped singlet, and said firmly,"If we simply say that one of your servants," she spat the word out contemptuously,"took ill on the road, and has a severe chill, that will get us to my apartment!!" The woman's emphasis on the word "her" was very evident.
"Very well," said Marcus,"lead off. You will have to lead your horse, and I will follow."
"Yes," said the woman, looking up at Marcus as he mounted his horse, "I am quite used to performing a slave's work."
Marcus rolled his eyes heavenward
in frustration, and kept the angry retort behind his teeth. The woman
was finally interested in something and seemed to have some sort of goal,
even though in pursuing the goal he had a feeling that they both were
entering into a situation which would not be simply dealt with by getting
the man some medical assistance.
The trip back to the city was uneventful. They encountered
no traffic on the road, and Marcus was tempted to try once again to gain
some information from the woman.
"See here," he said gently to the woman,"we really cannot continue this calling you woman or slave. I need to know your name." He nodded to the unconscious man on the horse. "If you intend to help him back to health he will need to know your name, as well, and he will also have to understand that we are his friends. This silence between us will be disruptive to him, as he will not understand. He will, at best, be confused when he awakes, and will sense the tension between us. So, I ask that despite your apparent dislike of me that we put aside our differences, and act as though we are at least comrades."
The woman looked up at Marcus as she strode along and
listened intently to what he had to say. When he had finished she thought
for a moment,
Marcus dismounted quickly and not knowing quite how to
deal with thisnew development took the woman's hand.
Surprisingly she did not object.
The woman looked up in surprise and her tear-stained face almost smiled. " Perhaps I have been too hard, and perhaps I have wronged you. If you will keep your pledge then I will gladly enter your service as a housekeeper. I now thank you for your many kindnesses Commander."
Marcus stood holding her hand for a moment, and he suddenly
was struck with the realization that this woman was quite beautiful. The
thought bothered him and he thrust it out of his mind. "Very well,"
he said gruffly, "we will continue on that basis you shall have your
own apartment in my establishment and you will have this position with
me. You must however, agree not to try and run away, until we can straighten
this out, and deal with the Roman laws by which we are both bound."
He squeezed her fingers gently. Stella looked down at the ground, and
she said very softly,"I agree, you have my pledge as long as your
pledge holds true." He thought he felt just the tiniest return of
a squeeze from her hand before she withdrew it gently from his own. "
We should continue now, I think," said Stella, as she turned away
and again began
Marcus remounted mumbling to himself. Things just got
better he thought, at least he hoped so. Now all we have to do is find
out what we have in this unknown man, and maybe, just maybe I can get
back to my duties with the Squadron. We, he thought,--
why am I now thinking in terms of we, he wondered gloomily. He tried to
put that thought out of his head, but the picture of Stella's tear-stained
face kept coming back to his thoughts. He shifted uncomfortably in the
saddle. This is ridiculous he thought. She is, after all, just a slave.
Marcus took the lead now and moved directly to the military fortress just outside of the civilian vicus. There in the military offices and his apartments he would feel more secure.
The only person who took any particular notice of the
group as they moved toward the entrance to the fort was a laborer sitting
on a large stone just outside the West Gate. He was slowly eating his
evening meal and beneath his lowered eyelids he missed nothing of what
was going on around him. He took particular notice of the man on horseback
who he recognized as the Navarch of the squadron of patrol ships then
a-building in the shipyard. He took particular notice
also of the covered form of
Marcus hailed the gate sentry and asked him to alert the
surgeon that he had an injured man that he was bringing in. One of the
guards immediately ran off to notify the medical staff. When the trio
arrived at the entrance to the hospital, there were two large orderlies
waiting with a litter, and a younger man, that Marcus recognized as one
The young man stepped forward eyeing the still form on the horse. "May I be of some assistance to you Commander?" Stella immediately froze at the sight of this new authority and looked to Marcus with pleading eyes.
To be continued
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Marcus Minucius-Tiberius Audens
Marcus Philippus Conservatus and Franciscus Apulus Caesar
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