Part 9. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – The Barbarians in Ravenna

This series of blogs is specifically lifting portions of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” novelization which did not appear in the film production, mostly focused on Livius’ relationship with a German Princess, played by Lena Von Martens, and the fictional settlement of Germans (Macromanni) in and around Ravenna. The scenes were filmed, but they didn’t make the final cut. I hope someday to see a new DVD release which features them! In the meantime…

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When Livius strode into the market place, the Italians glanced up from filling jugs or drinking at the fountain. The blond savages turned away from the displayed wares in the stores, standing as if awaiting sudden doom as Livius approached. It has been an interminable time, but the Marcomanni believed no more in good now than they had on the day they entered Ravenna.

Livius slowed, feeling tired. He was aware of Xenia and Timonides close behind him, almost as if they were his bodyguard, ready to die for him, but not ready to allow him a moment of freedom, a full breath of air.

He glanced at Xenia from the corner of his eye. She no longer looked like a child though she was still a young girl. She had the look now of a woman, and he winced, knowing he’d given her that, driven into her arms, trying to find a forgetfulness that always eluded him. He never forgot anything, not even when Xenia screamed and in her anguished pleasure.

He drew his hand across his face, sweated. It was a failure, all of it.

Timonides gestured toward the market place where the crowds of blond and dark people were stirred together, yet obviously in now way integrated. He spoke hopefully, “See how well they live together, General. Blond and dark people–”

Livius was silent, grimly surveying the peaceful scene, a peace entirely of the surface, boiling underneath, ready to erupt.

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“Oh, Great Livius! Oh, Great Livius!”

Livius went tense at the cry of a young female voice. A blonde child, not yet twelve, hurled herself from a crowd of the barbarians, ran across the stones and clutched her arms about his hips, pressing her face against his body, kissing him.

“Oh, I’ve looked for you every day, ” she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks, “May I come and live with you now? Will you make me your own slave, until I am old enough for you to marry? I’ll be as no woman ever was for you. My whole life will be yours.”

Frowning, Livius lifted the child in his arms, holding her out at eye level, studying her. “Who are you?”

“Don’t you remember, Livius?” Timonides said when the child wept inconsolably. “She is Griselda, the child you saved from a javelin–”

“But you were only a baby!” Livius said, holding her in his arms until her sobbing ceased. “How you’ve grown.”

“Children grow fast,” Xenia said.

“And I will grow much faster now,” the little girl said, talking brightly into Livius’ face, stroking his cheek. “In this wonderful place you have brought us, I’ll soon be grown, and I’ll be lovely- and you will want me.”

“I’ll never be worthy of your loveliness,” Livius told her, smiling. “Are you happy here?”

“Oh, yes. It is heaven here. We have everything, and I remember when we had nothing, only cold and misery all the time. I worship you, sire. Not only for saving my life–but for all you have done for all of us.”

Livius, his eyes burning, kissed the girl’s cheek and set her on the pavement. “You run along and play and grow. Don’t ever speak of being anyone’s slave–except the man you love–”

“It is you I love,” she said. “I’ll never love anyone else.”

“Then you be happy,” Livius said, “For I love you.” When she was gone, he smiled for the first time in months. “A child. Of course it’s easier for her to adjust than for her parents. But maybe it will work, after all.”

“It is working,” Timonides said. “The parents will learn civilization, and the childen will forget they ever lived otherwise.”

Pleased, Livius gave Xenia and Timonides a brisk nod of approval as though they were responsible for peace and order in Ravenna, as though this whole experiment were somehow particularly theirs.

He turned and strode away from them, anxious to find new signs of the slow spread of success.

Xenia did not move. Her face was shadowed. Timonides laughed at her. “Do not be jealous, Xenia. It doesn’t become a princess….Besides, it was only a child he kissed.”

“A child today, “Xenia said, “Yesterday she was a baby.”

“Do not be jealous–”

“I cannot help that I am jealous. You are my teacher. You insist upon teaching me the ways of the Greek. The proud and jealous Greeks–”

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Part 8. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – The Tigress and The Soldier

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“You’re tired, Livius, “Timonides said. “You need rest more than violence. ” He smiled, “Even the violence of my little tigress.”

Livius didn’t look at Xenia again. He watched Timonides, puzzled. “Don’t you ever need anything, Greek? Aren’t you roused by animals like that?” He jerked his head toward Xenia, still without giving her a glance.

“I have my problems, “Timonides said. “The Greeks are a jealous, proud, race-conscious people. I am like that. I was like that. I learned a great deal from Marcus. I taught him much but I learned more from him. Resignation. Acceptance.”

“Lessons I’ll never learn.” Livius pressed his fingers hard against his eyes, seeing lights and prisms of color from the pressure. He stared a Timonides. “I’ve fought in battles for eleven years, and faced death many times. I have overcome much, many fears. Yet you seem more at peace, more certain of yourself than I am. Why?”

Xenia moved with the lithe grace of a lynx, soundless as a shadow. Timonides had grown accustomed to her presence, and Livius was too exhausted to care what she did. They were deeply absorbed and did not see her lunge suddenly, before Timonides could answer the imperium. She grabbed the sword. It whistled free of its scabbard, glinted in the yellow light as she sprang toward Livius.

The only sound Xenia made was the hissing inhalation as she threw up her arms to strike. It was enough, too much. Timonides swung around and thrust his arm in the same movement between Xenia and Livius.

Livius, roused by Timonides’ silent wheeling about, moved with the instinctive speed of a combat-trained soldier. He sprang upon Xenia, turning, and could only partially block the sword thrust.

Timonides bit his lip, face twisting in pain. The sword had laid open his upper arm. Blood spurted, spilling over his tunica.

Livius glanced at the slave, moved past him, reaching out with quick, deft movement, snatching the sword from Xenia.

In a fluid, continuous motion, he brought his other arm up, backhanding Xenia across the face and sending her sprawling.

Xenia struck a tent support, almost toppled around it, clutching at the wood for balance. Then she slid beyond it, moving into a shadowed corner, crushed, cringing, numb with physical shock as she watched Livius stalk toward her, blood-smeared sword red in his fist.

The fiery green passion of hatred died in her eyes and she slumped inward, watching dully for the death stroke.

Livius’ face was cold. He raised his sword over her.

From behind him, Timonides cried in anguish, “No! No!”

Clutching his blood-covered arm, Timonides ran to them. He caught Livius’ upraised arm. He shook his head, mouth gray. “I don’t want her punished, Livius.”

Sword still upraised, Livius stared at him incredulously. “But she tried to take your life. She’s wounded you. You must kill her.”

They both stared at the girl crouching numbly in the corner…

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Suddenly, Xenia slumped to the ground, sobbing.

Livius jerked his head around, staring at her in amazement.

From the ground the quivering girl whimpered, “I no longer want to be a warrior.”

Livius had already heard more than he could comprehend. He demanded grimly, “What is it you want to be?”

Xenia answered, but her voice was almost inaudible, as though all this were too new for her, feelings she didn’t understand and had no words for , and was almost ashamed of uttering. “A woman…I do not want to kill any more.”

Livius knelt, lifted her easily by her shoulders. He held her at eye level, inspecting her suspiciously. “Give up your arms and live in peace?”

Xenia avoided his eyes, mumbling. “I want—to live in one place – with one man – the way the Romans do.”

Timonides, tending his slashed arm, glanced up at this with a wry smile. “The way the Romans say they do–”

But Livius was staring at the girl. He lowered his slowly until she was back on the ground. His expression was a mixture – suspicion, disbelief and faint, replenishing hope.

 

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Part 7. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington- Taming the Princess 

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On the farthest reaches of the Danube frontier, the Roman legions found themselves filled with a despair, which for the first time in twelve centuries came from within. They had been cold before, faced overwhelming odds, gone farther from home, met defeat, but for the first time they huddled in the desolate marshes into which their pursuit of the Macromanni had led them, feeing cut off from hope, depressed and dispirited because whisper had it Commodus Emperor was ending support of the north campaign.

No man liked to enter such a swamp of desolation, but disciplined fighters went where the battle was. Never before had they faced the probability of abandonment by Rome.

There was no warmth in this chilled land. The marsh was wild, infested with death and unseen terrors, all of it blanketed with low-lying fog.

Behind the soldiers in a picketed prison pit, the captive barbarian women and children huddled together against the cold.

Livius moved past the prisoners, gazing at his soldiers but not speaking to them.  He went through the dank encampment, sharing the loneliness of his legions, but haunted  by something he had lost that most of them had never known.

A light glimmered from a tent ahead of him in the fog. He walked toward it without any sense of anticipation.

Through the slit of the tent-flap, Livius saw Timonides and the barbarian princess Xenia. Timonides was reading by the inadequate flickering of a swinging oil lamp. Before the Greek teacher, Xenia sat rigidly.  Her eyes glittered with sullen hatred. Holding a wax tablet and a stylus clumsily, she watched Timonides intently, trying to gather some gleam of sense from all he was teaching her.

When Livius entered the tent, Xenia’s eyes darkened. The look of hatred in them became even more intense. Livius saw that glitter impaling him, but ignored it.

When Timonides saw it was Livius, he put away the document from which he was reading. Sighing with relief, Xenia instantly dropped stylus and tablet.

Timonides stood up, a warm smile lighting his dark face. “I am teaching the princess how to read and write.”

Livius nodded, glancing at Xenia with a look of curiosity. She averted her gaze.

“I am teaching her Greek,” Timonides said with a smile. “That is my way of trying to make a Roman out of her.”

Livius exhaled in weariness. “A Roman out of her?” He paced morosely, both of them watching him. “This is a war without end–no matter what they say in Rome. You think you have Ballomar beaten, he disappears only to come back stronger than ever.” He heeled around, face gray with rage, his dark eyes fixed on the savage princess. “What sort of people are you, Xenia? You have no homes, no families. You live on horses.”

Xenia straightened on the ground. Her voice was tinged with contempt. “We are warriors–”

“Warriors?” Suddenly Livius stride over to her, grabbed her. He pulled her to her feet before she could struggle at all. “Don’t you ever yearn for a man?” He held her savagely against him, his face gray and taut, and no sign of pleasure in his eyes, his mouth a rash of rage. “To be held like this? To be loved?”

For a moment, breathless, Xenia pressed against him, her heart hammering, her untamed emotions violently and quickly roused.

Her fingers dug into his arms, she clung to him. But this lasted less than the space of a harried breath. In that time she was flooded with raging memories. She remembered the way she had gone on her knees to him, waiting for him to act the victor claiming his rights over a female prisoner. This was the treatment she understood, and even when she fought him–if she opposed him that night in that tent at Vindobona–she would not have hated him because there was no man even among her father’s people to match this splendid man. Her opposition would have been half-hearted, but her passions would have been of a violence he would never know in the effete cities of the South. She had offered herself, even if he were her hated enemy. Nothing could ever erase the memory of the strange treatment he’d shown her, acting as if she were not only unlovely, but not a woman at all.

Defiantly, she writhed free, hurtling her words and her hatred at him. “No! No.”

Livius stepped toward her. He saw Timonides watching them, but Timonides would not attempt to deter him, no one could stop him if he meant to take her. A man needed a woman, worse than ever in this desolate place, even a barbarian like this one.

Suddenly he spoke somewhat more gently. “Then what do you live for? Even warriors must yearn for peace?”

Xenia crouched defiantly, voice shrill. “Peace is for pigs. We live for victory.”

Livius pushed her away from him roughly. The sudden fire that had flared to instant life was even more abruptly quenched. He didn’t want her. He didn’t want any woman. It was a hellish truth he had learned, when you feel rage toward the only woman you could love, you hated all women with that same fierce intensity.

He needed something, but it wasn’t this half-wild creature. He drew the back of his hand across his forehead, for that instant almost overcome with dizzying weariness. His clothing was intolerable, the weight of his flat, short sword unbearable. With a tired movement, he removed the sword, place it on the table without even glancing at it.

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Part 3. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – A Barbarian Who Thinks

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“You’ve been too much at Rome, Commodus. You— should be more with your father.”

Commodus roared. “Will you tell me how I must live? Must I try to live as you do? Like a pupil, drinking in every word of my illustrious father’s? Live you do!” His voice was hoarse. “Oh, I’ve heard all the rumors. Why Father has gathered everyone here…Why you were at his side.” His voice broke suddenly, his mouth twisting. He shook his head. “No…No, Livius, don’t let it come from you….I need you as my friend. Don’t tell me any more…I don’t want to hear it.”

In the pregnant silence, Livius sighed, deeply moved. “I am your friend, Commodus.”

Commodus stared at him, his mouth pulled petulantly, for a long time. Suddenly then, he shook off his thoughts and heeled around, staring at Xenia.

“Ah, Princess,” he said. “You boast that you are a nation of warriors…Well, then, warrior, every solider knows that sometimes his side loses–and he becomes part of the spoils of war –even a princess becomes a slave. to be used as the master wishes.” When she did not move, he shouted at her. “Do you hear me? You are lost. You are prisoners of war.” He stood up. “Come here to me.”

Xenia did not move. There was no way to tell from her expressionless face even if she heard him at all. His voice rose. “Come! Drink with me. You may as well accept that you are lost. You may as well relax.” He laughed. “You may as well enjoy it. Wine will help you put a brighter edge on everything–Drink!”

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When the slender young girl still did not move, he went around the table to her.

He knelt, offered the beaker of wine, but she turned her head away, stiffly.

Commodus caught her head in his hand, tried to pour the wine down her mouth. It ran trickling across her lips, filling her nostrils, discoloring her cheeks.

Suddenly, gasping, she struck at him savagely, spilling the beaker of wine all over him.

Commodus yelled at her, like a child in a tantrum. “I am sill Caesar’s son! Do you understand? I could have you burned alive.”

Commodus slapped at the droplets of wine splattered upon his clothing. His eyes were wild, fixed on her, his mind churning with the indignities that would degrade her, show her the depths a woman could reach when she fought him.

Suddenly he realized that Livius was watching him silently, shocked by his lack of self-control.

Commodus, trembling, managed to get hold of his emotions. He moved to gaze over Xenia’s body and then turned slowly to face Livius.

His voice was casual. “I don’t want this one after all, Livius. I thought I did. She rouses me more to rage than to passion and–that doesn’t fit my mood tonight.” He jerked his head toward Tauna. “I’ll trade you – even before I’ve used the princess at all…This little blonde animal quivering like a frightened animal is more for me.”

Livius nodded. “Take Tauna then, Commodus. She’s yours.”

Commodus stared at Livius another moment. Then he walked to Tauna and grabbed her. She bit her lip, but did not cry out. She was quivering and kept her eyes closed. Pleased, Commodus knelt, swung her easily up into his arms and strode out of the room into his quarters.

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Livius was shaken. It was as if Commodus were full of hatred and his only satisfaction came from venting it upon the helpless.

Livius took a long drink of wine, but it was tasteless, less than water. He was troubled, wondering if he would remain cold, and beyond the touch of wine for the rest of his life.

Xenia stirred slightly across the table and, remembering her, he turned, looking at her. he said gently, almost teasing. “Is it true, girl, as Commodus fears – that you think?”

She got slowly to her feet, came around the table to him, knelt between his knees, mouth parted, looking up, pale, as if waiting.

Livius did not touch her. He drew his tongue across his dry mouth, seeing the way she trembled before him, waiting, and he remembered this morning when Marcus planned with Lucilla to give her in a marriage-alliance to Sohamus of Armenia. The only woman he had ever loved; he had feared all his life that he would never marry her, now his fear was grounded, and he would not.  What else mattered? Perhaps Commodus was partly right. If only he could hear the gods laughing as Commodus did. Perhaps this girl’s kiss might waken him, and make him forget for a little while.

Throat taut, he lifted his hands, cupped them over Xenia’s ears. He turned her pallid face up, holding her with more force than he realized, but she did not protest.

“A warrior who thinks?” he said. “You’re a fool–that’s what you are–just as I am a fool to forget I’m only a solider, and trying to think. What will it get us? Where?”  He shook his head. “But I will not threaten to burn you alive–just for your crime of thinking.” His mouth twisted. “I will offer you a more generous treaty of peace. A treaty of peace. Rome and the barbarian who thinks.” His hands tightened on her head. Her eyes searched his face, shadowed, in fear and misunderstanding. Cruelty she could understand, the force of his hands, the use of her body, all this she understood–but the tone and quality of his voice troubled and frightened her. She drew her tongue across her parted mouth, trying to move closer to him, waiting.

Suddenly Livius got to his feet. Xenia fell back, eyes wide. Livius stepped over her and walked past the guard, going out of the tent. Xenia stared after him, bewildered and chilled.

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Part 2. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – What is Rome?

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There was a silence in Commodus’ quarters that had nothing to do with noise. The sound of laughter, the tones of voices, the clatter of dinnerware did nothing against the din of silence. It seemed to Livius this terrible quiet was concentrated in him, the noises in the room did not touch him, and were absorbed in the static silence.

He glanced toward Commodus, lounging at the table, eating and drinking heartily. If there was silence or tension, he saw that Commodus was unaware of it.

The table before them was loaded with food such as Livius had not seen since his last state banquet, and wine by the flagonfuls.

At the foot of the table, neither of them touching the rich foodstuffs, the two blonde girl prisoners crouched, more like animals than women.

Tauna was disheveled, her animal-skin garment falling from her shoulders across her breasts. Her long blonde hair was matted, reminding Livius of the main of a wild horse he had seen once, imprisoned, burr-clogged.

The Princess Xenia was something else again. While Tauna was uneasy, troubled by the oil-lamp lights, the rich texture of the furnishings, the quantity and odors of strange foods, twisting, watching with awed fascination every move was made. Xenia seemed as if in catatonic trance.

Xenia’s blue eyes were dull, vacant, fixed on thoughts inside herself. Wild as she was, she had more imagination than Tauna. She knew why she had been brought here, and she gazed with deep loathing upon Commodus because she was intelligent enough to see cruelty was the kind of passion that excited him, and he would get the most sensual pleasure from debasing her since she was barbarian royalty.

Her long blonde hair gleamed in the lights, catching shafts of silver when flames flickered, but tresses fell across her face and throat, unnoticed by her and she did not even  brush them away.

 

Livius watched her, seeing that it was from her that this tension and silence emanated, like some mysterious aura that flooded the room. Nothing could reach her, and because of her, and because of things left unspoken, the atmosphere between him and Commodus was increasingly charged and tense.

Commodus spoke with his mouth full. “You are very silent, Livius.”

Livius wanted only to avoid the unpleasantness he saw was ahead. He had tried to get drunk, he had put away more wine than Commodus had, but it didn’t affect his senses. Steadily he became colder, more sober and aware, sensitive to every change in the brightly lighted room.

He said, placating Commodus, “Perhaps I’ve been a solider too long.”

“No. Perhaps it’s just because you don’t like the things I say- what I just said, and, ” he spoked deliberately,”what I now repeat. The Roman empire has no real meaning.” He smiled, pleased, when Livius leaned forward, cold and rigid. “If there is any logic anywhere, Livius, what Haven’t our provinces rebelled long ago?”

“Because they are not fools. Before we came to them, most of them were savages.” Unconsciously, he jerked his head toward the terrified Tauna, cringing at the tension in their voices, following each movement of their hands or heads. “We’ve brought them roads. We’ve brought them law. We’ve –”

“That was centuries ago, Livius, ” Commodus said wearily. “But now – they could build their own roads, and make their own laws, much cheaper. Why should they pay us taxes and tributes? Who are we?”

Tauna, trembling, set herself and sprinted toward the door. A guard stepped into her path, caught her roughly, and pushed her back to her place near Xenia. Her princess did not look at her, and neither Commodus nor Livius gave Tauna or the guard a glance.

“We are Rome, “Livius said.

“Rome!” Commodus laughed. “A myth holds the empire together! The truth is the provinces no longer need us. Only we never let the colonies suspect it. My father strides about, the great image of a god-like father, going about doing good for all, for them and for Romans, brining their leaders to state functions like this – or to Rome itself – dazzling them with games and banquets…and then if they still seem suspicious – crush them.”

“No. The more you talk, Commodus, the more I see your father is right. Crushing them, taxing their strength away – that’s not the sane answer. We must find new ways …change–”

“My father!” Commodus sat forward, shaken by sudden cold fury. “He is always talking about change- learning to love and understand even those who harm us! That is the one thing we must not do – change. As a matter of fact, we in Rome as living far beyond our means. If we stop, our creditors would tear us to pieces. No, no, Livius – what’s the saying? — live while there’s still light. Let’s laugh while the gods are laughing.”

Livius’ face was gray. “I don’t hear the gods laughing, Commodus.”

Commodus held his gave, their eyes clashing. They faced each other. Commodus’ cheeks were pallid. “We’re not saying everything we know, friend Livius…Something weighs on you. What is it?”

Livius was as pale as Commodus, but he did not speak. Tauna whimpered in the thick silence. Commodus shouted, “Well?”

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Part 1. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – Barbarian Women

Excerpts from THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE Novel by Harry Whittington

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I am going to focus on the Livius and Princess Xenia scenes. This side story was unfortunately edited from the movie version. I will share the best excepts from this novel on my blog, starting with this one. Lena Von Martens would have played this character in the movie. Due to editing time constraints her character (Helva) was given a much reduced screen time. In the original story, this barbarian Princess has an affair with Livius while he is patrolling the Northern Frontier. This story also focuses on the Germanic tribes and how Livius and Timonides try to incorporate them into the Roman way of life. Livius’s love affair with Xenia epitomizes this effort, romantically speaking. I will also include of my favorite harlequin moments between Livius and Lucilla as well. 

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Tauna and Princess Xenia of the Marcomanni Tribe

Slightly on edge, Livius said. “There’s much for a Roman to think about these days, Commodus.”

Commodus laughed, but did not speak and they moved past the praetorium to the quaestorium behind it where was housed the quarters of the paymaster, and the prisoner’s pit.

Walking, Commodus glanced idly into the pit at the barbarian prisoners. Among them were blonde, blue eyed women and children, the Marcomanni. All about them war loot was piled high, arms, shields, helmets.

Commodus moved on, then slowed, looked intently at the two young blonde girls chained to stakes in the pit. Something about the debased position of the two women, bound and helpless, struck at Commodus, and he felt a quickening inside him. He seldom got enjoyment from ordinary pleasures any more, but when his object was helpless, or full of hatred, or fear, or rage, like the wild beasts in the arena, ah, then this was something else.

One of the girls straightened against the stake, standing as tall as she could. Her blue eyes were glacier-chilled, fixed on Commodus and Livius outside the barrier. The girl tilted her head, crying out defiantly, straight at them, but not speaking to them at all. “Oh, great god Wotan! God of the warriors…Today we have nothing to offer you.” She spat towards the prince and the tribune. “Tomorrow – your altar will be decorated with Roman heads!”

She pointed directly at Commodus and Livius. Commodus watched her, licking his mouth with anticipation.

“What are they like- these barbarian women? he said.

“I don’t know, ” Livius said.

Commodus laughed not believing him. “Shall we find out?” He took a drink from the wineskin, extending it, laughing, toward the two girls.

When Livius hesitated, Commodus spoke irritably, “What’s the matter? Have you lost your taste for that , too?”

Livius turned slightly, glancing back toward the praetorium in the sweated heat. A bitter shadow crossed his face. He took the wineskin from Commodus, drank deeply. He flung the wineskin from hi, emptied. Commodus smiled approvingly. The two barbarian girls stood straight against the stake, staring at them, eyes burning.

Commodus shouted: “Guard!”

A guard came running, his sandals battering the hard ground. Commodus pointed to the two women.”Bring them to us.”

The guard hesitated.

Commodus jerked his head around. “Well?”

“One of them, Highness, is – a princess.” “A barbarian princess!”

Commodus laughed. “So much better. Which one?”

The guard indicated the girl who had shouted defiantly. “The Princess Xenia, Highness. The other his her handmaid, Tauna.”

“Fine.” Commodus nodded. “Bring them to my quarters. Now.”

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