Aquila:Rhine River Patrol - From Slave To Servant
|This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".|
|Rhine River Patrol - From Slave To Servant|
|Rhine River Patrol Story Index.|
The woman’s attitude had returned to being stand offish again and Marcus was growing very tired of this up and down change in her personality toward him. Perhaps some patience at this point would lead to a better understanding between them. Marcus looked at the woman’s straight back as she marched along leading the horse with it’s now covered burden. He would go along with this to see where it might lead, as he was also curious as to the story of this wounded man would have to tell, however he thought, it certainly will not be easy to accomplish, nor he thought darkly, not particularly wise in the Roman world. He settled himself in the saddle for the ride back to the vicus.
Drawing the sword knife from his belt he slipped it into the rolled cloak on the back of the saddle. No sense in being conspicuous about this whole idea, he thought. The trip back to the vicus was uneventful, and they encountered no traffic on the road. The afternoon was drawing into evening when the crested the last hill and looked down upon the shipyard and the vicus outside the main gate. Marcus was tempted to try once again to gain some information from the woman, since things could not continue as they were going. He swung from his saddle, holding his horses reigns he strode forward until he was beside the woman matching her pace.
"See here," he said, "I really cannot continue calling you woman or slave. I need to know your name." He nodded to the injured 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 have to understand that we are his friends. This silence between us will be disruptive to him, as he will not understand it. He will, at best, be confused when he awakes, and will sense the tension between us. So, I ask that your appar-ent dislike of me, that we put aside our differences for now, and act as though we were at least comrades in this rather risky endeavor."
The woman looked at Marcus as she strode along and listened intently to what he had to say. When he had finished, she thought for a moment, and said quietly, "my name is Stella, and my home was in Berenice, in Egypt on the Red Sea. About a year ago, my family decided to move to Alexandria. My father had been offered a position there. We left Berenice with a camel train over land to the Nile, where we would have taken ship to Alexandria. However, the train was overtaken by a sand storm. in the confusion of the storm the camels that that my family was riding on ran away and were lost.
"To make a long story short when the storm was over my parents and sister had disappeared and the remainder of the train was nowhere to be found. I wandered for a day in the desert trying to find the tracks of the train, but finally succumbed to the heat and lack of water. I found myself in the hands of a desert band of outlaws. They took me to their desert village and made me their slave. Later, I was sold on the slave market in Cyrene, and brought here to Germania. That great oaf that you fought, bought me, and tried to have his way with me. That is how you found me."
Tears welled up in her eyes and she stopped in the middle of the road and began to sob. Marcus was not sure how to deal with this situation, so he gently took the horses reins from her hands, and leading both mounts he took her free hand in his own. Surprisingly she did not object. Marcus spoke quietly and earnestly, "I know that you have suffered much, and I know that you resent being owned by me or any other. However, what you may not know is that I resent having a slave almost as much as you resent being one. Considering our present situation, there is not a great deal that we can do about that at the moment. However, I will need a housekeeper for the immediate season until the fleet is fitted out. I will pay you a fair wage, and that wage can be banked against the purchase of your freedom. Your privacy is your own, and your body is your own. I promise that I will not violate either."
The woman looked up in surprise and her tear-stained face almost smiled. She hesitated for a long moment, and then lowered her eyes to the ground, she said very softly, "Perhaps I have been too hard, and perhaps I have wronged you in my disrespect. You are the first to speak to me like a human being since my capture. If you will keep your pledge then I will abide by your rules to the best of my ability. I shall do my best to do the job as your housekeeper, but I must warn you that I am not experienced at such."
For the first time Marcus laughed out loud and said still chuckling, "Well, now Mistress we are both in the same situation, I have never had a slave before!!!" Stella looked at him for a moment and then she too smiled, and said firmly, "I now thank you for your many kindnesses Commander, and I shall give you no more trouble." Marcus stood holding her hand for a moment, and he was suddenly struck again with the reali-zation that this woman was quite beautiful. The thought bothered him for some reason and he thrust it out of his mind.
"Very Well," he said gruffly, "We will continue on that basis, and when things get a little more uncomplicated you shall have your own room in my establishment, and you will have this position with me. You must however, agree not to try to run away until we can straighten this out, and deal with the Roman laws by which we are both bound."
He squeezed her hand gently for emphasis to his words. Stella looked once more at the ground and said again so softly that he could hardly hear her, "I agree, you have my pledge as long as your pledge holds true." Marcus 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 walking toward the city. Marcus remounted and thought, "Things just got better, he hoped, now all he had to do was to find out what he had in this unknown man, and then maybe, just maybe, he could get back to his duties relating to the squadron. His staff had been handling the details of late, but that could not continue for much longer without his oversight." We...why was he 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 him. He shifted uncomfortably in his saddle. This is ridiculous he thought, she is after all, just a slave. That assurance to himself however, didn’t seem to help very much. They arrived in the center of the Vicus at near dusk, and they drew no obvious attention. Most of the people here were used to seeing soldiers and civilians alike whose intake of wine or the Germanic beer inhibited their ability to walk. So, the town folk who were on the street, greeted the small cavalcade with a few knowing smiles, but the curiosity that they had feared did not apparently develop. Marcus took the lead now and moved directly through the vicus to the military fortress. There in the military offices and his apartments he would feel more secure.
The only person who took any particular notice of the little group as they move toward the fort entrance was a laborer sitting on the edge of 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 whom he recognized as the Navarch of the squadron of patrol ships then being built in the nearby shipyard. He also noticed the covered form of a man on a second horse. As the group stopped at the gate, the laborer stood and walked slowly back into the vicus.
Marcus hailed the gate sentry and told him to alert the surgeon that he had an injured man that he was bringing in. One of the guards immediately ran off to alert the medical staff, while the other saluted and the trio passed into the fortress. Inside they directed their footsteps to the Hospital entrance, where there were two large orderlies waiting with a litter, together with a younger man that Marcus recognized as one of the junior surgeons. The young man immediately stepped forward and eyeing the still form on the horse said, "May I be of assistance to you Commander?" Stella immediately froze in her tracks at the sight of this new authority, and looked to Marcus with pleading eyes.