Phineas burst into the kitchen, red-faced and panting. "Mama! There is a stranger at the end of the lane. He is asking to speak to the man of the house."
"Phin, you know your grandpa is not well enough to see visitors."
"He is clothed like a beggar, mama. Come." The young boy tugged on Nia's stola. "Come!"
She sighed and wiped her hands. "Very well." She placated the boy. This is the most excitement he'd had in ages. A stranger. These lands were only traveled by locals and crossing armies. The sun beat down on the rolling green fields. She let her palms brush the tops of the dancing grass.
"Hail, milady." Her keen eyes took in the tattered green cloak. She couldn't see his face in the shadow of the high sun. Her son beamed, looking back and forth between his mother and the stranger. "Is your husband available?"
"Good sir, my husband is dead."
"My father is not well. If you have concerns, you may address them to me. I run this house in his stead."
The stranger bowed from the waist. "Might I use your barn for the night? I've traveled far and am in need of rest."
"No." Phineas and the stranger both startled.
"Only animals rest in my barn. Are you an animal?"
"I've been called as much."
"You look like a man to me."
"So you say." He bowed from the waist again.
"We have a spare room that you many use for the night."
"Hush, child. You may wash and make yourself presentable. If you look as bad as you smell, I'd rather not have that at my supper table. Phineas, take the man to the bath house." She left the pair at the end of the lane, returning to her duties.
The stranger followed Phineas to the bath house. The boy prattled on about his dog that had died last month, the neighbors up the road, the weather. The stranger paid him no mind. He let the boy talk, but he didn't listen. His thoughts strayed to his own wife and son back in Rome. The ache in his heart throbbed. That throbbing distracted him.
He shook himself. "Yes, boy?"
"Phineas. My name is Phineas. What's yours?"
The man cleared his throat. He didn't see much harm in giving the boy his first name. "Caius."
"Caius." The boy ran around the room to a complicated looking lever system. He hopped up to the lever and put all his weight on it. Caius watched the boy from within the hot darkness of his cloak. The lever rose. The boy hopped. The lever rose. The boy hopped.
A hollow sound of air rushing past stone whistled through the airy bath house, followed by a gurgle. Then water gushed from the stone jug set into the wall. "Ingenious."
"My Uncle Leonius designed it! Neat, huh?"
"And where is your Uncle?" Caius felt a knot of dread in his stomach. Men did not like finding strange men in their bath houses.
"He went to Athens and never came back."
The water filled the cistern. Phineas sat on the bench and watched him with the curious eyes of the child that he was. Caius sighed. He dropped the bad of his meager belongings to the floor. He pushed back his hood. His skin had turned a rich brown in the Grecian summer sun. His once smooth skin now held almost a month's worth of growth. He draped the cloak over a bench.
"Mother was right. You sure do smell."
"Well, Phineas, I have not bathed in almost a month. You would not smell so fresh yourself."
"Mother does not let me go more than three days without bathing. She said my future wife will value hygiene."
"Your mother is right." He pulled his shirt off over his shoulders. The boy's sound of awe made him cringe. So much like his son's. He'd felt great pride in his father's wounds. Caius missed his son's fingers tracing the more visible scars. And his wife's tracing those in more intimate places. "Would you excuse me, Phineas? I am not your relation and I do not feel it appropriate for a boy of your age to see my person unclothed."
"Oh. Of course." The boy hopped down. "Mother is usually in the kitchen. If you need her, she is in there."
"And your grandfather?"
"He does not come out of his room much. He is mean and cranky."
Caius smiled. "Many thanks, Phineas." The boy beamed then took off running as he hit the sunshine.
The cool water had felt glorious. After washing himself and trimming his beard as much as he could, he relaxed. He'd been walking for months. Sleeping in barns when allowed, inns when given charity. This woman had given him the most. A glimpse of normalcy. Soon, he dozed in the shade of the bath house.
Nia finished prepping their meal. Her father always took his meal in his rooms. Old age didn't appear to be kind to Athenios. He complained of aches and pains; about the taste, temperature and texture of everything he ate and drank; the noise and the silence, the weather and anything else that came to mind. Nia tolerated him because without him, she'd be forced to marry again. And she still grieved her husband in a sense. More, she'd grown accustomed to the freedom being a widow had given her.
She set the table for three. Her heart squeezed. It had been so long, too long, since she'd done so. Perhaps, she should take a husband. But men were so much work, husbands were more so. Phineas ran in and out of the house per his usual behavior.
"Phin! Where is our guest?"
He stopped abruptly in the kitchen doorway. "Caius? I have not seen him."
"Caius is his name then. Well, where did you last see him?"
"Bath house. Mother, Toby is going to find me if I stay here. Can I go?"
"Yes, but remember dinner."
"When the sun is at the trees. I know, Mother." She shook her head smiling as he ran off into the sunshine. Her husband used to say Phin had the feet of Mercury. Had she believed in the gods, she'd have believed him. Nia grabbed the bundle from the table and made her way out into the sunshine.
Nia hummed to herself, no particular tune, just a melody that naturally sprang to her heart. She ducked her head as she entered the cool shade of the bath house. "Good sir, I-" Her breath left her. He looked so much like Darius, lounging in the cistern. Stinging tears sprang to her eyes and she turned away.
Caius jerked awake. Had he heard a sound? Or was it just that he was no longer alone? He splashed water on his face to fully awake. "My apologies."
"You have nothing to apologize for." He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Here are some clean clothes. You may wash yours before you leave."
"Because your smell is offensive."
"That is not what I meant."
Nia tilted her head to the side. "Then what did you mean?"
"Why are you doing all this for a stranger?"
She sat down on the bench and smoothed the stola in her lap. "Caius, there is much war and death and evil in this world. Charity and kindess are needed more. By giving you both, I hope that you will one day remember it and gift it onto another."
"Your son told you my name."
"He did." She nodded. "I am Nia. You have met Phineas. And my father, who you will not likely meet, is Athenios." Caius smirked. Such a Greek name. "I'll leave you to dress."
"No." She paused. He struggled for words. "Would you wait outside? I would like to wash my clothes." She smiled.
"I can do that. There is still time before dinner."
Nia waited outside. She stole a glance inside. She thought he might have caught her. His body stirred long quieted desires in her. She felt a familiar dull throb between her legs. The brief glimpse of his scars reminded her of Darius even more. She turned her face to the sun, letting its warmth dry her tears.
Caius caught her eyes as he stood in the water. The water chased itself in lazy lines down his body. He felt himself swell at her glance. He stood unabashed until she looked away. It lasted only a second but a second can become forever in the right instance. He dressed in the clothes she provided him. The sandals proved to be too small so he left them on the bench. He gathered his stanky belongings and joined her in the sun.
Phineas found Nia and Caius at the wash basin. He leapt into his mother's arms. There was no denying the boy's already joyous spirits soared with Caius's unexpected arrival. His resemblance to Darious added to Phin's joy. Her boy would be broken when Caius left them. Perhaps it was time to find a husband.
They shared easy conversation and company. Whether he hailed from, he was of good birth. He treated her as a woman of standing. He sat in the place she reserved for him for dinner. She and Phineas had just sat down to eat when Athenios clambered into the dining hall.
"Darius! My boy! You have returned!" The old man hobbled over to Caius, waiting for him to stand and embrace him.
"Father, this is not Darius. This is Caius. He is our guest."
"Do not be silly, woman." He hissed, the meanness flaring in his eyes. "Do you not recognize you own husband?!"
"Phineas, please take your dinner to your room."
"Yes, mother." The boy gathered his plate and scurried off like a frightened rabbit.
Caius raised his eyebrow but made no move. "Athenios, this is not your son. This man is our guest, Caius."
"Do not be daft! I know my own son! Returned home from the war!" He brought the wine cup to his lips and drank deeply. "Nia, no watered wine on such a glorious occasion. Bring out the Venetian wine!" Atheniois disappeared into the kitchen.
"I am truly sorry, Caius. My father had memory sickness. One too many injuries to the head during his time as soldier. Please forgive him."
"No worries. If it will keep peace within your house, I will play to him. It is the least I can do to repay your kindness. And the boy is not present to become confused." She couldn't keep the relief from her smile. He found himself smiling as well. For the first time since Roma.
When Athenios returned with the wine, Caius stood and embraced him. "That is more like it, my boy! You seem taller. Or maybe I have shrunk." He laughed a fully belly laugh then plopped down into the chair next to Caius. Nia looked down at her lap. The old man poured another cup of wine and drank deeply. "Ah, the only thing Romans are good for. Their wine."
Caius laid his hand on the table and beckoned her to take it with the slightest movement of his fingers. She slid her palm slowly over his. A piece of her relished the warm, calloused touch. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Athenios watching them. She brought her palm back over Caius's then locked her fingers into his. The old man's scowl became a smirk.
"Regale us over your victories."
Nia shook her head. "No, father. I will have no talk of war in this house. It has taken too much from our family."
"By the gods, woman!" He smacked the table.
"I hold no truck with them either!"
They glared at each other over the table. Caius cleared his throat. Athenios shoved food into his mouth then gritted what teeth he had left. "What would you have him talk about then?"Nia
She picked at the goat cheese and the bread, still warm from the oven. "His travels. He has traveled far to join us. Perhaps he could tell of the sights he has seen. The people he has encountered."
"Athenios, if you are going to be a cantankerous fool, you can take yourself back to your room."
"Both of you. If it would please you, I'll tell you a story that is both war and travel." Caius squeezed her hand in askance. She nodded. Athenios beamed.
"The Romans had laid waste to the Grecian countryside. Homes and fields burned. I watched with my garrison as the fires blazed in the setting sun. The sunlight filtered through the thick smoke, casting shadows and colors of many shades. I'd never seen anything so beautiful. The fires danced high into the air, their flames almost lost in the colors of the sky."
He looked off into the air, remembering that night. He'd killed many men and received one of his prideful scars. He'd taken his rage and battle high out on the body of nubile young whore but it didn't ease the rage in his soul. Nia watched him, wondering which side of he'd been on.
"That's it?" Athenios tossed a chunk of lamb back onto his place.
"Nia has asked not to hear war. You want war. I gave you what you both wanted. It's not my concern if you like it or not. I'm afraid the old Greek in you won't like my other tales. Tales fo Grecian blood spilled by Roman hands. But I would regale you if it pleases you."
"Tell them. His cruel old heart doesn't want to hear of beauty. All he wants is death and chaos." Nia snatched her hand from Caius's and stood abruptly, knocking over her chair. She gathered the dishes loudly, leaving Caius's plate since it was nearly untouched. She'd lost her appetite and Athenios had devoured his at an animalistic pace.
Caius watched her leave. This family drama was not his to entertain. The old Greek looked at him with sparkling eyes. He wanted war, he'd get war. He launched into the seige of Corioles, the spectacle and victory that set him upon his path.
Nia threw the dishes into the basin. Pottery shattered. She could hear Caius talking grandly to her father. The setting sun stabbed her eyes. Her feet carried her out the back door and to the family memorial. Her knees gave, bringing her down to the ground. She laid her cheek on Darius's stone. Hot tears spilled onto the cool stone.
"I hate you. You should have come home! Not some stranger! You!" She beat the stone. "How could you leave me? Leave Phin! You promised to come home. You gave your word!" The weather beaten stone tore the flesh of her knuckles. She screamed and raged and beat the stone until her hands came away bloody.
Strong arms lifted her, yelling her name. She flailed, trying to get at the stone. The arms tightened around her. She twisted and struck at the owner of those arms. He grunted. She stomped the insole of his right foot then elbowed him in the gut. "Enough!" He threw her face first into the stone. Her forehead struck the granite hard, dazing her.
Caius stood above her. Red filled her vision, stinging her eyes. "You're a mess. Compose yourself before you terrify your child." She touched her forehead. Her fingertips came away with blood. Though she couldn't be sure it wasn't from her bloody hands.
"Where is Athenios?"
"His rooms, I suppose. I told him a bloody tale. Your theatrics abruptly ended any more."
"Have you never known grief, Caius?" She gathered herself up, setting her elbows on her knees, not unlike he'd done in the bath house. The flowing stola gathered in her lap.
"More than you'll ever know." He glowered down at her, nostrils flared and jaw set. Her bloodied hands and visage quickened his desire. He flexed his hands, aching to run them over her sweaty, trembling flesh. Her unabashed exposure of her tender folds inflamed him, though he suspected she wasn't aware he could see the sweetest part of her. Her unkempt hair fell about her face. How truly Roman of him to take the widow of a dead Greek upon his tomb.
Nia looked up from her bloodied hands. Her heart sped up at the terrifying intensity of his face. Her cunt pulsed and wet itself. She let her knees fall open, leaning her upper body back. "Would you continue to play husband and bed your wife?"
His tongue wet hungry lips. "If that is what the lady wishes, who would I be to refuse her kindness?" He flexed his hands, eager to have them upon her willing flesh. "But do you think fucking upon 'my' tomb is wise for your heart?"
Nia knew Caius spoke truth. Were they to fuck upon Darius's stone, her heart would surely break away. She lifted her hands to him. He took them, pulling her up more than she pulled herself. Emotions and memories warred across his face. Still holding her hands, he wrapped his arms around her back, backing her into the wall.
Their mouths hovered a breath apart. Their eyes locked to each other. He could feel her heart beat with her luscious breasts pressed to his chest. His hips pressed to her, forcing her legs apart. His hard cock ground against her. Her lips parted in a pleasured gasp. He sprang upon her, his mouth as crushing as his groin. She gave as good as he did, her lips and tongue fighting his with years of unspent passion. The coppery taste of her blood mingled with their saliva. The taste spurred him on, crushing their hands between her back and the wall.
Caius broke from Nia like he'd been shocked. He released her right hand but held onto her left. She didn't have to ask where he began to lead her. The bath house. The setting sun had filled it with shadows. And the water left in the cistern would be warm. Body warm. He spun around, taking her mouth again. Her back found the wall. He lifted their hands above her head and held them against the wall. He sought her other hand then pinned her wrists within his hand. He traced the backs of his fingers down her arm, illicting a shiver from her.
His knee pressed into her soft flesh where her legs met causing her to make delicious little sounds of enjoyment. The backs of his fingers continued down her throat and between her breasts. He grabbed hold of the sash under her breasts and yanked it loose. The cloth unraveled and fell open, revealing her breasts, all of her, for his eyes to devour. He claimed her breast, digging his fingertips into the yielding flesh. She gasped into his mouth. His thumb flicked her pebbled nipple, drawing a moan from her.
Caius let her hands go. Her arms dropped to her sides. The stola tumbled to the floor. Her sticky fingers found his light brown hair, combing through it over and over. He took her other breast in hand, giving it's nipple the same treatment. His mouth left hers to plant hungry kisses down her jaw and neck to her chest. He bent to take her nipple between his thin lips, biting down lightly until she squirmed.
Nia found his belt and dropped it to the floor, loosening the tunic. He shrugged it off then drew her body against his, bending her back. His mouth moved to her other nipple, pulling the brown pebble into his mouth. Her olive skin tasted as salty as the fruit which it had been named after.
The blood had dried upon her skin, sticky and stiff. He broke from her nipple to guide her to the cistern. The water splashed but neither cared. Their mouths found each other again, tongues and teeth expending penned up desire. Their hands roamed over flesh, never stopping in their need to feel.
"Lay back." Nia knelt then laid back in the water. Caius knelt to the side of her, using his hands to scrub the blood from her hands and arms and her face neck. The water turned pink around them. He spread her legs then moved to kneel between them. Rubbing his palms over her breasts and belly, he continued down her body. He looked up at her from under his eyebrows, passing his hands over the delicately trimmed hair upon her mound. She watched him with half-lidded eyes and parted lips.
He smirked, grazing his fingertips on the edge of her outer lips. Her hips squirmed. His fingers kneaded the bend where her thighs joined her hips, working her thigh muscles loose. He traced the curve of her knee, wrapping his hand around the side. He pulled her forward. His fingers found her inner folds. He didn't have much to do to prepare her. His fingers found her wet and ready. But having only one child and not known a man since the death of her husband, her walls remained tight. He couldn't surpress the groan of anticipation that his working fingers inspired. She watched him breathlessly, as he positioned himself to take her then grabbed her hips. Working his back and forth and moving hers where he needed, he pushed forward, stretching her.
Nia's head fell back, sighing out her pleasure. He smirked. Rome conquered yet another Greek. He watched his length disappear inside her with each thrust. He tried to concentrate, to make it last since it'd been so long, for the both of them. But she moved so deliciously and every noise she made drove him closer and closer to the edge.
Caius leaned over her. His well-muscled arms propped his body above her. She wouldn't lay back. Truly, she couldn't without her face going under the water. He rested his forehead against hers. The eye contact heightened his pleasure. His wife always looked away. But not this Greek goddess. No, Nia locked eyes with him. Her body trembled. Her moans spurred him on.
His name on her lips undid him. He seized her mouth and thrust his climax out. He knew she hadn't finished, but it wouldn't take him long to be hard again. He tucked his face in her throat, breathing heavily. "Give me a moment and I will give you yours." She moved her hips in a circle. "Do not move like that." She moved them back. "Gods, Nia." She could feel him hardening inside her. He sat down, pulling out of her. His back braced against the ledge of the cistern.
Nia gazed at him for a moment. He reminded her of Darius. He bore a striking resemblance to him, but this strange man was definitely not Darius. He possessed a passion her husband never had. His eyes devoured her bare, wet form before him. His long fingers wrapped around his cock and stroked until he stood hard and ready for her again.
"Come. Sit." She stood astride his lap then knelt down. He held his cock straight and true. She did as he commanded and slowly eased down onto him until she sat upon his lap. Her body sent a twinge of pain at his deep intrusion. Flush colored her cheeks.
Caius drew his knees up behind her back. He let her move at her own pace, mesmerized by her breasts bouncing before his face. One hand rested on her shoulder, the other teased her clit. He dipped his head to drew on her nipple, pinching it between his teeth. She cried out, grabbing a hold of his hair. He suckled the sweet pebble until he began to taste cooper. Her areola began to purple. He grinned, satisfied with himself and moved to the other, giving it the same treatment.
Nia rode him harder, her eyes closed and fingers knotted in his hair. When he freed her nipple, she pulled his head back by his hair and kissed him. Her tongue invaded his mouth, her cries dying on his lips. He growled and thrust upward, throwing her off but they found a rhythm. He grunted, sucking upon her tongue. His fingers punished her clit until the world exploded in white and washed out of her. Her body clenched around him. He took his cue and held her down, thrusting up into her until his own orgasm hit.
His hands skimmed over her body. "I pray this night lasts forever so I may worship your body with mine until my heart stops within my chest."
Nia leaned back on his thighs. "How very Roman of you, Caius."
"Found out, am I?"
She smiled and shook her head. "Little things." She shrugged. He yawned and stretched.
"Let's a bed, good wife. So I may be rested for morning."
"You will get no rest tonight." She sat up and cupped his face in her hands. "If I am to have you for just one night, I'll make good use of you." She kissed him, tenderly, sweetly, drawing a sigh from the both of them.
"As you wish, milady."
Sunlight warmed his face, but Caius threw an arm over his eyes. Nia sighed next to him and snuggled deeper into the bed. He grinned to himself then rolled over to press his front to her back. His fingertips traced the dark lines of her body. Were anything to detour or deter him from his revenge, it would be her. This Greecian strega, this Greek goddess, this his wife for a night.
She smiled to herself, his warmth and touch having woke her fully. Her body ached from their night of lovemaking, but she craved him once again. As she pressed back to him, she felt him hard and ready against the swell of her ass. His hand cupped her breast then skimmed down her belly. His fingers played with her coal black tresses. His fingers separated her lower lips, seeking through her hot folds.
His lips pressed to her shoulder. "Are you able to?"
"I am sore but yes."
"Good." He scooted down on the bed.
The door banged open. "Mother!" Phineas ran into the room. "You were not downstairs." Caius ducked down behind Nia. "Are you ill?"
"No, son. I am tired. Go back downstairs and I will follow behind."
Phineas's response was to tear out of the room, leaving the door open. Caius sighed and fell upon his back. "You should go."
She sat up. "Were I a weaker woman, I would ask you to stay." She left the warmth of the bed and splashed cool water upon her face. "I know not where you journey to or whence you came, but you could stay here." She wrapped a cream stola about her shoulders then secured the waist before she looked at the bed again. "Were I a weaker woman, I would say these things." She knelt on the bed and kissed him as she had in the bath house. "Do not be too long. Phineas will wonder where you have gone."
Caius pulled the hood of his cowl over his head. He'd asked they not see him off. The boy had run off to play, eager for the distraction. Nia had done as he wished, but he found himself standing in her kitchen, staring down at her. She offered her home and her bed, her body and her heart once again. But she knew he wouldn't take it. He knew he wouldn't.
"Nia, if anything could deter me, it would be you. I have long missed my wife and son. You and yours have filled a void in me but temporarily. They were taken from me and I revenge myself, my wife and child. My pride and honor." He tipped her chin up, expecting to find tears in her eyes. There were none, but there was sadness and pity. That pained him more than tears. "If I survive this, I give you my word that I shall return."
She took a step back from the warmth of his body. "Then good travels, sir. May your gods be with you on your journey." She turned her back to him and set about cleaning the morning's dishes. He willed his feet to carry him away, away from a salvageable happiness, away to Aufidius and his fate.
~Some time later~
Phineas burst into the sitting room. Nia swore that boy was a hurricane made flesh. She laid her sewing down upon the sette, waiting patiently while he caught his breath. "Yes, Phin?"
"Mama!" She smiled but flinched at his volume. "Caius has come back!"
"What?" She stood.
"Yes and he has brought an army! The Greek army!"
"Surely not, my son. Caius is Roman."
Nia followed him, slower of course. She felt a sense of familiarity as she trailed her palms over the tops of the tall grass. But Phineas had spoke true. Caius stood, stoid and proud, his hands clasped behind his back. His eyes widened, his lips parted at her countenance. A Greek stood to his side flanked by two guards. He bowed.
"Hail, milady." She stood before the group, resting her hands upon her swollen belly. "Is the man of the house available?"
"No, my husband is in the city." She looked from the Greek to the Roman. "Might I help you?"
"I am Tullus Aufidius. This is my general, Caius Martius Coriolanus." She bowed to both men. "My general tells me he is familiar with your household."
"He is, indeed. My son, my father and I gave him shelter some months past."
"Would you be so kind as to let our men use your land to rest?"
"I will allow it." Aufidius nodded.
"Many thanks, good lady. And congratulations on your child."
"Many thanks to you, good sir."
They turned to leave but Caius touched Aufidius's shoulder. "A moment." He nodded but left the two guards a distance within which they could react. "Nia."
Her face broke into a joyous smile. "Caius." She ached to embrace him. "I see you are set upon your path."
"I am." He opened his hands and held them loose at his sides. "I see you are well. Congratulations."
"On which? The husband or the babe?"
She laughed. A sound that tickled his memories. "Many thanks." She rubbed her belly but looked up at him from beneath her eyebrows. "You should congratulate yourself." She took a deep breath. "I told you once you had a home here if you wanted it. I make the offer again. Good day to you, Caius."
Caius watched her walk away, with his child within her womb. His heart clenched, tugging at his soul, his pride. She stopped and looked over her shoulder at him. He looked from her to the guards. She offered him a chance at life again, at happiness and love. But his task was not yet finished. His revenge ate at his soul like a cancer. He clasped his hands behind his back, held his chin high and turned away from her. The two guards fell into step with him as he returned to Aufidius and the army.