Tales of Ancient RomeBy: S. J. A. Turney
“Gods, Postumus. What have you done?”
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The great fire of 64 AD burned for five and a half days and levelled three quarters of the city, destroying thousands of homes and some of the grandest buildings that had stood for half a millennium. Rumour placed the cause in the hands of the Emperor Nero, who hurriedly, and very effectively, passed the blame on down to the burgeoning cult of Christians.
Gaius Postumus rose to the rank of tribune, commanding one of the cohorts of Vigiles, one of few survivors of the service during the conflagration.
Of the fate of his fish supper, history does not relate.
Lucilla licked her lips and rolled over, pulling the covers tighter. The room was chilly in the November night, frost forming on the garden of the villa outside her wall, the bone-cold breeze sneaking in through the shutters and lowering the room’s temperature.
Briefly she contemplated leaving the room and going to the closet to collect a spare blanket. Possibly one of the slaves would still be up and about preparing things for the morning and could get her one. Certainly if her mother or father caught her wandering around the villa’s corridors at this time of night, no amount of defensive argument over the temperature would save her from trouble.
She rolled back over again, irritation at her parents bringing her extra wakefulness and driving elusive sleep that bit further away. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her parents. Of course she did; they were her parents, after all. But they were sometimes a little too careful about her, instituting so many rules to keep her safe and sound that at times her safe, sound life felt more like a prison.
The few friends she’d had years ago were gone now, leaving the valley and its wealthy villas, taken to Deva where they were matched and married off. Oh, Lucilla should have been married and gone from here more than two or three years herself. She was hardly a girl anymore, anyway. At sixteen years, she should already be contemplating her own children.
But she wasn’t healthy. No man would want her, as her father told her repeatedly. Her body was too frail; too weak. She was not the bright and robust girl her friends had known when they used to play in the woods and river of the valley.
It had begun with the visit from her sister. Her father would deny that, of course, as would her mother. But then they had always denied even the very existence of her sister. Whatever Livia had done when Lucilla was still a baby had been so horrifying that they had shut her out of their life, not even speaking of her. Only one or two of the slaves spoke warmly of her when confiding in Lucilla.
She turned over again, shivering in the wind, wondering once more about getting that blanket.
Yes, it had begun with her sister; that first night about three years ago when she had found out that Livia even existed. The older girl, very reminiscent of her younger sibling, had defied their parents and crept back into the house, into Lucilla’s room. She hadn’t said anything, just stood watching with a sad smile on her face. It made Lucilla’s heart break to think of her sister being out there in the outbuildings, denied her parent’s love and the comforts of the villa. Perhaps that was why mother and father kept Lucilla so safe?
No. That was because of her frailty. But her frailty had begun then. It had, as she had said, made her heart break. Quite literally. The next morning, the robust girl was gone, leaving this pale, willowy, feeble girl with the short breath and the twitch.
Her mother had been quite distraught, and her father, calling on his veteran’s benefits, had brought the legion’s chief medicus from Deva to examine her. The surgeon had explained, after lengthy tests, that her heart was damaged. Some great shock had actually stopped it for a time, and it had resumed its beat with a problem.
The care and virtual imprisonment had begun that day. Perhaps she would have recovered in time; found herself a handsome soldier to wed, and been gone from this dreadful, grey, chilling villa, if only she had not declined in steps.
Every step, of course, coincided with the infrequent visits from her sister. Livia could only sneak into the house very rarely when it was dark and everyone but Lucilla was asleep. Perhaps twice or three times a year she came.