Actions

Work Header

When In Rome

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.

Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.

Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com

My website is at dreamcatching.netfirms.com/kam/index.htm

Thanks for corrections and encouragement to the members of the Bardic Circle and Tavern Wall, especially Extra, Jaden, Dawn, JLynn, Jordon Falconer, and Sue. More thanks to Claudia, Morgane, and for rereading this countless times, Abardreader. And my thanks as always, to the great Mary Morgan.

A comment about feeding the bards and once it’s over, I promise not to interrupt again.

This story was begun over six years ago when I was in Rome, sitting in a balcony of the Coliseum, looking up towards the Palatine. I had hoped to write it with my partner, as we’d just finished what I think is a great story, The Last Conqueror. But the feedback had been almost non-existent and for several other reasons, she decided to forego any more adventures into the Xenaverse. I had the story completely plotted out, so I began writing it on my own. Once again, as each section was posted, there was little response, and after several chapters, I gave it up.

Now I know that writers should write for themselves, but writing is one thing. Posting it, sending it out into cyberspace and then not hearing a word is another thing entirely. It’s like throwing your baby into a well. Now I hate people that leave stories unfinished, and a few special people pushed on this guilty conscience and got me to rewrite and complete it.

My point is that we writers are not that important. More important are the people who man the websites, the people who beta and most important of all, more than they might ever think, are the people who take the time to comment and encourage the writers. So, the next time you read a piece that you liked or touched you, become an important person. Feed the bards.

When In Rome

By Kamouraskan

 

The slave’s corpse lay where it had tumbled, under brush on the lush green hillside, well hidden from intense sunshine and any human eye. She had been negligently tossed there from a horse and died alone; victim of a flogging and brutal rape. Around the still remains, insects buzzed and birds sang, all innocent that their vigour framed a lifeless carcass. Nature did not hold the dead in their midst in awed respect; it welcomed it. A few crawling insects began to stir in the foliage, drawn by the lingering warmth of the body, and the scent of blood. Only the light breeze could not reach under the bracken to disturb the deceased.

But then an unseeable presence stilled some of the cries. The long dark hair of the slave stirred, and something seemed to trace the encrusted blood that marked the whip wounds on her back.

Then it was gone.

And then the cadaver moved.

Several birds called out a shrill alarm and the hill was frozen in their frightened silence. The former corpse rolled over, then muttered quiet, but fluent curses as the injured muscles were stretched so that she could drag herself even deeper into the cover of the bush.

Accomplishing that, she hauled herself to her feet, clenching her teeth against the pain and scanned above the trees for some sign of where she was. A pillar and the shattered roof of the house on the hill were only barely visible. But that was enough. Her nearly bloodless face became even more pallid. ‘The Golden House,’ she thought. ‘Oh, Gods. I‘m right in the centre of Rome again.’ But the fear quickly left her face and posture, and she declared quietly to the empty air as she carefully lowered herself to the shelter of the foliage, “it… doesn’t matter. It never has, you hear me? No matter what you do, I won’t forget my promise. I’ll NEVER join you and I’ll never forget her.”

*****

Not very far away, in the great House of the Vestals, another woman was dying. Unlike the slave, she would not die alone. As she lay perspiring, gasping out her last uneven breaths, she was being attended by the entire household of the great temple. With the exception, of course, of those tending the hearth that represented the heart of Rome. No cataclysm could prevent that duty from being performed. And cataclysm this death might be. Even as they bathed her body with cool cloths, the novices would occasionally glance upwards to their head priestess, the Virgo Vestalis Maxima, afraid to see their own fears reflected in her eyes.

All knew that the death of this woman, the death of one who was a symbol of the spiritual life of Rome, could mean that their own lives might be forfeit. Once before, the death by lightning of a Vestal Virgin had been of such import, that a committee of the highest powers was formed to investigate what had obviously been the wrath of the gods. Despite the enormous regard for which the Vestals were held, they were women, and naturally the committee concluded that it was the fault of the Vestals themselves. It was decided that the priestess killed by lightning had been punished by breaking her vow of chastity. In the ordeal that followed, other vestals were also convicted of having broken these vows and the Roman Senate was called in special session to read the holy Books of the Sybalines, which advised a simple remedy.

Two couples, one Greek and one of Gaul, were buried alive.

For that reason, no one outside the Temple had been told of the illness that had struck the girl. It was most likely a contagion caught during a recent visit the young woman had made to the docks. Sacrifices of wine and cheese and prayers had been made hourly, yet she continued to grow weaker, until now all waited in apprehension for the end. The Pontifical College, which represented and oversaw all the Temples, would have to be notified, and this was a duty the Virgo Vestalis Maxima was dreading.

As she prayed, much like the birds on the nearby hillside, she became aware of a presence, and directed her chants towards it. This seemed to have no positive effect, and there was an awful silence after the last breath was drawn. The Maxima hung her head low, allowing the stress of the past days to show, and gave one more prayer for the soul of the bright girl who had been raised by her and her sisters.

Regretfully, she gave a nod to have the face covered. She had known Numai from when she had been brought to the temple at the age of six by her once wealthy family. The Maxima had taught and guided her throughout her training to become one of the cherished six vestals. The girl had even been named after the founder of the Vestal order, Numa, and brought there to receive the recognition and education her parents could no longer afford. It was a tragedy in so many ways…

But as the sheet covered the young face, there was a sudden explosion of coughing. Astonished, barely daring to hope, they raised the sheet to see the sweat coated face now wide-eyed and gasping for air. The Maxima took the girl in her arms as the others fell to their knees. The breathing became stronger as did the chants for the miracle that had occurred before them. So great was the relief, that only the Maxima heard the garbled words that the girl spoke, and noticed the astonishment as Numai stared at her hands and arms.

Only the Maxima heard whispers from the still lingering presence, that instructed her as to what must now be done. She immediately ordered the rest of the Vestals to leave and for strong sleeping draughts to be brought. The draughts were accepted without struggle and soon the girl fell exhausted into natural sleep.

Now the Maxima was left with yet another dangerous and more puzzling problem. She could not believe that an evil spirit would have been able to enter the sacred confines of the Temple, and so she would follow the whispered instructions she had been given. For the sake of the Temple she would have to pretend nothing was wrong and hope that when the girl awoke, she would be accepted as the same girl they had all known. But she had spoken fluently in Greek, a language that Numai could barely write. As with all of the senior teachers, the Maxima spoke and understood it well and was quite sure the girl had asked why she was young. And she was also sure that Numai had been brown eyed, though the startled eyes of the now sleeping girl were green.