When we entered my cabin she turned her back and quickly stripped off her buckskin
garments. In the narrow space, even across the room, she was close enough to touch.
Propriety demanded that I leave her alone to care for herself, but I stood dumbstruck.
The sight of her naked back brought a twofold reaction. On one hand, I couldn’t help
but appreciate the curve of her buttocks, the lovely arch of her waist, and the full
breasts that were visible even from behind. On the other hand, the bruises and welts
on her back, some fresh and some faded, inspired sympathy. No one should abuse such
a beautiful woman so. When she was free of the sodden leathers, she wrapped my cloak
around herself even tighter, and turned towards me but kept her eyes downcast.
“I thank you, Pale King,” she said.
And then she looked up. Her eyes were like polished obsidian, so brown they were
almost black. The moment lingered long past its time, but ending it would be a sin
more dire than murder. Then the corner of her mouth quirked, a warm edge of a smile,
and the moment was over. She had seen the emotion in my own expression.
I swallowed, composing myself, nodded in response to her thanks, and turned to look
out the porthole at the water rushing past. “Tell me, where is your home?” When I
looked back, her head was bowed again.
“No home. Uncle sell me Wotanake.”
I tried not to judge her intelligence from her simple vocabulary. The trade language
did not have complicated words.
“Sell you?” I scowled. As far as I knew, the native people in this area didn’t practice
slavery. For my own part, the Emperor had forbidden it after the Fourth Servile War,
and while there would always be laboring classes, with all the suffering and privation
that entailed, at least they would be free to work wherever their skills could take
“Wotanake pay uncle marry me. Wotanake bring me home. Wotanake have four other wives.
Wotanake put me in house. Stop me go out. Wives make me work all day. I weave, I
mend, I sew beads, I weave. I rest, they beat me. Wotanake lay in bed I was tired,
and...” She trailed off, but I knew from the pain in her voice what she dared not
My scowl deepened. Even with all of our differences, the woman’s situation struck
a chord with my own. While the door had not yet closed on mine, she had escaped her
marital prison. I had not suffered as deeply, no doubt, but I was trapped just the
“No more talk,” I said, holding up a hand. There was no need to embarrass her. “Uncle
know you not like marry Wotanake?”
“Yes. He not have money. Uncle is not chief, like Wotanake. Not pale king like you.”
I nodded in understanding. Calling me a king was inaccurate but there was no way
to correct her with such a simple vocabulary. “Why did you come to me?”
“I hear story of stone boat. I hear story of far away king. You go far, Wotanake
not chase. I hear stone boat, I run to catch it.” She murmured something in her own
language and rubbed the fabric of my cloak between her fingers. There seemed to be
more that she wanted to say. She looked up again, eyes wide with hope and curiosity.
I nodded, inviting more with a gesture.
“Your life is full things not seen. I see them.”
I stepped back, cocking my head.
This was certainly a surprise! A mind so curious that she would leave everything
she knew, putting herself at the mercy of mysterious strangers, to investigate. And
in a woman, no less! My own curiosity was piqued. I had to learn more about her.
“You come with me. Sleep in my house. You work. No man no woman beat you. Tell me
“Makkitotosimew, Pale King.”
“Marcus Amandus.” She nodded once and lowered her head again. I reached out to lift
her chin. “Owned person looks at ground. You are not owned. You work, I give you
food, a place sleep, things for trade. You not owned.”
She trembled slightly at my touch, but did not flinch or look away. A faint smile
touched her lips, and as our eyes met, I felt that warmth again, but stronger.
“You want food, Makkitotosimew?”
She smiled broader this time. “Yes, Marcus Amandus.”
I took a chain from its hook on the wall and yanked twice. The bell summoned my secundus,
and while he fetched some food, I folded the little table out from the wall. Makkitotosimew
was fascinated with its operation, peering intently at the hinges and the latch.
“You see?” she said. “Things not seen.”
I pulled a seat from the wall and indicated that she was to sit on the bed. By the
time we got settled, my secundus arrived with a loaf of crusty bread, some warm sausages
on a skewer, cups of steaming spiced wine in conical cups, and a bowl of hot water
with towels. He set them down between us and saluted. I returned his salute, glanced
at the door, and he left.
Makkitotosimew watched curiously as I washed my hands, and then took the bowl from
me and did the same for herself without a word. I would have liked to have engaged
Makkitotosimew in conversation over the meal, but as soon as I had taken my first
bite, she immediately started in with such gusto that I couldn’t interrupt. After
two sausages and a hunk of bread, she paused long enough to hold up the last sausage
and ask, “What animal?”
I chuckled. “Pig meat, herbs, grain. Sausage.” I gave her the Latin name for it,
farcimen, as I knew no word for it in the trade language.
She peered at it, and then her face lit up with a big grin. “Ah! Pig meat cut very
very small. This gut, yes?” She poked the intestine casing with her finger.
She took a big bite and smiled as she chewed.
The evening turned into an impromptu Latin lesson. She pointed to things, and I told
her the words for them. Bread. Cup. Wine. Table. Plate. Knife. Armor. Robe. She had
a powerful appetite for them. There were enough things in the tiny room for us to
study like this for hours. I was happy to oblige. I had given up on finding such
an agile mind among the women back home in Rome. To find one out here in the wilds
of the Antipodes was beyond credibility—but here she was.
As the meager light coming down from the overhead reflector failed, there was a pop-hiss
as the ship’s artificial lights came on, bathing the room in a pale red glow.
She started in surprise, and stood to get a closer look at them. “What is this?”
“Carbolux,” I said, again giving her the Latin. I stood next to her, regarding the
lamp. “It is very small fire.”
“Where is wood?” She peered at the lamp intently.
I searched for words, but they weren’t there. I shook my head and shrugged. “No words
She turned back and looked into my eyes. “Carbolux make you look strong,” she said.
I came around the table, taking her shoulders before she could get too close. I could
see the hope in her eyes, hope for something that I could not give her. “Makkitotosimew,”
I said, “No.”
She laid her hand on the bed where she had been sitting. “What is word for this?”
“This is your bed?” she asked, confirming the trade language, with one eyebrow just
“I am in your bed, this night.” It was not a question, it was a statement of fact,
and I could see that there was great significance in her eyes.
“It does not mean—”
She silenced me, her fingers on my lips, and then pushed past my hands to press her
body to mine. “Marcus Amandus, I see your eyes. You see mine. You feel this.”
My cloak slipped from her shoulders, and in that moment, I was lost. My hands moved
down her back, across the rippled scars. I winced in sympathy, but instead of flinching
at the touch, she purred and snuggled in closer.
The irritating whine of the aeolipile faded into the background. My attention was
completely taken up by the warm, naked body pressed against my armor. “Makkitotosimew.
I...I...” I swallowed. The words wouldn’t come. “I am not free.”