Extract: The Goddess’ Desire

Brutus’ slave carriage made haste towards Lutudarum. He rode bareback at the front on a grey stallion with Octavius beside him on a smaller chestnut coloured horse. Inside the caged carriage, Emily and Livia found themselves squashed up against the other prisoners, ten in total, with no room for them to breathe freely. Skin pressed against skin and, once or twice, when the wooden wheels suddenly jolted, Emily was hit in the face by flying hands and legs as they rolled around inside.

The first day’s ride was one of the worst experiences that Emily had ever endured; every part of her ached and stung, and she yearned for fresh food and water. Supplies for the prisoners had been minimal; Brutus had provided just enough to keep them alive but weak. And it stank inside the carriage. With no stops along the way, the prisoners had had to make do with relieving themselves where they lay and the aroma of piss and shit had reached atrocious levels by mid-afternoon. Livia scrunched up her nose in an effort to blot out the stench but it was to no avail and, as the carriage turned away from Venta Belgarum and began to head North, they began to worry about the possibility of disease.

To make matters worse, it was dark and hideously claustrophobic. Emily and Livia recognised each other by the lights of their eyes and they tried desperately to hold on to one another.  For the most part, they were able to keep close but a sudden movement here and there would cause them to topple away and hit opposite sides of the carriage.

For the first couple of hours, or maybe more (Emily had lost track of the time), nobody said a word. The silence was excruciating. But there was a fear among the prisoners that Brutus would punish them if they made too much noise and none of them wished to witness his wrath. It was Livia who spoke first although Emily was disheartened to hear that she had lost some of her earlier happy-go-lucky attitude.

‘Hey there,’ Livia managed to whisper to Emily. Her head was resting against Emily’s shoulder whilst her legs stuck out at awkward angles and touched the locked door at the back. Emily twisted her neck slightly to gaze down at Livia; she attempted to force herself to smile weakly but her muscles did not want to co-operate and instead Emily’s expression was one of stark emptiness.

‘Hi,’ replied Emily with a small rasp. ‘How’re you doing?’ Livia covered her mouth with her hand as she coughed violently; her chest heaved and her eyes began to water.

‘Not too good,’ Livia said once her coughing fit had subsided. ‘My head feels like I’ve been hit with iron.’

‘I know how you feel,’ sighed Emily. Her head was still sore from where Calpurnius had struck her the other night. ‘I don’t think I can take much more of this,’ she admitted.

‘Me neither,’ Livia said spluttering. ‘I think this is what it must be like to journey to the underworld.’

‘I want to go home.’ It was the first time Emily had spoken of home to Livia and, had the circumstances been brighter, she was certain she would have regaled her with stories from her childhood.

‘I can’t go home,’ Livia said sadly. ‘It’s such a long way away from here.’ She lifted her head for a moment, rubbed her eyes, and then laid it back down against Emily’s shoulder.

‘I don’t think I can go home either,’ said Emily after a moment’s contemplation. ‘I don’t even know why I’m in this place.’ Livia didn’t answer this and they fell quiet once again.

Around them, some of the other prisoners had begun to stir from their unhappy slumber and were watching the two girls with looks of fascination and fright on their faces. They muttered in hushed whispers, mostly in Latin of which Emily knew very little and in Greek of which she knew none. She wondered how much Livia could understand, but as Livia made no mention of it, Emily chose not to press her for an explanation. By the way a few of them were pointing, Emily was certain they couldn’t have been saying anything good. It wouldn’t have bothered her if it hadn’t been for the tanned old man sitting in the farthest corner, his stare fixed upon her. At first glance, he seemed harmless but as the hours went by and he did not avert his gaze, Emily began to feel increasingly uneasy. Even when they were being pushed and knocked about, his eye-line remained unbroken.

In the early evening on the first day, Brutus and Octavius pulled their horses to a stop beside a river and allowed them to drink from the flowing water. The horses panted heavily; they had been pushed to their very limits and there were still another five days of riding to go. Brutus knew that he had squeezed every last ounce of their strength and energy out of them and they would have to set up camp for the night.

Brutus climbed down from his stallion and went to relieve himself in the river. Octavius picked up two oak pails and filled them up to their brim with water. After which, he carried them back to the carriage, unbolted the door and, before any of the prisoners could comprehend what had happened, Octavius emptied the contents of both buckets all over them.

Emily and Livia both screamed involuntarily, the water was icy cold and its touch was like the bite of a small dog. Their sodden tunics clung to their skin but it had washed away much of the defecation and for the first time since they’d set off, the carriage smelt vaguely bearable.

His task complete, Octavius raised the door and bolted it and they were once more plunged into darkness.

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