Transalpine Gaul: Summer, 79 AD
Lucius looked down at the report in his hands. So it had come, he thought resignedly. Julius Sabinus, who had finally been captured in the spring, had been executed in Rome along with his wife, Eponina, by the order of the Emperor Vespasian. After the news of their imprisonment, tensions had run high in the surrounding communities. The area was like a tinderbox, waiting for a spark to set it blazing. This news would be the spark, and his orders were to take preemptive action against the settlement below. The time he had known would come was now here, and the plans he had made were about to be put in motion.
There was a knock on the office door just before it opened. Lucius looked up to see the men he had requested along with one of his aides, Octavius.
"What have you to report, Octavius?" he asked the man.
"General, our scouts report heightened activity around the town. Many of the men seem to have left on *errands*, which is quite unlikely considering the current situation." He waited expectantly for his superior's reaction to his report.
Lucius nodded agreement to his aide's assessment of the situation. "Very unlikely. Obviously insurrection is fomenting amongst the Gauls. Not that it's unexpected, this outcome has long been planned for." The men nodded their understanding. "We will attack at dawn, but before that happens, I have an assignment for you, an important assignment," he said forcefully.
The assembled men waited patiently for the details. It was an honor to be chosen by the general personally -- they would not fail. Lucius looked on the assembled centurions; he had picked these men personally to handle this extremely sensitive matter. Only Rome's finest could be entrusted with this.
"Just before dawn you will go to the healer Brigh's dwelling at the edge of town. Once there, you will take her and bring her back to the fort. You will lock her in my quarters, under guard, till I return." Lucius waited for the men to digest his orders; he knew they would obey and ask no questions. "You will not harm her in any way, do you understand?" he asked, his voice hard. They nodded understanding. "No matter what provocation she might offer. I expect you to do whatever is necessary to bring her back here. Any questions?"
"No, sir!" the men rapped out smartly. They were, truth be told, glad of the orders. Most of them had been, or knew someone who had been, treated by the lovely and kind local healer. They had no doubts about the coming attack, believing in their Emperor’s wisdom, but they were pleased that their general had arranged to spare his woman.
"Remember, no harm. If she is hurt in any way.…" Lucius let his voice trail off meaningfully. "I see you do understand," he noted with satisfaction. "Very good. Dismissed!"
He watched them file out. Assured that all was taken care of, he went back to planning the coming morning’s attack.
The battle had been fierce, bloody, and swift. As expected, the Gauls had been preparing an attack against their Roman overlords. They had fought bravely, but were quickly overwhelmed by both numbers and better weaponry. Their attack was the last gasp against a slow stranglehold of Roman might.
Lucius returned to the fort from the battlefield, meeting with his officers to hear their reports.
"Sir, the town has been subdued. Per your orders the women and children have been left untouched." The young officer’s tone indicated his unhappiness with that particular order. He felt, as did many of the others, that an example should be made of the rebellious Gauls. However their general appeared to have other ideas.
Lucius decided to ignore the tone for now; he had other, more pressing matters to see to. "Anything else?" The men shook their heads. "Good, then you have your orders. Dismissed."
All the men filed out except for one. Lucius looked up at him expectantly.
"Sir, the Lady Brigh is under guard in your quarters. She didn’t resist when we came for her -- in fact, she seemed almost resigned, as if she expected us." The man was obviously confused about the woman’s reaction. It was not what he or his comrades had expected. He waited expectantly for the general’s response. "Sir?" he queried when none seemed forthcoming.
Lucius started slightly, coming back to the present as if from a million miles away. "Good. Well done."
"Will there be anything else, General?"
Lucius shook his head. The officer left silently, closing the door behind him. Sitting at his desk a few more moments, he gathered himself for the coming confrontation. Unable to avoid it any longer, he headed for his quarters. The guard opened the door for him and Lucius entered, quickly spotting Brigh standing by the window, her arms wrapped tight around herself. She made no sign as he moved towards her, only stiffening slightly as he placed a hand on her shoulder.
"It’s over, Brigh," he said, breaking the silence.
"Yes it is," she replied, her tone hollow and lifeless. "So this is how you keep your oath to me, Lucius?"
"I have kept it -- you have not been harmed, nor will you."
She turned to face him. "Not harmed? You slaughter my people, my family," her voice choked, "and you say no harm has come to me? You destroyed my entire world, Lucius, you and your empire." Bitterness filled her voice.
"This end was inevitable, you know that. You’ve always known that," he said, trying to get through to her, at least a little. He realized it would take time -- she was in shock. Her complexion was almost gray, her lips tinged blue. All she needed was rest and time, he assured himself. She would see they could be happy, have a life together away from here. He reached for her, but she moved away from him.
"Inevitable, Lucius?" She sighed. Her voice took on an odd, almost dreamlike tone. "Yes, this end was inevitable. How could it be otherwise?"
For a moment it seemed as if she were speaking to someone else. He felt an unexplainable fear course through him. Dread, of what he knew not, filled his heart as he watched the woman he loved more than he had ever thought was possible, slowly slipping away from him. Without warning she gasped in pain, doubling over, her hand reaching for the table to support herself. Before he could reach her, she had fallen to the ground, pulling the table down on top of her. The sound of breaking pottery filled the room as the wine decanter and goblets crashed to the ground. Lucius reached Brigh’s side in moments, taking her in his arms. Her skin was clammy, her breath coming in short labored gasps as she struggled to sit up. In horror he realized what was happening. He reached for the half broken goblet lying next to her, picking it up. Sniffing the residue he knew already what he would smell -- poison.
His face contracted in denial and grief, knowing in his heart it was already too late. Lifting her, he carried her to the bed, laying her down gently. "Why?" he whispered, his voice raw with emotion.
Another spasm of pain gripped Brigh, and she grasped his hand as it ripped through her body. "I told you once that I would never leave here, did I not? Don’t you understand, my love? I’m just part of a larger whole -- when you destroyed my people, you destroyed me." Every syllable was forced out between labored gasps for air. "Did you truly think I could go on, leave here with you and continue my life in a place that is responsible for the destruction of everything I hold dear?" She cried out this time as yet another wave of pain hit.
Lucius cradled her in his arms, as tears fell unnoticed down his face. "So you choose death, choose to leave me alone, choose to deny us a life together?" His voice cracked. "You find death a better option than a life with me whom you profess to love?"
"The choice was made long ago." Her eyes became glazed and unfocused. "But we will meet again, I promise you." A look of confusion passed over her face. "I don’t understand," she said, again as if to someone unseen. "I see us, meeting again in this world. But it’s you, as you are now. But the darkness; you are cloaked in darkness." She looked up at him. "How can this be?" Her eyes closed. "It’s so dark, Lucius, so dark...." Her voice fell silent, her breathing now almost imperceptible.
He knew the end was near. He had no idea how she had held out this long -- sheer will was the only possibility. She gasped a little as her body spasmed, the poison close to finishing its work. He murmured soothingly, stroking her hair from her face. As his tears fell on her cheek, Brigh opened her eyes once more.
"Lucius," he could barely hear her weak whisper, "I love you still, I will always love you, in this world and the otherworld. Our spirits are bound together, you must know that before the end." She tried to raise her hand to his face, but was unable to; he lowered his head to meet it. With what was left of her dying body’s strength, she brushed his tear stained cheek with her hand. "Kiss me, my love, once more."
He lowered his lips to hers, kissing her gently at first but intensifying the kiss desperately as he felt her spirit slipping away from him -- as if he could somehow hold her here with his love. Brigh made a little sigh into his lips, her heart fluttering, then stopping, her spirit breaking away finally from her pain-racked body.
"Nooo!" he cried out in anguish, as he crushed Brigh to him in a despairing embrace. And so he remained till just before dawn, overcome by grief and despair, holding her lifeless body in his arms.
LaCroix turned away from Nick and Gwen, lost in memories and a distant grief. He walked to the table, pouring and then quickly drinking a glass of wine-laced blood. Nick moved towards his Master, sensing his pain, and tentatively reached out with his hand, but pulled back. He looked over to where Gwen lay, her face now wet with tears. He had rarely felt so helpless. The emotion in the room was suffocating, and yet he had no clue as to what was going on. His gaze met Gwen’s, asking the questions he could not seem to ask aloud. Her eyes moved past him to LaCroix, who still had his back turned to them. Nick saw sadness in her eyes -- sadness…and love, he realized with surprise.
Gwen swung her legs over the edge of the bed, pausing for a moment as a wave of dizziness hit her. Determined, she shrugged off Nick’s hand as he tried to keep her on the bed. Standing unsteadily, she walked over to where LaCroix still stood silent. Standing behind him, she reached up to place her hand against his back. She leaned her head against him for a moment in a weariness both mental and physical before collapsing into the chair that stood next to the table. Her shoulders sagging, she rested her head in her hands, her long hair falling around her face like a curtain.
Her voice muffled, she began to speak. Startled, Nick realized that she was speaking to him. "When I was a little girl, I used to dream of a place far away and a long time ago. Of a beautiful woman and a handsome man. It seemed so real, like I was seeing their lives through my dreams. In the beginning, I would tell my parents about my dreams. But they had no patience for such foolishness and decided I spent far too much time reading nonsense. So I learned to keep my dreams a secret. When I got older, the dreams became more *intimate* in all senses of the word." Gwen raised her head, her eyes unfocused, looking through Nick. "Then I went to seminary and I guess the studying, the pressures, left no time for dreams. They became something like a childhood memory, like the invisible friend that you grow out of. Imagine my surprise to meet face to face the man from my dreams one night on a Toronto street."
Gwen smiled a little at the look of shock on Nick’s face. "So you see why I was so obsessed with finding him." She continued, "The dreams became overwhelming after seeing him -- they began to intrude on my waking life. I thought I was losing my mind. Then, I found him," she said, looking at LaCroix, "and realized I wasn’t going crazy. Though maybe that would have been easier to deal with than the reality." She sighed, falling silent once more.
During her explanation, LaCroix had moved to sit on the arm of her chair. He watched Nick's expression change from surprise to disbelief and then to astonishment. "I admit, Nicholas, I doubted it at first myself. But the blood does not lie. She is Brigh," he stated with utter conviction. "The woman I loved and then lost to darkness two thousand years ago." He ran his hand absently over Gwen’s hair. "I don’t claim to understand it. I’m not a mystic. But I can no longer deny the truth of the situation."
Nick, still trying to take it all in, finally spoke. "So now what?" he asked, looking first at Gwen and then back to LaCroix.
"Now you leave, Nicholas. You still have a murderer to catch, after all," Gwen reminded him firmly, her eyes hard.
"Let me take you home first."
"No!" LaCroix said, his voice harsh. "She stays, Nicholas." He stood, glowering at Nick.
Nick, angry, began to protest. "She doesn't belong here, LaCroix!"
Gwen forestalled the imminent conflict, getting up to stand between the two angry vampires. "Stop it! Both of you!" Her eyes flashed in annoyance. "I will not be treated like… like property!" She took a deep breath, lowering her voice. "Nicholas, I appreciate your concern. But I will stay." She raised her hand to stop his protest. "I'm sorry, but I must ask you to respect my decision. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that Lucien and I have a great deal to discuss."
"I don’t like it, Gwen. But I can’t make you come with me either." Nick relented. "All right, I’ll do as you ask."
She hugged him quickly. "I'll be fine!" she reassured him. "Could you do me a favor though?" Nick nodded. "Watch me tomorrow on the TV when I do that interview on the morning news show?"
"I'd forgotten about that. Of course I'll watch," Nick assured her. "I'll come by your place tomorrow night to give you a progress report." He was obviously not happy about leaving her with his Master. "Are you sure, Gwen -- about staying?" He looked at LaCroix with ill-concealed displeasure.
"She is quite sure, Nicholas." LaCroix took Gwen's hand, drawing her towards him, and away from his son's meddling.
Gwen squeezed LaCroix's hand soothingly. "It's all right, Lucien, he understands what must be. Don't you, Nicholas?" she asked, needing his understanding.
Looking at her, he realized that he did. He didn't like it, but he understood. "Yes," he said simply. With one last look at the two, Nick turned and left the room.
On to Part Eight