As the short stay
at the home of Bellianus lengthened into a week, Sahelis offered to undertake
some duties for his hosts, Priscus and his wife Galla. Galla was a short,
spare woman, lean as a hound, who moved about the house with an almost
stealthy grace. She was efficient and neat, and as Sahelis observed her
(which he often did) he noticed that she managed a huge number of tasks,
such as cooking and cleaning, at the same time as she kept the younger
children out from underfoot and occupied with various diversions. Placidia
Gratiana kept to herself and at a distance from Sahelis, and seemed only
in evidence when she was helping in the kitchen or in bathing or in other
ways tending to her brothers. After three days of comparative idleness,
Sahelis managed to get assigned to tasks of procuring vegetables at the
market for Galla and obtaining parcels and messages from the Lyceum for
Bellianus, work that was usually consigned to a servant.
It was on one
of these journeys, this time to obtain vegetables, that brought Sahelis
past the East Gate and the place where he had met Claudia Fausta, and
he was reminded afresh of her messages to him. Struck by a sudden curiosity,
he followed a familiar path down a lane to the guest house. He moved quietly
down the narrow lane to the rear door, and to his surprise, found the
latch undone, and the door ajar. He stepped into the gloom.
A slight sound
arrested his attention, and he paused, listening. There was someone within,
in the farther room where he had lain with Claudia Fausta. He heard what
sounded like a soft moan. He felt around him for a lamp - but there was
nothing within reach of his hands. He moved forward with caution into
the impenetrable darkness, feeling along the wall for an opening that
might indicate a window. At last, his fingers touched a tapestry which
he moved aside, admitting daylight. In the sudden light, he saw a form
on the bed beyond that moved slightly, accompanied by another, louder
moan. It was Claudia.
Dropping the tapestry,
he plunged forward to her side and pulled aside the blanket that covered
her. "Claudia, it is Sahelis. What is it, what has happened?"
"Who?" she murmured.
He had found the lamp next to the bed, and struck the flint lying next
to it. The light came up dimly - it was almost empty of oil.
said again, patting her face. There was a dark shadow across one side
of her face, obscuring one closed eye. In the lamplight, it was difficult
to tell the nature of the shadow, but the swelling around the cheek and
eyelid was unmistakable. She had been beaten. Dried blood was crusted
beneath her nose and on her upper lip, and she did not appear to waken
when he touched her, but rather fell back into semi-consciousness. He
had to get help, and he dared not move her. Setting the lamp securely
on its stand, he said "I am going to get some help. I will return."
Not knowing what
else to do, Sahelis hurried back to Galla Bellianus, who was awaiting
his arrival with food for their dinner. Bursting in through the front
door, he called for her and she came out rapidly, wiping her wet hands
on the ever-present towel wrapped around her waist.
"There is a girl
injured, she needs a physician right away."
"In the marketplace?"
she asked, shaking her head in confusion.
in a house down the lane. I stopped there and found it awry, so I went
in. It is a girl of my acquaintance
the daughter of Verginius Cestis.
She needs help!"
stripped the towel off, suddenly businesslike. "I will come with you,
we will get Rufinus. He is a leech. What is the matter with the girl?"
"She was beaten,
she was in a swoon.." Sahelis puffed along side the woman, who raced out
and down the street to a small house on a side lane. She beat upon the
door with her fist.
shouted. "Get out of your cups and open the door! This is Galla Flavia,
and I will beat down the door if you don't answer! Someone has need of
it seemed, the door was opened a crack. Bellianus's wife pushed her shoulder
into the opening and widened it., and it suddenly gave to the pressure.
Beyond it a small, grizzled man with a long beard stood, bare-chested,
pulling on a tunic. "What is the clamor?" he whined, blinking at the sudden
sunlight, his eyes coming to rest on Sahelis standing on the doorstep.
"Someone in childbirth, Galla Flavia?"
"No, worse. Get
your things, and come along." The old physician shuffled away, and returned
a few minutes later. "Lead on, Sahelis, to wherever we are going," she
Sahelis led them
back east, to the lane that led from the East Gate. As they neared the
guest house, his fear rose that she would be gone when they arrived, or
worse - dead. But conditions were much the same when they entered the
house - Galla Flavia pulled aside the tapestries covering the windows,
and daylight flooded into the room. The girl stirred slightly. Rufinus
the leech set down his kit and murmured to her, then set to work.
Galla Flavia left
them as soon as she was satisfied that things were well in hand, and told
Sahelis that she would send a servant for Verginius as soon as she returned
home. To Rufinus she said "her father will pay you when he arrives, so
it behooves you to stay." The old man nodded wearily, dabbing with a wet
cloth at the girl's head.
"What is wrong
with her?" Sahelis asked cautiously.
"You see this?"
Rufinus pointed to the side of Claudia's head where the bruise ran dangerously
dark. "That is where she was struck. Probably by a candlestick or something
he looked around the room
"it is probably on the floor here somewhere.
"Something quite heavy. Her brain has swollen from the blow. I am trying
to make her wake from her swoon, or she may not wake at all. It is a dangerous
sleep to fall into. Otherwise, there does not appear to be anything else
wrong. Did you do this?"
"Me? Of course
not!" Sahelis was outraged by the leech's suggestion, but upon second
thought, he realized that he had no defense against being accused, unless
Claudia Fausta were to awaken and name her assailant. What would Verginius
Cestis believe, when he arrived to find his daughter ill with such an
injury? His heart began to beat fast in his chest, and he felt an urgent
desire to escape. But there was nothing else to be done: he had done right
to seek help for Claudia Fausta, and he would not run away from the consequences.
He stood stock still, waiting in utter dread, for the arrival of Claudia's
father, and watched Rufinus hold a cup, hands trembling, to the mouth
of the unconscious girl, patting her cheek to make her stir enough to
take a sip.
Before an hour
had passed, Rufinus had managed in his slow, patient way to get Claudia
Fausta sitting up, her good eye half-open, and accepting small sips of
the draught he had hastily compounded from the flasks in his medical bag.
She still seemed only partly aware of her surroundings, but her breathing
was steady, but she was, for the most part, awake. Her face was gruesomely
swollen along her left temple, which pulled the edge of her mouth left
in a sort of tilted half-smile. A small trickle of blood would leak from
her nose from time to time, and when she began to sniff, the attentive
Rufinus would dab at it and wipe it away. Sahelis felt a powerful sympathy
for the girl, and once again, found himself thinking of Saheris, lying
feverishly unconscious in Maeotis. He did not hear the footsteps outside,
or the front door open directly into the room where he stood.
"Ho there," said
a deep and familiar voice. "I know you - Sahelis the Bithynian. What is
this? Claudia!" Verginius Cestis towered above him suddenly, snapping
Sahelis to sudden attention.
"Yes, Lord," Sahelis
replied politely, wringing his hands. But Verginius had lost interest
in Sahelis and knelt beside the bed, placing a gentle hand upon his daughter's
to you?" he said, his voice now gentle. "Who has done this?"
blinked, then stared stupidly at her father, as though the words had not
as yet penetrated her mind. "My
head," she rasped.
"Yes, your head.
Who did this to you?"
"She has suffered
a serious blow, Lord," said Rufinus. "She has now had a draught which
should waken her somewhat, but will need more. And she should be walked
to shake off the swoon. It is not safe for her to sleep for many hours."
to the elderly leech. "You can attend her?" The old man nodded. "Then
I will pay you to attend her. How long is she likely to be in danger?
A night, two? Stay with her as long as you think there is danger, and
I will send for whatever you need."
"As you wish,
"Now what have
you to do with this, Sahelis El Maduc?" Verginius turned once again to
Sahelis, whose heart leapt in his chest. "Did you see who did this? You
would not be here if you had struck the blow
his head. "No, Lord. I did not see. I was passing in this lane and heard
" a little exaggeration could not hurt, could it?
"And her good fortune that you did! Daughter, please, tell me what who
has done this brutal thing." Claudia Fausta once again fixed a curious,
dull gaze upon her father, and her dry lips opened.
"What?" her father
snapped, leaning his head closer.
said, more clearly. And Verginius straightened up, his face drained of
all color. Sahelis let out a breath. Lucius was Claudia Fausta's oldest
"Here, Rufinus, take this for what you have done so far. I will send a
servant to conduct what errands you need done. Until then, young Sahelis,
will you stay as his assistant until I can send my boy to him?"
"Of course, Lord."
Sahelis made a brief gesture, the Roman bow he had learned from his short
stay in the house of Bellianus.
"I will send a
message to your hostess for you that you will be late upon return. Please
And so Sahelis
sat with Rufinus as he gently coaxed the battered girl to wakefulness,
and helped her rise to shuffle about the room, and keep from falling back
into her swoon. Late afternoon had turned to misty darkness when at last
a knock came at the door and a servant entered to relieve Sahelis of his
wishes for you to call upon him tomorrow at dinner hour, Lord Sahelis,"
he recited in a reedy voice. The boy was no older than himself, but thin
and hungry-looking. He carried with him what looked to be a pack of provisions
and a bedroll. He had come prepared to stay, and brought a flask of wine
and several loaves of bread. Rufinus reached immediately for the wine.
"One flask," he
muttered, taking a long draught on its neck. "You may go now, Sahelis.
Before you collapse on your feet." With a final glance at the injured
and distracted Claudia Fausta, Sahelis departed. In the hours he had attended
her, at no time did she look him in the face or appear to recognize him
at all. It was this fact, rather than the lurid black wound on the side
of her head, that distressed him the most.
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