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The Price of Freedom

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Bh5

Assistant executioner
As summer turned into fall, Martina spent less and less time in the storehouse. Marinus had rented a room in the Dromos, and the new couple spent most nights there. The pair was virtually inseparable: together during the day on supply runs and entwined at night. Marinus shrank from his few other duties in the camp, but Tertius let him have his fun. Pullo found himself pushed out of a job and reposted as Tertius’s assistant in Alexandria; a position that used very little of the martial skills Pullo had spent the majority of his life perfecting.

As a favor to Tertius, Alexios offered to house Pullo in the storehouse. The tall, muscular frame of Pullo set him apart from the smaller slaves that toiled about daily in the stuffy wooden storehouse. Occasionally, Alexios would share a meal with him, but largely Pullo was a loner within the storehouse. But being alone wasn’t anything new to Pullo.

Already a veteran fighter, Pullo was one of the first troops to cross into the dark forests beyond the wide Danube in the Emperor Trajan’s first attempt to conquer the savage people that had harassed Moesia for decades. Early in the campaign, Pullo had been on a foraging party that was ambushed. Pullo and another survivor spent the next six months evading capture and living off the land until they were able to make their way back to a Roman outpost along the river. Pullo gained intimate knowledge of the Dacians and the countryside during this time that would serve him well when Trajan again set out against the Dacians. During the Second Dacian War, Pullo was selected to reconnoiter planned routes of advance and seek out informants who could help identify local chieftains and other Dacian leadership. Often working alone or with just a handful of mercenaries, Pullo ranged far and deep within Dacian territory. The end of the war coincided with the end of his enlistment, and Pullo received an honorable promotion to centurion and a sizable amount of loot before he parted with the legions.

Tired of cold European winters, Pullo went to Alexandria. The loot was gone within 2 years to drinks and girls and Pullo found himself working security in the harbor to provide for himself. Pullo had been working amid quiet despair for several years when he had heard a young patrician was raising an auxiliary cohort. He quit his job immediately, and sought out this young patrician. Pullo found Tertius coming back from a ceremony at the Temple of Neptune when he approached him and expressed his desire for a command. Pullo had proudly displayed the centurion’s vine staff he had been given upon his retirement and promised in front of Neptune to honor Tertius and the state if he was given a command. Tertius, although annoyed at being accosted by the man, admired his gusto and kept the old veteran close.

In his current state, Pullo seemed to have been forsaken by his old benefactor. But the old veteran knew that any ill will a superior may hold against you could be remedied with a victory. Pullo’s gut sensed that something was amiss in this seemingly sublime warehouse. Martina was with Marinus, but Chaya, the short raven haired slave, was also absent most evenings. Ever since Chaya had mysteriously appeared and disappeared the night he had saved Martina from the bandit, Pullo held a suspicion around the enigmatic woman. Even Alexios seemed to be harboring some secrets, but those would have to wait until he dealt with the other slave.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- Cat and Mouse

It was past midnight when Pullo heard Chaya creep down the stairs to the floor of the storehouse. Pullo stealthily moved from his cot on the other side of the loft over to Chaya's cot; moving carefully to not wake the other slaves as they slept. He listened carefully, straining to hear Chaya's movements, as he searched under the cot for any information as to where she might be going. His search was fruitless, and he abandoned it as soon as he heard the storehouse doors creak open then softly shut. Pullo shuffled quickly down the stairs, and peered out the gap between the door and its’ frame. He watched intently as Chaya walked briskly down the street deeper into the recesses of the Jewish Quarter. Pullo pulled his cloak over his head and entered the darkened street.

The old veteran struggled to keep pace with Chaya as she cut through dark alleys and at times doubled back on her path. She stopped and looked around periodically, and Pullo worried that he had been discovered at one point. Eventually, Chaya entered a building Pullo recognized as the late textile merchant's home. Two men exited the building and sat next to the doorstep as Chaya entered freely. Guards, Pullo thought. Sticking to the shadows, Pullo worked his way around the side of the house until he was hunkered under a window at the back of the house. The night was quiet, and Pullo listened to the conversations within the back room of the spacious home. He soon picked out Chaya's voice talking to an unfamiliar male voice. The pair spoke in Hebrew and Pullo racked his brain for any words that sounded familiar. The sound of Chaya’s voice faded, and Pullo discerned that only the man remained in the room as he heard Chaya’s footfalls dissipate as she wandered into another room.

Pullo listened carefully as the man paced around the back room, then over to the door that led out the back of the building. Pullo flattened himself against the wall, and pulled his vine staff out from under his cloak. The door hinges creaked and soon a stout, balding man walked out of the house. His head was turned away from Pullo as he cut a path away from the unseen assailant; he stopped a short way off, and lifted his tunic to urinate. Pullo moved silently, glancing over his shoulder regularly to make sure no one was waiting in the door frame. The man had just finished when Pullo leaped on him. Pullo's staff was soon locked under the man's trachea. His victim only made soft choking sounds as Pullo brought him to the ground. The man was soon unconscious and Pullo heaved him over his shoulder; he knew of a few abandoned buildings in town where he could work undisturbed. Pullo would soon get to the bottom of what Chaya was up to.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
The next morning Chaya and Martina were back in the storehouse. Martina had walked back just after dawn, and now the pair washed their spare tunics in the large wash basin that also served as the donkey’s trough inside the storehouse. The pair worked in content silence as Marinus and Alexios approached them. “Ladies,”, Alexios began somewhat grandly, “our great benefactors in the army are showing their appreciation once more, and have invited us all to a formal dinner tonight. As such, you two are to become presentable even by patrician standards.”, he continued as Marinus stood smiling next to him. As if on cue, Marinus picked up, “I have arranged for you both to spend the morning in the Cornelius bathhouse. You can finish your washing later.”. Martina and Chaya smiled at each other as they set aside their rags.

The Cornelius bathhouse was the premier establishment in the Dromos. The well-crafted white marble building had its’ exterior adorned with carvings of cupids, satyrs and other mythical creatures. The magnificent structure contrasted sharply with the old wooden and clay buildings Martina and Chaya spent much of their lives around. The morning hours at the bath were reserved for women, and patrician housewives poured in from the street followed by their servants. Marinus accompanied Martina and Chaya as they entered the lobby, and the trio were greeted with by the pleasant smell of incense that wafted in the spacious lobby. The portly old man who must have run the establishment recognized Marinus and greeted him amicably. The two men spoke in hushed tones and Marinus slipped a small bag into the man’s hand pointing back to Martina and Chaya. The old man smiled and patted Marinus on the arm, then turned to Chaya and Martina and warmly said, “Welcome to the Cornelius, all our services are available to you!”.

The pair followed the other patrons into a chamber set off from the front room, the apodyterium. Inside the long hallway were rows of benches and shelves where women had begun storing their clothes and personal effects. Chaya and Martina found a spot at the end of the a bench tucked away from the other women, and had begun undressing when a petite young woman came up to them. “My dominus has instructed me to watch after your possessions. You can trust that they will be well looked after.”, she said with a slight smile. Martina had never had another slave attend to her, and she felt a sense of pity for the young slave.

Martina’s scars caused her anxiety as she undressed. Amongst her were the nude figures of the elite women of the city. Their pale, smooth skin seemed to match the marble walls of the changing room, and differed greatly from Martina’s own scarred and tanned complexion. But a tender look from Chaya assuaged the fears as the pair made their way towards the exit. Although Martina head whispers as she passed, she felt confident in her form. Very rarely had she been fully nude, and never in public. The feminine beauty of her new companions awed Martina, and she imagined they had been plucked from the frescoes of nude women swimming and relaxing that she had seen in the old ludus in Capua. But none of these beauties came close to Chaya in Martina's estimation. She admired Chaya’s firm figure with her small perky breasts that barely rose out from her chest, and the toned legs that looked small next to Martina’s full figure. The dark tangle of black pubic hair that Chaya wore surprised Martina whose own bush was rather meager.

The pair walked confidently amid the other women, and waited in line as slaves in various degrees of undress oiled the waiting patrons before they exited the changing room to the palaestra; the great, green exercise space in the open courtyard of the bath. Martina looked straight ahead as a topless, blond haired German coated her body in sweet smelling oil. The woman’s firm hands applied the copious amount of oil skillfully yet dispassionately. The stranger’s hands seemed to explore areas that Martina herself hadn’t found yet, and she blushed as the slave gently rubbed oil along the insides of her thighs, her pubic bone and eventually the lips of her sex.

The sun was already beating down as the women entered the great exercise field. Some women jogged lightly while others were rolling balls into metal hoops that were set across the field. A small rectangular pool was set against the corner of the wall and the pair headed towards it. While Chaya swam laps of the length of the pool, Martina sat on the edge of water stretching. The pair were sufficiently sweaty when they reentered the building at the tepidarium, the first of several pools within the larger wing of the bathhouse. The room was abuzz as women mingled and played in the warm water. Chaya and Martina sat amongst a group of other women, but were largely left alone to talk among themselves. Gradually the women began to transition into the caldarium. This room was silent except for the occasional whisper as the women soaked in the steaming water. Martina let her mind wander to Marinus and the freedom she found in him as she stared into the celestial scene that adorned the vault ceiling. Chaya’s touch again brought Martina back into the real world as the women transitioned into the frigidarium. There were yelps and laughter as the women first stepped into the cold water, but soon the quiet settled over the room as each individual woman let their mind wander as they body adjusted to the chilled water.

Martina lost track of time as the women transitioned between the steam and cold rooms several more times. Martina was completely relaxed as the group made their final stop into the tepidarium. Women chatted freely again as slaves worked their way around the warm pool offering massages and shaving services. Both Martina and Chaya stepped out of the pool as a pair of naked Nubian slaves came over to them to offer their services. Chaya was massaged with oils on the edge of the pool as Martina was shaved by the other beautiful ebony slave. The cold strigilis felt good on Martina’s skin as the Nubian expertly shaped the contours of Martina’s body with the small blade. When she was finished, Martina and Chaya swapped and Martina looked up at Chaya as the Nubian delicately trimmed away the locks of pubic hair to reveal Chaya’s bare womanhood.

As the women again entered the apodyterium, the young slave from earlier sat waiting at the bench. As Martina and Chaya approached, she greeted them, “I hope you enjoyed your time here today”, she said warmly, ”your master has provided you with some new clothes and insists you wear them to your event tonight.”. The slave stepped aside to reveal two silk tunics, one red and one blue, laying outstretched on the bench.
 

Attachments

Bh5

Assistant executioner
---- The unheeded and the unaware

Martina could hear the sounds of the party as she walked up the cobblestone driveway to the villa. Marinus and Alexios walked ahead of Chaya and Martina as they joined with the crowd heading into the villa. Martina recognized several of the women from the baths earlier in the morning and stared in awe at the ostentatious displays of wealth they adorned themselves in. The simple togas of their husbands seemed like rags compared to the regal, flowing, silk robes adorned with jewels and patterns of the female socialites. Gold and silver armbands, amulets and rings seemed to practically fall off these women as they flaunted the wealth of their station. Martina watched Marinus carefully, but to her relief he seemed to pay little attention to the gaudy women.

The villa itself was spacious on the inside and easily accommodated the several hundred people that Martina estimated were attending the event. Women laughed amongst themselves while their husbands talked, argued and gestured between drinks and glances at the buxom slaves that carried crafts of wine among the guests. Musicians played in one corner of the expansive hall while exotic dancers, in various states of decency, entertained the small crowd that had gathered around. Dozens of topless slaves weaved amongst the throng offering wine and finger food at the pleasure of the guests. Martina had never seen such opulence and watched in awe as high society mingled about her. Chaya seemed disinterested or distracted as she scanned the crowd.

“Wait here a moment while I go talk to some people.”, Marinus said to the trio as he walked towards a group of distinguished looking men. Alexios, Martina and Chaya stood idly as the party went on around them. Alexios seemed nervous and shuffled in place awkwardly until Marinus waved him over to the group. Martina watched as Alexios hesitantly approached, and smiled nervously as he shook the outstretched hands of men who could buy and sell his small storehouse several times over. Martina couldn’t hear the conversation amidst the commotion of the party, but the conversation was soon over as Alexios and Marinus made their way back to the waiting women. Alexios beamed and he was thanking Marinus profusely as they came within earshot, but Marinus cut him off as he hollered above the noise, “Ho, the good Tertius finally decides to show up to his own party.”. A tall muscular man at the cusp of middle age, dressed in a flowing red robe that made him look like the personification of a god, sauntered over and embraced Marinus. Martina recognized him instantly from the camp. “Welcome to my home,”, he said grandly to the group, “I hope you’re enjoying your time.”. Alexios shifted his platitudes to Tertius, and Tertius replied in kind with meaningless small talk. A wink from Marinus showed Martina that he wasn’t listening either.

As Tertius explained to Alexios the dull intricacies of military life, a serious looking stranger whispered something in Tertius’s ear that made him interrupt himself. He gave the messenger a sideways glance and the man nodded curtly before disappearing into the crowd. Tertius coolly said, “Excuse me, I have some quick business to attend to.”, as he turned on his heels and walked towards the front entrance of the villa. “I wonder what that’s about?”, Marinus mused before resuming conversation with Alexios.

Martina’s eyes followed Tertius as he stopped at the entrance, the messenger close in tow. A disheveled looking man entered the villa and stopped in front of an annoyed looking Tertius. The man’s mouth moved quickly and he gestured wildly to the crowd inside while Tertius nodded occasionally. Soon, Martina recognized the mysterious figure as Pullo, and tugged on Chaya’s sleeve to get her attention. The women huddled close together so they could both spy on the conversation. Pullo seemed to notice the distant interlopers and pointed an accusatory finger at the pair as Tertius looked towards them. “Oh, shit”, Chaya muttered just loudly enough for Martina to hear. Pullo seemed to become increasingly animated as Tertius waved his hand dismissively and began to turn back to the party. Pullo stepped forward to press the issue, but the messenger blocked his path with an outstretched arm. Martina could see the rage in Pullo’s face even though she couldn’t hear the words he yelled as he backed out of the villa.

Tertius shook his head slowly as he came back to the little group. “I’m sorry for the interruption, seems like one of my advisors has had a little too much to drink.”, he continued half laughingly, “Apparently, he believes that your warehouse and slaves”, pointing to Martina and Chaya lightheartedly, “are at the center of a plot for rebellion.”. Marinus laughed, but Alexios looked horrified.

“I assure you nothing of the sort would happen under my watchful eye, sir.”, Alexios said hastily.

Suddenly, Tertius’ tone soured, “Well, we may as well be cautious. We can crucify the slaves now.”. Martina jolted at the phrase, and pressed herself backward into Marinus. Chaya seemed to be frozen in place as Tertius gripped her wrist, “come on young lady, I’m sure we can find something to hang you from outside.”. Tertius took a few steps leading Chaya towards the door as he called out to Marinus, “Sorry brother, I know you like the other, but she’s coming to. We can do this one first though”, tugging at Chaya.

“Oh always the gentleman.”, Marinus said failing to stifle a laugh. Tertius cracked up too, and let go of Chaya’s wrist. The brothers laughed heartily as the slaves and Alexios stood dumbfounded. Tertius put his hand on Chaya’s shoulder and beamed, “Sorry to startle you, but I couldn’t resist.”. Chaya could smell the wine on his breath. Martina punched Marinus in the chest to the amusement of both Marinus and Tertius. Alexios looked pensively around the scene as Tertius came up to him. “Don’t trouble yourself friend. I think the old man just had too much to drink. I doubt these girls are leading anything other than mules.”, Tertius said in between sips of wine, “Now if you’ll excuse me I think there’s some other old men I need to set straight as well, I hope to see you again soon, my friends.”, Tertius said happily as he embraced both Alexios and Marinus before walking away.

“I think it’s best if we leave now girls.”, Alexios said swiftly once Tertius was out of earshot.

As they back walked through the crowd, Martina could hear a group of women chattering, “Did you hear about the uprising in Cyrennia. These Jews just don’t understand when to quit.”.

“Aren’t you worried that will happen here?” another responded in a more concerned tone.

“Not with Tertius here. These rebels would never dare face him in open battle. They’d be signing their own death warrants.”, the first retorted haughtily.

“Well my husband said that the governor and his staff have left the city mysteriously, and with the garrison away…” the other shot back with a more fearful tone before she was interrupted.

“Oh Lucretia, enjoy the party, and trust in Tertius.”, her companion cooed.

Marinus offered to walk back to the Jewish quarter with the group, and the sounds of festivities slowly faded away in the distance. Soon, the group was travelling in silence. Alexios unlatched the doors to the storehouse and went alone inside without a word. Martina and Marinus headed back to the inn at the Dromos, and Chaya soon followed them out in the night as she headed to the final rendezvous.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- The prisoner

“Are you sure what you saw?”, Benjamin asked with a combination of eagerness and nervousness. He’d been living in this alarmed state for nearly a whole month since his father had unexpectedly passed. His father’s last undertaking, as he lay dying, was placing Benjamin in charge of the hundreds of Jewish resistance fighters now poised to unleash onto the streets of Alexandria.

“Yes I am.”, Chaya responded firmly, “Nearly everyone on the proscription list was at the party. Most were drunk by the time I got there, and they don’t seem to expect anything happening soon.”.

Benjamin mulled over her words and paced across the upstairs bedroom. Chaya watched him closely and took pain at his internal anguish. She would do anything to assuage his anxiety, but how could she tell him that? He finally spoke, “Lukuas should arrive outside the gates any day now”, he paused as he realized the gravity of what he was about to say, “If we’re going to do this, then we must strike now.”.

“I agree”, Chaya said quietly. He nodded and opened the door out of the room. A man stood eagerly waiting on the other side. “Tell the others to prepare. Once all sites in the quarter are ready, you have my permission to begin.”, Benjamin said with authority. The man nodded and ran down the stairs. Chaya could hear the jubilation in his voice as he shouted out the call to arms to his waiting comrades.

Benjamin closed the door, slunk onto the mattress set against the corner across from where Chaya stood. His eyes were bloodshot from exhaustion and he breathed deeply as Chaya kneeled in front of him and took his hands in her own.

“I wish my father could be here to see this day.”, Benjamin said finally, almost looking through Chaya.

“He was a good man and an even better teacher. Qualities that you have too. Have faith Benjamin.”, Chaya said soothingly as she ran a hand through his hair gently.

Benjamin’s eyes drifted back to Chaya, and smiled softly and kissed her hands. “You know my father loved you as one of his own.” he said, “Even on his death bed, he said you would be a fine wife for me.”

Chaya blushed, “Do you think that too?”, she asked softly.

“I do”, Benjamin replied caringly. Chaya felt her stomach flutter as Benjamin leaned in.

Suddenly, the door slammed open and one of the fighters burst into the room, yelling excitedly, “Benjamin, Isaac has caught an assassin! He’s downstairs, come quickly!

Chaya and Benjamin leaped off the mattress and ran down the stairs into the main room. Chaya recognized Pullo’s voice cursing, “Get your fucking hands off me!”. As they came to the bottom of the stairwell, Chaya could see Pullo kneeling on the floor with his hands tied behind his back. Two fighters stood close by and occasionally pushed him back down when tried to stand or shift positions. “We think this is the man who took Elijah last night. He had already killed Abner out back when Isaac wrestled him down and took his weapons from him.”, one of the fighters said pointing to the table against the back wall where Pullo’s dagger and vine staff were laid.

Isaac stood hulking above his captive; Chaya noticed that the old man had put up a decent fight and dried blood caked Isaac’s lips and arms. Isaac picked up Pullo’s vine staff off the table and examined it as Pullo confronted his captors, “You’re all dead. Do you pitiful Jews think you can actually challenge Rome? You’ll all be on crosses in a week’s time!”.

Isaac circled his captive as a shark does its’ prey as Pullo rattled on. Unpredictably, Isaac struck Pullo’s head from the front with the staff. Pullo’s head jolted backward then slunk forward. Chaya’s skin crawled as Pullo’s soft laugh echoed in the now quiet room. “Heh, next time why don’t you just kiss me on the lips, you big cunt.”, Pullo spat at Issac’s feet as blood gushed out of his forehead, staining his grey stubble an evil shade of red. Isaac unleashed two successive blows on his helpless victim, and the sound of the bone crunching impacts resonated in the captivated room. Pullo was now bent over double as blood drip out of his mouth. Chaya squeezed Benjamin's hand as Pullo raised his battered face to Isaac once more. The old veteran yelled out defiantly, “YOU CAN’T KILL ME! I’M PULLO CORNELIUS CLOELIUS, CENTURION OF THE”. Isaac ended the defiance as he smashed the vine staff hard against Pullo’s jaw, knocking the man onto his back. Isaac lumbered over him and kept swinging until the staff broke. Soon others in the room joined in Isaac’s bloodlust: kicking, beating and stabbing the now broken body of their enemy. Slowly, the assailants relented and stepped back to reveal Pullo’s mangled body lying broken in a pool of blood; the snapped vine staff rested on top of his shattered remains.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- Rebellion

Chaos reigned as Chaya stepped onto the crowded avenue outside. Bakers, clerks and tailors handed out weapons and torches from their storefronts to determined, stone faced rebels dressed in a motley assortment of cloaks and stolen armor. Two rabbis recited scripture and extorted the crowd below from a balcony nearby. Several men stood on carts or leaned out of windows to bark out orders and pass out lists of names to the waiting rebels.

Chaya and Benjamin worked their way into the mob and were among the first wave to crash into the Dromos. The scene was already hectic when Chaya ran through the archway that separated the wealthy quarter from the slums. Several fires already burned fiercely while men with torches tried to find anything flammable nearby. People ran through the streets pell-mell so Chaya had difficultly distinguishing friend from foe. Most denizens of the Dromos roused slowly in spite of the pandemonium that began to spread throughout the district, and Chaya found her first target sauntering down the stairs as she burst into his home.

Although the brutality of Pullo’s death had momentarily shocked her, Chaya easily tapped into her own hatred and desire for vengeance: she didn’t shutter as she slammed her dagger into the chest of the governor’s scribe and watched remorselessly as the life fade from his eyes. She let him topple down the rest of the stairs as Benjamin flew past her to kill the man’s wife upstairs. A few doors down, Chaya found a patrician still asleep in his bed. The hungover elites of Alexandria offered little resistance as Chaya and the other rebels slaughtered them mercilessly. Chaya’s arm stiffened from soreness as the night wore on, and she failed to notice the sticky blood that coated her sandals and the edges of the dressy, silk tunic she still wore.

Time seemed irrelevant as the slaughter continued with unspeakable cruelty. Chaya and Benjamin soon found themselves headed down a street towards the Musaeum, where a large crowd was gathered.

“We’re near the rally point. Let’s see what’s going on up ahead.”, Benjamin panted as the pair jogged towards the scene. Unexpectedly, Isaac’s deep voice called out to them, “Chaya!, Benjamin! Some Roman dogs have hid themselves behind the whorehouse. Come on!”.

Quickly, the pair joined Isaac and some other rebels stacked against the wall of a small outlet. Benjamin waved his hand and Isaac booted the door in. Chaya heard screams and gurgling sounds as Isaac and his companions breached the house and brought slaughter to the inhabitants. Chaya moved to follow, but abruptly found herself flat on her face. The fall shocked her senses and she shook herself groggily as she raised herself up off the ground. Imprinted below her on the ground was the smeared outline of an Ichthys.

“You alright?”, Benjamin asked concernedly as he helped her up by her arm.

“Yes, just a fall.”, she replied breathlessly. “Benjamin, I think something is wrong.”, she said suddenly filled with anxiety.

“I think so too. I don’t recall anyone in this neighborhood on any lists.”, Benjamin said as he cautiously entered the house.

A grisly scene awaited them inside. Blood pooled and flowed slowly in streams across the dirt floor and litter from upturned tables was strewn across the small room.

“All dead”, Benjamin said quietly as he looked at the body of a woman whose insides were spilled in front of her in a nauseating display. Wordlessly, Isaac’s companions filed out of the house as Benjamin and Chaya checked the house for any survivors.

The sound of struggle rattled upstairs. Chaya and Benjamin bounded up the tight stairwell to see Isaac dragging a man out from under a bed. Chaya instantly recognized the wiry build and thick black curls as belonging to Alexios. The merchant screamed shrilly and raised his arms to protect himself as Isaac raised his sword.

“Isaac! Isaac leave the man be, he’s not our enemy!”, Benjamin yelled. But it was too late, and Chaya gasped as Isaac’s blow struck Alexios’ right arm. The man screamed and clutched his forearm, now only hanging by a thin shred of bloody tendon above the elbow.

“He’s a Roman ain’t he?!”, Isaac retorted as he raised up for the coup de grace.

“He’s not on any list. We need to get him to a doctor!”, Benjamin pleaded as he restrained Isaac’s wrist from swinging down again. The pair of men continued to argue in Hebrew as Chaya knelt down to Alexios. She tore some of the soiled cloth off her tunic and tied it above the mangled elbow.

“Chaya, my sweet, please…I have always been good to you….help me….I never laid hands on you, please help me…”, Alexios sputtered incoherently as he went into shock. His blood stained Chaya’s hands as she tried to apply pressure to the deep cut. Alexios’ dark eyes seem to penetrate Chaya, and she sensed his fear even as his pleas softened. His head lolled back and his body went limp as Chaya tightened the tourniquet further.

Chaya shook Alexios, desperately trying to wake the man. Suddenly, she heard Benjamin gasp sharply. She pivoted rapidly at the sound and screamed when she saw Isaac’s sword stuck in Benjamin’s ribs. The men gripped each other fiercely, and scowled menacingly at each other. Benjamin’s grip began to slack and his grimace weakened as Isaac pushed the blade deeper into the young man’s torso. “Your father was wrong about you, you are weak.”, the brute spat as he withdrew his sword and unceremoniously left the room. Benjamin crumpled onto the floor in front of Chaya, his dead eyes stared blankly at her.
 

fallenmystic

Governor
Hi all,
This last installment places us about a third of the way through our story. I thought it was an apt time to get a sense of people's impressions of the story so far. Please let me know what you like or dislike. I often amend and edit the story as I post these entries. Your comments help me gauge how to make the story and my own writing abilities better. Hope you have enjoyed it so far, and expect more daily installments (and yes, I promise there will be more crux... just be patient).
Here's my impression of the story so far. I'm happy to find that a major part of the good traits that I enjoyed much from your previous work are still in tact in this story, like the excellent narrative quality, attention to details which must have come from a careful research of the Roman history, and most of all that characteristic slow build up which worked so effectively to create a powerful sense of bittersweetness at the conclusion of the story in "My Livia".

So I'm following this new series with much interest, frequently checking on CF during my work hours to see if the next chapter is posted yet every day.

However, I also have a few relatively minor concerns as well. Compared to My Livia, I feel like I have a bit weaker emotional connection to either of the female protagonists, probably due to the fact that my attention had to be split between the two. And also the fact that there is something more impersonal and sinister event going on in the background (i.e. the Jewish rebellion) didn't help in this particular aspect either.

In My Livia, we had plenty of time to observe the affection and emotional bonds between Titus and Livia before the fateful climax, so we could easily sympathize with either of the character and feel their pain at the end.

Compared to that, I feel the bond between Martina and Marinus, or that between Martina and Chaya hasn't been as sufficiently developed as that between Titus and Livia. For example, we could see how the affection Titus had for Livia was so deeply-rooted and almost paternal in nature. However, that between Martina and Marinus feels more like a bout of passion as we haven't had a chance to peek into the couple's shared experiences for a sufficient amount of time.

Probably (and I hope) it wouldn't be a problem, if the story won't try to develop a tragic event on top of this foundation and use it as the main driving force to reach the climax. But if it is indeed the plan, I'm a bit concerned if it may turn out to be insufficient to reach the comparable emotional height that your previous work did.

I hope this didn't sound like I was disappointed with the story, as it's clearly not the case. I think I was so impressed with My Livia that I'm now both excited and concerned to see if this new story would prove to be another masterpiece like its predecessor was.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
@fallenmystic , thank you for your candid response, and I'm glad that you seem to like the story so far. You raise several concerns that I share myself about cementing the emotional bonds to and between the characters. I believe part of this issue comes from how I wanted to handle the scope of this story.

My goal was to do something more grand in scope and scale than "My Livia", so I centered this work around a historical event (the Kitos War) rather than write a short vignette from a larger historical period (the middle Roman Republic in "My Livia). By the end, this story will have covered a little more than 2 years time (~115-117 C.E) with my goal being to follow these various characters over this time span in the posted installments. Personally, I found it more taxing trying to weave the perspectives of several different characters over the large time course as opposed to focusing on a single perspective over a few days as done in "My Livia". I have not yet mastered these skills as @Fossy and @Praefectus Praetorio have. As a result, the work is currently ~40 pages (longer than anything I wrote even in my undergrad) even though I feel I could develop the character's relationships indefinitely. As I'm sure many writers on this forum know, there comes a time when you eventually have to stop writing and share your work . This is the choice I made (maybe prematurely?). I cannot deny that I could have added more installments to flesh out the characters more, and I hope that isn't a crime punishable by crucifixion here on the forums.

Additionally, I wanted this to be a story about individuals swept up in a chaotic event, and experiencing the perceived collapse of their society. I imagine people may have a hard time picturing themselves in these circumstances since these events are somewhat unique and rare in occurrence. Whereas the theme of loss in "My Livia" is something that nearly everyone can emphasize with. I imagine the emotional attachment of the reader to the story may be somewhat lessened by this premise.

As we get further along, the story will narrow in scope to focus mainly on Martina so hopefully your attachment to her continues to grow as we follow her trials and triumphs during the period after the initial rebellion. As for the ending, I don't expect it to carry the sense of tragedy of "My Livia", but I hope you find it satisfactory nonetheless. Rather, I'm hoping to paint a gritty picture of what happens when rebellions fail, and graft these characters onto that scene. As opposed to them being the focus when in fact these characters are just cogs in the larger historical machine.

Once again, thanks for the response @fallenmystic . It seems like we're thinking along the same vein and I'll try to add some extra material to flesh out the characters in future installments. Hope you continue to enjoy "The price of freedom".
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
Everyone can stop lamenting (beating your chests, tearing out your hair, etc.), here's the next installments. Sorry I missed a day.

--- World's Ccollide

Martina let her orgasm ripple over her body and momentarily overwhelm her senses before she crawled off Marinus. She looked out their window as she carefully put her silky blue tunic back on, making sure to press the wrinkles out of her finest outfit. As she did, she noticed the night sky seemed lighter and the streets nosier than usual.

“I wonder what’s going on out there”, she mused.

“Probably just people returning from the party late. Tertius usually has to kick the last drunks out at dawn.”, Marinus chuckled as he dressed on the opposite side of their room. Once dressed again, the couple rejoined and reclined together in the spacious bed. Marinus closed his eyes and ran his hands through Martina’s hair as she laid her head on his chest. Martina listened to Marinus’ heartbeat as they laid silently.

“I wish you weren’t leaving”, Martina said softly.

Marinus opened his eyes and replied tenderly, “I’ve been talking to Alexios about taking you with me. Would you like that? You would have to stay in the follower’s camp but we would still see each other often.”

Martina pushed herself up off Marinus. “Really?”, her smile slowly faded and she lowered her face as she asked, “What about Chaya. I can’t leave her behind.”

Marinus lifted her chin so their gaze met, and cooed, “I’m sure we can find a place for her too.”

Martina’s smile returned, wider than before, and the lovers kissed passionately. It was in this moment that the cacophony outside become apparent and Martina heard men shouting from the street below. She opened her eyes and now noticed smoke rising from adjacent buildings. “Marinus, look”, she yelped as she pointed out the window. Simultaneously, she heard the door to the inn slam open and the clerk below scream abruptly. Footsteps beat the stairs heading towards their room as Marinus flung himself out of bed and pushed Martina behind him and towards the open window. The door to their bedroom door seemed to evaporate as two men dressed in black robes burst into the room. The leading assailant lunged towards Marinus. The man was unbalanced and swung his sword wide allowing Marinus to wrestle the sword away from the assassin. With deadly skill, Marinus turned the weapon on its’ former owner and slashed the man across the cheek. The blade only grazed the marauder but he squealed loudly and crashed noisily back down the stairs.

His companion sized up his now armed victim, and the two men tried to feign each other into making a mistake. Marinus slowly backed towards the window, pushing Martina towards the opening with his free hand. Martina heard another set of footsteps lumbering up the stairs as she came abut to the windowsill. A giant brute entered the room and pushed his small companion aside so he stood facing Marinus alone. The man was easily fifty pounds heavier and a head taller than Marinus; Martina trembled at the shimmering blood that seemed to coat this Goliath. Marinus stood his ground bravely and sized up his new opponent. “If I die so Martina can escape, then I will have lived a noble life”, Marinus repeated silently to himself as his opponent advanced on him. Marinus braced himself for the onslaught when a familiar voice cut through the air.

“Isaac, you bastard!”, Chaya’s shrill yell caught both men off guard. Isaac turned just as Chaya brought a clay pot down over his head. The shattering blow dazed Isaac and he stumbled backwards, away from the window.

“Now, Martina!”, Marinus yelled as he pushed Martina out of the window onto the tiled roof. He flung himself out just as Isaac regained his stance and turned his wrath towards Chaya.

Martina landed on her back and was slow to pick herself up. Inside, she heard Chaya scream, and instinctively Martina lunged back towards the opening. She reached towards the window’s edge as Marinus grabbed her waist and pulled her away along the length of the roof.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- Escape

Marinus and Martina ran along the adjoining rooftops until the inn was out of sight. Below them, rebels, heedless of the flight of the couple above, recklessly lit structures ablaze and looted the wealth of the Dromos. The smoke burned their eyes and lungs as they ran along the rooftops, but Marinus goaded them both onward until they reached the end of the row of houses. Marinus let Chaya down into a straw pile before jumping down himself. The scene on the street was more hellish than that above. Men and women ran chaotically about. Some simply laid outside their burning homes, shocked beyond all sense of personal safety; they seemed to notice little as passing rebels carted them away or slew them where they stood. The main thoroughfares were soon congested with the bodies of the slain, rebels occupied with stripping the wealth from the dead, and the torrent of people trying to find refuge in the catastrophe.

Martina now took the lead as she guided Marinus through the side streets out of the Dromos. The pair kept to the shadows as armed rebels ran past, laden with captives and spoils. Darting quickly across the roads and bounding down the alleys of the Jewish quarter, Martina and Marinus soon found themselves at the Canopic gate with a few other refugees. They passed under the gate unmolested among other haggard Romans before the groups scattered as they emerged out of the city. Marinus and Martina ran in the direction of the auxiliary camp. Behind them, the night sky glowed red and the skyline of the Dromos was a sea of fire.

As Marinus and Martina escaped further into the countryside, the screams and sounds of collapsing building faded into the calm, pastoral sounds of crickets and owls. A few farmers watched from their steps as the distant city burned and looked suspiciously at the pair as they ran down the road. Martina’s body was unaccustomed to such martial strain and the gap between the pair slowly widened as Marinus kept a constant pace as he ran towards their only hope of salvation. Marinus noticed the absence of Martina’s footfall behind his own and soon doubled back to rejoin her. Her adrenaline now abated and her silk tunic constraining her movement, Martina’s pace was soon at a crawl and she panted heavily as she struggled onward. Wordlessly, Marinus cradled Martina in his arms and resumed his brisk pace towards the camp. The combination of physical and mental exhaustion of the past hour left Martina in a trance like daze, and she didn’t know how long Marinus held her before he stopped.

“Thank the gods.”, she heard Marinus mutter as he let her down onto her own shaky legs. She looked up to see the silhouettes of two mounted soldiers approaching. Marinus gripped Martina’s hand firmly and walked towards the cavalrymen with his arm raised in greeting. Unexpectedly the cavalrymen rushed forward and circled the pair like vultures. They wore a mismatch of Roman equipment and homemade leather armor. Martina’s suspicion that these men weren’t their saving angels but more demons was confirmed when one pointed a spear at Marinus’ neck. Within moments, the pair had their hands bound and were led away towards the auxiliary camp.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- Promises made

Marinus and Martina plodded slowly behind their captors in silence as they made their way towards the camp. Gradually the quiet was replaced once again by shouting men and screams of anguish as the camp came into view. Arrows and javelins stuck in the soft ground along the road indicated that the defenders had put up some resistance. "Fuck", Marinus muttered to himself as they entered the camp gates and saw dozens of dead auxiliaries piled in great heaps. Others, stripped of their armor, knelt submissively as rebels stood guard. "Don't give them anything lads, remember you're soldiers of Rome!", Marinus recognized the voice belonging to one of the senior centurions, and looked just in time to see the man's life ended by the swift slash of a sword.

The pair of cavalrymen halted outside Tertius's command tent in the center of the camp, and one hurriedly dismounted and went inside. Martina shivered involuntarily at the desolation around her. She glanced about her surroundings pensively, then suddenly gasped. Marinus instantly caught sight of what had shocked her. Outside the tent, Tertius' head stuck atop a pike. The eyes were gouged out and the nearby fires made his once fair skin look a hellish red color. The horrific scene made Marinus instantly retch and Martina scooted aside to avoid the putrid splatter. The remaining guard stood idly by as Martina attempted to console Marinus as he tried to stifle his tears. Hurriedly, the other cavalryman emerged from the tent with another pair of rebels. The new pair untied Marinus and handed a small coin purse to the cavalrymen.

“No Marinus! Don’t leave me! Please let him go!”, Martina cried out vainly as the rebels manhandled Marinus towards the tent. Marinus hollered over his shoulder, "I'll be back for you Martina! I promise.", as he was forcibly thrust into the open flap of the tent. Martina wondered if she would ever see him again as the cavalrymen meandered into another part of camp with Martina in tow. As she was led away, her blood chilled as the sounds of Marinus’ screams came to her from inside the tent.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- Prices set

With his hands tied behind him, Marinus could only take the blows his tormentors gave out generously. Every part of his being ached, and at times he wished for a killing blow as the men worked him over grievously. Then the thought of Martina's gentle touch emerged in his mind, and he once again resolved to survive. The beating stopped almost as soon as the thought of Martina had passed his mind, and the rebels disappeared out of the tent.

Marinus thought he was alone and breathed a sigh of relief when a voice called to him from the far corner of tent, "I'm sorry about that, Marinus, " the voice said soothingly, "Hashem and Rasheed had a particularly harsh master, and, unfortunately, he happened to look like you.". Marinus' vision was blurry from blood loss and he struggled to focus as the stranger stepped into the torchlight. The mysterious man squatted in front of Marinus and looked somewhat quizzically at him, angling his head as if to get a full picture of the beaten man. "They sure did a number on you", he said finally, wiping some of the blood out of Marinus’ eyes. Marinus could now see the man standing before him. Tall and handsome with dark black hair, the man set an impressive figure; Marinus quickly noticed that he wore Tertius' silver breastplate and wore his gold hilted sword at his waist. The stranger saw Marinus' eyes filled with rage at the sight of his brother's garb, and began condescendingly, "I'm sorry you weren't here when we arrived. It was a nice little affair. Unfortunately for your brother, his troops cared more for their lives than their honor. We're still rounding up the stragglers now. At first, I thought you must have been among them, but it seems God has delivered you to me in his own fashion.".

"You're going to pay for this.", Marinus snarled, cutting off the strangers' soliloquy. The man frowned, apparently displeased his captive had interrupted the moment. He changed the topic abruptly in a grave tone, "Do you know what the price of freedom is, Marinus?". He waited briefly then continued, emphasizing each word with his hands, "It's not the blood that we spill or the privations we suffer to get here.”. He paused for emphasis as he looked squarely at Marinus, “The price of freedom is greater for some than others. But everyone has a number. The question you have to answer is how big that number is.”. Marinus remained obstinately mute until his interrogator resumed, “For you, it’s a number that your brother's wealth can well pay for. Where is the key to Tertius' treasury?" the man demanded. "Our scouts in Alexandria say that his vault in the municipal building is locked and they can't get in without a key.".

"Fuck you," Marinus said defiantly, "the walls of the vault are so thick that Mars himself couldn't break through them.".

"Fine, we can play this game. I can just kill these prisoners until you change your mind. I’ll start with the girl that came with you.", his captor spat as he moved towards the tent’s opening.

Marinus' eyes shot open and he backpedaled once he realized he’d been outplayed, "Wait, Martina knows nothing! She's just a slave!"

"I only care what you know. How do I get in that vault?", the man demanded more forcefully than before.

"Fine, on one condition. No harm is to come to that woman I came with.". The man nodded in ascension as Marinus continued. "In Tertius' villa, there is a statue of Pluto. Move the statue aside and there is a hidden door embedded in the wall. That is where the fortune really is. Tertius only rented the vault so that it would appear that the fortune was inside.".

The man smiled devilishly and left the tent quickly. The two rebels from earlier entered again as soon as Marinus' interrogator left. One carried a large club in his hands. Marinus eyed the heavy blunt object fearfully as his tormentors slowly made their way towards him. With his hands and feet bound, Marinus knew there was little chance of escape but his body involuntarily tried to scoot away from the incoming danger. The attacker closed the distance easily and swung the club with great force. Marinus' world went black as the club impacted just above his right eye.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- New Masters

Martina’s slavery continued under her captors. Corralled with dozens of other women from Alexandria and the surrounding countryside, they followed the rebel army as it meandered it’s way east through the Nile Delta. The women collected firewood, cooked and mended clothes for the rebels as they despoiled the prized province of the Roman east. As weeks turned into months, Martina’s hope of liberation by Marinus or even Chaya faded, and gradually her hope that either was still alive faded too. She grew accustomed to the barking orders of the stern matron that oversaw her contingent of slaves, and silently accepted the privations of her new life.

The life of the slave, although largely mundane, was a hard adjustment to many of the new captives. Martina became attached to two Roman women that were captured outside of Alexandria; Claudia and her adult daughter, Lucia. Both Claudia and Lucia were beautiful patrician women used to a life of provincial luxury. Their world had shattered when the rebels looted their villa and took them as slaves after killing Claudia’s husband. Martina admired Claudia’s protective nature as she tried to shield her daughter from some of the uglier aspects of their new reality.

As the months past, the sight of rebel soldiers leading a female slave into the brush, only sometimes returning with her, became an increasingly common occurrence. One night, Claudia offered herself to a group of men in exchange for an extension of her daughter’s chastity. Martina helped mend the bruises of the battered mother and snuck her a cocktail of silphium and birthwort the next morning. Gradually, Martina, Claudia and Lucia became a trio, often sharing their limited rations and sleeping together for warmth as the nights became long and chilly. Despite Martina’s efforts to soothe her transition into bondage, Claudia’s mental health began to gradually deteriorate in the face of such barbarity.

The collapse of Claudia’s psyche culminated one evening as they collected firewood along one of the Nile's many outlets. Martina lost sight of her companions as they scoured the river bank. Following the trail of broken reeds down to the river’s edge, she found Claudia kneeling on the bank; her daughter laid face-down in the ankle deep water. As if she sensed Martina’s presence, Claudia said stoically, “We Romans would rather die free than live in bondage.”. She pushed herself onto her feet as she continued, “Lucia knew this, and faced her death as bravely as her father did. Dear Ceres, please may I meet them again.”. Martina stood stunned as Claudia came to her and placed her scratched hands on Martina’s trembling shoulders. Claudia embraced her tightly as she whispered, “Martina, you’re a good woman. I pray that you find your own freedom.”. With that she released Martina and turned back towards the river. Martina stood transfixed as Claudia arranged her graying hair calmly before walking into the river. Martina turned when Claudia was waist deep in the dark waters. As she walked away, she heard Claudia scream abruptly and the thrashing sound of water. Then there was deadening silence punctuated occasionally by the hiss and snaps of crocodiles.

No one seemed to notice or care about the absence of Claudia and Lucia when Martina returned. A great sense of isolation swept over Martina as she laid by herself that night. She wasn’t alone for long though. Just a few nights later, Martina was joined by several unwanted guests. She was awoken suddenly and instantly smelled the liquor that permeated the rebels. They didn’t even bother dragging her away from the other slaves; instead flipping her over and pulling the remnants of her silken tunic aside to reveal her bare sex. Martina didn’t move and tried to stay silent but let out a little yelp as one of the men forced his way inside her. The drunk rebel didn’t last long and soon pulled out to let his seed spill on her ass while his comrades jeered from nearby. The group quickly lost interest with the slave girl and moved on. Martina laid still for a long time, paralyzed, listening as the group defiled the other slaves nearby with impunity.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
---- The Ruins

The passage of time soon became irrelevant to Martina as the rebels tracked and retracked the myriad of roads and hamlets nestled in the delta east of Alexandria. The devastated countryside eventually could no longer support the marauding rebels, and gradually the larger army dispersed into smaller contingents that fanned throughout Egypt. Martina’s slave group grew ever smaller as the army split and attrition began to take hold of the malnourished slaves, and soon Martina remained with only a handful of the original captives. The survivors were left to do the work that quadruple their number was originally assigned. The cruelty of her masters increased as the workload increased, and the sting of the vine staff or a leather strap soon became an accustomed sensation as she toiled ceaselessly.

The summer saw the rebels defeat a small Roman detachment sent to defend the town of Hermopolis, a vital road junction between upper and lower Egypt. Martina and the slaves took the field that evening to strip the fallen and tend to any wounded rebels that remained. As Martina took rings from the fingers of dead Romans, she thought of Marinus. So intimidating and handsome in his armor on their first meeting; what many of these dead men, now stripped of their wealth and dignity, had undoubtedly looked like. As she looked at the pained and contorted faces of the fallen Romans, she hoped Marinus hadn’t suffered.

As summer turned into fall, Martina began to see more familiar landmarks. The army was headed west, back to Alexandria. Alexandria had changed much since Martina had last seen it on that fateful night. Streets that were once vibrant with merchants and customers were abandoned. Ruins littered the city, and the piles of bones picked clean were grim reminders of the massacre. The remaining slaves in Martina’s group were taken to the ruins of Cornelius bath in the Dromos. Standing in the palaestra, Martina couldn’t help imagine Chaya’s slender body swimming gracefully in the now dried pool.

The slaves were stood against defaced frescos of mythological figures as buyers lined up to take their pick. Martina was one of the first to sell. Her new master was an old man, hunched at the waist and barely able to move under his own power. The dark skinned old man seemed to only communicate in grunts and pointing but Martina was clairvoyant enough to get his meaning as he led her out of the desecrated bathhouse. Martina followed him as they slowly made his way to a humble two story thatch roof home in the Egyptian quarter. The impoverished neighborhood seemed to have been spared from the fires, but was desolate. Martina wondered if the condition of the place had been better or worse before the rebellion. Boarded up shops lined the route to the home, and occasionally Martina would see someone scurry into a building from an alley or meet the wary gaze of someone looking out from a balcony window.

Martina’s new master was simple in the sense that everything Martina did seemed neither to please or offend. He often sat in the corner of the downstairs room and watched her as she cleaned his few clothes or cooked over the firepit set in the center of the room. Again, boredom deprived Martina of the flow of time and she carried about her daily chores with a dull sense of duty. Martina’s routine was only interrupted when she awoke one morning to find her master had disappeared. At first, she carried about as normal with the daily cleaning and cooking, but her suspicions arose when he didn’t show up by the evening. By the third day, Martina had run out of food. That night, she left the home, and strayed onto the street hoping to find someone or better yet something to eat. Most of the shops in the district had been long abandoned and the shelves sat empty. Coming around the back of an old brewery, Martina’s prayers were answered by a knapsack with two loaves of stale bread, some root vegetables, and a handful of grain. Looking around cautiously, Martina grabbed the sack and started back. “Stop, thief!”, she heard the accusation ring. A feral looking man, naked to the waist, came charging out the back door of the brewery. The man ran with a limp, and Martina easily escaped with her loot.

But her fortune lasted only so long. Even with rationing, she was out of food within a few days. As the pangs of hunger set in, Martina became desperate: with most of the shops already pillaged and no recourse to get food, Martina killed and cooked the rats and snakes that inhabited the abandoned shops. Martina’s body was exhausted from the lack of nutrients, and her figure became increasingly slim. Her days were now spent resting trying to conserve energy, and she prayed incessantly for someone or something to deliver her from this misery.

Martina was still sleeping upstairs when she heard the front door open. “Keep an eye out for tunnels, and check your corners lads.”, she heard a man say. Several sets of footsteps beat downstairs and Martina’s body instinctually tensed with fear. The footsteps grew louder as they ascended the stairs. A silver crest became visible through the open door. Could it be? Soon a hardened face emerged below the helmet, and below that the unmistakable armor of a legionary. Her ordeal was over! With her last bits of strength, Martina pushed herself up and extended her arms to embrace the soldier as he reached the top of the stairs.

“Hey, we’ve got a live one up here!”, the legionary screamed as he rushed toward Martina. The impact of the armored man knocked the breath out of Martina and her body went limp as he pinned her against the wall. The back of her head hit the firm clay wall and she blacked out. More legionaries rushed up the stairs to see Martina’s limp body crumpled awkwardly on the floor beside the breathless legionary.

“She alive?”, one of them grimly said.

The man felt for a pulse and heard her faint breathing. “Seems so.”.

“Alright, tie her hands and get her in the cart”, the first responded as he turned back down the stairs.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- Condemnation

Martina’s eyes opened groggily to the sight of several people sitting above her. The somber, hollow faces of the men and women displayed no emotion as Martina fixated on each of the figures towering over her. Only the occasional grunt rose above the sound of the cart rolling over the cobblestones. Martina tried to reached back to push herself into a sitting position but found it impossible with her hands tied behind her. Dejected, she laid down again and looked into the hazy blue sky occasionally broken by spires of black smoke.

The cart stopped unexpectedly, and the passengers jostled into each other as their momentum lurched them forward. Martina felt two strong hands grab her ankles, and she winced as the rough wood of the cart floor scraped against her legs, back and arms. Once her legs were free of the cart, two men reached in and roughly jerked her out of the remainder. The violent motion propelled Martina into the awaiting arms of the legionaries, one taking each arm of the frail woman. They moved swiftly, dragging Martina towards a large, alabaster, two story building. Her feet struggled to get under her and she eventually let them simply drag along the dirt road that lead into the structure. Looking ahead, Martina could see dozens of legionaries, many simply in their red tunics, milling in and around the entrance. Glancing around her, she noticed the shimmering waters of Lake Mareotis just beyond the foreboding building.

The building had been an auction yard before the rebellion, but thankfully the rank odors of livestock had dissipated with its’ extended disuse. Legionnaires now filled the expansive dirt courtyard, and seemed to care little as Martina was dragged into the rectangular arena. The soldiers busied themselves in and about the courtyard; many repaired their equipment next to their sleeping comrades while officers in great plumed helmets conferred and pointed amongst themselves. Looking up to the second story, Martina saw more legionaries working along the edge of the banister or looking down passively at the scene below. Standing against the far wall stood dozens of bound prisoners. Martina was placed at the end of the growing line.

The prisoners shuffled nervously as they waited, but nary spoke a word. Martina looked down the line, but saw no friendly faces; only transpositions of the fear and dread she felt. The broad wooden gates to the right of Martina opened loudly with a large boom as the doors slammed against the inner walls. Martina watched as more people, equally disheveled and gaunt, filed into the courtyard. However, these newcomers were escorted by officers; some of whom offered their arms to steady their wards. The survivors of Alexandria were few in number but carried immense power as they began to inspect the prisoners. Martina looked down the line as the first survivor, a middle age woman, pointed out someone along the wall. Words unheard by Martina were exchanged between the woman and the officer, and soon her target was dragged out of the line by two waiting legionaries. The now condemned woman screamed pitifully as she was dragged into an open door across from the wall where Martina stood waiting her own judgement. Untroubled, the Roman woman and the officer moved further along the line.

So it went. Words were spoken and more were condemned. However, occasionally a good word was exchanged. Martina watched closely as a young man a few paces away from her was grasped and brought towards an officer escorting an old patrician. The officer drew his dagger from its’ sheath and pointed it towards the prisoner. Martina closed her eyes ready to hear the knife plunge into the poor soul, but when she opened her eyes she saw the man still standing, his hands cut free. The youth stood astonished as he exchanged looks between the officer and the old man he accompanied. The officer flicked his dagger towards the open entrance, and the newly redeemed man sprinted away. Martina prayed silently for such a fate as she was passed by the remnants of Alexandrian society.

Martina largely avoided eye contact with the hard, incisive glares that passed her, and she was largely ignored. More citizens continued to trickle in as the afternoon wore on, and the line of prisoners soon thinned. Martina’s luck had seemed to hold until an old woman stopped in front of her. The wrinkled old wench stared at her intently and Martina sweated under her harsh gaze.

“See if she has a mark... under the left breast.”, the old woman croaked. Unseen hands reached out from behind Martina and yanked the tunic off her shoulder, tearing the fabric and exposing her breasts. Martina’s instinct was to cover herself, but she was forced to suffer as the old woman’s cold, wiry fingers groped her still supple breasts. “Huh”, the woman let out in a dissatisfied exclamation before moving on. Martina noticed that many of the citizens stopped a little longer in front of her now that she was humiliatingly exposed.

“Fuck you, I tried to save you!”, a familiar voice suddenly rang out. Martina looked down the line and saw a decrepit looking man moving silently down the line as a woman was dragged past him. The short, raven haired woman hurled a torrent of curses at the man. “Chaya”, Martina caught herself say aloud as she watched the woman disappear into the open door at the other end of the courtyard. The same man soon stood in front of Martina. She instantly noticed his right arm had been severed at the elbow, and the well-worn tunic he sported exposed the crusted and scarred nub where his arm used to be. His dark hair still had some curl but had begun to recede at the top, leaving a bald spot that was barely visible at Martina’s height. The man seemed to be undergoing mental gymnastics as he studied Martina for a seeming eternity. Martina looked back into his sad dark eyes, and saw some semblance of the man that she used to know.

But her realization was too late. Alexios announced slowly, “Yes, I do know her… yes, she was there that night.”. Before she could protest her innocence, unseen hands from behind pushed her out of line. When she stumbled, the hands lifted her by the armpits and carried her into the dark corridor.
 

Bh5

Assistant executioner
--- The reunion

The lower level of the auction house was lined with long rows of pens used to house long absent livestock. Now, the pens were packed with condemned enemies of Rome. As Martina’s eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she saw dozens of men and women crammed into stalls no bigger than a small bedroom. The condemned pled their innocence as the guards passed by the crowded stalls with Martina snug between their firm grasp. Coming to the end of row, the guards unceremoniously pushed Martina into an open pen. She stumbled as she bumped into her new cellmates. She tried to whirl herself around to make one last protest, but found the iron grate shut behind her already. She stood eagerly by the opening, and joined in the chorus of pleas and laments as the guards brought in the last few prisoners. The dim corridor became eerily quiet except for a few muffled conversations as the natural light from the door to the courtyard faded as the sun began to set outside.

Martina found a seat near the pens’ opening, and awkwardly sat down with her hands still tied behind her. She imagined the fate she now faced. At best, she would be sold to another, hopefully not too cruel master, but most likely she’d find herself nailed to a cross. Grotesquely displayed to the public for a crime she hadn’t committed. She felt tears well in her eyes at the thought of such agonies when she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Martina?”, a wavering voice asked. Martina’s heart fluttered as she instantly recognized Chaya’s voice in this makeshift dungeon. Without responding, Martina threw herself into Chaya’s small shoulders as Chaya wrapped her bound wrists around Martina awkwardly. The long distanced friends held this impromptu embrace for a few minutes, and both women sobbed joyous tears as they cradled each other in the squalor of their prison. The friends looked at each in stunned silence as Chaya wiped away their tears, and readjusted Martina’s torn garments to the best of her ability. Chaya looked the same as she had that fateful night nearly a year earlier: her smooth, olive complexion seemed marvelous even in the dim torchlight, and the petite frame of the young woman looked like it might have even gained weight despite the chaos of the past year.

Chaya told Martina how Isaac had beat her after Martina had escaped, and how she had feigned death to survive that horrendous night. After she recovered, she had stayed in Alexandria working with the other rebels trying to find hidden wealth in the city, including the alleged fortune of Tertius. After several months of vain searching, she joined a group of rebels heading towards Judea ahead of the larger army that Martina had been with. The group of former slaves soon became lost in the Sinai, and found that the Bedouin tribesmen of the region were less than friendly to the rebels. After their guides made off with most of their supplies, Chaya’s rapidly diminishing group found themselves fighting to get back to the Nile Delta. It was here that Chaya was captured by Romans scouts reconnoitering ahead of the legions that were now pacifying the insurrection. Only now had her identity as a rebel been confirmed by Alexios’ accusations.

In turn, Chaya listened patiently as Martina explained her own course to captivity and the two women wept for their shared hardships. The conversation died naturally, and the pair rested against each other in the stall. They felt each other tense as they listened to soldiers take pairs of prisoners back out into the courtyard. The women held their breaths and strained to hear what was happening outside. Occasionally, a gasp would ring out as the soldiers brought the prisoners back into their makeshift cells, but these were quickly stifled. This process continued methodically; leaving all with the looming fear of being chosen next for some unknown torment. Martina heard the footsteps getting closer before Chaya did, and soon two legionaries unlocked the gate. The older of the two pointed sublimely at Martina and Chaya and soon they were hoisted onto their feet and hustled out of the stall.
 
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