Sin of the Father
“Domina, there is a boy here to see you.”
Cornelia looked up at Ajax’s voice ringing through the peristylium. Lowering the scroll she’d been reading, she blinked in the harsh sunlight of midday. It had only been dawn minutes ago. Or had it? Time moved erratically in her existence as a twice widow, ebbing and flowing.
“A boy? A slave with a message?” Cornelia set the scroll aside on the small, mosaic covered table. She plucked up the incised silver cup, the dancing cupids in sharp relief against her hand as she drank her watered falernian.
“He bears a sealed letter for you, Domina.” Ajax paused, considering. “But he said he must deliver it to you in person, and remain while you read it.”
Curious. And a little exciting. So little excited Cornelia these days. Since Pompey’s assassination, she’d become a curiosity in Rome. People whispered she was cursed, a harbinger of death to any man who would marry her. First Publius, dead at Carrhae. And then Pompey.
Days passed now where she had no callers. Few invitations came. Just as well. She’d grown accustom to the quiet of her dead husband’s estates. Preferred it, mostly.
“Bring him here.” Cornelia pinched her cheeks as Ajax disappeared, hoping to bring back some color. When she looked in the mirror now, she beheld a living shade. Best not to scare the boy.
“Here he is, Domina.”
Cornelia looked up. The boy smiled shyly, fidgeting with a small scroll of grubby papyrus. He looked six or seven, all wild dark curls and cheeks like a cupid. The age her child would be if she’d conceived with her first love. Her heart clenched.
“What’s your name, child?” she asked.
Cornelia blinked. Her mind played tricks. “And you have a letter for me?”
He nodded, silent as he handed it over. She peered at him again. Too thin. “Ajax, can you bring him to the kitchen? Tell cook for feed him.”
She waited until the boy and her slave disappeared before unrolling the scroll.
I write you now because death shadows me. Else you would never have heard from me again. I’d not spend the coin on a scribe. But I must.
I stole myself away from you all those years ago, along with jewelry and one of your gowns. I’m not sorry. Publius should have freed me in his will. He should have done many things differently. But the one thing I do not regret is his son.
You surely see it, now that you have met my boy. He is bright and good and the best thing in my life. And now I must beg you to take him. I won’t live out the month. I have no man, no family, and no food for him.
I beg you, if you bore our Publius any love, give his son a home. Don’t condemn him to slavery as I was condemned. I regret that this will likely hurt you, and for that one thing, I am sorry. We have both been hurt enough. But let some good come of it all.
Your former slave- Livia.
Cornelia blinked back tears. It had to be a lie. Publius loved her. Only her. He’d died loving her.
But the curls and the dimple in the boys chin. Those didn’t lie. The words stabbed her in the heart, as sure as swords had cut down both her husbands.
She’d prayed to all the Gods for years for a child. First with Publius, and then later with Pompey. For someone who would love her completely.
The Gods had always been perverse.
She looked up to find Ajax gaping at her. She must look frightful. The boy clung to the janitor’s leg, afraid.
“It’s all right.” She rose and walked stiffly across the mosaic floor. Reaching them, she knelt. “Hello, Publius.”
“Domina.” The little boy’s voice quavered.
“I’d like to come with you to see your mother, if that’s all right?” She reached out, brushing back one silky curl.
“Yes, Domina.” The small smile lit up his face. Cornelia laughed.
“Good.” She turned to Ajax. “Have my litter readied. And prepare a suite of guest rooms. We will be having guests for the foreseeable future.”
“Very good, Domina.” Ajax shuffled out, leaving her alone with the boy.
“Would you like to hear a story about another man named Publius?” she asked, leading him over to her chair. He sat in her lap without prompting and nodded. “He was a very brave man. He fought at a place called Carrhae.”