Continued from In the Shadow of the Colosseum.
For nine days, I lived in the church building. The skinny, sickly man’s mother would not allow him to invite me to stay at his home, and nobody else had room. He visited often, and I learned his name was Ctephen Flamard. I had no name to give him, save my sequence– AB21, which he refused to call me. Instead, he called me Abby. I thought it sweet, so didn’t object.
Every day, he brought me three meals. It was far more than I was used to, and my own restlessness led me to work my body. I soon developed muscles, and became vainly proud of my shoulders. Countless times, I convinced him to make love to me, though it was never as satisfying as those many times in front of a crowd, with someone’s leg and their steely jaws. I missed those times, though I was beginning to also enjoy life, and my time among these people in this strange country was happy.
Carnal pleasures during the day and the night made the days go by quickly, and by the time the ninth day came, I began to prepare to depart after dinner.
“What are you doing?” Ctephen asked as he watched me.
I flashed him a smile. “I’m going back to wait for my friend.”
“The one who’s going to kill you?”
“Mm.” I hugged myself with eagerness. “If I fight back, she’ll have to take her time, so I’ll have some fun.”
His pained expression made my chest hurt.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t want you to die. I want you to stay and live.” He sounded like a creation who was finally broken by the stadium’s activities. His face looked dead.
Against my will, my arms wrapped around him tightly, and he did the same to me. “Where I’m from, that kind of face gets a person killed,” I explained with false patience. His arms tightened around me, until it began to hurt. Absently, I stroked his hair. “I suppose I can stay.” I agreed after a few long moments. To say those words felt intensely right.
The next morning, I rested on my cot, and he rested in my arms. Above us, the pastor stood with disapproval in his eye. I pushed Ctephen off the bed and stood up. “Go ahead and punish me. I started it.” I lied.
Ctephen looked around. He was confused by the sudden introduction to the cold floor.
“Well, I think it’s time you leave, Abigail. IL’s house is not for such acts, and now must be purified.” Ctephen, you should know better.”
Religion. Ugh. I looked away and rolled my eyes. Religion was the one downside to this country.
Ctephen rose to his feet. “I pray IL’s forgiveness.” he mumbled meekly.
“IL forgives those who offer tribute.” The man’s tone was cold. I narrowed my eyes at him, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end as he spoke again. “IL asks for a tribute of metal, life, or blood to forgive your crime.”
“I offer life.”
“IL takes one year for your crime.”
I started to object, but Ctephen stopped me with a hand on my mouth. “I willingly give it.”
“He sends you north to join a grand host. He bids you take her with you, and He bids you wed her before next you bed her.” The man’s fat nose needed to be punched, the way he looked down it at us, like we were stupid children. I clamped my hands into fists. “And He will be watching, Ctephen.”
Ctephen bowed his head. “Yes, Father. I will follow his wishes and speak to Abby of marriage before I go pack.”
The thin man, who seemed so gaunt he was without gender, gave a brief nod before he turned and walked from my room. I looked up at Ctephen. “That was a load of dung.”
His hand connected with the side of my head suddenly, and I shuddered with pleasure at his violent touch. “No, Abby. This is serious.” He stared into my eyes. “We have to do as he says. If we’re going to make love any more, we have to get married. Do you even know what that means?”
“It means loving one person forever, and only sleeping with them or those they approve of, yes?” I snorted, and he sighed.
“I’m sorry, Abby.” He sat on the cot beside me. “I’m scared. He seems to want me to join the army for a year.” Ctephen shook his head.
“You won’t survive a day in any army.”
His gaze was venom.
“You’re scrawny and sickly. He wants you to die, you know.” I scowled.
“That’s not important.” He shook his head. “Abby, will you please marry me?”
I looked into his eyes for a few moments. I had no idea what I was searching for. “Are you only asking because you want to have sex in the future?” I asked finally.
“Of course not!” His objection was sudden, and I blinked a few times. “I love you, Abby. His demands only made me know that I have to marry you, because I refuse to marry anyone else.”
“You’re stupid. I’ll marry you.” I laughed and stood, then kissed him briefly. “How do weddings here work? Nothing too fancy, I hope?” I stood and began to brush my hair.
He smiled, and the next several days went by faster than I could imagine. I vaguely remember saying “I do.” at some point. The honeymoon was spent on miserable horseback, headed northward to the capital city.
Ctephen didn’t pay enough attention to me, and I quickly grew bored and began to occupy myself by counting as high as I could. I got to nine hundred ninety nine thousand, nine hundred ninety nine before I had trouble, and I decided a nap would suit me. I tossed my reins to Ctephen, and he led my horse as I napped despite the jostling the horse so enjoyed.
An icy breeze blew from the south, and I cracked my eyes open for a moment and stared at the saddle horn before I closed them once more and returned to my nap.