What follows is the recounting of a conversation told not by me, but by my companion. I will admit to finding some of his characterizations mildly irksome.


Ann Arbor, March 2005

I stared at her, waiting for her to continue, but she just stared at the floor for the longest time. Then she sighed and looked up at me.

“What?” she asked, seeing the look on my face.

“You went back.” I said it flatly, not sure whether it was even a question.

“I believe that is what I just said, yes.”

I chewed on that for a minute, but it didn’t taste right.

“You went back to him and he talked you into going back to Rome with him? As his slave?”

“Not to Rome. Arretium. As to being a slave… you’re something of a liberal, aren’t you?”

“What? Well, yeah in some ways, maybe not others…”

“Yes. Well slavery was difficult to accept but not so much as you might think. I had been one many times before, sometimes a valued one. It was a normal thing for most of the peoples I had encountered, from my earliest days, and Rufus assured me that it was in name only. He said it was the only way other Romans would accept my presence, and as time went on I saw that was obviously true. He told me to see it as merely pro forma. I believed I could leave at any time, and he assured me that I could. I didn’t believe he could stop me.” She paused. “I wasn’t quite right about that, but it was mostly true.”

“But wasn’t it still a big step down for you?”

“I chose to view it as a meaningless mortal concept that did not truly apply to me. You modern Americans have a different view of slavery than was once common. Slavery was not always a horrible bereavement.”

“I always thought that was just, well, you know, something white people say so they don’t feel bad about slavery in America.”

She made a face. “Such concepts are not… do we really need a philosophical debate on the differences between American and Roman slavery? Neither were good things in the final analysis, but we are not talking about the American experience here.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, backing down. “I’m just trying to understand.”

“It is a wonderful thing that modern men loathe slavery. But in that time and place, well, I wasn’t Roman and there was no real reason for me to be among them otherwise. Rufus already had a wife and couldn’t marry me. Slavery amongst them was not universally terrible to endure. Marieko was his beloved and respected slave and had been his teacher since childhood. A slave in a household such as his, with her master’s favor, could live quite comfortably…”

“Fine,” I interrupted her, “but that doesn’t explain why. From what you were telling me you were pretty…” I swallowed. She just looked at me with that eerily empty look of hers. “Well you killed pretty casually. Back then anyway.” My voice faltered because sometimes she scared me that way now.

Her eyes softened. “That is not a thing I am proud of. I don’t… I don’t kill so casually now. I don’t… Killing… killing eats away at something in me, destroys something in me. I don’t do it unless…” She swallowed, and stopped. Her face stayed impassive, almost expressionless. Very quietly she said, “I don’t like who I was then.”

“Do you like who you are now?” I asked, without thinking, then immediately regretted it. I thought she’d get angry. But she didn’t.

“Ask me that question another day,” she said, quietly. Her face was still expressionless.

We both sat quietly for a while. I felt like I was intruding again, but I finally continued.

“So, okay you were pretty… pretty… ruthless I guess you’d say, back then. So why didn’t you kill him? Why did you stay with him? You obviously hated the guy, but you were attracted to him too? Make me understand it.”

She left her chair and slowly walked to the small bar where she picked up her pack of cigarettes. With deliberate care she drew one from the pack, then took up her old Zippo and lit it. She stood there, taking drag after drag, exhaling through her nose. I suddenly noticed she was shaking; her hands fluttering like a hummingbird’s wing. When she turned to look at me again the expression on her face was pained.

“Your hands are shaking,” I said. “You want to stop?”

She suddenly looked at her hand like it was a snake, almost like it betrayed her. “That’s very frustrating,” she said, balling it into a fist.

“What, a lot of people, a lot of women, they get that way when they’re upset.”

“I DESPISE BEING SO OUT OF CONTROL!” she bellowed. I didn’t know someone so little could yell that loud. But I was used to her getting mad, so I just let it go.

“Hey Princess. Chill out. We’re still friends, right?”

She turned away and lit another cigarette. Her hands weren’t shaking anymore, like she was deliberately making them smooth and hard with her gestures. Then she slowly shook her head, and looked back at me, a quiet half-smile on her face. “Nobody has ever called me that before you know.”

That startled me. “What? Princess? You know I don’t know where that got started but hey, if it offends you…”

“I find it charming,” she said, with a smoky half-grin, then sighed. She was relaxing visibly, and that was a good sign. “No, we do not need to stop.” Her voice was even. “My apologies. As I have said, some of these memories are painful, and some… embarrassing. But it is what we are here for.”

“Okay. So make me understand you and Rufus.”

“I don’t know that I can,” she said, then her demeanor still settled, but the pained look crept back onto her face just a little. “You are a man of your time and place. But what are you?”

“I’m pretty sure I know who I am,” I replied, “but what I am? I’m a husband. A father. A writer, a liberal, kinda…”

“Blend that into the whole of what you are, all of those discreet little labels and characterizations, and what you are is easily described in a single term: you are a human being. Would you agree?”


She took a final drag from her cigarette and carefully snubbed it out in the ashtray, then said, “There were some seven hundred years behind me when I finally turned my back on the communities of men. I couldn’t bear to be with them any longer, even though at that time my life was much better than it had ever been before. I was a valuable individual.”

She paused again, scowling and I half expected her to reach for another cigarette, but she just stared at the floor for a minute before continuing.

“I was a huntress and warrior. Over time I also learned the secrets of bronze and iron. By the time I left men behind I had seven centuries of shaman wisdom to draw upon and I knew what was fakery and what was not. I daresay I may have been the greatest single repository of pharmacological knowledge in the world at that time. I was a skilled midwife. I wasn’t orjan any longer, but I was still an outsider. I had no ties to anyone, and whenever I allowed myself to feel any real attachment to any place or any person…”

“You’ve talked about this before?the alienation and the need to get away.”

“Yes, I have. But you must try to understand?when I finally left, walking into the wilderness on that first day of what turned into six hundred years on my own, I had no idea what I was. All I knew was what I was not. I was not a human being. But I did not stride into the forest and proclaim myself a goddess. No, that came over time, a very long time.

“But when I encountered Rufus I was deep in the grip of that delusion. Yet I had never seen his like before, or that of his men, and I misjudged them from the very start. His pursuit and capture of me fueled hatred, a hatred born mostly from fear of what he might represent, and from the very effrontery of making me fearful. When he offered me my freedom he fully expected me to choose to stay with him, and that was even more infuriating. But when I left, he changed his tactic, and came to meet with me alone, and that too was impressive.”

She stopped then, and returned to her chair. Then she sank back into it, and crossed her arms into her shoulders, suddenly looking almost pitifully small. When she spoke again her voice was low, and so quiet I had to lean forward to hear her again.

“Rufus offered me an explanation of what I was and why I was there. When I told him how many years were behind me he believed me, without question. He said I was clearly the lost daughter of Jupiter or Latona, a half-sister to Diana or perhaps even one of her divine creations. When I told him I’d never had children that only confirmed it for him, and he told me the same was true for Diana. It all made so much sense that we both believed it.”

“That’s it? He told you a story about Diana and a prophecy and you just bought it?”

She sat up then, and raised her chin a bit defiantly. “Before I took up the hunt, I was nothing! But now I was a goddess!” She almost spit that last word out. I watched with fascination as she visibly forced herself to calm down again. She was one mercurial lady.

She looked at me, and a tiny wisp of a grin came back to her countenance. I could tell she was practically reading my thoughts. She nodded, as if to say, yes, you see how I am. Then she sat back in her chair again, her back straight and her face falling back into that preternaturally calm demeanor she affected most of the time. Evidence of the stormy forces roiling inside her was only distantly visible now behind those huge green eyes of hers.

She went on. “I was nothing but a beast of burden and a toy for men before Att taught me the art of the sling and the spear. When our time together was… when he was gone, I took Attuz into the wilderness for two years and sheltered him like a mother. When we rejoined people and I had to abandon him before he grew old… well I was quiet for a while, disconsolate, and returned to my meek ways. But after the incident with Oskuz I resolved to learn everything I could, to make myself invaluable to the men I accompanied. I then resolved to set myself above those around me so I would not be at anyone’s mercy again. The more I learned, the more it was as if I were being shaped and prepared for some destiny. The moment when I finally stepped into the wild for what I thought was the last time, shedding myself of mankind completely, I felt like I was finding that destiny.

“When finally I met Rufus I was quite mad. But I was easily his match in arrogance and in disdain for those we felt beneath us. And almost everyone was beneath us. We were so very alike, he and I.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that vibe from what you were saying.”

She smirked at me, then nodded. We sat there again for a few moments without saying anything, her eyes off in the distance. Then her eyes fixed on mine again.

“Rufus sought power and fame. He wanted a seat in the Roman Senate, his uncle’s, but was too far down the family line to take it without a fight. Yet he wanted to be a driving force in the Republic, and in the world as a whole. When he encountered me, and saw in me the realization of his personal prophecies, he aimed even higher. Diana was most beloved by slaves and while he never admitted it I know now that just having me as his slave was part of fulfilling prophecy, to him. In any case, he told me that by making me his consort, he could become as a God. He believed… well, he believed he could become like me.”

Suddenly, it clicked for me. “So you wanted to believe it. And that was enough to make you forget all that crap he did to you?”

“He had explanations, and they made sense to me.” She stopped, then her voice grew very intense. “Yes. I wanted to believe it. With every fiber of my being I wanted to believe. He was going to become as me. He was going to become a God. He had a prophecy and plans I would be an integral part of, and had he succeeded…”

She stopped. I waited. Then she looked at me again. Looking into her eyes was like staring into a cavern, and although I’m pretty sure it was my imagination, it was almost like her voice echoed when she spoke.

“I would have forgiven him anything if he could save me from ever being alone again.”

This recounting begins with Tiwazō

One Response to “Interlude”

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