Tuccia

Rome, 31 A.D.

Tuccia pulled her veil firmly around her head. She didn’t want to attract any more attention than necessary. She prayed for the respect of the citizens as she descended the steep steps of the Atrium Vestiae.
At the edge of the square she strained to see through the crowd of onlookers. Their attention was focused on the column of condemned, meaning for the moment she stayed unnoticed. The parade of tragic souls moved slowly past, harassed and beaten by the ruthless Praetorian Guards. One by one Tuccia studied the manacled prisoners, hoping beyond hope her information was wrong.
She gasped when she saw that it was not. In the middle of the thirty men, she recognised Gallius, her childhood friend. It was obvious he had been treated as poorly as the others, his blonde curls and body caked in blood. The crowd remained eerily silent. None wanted to incur the displeasure of the guards. Established by Augustus, they once symbolised the strength and mercy of the emperor. But under the rule of Tiberius, they had become much feared. Led by the cruel Sejanus, the guards had become manipulators of the city, the state, and therefore the empire itself. A network of spies and informants fuelled their zealous drive. Few were safe from their growing dark reach. On their authority alone, without trial or even discussion, nearly anyone could be marched away to their death. While Tiberius led a life of debauchery in Capri, he grew steadily more ignorant of their activities.
The prisoners were minutes away from the end of their lives. Sweet Gallius, the only pure hearted man she had ever met, was going to die. For nothing. The time had come for Tuccia to act. She wormed her way through the crowd.
A gap presented itself when two guards focused their attention on a stumbling man. Within earshot, Tuccia called her friends name.
Gallius reacted to her familiar voice, but did not look at her. Brave, noble Gallius. Despite her position, despite his fate, he would not risk endangering her. He only had to look upon her to be free.
He would not.
She had no choice. Rushing forward, she threw her arms around him.
“No Tuccia!” he pleaded.
A blow from the hilt of a sword knocked her to the ground. As she fell her cloak parted enough for the guard to see the red and white bands of the goddess. Shamefaced, he ushered her to her feet. The line of condemned men halted as other guards came to the scene.
Regaining her composure, she addressed the forlorn soldier who had struck her.
“I have touched this man. He is pardoned.”
He, and the other guards who had gathered, bowed their heads in respect. This law was beyond all statutes and arguments. Her order predated the Praetorian Guard by seven centuries.
Gallius held his place, his shock visible. The nearest guard produced a ring of keys, stepping forward to free the man.
“Wait!” came a booming command from the rear of the column.
Tuccia felt a cool shiver as she recognised the voice.
The voice of Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Personally responsible for twelve thousand elite soldiers. The man whose power exceeded even the emperor himself. Why was he here today?
His troops parted like obedient children as he strode toward her. His deep bronze shield, breastplate and helmet contrasted with his cold pale complexion. In his hand, a silver lance with an intricately decorated grip. He fixed her in his proud amber gaze.
She stank of the goddess.
“Who are you, bitch?” he demanded.
“My lord,” began the guard who had knocked her down.
Like a striking snake, Sejanus spun the deadly lance in an arc. As he did, the tapering end flared into a narrow blade. Tuccia saw this clearly although it moved at such incredible speed. With a whoosh it was back at the side of Sejanus. The soldier’s severed head slid noiselessly down the angle of the cut. Like an overripe tomato it splotched to the ground.
“I was talking to her” he continued, casually kicking the severed head into the throng.
Tuccia stepped next to Gallius. She loosened her veil to reveal more of her face.
“I am a Virgin of Vestia” she announced boldly but not loudly. “And by my touch I free this man of all false charges against him.”
Sejanus looked over her with obvious contempt.
“The only falsehood before me is that of your chastity” he sneered.
Her mouth fell open in disbelief.
“The pontifex maximus will confirm it” she stammered.
He spat on the ground at her feet. He strode to her, tearing away her veil to reveal her shorn hair. Then her cloak, uncovering the palla pinned over her left shoulder. Roughly he tore away this shawl of dignity, leaving her bare breasted in the centre of all. The red and white ribbons of Vestia fluttered around her. She made no effort to cover herself.
“I see the Virgin!” shouted one of the prisoners. Like wild fire, the cry spread amongst the condemned. They all knew that even the sight of a maiden from the temple, while en route to execution, meant their freedom. Their voices grew in number and volume along the line.
“Silence!” bellowed Sejanus. “I see only a whore. For who but a fornicator would throw themselves upon this pig.”
He turned with malice to the shocked Tuccia.
“I offer you the chance to prove yourself. A challenge. For is it not true that your goddess empowers you?” Her knees trembled, threatening to give way, but she held her ground and his terrible gaze.
“My goddess walks with me always” she said bravely.
“Good” He took a metal pot from the kit of one of his men. “Then this will be simple for you. You will take this to the Tiber. Fill it with water and return it to me. If it is still full when you get here, I will release every prisoner. If it is not, you will take loaf and wine to Campus Scelerus. Do you agree?”
“I agree” replied a defiant Tucci quickly. The prefect of the city had given her an easy task, apparently upon realising the impropriety of his actions. She was proud to have stood firm against this arrogant bully. The threat of Campus Scelerus, the evil field, was empty. She would not be joining the skeletons in the underground chamber of death. The food and drink were traditionally provided so that the victim was not killed, which was sacrilege, but rather died “by their own choice.”
He stood, holding it aloft so all could see. He turned slowly, scanning the sea of faces for the real target of his actions. She was here somewhere. He smelled her.
“The Virgin of Vestia has agreed to the challenge. Her word is binding. If she fails in this task, she is deemed unsuitable to maintain the flame. She will end her days in Scelerus.”
Sejanus dropped to his haunches. He pulled a jewelled dagger from his belt. Aggressively, he punctured the inverted pot with numerous holes, turning it into a sieve.
He threw it to her. She was too stunned to catch it and it clattered noisily to the ground.
“I will wait on the steps of your temple” he laughed. He walked away, resheathing his knife.
“Wait!” she called to him. Sejanus spun on his heels.
“You have changed the conditions of the trial. I demand the same right.”
His chest heaved in anger and his hand instinctively went to his sword. Still she would not cower beneath his cruel eyes, as so many had before. He cursed the obvious influence of the goddess.
Tuccia had pulled her garments around her and held the battered pot in one hand.
“I will bring you your water, but surely the Tiber is too far away. On such a warm day, you must be very thirsty. The fountain of our temple is just over there. You can watch me, to ensure there is no trickery. For surely water is water my lord. And this business can be ended much sooner.”
His fingers played eagerly upon the hilt of his lance. How easy it would be. But the hundreds gathered round would not tolerate the murder of a Vestal Virgin under any condition. His gold eyes flittered amongst them. Where are you?
He bowed with exaggerated grace to accept her condition. He still held the upper hand.
Tuccia turned to the people. This time she held the pot aloft. She raised her proud voice to the masses.
“The Prefect of Rome has given his word. It is as binding as my own.”
Sejanus bristled at her mockery.
The crowd parted to form a corridor from the steps to the fountain. She walked purposefully over and knelt before it.
She was no fool. The task was impossible. Her training had given her courage and conviction. But not the ability to perform miracles.
Trembling, Tuccia dipped the bowl beneath the surface, reluctant to raise it.
Her genuine devotion to Vestia had brought out her brave demand to draw water from the temple fountain. She had known nothing else since the age of eight.
Now, twenty years on, she would have her faith tested at the risk of forfeiting her life. She prayed it would be enough.
Her goddess answered.
On the temple steps, Sejanus tensed as he felt the influence of his sister.
Tuccia felt another pair of hands cup her own, giving her strength.
She raised the pot, trickles of water dripping off the outside. She watched the surface, for surely it must drop.
It did not. None escaped from the holes Sejanus had made.
She carefully got to her feet and carried it back to him.
He did not look in the least surprised.
Tuccia gently dropped to one knee and offered him the pot.
He smashed it away with the back of his hand.
He stepped past her, calling his troops to follow.
The prisoners were left, dazed in the middle of the square. Families and friends rushed to their loved ones, weeping with joy.
Some remained around the figure of Tuccia. She had fallen onto the steps and lay without movement. They longed to help her but none could touch one such as her. Several called to the temple for help. Finally two other maidens of Vestia came down to aid their fallen sister.

Within days, Sejanus’ reign of terror had ended. Statues of him were torn down. Any mention of him removed from public records. His broken body was left, ironically on steps. The Germoin Stairs. He had been strangled. A crowd descended upon the body, tearing it to pieces.
In their rage, few noticed the fierce amber of his eyes gone. In their place, the kind blue ones he was born with.
As though his spirit had flown, leaving only the shell of his battered corpse.

from the novel “Last Goddess”

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Nephthys

14 B.C. The Sea of Galilee.

I have been discovered. Without the ability to take to the air, I run, stumbling from the assassins working for my brother. They are so close behind I hear the exertion of their breathing, the thunder of their chasing feet. Through dusty alleyways I run, looking for a way to shake them off. Finding none.
But wait. Of course there is a way out. Where the likes of these brutes could not follow. I turn east.
In the moment it took to decide this, I had paused long enough for a rough hand to rip at my shoulder, spinning me off balance. The tendons in my ankle strain to breaking point and only barely hold.
I scramble over a low wall, landing on rocks. The man who had just slid past now vaults the wall, inches behind.
“There is no way I can make it” I think. Not like this anyway. The body I inhabit is now so weak I barely have any coordination. I back away as he closes in, both our chests heaving. His eyes full of hatred. A string of curses pour from him as he threatens a multitude of cruel fates for me. More men appear behind him. The same threat in their eyes.
Across the rocks I edge. The men are not bothered of course. For at my back lays a great expanse. I am almost completely out of energy. The flight is at an end.
This will have to do.

Strong hands reach out for me as my eyes roll back in their sockets. With my mind I reach out far beyond this time and place. To a kindly old man in a beautiful garden. I call for my grandfather to aid me.
“Ra take me”

And all the assassin felt was the dampness on his outstretched fingers.

As liquid I run between the rocks and stones, dispersing and reforming. Before trickling into the soothing welcome of Lake Galilee.
The water comforts me though I struggle to keep my spiritual form intact. I drift in body and mind across the broad lake.
Is this to be the end of me? It surely cannot be. For I know there is much to be done. But my purpose is diluting and dissolving.
My thoughts reach out. Seeking my sister. My friends. Nothing returns to me. It was futile to try anyhow. My sister is lost to me. Friends long gone.
I am so, so tired.
I am alone.

On the rocky shore, the man who had nearly caught her stands in shock. His comrades search in vain for a trace of the woman. What will the pale man do to them if they come back empty handed? They shake the stunned man, who doesn’t react.
He is looking at the shapes of the clouds. The blue of the sky. The shimmer of light across the lake. He sees it as a blind man cured. It is marvellous and new. His broad knife clatters to the rocks at his feet. Nicoli is going home to Chorazin. To see his wife and son. It has been three years.

For an indeterminate time I drift in the silken lustre of the lake.

Lightly, the stroke of a downy feather, I am aware of an attraction at work. I am gently being pulled back toward the western shore. Something waits for me there.

There is an old saying “Left in the lap of the gods.”

For better or worse, I am truly there.


(from the novel “Last Goddess”-available on amazon)

Paris

Paris

The elegant pale man wiped his mouth with a napkin and calmly pushed his chair back.
Sitting opposite him, the girl wondered where he was going. They’d just started their meal.
“Is everything O.K?” she asked.
Lindy hoped it was. Up until now, it had been like a dream. The way he picked her out of the crowd at the nightclub, with his intense eyes. How he’d flattered and wooed her. But respected her. They hadn’t even made love yet. A romance novel hero, with her the leading lady. A chance meeting she knew would change everything about her life. Give her a future. And erase her terrible past.
The way he listened to her, and looked at her without the obvious lust that all other men couldn’t conceal. He saw beyond the pretty face that had been more of a burden than a blessing.
But he wasn’t listening now. He was distracted. Perhaps a business matter. Lindy had no idea what he did, but money was not in short supply. She fingered the gold chain around her neck, one of several expensive gifts he’d given her. The dress she was wearing had cost more than the last car she owned. It was the beautiful salmon pink gown of a princess. The look on the waiter’s face told her it was something special.
“I need to take care of something” he said simply as he stood. “I’ll be gone for a couple of days.”
Lindy tried not to look worried, but she had no idea what she would do while he was gone. She had put herself totally in his hands. She had no money of her own and nowhere to stay in Paris. But her guardian angel put his hand in his pocket and extracted some reassurance.
On the table he placed a room key to the hotel they were dining at, and a thick roll of money.
“Stay out of trouble” he smiled, kissing her gently on her hand. Lindy was aching for his return before he had even left the table. She had the nice feeling, the warm feeling. They were going to have so much sex when he got back.
She placed the key and the money inside the designer hand bag he had also brought for her. A quick flick of the roll made her gasp. He had left her with over a hundred thousand Euros.
Lindy returned to her entrée. She would take her time over dinner, even though he was gone. The other people in the restaurant would look at her in her beautiful dress, with her beautiful things. They would admire her. Envy her. She would go up to her room-their room, and bathe in a rose petal strewn bath. And she would drink champagne looking at the lights of the city of love. Princess Lindy.
She sneaked a peek around. They were already looking at her. Staring.
But they didn’t look with envy. Their faces had strange expressions.
She suddenly felt itchy all over. She looked down and saw something surreal. Impossible.
She wasn’t wearing the beautiful pink dress.
Her outfit was brown sack cloth.
She couldn’t feel the gold chain against her skin.
Her hand reached for her sequinned purse.
Her fingers crinkled the brown paper bag that had replaced it.
She tore it open, fighting her rising hysteria.
It contained no key. No money.
It contained cockroaches.

from the novel “Last Goddess”

Then she burns

He loves the smell of burning meat. It fills his lungs alongside the choking smoke. The fire races through the building, climbing and consuming. As it reaches the top floor the screaming intensifies.
A little girl, no more than five or six, appears at a window. She yells down to him to help. He sips from his wine goblet. One by one the other voices fall silent beneath the crackling flames. The girl pleads. Then she begs.
Then she burns. She is the last one.
She jumps from the window in desperation, breaking a leg and an ankle on the cobblestones. Her nightdress is aflame. Her hair is quickly gone. Her skin bubbles and blisters as she screams in an agony beyond comprehension.
He finishes his wine. It is a nice accompaniment to the meat.
The wonderful burning meat.

He is considering eating some of the girl when he notices he is not the only onlooker. A tall, incredibly attractive woman is looking at the burnt girl from beneath a stair. Her hair is a similar colour to his. Her face is serene. She had enjoyed it as well.
Smoke among smoke he appeared at her side. She did not respond. Which he feared and liked. She had some power to her, but not like his. A demi-god. Offspring of one who is mortal and one who is not. There were many of them, the sexual appetites of some of his family were formidable.
She stared until the blackened girl smouldered.
Then she turned to him. Her beauty is such that any mortal would be putty in her hands.
“Who are you, who would do such a thing to a village?”
“I am Chaos” he replied with a smile. “And who are you that watches with such interest, and does nothing to save any of them?”
“I am Hell” she says in a honeyed whisper.
“I like that name”
She flashes a grin, revealing her yellowed teeth. They are filed to points.
Chaos and Hell.
A match made in heaven.

They leave together. There is no sport left here. She has a criticism that amuses him.
“They died too quickly”

They won’t next time.

(from the novel “Last Goddess”)