Twist Of Destiny
The sound of someone knocking on the door and calling my name invaded my consciousness and woke me up. I slowly opened my eyes and the first thing I saw, as soon as my vision got used to the little light filtering through the half open shutters, was the wide, tanned expanse of a man's naked back. Maximus' back. I was lying on my side behind him, spooned against him, my breasts lightly pressed against his warm skin. For just a few seconds I stared at him not understanding what was going on, then memories of the past night crushed on me, snapping me totally awake. I flushed crimson as some very vivid images crossed my mind. The realization of what had really happened in that room took my breath away, but I was still too dazed, tired, and confused to try to sort out my emotions. I just wanted to close my eyes and return to sleep, my cheek resting against Maximus' shoulder....
But I could not- the pounding on the door kept going on and I finally gathered my strength and my wits and rolled onto my back, the first necessary step to get out of bed. As soon as I moved, all my muscles screamed in protest. I was stiff and sore all over, but a sense of well-being pervaded me, causing me to think once again at what we had done the past night.
"My lady!" A woman's voice penetrated the thick wood of my door, calling me back to the present. With a supreme effort, I threw the crumpled sheets away and sat up, wincing at the pain between my legs as the most tender parts of my body pressed against the mattress. I already knew that crossing the room would be a torture, but I had no choice. I stood up and walked slowly to retrieve my robe from the floor where I had dropped it, put it on, and then padded barefooted to the door, grimacing at my soreness. A concoction of mint leaves was badly needed and I shuddered at the idea of having to visit the latrine, because the burning I felt at each step I took almost made me breathless.
I unlocked the door and opened it just little.
"Yes?" I asked softly. It was Caenis, my personal maid, and her stupefied expression appearing made me wonder about the condition of my face, which probably bore all the marks of the wildly passionate night I had just spent: hair tangled and dirty with sweat, blue shadows under my eyes and beard-burns on my cheeks and neck. I absentmindedly wondered what she would later think of the mess in the room. To the girl's credit, I must admit she quickly reclaimed her composure and bowed to me with respect.
"Good morning, domina. I am sorry to disturb you but," and she hesitated a little as she considered her next words, "a wagon arrived a couple of hours ago. Two men are waiting in the peristyle to take your...guest…home. We had offered them wine and food, but now they are getting impatient. "
"What time is it?" I asked myself, as I nodded to Caenis. "Tell them we need some time. Go to Antonius and tell him to give them the leather pouch I left closed in the arca in the tablinium; we will arrive as soon as possible."
"As you wish, domina." The maid bowed her head and disappeared in the corridor as I closed the door and leaned my back against it, closing my eyes, collecting my thoughts, and dreading what I had to do.
I had wanted to help Maximus, I had wanted to give him the chance to escape, but all of my best intentions had been ruined by Proximo's aphrodisiac and now it was too late for doing anything else but wake him and send him back to his life of slavery. I desperately wished there was something else I could do, but as much as I tried to, I could not think of anything. I don't know how much time I spent with my back against the door, but in the end I forced myself away from it and walked back to the bed. I stopped near it and, with some difficulty, I knelt down, staring at Maximus' face as he continued to sleep, surely more exhausted than I. I observed his strong features and noticed how he looked younger, less weary when asleep. It reminded me of the child and the boy he had been. "But he is a man, and what a man!" I said to myself as my mind stubbornly insisted on recalling other images from the night before, when he had looked at me in dire need, his eyes burning, his bronzed skin covered by sweat... I had only wanted to help him, to stop or lessen his suffering -or so a part of my mind kept on saying, for I was not ready to deal with other possibilities- but it had turned out to be the most erotic and pleasurable experience of my life. He had overwhelmed me with his passion and ardour and I had given all myself to him, as I had never done before, even with Valerius... Thinking about my husband immediately sobered me and I resolutely stepped away from that line of thought. This was going to be embarrassing enough.
Gathering my strength, I touched Maximus' bare shoulder, briefly wondering if he was still under the effects of the drug. His skin was no longer burning, but now pleasantly warm, and I had to fight the sudden impulse to caress him. Instead I shook him until he groaned and rolled onto his back, mumbling, "I am awake." They were the first coherent words he had said since the evening before and his voice was hoarse and throaty.
I stood up and watched as his eyes opened. There was a long moment of silence, as he blinked his eyes rapidly and looked around him.
"Where am I?" he murmured so low I barely heard him.
"You are in my house, Maximus. Don't you remember?" Did he have any recollection of what had happened? And if he did not, would I be relieved or disappointed by it? At the sound of my voice, he slowly turned his face and stared at me, and in the following few seconds, I saw many expressions cross his handsome features: first confusion, then understanding and stunned remembrance. Our eyes met for a brief instant, before he lowered them in shame, humiliation and embarrassment. I was feeling exactly the same, now that he was awake and conscious of his actions, and thus the next long moments elapsed in an uneasy silence until the sound of two, unknown male voices reached my ears and I straightened for what I had to do.
"Proximo's men are here," I whispered, forcing the words past the lump in my throat. "They have come to take you back."
Maximus sighed deeply and nodded, "I know."
"I will leave now, so you can bathe and dress." I murmured again, offering to him and myself a quick way out. It was clear we were both terribly uncomfortable and I did not want to make it even worse than it already was. I moved to walk away, but as the night before, he was quicker, and his calloused hand wrapped gently around my left wrist.
"I am sorry for what happened, Claudia, I never wanted to ruin our friendship." He sounded so sad, tired, and defeated it broke my heart. I looked at his blue-green eyes and I saw unshed tears there. His emotions were very close to surface, probably because of the after effects of the drug, and he was struggling to keep them under control.
My right hand covered his and I shook my head emphatically, "You did not ruin our friendship," I said staring straight at him, my voice gaining confidence as I went on. "It was not your fault. We were both victims here, and I am feeling responsible for what happened- I must have played the part of the lusting bitch too convincingly. I am only sad Proximo took away any possibility I might have to help you. I am sorry I was not able to do more for you..."
Maximus shook his head, slowly but with decision, and his eyes never left mine, "That's not true. You did very much for me- in a very personal and caring way, and I can never thank you enough." He swallowed hard and turned his head away, once again embarrassed. Then he looked around the room with intent, grimacing when he noticed the condition of the table and the upside-down chair. Thinking I knew what he wanted, I went to retrieve his tunic, loincloth and belt and gave them to him. He thanked me and after a brief smile, I turned around as he put them on. Once dressed, Maximus approached me and reached out with both of his hands. I lost no time going to him and we embraced with all of our strength.
"Thank you 'Dia," he whispered against my hair, using the old nickname he had given to me when we were children, "I will never forget your gentleness." We both knew that might be the last time we saw each other. He was going to Rome to fight in the Colosseum and I could not do anything to avoid it- well, almost. The idea crossed my mind with such suddenness it made me light-headed - how could I not have thought about it sooner?
I stepped back from him and said excitedly, "I could buy you Maximus...I could purchase you from Proximo and then free you. I-"
He stopped my talk with a finger on my lips. "Proximo would never sell me. A couple of other gladiator trainers wanted to purchase me but he refused."
"Perhaps they did not offer him enough money! Oh Maximus, please let me try! I could do it, I know I can and you won't be obliged to go to Rome!"
"But I WANT to go to Rome. There is something I need to do there." His face had taken on a serious and faraway look and the determinate line of his lips showed me nothing could have convinced him to change his mind. I could not understand what he meant, but I knew I was going to do as he wished, even if it pained me terribly. I nodded to show my acquiescence, then I buried my face in his neck, not wanting to cry. Maximus hugged me for a while, before he squeezed my middle and stepped away from me.
"I must go," he said.
"Yes..." I watched as he walked around the room and I almost jumped when he knelt and retrieved the chains I had left on the floor the night before.
The clinging sound of the metal made me shiver as he wrapped them around his arm. "These don't belong to your house," he commented and I nodded mutely.
Finally Maximus moved to the door, put a hand on the knob and remained there, his head turned to look at me. I could see he wanted to say something else, but he was not sure about the wisdom of saying it. So we simply stared at each other, telling with our eyes the words we could not, we did not want to say aloud, until Maximus bowed his head to me, before resolutely opening the door and walking away. I remained there, frozen, until I heard the wagon trot away from my villa. Then I slowly backed to my bed and collapsed on it, shutting the world out. Perhaps I fell asleep again, I was so exhausted, but I cannot swear it. I have very hazy memories of the hours immediately following Maximus' departure.
I spent the rest of the day in my room, prey of my confused emotions. My mind was too dazzled and still too overwhelmed by what I had felt the night before to even try to rationalize what had happened. And perhaps there was no need...or was there? It was easy to understand Maximus' behaviour; he had been drugged and he could not offer resistance to his body's needs, even if he had tried very hard not to let himself go on me. But it did not apply to me. I had a choice. I could have backed away, he had given me the possibility to do so, but I had not. A part of me had wanted to have sex with the ruggedly handsome, terribly masculine man Maximus had become. And it had wanted it badly. And I could not understand that... How could that physical attraction fit in our friendship? We had been like siblings since I was four years old, how could my feelings have changed in just a few hours? Was it simply due to my need for a man, to my long years of loneliness, or was there something else? Many times during that day I tried to find an answer, but I was not able to. In the end, shaken and still too befuddled, I closed the memory of the past night in a corner of my mind, decided to keep it there until I was more calm and detached. Then I would take it out and try to understand what it meant.
When my servants became concerned for my health, I finally stood up from bed and told them to prepare my bath. I spent almost an hour in the warm, rose scented water, letting it soothe and relax my muscles. I bathed and tended to myself alone that day, not wanting my maid to see the bruises and the love-bites that peppered my neck, breasts, belly, buttocks and thighs. The bath helped me to clear my thoughts and I returned to the rational woman I was, while the sensual creature Maximus' passion had awakened before disappeared in some recess of my spirit. I knew it would take a lot of time before that part of me would come to light once more- admitted and not granted it would ever do it again.
As I was soaking in the pool, I thought back to the parting conversation I had with Maximus, and especially to his need to go to Rome. I mused about that line for a while, finally arriving to the conclusion that Rome was somehow connected to what had happened to him. Was the person responsible for his enslavement there? Had Maximus decided to bring his case in front of the court? After all, a Roman citizen of senatorial class could not be reduced to slavery.... But if it were so, how could he peruse his cause as a slave? Would it not be better for him to go to Rome as a free man? That would have given him much more freedom. By dinnertime I had reached a decision: by this time the next day I would go to Proximo's school and buy Maximus, then I would free him and give him the money he needed to go to Rome and do what he needed to do. Perhaps he would be angry with me, but I did not care, I was sure that with time he would understand why I had done so. I simply could no longer tolerate that such a gentle, caring, and honourable man remained a slave. No, I could not.
But once again the gods were not on my side, and when I reached Proximo's school the next morning I found only empty cells and training yards to receive me. Shaken and unbelieving, I asked another lanista what had happened, and was informed Proximo and his men had left for Rome the morning before, probably just after Maximus had returned from my villa. And by that time they had surely reached the coast and boarded one of the ships that periodically sailed for Rome. I knew the departing schedules of the vessels very well, it was part of my business.
I thanked the man and returned to my litter, lowering myself on it with some difficulty. The excitement and sense of purpose I had felt that morning, when I had first boarded the little conveyance had made me forget my still sore and tired body, as I lost myself in plans about Maximus and his trip to Rome, but now reality crushed me, and so did the pain, both physical and mental. I sat down on the cushions, closed the silk curtain and abandoned myself to my raging emotions, bursting into tears of sadness, anger, and defeat.
Maximus was gone, perhaps forever, and I had not been able to help him.
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