The Lance and the Veil
an adventure in the time of Christ
by Kevin Rush
Veronica could not remember the moment that she knew her father was dead. There had been a flurry of activity, grownups crying like children, then hushed conversations that ended abruptly when her mother walked into a room. Gradually an awareness grew of something permanent and terrible: the man mother spoke of so often will never return. The but why? would be answered succinctly with a word she could barely comprehend, but which disallowed further inquiry: death. No one comes back from death.
Did it matter that her father’s death may have resulted from something other than the normal course of battle, under the inherently dangerous circumstances of defending the empire? Assassination. Conspiracy. Such concepts are beyond the reckoning of a four-year-old, especially one stunned by a household thrown into tumult over a cloudy event, weeks ago, in a distant part of the world.
What Veronica did remember, and remembered very clearly, was her mother as a portrait of agony, red-faced and shrill, defiant and defeated. Her nails dug into the face of the stranger who had brought the news, until Demetria, the old Greek house slave, pried her fingers loose and eased the lady back to her cathedra. Blood ran from cuts above the man’s eyes, which he dabbed with a cloth one of the slaves offered. Veronica would retain total recall of the scene and the words, although it would be years before she could decipher their meaning. Dumbstruck, she watched tears stream from her mother’s bloodshot eyes, as she declared herself a martyr to justice.
“I shall swallow fire like Portia.”
Demetria dipped a cloth into cool water, wrung it out and raised it to her lady’s forehead. Veronica watched the gnarled hands stroke her mother’s flushed face. But her mother’s passion only rose. Striking the crone’s hand, she struggled to her feet and paced the tile floor.
“I cannot say that My Lady is not in danger.” The messenger remained attentive, though careful to avert his eyes. “But Prefect Sejanus advises that quiet mourning — as befits modesty — might mollify the Emperor.”
A hiss and she bared her claws to him. “I should be silent? My husband was murdered. I should care that his murderer sits on a throne?”
“You might care to stay alive,” Demetria cautioned. She took her lady’s hand and urged her again to the cathedra.
“For what? If I had a son, I’d live for vengeance.”
“Be grateful you’ve a daughter,” Demetria whispered. “Tiberius would kill your son. Even that young.”
Veronica detected no gratitude, only a trembling, wrenching sorrow. Her mother’s eyes locked onto hers, and her face contorted. With sobs that had no breath, her shoulders heaved until a spasm seemed to break and a wail from deep in her anguished soul poured forth. Veronica screamed. From fright, confusion, frustration, she cried, hoping to be gathered in her mother’s arms, but instead was lifted by Demetria and carried out, despite thrashing and kicking in protest. Her mother hunched forward on the cathedra, head bowed, her face obscured by tangled, chestnut hair, wringing her hands as though she’d tear skin from the bones. It was the last time Veronica saw her mother alive.
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