Chapter 14 in my novel of a Vestal Virgin in Ancient Rome and her friendship with Julius Caesar.
Fabia had returned home early, pleading fatigue, so Aurelia and Licinia jointly declared the Goddess’ rites at an end, sent a messenger to Caesar, and dismissed the matrons with a stern warning not to fuel baseless rumors. Lucia remained in the small cubicle with its couch and terra-cotta red walls until a troop of grim-looking lictors arrived—armed—to escort all the Vestals back to their quarters.
On Caesar’s orders, Lucia was taken directly to her chamber and locked in, despite Fabia’s protests. Andromeda was not allowed to come to her. Despite her exhaustion, sleep was impossible. Finally, in the hour before dawn, Fabia unlocked the door, entered, and sat on the couch, taking Lucia’s hand. She looked tired.
“Caesar is very angry,” she said. “Only once before have I seen him so enraged. Tonight two men penetrated his house, it seems, disguised as female musicians. A slave has confessed to letting them in the kitchen door. Some sort of drunken prank.” She shook her head in disbelief. “One was Clodius, Claudia’s foolhardy brother. He was discovered by a kitchen-slave, urinating against the wall in the courtyard. Aurelia caught sight of him as he escaped, and she is certain of his identity. The other man is the one who attacked you, but nobody recognized him, and he too managed to escape.”
Lucia was silent. She had nothing to say. Though her paralysis had eased, speaking still required a great effort.
“Lucia, you must tell me what happened. I need to know so that I can protect you. According to Aurelia, you were… being violated by the man when they found you.”
During her sleepless night, there had been time to think over the events; indeed, she could not push them from her mind, even when she tried. “Claudia told me that you wanted me to come to the Red Room. When I got there, he was there. He attacked me. Then Aurelia and the other women came running. There was a great commotion. There was noise even before they found me.”
“Claudia?” Fabia was clearly puzzled. “Claudia says that you asked her the way to the Red Room shortly before the disturbances began, and that was the only time she spoke with you all night.”
Lucia frowned. “Why would I ask her the way? What does she know of the People’s House?”
“And the man… did he take your virginity?” pressed Fabia. “You must tell me, for the sake of the Goddess and the security of Roma.”
“I don’t know,” confessed Lucia. “It happened very quickly. He pushed himself against me. I felt his mentula. Does that mean I am no longer a virgin?”
“Oh, my poor child.” Fabia tried again. “Did it go inside you?”
“I don’t think so. Maybe a little. Will the Goddess be angry, even though I knew nothing of this man, and tried to fight him?”
“Perhaps,” answered Fabia. “Your body must be inviolate. The safety of Roma depends on it. And I am afraid, for Roma and for you.” She drew a deep breath. “Once I was accused of unchastity. You were only a girl—do you remember? Unchastity… with Catalina.”
“Yes,” said Lucia. “I know. But you did nothing wrong.”
“My case was the opposite of yours. I did nothing, but I wanted to. Desperately. I prayed for my own death, or his. I even thought of hanging myself.” For a moment, Fabia’s eyes held the fiery expression that Lucia had seen before. “You wanted nothing, but it was forced upon you. Which is a greater offense to the Goddess, my mind or your body?”
“What will happen now?” asked Lucia.
“Caesar is the Pontifex Maximus. He will conduct an investigation in consultation with the Pontifical College.” Fabia squeezed her eyes shut against tears, then opened them and looked at Lucia in sudden resolution. “I will tell him that you are still a virgin. You must say the same. The man never touched you with his mentula.”
“No.” Lucia was certain. “No, we must tell the truth. I cannot speak a lie before the Goddess, and neither can you, Fabia.”
At Fabia’s urging, Caesar permitted Andromeda to attend to Lucia’s personal needs, and she was locked into her chamber only during the evening hours. For the duration of the inquiry, she was not to leave the Vestal House, not even to perform the Goddess’ duties. Indeed, during the time her chastity was in question, she was barred from all ritual activities.
Lucia wanted to confront Claudia, but the younger Vestal eluded her by rising before Lucia was allowed out, and returning to the Vestal House only after she was confined to her room. Fabia was rarely about, for she had insisted on witnessing all the testimony, even that of the slaves from the People’s House. The other Vestals avoided Lucia, though Sergia could not resist sharing the news with her.
“The Pontifical College meets in the Royale every day to hear evidence from the principal witnesses. You’ll be called soon. The Tribunes of the People have already indicted Clodius on charges of sacrilege. Rumor has it that he snuck into the house to dally with Pompeia, right under the noses of Aurelia and the rest of us! Pompeia denies it, of course. She says that you must have arranged to meet your lover that night, and Clodius only came along as a lark.”
“And the other man, my so-called lover?” Lucia asked.
“His identity is still a mystery,” said Sergia.
“Ask Claudia for the whereabouts of Quintus Volusius,” said Lucia. After thinking it over, she had begun to suspect that Claudia was the unchaste one, meeting with her former betrothed and arranging this opportunity at the festival of the Good Goddess. For some reason, she had sent Lucia to meet him, instead of keeping the rendezvous herself.
“Claudia has been closely questioned,” said Sergia. “That is only to be expected, given that Clodius is her brother, yet she has stuck to her story. She says that she saw no man all evening, but you asked her the way to the Red Room after the banquet was served. Pompeia says the same, that you asked her how to find the Red Room. That corroborating evidence impressed the College greatly.” Sergia sounded almost accusatory now.
“I did ask Pompeia, but only because Claudia sent me there. Don’t you believe me, Sister?” asked Lucia, using the form of address which the Vestals reserved for each other.
“I don’t know what to believe,” said Sergia frankly. “I would never have suspected you of unchastity, but I know what I saw. On the other hand, Claudia always hated you. What did you do to anger her so? I once caught her with a book she stole from your room. She denied it, but I recognized the red scroll cover from the set you have. She’s no reader; she only took it at random, to aggravate you.”
“Do you know what she did with the book?” asked Lucia eagerly. It was one she had inherited from Ennia, the seventeenth volume of the poet Ennius’ Annals of Roma, and it was precious to her.
“Lucia!” Sergia sounded exasperated. “Just now, you have more important things to worry about!”
Copyright 2020 by Linnet Moss