Here are a couple of clips from my latest piece of fiction. I wrote this after taking a travel writing class in England and visiting the Roman Baths there. I apologize for the length; blog posts shouldn’t be so long! But the clips go together and the story wouldn’t be much of a read without them both. Let me know what you think of the piece. I believe in editors, so don’t be afraid to criticize where needed!
The atrium was Helena’s favorite place in the house. Its homey atmosphere comforted and relaxed her in these troubling days. Large columns held up the roof that arched high over her head and a beautiful fountain took up the center of the room. Helena’s eyes roamed to the bed in the corner. Not many months ago, Quintus placed her upon it during their marriage ceremony. It now stood empty but sacred—the sanctity of their marriage a symbol for all their guests to see.
Her husband lay on the couch before the hearth. “Kaeso grows moodier each day,” Helena said conversationally, kneeling before him.
“He’ll come to peace eventually,” Quintus responded. He gazed at his wife thoughtfully, before running a finger through her thick, dark hair. He pushed it back from the right side of her face, where it was hiding her bruise. “He hasn’t hit you again, has he?” her husband asked, gently running his thumb over the tender spot.
“No. Today his mood is somber.” Her brother’s attitude concerned her; he wasn’t himself.
“I think he should be brought to Aquae Sulis,” she said casually, watching her husband’s reaction closely. She knew how he felt about such things.
His hand stopped. Quintus shook his head. “It would be a waste of time,” he responded. “Plus the journey would be difficult on Kaeso.
“But Quintus,” Helena leaned forward, her perfume dancing beneath her husband’s senses. “It’s Kaeso’s only hope.”
“A false hope.” Quintus gently kissed her bruise, wishing he could heal it. Distracted, he then traveled down the side of her neck, his lips rough on her tender skin. Silently—skillfully—Helena said nothing, merely twirled her fingers in her husband’s short hair.
“Mmm.” Quintus’ senses filled with the eucalyptus that Helena had bathed in earlier.
She let her plea go for a few minutes as Quintus became too distracted to focus on her request. Finally, after he lay back against the couch, she rose and, standing behind him at the couch’s one armrest, began to rub her hands over his shoulders and back.
“Quintus, I’d consider this a personal favor,” she whispered.
“Consider what?” He was genuinely not following.
“Take my brother to the Bath in Aquae Sulis.”
“Why?” Quintus rotated his neck, cracking out kinks as his wife’s hands worked calming wonders.
“Many people travel there for healing, Quintus. Just because you do not believe in the goddess does not mean she has quit healing.”
“The gods already made their judgment on Kaeso. The best way to keep them appeased is for Kaeso to accept his lot and not challenge them.”
“But what if it was an evil spirit that befell Kaeso, not the gods?”
Quintus sat up. He immediately missed his wife’s touch, but facing her was more important. “Helena, the journey is tough. It is neither for weak, invalid men nor idealistic women. People don’t just travel that far on a whim. Inns are dangerous, roads are crowded. It would be too difficult, too expensive and Kaeso would be disappointed in the end.” Quintus stood. “Sulis does not have healing powers. Sure, many pray to her, but how many have ever been healed?”
With that, he walked out of the room, signaling an end to the conversation.
But Helena loved her brother too much to let the issue go. Her sandals padded against the stone floor as she followed her husband out to the Peristylium. The outdoor gardens held many flowers, stone statues and fountains. Giant rose and lilac bushes rose nearly as tall as Helena herself. She walked among them till she caught up to her strolling husband.
“Quintus, where is your compassion?” she demanded.
Quintus stopped and turned to her. He placed his hands on her arms, willing her to understand. With gentle authority, he said, “It is my responsibility I must think of instead. I cannot allow you to make such an arduous journey.”
Helena shook her head. “I don’t have to go. Just take my brother.”
Quintus threw up his hands. “No! I can’t be responsible for taking a weak, sick invalid man all the way to Aquae Sulis. It’s not safe for him, either. You are to forget this foolish notion and will accept the lots the gods have placed upon us. They meant for your brother to lose the use of his legs, for you to be his nurse and for myself to support and be responsible for him. We will do no less!”
Quintus remained silent as Helena whirled away and stalked back into the house. So content, was he? Well, she would just beg the goddess Sulis without the help and protection of her husband. She would not watch her brother suffer another day.
Helena went straight to her brother’s room. She stood in the doorway a moment, calming down her temper. It would not due to have her brother pick up on her attitude. Kaeso was morose and silent today. At times, she feared this mood more than his anger and bitterness. At least when he was upset, he looked alive. “Kaeso,” she called softly. He looked over at her from his place in bed.
She hustled into the room and sat down on the edge of his bed. “I have a plan,” she confided. “Are you interested in hearing it?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“I know how to get you to the Sacred Spring.”
Empty eyes filled slightly with curiosity. “Quintus didn’t agree, that I am sure.”
“No, he didn’t,” Helena acknowledged. “So we’ll go without him.”
“Quintus leaves for the Colosseum the seventh day before Kalendae of March to watch The Games. He’ll be gone all week, plenty of time for us to sneak out of here! ”
Kaeso crossed his arms and looked at his sister skeptically. “He’ll come after us.”
“He hasn’t a chance of catching up to us before we arrive at the bath house! By then, you will be healed. All will be well.”
“He’ll be furious.”
“I can handle him,” Helena assured her brother. “Besides, how could he not be delighted at your recovery?”
Kaeso looked away, hesitating. Finally, the man admitted, “He won’t just be mad at you; he’ll take it out on me.”
Helena’s eyes closed in painful despair at her brother’s confession. Slowly she reached for him and gathered his head to her breast. She was no longer concerned for his physical healing; it was his mental health that made her disobey her husband. How could her brother be so tough and angry one day and so pathetic and child-like the next?
“Never, Kaeso,” she crooned. “Quintus won’t be upset with you. You are forgetting that when you see him, you will be standing on two strong feet once again. He will be too relieved to have his friend and brother back to be upset.”
It was mid-day when they arrived. The baths were packed with people. Helena gaped at the large temple, whose steeple stabbed a clear, blue sky. Sulis was also the goddess of curses and Helena didn’t need any more of those. She let out a ragged breath, attempting to exhale her fears, as well.
She turned to the slaves still holding the litter. “Carry on,” she commanded and started ahead, elbowing her way through the crowds. The doorway arched high above Helena’s head as she walked in and turned to go around the large column that stood in her path. People swarmed around her and she cast anxious looks behind her to make sure Kaeso’s litter was still following.
She knew exactly where to go. The Sacred Spring was supposed to be in the center of the Bath. Helena walked up the three stone steps that took her to the entrance of her destination. A white haired woman and her big, Ethiopian slave blocked Helena’s view. Skirting around them, Helena fought her way to the open courtyard by the pool. Once in the open, she stopped, gazing in awe of what she had come so far to see. Steam rose from the green water in light drifts. Many people sat in the pool, some near the edge, others walking about in the middle. Some people stood near tossing coins into the water. Tucked back in little cubicles notched in the wall, a few men sat carving into stone tablets. Helena knew those were curses being written, and she quickly looked away. Walking to the edge of the pool farthest from the curse-carver’s, she picked a spot to wait for kaeso’s litter to catch up. It was not far behind her.
The slaves walked the litter up to her. “Set him into the pool,” she commanded. The slaves nodded and set the litter on the ground. Bending, one lifted Kaeso by his torso, the other by his still legs.
“Careful!” a nervous Kaeso barked at them.
Without speaking, the slaves gently lowered his legs into the water and let his body slip in after. Kaeso gripped the edge of the pool nervously.
“You’re dismissed,” Helena told them. “Wait for us back at the inn.”
As the slave scurried away, Helena sank down to sit on the stone floor by the water.
Kaeso’s body slowly grew accustomed to floating and as he started to relax, Helena silently began her prayer.
“Dear Sulis, hear my plea. You are a woman—pity me. Surely you understand what I went through to reach you. You must know the danger I faced—and still do face—in my effort to be blessed in your sacred waters. Yet, it is not for my sake that I crave your healing power, but for my brother. He is a good man—or once was—but whichever god hath cursed him has seen fit to take what kindness Kaeso had, as well. He is now afflicted in the mind as well as the body. He needs your touch upon him. Please take these coins as tokens of appreciation for the miracle I know you are going to do on Kaeso’s behalf.”
Caesar’s face stared unblinking at her until, one by one, she tossed her coins over her brother’s head and into the sacred spring.
The crowd thinned as the day progressed and by nightfall, Helena and her brother were left with a senator and his crowd of staff, and two slaves standing guard over a young girl about Helena’s age. When darkness fell, lanterns were lit in the Upper rooms and their holy light caused a warm glow to shimmer against the stones and reflect in the Sacred Spring below.
Helena held her breath as she felt the mood of the place change. They who had waited faithfully were about to be rewarded. She looked anxiously at her brother, his head resting on the side of the pool, body submerged. His eyes were closed and he was the most relaxed she’d ever seen him—even before the accident. She prayed he’d fall asleep in the warm water and wake mobile and healed. As the ambiance shifted, Helena began to pray once more.
“Oh Sulis, come now, I beg thee—“
The yell pierced the room and ricocheted off the stone walls. The young girl across the pool gave a startled shriek and the senator’s frightened jump caused the water to ripple down around Kaeso on the opposite side. Helena remained still, however. She knew that voice. Her husband had caught up with them. Without acknowledging Quintus’ presence, she cast a sidelong glance at her brother. He remained unchanged in the water. How could he not have been disturbed by the interruption? Could the goddess be healing him?
“Please,” Helena prayed. “Heal him fast!”
She had barely finished speaking to the goddess when she felt herself yanked to her feet. “So I finally reach you!” Quintus glared at her over a furrowed brow.
“Don’t be angry, Quintus,” Helena begged. “I had to come.”
Quintus did not respond. Instead, Helena felt herself fall into the arms of two of Quintus’ slaves as he flung her aside. He stalked over to the water where Kaeso still lay calm. Bending, Quintus dipped his fingers into the pool. Glancing at Kaeso, the young man then splashed water at the resting sick man. “Kaeso, get up!”
“No!” Helena cried, breaking free of the slaves holding her and rushing to her husband. “Stop, Quintus. The goddess is healing him. Don’t interfere!”
Quintus shrugged her off his arm. “Bah! He sleeps, that’s all.” Annoyed, he turned to his slaves. “Get her out of here,” he commanded.
Several more of Quintus’ entourage stood in the doorway. He motioned a couple more slaves over. “Lift him out of here,” he told them as the former two obeyed their master and took hold of Helena’s arms. She fought them, not caring that everyone in the pool was witnessing her family’s scene with wide eyes.
“Quintus, we’ve come too far. Give him more time, please. Please, Quintus. What’s the harm in waiting?”
Her husband ignored her as Kaeso was hauled from the water. At this invasion, her brother awoke. “What?” he tossed glances at his surroundings, disoriented. Kaeso began to shiver as a slave picked his tunic up off the floor and draped it over him. “No,” Kaeso moaned, his head weak, chin falling to chest. “Can’t g-go,” he babbled senselessly to the floor. “Goddess—heal—“
“What’s the matter with him?” Quintus demanded. “Kaeso!” He approached Kaeso and lifted his chin. “The man’s burning with fever. What did the water do, poison him?”
No one noticed the senator and the young girl immediately spring from the water as if its heat suddenly scalded them.
“He’s merely overcome by the power of Sulis,” Helena stubbornly defended.
Enraged, Quintus whirled back to face her. “For the last time, get her out of here!” He bellowed at his slaves, thrusting a finger at the doorway.
Knowing she was beat, Helena allowed herself to be led away. She wept angry, heartbroken tears of one whose faith was stripped and crushed.
(C) Emily Grace 2010
If you made it all the way to the end–thank you!
p.s. Remember: Character matters!
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