It's rated R for sexual situations and violence.
Aug. 1998: This is a xover with ST:TNG, but it’s more of a vehicle to present the actual story, which is ninety percent a flashback of sorts.
Thanks to Shirl for beta reading and April, Tammy, Margie, Tari, and Gail for support and inspiration. I’ve done my best to do as much research to make this as historically accurate as possible, but I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes somewhere. Please forgive any glaring inaccuracies.
Revision Notes, Sept. 2001: I'm slowly going through the older stories to fix bits of continuity and canon. This one is the first I've gotten to. Thanks to everyone who's taken the time to let me know they’ve enjoyed reading my stories. It is appreciated!
"A holodeck program?"
"A very special program," Captain Jean-Luc Picard explained to his guest. "The Federation Archeological Society produces a program of exacting historical detail every five years. I'd like to share this newest one with you."
"I don't know, I'm not very comfortable with playacting," Triona told him uncertainly. Call her old-fashioned, but she’d never been all that comfortable with holodeck technology.
"We don't have to use the interactive program, we can just walk the moonlit streets of Pompeii." He looked down at her with serious eyes. "I would very much like to spend some time with you this trip."
Pompeii? Oh great. Of all the eras in history he could choose! But, she had to admit, the thought of spending some time with the Enterprise's very attractive Captain was not at all distasteful.
It had been over six months since she had last been on this ship, when the Enterprise had rescued her and her family after an attack by the Orion Syndicate. During her time here, she had developed a rapport with Picard. Well… perhaps a little more than rapport.
It had started when LaCroix had directed her to gather as much information as she could from Picard on the Federation's intentions towards Imladris. In the process, Triona had found herself drawn to the Enterprise’s captain. Part of it, she knew, was finally meeting the man whose life had intersected hers three centuries before on that night of First Contact. But that wasn't all of it; her marriage to Methos was cracking at its foundations and she liked the way Jean-Luc made her feel when he looked at her with more than obvious appreciation in his blue eyes. It had been a pleasant change from the impatient looks that were the only ones Methos seemed able to spare for her these days.
"Pompeii? We don't have to run from flowing lava or anything, do we?"
"Nothing like that," he reassured her. "72 AD." He stopped as they reached the holodeck doors. "Shall we?" He extended a hand.
Triona took the proffered hand. "Let's."
It really was a beautiful program. It was almost possible for her to suspend her disbelief and believe they were on Earth on a warm spring night over two thousand years ago.
They stood in the courtyard of an immense villa, looking down at the sea. The warm, heavy scents of spring clung to the air in fragrant clouds. Picard's hand rested against the back of her neck, unconsciously stroking his fingertips against her skin. "It's beautiful," she said softly, "I'm glad you convinced me to come."
"I wasn't sure you'd allow me to convince you," he admitted.
She leaned up, kissing him lightly on the cheek. "I think you're quite used to charming the women that come into your orbit, Captain," she teased, eyes dancing. Changing the subject, she moved a little away. "It is gorgeous, but I can't help but think it was built on the blood of my ancestors -- and probably yours as well."
Picard sighed. "I see what you mean. You don't do playacting very well."
"I'm sorry. I just can't push the reality far enough back in my mind." She looked up at him apologetically. "I can see all too vividly women like myself dying in slavery from hard labor and brutality."
Picard leaned down, brushing his lips against her cheek, attempting to comfort her. She stiffened almost imperceptibly and he began to murmur an apology. "I'm sorry--."
"No, it's all right." How could she explain that it wasn't his kiss that had caused her reaction?
Another voice was heard in the faux Mediterranean night. "Hard labor and brutality? My dear, a slave of your beauty would be the centerpiece of any prefect's household."
"Or general's?" she asked acerbically.
LaCroix smiled coolly. "Or general's, he agreed, standing next to her, one proprietary hand coming to rest on her hip.
"I wouldn't make a very good slave," she commented. "Not unless the general in question wanted to wake up with a knife between his ribs." Her eyes glinted with feral light.
"You're assuming he would be foolish enough to allow you the opportunity," LaCroix told her with an edge to his voice.
"No one can be alert all the time. And I would be very motivated," she replied, an edge appearing in her voice as well.
Picard's look of surprise at LaCroix's sudden appearance was quickly masked by years of training. "Governor, we weren't expecting you," he said, interrupting the increasingly barbed exchange between the governor of Imladris and his defense minister.
LaCroix merely arched an eyebrow, looking around the villa. "An exquisite reproduction."
"You're familiar with the period?" Picard asked.
"You might say that." He turned his attention back to the captain. "And now, if you will excuse us. I have a matter to discuss with the minister."
Picard looked first at LaCroix, then at Triona and back again. "Of course, I'll leave you then." He smiled at her. "I'll see you at dinner?"
"The minister will be unavailable for dinner," LaCroix interrupted smoothly. "Matters of state. I'm sure you understand." She looked murderous, but she didn't disagree with his pronouncement.
"Very well. Till tomorrow then."
She nodded. "Yes, we'll talk tomorrow. I'm sorry, Jean-Luc."
"No apologies are necessary. I understand all too well the call of duty." He made a slight bow, leaving the two Imladrins alone on the holodeck.
LaCroix wasted no time. "You will cease this flirtation with Picard at once!"
"I will not! You were the one that started this, or have you forgotten?"
"That was out of necessity as you well know. The necessity no longer exists, and therefore, there is no reason to continue."
"Yes there is! I want it to continue! Why should you care if I choose a dalliance with a mortal? You have no right to object to me doing what all of you have done," she protested, full of righteous indignation.
"But that is not all it is! You are becoming emotionally attached to him, and it will end. Now!" he commanded. "A man in the Captain's position is far too dangerous for you to become involved with!"
"I am not!" she protested. "And I am well aware of the dangers involved. I'm not a fool!" LaCroix's look of disbelief just made her angrier. "I think after almost four hundred years I can do as I please!" She tossed her head defiantly.
He pulled her sharply to him, their bodies touching. She could feel the tension that held his body taut against hers. "Four hundred years or five thousand," he said in a voice that was deceptively quiet, "you do as I please." He slid his hand up her jaw and into her hair. "I think you have forgotten that."
Eyes wide, her gaze locked with his. "No, I haven't."
"There, you see? You would make an excellent slave," his voice purred into her ear, angry despite its softness. Anticipating her violent response, he made his grip on her unbreakable. "You will stop this, and now, or he will die."
She shook her head. "No, you wouldn't--"
"You know better than that. By my hand or another's, this infatuation can only lead to one outcome. Methos is the one exception, but I will share your heart -- your soul -- with no other."
Her reply was cut off by the wail of the red alert siren. "All hands, unidentified alien power source. All hands...."
She felt like she was falling. A moment of panic engulfed her as she clutched at LaCroix, then even he was gone....
She could feel him watching her from across the room as she arranged the tray for her mistress and her guest. He had been watching her since she had entered the room -- she could feel his eyes.
Under normal circumstances, her duties didn't include serving girl. Unfortunately, the house slave that performed the more menial duties had toppled her tray, spilling wine and fruit all over the lady and her lover. The girl had come howling out of the room, her mistress' palm-mark dark against the olive toned flesh of her cheek.
"Marcus," she said, stopping one of the house slaves on his way to the gardens, "Mayla's mess will need cleaning, please see to it." That taken care off, she turned her attention to the unfortunate Mayla. "What have you done? Haven't I told you again and again to keep your eyes on your work and not the Domina's lovers?"
She shook her head in annoyance. The girl really was hopeless, a peasant from Byzantium, without any social graces whatsoever. Her only interest was bedding any of the long line of male guests that their mistress entertained regularly, hoping to gain the favor of a well placed Roman. And today's guest was particularly well placed, more than enough to addle the girl's simple wits. "Stop your wailing and go tell Janus to send someone to help Marcus clean your mess up."
Mayla obeyed with alacrity, anxious to be well away from her furious mistress and her mistress’ equally irritated housekeeper.
Squaring her shoulders, she entered the room, pleased to see Marcus had all well in hand and that the spill had caught the cushions and not the lady. Her lover was nowhere to be seen. "Janus is sending another slave to help with the cleanup, Domina. I'll have more refreshments sent immediately.”
"Good, yes, I can always count on you," the woman said, flustered. "No, wait, I want you to serve. I want no more disasters, no more witless peasants to ruin the mood."
Stifling a sigh of frustration, she replied, "Very good, Domina, I will see to it personally.”
And so she found herself here, hoping that her mistress didn't expect her to replace Mayla in *all* her duties. Don't think about it, she told herself sternly, she never has expected it of you before. Serve the wine, be unobtrusive and then leave. All will be well.
Keeping her eyes downcast, not wanting to attract more unwelcome attention, she made her way to where the two lovers lounged in a nest of fresh cushions on the floor. Setting the tray down, she handed one goblet to her mistress and another to the General who was her special guest.
Her hand froze in mid-motion, catching sight of him for the first time. A wave of dizziness washed over her as sharp blue eyes snared hers. It was almost as if.... Then the stray feeling was gone. "Will there be anything else?" she asked the lady of the house as she handed him the goblet, flinching a little as his fingers touched hers.
"Lucius?" the other woman asked.
Eyes still focused on her, he took her wrist in a strong grip with his free hand, setting the goblet on the low serving table at his side. "I could think of something I'm sure." His voice was low and hungry. She forced herself to stillness, knowing that to struggle would only inflame him.
The lounging woman ran a teasing hand up his bare thigh, pouting. "Am I not enough for you, Lucius?"
He looked to his companion. "Of course, lovely Lydia, but a little variety is never amiss.”
"My dear General, you never change!" She laughed delightedly. "But, I am unwilling to share you just yet. Besides, her duties don't include entertaining my guests. So let her go about her duties and I will give you all the variety you could desire. Later, if you still wish, I will make sure you have your pick of several lovely slaves whose duties do include entertaining my special guests," she finished suggestively.
"As you wish." He released her wrist. "But I won't require a choice, my love, I know exactly what I want."
"We will discuss it later," she promised, kissing his cheek. "You may leave now," Lydia directed her.
She wasted no time leaving the room and the hungry eyes of the General.
"I am well-pleased with her, Lucius, and I have no intention of giving her up!"
"And what makes you think I'll try and take your pretty little Gaulish slave from you?" He caressed her breast with his lips, making her arch against his mouth.
She held his head against her breast, replying breathlessly, "Because I know that look in your eyes. You want her, and you're used to getting your own way."
Propping himself up on one elbow, he traced his fingers down Lydia's face, saying nothing.
"She is good with the children, speaks Latin and Greek, makes sure the wine merchants don't cheat me, and causes no trouble." She sounded like she was arguing with herself more than with him.
"I didn't say anything," he said, all innocence. "What do you call her; this perfect slave of yours?”
"Dionysia. I couldn't pronounce her barbarian name, so I told her to pick something civilized."
"A little pretentious for a slave," he commented.
"Perhaps, and I will admit that occasionally she forgets her place. No, that isn't it. It's more like she is humoring me by keeping her place. But she has become invaluable to me in running my household and I find her presence restful."
"You are too soft on your slaves, Lydia," he remonstrated gently. "Let me have her for a short while and I'll make sure she never dares humor you again."
"I don't want her broken! Don't you hear me? I amhappy with her!" Lydia was becoming agitated, knowing that in the end, her lover would get his way -- he always did. "Do you realize how difficult it is to find a slave with even a modicum of intelligence?" she asked with a trace of petulance.
He changed tactics. "And when your husband returns next month? What then? How many of your slaves has he damaged beyond repair? Do you think she will be of any use to you after he has had his fill of her?" Sensing her weakening, he continued on, "Let me borrow her then, for a few months, until your husband leaves again. I am newly returned from Judea, my household needs ordering. The loan of your Dionysia would be most helpful. You would be doing me a great favor." He kissed her lips, her cheek, her throat, distracting her even more. "You know how important it is for me to entertain and keep a household befitting my current and future position."
"And what do I get in return? I have to put up with the return of my husband and the loss of my best slave." She pouted prettily. "It isn't fair at all!"
Lucius nuzzled her throat. "I have a eunuch, newly arrived from Egypt. I will gift him to you, yours even after I return your girl."
"A eunuch! I don't think you've been paying attention, Lucius!"
"I have paid total attention. He may be a eunuch, but he has talents that will more than make up for his lack in other areas," he promised.
"I could give you a small sample," he told her, leering.
"Small isn't what I'm looking for, Lucius," she said, laughing throatily.
"A figure of speech, my love. A figure of speech...."
"Be careful, Nysia. General Perpetuus is dangerous! Gossip has it that he had one of his slaves executed for nothing more than not grooming his horse correctly."
"I know that, Janus, but I have no choice! If only Mayla weren't such a fool! He never would have even seen me if not for her," she grumbled to Lydia's steward.
"That's my fault. I should have had the Domina sell her months ago, but I felt sorry for her."
She kissed him hard on the mouth. "It isn't your fault! If you didn't feel compassion for our fellow captives, I wouldn't love you." Looking at him fondly, she ran a hand over his smooth, almost hairless head, loving the feel of it beneath her fingers.
"I don't know why you do." He looked sad. "You know if you only set your mind to it you could catch the eye of a Citizen. What can I ever offer you but a life of slavery?"
"Stop it! You know I don't want any Roman! And Lydia has freed other slaves -- you told me so. I won't give up and I won't let you give up either," she told him fiercely. "It's only a few more years till it will be possible. You know that!"
"I'll try to remember." He kissed her gently.
Dionysia let him hold her, returning his kiss. Did she really love him? Sometimes she wondered. He kept her bed warm at night, and they shared the duty of running the household -- shared what almost amounted to a real life together. He had been the one ray of kindness when she had been brought here almost nine months before, when all she had wanted to do was die. But was that love?
She wished she could have asked her parents -- she knew they had loved one another very much -- but they were both dead at the hands of the same Romans who had taken her into slavery. All she knew was that Janus made her feel safe and needed. Not such a bad thing, even if it wasn't love. She could be content with that. Couldn't she?
"Just try and stay out of his way. The thought of him even touching you...."
"It'll be all right, Janus. I promise."
"Have I displeased you, Domina?" She fought hard to control the panic that made her heart feel like it would burst. This couldn't be happening! Lydia was giving her to that damned murderous Roman general. It was like a nightmare made real. What would this do to Janus?
"No, not at all. You have done nothing to displease me," Lydia said unhappily. "But there are reasons--"
"Reasons that needn't concern a slave," Lucius interjected smoothly. Dionysia dropped her eyes, clenching at her tunic, knuckles white with anger she dare not display.
"Just behave yourself and do as you are told. You'll be back in a few months, better for the experience." Lydia patted her on the shoulder, uncomfortable and wanting no unpleasantness.
"Please me and you will find me most generous," Lucius added in a voice insufferably smug.
"It would please me to see you dead," she muttered under her breath in her own language, not even aware she had vocalized her thought.
"Other Gauls have tried." Her head snapped up as he replied to her comment in the same language, a stab of fear at what he would do arcing up her spine. "But none have succeeded. The superiority of the Empire is absolute -- a superiority you will acknowledge before I am finished with you." It was a threat and a promise, but he made no other move to punish her temerity.
"What are you saying? Lucius?" Lydia looked from one to the other, confused.
She glared murderously at her new, albeit temporary, master, fury replacing her fear. The General merely laughed as if female slaves threatened his life every day. "Nothing to concern yourself with, my love. Your slave and I are merely coming to a… understanding. Aren't we, Dionysia?"
She nodded mutely, not trusting her voice, knowing he could have her killed for her reckless remark.
"Good, good, it will all be well," Lydia said happily.
He ran a finger along Dionysia's jaw and she shivered despite herself. "Of course it will, Lydia. Of course it will."
She sat on the floor at the end of the couch, where Thomas, the slave that ran the General's household, had directed her. The master of the house was conspicuously absent and she wondered how long he intended on making her wait. Knowing that what was to come was as inevitable as the sunrise, she just wanted to get it over with. Which, on reflection, was probably why he was leaving her here -- more mind games.
Nothing about General Perpetuus was as she expected and being unable to anticipate his responses made her very uneasy. His actions on arriving home with her had actually come as something of a surprise. She had expected physical violence based on his reputation, not his almost casual order to Thomas to lock her in the cellar to contemplate the new reality of her life. And there she had remained for the last week, until only a few hours ago when Thomas had appeared to let her out.
She had been fed, been provided with water to wash and blankets to keep her warm. But she had been totally alone in the dark with even what little freedom she had as a slave taken away. How could he have known just how effective his choice of punishment would be? Granted, he was a man of war and war was as much that of the mind as that of the physical. But to see that particular aspect of her soul, to know that captivity was one of her greatest fears; that frightened her and made her wonder just what else he saw.
Sighing, she stroked the silk of her tunic. She hadn't had clothing so fine since before the Romans had come. Again, she had been surprised. When Thomas had taken her to the room she was to occupy while she was here, she had found several fine outfits waiting. Her expectation was that they would be something a whore would wear -- he did after all set his last woman up as the keeper of a brothel -- but instead, she had found elegant, finely made pieces. He may have excellent taste, and he may not have beaten you, but he's still a dangerous, cruel man -- don't ever forget it!
"And have you had sufficient time to reflect on the error of your ways?" The sound of his voice floated around her.
Controlling a start of surprise at his sudden appearance, she held her chin up, eyes flashing. "Yes."
"Yes," She paused, not able to get out 'master', "General."
He towered over her, a wry smile on his lips. "I don't think I really believe you." She stiffened. "But I'll let it pass for now." Her shoulders sagged a little in relief. He sat on the couch, pulling out the pins that held her hair in a complex knot. "Leave your hair loose from now on," he commanded. The mass of her hair, free from restraint, tumbled down her back. "Much better," he said in satisfaction, combing his fingers through it.
"As you wish… General."
He lounged back on the couch so that he now faced where she sat at its foot, contemplating her silently. She shifted nervously, wondering what was next. His next remark was not at all what she expected. "Tell me how you came to be here."
"General?" she asked, confused.
"I thought the request self-explanatory. I wish to know how you came to be here. You obviously haven't been a slave long."
"Six years," she offered faintly.
"You are from Gaul -- the north unless I'm mistaken." She nodded. "And then you were taken where?"
She attempted to gather her wits. No one had ever asked -- not even Janus. He had never really been interested in her past. A slave since birth, he had no real concept of how different her life had been before. It wasn't that he didn't care it was just that he had no way to really understand.
"Dionysia," he prompted.
"Corinth," she finally said. "I was taken to Corinth." She looked at him and realized he was waiting to hear more than the city she had first been taken to. "The magistrate there purchased me to take care of his children and to be a companion for his wife." She smiled a little. "I knew very little about children, but he thought I had a kind face."
"What did you know about?"
"Wine. My family were vintners -- had always been as far back as memory."
"That explains the name you chose, Dionysia, the goddess of wine, and Lydia telling me you kept the wine merchants from cheating her."
Nodding, she continued, "They made me a part of the family." Her expression dared him to make anything of Romans making a slave a part of their family. But he said nothing. "And then they freed me. I chose to stay though. I decided it was as close to a family as I would ever have again."
He looked at her consideringly. "You don't look anywhere near thirty; how did they manage it?"
She twisted at the fabric of her tunic nervously. "It was…arranged," she said haltingly.
"Monetary inducement in the right place, you mean." He arched an eyebrow inquiringly.
There was no use denying the obvious. He was quite aware she was not of the legal age for a slave to be freed, and since she was here, her patron hadn't married her or made her his concubine, the only way she could have been freed before thirty. "Yes, I suppose that's how it was arranged," she admitted.
"Where are they now?"
"Probably dead." She tried to keep her voice calm. She wouldn't cry, not in front of him. He waited patiently for her to continue. "They were Jesus followers," she told him as if it explained everything; and it did.
"Romans who should have known better," Lucius said in disgust.
"They were good to me!" she said with some heat. In a calmer voice she finished, "They didn't deserve to die."
He ignored her less than respectful outburst. "You weren't one of them, or you wouldn't be here. So, they were taken and you were sold back into slavery."
"No, they knew that something was going to happen. They had gotten word from Jerusalem that their leaders were being rounded up. They gave me the children and entrusted me to take them to their maternal aunt in Rome." She was so intent on her story that she didn't really notice he had taken her arm, drawing her up to sit next to him. "I should have never taken the children there. I should have trusted my instincts, but I didn't; I did as I was asked."
"What happened?" His voice in her ear made her suddenly realize that he was so close they were practically touching. She could feel the heat from his body through the thin silk of her tunic.
"They weren't all that pleased to see us." She laughed harshly. "Even the substantial sum of money I gave them for the children’s’ upkeep wasn't enough in their minds. So they decided to supplement the amount with the gold that was mine and to sell me. I had no way to prove to the authorities I was a freedwoman, especially since the methods used to procure my freedom were less than…regular." Clearing her throat, she added, "And the children's parents, being radicals, didn't give me much credibility. That was almost a year ago." She fell silent, remembering.
His voice broke the long silence. "I believe we can come to a mutually satisfying agreement, you and I." She held herself stiffly as his lips brushed her cheek, moving down to her mouth. He smiled at her reaction. "I wish for your cooperation and you wish for your eventual freedom. Not diametrically opposed positions."
She shook her head, unsure. "I...."
"You don't understand why I don't just beat you into submission? Force you to my will?"
Looking at him uncertainly, she shook her head. "I suppose I don't."
"Force has its place; however, it's only one of many tools that can be utilized to gain one's ends. A steady diet is tiresome, especially when I have spent the last several years at war. I would prefer you to be a willing participant, not an unwilling non-participant."
"And my cooperation just gives you one more hold over me should it be required," she said, the realization suddenly hitting her.
"You are the clever one." He ran a finger over the swell of her breasts. "I told you that pleasing me would be rewarded; I meant that. You know that I gifted my last slave with freedom and her own business?"
"Yes, a brothel." Her nose wrinkled a bit in unconscious distaste.
He laughed uproariously at her expression. "I take it you have no interest in the same?" He didn't wait for a reply. "Perhaps a wine shop of your own -- and your freedom of course. All I require is that you fulfill your duties as well for me as you did for Lydia, and that you share my bed with some amount of enthusiasm."
Her mind raced. One way or the other, he would take her. In the years she had been a slave, she had learned to be pragmatic; if it was inevitable, why not make the best of it? She tried not to think of Janus, that somehow her agreeing to cooperate was a betrayal. The General was offering her freedom -- to become her Patron -- she would be a fool not to do as he asked. He was a Roman, but she had to admit that he wasn't unattractive. She could do this.
"A vineyard; I want to make the wine, not sell the wine of others." She tilted her chin unconsciously, looking like a defiant kitten.
"That can be arranged." He seemed amused. "I'm always looking for new business interests."
Of course he would keep part ownership. A winery was much more costly than a shop, or even a brothel, but she could deal with that. There were worse things, she supposed, than having a high-ranking Citizen as a partner. She searched his eyes for any sign that he might be toying with her.
"I swear by the Emperor that I will grant you your freedom in.…? He paused.
"I'll be thirty in two years," she lied. It was actually five, but there was no way for him to know -- she hoped. When he looked doubtful, she added, "I've always looked young for my age."
He seemed satisfied, though she wasn't quite sure he believed her. "Very well; in two years.
Her face fell. "But you don't own me; Lydia does."
"I will take care of Lydia. I had no intention of returning you regardless." At her look of shock, he continued, "I always get what I want -- always." He placed a hand behind her head. "No more talking," he said, pulling her to him. "It is time to consummate our agreement."
It was almost dawn. The sounds of the harbor far below were drifting up through the open doors that fronted the room. The doors led to a balcony that looked down and out over the city below. The first twitters of birds waking to the new day amongst the flowering fragrant vines that framed the doors could be heard.
Dionysia lay quietly, her back pressed against Lucius' chest, held there by his strong arm across her ribs, one hand cupping her breast. Unaccountably, she found herself rubbing her throat, some half-formed memory playing at the edges of her mind's eye. There had been a moment, as he had moved in her, that she had had the oddest sensation of familiarity -- then it was gone as the needs of her body had overcome all else.
He had not been gentle, but he hadn't hurt her either and, to her great relief, he didn't seem to have an appetite for any of the more depraved practices so popular in Rome these days. In fact, he had bewildered her once more when he saw to her pleasure as well as his own. After, he had drawn her to him, stroking her body, her head in the hollow of his shoulder.
Her confusion must have been evident. "Did you think your only rewards would be material?" he asked, enjoying her obvious discomfiture.
She didn't know what to say; she didn't even know what to do. The last thing she had expected was that he would want to talk to her. This wasn't what the gossip of the slaves who regularly entertained Citizens had led her to expect. But she didn't for a moment forget that the man lying next to her could kill her without a second thought should he so desire.
"I don't know," she admitted, fixing her gaze on his chest -- anywhere but those eyes -- eyes that saw far too much for her peace of mind.
Fingers moved down her cheek, coming to rest under her chin, tilting her head up to look at him. "I have no wish for you to be imagining another lover while you are in my bed." She had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed. That was exactly what she had intended to do. "I have every confidence that thoughts of your lover, Lydia's slave, were nowhere to be found this night."
Shock and guilt battled for preeminence. Shock that he knew about Janus, and guilt that she indeed hadn't thought of him. The General had driven all thoughts of anyone but him from her mind. And with that came the realization that the price of her cooperation had climbed even higher. His power over her was becoming stronger by the moment.
She tried to speak, but he stopped her. "I require all of you, my Nysia; body and spirit." The use of Janus' pet name for her made her panic; he had never used it with such depth of feeling, had never made her tremble at the sound of it on his lips. "Bodies are in ample supply in every slave market in the Empire." The fingers under her chin spread to cup her face, tightening ever so slightly around her jaw. "Do you understand?"
She understood all too well. If she hadn't before, it was clear as crystal now. "Yes," she whispered. Her heart fluttered as he kissed her, lips and tongue lingering to taste and probe, her lips parting of their own accord, inviting him to even deeper explorations.
He had taken her again, but this time gently, slowly, and once more, no thoughts of Janus had entered her mind.
All these thoughts jumbled in her mind as she lay there, waiting for the dawn. Deeply asleep, his breath at her ear was slow and steady. If he hadn't held her so securely against him, she would have gotten out of the bed, assuming that he probably expected her to serve him, as was the usual practice. But nothing she had experienced so far had fallen into what was usual. So she just lay there waiting, listening to the birds begin their morning songs.
She must have fallen asleep, and for several hours, because when she awoke, the full light of morning was pouring through the doors. Thomas was arranging a table next to the bed with food and wine, and her new master was gone, the place next to her on the bed cold. She supposed that answered her question, but it was still unnerving to be served in bed, especially in her present state. More than a little embarrassed, she pulled the bed linen closer around her.
Thomas handed her a goblet of wine, silent as usual. Thankful for something to do, she sipped at it, grimacing at the poor quality of the vintage.
"You don't like it?" Lucius entered the room, catching her expression. He accepted a goblet from Thomas and took a swallow.
Her stomach clenched nervously -- his expression was totally unreadable. No use for it now "No, it's wretched," she answered a little more strongly than she had intended.
"It is the Emperor's favored vintage." Still no indication of his mood showed, nor could she tell if he thought the wine was awful as well.
"Since the Emperor isn't here, I see no reason why we need to drink it," she said with just a hint of asperity.
He arched a brow. "Opinionated for a slave, aren't you," he commented coolly.
She paled slightly at his tone, but held her ground, which was difficult to do when only a sheet covered you. Gathering what was left of her dignity around herself, she replied, "You told me you wished for me to perform the same duties for you as I did for my Mistress. If that has changed, then I beg your pardon and I will refrain from any such actions in the future."
"I'm beginning to think that not beating you may have been a mistake," he told her, but his eyes were laughing as he spoke, despite the stern tone. "Now, you were offering your opinion on my choice of wine? A wine that I had purchased especially just yesterday."
Was he saying he had chosen this particular wine personally? When would she learn to keep her mouth shut? She decided to couch her next comment in more cautious terms. "Perhaps the kitchen slaves accidentally tapped the wrong cask, but this is not the Emperor's vintage. I purchased a small quantity for my mistress not ten days ago. This is not it."
His eyes took on a glint she didn't like. "Thomas, bring Marius here. Immediately!" The slave nodded, departing as silently as he had arrived.
She bit her lip worriedly as Lucius turned away from her, striding over to look out on the balcony. He was obviously angry, but with her or the yet to appear Marius? Was this some sort of test?
At the sound of footsteps in the corridor, he turned back to her. "You will be silent. Do you understand? Do not mistake my gentle treatment of you as a tolerance for disobedience."
She nodded -- it was something she had never assumed.
Thomas entered with another man, Marius, she assumed. The slave seemed frightened. No doubt, a command to attend his master was not how he would have chosen to start his day. Expressionless once more, Lucius handed a goblet to him. "Taste this and tell me what it is." Fearful, the man took it and did as he was ordered. "Well?" Lucius asked impatiently.
"It is the vintage you requested, Master," he said in a voice that shook.
The General looked over to where she sat on the bed. "The woman is displeased with it."
Marius chewed at the inside of his cheek, becoming more and more nervous. "The... lady… It is a fine wine, one that perhaps she is unable to appreciate... yet."
She almost protested, but one look at the General kept her silent. "Perhaps." He turned his attention back to Marius. "This wine cost a great deal, did it not?" Lucius asked, his voice bland.
"Ye... yes, Master, a great deal."
"And you, of course, tasted the product you purchased to assure it was what you were paying for?"
"Of course, Master." Marius nodded eagerly.
She held her breath seeing the tension coiling up the General's back and the utter coldness of his eyes when he glanced back at her.
"Not only does she not like it, she says it isn't even the vintage you claim to have purchased!" His voice, no longer bland, cracked like a whip in the quiet room.
Marius dropped to his knees, looking like a rabbit in a snare, his eyes darting back and forth, trapped. "M..m...master.…" he stuttered, "I—“
"What? You can explain?" Lucius towered over the unfortunate slave, eyes no longer cold, but flashing with an icy fire.
Dionysia clenched the sheets with white knuckles, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Marius had been well and truly trapped. His only avenue of escape had been cut off when he had lied about the wine in the goblet.
"You are either lying or you are a thief!" Lucius' voice thundered against the marble walls.
"No, not a thief." The man was practically sobbing. "Please, no--"
"You take me for a fool? Did you really think I would not know that I had been cheated when I tasted the wine?"
The slave had prostrated himself in front of his master. "I didn't know. I didn't know…." he kept repeating over and over.
She wanted to scream, to stop what was happening. But she knew it wouldn't make any difference. And she knew he would show her no regard if she disobeyed. The thought of his rage directed at her was a terrifying prospect.
"Thomas," he said in a voice that was all the more frightening for its quiet implacability, "since this slave seems to have no use for his tongue -- cut it out."
He nodded. Marius screaming piteously and begged for mercy as Thomas hauled him to his feet. Lucius indicated that the two guards, who had appeared at the commotion, help him restrain the now struggling slave.
She thought she was going to faint. If they carried out the sentence here, she knew she would. When Thomas drew his knife, she whimpered, finding it hard to even breathe, attracting Lucius' attention. "Every action has consequences," he said to her. She knew he didn't just mean Marius. He seemed to take pity on her though. Turning to the guards, he said, "Take him away, and when it's done, take him to the harbor and sell him as a galley slave."
Dionysia knew she would hear the sounds of Marius' screams, as they dragged him away, in her nightmares for years to come.
Over the next few weeks her life fell into a pattern, with the General leaving all matters in running his household to her. While Thomas was invaluable on campaign and as a personal servant, Lucius had explained, he lacked the imagination to manage a household or to arrange the entertaining necessary for someone in his social position.
Today was a market day and she had a thousand things to arrange. Tomorrow evening, Lucius was entertaining the Proconsul and his wife and everything had to be perfect. It was a beautiful spring morning -- not late enough in the day for the heat to raise the smells of the market. She walked down the alley, heading for the baker's shop, wanting to purchase some of the olive bread that was their specialty and that was one of Lucius' favorites.
A voice called to her from an alcove. "Nysia, Nysia!"
She looked around, startled. "Janus?" She finally spied him in the shadows.
He stepped out, taking her arm. "I've been so worried about you," he told her. "I heard what happened to Marius…" He shook his head. "How are you?"
She placed her hand against his chest, searching his familiar face and feeling guilty for the lines of worry she saw there. "I'm well. Truly."
"He hasn't… hurt you?"
"No, no, Janus. He's treated me very well." She let him pull her into his arms for a moment before pulling away. "We can't. Someone might see."
He ran his fingers down her cheek as if trying to memorize her. "I'm sorry. You just don't know what it's been like, always wondering, not knowing how you fared."
"I know," she said gently. "I know."
"I count the days. It won't be long till you are home again and safe."
Her heart fell. "Janus--” she began.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
How could she tell him? Looking at his dear face, how could she tell him she was never coming back? "Nothing. Nothing is wrong." Coward. she accused herself. "I need to go, I'm expected so I shouldn't be late." Before she could stop him, he kissed her. "Janus," she protested in shock, "you put us both in danger. You mustn't!"
"To keep me till we see each other again, Nysia," he told her as he walked backwards up the alley. Then he turned around, his long stride soon taking him out of her sight.
She leaned against the wall, heart pounding. Not from the kiss, but from fear.
Spring turned to summer, and with it came one of the hottest months in memory. The August heat was oppressive with no respite, even in the evening. It took its toll: fevers raced through the city and disputes that would normally be settled peacefully instead became violent, the heat making everyone short-tempered.
Dionysia wandered the market just after dawn, hunting for the herbs necessary to treat the fever that had incapacitated half the staff. She wouldn't let a Roman healer near them; in her opinion he would be more likely to kill them then cure them.
She hoped it was early enough that she wouldn't see Janus. He turned up every few weeks, despite her best efforts to avoid him. Her fear was that somehow Lucius would find out.
She finished buying what she required and headed up the road back to the villa, the heat already beating down like an oven. Her shoulders sagged as she heard Janus calling to her. Stopping, she waited for him to catch up to her. "Janus, please. I want to get back before it gets any hotter."
"Wonderful news," he called as he drew nearer, "the Domina's husband is leaving next week. It won't be long now!" The smile he wore almost split his face. He put his hands on her waist, lifting her off her feet. "I am so happy," he said seriously, setting her down gently.
She couldn't stall any longer; he had to know the truth. He deserved to hear it from her own lips and not as gossip. "Janus, I'm sorry, but I won't be coming back. Lydia has given me to the General permanently. It became final a few weeks ago."
All the color drained from his face. "No," he said, barely audible. "She can't have given you to that...man!" he spat. He looked at her with eyes that were almost fevered. "I'll beg her to change her mind, remind her of how valuable you were to her, how the children miss you. I've been loyal; she would listen to me!"
"Janus, no! It's too late for that. It's over! You must accept that! I don't want you to get in trouble because of me," she pleaded.
"I would do anything for you; you know that. I can't just let you spend your life owned by that murdering Roman!" He was almost shouting now.
"Janus, please, quiet!" Panic laced her voice. He would attract attention that could get them both killed. "It will be all right, you must believe me. He hasn't mistreated me, and he's given me his oath that he will set me free in two years. Two years, Janus; we can be together then!"
He grabbed her arm, almost shaking her. "And you believe him? Are you a fool? He will use you up and cast you aside!" His voice broke with rage and frustration. He pulled her hard against him, kissing her desperately.
Terrified, she struggled against him, finally breaking away. "Stop it! You're going to get us both killed! You may want to die, but I don't! I don't want to see you anymore, Janus, I can't trust you -- not when you act like this." She was panting, desperate to be away from here. Slowly she began to back away.
"You don't mean that! I know you don't." Janus shook his head in denial of her words.
"I do mean it. Please, don't make this any harder than it has to be. I won't let you ruin this, I won't! I will not lose my freedom again, ever." She saw the anguish in his eyes, but that couldn't deter her. "I'm sorry, Janus, but neither of us are the masters of our own fate. We both forgot that." She turned and fled up the hill.