Author's Note: Thank you to Ilaria for help. Much appreciated! Also, I've also posted this story under another name, so if you do happen to come across that, rest assured - we're the same person :-)
Disclaimer: The movie "Gladiator" and its characters belong to Dreamworks, not me.
She walks through shadow and light, pausing only long enough for me to memorize the proud tilt of her head, the sharp aristocratic lines of nose and chin, and her slender figure draped in white threaded with gold.
She knows how to use her hands to an advantage; long tapered fingers stroking the length of my thigh and carefully rounded, painted nails drawing scratches on my back. She sits on the windowsill, her hands folded neatly in her lap and turns to look at me.
"Does the sun shine like this in Espania?" she asks quietly.
I lean back against the feather pillows. Her bed is soft, comfortable, and when she is next to me, warm and loving.
"Most days," I answer carefully.
"The sky looks like this one also?"
"It is the same sky, Lucilla." Tense, sharp words that I regret immediately.
"How can it be the same, Maximus?"
"It is. I assure you."
She looks at me seriously.
"When I was in Gallia, the sun was not so warm and the sky not so blue."
"Gallia is not Espania," I point out.
"Yes, but you were not in Gallia. You did not see it with me."
I get out of bed, pausing long enough to grab my tunic off the table where I threw it so carelessly last night. I walk up to Lucilla. She presses my fingers to her lips.
"You did not see it with me," she repeated. "That makes all the difference. Look at the sky, Maximus. Look at the sun. How can it be the same as that in Espania?"
And I admit, as she holds my hand, that it cannot be the same sky.
The reception, as all receptions are, was boring. Many men, all of them with loud voices and fantastic opinions, strode about, their hands on the hilt of their swords, each on the verge of a duel. In the midst of it all, Caesar, as I think of Marcus Aurelius, stood, watching with a mixture of amusement and dismay. He looked at me, shaking his head.
"See how it is, Maximus?" he asked. "They are all children, all of them wanting more. What do you think? Should I make them all powerful?"
"If you have so many generals, you will lack the men to fight, Sire," I answered. Caesar laughed.
"So how do I pick? They all cut an admirable figure and you must agree that their bravery is not in doubt. So whom should I send on the next campaign?"
"The one who is best suited for it, Sire, of course."
"Are you a politician, Maximus? If so, I have been greatly deceived."
This time, I laughed, and my wineglass trembled in my hand. Caesar leaned in close to me.
"You observe Septimius holding court?"
"I see him," I said. The man - Septimius - was huge with a voice nearly as big. He stood on the other side of the room, surrounded by many, all of them with obvious adulation on their faces.
"He claimed a great victory in the South," Caesar said. "Bold, brilliant and deliberate. There were few casualties on our side. Shall I select him?"
"I have heard good things about his command style."
"And you have heard the bad also?"
"Are the stories true? And I expect you to speak to me freely, Maximus, with no fears. Will you do that?"
"The stories are true, Sire. I have seen such things with my own eyes."
"I do not want my soldiers ill-treated, Maximus."
"Of course not."
"And crucifixion for stealing food is harsh punishment indeed. It is the duty of a general to provide for his armies, is that not true?"
Caesar looks at me in satisfaction.
"So it shall not be Septimius at the head of my armies. Yes, I have much to think about, Maximus. Very much to think about."
And Caesar tipped his head to the side slightly, his expression pensive.
"You are a good counselor," he said. "We shall talk in the morning. I am tired now."
Caesar left, to the dismay of all those who intended to sweeten his ears with platitudes. And I stood alone, with none looking at me with much respect or love. Of course, I could not expect it, for I had not earned those things from the assembled nor did I desire to.
"My father thinks highly of you."
I whirled around and saw Lucilla. She stood slightly behind a pillar, a shadow falling across her face.
"He talks well of you," Lucilla said. "He values your opinion and I have need of a valuable opinion."
"And what opinion is that, my lady?"
Lucilla cocked her head to one side, her eyes serious and her lips drawn into a straight line.
"Do you think Rome is right to expand so much?" she asked. A chestnut-hued curl slipped from the golden circlet holding her hair in its elaborate style and I resisted the urge to brush it away from her brow.
"Perhaps," I said neutrally.
"Do you think one day our boundaries will grow such that we can no longer reach from one end of our territory to the other in a single year?"
"We are nearly there already," I told her.
"More land. Whatever shall we do with all of that land?" Lucilla mused. She beckoned to me and I followed her down a hallway. Her shoes, soft green velvet, made no sound against the marble floors. "Come, we must find somewhere quiet to talk. The noise of voices bothers me. All of those men wanting favors yet giving nothing at all. Do you think that as strange as I do?"
"I do," I said and then decided to say nothing more; I had already confessed more than I wanted. Lucilla stopped and indicated a bench.
"Sit," she said authoritatively.
I recognized the blood of Caesar in the gold of her eyes and the shape of her
Lucilla wore green that night with pearls at her wrists, neck and woven through the soft curls of her hair. That night, she reminded me of the green calm which follows a spring rain, so clean, refreshing and new. I kept my hands firmly to my sides, but if she noticed my restraint, she gave no indication.
"Tell me," she said. "You're a soldier. At night, what do you dream of?"
"I dream of Espania."
"I see." Lucilla pressed her lips together. "When I visit the scene of a campaign, I have nightmares. Dreams do not come to me, but I see visions of the dead. They lack limbs, heads, eyes. They scream in pain and they cry for loves they never knew. And then I wake to imagine land, soaked with blood, branded with the proud stain of Rome. Tell me. Does battle excite you?"
"Not as it excites others."
"You do not talk as much as the others."
"Only because I have learned to keep my counsel."
Lucilla laughed. She ran her fingers over my cheek. Her touch was soft, smooth, unlike the callused hands I was used to.
"Then you are more wise than most," she said. She stood up. "It is late, Maximus. Perhaps you should return tomorrow night. I will be expecting you."
She disappeared then into the shadows.
I arrived in the hour before midnight.
Lucilla wore peach that night. I noticed the gold in her ears and her hair. Her wrists, neck and fingers were bare of ornamentation.
Her ladies withdrew discreetly and Lucilla led me to a small table by the window. She had set it with a basket of bread, some grapes, and wine. Candlelight played off the rims of the gold plates. Lucilla poured the wine and then sat down opposite me.
"I was afraid you would not come," she said. "Were you offended by our conversation last night?"
"No, I was not."
"Most men like to think of me as mere decoration. They ask my father if they might marry me, yet they never look at me. Yesterday, you looked at me. Did you think me forward?"
"No, I did not."
"Again, you speak so little!" she exclaimed. "So many think I only want to talk of jewels and the latest fashions. And I admit, sometimes, it is nice to think about such frivolity, but other times, I like to speak of subjects not so confined to the realm of women."
"Like the expansion of Rome?"
Lucilla broke off a chunk of bread and put it on my plate. She lifted an olive delicately and licked it before putting it in her mouth.
"I do think we won't be satisfied until we own all of the world," Lucilla said.
"Do you think we will be happy when all of this land belongs to us?"
"I believe Rome has its virtues for those who desire it."
"You believe Rome is perfection?"
"I believe that the government of Rome has its advantages," I said carefully. "It will be difficult, however, to keep the peace as the boundaries grow further from the city."
"But you didn't answer my question. Is Rome perfection?"
"Not perfect, no, but preferable to most."
Lucilla took a sip of wine and then slipped her hand across the table to cover mine.
"Where are you from, Maximus?"
"And what do you do in Espania?"
"I own a farm."
"You are a farmer then."
"Some might call me that."
"Do you have many people working on your land?"
"Do you own slaves?"
"I do not know."
Lucilla held out a chunk of bread to me.
"Do you ever think of how the bread is made?" she asked. "From field to your plate, do you think?"
"Not often, no."
"What do you grow on your farm?"
"Some types of grapes."
"You make wine then."
"Is it better than this wine?"
"It has a different flavor."
"Ah." Lucilla leaned back in her chair, her expression contemplative. "My father is correct; you are a politician, aren't you?"
"I intend no disrespect."
"You are not disrespectful, only wary and guarded with your opinion. More men should follow your example. They should think more of the good of Rome and not of their own glories. Why are men like that, Maximus? Why must they constantly war with one another in order to triumph and advance their own causes?"
"It must be our nature. We only want to be recognized as the best."
"And you? What would you like?"
And without thinking, I said, "I want to go home."
We met like this for several weeks, Lucilla and I. She always had some sort of light dinner waiting for me, and when she grew weary of my company, she dismissed me.
Our conversations were strange; she asked questions, and I answered them diligently but tersely. She asked about my family, my farm, and how I came to be in Rome. She talked scathingly of those who followed her father and how their cloying attitudes disturbed her greatly. And some nights, she would glance into the shadows, lower her voice, and talk of her brother.
"Commodus wants to be Caesar after our father," she said. She held up an olive, examined it, and put it in her mouth. "He believes that Rome is his destiny. Or perhaps, he means it otherwise - that he is Rome's destiny."
"And this troubles you?" I had come to notice little things about Lucilla, such as the way her brow furrowed slightly or the way her lips pressed together tightly when she was distressed.
"Shall I tell you a secret, Maximus?"
"Are you asking my permission?"
She laughed and leaned forward, placing her forearms on the table. Without thinking, I reached forward and covered her slender fingers with my own broad hand. She did not pull away.
"I'm more clever than my brother," she said. "I could govern them all with wit and wisdom. I could handle them in the way unruly men ought to be dealt with, yet they look not in my direction as they do not think a woman is capable of such things. I should not even consider a thought like this, Maximus, for it shall shock them all when I confess that my brother cannot imagine a Rome such as mine."
"And what Rome is yours, Lucilla?"
"One in which there be no blood," she said. "I do not think much of wheat grown in ground stained red."
"Even when we are fighting for an ideal?"
"What ideal is that, sir? The ideals of Rome?"
"Are there any better?"
"You said yourself that you know of none better."
Lucilla relaxed in her chair, pulling her hand away from mine. The golden shawl slipped from her shoulders to rest on her elbows as she picked lazily at the grapes on her plate.
"I am proud to be of Rome," she said. "Yet I do not believe this way we live is the way it should be. I would want a time of peace without regard to gaining more territory. I would believe that to be an ideal of great consequence."
"Then you should propose it."
"Is there a man who would hear of it?" her eyes met mine across the table and I saw the challenge clearly.
I rose from my chair.
"I must go," I told her softly. "It's late."
One night, she greeted me at the door and pressed her palms against my cheeks.
"Maximus," she said softly. I leaned forward and brushed my lips against hers lightly; when she didn't pull away, I bent to kiss the curve between her neck and shoulder.
She wore blue, soft and sheer, and when I slipped the dress off her shoulders, she wore only the silver chain around her neck and the delicate bangle on her wrist. When I touched her cheek lightly, Lucilla shivered.
She undressed me with an experience I did not question as shadows grew long across the room. She had only a few candles lit in alcoves around the room.
It had been so long, too long, that I felt almost out of practice as my lips skimmed the line of her collarbone. Lucilla's hands, talented at tantalizing and teasing, were everywhere at once as we slipped beneath covers. I ran my hands down the smooth skin of her stomach and down lower.
She gasped as I lower my head to taste her. She shuddered against me and carefully, slowly, I worked my way back up to her lips.
"Please," she whispered. Her legs wrapped around me as I pushed into her. Her breath was hot against my shoulder as her hand stroked the small of my back.
"Tell me," she whispered. "Do you think you could love me?"
I looked into those fine, delicate features and ran my fingers down her chin, neck and circled her breasts.
"Could you?" she persisted. Her hand clenched at mine. I pressed into her, harder and faster, and she grew quiet. I collapsed on top of her and she ran a hand through my hair. I kissed her lightly on the lips and then rolled to the side.
"You didn't answer my question," she whispered. "Where's my politician now?"
Caesar called me into his private quarters the next morning and I thought with fear that he knew about Lucilla and me. I felt the nails already in my hands and I mentally made a list of how I should dispose of my personal belongings, if they gave me enough time.
"Maximus," he said. He wore a robe lined with rich purple, but he was bare-headed and barefoot. I knelt but Marcus Aurelius raised me to my feet.
"I've made a decision," he said.
"The campaign in Gallia. I have found my general."
"Is it to be Septimius?"
"No." Caesar put his hand on my shoulder. "I should like it to be you, Maximus. I can think of no one I trust or like better than you. Personal ambition, you have none, so I have no fear that you shall incite mutiny and turn my soldiers against me. Nor do I fear you shall pillage the lands and take all of value before turning it to me. Will you lead my armies into Gallia, Maximus?"
I thought of Espania and my farm, with its rich, verdant fields, and the house with its thatched rough and whitewashed walls. I thought of the serenity in the land and then washing away that calm with blood.
"I can think of no one I should want more," Caesar said. "I would- it would honor an old man if you should agree to my request."
"Your desire is my duty," I said. "Sire."
Lucilla walks through shadow and light. She is elegant today in white and gold, and her cheeks are pink from enduring the punishment of pinching. She looks into the mirror many times though I have assured her of her beauty. She offers me disdain in return for my honest compliment.
"Have I said something wrong?" I ask as I lace up my sandals.
"Beauty is of no consequence to you," she hisses.
"You say this with so much passion without regard to the truth."
She stands with her hands on her hips, her eyes flashing at me.
"Shall you go and ruin this peace I dream of?" she asks. "Are you like all men, bent only on grandeur?"
"I do as your father commands."
"You might have said no."
"One does not say no to Caesar."
"You are Caesar's daughter. I am, as you once said, simply a farmer. There is a difference, Lucilla."
She pouts prettily and for a moment, I think of wrapping my arms around that supple body and holding her until all life squeezes out of her.
"Will you come back?" she asks. "Or shall you die gloriously so that others might sing of your bravery?"
She smiles now, but her eyes are glassy. I put my hands behind my back so that I do not reach out to touch her; I know that I do make that move, I will not be able to leave her.
"I must go," I tell her.
And I pick up my sword, the one I left at her dinner table. I do not say good-bye.
We have spent many days now in Gallia. The men drag their feet in the mud and rub their stiffening fingers together. We make camp on the side of a riverbank and I sit in my tent, watching the rain fall endlessly in sheets of gray.
The messenger arrives, soaked to the skin, and he hands me the message warily. He stands at attention as I read it.
"Is there a reply, General?" he asks.
I stare at the seal of Rome at the bottom of the message and I nod.
"Tell Caesar we shall make our offensive in the morning and I have great hopes of victory," I answer. The messenger nods and disappears back into the rain for the road back to Rome.
Afternoon melts into evening and soon, stars sprinkle the night skies. I do not dream as I lie in my bed. I sleep hard and heavy.
When I wake, the rains have passed and all around me, the earth is fresh, green and alive.
~ the end ~
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