3. The Father's Sins
Brasus bore his father’s wrath without complaint. The chastising was expected and warranted, and – if roles were reversed – then Brasus assumed he would have much the same reaction. The man who’d already paid for the colt Brasus had sold was not someone that Brasus should have cheated, and his father was as scared as he was angry. Brasus collected all his coins from where he’d hidden them around the house and yard, went around the city to call in the few debts that he was owed from friends as well, and by the sunrise of the next morning he had pulled together the full amount of the colt which had already been paid.
Brasus joked toward his younger sisters as the two of them either pursed their lips or glared at him, alternating between one and the other for who continued the chastising his father had started last night. The woman he’d bought yesterday brought his son to him at the entrance to his father’s home as he was preparing to depart, the same as she had last night when he’d left to collect on the debts he was owed, and how she had when he’d come home again. He cupped his son’s head in his palm and sincerely thanked her, already looking forward to when he would return later this morning to have her bring his son again.
His sisters flanked the woman, each taking one of her elbows to hand and kindly guiding her toward the table for breakfast between calling over their shoulders to him as they continued their parting comments to end the chastising. His father had given him the correct words to say in apology, and Brasus carried the easy hope of youth that his actions would be forgiven. He hurried through the morning streets to the home of his father’s customer, practicing the needed words in his head, and was nearly confident when he arrived outside the fence into the yard that he should have been at yesterday afternoon.
He was allowed entry to the yard immediately and brought directly into the house upon announcing his arrival. When the door opened and he was ushered into the room where the patrician who had paid for the horse was breakfasting, he was overwhelmed with the impression that he had just interrupted something of importance. Three Legionnaires stood nearby the patrician, all officers, all patricians, and none looked happy about the intrusion.
“Speak,” the patrician ordered.
Brasus recounted his father’s apology to the letter, and then held out the purse containing the price of the colt, his head and shoulders bowed. The patrician nodded to one of the Legion officers, who stepped over and took the purse. The coins were dumped on the table and counted – twice – before being returned to the purse.
“The sum is correct,” the officer stated.
“That is of little surprise,” the patrician replied. The room waited in silence for him to continue speaking. He pushed back his plate and studied the young man before him. “And yet, I am still without my colt.”
The purse was slapped against Brasus’s chest and held there. Brasus stared at the Legion officer, startled out of polite aversion of his eyes, and slowly moved to take the coins back into his own hand.
“So what do I own in place of the colt?”
Brasus clamped his mouth shut and stared at the floor as he thought. His father had advised him to avoid any personal information when dealing with customers, and especially with this one. By all rights, though, the question was a valid one.
“Speak honestly and in full, young Nazario,” a kind voice warned.
Brasus glanced over his shoulder to where the voice had originated and saw four more Legionnaires beside the door that he hadn’t noticed when he’d been shown in. The man who had spoken was one that Brasus knew well – Quintus Abelardus had been like an uncle to him since he’d been a small boy. When he turned his face forward again, he simply stared at the end of the table that was closest to him, memorizing the grain of the wood.
“My wife left this life while birthing our son yesterday just before dawn,” Brasus told the table. “There was no wet nurse, and none that we found. My living son was swaddled in the linen shroud with his dead mother. I traded the colt for that nursing mother who killed the gladiator yesterday.”
Brasus didn’t know at what point during when he’d just been speaking that he’d looked up, but when he fell silent he knew he’d been holding the patrician’s gaze for longer than he should have. He returned to staring at the end of the table.
“Send for my slave,” the patrician quietly ordered.
Rishima didn’t know why everyone was upset when she had to go, but she quickly followed the man leading her as they hurried through the city, the tiny boy snugly wrapped against her. The home she was brought to was much richer than the one she had left, and the people here much quieter. Nobody said anything to her, and very few looked at her. She was immediately wary.
Her madman stood quietly, every part of him hunched defensively as he was trying to stand normally, and the purse of coins he had stayed up all night collecting was in his hand. The room was occupied with many soldiers, her madman, and an old man who walked with a straight back. The old man was grey-haired and clean shaven. His lightly colored eyes glared at her. He made a show of inspecting her from all sides, the few comments he said making most of the soldiers smirk and her madman glare harder at a spot on the floor.
“I have no need of a wet nurse,” the patrician stated.
His hands moved quickly, the left yanking the slave back by her hair and the right producing a knife from the hiding place within the folds of his toga. Brasus opened his hand to release the purse as he twisted to rip the nearest sword from the sheath, spinning back with an upward strike meant to remove the patrician’s arm above the elbow before the knife could descend on the woman – and the baby she was holding.
The clang of sword blades rang dully, the upward strike stopped before impacting on the intended target, the bag of coins hitting the floor a moment later. The blades were both in the way of the swing continuing for the knife, though, so Brasus considered the action acceptable in spite of the swords he heard being quickly drawn behind him. The patrician looked at the crossed blades just beneath his armpit, a grin creasing one of his cheeks when he focused further down at where the slave was bowed backwards over the end of the table.
Rishima waited in the black quiet following the clang of the sword blades locking. There were only the sounds of startled breathing and more swords being drawn. The only physical feelings she noted were the hand in her hair, the hard wood of the table pressing painfully against her elbows and the top of her head, and the cold tiles of the floor under the balls of her arched feet. The tiny boy suddenly writhed against her back, where she had twisted the wrapping to as soon as she’d seen the knife and closed her eyes. She took her first breath since being grabbed, but didn’t shift a muscle from arching protectively over the tiny boy.
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