A Higher Duty: A Tale of Christians in Rome

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Chapter III. The Tribune's Family

Chapter III.

The Tribune's Family.

Tired, hot, and out of breath, Sybylla returned to her mistress.

"There you are, at last!" Camilla stated with a loud sigh. "My goodness you took SO long. Did you get the necklace fixed?"

"I did, Mistress!" Sybylla panted, handing the necklace to Camilla.

"Run and wash your hands then come back here and do my hair! Be quick about it!" Camilla commanded and Sybylla ran off to do as she was told, hoping that she might also grab a drink while she was at it.

Camilla put the fancy, silver necklace around her neck and surveyed herself in the mirror. It rested nicely against her skin, and drew attention to her well formed breasts. "I hope you'll notice this, Decimus," she softly spoke, a coy smile on her lips. "Because I went through a lot of trouble to make sure I wore it."

Sybylla soon returned and continued with putting Camilla's hair up.

"There must be some way for you to do exactly what I want," Camilla loudly complained. "With the way you do my hair I look like the royal jester!"

Sybylla grit her teeth and tried to ignore Camilla's shrill and bothersome comments. One day, one day she would just blatantly refuse to comb Camilla's hair and then we'd see how Camilla felt about it. At last the long agonizing process was finished and Camilla stood too look at herself in the mirror.

"So much for I'll never look at my reflection," Sybylla thought to herself.

"I suppose I'll have to do." Camilla gave a noisy sigh while inwardly admiring her graceful figure, long legs and beautiful face. "At any rate, this is the best one can do when dressed in such rags. I don't suppose I'll get any admiring glances today. Oh well, I can bear it for one day till I can go shopping and fill up my little world with wonderful things. Sybylla, I will only return home sometime tomorrow morning, but that does not mean you can dilly daddle! I want a nice bath to be prepared for me by the time I get back and a light meal, something like fruits and cream; nothing heavy. Also, be sure to put out a fresh dress for me. We are going shopping tomorrow right after breakfast and that means the lectica must be ready. Clear?"

Sybylla nodded her head.

"Good! Now where is Marcus?" Camilla turned and left the room. Walking down the long hallway she bumped into the shy, thin figure of her younger sister. "Aeliana, watch where you are going!" Camilla frowned. "You'll spoil my good looks."

"Going to another banquet?" Aeliana asked, her dark, sad eyes looking at her big sister with a wonder, admiration and longing.

"Possibly. Do you know where your brother is?"

"Will you come back very late?"

"I'll be back tomorrow morning."

"Why can't I go with you?"

Camilla shifted her weight from one foot to another impatiently. "Because you are too young, that's why! I've told you hundreds of time. When I was thirteen, I never went out to parties. You stay home and work on perfecting your skills, you'll need them when the time comes for you to get married. Which, considering your age, is a day that is closer than you think."

"But you're not..."

"Aeliana, if you haven't noticed I'm running late and most of it is thanks to your brother and his vanity. I've got to go pull him away from his looking glass or we might as well stay home. Now you run along and do what you need to do and don't bother me silly questions." With these words Camilla brushed past her sister and continued the search for her brother. Sybylla walked up and put a hand on Aeliana's frail shoulder. Aeliana's hair fell to her waist and was let loose, gathered with just a few pins. Reaching her free hand, Sybylla stroked the locks, hoping to give some sort of sympathy to the depressed sibling.

"When I get older, I'll get all dressed up and go to parties too!" Aeliena stated in a gloomy but determined voice. "Sybylla," she turned her head to gaze at her sister's slave. "Why is it that Camilla has so much freedom and I don't?"

"Because Camilla is older." Sybylla hated herself for saying those words, but she knew them to be the absolute truth. Camilla was older and smarter and because of that she could get away with much more than Aeliana ever would.

"I always thought it was just a matter of time," Aeliana sighed. "I comforted myself that one day I would grow up and be just as old as her and then we would be able to do everything together. But Camilla is growing up so much faster than I could and there is no way I will be able to catch up with her. By the time I am anywhere near as old as she is, she will be married and busy with her own family and not care a talent of gold for me."

"Married?" Sybylla tried not to laugh. "Since when is Camilla planning on getting married?"

"Since she is going to be twenty in a little over a year and she needs to be married by then if she wants to keep her social status. You of all people should know, Sybylla, that social status means everything to my sister. She would commit murder to keep it. Her public face is her life. While I, what am I?"

"You're her younger sister, Aeliana." Sybylla once more let her hand stroke Aeliana's hair. "Her only sister at that."

"What is a sister to Camilla," Aeliana dejectedly replied, "when she has all of Roman society worshiping the ground she walks on?" Turning, Aeliana walked down the hall to her own room. Sybylla heard the door close with a sad click and let out a sigh. Camilla always managed to find time for so many useless things in her life, was it really so hard to make just a few minutes for her younger sister?

***

Camilla loudly barged into her brother's room.

"There is a reason why doors were invented." Marcus stated in an annoyed voice.

"So I can bang them open?"

"So there would such a think known as privacy."

"Privacy is a privilege you lose when you are running very late."

"We are not late Camilla, we've got plenty of time to get to the palace and you know that. Now tell me, what do you think of my new toga?" Marcus turned around to face his sister.

Tilting her head to the side, Camilla evaluated her brother. He was a tall youth, healthy, but not exactly of a muscular build. His dark hair was cut neatly and combed back. His facial features were rather square, and of all the children he resembled their late mother the most. But Camilla had to admit her brother was handsome, and the expensive tunic and toga made him very fashionable and good looking.

"It goes well with your figure," she relented at last. "It's only a pity it doesn't add to your brains!"

Marcus tensed his brow into a scowl. "You ought to show more respect to your older brother and head of this household."

"Head of the household? I beg of you, Marcus, be honest with yourself."

"Why should I? You never are!"

"Whatever! I only wish it wasn't a new toga you were showing off to me but a new uniform that would tell me you had joined the army! How long do you plan to drag all this out? With our social status you could easily be promoted quite early on."

"I'll join when I feel like it, which at the moment I don't!"

He was so lazy! A quality that annoyed Camilla to her very core. Walking up to him Camilla glared up into his face, her hands resting on her hips to get her displeasure across. "With an attitude like that, Marcus Cornelius Flavius, you'll have your glittering political career! And your tardiness certainly won't help you much either! Hurry up and get moving, I wanted to arrive early and you are taking too long."

"So then go without me!"

"You know I can't do that, you and I have to go together."

"I'm tired of constantly having to hoggle you around every time we go to the games, or to a party or anything else."

"Sorry, you don't have a choice! But before you get all upset, I'm here to reassure you that I plan to be married before my nineteenth birthday, which is half a year from now. Until then you are stuck with me, and since you owe this particular person a great deal, you had better keep your end of the bargain!"

"You are such a cunning fox," Marcus laughed. "Alright, I'm ready, let's go. Where is Aeliana?"

"She's in her room, I told her to stick to her studies. Keep your eyes open while we are at the party."

"Whatever for?"

"For a good candidate."

"A Candidate, a candidate for what?"

"For a husband of course!"

"You want me to find you a husband?"

"Not for me, you idiot, for Aeliana!"

Marcus gave his sister a blank look.

Camilla clenchd her fists and then released them. By the gods he was dense! He really would never get that brillian political career with his brains. She would have to get it for him.

"Oh Marcus, Marcus!" Camilla fumed. "Do you know anything at all? Aeliana is less than a month short of thirteen and we must start searching for a good husband for her. This may surprise you, but they are not so easy to come by, and the sooner you start searching the more chances you will find a good one. We can't have any person off the street. He must be of good family, considerable wealth and a good position in society, and also, he must be preferable young. I will never marry my sister to an old man."

"I am not a match maker," Marcus grumbled. "why are you burdening me with this."

"Because, I quote, you are 'the elder brother and head of this household'. You want to be head of the household, be ready to share in that responsiblity." She gave her brother a smug, priggish smile, reaching over to touch his nose with the tip of her delicate index finger.

"Listen, Camilla, I don't want to waste my time searching for a husband for my sister. Since you seem to be so worried about it, I suggest that you bother with it. You don't seem to want me to find a husband for you, why should I find one for Aeliana?"

"I never said I wanted you to 'find' one for Aeliana! All I want is for you to keep your eyes open, if you see a possible candidate tell me, and I'll take it from there."

"And what are you going to do with this 'possible candidate'?"

"I am going to find everything I can about him and when the time is right, that is to say, when Aeliana is a little older, I'll introduce him to her and see how they get along. Ultimately, I want it to be Aeliana's choice, I just think we should help her a bit; after all, the girl is very sheltered."

"Is it just me or are you paranoid with this whole marriage thing?"

"Marriage is something vital to a woman if she wants any sort of social life. You wouldn't understand, male that you are. We have to marry if we want to survive, so yes, I am paranoid about it. When my younger sister marries, I want her to marry worthy of the Flavius name. I am willing to give her a choice, but that choice will be within certain boundaries. She should consider herself very lucky for that, most of her peers don't have any say in the matters of marriage! Anyway, enough of that, we will discuss it some other time when we are not on our way to a party."

Marcus, glad this whole marriage conversation was over, offered his sister his arm and Camilla took it. Together they walked down the hall to the entrance of the villa. Sybylla was waiting there with Camilla's stolla, which she wrapped around her mistress' shoulders. The lectica was waiting outside, four strong, African slaves with broad shoulders and muscular arms waiting beside it. Brother and sister stepped into it and arranged themselves comfortably.

The slaves picked up the lectica and departed from the courtyard and into the streets, taking course for the grand, majestic palace of Emperor Nero.

As they were leaving, Camilla pulled back the drapes and glancing out, caught a glimpse of her younger sister watching them from the window. Their eyes locked for a moment, before Camilla let the curtain fall.

"Don't rush into this life, Aeliana," she mumbled under her breath. "It's glitter and gold on the outside, but when you dig a bit deeper you will find it is only filth and rot."


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