The Lore of the Lucius Ring
By Kathryn Le Veque
The Junii Villa, 8 miles northwest of Rome
It was a strong breeze that swept of the Tyrrenhian Sea, a breeze that was a breath from the gods, from Poseidon as he bellowed angrily at the land which he could not dominate. This summer season had been unusually warm and the sea breezes reflected that unnatural heat. The locals said that it was because Hades had left the gates of hell open and what they were experiencing was the great belches of infernal fire, but Theodosia dismissed the native dramatics as she usually did. Moreover, she had no time for such things. These days, she had little time for anything other than her own grief.
On the placid morning, Theodosia sat upon a cushioned chair in the peristylium, a garden area that was towards the rear of her parents’ villa outside of Rome. It was a villa that had been in her family for generations, as her family, the Junii, were long-established nobility among the patrician society of Rome. Along with respect and wealth came privilege, and Theodosia’s entire life had been one of advantage and pleasure, and when it came time for her to marry, her father (much the slave to his daughter’s wishes), allowed her to select her own husband. Select she did, a young and dashing Roman officer from a good family named Lucius Maximus Aentillius.
The mere name entering her mind used to bring torrents of tears, ever since the letter from the governor of Londinium, addressed to her father, had been received those six months ago. It is my sincerest regret to inform you that the Twentieth Victorious Valerian Legion was discovered to be overrun upon the great Vallum Aelium. All within the legion were lost.
Now, Theodosia pretended to be numb to the mention of her husband’s name because her constant tears frightened her young daughter. Lucius’ daughter. Whenever she looked into that little face, she saw her husband within in the depths; dark and curly hair, hazel eyes… all of this was Lucius. Mostly, she cried for the child that would never know her father and for the father who never knew he had a child. These days, Theodosia cried many tears for many reasons.
She also cried for herself.
Twenty-three years of age was quite early to be widowed, but that was the position she found herself in. Her family, as well-connected as they were, and with her father being a senator, she knew she would not be able to remain a widow much longer. Already, her father’s friend, Proculus Tarquinius Geganius, was filling her father’s ear with a stew of poisonous suggestions that would see his son, Marcus, married to Theodosia. Marcus didn’t like girl-children, however, so Theodosia’s young daughter, Lucia, would have to remain with her grandparents. In spite of the girl-child, however, Marcus was willing to marry the beautiful Theodosia.
Theodosia, however, was unwilling to marry him. Her life, void of joy and cast into a sea of turmoil those six months ago, was threatening to become worse with the axe of marriage hanging over her head. Despair and sorrow were her constant companions. If her parents had anything to say about it, she would marry Marcus and little Lucia would no longer be welcome to live with her mother, but Theodosia would not let that happen.
Above all else, she and Lucia would remain together.
On this warm morning, Theodosia watched Lucia play in the pond in the middle of the peristylium, her thoughts lingering on the day she and Lucius had met. It had happened along the sea shore where she had been walking along with friends and collecting lovely shells. Lucius and some of his cohorts had rowed onto the sand from a Roman warship that had been anchored off shore, invading their shell-gathering, but no one seemed to mind at that point. Theodosia and her friends had been laughing, enjoying life and enjoying the sun, when six brawny soldiers disembarked from their cog.
It was a moment that changed Theodosia’s life forever.
The soldiers were quite interested in the women along the beach, but Theodosia’s friends fled, leaving Theodosia standing on the beach with her apron full of sea shells. Realizing she was alone, she had tried to flee but the sea shells had fallen to the sand and the next she realized, Lucius was helping her pick them all up. She gazed into the man’s gentle, warm eyes and she was lost.
A brief courtship followed in the usual fashion except she discovered her lover to be quite prolific with prose – Lucius would write her poetry, in secret of course, because if his cohorts in the legion caught wind of the fact that Lucius would write songs of love and beauty, he might have been laughed at. But, oh, the prose! The beauty of his words! And the last line, in anything he wrote her, was always the same:
Cum cogitationes solum de uobis. With dreams only of you.
Words that had such great meaning to them, in fact, that Lucius had them inscribed on the wedding ring he gave her. It was a family ring that had come through Lucius’ very wealthy mother whose family had descended from the Greek gods centuries before. It was said that Silvia’s family was half-divine, descended from Mars, and when Lucius gave Theodosia his mother’s family ring, he told her that the ring had come from Aphrodite herself. The ring, a very dark gold with a crimson-colored ruby, appeared old enough to have perhaps truly been forged by the gods.
But it was a beautiful ring of great sentimental value. With her parents’ permission, Theodosia and Lucius had been married a scant six weeks later and at the reception following their wedding, Lucius’ mother, the elegant Lady Silvia, had pulled Theodosia aside. Although the woman had been gracious and affectionate, her attention was not on Theodosia – it had been on the ring.
As I have no daughters, I asked my son to give you this ring meant from my family, she had said. As you wear it upon your finger, I must tell you the legend behind it. Now the ring is a part of you and you are a part of it, and you must pass it down to your daughter, and your daughter must pass it to her daughter. It has been in my family for centuries; some say it was worn by Aphrodite herself. The ring possesses the greatest power of love and when the owner of the ring knows true love, the stone will turn crimson. But if owner of the ring fails to find true love before she has seen twenty-five summers, the stone will turn to dark ember and the owner shall be alone for eternity.
Theodosia had looked at the ring and it was indeed a lovely crimson color. Puzzled, she had spoken freely. The stone is crimson upon my finger, she had said, but I fear you have gifted me with a generous burden. I fear to tell any daughter I may have that if she does not know love by her twenty-fifth summer, then she shall be an old maid.
Silvia had laughed. You needn’t worry, she had said. Any daughter you and my son will have will surely be beautiful and know love.
Theodosia still wasn’t convinced. Have you ever seen it actually turn to ember?
Silvia lost some of her humor. Once, she had said, on my spinster aunt. The stone was black and she died old and alone. But before she died, she gave it to me and I soon wed Lucius’ father. The stone turned crimson and has been crimson ever since.
Even now, in the sunshine of her parent’s peristylium, Theodosia recalled that conversation and looked at the ring upon her slender finger, which had turned darker shades since the missive from Londinium those months ago. It wasn’t exactly a dark ember color, but it was no longer the rich, red crimson it used to be. Odd how she hadn’t noticed that before. The ring, before her eyes, was darkening.
Curious as to the changing color of the ring, Theodosia thought on her age; I have seen twenty-three summers. Only two more years to find love again or the ring would darken for the rest of her lifetime. What if what Lady Silvia said was true? What if she would never love again if she did not find it in the next two years?
But her thoughts quickly settled; she had loved once before. She and Lucius had shared a love that mortal men could only dream of. She didn’t want to find love again; she wanted to remember Lucius forever as her one and only true love. She didn’t want another man’s touch to erase that memory.
If the ring turned to black, so be it.
“A beautiful morning, my glory.”
Theodosia was rocked from her thoughts of the ring by her father, who came up behind her and kissed her on the head. She covered the ring on her finger, putting her hand over it, as she forced a smile at her father.
“Good morn to you as well,” she said politely. “Where is mother?”
Tiberius Junius Brutus threw a thumb back in the direction of the cucina, or kitchen. “There is some crisis regarding a roasting pig, I think,” he said, pulling up a chair. “The truth is that I do not know. I try not to involve myself in your mother’s affairs because she will pinch me.”
Theodosia giggled. “Pinch her in return.”
Tiberius shook his head. “Then she will strike me,” he said with fear, watching his daughter laugh. “Nay, daughter; I will remain happily out of your mother’s affairs. I have come to see you and Lucia this morning.”
Theodosia looked over at her daughter, now picking some of her mother’s precious pink flowers.
“Lucia!” she called. “Do not pick those flowers!”
The little girl looked up at her mother, grinned, and moved on to the next bush to pick those flowers. Theodosia sighed.
“She is so much like her father,” she said softly. “She knows that her smile will ease everything with me. I cannot become angry when she smiles.”
Tiberius laughed softly. “Nor can I,” he said, tapping his daughter affectionately on the arm. “When you were young, it was the same way with you. I could deny you nothing when you smiled at me.”
Theodosia looked at her beloved father, smiling at the man. “Does it still work?”
He grunted and looked away, aware of her attempt at manipulation. “More than likely.”
She chuckled, turning her attention back to her daughter. “That is good to know.”
Tiberius cleared his throat again, eyeing his granddaughter as she ripped yellow posies off the vine before returning his gaze to his daughter. His focus lingered on her, his titian-haired daughter that he loved so much. Her heartbreak had been his heartbreak but, as a father, he had the ability to see the bigger picture in her life. He knew she was still grieving for Lucius but to allow her to wallow in that anguish forever would not be a good thing. Theodosia deserved better things in life that to weep over a lost love.
“You seem happier these days, Theo,” he ventured. “You are at least smiling again.”
Theodosia knew what he meant and the familiar pangs of grief began to come over her again. “Sometimes,” she said. “It comes and goes.”
Tiberius continued to watch her, noting the expressions of pain upon her face. “It does not have to be like this forever,” he said softly. “The time will come again when you are happy. Sometimes the best thing to do is to find another source of happiness.”
Theodosia rolled her eyes and stood up. “I do not want to find another source of happiness, Father,” she said firmly. “If you are going to bring up Proculus and his pompous son, do not bother. I will not marry Marcus. He means to separate me from my child and I will not have it. It is barbaric.”
Tiberius remained calm as his daughter’s ire rose. “He is a man who has never been married,” he said evenly. “He does not understand the attachment between a mother and her child. I am sure that in time he will come to understand it. He is not an unreasonable man; in fact, he has a very bright future ahead of him. Some say he is to be the next proconsul of Byzantium. He is in much favor with Caesar. You could be his wife, Theodosia, and command much wealth and power. Does this not appeal to you?”
Theodosia was looking at her political-savvy father in horror; she knew the man saw her match to Marcus as a great political marriage that would bring both families prestige. But she wanted no part of it.
“And I must sacrifice my child in order to attain it?” she asked, aghast. Then, she shook her head firmly. “Nay, Father; I will not sacrifice Lucia simply to gain a new husband. I do not want a new husband. I thought you understood this.”
Tiberius understood it all too well, but he also understand that he, as Theodosia’s father, knew what was best for her. He and his wife had been given over to many long discussions about their daughter’s future and Theodosia’s mother was also in agreement. They had to do what was best for their child, whether or not she realized it. Lucius was dead and he was never coming back. Theodosia, with or without Lucia, had to move on. But the difficulty would be in the doing.
“Theo,” Tiberius said quietly as he rose from his chair. Theodosia was facing the small fish pond in the peristylium, refusing to look at him. When he realized she wasn’t going to turn around to face him, he cleared his throat softly. “I understand that you are still grieving for Lucius. I understand that you loved the man. But you must understand that life goes on without him. Lucius is dead, Theo; he has been dead for years as far as we know. You have therefore been a widow for at least that long. Will you waste your life lingering in the past, over a love that grew cold years ago? You are more intelligent than that. You were always given free choice in all matters but I find that at this time, I must make your decisions for you since you choose to linger in the darkness. I told Marcus that you would marry him. The contract has been sealed. Tomorrow, Marcus will come for you and you will go with him. You must trust me in this matter, Theodosia. I know what is best for you.”
Theodosia had been staring at the fish pond through his speech until he mentioned Marcus and the marriage. Realizing what her father had done, she looked at the man in outrage.
“You had no right!” she hissed. “No right at all!”
Tiberius would not be sucked into her argument. He turned away. “As your father and the man who provides your food and clothing, I have every right,” he told her sternly. “I am sorry if this angers you, Theo, but you will thank me one day. This is what is best for you. Lucia will remain here with your mother and I until such time as Marcus will allow her into his household. She will be happy here, I swear it.”
Tiberius was walking away, as he often did with face with enraged or emotional females. Theodosia knew it would do no good to scream at him for it would only make him angry. It would only drive him away to the point where he would lock himself in his room and refuse to come out. Nay, arguing with the man would not bring about his change of mind. Once his mind was set, it was purely stone.
Tears filling her eyes, Theodosia watched her father disappear into the villa, no doubt to inform Theodosia’s mother what he had done. She probably already knows, Theodosia thought bitterly. She was quite certain they had both had a hand in this because she was also quite certain that her father had tried to deliver this news to her more than once over the past few days but she was in no frame of mind to listen to him. But today, he could no longer delay, especially if Marcus was expecting her on the morrow. Was it really possible?
Oh, God… Marcus…!
Theodosia could not go to him; she would not go to him. She would not leave her daughter behind. That being the case, she would either have to fight the man off or run away from him. She chose to run; there was nothing left for her here, anyway, not with Lucius gone. In fact, this entire place reminded her of him, reminded her of the man she had loved and lost. She had to go somewhere else and start anew, a place where there were no memories of Lucius and where overbearing buffoons like Marcus weren’t breathing down her neck.
She had to get away.
Lucia was still picking yellow flowers off the vine as her mother came to her and gently led her away. Into the dark, well-furnished villa they went, heading to the cubiculum they shared, the one that Theodosia had shared with Lucius before he’d left for Britannica. The chamber was small but well-appointed with a comfortable larger bed and then a smaller one in the corner for Lucia.
Once inside the chamber, Theodosia shut the door and bolted it. The only light and air came from a narrow window up near the ceiling, a window that faced inward to the atrium of the home. On the second floor of the villa as they were, the walls of the chamber were painted beautiful reds and yellows, with a woodland scene against the outer wall.
Lucius had once taken a reed brush and, with black paint he’d taken from the household slaves that worked the maintenance on the villa, painted a giant penis on every animal in the woodland scene. The enormous phalluses were still there and gave Theodosia cause to smile every time she saw them. They reminded her of Lucius and his sense of humor, of the man who could be so loving and yet so naughty at times. She loved that about him. They risqué paintings brought a smile to her lips even now.
So she stood there a moment, grinning at her husband’s sense of humor, drinking in the sight to tuck back into her memory for days when she was feeling particularly lonely. She could lose herself in thoughts of Lucius so easily here but she eventually shook them off. She had a job to do. Opening the large chest where clothes and other possessions were kept, she removed a large satchel made from leather and fabric. Quickly, she went to work.
As Theodosia hurriedly packed, Lucia found her poppets and sat upon her little bed, paying with her dolls and the flowers she had picked. At one point, Theodosia’s mother knocked on her door, wanting to speak with her, but Theodosia chased her away. She didn’t want to speak with her mother. She knew the woman supported her husband’s decision to marry off their daughter so she had no desire to speak with her. She had no desire to speak with the woman who would so greedily accept Lucia to raise as her own.
So Theodosia’s mother eventually wandered away, distraught, but Theodosia didn’t pay the woman any mind. She continued packing her bag, stuffing it with clothing they would need and valuables to sell, including every piece of jewelry her father had ever given her. They were expensive pieces and would bring a goodly sum. Theodosia knew she would need the money.
As she bustled about in her chamber, collecting things of value, she passed by her writing desk and accidentally bumped into it. Pieces of vellum fell to the floor and as she picked them up, her attention was focused on one particular sheet on the top.
My fingers brush the sky; I see your face in the clouds.
In white mist, your smile fills my soul,
My heart has wings!
Upon the breath from the sea, I hear you call to me,
Ever, Theodosia, ever my love!
For separation cannot deny the bonds of our passionate hearts.
With a sigh, Theodosia slowed in her packing as she read the poem, twice. Lucius had been known to write copious amounts of poetry to her and she, in turn, had learned to write it to him. But that had stopped the moment the missive had come from Londinium. She never wanted to write poetry ever again, for it was something only meant for Lucius. Looking at her words upon the vellum, words she’d hoped to give to Lucius someday, she missed the man all the more. It made her realize that running away was the right thing to do. She would not be separated from the child of the man who instilled such love within her breast. For him, still, her heart had wings and it always would.
She renewed her packing with a sense of urgency now, stronger than before. Her next order of business was to dress her daughter appropriately for travel and she bundled the child up in loosely fitting clothing. Putting a little cap on her head to conceal her dark curls, she dressed appropriately herself in durable traveling clothing. Her dark red hair, so shiny and lovely, was wrapped up in a scarf to conceal it. Dressed and packed, she fed her child the remnants of the fruit and bread and cheese that had been left over from a mid-morning meal and waited for the sun to set.
There was a reason she wanted to wait until sundown; she knew her parents would be taking their naps before the evening meal and the villa would be quiet and still for the most part. Opening her chamber door as the sunlight on the walls turned shades of pink and gold, she slipped from her chamber and down the stairs that led to the vestibulum, or entry, as her chamber was very close to it.
There were a few servants about but they didn’t notice her as she slipped out into the olive grove that was immediately outside, using the darkened trees with their dark green leaves so shield her flight. As the night birds began to forage overhead and the sea breeze blew cool and damp, Theodosia and Lucia slipped away from Villa Junii, making their way to the inland road that would lead to the north.
It was a long flight into the night that did not stop even when the sun rose again. It was well into the next day when Theodosia, carrying the sleeping Lucia on her shoulder as she trudged down the tree-lined road, heard the sounds of a wagon behind her. Fearful it might be her father, for she had already evaded his patrols twice, she slipped off the road and allowed the cart to pass, noting it was a lone man with an empty cart. The wagon bed was covered in chaff.
Hopeful that she might have found a ride to the mountainous interior region where she hoped to find shelter, she came out of her hiding place and began to walk quickly after the cart. She could only pray the man at the reins was a kind and moral soul. At this point she didn’t much care because her exhaustion and hunger had the better of her. She needed rest and food badly, overriding her common sense.
“Sir?” she called after him. “Sir?”
The man in the cart, hearing the voice behind him, turned around to the source but kept going. However, when he saw the woman with the small child following him, he came to a halt. Relieved, Theodosia ran up to the wagon bench.
“Good sir,” she said, weary and hopeful. “Would you be kind enough to take my child and I with you?”
The man, younger, with handsome and somewhat rugged blond looks, nodded. “Where are you going?”
Theodosia lifted the half-asleep Lucia onto the wagon bench and the man grasped the child so she wouldn’t slither away. Theodosia climbed up onto the bench and took Lucia back into her arms, holding the child tightly.
“I… I am going up this road a way,” she said, uncertain what to tell the man who seemed to be gazing at her with some interest. “Thank you for your graciousness.”
The man clucked softly at the big brown horse, who began to walk again. He eyed Theodosia somewhat, curious about the beautiful woman with the sleeping child. He also noticed the traveling clothes, the bag. “Have you been traveling far?” he asked politely.
Theodosia nodded. “Very far.”
“Where are you going?”
Theodosia had no idea what to tell him so she avoided answering. She glanced at the wagon bed, covered in chaff. “Are you a farmer?” she asked.
The man nodded. “My father and I have a large farm near Cesaro,” he said. “I go into Rome once a week to sell our produce at the markets. I am just returning.”
Theodosia glanced at the man; he had pale blue eyes and very big, muscular hands. “What do you sell?”
“Grain, mostly,” he said. “We also have a small vineyard and my father makes wine.”
Theodosia was interested in such a life; men and women who worked the land had always fascinated her. To be so useful, she thought. She had no idea what it truly meant to be useful, just as she had no idea what it truly meant to run away from her father’s home. Already, they had faced some hunger and hardship. She was frightened. But she also felt strangely free.
“Do you do well at the market?” she asked, genuinely curious. “That is to say, are you able to do well enough to feed yourself and your family?”
When he caught her looking at him, he smiled and his eyes crinkled. “I do well enough,” he told her. “But it is just my father and me. There are only two mouths to feed.”
“I was married, once, but she died giving birth to my son, who also died.”
Theodosia sobered. “I am sorry,” she said. “I did not mean to pry.”
The man shook his head. “You did not,” he said, eyeing her now with more interest than curiosity. “My name is Gaius, by the way.”
“I am Theodosia. This is my daughter, Lucia.”
“Where are you going, Theodosia? To see your family?”
Theodosia shook her head and looked away. “Nay.”
“Your husband, perhaps?”
Again, she shook her head. “My husband is dead.”
“And you are running from his cruel family who beats you daily and forces you into slavery?”
Theodosia grinned in spite of her herself. “Nay,” she said. “I have been living with my family. My husband’s family is all dead.”
Gaius was an extraordinarily intelligent man for being a farmer; in fact he had been schooled in his youth and spent several years in the Roman army, but an ill father and a failing farm had caused him to return home.
Bright as he was, he knew there was much more to Theodosia than she was telling him. She was a stunningly beautiful woman with soft white hands and smooth skin and if he could guess about her, he would say she was a noblewoman. She just had that look about her, regal and elegant. But she was running from something, or someone, and the protective male in him seemed to be taking great interest in her. It probably wasn’t healthy for him, for he’d never had good fortune with women, but he couldn’t help himself. Something about Theodosia drew him to her.
But she obviously didn’t feel the same way about him. She had refused to answer his questions about where she was going so he was coming to suspect that perhaps she didn’t even know. She appeared very tired and hungry, and her little girl was exhausted. He was more than likely a fool for being sympathetic to her, but he was.
“If your destination is too far away, my farm is only an hour ahead,” he told her casually. “It is getting late. If you would like to rest the night, as our guest, we would be happy to have you and your daughter. In fact, my dog just had a litter of puppies your daughter might like to play with. Otherwise, they will be very lonely puppies.”
Theodosia looked at the man, shocked by his offer. Do not agree! She told herself, suspicious of the Gaius’ ulterior motive. But the truth was that a night in a safe home with a warm fire was too good to resist. Perhaps it would be the most foolish thing she ever did in her life to accept his invitation, but she found herself quite willing to do it. For her daughter’s sake, she had to.
“Well,” she said, pretending to be reluctant. “I suppose we could, just for the night, of course. We would be gone by sunrise.”
Gaius nodded. “As you wish,” he said, eyeing her. “If… if you perhaps need to earn some money for your trip, there are chores about the farm that need to be done. I would pay you for them.”
Theodosia looked at him in surprise. “Chores?” she repeated, both disgusted and intrigued. “Like what?”
Gaius grinned at the dismay in her tone, which only proved his theory that she was a noblewoman who did not do manual work. “Milking the goats,” he told her. “Sweeping. Cooking. We can always use help if you are looking for a job.”
A job. Theodosia had to admit that she was very interested. It would be some place for her and Lucia to stay, to be together, and for her to earn a living even though she’d never earned a living in her life. Still, it might be the opportunity she needed. She tried not to seem too eager about it.
“We can discuss it, I suppose,” she said. “But you should know I have never milked a goat in my life.”
He grinned, glancing at her lily-white hands. “Is that so?” he said, somewhat wryly. “I would never have guessed. It is easy to learn.”
“I can will teach you.”
“I cannot cook, either.”
“I can teach you that, too.”
Theodosia thought, perhaps, that it all sounded too good to be true. Were the gods sending her a sign or was Hades providing a trap for being a disobedient daughter? She couldn’t be sure, but she was attracted to Gaius’ offer. It was a struggle not to become excited about it.
“But my daughter must stay with me,” she said. “You do not mind a child about?”
Gaius shook his head. “My father always wanted a grandchild. He will like having her about.”
Theodosia didn’t know what to say; she was coming to think that, indeed, the gods knew of her plight and had brought Gaius into her life at precisely the correct time. Was it even possible that all of this could be true? She would soon find out.
Gaius and his father, Agrippus, lived like two bachelors on a very large farm. There was plenty of work to be done and Theodosia wasn’t afraid to learn. In fact, she rather liked it. Gaius taught her to cook and to milk goats, to press wine and make flour. Theodosia learned quickly. She soon came to love her new life and, in time, love for Gaius bloomed as well. A truly good-hearted man who readily accepted Lucia, Theodosia knew that the decision to leave her parents’ home had been the best decision she had ever made. She knew that Lucius would have approved.
With the introduction of Gaius, the ring that Lucius had given her those years ago once again turned a deep, rich crimson and would remain so until the day Theodosia passed it on to Lucia on the day of her eighteenth birthday. Fortunately for Lucia, the ring would turn crimson two years later at the introduction of a certain young soldier who happened to cross her path.
The ring of Lucius’ family, the ring of true love or of lost love, continued to live on through the ages, passed down from Lucia to her daughter, and from her daughter onward. The story of the ring was also passed along with it, an oral tradition for the female members of the family, and through the centuries, the eldest daughter of each generation would hold great hope that the ring would turn crimson for her. Somewhere along the line, it was said that if one spoke the words inscribed upon the ring, with dreams only of you, that a lover would appear within a fortnight. Many a young woman believed in those words. Many a young woman was rewarded for that belief.
But a few were not. No one could be sure why those spellbound words sometimes worked or sometimes didn’t, or why love would turn the stone to crimson and heartache would turn it to black, but it didn’t really matter. It was a glorious tradition within the females of the family and the mystery of the crimson-stoned ring continued to brand Theodosia’s descendants with its particular kind of magic.
The lore of the Lucius Ring lived on.