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|Topic Subject:||THE SILK ROAD III: FORBIDDEN CITY - A Story|
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posted 11-18-02 15:50 ET (US)
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-04-2003 @ 03:34 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-04-2003 @ 03:34 PM).]
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"It's over then?" Olivia asked the others, almost with a note of sadness in her voice.
"Yes, it's over" Civis replied. "Everyone has returned to their homes and life is starting afresh for them. Soon I shall be with my Apolita once again."
Civis and Titus were startled by a sob and looked at Olivia questioningly. Accipiter knew why she was crying and drew her away from the others. "You think you have no home to go to?"
Olivia looked up, startled for a moment, then a half smile crossed her face. "I should have known you would remember. You told me once that things might not have been as they seemed and one day you would explain."
"No," Accipiter replied. "I said that one day you would understand. Now tell me again what you told me that first day. What do you remember of the afternoon you ran away?"
"My mother was casting the horoscope for a Senator when my father came home. I ran to my room." Olivia began.
"Was the curtain down across your doorway?" Gaius asked.
"Yes ... I ... I was hiding. My father was furious. I heard shouting; I heard the Senator leaving in a hurry; there was more shouting and bangs and crashes and my mother screamed. I heard my father go ... I couldn't wake her. I heard my father coming back so I ran away. He murdered her."
"Olivia" Accipiter said in a soothing voice. "Look at me."
She reluctantly looked up at him, tears streaming down her face.
"Now, think" he continued. "What's the one thing we all learnt from this journey?"
Olivia sniffed miserably. "I don't know."
"What was the Forbidden City? What was the food Rong Ming brought us? What was Xia Deng?"
"Illusions" Olivia replied after a minute's thought.
"The food? Was that an illusion?"
"No ..." This time she thought a little longer. "Things aren't always what they seem?"
"Exactly." Accipiter hid a smile at the realisation appearing on Olivia's face.
"You mean I might have assumed my father murdered my mother but there could be other explanations?"
This time Accipiter smiled outwardly. "Go on."
Olivia screwed her face up with the effort of concentrating on what she had heard that afternoon.
"My ... my mother had a weak heart. Is it possible that my father's shouting could have caused it to fail?"
"Very possible" Gaius replied. "And the banging and crashing?"
"I suppose it could have been my father trying to revive her .. rushing across the room to her. He was always a little clumsy in his movements. He could have been running for a physician. If ... if he had murdered her, I wouldn't have heard him returning, would I?"
This time Accipiter smiled broadly. "I think you have it right. Your father must be worried to death as to where you are. First he loses his wife, then his daughter disappears."
"I .. I should go home. He will need me."
"He will. But I think you will need to forget your powers. He would not tolerate finding you have inherited your mother's gifts."
"I ... I'll try. But they are part of me."
"They are. But a part that's been dormant until recently and can be dormant again unless they are needed once more. I can help with that." Accipiter made a quick decision. "You won't remember our adventure. It will cause too many un-necessary problems. Civis and I will return you home as it was us who first found you."
Olivia looked up at him sadly. "That's probably for the best. But first .. can I ask you a question? A personal question?"
Accipiter looked a little disconcerted. "If you must, I suppose."
"Well ..." Olivia started, a little unsure now of how to ask the question that had been troubling her for the last few weeks. "You ... you ..." She hesitated, afraid of embarrassment. She drew in a deep breath then rushed out the question she dearly wanted to know the answer to. "You must realise that I fell head over heels in love with you. Was there ... is there any chance you could love me back?"
Accipiter was momentarily silenced, surprised at her courage. "Olivia" he began, "you are a beautiful girl and one day you will find someone and be as happy as Civis and Apolita. But not with me. I am far too old. I love you as a daughter, a friend ... but no more. There could never be any more."
He glanced over at where Titus was standing. Olivia followed his gaze and reddened slightly. She look back up at him and opened her mouth to say something when she was transfixed by his eyes. There were flashes of blue in the centre, turning to gold and even faintly red at the edges.
She slumped down by the side of the road, her elbows resting on her knees and her chin sunk into her upturned hands. She looked up and saw Accipiter towering above her and was about to cry out when he helped her to her feet. He looked over at Civis and Titus. "I think we have a young lady to escort home."
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"Who... Who are you? Where am I?" asked Olivia, a quiver in her voice as she bravely tried to maintain her calm, yet all the while trying desperately to understand how she came to be among three men in an unfamiliar place. She accepted the tall man's hand, since something in his unusual green eyes spoke kindness and friendship, and not predator.
"I am Gaius Accipiter. With me is Civis Romanus and Titus Tarquintius. We have finally found you, Olivia."
"Found me? But I was not lost. I mean, I was running from... I mean, he... How did you know my name? Did my father send you to find me?"
"No, Olivia. He doesn't know where you are and is deeply worried about you."
Olivia suddenly turned and stared at Civis. "There is a famous commander by that name who is an advisor to the Emperor. Are you that person?"
"I have only seen you once, and that is today; but I feel like I've known you far longer. You seem to me to be a friend, but how is that possible?"
Civis smiled, the corners of his blue eyes crinkling showing the effect on them of time spent afield. Olivia felt something compelling about the man that embarrassed her. She averted her eyes as he spoke to her. "Olivia, come to my villa with us. We will contact your father and have him come for you. You have been through a difficult time which he will explain. It is good we were the ones who discovered you." Civis cocked his head as if listening for something. "I think I hear Radko and the horses now. Can you ride, Olivia?"
"Yes, I can ride." Now she heard the horses as well. Then she turned her attention to the young man at Civis' right hand. What was his name? Yes, Titus Tarquintius. Like all of them, he was garbed in plain clothing that seemed made of a material unknown in these parts. He seemed to be somewhat shy, but his eyes never left her. Olivia found that to be intriguing.
Radko appeared leading four horses and crying out a welcome to "Master Civis." One was a beautiful chestnut colored horse with a white flame. The reins of this horse were promptly given to Accipiter. The other two horses were ebony black. These were handed over to Titus, who offered the mare to Olivia, and then asked her permission to assist her into the horses's saddle. Permission was granted. That left the white stallion for Civis. The commander patted the horses flank and whispered something into its ear. The horse whinnied and tossed its head as if understanding what was said. A marvelous animal, thought Olivia, and though Civis was garbed that moment in clothes as plain as a servant's, she could picture Civis in the ceremonial uniform and white armor of a ranking officer of the Legions riding his white stallion through the gates of Roma. She felt even more comfortable than before.
Titus' voice at her side drew her from her reverie. She glanced at him and noticed his brown eyes for the first time. There was intelligence there and a bright welcome that shyly said, "Trust me." Olivia felt like she had already tested that trust and found it to be true. How strange.
"Are you ready, Olivia?" Titus asked, his words softly spoken with a strong touch of gentility.
"Yes," she answered. At his words something fluttered in her breast she couldn't quite explain until much, much later. At that same moment Civis, unseen by Olivia, glanced at Gaius Accipiter and noted the tall man's green eyes were once more in gentle motion, with highlights of gold and blue visible here and there. He held his words until he saw the minstrel's eyes were solidly green once more.
"Ready, Accipiter?" asked Civis. "Apolita is going to rival Juno's anger at Jupiter if I don't get home soon. And I'll be forced to blame you for my tardiness just to survive the assault."
Accipiter's face broke into a broad grin. "Not that your use of that excuse ever works, Civis," he laughed. "No, I wouldn't want to miss another in your long line of utter defeats at the hands of the real 'commander' of your villa."
Civis pursed his lips and frowned mightily, mostly because he could think of no counter to the truth. So he put his heels into the flanks of his white stallion and led them all back to his villa.
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Olivia was amazed. "How long were you searching for me that he was missed so much? It couldn't have been but hours."
Titus cleared his throat and glanced at Accipiter who tactfully looked away. "They are a... mmmm... very loving family," said Titus. Olivia looked at him curiously and then, with the two men, dismounted so that Radko could stable the horses.
At the same time, her face flushed pink, her gestures of welcome highly animated, Apolita reappeared at the entrance and motioned to them all to enter the villa. She greeted Olivia as if she were from the neighboring villa, though Olivia knew there was a large gulf between their stations. "Olivia, Civis told me what you've been through. Poor girl, I will have Calpurnia, one of our household servants, guide you to the bathhouse and I'll bring to you some fresh clothing. Hmmm. About the same size as me... I'm sure I can find something for you to wear. There'll be some fruit at the bathhouse to keep you from starving until supper. Hurry now, the men will want to bathe as well and will grumble endlessly about ladies' assumed privileges until I pull each of their ears separately, starting with Civis."
Olivia, mostly unsuccessfully, tried to stifle a giggle. She liked Apolita almost immediately. She reminded Olivia of her mother... A memory flooded back into her recollection. Her mother would say things like that and her father would become exceedingly angry. Olivia would flee the room. Oddly though, before long she would hear laughing between them. When she returned to the room, her mother and her father always seemed to be quite happy and welcomed her with open arms. Olivia never understood, until now. Nonetheless, she would see her father soon, and she wasn't sure if she was prepared this time to return as she had when only a child. Hours spent with Apolita steeled Olivia for the events of the following day.
The reunion between Olivia and her father had been at first strained, then confrontational, and then as they both reached understanding, filled with forgiveness and love. All of this occurred privately within the walls of the villa of Civis Romanus the day after Civis' return. Asked to stay the evening, father and daughter, free of the demands of their own home, found the common ground missing for so many years. It was also the time when Olivia's father first noticed the attention given to his daughter by the Tribune Titus Tarquintius, and the look in his daughter's eye whenever the young Tribune was nearby.
The next morning after breakfast as Olivia said farewell to Gaius Accipiter, Radko brought horses around to the entrance to the villa. One was the horse ridden by Olivia's father the day before. The second was Titus' black stallion. The third was the ebony mare.
Titus appeared, dressed for the first time in the uniform of a tribune, clothes that he left behind before his journey eastward. Olivia's eyes never left the tribune, until Civis spoke to her. "Olivia, the black mare is for you to ride. Do you have a horse of your own?"
"No, I do not."
"Apolita and I can't help but think the mare and the stallion seemed so appropriately paired, it should be as a pair that they return all of you to Roma. The horse is yours."
"Mine?! I mean, you're giving her to me?! But, I... I mean... How can I ever repay you! Thank you... Thank you very much!" Olivia looked at her father, not knowing what else to say or do. Her father, seeing his daughter struggling for words, walked over to Civis. He bowed his head. "This is an act of uncommon generosity, Commander Romanus. We are far from deserving. On behalf of my daughter and myself, thank you. And may the gods bless your family and your home for all time." Civis extended his arm and grasped his in the Roman fashion. "And bless your's equally."
This time, Olivia extended her hand to Titus without his asking, inviting him to help her into the black mare's saddle. Titus and Olivia rode side by side, Olivia's father ahead of them and leading the way. Gaius Accipiter standing behind Civis and Apolita waived as they departed. Olivia, busy talking to Titus, failed to notice. Accipiter sighed, a touch of melancholy in his voice, and made as if to turn about and re-enter the villa.
"Just one moment, Gaius Accipiter," he heard Apolita say sternly. He stopped and looked at her as she wagged a finger at him. "Now that we are alone, "Scar? Where? How did you find a new scar?" Apolita's face converted itself into a major frown. "Never you mind how I found it, and you know perfectly well where it is! Now explain, Minstrel, or by the gods this will be the last time you borrow my husband for one of your annoying quests!" Accipiter's pleading eyes found Civis trying his best to keep from laughing; for Civis knew what would come next if he should so much as snicker. With tremendous effort, Civis managed to suppress his pending laugh. "Accipiter, my friend, it looks like you will have to do a little more explaining than I thought." Gaius Accipiter rolled his eyes and looked about for a comfortable place to sit. He would rather face a thousand Black Dragons than face what would happen next. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-27-2003 @ 10:33 PM).]
"Scar? Where? How did you find a new scar?"
Apolita's face converted itself into a major frown. "Never you mind how I found it, and you know perfectly well where it is! Now explain, Minstrel, or by the gods this will be the last time you borrow my husband for one of your annoying quests!"
Accipiter's pleading eyes found Civis trying his best to keep from laughing; for Civis knew what would come next if he should so much as snicker. With tremendous effort, Civis managed to suppress his pending laugh. "Accipiter, my friend, it looks like you will have to do a little more explaining than I thought."
Gaius Accipiter rolled his eyes and looked about for a comfortable place to sit. He would rather face a thousand Black Dragons than face what would happen next.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-27-2003 @ 10:33 PM).]
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