A Higher Duty: A Tale of Christians in Rome

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Chapter I. The Tribune's Daughter.

Chapter I

The Tribune's Daughter.

Rome was her playground, men were her playthings, and she was master of the game. She lived for one goal; satisfy her thirst for pleasure and fame. They called her Rome's favorite flower, but flower was not a word good enough to describe her. Tiger would do sometimes, fox at others; but in reality the only way to truly describe her would be to call her by her name: Camilla Florentina, eldest daughter and second child of Tribune Marcus Junius Flavius.

On nearing her nineteenth year of age, simply calling her beautiful would not do her justice. They said Venus herself had given the child a kiss at birth, and in that kiss gave her the beauty of the immortals. She was slim, but not skinny, with pale skin that contrasted sharply with the ebony of her long, silky hair. Eyes that sparkled with mystery, full red lips that seemed to beg any man to kiss them. Thick, long eyelashes, soft, smooth hands and long graceful legs. One look could halt in his tracks any man, from rich senator to humble fish monger.

Born into privilaged, high society her life was easy. Riches was bountifully supplied, as were plenty of admirers, and freedom knew no boundaries; something almost unheard of for most her peers. And Camilla took full advantage of this freedom, using it to its complete potential. After all, what else was she to do with it?

Dusk was no settling over the great city of Rome, and it's favorite flower was getting rather impatient.

"Sybylla!" Camilla called in her silky voice. "Sybylla! Sy-by-lla! Ugh! Where on earth did that slave get to? SYBYLLA!!!!"

The door to the large, spacious room opened and the meek and simple figure of her slave entered.

"You called, Mistress?" Sybylla asked in a humble voice.

"Yes I called. Several times in fact! Where were you? Oh never mind, I don't care where you were, I only care that you were not here when I called you."

"What is your wish, Mistress?"

"Silence! I'm getting there. There is a banquet at the palace of the Emperor and of course I have been invited. Can't you see the time of day! It is the hour I begin to ready myself, so draw me a bath, I must go there smelling like scented oils and perfumes. Also, find me something to wear, get my jewelry together and do my hair in some way I like. Well, you heared the orders! What are you standing there all silly for? Go and carry them out!"

Sybylla sighed and with a bow to her mistress, turned and hurried to do as she was bid.

"Find me something to wear," she muttered under her breath as she went to the closet where Camilla kept all her fancy gowns. "What that really means is no matter what you choose I am sure to be unhappy and will throw a fit and have you bring me tunic after tunic but in the end I'll finally settle with the first option you brought me. Do my hair in some way that I like, that means you'll make several hairstyles, while I yell at you that you are doing everything wrong and in the end I'll tell you to go back and redo the original hairstyle. You are so predictable, Your Highness, and so impossible to please. I wonder if true royalty is as difficult to be around as this self imposed princess."

"Sybylla, what is taking you so long?" Camilla's voice sounded again. "The banquet is only a couple of hours away and you are taking foooooreeeeveeeer!!!!"

Sybylla rolled her eyes, she wasn't taking THAT long, but it didn't matter at what speed you ran around performing her mistress' tasks. Even if you traveled at the speed of light you would still be 'too slow' for Camilla Florentina. Choosing Camilla's most fancy attires, Sybylla hurried back to the impatient noblewoman.

"There you are. At last! Really Sybylla, I don't know what takes you so long, but it is SO annoying. You obviously were not born a slave."

"At last, we agree about one thing," Sybylla murmured. "I most certainly was not born a slave."

"And you obviously have no taste in fashion," Camilla continued. "Or you would have known that I can't wear any of the trash you just brought me."

"Like I said," Sybylla mumbled to herself again. "So predictable."

"Oh, it's so hard having nothing to wear!" Camilla pouted her lips like a spoiled child as she threw herself down on her large bed, crammed with cushions and pillows. Sybylla looked at the four tunics she was holding and thought of the more than twenty others that composed her mistress's wardrobe. Nothing to wear? How about she burn all her mistress's clothing, maybe then Camilla would understand the meaning of the phrase 'nothing to wear'.

"I'll have to go shopping tomorrow," Camilla went on talking to herself, as was a terrible habit of hers. "I really must renew my wardrobe, all that rubbish is just too old to wear. But...that can only be done tomorrow, which doesn't solve my problem of today. Sybylla, why are you standing there all useless? Come here! I need to see my gowns again. Goodness me, do you know anything at all?"

Sybylla strove to keep the meek, submissive appearance she wore whenever around Camilla. It would not do to let your annoyance show. She was a slave after all, and must know her place in the great structure of society. Walking up to where her spoiled mistress had plopped herself she once more presented the four gowns.

"This one does nothing for my figure," Camilla touched the first one. "While this one doesn't go along with my eyes. This one makes me look like an old woman, and this one," Camilla fingered the last one as she pouted her lips once more. "I suppose this one will have to do, though I won't look at my reflection at all today, I hate seeing myself in old things. Well, go on, help me put it on!"

"Mistress, what about your bath?" Sybylla gently pointed out.

"Oh right, there's that. Silly girl, why didn't you remind me sooner? Is it ready? Is the water hot? You know how I can't stand cold water and you always seem to make it colder than I like. I can't risk catching cold or feeling any discomfort, it spoils my whole mood."

"Everything is as you like it."

"Good! I'll go and bathe, but don't bother coming with me; you are no good when it comes to baths. I'll have the other slaves do it. You, in the meantime, prepare my gown and polish my sandals and get my jewelry together. Make sure everything is ready by the time I return. We don't have a minute to lose." With those words Camilla arose and sauntered out of the room.

"We never have a minute to lose!" Sybylla retorted once Camilla was gone. "Nothing in your life is good enough or fast enough. Seriously, Your Majesty you drive us all insane!"

Taking a deep breath, Sybylla calmed herself from the outburst. "Dear Lord," she murmered. "Please, give me Your patience, because mine ran out a long time ago. I don't mean to be spiteful, but I try so hard and it is never right."

Carefully laying the gown on the bed, Sybylla selected the one her mistress had chose. Biting her lower lip, Sybylla glanced at the door then ran her hands through the creamy, purple silk the gown was made of. It was soft and slippery, not at all like the rough linen of Sybylla's own tunic. This was the dress of a princess. Silk was a terribly expensive material, but Camilla made sure most of her gowns were made from it. That and cotton! It was shocking how much money the noblewoman threw away on stylish clothing.

Stilling holding the gown, Sybylla went over to the large mirror standing in the corner of the room. Putting the gown in front of her and gazed at her reflection. What would she give to have at least one dress like this? But then, she had nowhere to wear it anyway, so what good would it do her?

Turning away from her reflection, Sybylla laid the dress out for when Camilla would return from her beauty bath (which considering the time probably wouldn't take too long. Maybe an hour or two). Going to the table, Sybylla opened the six jewelry boxes, crammed with every possible type of necklace, earrings, braclets, rings, anklets, headbands. They were all made from various precious metals and precious stones. Then Sybylla pulled out the hairdressing tools and placed them carefully on the table.

Sybylla had been doing Camilla's hair for well over a year and could manage the elaborate hairstyles Camilla always demanded quite well. Even though Camilla would always complain that something was wrong with the hairstyle, Sybylla knew that she was the only person who could do the job the way Camilla liked it. This was clear because except for the young Greek slave, no one was allowed to touch Camilla's precious tresses.

At last Camilla returned from her beauty bath and Sybylla helped her into the gown.

"Come now, do my hair, and I'll look over my jewelry for now and try to pick something. Oh, my trinkets are so old. I haven't gotten a single new piece of jewelry for two weeks! This will certainly be the most dreadful banquet ever. An old dress, old jewelry, old sandals, doesn't it really get any worse?"

"Try, no dress, no jewelry and no sandals," Sybylla thought to herself as she combed out Camilla's long raven tresses. Camilla had been blessed with a head full of shiny black hair and even though many women in those days were dying their hair red or blonde, Camilla stubbornly stuck to keeping her natural color and was skimpy with powdering it saying that her ebony hair went well with her ivory white skin, which was rather unusual for the dark skinned Romans.

A shriek from Camilla made Sybylla jump and drop the comb. "What is it mistress?" she asked, stooping to pick up the fallen instrument.

"My chain has a broken hook!" Camilla snapped. "And it was the very one that I wanted to wear! Why didn't you notice it? Why didn't you tell me? I just got my hopes up and now, look, look at this mess! I'm not going anywhere today! I'm staying home and it's all your fault!"

Sybylla's mind raced, she needed to do something quick to put her mistress back into good spirits and make sure she went to the banquet, or else Sybylla would hear about this for all eternity Oh, if only Camilla would just wear one of the other silver necklaces, she had several, but no, she wanted the broken one and only the broken one.

A thought struck her.

"Mistress," she ventured, "I know of a good silversmith who lives not too far from here. I could take your chain and run over and have it quickly fixed in time for the banquet. I am half done with your doing your hair, while I'm gone you could have one of the other slaves paint your face and prepare your feet and do your nails. I should return within the hour and will still have plenty of time to finish your hair and you could wear your favorite chain and go to the banquet."

Camilla turned over, keeping her face slightly lowered and turned her eyes upward to see Sybylla.

"What silversmith?" The words came out slowly as though she were speaking to a retarted child.

"He is a good and talented man."

"How come you know about him and I don't?"

"He's new to the trade and few people know about him, but in the market place many things reach my ears."

Camilla sat for a while pondering. "Oh, very well, take the chain and be back within the hour, I need my hair to be done in time as well and if you are late then I'll be late for the banquet and it will be on your head!"

Sybylla nodded and snatching the chain ran to find several other slaves to do Camilla's face and nails, after which she raced out of the villa and made her way as fast as she could through the streets of Rome.

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