Antonius, the younger of two brothers
Antonius, the younger of two brothers, split his time between his Aquila City town house, and his country residence in Southwest Aquila. He preferred the tranquil life in the country and its simple joys. Clean air, fresh food, natural beauty and a temperate climate, pleased him. While listening to the bees, from his nearby hives, he thought about their sweet honey. Because of their soothing buzz, the day’s concerns drifted away. Consequently, as he enjoyed the early evening sunshine and clear blue sky in his rooftop garden, and he sank into a deep sleep.
The people named Aquila after the great eagles that traversed its skies and it encompassed all the lands north of the impassable desert. Its largest tribe occupied West Aquila, and forbade its people to marry outsiders. The tribes of North and Southwest Aquila interbred and lived in a peaceful co-existence.
In sleep, Antonius subconscious thoughts turned to the events that had shaped his life. Despite the abject poverty and tragedy of his early days, his mother’s unconditional love gave him hope. Her kindness led to his eventual good fortune.
Antonius parents were paupers; promised to each other, they delighted in their young love. The knowledge that they would marry, on his mother’s 16th birthday, and make a life together filled them with joy. However, the lord of the manor destroyed their innocent dream, his henchmen abducted her on the eve of her birthday. Although a crime, nobody dared protest or fight back for fear of forcible eviction and a beating, by the lord’s henchmen.
Early, that evening, guarded by two henchmen, because she had no choice Ambrosia dined with her sadistic abductor. With slow ruthless malevolence, he described her fate. Thus, a numbing terror filled her mind and an involuntary paralysis seeped through her virgin body. She could not speak, because the impending horror dried her tongue, neither could she cry. Her mind shut down, as he spoke his final words. “I shall lock your fiancée in the stocks, sew his eyelids open, and make him suffer if you defy me. You would not want him to miss your performance.” Zombie eyes, stared into the abyss from her expressionless face. The henchmen forced a sleeping draft down her throat, as the lord wanted her looking fresh, in the morning. Nevertheless, for Ambrosia the draft brought a night of merciful sleep.
Before the dawn, on the fateful morning, of her birthday, the lord’s servants roused Ambrosia. They struggled to bathe and dress the living doll, in its wedding dress. Hand-in-hand, with her lord, and surrounded by his armed henchmen, the brain dead Ambrosia walked to the village green. Conflicting with her dread, she witnessed the smiling faces of cheering villagers. Therefore, she focused her eyes on the inanimate solstice stone, to block out the world.
As the sun rose, the cheering reached its crescendo, because Ambrosia stood upon the solstice stone. There she awaited her coronation, and noticed the empty stocks. Her fiancée’s absence sent a tsunami of relief flooding though her, and a smile lit up her face; maybe she too would escape the threatened forthcoming horror. Meanwhile, her abductor scowled at the empty stocks. His overzealous henchmen had beaten the shit out of Ambrosia’s fiancée. Because the lord wanted to surprise the crowd, with the impending spectacle, he sacrificed the presence of the guest witness.
The villagers fell silent, and the lord read the solstice incantation as he pinned the crown upon Ambrosia’s head. Any glimmer of hope that burned in her mind, splutter and died when strong hands ripped her dress asunder. So enraged, a few witnesses rushed forward; responding cudgels crashed down and the bloodied protesters retreated. Cowed, the shocked crowd stood rooted to the ground.
Two henchmen, stripped Ambrosia, and tied her to the solstice stone. The site of his intended victim, spreadeagled and naked, except for her solstice crown, aroused the lord’s malevolent demon. Ambrosia watched the sneering devil discard his clothes, and felt his foul breathe upon her virgin body. Helpless, she faced the terror that drove all conscious thought from her now empty mind and blinded her now unseeing eyes. The lord’s erect dribbling member, found her untouched bud. Each violent trust, accompanied by his grunting and her involuntary screaming, took him deeper into her. Thus, his seed flooded into her fertile womb.
Nine months later Ambrosia gave birth to Augustus, Antonius’ elder half brother. Following this, she remained captive at the manor for four years, after which the lord throw her out. Conflicting emotions engulfed Ambrosia, as she sat on the manor house steps, its front doors bolted behind her. She wanted to run from walls of her prison, but separation from her only child, fed her desire to stay and protect him. Augustus’ muffled cries filtered through the gap between the thick wooden doors, fuelling her maternal fury that screamed curses at her former captor.
Antonius’ desperate, heartbroken father waited for his sweetheart, despite everyone telling him it was pointless. Three weeks after Ambrosia’s eviction from the manor, he married her. She gave birth to Antonius on Augustus’ fourth birthday. Antonius grew up in abject poverty then everything changed, two days before his fifth birthday, when his father died of pneumonia. Unsurprisingly, he did not understand what had happened; only that he was unable to console his mother and that his father would never return. It was the worst day of his life and his earliest memory, everything before that was just a blank. He could not remember what his father looked like or how his voice sounded. Tears welled in his eyes as he dreamt of that dreadful morning.
Augustus had inherited his father’s cruelty, but he always treated his mother and brother with kindness. Augustus, and two henchmen, arrived at Ambrosia’s cottage, on the day her husband died. She barred the door, having assumed that Augustus’ father had sent him to evict her. After an hour, Augustus managed to calm her and she agreed to let him in, provided the henchmen remained outside. They had tied her down on that fateful solstice morning.
A cheerful Augustus explained that his father was giving him a fine new furnished cottage, for his tenth birthday. He would allow her to live there rent-free, because he had duty to raise his mother from poverty, but on one condition. Trembling with fear that the lord wanted to take Antonius from her, she asked, “What condition?”
The academically inept Augustus smiled. “Antonius must attend classes with me at the manor every day. My tutor will teach him reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Father has agreed, provided you ensure Antonius is scrubbed clean beforehand; he stinks.”
The memory made Antonius smile, in his dreamy repose. At the time, he hated Augustus, and swore vengeance. Every evening their mother stripped Antonius’, dumped him in the outdoors bathtub, filled it with hot water and scrubbed him. He was lucky to have any skin left to get dirty and not catch pneumonia, because even on the coldest days she bathed him outside.
Because he had to look smart, his mother forced him to wear the formal clothes Augustus supplied. For example, the shoes with silly silver buckles that hurt his feet and worse that he had to polish every day. Each morning, their tutor, a slim pretty but strict woman, inspected their appearance and attire. Woes betide, if either boy failed to meet her exacting standards, for both would receive six painful strokes of her cane. They gave thanks to whatever gods protected schoolboys that she did not have large muscles.
A Baby Girl
There was no room at the inn and the woman refused the greedy landlord’s offer to throw out another of his guests, for the right price. Instead, she sought out Antonius’ mother by name and asked for shelter in her stable. His mother delivered the baby; Antonius swaddled it in fresh clean towels and was the first person to hold the newborn girl, who weighed 12 pounds and had the most intense blue eyes. He passed the baby to its mother who asked him his name, he replied. The mother smiled “As it is written”. The next morning the sea captain purchased a horse and cart then he, mother and baby left.
During the next five years, the brothers were inseparable and like most young lads carefree and mischievous. The received many a cuff round the ear. Augustus assumed the role of elder brother. He bossed Antonius around, but always looked out for and protected him. Having the upper hand in their relationship made Augustus feel important. He was not bothered that Antonius proved to be a more adept student. Augustus believed that he would make good use of those talents in the future.
On the evening of Antonius’ fifth birthday, a beautiful woman accompanied by an older man arrived in the village. Travellers often passed through and stayed at the local inn, but this event was strange for many reasons. Firstly, the man was a sea captain and they were miles from the sea. Secondly, the incredibly beautiful young woman was about to give birth and they had not stopped earlier to rest. Thirdly, the man was walking and she rode on an ass, yet they appeared to be wealthy.
Just after Antonius’ tenth birthday, sightings of strangers, in the nearby forest, made the villagers and the lord nervous. Search parties combed the forest and surrounding countryside to find the strangers but to no avail. All they discovered were traces of their campfires. Furthermore, the hounds refused to follow the strangers’ scent trails, even when the henchmen beat them. Parents instructed their children to stay away from the woods, because the strangers may be fairies come to abduct them. Unlike most of the children, this challenge was too much for the brothers, who decided to capture the intruders and become heroes.
On the first dark cloudy night, they crept out to the woods intent on tracking down the strangers. They stumbled across a still burning campfire, in a large clearing, and like ghosts, the inhabitants had melted away. They Confused they could not agree what to do next.
Without warning, the heavens opened soaking them both, and a torrent rushed over their boots, and doused the fire. The boys paralysed with fear and blinded, waited for their eyes to adjust to the pitch black. Lightening forked down, hitting the surrounding trees that exploded into burning fragments. Next, the pressure of the deafening thunderclap knocked them down; fortunately, neither were injured or killed. Dazed they struggled to recover their wits and stand.
In their confusion, an ethereal vision appeared. Unbelievably, a girl, no more than ten years old, sitting astride a massive stallion. Due to her attire and the light dancing upon her, the boys wondered if she was a goddess. She wore boots, shirt and trousers, all make of soft deerskin and a decorated gold chain around her neck. Moreover, a jewel studded sheathed sword hung from her belt. Dismounting in one graceful movement, she approached them. To the brothers, still half blinded in the flickering light of the burning trees, she seemed to vanish and reappear.
The vision spoke. “I am Valeria; you must learn to be quiet if you want to find us, no wonder your people are farmers. I doubt any of you are capable of hunting.”
They stood mouths agape, looking at the child standing before them. For want of something to say, Augustus asked, “How old are you?”
Valeria scowled “How impertinent to ask a girl her age, when you have not introduced yourselves.”
Antonius interrupted, “I am Antonius, my brother is Augustus.”
“We meet again Antonius, although I doubt you remember me.” She turned and her horse followed. “Follow me; I am five years old.” Clearly, a lie, the disbelieving and still stunned brothers, meekly trailed behind her.
Augustus whispered, “Where have you met her before?”
Antonius, “No idea, I don’t recognise her.”
Valeria led them to the strangers’ camp, where a dry shelter and warm fire awaited. Six well-armed rough looking men, all who appeared to be in awe of the girl, gave the brothers hot soup and fresh bread. Without a doubt, Augustus believed he was eating his last meal. Therefore, with nothing to lose, in an almost inaudible whisper, he asked one of the men. “What are you going to do with us?”
Clearly amused, the man smiled revealing some broken and missing teeth, “Take you home when it is light. What do you think we are? Fairies come to steal children away.”
Because of the answer, Augustus felt braver and pressed on, “My father’s men, what did you do with them?”
Another man’s gruff voice spoke, “They tried to kill young Valeria; fucking lucky for them she was feeling kind, otherwise they would be six feet under. We have them safely restrained; you can take them back with you in the morning. Now get some rest!”
Valeria woke the boys an hour before dawn. After breakfast, she took them to the edge of the forest, along with the two henchmen who she had securely gagged and tied. With nooses around their necks, and the other end of the ropes attached to Valeria’s saddle, she forced the henchmen to walk at a rapid pace to avoid choking. Once there, all waited until the village awoke at dawn. Because, a maid discovered Augustus’ absence, the village alarm bell sounded. From their vantage point, the boys saw Augustus’ father organising an armed search party and moving towards them.
Stand Up Fool Before You Hang Yourself
Valeria nudged her horse forward and commanded the brothers to walk beside her. The two henchmen had no choice but to follow, while Valeria’s six men remained hidden, with their bows primed ready to shoot. She stopped ten yards from the armed search party, as Augustus’ father demanded, “Who are you?”
Valeria smiled; “I am your sons’ hostess; it was my pleasure to provide them with warm food and shelter during the storm, in return for the shelter once given to me by Antonius’ mother.”
Because he sensed an opportunity to redeem his failure and unseat Valeria, one of the henchmen lunged at her. He received his due reward, as Valeria planted her heel on his nose. The result a loud crunching sound and scream, followed by blood spraying in all directions. Immediately he fell to the ground, and the tightening noose choked him.
Valeria commanded, “Stand up fool before you hang yourself.” Augustus’ father reacted, by shouting at his sons, and berating them for going off into the woods. When he paused for breath, Valeria in a soft clear voice asked, “Why do you reprimand them for succeeding where your oafs failed; they found us for you? My mother will visit you this afternoon, and I trust you will offer her the same hospitality we gave your sons.” With that, she passed the ropes holding the henchmen to the brothers, who thanked her.
As Valeria returned the wood, some members of the search party moved forward to apprehend her. They stopped in their tracks, as two volleys of arrows landed at their feet. She halted and turned back to face the villagers.”Please go about your normal business; I should hate to see anyone hurt.” Common sense prevailed; they followed her advice and retreated, as she galloped away.
The Amazon Xanthê
Later, Valeria, her mother the Amazon Xanthê, and their six-man escort arrived at the manor. Moreover, his father had instructed Antonius and his mother to attend, dressed in their finest clothes. The only witnesses to the meeting between the boys’ father and Xanthê were their tutor and mother; none ever revealed what passed between them. Following the meeting, Xanthê purchased the village inn and appointed Ambrosia as its landlady. In addition, she purchased six cottages, each with an acre of land, for Valeria’s escorts who remained. Ambrosia agreed that Valeria and her baby sister Abelia would live at the inn with her and Antonius. Xanthê, showered wealth upon Ambrosia, in return for the burden she placed upon her. The next day, Xanthê departed and would only return twice more to the village, to attend Antonius’ wedding and to collect his tutor.
Like most young boys, Antonius was curious about women’s bodies and the scantily clad Xanthê was the closed he had come to seeing one naked. Her immodesty shocked Antonius, and he could not believe she had given birth to Abelia the previous month. Village women tended to remain fat for a while, and sometimes forever, after giving birth. Yet, miraculously Xanthê had a washboard flat stomach.
Although Valeria and Abelia grew up at the inn, Antonius never regarded them as sisters; to him they were just permanent guests and good friends.
Now 15, Augustus ceased his education. Subsequently, his tutor taught Antonius, Valeria, and Abelia. Like Antonius, the two girls proved to be adept students. Antonius recalled, that apart from himself and his mother, the only real friends the Valeria and Abelia had were his childhood sweetheart and now wife Adorabella and Ascanius.
Ascanius and Adorabella
Antonius’ extended family and the protection afforded by Valeria’s escort gave him the confidence to grow and make new allies. Augustus’ influence over him declined, and over next six years, the brothers grew apart; yet in time, they became business partners. While the fortunes of Augustus and his father waned Antonius and his mother prospered. However, she made him promise to always look after and protect his elder brother.
Because of his mother running the inn and subsequently buying the local brewery, Antonius became friends with Ascanius. Seven years his junior and the son of their master brewer, Ascanius would become a master brewer in his own right and a great physician. This lifelong friendship contributed to Antonius’ fortunes and the care of his, now terminally ill, wife.
The other major events in Antonius’ life were his marriage to Adorabella on her sixteenth birthday, and the birth of their daughter Aurora. He was proud of and loved the women in his life, although unexpected death of his mother two years earlier had severely distressed both him and Augustus.
Valeria and Abelia’s ability to read the stars was his greatest blessing. Apart from this, ‘he used money borrowed from his mother to build his first trading empire, with Augustus. He created a second business empire with Valeria and Abelia, using money given to them by Xanthê.
Overall life treated him well and in return, he did his best to treat those around him equally. Despite hints dropped by Valeria, he seemed oblivious that the world he knew would soon change beyond all comprehension. Antonius drifted into a deeper sleep dreaming of his beloved Adorabella.