Aurelia stood naked on the cool marble floor, with her up stretched arms over her head, as her slave slid the silk stola over her body and let it fall, slithering like a cobra. “Are the cheese and figs ready for the guests?” Aurelia said to her slave Lila. “Yes domina”, was her shy reply. “Good, there will be many of my husband’s important political friends tonight, I want to make a good impression.” Lila murmured, “you will be domina, everything will be perfect tonight.” She turned around to gaze at herself in the mirror along the wall, at her upturned Patrician nose, down to her painted toes, she was the epitome of Roman virtue. “Does domina like the new hair style?” Adorned with tiny white flowers and iridescent sparkling gold, her deep brown locks were falling in a halo around her heart-shaped face and down her back. At the center of her forehead where the tiny widow’s peak was, there was a ruby held, connected to a gold band that went around her crown and attached to the back of her full head of hair, and then toppled down in tiny gold threads into her curving back.
Aurelia’s husband was Seutonius, a very powerful Roman politician. This was the last night he would be in their Roman villa in Capri. He would be leaving for Rome the next day, allowing his wife her free days in Capri, along with her two slaves. She had many outings planned, anticipating her days of freedom from the demanding life she lead in Rome, where she resided.
In the two short years of her new marriage, Aurelia had become a virtuous wife and mother, while she lived in Rome. Their home was the quintessential luxury citadel, complete with private balconies, lush fragrant gardens and slaves to help her with the most mundane household chores. Yet her most loved sanctuary was her villa in Capri, a hideaway near the Mediterranean Sea. During the stifling heated summer months she escaped to her residence, near her vineyards. There she could have her life back. Rome, during this time was tumultuous.
There on the balcony she strode across the tiles remembering the most recent events being discussed by her husband and his associates. It was Cleopatra, the Queen from the East. Aurelia eavesdropped during these meetings. Only hearing Cleopatra’s name spoken aloud caused her to feel a nonnative stir. For Cleopatra was both feared and hated by Rome. Aurelia and her closest friends believed that Cleopatra would be the certain ruin of Rome, and all it’s uprightness. These Roman matrons were all convinced that Cleopatra was an immoral threat to the very lives they lived.
Yet, at the same time Aurelia believed that Cleopatra lived her life the way that she herself would have chosen to, had she the immense wealth to do so. Cleopatra’s life was both envious and a thing to fear, as Aurelia was bound by roman laws, as a wife and mother. Men created the patriarchal system she lived under.
Unconsciously she shook off her thoughts of the eastern queen. She could ponder these unwanted thoughts later, she mused. Because tonight was the beginning of her country sabbatical away from the stinking city of Rome and all of it’s inhabitants. She’d brought her newest and most favored slave to her villa this time. Lila was Jewish, given to Aurelia by her husband as a wedding gift, one of many gifts. Lila’s unsurpassed beauty was much sought after by wealthy buyers In Rome. She knew that her husband Seutonius had paid a handsome fee for her purchase. And she was more than grateful for her. For this, Aurelia treated Lila as she would a member of her family. Not so for slaves in other households. Aurelia abhorred those who she knew, who abused their slaves. Lila knew how to bake for Aurelia and her guests. Her meal tonight was going to be a surprise for all to savor at tonight’s dinner. Aurelia knew of Lila’s delicious tarts stuffed with cheese and almonds, with a sticky sweet syrup drizzled over the top of golden brown pastry. Would she be created something else? Lila knew of other rare delicacies from her homeland.
The terrace on the ocean side of the villa had the bluest ocean view. Blue as azure she imagined. And the Mediterranean sparkle and breeze beckoned to her even now. She had been spending her happiest days yet, sunbathing on her balcony, snacking on figs, cheese and watered wine. Tonight the terrace was decorated with garlands of lotus flowers strung with green vines. And along with tiny purple flowers that winked at those who would take the time to look. But her most treasured garden item was her white roses. Everywhere there were bushes, white cabbage-sized roses tinged with a pale flesh color on their edges. Some were climbing up the Corinthian columns, reaching their stems the blue sky with their thorns and green leaves. Her gardener let ladybugs live in their midst, on order to kill the pests that threatened to wreak havoc in her beautiful space. There were even roses planted in spaces evenly, every five feet, that were a deep red. She called these her “blood roses”. Guests would see these red roses as they arrived to their dinner tonight. She’d heard that Cleopatra spread fragrant rose petals, five feet thick on her floor, just to walk on. The flowers in Aurelia’s garden though, weren’t exotic; they were fresh and pure, as the goodness of her own life was.
She glanced at her image presently, walking through the kitchen and then the welcoming area in the front of the villa. She took in the image of her diaphanous silver silk stola. It hung close to her body, grazing her hips lightly as she strode with long steps. It clung just close enough for her to feel the last of her inch she’d not been able to shed after childbirth. When she looked into the glass, what caught her gaze was the deep green emerald clasped at her shoulder. It was another wedding present from Seutonius, and then the slightly smaller, but no less brilliant one at her throat. That stone hung on a silver thread almost invisible to the eye. She wore here emeralds only on special occasions. Tonight was one of those nights. As it was both the first night of Aurelia’s summer leisure, and the first time that the Emperor Caesar would dine with them at their villa there in Capri.
There were few citizens, if any, who weren’t aware of Caesar’s exploits in Egypt. It was almost common knowledge that he’d sired a son who was rumored to be Cleopatra’s. That name again! It was the audacity of that queen that frayed Aurelia’s nerves. And she wasn’t even Egyptian; she was of Macedonian blood, a Greek! Nevertheless, she would be tipping her cup and breaking bread with the notorious womanizer on this night. No doubt he’d be bringing along his posse’ with him, and that Marc Antony too.