Quarantined, or might as well be? Here’s something to pique your interest if you’re stuck at home. This is my new novel about a Vestal Virgin whose life intersects with that of Julius Caesar. There will be a new chapter every day until it is complete, and maybe by the time it’s finished in 57 days, the lockdowns and cancellations will be over. I hope you enjoy it!
Part I: Roma
I, Amata, a devoted servant of the Goddess, have set down this account of Lucia Clara, sister and Counselor, in the twenty-fourth year of Commander Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine One, and the two hundred and thirteenth year from the founding of Roma Alia, as a preface to the history of her life which she herself wrote and placed in the Archive. If my tale is imaginative in part, yet I claim the inspiration of the Goddess in its composition.
“Vestal, have you anything to say before the sentence is carried out?” The deep voice of the Pontifex Maximus filled the high-ceilinged hall.
Lucia looked him in the eye. “I have done nothing to shame the Goddess. The Goddess knows that I speak the truth.”
He returned her gaze, frowning. “Fabia, remove this woman’s ribbons of office and strip her for the scourging.” The Chief Vestal stepped forward, looking suddenly older. To Lucia she seemed painfully thin, the lines about her mouth deeper than before. Slowly, Fabia reached up to remove the younger woman’s veil, which she handed to her slave, Acra. Then she gently untied the headdress of wool and linen ribbons which proclaimed Lucia a virgin servant of Vesta. Acra folded the veil with the help of the Vestal Licinia, placing it in a basket, and laid the ribbons atop it. The basket would be burned, as part of the purifications, once the punishment was carried out.
A sibilant whisper turned heads toward the row of Vestals assembled to witness the scourging. Lucia knew without looking that it was Claudia. Goddess, she prayed silently, if I have been an obedient servant to you, let Claudia pay the penalty for what she has done. Hear me, Divine Lady. It was said that Vesta could hear even silent prayers, if circumstances prevented the petitioner from speaking.
Acra gave the basket of impure garments to her own assistant, for it could not be allowed to touch the clean floor of the Vestal House, and removed a length of translucent red linen from another basket on a shelf. Licinia and Fabia unfolded this cloth and held it between Lucia and the Pontifex Maximus.
“Disrobe,” he growled. A few gasps were heard from the other Vestals, and a nervous giggle, quickly suppressed. Lucia raised her chin, tempted to refuse, but she knew that this part of the ritual could not be avoided. If she resisted, the Pontifex Maximus might well call his brother Pontifices from the portico where they were waiting outside the Vestal House, to enforce the sentence. That would only make things more difficult for Fabia. Lucia no longer had a body-slave, but she knew how to dress and undress herself. She untied her belt and loosed the clasps at her shoulders, letting her white woolen robe fall to the floor, then drew her under-tunic over her head, and dropped it too. Then she turned to face the Pontifex Maximus. In the pause that followed, his gaze dropped from her face to the fine linen barrier.
“Gaius Julius Caesar,” snapped Fabia. “Either do your duty or remove yourself from this House at once!”
“Do not lecture me on duties, Chief Vestal,” replied Caesar, though his voice was milder now. He seemed almost to regret the penalty about to be levied on Lucia, although the final decision to condemn her had been his own. “Lucia, kneel.”
Obediently, she knelt on the cold marble floor, placing her arms on the stool and keeping her face turned downward. Acra and Fabia laid the diaphanous cloth over her, covering her completely. When she was made a Vestal, Lucia’s body became consecrated and inviolate. Only one person had dared to handle her roughly… until now. The strap, when it fell, shocked her and she cried out, just a little, but not even the Pontifex Maximus was permitted to draw the blood of a Vestal. He would hold back, and her skin would not be broken. After fifteen strokes firmly applied to her back and buttocks, Caesar stopped. “Prepare her for the journey,” he told the Chief Vestal, then stalked out of the Hall, still clutching the wide leather strap.
Lucia was to be dressed in funeral garments, placed on a hearse, and carried in solemn procession to the Wicked Field near the Hill Gate. There, she would be buried alive.
Copyright 2020 by Linnet Moss.
Historical note: Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus from 63 to 44 BCE.