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A short story for Halloween. Enjoy…

* * * * *

Lucilla licked her lips and rolled over, pulling the covers tighter. The room was chilly in the November night, frost forming on the garden of the villa outside her wall, the bone-cold breeze sneaking in through the shutters and lowering the room’s temperature.

Briefly she contemplated leaving the room and going to the closet to collect a spare blanket. Possibly one of the slaves would still be up and about preparing things for the morning and could get her one. Certainly if her mother or father caught her wandering around the villa’s corridors at this time of night, no amount of defensive argument over the temperature would save her from trouble.

She rolled back over again, irritation at her parents bringing her extra wakefulness and driving elusive sleep that bit further away. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her parents. Of course she did; they were her parents, after all. But they were sometimes a little too careful about her, instituting so many rules to keep her safe and sound that at times her safe, sound life felt more like a prison.

The few friends she’d had years ago were gone now, leaving the valley and its wealthy villas, taken to Deva where they were matched and married off. Oh, Lucilla should have been married and gone from here more than two or three years herself. She was hardly a girl anymore, anyway. At sixteen years, she should already be contemplating her own children.

But she wasn’t healthy. No man would want her, as her father told her repeatedly. Her body was too frail; too weak. She was not the bright and robust girl her friends had known when they used to play in the woods and river of the valley.

It had begun with the visit from her sister. Her father would deny that, of course, as would her mother. But then they had always denied even the very existence of her sister. Whatever Livia had done when Lucilla was still a baby had been so horrifying that they had shut her out of their life, not even speaking of her. Only one or two of the slaves spoke warmly of her when confiding in Lucilla.

She turned over again, shivering in the wind, wondering once more about getting that blanket.

Yes, it had begun with her sister; that first night about three years ago when she had found out that Livia even existed. The older girl, very reminiscent of her younger sibling, had defied their parents and crept back into the house, into Lucilla’s room. She hadn’t said anything, just stood watching with a sad smile on her face. It made Lucilla’s heart break to think of her sister being out there in the outbuildings, denied her parent’s love and the comforts of the villa. Perhaps that was why mother and father kept Lucilla so safe?

No. That was because of her frailty. But her frailty had begun then. It had, as she had said, made her heart break. Quite literally. The next morning, the robust girl was gone, leaving this pale, willowy, feeble girl with the short breath and the twitch.

Her mother had been quite distraught, and her father, calling on his veteran’s benefits, had brought the legion’s chief medicus from Deva to examine her. The surgeon had explained, after lengthy tests, that her heart was damaged. Some great shock had actually stopped it for a time, and it had resumed its beat with a problem.

The care and virtual imprisonment had begun that day. Perhaps she would have recovered in time; found herself a handsome soldier to wed, and been gone from this dreadful, grey, chilling villa, if only she had not declined in steps.

Every step, of course, coincided with the infrequent visits from her sister. Livia could only sneak into the house very rarely when it was dark and everyone but Lucilla was asleep. Perhaps twice or three times a year she came.

Every time was a wrench for Lucilla. She loved her poor, exiled sister so much and the warmth of her return filled her with a fleeting joy that soon plummeted into the icy river of sadness again as Livia, wordlessly, smiled that sad smile and returned to her freezing den in the outbuildings.

Lucilla had stopped telling her parents about Livia’s visits after the first year, as the conversation inevitable led to an argument and anger from her father, denial that Livia could have come to see her, and an extra layer of cold security being placed around their younger daughter.

But the visits still came. Livia never explained why she came or how she could live like she did, but Lucilla didn’t care. It was enough even to see her beautiful sister on those rare occasions. Even if it was rapidly dragging her toward her own demise, her weakening heart now making it dangerous for her even to leave the interior of the villa. Eventually, if she died, her sister would join her and they would be together in the beyond, living in the light of Sol Invictus.

Too cold. The temperature just appeared to be dropping all the time. It had merely been chilly earlier, but Lucilla would swear she could see ice on the shutters, reflecting the moonlight shining through the crack in the shutters. Frost seemed to be forming on her blanket.

She gave a deep sigh and sank back into her blankets, feeling the welcome pull of sleep at last.

It was then she knew that Livia was in the room. Shuddering, she sat up rigid to see the pale figure in her grey tunic, with the long, lustrous black tresses of her hair hanging low, touched and speckled with the frost.

Lucilla smiled. It had been long months since her last visit. She straightened her night tunic and raised her eyebrows questioningly. Livia never spoke, of course. She couldn’t. But Lucilla instinctively knew what her sister was wanting or trying to say.

Livia curled a beckoning finger, and Lucilla frowned. This was new. She’d never left the bed before. A surge of dangerous excitement ran through her cold, frail figure. Could Livia be taking her to show her the den where she spent her time? Gingerly, wincing at the freezing marble of the floor, Lucilla swung out her legs and climbed from the bed, swaying slightly for a moment, before she got herself under control. Her legs were so weak she had to shuffle toward the figure in the doorway, holding out her hand to the wall to steady herself.

Livia smiled that sad smile of hers, but this time, actually walking toward her, it didn’t drive Lucilla’s spirits down into that icy river of loss once more. Instead she felt the electric thrill of discovery. She would, she knew instinctively, find out about her sister this time. She had to. It felt right.

As she approached the open doorway of her room, the corridor dark beyond, Livia beckoned once more and then slipped around the corner out of sight.

A sense of urgency overtaking her, unwilling to let her sister out of her sight for fear she might lose her entirely, Lucilla let go of the wall and tottered quickly to the doorway, her feet slapping on the freezing floor.

The move was too quick for her frail body and as she reached the door jamb, dizziness overcame her and she slumped, her mind fogging with confusion and pain, her body cold and aching. It was almost half a minute before she pulled herself up, peering off around the corner, hoping her sister was still there.

And there was her room. Somehow, during her dizzy fall, she must have got turned around and confused.

There was Livia, lying on her back on the bed, her grey, thin face surrounded by lustrous black hair as she rested among the blankets and pillows. She looked so peaceful.

Lucilla smiled sadly. Best not disturb her now. She’d come back and see her soon.

Written by SJAT

October 31, 2011 at 10:35 am