Twist Of Destiny
Fabius escorted me home but I did not invite him to remain for dinner. That disappointed him and made him believe I was somehow irritated with him, but I just needed to remain alone, to reason about what I had just seen and decide what to do.
Because I NEEDED to do something concerning the Spaniard, I just did not know what. Once he was gone, I retreated to my tablinium and told the servants not to bother me. I sat at my desk, trying to sort out my thoughts, but I soon discovered solitude was not what I needed in that moment. The shock of what had happened was still too strong. So I got up and went to the nursery, where my four-year-old daughter Valeria was playing with the son of my steward. I took her in my arms for a while, caressing her dark chestnut curls and listening to the description of her day, then I let her return to her waiting playmate. I sat on a chair looking at them, as the sight of their heads bent together on a wooden toy and the sound of their childish laughter brought back memories of other toys and other laughs- and other children.
An image popped into my mind: Maximus and I kneeling in my fatherís barn as we tried to set a bunch of hay afire, while we feigned two legionaries stranded in a cave. I smiled at that memory, actually happy we had failed in our task, but still remembering our disappointment in not being able to do a thing our parents and our servants did with such ease. If I am not wrong, I was six back then, and Maximus was two years older. That episode opened the gates of my memory, and I went through more of our play...and I remembered our swims in the his farmís pond, our pony rides up and down the gently rolling hills surrounding Trujillo, our climbs up my fatherís trees.... We had been inseparable, Maximus and I; both without siblings and the only two children of senatorial class in that area of Hispania, we had been almost destined to be playmates and friends. We had grown up together, sharing everything, till we had reached our mid-teens and my becoming a woman had signalled an abrupt change in our relationship. Our freedom to be together had decreased, as decency and modesty had obliged me to quit our rides for more sedate and ladylike meetings in the inner courtyard of my house, under the watchful eyes of several maids. I now know why my parents acted in that way, and I know I will probably do the same when Valeria is old enough, but at that time I resented it badly. I could not see how someone could think there was something wrong in my relationship with Maximus- he was like a brother to me. I did not look at him with the same eyes I looked at the young men I saw in town, nor did he stare at me like he did at other girls- and that never failed to amuse us. A couple of years before, we had exchanged a kiss, curious as we had been concerning the gladiatorial games, to see what the adults found so pleasurable in that gesture. I still remember the look of perplexity we exchanged after that brief brushing of lips, but now, with our bodies growing and changing, we were all eager to try it again with the boys and the girls that attracted us most.
A little time later I had been engaged to the son of a rich merchant from Emerita Augusta, while Maximus had begun his military training and we saw each other less and less frequently. Valerius, the man chosen by my father to become my husband, turned out to be a wonderful person- gentle, considerate and very attractive. Our arranged union soon became a loving one and the day we married was truly a beautiful occasion for celebrating. Maximus had been there, looking very impressive in his tribune's uniform, to wish me happiness, just like I would wish it to him some years later, when we last saw each other at his wedding with a beautiful local girl named Selene. Shortly after that, Valerius and I moved to Africa, because his father needed a trusted agent there to control the trade of ivory coming from the Southern provinces of the empire. We were happy there, not only because our enterprise flourished, but also because I finally got pregnant. The prospect of having our long awaited child made us dizzy with joy, but the jealous gods decided to steal everything away from us, and they killed my husband before he even had the chance to see his daughter come to this world. The illness that had taken Valerius away had been brief and sudden, and from one day to the other I found myself alone, for, in the meantime, his father and mine had both gone. I could have fallen into a whirl of desperation, but the prospect of my baby and the need to ensure it a good life, spurred me to act. I had always been my husbandís closest aid and thus I took the reins of our trading company and Iíve been directing it since then. I hired a man to act as a tutor because, even if a woman of senatorial or equestrian rank is expected to be able to direct the household and her husbandís estates in his absence, once she finds herself a widow, she suddenly becomes like a child for the law and needs the help of a male to care for her business. That rule had always made me laugh, but I obeyed to it, even if everyone in Zucchabar knew who took all decisions concerning shipping, sales and purchasing. The trading company thrived under my rule, allowing me to have a good life, to care in the best possible way for Valeria, to enjoy the theatres and the horse races, to have a couple of lovers and a lot of beautiful dresses, and now that money was also going to help me to resolve the doubt plaguing meÖwas the gladiator known as the Spaniard really my friend Maximus? There was only one way to know: talking with him, and my wealth would help me to do just that. Lanistae and men in general might not like to deal with a woman but, as Iíve learned on my own skin, the sound of gold coins is usually more than enough to convince the most stubborn of the males to listen to our words.
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