Memoirs Of Vinca, Part
for Chryseis-Happy Birthday!
The Palace was in uproar. Servants
fussed and hurried, dusting, sweeping, mopping, smoothing fresh sheets in the
beds in the guest quarters, carrying vats of fresh incense for the burners.
An assortment of fresh and wild blooms transformed the somewhat austere Palace
interiors into a splendid riot of colour, the marble walkways sparkled like
the icy surface of the Tiber in winter. The reason for this sudden
upswing in the otherwise monotonous routine of Palace life?
Commodus had decided to hold a grand reception for Rome's "best and
brightest," as he put it..
I, needless to
say, was among the servile multitudes charged with the task of
ensuring the Palace gleamed from top to bottom in time for the evenings'
festivities. Dusting the statue of Vespasian in the Grand Hallway close
to the Imperial Quarters, I was distracted by the strangest of
sights...A vast garland, borne along by a pair of little thin legs, on a
collision course with one of the rotund pillars lining the corridor.
"Look out!" I yelled, but it was too late. The little
legs crumpled to the ground, there was a "whimpering"
sound, the flowers scattered willy-nilly, revealing Hestia, large dark
eyes blinking and dazed. "Oh, you silly little thing!" I
admonished, rushing to help her to her feet. "What in the Gods'
names were you thinking of, carrying that thing in front of your eyes? It's
obvious you couldn't see a thing...."
Hestia giggled, having
composed herself. "Oh Vinca, I'm sorry! But I have
other, far more pressing things on my mind today...." Smiling
enigmatically, she clasped my hand in hers, pulling me towards a nearby
alcove. "Vinca, today I am the happiest girl in all of Rome!"
Her eyes shone.
"Well come on then, what is it?
Have the powers- that- be granted your freedom?"
"No...even better than that!"
"Oh come on, Hestia, you're torturing
me now. What is it?"
"Cleandrus has asked me to marry
him!" she squealed.
"Oh Hestia, that is marvellous
news!" I replied, kissing her. Truly, I was delighted
for her. Cleandrus and Hestia had always been close since her early days
at the palace, when the then-twelve-years-old Cypriot boy first
took the nine-year old Gallic mouse under his protective wing. Their
friendship, durable and strong, had evolved into love once they reached
adulthood. There had
indeed been a discernible change in Hestia over the past couple of months.
She'd acquired an extra, welcome measure of flesh over her erstwhile
waiflike frame, the shadows under her eyes had gone, her skin had
lost its sallow cast and glowed, radiant, like a fresh peach. Not
quite Juno Gynetrix, you understand, but most definitely healthier. I
wondered whether there was another, more pressing reason for this sudden,
burgeoning womanhood and the concurrent stealth engagement.
" Hestia," I
whispered carefully, lest Trincula or Portia were hanging about somewhere with
ears flapping, "You aren't....er, you aren't..expecting, are
you?" I had, after all, acted as "lookout" on
more than one occasion, so Cleandrus and Hestia could spend some
"quality time" together. Hestia giggled.
"Oh no!" she said. "Cleandrus is always very
careful, and anyway, the dreaded red mist surged forth only a few days ago!
But we can't wait any longer, Vinca, not even until we are free...that could
take years! In fact, the Lady Lucilla has kindly offered to
help us with the arrangements. She says she will pay for the feast and
will be taking me to the Forum next week, to choose material for my wedding
gown! Isn't that wonderful?"
I was charmed by Lucilla's
kindness. The Lady had appeared somewhat stressed of late, but the
fact that she still managed to consider the needs and wellbeing of her
staff impressed me tremendously. She had always been particularly
fond and protective of Hestia, having made her her personal dresser,
partially to shield her from Commodus' hostilities. Young Lucius
also thought highly of Hestia; she would often read to him while
his mother took afternoon tea with her brother. We
had to move then, a clutch of male servants having appeared with a
vast, rolled carpet inlaid with pure gold thread.
Late afternoon saw me busy in
Commodus quarters, helping him to dress for the reception. He'd chosen a
sumptuous gown of midnight blue with a matching cloak, emblazoned with gold
and silver thread, festooned with jewelled brooches and antique
medallions. It showed off his flawless ivory skin and those compelling,
sea- coloured eyes to perfection.
the chain holding the cloak in place around his shoulders, I
turned my attention to the one around his waist. "Ah-ah, do be
careful, Vinca! It's a little too tight...you couldn't loosen it a bit,
could you?" He groaned with discomfort, his face slightly
perplexed. It wasn't overly noticeable, but he'd gained a little
"Of course, Sire. How many
notches? One? Two?"
"Just the one. Oh Vinca, do
I look exquisite? Please tell me!"
"Devastatingly handsome, Sire," I
muttered, amused, through a mouthful of pins. "You'll
impress the sandals off all the ladies at the feast tonight, of that I'm
"Just the sandals?" he
teased. "Oh Vinca, truly, you do make me laugh so, the
things you say!"
"Did you know," I continued,
"that the King of Parthia's daughter is coming tonight?"
Commodus had never married, had never been betrothed to anyone. Why was
He rolled his
eyes. "Oh, who cares? The woman's a frightful bore. All
she ever talks about are her silly herb gardens and collection of
hair-ornaments. And what's more..." he went on, leaning close to
whisper in my ear, "She has a mustache!" We giggled
conspiratorially, like children savouring a secret.
"Oh Sire, you are cruel..."
"Well, she does! She tears it
off with hot wax! Lucilla even saw her do it once!"
"Well, there's Apollonia, daughter of
the Governor of Rhodes...she is very beautiful..."
"And shallow. And about as
lively as the Dead Sea. And as bright as a Briton winter. Tell
me," he said, his voice light, teasing, "what is this? Has
Cupid descended from Olympus, dispensing advice in the form of Vinca, my
lovely Briton songbird?"
"Well Sire," I offered, "I'm
just curious, that's all. Have you never given serious consideration to
marriage?" Almost immeduiately, I knew I'd said the wrong
thing, for his jovial manner seized up, slamming shut like an angry
"I don't want to get amrried.
That is, I don't think I ever could get married." His
voice, stony, signalled an end to this particular topic of conversation.
I pondered his
words. Why "couldn't" he get married? Of course he
could, he was Emperor! He could do as he pleased. Unless, of
course, his preference was for males; same- sex relationships, though
tolerated, accepted and positively encouraged in some quarters, continue
to be denied the seal of matrimony by law. Commodus was indeed
partial to the company of the occasional male servant; then again, he was privy
to the "servitude" of certain female members of staff as
well. Except for me, his friend. And the older servants.
He was sexually active, thus discounting impotence as a factor;
but maybe, just maybe, there was someone, someone he couldn't
have, someone denied to him by marriage or class or law or...
"Vinca? You look miles away,
precious. Now tell me. How do I look? Truth!"
"A treat, Sire. Breathtaking."
He shimmered. He sparkled. He was beautiful.
"Oh Vinca, what would I do without
you? Now be off with you, my flame-haired loony-bird. Drusus is
waiting to do my hair!" Then he did the most extraordinary
thing. He leaned over and kissed my cheek, butterfly-light and
swift. A peculiar sensation of warmth, subtle and enticing,
suffused my being as he turned to go.
I stood there for over two minutes
after he left, stroking my cheek, savouring the kiss, my heart
dancing with possibilities.
Rome's array of "notables" began
to arrive as soon as dusk fell, chasing the last vestiges of daylight from the
city. In steady procession they came; the white-robed senators
Falco, Gracchus with his younger male companion, Gaius with his
favourite mistress, the lovely, dark-haired Septima. Gaius' wife
Livia, a homely blonde of blunted beauty, had long since been "put out to
pasture," as the Senate cruelly put it, installed in a luxurious
but isolated villa on the Palatine, where she passed her afternoons in the
company of similarly-thwarted "first wives," prattling endlessly and
critically about their former spouses' legionnary infidelities. Along
came the Proconsul Sulla and his wife Cosima, tongue already loosened from the
wine; the noted historian and scribe Dio Cassius; the King of
Parthia, splendidly attired and accompanied by wife and daughter; there was no
sign of the infamous "mustache" which Commodus had described to me. Then
the most fascinating couple in all of Rome: the Senator Albinus and his
daring, exotic wife Paulina, a fleshy, full-bodied woman with an eccentric
sense of style and a legendary, unharnessed appetite for pleasure.
She was notorious for appearing at official receptions surrounded by an
entourage of swarming "Mytilene nymphs" (both she and her husband
preferred their own sex,) and gossip about the orgies and "costume
parties" she gave was rife; at these, she would weave a rampant
path through the multitudes of writhing, frolicking bodies in a costume
that bared her breasts, pausing only to pluck a nubile young beauty from the
swarm with whom she would "retire" to her bedchamber. She
scandalized the Senate by appearing in public and at the Games clad in male
armoury or as Diana the Huntress, copper hair forming and
extravagant aureole of curls around her head, a glittering trail of rubies,
sapphires, and emeralds tracing the line of her sharply-defined brows.
She was also one of Lucilla's closest friends. Commodus
secretly couldn't abide her (in private he referred to her as "that
tiresome, vulgar, craven woman") but this didn't prevent him from being
in regular attendance at her costume parties, dressed invariably as Hercules,
Hector or Alexander The Great.
Last but not
least, there was Demetrius Asinius Galba, Maximus' successor as General
of the Felix Legions. Swarthy, dark-haired, magnanimous, with merry
brown eyes and a prominent scar across his brow, he was Roman-born,
of Greek ancestry. He had been stationed on the Dacian
frontier with the Augusta Legions when he recieved the "call" from
Commodus. Like the Emperor, he was unmarried, but the reasons
for his single status were somewhat less ambiguous than Commodus'.
Put simply, no wife would have ever tolerated his libertine excesses; the oft-quoted
phrase "a woman in every outpost" did him absolutely no justice
whatsoever. As I weaved between the guests, pouring wine, I noticed his
eyes linger over the languid, willowy form of Apollonia, daughter of the
Governor of Rhodes, whom Commodus had earlier described to me as dull.
A herald of
trumpets announced the Imperial Family's arrival. The guests
turned their attentions to the top of the vast staircase in the reception
hall, where Commodus stood, haughty and handsome, pausing for dramatic effect
(he certainly knew how to milk an entrance) before alighting the steps like
Apollo sweeping down from the heavens. He was accompanied by
Lucilla, lissome and beautiful in a gauzy gown of pale green silk, a sensational
headdress comprising diamonds and pearls atop her elegant head.
Young Lucius held her hand, quite the young Emperor-in-waiting in a smart robe
of yellow and gold. After greeting each guest in turn,
Commodus led the way towards the vast banqueting hall, where the guests
took their places on couches around a long, low table, beautifully
inscribed with scenes of Bacchanalian revelries.
Seated, the guests
began to dine on the luxurious food brought by the servants. A
starter of truffles and wild mushrooms was followed in swift succession by a
wondrous fish soup, honeyed prawns, and in honour of the King Of Parthia,
a speciality of that nation's cuisine comprising roasted pheasant stuffed with
rice and almonds. Fried bread with preserved plums drenched in honey
provided a fitting finish to the feast. Copious quantities of bread and
exotic fruits were served as accompaniments, in additon to the ubiquitous
wine. Commodus' sparkling laughter infected the entire table as he
led the conversation, consisting mostly of banter and light-hearted ribbing,
with studied ease. More wine was poured, and the bacchanal
increased. Lucilla called Hestia over with instructions to take Lucius
up to his quarters. As I stood, holding a warm bowl of rose-
water for the guests to rinse their fingers, I was able to relax a little and
study their interactions more closely. I noticed that Gracchus did
not laugh at any of Commodus' jokes; instead he would roll his eyes, turning
to whisper something in the ear of his male companion, who smiled blandly.
Gaius belched and settled back on the couch, Septima mopping his sweating brow
with a perfumed handkerchief. At this point, the atmosphere
took a subtle turn; the humour, good-natured at the start, became
slyly, snidely critical of the other guests. As I placed a fresh
bowl of rose-water before Commodus, he laid a hand on my shoulder.
"Ahh, here she is!" he smiled. "Our lovely, hardwordking, and
very talented Vinca! Vinca sings, and what a voice she has too! Is
that not so, Vinca?"
"Well, I do my best, Sire"
I shrugged and busied myself with clearing away the guests' empty platters.
I admit I was a little worried he was going to ask me to perform for the
benefit of his esteemed company tonight, but thankfully, he didn't. As I
collected the plate set before the Lady Paulina, she laid a soft,
jewelled hand on my forearm.
"My my, what astonishing hair!"
she uttered, reaching up to touch the curls. "Is it natural, my dear, or
is it hennaed?" I smiled to myself. Commodus had
asked the same question only a couple of months earlier.
"It's all natural, my Lady." I
said. The guests stared, rapt. Paulina leaned back, rubbing
her chin in contemplation, skewing me with her gaze. "Hmmmm.
I can see how it would be so. However, you wouldn't want to PROVE
it to me later on, my dear....perhaps somewhere a little
more....intimate?" The guests fell about, laughing, except
for Commodus, who shot her a look of pure poison.
"Paulina, if you please. Vinca has
much to do, she cannot concern herself with such...trifles."
Paulina leaned back in her seat, visibly sulking at Commodus' remonstrance.
I bowed and left the table. As I left, I heard Demetrius mutter in
Commodus' ear, "She's from Britannia? By the Gods, how
could that dreary place produce such an untarnished flower?"
On my return to the banqueting hall to
pour yet more wine, I noticed that many of the guests were
asleep, hands resting on their bloated stomachs, worn out from the copious
guzzling. The remaining few still awake had moved off into
alcoves and corners fror private conversation and revelry. Commodus
remained seated at the head of the table, moodily sipping his wine.
Irritation flickered over his features as he caught sight of Lucilla and
General Demetrius, deep in conversation. Lucilla flinched slightly
from the General's attentjions; doubtless she had heard of his
appetite for conquest, and not of the battle-wrought kind; yet in
spite of this she remained polite and poised, nodding at his words,
laughing softly at his witticisms. Uncomfortable at being
sidelined, Commodus' face grew cloudier by the second. The
Lady Bibula sauntered over, a prominent wine-stain on her peach silk
gown, lip-paint smeared unattractively after inadvertantly wiping
her mouth with the back of her hand. Flinging herself down
on the couch next to Commodus, she tried to immerse herself in the
conversation between Lucilla and Demetrius. "So," she
slurred, "how are the lovebirds? Any intrigues doing the rounds?
Do tell me."
there, Bibula. I was telling the Lady Lucilla how difficult I'm
finding it to motivate my men nowadays, trapped as they are on shore-leave
in Ostia with nowhere to go and nothing to do. No-one to fight.
It's funny, but it's been that way since I took over from Maximus.
It's as if he took something with him. I don't know, the heart isn't
there anymore." At the mention of Maximus' name, both Commodus
and Lucilla visibly stiffened. Bibula, her alertness too
blunted by drink to notice, continued unheeded. "Ah
yes...speaking of which, Demetrius, have you been to the Flavian
Ampitheatre in recent months?"
"Not for a while,
I've been grounded in Ostia with the lads, but I was there on the
opening day of the Aurelian Games. A recreation of the Fall Of
Troy, if my memory serves me correctly. Why do you ask?"
"Well, there's a new gladiator, the
most amazing swordsman...he's a true sensation. The mob goes
crazy for him. Most turn up just to watch him. Now I
never met General Maximus... he never visited Rome, to my
knowledge...but this gladiator is also named thus, and some say he bears
more than a passing resemblence to the General. Others claim he is
the General." Bibula reached for a pitcher of wine, filling her
goblet to the hilt.
ridiculous. Ludicrous." Commodus suddenly spat.
"Bibula, you exaggerate so. You really must lay off the wine.
It's affecting your usually-sound sense of judgement." He
looked distinctly uneasy. Lucilla looked down at her hands, her
expression impossible to read.
Maximus Decimus Meridius," Demetrius mused. "Good man.
Served with him oh, ages ago now, on the Dalmatian front. We were
mere nippers, centurions, back then. Strange fellow.
Sort of quiet, deep-thinking. One got the impression he had a lot
going on in his mind. Didn't really go in for all the post-battle
revelry with the lads. Adored his wife. But put a sword in his
hand...Gods, what a fighter! What a stragtegian! Genius.
Absolute genius. None of the lads could touch him. I
still don't know what went wrong, why he disappeared like that."
meanwhile, gazed down at the table, fingers tapping impatiently
against it, his face bristling with barely-contained rage. Acute
to Commodus' discomfort, Demetrius suddenly changed tack. By the
way, Sire," he said, "may I congratulate you on this
evening. It's been a marvel, a personal triumph for you, and a
privilege for me to spend it in such esteemed company." Commodus'
sole reply was a cold smile.
Bibula left the
table shortly afterwards, but the awkward atmosphere still lingered, thick
and stifling. Commodus continued to sup, glancing with
unabashed hostility at Demetrius over the rim of his goblet as the General
continued to vy for his sister's attentions Apparently tiring of
Demetrius' presence, he snapped.
the Gods, Demetrius, do cease your incessent wibbling. It bores me
Shocked and more than a little hurt by
Commodus' sudden outburst, Demetrius tried valiantly to appease the Emperor.
"Ah, please excuse me Sire, but the Lady and I were discussing the
works of Pliny. You are familiar with them Sire, are you not?"
The emperor twitched with discomfort. A
muscle jumped in his cheek. He'd hardly laid eyes on a manuscrpt
in his life. "I am aware of his works" he replied stonily.
"I must say, Sire, I am most
impressed with the Lady's insight. Your analyses and perceptions
are astounding, my Lady. And more the joy, they emanate
from within such a lovely and graceful exterior. I must say, my
Lady..." he smiled, glancing sideways at Commodus,
"you are indeed far the better man...." He bent his head,
lifting Lucilla's delicate hand to his lips. Then Commodus exploded.
Demetrius' last quip was intended as a
joke, but Commodus was not, it transpired, in the mood for jesting.
Slamming his goblet on the table, the Emperor stood. And
"HOW DARE YOU ...TOUCH HER!!!"
The sleeping guests suddenly roused
themselves at this crude provocation. Lucilla stood too, laying
an appeasing hand on Commodus' shoulder. "Brother, please,
not now..." He shrugged her off, roughly, his handsome face
cauterised by fury. "This reception is finished!
FINISHED!!!!" he yelled. Hestia, standing in the doorway, jumped
at the sound of his voice, dropping a platter. It smashed, but
Commodus was too caught up in his own anger to berate her. Turning on
his heel, he stalked out of the hall, cape streaming behind him, as the
guests stared, open-mouthed. Lucilla started to sob, the Lady Paulina
rushing over to lay a comforting hand on her elegant shoulder. As he
passed me , Commodus tapped me on the arm. "Vinca.
My quarters. Now, please!" Puzzled, I followed him upstairs.
To be honest, I was terrified. It was ridiculous, but I couldn't
shake the feeling that the furore downstairs had something to do with
me. You never knew where you were with Commodus; his mood
was in a constant state of flux, ever-shifting, like the sea-green of
his incredible eyes.
his quarters at last, he slammed the door, stalking over to his desk.
He picked up a decanter of wine, scowled upon finding it empty, then flung
it haphazardly across the room. It shattered in the corner with a
resounding crash. Perched on the edge of his bed, I was shaking, my
limbs held tightly against my body. I was unsure whether to
speak at that moment or to let the fire inside him subside
first. Then, throwing caution to the wind, I spoke anyway.
please stop this....your anger is making me fearful, and I am worried you
may do yourself harm. Tell me, why did you leave the reception?
Is it me? Have I displeased you in some way?"
"The reason I
left the party, Vinca," he sneered, moving towards me, "is because of
that coarse Greek idiot." His eyes, narrowing
perceptibly, burned with resentment. "Th-the thought
of his filthy hands, soiled on the bodies of innumerable Dacian tarts,
touching my sister, it...it sickens me, Vinca...." His voice broke.
he was nothing but respectful towards the Lady...he was merely
expressing his admiration for her mind and beauty, and to be honest,
were I a man privileged enough to warrant the company of such an exquisite,
intelligent woman, then so would I..."
"To warrant the
company..." Commodus mused, trying to grasp the full meaning
behind the words. "To warrant the company?" he repeated,
dissolving into hysterical, disblieving laughter, a laughter that
fragmented as rapidly as it had appeared.
NOT WARRANT MY SISTER'S COMPANY!!" he screamed, turning on
me. "No man does, do you hear me? No man!!
Except for ... I hate them all, I see the way they look at her, they
with their filthy pimps' eyes, relishing the prospect of her body under
those silken robes...yet she is too great, too noble, too precious, and yet
they do not see that, oh no! All they see is a conquest,
a prospect, a means by which to feed their own vile, grasping
ambitions; then they will return to their wives, their mistresses, their
whores, and laugh, and scorn, whereas I...I..." He put his head
in his hands, utterly defeated. I reached out to comfort him, but he
brushed my hand aside. And at that moment, I knew.
The woman he could never have was
his sister, Lucilla.
Then another realisation. Something I
had known for a long time, but had supressed in the name of decorum,
and fear of his rejection. His rejection.
That I loved him.
As he ranted and
railed, I was torn between wanting to comfort him, to clasp
him to my bosom, to show him that he was loved, even though he could
never reciprocate it; and by my sudden and shameful resentment of
Lucilla, a resentment which made me want to strike him. Not to
mention my deep sense of disgust at his unnatural attachment to his sister.
Now I knew why Lucilla seemed so cautious in his presence. Who
wouldn't be? Truthfully, I didn't know what to do. This shocking
revelation had left me reeling. All I could do was sit, wait.
Commodus' tirade continued unheeded. He began
to pace the floor, fuelling his ire further "Do you
not see, Vinca? They will use her for their own ends, mistreat
her, then abandon her when she is no longer conducive to their
ambitions... just as he did..."
"Who did, Sire?"
Commodus looked down.
"Maximus" he said gravely.
"But General Maximus disappeared,
Sire? Surely you can't let past events...." He began to
laugh again, that same laugh, startling, hysterical, disturbing.
Leaning close, his face inches from mine, he began to speak.
"So you are among the innocent multitudes who believe Maximus
dissappeared, eh? Well, good for you if you do.
Because he hasn't. He's still here, taunting me, mocking me, defying
me, destroying me. Cheapening my aspirations,
making the whole world despise me....oh, Maximus is still here, Vinca.
He's closer than you think! And that dogs-buffoon Demetrius, he's just
like him! Maximus, all over again!"
For a moment I was baffled.
Why on earth was Commodus letting a man confined to memory haunt
and consume him so? Unless...The picture slowly came together.
The gladiator Maximus, defiant and unyielding before the Emperor in the
Flavian Ampitheatre. Commodus' naked discomfort whenever his
name was mentioned. Maximus had not disappeared. Maximus was
here, in Rome. "Th-the gladiator?" I ventured, barely
able to contain myself.
"YES!!!!" Commodus yelled. "Full marks! That's him
alright! Stuck in a stinking slave enclosure, living on gruel and
slops, forced to fight for his life every weekend! It's no more than
he deserves! The bastard ruined my life, stole my love, stole my
family, now he is stealing the hearts of my people! He began by turning
my father against me, then, not content with this, he broke my sister's
heart. Now my people...MY people, Vinca, revere him as though he, not
I , were Emperor! A job well done, wouldn't you say so, Vinca?"
His smile was sarcastic, his voice creased with bitterness.
so many people have said that General Maximus was a good man, the
best..." I glanced at Commodus. I found it hard to
believe in Commodus' claim that Maximus was a cold, opportunistic,
power-hungry lecherer. People had always spoken highly of
Maximus, his bravery, his humility, his moral principles. Commodus'
father had admired him greatly. Needless to say, Commodus was
"Oh Vinca?!" he groaned.
"Not you too! Please, not you!"
I didn't say anything.
What happened next was dreadful.
Commodus rambled, ranted, and raved, pausing only to smash a clenched
fist on his desk, kick over a vase, hurl an object across the room.
Suddenly I'd had enough. Getting up swiftly, I grabbed his shoulders
and raised my hand to strike him, but his trained , swordsman's
reflexes allowed him to grab my wrist before I could deliver the blow.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you,
Vinca" he said, eyes glittering, his voice like shards of ice .
"You are forgetting who I am, young lady."
met his gaze with equal measure, and spoke. "Oh Commodus,
believe me, I'll do it. I'll do it as often as it takes to bring
you to your senses. And before you think of calling your Praetorian
lackeys in here to have me executed, just remember this. if you lose
me, you will have lost the only friend you've ever had. And believe
me, good friends-true friends-don't come easily.
You are letting your self-pity immobilise and destroy your better
nature, which I have seen... to the extent that you have alienated many of
the people who are, or could have been, close to you. Just you
remember that, Highness." I'd inadvertantly used his first name.
Trembling, he stood
before me. His lips quivered. His face twisted into a snarl.
"Get OUT!!!!" he hissed.
As he turned away, I
saw his eyes fill with tears.
Running down the corridor back
towards the servants quarters, I felt drained and deeply saddened.
Our burgeoning friendship, so tenaciously cultivated, was now in tatters.
Pausing at the top of the stairs, I slumped against the wall, buried my head
in my hands, and began to sob.
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