Twist Of Destiny
Life went on in that way for about five months, with me and the children eagerly waiting for Maximus' visits. Iunior was beginning to take his first steps, while Valeria would soon begin to study with a tutor, and Maximus and I went to town to find someone suitable. It was interesting to see how I trusted more and more tasks concerning the children to him and how he accepted them happily. I began to lean on him even for questions regarding everyday life, as the purchase of a terrain where to build a larger villa, as if the independent woman that had led a trading company all alone no longer existed. No, that was not true. She still existed, but she was now sort of sleeping. I had not become a business woman by choice: had Valerius lived, I would have probably continued to be a wife and a mother without any regrets. Instead, I had to work to secure a future for my daughter, because I had to be mother and father for her and I did not want to risk trusting our wealth in the hands of men who could have robbed it from us. But now it was no longer necessary. Now I had a man at my side that I trusted with all my being, and thus I could relax my guard and give up some responsibilities, aware he would choose the best for me.
Having Maximus near was also stressful for me. My love for him had continued to grow, becoming stronger and deeper. But sometimes it was even painful, because I knew it would not be reciprocated. I had seen how Maximus' eyes lightened and softened when he spoke of his late wife, and it was clear to me he still loved her. It was a torture to be near him and keep my feelings under control, in order not to betray my longing. And sometimes it became so hard and stressful I found myself hoping his time in my villa would soon finish, so I would be able to relax and stop aching for what I could not have. But of course, as soon as the door closed behind his back, I would begin to count the hours till his next visit. After all, a little bit of him was better than nothing, or at least that was what I kept telling myself.
Then, it was mid-November, and Maximus gave me shocking news. Yes, as you can see I am using that word again, and it is the only one fitting - what else could I use to indicate how stunned I was when he told me he was going for leave for Germania the next day?
"What?!" I almost sputtered, not believing - or not wanting to- my ears, "You are doing what?"
"I am leaving for Vindobona tomorrow." He repeated quietly.
"Now? You are going to travel to Germania during the winter?"
"It is not the first time I have done it, and I have no choice. The tribes on the Danube have attacked two of our fortresses and have broken inside the border, pillaging several villages and ambushing one of our legions... the Felix III." Maximus swallowed hard and looked briefly away. "It was a carnage."
I nodded slowly, knowing that it was his former legion, but I kept silent and waited for him to talk again.
"It was the worst defeat we suffered in years and the Senate asked me to go there to check the situation in person."
"Will you- will you have to fight?" I dared to ask, conscious that my voice betrayed my fear.
Maximus' hand reached out and engulfed mine. "No, I am finished with it. I will go there, evaluate the situation, and try to understand what went wrong in our defensive system. Then I will try to give some advice or suggestions to the legion commanders. Nothing more." He smiled in reassurance. "You must not worry, I will be fine."
I lowered my head, "I am sorry, I did not want to sound so..." I gestured with my hand, unable to define my emotions, "It's just I cannot forget what I felt when I thought you dead."
He let go of my hand and tilted my chin with his fingers. Then he leant forward, his blue-green eyes locked with mine. "I know, and I appreciate your concern, but truly, I am not going to fight, I promise you."
It was the first time he came so close to me, and on another occasion I would have been thrilled by his body's warmth and the clean, masculine scent of him, but not that day, as I valiantly tried not to cry. I took a deep breath, then I forced myself to speak, "Good. I am taking you on promise: no fights."
"No fights," Maximus repeated, bowing his head. I smiled then, wanting to lighten the mood, but I knew I would worry till I saw him again, safe and sound in front of me.
After Maximus' departure life went on, but my days were emptier without his presence to warm my house and my heart. The children missed him too and Valeria asked endless questions about Germania and the barbarians. She must have overheard some talk between the servants, because she knew it was not a beautiful place and she was worried about her papa. I tried to reassure her as best as I could, but it was not easy to be convincing as the months passed and he did not return. The waiting was wearing out my nerves and I began to pray that something would happen to keep my mind busy and away from Maximus.
An old saying affirms you should be careful of what you wish for, because you might get it; smart words, we should always keep them in mind. Because it was exactly what happened to me. I had wanted something to occupy me, something more engaging than sewing and supervising the food preparation, and it arrived in the persona of my landlord, coming for an unexpected visit.
An old man with white hair and beard, he stormed inside the house with as much speed as his gout allowed, screaming, outraged I had transformed the house where he had lived with his caste wife into a lupanare. Gesturing wildly with his walking stick, he added I had to leave the domus because he no longer wanted me there.
I looked at him wide-eyed, for I could not understand what was going on. In the end he calmed down enough to explain better. "I have heard talk in town. They say you receive periodic visits from a gladiator."
"A gladiator?" I frowned.
"Yes, and I've been told that he often remains here for the night." The man looked at me, scandalized.
"He is not a gladiator, domine, he is General Maximus Decimus Meridius, the "Saviour of Rome"." I stressed Maximus' name and popular title to be sure the old man understood. "We have been very good friends since we were children."
"No, he is a gladiator. I know it." He stubbornly insisted, "I've been told so by a friend. He said you kept this immoral behaviour in Africa too."
I sighed, finally understanding that the gossip that had prompted my return to Hispania had arrived at Emerita Augusta and mingled with the talk that was surely going on about Maximus and me. We had not kept our friendship secret, since we were not doing anything wrong and no one would have dared to say anything against Maximus. We had done everything decent under the sun, knowing well he was too familiar a figure to pass unnoticed.
I tried to reason with the old man, but he was so fixed on his idea it was like talking to walls. He wanted me out of his house; he could not allow such "indecencies" to continue. He would have closed both ears and eyes if I had offered to buy the domus, but since I refused, he told me he had to preserve the building's reputation, otherwise he would never have found a buyer for it. There was nothing more I could say, so we agreed I would leave the house in April, because I had been able at least to appeal to his humanity and convince him not to throw me and my children out in the streets in plain winter. So I once again began the search for a new home and in the following weeks I inspected several villas, but those I liked were not for sale and those available were too small or had some kind of faults.
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