"Nothin'." Brigid said lightly. Livia didn't know this girl very well but she could see the mischievous twinkle in the green eyes that stared at her.
"Somethin'." Livia answered, mimicking Brigids accent. "What?"
"My pet spider. He's on your belly."
Livia looked down to see a fat, hairy spider sitting on her belly staring back up at her. Her little heart began to pound and a blood-curdling scream tore from Livia's throat. Alarmed by her new Mistress reaction, Brigid hurriedly scooped up her little friend and went to the corner; afraid she had done something wrong.
A beautiful woman with hair as orange as the setting sun came rushing into the room. She was an exact replica of Brigid, only older. This new woman was tall and beautiful with a strong face and a muscular build. She rushed over to Livia and began examining her, as Livia continued to scream. Her skin seemed to be crawling over her bones at the thought of what had been sitting on her for Hera only knows how long.
"By the gods child! What's the matter?"
Livia regained control of her emotions long enough to point at Brigid and her disgusting little pet. The new woman sighed as her eyes lay on the dark mass cradled against Brigid's chest.
"Brigid! What have I told ya about bringin' Pete to work w us?"
"Sorry Ma. I thought she'd like him."
Livia's curiosity and amazement at this new woman's exotic (how Livia loved her new word) accent and looks distracted her momentarily from her fear and disgust of Brigids pet. Never had she seen someone with hair this color! And the way she said her words were amazing! The new woman turned back to face her and Livia offered up her most winning smile.
"I apologize for the fright my little one gave ya darlin'."
"It's ok, Livia said, staring up at the woman who was obviously Brigids mother. There was something sweet in her eyes that drew Livia too her, and she had a gut instinct that this was the first woman she would ever meet that wouldnt mistreat her the way Delphia or Odessa had. Can I ask you what your name is?"
"Well of course you can sweetie. My name is Ann. And you must be Livia."
Livia nodded. This new lady seemed to be really nice, just like Octavious. Never had she ever dreamed there were so many kind people in the world. Where had they been hiding all this time?
"Come with us Livia. We'll get you bathed, dressed and fed. After that you're off to school."
"Will you come with me?" Livia asked. Her voice trembled in fear at the possibility of having to go around a bunch of strangers. She wanted to stay in this room with her friends where she knew she would be safe.
School is what you're here for ya know?" Ann smiled down at her and led her to the bathing room where a tub of hot water waited for her.
But Ive never been to school before. I always had a tutor. I want to stay here with you.
I know how scare you must be, Ann said, kneeling down and pulling off Livias nightgown. I know you dont know me yet Livia, but I want you to trust me on somethin ok?
Livia nodded, but she had a feeling that no matter how much she pleaded Ann wasnt going to be sympathetic to her plight to the point of allowing her to miss school. Ill trust you Ann.
Good. Once you get in class and show everyone how smart ya are, youre going to make all kinds of friends. Youll like school.
really think so?
I sure do. And Brigid will be there the whole time.
That was at least a small comfort. Ok. Ill go to school.
Good darlin. Im sure you wont regret it. Ann kissed Livia on the forehead then scooped her up and placed her in the tub of water. The temperature was just right and she found herself looking forward to seeing what school was like. As long as Brigid was there of course.
"I have a feelin' we're gonna get along just fine little one. Just fine." With that, Ann left the room to prepare Livias clothes and Brigid entered the doorway, holding Pete to her chest.
I have a nickname for you now Brigid.
Spider. Another joke for Livia. The two girls exploded into laughter, and Brigid brought Pete over for another visit. This time, Livia was prepared to meet him.
I guess hes not so bad after all, Livia said, stroking Petes body. The more she petted him, the more she liked him.
Neither are you Livia.
Ann watched from the next room as her daughter and the Academies richest student became fast friends, forming a bond she hoped would be good for the both of them.
Four years later.
Livia followed Brigid through the magnificent courtyards and gardens of the Academy. This was the place where daughters of the wealthiest noblemen Rome had to offer were sent here to be trained. A young innocent girl would enter these gates, usually at the age of eight, and a refined aristocrat would exit eight years later, ready to marry royalty and become the lady of any house.
Livia, however, was the exception. She had been brought here two years before the required age, and she was the charge of Octavious, Rome's most influential man. She, unlike the other girls, had her own personal servant and the best quarters. Though Livia was never one to take full advantage of it, she had the run of the place. She had made a few changes for the better in that the slaves had the option of learning to read, write and arithmetic. It had displeased Odessa greatly when Octavious had put this law into place so that Brigid could actually attend class with Livia instead of sitting at the back of the room all day suffering boredom.
All she had to do was give an unfavorable report to Octavious' man and they could all lose his favor, and while they were in Livia's presence the girls practically walked on eggshells. They quickly came to resent her and Livia could sense the dislike the girls had for her, especially Mistress Odessa. For the most part Livia opted to stay away from them as much as possible. She had Brigid and Ann, and they were all she needed to stay happy here. They had become her family over the past four years, and when the day came that she would leave, she intended to do all she could to make sure they came with her. She never wanted to lose them.
In her time here Brigid had become her sister, and Livia finally found the mother shed always wanted in Ann. The woman was everything shed always hoped for. She was supportive, loving and though the girls hated it (Mistress Odessa included), Livia called Ann Mom. Perhaps it was jealousy on the girls part that Livia had an adult to love her so, or maybe it was because they resented the power she had over them. Regardless of why, Livia used her status to ensure that Ann and Spider had the best the Academy had to offer. Just like she did.
Brigid led Livia through the trees until they came to the Academy park. The centerpiece was a large, beautiful pond fed by a forty foot waterfall in the southern end of the Academy grounds. It had become the familys favorite place to relax and enjoy their free time. Livia had been more than thrilled when Brigid and Mom enthusiastically shared her love of fishing hiking through the forest that surrounded the Academy.
Today the sun sat high in a cloudless blue sky, its rays gleaming on the waters gently rippling surface. At times the glare was so bright that Livia and Brigid were forced to look away. Most of the older girls from the Academy frolicked in the cool water under the watchful eyes of Mistress Odessa, in an attempt to escape the oppressive summer heat. Some of Livia's excitement was diminished by the sight of the sour old woman, sitting on the grass in the shade watching the girls swim. Brigid apparently picked up on her feelings and punched her lightly on the arm.
"Come on Livie! Don't pay any attention to her. She knows not to mess with you anyway. I have a surprise for you."
Livia had come to love surprises in her time at the Academy. It seemed that in the four years she'd been here Brigid made up little ways to thrill her, and Livia loved every moment of the older girls attention. As she watched Brigid's auburn hair glow from the light of the afternoon sun, Livia found herself wishing for hair the same color. They felt like sisters, but Livia wished they could look like sisters too. It was a shame there was nothing she could do to change it.
Brigid led Livia around to the other side of the pond, which was so far from Mistress Odessa they could barely see her. Here, they might be able to have a little freedom to have some fun without the woman's constant, irritating reprimands. To the two little girls that slid off their sandals and toga's, every move they made seemed to be wrong in Mistress Odessa's eyes, so they avoided her as much as possible.
"What now?" Livia asked when they had gotten down to their slips.
"Now we swim. There's a trick I want to show you that my mother taught me. My grandfather taught it to her you know?"
The two girls dove in headfirst. The water was cool and refreshing, caressing their skin with its icy fingers and cooling them down from their long walk in the heat.
"Mom says this pond is fed by a bigger pond that has big chunks of ice floating in it. That's why it's so cold."
"It is cold," Livia said in agreement. "I love it though. It's so hot today!"
"I know. Now look here. I want to show you Mom's trick now."
"Mom says all good fishermen know how to do this. Hold your body perfectly still under the water. Don't move for anything."
"Shhh. Don't talk either. We want the fish to come close."
Livia nodded her head, excited. After four years of teaching Brigid and Ann a couple of tricks with the poles, she was finally going to learn something new from Brigid.
After awhile Livia felt something brush past her leg and it was all she could do not to move away from it. The thing had felt strange and frightening, not at all like any kind of fish shed ever encountered. Maybe it was a monster that lived in the pond?
"Brigid," Livia whispered, "I felt something-"
"I know. It's a fish."
Embarrassed, Livia shrugged and tried to save face. She knew all about fish yet she'd allowed herself to be startled by one. Would Brigid think her silly? Even after four years of everything from saying I love you to swearing they would never speak to one another again for as long as they lived, Livia was still concerned about what Brigid though of her.
"I knew that. Just thought I'd tell you is all."
"Right," Brigid said, not sounding at all convinced.
They held perfectly still again for so long Livia was beginning to think Brigid's trick was just that. A trick. Just as Livia was about to break silence, Brigid reached under the water with lightning fast hands and pulled out a rather large trout. She tossed it on shore and they watched it flip and flop on the grass. Livia was duly impressed.
"Spider! How wonderful! You caught that with your bare hands!"
"If you practice, you'll be able to do that." Brigid studied her catch as it struggled uselessly to breathe outside of its natural habitat. "Think he's big enough for you me and Mom?"
"Are you kidding me? Hes big enough to feed half the Academy. Let's get out now. I'm freezing."
The two girls got out and Brigid put her catch in a sack she had brought with her just in case she got lucky. The heat of the day felt good after having been in the icy water for so long without hardly moving a muscle, and Livia enjoyed the feel of the sun in the sky, warming her now cold skin. The sound of nature around her with it's singing birds and the rustle of a rare breeze through the trees was relaxing and sweet. It was quiet moments like these that Livia loved the most. Octavious had been right. She had indeed come to love this place and some of the people in it. However, she still wanted to see him again. He was the first person to show her kindness and to care about her. Though they sent scrolls by messenger, the communications had become sporadic at best. Sometimes she missed him terribly.
As she lay back on the grass and took in the sounds and smells of nature, Livia began to drift off to sleep. Since shed been adopted by Ann and Brigid, her imaginary Mother's visits had become almost a thing of the past. Now Livia was lucky if she could remember the womans face, even vaguely, when she was awake. It wasnt until she was asleep that she could really remember what Mother looked like. One thing had never changed though: This imaginary woman was her first defender against the cruelty in the world, and when she looked into her face, she still felt a feeling of warmth and love.
Livia didnt know why, but within the last year she began to have a recurring dream. In the dream she was always in the middle of a small village. Its market day and shes shopping with her mother, who is a woman shes never seen before. Her feeling of happiness is quickly replaced by a feeling of impending doom. The bad woman is coming, but shes helpless to stop her.
Then there is the scream of a woman, somewhere Livia can't see, and soldiers ride into the town. Theyre bad men, like the ones who killed that little girl that looked so much like her the day she first met Octavious. They always begin killing the men and force the women and children into wagons where they put chains on them.
The situation always goes from bad to worse when she comes riding into town. Livia doesnt know whom she is but she is different from the other men that have come to do these horrible things to them. Livia isn't certain how she knows, but she knows this woman is the leader of the bad men and no matter how hard she concentrates, Livia can never really focus on the stranger's face. All she knows is she has long dark hair and sometimes, if shes lucky, she sees the bad woman has blue eyes that look like her own.
Livia was roused from her nightmare by strong hands pulling her to her feet. When she opens her eyes, she finds Ann standing above her with sheer panic on her face.
"Wake up Livie! Come on!"
Still half asleep, and the dream fresh in her mind, Livia began to panic. "Is the Bad Woman here?"
"No," Ann said. Livia had told her all about the dream so these words were nothing out of the ordinary to her. Some bad men are though. Listen to me now my children. Some soldiers from the temple of Mars are here. They're from Greece and they're looking for girls to sacrifice to the god of War. We can't go back there until it's safe. Do you understand?"
Ann looked up at the rapidly darkening sky, as did Livia and Brigid. Not only was a storm brewing at the Academy, but one was also moving in from the North. A feeling of dread came over Livia as she remembered the dream. It seemed the nightmare was coming true, and she was powerless to stop it.
Ann took hold of both girls hands just as the sound of screaming girls could be heard over the rising winds, and all three looked back just in time to see twenty or so Academy residents and faculty running their way. Rightly so, Livia noted, as men dressed in uniforms of the temple of Mars were chasing them down with their swords drawn. One unfortunate woman, whom Livia recognized as a kitchen maid, stumbled and was overtaken by the temple guards. One of the temple guards ran her through, and then continued on after the rest of the women.
Ann tightened her grip on Livia and Brigids wrists. "Run girls! Come on!"
Livia took off with her mother and sister at a full run powered by pure fear. Ann led them into the trees, hoping to find a place that would be safe enough to hide them until the raid was over. "Follow me. Stay close now."
Tears of fear blurred the childrens vision as Ann pulled them on, deeper into the forest. Livia noted the men were chasing the others east while Ann took them North, and further into the trees. Further away from the Academy and everything she knew to be safe and familiar. Livia suddenly got the feeling that tragedy was determined to follow her wherever she went with the sole purpose of robbing her of happiness.
"I'm scared," Livia confessed as Ann stopped just long enough for them to rest.
"Me too darlin' but don't worry. It's going to be all right. I will not let either of you die today, do you hear me?"
Ann's eyes searched their surrounding's for a good place to hide the children. As she did they fell upon the ruins of a temple. To what god she hadn't a clue, but anything had to be better than being out in the open where the men could find them easily. Ann had come to love Livia as much as her own daughter, and over the past four years they had formed a bond as strong as any between mother and child.
Little did Livia know, the events to come on this day would be the first soul-killing event that would turn her into the evil warrior she would become before her birth mother would come to save her fifteen years from now.
The three made their way into the unidentified temple ruins, unaware they had been spotted by the enemy.
The interior of the temple was in remarkably good condition. Not a speck of dust was to be found anywhere and the candles, Ann noted, had been recently used. Had a tramp taken up residence here? No, Ann thought to herself, answering her own question. Tramps weren't this neat and clean. Someone was using this temple on a regular basis, and that made this a very insecure place to be right now. She was torn between running and staying until her eyes fell upon a shield in the far wall of the temple, behind the altar, that identified this place as a temple to Mars, the god of War. Ann didnt know how, but part of her knew this place was tied in somehow with the raid going on outside.
"Mommy," Livia said, holding tightly to her mother's hand and pulling Ann from her thoughts. "Look how clean."
Ann made her final decision, having no idea that for her at least, it was a fatal one. "I see Livie. I see. Now lets find a place to hide you huh?"
After searching for what seemed like an eternity, Ann finally found a place that was big enough for both Livia and Brigid, but not for her. The girls quickly picked up on the fact that their mother was left out in the open and both began to try and climb out of the crawlspace.
"Were little so we can hide somewhere else," Livia offered. "You hide in here."
"Yeah Mom. We're smaller than you so we can find-"
"No," Ann said, cutting them off sternly. They were still too young to understand even the concept that a mother's love for her children was stronger than her own will to survive. "Don't you worry about me, I'll be just fine..."
The soldiers voices from outside the temple doors quickly alerted Ann that the raiders had found them. How they had managed this so quickly, she didn't have a clue. She had believed she knew this land like the back of her hand, and yet she'd had no clue this temple even existed, so how had they found her? She looked down into the frightened eyes of the girls and gave them a brave smile.
"No matter what happens girls, promise Mom you won't come out?"
"I promise," Brigid said obediently, but Livia was slower to hand out her word. Not because of fear of the men coming into the temple, but because she wasn't sure she would be able to keep a promise like the one Ann was asking of her now.
"That'll have to do." Ann said, knowing she didnt have time to argue the point with the more stubborn of her two children. She lowered board over the crawlspace she'd found for the girls and ran behind the altar. It was a pitifully insufficient hiding place, and Ann knew it was only a matter of time before the guards found her.
They entered the temple and Ann was shocked to find they were under the direction of Mistress Odessa. The traitorous bitch motioned at the perfectly clean temple with pride as she sauntered up to the altar.
"Welcome to Ares' temple gentlemen."
The Guard Commander, Alec, nodded in approval. He was a war-hardened thug that was ugly in the most flattering light, and he took great joy in every conquest and duty he undertook in the name of his god, Ares. His favorite duty to his god was the sacrifice of a virgin , in which he took much perverse pleasure in carrying out.
"Very good Odessa. Ares may reward you himself."
"My reward will be in your delight, my lord," Odessa said, bowing with a reverence she knew was phony, but Alec took to be sincere.
"Yes. You're going to have the pleasure of sacrificing your enemies adopted daughter to the greatest god Olympus has to offer."
Alec laughed, almost hysterically at this, and his men followed suit. "Indeed my dear! Now, where is Octavious' little tramp?"
"They're hiding somewhere. But don't worry Lord. I know this place like I know my own home. There is nowhere they can hide for long."
Ann watched as Odessa began to comb the room, looking in every nook and cranny for the children. She could only hope for a miracle that this evil, lying bitch somehow didn't know about the crawl space she'd hidden the girls in. Odessa moved in closer and closer, pulling back potential hiding places even Ann's thorough search had failed to yield, and her hope of Odessa not knowing about the crawlspace dwindled until...Odessa passed right over the floor space she'd hidden Brigid and Livia in, and Ann sighed in relief, but it was short lived when Odessa caught sight of her, hiding behind the altar.
A guard came rushing around the altar and pulled Ann out into the middle of the floor where Alec examined her. His eyes began to burn with lust at the sight of this woman's beautifully crafted, strong body, and he made no attempt to hide it. Alec approached her slowly, enjoying the fear he saw in Ann's eyes. He both disgusted and embarrassed her when he placed one hand on his crotch and took her chin in the other.
"Well, well, well. Lookie what we have here boys. You know, something tells me you're not a ten year old virgin."
"No, I'm not. I'm the mother of one though, and I've made sure Livie is long gone from this place."
Odessa came to gloat in what she perceived to be her new position of power over Ann. Unlike most of the women in servitude at the Academy, Ann was there by choice, with the freedom to pack up her child and leave at any time. This had always been a source of contention between the two women. Odessa loved nothing more in this world than controlling the slave women that labored at the Academy with fear and intimidation, but she didn't have that luxury with Ann. For her part, Ann never let her forget it. Not even for a moment.
"She's not Livia's mother. She's fooled the little snipe into thinking she cares for her, but she is definitely not the brat's mother."
"You know what Odessa?" Ann asked quietly, her voice chilly with contempt.
"Mistress Odessa to you." The soldiers seemed to be enjoying the verbal catfight between the two women. Fine by Ann as long as they didn't continue their search for the girls.
"Like I was saying, Odessa," Ann continued, "If you insult my sweet little darlin' again, I'll-"
"You'll what?" Odessa ventured too close to Ann, overconfident in her security that these men would protect her. How wrong she was.
Instead of continuing the argument with Odessa, Ann pulled her arm free from one of the guards who'd allowed his grip to relax, and answered Odessa's question with a solid punch to her jaw. The Head Mistress went flying back, landing unconscious on the floor with a hard thump.
Apparently this was enough for Alec, and he wrapped a hand around Ann's neck, jerking her up painfully till she could barely keep contact with the floor on the tips of her toes. The pressure on her neck was so tight she was unable to get even a small amount of air into her lungs, but she was careful to keep quiet. The last thing she needed right now was for the girls to hear her and come out of hiding to try and save her.
"I'm gonna give you a chance to save your life. Where is Octavious' child? Well woman? Where is Livia?"
"I sent her away with Brigid."
In the floor space Livia and Brigid listened to every word being said. Livia moved to lift the floor covering to look, but Brigid held her back.
"Mom doesn't want us to do anything!" Brigid was whispering but her words came out sounding too loud in the small, hot space.
"But they'll hurt her!"
"I know you're only ten but listen anyway. If they find out about us they'll hurt all of us. They'll kill you. Now do what Mom asked us to!"
Livia moved her hand off the board. She would do as Brigid said. For now.
"That's too bad," Alec said, releasing her. He ran a hand over Ann's heart then ripped her dress open, exposing her breasts. He cupped one in one of his meaty hands, and she drew away from his touch as best she could in the grip of the other two guards. This drew laughter from him. "We'll just have to settle for you."
"What?" She was prepared to suffer anything for her children, but she silently prayed for whatever god would listen to spare her from rape at the hands of these monsters.
Alec relished the fear he saw in Ann's eyes as his men pulled her over to the altar. Little did they know they were stepping on the floorboard the child they had come to pursue was hiding beneath. The guards strapped Ann to the altar, then stepped back for Alec to complete the ceremony. The two girls listened in helpless fear.
"They're going to hurt Mommy," Brigid said. Now she wasn't as keen on the idea of obeying her mother's wishes as she was before. This time it was Livia who held her back. The image of the little girl in Rome three years before came flooding back into Livia's mind. Her instincts told her that Ann was giving everything to save her and Brigid. It would be wrong to make her sacrifice vain by leaving their safe hiding place now, only for all of them to end up dead. She said as much to Brigid.
But theyll kill her Livie.
Maybe not Spider. Maybe they just want to trick us into coming out. We have to do what Mommy said. Its what she wants.
Brigid reluctantly obeyed, and they continued to wait and listen for what would come next in the sweltering heat of the crawl space.
Alec raised his dagger, with both hands, above his head and began to pray.
"Great Ares, god of War! I have pledged my life to you. I have ridden into countless battles with your name proudly on my lips. Now we face Octavious, our greatest enemy. We cannot hope defeat him without you. I had hoped to give to you in sacrifice his adopted daughter, but this winch would dare deprive you of your sacrifice! May their blood satisfy you and incline your mercy toward our victory over Octavious of Rome! May Greece be proud and independent
Ares appeared in the throne behind the altar and studied the woman struggling to free herself from the restraints. She was beautiful with long, flaming red hair and a voluptuous figure he could indulge himself in for days. However, the words of his new favorite warlord had caught his attention. This same woman had robbed him of his sacrifice. Not that the blood of Octavious' adopted daughter was enough to win his favor, or his help in Alec's war against the Roman leader, but he had always loved a good sacrifice, virgin or otherwise. It always put him in a good mood.
Alec smiled at his god and raised the dagger even higher, preparing to deliver the deathblow. For you, my god!
A scream of uncontrollable fear ripped from Anns very soul as Alec brought the dagger down. The blade plunged directly into Ann's heart, cutting off her last cry and robbing her of her precious life and the love that was so desperately important to Livias very soul.
In the floor space almost directly below the altar, Livia had to place a hand over Brigid's mouth to keep the girls frightened sobs from giving them away.
"Shhh. Brigid, be quiet. It's going to be ok. Livia tried to console her sister, but she was unable to keep the tears from her own voice. She didnt know how she managed but she choked back the sobs that threatened to give their secret hiding place away.
As she realized her mother was dead, because of her, Livia could feel something in her heart give way. It was a momentary flash of pain, followed by a numbness shed never felt before. It was a strange and frightening sensation, and as she concentrated on it, she began to realize that though her pain was great something inside, something vital to her very soul, had died. And it had died with Ann.
Alec pulled his bloody dagger from Ann's chest and laid it at Ares feet. He then bowed to his god in reverence.
"My god, do I have your favor?"
Ares grinned, enjoying the feeling of power this mortals sacrifice and worship filled him with, but he was still not inclined to grant Alec's request.
"You'll know if you survive the upcoming battle." Ares spared Ann, the woman who had died merely for his pleasure, one last glance and then faded away.
Alec turned to face his men. "He wasn't satisfied with the woman. Search the grounds! I want every woman and child in this place brought here. We'll sacrifice them all until this temple floor runs red with their blood. Move out!"
As soon as Brigid heard the footsteps of the men in the altar room retreat, she moved to open the floor covering, but Livia held her back. She didn't know why but something told her danger was still in the room above. She yanked Brigid back down, much to her sisters dismay. Part of her wanted to escape this entire situation. Another part of her cringed away from the idea of seeing the only mother shed ever known dead on an altar to Ares.
"Stay down Spider."
"Why? They're gone and Mommy needs our help."
"I don't think we can help her now. The pleading in Brigids face finally broke Livias resolve. All right, let's just take a peek."
Gently, the girls lifted the floor covering just enough to peek outside. Sure enough, Alec was still in the room, walking about and searching for more possible hiding places. What Alec didn't see, and neither did Ares who was still present but invisible to human eyes, was the slightly raised wooden square in the stone floor, which Livia gently lowered. Unfortunately, it wasn't before she caught sight of the pool of Ann's blood
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