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By: Brigid Doyle (LPDir@aol.com)
Disclaimer:The characters herein belong not to me and I have no claim on them. They are therefore nameless and the interpretation is left to the reader. Julius Caesar is of course history, as he should be. This little piece of fiction takes place the in the short time before the warrior and the emperor first cross paths.
Spoiler Warning: bit of a spoiler of Destiny toward the end
(Thanks to Bubble, CC and KC for their faith in my writing skills)
The woman sat, relaxing on a mountain of satin pillows, staring into the fire. Its flame caught the gold metal of her armor and reflected its light against the dark fabric of her three-sided tent. The same light played with the jeweled baubles of her ornamental headdress and cast hundreds of multicolored sparkling stars dancing across the burgundy walls. Her dark brows knit together in fierce concentration warning her men to keep their distance on this dark clear night. They knew well the extent of her wrath and her swift punishment to those who would disturb her reverence. She slowly turned stretching out her tall form and resting her hand on the hilt of the sword set in the golden belt that adorned her waist.
Before her the table was laden with fruits of every imaginable variety, apples, grapes, olives and many others seemed to tumble from the jeweled tureens they overfilled. Large jugs of mead, port and cider rested on the long white linen covered table and loaves of warm brown bread nestled in various sized baskets. Figs, dates and nuts lay strewn across the cloth as if they were more of a decoration than a delicacy.
Occasionally she stole a quick glance at the crew loading much needed supplies on to the large ship that rocked slowly on the increasing tide. They had been at sea for many months and returned to this small port to restock their stores. The rhythmic creaking of the sea-weathered wood was almost hypnotic and helped to deepen the trance of the tall woman captain. She and her crew often used this place as a refuge from their pirating. The people were more than happy to supply them their needs and keep them well fed while they rested there. In return the pirates left the inhabitants of the village at peace.
The woman laid her head back against the pillows and closed her eyes, letting a long cleansing breath escape her lips. To anyone not familiar with the ways of this fierce woman it would appear she had fallen into a deep slumber, to those who knew her the appearance had a much darker meaning.
Slowly a pale dirty hand snaked out from beneath the tarp covering the crates left on the docks. It stretched toward a large shiny apple that had rolled to the table's edge. Small fingers tickled the side of the fruit coaxing it to roll enough that the stem could be grabbed and the apple snatched. The prize wobbled a bit under the gentle prodding finally tipping just enough to allow its capture. The hand pulled the fruit to the edge of the table and held it proudly between index finger and thumb then tossed it up intending to catch it as it returned.
Caught was the fate for both the apple and the hand as the pirate captain's large hand wrapped around the small wrist just as the apple hit the small palm. With a hard yank the rest of the small dirty form came squealing from beneath the tarp and was brought with rough hands to eye level with the captain who now stood in the center of the tent. The girl squirmed fiercely, her small sandaled feet kicking at the air, and demanded release, wrestling with all of her puny might. The dark woman frowned and gave the child a good shake holding her fast by her upper arms. The child's head snapped back and then forward much like a rag doll, but her protest continued.
"ENOUGH!" She demanded, allowing the girls feet to touch the ground but refusing to let her go.
"YOU LET GO A ME FIRST!!!!" The tiny voice shrieked holding just as tightly to the apple.
The pirate released one of the child's arms and slid her hand quickly down the thin arm to the wrist of the hand still holding the prized fruit. She kicked the table sending its larder across the salty deck and slammed the small fist firmly onto the wood. Jerking the skinny child across the table as well, she held her prone and in place. At the same time she drew her sword and raised it high above the girl's hand. "DO YOU KNOW THE PUNISHMENT FOR STEALING, LITTLE GIRL??" The woman smiled evilly.
The child stopped struggling and released the apple. It seemed to roll away in an effort to escape the horror that was to come. It teetered for a moment at the table's edge then fell to the floor and joined the other fruits that lay there. The girl looked into the pirate's steel blue eyes as they sparkled devilishly. She swallowed hard as a tear rolled down her cheek leaving a clean streak on the grimy face. "Yes yes I do." She answered in a whisper. "But you have so much and I was so hungry " She pulled valiantly against the pirate's grip, "and I wasn't stealing, I got money just let go and I'll show ya " The child explained through sniffles.
For a moment the pirate stared back into eyes that seemed so familiar and listened to a voice lost so long ago. For a moment her heart leapt with memories of a small blonde child that ran along side her and his laughter tickled her soul. For a moment she looked at the face of this child and knew the love of the other. ...For a moment, just a moment... For in a moment that love had been snatched from her heart and in a moment her world had been shattered. But a moment was all it took and that moment and this small dirty child stopped her evil fury. Yes there was much and no she would not need it all, it would only lie on the dock and rot in the early morning sun. But, such insolence must be punished. She let the sword drop and felt the tiny muscles tense beneath her grip.
The weapon bit into the wooden table a fraction of an inch above the small clenched fist. The pirate pulled the sword from the wood and tossed the small form onto the pillows at the same time. She stabbed the point of her weapon into the lost apple and tossed it onto the pillow as well. Then slammed the blade back into its scabbard and turned away from the child, pacing furiously back and forth under the girl's silent gaze.
"Thank you " the child offered reaching for the fruit. " for not hurting me." She wiped her eyes quickly with her sleeve and ran the side of her hand across her nose giving a final sniff. She peeked at the warrior over her brows, but kept her head down tossing the apple slowly from hand to hand.
"I'M NOT THROUGH WITH YOU!" The pirate barked back, inwardly grimacing when the child jumped. She remained at odds with herself wanting to show this little brat just who she was dealing with and needing so much to take the frightened waif into her arms for comfort. But, her stoic, ferocious appearance had to be kept in front of the crew who had quietly gathered near the tent. Their curiosity had temporarily overcome their respect for their leader's privacy. There was a lot of commotion coming from the temporary tent.
"DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!" She snarled as she advanced on the trembling child.
"No no, mam. I'm sorry I don't." The girl apologized as she sunk back into the soft satin. "I I'm not from around here I I " She stammered.
"So what are you then, a vagrant, an orphan, or maybe a runaway SLAVE?!" The pirate teased, poking at the small chest.
"NO!" The child protested bravely. "I am not a slave!" She sat up straight refusing to yield to the pirate towering above her. The small girl took a deep breath and continued, blazing green eyes never looking away from savage blue. "And I didn't run away and I got a mom and a dad and a sister and a gramma and an uncle." Her voice squeaked as she tried desperately not to cry. She balled her small fists in front of her and spoke through her teeth.
The pirate laughed banefully and turned to her crew that shuffled from foot to foot and coughed in an effort to cover the chuckle that rumbled through the group. "WHAT ARE YOU STANDING AROUND FOR!???" She screamed raising both hands above her head. "NOT ENOUGH WORK TO DO? PERHAPS I NEED TO THIN OUT THE RANKS A BIT THEN?" The men dispersed quickly returning to their work loading the ship.
"I WANT THIS RIG READY TO LEAVE ON THE NEXT TIDE!!" She commanded following behind them to be sure they returned to their duties. "AND IF I FIND ANY ONE OF YOU NEAR THIS TENT AGAIN TONIGHT YOU'LL BE SHARK BAIT BY MORNING!!!"
"They're kinda scared of you, aren't they." A small voice came from beside her. It was more of an observation than a question.
This little sprite was full of fire and not afraid to stand up to someone three times her size. Her courage was admirable, her insolence could get her killed, but her innocence was infectious. The pirate leader was impressed, but stood back and placed both hands on her hips. "So, where is this family then, aye?" She hissed at the small captive.
"Well " the child hesitated, relaxing even under the pirate's glare. "They got lost." She explained simply. "My gramma and my uncle did, I mean. I came with them to trade my father's grain and my uncle's wool at the market. It is my first time to be here and well I just wanted to see as much as I could and well when I went back they weren't there." The girl chattered on as the pair returned to the tent.
The pirate looked at the child for a moment pondering this story. "Ya know," she threatened. "I could toss you on that ship over there and sell you to the slavers at the next port, don't ya?" She smiled evilly and pointed over her shoulder with her thumb then handed the child a small cup of cider and a handful of grapes.
Now the child took time to ponder. "I suppose you could, but I don't think I'm worth much. I'm kinda little and I'm not real strong. My sister says I talk too much and Momma says she can't feed me enough but gramma says she doesn't know where I put it. Poppa says it gets used up real fast cuz I never stay still long enough for my food to settle, but I think that's silly. Anyway, I don't think the slavers would give ya much for me." She smiled.
The pirate looked down at the child as she gobbled the bunch of purple fruits and shook her head. "Well, WHAT am I going to do with you?"
"You could just show me where I can find the Temple of Hestia." The girl replied between swallows. "I know I can find my gramma there. She said if I got lost that is where I should go, cuz Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and family and the priestesses would protect me till I er I mean they got found. I know my gramma and my uncle will go there too. But, it got too dark and I couldn't find it." The child explained.
How on earth could this small person consume so much food and chatter so incessantly without choking was beyond imagination. The sooner the little pest was on her way the better the pirate would like it.
The irate woman yanked the child from the satin cushions and spun her around pointing her toward the center of the small dark village. She pointed and gave the girl a rough shove. "There! Just follow that bright star to the center of town. Now GO, before I change my mind."
The little girl took a few steps in the direction the pirate pointed then turned back and swallowed hard. "It's awful dark." She hinted.
"Happens at night." The pirate remarked crossing her arms over her chest.
The child took a few more steps and turned again. "I might get lost."
"Itís a risk you'll have to take." The pirate shook her head.
The child turned back and stood staring in the direction of the long dark path toward the village. She sighed deeply.
The pirate walked briskly past her, the long gold veils that made her cape swishing in the soft breeze. Her long strides took her far beyond the position of the small girl before she stopped and turned back. "Are you coming?" She demanded holding her palms out in front of her. The child smiled and ran to join her large guide.
The pirate walked through the darkened streets with ease, as if she could see like a cat in the black of night. The child had to run to keep up and soon was a few paces behind. The woman rounded a sharp corner that took her down an even darker corridor between the close set buildings and traveled a number of paces before her keen hearing failed to detect the patter of the smaller footsteps behind her. She stopped and turned looking for the small form in the inky blackness. She rolled her eyes and expelled a sigh then retraced her steps silently cursing the little troublemaker. Back around the corner and out into the small courtyard she returned and found her small charge seated on a large barrel softly sniffing back tears.
"I'm sorry." The child sobbed. "I can't walk that fast. My side hurts and I am so tired." She yawned through her tears.
"Oh Zeus, don't cry!!" The pirate groaned. She grabbed a piece of cloth from a line that was strung across the yard and dunked it into the trough next to her. She wrung the rag and roughly scrubbed the small tear streaked face. Realizing her over-zealousness as the child nearly went backward off the barrel, the pirate placed a hand behind the child's head and cleaned her face with a bit more gentle touch. "What is it with kids and dirty faces?" She huffed. She placed her finger under the child's chin and tilted her head upward to examine her work. "That's better. Now, let's get done with this!" She quickly snatched the child from the barrel placing her on her hip and wrapping her own strong arms around the overly thin body.
The pirate again rounded the sharp turn and continued through the long dark passages that would take her to the center of the village. The child nestled snuggly into the arms of the pirate and rested her cheek against the strong shoulder. Even the determined, almost marching, pace of the pirate seemed to relax the girl and soon the soft rhythmic breaths of sleep brushed against the pirate's throat. She slowed her pace as she neared the temple, seeing it's tall columns in the distance lit by the torches which burned to welcome the lost, both spiritually and actually as this child was. She shifted the girl into a more comfortable position sliding her arm under the child's knees and behind her shoulders cradling her closer to the chest. She looked at the soft lashes resting on the rounded cheeks and the golden wisps of hair that curled across her forehead. That image once again brought back such powerful memories of the young boy that she had loved so dearly. Had she ever told him how much he meant to her? Had she ever apologized for all the teasing and taunting? Had she ever kissed his brow and told him that his love was her only light? She hugged the child tighter and tried unsuccessfully to repress a sob. One hot tear trickled down her cheek and she allowed her grief to have its way on this dark night, in this quiet street, with this small girl.
She walked the last few steps to the temple slowly; almost wishing she could hold this bit of treasure just a bit longer. More than one time she contemplated keeping the child, but the sea was no place to raise her and a pirate's life much too dangerous for one so preciously dear. What was it about this small wisp of a girl that touched her so deeply? She climbed the stairs of the temple and gently laid the child on the cool marble. She bent close, kissed the sleeping babe's forehead and leaning close to the child's ear she whispered, "you keep your face clean, little one."
With that she rose and shook off the sentimentalism quickly wiping the tears from her face. She rapped loudly on the temple door then retreated back into the darkness of the village pausing only to be sure the door had opened and the child taken inside. The elderly woman who had gathered the girl to her large bosom could only have been the 'lost gramma' who hugged the child repeatedly covering her small blonde head with kisses. The stern gentleman at her side had to be 'the uncle'. The pirate chuckled thinking that the girl would have a lot to answer for once the joy of being found wore off and that she had escaped the pirate's cruel punishment but probably would smart from her uncle's chastisement for a few days.
The dark pirate walked the distance to her ship in silence remembering her own youth and the brother she loved so dearly. She remembered his golden curls and laughing green eyes and wondered how different his and her life could have been if only But, this was the life she chose and she could not, would not turn back. She walked the gangplank onto her ship climbing to the bow and watched as her men brought the last of their supplies aboard. She turned to the horizon and felt the rise of the tide, as the ship seemed to lurch toward the open sea. She crossed the deck and walked to the starboard side watching below at the dock as Talus, her first mate bantered and battered a well-dressed warrior. She moved forward when it appeared the mate was about to kill the Roman nobleman. She knew he was a valuable commodity and ordered Vicerius to send a ransom demand to the nearest Roman settlement for one hundred thousand dinars if they ever wanted to see
"What's your name?" She smirked.
"Caesar, Julius Caesar."
"Caesar, Julius Caesar, again." She dismissed Vicerius and turned to the nobleman. "You really weren't afraid to die were you?"
"I knew someone would stop him." He replied dripping with arrogance.
"And how could you know that?" She sneered.
"I know what I'm fated to do with my life." He casually remarked.
"And what's that?" She almost laughed.
"Rule the world." He dismissed her, as he was lead away to the ship.
The pirate turned staring out at the dark waters. It had been a strange night full of strange people and events, and the wind had changed directions, a bad omen. But she believed not in omens, whatever would happen in her life would be under her control today and always. A handsome Roman nobleman and a small skinny girl would not sway her from the path she had chosen for herself
She would make her own destiny.
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