Twist Of Destiny
In the weeks that followed, I tried to forget what had happened between Maximus and me and tried not to be too concerned about him. But it was an almost impossible task.
During the days I buried myself under work and spent even more time with Valeria -allowing her to stay awake longer, playing with her and letting her happy laugh soothe my strained nerves. Thus it was easy enough to keep the memories at bay, but during the nights, when I lay alone in my bedroom, the images of our shared passion returned to haunt me. I seemed unable to forget what we had done inside those walls, and in truth I did not want to. It had been the most incredible night of my life and I wanted to keep its echoes with me forever. And also, even more importantly, I did not want to forget Maximus at all. I worried about him. I felt anxiety for him. And I did not like not knowing what was going on in Rome. Truth to tell I did not like him to be in Rome while I was here, because that made me feel powerless. That was very stupid of me; he had been in Zucchabar for months without me knowing it and even when I finally became aware of his presence, I had not been able to do anything for him. But now, of course, I believed I could save him and save the whole empire at the same time by being in the same place where he was. That was really childish of me, and I now wonder if it was not the first symptom of what was going on inside my body.
I was pregnant, but I understood it only when my monthly blood failed to appear and my breasts became heavy and sore. And even then I did not jump to the most obvious conclusion, but waited for a surgeon to confirm it. I was expecting Maximus' child. The news shocked me. True, I should have not been so surprised, considering I did not take any precaution that night and the many times he had spilled his seed inside me, but since it had taken me eight years of marriage to bear Valeria, I did not think it possible to become pregnant again with such easiness. But it had happened and I did not doubt for a moment I was going to keep the baby; it was a gift of the gods and the fruit of love. The love of a friend to another, not that between a woman and a man, but it was LOVE nevertheless. The only thing marring my joy that day was that I was not able to give the news to Maximus; he had lost his son, and I was sure he would have been happy by the prospect of having another, no matter how strange and unusual the conception had been. As I told before, I never even thought I could get rid of the child or expose him after his birth as many matrons do with the unwanted fruits of their illicit loves. I wanted my baby, and I never regretted my decision nor did my conviction ever waver, but I paid dearly for it in the following months.
In Zucchabar everyone knew I was a widow, as they knew I was not engaged to anybody. So, when my pregnancy became evident, the entire city began to wonder about the identity of my child’s father. I was too rich and too well known as an independent woman for this kind of morbid curiosity not to rise. And since some of the older members of our community had always found it "immoral" that a woman could control such wealth as I did and work like a man, and even better, they were more than happy to possess such a "weapon" against me. Talk, innuendo, and rumours spread like wildfires and arrived as far as Mauritania, finally reaching Fabius' ears. It was well known I had been seen in his company more than once and now the gossipers wanted to know how he would react to the news. I can tell you he reacted badly, very badly indeed.
He came to the villa, at first hoping the rumours were just that, unconfirmed talks, but his hopes and his face crumbled when he noticed my swollen belly. I saw him swallow hard, then he asked who the child's father was. I had never revealed it to anybody, outside my household, which of course already knew by itself, but I felt Fabius deserved my honesty, thus I told him the truth. All of it, from how I had known Maximus since my childhood in Hispania to the moment the aphrodisiac had taken hold of his body. I told him everything, but he stopped listening as soon as I pronounced the words "Spaniard" and "gladiator". He began to rage against me and his wounded pride - I had always refused his most intimate advances - pushed him to lash out. I remember he said I liked to play the chaste maiden with good men like him, but I had no problems to act like a bitch in heat with a gladiator and insulted me, my child and my ancestors with vulgar and nasty words I have since then forgotten. He went on for a long while, and when my attempts to reason with him failed, I ordered to my Nubian slaves to take him away. They did, and I thought that was the last time I would hear from and of him. I was sorry it had to finish so badly between us, but there was nothing I could do to avoid it.
But it did not end then, at least not for Fabius. He told what I had done (had sex with an infamis, a gladiator, not that I had tried to help a childhood friend) and what he thought of me to everyone who cared to listen to him. He being a very respected and influential member of Zucchabar's ruling class, soon all the town knew about my immoral ways and about how I had wounded such a good man. I could no longer step out of my villa without being invested by nasty comments and whispered and not-so-whispered insults, "whore" being the most common. Many merchants of that area had never accepted that a woman could do their job and were more than happy to spread the news of my immorality, thus causing some of my trading partners to back away.
I tried to confront the situation as best as I could, but it was like trying to save a ship which is leaking water from a hole in its hull with just a bucket- it was a hopeless battle and the stress that derived by it almost cost me my unborn child. Only the great skill and cold head of the midwife who had helped me with Valeria's birth saved me from a miscarriage and when I had recovered enough, I decided Zucchabar, Fabius and business were not worth the great fright I had just suffered. I had enough money stored away to live without doing anything for the rest of my life, having inherited from both my father and my husband's family, and thus I decided to sell everything and return to Hispania. My child would be born there and he or she would play in the same places where his or her father and I had played as children. It was fitting, and I thought Maximus would appreciate it.
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