By Mary Ann Bernal
Publication Date: February 14, 2021
Publisher: Whispering Legends Press
Page Length: 306
Genre: Ancient World Historical Biographical Fiction
Rome. The jewel of the civilized world is no longer what it was. Strength has failed the Senate. Her legions are in disarray, and the Empire has fallen into Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus Nero’s hands. His reign begins under a cloud of scrutiny, for he is the depraved Emperor Caligula’s nephew. Nero is determined to overcome that stigma and carve a name of his own. One worthy of Rome’s illustrious history.
Politics and treachery threaten to end Nero’s reign before it begins, forcing him to turn to unexpected sources for friendship and help. Many of the Praetorian Guard have watched over Nero since he was a small child, and it is in Traian that the young Emperor places his trust, despite the inherent threat of reducing his mother’s influence. Traian is the father he never had and the one man who does not judge him.
When Traian secretly marries the hostage Vena, it sets in motion a collision of values as Traian comes to odds with his former charge. The whirlwind that follows will shake the very foundations of the greatest Empire the world has ever known, and survival is far from guaranteed.
Vena sat on the bed, staring at the doorway, worried Traian might enter unannounced, to have his way with her. She would take her life before subjecting herself to a man’s lustful intentions. Tears spilled when remembering the day the legionnaires came for her. The rebellion had been put down quickly, her father beheaded, and her brother swearing allegiance to Rome, and offering his sister to the Emperor as a hostage or slave, he cared not which.
Why had her father fought with the Proconsul? The man was dishonest, as were most of the men governing the provinces. How had her father managed to excite their people to rise up against the Imperial captors? Was it the cruel execution of the Christians? But they were too few. And she and her family worshipped the Roman gods and recognized the Divinity of the Caesars. What had the Proconsul done to her father? They had been loyal to Rome, living a life of privilege. It was the only life she ever knew. Her brother had not been forthcoming, and he was nowhere to be found during the insurrection. Yet he stood next to the Proconsul when their father lost his life.
Whatever the cause, the uprising failed, and order was restored. Vena’s brother took his father’s place among the governing hierarchy, advising the Proconsul and denouncing any who dared to question the Empire’s laws. Had her brother betrayed their father? She refused to believe such disturbing thoughts, yet she could not suppress her misgivings.
After the uprising, conditions for her people worsened. She watched the punishments from the window, imprisoned in a palatial room while awaiting transport. She caught a glimpse of her brother with the Proconsul’s daughter on his arm. Vena believed her brother had manipulated her father to break from the Empire, thereby sealing his fate. Sending his sister to the Emperor proved her brother’s loyalty while removing a threat to his rule.
You were wise to do so, my brother. If I had found you culpable in our father’s death, I would have your head.
Once the fighting ended, the legion returned to the Imperial City. The Commander had treated Vena compassionately on the march, keeping her in his tent when they stopped for the night. The gossipmongers assumed he had deflowered her during the journey, but the rumors were untrue. He was an honorable man, and her virtue inviolate.
Vena shared the Commander’s meals, speaking of happier times, pushing their demons away. She sensed his anguish as he gazed into the fire, wondering about his life. He did mention some of the tales about the happenings at the Imperial Court before mischief befell her. The Commander also warned her to choose her friends cautiously.
Had it not been for the Commander’s wise counsel, an innocent mistake could have sealed Vena’s fate. When she arrived at the Imperial Palace, she lowered her eyes when presented to the Emperor, kneeling in supplication, her dignity intact. Vena heard the whispers, feeling disapproving looks glaring at her. Yet she refused to cower before their predetermined judgment. Claudius pitied the youthful woman who reminded him of his daughter. He took her into his household, uttering reassurances that all would be well, a hostage in name only, and being permitted to walk unattended throughout the corridors and gardens.
It took Vena several weeks to become accustomed to her new life. Claudius did not treat her as a servant, but the Empress, Messalina, did. During this time, several slaves befriended the lonely woman, but she hesitated revealing anything that might cause her to be put in chains. With little to do within the palace walls, Vena explored the city, accompanied by a Praetorian, who maintained his distance, providing a semblance of freedom for Claudius’s favored captive.
When Vena overheard Claudius speaking of his nephew’s return, she offered to take charge of the boy and thanked the one true God for His intercession. Unbeknownst to anyone, Vena had been baptized into the Christian faith shortly before her father’s rebellion. She kept her beliefs to herself, not having the courage to admit the truth publicly. The risks were great, and she feared dying a torturous death. Her father and brother had been unaware. And after what had transpired, she thanked God she had held her tongue.
Vena had yet to learn where the Christians lived. She wanted to pray with them and listen to the words of Christ, and not to be afraid to die in His name. Vena had to wait until receiving permission to walk the streets unattended. She needed Claudius’s approval to venture out alone. But if Traian spoke the truth about developing a friendship, he might be of help, and together they could find the followers of Jesus Christ living within Rome.
Walking softly towards the door, Vena pressed her ear against the wood structure, but no sounds could be heard. Assuming Traian and Lucius slept, Vena knelt beside her bed and prayed.
“Dear Lord, I thank you for this day. Give me the courage to do your will as I am fearful. I trust in you, my God.”
Vena slid beneath the covers, placing a dagger under her pillow before resting her head.
This novel is available on Amazon or at your favourite online bookstore.
Since Operation Desert Storm, Mary Ann has been a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other support programs. She appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has been a featured author on various reader blogs and promotional sites.
Mary Ann currently resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx