The last thing he remembered before waking up was searing pain before he passed out. It was just lucky that the Roman peasant that he’d warmed his bed with as they camped outside the city found him when she did.
The horse had dragged the man tied to it out of the camp and into the countryside. Cillia had been standing outside the fence that ran her family’s property, waiting to be summoned to relieve his tension before the big battle. She recognized the horse as it trotted to a stop. It nickered for a treat and she fed it the apple.
“Where is Caius Martius, beautiful boy?” She petted its mane, noticing no saddle, no vestments at all. Her brows pinched as she narrowed her eyes. He ducked his head as he finished the apple and that’s when she found the rope. Following it to her horror. “Caius!” Blood, dirt and debris covered him. Her hands fluttered like caught birds on the ends of her wrists. “Papa! Papa, come quick!”
By the moonlight, she couldn’t tell if he was still alive. His legs lay at unnatural angles and when she freed the rope from the horse’s neck, his arm flopped sickeningly. Her father ran outside, sword in hand. “What is it, daughter?”
“Cauis, papa. What have they done to him?”
The man stood in shock at the atrocity before him. A pale, pale shade of the virile soldier who had taken their daughter for company. The man looked around. “Where has he come from?”
“The direction of the camp.”
“We must get him inside quick. I will send mother out to tend to the horse.” Her father took his legs, stomach lurching as they moved freely from his body. “Hold. We cannot move him like this. We will cause more damage. Stay with him, daughter.”
Cillia leaned down to listen for breath. She heard it wheezing in his chest. He was alive, thank the gods. Her father reemerged with a makeshift stretcher.
“Help me get him onto this. Pull him by the clothes. There, like that.” They grabbed handfuls of his clothes, lifting and pulling him onto the stretcher. Her mother hurried outside to take the horse to the stables. She averted her eyes from the mangled body of the man as she passed them carrying him inside. “We need to see how grievous his wounds are.”
“Take him to the bath, Papa. We’ll strip him and tend to him there.” It will be easier to clean the blood, she finished in her head. Her father nodded and she could tell he thought the same thing.
Her mother came into the room as they were stripping him of his clothes. “The horse is hidden in with ours. And I kicked dirt over the bloody patch in the road.”
“Good thinking, mother.” She watched her father smile at her mother.
“Papa, what do you think happened to him?”
“I think the Roman ran to the end of his usefulness and they got their revenge on him for leading the charge against them so many times.” He sighed in sorrow and pity.
“Do I need to fetch fresh clothes, father?”
“No, it will be easier for Cillia and I to tend to him without the hindrance of clothing.”
“What should we do about his arm?”
Her father followed her gaze to the tatters flesh and sinew at his shoulder. “It needs cleaned as well. Into the water with him.”
Cillia sat in the basin, her arms wrapped tightly around Caius’s chest. Dirt and blood smeared her wet stola. He whimpered as her father scrubbed him clean. His brow furrowed more and more as the filth was washed away.
“They sought to tear him limb from limb.”
“What!” The horror of his words lay bare in his daughter’s face.
“There are rope burns around his ankles…well what his left of the flesh.”
“Oh, Papa.” The older man nodded, sharing her pain and sorrow and horror. Caius whimpered and twitched through the process but he was entirely clean when it was complete. Cillia had kissed his temple and pet his hair.
Her father brought a new sheet for the stretcher. He tore a piece off the ruined one and bound the stub of Caius’s arm. They managed to dry him off and get him onto the sheet of the stretcher. The pair of them wrapped the entirety of his feet and legs. They wrapped the juncture of his hips and buttocks as best they could before moving on to wrap his lower back. The rope around his wrist had saved his remaining arm, his head and his upper body from being dragged along the ground. Once the blood was washed away and his clothing removed, they found more than a few hoof prints were he’d gone under the horse as it ran.
Cillia and her father laid him on his stomach so that his back could breathe. During their care of him, he did not regain consciousness.
“I am staying with him tonight.”
“Daughter, I do not think that is wise.”
“Father please, he is no condition to hurt me. Not that he would.”
Her father squinted his eyes at his daughter. Poor thing never had her menses, which meant they couldn’t marry her off with the prospect of strong Roman sons. Doomed to live her life with her parents until they died, then she would live with whatever sibling would take her in. In the meantime, she’d become a learned creature, adding wit and intelligence to her charm and beauty. It had come as no surprise when the Roman General had demanded her company in return for leaving their property nearly untouched.
“Very well, Cillia, I will send up blankets and a pillow for you.”
“Thank you, Papa.” She stood on her tip toes to kiss his cheek. He cast a glance over his shoulder as he left the room. Her shoulders trembled with quiet tears. She sat on the floor near his head. He didn’t look for him to awake for a day or two. The man was lucky to be alive.
Caius Martius only regained consciousness once in the night. He whimpered in pain, managing to beg for water. Cillia was happy to oblige. She only left his side to bath and use the toilet. She changed his bandages with the help of the servants.
His third day of unconsciousness, her father entered the room somberly. “Cillia, we must talk.”
“Then speak, Father.” Her fingers combed through Caius’s hair. She looked up at her father with a face of serene contentment. She would take care of this man as long as he needed it.
Her father sighed and sat in the high back chair next to the bed. “Caius is presumed dead in the capital.”
Her brow furrowed. “Then let the presumption stand.”
“Daughter-“ Her head snapped up. She said nothing, only glared at him. He sighed. “He betrayed the Volsucians for Rome, despite her banishing him some time before.” He steeled himself to tell his child unpleasant things. “His punishment was to be torn asunder by four horses. The ropes that bound his legs were well used and snapped under the strain but not before they pulled his hips from their sockets. His left arm was successfully torn off. They did not chase the horse, leaving him to his fate.”
“Again I say, let the presumption stand that Caius is dead.”
“Is that wise, Cillia?”
“We helped him, Papa. They will surely add us to the dead as well.”
“Are you prepared to take care of him?”
“Cillia, you cannot fill the void of barren womb with an injured man!”
“Get out!” She glared at him until he acquiesced. Her tears fell like rain. It was when she reached to wipe them off Caius’s cheek, she found him looking up at her silently. She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Oh, you are awake.”
“And by the sounds of it, I have providence and you to thank for that.” He tried to move and couldn’t, wincing then grimacing in pain before he cried out.
“Lay still, general.”
“Do not call me that. I am no longer a general. To Rome or Greece.” He laid his head down heavily. “Might I have a bit of wine to dull the pain?”
“Watered wine.” She fetched him a glass from where their meals lay untouched.
He drank deeply of the wine, awkwardly draining the glass. “My arm is well and truly gone.”
“I am afraid it is.”
“And my legs?”
“Pulled from their sockets. That can be remedied with a bit of strength.”
He sighed. “I do not deserve your care and kindness, Cillia.?” He squeezed her hand with the one he had left. “Perhaps you should have left me die. I have nothing to offer in recompense.”
“Perhaps I should have. But I did not.” She squeezed his hand. “It is providence you are alive. That the horse brought you here. That I happened to be waiting for you.” She stumbled upon a thought that hadn’t occurred to her until just then. “Have I done something against your wishes, sire?”
“Perhaps…only time will tell.” He could feel the bile rising in his belly. His arm gone. The other one and both legs useless for the moment. He would deal with things as they came. He had this woman, his lover, to thank for his life. Whether he would thank her or curse her would only reveal itself with time.