Part 5. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – A Higher Rank

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He held his breath, waiting. A second burst of lightning revealed her again.  Livius ran suddenly, going to the foot of the tower, clambering upward in the wail of wind.

When he came off the ladder onto the railing- enclosed platform, Lucilla for one moment remained posed against the sky, like some unutterably lovely statue of a goddess.

When she heard him, she swung away from her intense study of the vistas below her, and heeled around to face him.

For a moment, neither of them spoke, facing each other, removed up here from all the rest of the world, like two distant stars alone in a black firmament. The thunder shook the tower supports as well as the pillars of the earth.

Livius said, “Maybe I should have stayed away. I have no right–”

“I was thinking about you.”

He exhaled heavily. “It’s no good. I’ve known that, even when I was a boy. I knew then you were never intended by fate for me. Ever since I saw you again here, I’ve tried to fight it off –the way I feel about you….But I can’t…It seems all I have that’s good on earth–the way I love you….I love you, Lucilla. I’ve loved you–forever—as long as I have any memory of you, I’ve loved you.”

He took a long stride across the platform toward her. She fixed her gaze on his face in the darkness and sudden glare of white lightning. He took her in his arms, feeling her shudder.

Her face lifted up to his and he kissed her, more roughly than he intended because his love was so intense.

The storm raged, and yet was paled by the storm that had built for so many lonely years inside them.

Suddenly Lucilla cried out, wrenching away from him.

Livius stood, bereft, unable to move, staring at her. She had to come back to him, close in his arms, he was less than whole without her, and there was no longer any denying that she knew this now.

A savage shudder shook Lucilla and she turned away from him, going to the railing, almost as if she meant to walk out into space and end the brutal conflict inside her.

Livius walked to her, pressed himself against her, feeling her tremble, feeling the resistance against him go out of her. He pulled her about to face him.

Lucilla cried brokenly. She had no strength to fight him, only the desperate knowledge that she must. “No….No….No.”

Livius held her closer, whispering, “You love me–you know.”

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She tried to pull away, tilted her head back, her slanted eyes brimmed with tears. She spoke tiredly, as if her will and energy were spent, leaving her without spirit. “Yes, I love you. I want you. It has always been you. First. Only. Always. I want no other man…But I–I’ve been afraid, too, that this day would happen.”  The tears spilled, slow drops on her high-planed cheeks. He mouth trembled. “There were times–knowing it—I didn’t even want to live….Not without you…It made me doubt life—or any reason for living…Oh, I doubted life, but I–never doubted the way I loved you.” She stood straighter. “I am pledged, Livius. You know that. I promised by father—”

“Come away with me, “Livius said. “Now. Anywhere. Wherever a man and a woman can be alone.”

He eyes distended, her voice showed her shock. “I–am Caesar’s daughter.”

Livius tried to smile. “I’ll make a woman of you. That is a much higher rank.”

Lucilla shook her head, crying. “I couldn’t live that way.”

“I could. I could live any way, as long as it is with you.”

She breathed out, disengaging herself, leaving against the platform railing, slowly regaining control of her emotions. Her voice was truly incredulous. “Run? Hide? Give up everything?”

“What do we really have–on this earth–except each other?”

“Forsake our vows – our pledges?”

“Gladly. Gladly.”

There was such force, such power and need in his voice in his voice that Lucilla felt helpless against his will, his strength. “How long does this madness last?”

“Forever.” He drew her closer. “But even if only for a month – a week –”

“You’d trade your duty and your honor for this?” She stared at him, frightened. “And you are the man my father wished to be his heir.”

His laugh was bitter, tormented. “I’m not the man to take his place, Lucilla.”

“Of course you are. Father knows you’ll grow, learn–who else but you?”

“I don’t know. But not me.”

“You are the only man, and you’d throw it away like  this.”

“Let me tell you the truth, Lucilla. If I had to chose between being Caesar’s heir- or your love.” He shook his head, holding her closer, convulsed with a sudden shudder.

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