“This I prefer before all the world, do I prefer.” Aaron, Titus Andronicus.
Aaron crouched close to the ruined wall, listening to the Goths pass by. They seemed to be setting up camp. He wondered if they would believe the baby in his arms was their prince and decided it didn’t matter. It seemed they hadn’t taken Tamora’s new marriage well. And now they were led by a Roman who was no longer a Roman, fighting a Goth who was no longer a Goth.
It had a certain poetic symmetry to it, although Aaron had more pressing things on his mind. The baby was starting to squirm and squall. He held it closer and murmured to it. He didn’t dare cover its mouth for fear of suffocating it but he couldn’t let it cry.
He could hear someone approaching, heavy boots crunching on the dry grass. They weren’t trying to be quiet, but they were heading straight for him. There was nowhere to hide. Aaron was faced with a choice; put the baby down, shoot and risk it’s crying alerting the Goth army to their presence, or keep holding it and try to sneak round the other side of the wall. The footsteps came closer and Aaron made his decision.
The arrow hit the soldier in his windpipe, drowning his screams. By the time it occurred for anyone to look for him, he was cold and Aaron was far away, the baby grizzling into his chest.
Aaron sat in the cave, watching the rain pour down. The milk goat he had bought was tied in the corner. The baby was sleeping in his lap. Aaron wondered idly what had become of Tamora in his absence. Probably nothing good. Tamora was an instinctual creature, living for instant gratification and always taking things too far. Unchecked she would bait Old Andronicus like a bear. And while Aaron might have taken care of the bear’s claws, only a fool would forget about the muscles, sinew and rage hidden under the shaggy fur.
If Titus was mad then it was a dangerous kind of madness. And Aaron wanted to be far away when his mind finally snapped. Once he would have told Tamora this, but now he had his son to consider. Let her die then and call it payment for betraying the child. Aaron cared for no one’s flesh but his own.
It was strange to think that something so innocent could have come from him and his queen. One way or another that would change. Even among the Goths, his skin had marked him out as different. Inferior. Or so they thought. As a boy Aaron had been faced with a choice: to accept them as his betters or to bring them to confusion.
Not that he saw himself as a victim. Every casual insult and petty injustice had shaped and hardened him, little by little, like molten glass. Aaron was a man filled with hate. Every murder he planned, every rape he orchestrated, every livelihood he destroyed and every man he drove to madness he did for the pleasure of it. Call it his revenge against a cruel world.
At least his son’s hardening would be less painful. He’d teach the child to live like a savage but think like a general. Together they’d hunt in the forests. Recite Ovid and Virgil. Train with swords and bows. Prepare for the day when Rome –even now corrupt and permeable, would be like an overripe fruit, ripe for the picking.
The world had tried to force Aaron to kneel, but instead he would bring Rome itself to its knees.
Looking down at his son he realised that he had yet to name the child. The vigour and the picture of my youth. He would call it Aaron for himself. He liked the idea of being called Old Aaron one day and watching his younger self live on. Perhaps one day Young Aaron would fight Young Lucius.
And that time Aaron would be the victor.