February brought snow, more snow and a little ice thrown in for good measure. George and I didn't go out much because even with shoveling and cinders the walks were dangerous. At just seven months, we were big as houses and just unbalanced enough that we feared falling. If the men were with us, then we ventured out all bundled up in fur and leather boots.
But for some reason, we weren't champing at the bit because we were snowed in. I did research in Dad's home library for some of his cases and George spent her time carving in Ned's workshop. Both of them stayed home when they could but Ned was making a name for himself in house designing while Dad's law business was going gangbusters. Jimmy Lane was just the man to help take off some of the load. They were actually looking for another lawyer to bring in and Dad was thinking of giving Jimmy a partnership.
When I wondered out loud why I wasn't more restless, Hannah kissed my cheek and told me that I was nesting. Oddly enough, that made perfect sense when I thought about it. I found myself in the nursery almost every day. Sometimes it was to hang a new picture or put away some of the tiny garments that visitors kept bringing but usually it was to sit in the rocker and stroke the mound that was growing so quickly.
I talked and sang to them every day, going so far as to read some of Dad's research aloud to them. They were, after all, a captive audience. That thought always made me smile and I felt more settled than ever before. The only worry on my horizon was the lingering fear that George wasn't having quite the easy time of it that I was. Dr. Silverman was still warning that she might not be able to deliver them naturally.
We'd both read up on caesarian deliveries and they made scary reading. Anesthesia had come a long way since the days of ether overdoses but that still didn't mean it was unfailing safe. I had faith that we'd both be all right and the babies would be born healthy. That didn't stop me from praying in church every Sunday or sending up prayers to the old gods at the small altars we'd constructed on the mantels in both the master and mistress suites.
Hedging your bets is a time-honored ceremony that couldn't hurt. Sometimes Dad would share some of his own worries with me and we'd bond over a chocolate sprinkled bowl of ice cream. The other two would find us and drag us off to bed to make long, sweet love. That kept us grounded and the dreams helped in their own way. We'd lived and loved before. This life was just the icing on the cake of many layers that was our past.
That helped more than I can say.
Lira was going to take me with her and Petros to the market. She braided my hair and made me wear my best dress, the one that I only got to wear on special occasions. I was going to pick out something for my very own because it was my name-day and I was six today.
She said I was getting to be a big girl and a real help in the kitchen. Petros let me stir things sometimes and I knew how to set the big table in the room where the General had dinners for his officers and visitors. I didn't get to serve them since it was hard for me to reach the table top unless I could walk on the benches. When people were sitting on them that was kind of hard to do.
"Cerri, are you coming?" Lira was laughing at me from the doorway and I jumped up from the floor where I was petting Lula. "Now, remember to hold my hand and promise that you'll stay right by me."
"I promise, Lira." I took her hand and she led me out the kitchen door onto the path where Petros was waiting for us. He was kind of gruff and I'd been a little bit afraid of him when we first came to live with him and the General. But he was my friend now. He knew how much I liked honey cakes so he had Cook make them often.
Cook was black all over because she was from some where far away where everybody looked like that. Her Latin was funny and sing-songing but that was fun when she was singing while she cooked. She slept with Petros but they weren't like Mama and Papa 'cause they weren't married. Lira said that slaves didn't get the chance to marry unless they were really, really lucky.
She was kind of sad when she said that because we were slaves now ourselves. I asked her if we were going to be sold but she told me that the General wouldn't do that. I knew that was because he liked us, all of us. Some nights when it was just family, we sat at the table with him and he told us stories about some place called Rome that was far, far away.
I thought maybe Lira liked him a lot but Nar liked him better. My big brother was growing every day and the General joked that one day he'd be as tall as him. I didn't think it was possible to get that big and I told him so but he just laughed and laughed.
"Watch where you're going, missy." A soldier we didn't know called out to Lira and she hurriedly caught up with Petros who told the other man to watch his tongue.
That would be really hard to do - watch your tongue. I tried it and went so cross-eyed that I almost tripped but that made Petros laugh so it was all right. The traders had all kinds of beautiful things on display and I looked and looked for just the right thing for my name-day but it was hard to choose.
There were so many bright colors and pretty beads. Lira was carrying several baskets now filled with all kinds of food that Petros picked out. I was supposed to hold onto her skirt but there was a pretty shiny thing at one of the booths and I let go for a minute to see what it was. There were several round shiny metal disks that were so bright I could see my face just like I could in still water.
When I turned around to show Lira, I couldn't see her. Oh boy, she was going to be mad if I didn't catch up. But no matter where I looked, I couldn't see her or Petros, just lots and lots of big people. Some of them were frowning at me and I was starting to get scared that I wouldn't ever find my Lira again. What if somebody took me and sold me away?
I just couldn't help but cry when I thought that I'd never see Lira or Nar ever again.
"Cerri, is that you?"
I recognized those long legs and I flung myself at his knees. "Gen-en-er-al, I gots losted."
He swept me up high and I hugged him as hard as I could. "Were you here with Lira and Petros?"
I nodded and pointed back to the stall where I lost them. "I was looking at the shiny things and they disappeared."
"Ah, the mirrors are always tempting to the fairer sex. I expect that we'll find them shortly, looking frantically for you." He smiled at me and used a soft cloth to wipe away my tears. "I believe that you were going to pick out something special for your name-day today. What have you chosen?"
"Too many pretties," I sighed, like Lira does sometimes. "I couldn't decide. The scarves are bright but Lira likes them more than me. There was a pretty basket that was just my size but Lira said it was too 'spensive. I didn't get to ask about the shiny things."
"Why don't you and I look at the baskets and scarves so you can show me which ones were just right?" He carried me back to the stall with the soft scarves, which was right next to the baskets.
We got to look and touch all of them. It was funny but the traders acted real different with the General than they had with Lira and me. It must be because he was so tall.
********* Gaius/Carson *********
Cerri chattered away like a jack-daw but ten times sweeter. My son, Caelius was ten now and I'd missed most of his childhood on campaigns for the empire. It was probably better that way since his education was of and for the aristocracy. My wife's father was President of the Senate and my son's life would never be spent in the legions but in the newly built Senate.
This little one was worth loving for herself. She had a good eye and the dyed yellow scarf with the round onyx beads would look beautiful on dark Lira. I gave the trader a sign that I would take it and the green rattan basket with the red beads that was 'just Cerri sized'.
By then Petros and Lira had found us and I handed Cerri over to her sister. Young Augustus was passing and I co-opted him to carry the three baskets that my housekeeper was carrying so she could keep hold of the little scamp. I rather thought that Augustus might have been lurking nearby on the chance that he could walk with Lira. This would give him that opportunity.
It didn't hurt that at 18, he was a possible candidate for her hand. She might be a slave now but she wouldn't be one forever. If I ever left these fair isles for Rome, I would free them all and make sure they had good dowries. Leaving would rip out my heart but my duty was to my emperor and the people of Rome. I'd provided an heir for the empire, who would perhaps be the politician that I was not.
My nightly prayers to Mithras included the request to stay and hold this province until I was gathered to my ancestors. The Legions had been here for three decades and we were still consolidating our holdings. I was content with my lot, unlike that idiot Claudius who wanted to win something showy and return in triumph to Rome. My family here was much more to my liking than the political marriage I'd left back - I almost said home but that word meant here now.
I paid for the scarf and basket once the others had left. The mirrors were nice quality and would make nice Solstice gifts for the girls. I canvassed the entire market and found nothing to gift to Nar. He asked for so little, only my affection and the knowledge that he was doing a good job as my secretary. In the eight months since I took them in, I'd discovered a romantic streak in my practical nature.
The weapons stall was mostly rubbish but once the vendor realized who I was, the nicer items came out. Nar was growing taller but he'd always be of slight build and I wanted to start his training in weapons. A nice iron dagger with an etched design of a sinuous bronze dragon down one side of the blade felt well-balanced in my hand and I decided that it would do for him to learn with.
I wanted him to be able to protect himself or his sisters if I wasn't there to do so. Those lessons would use up some of that energy he had in such abundance. I could think of better ways to spend that fervor but I'd had an attack of conscious and was slowing down the lessons in our bath. He trusted me unconditionally and that meant that I had to be sure that I was really what he wanted.
I knew he was the one that I wanted in every way I could have him.
"General," his voice came from behind me and I turned to find his expression serious. "A messenger came a few moments ago. He has a dispatch from Londinium."
Ah, that was interesting. I hadn't been expecting news from Rome. "Good, I'll come back now. What do you think of this dagger, Nar?"
He studied it for a moment, taking it from me and examining the wrapped leather hilt. "It feels like the ones I clean for you, balanced and not too heavy."
"You're right, it does. I'll take that one. Deliver it and these things to my kitchen after dusk." I handed over the basket and scarf as well while the trader bowed and agreed. "Come along, Nar." I hesitated. "Did you want to shop while you're here?"
He shook his head and smiled up at me. "No, Sir. I already have Cerri's name-day gift. I found a blue scarf that's the same color of her eyes."
"Good," I strode out of the busy market with him at my side. Our walk back took only a few moments but I must admit to enjoying it more than I should. His blond hair glowed in the sunlight and his bronzed skin almost matched mine in color.
He followed me into my study and the messenger jumped to his feet and saluted me. He handed over the thick parchment and I recognized the Imperial Seal. Dismissing him to the kitchen for refreshment, I asked Nar to take care of him and make sure that Petros found him a bed for the night.
Then I opened my message only to find three within the outer pouch. The first from Emperor Vespasian took my breath away. He was offering to make me the provincial governor of this land we'd decided to call Albion. All the legions would be under my control and the governance of the civilians, also. Instead of appointing one of the civil servants that mostly did a good job for the empire, he was choosing me.
One of the other letters explained my current favor. It was from my father-in-law, Tiberius Grapus, the President of the Senate. He congratulated me on finding favor with the imperial court and how concerned he was that my new assignment would be a burden for his daughter and me. Reading between the lines, which I'd learned to do about five minutes after meeting him, I absorbed his order to give his daughter a discrete divorce.
The third letter was from Clodia, my wife or rather soon to be ex-wife. She wished me well but had no desire to move to such an uncivilized outpost. Our son was well and being tutored by the Imperial Tutor for his life serving the empire. She granted my wish for a divorce since she was sure that I had found another to share my life. We would remain friends and united in the love of our son. A small postscript told me that her father was allowing me to keep her dowry.
I let her letter fall atop the other two and wondered exactly what I was feeling. Pride that the emperor thought I would be a good governor. No matter what pressure Tiberius had brought to bear, Vespesian would never appoint a man who he didn't think could do the job. Albion was still a part of his empire and he guarded it jealously. But what of the divorce and the giving up of my son?
Standing, I went to the window and looked out on the grove of oak trees that surrounded the dead Druid's house. If I was honest with myself, I already knew that I was only a name and perhaps a vague memory to the little boy I'd held no more than a dozen times. I wasn't the one who told him stories or taught him how to draw his first bow. Leaning on the wide sill, I breathed in deeply.
Relief - that was what I was feeling. I was from a village north of Rome, like our emperor. The city was not my favorite place to be and it was always a relief to go on campaign. There was never any fresh air it seemed in Rome, not like this northern province. My wife was a nice woman with not much conversation and no interest in my soldiering. Her father was a pompous ass but powerful. If I gave them no trouble now, I would continue to be held favorably in their family.
"Sir? Do you wish Petros to hold dinner?" Nar's voice came hesitantly from the doorway.
Turning, I looked at the lad who'd won my heart and filled most of my waking thoughts. "No, I'll come out. I need to tell the messenger that it will be morning before I send him back with my answers."
"Yes, Sir." He smiled at me and my heart gave that extra beat it usually did. "Will I need to make copies for you?"
"No, Nar, these are letters that are both private and personal." I joined him and wondered why his face fell so tragically. "What is it, little Nar?"
He dropped his eyes. "Petros thought they might be from your family calling you home to Rome. Or maybe from the Emperor sending you to another part of the empire."
I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Would that be such a bad thing, Nar?"
His lip trembled and his eyes were filled with tears when he looked up at me. "It would be g-g-good for you and horrible for m- . . . us."
My heart sang even thought I fought it. "Then it's a good thing that Emperor Vespesian has ordered me to stay here as the provincial governor."
********* Nar/Ned *********
The governor? Here? I threw my arms around him and hugged him as tightly as I could. He wasn't going away. His arms were tight around me and I breathed in his wonderful scent while I tried to stop crying. It was unmanly to burst into tears like a child. Then a horrible thought came to me and I pulled a little bit away.
"Is . . . is your wife coming to live with you?" That would be horrible for me but probably good for him.
He shook his head and caressed the tears from my cheeks. "My father-in-law and his daughter have asked me to release her from our marriage. She will not come here and my son will hopefully remember me as a nice man he knew when he was young. I shall do much better here with my irreplaceable secretary, beautiful housekeeper and the tiny imp who turned six today."
She didn't want him? All I could think was how insane she must be to not want to spend every living minute of the day and night with him. I opened and closed my mouth not sure what to say since I was pretty sure that congratulating him wasn't the right thing to do. But I had to say something or he'd think I was an idiot.
"I'm glad that you're staying and we can stay with you." It wasn't what I wanted to say but it would have to do.
His smile is so beautiful. "I'm glad, too. Now, let's go celebrate Cerri's name-day. By the way, when is your name-day, sweet Nar?"
I loved it when he called me that, hugging the pleasure to me like my very own present. "It's a seven day from today. I'll be fifteen, General Gaius."
"A very advanced age, young Nar, however I think I can come up with something you'll like for that most momentous day." He dropped a kiss on top of my head and I felt very warm again.
Dinner was delicious and Cerri was beside herself with her presents. She kissed me when I gave her the blue scarf, kissed the general for the basket and hugged Lira about to death when she gave her the tiny gray kitten that was just six weeks old that day. Even Petros and Cook had a present for her - a beautiful wooden doll that he'd carved from a beech tree and she'd made a little dress for that was just like Cerri's best dress.
She was so excited that I didn't think we'd ever get her to bed but she actually fell asleep quite quickly once Lira washed her face and tucked her in with her scarf. The kitten curled up in the basket right beside her and I left them for the general's bath with a light heart. I'd whispered the news to Lira that he was staying here and that his family wasn't coming.
She thought that was sad until I told her what he'd said about us. Then she blushed and laughed, sending me off to my duties. For some reason, he'd been slow to take our baths much further than what we'd done that horrible night that I'd thought I'd be turned out because of Claudius' lies. There wasn't anyone I could ask about the way he made me feel or what I could do for him that would bring me the 'more' that I craved.
But tonight I was going to ask him if I could try something that I'd seen the night before when I'd accidentally seen Cook kissing Petros. She'd kissed him and then gone to her knees right there in the kitchen and taken out his shaft from his pants and kissed it. I'd sunk down nearer the floor and watched in fascination the way that she licked and then tried to swallow it whole. I shouldn't have watched, I know that but the way he was moaning and thrusting his hips into her while she sucked on him told me that he liked it.
I was hoping that General Gaius would let me try that. Of course, he's much bigger than Petros and I knew I'd never get all of him inside my mouth but I could lick him and maybe suck on him. I liked making him moan and say my name over and over. The water was hot when I reached the bath and I started filling it from the reservoir that he'd built onto the house after I took off all my clothes and laid them aside on the shelf.
A noise from the door brought my eyes up to see him come in and start to undress. I love watching him do that and he liked it when I was already naked when he came in. His eyes would go hot and his lips would smile a smile that no one else ever saw. I always got hard when he did that and tonight was no exception. He was already getting hard when he stepped down into the tub and held out his hand for me to join him.
"Sweet Nar, you have a most mischievous look on your beautiful face." He had the soap already and he was lathering my chest, stopping to tweak my nipples before running them over my stomach and the shaft that was harder than hard with just that one touch.
I tried to look innocent but when he began to tickle me, I knew he'd seen right through me. I wiggled all over and he stilled his hands on my hips, pulling me towards him so I was lying on his chest with my hands on his wide shoulders. "Beautiful Nar, you are glowing all over. Are you glad that I'm staying here for the next twenty years or so?"
Sliding my arms around his neck, I kissed him the way that he'd taught me with my tongue licking at his lips until he opened up and took me in. He tasted like the sweet wine we'd had for dinner and the honey cakes that Cook had made especially for Cerri. His tongue entwined with mine and then followed me back into my mouth when I retreated a little.
His hands were stroking my cheeks while our shafts collided between our stomachs. Just the feel of his hands there so close to my hole was about to make me come and when he dipped the tip of a finger inside of me, I clenched hard and came all over us. He just swelled harder still and I pulled away to pant some more.
"Sir, may I try something I saw?" I asked him, perched on his heavy thighs with my legs on either side of his.
"Oh dear, that's a very Cerri-like look, young Nar." He chuckled and nodded. "Do with me what you will, little one."
"You'll like it if I do it right." I promised him and I slid back a little so I could get a better look at his shaft standing tall above his stomach. I wasn't going to get much of him inside my mouth because he looked even bigger now that I was looking at him. But I had an idea and I wrapped both hands around him before leaning in to kiss the flared crown.
He groaned and clenched the way I had, "Nar, you don't have to do that. Oh Jupiter, that feels good."
I licked the velvet soft skin of his crown and tasted a kind of salty musk that I'd never tasted before. It wasn't bad, just different and I decided to maybe try to suck the whole crown in to see if I could. I had to stretch a lot and I was afraid that my teeth would hurt him so I just kind of rubbed my tongue over that long slit that was right there on top.
"Caesar's balls, Nar, where in Hades did you see this?" He shuddered under me and I felt like smiling but my lips were completely occupied. "Do that again."
Some of his white stuff came out and tasted bitter for a moment but that was all right. I wanted to make more of it come out so I sucked harder and felt his shaft quiver in my hands. I kept sucking and sliding my hands up and down his shaft while more and more of his bitter seed came out. I was getting hard again just touching him and he warned me that he was going to come, I think so I'd not have to taste him. But I wanted him to come in my mouth and I felt a thrill when his hips came forward a little and he started spurting into me.
I swallowed over and over but some of him leaked out and ran down my chin. When he was done, I finally pulled away and he brought me up to his lips to kiss me. His tongue surged into my mouth and cleaned all his seed away before finishing the kiss. His blue eyes looked into mine and there was something there that I hadn't seen before. "Sweet Nar, you have given me a great gift this night. Lie back and we'll see if I can do as well."
I floated in the warm water while his hot mouth settled around my shaft and began to suck. I felt like I'd been hard forever and all too soon, I came in his throat. He must have learned that from Cook because he'd swallowed me whole. I was definitely going to have to work on doing that for him, I thought while he shared my taste with me. I'd have plenty of time to learn now that he was staying with us.
The end of part 8