(with apologies to Anonymous)
thanks to Tami Meredith for technical assistance!
Our story thus far:
Svenius, a Roman slave of the House of Jura, is on the run for the crime of “defiling” the Vestal Virgin Lilliana; she is on the run with him. Svenius’ master, Dominus Waynium, has promised Lilliana’s father, Consul Insatius Morporcium Magnus, that he will find Svenius and Lilliana, and bring them both back so that she may be buried alive and Svenius tortured and thrown from the Tarpian Rock. They must be found and brought back or the entire Ludus will be burned, and all within crucified.
Svenius groaned. What an imbecile I am, he thought to himself. It wasn’t the first time his phallus had gotten him into trouble, but it may very well be the last! Vestal Virgin - Hah! The woman had been more experienced than him. He smiled, remembering, then glanced over at Lilliana, who trudged along beside him, her sandals thudding softly on the heavy stone of the Via Flaminia. She was not a complainer, he had to admire her for that. They had been walking several days now, hiding in drover's huts or caves, eating only what they could find, as their provisions had long since run out. He didn’t feel safe yet. He didn’t know if he ever would. Yes he was a gladiator, and somewhat of a celebrity, but gladiators could be killed. An arena death would be cleaner and much more desired than what the Consul had planned for him, of that he was certain. He fingered his wooden ruudius again, knowing that it would be of little use in combat.
Walking beside him, Lilliana glanced carefully over at Svenius, being careful not to let him see her looking at him. Her plan to escape the boredom of the Temple of Vesta had worked, with the exception of her father’s reaction. She was a fool not to have considered it. She had hoped that he would banish her to one of the Greek Islands, perhaps Lesbos, and force Svenius into exile to marry her. He was usually a doting father and she hadn't realised that he would put his fearsome pride and sense of honor before his family. The many nights of studying the sexual arts was at least keeping Svenius himself from killing her, but she had no illusions as to what would happen should they be caught. Her only hope in that case was to throw herself on the mercy (or...something else) of the soldiers who captured them. She doubted she could save Svenius, but she might be able to save herself. She considered life as a soldier’s whore, and decided it was still better than the Temple of Vesta.
The House of Jura had been living in fear ever since the pronouncement of the Consul. Everyone had joined in the search for Svenius. Several slaves had run away, not willing to risk crucifixion. Sadly, the nursery slave, Lolannia, had discovered that the punishment for running away was to be crucified. Dominus Waynium was silent and fierce, leading the search well into the night every single day. Domina Zhusa knew what had to be done. “We must sacrifice another slave, threaten him with killing his family if he does not admit to being Svenius and accepting the fatal punishment.” The Dominus smiled faintly, his wife did not shrink from violence when her home and family were threatened. “As you wish, my dear”, he said, and went to find a suitable substitute. “But if I ever do come across Svenius again, he will beg me for death before I’m through with him.”
Svenius and Lilliana came to another cave, grateful to have found shelter for the night. The weather was thankfully warm, but it was just a matter of months before that would change. Lilliana began sweeping out the floor of the cave with her hands, so that they would not lie upon small rocks and pebbles. It was growing darker; she worked slowly so her hands would not be cut. She felt something smooth and cold, not like the other debris in the cave. She picked it up and examined it closely in the waning light - the object was made of a material she was unfamiliar with; it had its own dim light source. Looking around she saw there were several more, lighting the cave so subtly she hadn’t noticed that it was much darker outside. Left to her own devices she would have considered it be some sort of armor or perhaps a small shield. She showed one to Svenius.
He turned it over and over, puzzled by its strangeness. Suddenly it started vibrating in his hands - he cried out in terror and dropped it. “What is it Svenius?” asked Lilliana. All he could do was point in horror as the white disk he had dropped began moving of its own volition, hovering in mid-air, its glow ebbing and flowing with the beat of his panicked heart. Lilliana immediately bowed before it, her arms outstretched, trembling. Clearly, this was some kind of omen from the gods, perhaps Mars or Jupiter.
The disk stayed still for a moment, then all the other disks began moving in the same slow, undulating manner, glowing more brightly then dimming. They formed a circle around the first one, then suddenly they all whooshed out of the cave and flew towards the rising moon. Lilliana waited a few moments, then turned towards Svenius, to ask him what he thought. Svenius was gone.