Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters in this story: Xena, Gabrielle, Eve or Livia (and any mention to characters from the television show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys)are the property of Renaissance Pictures and Universal MCA. This story is not meant to infringe upon their rights or the rights of the actors who portray them. Also, no part of the story entitled Growing up "Livia" is to be copied, whole or in part, without the author's permission. It is not to be copied for public use or for profit by any person or organization.
Growing Up "Livia"
Written By: Caina Q. Fuller
"Livia! Come on child! We're going to be late."
Six-year-old Livia sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from her large blue eyes. The first rays of light had just begun to stain the cloudy eastern sky a steel gray color as she slipped to the floor and slid her tiny feet into the fur slippers her nanny had laid out for her the night before. As usual her favorite breakfast of fresh fruit and vegetables waited for her on the massive twelve-seat dining table in the main hall of the guesthouse she had called home for as long as she could remember. For Livia it was a gilded cage that offered her a life of miserable solitude, and the only one she had to turn to was her hateful caretaker Delphia.
She didn't know why the woman hated her, but every time she tried to engage Delphia in any kind of conversation she was greeted with a cold stare and icy silence. She'd spent hours of her life, pondering in her innocent mind what she could have possibly done to make the woman despise her so she could do something to rectify the situation. She tried everything to make Delphia like her. She made her presents, complimented her dress or her hair, told her how pretty she was. She did everything she saw the slave children do for their mothers, but instead of receiving a warm hug or a kiss and a cheerful thank you, she was lucky if Delphia would say thank you.
After awhile she just stopped trying. What was the point, Livia wondered, of trying to be nice to someone who was only going to ignore you? Instead Livia played her own little game of eating her breakfast quietly, while she carried on a mental conversation with the one person she so desperately wanted most in this world to come and rescue her: Mother.
Livia imagined her mother was sitting at the opposite end of the table, eating a feast of the same fruits she was. Like herself, Mother hated all meat except for fish. Unlike herself however, Mother was as strong as she was beautiful. She took nothing from anyone, and whenever Delphia did or said something that hurt Livia she would always march right up to Delphia and stand up for her baby. She would brandished her sword and say all the things Livia wanted to say in her defense, making it all too clear she would only take so much before she made Delphia pay for her abuse of her little girl.
As for the sport of fishing, it was the one passion Delphia allowed Livia and she indulged every opportunity she got. Why she liked fishing so much was beyond her. It could become quite boring at times, and on certain days she would sit at the stream that flowed through the palace grounds for hours, talking with Mother who also loved fishing. Sometimes Livia would brush Mother's luxurious blond hair away from her face and tell her how beautiful she was while she waited for a bite.
Livia was always careful to make certain evil old Delphia never caught her getting close to Mother. Livia's six-year-old mind instinctively knew that if her nanny ever discovered she had someone to love her Delphia would find a way to take that love away. Making her miserable seemed to be the hateful old hags sole mission in life.
Love. Livia wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to have a real mother scoop her up in an embrace and tell her how much she was loved and cared for. She was always filled with intense jealousy when the slave women would bring their children to labor with them and when they thought no one of importance was watching, they would do these very same things with their son or their daughter. They would kiss them, or maybe stroke their hair gently away from their face and tell them the three most precious words in all the world: I love you. Never had anyone said that to Livia before. Though she was only six years old it wasn't lost on her that no one had ever told her they even remotely cared about her. She may be rich beyond most people's wildest dreams, but she was lonely beyond most people's darkest nightmares.
This day, which seemed to start out like all the others of her life, progressed from breakfast, getting dressed and then following Delphia out to meet with her tutor. He was a man every bit as wicked as Delphia and he stubbornly refused to tell her his name. She was only to call him School Master and nothing else. Any other title, no matter how playfully she intended it to be, was rewarded with a solid smack to the rear with a paddle. Livia hated him even more than she hated Delphia, but he was familiar. She was used to him and when she came out that morning to find a handsome, dark haired man in full military uniform standing in School Master's place, fear flooded her little chest in a hot wave of panic.
It didn't help any that upon sight of him Delphia knelt to her knees in reverence. This also frightened Livia, for Delphia was to be feared right up there with Hera herself. Who was this man to command such respect from Delphia?
Seeing Livia was not bowing, Delphia shot Livia her most stern look of disapproval and motioned with her eyes for Livia to come to her knees. Livia immediately obeyed, and took up a place on her knees beside the woman who had taken care of her all her life, and made Livia painfully aware she resented the responsibility with every opportunity she got.
The dark haired man studied Delphia with a measure of distaste and shook his head. "Delphia, you may leave Livia to me."
"Yes My Lord."
Delphia scurried away, leaving Livia alone with this frightening man. Who was he? How did he know her name? Was he a god? He must be for Delphia to bow down to him. Before she could consider the consequences of her actions, her tongue got the best of her and she blurted out a question she immediately regretted.
"Are you a god?"
Expecting an angry rebuke, Livia naturally cringed when he knelt down before her. Instead of unkind words however, he laughed and ruffled her hair. This was new. He was being friendly, just like Mother! Her lips curled up in an involuntary smile as she responded to his kindness.
"No, but one day I will be revered as one. My name is Octavious. I'm a...friend of yours."
By the gods, she thought with joy. I've got a friend and I didn't even know it! "You're my friend?"
"Of course! I've known you all your life. Come with me now."
"How come I've never seen you before?"
Her new friend offered her another sweet smile and did something no one else had ever done before either. He picked her up and kissed her! Her heart began to pound within her chest so hard she feared it would burst. This man seemed to genuinely like her. Just in the few moments she'd met him he had managed to treat her with more love and kindness than Delphia had given her in her entire life it seemed.
She wondered if perhaps she was dreaming, or if something happened to her and she'd gone to be in the Elysian Fields. She had never even considered there were people in the world that liked her. Delphia had never allowed her to make friends with the slaves and there was no one else of her station allowed around her. It was like she was some kind of secret to be kept away from the rest of the world.
No matter that now. She had a friend now, and he was the most wonderful man she'd ever met before in her life. "Where are we going?"
"We're going on a long journey. I know this is your home, but it will be many years before you some back here."
Octavious looked into the large, soulful blue eyes of the beautiful child that stared up at him with innocent trust and excitement. He saw so much of Xena in her that it was almost like looking into a portrait of the Warrior Princess. He couldn't dare tell her that rumor had escaped of her true identity and that a group of assassins dispatched by Minerva herself were on their way here, to kill her.
A soldier walked by then, leading another child who was identical in height, weight and other physical attributes to Livia toward Delphia who was now emerging from the guesthouse with her usual stern expression.
"Livia, I need you to do something for me, will you?"
"Sure!" She would do anything for him if it meant he would just be nice to her. She liked the way it made her feel when he smiled at her, the way he was now.
"I want you to stay in the wagon with the curtains closed and no matter what happens or how hot you get, I want you to stay quiet. Don't move and don't speak. Can you do that for Octavious?"
Livia nodded excitedly, and was rewarded with yet another kiss on the forehead. Two kisses in one day and she couldn't, for the life of her, figure out what she'd done to earn it. He just seemed to care a great deal about her for no reason at all. She felt as privileged as the slave children she'd seen receiving love from their parents as they'd labored away to provide her with a life of luxury.
"Good girl. No matter how scared you get, don't panic and don't say anything. Don't look from behind the curtain. Promise?"
Even with her head reeling from the attention he'd given her, something about the look in his eyes and the words he was saying seemed off, and a tickle of fear settled in her chest. "I promise. Is something wrong?"
"Nothing for you to worry your pretty little head over," he said. He placed her in the wagon and hurriedly pulled the curtains closed.
For the second time since Octavious arrived Livia felt afraid. She could sense by the looks she'd seen on the soldier's faces that something bad was about to happen, but she had no clue as to what that would be. Though the large space was quickly heating up, she squeezed her eyes tightly shut and prayed Mother would come stay with her until whatever badness she felt coming went away.
After awhile the heat and her curiosity got the better of her and she pulled open the curtain. Maybe, she thought after a moment, she could just peak and see what was going on. The fear that was growing with each passing second might not be so bad if she could just see what was going on outside.
Livia peeled the curtain open just enough to catch sight of five men riding toward the guesthouse on black horses. Octavious and a group of the soldiers greeted them, and her new friend clasped arms with the leader of the new group.
"So you were sent by the great Minerva?"
"We prefer to call her Athena."
Octavious bowed his head in a sign of respect. "Athena, of course. And you believe my charge to be someone named Eve, the daughter of some warrior-"
The leader of the warriors who'd ridden into the estate began to look impatient. "The bringer of Twilight. Athena has sent us to see the girl you have in your custody."
Octavious motioned to the new little girl holding tightly to Delphia's hand. "Here she is."
"That will be all. You may go."
Livia watched Octavious' handsome face draw up with indignation. "You can't just dismiss me like some lowly servant! Do you know who I am?"
"Of course we do. You're Octavious, Rome's new lap dog. Now step aside."
The Leader of the temple warriors drew his sword and Livia heart jumped into her throat. Oh no! They were going to hurt her new friend, just when she found him!
Delphia stepped back, pulling the new child with her. "My lord? May I ask what is going on here?"
"No, you may not!" Octavious answered briskly. "As a matter of fact, you are not to ask anything and you are not to say anything, or I will kill you myself. Have I made myself clear?"
Delphia bowed her head in fear, and stepped away again. Livia wanted to feel pity for Delphia mentally, but deep down inside she gave a quiet cheer that finally the bully was the one being bullied.
"This is her, I'm sure of it," the assassin leader barked. "This is what the goddess said Eve would look like if she were alive today. Kill her."
Delphia gasped and Livia's heart began to race, threatening to burst in her chest yet again. She was young, but she was also very smart. These men plAnnd to kill the child her new friend had brought with him. She had a feeling she knew why, though she didn't dare speak it.
Octavious stepped between the frightened child and the assassin. "Wait. You can't just go around murdering children because you think they might be someone who supposedly died years ago. Along with Xena I might add."
The lead assassin was through playing nice, even with Rome's leader. "I'm here on a divine mission. I cannot fail. If you don't get out of my way, Athena herself will come and finish the job. And you with it."
The two men stared one another down for a long moment before Octavious stepped aside. Livia couldn't believe it! How could such a nice man let someone kill a little girl? Livia watched in horror as the lead assassin drew his sword and faced the child who stood quivering in fear.
"Please don't hurt me," the little girl begged him with fat tears sliding down cheeks still chubby with baby fat. "I'll be good I promise!"
Octavious heart broke within his chest at the girls' words, but he had no choice. It was either this peasant child or Eve, the daughter of a woman he owed his very life to. He'd promised Xena that he would protect Eve and that meant at all costs. Now it would seem an innocent child would pay the price of his promise. He also knew he would spend the rest of his life knowing he'd allowed an innocent six year old girl die. Her blood would stain his hands, and his very soul, forever.
The cold-hearted lead assassin had enough mercy to kill the child quickly by beheading her, but that was little comfort to anyone witnessing this horrible, tragic event. Especially Livia, who watched from the safety of Octavious wagon. She may be young, but she knew that the child who had just lost her life, for some reason, had died in her place. Her only question was, what could she have possibly done to make someone want to kill her?
Rain poured down as the wagon carrying Octavious and Livia arrived at the Minerva Academy for Girls in Alexandria. This was where the wealthiest men in Rome sent their daughters to train to become the perfect aristocratic wives that Rome was so well known for. Livia had lost all the joy she had felt when she first met this man that claimed to be her friend. She was afraid of anyone that would let someone kill a little girl, no matter their reasons. Would he get mad at her and let somebody do something horrible to her too?
"You've been quiet since we left Rome. Care to tell me what's going on?"
Livia shook her head no and scooted away from Octavious. The older man sighed and rubbed a hand over his moist face. The wagon was covered, but wind still blew the occasional drop inside.
"You watched didn't you? Even after I told you not too."
He was angry with her and this frightened Livia in ways she couldn't put into words. Every time Delphia or School Master was angry with her she received a beating. Now this man, who'd allowed a child to be murdered was angry with her. She could only feel the fear that had become a constant part of her life since...since she could remember. If he didn't kill her, would he beat her? Would he yell at her and say hateful things to hurt her like Delphia and School Master did?
The last thing she expected Octavious to do was pull her onto his lap and gently cover her head with a scarf to protect her from the cold blowing wind and rain outside. He gave her another kiss on her forehead and rubbed her back. When he spoke, it was with the gentlest of tones.
"I'm so sorry you had to see that Livia. I can't begin to explain why that little girl had to die but-"
"She died for me."
Livia's words were a statement, not a question, and Octavious was impressed with how intelligent this child was. What could one expect though, from a child of Xena? He nodded and looked away into the warm lights of the Academy that Livia would grow up in. He wondered if, when he left this place, he would ever see her again. He had made all the necessary arrangements for her future should anything happen to him as he secured his place in history, but still...
"That I will never tell you Livia. I'm sorry but it's a secret that you can't know."
"Can you tell me her name?"
Why would she want to know that? Octavious frowned and wondered, not for the first time, if it was wise to leave her now. He knew how uncaring Delphia could be towards children but she'd come highly recommended by his closest advisors so he'd left Livia in her care. Perhaps that had been a mistake. He couldn't help but remember how Livia had eaten up the affection he'd shown her, as if she'd never received love before she'd met him. Maybe she needed someone to be there to hold her and love her until she could recover from the shock of what she'd witnessed earlier the day before.
He sighed and forced himself to put away such thoughts. He'd risked his life to save this child, on more than once occasion, and he was still doing so to keep her safe from gods who were still searching for any possibility that Eve was still alive. He had a career to forge and a life of his own to live, and that was that. He was her protector, not her father.
"I don't know her name," he said truthfully, and he was glad he didn't. "Don't bother yourself with that, alright? You must never tell what happened today. Never. If you do, you could get me into a lot of trouble with the gods. You don't want to do that to your friend, do you?"
Livia shook her head vehemently and hugged him fiercely, drawing a laugh from Octavious. Apparently she'd forgiven him. "Good girl Livia. Now lets go. We've arrived at your new home."
Livia continued to hold him tight as he carried her inside where the Head Mistress herself waited for Livia's arrival. The Head Mistress was a sturdy, middle-aged woman with plenty of lines on the bridge of her nose and forehead from frowning but no lines around the mouth from smiling. It wasn't lost of Octavious that if Odessa, the head Mistress of the academy, was everything she was rumored to be, he may have been taking Livia from the frying pan and tossing her in the fire, but once again this place was the best that money could buy. He was the wealthiest man in Rome and he would see to it that Livia had the best of everything, even at the risk that the people providing it might not be as tender toward Livia as he would like them to be.
"Welcome my Lord," Odessa said, bowing to him.
"Mistress Odessa. You're the Head Mistress I take it?"
"I am my Lord."
"And Livia's quarters? Have they been prepared for her?"
"She will, of course, have the very best quarters," the Head Mistress said in a harsh voice. She sounded as if someone had burned her vocal cords with acid. Livia found her more frightening than Delphia had ever been at her worst.
"Not just the best quarters. She is to have the best tutors, the best clothing. The best of everything. Am I understood?"
The Head Mistress nodded and snapped her fingers so loudly Octavious himself started. This bewildered little Livia even more. Who was this woman? Why was every grown up woman in the world always so mean? "Alethea!"
Another little girl, about eight years old, stepped from her hiding place behind the Head Mistress' skirts. She was a cute little auburn-haired girl. That kind of hair color was very rare in the Mediterranean, and she looked up at Livia with eyes the same color as the Jade stones that decorated her mantel piece in the Roman prison Octavious had liberated her from. These were set in the cutest pudgy face Livia had ever seen. The girl also had more freckles than she'd ever seen on an individual before as well. Livia found her to be the most interesting child she'd ever seen.
"Alethea and her mother will tend to all of your child's needs. I would recommend them for my own children."
"Very good then. This is Livia, my charge not my child."
"Very good my Lord. Alethea, show Livia to her quarters."
Livia backed away from Alethea immediately. She had known why she was coming to Alexandria, but she was still unprepared to leave Octavious. He was the only one to have ever shown her love and kindness, and she just couldn't bear lose him now.
Octavious sensed her reservation and knelt down to talk to Livia on her level. He could see the Head Mistress' disapproval at his being so soft with the girl as she rolled her eyes, but he ignored her until Livia was gone. Then he would deal with her attitude.
"You'll like it here Livia. They're going to treat you like a queen." Octavious directed his words to Odessa. "If they don't they'll wish they'd never been born." Knowing Odessa understood exactly what he was saying, he turned back to Livia. "Once a year I will have someone check on you to make sure you're doing all right. You tell him everything that happens to you here. If there's anything wrong, it will be dealt with immediately. Don't be afraid."
"But I want you to stay here with me. Don't leave me, please!"
Octavious, now a hardened soldier who was quite capable of being ruthless to defeat his enemies in battle, felt his steel reserve being tested by the pain and fear in this beautiful child's face.
"I'm sorry Livia. I have to go. I'll tell you what. I'll send someone every six months instead of once a year. Remember, you're the boss of yourself here. No one else."
"Will you come see me?"
"We'll see ok? When you've learned how to write bigger words we'll begin a correspondence. We'll send scrolls to one another as often as you like, alright darling?"
Livia nodded and he pulled her to him in the last embrace of her childhood. Though they had no idea of it now, the next time Octavious would hold Livia in his arms would be eleven years into their future. He will be Augustus Caesar, and Livia will be the eighteen-year-old Champion of Rome.
"Where are you from?" Livia inquired of her new personal servant, eight year old Alethea. They had just entered the lavish quarters that were; at least in the estimation of six-year-old Livia, ten times better than anything she'd ever had in Rome. As Alethea shut the door behind them and placed her hands behind her back, Livia couldn't help but notice a distinctive birthmark in the crook of Alethea's right arm. The more Livia studied it, the more the small half-moon shaped mark looked more like a brand than a birthmark.
Alethea noticed Livia's staring and rubbed the mark absent-mindedly. "They branded us when we first got here. The Head Mistress said it's to tell us apart from the slaves." Alethea rolled her eyes at the memory. "It hurt like crazy too."
Livia re-stated her earlier question which had still not gotten a response. Was the girl ashamed of where she was from? "Where did you say you were from?"
"Mommy says we're from a far off land called Ireland."
"I've never heard of it."
"Me either, 'cept when she talks about it. She says she met some man named Hercules and followed him back with his woman Morrigan. She's a Druid you know?"
Livia shook her head no. She had no idea what a Druid was, so she said so. "What's a Druid?"
Alethea shrugged her shoulders. "Darned if I know. Some kind of god I think."
Livia was impressed. She had a half-god for a servant! "Wow, you're Mother is a god!"
Alethea rolled her eyes again, as if this were the most ridiculous statement she'd ever heard. "No, no! Not my Mom. Morrigan. Do you think I'd be your servant if my Mommy was a god?"
"Oh!" Livia felt her cheeks grow warm with embarrassment at her mistake. How could she have thought something so terribly stupid? "You're very pretty. You look so...different. And you talk funny!"
"The word's exotic sweetie, and I don't talk funny."
Livia could sense her words had upset her young servant. She didn't want to do this, for Alethea was the only other little girl she'd been allowed such close contact with in her entire life, and she wanted to make this girl her next friend.
The doors to the room opened and the Head Mistress entered. The older woman looked down at Livia with disdain clear on her ugly face. "You're Greek aren't you child?"
Now Livia was upset. She'd thought that perhaps Octavious had scared the woman into being nice to her, but obviously she was wrong. The woman was coming into her quarters and insulting her for no reason. Livia had been raised to be a proud Roman and now this woman would insult her? After all she'd been through with seeing a child die for her, Livia was far from afraid of rebuke from this woman. For the first time in her life, Livia talked back to an adult. She remembered Octavious' words. She was the boss of herself now.
"I'm Roman. You ever call me Greek again, I'll tell Octavious!"
One of the Head Mistress' eyebrows shot up so high in surprise her stern face suddenly looked comical to Livia, but she wasn't about to make the mistake of laughing. Instead, she turned and sauntered over to her bed. What had gotten into her?
"Any Roman worth her heritage will know that to converse with the help is distasteful to say the least. Remember that."
"What was your name again?" Livia asked, unaware her words sounded like a veiled threat to the Head Mistress. She kept her eyes on the ceiling as she lay down to keep the older woman from seeing the fear of rebuke burning within them. There was such a long hesitation that Livia wondered if perhaps her luck had run out and she was going to be punished for her sudden display of bravery after all. Just as she was about to look over and accept defeat, the Head Mistress answered.
"My name, again, is Odessa. You may call me Head Mistress or Mistress Odessa."
Ever the intelligent little girl, Livia knew she had fooled Odessa into believing she wasn't afraid of her. She did, after all, have Octavious, Rome's commander, on her side. "You may call me Mistress Livia."
"Humph!" Odessa turned on her heel and stormed from the room, slamming the door shut behind her and Alethea looked at Livia with an expression of pure awe.
"I can't believe what you just did!"
"Neither can I."
Slowly, and with much caution, Alethea approached this incredible child named Livia. "Mistress Livia, why did your father bring you here? Isn't your mother alive to raise you?"
Livia hesitated in her answer. She didn't want the girl to think she was strange or different by saying she didn't have a mother or a father, but she had also been taught that lies were severely punished. If not by Delphia or School Master then by the gods. Livia believed she had successfully escaped Delphia and School Master, but the gods wouldn't be so easy to avoid. She opted for the truth.
"I never knew either of my parents."
"Then who was that man that brought you here?"
"Octavious. He's my friend."
"Octavious÷The Octavious? Wow! His face in on all the coins! He's your friend?"
"He sure is. Would you like to be my friend too?" Livia was fully expecting the girl to laugh at her or refuse her offer to be friends. Instead she was pleasantly surprised when she got a gleeful response from Alethea.
"Sure! I'd love to be your friend."
Livia was ecstatic. She had made her second friend in life in as many days and...Now what? What did one do when they had a friend? She was sorely lacking experience in the friendship department.
"Mistress Livia, what's it like-"
"Wait. Stop calling me Mistress Livia. Just call me Livia."
"O.K. Better yet, why don't I give you a nick name?"
"A nick name," Alethea said, plopping down on the bed next to her. "It's a special name that friends give each other."
Wow, Livia thought. Since Octavious had come into her life, more things good than bad had happened to her. She'd made another friend and was learning that there were indeed people out there that were nice and wanted to like her. Not only that, she had also discovered she was someone of importance and she didn't have to allow the evil old women of the world treat her unkindly. She wasn't about to push her luck with Odessa, but she had seen with her own eyes goodness really did exist, and she could be a part of that.
"What kind of nickname will I have?" Livia asked, all but bouncing with excitement. She was had found a friend and was going to get a new nickname all in a matter of minutes.
"I think I'll call you Livie."
"Livie," Livia said, trying it out for the first time. It was like her own name, but different and she liked it a lot. "I like that. Can I give you a name?"
"I don't know yet. Let me think about it for a little bit. I want to get to know you and give you a really good name."
Alethea began to look around as if she suspected the Head Mistress to be lurking in some corner, waiting to jump out at them and punish them. "My name isn't really Alethea. That's just what Mistress Odessa calls me. My name is really Brigid. I was named after Morrigan's daughter. She and my Mom were friends."
"Brigid," Livia repeated, trying the foreign name out on her tongue. It was so strange and it drew Livia's interest in her new friend up yet another notch. She wanted to know everything about this girl, and she prayed the Fates would be nice to her just this once and let her keep her new companion. "Why does Mistress Odessa call you Alethea?"
Brigid shrugged, and rubbed at the brand on her arm. "She says I'm a heathen and the only civilized thing I was smart enough to learn was a new name."
"That's not true! You're very smart, and pretty. From now on" Livia said, enjoying her first taste of independence and power, "You'll be called by your real name. It's a lot better than Alethea."
"Really," Livia assured her, loving the excitement and happiness that twinkled in Brigid's eyes. Happiness that she had put there. "Brigid. Sweetie, that's so...exotic."
The two girls shared a moment of quiet as Livia realized she had just made her first joke. Thinking it funny, they fell back onto the plush pillows, helpless with childish laughter, and for the first time in her life Livia knew what happiness was.
The next day Livia awoke to find Brigid waiting patiently at the foot of her bed. The auburn-haired angel was studying her as if she were waiting for some kind of re-action from Livia, or maybe an order.
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"Nothin'." Brigid said lightly. Livia didn't know this girl very well but she could see the mischievous twinkle in the green eyes that stared at her.
"Somethin'." Livia answered, mimicking Brigid's accent. "What?"
"My pet spider. He's on your belly."
Livia looked down to see a fat, hairy spider sitting on her belly staring back up at her. Her little heart began to pound and a blood-curdling scream tore from Livia's throat. Alarmed by her new Mistress' reaction, Brigid hurriedly scooped up her little friend and went to the corner; afraid she had done something wrong.
A beautiful woman with hair as orange as the setting sun came rushing into the room. She was an exact replica of Brigid, only older. This new woman was tall and beautiful with a strong face and a muscular build. She rushed over to Livia and began examining her, as Livia continued to scream. Her skin seemed to be crawling over her bones at the thought of what had been sitting on her for Hera only knows how long.
"By the gods child! What's the matter?"
Livia regained control of her emotions long enough to point at Brigid and her disgusting little pet. The new woman sighed as her eyes lay on the dark mass cradled against Brigid's chest.
"Brigid! What have I told ya about bringin' Pete to work w' us?"
"Sorry Ma. I thought she'd like him."
Livia's curiosity and amazement at this new woman's exotic (how Livia loved her new word) accent and looks distracted her momentarily from her fear and disgust of Brigid's pet. Never had she seen someone with hair this color! And the way she said her words were amazing! The new woman turned back to face her and Livia offered up her most winning smile.
"I apologize for the fright my little one gave ya darlin'."
"It's ok," Livia said, staring up at the woman who was obviously Brigid's mother. There was something sweet in her eyes that drew Livia too her, and she had a gut instinct that this was the first woman she would ever meet that wouldn't mistreat her the way Delphia or Odessa had. "Can I ask you what your name is?"
"Well of course you can sweetie. My name is Ann. And you must be Livia."
Livia nodded. This new lady seemed to be really nice, just like Octavious. Never had she ever dreamed there were so many kind people in the world. Where had they been hiding all this time?
"Come with us Livia. We'll get you bathed, dressed and fed. After that you're off to school."
"Will you come with me?" Livia asked. Her voice trembled in fear at the possibility of having to go around a bunch of strangers. She wanted to stay in this room with her friends where she knew she would be safe.
"School is what you're here for ya know?" Ann smiled down at her and led her to the bathing room where a tub of hot water waited for her.
"But I've never been to school before. I always had a tutor. I want to stay here with you."
"I know how scared you must be," Ann said, kneeling down and pulling off Livia's nightgown. "I know you don't know me yet Livia, but I want you to trust me on somethin' ok?"
Livia nodded, but she had a feeling that no matter how much she pleaded Ann wasn't going to be sympathetic to her plight to the point of allowing her to miss school. "I'll trust you Ann."
"Good. Once you get in class and show everyone how smart ya are, you're going to make all kinds of friends. You'll like school."
"You really think so?"
"I sure do. And Brigid will be there the whole time."
That was at least a small comfort. "Ok. I'll go to school."
"Good darlin'. I'm sure you won't regret it." Ann kissed Livia on the forehead then scooped her up and placed her in the tub of water. The temperature was just right and she found herself looking forward to seeing what school was like. As long as Brigid was there of course.
"I have a feelin' we're gonna get along just fine little one. Just fine." With that, Ann left the room to prepare Livia's clothes and Brigid entered the doorway, holding Pete to her chest.
"I have a nickname for you now Brigid."
"Spider." Another joke for Livia. The two girls exploded into laughter, and Brigid brought Pete over for another visit. This time, Livia was prepared to meet him.
"I guess he's not so bad after all," Livia said, stroking Pete's body. The more she petted him, the more she liked him.
"Neither are you Livia."
Ann watched from the next room as her daughter and the Academies richest student became fast friends, forming a bond she hoped would be good for the both of them.
Four years later.
Livia followed Brigid through the magnificent courtyards and gardens of the Academy. This was the place where daughters of the wealthiest noblemen Rome had to offer were sent here to be trained. A young innocent girl would enter these gates, usually at the age of eight, and a refined aristocrat would exit eight years later, ready to marry royalty and become the lady of any house.
Livia, however, was the exception. She had been brought here two years before the required age, and she was the charge of Octavious, Rome's most influential man. She, unlike the other girls, had her own personal servant and the best quarters. Though Livia was never one to take full advantage of it, she had the run of the place. She had made a few changes for the better in that the slaves had the option of learning to read, write and arithmetic. It had displeased Odessa greatly when Octavious had put this law into place so that Brigid could actually attend class with Livia instead of sitting at the back of the room all day suffering boredom.
All she had to do was give an unfavorable report to Octavious' man and they could all lose his favor, and while they were in Livia's presence the girls practically walked on eggshells. They quickly came to resent her and Livia could sense the dislike the girls had for her, especially Mistress Odessa. For the most part Livia opted to stay away from them as much as possible. She had Brigid and Ann, and they were all she needed to stay happy here. They had become her family over the past four years, and when the day came that she would leave, she intended to do all she could to make sure they came with her. She never wanted to lose them.
In her time here Brigid had become her sister, and Livia finally found the mother she'd always wanted in Ann. The woman was everything she'd always hoped for. She was supportive, loving and though the girls hated it (Mistress Odessa included), Livia called Ann Mom. Perhaps it was jealousy on the girls' part that Livia had an adult to love her so, or maybe it was because they resented the power she had over them. Regardless of why, Livia used her status to ensure that Ann and Spider had the best the Academy had to offer. Just like she did.
Brigid led Livia through the trees until they came to the Academy park. The centerpiece was a large, beautiful pond fed by a forty foot waterfall in the southern end of the Academy grounds. It had become the family's favorite place to relax and enjoy their free time. Livia had been more than thrilled when Brigid and Mom enthusiastically shared her love of fishing hiking through the forest that surrounded the Academy.
Today the sun sat high in a cloudless blue sky, its rays gleaming on the waters gently rippling surface. At times the glare was so bright that Livia and Brigid were forced to look away. Most of the older girls from the Academy frolicked in the cool water under the watchful eyes of Mistress Odessa, in an attempt to escape the oppressive summer heat. Some of Livia's excitement was diminished by the sight of the sour old woman, sitting on the grass in the shade watching the girls swim. Brigid apparently picked up on her feelings and punched her lightly on the arm.
"Come on Livie! Don't pay any attention to her. She knows not to mess with you anyway. I have a surprise for you."
Livia had come to love surprises in her time at the Academy. It seemed that in the four years she'd been here Brigid made up little ways to thrill her, and Livia loved every moment of the older girls attention. As she watched Brigid's auburn hair glow from the light of the afternoon sun, Livia found herself wishing for hair the same color. They felt like sisters, but Livia wished they could look like sisters too. It was a shame there was nothing she could do to change it.
Brigid led Livia around to the other side of the pond, which was so far from Mistress Odessa they could barely see her. Here, they might be able to have a little freedom to have some fun without the woman's constant, irritating reprimands. To the two little girls that slid off their sandals and toga's, every move they made seemed to be wrong in Mistress Odessa's eyes, so they avoided her as much as possible.
"What now?" Livia asked when they had gotten down to their slips.
"Now we swim. There's a trick I want to show you that my mother taught me. My grandfather taught it to her you know?"
The two girls dove in headfirst. The water was cool and refreshing, caressing their skin with its icy fingers and cooling them down from their long walk in the heat.
"Mom says this pond is fed by a bigger pond that has big chunks of ice floating in it. That's why it's so cold."
"It is cold," Livia said in agreement. "I love it though. It's so hot today!"
"I know. Now look here. I want to show you Mom's trick now."
"Mom says all good fishermen know how to do this. Hold your body perfectly still under the water. Don't move for anything."
"Shhh. Don't talk either. We want the fish to come close."
Livia nodded her head, excited. After four years of teaching Brigid and Ann a couple of tricks with the poles, she was finally going to learn something new from Brigid.
After awhile Livia felt something brush past her leg and it was all she could do not to move away from it. The thing had felt strange and frightening, not at all like any kind of fish she'd ever encountered. Maybe it was a monster that lived in the pond?
"Brigid," Livia whispered, "I felt something-"
"I know. It's a fish."
Embarrassed, Livia shrugged and tried to save face. She knew all about fish yet she'd allowed herself to be startled by one. Would Brigid think her silly? Even after four years of everything from saying I love you to swearing they would never speak to one another again for as long as they lived, Livia was still concerned about what Brigid though of her.
"I knew that. Just thought I'd tell you is all."
"Right," Brigid said, not sounding at all convinced.
They held perfectly still again for so long Livia was beginning to think Brigid's trick was just that. A trick. Just as Livia was about to break silence, Brigid reached under the water with lightning fast hands and pulled out a rather large trout. She tossed it on shore and they watched it flip and flop on the grass. Livia was duly impressed.
"Spider! How wonderful! You caught that with your bare hands!"
"If you practice, you'll be able to do that." Brigid studied her catch as it struggled uselessly to breathe outside of its natural habitat. "Think he's big enough for you me and Mom?"
"Are you kidding me? He's big enough to feed half the Academy. Let's get out now. I'm freezing."
The two girls got out and Brigid put her catch in a sack she had brought with her just in case she got lucky. The heat of the day felt good after having been in the icy water for so long without hardly moving a muscle, and Livia enjoyed the feel of the sun in the sky, warming her now cold skin. The sound of nature around her with it's singing birds and the rustle of a rare breeze through the trees was relaxing and sweet. It was quiet moments like these that Livia loved the most. Octavious had been right. She had indeed come to love this place and some of the people in it. However, she still wanted to see him again. He was the first person to show her kindness and to care about her. Though they sent scrolls by messenger, the communications had become sporadic at best. Sometimes she missed him terribly.
As she lay back on the grass and took in the sounds and smells of nature, Livia began to drift off to sleep. Since she'd been adopted by Ann and Brigid, her imaginary Mother's visits had become almost a thing of the past. Now Livia was lucky if she could remember the woman's face, even vaguely, when she was awake. It wasn't until she was asleep that she could really remember what "Mother" looked like. One thing had never changed though: This imaginary woman was her first defender against the cruelty in the world, and when she looked into her face, she still felt a feeling of warmth and love.
Livia didn't know why, but within the last year she began to have a recurring dream. In the dream she was always in the middle of a small village. Its market day and she's shopping with her mother, who is a woman she's never seen before. Her feeling of happiness is quickly replaced by a feeling of impending doom. The "bad woman" is coming, but she's helpless to stop her.
Then there is the scream of a woman, somewhere Livia can't see, and soldiers ride into the town. They're bad men, like the one's who killed that little girl that looked so much like her the day she first met Octavious. They always begin killing the men and force the women and children into wagons where they put chains on them.
The situation always goes from bad to worse when she comes riding into town. Livia doesn't know whom she is but she is different from the other men that have come to do these horrible things to them. Livia isn't certain how she knows, but she knows this woman is the leader of the bad men and no matter how hard she concentrates, Livia can never really focus on the stranger's face. All she knows is she has long dark hair and sometimes, if she's lucky, she sees the bad woman has blue eyes that look like her own.
Livia was roused from her nightmare by strong hands pulling her to her feet. When she opens her eyes, she finds Ann standing above her with sheer panic on her face.
"Wake up Livie! Come on!"
Still half asleep, and the dream fresh in her mind, Livia began to panic. "Is the Bad Woman here?"
"No," Ann said. Livia had told her all about the dream so these words were nothing out of the ordinary to her. "Some bad men are though. Listen to me now my children. Some soldiers from the temple of Mars are here. They're from Greece and they're looking for girls to sacrifice to the god of War. We can't go back there until it's safe. Do you understand?"
Ann looked up at the rapidly darkening sky, as did Livia and Brigid. Not only was a storm brewing at the Academy, but one was also moving in from the North. A feeling of dread came over Livia as she remembered the dream. It seemed the nightmare was coming true, and she was powerless to stop it.
Ann took hold of both girls hands just as the sound of screaming girls could be heard over the rising winds, and all three looked back just in time to see twenty or so Academy residents and faculty running their way. Rightly so, Livia noted, as men dressed in uniforms of the temple of Mars were chasing them down with their swords drawn. One unfortunate woman, whom Livia recognized as a kitchen maid, stumbled and was overtaken by the temple guards. One of the temple guards ran her through, and then continued on after the rest of the women.
Ann tightened her grip on Livia and Brigid's wrists. "Run girls! Come on!"
Livia took off with her mother and sister at a full run powered by pure fear. Ann led them into the trees, hoping to find a place that would be safe enough to hide them until the raid was over. "Follow me. Stay close now."
Tears of fear blurred the children's vision as Ann pulled them on, deeper into the forest. Livia noted the men were chasing the others east while Ann took them North, and further into the trees. Further away from the Academy and everything she knew to be safe and familiar. Livia suddenly got the feeling that tragedy was determined to follow her wherever she went with the sole purpose of robbing her of happiness.
"I'm scared," Livia confessed as Ann stopped just long enough for them to rest.
"Me too darlin' but don't worry. It's going to be all right. I will not let either of you die today, do you hear me?"
Ann's eyes searched their surrounding's for a good place to hide the children. As she did they fell upon the ruins of a temple. To what god she hadn't a clue, but anything had to be better than being out in the open where the men could find them easily. Ann had come to love Livia as much as her own daughter, and over the past four years they had formed a bond as strong as any between mother and child.
Little did Livia know, the events to come on this day would be the first soul-killing event that would turn her into the evil warrior she would become before her birth mother would come to save her fifteen years from now.
The three made their way into the unidentified temple ruins, unaware they had been spotted by the enemy.
The interior of the temple was in remarkably good condition. Not a speck of dust was to be found anywhere and the candles, Ann noted, had been recently used. Had a tramp taken up residence here? No, Ann thought to herself, answering her own question. Tramps weren't this neat and clean. Someone was using this temple on a regular basis, and that made this a very insecure place to be right now. She was torn between running and staying until her eyes fell upon a shield in the far wall of the temple, behind the altar, that identified this place as a temple to Mars, the god of War. Ann didn't know how, but part of her knew this place was tied in somehow with the raid going on outside.
"Mommy," Livia said, holding tightly to her mother's hand and pulling Ann from her thoughts. "Look how clean."
Ann made her final decision, having no idea that for her at least, it was a fatal one. "I see Livie. I see. Now lets find a place to hide you huh?"
After searching for what seemed like an eternity, Ann finally found a place that was big enough for both Livia and Brigid, but not for her. The girls quickly picked up on the fact that their mother was left out in the open and both began to try and climb out of the crawlspace.
"We're little so we can hide somewhere else," Livia offered. "You hide in here."
"Yeah Mom. We're smaller than you so we can find-"
"No," Ann said, cutting them off sternly. They were still too young to understand even the concept that a mother's love for her children was stronger than her own will to survive. "Don't you worry about me, I'll be just fine..."
The soldier's voices from outside the temple doors quickly alerted Ann that the raiders had found them. How they had managed this so quickly, she didn't have a clue. She had believed she knew this land like the back of her hand, and yet she'd had no clue this temple even existed, so how had they found her? She looked down into the frightened eyes of the girls and gave them a brave smile.
"No matter what happens girls, promise Mom you won't come out?"
"I promise," Brigid said obediently, but Livia was slower to hand out her word. Not because of fear of the men coming into the temple, but because she wasn't sure she would be able to keep a promise like the one Ann was asking of her now.
"That'll have to do." Ann said, knowing she didn't have time to argue the point with the more stubborn of her two children. She lowered board over the crawlspace she'd found for the girls and ran behind the altar. It was a pitifully insufficient hiding place, and Ann knew it was only a matter of time before the guards found her.
They entered the temple and Ann was shocked to find they were under the direction of Mistress Odessa. The traitorous bitch motioned at the perfectly clean temple with pride as she sauntered up to the altar.
"Welcome to Ares' temple gentlemen."
The Guard Commander, Alec, nodded in approval. He was a war-hardened thug that was ugly in the most flattering light, and he took great joy in every conquest and duty he undertook in the name of his god, Ares. His favorite duty to his god was the sacrifice of a virgin , in which he took much perverse pleasure in carrying out.
"Very good Odessa. Ares may reward you himself."
"My reward will be in your delight, my lord," Odessa said, bowing with a reverence she knew was phony, but Alec took to be sincere.
"Yes. You're going to have the pleasure of sacrificing your enemies adopted daughter to the greatest god Olympus has to offer."
Alec laughed, almost hysterically at this, and his men followed suit. "Indeed my dear! Now, where is Octavious' little tramp?"
"They're hiding somewhere. But don't worry Lord. I know this place like I know my own home. There is nowhere they can hide for long."
Ann watched as Odessa began to comb the room, looking in every nook and cranny for the children. She could only hope for a miracle that this evil, lying bitch somehow didn't know about the crawl space she'd hidden the girls in. Odessa moved in closer and closer, pulling back potential hiding places even Ann's thorough search had failed to yield, and her hope of Odessa not knowing about the crawlspace dwindled until...Odessa passed right over the floor space she'd hidden Brigid and Livia in, and Ann sighed in relief, but it was short lived when Odessa caught sight of her, hiding behind the altar.
A guard came rushing around the altar and pulled Ann out into the middle of the floor where Alec examined her. His eyes began to burn with lust at the sight of this woman's beautifully crafted, strong body, and he made no attempt to hide it. Alec approached her slowly, enjoying the fear he saw in Ann's eyes. He both disgusted and embarrassed her when he placed one hand on his crotch and took her chin in the other.
"Well, well, well. Lookie what we have here boys. You know, something tells me you're not a ten year old virgin."
"No, I'm not. I'm the mother of one though, and I've made sure Livie is long gone from this place."
Odessa came to gloat in what she perceived to be her new position of power over Ann. Unlike most of the women in servitude at the Academy, Ann was there by choice, with the freedom to pack up her child and leave at any time. This had always been a source of contention between the two women. Odessa loved nothing more in this world than controlling the slave women that labored at the Academy with fear and intimidation, but she didn't have that luxury with Ann. For her part, Ann never let her forget it. Not even for a moment.
"She's not Livia's mother. She's fooled the little snipe into thinking she cares for her, but she is definitely not the brat's mother."
"You know what Odessa?" Ann asked quietly, her voice chilly with contempt.
"Mistress Odessa to you." The soldiers seemed to be enjoying the verbal catfight between the two women. Fine by Ann as long as they didn't continue their search for the girls.
"Like I was saying, Odessa," Ann continued, "If you insult my sweet little darlin' again, I'll-"
"You'll what?" Odessa ventured too close to Ann, overconfident in her security that these men would protect her. How wrong she was.
Instead of continuing the argument with Odessa, Ann pulled her arm free from one of the guards who'd allowed his grip to relax, and answered Odessa's question with a solid punch to her jaw. The Head Mistress went flying back, landing unconscious on the floor with a hard thump.
Apparently this was enough for Alec, and he wrapped a hand around Ann's neck, jerking her up painfully till she could barely keep contact with the floor on the tips of her toes. The pressure on her neck was so tight she was unable to get even a small amount of air into her lungs, but she was careful to keep quiet. The last thing she needed right now was for the girls to hear her and come out of hiding to try and save her.
"I'm gonna give you a chance to save your life. Where is Octavious' child? Well woman? Where is Livia?"
"I sent her away with Brigid."
In the floor space Livia and Brigid listened to every word being said. Livia moved to lift the floor covering to look, but Brigid held her back.
"Mom doesn't want us to do anything!" Brigid was whispering but her words came out sounding too loud in the small, hot space.
"But they'll hurt her!"
"I know you're only ten but listen anyway. If they find out about us they'll hurt all of us. They'll kill you. Now do what Mom asked us to!"
Livia moved her hand off the board. She would do as Brigid said. For now.
"That's too bad," Alec said, releasing her. He ran a hand over Ann's heart then ripped her dress open, exposing her breasts. He cupped one in one of his meaty hands, and she drew away from his touch as best she could in the grip of the other two guards. This drew laughter from him. "We'll just have to settle for you."
"What?" She was prepared to suffer anything for her children, but she silently prayed for whatever god would listen to spare her from rape at the hands of these monsters.
Alec relished the fear he saw in Ann's eyes as his men pulled her over to the altar. Little did they know they were stepping on the floorboard the child they had come to pursue was hiding beneath. The guards strapped Ann to the altar, then stepped back for Alec to complete the ceremony. The two girls listened in helpless fear.
"They're going to hurt Mommy," Brigid said. Now she wasn't as keen on the idea of obeying her mother's wishes as she was before. This time it was Livia who held her back. The image of the little girl in Rome three years before came flooding back into Livia's mind. Her instincts told her that Ann was giving everything to save her and Brigid. It would be wrong to make her sacrifice vain by leaving their safe hiding place now, only for all of them to end up dead. She said as much to Brigid.
"But they'll kill her Livie."
"Maybe not Spider. Maybe they just want to trick us into coming out. We have to do what Mommy said. Its what she wants."
Brigid reluctantly obeyed, and they continued to wait and listen for what would come next in the sweltering heat of the crawl space.
Alec raised his dagger, with both hands, above his head and began to pray.
"Great Ares, god of War! I have pledged my life to you. I have ridden into countless battles with your name proudly on my lips. Now we face Octavious, our greatest enemy. We cannot hope defeat him without you. I had hoped to give to you in sacrifice his adopted daughter, but this winch would dare deprive you of your sacrifice! May their blood satisfy you and incline your mercy toward our victory over Octavious of Rome! May Greece be proud and independent
Ares appeared in the throne behind the altar and studied the woman struggling to free herself from the restraints. She was beautiful with long, flaming red hair and a voluptuous figure he could indulge himself in for days. However, the words of his new favorite warlord had caught his attention. This same woman had robbed him of his sacrifice. Not that the blood of Octavious' adopted daughter was enough to win his favor, or his help in Alec's war against the Roman leader, but he had always loved a good sacrifice, virgin or otherwise. It always put him in a good mood.
Alec smiled at his god and raised the dagger even higher, preparing to deliver the deathblow. "For you, my god!"
A scream of uncontrollable fear ripped from Ann's very soul as Alec brought the dagger down. The blade plunged directly into Ann's heart, cutting off her last cry and robbing her of her precious life and the love that was so desperately important to Livia's very soul.
In the floor space almost directly below the altar, Livia had to place a hand over Brigid's mouth to keep the girls frightened sobs from giving them away.
"Shhh. Brigid, be quiet. It's going to be ok." Livia tried to console her sister, but she was unable to keep the tears from her own voice. She didn't know how she managed but she choked back the sobs that threatened to give their secret hiding place away.
As she realized her mother was dead, because of her, Livia could feel something in her heart give way. It was a momentary flash of pain, followed by a numbness she'd never felt before. It was a strange and frightening sensation, and as she concentrated on it, she began to realize that though her pain was great something inside, something vital to her very soul, had died. And it had died with Ann.
Alec pulled his bloody dagger from Ann's chest and laid it at Ares feet. He then bowed to his god in reverence.
"My god, do I have your favor?"
Ares grinned, enjoying the feeling of power this mortals sacrifice and worship filled him with, but he was still not inclined to grant Alec's request.
"You'll know if you survive the upcoming battle." Ares spared Ann, the woman who had died merely for his pleasure, one last glance and then faded away.
Alec turned to face his men. "He wasn't satisfied with the woman. Search the grounds! I want every woman and child in this place brought here. We'll sacrifice them all until this temple floor runs red with their blood. Move out!"
As soon as Brigid heard the footsteps of the men in the altar room retreat, she moved to open the floor covering, but Livia held her back. She didn't know why but something told her danger was still in the room above. She yanked Brigid back down, much to her sister's dismay. Part of her wanted to escape this entire situation. Another part of her cringed away from the idea of seeing the only mother she'd ever known dead on an altar to Ares.
"Stay down Spider."
"Why? They're gone and Mommy needs our help."
"I don't think we can help her now." The pleading in Brigid's face finally broke Livia's resolve. "All right, let's just take a peek."
Gently, the girls lifted the floor covering just enough to peek outside. Sure enough, Alec was still in the room, walking about and searching for more possible hiding places. What Alec didn't see, and neither did Ares who was still present but invisible to human eyes, was the slightly raised wooden square in the stone floor, which Livia gently lowered. Unfortunately, it wasn't before she caught sight of the pool of Ann's blood
forming beneath the altar. It was at that moment that the best part of Livia's heart began to die; the part that knew what love really was. Once again someone had died to save her. Only this time that person was the only woman she'd ever called mother. A sudden surge of hot, but helpless rage flooded Livia's body, and she found herself wanting to do something to avenge her mother's death.
"Ah, they would have come out by now," Alec said with a growl of frustration. There was no point in staying here, when Octavious' charge was somewhere else to be found. Livia's sacrifice on this altar would surely prove him more worth of Ares favor than Octavious. Yes, he had to find Livia if he hoped to win in his campaign against Roman oppression.
The last of Alec's footsteps faded and Livia pushed the floor covering completely back. She then pulled Brigid out behind her and the two girls faced the altar. Their heart broke at the sight of Ann's beautiful eyes, which had once been full of such love and light, clouded in death and staring up into eternity. Their mother was gone and a war party of guards from the temple of Ares had the Academy under siege. How long would they be able to hide before someone finally found them?
Brigid began to cry but Livia remained oddly calm. The hurt she expected to feel at the sight of the only loving mother figure of her life, lying dead on an altar to Ares had been strong in the crawl space, but now it was fading away. It was replaced by anger and the frustration that followed behind her helpless rage. Livia knew she and Brigid had limited time before either Mistress Odessa, the traitor who had gotten Ann murdered, woke up and held them there for Alec to find, or Alec himself came back and finished the sacrifice to Ares.
Though she were only nine years old, Livia was intelligent enough to know she and Brigid couldn't keep hiding in he floor space. It was only a matter of time before they were found.
Another odd sensation was the anger she was feeling toward Brigid for acting like such a big baby in this crisis. They didn't have time for her to stand around and cry. They had to jump into action and save their own skins. Tears would not accomplish that.
"Brigid, pull yourself together."
The tone in Livia's voice surprised Brigid and she looked over at Livia who was staring down at Ann's dead face. Livia closed Ann's eyes then pulled Brigid away. Both girls were unaware that Ares was still in the temple watching the entire exchange with more than a passing interest in Livia's behavior.
"But they killed our Mom!"
"I know they did. We've gotta run now or they'll-"
"But we can't leave her!"
Then Livia said the words that were really the source of her anger. "We're not leaving her! She left us!"
Brigid jerked away from Livia as surely as she would have stumbled back had Livia just slapped her across the face. Her words had the same effect. "What's wrong with you Livie? Why are you talking like that?"
"Talking like what?"
"So...cold. Like you don't care about Mommy anymore."
The anger in Livia's heart began to boil and she didn't know what to do with it. Was she angry with Brigid as much as she was angry with the men who'd killed Ann? She didn't know why all she could feel was anger but she was powerless to stop the rage growing within. She felt betrayed by Ann, and all sorts of thoughts filtered through Livia's young mind with lightning speed.
This woman was supposed to love and care for her, not die for her. Not leave her with only her own wits to keep herself and Brigid alive! She was only ten years old! This was too much to ask of her. They could have all fit into the floor space and been safe...
"Well, maybe I don't!" Livia answered Brigid angrily, pulling herself away from her thoughts. "She should have hid with us! Now she's dead and...we're gonna die too if we don't get out of here. It will only be so long before they check the floor Spider. We have to leave."
"But if we leave," Brigid said with an irritating whine in her voice, "they'll catch us!"
Livia caught sight of the dagger on the floor at the foot of Ares throne and ran over to it. It might come in handy later for cutting thorns and vines out of the way or for cleaning fish. There was no telling how long they would have to hid out in the forest before it was safe to go back home, or before someone they could trust took them in and cared for them.
"Fine. You've got a choice, you can stay here and die with Mommy or you can make a run for it with me. Mother is dead Spider. There's nothing we can do about it."
"You've got that right."
Livia looked around to find their betrayer holding on to Brigid's wrist, and she was coming around the altar to get her as well. Livia knew that if they didn't get away from her, it was all over for both of them. Alec would murder them both, thereby making Ann's sacrifice in vain. Though angry with Ann and feeling abandoned by her, Livia knew in her heart she would do all in her power to stop Odessa from cheapening Ann's gift. How she would do that was a mystery to Livia. It was something she knew she would have to let her instincts lead her to.
Livia's hand tightened around the dagger as Mistress Odessa came around the altar to claim her. The sight of the woman's wicked, self-satisfied grin only served to make the boiling anger in Livia's heart spill over into the fire raging within her soul. It was all Odessa's fault! Those guards wouldn't have even known about this secret temple had she not told on them. Now her mother was dead and it was all because of Odessa.
Livia put away all thought and allowed her instincts to guide her. When Odessa was close enough she gripped the dagger as tightly as she could. With a cry of rage and all the strength her ten-year-old body could muster, Livia released as much of her anger and frustration on Odessa as she could.
Livia swung the dagger in an eerily accurate arc that cut deep across Odessa's throat. The woman was completely unprepared for the attack and at first wasn't entirely certain what had happened. She just watched in horror as her life-giving blood sprayed from her neck across Livia's face and chest, then let go of Brigid's hand. Odessa stumbled back and before she could grab her throat she fell to the floor dead.
With her life Ann was avenged, but all of Livia's innocence died with her. She was painfully aware that she was no longer an ordinary, innocent child. She was a killer now, and no matter how hard she tried she just couldn't make herself care.
Ares had watched Livia from the moment she exited the floor space until now with ever growing interest. Unlike the red haired girl who was obviously the daughter of his sacrifice, Livia had remained calm and kept her thoughts ordered. She hadn't panicked and come out of hiding until the moment was right, and when she saw her dead mother she began to think up a plan of action. A plan of action that would surely have led to her death but hell, she was only ten years old.
He also recognized anger and strength, and Livia had both of these in a healthy, self-destructive combination. She was only ten years old and she had, without hesitation, made her first kill. She was a diamond in the rough as far as the god of War was concerned, and much too valuable to offer as a sacrifice. Without even realizing it, Livia had proved herself worthy of his protection. For now.
"Livia!" Brigid said, staring at her blood-soaked friend with a mixture of awe and horror. More horror than anything else.
The feel of Odessa's blood covering her chest and face, not to mention her hand, was oddly familiar to Livia. She wasn't the least bit shocked, as Brigid was, that she could do something like this. To be quite honest with herself, she had a feeling of calm about her first kill. Maybe it was shock, but she couldn't deny the feeling of satisfaction that replaced her feelings of helplessness. She had, in one short moment, avenged Ann's death and sated the anger that had threatened to drive her mad only seconds ago. It had been so...simple to do. By slashing her blade across Odessa's neck, she'd satisfied her rage.
What was even stranger was that her first kill felt so familiar to her. It was almost as if she'd done it hundreds of times before instead of only this once. The sight of Mother's beautiful face and long flowing blond hair came back to her mind. Not Ann's face, but the face of the woman she had created to be her mother when she still lived in Rome under the tyranny of her nanny Delphia.
If Livia only knew, the face she saw less and less as she grew older belonged to Callisto. Not the angel Callisto had become to conceive Eve with Xena, but the evil warrior of her dark past. Mother was pleased with Livia for standing up for herself, and Livia knew in her heart that if anyone ever threatened her or Brigid again, she would kill again, without hesitation.
And she would like it.
Alec entered the temple to find Odessa's throat slashed, his dagger missing and the floor space exposed. He could feel his head begin to throb as he realized two children had fooled him and he screamed in rage.
"Search the grounds! I want Livia found, and I want her brought to me now!"
Alec turned to find Ares seated in his throne, and he immediately fell to his knees, as did his minions. "My god! The two girls have deprived you-"
"Don't you mean they've deprived you? I never asked for their sacrifice."
Alec stumbled over his words, unsure of what to say. He had been so certain that Ares liked to receive sacrifices as much as he liked to give them. He watched Ares stand and wave his hand over Ann's body. It faded away, leaving nothing behind but her blood. He took up a place over Alec and stared down at them. How he enjoyed their fear. It was so intoxicating.
"Livia killed Odessa."
Ares rolled his eyes at Alec's stupidity. "The other woman fool! She's only ten years old and already she's outsmarted you. Not to mention she's made her first kill."
"Yes my god," Alec's voice reflected reverence, but inside he was beginning to burn with resentment. He'd served Ares his entire life, now he was siding with a child over him? How dare he!
"Do you know what the best part is? She liked killing. I could feel it. She's got potential and I intend to mold her into a great warrior. I don't want you doing anything to ruin my plans. Do what you want with Livia's sister. Killing her will add more fuel to the fire, but Livia isn't to be touched. Do you understand me Alec?"
"Of course, my god?" Alec already had visions of cutting little Livia's tender throat for coming between him and his god's favor. Regardless of what Ares said, he would have his revenge. When the child's blood flowed over Ares altar, the god of War would see the error of his ways. If Alec understood one thing about his god, it was Ares appreciation for initiative.
"But, my god, what about the other sacrifices?"
"If you want to slaughter these sheep then be my guest. I've had enough sacrifice for one day." Ares turned and walked back toward his throne. With his godly vision he could see a ghostly image of Livia and Brigid running for their lives deeper into the forest. He would test her there. Make sure she was the one who would one day replace his most beloved warrior. Xena.
Ares faded away, leaving an angry and resentful Alec behind, with intentions to defy his god by hunting Livia down and killing her.
Livia and Brigid ran as fast and as hard as they could through the thick vegetation of the forest that surrounded the Academy grounds. Every muscle in their bodies burned and their breath came in ragged gasps, but their will to survive was stronger than their desire to rest. They pushed themselves on for what seemed like hours, until they came to a trail that had obviously not been in use for quite some time.
"Look," Livia said, drawing Brigid's attention to the trail. "We can go left or right. Which way?"
"Maybe we should go straight."
Livia studied the bush before them. It was obviously too thick to run through, and if they were forced to cut their way through they would leave too much evidence of their presence for any trackers searching for them, not to mention the time and effort it would waste.
"No, we can't go straight. It'll slow us down too much. Do you know what's to the left?"
Brigid shook her head no. "I've never been this deep in the forest before. I don't even know if I can find our way back."
"I say we go right then."
"I don't know. It just feels right," Livia said in irritation. The satisfaction she'd known after killing Odessa was almost gone and it seemed her nerves were raw in her body. Everything from the sound of Brigid's voice to the every bug that flew past her filled her with rage. What was happening to her? Why was she still so angry?
The two girls took off in the right hand path, heading still deeper into the forest. It was only a partially lucky choice, for the left path would have only led them back to the Academy where the guards were still hunting and killing the girls in sacrifice to Ares, but they were also running closer to Alec and his most loyal soldiers as they searched for Livia and Brigid to kill them.
As they traveled, a heavy rain began to pour, each drop hitting their skin like shards of ice and robbing their bodies of precious warmth. Why was this rain so cold? The day had been so hot earlier. Livia forced her mind from her physical discomfort and trudged on, pulling Brigid behind her.
The path they were traveling dwindled until they were once again walking in the thick trees of the forest. The sky above was darkening and the rain showed no sign of letting up any time soon. Add to that the two girls hadn't eaten since that morning and they had been through the worst trauma of their lives, it was a miracle they were still on their feet.
"Livie, we have to find-"
"Shhh!" Livia lay a hand over Brigid's lips. She'd heard something. Perhaps it was fear, or perhaps she was just lucky, but her senses had somehow sharpened enough that she could feel something near by. A second later she heard the unmistakable crunch of a twig beneath a man's weight, and both girls froze in place.
"We have to get out of here," Livia warned. She searched the trees for the intruder but saw no one. No doubt their pursuers, wiser in the ways of hunting and tracking, were upon them and they didn't even know it.
"How?" Brigid whispered.
Both girls screamed at the sound of the guard's voice, which was much too close for comfort. Livia allowed her instincts to take over once again and she pulled Brigid in an all out run through the trees.
After a short while Brigid stopped and leaned against a tree, breathless and holding her side. "I can't run anymore!" Brigid whined. Livia would hear none of it. They had to keep running or they would die. She tightened her grip on her adopted sisters hand and pulled her along.
"Move it Brigid! We have to, for Mom!"
The sound of their pursuers running after them was becoming louder and closer, and Livia began to feel in her heart they were fighting a useless battle. The men were closing in on them terribly fast and they were too tired, weak and scared to keep it up.
Livia pulled Brigid around a tree only to smack into a wall of flesh and fall back, on top of Brigid. When she looked up, it was into the handsome face of a man she'd never seen before. He was dressed in leather with short hair and a mustache, and the grin he offered her sent chills through her. However, the more she looked at him, the more familiar he felt. It was as if she'd met him before, a long time before but she couldn't quite put a finger on it. Brigid began to cry and scoot away from him, but Livia bravely held her place.
"Are you going to kill us like you killed Mom?"
"I didn't kill your Mom, Livia."
"I know you. You're Mars!" Livia was stunned. Never had she met a god before. Or had she? There was something oddly familiar about his face...
"I prefer to be called Ares. Mars sounds like something from outer space."
"Never mind." He pulled Livia to her feet just as Alec and his men came upon them in the forest. Alec was shocked to find his god here protecting his prey.
"Ares, my god! What are you doing here?"
Ares looked down at Livia, who was pulling Brigid to her feet and comforting her. He'd work that soft streak right out of Livia, given time...
"Watch and learn Livia," Ares instructed. He turned to Alec and the group of five men that had played follow the leader into the forest after the two girls. "Alec. I thought I told you not to touch this child."
Alec licked his lips as his mouth had suddenly become dry. "My god. I-I-"
"You directly defied an order from me. You know how I hate disobedience."
"Yes, but you also appreciate initiative. I was going to sacrifice her to you! Show you the error of you ways for protecting this-"
"Error of my ways!" Ares was now in Alec's face and his words echoed like thunder in the increasingly darkening forest. "You would dare say I, Ares the god of War was wrong!"
"No, my god! You misinterpret my meaning-"
Ares threw his hands up in the air again, disgusted. Something bad was about to happen; Livia and Brigid could feel it. The difference between the two girls was, it frightened Brigid, but Livia was looking forward to seeing the man who'd murdered her mother get his comeuppance.
"This is it," Livia said, squeezing Brigid's hand tightly. "Ares is going to avenge Mom's death."
"You already did that. Livie, I just want to go home."
Ares lay his hands on Alec's shoulders. "Now you're saying I'm wrong again? Are you, Alec?"
Alec held his head down in shame. He'd horribly misjudged Ares. Perhaps, if Ares believed him contrite over his actions he would spare him.
Nothing doing. Ares grabbed Alec's head in both hands and twisted as hard as he could. Alec's neck snapped like a twig, and he fell to the ground, dead. The other guard's cowered in fear, barely resisting the urge to run. They shouldn't have resisted too hard.
"And you! After I gave the order Livia wasn't to be touched, you went after her anyway. You will all pay for your sin against me."
Ares threw ball after ball of electric blue energy at the men, disintegrating them before they had a chance to run for cover. It was all over in a matter of seconds, and Ares turned to Livia and Brigid. He'd wanted to get rid of the red-head but he'd have to make other arrangements for that. He knew that if Brigid remained in Livia's life their bond of sisterhood would heal the hurt in Livia's heart, and he couldn't allow that. He needed that pain to stay right where it was so he could nurture it until it grew like a cancer that ate away at her heart and soul until she was as dead inside as he was. Then and only then would she be the ultimate warrior like the one he'd once had in Xena.
"Make your way back to the Academy by morning. The place will be safe, I promise you. Do that, and you will have my favor Livia. I will make you powerful beyond your wildest dreams, and you will never have to worry about anyone hurting you, or your sister ever again. Understand me?"
Livia nodded, her heart racing at the idea of being the favorite of a god. Any god. She waited until Ares faded away and then turned to Brigid. "Did you hear that Spider? Ares is going to give me his favor. He'll probably make me a great warrior one day! Then we'll be safe forever. I'll be your protector and no one will ever hurt us again. That is, if we can get back to the Academy before day break. Isn't this great?"
Brigid nodded unenthusiastically. All she wanted to do was sleep and escape the nightmare that this day had turned into. She'd lost her mother, and her best friend had killed another human being. The scariest part was, Livia seemed too angry to care. Was there anything she could do to stop Livia from turning into the same kind of monster Alec was?
"Come on," Livia said, pulling Brigid with her in search of home. "We don't know where we are anymore and we don't know how long it will take us to find the Academy. Lets move."
Livia and Brigid set out on their journey to the Academy. They would try to get on with the rest of their lives, but Livia was unable to see that with every step she and Brigid took on the path to the Academy, Livia was taking one step closer to Ares. Every step she took closer to the god of War was one step closer she took to the death of her own soul.
Ares found the messenger assigned to carry Livia's reports of her well-being to and from Octavious. The man was the perfect soldier, and that was on of the things Ares liked most about Roman's. They really knew how to churn out a killer.
"Abderus, sir," Ares said, disguised as a foot soldier. Abderus turned to him, his face a mask of disdain for his subordinate.
"I'm trying to locate Livia. You seen her?"
"No sir, but Cignus said he saw a girl fitting her description making her way in by the lake. I also found that the slave girl that was assigned to her-"
"Brigid, yes I know her. What about her?" Abderus watched as his men lined the soldiers of the temple of Ares up for execution.
"Her mother was killed."
Abderus shook his head with pity for the child, but he had a duty to find Livia. "That's too bad. Dimitri! Take over for me here. When all the raiders have been chained, behead them and send them back to Greece."
Abderus made his way to his horse to go in search of Livia. "Where did you say she was again?"
"By the lake. Brigid sir, she's an orphan now. Academy policy is orphans are to be sold and proceeds are to be given to the school."
"I know the policies foot soldier. I don't need you to remind me. I'll take care of it. Now back to work."
"Right," Ares said. If only Abderus had known whom he was talking to÷Abderus would have Brigid taken and sold into slavery before the sun rose the next day. That meant Livia was all his.
Livia and Brigid arrived back at the Academy, the bodies of many of the girls they'd known since they arrived here lying on the grounds, their togas soaked red with their blood. Luckily for them Octavious' men had taken the Academy back, and the place was no longer under siege from the renegade temple guard's.
Abderus, the contact that had visited Livia and checked on her progress found the two girls making their way around the lake. He rushed them home, fed the two girls and listened to every detail of what they had experienced in the woods, minus of course Livia's killing of Odessa and Ares promise to give her his favor if she made it back home before sunset. Not because she feared rebuke, but because she knew he would never believe her. He would chalk it up to the overactive imagination of a frightened ten-year-old girl and leave it at that. Besides, her gut told her not to reveal every secret she had.
After eating a light meal a soldier escorted an exhausted Livia and Brigid up to their rooms and closed the door with the promise that Livia would be kept under guard from now on, by Octavious' order. Livia could care less now. All she wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep. To her dismay, Brigid began to bombard her with question after question.
"How come you don't cry over Mom? It's like you don't care about her."
"Of course I care about her!" Livia answered, indignant. "How could you say I don't?"
"I said you act like you don't. I never said you didn't."
Livia had been asking herself that same question and she knew she was only avoiding the subject. When she heard Alec kill the only adult that had ever told her she loved her, something inside seemed to go numb. No, Livia corrected herself. Something died. Most of her heart and her ability to love just died in her chest. All she had now was Brigid and her anger. An anger that seemed bigger and stronger than she.
Now, she had found the favor of the very god her adopted Mother had been sacrificed to. Part of her resented Ares, part of her longed to learn what he had to teach her so she would never have to worry about someone hurting her or Brigid ever again. She would become strong, just like the faded image of her make-believe Mother, and she would never let anyone hurt her or her sister again.
"I'm all alone now. I don't have my Dad or my Mom."
"You have me."
"But I'm an orphan now. They'll sell me and we'll never see each other again."
"Nobody is going to sell you Brigid. I promise you that. As long as Octavious cares for me, he'll care for you too. Go to sleep now. We'll talk in the morning."
Brigid seemed reluctant but she finally agreed. "O.K. I love you Livie."
Part of Livia's steadily cooling heart warmed at Brigid's words. "I love you too Spider. I'll see you tomorrow."
Livia watched Brigid lie back against the pillows and fall asleep to the sound of the thunderstorm. She felt her own physical fatigue take over, and cuddled up next to her sister. Livia fell asleep just before she heard the terrified screams of the guards who'd raided the Academy being executed three floors below her window. She also had no way of knowing that when she woke up tomorrow, the last reason she had to love would be gone forever.
The next day Livia awoke to find the bed empty. At first she thought nothing of it, but when Brigid failed to appear from the dressing room she became concerned. She got up and went to the door to find a Roman guard standing outside.
"Excuse me sir."
The guard gave Livia a friendly smile and bent over to speak to her on her level. Livia hated it when adults condescended to her like that, but she ignored it. Her concern for her best friend was more important than her pride.
"Good morning! What can I do for you?"
"Have you seen Abderus?"
"He's preparing to leave now. If we hurry, we can catch him before he's gone."
Livia and her guard ran down the three flights of steps to the front exit, just as Abderus nudged his horse into motion.
"Abderus sir! Wait!"
Abderus stopped his horse and smiled down at Livia. "Livia! I would have thought you would have slept in this morning. What with the night you've had-"
"Forgive me for interrupting," Livia said sweetly, barely masking her growing panic, "but I seem to have misplaced spider."
"Sorry," Livia said, remembering the nickname was one only she, Brigid and÷only a few people knew. "I meant Brigid."
Abderus looked away, suddenly uncomfortable and Livia's panic worsened, especially at his next words. "I'm sorry Livia, but Brigid is gone."
"What? Gone where? Where did you take her?"
"Because she was an orphan school policy dictates she cannot remain here. She has been sold with the other orphaned slaves-"
"No!" Livia's blood ran cold in her veins. Brigid had been afraid this would happen, and Livia had just brushed her sister's concerns aside as if they were nothing. If only she hadn't been so wrapped up in her own fantasies of Ares and becoming a warrior! Maybe she could have saved her.
"Bring her back! She's my sister!"
"She's a slave Livia, not your-"
Livia rushed up and began beating on Abderus' leg with all her strength. "You bring her back! Bring her back!"
Abderus shook his head. "I'm sorry Livia. She was taken in the middle of the night. She's long gone. It will be almost impossible-"
"No!" Livia couldn't listen to anymore so she took off into a blind run, not knowing or caring what else Abderus had to say. Tears streamed from her eyes in rivers. They had come and taken Brigid in the middle of the night, and she hadn't even woken up to see it. After all her talk of becoming a warrior to protect herself and Brigid, she'd been unaware that they had stolen the only family she had left in the world.
Just as she had been years before in Rome, living with Delphia, Livia was alone with no one to care for her. She'd come so far and loved her adopted family so much, and in only the span of a few hours she'd lost the only mother and sister she would ever have. Now she had no one to love her, and she had no one to love.
No one but Ares.
Livia determined in her heart and soul that she would be at the mercy of man no more. She was determined to become a warrior, but for different reasons than those she'd had only hours before when Brigid had still been in her life. She would learn to fight. Not to protect those who couldn't protect themselves, but to avenge the loss of the only family she'd ever known. It seemed the world had done nothing but hurt her since the day she'd been born, and now they would pay. They would all pay.
Livia ran from the Academy and all of the warm, loving memories she had built up over the past four years. She made a conscious decision that with each step she took away from the school was a step she would take to becoming an ultimate warrior.
Livia ran as fast and hard as she could from the innocence of her childhood, and straight into the waiting arms of the god of War.
The End of Chapter One