Tales of Ancient Rome

By: S. J. A. Turney

Every time was a wrench for Lucilla. She loved her poor, exiled sister so much and the warmth of her return filled her with a fleeting joy that soon plummeted into the icy river of sadness again as Livia, wordlessly, smiled that sad smile and returned to her freezing den in the outbuildings.

Lucilla had stopped telling her parents about Livia’s visits after the first year, as the conversation inevitable led to an argument and anger from her father, denial that Livia could have come to see her, and an extra layer of cold security being placed around their younger daughter.

But the visits still came. Livia never explained why she came or how she could live like she did, but Lucilla didn’t care. It was enough even to see her beautiful sister on those rare occasions. Even if it was rapidly dragging her toward her own demise, her weakening heart now making it dangerous for her even to leave the interior of the villa. Eventually, if she died, her sister would join her and they would be together in the beyond, living in the light of Sol Invictus.

Too cold. The temperature just appeared to be dropping all the time. It had merely been chilly earlier, but Lucilla would swear she could see ice on the shutters, reflecting the moonlight shining through the crack in the shutters. Frost seemed to be forming on her blanket.

She gave a deep sigh and sank back into her blankets, feeling the welcome pull of sleep at last.

It was then she knew that Livia was in the room. Shuddering, she sat up rigid to see the pale figure in her grey tunic, with the long, lustrous black tresses of her hair hanging low, touched and speckled with the frost.

Lucilla smiled. It had been long months since her last visit. She straightened her night tunic and raised her eyebrows questioningly. Livia never spoke, of course. She couldn’t. But Lucilla instinctively knew what her sister was wanting or trying to say.

Livia curled a beckoning finger, and Lucilla frowned. This was new. She’d never left the bed before. A surge of dangerous excitement ran through her cold, frail figure. Could Livia be taking her to show her the den where she spent her time? Gingerly, wincing at the freezing marble of the floor, Lucilla swung out her legs and climbed from the bed, swaying slightly for a moment, before she got herself under control. Her legs were so weak she had to shuffle toward the figure in the doorway, holding out her hand to the wall to steady herself.

Livia smiled that sad smile of hers, but this time, actually walking toward her, it didn’t drive Lucilla’s spirits down into that icy river of loss once more. Instead she felt the electric thrill of discovery. She would, she knew instinctively, find out about her sister this time. She had to. It felt right.

As she approached the open doorway of her room, the corridor dark beyond, Livia beckoned once more and then slipped around the corner out of sight.

A sense of urgency overtaking her, unwilling to let her sister out of her sight for fear she might lose her entirely, Lucilla let go of the wall and tottered quickly to the doorway, her feet slapping on the freezing floor.

The move was too quick for her frail body and as she reached the door jamb, dizziness overcame her and she slumped, her mind fogging with confusion and pain, her body cold and aching. It was almost half a minute before she pulled herself up, peering off around the corner, hoping her sister was still there.

And there was her room. Somehow, during her dizzy fall, she must have got turned around and confused.

There was Livia, lying on her back on the bed, her grey, thin face surrounded by lustrous black hair as she rested among the blankets and pillows. She looked so peaceful.

Lucilla smiled sadly. Best not disturb her now. She’d come back and see her soon.

The man who bought an Empire

Lamp-light glinted off the cuirass of burnished bronze with its protective medusa head, honorific scorpion emblem and winged horses and off the tip of the gladius in the man’s hand. Breath clouded in the chilly night air and condensation formed on the red-painted walls.

Titus Flavius Genialis leaned around the corner of the corridor and glanced left and right sharply before pulling back to safety.

“No one. The passage is clear, Caesar, but we must hurry.”

Behind him, the emperor Marcus Didius Julianus flattened against the wall, wild-eyed and breathing heavily. His normally intricately-combed and curled black beard hung loose and ragged, much like his hair. His normally swarthy, handsome features were strangely pale and glistening, the result of such desperate nerves. His toga was muddy and covered in dust from the many hiding places they had been forced to utilise on the way through the enormous Palatine palace complex.