"Do you love me, Rodam?" The words had flown from her lips one day, quite unwittingly, leaving her to twitch in nervous anticipation of his answer.
"Of course I love you," he had said. "You are my sister."
Such frankness! Not a moment's hesitation. Rodam was such a warrior, always fixated on matters of men. Thecla's sentimental musings had ever served him as fodder for a laugh...yet, when she asked that question, he had responded with such simplicity, yet sincerity and eloquence that proved impossible to describe.
Thecla had been the proverbial worshipful younger sister, watching her brother with ill-concealed admiration, the desire to please him always a motive of her actions. Naturally, as she grew older and groomed herself more fittingly to her role as emperor's daughter, she began to look at herself separately rather than in constant contrast with her brother. But their relationship had never been tainted by any distance or aloofness on either part. Never.
Thecla brushed away a curl that had strayed over her temple and cheek. The bangles on her wrist jingled as she did so, clashing with the worked brass filigree that hung from her ears. She so hated that sound. Once it had meant excitement and intrigue to her youthful ears; now it meant foreboding and fear. The whole of her, she thought with distaste, was as elaborated as that of a peasant going to a masquerade. Her hair was, like her arms, decorated in the back with a string of beads and charms. Her long-waisted, wine-colored gown plunged at the neckline, giving her a little chilly feeling of self-consciousness. Not the self-consciousness that lifts a young girl's spirits and gives her confidence, but the self-consciousness that is wrought of nervous fear.
"Be arrayed in your finest," were his words to her only this morning. "You must be prepared, for I have someone of importance to meet you."
Someone of importance. She knew to whom she would be introduced. To her future husband – a senator, a politician – a gilded lordling of high birth and good reputation. A politician! Rodam hated politics. He had often told her in the secrecy of the garden walls that politics were the first thing to corrupt the nobility, and that he prayed to the gods that he would never succumb to them. And now he was to present her in marriage to this senator…a marriage, Thecla's heart knew even as it struggled against tainting Rodam's hallowed name, made with the intent of political gain.
Her eyes grew foggy at the idea. How could it have happened? Rodam was changed. He had grown estranged from his sister; his brow had grown stern; he looked at her with absence in his eyes.
It was only a year ago when her eyes had glanced upon the grave countenance of Rodam, standing to the left of her father's throne, as she handed the emperor his sword in the ceremonial sign of victory. There was no empress to fulfill the traditional role; thus, as the only woman of the imperial family, Thecla had been given the task. She had played out her duties in the ceremonial rite with diligence, eager to please both brother and father. How strangely the memory of that day contrasted with the similar situation that happened a mere fortnight ago, when at the emperor's sudden death, Rodam had become heir to the throne. Then had she presented him with his father's ceremonial sword; but he was now the emperor, and she lowered her eyes before him.
He was still Rodam; that could be seen by simply looking upon him. His long, dark hair and stubborn chin drew attention to his face just as they always had. He spoke in a mellow tenor voice, as he always had. The only difference in his appearance was the crown.
What is a crown? Thecla pondered the question. A piece of metal, a wreath made from minerals of the earth. An insignificant decoration used by men to designate deference. How could a crown have changed so much? Yet it had changed Rodam's very being.
He used to tease her; he used to laugh at her; he used to hug her; he used to teach her. It was he, and only he, to whom all her secrets were manifested. And he would keep them. He had watched over her, and literally glowered with jealously upon any man who dared approach her. And now he gave her away so easily.
Feeling like a fly caught in a web – a web it had not seen coming and a web whose existence had never entered its mind, Thecla wriggled her shoulders with desperation and then huddled them close, trying to draw herself in…as though she could protect herself from the unforeseen danger of betrayed trust.
Where had her brother gone? Thecla wondered, and her mind seemed lost in lonely seas as she questioned herself; but though she pondered for ever on end, she would never find an answer.