Bittersweet, the trumpet sounds,
Victory echoes through the land,
Cries of Glory in blood and sand,
And men lie dead upon the ground.
Written down in history’s tome,
Where love and battle rage as one,
In one quick stroke the battle won,
Yet, heart and mind are drawn toward home.
Gaius sat in his tiny cell, stroking the scar on his face. Though years had passed he had moments when the pain of his first battle was clearly felt. Standing before the Legatus, trying to maintain his composure, and recounting his history, was not an easy task. He wanted to be brief in his explanations, but the prying questions of his prosecutor dredged up old memories that he had hoped would never resurface. The past never goes away, but it was easy to suppress the memories, keep them buried beneath the hard exterior of a Roman centurion. The Legatus marveled at Gaius’ scar; it was a badge of honor, a sacrifice made for the glory of Rome. Yet, it wasn’t the deepest scar that he had endured. The death of his best friend penetrated further, cut deeper, and left a more lasting injury. It hardened his heart to never be exposed again, yet, years earlier, there was another he had let slip past his defenses.
As a child Gaius had never experienced deep, loving relationships outside of his family. The decadence of the house Sextus was anything but love. It was all that was wrong with Rome, its moral licentiousness and wanton self-indulgence. He had learned a lot about the world living under the General’s roof. Most of it revolved around intrigue and betrayal. The lavish parties were to influence and cajole supporters. They were times to plot and scheme against rivals. It was often Gaius’ responsibility to eavesdrop as he stood near a senator or officer, while feigning to be a slave. The Roman aristocracy had become so accustomed to slaves they considered them no more than furniture. What they said privately to one another in front of a slave was no different then standing next to a marble column. It provided the perfect opportunity for General Sextus to plant spies in strategic situations, and Gaius became very adept at his role. It brought him honor and reward.
At one event Gaius was attached to a certain Senator, who had made known his dissatisfaction with General Sextus. As his servant, Gaius was to care for the senator’s every need, so it was not out of place for him to follow and stand close. During the evening the senator had made contact with another prominent general, and they made their way to a secluded section of the house. Gaius was close enough to hear their discussion of treachery. The Senator was scheming to have General Sextus assassinated, opening his position as commander of the First Cohort of Rome, which he promised to his new friend. Having reported the conversation to General Sextus, and the senator was later found poisoned in his home. Gaius was generously rewarded, and upon returning to his quarters Gaius found a girl, about his own age, waiting.
This type of reward never sat well with Gaius. He did not like the ease with which the wealthy used people as pawns in their games. Yet he was an adolescent, and his flesh felt the yearnings of all young men. He would not give in right away; he had seen the relationship between his father and mother, and it was an example of purity and love. He wanted something of that kind of stability, to anchor him in the chaos he saw all around. Sitting next to her he asked, “What is your name?”
“Does it matter?” She answered with a whisper. This response seemed unusual to Gaius. He was trying to be polite, but she was being evasive. Seeing the confusion on his face, she ventured to explain. “I do not mean to be disrespectful, but the night before I was with someone else, tonight I am yours, and tomorrow who knows. Giving you my name only creates a connection I would rather not have.” She hoped he was not offended. That could mean severe punishment, a fact of which Gaius was well aware. She saw something different about him right away. He was not only confused, but also tender and compassionate.
Gaius was taken aback. He wasn’t expecting such honesty; he really wasn’t sure what he was expecting. On the one hand, she was his reward and there shouldn’t have been any confusion, on his part or hers. While her response was not insolent, it betrayed a sense of surrender, a concession toward her lot in life. Gaius stood and walked across the room to straighten something in the corner. “I am sorry,” the girl said, “I have offended you. Accept my apology, please.” Her voice was nervous, tinged with a fear that Gaius’ could sense.
Without turning around he said, “You don’t have anything to worry about. I am not offended, and you will not be punished.” He was fidgeting, and was slightly startled when she placed her hand on his shoulder. The touch was soft and reassuring. It sent a tingle through his body and he fought the impulse as long as he could. What he lacked in experience this young girl made up for in tenderness and patience. The copulation lasted only minutes, but for Gaius it seemed forever. He held her until they fell asleep, and when he woke in the morning she was gone.
Entering the library, where Marcus Sextus dispensed his daily orders, Gaius stood quietly until the General spoke. “How was your evening, young Gaius?” A smirk was smeared across the General’s face, betraying his interest in the sexual escapades of his apprentice. A warm flush filled Gaius’ cheeks, and though he was accustomed to the sexual liaisons of his commander, he was not accustomed to talking about his own.
“Come now, did you not enjoy your reward?”
“Yes sir, thank you for your generosity.” Brevity, courteousness, and thankfulness were characteristics Gaius found useful in avoiding unwanted conversations. The General could see his unease as Gaius diverted his eyes.
“Eyes up, young Gaius. Always look forward, lest your commander believe you to be hiding something. Are you hiding something?” Sextus was playing with him now. Gaius balanced the General with pure virtues that had long vanished from his own character. At the same time, however, the General liked to play with his charges, embarrass, tease, and mock the very ideals that he admired. In this way he held himself to be superior, when in fact his flaws were glaring. As much as he would like to extract a description of Gaius’ sexual experience, more pressing demands needed his attention.
This same scene played itself over again on a regular basis in the following two years. And each time that Gaius found himself in the company of the young lady, their conversations became longer, and their interests became more intertwined. He never asked for her name; he hoped that when she was ready she would tell him. Finally one evening, while they lay next to each other, she leaned over and whispered, “I’m Aalina, that is my name.” A smile came a cross his face, and in the silence he fell in love.
Aalina meant noble in German, and she was. She carried herself with an elegance that rivaled the nobility of Rome. Her hair was yellow and long, draping gently across her shoulders, framing her face in the most delicate manner. She stood little more than five feet, and weighed less than a sack of potatoes. Gaius imagined a time when she was no longer a slave but his wife. It was a dream he had often, and he swore that when he had saved enough money he would buy her freedom. One night, when she had come willingly to his chambers, he asked her where her home was. To his surprise she replied that she had never lived in Germania. Her parents had been taken prisoner during a raid on her city. She was born a slave, the only life she had known. Augustus’ stepson Nero Claudius Drusus had engaged the natives of the Lupia River, the Sicambri. They were related to the Germanic warriors of whom Caesar had said, “These men are born for war and raid.” They were an honorable and proud people, but no match for the might of Rome. Sadness crept into Aalina’s eyes as they spoke of her homeland, for even though she had known nothing but Rome, her parents’ stories and a deep longing to be free called from her heart.
“I am not sorry you are a slave,” Gaius was kissing her neck. Aalina pulled away, the look of anguish on her face needed no words. “Aalina, if you had not been born in Rome we would never have met, and my life would not be complete.” He could tell that her feelings were hurt, and he tried to console her, but the damage was done.
She stood. “I must go.”
“I’m sorry, Aalina, don’t leave.” He grabbed her arm.
She stopped, the muscles in her body tensing at his touch. “Does my master bid me stay?”
“That isn’t what I meant. You are twisting my words.” It was the first time they had quarreled, and Gaius was experiencing the female mind at work. “I want you to stay, but you are free to go. I have neither summoned you nor forced you to remain.” His air was too forceful.
“You say the words, but your tone sounds like a command. Bid me stay or leave, so that I know what my master requires.” She would not look at his face. Men were always demanding with her. Only Gaius had been compassionate and kind, but now, in this moment, it seemed his true colors began to bleed through. Then she felt a gentle hand take hold of hers. She slowly turned to face her master, only to find that he was kneeling in her presence.
“I am your servant, and my heart your slave. I beg you not to leave, but grant me the privilege of your company.” Never in her life had anyone knelt before her. She was speechless, and the hardness of her heart melted away to reveal a deep love for him. But she was afraid. Though slaves were often given permission to marry, it would come at a steep price for the General’s apprentice. She dared not allow herself such an affection that could only lead to disappointment. Yet, the pull of the moment was too forceful to let go, so she stayed, and in the passion of the evening her fear melted away and hope filled the chasm.
“She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
Among all her lovers, she has none to comfort her.” Lamentations 1:2
Military training was harsh, each morning filled with endless drills. Long marches and weapon exercises were all designed to discipline the body and mind, to teach the individual that his part in the unit was to strengthen the whole. The noonday sun bore down on the exercise compound, and sweat dripped off the combatants like a summer shower, but without the cooling relief. At the sound of the bell for the noon meal, relief swept through the ranks, as each soldier relaxed, heading for the shade and a cup of cool water. It was believed that limiting water would harden the soldier and teach him to endure through the worst of situations, but too many men had fallen under the blazing heat for lack of hydration. When the opportunity to drink came, each would drink as much as possible until the Sesquiplicarious ordered them to stop.
On one such grueling day, Gaius stood under the canopy, next to the barracks entrance. He was relishing the cool breeze that had just swept in, a gift from the gods. As usual he found himself alone, as his brothers bantered together in meaningless conversations and endless ribbing.
“So how did you like your whore, Manius?” Valerius laughed. He was a good soldier, strong, and broad across the shoulders. He was daunting and most of his comrades would rather avoid him during training. Valerius did not give an inch in combat and expected none from his brothers. However, with power comes pride, and with pride often cruelty. The Centurion had selected Manius for an undisclosed assignment. It wasn’t dangerous, but one that prompted the gratitude of General Sextus, and the General often rewarded his men with an evening of pleasure.
Uneasily Manius shot a glance toward Gaius, but not wanting to be thought weak he retorted, “My pleasure is none of your concern, unless … you need some help.” The others laughed, as Valerius’ face grew red. He was not accustomed to being the butt of others jokes.
“My needs are fulfilled quiet often, Manius. I only ask because I taught your whore everything she knows, and wanted to make sure you were pleased. If not, well, the problem was not with her.” Again the laughter rose, and this time Manius didn’t respond, but turned and walked away. This only egged on Valerius all the more. “Does talking about your evening embarrass you? Are you too timid to glory in your ecstasy and share with your comrades?” Valerius met a deaf ear and a mute tongue, which made him angrier. Walking directly to Manius he grabbed his shoulder, and flung him around. “Don’t turn your back on me, whelp!”
The commotion had moved toward Gaius who, though interested, didn’t participate in the antics until he was unavoidably caught in the middle. Manius was one of Gaius’ original four friends, who were recruited at the same time. They were close. Though soldiers fought their own battles, comrades stood by one another. Slipping his arm between Valerius and Manius, Gaius quietly spoke. “Maybe our fun has gone a little too far. Let’s not fight among ourselves.” A quiet spoken word often softened the temper of soldiers, but Valerius was not to be quelled so easily.
“Mind your own business, Gaius, lest I turn my attention toward you. Now remove your arm.” He matched tone for tone, though more menacing.
“If I remove my arm, it is at your own peril. If you must engage Manius you must engage me, for we are brothers in arms, and he has done nothing to offend you.” He had hoped that the threat of two men would cause Valerius to back down, but the opposite occurred. Instead of moving away, which would have been humiliating, Valerius turned his attention toward Gaius.
“What is your interest in this affair? Ah, yes, now I see!” He straightened to his full height, and stood two inches taller than Gaius. “Your affection isn’t for Manius, but for the whore!” A collective realization dawned among the soldiers standing around, and on Gaius as well. All this talk about whores and pleasure, a common theme among soldiers, didn’t register of whom they spoke. “Brothers, I almost forgot.” He spun around and spoke to those behind him. “Our brother Gaius has a warm spot in his heart for the company consort. I have seen her often leave his quarters before the sun rises over the horizon. Does he guard the honor of a brother, or,” and Valerius turned and set his face within inches of Gaius’, “do you guard the honor of a prostitute?” No one laughed.
It was a silence that hung thick in the air. Gaius’ patience was beginning to wane, for now all knew of whom they spoke – Aalina. He had pushed the thought so far from his mind that the idea that she belonged to any for whom General Sextus displayed his gratitude was unthinkable. Yet she had been made available to many of these men. For the most part they were discrete in front of him, for all knew that his heart belonged to her. Yet, the truth was laid bare – she was their whore. Finally Gaius spoke. His voice was steady, firm, and confident. “I guard the honor of all who are innocent.” And with one quick motion he grabbed his right first in his left, and brought his right elbow up, and under the Valerius’ jaw. The blow knocked him to the ground, but before he could regain his senses, Gaius brought the side of his foot against Valerius’ head, and he fell back, unconscious.
All stood stunned as the champion of their unit lie still in the dirt. Then with a burst of victory, they began to chant. “Gaius, Gaius, Gaius, custos et honore.” Guard of honor.
As quickly as it had begun, the Sesquiplicarious stepped in and ordered them to their barracks. Several men were instructed to carry Valerius to his quarters. The afternoon’s activities would be postponed until the soldiers had time to steady their emotions. Gaius’ heart raced as he thought about the noon’s events. How could he have let his emotions rage so, and how did he ever knock Valerius out cold? He never thought himself capable of such quick and decisive action. He was sure there would be repercussions. Valerius would have to avenge his pride. When and where he would never know until it was upon him, but he would have to be ready, or it could mean his life. But now, all he could think about was Aalina. He had not let himself consider her a whore, but whether her decision or not, that was her lot, and he loved her nonetheless.
The knock on his door shook him from his daydream. It was the Sesquiplicarious.
“You are wanted in the General’s house. Clean yourself up quickly and meet me by the gate.” This wasn’t good. Usually the officers handled issues of discipline. To be summoned so quickly could only mean punishment, and Roman discipline was quick and harsh. After washing and donning his uniform, Gaius met the officer at the gate. He straightened his shoulders against the stares at his back, and walked out with pride. One stare, however, drilled into the back of his head: Valerius, his glare filled with hatred. This had turned out to be a bad day.
“Count it the greatest sin to prefer your existence to your honor, and for the sake of life to lose every reason for living” - Juvenal
The usual pleasantries were set aside. He stood at attention, looking up and forward, and waited for instructions from his commander. General Sextus was writing and when he had finished, he set his seal both at the bottom and on the scroll’s edge once it was rolled. He handed it to a messenger who was standing off to the side, gave him some instruction, and dispatched him quickly. Closing the door behind him, he left the General and Gaius alone.
Walking past Gaius, the General patted his shoulder and said, “Gaius, I know soldiers scuffle, but that is not why you are here. Fighting is one thing, fighting over a slave is another. It has come to my attention that this slave means more to you than a mere prostitute. Women, throughout history, have been used to bring down kingdoms, and I cannot tolerate division among my men over a whore.” The very word made Gaius cringe, but to the General she was nothing more than a useful tool to alleviate his men’s frustrations, and ingratiate them to his favor. “I think it would be best for me to sell her at auction.” An obvious response flashed across Gaius’ face, a twitch, flinch, or grimace? General Sextus saw it.
“What do you think I should do?” This was unusual, the General enlisting advice from a mere foot soldier. Gaius was more than that though. He was the General’s apprentice, and more like a son. Even so, Gaius was cautious in how he would answer. “Come now, you have known me for some time. Have I ever given you cause for hesitation?”
“General, it is not my place to give advice in regard to your property.” His caution did not go unappreciated. The General understood discipline and loyalty. Gaius was being tried: to which was he most loyal, the General or the slave? “It is true that I have grown fond of Aalina, but I do not hold my regard for her higher than my loyalty to you.” It was a lie. If he could he would cut this man down and flee with the woman he loved, but he could not. His reason must hold, and if the gods willed it, Aalina would be his.
“You speak well, but a man’s heart can cause him to act unwisely, not in his best interest. Take your actions with Valerius. You have now made an enemy, but one of which you will not have to worry. I have transferred him to another century. Nonetheless, a woman has come in the way of your duties. We face several courses of action.”
Gaius didn’t like the sound of this.
“One, I could have her put to death.”
He held his composure.
“But there is no profit in that. I could sell her at auction.” Pausing, the General made his way around the table and sat on the corner, “Or I could let you decide what to do with her. What would you have me do?”
It was a test of loyalties, and nothing he said would make a difference. Yet, he believed in doing the right thing no matter the cost. So he said, “General, allow me to purchase her freedom, and make her my wife.” Silence fell, but he could see the General contemplating a course of action that had not occurred to him.
“That is an interesting proposition. But even if you had the money to purchase her, there is a problem. Soldiers are not allowed to marry.” He waited for a reply.
“But it has been allowed for soldiers to keep women outside the camp who help in meeting their needs. They have traveled with them to the field of battle, and even bore them children. Surely this could be an option acceptable to my master.” Gaius was grasping at straws, but this was his only hope. “In this way, my Lord, Aalina, would be mine alone. There be no more conflict between me and the men, and you would have my eternal gratitude.”
“Do I not already have that?” The General studied his apprentice's face.
“Without doubt, I merely meant… .”
“I know what you meant,” he interrupted. “Let me give this some thought.” He walked back around his desk and sat down. “I like you Gaius. If it had been anyone else, I would not have given this matter any consideration. Big plans wait in your future, but I have to know you are loyal. Are you loyal?” Gaius snapped to attention in affirmation. “Good, the question is settled. Go back to the barracks. I do believe someone is waiting there for you.” And with a wave of the hand, Gaius was dismissed.
“I am glad that the one whom I must have loved from duty, whatever he might have been, is the same one whom I can love from inclination”
The walk from the gate to his quarters was uncomfortable. The men cast many angry looks, but he did not care. He could only think about the one who was waiting for him. When Gaius entered his room Aalina was sitting on the bed. Her face was the face of an angel. Her beauty rivaled that of Venus. He sat next to her and cupped her head between his hands and gently kissed her. She did not pull away, but she was filled with questions. The long and passionate kiss in the middle of the day was unusual. She would not give in to her curiosity, but submit to her longings. She began to pull him closer, but he sat up and merely looked into her eyes.
“I have something to tell you, Aalina. I have just come from the General’s quarters, and he has given me permission to buy your freedom.” She said nothing, confusion spread across her face. She understood the words, but they were foreign to her. Freedom? She had been born a slave and would always be a slave. “Aalina, do you understand what this means? You will no longer have to submit yourself to the passions of men. You will be free to make your own choices, and you will be free to be with me.” She flung her arms around his neck and began to cry, but as the emotions flooded in, more questions filled her thoughts. Gaius pulled back and asked, “What do you think?”
“I am not sure. There is so much I don’t understand. Why would the General do this? What will I do with my freedom? I don’t have any skills, and where will I end up?” She looked straight into his eyes. “And who would want me? I have been soiled by so many men?” She began to cry.
“Aalina, don’t you understand? I want you. I love you. I will care for you.”
The next few months were a taste of heaven, and though Gaius’ days were filled with drilling and training, his thoughts were occupied with Aalina. She was his first thought in the morning and his last thought before sleep. He spent as many evenings with her as possible. Aalina wasn’t sure what to do with herself. She was free, but was still in the service of the General. She was free, but felt obligated to Gaius. She loved him, and how could she not? He had acted with kindness and compassion, and he had purchased her freedom. Aalina’s new freedom opened her mind to new possibilities, but she saw her daily routine as no different than the day before.
Early one morning the housemaster sent her and a couple of other servants to the market. They were under strict orders to go straight there and return as soon as they were finished. Aalina loved going shopping: the rows of shops along the streets, vendors hocking their wares, the smell of meat roasting, the colors of fruits and vegetables, and the fragrance of spices and perfumes filling the air. Walking the narrow roads crowded with people had given her an escape from the confines of the General’s house, but now she was free. Lost in her reverie, she bumped into a young man who was in the middle of a transaction. The bolt of material he was holding fell to the ground, knocking over a bowl of fruit and rolling across the road into a basket of chickens, which began to cluck incessantly. The young man turned with fire in his eyes, and a tongue ready to lash out at the clumsy miscreant, but Aalina’s gentle beauty quickly extinguished the flame.
“I am so sorry,” Aalina said, as she bent to pick up the fabric. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“No need to apologize. The streets can be crowded.” The waiting customer rolled her eyes at the exchange. Knowing she wouldn’t make a deal today, she walked away. Turning, the vendor pleaded, “Don’t leave, I have just what you need,” but his voice trailed off as the customer disappeared into the crowd. Turning back toward Aalina he said, “So, I have been nearly knocked to the ground, and I have lost a customer. How will you recompense me for my loss?”
Aalina was flustered. “I didn’t mean for this to happen, and I have no money to purchase your fabric. Please, accept my apologies.” Her face was turning two shades of red, and the warm morning was heating up unusually fast. She wanted to run away but she hadn’t anywhere to go. Her companions had been standing across the street when the commotion began, and were now enjoying Aalina’s predicament. They could have come to her aid, but at the cost of losing their entertainment.
“If you can’t pay, then maybe someone else can pay?” He was fishing, and Aalina knew it. He wanted to know more about her and was playing with the situation. “Come, now, who should we send for?” He had a smirk on her face. “Your father?”
“My parents are no longer alive,” she said, looking to the ground.
“I am sorry to hear that, but maybe your husband might handle your dilemma for you?”
“Again, I am sorry, I am not married.” Aalina was becoming a little uncomfortable, and the expression of her face was turning from playful embarrassment to shame.
“You are too well dressed to be on your own. Maybe your master should be summoned?” His interest was piqued. As a slave he might be able to manipulate the situation for his profit and pleasure.
“I am not a slave!” For the first time Aalina stood straight and tall. “I have a certificate of freedom, if you would like to see it.” She fumbled through her bag and, finding the papyrus, she held it out for inspection.
He took it from her and read over the document, which certainly seemed official. His complexion turned ashen when he read the signature. Now he was the one to be flustered. “Why didn’t you tell me you were in the service of General Sextus? Go on your way, and we will pretend this never happened.” The shopkeeper didn’t want any trouble, especially from a man like the General. It would be better for him to push his desires aside and ignore this girl.
Aalina took her papyrus back and, gently folding it, placed it in her bag. She had planned to continue speaking with the young man, but as quickly as it had begun, it was over. He walked back into his shop and she was left alone on the street. She heard the giggling of her companions behind her.
“He was kind of cute,” one of them said, and the others just giggled louder. Aalina ignored them both and walked away to finish her shopping. For the rest of their excursion, Aalina kept her pace in front of her fellow servants. She realized now that she was still no more than a servant. Yes, she had a certificate, but when it came down to it, her freedom was illusory. She had no money, no resources of her own. She still belonged to General Sextus.
That evening, when Gaius returned to his quarters, Aalina was fixing him something to eat. He noticed her countenance and inquired about her day. She was hesitant to recount the events, but she needed to talk to someone, and Gaius always understood.
“What? You were consorting with another man?” He stood and walked across the room.
“It wasn’t that way. He was the one who took interest. I merely bumped into him.” She flashed him a look that could have burned through rock. “But that’s not the point.” She paused. “Never mind, you will only be angry." She set about serving their food.
As he waited, Gaius paced the room. He had never been jealous of the other men who had been with Aalina; she had never had a choice in the matter. This was different though. She was now free to choose, and he feared that she wouldn’t choose him. In that moment he realized that not only was he jealous, but he was also selfish. Aalina was opening up to him, and he was pushing her away. He never wanted to push her away.
He approached and put his hand on her shoulder. “Forgive me, I am being stupid. I trust you, Aalina, and I want you to tell me about your day and what you are thinking.” Without looking up she placed her hand on his. They were strong hands, confident hands. They where hands of a man who had spent all he possessed to purchase her freedom. She, at least, owed him forgiveness, and an explanation.
Turning toward him, she pulled Gaius onto the bed next to her. She paused, trying to gather her thoughts, and he waited patiently. “When the shopkeeper called me a slave, something inside of me wanted to burst out. I almost yelled it at the top of my lungs, ‘I am free!’ But when he looked at the signature of General Sextus, and said I belonged to him, I realized something.” Looking into Gaius’ eyes she said, “I realized that I am not really free.”
“But you are,” Gaius interrupted, “you have the certificate proving it.”
She hung her head until he finished. When a moment of silence settled she continued. “Yes, on paper I am free, but I can’t just leave and do what I want. I have no rights in Rome as a woman. I would have more freedom if I were married, but who would have me?” She saw the hurt in Gaius’ eyes. “I know you love me, and have promised to care for me, but you can’t marry me, not as a soldier.”
The words hung in the air. She was right. As a soldier he could not marry, even though he was allowed to have a ‘camp’ spouse. But women who fell into this category were not married, and so did not have the rights of a spouse under Roman law. Most who found themselves in this situation endured it because of love or necessity; they needed someone to provide for them. Gaius wanted to wrap his arms around her and say it would be all right, but he was frozen with his own emotion. He felt her slipping away, maybe not physically but emotionally, and he just sat there.
“What if you could decide to go? Where would you live? What would you do?” Gaius was hoping that she would put aside all this talk of leaving, but her freedom had stirred dreams he would not be able to satisfy.
“I don’t know. All I have ever known has been the walls of the General’s house. You have bought my freedom, but I feel as if I have given up one master for another.” She saw how her words stung, and she placed her hand upon his. “You are the kindest man I have ever met. You have loved me enough to sacrifice everything for my freedom, and I will always be grateful.” Aalina tried to pick her words carefully, and looking into his eyes she softly said, “And I love you.” She paused. “But what if there is more to life than these walls? If I don’t try to find another way, I am like a bird in a cage that refuses to go through the open door. The bird is still caged.”
Gaius stood, and walked across the room. A small chest sat underneath the dresser where he stored his clothes. Taking a key from around his neck, he slowly unlocked and opened the box. In it were a few mementos from his childhood, and a couple of medals he had earned in the service of the army. Lying under a false compartment was a sack of money. He held it in his hands. It was all he had left. He wasn’t saving it for anything in particular, and the army provided everything that he really needed. The only thing he really wanted was ready to fly away. Sitting back on the bed he handed Aalina the bag. “I want you to have this. It will get you started on your new life.”
Aalina stared incredulously at the bag and then at Gaius. “I can’t accept this. It is yours.”
“Take it, Aalina. I bought your freedom because I love you, not so that I can own you. Yes, I want you to stay with me, but you have to choose this, and if you stay, for any other reason than your love for me, then, well, I don’t really have you.” After thinking a moment in the ensuing silence, he continued, “I will talk with General Sextus in the morning, letting him know of the situation, and that you may be leaving his service. He will think it preposterous, but I will be as firm as I can.” Aalina was speechless, and after some more awkward silence, Gaius left his quarters and spent the night under the stars.
'A slave's life is all you understand, you know nothing of freedom.” Spartan Soldier
Everything was happening too fast. At the first opportunity afforded to Gaius, he went to see General Sextus. It was a long conversation, and Gaius’ instincts were correct. Sextus thought the whole thing to be absurd. Why would Gaius spend so much money to purchase a slave, who now wanted to leave him? And why would he give her additional money so that she could do exactly what he didn’t want her to do? In the end it didn’t matter to General Sextus. All he cared about was the welfare of his own house, and the military discipline that protected it. If the slave left, then maybe his soldier would resume his fidelity to his unit. “She is free, she can stay or leave as she sees fit. However, once she has left, I will no longer take her in as a free servant. If she returns to these walls, she will do so as a slave.” And with that Gaius was dismissed.
The two barely exchanged a look, let alone words, as she made ready to depart. Aalina was determined, and though she felt uncomfortable taking Gaius’ money, she knew it was the only way for her to make it on her own. Gaius was heart broken, and he hoped that at any moment she would turn and plead his forgiveness and commit to him alone, but it didn’t happen. They walked to the gate in silence. Pausing, she turned to Gaius. “I know that I am hurting you, but I have to do this. I have to know if there is something more beyond these walls. I love you, Gaius, and I want you to believe that it is true.” Standing on the tips of her toes, she kissed him lightly on the cheek, and, gathering her belongings, she walked through the gate.
Gaius stood and watched as she walked down the tree-lined road, around the corner, and out of his life. He wasn’t merely hurt, he was crushed, and he prayed to the gods that his pain would forge a stronger soldier. He had nothing now but the army: the fiercest soldier has nothing to live for and is not afraid to die. When Gaius walked into the training compound his comrades saw a change. From that point on, he dedicated himself to becoming the most feared soldier ever.
As for Aalina, her walk away from General Sextus’ camp led her to a crossroads. One led to Rome, the other towards the north. As she rested, she felt a yearning to go home, not to the house Sextus, but to Germania, the land of her parents’ birth. It was such a long way though, and she being a solitary woman had no hope of arriving safely. She was lost in her thoughts when a voice interrupted, harsh and clear. “Are you in need of assistance?”
Valerius didn’t recognize her at first, but she recognized him. “I am trying to decide which way to go, my lord.” She tried not to make eye contact, hoping he would just go away. But Valerius couldn’t forget so easily the object of his disgrace, or the pleasure of her kisses.
“Ah, you’re the whore of the First Cohort! Strange seeing you along this road, but I did hear that stupid Gaius had purchased your freedom. So, you are leaving, and trying to forge your own way.” He was menacing, and he could see his effect on the girl. “It looks as if you want to go north. What lies in that direction for one such as you?” Valerius was many things but he wasn’t ignorant. “You want to go to Germania, don’t you? Answer me girl!” The tenor of his voice demanded a response.
“It is one option for me. I could also go to Rome.” Aalina tried to display confidence, but years of slavery are hard to shake off.
Seizing the opportunity Valerius dismounted and offered, “My regiment is heading that direction as we speak. I am scouting ahead.” He approached her with quick and decisive strides. “If you would like, you could come along with us.”
“That is a tempting offer, my lord, but I do not have the means to pay for such generosity.”
“I am sure we can come to terms in regard to payment.” Taking hold of her arm, he made it clear that she did not have a choice. “It is not safe for a young and beautiful girl such as yourself to be left alone on the highway.” Seeing the sack of money he asked, “What is this? Do you realize that thieves lie in wait along the way, men who would dispatch your life over such money? Fortune has smiled upon you, that I should come along and offer to be your protector.”
Everything in Aalina wanted to scream out, “I am free, that is mine, you have no right,” but a lifetime of servitude caused her to submit in the face of superior force. With Gaius, it was easy to be free, because he let her, but not so Valerius. With reluctance she submitted to his will, the hope and compassion she had known with Gaius quickly vanishing in the presence of evil – she was once again a slave.