Thanks to Shirl Cline for beta reading and April, Tammy, Margie, Tari, and Gail for support and inspiration. I’ve done my best to do as much research to make this as historically accurate as possible, but I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes somewhere. Please forgive any glaring inaccuracies.
All FK and ST characters belong to their respective PTBs, Triona, Dionysia, and the rest, belong to me.
Rated R for sexual situations and violence.
Revision Notes, Sept. 2001: I'm slowly going through the
stories to fix bits of continuity and canon. This one is the first I've
gotten to. Thanks to everyone who's taken the time to let me know
enjoyed reading my stories over the years. It is appreciated!
"A holodeck program?"
"A very special program," Captain Jean-Luc Picard explained to his guest. "The Federation Archeological Society produces a program of exacting historical detail every five years. I'd like to share the newest with you."
"I don't know, I'm not very comfortable with playacting," Triona told him uncertainly.
"We don't have to use the interactive program, we can just walk the moonlit streets of Pompeii." He looked down at her with serious eyes. "I would very much like to spend some time with you this trip."
\\Pompeii? Oh great. Of all the eras in history...,// she thought. But, she had to admit, the thought of spending some time with the Enterprise's very attractive Captain was not at all distasteful.
It had been over six months since she had last been on this ship, when the Enterprise had rescued her and her family after an attack by the Orion Syndicate. During her time here, she had developed a rapport with Picard. Well, maybe a little more than rapport.
It had started when LaCroix had directed her to gather as much information as she could from Picard on the Federation's intentions towards Imladris. In the process, Triona had found herself drawn to the Enterprise’s captain. Part of it, she knew, was finally meeting the man whose life had intersected hers four centuries before on that night of First Contact. But that wasn't all of it; her marriage to Methos was cracking at its foundations and she liked the way Jean-Luc made her feel when he looked at her with more than obvious appreciation in his blue eyes.
"Pompeii? We don't have to run from flowing lava or anything, do we?"
"Nothing like that," he reassured her. "72 AD." He stopped as they reached the holodeck doors. "Shall we?" He extended a hand.
Triona took the proffered hand. "Let's."
It really was a beautiful program. It was almost possible for her to suspend her disbelief and believe they were on Earth on a warm spring night over two thousand years ago.
They stood in the courtyard of an immense villa, looking down at the sea. The warm, heavy scents of spring clung to the air in fragrant clouds. Picard's hand rested against the back of her neck, unconsciously stroking his fingertips against her skin. "It's beautiful," she said softly, "I'm glad you convinced me to come."
"I wasn't sure you'd allow me to convince you," he admitted.
She leaned up, kissing him lightly on the cheek. "I think you're quite used to charming the women that come into your orbit, Captain," she teased, eyes dancing. Changing the subject, she moved a little away. "It is gorgeous, but I can't help but think it was built on the blood of my ancestors -- and probably yours as well."
Picard sighed. "I see what you mean. You don't do playacting very well."
"I'm sorry. I just can't push the reality far enough back in my mind." She looked up at him apologetically. "I can see all too vividly women like myself dying in slavery from hard labor and brutality."
Picard leaned down, brushing his lips against her cheek, attempting to comfort her. She stiffened almost imperceptibly and he began to murmur an apology. "I'm sorry...."
"No, it's all right." How could she explain that it wasn't his kiss that had caused her reaction?
Another voice was heard in the faux Mediterranean night. "Hard labor and brutality? My dear, a slave of your beauty would be the centerpiece of any prefect's household."
"Or general's?" she asked acerbically.
LaCroix smiled coolly. "Or general's, he agreed, standing next to her, one proprietary hand coming to rest on her hip.
"I wouldn't make a very good slave," she commented. "Not unless the general in question wanted to wake up with a knife between his ribs." Her eyes glinted with feral light.
"You're assuming he would be foolish enough to allow you the opportunity," LaCroix told her with an edge to his voice.
"No one can be alert all the time -- and I would be very motivated," she replied, an edge appearing in her voice as well.
Picard's look of surprise at LaCroix's sudden appearance was quickly masked by years of training. "Governor, we weren't expecting you," he said, interrupting the increasingly barbed exchange between the governor of Imladris and his defense minister.
LaCroix merely arched an eyebrow, looking around the villa. "An exquisite reproduction."
"You're familiar with the period?" Picard asked.
"You might say that." He turned his attention back to the captain. "And now, if you will excuse us. I have a matter to discuss with the minister."
Picard looked first at LaCroix, then at Triona, and back again. "Of course, I'll leave you then." He smiled at Triona. "I'll see you at dinner?"
"The minister will be unavailable for dinner," LaCroix interrupted smoothly. "Matters of state. I'm sure you understand." She looked murderous, but she didn't disagree with his pronouncement.
"Very well. Till tomorrow then."
She nodded. "Yes, we'll talk tomorrow. I'm sorry, Jean-Luc."
"No apologies are necessary. I understand all too well the call of duty." He made a slight bow, leaving the two Imladrins alone on the holodeck.
LaCroix wasted no time. "You will cease this flirtation with Picard at once!"
"I will not! You were the one that started this, or have you forgotten?"
"That was out of necessity as you well know. The necessity no longer exists, and therefore, there is no reason to continue."
"Yes there is! I want it to continue! Why should you care if I choose a dalliance with a mortal? You have no right to object to me doing what all of you have done," she protested, full of righteous indignation.
"But that is not all it is -- you are becoming emotionally attached to him, and it will end. Now!" he commanded. "A man in the Captain's position is far too dangerous for you to become involved with!"
"I am not!" she protested. "And I am well aware of the dangers involved. I'm not a fool!" LaCroix's look of disbelief just made her angrier. "I think after almost five hundred years I can do as I please!" She tossed her head defiantly.
He pulled her sharply to him, their bodies touching. She could feel the tension that held his body taut against hers. "Five hundred years or five thousand," he said in a voice that was deceptively quiet, "you do as *I* please." He slid his hand up her jaw and into her hair. "I think you have forgotten that."
Eyes wide, her gaze locked with his. "No, I haven't."
"There, you see? You make an excellent slave," his voice purred into her ear, angry despite its softness. Anticipating her violent response, he made his grip on her unbreakable. "You will stop this, and now, or he will die."
She shook her head. "No, you wouldn't…."
"You know better than that. By my hand or another's, this infatuation can only lead to one outcome. Methos is the one exception, but I will share your heart -- your soul -- with no other."
Her reply was cut off by the wail of the red alert siren. "All hands, unidentified alien power source. All hands...."
She felt like she was falling. A moment of panic engulfed her as she
clutched at LaCroix, then even he was gone....
She could feel him watching her from across the room as she arranged the tray for her mistress and her guest. He had been watching her since she had entered the room -- she could feel his eyes.
Under normal circumstances, her duties didn't include serving girl. Unfortunately, the house slave that performed the more menial duties had toppled her tray, spilling wine and fruit all over the lady and her lover. The girl had come howling out of the room, her mistress' palm-mark dark against the olive toned flesh of her cheek.
"Marcus," she said, stopping one of the house slaves on his way to the gardens, "Mayla's mess will need cleaning, please see to it." That taken care off, she turned her attention to the unfortunate Mayla. "What have you done? Haven't I told you again and again to keep your eyes on your work and not the Domina's lovers?"
She shook her head in annoyance. The girl really was hopeless, a peasant from Byzantium, without any social graces whatsoever. Her only interest was bedding any of the long line of male guests that their mistress entertained regularly, hoping to gain the favor of a well placed Roman. And today's guest was particularly well placed, more than enough to addle the girl's simple wits. "Stop your wailing and go tell Janus to send someone to help Marcus clean your mess up."
Mayla obeyed with alacrity, anxious to be well away from her furious mistress and her mistress’ equally irritated housekeeper.
Squaring her shoulders, she entered the room, pleased to see Marcus had all well in hand and that the spill had caught the cushions and not the lady. Her lover was nowhere to be seen. "Janus is sending another slave to help with the cleanup, Domina. I'll have more refreshments sent immediately.”
"Good, yes, I can always count on you," the woman said, flustered. "No, wait, I want you to serve. I want no more disasters, no more witless peasants to ruin the mood."
Stifling a sigh of frustration, she replied, "Very good, Domina, I will see to it personally.”
And so she found herself here, hoping that her mistress didn't expect her to replace Mayla in *all* her duties. \\Don't think about it,// she told herself sternly, \\she never has expected it of you before. Serve the wine, be unobtrusive and then leave. All will be well.//
Keeping her eyes downcast, not wanting to attract more unwelcome attention, she made her way to where the two lovers lounged in a nest of fresh cushions on the floor. Setting the tray down, she handed one goblet to her mistress and another to the general who was her special *guest*.
Her hand froze in mid motion, catching sight of him for the first time. A wave of dizziness washed over her as sharp blue eyes snared hers. It was almost as if.... Then the stray feeling was gone. "Will there be anything else?" she asked the lady of the house as she handed him the goblet, flinching a little as his fingers touched hers.
"Lucius?" the other woman asked.
Eyes still focused on her, he took her wrist in a strong grip with his free hand, setting the goblet on the low serving table at his side. "I could think of something I'm sure." His voice was low and hungry. She forced herself to stillness, knowing that to struggle would only inflame him.
The lounging woman ran a teasing hand up his bare thigh, pouting. "Am I not enough for you, Lucius?"
He looked to his companion. "Of course, lovely Lydia, but a little variety is never amiss.”
"My dear General, you never change!" She laughed delightedly. "But, I am unwilling to share you just yet. Besides, her duties don't include entertaining my guests. So let her go about her duties and I will give you all the variety you could desire. Later, if you still wish, I will make sure you have your pick of several lovely slaves whose duties do include entertaining my special guests," she finished suggestively.
"As you wish." He released her wrist. "But I won't require a choice, my love, I know exactly what I want."
"We will discuss it later," she promised, kissing his cheek. "You may leave now," Lydia directed her.
She wasted no time leaving the room and the hungry eyes of the general.
"I am well-pleased with her, Lucius, and I have no intention of giving her up!"
"And what makes you think I'll try and take your pretty little Gaulish slave from you?" He caressed her breast with his lips, making her arch against his mouth.
She held his head against her breast, replying breathlessly, "Because I know that look in your eyes. You want her, and you're used to getting your own way."
Propping himself up on one elbow, he traced his fingers down Lydia's face, saying nothing.
"She is good with the children, speaks Latin and Greek, makes sure the wine merchants don't cheat me, and causes no trouble." She sounded like she was arguing with herself more than him.
"I didn't say anything," he said, all innocence. "What do you call her; this perfect slave of yours?”
"Dionysia. I couldn't pronounce her barbarian name, so I told her to pick something civilized."
"A little pretentious for a slave," he commented.
"Perhaps, and I will admit that occasionally she forgets her place. No, that isn't it. It's more like she is humoring me by keeping her place. But she has become invaluable to me in running my household and I find her presence restful."
"You are too soft on your slaves, Lydia," he remonstrated gently. "Let me have her for a short while and I'll make sure she never dares humor you again."
"I don't want her broken! Don't you hear me? I am *happy* with her!" Lydia was becoming agitated, knowing that in the end, her lover would get his way -- he always did. "Do you realize how difficult it is to find a slave with even a modicum of intelligence?" she asked with a trace of petulance.
He changed tactics. "And when your husband returns next month? What then? How many of your female slaves has he damaged beyond repair? Do you think she will be of any use to you after he has her?" Sensing her weakening, he continued on, "Let me borrow her then, for a few months, until your husband leaves again. I am newly returned from Judea, my household needs ordering. The loan of your Dionysia would be most helpful, you would be doing me a great favor." He kissed her lips, her cheek, her throat, distracting her even more. "You know how important it is for me to entertain and keep a household befitting my current and future position."
"And what do I get in return? I have to put up with the return of my husband and the loss of my best slave." She pouted prettily. "It isn't fair at all!"
Lucius nuzzled her throat. "I have a eunuch, newly arrived from Egypt. I will gift him to you, yours even after I return your girl."
"A eunuch! I don't think you've been paying attention, Lucius!"
"I have paid total attention. He may be a eunuch, but he has talents that will more than make up for his lack in other areas," he promised.
"I could give you a small sample," he told her, leering.
"Small isn't what I'm looking for, Lucius," she said, laughing throatily.
"A figure of speech, my love. A figure of speech...."
"Be careful, Nysia. General Perpetuus is dangerous! Rumor has it that he had one of his slaves executed for nothing more than not grooming his horse correctly."
"I know that, Janus, but I have no choice! If only Mayla weren't such a fool! He never would have even seen me if not for her," she grumbled to Lydia's steward.
"That's my fault. I should have had the Domina sell her months ago, but I felt sorry for her."
She kissed him hard on the mouth. "It isn't your fault! If you didn't feel compassion for our fellow captives, I wouldn't love you." Looking at him fondly, she ran a hand over his smooth, almost hairless head, loving the feel of it beneath her fingers.
"I don't know why you do." He looked sad. "You know if you only set your mind to it you could catch the eye of a Citizen. What can I ever offer you but a life of slavery?"
"Stop it! You know I don't want any Roman! And Lydia has freed other slaves -- you told me so. I won't give up and I won't let you give up either," she told him fiercely. "It's only a few more years till it will be possible. You know that!"
"I'll try to remember." He kissed her gently.
Dionysia let him hold her, returning his kiss. Did she really love him? Sometimes she wondered. He kept her bed warm at night, and they shared the duty of running the household -- shared what almost amounted to a real life together. He had been the one ray of kindness when she had been brought here almost nine months before, when all she had wanted to do was die. But was that love?
She wished she could have asked her parents -- she knew they had loved one another very much -- but they were both dead at the hands of the same Romans who had taken her into slavery. All she knew was that Janus made her feel safe and needed. Not such a bad thing, even if it wasn't love. She could be content with that. Couldn't she?
"Just try and stay out of his way. The thought of him even touching you...."
"It'll be all right, Janus. I promise."
"Have I displeased you, Domina?" She fought hard to control the panic that made her heart feel like it would burst. This couldn't be happening! Lydia was giving her to her damned murderous Roman general. It was like a nightmare made real. What would this do to Janus?
"No, not at all. You have done nothing to displease me," Lydia said unhappily. "But there are reasons...."
"Reasons that needn't concern a slave," Lucius interjected smoothly. Dionysia dropped her eyes, clenching at her tunic, knuckles white with anger she dare not display.
"Just behave yourself and do as you are told. You'll be back in a few months, better for the experience." Lydia patted her on the shoulder, uncomfortable and wanting no unpleasantness.
"Please me and you will find me most generous," Lucius added in a voice insufferably smug.
"It would please me to see you dead," she muttered under her breath in her own language, not even aware she had vocalized her thought.
"Other Gauls have tried." Her head snapped up as he replied to her comment in the same language, a stab of fear at what he would do arcing up her spine. "But none have succeeded. The superiority of the Empire is absolute -- a superiority you will acknowledge before I am finished with you." It was a threat and a promise, but he made no other move to punish her temerity.
"What are you saying? Lucius?" Lydia looked from one to the other, confused.
She glared murderously at her new, albeit temporary, master, fury replacing her fear. The general merely laughed as if female slaves threatened his life every day. "Nothing to concern yourself with, my love. Your slave and I are merely coming to an…understanding. Aren't we, Dionysia?"
She nodded mutely, not trusting her voice, knowing he could have her killed for her reckless remark.
"Good, good, it will all be well," Lydia said happily.
He ran a finger along Dionysia's jaw and she shivered despite
"Of course it will, Lydia. Of course it will."
She sat on the floor at the end of the couch, where Thomas, the slave that ran the general's household, had directed her. The master of the house was conspicuously absent and she wondered how long he intended on making her wait. Knowing that what was to come was as inevitable as the sunrise, she just wanted to get the unpleasantness over with. Which, on reflection, was probably why he was leaving her here -- more mind games.
Nothing about General Perpetuus was as she expected and being unable to anticipate his responses made her very uneasy. His actions on arriving home with her had actually come as something of a surprise. She had expected physical violence based on his reputation, not his almost casual order to Thomas to lock her in the cellar to contemplate the new reality of her life. And there she had remained for the last week, until only a few hours ago when Thomas had appeared to let her out.
She had been fed, been provided with water to wash and blankets to keep her warm. But she had been totally alone in the dark with even what little freedom she had as a slave taken away. How could he have known just how effective his choice of punishment would be? Granted, he was a man of war and war was as much that of the mind as that of the physical. But to see that particular aspect of her soul, to know that captivity was one of her greatest fears; that frightened her and made her wonder just what else he saw.
Sighing, she stroked the silk of her tunic. She hadn't had clothing so fine since before the Romans had come. Again, she had been surprised. When Thomas had taken her to the room she was to occupy while she was here, she had found several fine outfits waiting. Her expectation was that they would be something a whore would wear -- he did after all set his last woman up as the keeper of a brothel -- but instead, she had found elegant, finely made pieces. \\Well, he may have excellent taste, and he may not have beaten you, but he's still a dangerous, cruel man -- don't ever forget it!// she reminded herself.
"And have you had sufficient time to reflect on the error of your ways?" His voice floated around her.
Controlling a start of surprise at his sudden appearance, she held her chin up, eyes flashing. "Yes."
"Yes." She paused, not able to get out 'master' and hoping 'general' would suffice. "General."
He towered over her, a wry smile on his lips. "I don't think I really believe you." She stiffened. "But I'll let it pass for now." Her shoulders sagged a little in relief. He sat on the couch, pulling out the pins that held her hair in a complex knot. "Leave your hair loose from now on," he commanded. The mass of her hair, free from restraint, tumbled down her back. "Much better," he said in satisfaction, combing his fingers through it.
"As you wish… General."
He lounged back on the couch so that he now faced her where she sat at it's foot, contemplating her silently. She shifted nervously, wondering what was next. His next remark was not at all what she expected. "Tell me how you came to be here."
"General?" she asked, confused.
"I thought the request self-explanatory. I wish to know how you came to be here. You obviously haven't been a slave long."
"Six years," she offered faintly.
"You are from Gaul -- the north unless I'm mistaken." She nodded. "And then you were taken where?"
She attempted to gather her wits. No one had ever asked -- not even Janus. He had never really been interested in her past. A slave since birth, he had no real concept of how different her life had been before. It wasn't that he didn't care it was just that he had no way to really understand.
"Dionysia," he prompted.
"Corinth," she finally said. "I was taken to Corinth." She looked at him and realized he was waiting to hear more than the city she had first been taken to. "The magistrate there bought me to take care of his children and to be a companion for his wife." She smiled a little. "I knew very little about children, but he thought I had a kind face."
"What did you know about?"
"Wine. My family were vintners -- had always been as far back as memory."
"That explains the name you chose, Dionysia, the goddess of wine, and Lydia telling me you kept the wine merchants from cheating her."
Nodding, she continued, "They made me a part of the family." Her expression dared him to make anything of Romans making a slave a part of their family. But he said nothing. "And then they freed me. I chose to stay though. I decided it was as close to a family as I would ever have again."
He looked at her consideringly. "You don't look anywhere near thirty; how did they manage it?"
She twisted at the fabric of her tunic nervously. "It was…arranged," she said haltingly.
"Monetary inducement in the right place, you mean." He arched an eyebrow inquiringly.
There was no use denying the obvious. He was quite aware she was not of the legal age for a slave to be freed, and since she was here, her patron hadn't married her or made her his concubine, the only way she could have been freed before thirty. "Yes -- I suppose that's how it was arranged," she admitted.
"Where are they now?"
"Probably dead." She tried to keep her voice calm. She wouldn't cry, not in front of him. He waited patiently for her to continue. "They were Jesus followers," she told him as if it explained everything -- and it did.
"Romans who should have known better," Lucius said in disgust.
"They were good to me!" she said with some heat. In a calmer voice she finished, "They didn't deserve to die."
He ignored her less than respectful outburst. "You weren't one of them, or you wouldn't be here. So, they were taken and you were sold back into slavery."
"No, they knew that something was going to happen. They had gotten word from Jerusalem that some of their leaders were being rounded up. They gave me the children and entrusted me to take them to their maternal aunt in Rome." She was so intent on her story that she didn't really notice he had taken her arm, drawing her up to sit next to him. "I should have never taken the children there. I should have trusted my instincts, but I didn't; I did as I was asked."
"What happened?" His voice in her ear made her suddenly realize that he was so close they were practically touching. She could feel the heat from his body through the thin silk of her tunic.
"They weren't all that pleased to see us." She laughed harshly. "Even the substantial sum of money I gave them for the children's upkeep wasn't enough in their minds. So they decided to supplement the amount with the gold that was mine and to sell me. I had no way to prove to the authorities I was a freedwoman, especially since the methods used to procure my freedom were less than…regular." Clearing her throat, she added, "And the children's parents, being radicals, didn't give me much credibility. That was almost a year ago." She fell silent, remembering.
His voice broke the long silence. "I believe we can come to a mutually satisfying agreement, you and I." She held herself stiffly as his lips brushed her cheek, moving down to her mouth. He smiled at her reaction. "I wish for your cooperation and you wish for your eventual freedom. Not diametrically opposed positions."
She shook her head, unsure. "I...."
"You don't understand why I don't just beat you into submission? Force you to my will?"
Looking at him uncertainly, she shook her head. "I suppose I don't."
"Force has its place; however, it's only one of many tools that can be utilized to gain one's ends. A steady diet is tiresome, especially when I have spent the last several years at war. I would prefer you to be a willing participant, not an unwilling non-participant."
"And my cooperation just gives you one more hold over me should it be required," she said, the realization suddenly hitting her.
"Ah yes, you are the clever one." He ran a finger over the swell of her breasts. "I told you that pleasing me would be rewarded; I meant that. You know that I gifted my last slave with freedom and her own business?"
"Yes, a brothel." Her nose wrinkled a bit in unconscious distaste.
He laughed uproariously at her expression. "I take it you have no interest in the same?" He didn't wait for a reply. "Perhaps a wine shop of your own -- and your freedom of course. All I require is that you fulfill your duties as well for me as you did for Lydia, and that you share my bed with some amount of enthusiasm."
Her mind raced. One way or the other, he would take her. In the years she had been a slave, she had learned to be pragmatic; if it was inevitable, why not make the best of it? She tried not to think of Janus, that somehow her agreeing to cooperate was a betrayal. The General was offering her freedom -- to become her Patron -- she would be a fool not to do as he asked. He was a Roman, but she had to admit that he wasn't unattractive. She could do this.
"A vineyard -- I want to make the wine, not sell the wine of others." She tilted her chin unconsciously, looking like a defiant kitten.
"That can be arranged." He seemed amused. "I'm always looking for new business interests."
Of course he would keep part ownership. A winery was much more costly than a shop, or even a brothel, but she could deal with that. There were worse things, she supposed, than having a high-ranking citizen as a partner. She searched his eyes for any sign that he might be toying with her.
"I swear by the Emperor that I will grant you your freedom in...? he paused.
"I'll be thirty in two years," she lied. It was actually six, but there was no way for him to know…she hoped. When he looked doubtful, she added, "I've always looked young for my age."
He seemed satisfied, though she wasn't quite sure he believed her. "Very well -- two years.
Her face fell. "But you don't own me; Lydia does."
"I will take care of Lydia. I had no intention of returning you
At her look of shock, he continued, "I always get what I want --
He placed a hand behind her head. "No more talking," he said, pulling
to him. "It is time to consummate our agreement."
It was almost dawn. The sounds of the harbor far below were drifting up through the open doors that fronted the room. The doors led to a balcony that looked down and out over the city below. The first twitters of birds awaking to the new day amongst the flowering, fragrant vines that framed the doors could be heard.
Dionysia lay quietly, her back pressed against Lucius' chest, held there by his strong arm across her ribs, one hand cupping her breast. Unaccountably, she found herself rubbing her throat, some half-formed memory playing at the edges of her mind's eye. There had been a moment, as he had moved in her, that she had had the oddest sensation of familiarity -- then it was gone as the needs of her body had overcome all else.
He had not been gentle, but he hadn't hurt her either and, to her great relief, he didn't seem to have an appetite for any of the more depraved practices so popular in Rome these days. In fact, he had bewildered her once more when he saw to her pleasure as well as his own. After, he had drawn her to him, stroking her body, her head in the hollow of his shoulder.
Her confusion must have been evident. "Did you think your only rewards would be material?" he asked, enjoying her obvious discomfiture.
She didn't know what to say -- she didn't even know what to do. The last thing she had expected was that he would want to *talk* to her. This wasn't what the gossip of the slaves who regularly entertained Citizens had led her to expect. But she didn't for a moment forget that the man lying next to her could kill her without a second thought should he so desire.
"I don't know," she admitted, fixing her gaze on his chest -- anywhere but those eyes -- eyes that saw far too much for her peace of mind.
Fingers moved down her cheek, coming to rest under her chin, tilting her head up to look at him. "I have no wish for you to be imagining another lover while you are in my bed." She had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed -- that was exactly what she had intended to do. "I have every confidence that thoughts of your lover, Lydia's slave, were nowhere to be found this night."
Shock and guilt battled for preeminence. Shock that he knew about Janus, and guilt that she indeed hadn't thought of him. The General had driven all thoughts of anyone but him from her mind. And with that came the realization that the price of her cooperation had climbed even higher. His power over her was becoming stronger by the moment.
She tried to speak, but he stopped her. "I require *all* of you, my Nysia -- body and spirit." The use of Janus' pet name for her made her panic; he had never used it with such depth of feeling, had never made her tremble at the sound of it on his lips. "Bodies are in ample supply in every slave market in the Empire." The fingers under her chin spread to cup her face, tightening ever so slightly around her jaw. "Do you understand?"
She understood all too well. If she hadn't before, it was as clear as crystal now. "Yes," she whispered. Her heart fluttered as he kissed her, lips and tongue lingering to taste and probe, her lips parting of their own accord, inviting him to even deeper explorations.
He had taken her again, but this time gently, slowly, and once more, no thoughts of Janus had entered her mind.
All these thoughts jumbled in her mind as she lay there, waiting for the dawn. Deeply asleep, his breath at her ear was slow and steady. If he hadn't held her so securely against him, she would have gotten out of the bed, assuming that he probably expected her to serve him, as was the usual practice. But nothing she had experienced so far had fallen into what was usual. So she just lay there waiting, listening to the birds begin their morning songs.
She must have fallen asleep, and for several hours, because when she awoke, the full light of morning was pouring through the doors. Thomas was arranging a table next to the bed with food and wine, and her new master was gone, the place next to her on the bed cold. She supposed that answered her question, but it was still unnerving to be served in bed, especially in her present state. More than a little embarrassed, she pulled the bed linen closer around her.
Thomas handed her a goblet of wine, silent as usual. Thankful for something to do, she sipped at it, grimacing at the poor quality of the vintage.
"You don't like it?" Lucius entered the room, catching her expression. He accepted a goblet from Thomas and took a swallow.
Her stomach clenched nervously -- his expression was totally unreadable. \\Well, no use for it.// "No, it's wretched," she answered a little more strongly than she had intended.
"It is the Emperor's favored vintage." Still no indication of his mood showed, nor could she tell if he thought the wine was awful as well.
"Since the Emperor isn't here, I see no reason why we need to drink it," she said with just a hint of asperity.
He arched a brow. "Opinionated for a slave, aren't you," he commented coolly.
She paled slightly at his tone, but held her ground, which was difficult to do when only a sheet covered you. Gathering what was left of her dignity around herself, she replied, "You told me you wished for me to perform the same duties for you as I did for my mistress. If that has changed, then I beg your pardon and I will refrain from any such actions in the future."
"I'm beginning to think that not beating you may have been a mistake," he told her, but his eyes were laughing as he spoke, despite the stern tone. "Now, you were offering your opinion on my choice of wine? A wine that I had purchased especially just yesterday."
Was he saying he had chosen this particular wine personally? When would she learn to keep her mouth shut? She decided to couch her next comment in more cautious terms. "Perhaps the kitchen slaves accidentally tapped the wrong cask, but this is not the Emperor's vintage. I purchased a small quantity for my mistress not ten days ago. This is not it."
His eyes took on a glint she didn't like. "Thomas, bring Marius here… immediately." The slave nodded, departing as silently as he had arrived.
She bit her lip worriedly as Lucius turned away from her, and strode over to look out on the balcony. He was obviously angry, but with her or the yet to appear Marius? Was this some sort of test?
At the sound of footsteps in the corridor, he turned back to her. "You will be silent. Do you understand? Do not mistake my gentle treatment of you as a tolerance for disobedience."
She nodded -- it was something she had never assumed.
Thomas entered with another man, Marius, she assumed. The slave seemed frightened; a command to attend his master not how he would have chosen to start his day no doubt. Expressionless once more, Lucius handed a goblet to him. "Taste this and tell me what it is." Fearful, the man took it and did as he was ordered. "Well?" his master asked impatiently.
"It is the vintage you requested, Master," he said in a voice that shook.
The General looked over to where she sat on the bed. "The woman is displeased with it."
Marius chewed at the inside of his cheek, becoming more and more nervous. "The... lady.… It is a fine wine, one that perhaps she is unable to appreciate... yet."
She almost protested, but one look at the general kept her silent. "Perhaps." He turned his attention back to Marius. "This wine cost a great deal, did it not?" Lucius asked, his voice bland.
"Ye... yes, Master, a great deal."
"And you, of course, tasted the product you purchased to assure it was what you were paying for?"
"Of course, Master." Marius nodded eagerly.
She held her breath seeing the tension coiling up the General's back, and the utter coldness of his eyes when he glanced back at her.
"Not only does she not like it, she says it isn't even the vintage you claim to have purchased!" His voice, no longer bland, cracked like a whip in the quiet room.
Marius dropped to his knees, looking like a rabbit in a snare, his eyes darting back and forth, trapped. "M..m...master.…" he stuttered, "I.…"
"What? You can explain?" Lucius towered over the unfortunate slave, eyes no longer cold, but flashing with an icy fire.
Dionysia clenched the sheets with white knuckles, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Marius had been well and truly trapped. His only avenue of escape had been cut off when he had lied about the wine in the goblet.
"You are either lying or you are a thief!" Lucius' voice thundered against the marble walls.
"No, not a thief." The man was practically sobbing. "Please, no.…"
"You take me for a fool? Did you really think I would not know that I had been cheated when I tasted the wine?"
The slave had prostrated himself in front of his master. "I didn't know. I didn't know…." he kept repeating over and over.
She wanted to scream, to stop what was happening. But she knew it wouldn't make any difference -- and she knew he would show her no regard if she disobeyed. The thought of his rage directed at her was a terrifying prospect.
"Thomas," he said in a voice that was all the more frightening for its quiet implacability, "since this slave seems to have no use for his tongue -- cut it out."
He nodded. Marius screaming piteously and begged for mercy as Thomas hauled him to his feet. Lucius indicated that the two guards, who had appeared at the commotion, help him restrain the now struggling slave.
She thought she was going to faint. If they carried out the sentence here, she knew she would. When Thomas drew his knife, she whimpered, finding it hard to even breath, which attracted Lucius' attention. "Every action has consequences," he said to her. She knew he didn't just mean Marius. He seemed to take pity on her though. Turning to the guards, he said, "Take him away, and when it's done, take him to the harbor and sell him as a galley slave."
Dionysia knew she would hear the sounds of Marius' screams, as they
dragged him away, in her nightmares for years to come.
Over the next few months her life fell into a pattern, with the general leaving all matters in running his household to her. While Thomas was invaluable on campaign and as a personal servant, Lucius had explained, he lacked the imagination to manage a household or to arrange the entertaining necessary for someone in his social position.
Today was a market day and she had a thousand things to arrange. Tomorrow evening, Lucius was entertaining the pro-counsel and his wife and everything must be perfect. It was a beautiful spring morning -- not late enough in the day for the heat to raise the smells of the market. She walked down the alley, heading for the baker's shop, wanting to purchase some of the olive bread that was their specialty and that was one of Lucius' favorites.
A voice called to her from an alcove. "Nysia, Nysia."
She looked around, startled. "Janus?" She finally spied him in the shadows.
He stepped out, taking her arm. "I've been so worried about you," he told her. "I heard what happened to Marius.…" He shook his head. "How are you?"
She placed her hand against his chest, searching his familiar face and feeling guilty for the lines of worry she saw there. "I'm well… truly."
"He hasn't… hurt you?"
"No, no, Janus. He's treated me very well." She let him pull her into his arms for a moment before pulling away. "We can't. Someone might see."
He ran his fingers down her cheek as if trying to memorize her. "I'm sorry. You just don't know what it's been like -- always wondering -- not knowing how you fared."
"I know," she said gently. "I know."
"I count the days. It won't be long till you are home again and safe."
Her heart fell. "Janus....” she began.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
How could she tell him? Looking at his dear face, how could she tell him she was never coming back? "Nothing. Nothing is wrong." \\Coward.// she accused herself. "I need to go -- I'm expected so I shouldn't be late." Before she could stop him, he kissed her. "Janus," she protested in shock, "you put us both in danger. You mustn't!"
"To keep me till we see each other again, Nysia," he told her as he walked backwards up the alley. Then he turned around, his long stride soon taking him out of her sight.
She leaned against the wall, heart pounding -- not from the kiss,
Spring turned to summer, and with it came one of the hottest months in memory. The August heat was oppressive with no respite, even in the evening. It took its toll: fevers raced through the city and disputes that would normally be settled peacefully instead became violent -- the heat making everyone short-tempered.
Dionysia wandered the market just after dawn, hunting for the herbs necessary to treat the fever that had incapacitated half the staff. She wouldn't let a Roman healer near them; in her opinion he would be more likely to kill them then cure them.
She hoped it was early enough that she wouldn't see Janus. He turned up every few weeks, despite her best efforts to avoid him. Her fear was that somehow Lucius would find out.
She finished buying what she required and headed up the road back to the villa, the heat already beating down like an oven. Her shoulders sagged as she heard Janus calling to her. Stopping, she waited for him to catch up to her. "Janus, please. I want to get back before it gets any hotter."
"Wonderful news," he called as he drew nearer, "the Domina's husband is leaving next week. It won't be long now!" The smile he wore almost split his face. He put his hands on her waist, lifting her off her feet. "I am so happy," he said seriously, setting her down gently.
She couldn't stall any longer -- he had to know the truth. He deserved to hear it from her own lips and not as gossip. "Janus, I'm sorry, but I won't be coming back. Lydia has given me to the General permanently. It became final a few weeks ago."
All the color drained from his face. "No," he said, barely audible. "She can't have given you to that...man!" he spat. He looked at her with eyes that were almost fevered. "I'll beg her to change her mind, remind her of how valuable you were to her, how the children miss you. I've been loyal; she would listen to me!"
"Janus, no! It's too late for that. It's over -- you must accept that! I don't want you to get in trouble because of me," she pleaded.
"I would do anything for you; you know that. I can't just let you spend your life owned by that murdering Roman!" He was almost shouting now.
"Janus, please, quiet!" Panic laced her voice. He would attract attention that could get them both killed. "It will be all right,you must believe me. He hasn't mistreated me, and he's given me his oath that he will set me free in two years. Two years, Janus; we can be together then!"
He grabbed her arm, almost shaking her. "And you believe him? Are you a fool? He will use you up and cast you aside!" His voice broke with rage and frustration. He pulled her hard against him, kissing her desperately.
Terrified, she struggled against him, finally breaking away. "Stop it! You're going to get us both killed! You may want to die, but I don't! I don't want to see you anymore, Janus, I can't trust you -- not when you act like this." She was panting, desperate to be away from here. Slowly she began to back away.
"You don't mean that! I know you don't." Janus shook his head in denial of her words.
"I do mean it. Please, don't make this any harder than it has to be.
I won't let you ruin this -- I won't! I will not lose my freedom again,
ever." She saw the anguish in his eyes, but that couldn't deter her.
sorry, Janus, but neither of us are the masters of our own fate. We
forgot that." She turned and fled up the hill.
That evening, she and Lucius sat on the balcony in a vain attempt to catch a stray breeze. He played the rebec softly while she dozed against his leg. Finishing, he sat the instrument aside and leaned down to kiss her. She sighed as the kiss deepened, his hand running down her throat while his other hand pulled her to her knees and between his legs.
He lifted her left hand, drawing it to his mouth, circling her palm with his lips, then with his tongue, before moving to her wrist, then to the hollow of her elbow. A little "ooh" escaped her lips at the feeling of his mouth against the sensitive skin. "Do you like that?" he asked her in a voice that was as warm and soft as the summer night. She could only nod in reply.
He slid onto his knees next to her, drawing his mouth down her collarbone then to her breast, circling his tongue over her nipple through the cloth of her tunic. The friction sent tingles of feeling up and down her spine. His hands slid under the tunic to caress the bare skin beneath before pulling it over her head in one swift movement. She returned the favor, deftly unfastening his toga. He lay back, pulling her down with him so that her breasts pressed into his chest. Slowly, he ran his hands down her back to cup her bottom.
Sliding her body against his, she kissed him languorously. "I thought you said it was too hot to make love?"
Smiling, he tangled his hands in her hair. "I changed my mind."
"So am I."
They ate their morning meal at dawn before the heat could take away their appetite.
"I think it may rain today," she commented. There were clouds in the sky and the heat was even more oppressive, if that was possible.
"Perhaps enough sacrifices have been made to the Gods for them to send us rain." Lucius took her hand. "I don't want you going into the city until the weather breaks. There may be riots and the fevers are getting worse."
"As you wish," she agreed, knowing when to argue and when it was pointless. And not going to market would keep Janus from hounding her.
He squeezed her hand. "Send one of the male slaves down if you require anything." As she nodded, his eyes narrowed, noticing the bruises on her arm. "Where did you get those bruises, Dionysia?"
For a moment, her heart seemed to stop beating before she remembered what she planned to tell him if he noticed. "It's nothing, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going and I stepped out into the road, right in the path of a wagon. Someone grabbed my arm, pulling me out of the street. I'm sorry, I know I should be more careful. The heat…." she offered, trailing off.
His fingers traced the bruises. "I think you are lying." His words fell into the stifling room, hanging there. "Thomas!" he barked. The slave entered, waiting. "Thomas, tell me what the guard reported to you."
She could only sit frozen in shock as Thomas recounted the report. "She was seen with a male slave belonging to the household of her former mistress. He embraced her, they spoke, and then kissed."
Lucius nodded grimly. "Take her to the garden. I will join you
He strode from the room, not even looking at her.
As Thomas and Dionysia entered the garden, she was still too stunned to react. She was only sure that she was probably going to die here. He would never believe she hadn't betrayed him with Janus. Would it be quick or would he make her suffer? She shivered in the blast furnace heat of the garden. She wasn't really surprised to see Janus already restrained against the wall. They would die together.
Lucius entered the garden, accompanied by a guard carrying a whip. He looked down on her, his eyes like ice. "Did you give yourself to him?"
"No," she choked out, "I have never betrayed you, I swear it."
"Then his advances were unwelcome? You lied, thinking I would not believe you?" He was giving her an out, but one that would condemn Janus.
"He was upset, he didn't mean to hurt me. I think he must have been fevered, otherwise he never would have done what he did! It would have never happened again. Please believe me!" The blood was roaring in her ears -- black spots dancing in front of her eyes. She fought to hold on to consciousness. "Janus was kind to me after I was brought to the Lady Lydia's. I was honor bound to return that kindness."
"Kind? He was your lover," he snapped, laughing humorlessly.
"Yes, he *was*, but he isn't anymore. I have been faithful to you." Gods, how could she convince him of her loyalty? Especially after she had lied.
"But you lied for him." His words mirrored her thoughts, as they so often seemed to. Sliding his hand against the back of her head, he pulled it back, forcing her to meet his eyes. "I told you before that I required more than just your body, did I not? How faithful has your spirit been to me, my little slave?"
She licked her lips, trying to find the words to convince him. "I give you my oath that thoughts of no other man have ever been with me while I have been with you." Her voice sounded weak and terrified even to her own ears, not the confident voice she would have preferred when swearing an oath.
He stared down at her, searching her eyes, his expression hard and cold. "I believe you," he finally said, releasing his grip on her. The iron band around her chest eased and she could breathe again. "But he laid hands on what is mine, damaged you and made you lie for him. For that he must be punished." He pointed to the guard with the whip. "Twenty lashes! And I want him conscious for every one, no matter how long it takes!" he roared.
The guard nodded. "Yes, sir."
"No!" she screamed, horrified. Twenty lashes would likely kill Janus, especially in this heat. She threw herself at Lucius' feet, prepared to do whatever it took to get him to rescind his sentence. "Please, I beg you, don't do this! It was my fault -- he didn't know till I told him that I was never going back. He wasn't prepared for that. He thought we were going to be together. We had a life planned before I came to you." She fought back the sobs that threatened to overwhelm her.
"But you would still have had one -- once you were free," Lucius said, half to himself.
"He didn't believe that," she whispered. She held out her hands beseechingly. "If your honor demands punishment, then punish me. It was my fault. Mine, not his." She hung her head, her hair falling around her face, masking it. "Please, master." This time she didn't choke over the word. "I beg you."
"Don't beg, Dionysia. It is…distasteful."
"Then what? Tell me what you require and I will do it."
He pulled her to her feet, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Are you sure you are willing to pay my price?" He looked over his shoulder at Janus, then back to her.
"Yes." She took a deep shuddering breath. "I'll do whatever you want."
He had a calculating look in his eyes that made her feel sick. "Very well. Your punishment -- and his -- will be to deny you both what you most desire." The sick feeling in the pit of her stomach spread through her body. A crack of thunder rent the sky above them as if anticipating her doom. "Your freedom." A flash of lightening tearing across the sky met his pronouncement.
Her legs wouldn't hold her; only his grip kept her on her feet. The fear had turned to numbness…a nothingness that left her empty.
"Your choice, my Nysia: your heart's desire or your lover's life. Which is it to be?"
She looked past Lucius to where Janus was bound. For just a moment she considered leaving him to his fate, the lure of freedom almost too much to resist. He had twisted his head back to look at her, but she couldn't bear to return his gaze. Looking back up at the man who held her, she made her choice. It was the only one, that in the end, she could ever live with. "His life," she said tonelessly.
Lucius nodded. "Release him," he ordered the guards, his eyes never
leaving her face. "If he ever touches you again he will die. Know that.
And know that there will be nothing you can offer to save his life. I
have everything you can give."
She sat down across from Thomas at the kitchen table where he was cleaning the general's weapons. It had been three days since the incident with Janus and she hadn't seen Lucius in all that time. He was probably with Seline. She wasn't sure why that bothered her as much as it did.
"You've been with him for a long time," she said, toying with a bit of leather.
"Fifteen years," Thomas replied, not looking up from the sword he was polishing.
"And you're content." It was a statement and a question.
He looked up at her. "Yes. And you can't understand that, can you?"
She shook her head. "No, I don't think I can."
"It gives my life purpose," he told her as if that should explain everything.
"But you aren't free. How can you be content, belonging to another?" She really wanted to know -- needed to know.
"Free to do what, Dionysia? Free to toil in the fields? Free to fight as a common foot soldier in the Empire's unending wars? I have more freedom as the general's slave than I would ever have as a freedman." He put the sword down, looking at her earnestly. "You've never been poor, have you?"
"I don't understand."
"I was, before I entered this household. Unless you've lived my life, or the life of a peasant, don't judge." He sighed, leaning back against the wall. "There are far worse things than being a slave, far worse."
"Perhaps," she allowed, "but I'm willing to take that chance. Not that I'm ever going to have it now." Her final words were bitter.
"Do you really hate him that much?" He leaned towards her, intent. "Let me ask you this -- do you really think he was unaware of your meetings with Janus all these months?"
The look of stunned shock on her face was totally genuine. "He knew?"
"He was concerned for your safety in the market, so you were almost always followed." He shrugged. "It was only because he trusted you that nothing was said. And you never gave him cause not to trust you."
"Until I lied to him," she whispered.
"Yes. And, if you are honest, you know you got off easy. He didn't have to allow you to bargain for Janus's life. It was his to take -- as was yours."
"I have my whole life to regret it," she said, suddenly tired.
"Is your life so terrible here?"
"That's the point, Thomas; it isn't my life!" she said angrily. "It's his!"
"Only because you make it that way."
"That isn't true!"
"You stayed with your old master, after he freed you, didn't you?" he asked seemingly out of nowhere.
"Yes," she said, puzzled.
"Did you ever think you might stay with the General, after you were free?"
"Because it just never occurred to me." Her forehead creased, perplexed.
"And you don't think he didn't know that?" Thomas asked quietly.
She shook her head. "Why would he care?"
"I think that is a question you must answer." He stood. "Our master is a proud man, a powerful man, and, yes, he can be cruel. But he is also capable of great kindness, and even love. Think on that, before you judge him."
She could think of nothing to say to that as he left her sitting
alone with her thoughts.
One of the house slaves woke her, as she had instructed, to tell her the master had returned home. It was late, but she had wanted to be notified no matter the hour.
She quickly brushed out her hair, working in the scented oil that he had given her as a gift. She loved the way it smelled -- and so did he. She smoothed down the almost emerald green silk of her tunic and with one last comb through her hair, made her way down the corridor towards the bath room.
Lucius had been called to Rome before he had returned from Seline's. It had now been three weeks since she had seen him. And in those weeks she had realized, with some surprise, that she missed him. It had also given her plenty of time to consider Thomas' words, time that had led her to the realization that there was a great deal of truth in what he said. Though she would never accept that she give up on one day being free.
His absence had made her see just how much time that they spent together -- and not just in bed. There were the meals spent discussing the latest gossip of Pompeii's leading citizens, the evenings on the balcony listening to him play the rebec, or the afternoons in the garden debating some Greek philosopher. How had he managed to become so much a part of her life? How had she allowed herself to love him?
Stopping at the entry, she saw him, his back to her, lounging in the bath. Motioning to the body slave, she indicated with a nod that she wished to be left alone with him. The slave backed away as she came up to take his place, kneeling behind Lucius, kneading the hard muscles of his shoulders with her fingers. Her heart pounded so loudly, she was sure he must be able to hear it. Would he reject her? Did he still want her in his life -- or just in his bed? She knew now she wanted to stay in his life.
His hand reached up, snagging her wrist. "Playing at peasant, Dionysia?" he asked in that smug voice she hated. "I'm sure if I could see your eyes they would be spitting fire," he told her, thoroughly amused.
He was laughing at her! She fought down the angry words that were hanging on her lips. She would *not* let him make her lose her temper. "And what else but fire would I feel in your presence, General," she asked in a voice so sweet it was cloying.
He laughed aloud at her totally insincere tone. "What indeed?" Before she could come up with a suitable retort, he reached back, pulling her head down, shifting so his lips met hers.
She laid on the edge of the bath, clutching his shoulders for support and leaning against his chest. His mouth devoured hers, hungry and demanding. When they finally came up for air, she only had a split second to see the most evil look in his eyes before he tugged her back, dumping her into the bath. He did keep her head from going under, but she was utterly drenched.
"Ohhhh!" She clutched at his arms trying to keep from falling in again. He put an arm under her, holding her steady till her knees found the ledge that ran around the inside of the marble tub. She glared at him, trying to ignore the feeling of his hands sliding down the wet silk that plastered her body.
"If you are going to bathe me," he commented, pulling her sodden tunic over her head and throwing it to the side, "then you need to be much closer." He was totally unrepentant.
"And naked?" She tried to keep a disapproving look on her face.
"I didn't realize it was a requirement."
"Only in the most special circumstances," he whispered in her ear, tugging at it gently with his teeth.
"If I'd realized, ahhhhh, before, I'm sure, ohh," she managed to gasp, her fingers clenching his shoulders as his hands roamed her body, “I would have volunteered before."
Pulling her closer, he slid his wet body against hers as she linked her hands behind his neck. "I'll be sure to add it to your duties," he growled.
"Mmmmmm, fine," she breathed before pulling his head down, capturing his lips, and kissing him. Giggling against his mouth, she added, "I look forward to your instruction."
"What do you think this is?"
As the first light of dawn glanced through the windows, the two lay curled together in Lucius' bed. She ran her fingers up and down his chest, eyes unfocused, chewing on her lower lip.
"What are you thinking about that is so serious?"
Startled out of her reverie, she looked up at him, not sure what he asked. "What?"
"What are you thinking about that makes you so serious?" he repeated.
She pushed herself up, sitting back on her calves, twisting the bed linen in her fingers. "I thought of many things while you were gone," she finally said.
"And, I'm sorry. I should have told Janus from the beginning that I was never coming back."
His expression tightened a bit at the mention of Janus, but he betrayed no other reaction. "Why didn't you?"
She looked down at her hands. "Because I was afraid. Afraid that he would somehow convince Lydia not to agree to your offer. He has been with her family since they were both children; his pleading might have swayed her."
"I gave you my word; was that not enough?" He got up, sitting across from her.
"It should have been, I know that now. But the thought of having my freedom being snatched away -- again -- made me panic." She looked at him. "I allowed it to take reign, to make me ignore what I knew to be the right thing to do, to ignore the good things in my life. I couldn't see them for my obsession." Sighing, she stroked his knee. "And there were good things. I have finally been honest enough with myself to admit that I would miss you in my life, freedwoman or slave."
Taking her hand, he looked into her eyes. "Were?" he asked softly.
"There *are* good things in my life," she amended. "I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive. It is over, we move on." He squeezed her hand.
"But…." she began to protest.
"Dionysia," he interrupted sternly, "I have said we move on. What do you want of me? Punishment? Is that what you seek to assuage your guilt?" He made a sound of frustration at her intransigence. "Very well. You desire punishment, then you shall have it. I reinstate our agreement: your freedom in two years."
She shook her head, trying to comprehend what he had just said. "No! I don't want it. I didn't do this to make you change your mind...."
"Be silent!" he ordered in a commanding voice. "Are you saying you don't think me wise enough to tell the difference between true repentance and one created to gain favor? Well?"
She looked at him with wide eyes, shaking her head. "No, I didn't mean that."
"Good. Then your punishment is to feel guilty for my generosity in the face of incredible irritation and annoyance -- caused by you. Is that clear?"
"Yes, General," she managed to choke out, torn between laughter and tears.
"I didn't hear that."
"Yes, it is very clear, General," she said a little steadier this time before tears won out, and she collapsed against his chest, crying.
Sighing, he put his arms around her. "By all the Gods, you are the
infuriating woman I have ever known."
December brought preparations for the winter feasts, most particularly the Feast of Mithras. This year, the household was even in more of an uproar as they prepared for the move to Byzantium, where Lucius had been appointed military advisor to the Roman governor.
Dionysia was thrilled about the move. Though Lucius teased her, she hated the mountain that towered over them, rumbling and growling. She felt it was like some great animal waiting for its prey to grow lax before swooping down to devour them. Their child would not be born in the shadow of Vesuvius, and for that she was grateful.
Their child -- she was still getting used to the sound of that. It had come as a complete surprise to her that she was with child, even more so when she realized she had been since July. The heat, the emotional distress of the incident with Janus and its aftermath, those were what she had assumed accounted for the changes in her body. It wasn't till her reconciliation with Lucius that she had realized it was much, much more. At least now she knew why she had been so emotional, so unlike herself through the summer.
Lucius had been elated with the news, immediately contracting the services of a birthing woman for the long trip to Byzantium and purchasing extra slaves to assist her through her pregnancy. He spent every evening, ear to her bare stomach, listening for the first sounds of the child she carried. But his greatest gift to her had been the parchment that declared her a freedwoman when she turned thirty, already witnessed and signed. He had actually arranged it right after their rapprochement, but he had been saving it to give to her as a Solstice gift. At the news of her pregnancy, he had presented it to her, declaring that it was a greater occasion than any Festival day.
She hadn't thought she could be any happier, until she read the parchment that had been delivered to her today. It was from Gaius and his wife, telling her that they had escaped death for their beliefs and were once more with their children. They had finally tracked her down, and were sending the proof to her current master that she had been freed and unlawfully resold into slavery. They were going to settle in Sarum, in the south of Britain, but would wait to hear from her, hoping that she would rejoin their family.
They would be surprised, but pleased she had found some measure of happiness in her life here. There were still moments that she thought herself a traitor for being happy when so many had died. But she was realistic enough to realize she could do nothing for the dead. She had to make the best of what this turn of the great wheel had ordained for this life, this time. Maybe in the next life, she could make a difference.
Smiling, she slowly descended the steps that led from the orchard terrace to the garden below. Lucius would be home soon and she couldn't wait to share her news with him. Knowing that her friends were alive and safe was the crowning jewel in her happiness.
With no warning, an arm wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her back. She screamed, struggling against her captor, but her advancing pregnancy made her clumsy and unable to leverage herself away.
"Don't be frightened, my love. I've come to free you," Janus said in the calm voice of a madman.
"Janus, what are you doing? You know it's your death to be here. Please, let me go." She struggled again. "You don't want to do this," she said, trying to reason with him.
"I need to take you, and our child, away from here, away from the monster that holds you. I know you've been waiting for me."
He ran his arm over her belly. Terrified, she realized he had a knife. "Janus, please don't hurt my baby."
"Our baby, our family as it should have been." His voice took on a singsong quality. "Soon, we'll be together."
She heard the sound of running. Looking down the stairs she saw Thomas and several of the house slaves. "Go now. Find the Master and send for the guard," he ordered. "It will be all right," he assured Dionysia. "Stay calm; we won't let him hurt you."
"Silence!" Janus screamed, waving the knife. "She knows I won't hurt her or our child, but I won't let them fall into your Master's clutches again," he warned threateningly.
"Please. Let me go!" He would kill her to save her. She had to get away from him. The baby. \\No! I have to stay calm, have to, have to.//
"Release her, slave," she heard Lucius bellow. "Harm her and you will pay dearly!"
Janus laughed hysterically. "I already have a death sentence. There is nothing you can threaten me with!"
"There are many ways to die, slave," he warned ominously.
"Lucius, please don't let him hurt our baby," she pleaded.
"No!" Janus shouted. "Mine! It is mine! You are mine!" His arm slipped up around her throat, choking her.
She clawed at the arm, ripping at the skin with her nails. "Janus... I... can't... breathe...."
Lucius changed tactics. "If it is your child, then you don't want to harm either of them," he said calmly. Janus loosened the hold he had on her. "I don't want her if she bears your child. If she would risk all this to be with you, then I will let her go -- I will let both of you go. Put down the knife."
Taking her cue from Lucius, she said, trying to keep her voice calm, "You see? We can be together, just as you've always wished. Please, Janus."
For a moment, she thought it might work, feeling him relax slightly, the hand that held the knife dropping to his side. Then he snapped. "NO! You're trying to trick me! I won't let you have her!"
Knowing this was her last chance, she pulled her legs out from
her, letting her weight drop. With his arm around her throat, he didn't
have the leverage needed to control the dead weight of her body. One
finally free, she drove her elbow back into his ribs, breaking free.
the momentum pushed her away from her only support on the steps,
nowhere to go but forward. She didn't even have time to scream as she
down the stairs.
She lay on the bed as Lucius stroked the hair from her face. "I've sent for the birthing woman. It will be all right," he assured her softly.
"It isn't all right, Lucius, something's wrong." She gasped in pain as a contraction wracked her body. "It's too soon!"
"Shhhh, you must stay calm."
The birthing woman arrived, shooing Lucius out of the way. "Don't leave me," Dionysia begged.
"I won't. I will be right here, but you must let the woman care for you." She nodded, allowing the midwife to do her job.
Thomas had come in with the midwife and waited to give his report. Lucius motioned him over. "The slave, Janus, is dead by his own hand."
Lucius smashed his fist into the wall. "He deserved to suffer for what he has done," he said in a white rage.
He looked over to the bed. "I'm sorry, General… for everything."
The birthing woman came over to where the men stood, leaving a slave to bathe Dionysia's sweat-slicked body. She motioned Lucius farther away from the bed. "General, there is nothing I can do. She is losing the child and we may lose her as well; she has lost so much blood."
"No! That is not acceptable, do you understand? You will not let her die!" he said fiercely, eyes blazing, making the woman shrink back.
Screams from the bed stopped any reply the woman might have made as she and Lucius raced to Dionysia's side. "She is going to need your will to keep her in the world of the living," the woman told him. "Sometimes it is what makes the difference in these things."
He took Dionysia's hand, nodding. "You are going to be fine. Listen to me -- you must concentrate on staying here with me. I will not allow you to leave."
She looked at him out of pain-filled eyes that were already partly in the world of the dead. "Don't let him hurt our baby, Lucius, please," she begged.
"He can't hurt you ever again. You're safe now." He avoided mentioning the child. Squeezing her hand, he tried to will his strength into her.
Her body arched off the bed in a spasm of pain and a sudden clarity appeared in her eyes. "The baby! It's dying! No! Stop them Lucius! Stop them," she sobbed, almost hysterical. He tried to keep her from struggling but she was frantic.
"We need to get this draught in her. She must be sedated or she will damage herself irreparably!" the birthing woman instructed. Lucius held Dionysia while the woman poured the bitter drink down her throat. "There; it will begin to work in a few moments."
"The baby, the baby," she kept repeating over and over, still struggling against his hold in a frenzy. "Noooo, don't let them, please, Lucius...."
"I'm losing her!" Dr. Beverly Crusher told them. "Some reaction to the probe that the others didn't have, and I can't seem to break it. Her neural functions are shutting down!"
"Doctor, in the *dream*, her persona was having a miscarriage, hemorrhaging, dying…. Could that be affecting her?" LaCroix asked, his face a study in dread.
She looked up at him sharply. "Severe mental trauma, coupled with your people's psychic abilities, maybe." Triona began to thrash wildly, calling out in Latin for the baby, as the monitors above her head dipped dangerously into the red. The doctor seemed to reach a decision. "I'm going to sedate her -- heavily. Maybe it will allow her mind to break the cycle."
"Will that save her, Beverly?" Picard asked, worried. LaCroix waited just as anxiously for her reply.
She looked up at the two men. "It may kill her, but doing nothing will most certainly kill her at worst and at the best she'll suffer irreparable brain damage."
"Then do it, Doctor," LaCroix told her. "Save her, you must save
Triona sat up in bed. She was well enough now that Dr. Crusher had allowed her to return to her cabin. LaCroix, as he had been every time she awoke, was sitting by her side. "What happened? I remember everything about her, and you, and...Janus, but what actually happened is a bit hazy."
"An alien craft, seeking knowledge of new races, used some form of energy to probe our minds," he explained. "I believe that it locked on to us because of the heightened emotion we were experiencing at the time."
"You mean because we were fighting." She managed a small smile.
He arched a brow. "Yes." He then continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Add to that, the holo-simulation which was of a period in my life that evoked strong, almost violent, feelings. When it happened, Picard was in a public area and was taken to sickbay; they were unaware of our own predicament until he regained consciousness. They were able to convince the alien that their probe was causing harm and it finally released us."
"But you and Picard came out of it immediately...."
"I think our bond intensified the effect and the ordeal your persona was experiencing left your mind defenseless when the probe released you." He brushed her cheek softly with the back of his hand. "It was a near thing. The doctor thought you might be suffering from irreversible mental trauma -- something I knew you're being an Immortal wouldn't protect you from." There was still an edge of fear to his voice, remembering how close he had come to losing her.
"Why did it have to happen that way?" she whispered. "I finally have the experience of carrying a child and it...." She broke off, scrubbing at her eyes. "So now I have the memories and knowledge of a woman that never existed." She saw a look pass across LaCroix’s eyes. "It was all an alien-induced fantasy wasn't it? Lucien? Wasn't it?"
He closed his eyes. "No, it wasn't a fantasy. It was my past, pulled straight out of the depths of my darkest memories -- you and Picard cast in the roles of Dionysia and Janus."
"Oh god, Lucien." She leaned over holding his face between her hands. "I'm so sorry. To have to relive...." Tears slid down her face.
"I would have relived it a thousand times if I could have spared you the experience." His lips traced the path of her tears, brushing them away.
"Did she... did she die? I'm sorry, but I need to know."
"No, it's all right. She didn't die. She was far too stubborn in the end." He smiled a little, remembering. "Only one of several similarities you share." He cupped her cheek, kissing her lightly.
"What did she look like?"
"She was similar in complexion, but her hair was a little lighter, and she had blue eyes instead of green. All in all, similar enough that there have been times I've wondered if she weren't your ancestress -- not that it's likely, but it pleases me to think so on occasion."
"Lucien," she said softly, placing her hand over his against her face, "would it be unbearably painful for you to tell me what happened to her? I can't explain the desire I feel to know. I was her, in my mind. It still seems so real...." She stopped, not knowing how to explain.
He pulled her into the crook of his arm and began his tale, not needing an explanation for why she needed to know. "We went to Byzantium as planned. And once there I made a decision. I didn't wait till she was thirty, I freed and married her as was allowed for under Roman law; with her agreement, of course." He smiled a little at the bittersweet memory. "By the next winter, she was once again with child. It was a girl as beautiful as her mother. We named her Perpettua. It seemed fitting somehow. At the end of that assignment, I was given command of the Ninth Legion, and we moved to the new Roman fortress of Eboracum."
"Yes, what is now York. It wasn't yet the jewel in the crown of the Empire as the capitol of Northern Europe, but it was not without its charms. Dionysia loved it there and the two years we had together were blissful ones. Then came the Gaulish uprisings and I led Rome's troops into battle. It was the last time I saw her, my child, and my child yet to be born...."
She giggled as he laid his ear against her belly; his fingers splayed across her bare skin.
"Shhh! I can't hear!" he scolded.
"It's too soon to hear anything, Lucius!"
"It will be my last opportunity for a long while to hear my son." He was sure that this child was going to be a boy and always referred to it as such. "So I will listen," he pronounced.
Suddenly serious, she stroked his head. "I know."
Looking up at her, he smiled reassuringly. "I will return to you before his birth. I promise you. It will be a swift campaign," he said, all confidence.
"I can only pray you return safely to me and our children," she said, eyes sad.
"Hoping at the same time that my troops are defeated in battle." He sighed. She didn't deny the truth of his words. "I do my duty, my love."
"I know that, but it doesn't make me feel any less a traitor to my people, or allow me to wish you success in the destruction of what is left of them." She traced his face with her fingertips, memorizing every plane and curve. "Come home to me, Lucius -- just come home."
He pulled her down, crushing his lips to hers. "I will never leave you...."
"But you never came home," Triona said sadly.
"As I had anticipated, the campaign was bloody, but swift. So I decided to return to Pompeii, having heard that Divia was ill," he explained, "and to tell Seline I had decided to take my daughter back with me. She was a diffident mother at best and I was sure, with some persuasion, she would agree with no unpleasantness. Dionysia and I had discussed it previously and we agreed that Divia would be better off with us. You know what happened after." He fell silent.
She nestled closer, stroking his chest. "I know. But you didn't. You still blame yourself, don't you?"
"On some level I do. If I had chosen differently...."
"What happened?" She could tell from his voice there was more to the story.
"Once Divia was...gone, I returned to Eboracum. I'm not sure, really, what I intended to do once I saw her again. But I never had the chance to find out. I arrived to find her five years dead." She squeezed his hand comfortingly. "She had tried to stop a drunken centurion from raping a Briganti child. He knocked her to the ground and she struck her head."
She was crying softly. "Oh, Lucien, I'm so sorry."
"Gaius and his family had settled in Eboracum in the years since my *death*, once more taking on the role of Dionysia's family, even taking our children into their care after their mother's death. I presented myself to them as a friend of the family; not at all sure I wanted my children associating with Christians. But they were happy. Perpettua was a beautiful woman and Lucius had grown into a strong young man. I was the stranger and I decided I didn't want to touch them with the darkness I had touched Divia with."
"That isn't true!" she protested angrily. "You loved her! I know that."
"Perhaps. But at the time, I wasn't willing to risk my two remaining children." He seemed lost in thought, falling once more into silence. Finally, he continued. "She never accepted I was dead, not once in all the years we were apart. She insisted I would return one day, and she was right," LaCroix's voice broke, "except she wasn't there to welcome me home."
"She knew you loved her -- knew you would have come home if you could," she said fiercely.
"How can you know that?"
"Because *I* would know that."
He leapt off the bed. "She died alone -- I should have been there, should have protected her. And then I couldn't even honor her memory enough to keep her in my thoughts. I blocked all of it out: my children, Dionysia, and most especially Divia. I turned my back on what was left of my mortality and embraced the darkness." His voice was fierce, and sounded very old.
"Which is what you've always told me a vampire has to do to survive! How could you bear to watch your children, and their children, grow old and die?" She got out of bed, walking purposefully to him. "You couldn't have, so you gave them the greatest gift you could -- the ability to lead their lives, their mortal lives, just as Dionysia would have wished. They were able to fulfill the promise of your love for each other. How can you hate yourself for that?" The look she gave him was one of sadness, exasperation, and the long love they had shared. If he knew her innermost soul, then she knew equally well his heart.
He shook his head. "I can always trust you to shine the light of your belief in me into the darkest parts my soul. How do you do that?" he asked, pulling her to rest against his chest.
"I could ask you the same thing," she said softly, "but it's a question we can only feel the answer to, I think."
"I can only hope then that it is an answer we will never tire of," he said just as softly in a voice like warm feathers.
"Never, I promise you," she replied before reaching up to kiss him.
"This is awkward," Picard admitted, sitting across from her in his ready room.
"It is, a little, even though it wasn't *us* -- it was the alien manipulation of our mind," Triona reassured him. "I don't blame you for what happened."
"Was that all it was? I'm not so sure." He handed her a datapad. "I did some research," he said noncommittally.
She looked at him sharply, unease apparent on her face. She began to read the information he had given her. Finishing, she was quiet for a moment. "What of it? So there was a General Lucius Cerealis Perpetuus. I'm sure the aliens accessed the same data bases you did,” she said, her voice the utter calm of years spent hiding what they were.
"They didn't. I checked."
"And you're sure that you would be able to tell if a technologically advanced alien race had tapped your data banks?" She laughed, feigning disbelief. "And even if they didn't, who knows what other sources they had probed before they got to us." An amused smile on her face, she stood up, handing him the datapad. "Really, Captain."
"Don't pretend, Triona. You know as well as I that isn't what happened."
Suddenly serious, she put all the weight of her age into her next words. "Whatever you know, or think you know, Captain, I suggest you forget about it. Heed me well, this line of thought is pointless, not to mention futile."
"And if I don't?" Picard asked stiffly.
"Then don't say I didn't warn you." Her eyes were like cold marble. She had to stop this, and now.
"Is that a threat, Minister?" he asked with a hint of heat.
"If my threats are all you ever have to deal with, then you can consider yourself fortunate."
"Definitely a threat," he snapped, momentarily losing his well kept cool.
She practically growled in frustration. "I -- we -- have done nothing to deserve this mistrust. And since we have not, common courtesy demands you do as I ask, trusting that I have ample reason to do so!"
Sitting next to him, she softened her tone. "Listen to me Jean-Luc.
Imladris will guard its secrets. If we feel threatened, we will
completely from all dealings with the Federation. LaCroix has been
our new openness from the beginning: he will need little excuse to slam
shut the gates once more. That is all I will say on the subject, other
than to say that if you doubt me, talk to Guinan. If even that does not
suffice, then let the future take care of itself." She prayed he
would listen to her, because if he didn't, she knew she wouldn't be
to save him.
"I did as you suggested." Picard stood with her in the transporter room, awaiting LaCroix's arrival. With their business completed, they were to transport to an Imladrin shuttle for the trip home. "I spoke with Guinan."
"And?" She mentally held her breath.
He smiled slightly. "Let's just say I won't be asking you any more questions. I apologize."
"No apologies are required, Jean-Luc. I only wish...." A flash of sadness passed across her eyes but was quickly shuttered. Shaking her head, she stroked his cheek with the tips of her fingers.
Capturing her hand he raised it to his lips, brushing her knuckles. "I do too," he whispered. "Whether or not what happened was an alien-induced fantasy, reality, or a mix of both, I know that the relationship you have with LaCroix is as complicated as the one Dionysia had with Lucius -- and with many of the same undercurrents. Maybe one day...."
"I'm sorry, I thought I could make it all work…." She felt LaCroix's approach and knew this brief moment of her life was almost over. There was sadness, but also the comfort of knowing that there were some things that were a constant. She continued, "But it just can't be."
The door whooshed open. She leaned up, kissing Picard gently on the lips, giving him a small smile. "Maybe not in this life, at least," he whispered as her lips left his. That earned him an even bigger smile.
She didn't reply -- just reached back to take the hand she knew was waiting for her.
"Are you ready to leave, my dear?" LaCroix asked.
Squeezing his hand, she turned her smile to him. "Yes. It's time to go home."
Nodding, he led her to the transporter pad. Once they were ready,
told the transporter chief to initiate. As they shimmered out of
existence, Triona raised her hand in farewell, knowing that they would
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