I will show you the measures of the much-thundering sea, I who am not one who has much knowledge of ships and sea voyages.
—Hesiod's The Works and Days
But there! It rests with heaven to determine whether he is to return, and take his revenge in his own house or no.
—Homer's The Odyssey
The Visiting Lord
Swirling about her legs, frothy waves deposited salt and silt upon the edges of her robe. Struggling with the tugging wind, the robe whipped wetly about her legs. Habitually, she dug her toes into the sand dampened by the tides, feeling its cool transfer to her own warm skin. She took in a deep breath and the inhaled wind seemed to blow clean the inside of her chest, sweeping it free of anything which would bar her from feeling the full glory of the sea; she was submerged beneath its briny scent. Both the ocean and sky were a foreboding iron grey, but she knew that it was a mere façade or another angle of beauty. The gusts teased tendrils from her braided bun, chanting her name hypnotically: Calista, Calista. Eyes fluttering shut and caught in the trance of the rhythmic waves, she felt herself being yanked into the embrace of the water as the sand slid away beneath her.
"Caly!" The exclamation broke through her reverie, and she nearly started out of her skin, shaking her head to rid it of her wild thoughts.
"Come here! Look at what I've caught!" commanded the voice from across the expanse of a gravely beach.
"Coming, Pyp!" she shouted back, running towards the dark-haired boy clutching a net. As she ran, tiny pebbles crunched beneath her feet. Finally, after catching a few stumbles, she arrived before the beckoner. "Well, what have you caught here?" Calista asked, brushing strands of wavy hair, sliced by the cool wind, away from her face.
He thrust the finely woven net towards her, presenting his prize: a small mussel twisted in the threads of the mesh, its violet interior apparent. Despite the meager nature of his trophy, Pyp's tanned face glowed with the bright pride of accomplishment, his black eyes sparkling with mischief. No doubt he realized that his sand-stained white tunic would earn him a scolding.
Voice heavy with amusement, Calista congratulated her younger brother. "Very well done Pyp!" She ruffled his curls affectionately, letting her fingers glide through their cool silkiness.
"And, look Calista, look! I found something beautiful!" He thrust out a largish circular locket, set with midnight blue lapis lazuli flecked with gold.
"W-where did you get that?" she gasped, her hands reaching for it mechanically, as if compelled by some force other than free will.
"In the net!" he exclaimed, waving it so that it was caught by the wind and twirled above them for a few moments before Calista strained upwards and handed it back to Pyp. "The Gods have blessed us!"
"Indeed they have," she breathed reverentially. "Hold it?" Her hands were still outstretched, soft palms turned upward.
"Of course." After a moment's pause and a burst of heady generosity, he added, "It's yours."
"Oh, Pyp! Thank you!" Gently, she took the locket from his palm, and clenched it in a tight fist. It felt...right. She dangled the chain against the dipping molten gold sun, marveling at the delicate inlay of the locket. Her fingers tried pry the clasp open but it stuck; she did not pursue it further, but instead embraced Pyp.
With clear impatience, Pyp suffered through the hugs, anxiously squirming away once Calista's hold loosened in the slightest. "Calista, Mother and Father will worry if we stay out much longer, the sun is halfway down," he said, smugness shading his voice for he greatly enjoyed believing he wielded authority.
"Of course Master," Calista acquiesced dryly, even bobbing a small bow.
Their feet waded through the sand, laughing companionably, age barriers disintegrating with the setting sun. And it was a conscious decision, this crumbling, for they were approaching an end of times. Within a week, Pyp would be celebrating his seventh birthday, marking his foray into a world of learning to prepare him to perhaps be appointed to his father's place as the Governor of Portus Tarrus, a located on the western fringe of Gaul in Tarronensis, near Hispania, for the honor of the great emperor Augustus Caesar, by the Senate. Or perhaps he would pursue a senatorial career in Rome. Or, if he had his way, pursue a career harassing and fooling innocent bystanders.
As for Calista, marriage was an ever-looming prospect and becoming more tangible with every instant. They only had this one week, and after that they would have to go there separate ways: he with his studies and she with her own life: having turned sixteen recently she was approaching the station of old maid. Their mother's handmaids were scandalized that Calista was sixteen and not even betrothed; many of her girlhood friends had been married in the last few seasons. It astounded those women that her father had wealth, power, and she had some modicum of beauty—and that would flee soon, they warned. Calista had tried several times to explain that at a recent sixteen she just was not prepared and her father respected that decision—to some extent. They clucked and paid no attention to her protestations, and instead complained about the sheer expectations of the youth these days, and, yes, the foolishness of the consul Lucretius to let his eldest have her will in such an important matter.
"In my day," had huffed one of the handmaids, Messala, as she folded the laundry, "a girl was lucky to see her fiancé before the wedding. To choose him!" She had exchanged darkly significant looks with the other maids but Calista had merely chortled and left the room.
"Guess what Calista! Guess!" Pyp chanted eagerly, jarring her from her musing once again.
Good-naturedly, she guessed, "Um, you saw Apollo this morning pulling his own chariot like an ass?"
"Calista!" Pyp gasped, scandalized, lifting his hands, still wrapped about his mussel, to his mouth. "What would the pontifix say?"
"I'm not going to tell them, and neither are you," she answered blithely, conspiratorially.
Pyp giggled at his sister's brazenness. Everyone thought that Calista was so good though headstrong. He knew better than everyone. She was scandalous. She would use the gods' names freely, and she would run on the beach with her robes pulled up past her knees. Personally, he was shocked that some deity had not yet descended to reprimand her for her ways. She was horrible, but Pyp loved her. Eagerly, he waited for her to ask him who was coming, but she remained silent, a smile playing around her lips. Every so often, she would slide mock-sly glances in his direction, and finally, Pyp could no longer withstand the temptation to speak. He burst out, "The traders are coming tomorrow!"
Interested in this piece of news, Calista turned to him, laughing all the while at his inability to keep his silence. "The merchants? They are? You do not say. Do you recall when they brought that huge cat from one of the barbaric places? A…lien it was called, or no, a lion." She shuddered delightedly at the memory of the horrific roaring beast. "They said those places were even more uncivilized than Gallia!"
Excitedly leaping in front of his sister, he danced about on the sand, letting his tunic beat at his knees to the rhythm of the wind. Shouted he, "Yes, and mother wouldn't let me keep it!"
Calista snorted incredulously, loosening her hair and allowing to wave behind her. "The slaves would have fled from fear and the floor would have been covered with their...defecations..."
"Defecations?" repeated Pyp, confused by the word not yet in his vocabulary.
"Oh, you know what I mean!" Calista giggled. "Don't make me say it Pyp!"
Pyp stared at her blankly.
"Oh, very well: Shi—"
"Ahhh!" Understanding, Pyp broke into chortles. His older sister was a very bad girl.
Bending low, she picked up her some of the gravel off the beach, feeling it scrach her hands as it sifted through her fingers and hit the ground like soft raindrops. "Are they coming by land or sea?" Calista asked, her curiosity piqued by the arrival of the merchants. Because of the great amounts of salt and wine being produced in the region, strangers, with their novel ways and interesting looks, were steadily becoming a more common sight, with merchants, especially, flooding the city. Nonetheless, they could not help but engender Calista with a certain sense of childlike delight, a relic of her younger days.
"By sea, and they are coming from Punic! The third group this month, right Caly?" Pyp twisted in the air at the last statement, excited to impart information to his older sister whose knowledge he considered to border omniscience.
"Punic! There is nothing in Punic. We destroyed the Punici centuries ago!" Calista responded with a laugh, but her eyebrows stood slightly crooked, somewhat confused at his assertion. She tried to discern which land he could have truly meant.
Pyp stuck his tongue out of a corner of his mouth and rolled his eyes up to the grey sky in thought. "Oh, sorry, not Punic then...I think my tutor was talking about them yesterday," Pyp explained, shame-facedly. "Yesterday was the Ides of March, you know?" he added by way of excusing his previous mistakes. "Or tomorrow. Or today."
"You should pay more attention to your lessons!" she admonished playfully, waggling her finger at him in a fair imitation of their nursemaid, Nuala. "And the Ides is a few weeks from now. Hmm, though, I wonder what I shall purchase…" Her eyes took on a delighted sparkle at the thought of new acquisition and the opportunity to rifle through the merchants' goods. "I do believe I have saved up enough for a gold chain, I think. I can put your lovely locket on it." She ruffled his hair again, and he looked up at her with keen disinterest. Calista's other hand curled protectively around the golden pendant, which had grown warm in her grasp.
As they chatted, their feet carried them to the villa'scourtyard, where slaves bustled around at whatever tasks assigned to them. Two native maids carted around baskets of laundry, and a handful of urchins played a game with old dice, wagering stones. They called out to Pyp who was eager to scamper off, but Calista held on fast to his hand. Despite having lived there for nearly the whole of her life, Calista still found herself warming fondly to the Corinthian columns of her home, which swooped past her and seemed to emerge somewhere between the clouds. They led her gaze into the courtyard, paved with large, smooth flagstones, surrounded by a massive manse of white, a wholly new construction. To her, it possessed none of that air of state that she associated with the Greek Parthenon which she had seen four years ago, before her father had received from the Senate the posting here, in Tarronensis.
"Nicetius Tertillius Volusus!" came a shout.
Pyp scowled at his name. Who wanted a name like Nicetius Tertillius Volusus? How long-winded.
Continued the voice, "Calista Tertillia Volusus! Where have the two of you been? The whole household is in upheaval searching for you mischievous louts. One of the Emperor's men has come, and on important business too. The two of you must get ready!" Their nurse, a native of Gallia, Nuala, hustled them past the courtyard and into the warm atmosphere of their home. A thin woman, she still managed to induce within her charges terror equivalent to that which would have been inspired by much more powerful person.
They entered, not by the formal entrance, but a side door which led to a curving staircase, carefully tiled in bright colors, depicting obscure scenes with captions in stately gold-leafed Latin. The floors, the walls were both bedecked by glimmering glass and gleaming stone: and these mosaics were produced by Portus Tarrus's own tileworks. Calista breathed a sigh at the chill air inside. Ventilated by many windows, the villa kept its temperature in the summer by shade. The villa itself sprawled grandly, leading to numerous wings which all connected to the courtyard. Just as all roads led to Rome, all corridors led to the courtyard.
"Nuala! I can walk by myself!" Calista yelped indignantly as the old nurse tried to hold on to her hand the way she clung to Pyp's.
"That you can," Nuala conceded ruefully, her black eyes crinkling with amused chagrin and unclasping Calista's hand.
Calista, before she darted away to her own room, pecked a kiss on the gnarled hand that had tended to her needs throughout her childhood, feeling a welling of love for her nurse. Dashing up the stairs, she absently ran her fingers against the wall; the mosaics were smooth and jagged by turns until her finger snagged on a tile. With a small yelp, she stuck her finger in her mouth and sucking on it and tasting the salty blood. She entered her room, located in a snug corner on the top floor. One of the finest rooms in the villa, the mosaics brightly depicted the Seven Hills of Rome where she had resided for several years.
Across her finely constructed furniture, luxurious things from all around the Empire were littered. Here a delicate box of sandalwood brimming with jewels, on a diminutive desk, a small Greek statuette of Poseidon, there scrolls of Homer's Odyssey and Hesiod's The Works and Days. In the corner of her room, where the sunlight was the best, stood a loom upon which sagged a half-woven piece, depicting Ariadne battling the Minotaur; Theseus was notably absent. Most magnificent of all, just above the loom and out of a gilded window of glass, a view of the evanescent ocean rolled. The glass was uneven and blurry but that was no detriment. At the moment, the ocean glowed a dusky pink or grey or orange. The manor was built a bit away from the faulty foundations of the sand, and if Calista strained herself, not only could she see the sea, but also the Circus Maximus, the Baths, and the Pantheon of Portus Tarrus.
Calista extracted a mahogany box, carved with intricate designs in the Persian style, which depicted flowers growing around each other, their vines twisting until each separate step was indeterminable, from a heap of rubbish on the table. When she opened it, the failing rays of the sun were caught by a scattering of jewels, refracting off the gems: amethyst, sapphire, emerald, gold. Calista laughed at herself for her lack of concentration, a chiming ring, perhaps her most delicate quality. Placing the gold locket inside, she lovingly closed the box's lid.
Later, Calista emerged from the family's bathhouse, which she adored. With its formal columns and heated floors it was as fine as anything available in Rome. Having been perfumed, oiled, and dressed to perfection, she had one of her maids brought out the polished mirror of bronze and inspected the reflection with approval. She was not a jaw-dropping beauty, per se, but neither would small children die in terror at the sight of her. Her sunny hair had been artfully piled on her head and braided with dainty violet, white, and yellow buds. The sky blue robe had taken the maids the better part of an hour to drape was cinched with a worked gold belt.
"Be sure not to ruin it, domina," admonished her slave girls, both thin and dark-haired, in eerie unison.
Calista rubbed her hands over the faint spots left from the blemishes of her fourteenth year, thanking Venus once again that they had gone, leaving only a vague mark of their presence that her mother promised would disappear with time. Now, they only erupted occasionally and could be very well contained with hair arranged just-so or careful application of a powder. "Is the guest handsome?" Calista asked hopefully, turning away from her reflection before it could grow worse before her eyes, as it had a penchant to do.
"Nay, domina," one of her handmaidens laughed. "He is old enough to be your grandfather."
"Then I suppose I must be on my best behavior, so he may carry my attributes back to Mother Rome," she sighed. Her own mother often quoted such phrases in her speeches about the meaning of decorum.
The maids tittered and Calista's face grew darker with frustration. Several times before a man had proposed to her, or rather her father, for her hand, resulting in a fit and refused to be married. However much Calista's parents said they respected her decision not to marry yet, they were eager to see their eldest wedded. Calista knew she caused her parents worry with her unwillingness to marry; her mother had been married at twelve and Calista was four years beyond that age. "If only I didn't have to bother with these conventions of Roman society!" she muttered to herself, refusing to be embarrassed by her vastly childish behavior. Louder, she said, "You are dismissed."
They backed out, bowing in their short tunics.
Calista's mother, the famed beauty, Olympia Tertia, entered the room as the stooped maids exited. Olympia smiled at her daughter's classic pose: legs crossed, head tilted to one side and resting upon her clasped hands. However, when her eyes fell on the cases of the great orator, Cicero, lying beside Calista on the white linen sheets of the bed, her eyebrows furrowed in frustration. Where did Calista get that? she thought. She sighed in frustration: if men found out that Calista enjoyed reading the law of the Roman Republic and fancied herself to some extent an advocate, as evident by her argumentative stance on so many things, the marriage proposals would disappear. Beneath the cases of Cicero lay The Histories of Polybius, and Olympia recognized the well-worn copy as her husband's own. "Well, at least it's not Demosthenes," she muttered.
"Bene salve, Mother," grinned Calista, making a half-hearted effort to push Cicero out of sight.
Olympia was Calista's opposite in looks, and it continually amazed Calista that she was her daughter. Her mother's hair was night black and glittered red in the sunlight, and her eyes were a dark obsidian accentuated by the stola she wore of the purest white, lined with the thinnest strip of Imperial violet.
The only similarity between us, Calista decided for the umpteenth time, is our noses.
Absently stroking Calista's hair, Olympia slid beside Calista on the bed which was lofted high by wooden columns, polished and carved. A few flowers tumbled to the floor. "Your aunt has written me and I must say what she has to say has left me quite surprised," announced Olympia, brandishing a sheet of parchment.
"Do tell," Calista replied, with a laugh.
"Well, she writes, 'Olympia, you may soon find yourself without a husband! Do not make that face, Sister, but I write to tell you that one Caecina has proposed that governors may not take their wives with them while they are performing their duties in the provinces.'" Olympia looked at Calista with expectation. "What do you think of that?"
"It seems outrageous. Why would he ever propose such a thing?" Calista, exclaimed, inflamed, immediately imagining this Caecina as an embittered man without a wife and therefore resentful of all those whose wives were willing to leave Rome to be with their husbands.
"Apparently we are much too interfering in affairs of the state," said Olympia dryly. "Doubtlessly this issue was struck down by the Senate soon after the absurd fellow proposed the idea. Now, dear Calista, I beg of you, please, be on your best behavior tonight for our guest, Avaritus."
"So he can carry my attributes back to Mother Rome?" Calista asked, unsurprised by the swift turn of conversation. Her mother had a habit of lulling her with gossip and then striking her with a command. "So keep a proper tongue in your head or I shall tell Nuala to take a rod to your back. Believe me child, I will." The second part, more than anything, cemented Olympia Tertia's statement as an empty threat. Calista could wheedle and coax her way out of most anything and her mother was well-aware of this fact.
Taking her daughter's hand, Olympia led Calista steadily to the dining hall from which musicians' strumming floated. A vast, rectangular, room, it was inlaid with mosaics of Ceres and her helpers harvesting the fields, each touch causing the wheat stalks to morph into golden and the leaves to change to scarlet. On the opposite wall was a bawdy and gaudy mosaic of Bacchus and some nymphs at a clearly wine-sodden feast. The second mosaic was a product of the tastes of the Consul of Portus Tarrus several generations before and fortunately, he was no ancestor of the current lord who had refurbished many of the older mosaics tastefully, influenced unduly, as Caecina would see it, by his wife.
Olympia sat down on a plush green sofa next to her husband, Lucretius Tertillius Volusus, garbed in a toga of deep violet embroidered with gold. Calista took her seat next to Pyp, who reclined on the couch as casual as any emperor.
"Move over," Calista commanded, gently shoving him aside. "You have conquered this whole seat, Caesar."
With a small, thrilled gasp at Calista's joke, Pyp scooted to the edge. "There are two other couches open: take those," he suggested. At this statement, Calista leveled him a deliberate look. After several moments, Pyp exclaimed, "You know, I have really big news!"
"What Pyp?" she whispered, elbowing him to lower his voice as Lucretius and Olympia simultaneously glanced at them sharply.
Pyp suddenly shook his head and Calista turned around to see the gray-haired man.
"Good afternoon, Consul Lucretius, Dominae Olympia, Calista and young Pyp," he said, bowing slightly in the direction of his hosts. He had his hair was shorn short, in the fashion of the Caesars, and the beard, which gathered into the pale, oddly delicate, crags of his skin, was cropped as well, and a frothy white. His beard flouted fashion, which even sheltered Calista realized: men were supposed to be clean-shaven. Her father was. Avaritus's eyes though, were black, and where Olympia's eyes conveyed the warmth of coal and security of the night, his eyes reflected…and perhaps Calista was imagining it, but his eyes reflected the fear night produced.
"Good afternoon, Father Avaritus. May Pluto not carry you away too quickly from our company," Calista replied, shaking her head of all shiver-inducing thoughts, blue eyes sparkling with humor.
Pyp smothered a laugh behind his hand, and his sister flashed a mischievous look at him. That felt better, falling into the familiar pattern with her brother.
Shooting Calista a stern look, Lucretius rose and greeted the middle-aged man warmly. "Bonum vesperum, Avaritus. How was your journey? Portus Tarrus is quite a long ways from Rome; I hope it was comfortable."
"Quite," replied Avaritus tersely, his eyes ranging covetously across the furniture and property, electing to recline near her parents.
Lucretius chuckled. "I never imagined, when I met you at Drusillius's soirée and described my home and family to you and you vowed that you would come and visit that you would make good on your word. And in less than a year since the meeting! Delighted, absolutely delighted, I am to have you here."
Avaritus held Calista's eyes for a moment. "I must confess it was the description of your lovely daughter which intrigued me the most. That and the descriptions of your fine wine!"
Olympia and Lucretius laughed at the joke and Olympia obligingly gestured for a slave standing at the fringes of the room to pour wine into Avaritus's goblet.
The first course of the cena had begun, and their slaves scurried about handing a plate of fish to each of them. Dipping a bite of fish into mulsum, a wine sauce sweetened with honey, Calista nibbled at it, engrossed in thought. The light music served as a dichotic backdrop.
"Calistaaaaa," Pyp sang out again.
"Yes, oh dear brother?" she answered with a grin.
"I have a secret," he whispered with the air of great importance around a mouthful of fish, rewarding Calista with the sight of half-masticated fish floundering about in his mouth.
She waggled her eyebrows at him, her lips curling into a half-grin. "Oh really? Do tell me."
"I heard father, and he said that Lord Avaritus meant to marry you," Pyp spilled eagerly, and then covered his mouth, aghast. Not shocking himself for too long, Pyp took a long draught of water and then waited for Calista to respond to his clever investigating.
"And you also heard the traders were coming from Punic," Calista commented blandly, not believing her younger brother.
Pyp made a face: if his sister didn't believe him; she deserved an old fogey like Avaritus.
After the cena had been cleared, despite Calista declaring Pyp's beliefs fallacies, she sent frequent glances towards the old man. He was…aged. He cannot ask for me to marry him, he simply cannot. He was much too old, and even if he did, her parents wouldn't, they could not make her marry him. With that final argument she convinced herself; she wasn't getting married to him. Pyp just had to go and get his ears checked by one of the healers. Nevermind the fact, avoice in her mind whispered to her, that girls younger than you have married men older than them—and have been happy to do so! Lord Avaritus's repetitive stares unsettled her.
The elders at the table were discussing something with avid interest. Olympia's face was drawn, and she kept sending looks of askance towards the two men. Lord Avaritus was speaking softly and earnestly to her parents. When the conversation shifted away from him for a moment he glanced avariciously around the dining hall. When his eyes lighted on Calista, for a moment his face wore a sly smirk that might have passed for a smile had Calista not already been floating in a state of suspicion.
Once again, the slaves came, taking away their knives and empty plates, replacing them with the larger plates of the second course, the prima mensa, and the libation bearers came to refill the men's goblets with wine and with water for the women and Pyp. Tonight, the main course was chicken cooked with cabbage, parsnips and garlic, with a side of soft bread fresh from the ovens and presented becomingly on sparkling dishes.
The adults seemed as engrossed in their conversation as they had during the gustatio. Now, not only Avaritus, but Lucretius and Olympia would glance at her quickly in the middle of the conversation. Calista tried to ignore them, and enjoy the well-prepared meal, but she found herself wishing that the secunda mensa would come soon so that the dinner might be over. Perhaps there had been some truth in Pyp's hearsay, but surely her parents would have asked her to join in the conversation if they were truly discussing her marriage?
Calista thought she heard someone among the adults had called her name, and her heart leapt out of it's pocket. Oh, Juno...please say it's not true. She studied them closely, trying to read gestures and lips, but to no avail. She attempted to turn her attention to the meal, but discovered that her stomach had gone to ash. She found herself sneaking glances at Avaritus. He smiled at some comments her father had made and then frowned thoughtfully. Then, as if feeling her gaze, he snapped a glance at her and she dropped her eyes reflexively.
When the slaves came with the pastries of the secunda mensa Calista found her appetite aroused by the sight of the dessert, and when they offered her the pastries she put two on her plate and devoured them. She sipped some water but longing for wine to help soothe her nerves—alas, drinking wine was a punishable offense for women.
Finally, with the dinner done Olympia, Lucretius and Avaritus rose. "There is a delightful view of the ocean from the balcony," said Olympia softly. "We should be able to catch the last of Apollo's rays. Come Calista. No, not you Pyp," Olympia added when Pyp leapt up to join the group. Her mother and father had left the room and Calista gave Pyp a bewildered look. "Nicetius, go to your chambers." Olympia's voice carried from outside.
"Ah, Olympia. I believe that I shall retire for the night. Gratias vobis ago. The dinner was lovely. Good night." He followed Pyp from the room to disappear into one of the many spare rooms of the house.
With foreboding, Calista realized that they had forgotten to give the traditional portion of the meal to the fire in honor of the lar: a sign of bad luck for sure.
Calista followed her parents to the balcony, and there was indeed a breathtaking view. The sea seemed to shimmer blood red, and then turn to a cool blue as the sun still clung with a final tenacity to the world. The sea is whimsical this evening; anything could happen.
"Calista," Lucretius began without preamble, walking around Calista, the wool toga swinging around his legs, "you have grown up into a lovely young lady, and we have had many offers for you. I, and your mother, have decided that it is time for you to wed and settle. Look at your friends! Cordelia-Cornelia-whomever! All married." He smiled lovingly at Calista, stroking her soft hair. "We want what is best for our daughter. On that note, and forgive me for my bluntness we have had a marriage offer for you, from Avaritus."
"And you refused, correct?" Calista said nervously, wishing with all her heart that Pyp's prediction would prove false, praying to Venus, to Diana the protector of maidens, to Minerva, to Juno, Vesta, Ceres, Proserpine, to all the female goddesses who might better sympathize with her predicament.
"No, dear, we accepted." her mother said, her face impassive.
"What!" Calista gasped. "How…why…I thought we had an understanding, Father?" Against her will, tears bubbled in her eyes at the betrayal.
At the sight of his eldest child, his only daughter, on the verge of weeping, Lucretius felt some of his reserve crumble but swiftly reminded himself that he must stand firm for the better of his daughter. He enveloped her in a hug, which Calista furiously clawed out of. Unfolding his arms, Lucretius murmured, "He is rich, well-placed, and powerful. You will never want for anything. I wish to see your future secured."
Tripping to Olympia, Calista buried her head in Olympia's shoulder. "Mama," she wailed. "Do not do this to me. Please."
Olympia shot Lucretius a despairing look, stroking Calista's head. "Understand darling, we do this because we love you. We are not doing wrong by you, never think that."
Through sobs which racked her body, causing watery hiccoughs, Calista crumbled to the side of the balcony, folding her knees up so that she might hide her face. Once the first wave had passed, Calista raised her head to her parents, who watched her with great concern. "If you felt this way, why did you not betroth me before? Why affiance me now, to that?" She spat the last word.
Lucretius crouched beside her, rubbing her shoulder concernedly for a moment. "Would you wish to live at Portus Tarrus forever? This offer came to us at such a moment and it seems such an excellent proposal. When I spoke to Avaritus, he spoke of his expansive holdings near Rome and familiarity with the Emperor himself. Surely you recognize what a great opportunity the Parcae have awarded us?
"You will accept our decision as your own," Lucretius finally commanded, raking fingers through his hair, realizing that their imploring and wheedling was having no affect on Calista. "You will go to your room, and will sleep. Let us hope that tomorrow, after a night of rest, you will understand our decision better. We love you."
Calista stood up, head as high as her color. "Please do not feign sentiments of care, allowing me to think that you love me any longer." She whirled into the corridor, slamming the door behind her. The resounding crash was even louder than she has expected causing her to flinch, but not look back.
Leaning on Lucretius, inhaling the briny sea air, Olympia said, "One day she will thank us. She is young and impetuous and every girl dreams of a handsome young lord to come and take her away,"
"One day she will find out we do all we can for her; she is our daughter, no matter what," Lucretius agreed, draping an arm warmly around his wife.
Olympia frowned, her voice wavering with unshed tears. She too knew that what they had done on the most logical terms had been correct. "A night to cool down and Calista should begin to see the reason of our actions." Leaning her head against his firm chest, she was calmed by the steady sound of his heart, the tattoo of which was her own ambrosia, one of the few things that could wrap her in warmth while, at the same time, helping her place her feet firmly on the ground.
Again, Lucretius ran his fingers though his hair, as black as the ocean before him, except for where the moonlight grazed the surface and the grey wings sprouting in his hair. "A more powerful proposal would be difficult to achieve so late and as sequestered as we are here on the western fringes of Gaul. No matter what, our child will live comfortably on his lands." What Lucretius did not add was that if they had not capitulated to Calista's wheedling she could have been better place indeed.
"I do trust that happens." Olympia spun around, her snowy stola swirling around her. "There is so much to do, though; the engagement party, then the wedding so soon after. It seems that the gods have aided in this endeavor." She laughed lightly. "After she ran off so many lords and sons of consuls, one of the finest comes to take her away." Olympia bit her lip, realizing that something sounded strange in the articulation but with a look at Lucretius's placid face, she kept her peace.
Blinded by tears, Calista had wobbled, run, crashed to her room, ignoring the startled slaves, and had careened onto the bed, stifling her whimpers with a pillow. She did not no how long she muffled her howls, but after a while, the second onslaught of grief ebbed. Taking a few shaky breaths, Calista went to the window, placing her forehead on its icy glass frosted by her warm breath.
So soon, why so soon? And to him? Calista was sensible—she had expected marriage and had expected little say in whom her parents chose, but she had also expected it to be later and to some, (and she could admit it freely to herself now) young, dashing man from a good family to whom it would not be burdensome to espouse. Her mother and father, who showed the most discerning of tastes otherwise, how could they have failed so miserably in the selection of this husband? Guiltily, she wondered if this was her punishment for not having decided earlier, for not having wedded earlier. Daughters do not belong to their parents, and yet she had selfishly clung to them, even when a line of suitors, young, friendly, moderately handsome, approached her for marriage.
Sighing brokenly, Calista mused that this sort of match occurred often. A few of her friends had been wedded off to older men without their opinions, yet none had possessed the implicit understanding which lay between her and her parents. Perhaps it was so implicit, that they did not realize that we had an agreement, she thought with another croaking sob.
"Caly, what happened?" Pyp's concerned voice, trembling with tears for his sister's agony, rang out from the archway of her bedroom. His small figure was silhouetted by the soft light from the hallway.
"Get out Pyp. Please leave," she answered tiredly, pulling the covers over her head as leaned against the curve of the headboard. She knew that she would not be able to withstand the onslaught of his inevitable sympathy without crumbling into a pile of tears.
"But—" he began to object.
Calista cut him off. "You'll find out in the morning," she said, trying to insert her words with briskness.
"Well, night then," he said uncertainly, clearly uncomfortable with leaving her. "Calista, may Diana guard your dreams."
Lifting her head from beneath the covers, she answered, "And yours, dear Pyp."
Leaving his sister's room, Pyp realized that Avaritus had proposed to Calista and his prediction had transpired. He had never thought his parents would accept. What would he do without Calista to play with? She could not leave him. She could not. Now, he regretted ever having thought that Caly deserved Avaritus. What if some god had heard his utterance and turned it upon them in a tragic curse. Poor Caly. Then, an idea struck him. He would plague Avaritus to such an extent that simply to escape him, Pyp, Avaritus would flee Portus Tarrus. A small grin danced on his countenance—he was brilliant.
Gingerly treading the halls to the slave's wing of the villa, Pyp tiptoed to the room on the far end of the hall. His eyes adjusting to the dark of the room, he found a boy, perhaps ten, lying on a pallet, tossing a rock in the air and catching it in his mouth.
"Maro!" Pyp called in a whisper.
With a twinkle in his black eyes, Maro hastily stood up, capturing the stone neatly before it could clatter to floor. An easy grin flashed across his face and he responded eagerly, "Yes, Domino Nicetius?"
Scowling at the name, Pyp said in his fierce fashion, still purposefully gentle enough to be taken as a joke, "No one is around, so don't call me Lord Nicetius, or I'll call you Marius. I need you to do me a favor, Marius." Pyp's eyes glimmered impishly.
A few slaves stirred on their pallets and Maro and Pyp quickly scarpered out the door and onto the moonlit terrace.
"Oh Pyp," replied Maro dramatically, casting the rock away from him and somewhere into the town in mock despair. "Never call me Marius: Never!"
Pyp giggled at Maro's reaction. There were two people in his life whom he could always count on to make him laugh and to take care of him: Maro and Calista, and for them, he would do anything his little heart could do.
"Yeh, Pyp? What can Junus do for you?" Maro asked. When Pyp wanted a favor done it was usually something interesting. He loved serving a master, who, at six years old was easily influenced by his older and equally roguish slave. Not that Maro would ever use that influence inopportunely. Certainly not. He simply introduced Pyp to the alternate art of mischief, something which, Maro felt, was woefully absent from the patrician curriculum.
"Help me put the biggest crab, the hungriest you can find in that Lord Avaritus's bed. A cranky one. One that bites."
Maro's dark face broke into a grin. "Now Pyp, that's a bit simple. Haven't I taught you better? Why ever would you want me to do that though?" Maro cackled gleefully, always glad to help the stuffy unbend themselves through embarrassment.
The two quietly slipped into the night and combed the beach for obliging crustaceans.