Tuesday, November 30, 2010
This scene takes place during the ancient Roman fesitval of the Saturnalia - the Roman 'Christmas'.
He released her hands, standing looking down at her, nervously scratching the blue-black stubble on his chin. ‘My mother is like you,’ he said finally. ‘A Celt. She was my father’s slave-housekeeper. He bought her to care for his sons, my half-brothers, when his first wife died. When she became pregnant with me, he married her.
‘So you see,’ he said harshly, ‘I am not a pure Roman. Nor a pure Celt. I am neither.’
‘You are both.’ Flavia took hold of his clenched fingers and rubbed and kissed them. She could feel the pain and tension in him, see the dark sense of shame staining his tanned, hawkish face. Marcus, whom she had once thought so Roman! She had already guessed as much about his heritage but now that Marcus had admitted it, this was another bond between them. Please let him see it, Flavia prayed.
‘No one who truly knows you will ever be anything less than proud and impressed,’ she said softly. ‘And we may be kin, your mother and I.’
Marcus straightened, staring over her head at some distant point, his blue eyes unseeing. ‘My father freed my mother by the terms of his marriage to her. But he was possessive. I always thought him so. He never gave her the choice. He didn't free her first, before he married her.’
He sighed, his tense strong body stiffening further. ‘I know my mother would have liked the choice. She told me so. I think she deserved to be given the choice, except my father was too afraid that he would lose her if he freed her first. I know my mother has always regretted that.’
He closed his eyes briefly, reopening them as Flavia said, ‘Go on, Marcus. Tell me the rest.’
‘That is all there it is.’ Marcus shook his head. ‘I am the half-breed son of a slave. A half-Roman who has never fitted in and who does not want to climb the Imperial ladder any more. I would like to stay here, in Aquae Sulis. Be a father to Hadrian, who reminds me so much of myself at the same age. Learn to farm Lady Valeria’s country estate and trade and continue to help the people here who look to me as their patron and protector.’
‘Then why not stay?’ Flavia whispered.
Her heart seemed to turn right over in her breast at the look of longing he gave her then.
‘Because I want more.’ He stared at her hands, holding one of his. ‘I want my free-woman scribe as my love and true companion. I love you, Flavia. I love you as I loved Drusilla and little Aurelia, with all my heart.’
He touched her face with his free hand. ‘I grew to love my wife and child, but you, little water-goddess, you enchanted me at once. Did you not see this? Each time we made love, I thought you would know.’
‘You never said,’ Flavia stammered, caught somewhere between wonder and jubilation.
‘I wanted you to be free first, to be used to being free. I didn't want my love to be a burden, an obligation. I was not sure if you felt the same way as I do—people say “I love you,” in the heat of passion. I hoped and trusted that it was more than the newness of love-making on your part, but I was not sure. Only a man like Lucius Maximus would be sure! And I wanted you to know who I was, and I wanted you to have the choice. I still do.’
Marcus knelt in the snow so that their faces were almost level and he had to look up to her. He moved his hand in hers so that her fingers rested on his palm, so that they touched but he was not grasping.
‘Will you do me the honor, the great honor of becoming my wife? Will you make me the happiest man of this Saturnalia and for all festivals to come? Will you marry me, Flavia? A half-Roman youngest son with a tiny estate in provincial Britannia and a young adopted son to care for and raise?’
‘Yes.’ Flavia cast her arms about him, hugging his head on her breast. ‘Yes to everything! Yes!’
Snow had begun falling again but Flavia and Marcus, locked in each other’s embrace, were aware of nothing outside of themselves.
‘I love you, Flavia, my little scribe who taught me that not all desk-people are to be mistrusted.’
‘I am so happy.’
‘So am I, Marcus. I love you.’
‘I love you,’ Marcus said again, kissing her and drawing her up with him as he rose to his feet, lifting her high in his arms. ‘I love you so much. When can we marry?’
‘My choice?’ Flavia asked, light-headed with delight.
‘What about your family?’
‘My parents and half-brothers can visit us here. As for their approval of you—’ Marcus looked grim for a moment. ‘They had better.’ His face cleared. ‘But they will adore you, as I do. I know they will.’
‘Then soon, please.’ Flavia felt herself blushing as she wondered if she sounded too eager. ‘I would like Julia Sura to be at our wedding, and Pompey. Hadrian, of course, and the others. It can be a double celebration!’
‘Your freedom and your marriage?’ Marcus asked quizzically, but Flavia was too happy to care about his teasing.
‘Our marriage and Hadrian’s adoption as our son,’ she answered promptly. She loved the boy and knew Marcus felt the same.
‘The first of our many children, eh?’
Flavia nodded, thinking of dark-haired sons and daughters with blue eyes exactly like their father. ‘I hope that is soon, too,’ she said.
Marcus chuckled and set her back lightly on the horse, grasping the reins to lead the stallion through the streets. He glanced up at her, sitting eagerly forward, her blonde hair threatening to escape its plaits as ever and her lips and cheeks glowing against the whiteness of the snow. He thought of a daughter with her coloring, as fair as little Aurelia had been, and felt no pain, only a flood of happy memories that he would share, and a rising excitement.
‘I think our lad Hadrian will have more sisters and brothers to play with,’ he said, giving Flavia’s left foot a playful tug. ‘And as you say, soon.’
‘You are sure?’
‘Very sure, little Briton! Trust me.’
I do, Flavia thought. Free, proud and happy, she and her husband-to-be turned into another street and joined a throng of merry-makers celebrating the Saturnalia in the snowy, lively city of Aquae Sulis. Their home.
You can read more about Flavia's Secret here:
Best wishes, Lindsay
Lindsay Townsend, historical romance, http://www.lindsaytownsend.net/