The story of Severa continues in Gwen Cosmos’ newest installation in The Blade of the Empress Chronicles. If you haven’t checked out “The Empress” and “Knives and Snow,” then you should go give them a look first!
Leandra and Gwen
Severa’s arm ached, almost distracting her from the thundercloud of indecision that had been crashing in her mind ever since she stepped foot in Gaul. Keep my children safe whispered the Empress’s voice. At the same time, the angry tones of her daughter, Lucilla, ordered Severa to kill my brother, Commodus. Her head began to pound.
“That wound looks painful,” Felix said over his shoulder as he led her through the Roman camp. The golden sunset cast a halo through his curls as he halted to let her catch up.
She pulled herself out of her stupor, glancing at her injury. Blood oozed out, staining her sleeve. “I had barely noticed,” she lied.
He stared at her, but she kept her face stony.
“You should at least have it cleaned and wrapped. I have supplies in my tent.” He quickly changed direction, and they made their way through the maze of cloth walls until they reached a waterproofed burgundy tent.
“Is this home?” Severa teased.
Felix chuckled. “It’s not Atia’s palace, but it keeps the weather out.” He motioned to a rock sticking out of the snow. “Have a seat, and I’ll be back,” he said and disappeared inside.
Severa glanced at the rock and wondered if it would be better to just sneak away. She looked down at her arm; it really didn’t look good. She should at least get that taken care of. She sat down on the cold rock just as Felix reemerged.
He smiled when he saw her sitting and moved to kneel before her. “I was half thinking you would run away.”
“I still could,” she replied, “and really test your medical abilities.”
Felix chuckled as he poured wine over a spare cloth. “I’d prefer not.” He lifted the bandage a hair’s breadth from her arm. “This will sting.”
Felix nodded and gently placed the cloth against her wound. Sharp pinpricks shot up her arm, making Severa suck in a breath. His fingers were light on her skin as he finished cleaning and wrapping her arm with a fresh bandage.
“All done,” he announced.
She looked over his handiwork. “Thank you.” She wasn’t used to having other people patch her up.
“It’s nothing. Anyone here could do it,” Felix replied. “Let’s get you to Commodus.” He stood up and began walking, assumedly in the direction of Commodus’s tent.
Severa’s head felt fuzzy with indecision and blood loss as she stood up, but she was quick to follow Felix through the maze of tents. The sun had completely set by the time they reached Commodus’s tent. Two guards holding spears flanked the entrance, looking menacing in the light of the braziers next to them.
“A servant of Faustina to see Commodus,” Felix announced. One of the guards quickly walked into the tent.
Her mind swirled and she touched the daggers at her wrists, calming herself
The guard returned and held the tent flap open. “He is ready for you.”
Severa swallowed and stepped inside with Felix close behind her.
Inside the tent, the room was well-lit with braziers and a scattering of candles. In a corner, she saw the boy, Commodus, reading over a parchment. As she looked around, she could see scrolls on almost every flat surface, even unraveled all over the bed. She didn’t remember Commodus being so scholarly, but perhaps his father’s writings had become of interest now that Emperor Aurelius was deceased.
“What do you want?” Commodus said, leveling a bored stare as she approached. He had a foot on the ground and another dangling over an arm of the chair.
“I am a servant of your mother, Faustina,” Severa said, bowing her head and touching her wrist, caressing the blade hidden there once again.
“What does Mother have to say?” He said, already looking down at the parchment again.
Severa swallowed. Her instincts pulsed; now was the time to strike.
The tent flap rustled.
She turned, and the storm in her head crashed and thundered angrily. He was paler, and maybe a bit skinnier, but most important was the fact that he walked at all. Emperor Marcus Aurelius wasn’t dead. Her lungs struggled for air as she and the Emperor locked eyes.
“Ah…I was told Faustina’s servant was here.” His eyes bored into hers. “Is there any news from my wife?”
Severa’s mouth went dry.
In her periphery, she saw Commodus straighten.
“My mistress heard you were ill and sent me because she was worried about you.” Severa said.
The Emperor moved further into the room, circling her. “Well, as you can see, I am quite well.” He stopped before her, keeping his hands hidden behind his back as he studied her.
She lowered her head demurely even though her instincts were screaming at her to keep her eyes on him.
“Tell me-how did you make it through this wild country?” he said, beginning his pacing again.
She swallowed. “I had been traveling with some guards, but they were attacked.” She raised a hand to her bandage, drawing Emperor Aurelius’ eye. “Those barbarians spooked my horse, and, while they were distracted, I ran,” Severa finished. It wasn’t a complete lie.
Emperor Aurelius nodded. “How fortuitous that you got away. I assume these guards all perished?” He stared her down, his face emotionless.
She nodded her head slowly.
“May Pluto help them” He let out a breath, refocusing on her. “ you can see, I am well, and, I am sure you are anxious to tell Faustina the good news. I have messengers heading back to Rome in a week. You may travel with them.”
Severa inclined her head. “Thank you, Emperor.”
“You may go.”
Quietly, she turned and exited the tent. Cold air hit her as she walked outside, making her release a breath. Everything was wrong. Marcus Aurelius was supposed to be dead, her mistress was betraying him with another man, and Lucilla had sent her on a fool’s errand. Her heart hammered in her chest and her legs felt wobbly. A man as shrewd as the Emperor wouldn’t be fooled for long. She needed to get out, and soon.
Behind her, the tent flaps rustled as Felix walked out. She took a deep breath through her nose, calming herself.
“I’ve been told to give you a tent next to mine,” he announced.
Of course the Emperor would choose the one person in this gods-forsaken camp who knew what she was to be her guard.
She turned to him and smiled. “Lead the way.”
It was time to walk the edge of a knife. She’d better not lose her balance.