A Dream of Rain
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Dreamworks. No profit or infringement intended.
Author's note: Much thanks to everyone for their feedback on "Sometimes the Heart." I really appreciate it. Some of you may have seen this under my other name. It's all good.
In the season between Maximus and my husband, the sun did not shine.
The rivers overflowed, the crops drowned and the sky remained a constant shade of gray. The soothsayers foretold of great disasters, natural and unnatural, to fall upon the greatness of Rome. We would all die a thousand deaths, they said; we would suffer with great pain and the rivers would flow with our blood. They told us of the Gods who glared upon Rome with anger for we had displeased them.
The only remedy, our wisemen told us, was a great victory. And so it was decided.
When the legions marched out, with Maximus at the head of their long columns, the skies lightened in color, but only by a shade; the rain poured down unforgivingly. Mud splattered up from the horses' hooves, splattering the soldiers' proud tunics and insignias of Rome.
I watched from the window in my room, perched on the window sill, concentrating only on Maximus' strong, straight back as he rode away from me. Did I expect him to look back? Of course not. A woman who expects such things only dooms herself to foolish fantasies and Maximus, whom I could never accuse of sentimentality, would not allow himself such a weakness.
And when I could see them no longer, I held my hand out into the rain.
They ask now that Maximus has fallen how we - Maximus and I - came to be for a short season.
They ask because they did not know and I can only offer patience in my smile; they did not know because I chose that they did not know.
Yes, even in a city with such talent for gossip as Rome, it is possible to keep secrets and the secret of Maximus stealing through the shadows to my rooms, I kept that one close to my heart, because I chose to be greedy.
I stand in the center of the great Coliseum and feel curious eyes burning into my back. I know my son is nearby and I think that I should take him away from all of this death and blood, but I can only stare at Maximus and Commodus, both lying at my feet. One, we all regard with respect - we will call him hero; the other we only look at with great pity tinged with intense dislike.
The sun blazes down on us, seemingly with the desire to burn us all until we be nothing but a smoldering pile of ashes. Colors are heightened now, from the rich red staining the golden sands of the Coliseum to the deep blue of the sky above. Such a beautiful day, with no breeze, no clouds, and no scent of moisture in the air.
My son pulls on my hand and I jerk away.
"Lucius," I say. Nothing more, nothing less, yet he understands. I kneel next to Maximus and gently run my fingers over the sweep of his cheekbones. I hold his hands in mine, remembering how they stroked my thighs and breasts and then I lean to kiss his lips. Soft lips that once hungered at mine. I touch his hair, remembering the feel of that same hair against the nape of my neck. I remember this all so clearly.
A hand is offered and I take it, the face of my helper blurring unexpectedly. I bite my lip.
"See that he gets a burial befitting his rank as a general in my father's armies," I tell no one in particular. No one asks about Commodus and I care not what they do with his body. It is a sad thing for a sister to despise her brother such that her love is completely overshadowed by that darker emotion.
I sweep out of the Coliseum, holding my head as high as I possibly can, blinking quickly; I blame the brightness of the sun for clouding my vision. Lucius runs to catch my hand but he says nothing. Silence surrounds me, even with so many people around me and only when I enter the litter, I look at Lucius.
"You must not come here again," I say.
"Mother?" his voice is soft, very low, gentle. "I do not understand."
"You should not see such things," I tell him.
"My uncle wanted me there."
"Your uncle is dead. You will not attend such spectacles in the future."
Lucius does not protest; he knows better.
The litter sways at the strong men lift us up and begin to trot. Sometimes, I like to open the sheer curtains separating me from the dust of the city and look out; today, I rest my head against the wall and close my eyes.
Lucius brings the chessboard and puts it in front of me. He carefully opens the box containing the pieces and palms them. I pick the hand with the white pieces and he laughs. I place my pieces on the board, almost mindlessly.
"Mother!" Lucius is exasperated as he leans over to switch king and queen. "You did not put them correctly."
"My mistake, I am sorry."
I make the first move and then Lucius. We play in silence, thankfully, because I have no words left to speak. But Lucius remains quiet for only so long before he looks up at me and asks, "You knew Maximus before he was a gladiator?"
"What was he like?" Lucius presses on. I move my rook forward with the intent of castling my king in the next move, but Lucius is too quick; checkmate.
I contemplate Lucius' question, knowing all of the things that I want to say, but also knowing that there are things that I cannot reveal.
I knew Maximus by the shape of his lips and the curve of his spine. I knew the indention at his hip and I had traced the contours of his face with my fingers many times. I knew him by his soft speech, his diplomatic words, and I knew him in the way that he would lean towards me, those eyes seeing only me.
I could tell how I dug my fingers into Maximus' back, how I wrapped a bare leg around him as he pushed deeper into me, his lips pressed against the nape of my neck. I remember the way he would lightly nip at my breasts with his teeth, licking at the hardened nipples, and then the gentle way he would place his palm across my stomach before journeying further down my body. I could say how his fingers ran up the length of my thigh, lightly, and how I would shudder when I felt him enter me.
I could say that I knew Maximus from the month of nights we spent together, those furtive moments, and how as dawn's rosy fingers brushed across the sky, he would rise from my bed. I would watch Maximus dress; he kept his back to me and then before leaving, he would brush my forehead lightly with his lips and promise me to return again when the stars graced the night sky.
The last night I spent with Maximus, he held me close, his breath warm across my face as he leaned over to kiss me. His fingers knit with mine, his leg across mine, warm skin against warm skin. We lay like this until morning came and then he rose and dressed. I watched him, without speaking.
"Lucilla," Maximus said. He sat at the side of the bed and gently picked up my hand. "You must awake. The hour for my departure draws near."
"You must not go."
"Your father commands me to."
"My father is a very forceful man if he wants to be."
"Yes," Maximus smiled at me. "His wish is my obligation. I do as he commands."
"And so you must fight," I answered. He caressed my cheek. "You will be careful, Maximus?"
"You worry too much," he said.
"And you are not anxious enough."
"I shall return."
"Do not make promises you cannot keep."
"I intend to keep this one."
I smiled at him then. Whatever else he was, Maximus was an honorable man. I pulled him back down on the bed with me. "One more time," I whispered. Maximus closed his eyes.
"Lucilla," he said. I kissed him on the eyelids, the tip of his nose, his lips, his ears, anywhere I could find bare skin. Maximus' hands moved up my torso before resting on my hips. He inhaled deeply, burying his head in my hair; I stroked his head with my fingers, spreading my legs slightly so he could shift his weight more evenly. We made love that last time slowly and then he was gone.
"Mother?" Lucius asks. "You knew Maximus when he was a general?"
I think of the golden sand now bloodied. I think of the men who are preparing Maximus' body, and Commodus' too, for burial. I nod because I cannot speak.
"Yes, Lucius, I did."
"What was he like?"
I consider this question because there are so many answers now and even a minor truth that has never escaped my lips, not even when I took the chance for a moment alone with Maximus. I look at my son and see in his eyes the brightness of a light cruelly extinguished by the brother I once adored. I see fate striking at me again so coldly and I cannot help but shudder.
"Maximus," I begin and then pause. Lucius pauses his play and stares back at me. "Maximus, he was... he was much like your father. Brave, honorable, strong, courageous, noble. All of these things."
"I thought so," Lucius nods. I exhale slowly, letting the release of oxygen calm my system.
There are things I cannot share with my son, no matter how opinion shifts; I cannot tell him what he ought to know, that in the season between Maximus and my husband, a child grew in my womb. A child my husband believed was his, a child born after seven short months of marriage.
"Yes, you can be proud," I tell him.
And in an final move, my son takes the queen and kills the king.
The earth in the gardens
is cracked and the greenery is turning slowly to yellow and browns.
They have turned off the fountains and the peacocks strut in their former verdant eden with their usual pride.
The soothsayers, they have predicted a thousand years of famine and for good measure, a great pestilence to sweep the land. Only a great victory can save us now, they claim.
I ignore them all as I sit in my window. I hold my hand out into the sunlight and feel the rays burn my skin.
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