Memoirs of Vinca
  Part Two
I was put to work in the kitchens, scrubbing the floor, scouring pots, fetching heavy buckets of water from the well in the Palace courtyard.  The work was arduous, backbreaking.   Each night I collapsed on to the mattress in my tiny sleeping alcove, aching all over from the day's exertions.   My efforts must have pleased Trincula, for soon I was "promoted," if one may be so bold as to say so, to what we dutifully termed as "upstairs tasks."  This meant I would be responsible, along with the other "upstairs workers", for cleaning the vast rooms, corridors and hallways of the Palace itself.  For the first time I was truly afraid; these duties meant I would be interacting directly with the Imperial Family .  I was terrified of leaving even the tiniest speck of dust, of accidentally breaking a vase, bust or statue.    I tried to block my fears and got on with the tasks laid out before me.  It was all I could do.
I haven't yet described the Imperial Family to you, so I will do so now.  There was the Emperor himself, white-haired and elderly; once a strong and active man, he nowadays   had difficulty with his mobility.  His name was Marcus Aurelius, although we had to call him "Sire."  He seemed pleasnt enough; in fact, he spent most of his time at the palace in the comforting enclosure of his chambers, writing at his desk.  Sometimes I would be kneeling on the floor of his chambers, darning a robe,  or scuttling around busily, dusting cloth in hand, as he wrote.  He never spoke harshly to me; in fact, he hardly spoke to me at all, except to request another cup of hot tea, place another log on the fire  or to compliment me on a job well done.  He was very gracious, and I thought him a fine Emperor.
There was also Lucilla, his eldest child, her husband Verus, and their two-year old son Lucius.  Lucilla was exquisite, tall and slender like the branch of a willow-tree, with abundant honey-coloured hair, wide-set green eyes, and an intelligent brow.  Her husband Verus was a fine, strong featured man with curly blond hair.  They seemed happy together, although I once overheard a conversation between Trincula and Portia, the cook, that cast doubts on my observation....
"The Lady looked  a little peaky today when I gave her her breakfast," Trincula remarked.
"That wouldn't surprise me.  She hasn't been really happy for a long time, not since you-know-who married his childhood sweetheart,  Hmpf!" Porti's mouth  formed a tight line.   She began to stir the contents of a pot vigorously.
"Oh come on, Portia.  Any fool can see she adores  Verus. You can see it in her eyes...having said that, she married him quickly, not long after you-know-who flew the don't think she married Verus on the rebound, do you?"
"I'm saying nothing" Portia replied, her face indignant, but  her eyes spoke volumes.    "You were the one who found that love poem to Centurion Maximus on her dresser while cleaning her quarters, so work it out for yourself"
"But that was a long time ago! Hmmm, on second thoughts, you could be right...Vinca? Come here.  Can you fetch us some more pots please?"
The Emperor also had a son, Commodus, whom I had never seen.   He was living at the family villa in Tuscany, under the dutiful care of nurses and tutors.  He was due to return to the palace soon, and so I was anxious to meet him.
One morning, I was rushing along the main corridor, bearing a heavy bucket filled with water.  My duty was to scrub the floors outside the Imperial Chambers.  I had to move swiftly because, as I said, the bucket was rather heavy, and I feared I would drop it before reaching my destination.  Rounding a corner, I promptly collided with a boy about my age, who was, until then, swinging a wooden sword in the corridor.  Needless to say, I dropped the bucket,  water sloshing all over his feet and mine.
"You great, clumsy fool!" he screamed.  Shocked by the    vehemence of his words , I blinked, trying to regain my composure, straightening up  to get a proper look at him.  The boy continued his tirade against me.  "Are all  slaves as  careless and ignorant as you?"  He glared at me, his fierce little face contorted.
"I-I'm sorry..." I managed to mutter.  The boy was small for his age, a finger's-width shorter than I in those days.  His hair was dark, wavy, somewhat unkempt, his skin alabaster-pale; but it was his eyes that astounded me.  They were the colour of stormy teal, a luminescent turquoise, full of strange lights and shadows.  I can honestly say that I have never encountered a pair of eyes to match them, before or since.  Over them lay a pair of haughty black brows like the wings of a raven.  The upper lip of his insolent mouth bore a strange scar, adding an interesting dimension to his features, like a sudden flash of gold in marble.  He was the most hauntingly beautiful young man I had ever seen.  
I thought he was the son of a Senator, or of one of the Emperor's many guests.  Whoever he was, I thought, he clearly needed a lesson or two in manners, despite me being his inferior.  Then a thick-set man emerged from a nearby doorway.  "Come, Master Commodus," he said, "it is time for your grammar lesson."
The boy spun round.  "Oh, do I have to, Castillus?" he whined.
"Your father will be displeased if you don't attend the lesson, Sire."   said the man.
Smashing his sword against the wall in temper, the mercurial youth turned on his heel and stalked after the man, pausing in the doorway to stick his tongue out at me.
That was my first encounter with the heir to the throne, the young man who, once grown to manhood, would change my life forever.
About a week later, I overheard yet another conversation between Trincula and Portia.  Here is how it went:
"I tell you, Trincula, he's growing into a right nasty little so-and-so!  I tell you, if he was one of mine, I-I'd give him a good hiding, that  what I'd do!  Doesn't his father bother to check him?"
"His father's hardly ever there to check him" sighed Trincula.  "Be fair, Portia, he took it bad when his brother passed away, and his mother not long after.  It's no surprise he's been ...difficult"
They were talking about Commodus, who'd apparently flung a drink in the face of Cleandrus, a young male servant, claiming he had asked for something else.  Furthermore, he'd  kicked poor little Hestia on the shin, because she'd failed to spot a discarded pear core under his bed  while cleaning his chamber.   Poor Hestia was presently perched on a stool in floods of tears, having her injured leg bandaged.   I said nothing, but I was well aware of Commodus' cruelty.  He was horrible to me.   He was horrible to everyone. He was a bully and, like all bullies, a coward.  Over the years, we came to dread his visits to the Palace.  All of us were relieved each time he got into his chariot and returned to the family's Tuscan villa.  I got the distinct impression his family was relieved too, particularly his father.     

part 1   part 3