Character: Maximus Decimus Meridius “Gladiator”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the characters established and defined in the movie and book titled Gladiator It is strictly for entertainment purposes. Please do not copy, publish or alter this work in any way without the written permission of the author.
Prologue – Late Night
Maximus Decimus Meridias turned in bed for the umpteenth time, trying to find a comfortable position. All his efforts were in vain. No matter what position he chose, his sore back gave him no respite. “Might as well give up, not much chance of sleep,” he thought. He sat up, put on his tunica and went to the window.
Contemplating the summer storm unleashed on the Trujillo countryside gave him pause. While the rain was most welcome, bringing much needed relief from the very hot dry weather, the winds could cause damage. “Nay,” he thought, smiling “at least they have already done one damage… to my back.”
Chapter One — Afternoon
The afternoon had started in a beautiful way, with a short ride over the hill bordering Lucilla’s estate. Young Lucius had received a special birthday gift, a wonderful grey colt that Maximus was breaking to saddle. Today should have been the big day, with Lucius’ first try at riding the colt. The ten-year-old was barely containing his impatience. Upon Maximus’ arrival Lucius went to him, took his hand and practically dragged him to the little round enclosure they were using for training. Lucilla watched the scene with an amused smile.
Maximus began work at once, noting that dark clouds were moving in fast in the sky. He started lunging the colt at both the trot and canter, making sure to maintain control at all times. He wanted to insure the colt was responding correctly to the signals he was giving.
Lucius and Lucilla leaned on the fence to watch. The boy only had eyes for his colt, but his mother’s gaze rarely left Maximus’ face. Occasionally she would steal a glance at his shoulders, fascinated by the strong muscles she was seeing at work under his light brown tunica.
About half an hour later Maximus decided the big moment was at hand. He stopped the colt, walked up to him and patted his neck. “Lucius, would you bring the bridle to me please?” he asked.
The child needed no urging. He’d been waiting for this all day. He jumped down, grabbed the bridle and ran toward the center of the pen. The colt threw his head up at the unexpected motion. “Easy Lucius, never run around horses. If you move slowly and talk to them, they will learn to trust you.” Maximus was pleased to see the boy slow instantly to a walk. It was never too early to instill proper horsemanship in young people.
“Thank you Lucius.” Maxiumus said, taking the bridle from the boy. He smiled down at him and clapped him on the shoulder. Throwing the reins over the colt’s neck, he took the headstall in his right hand and slipped the bit into the colt’s mouth with his left. Once assured that it fit comfortably, he gently folded the colt’s ears under the browband, then adjusted and did up the buckles.
While doing this, he noticed a strong wind had started to blow. The whistling noise it made on its way through the trees was making the colt nervous. He rolled his eyes widely and flipped his ears in every direction. Maximus suddenly thought better of the situation. “Lucius, it might be better to postpone riding him today. He’s still young, not used to such weather.” The disappointment on the child’s face was so strong it made Maximus’ heart ache. He decided to try a compromise. “How about my riding him a little bit before you try him, just to see how he behaves?”
“But you said I could ride him!” pleaded the boy.
“And so you shall, my friend. But we want you and the colt to be safe, don’t we? A good horseman never asks more than his horse is able to give. You want him to enjoy his work don’t you?”
“Yes,” came the feeble reply.
Maximus tried again to enlist the child’s cooperation. “Would you allow me to help him adjust to this weather?”
“Yes sir,” the boy nodded. “Thank you sir,” he said, offering Maximus his hand. Maximus shook it solemnly, grateful for both the boy’s good sense and trust in him.
“Could you please go back over to the fence next to your mother?” he asked. Releasing the boy’s hand, he took up the reins. Once assured Lucius was safely outside the pen, he stroked the colt and began to talk in soothing tones. “Whoa son, easy now. It’s alright.”
Slowly he felt the colt relax. Taking a firm grip on both the reins and the colt’s mane, he sprang from his knees, bellied the colt briefly, then threw his right leg over and sat astride his back. The colt reacted by bucking wildly, trying to free himself from the annoying weight, but he was no match for the general. Maximus’ knees gripped the colt’s barrel like iron.
After a few minutes the animal seemed to understand he had no chance. He began to trot in a workmanlike manner, prompting both Lucilla and Lucius’ admiring applause.
Suddenly a nearby flock of birds took flight just as a distant clap of thunder boomed. The colt reared. Maximus reacted instantly, thowing his hands forward, bending low on the animal’s neck and shifting all his weight onto the colt’s forehand. He hoped to force him into bringing his forelegs back on the ground. But the colt was young and green, and did not do what he expected. He continued to rear so forcefully that he lost his balance and fell backwards, dragging Maximus with him.
Maximus landed hard on his back but was able to roll away from the horse and his dangerous hooves. He tried to stand up, but a sharp pain in his back made him sink to his knees. He decided to lie down again.
Lucilla rushed to him while Lucius tried to capture the horse. “How do you feel?” she asked anxiously. She knew Maximus’ back was still weak from the effects of Commodus’ dagger wound.
He saw the worried look on her face and tried to reassure her. “I don’t think I have any broken bones. I just tried to stand up too quickly, that’s all. You see?” he said, indicating his legs, “I can move them perfectly, so my spine is alright.”
Lucilla nodded with relief. She helped him stand, setting her mouth in sympathy when she saw his grimace of pain. “I think I pulled some muscles,” he told her.
Walking slowly, they reached the fence. Lucius came near, the colt in tow, his head bowed. “I’m so sorry Maximus. It’s all my fault. It I hadn’t insisted on riding today, none of this would have happened.”
Maximus shook his head and ruffled the boy’s hair. “It was nobody’s fault Lucius. It simply happened. Now take the colt to the stable and give him a good currying. That’s a good boy.” The child turned and began leading the colt away. The adults waited a bit to give him time to start up the path, but soon followed.
When they arrived at the stable, Maximus looked at the sky. “I’d better go, before it starts raining.”
“Oh no, my dear,” exclaimed Lucilla, “you’re not going anywhere. Not with that sore back!”
“Lucilla…” he began, his voice starting to rumble a deep warning growl.
She interrupted him, not intimidated by his hard gaze. “You will come in the house and sit on a chair, while I command the slaves to prepare a hot bath for you. After that, we will have dinner and you will spend the night here.” Her tone was firm, showing him that as far as she was concerned, the matter was settled.
She had never been afraid of him, even during the incident in the dungeons of the Colosseum two years ago. “You tried to choke the breath out of me, but I held your eyes with mine. Even though you were furious, I knew you’d never hurt me. I was right. You relaxed your grip and spared my life,” she thought, smiling a little at the memory.
Maximus looked at her decisive expression, thinking how much like her father she was. “Your wish is my command….General.” He snapped a salute, which she returned.
“Get in the house!” she pointed. Their eyes met. Soon they were laughing, as they walked arm-in-arm up the pathway.
Chapter Two — Evening
That evening dinner was spent in a very happy atmosphere. It was very pleasant to stay at home, eating and talking, while watching the wind, rain, thunder and lightning trying to best each other. The little group drew an odd kind of comfort from watching nature’s fury from a safe distance.
Maximus had been given the head place at the table. Lucilla watched as he spoke with Lucius. He was explaining some military maneuvers, using pieces of bread to represent the Centurias. Her son listened, mesmerized. She too, found herself lost in daydreams while listening to that deep, calm voice. “How right, how appropriate is the presence of a man, THAT man, in our lives. I wonder if we’ll ever become lovers again? Since I’ve come to Hispania, we’ve seen a great deal of each other. We’ve exchanged gazes full of love, even hugged and kissed on occasion, but nothing ever comes of it. We only came close once, two weeks ago. I remember it like it was yesterday…..”
“We went for a ride together. Lucius had stayed home to study, so we had some precious time to ourselves. We’d been riding under a hot sun for over an hour. Maximus inspected my olive groves and made some decisions about things that needed to be changed. When he’d finished we were both ready to find some cool shade.
We chose an area, dismounted and sat on a fallen tree. Time passed in amicable silence, watching two squirrels play in the grass. Then Maximus took my hand, brought it to his lips and said, ‘This isn’t the hand of a country woman.’ Things happened fast. One minute he was kissing my hand, the next we were in each other’s arms, exchanging passionate kisses. We lay down on the soft grass. Maximus rolled onto me. I could see the arousal in his beautiful eyes. I was sure the moment I’d dreamed about so often had finally arrived.
Then, as suddenly as it started, it ended. Maximus rolled away from me, helped me to my feet and apologized. ‘I don’t know what came over me,’ was all he said.
I tried to comfort him, told him there was no need to apologize, but he ignored me. He helped me back on my horse. I noticed a tormented expression on his strong face.
He barely spoke to me for three days afterward. I tried to meet his eyes but he turned away each time. After that it seemed everything returned to normal, but I couldn’t help wondering if we would ever go back to being truly together. What kinds of demons were torturing his soul?”
“Mother, I said, can we play latruncoli?” Lucius asked impatiently.
“Lucilla? Are you all right?” Maximus added.
She blinked twice quickly to clear the mist from her eyes. “Yes, yes. I was just daydreaming. It’s such a nice night,” she lied. “Well, what shall we do now?” she asked, a bit too brightly.
“Why don’t we play latruncoli?” suggested Maximus, amusement twinkling in his eyes. He knew she hadn’t heard a word.
“Alright. That sounds fine,” she said decisively, trying to cover her lapse.
They left the dining room to allow the servants to clear away the remains of the meal. They decided to adjourn to the great room to play. The game went on for about an hour. They finally decided it was getting too hard to concentrate. It had been a long day. “Let’s go to bed. Maximus, the guest room has already been prepared for you.” Lucilla said. After that incident by the log, she knew he’d not take kindly to any suggestion that they sleep together.
“Yes, it’s late,” he agreed. “Thank you again for everything, Good night Lucius, Lucilla,” he said, nodding to them both.
“Good night Maximus.” they said as one, watching his back as he made his way slowly down the hall.
Epilogue — Late Night
A light knock on the door tore Maximus from his reflections. “Come,” he said, certain he knew who was on the other side of the door.
Lucilla walked to him and they contemplated the storm together. “Why are you still up?” she asked.
“I could ask you the same question,” he replied, his arms crossed on his chest.
“Yes, but I asked you first.”
“I can’t sleep,” he replied bluntly.
“Are you afraid of the thunders?” she joked.
Maximus smiled. The easy country life, far away from the plots, intrigues and tensions of Rome, had worked wonders on Lucilla. She seemed a new woman, happy and relaxed. “I can’t find a comfortable position for my back. The beneficial effects of that hot bath seem to have disappeared,” he grimaced.
“Oh,” she murmured, becoming serious. “Would you like to take another one?” Before he could answer, she had a sudden inspiration. “No! I know what you need! A good massage,” she enthused.
Maximus understood at once that she fully intended to do it herself. “I don’t think that’s a good idea…” he teased.
“It is, in fact, an excellent idea. Don’t worry. I’ve learned how to do it from great teachers. Now, pull off your tunic and lie down on the bed.”
“Lucilla, there’s no need…”
“Of course, you need to do it. Did you ever see someone getting a massage with his clothes on?” Seeing his obstinate expression, she deliberately attempted to provoke him. “Don’t tell me you’re AFRAID, are you?”
“Yes,” he thought, “I’m afraid of what could happen,” but he kept silent. He understood she would never leave him without accomplishing what she wanted to do, so he decided to surrender. The idea of a massage was fantastic. About the rest, he would leave that decision to the Gods.
Lucilla’s gaze lit up with triumph and excitement when she saw Maximus walk toward the bed. He pulled off his tunic and lay down on his belly, wearing only his inguinal sash. She neared him, sat on the edge of the bed and asked, “Where do you feel the pain?”
“Between the shoulders,” he replied, his cheek resting on his arm.
With slightly trembling hands she began the massage, happy at last to be able to touch those broad shoulders she loved so much. After some moments, she realized sitting in her present position did not allow her to apply the right amount of force. She decided on a bold move. “Now don’t get upset,” she warned. Before he was able to ask her why he shouldn’t become upset, she’d straddled him, sitting on his buttocks.
Maximus’ eyes widened in surprise. When he tried to turn his head to have a look, a sharp pain put an end to that idea. Lucilla was pleasantly surprised by his lack of resistance. She began with a vigorous massage to his battle scarred shoulders.
They stayed quiet for several minutes. As his tense muscles began to relax, Lucilla noticed Maximus’ breath becoming more labored. She wanted to do his neck. As she raised her buttocks off his body to better position herself over his shoulders, his back arched, trying to maintain contact.
“Am I imagining things, or is he responding to me?” she wondered. Her boldness left her. “What do I do now? Should I continue? Or should I stop? Is he aware of what he’s doing?” Her hands stopped of their own accord.
Maximus’ voice broke into her thoughts. “Lucilla, please, raise yourself a little.”
She obeyed, thinking, “So, now he’ll push me away.” But to her delight, he simply rolled over on his back, put his big hands on her hips and sat her down again. A shiver ran down her spine as she felt his desire. She lowered her gaze and their eyes met. They stared at each other in silence. She watched his face, saw the conflict of emotion pulling at him.
She watched his eyes close and felt him take a deep breath. She was suddenly filled with anguish. “Maximus my love, don’t do this. If it’s not to be, release me now. Tell me there’s no future for us. I’ll understand. But don’t turn away again, as you did at the log. I couldn’t bear it,” she thought. The silence stretched for several seconds. It seemed an eternity to her. She dropped her head in sadness, no longer able to look into those soft eyes.
“Maximus you fool. You still grief for your lost ones when they have shown you how happy they are now. They have told you it is not your time. Yet you feel guilt when this beautiful woman has shown you nothing but love. Why should this be? You have work yet to do. You must decide.”
“Who is that speaking?” he asked himself. He was sure he’d heard someone plainly. The voice was so clear, it was as if it was in the same room with him
He was just about to dismiss it as his own imagination. He was hurt and overtired. Suddenly it spoke sharply to him again. “YOU MUST DECIDE!”
Tears misted his eyes and his lip trembled. He’d seen Lucilla drop her head in sorrow, grieving for him, for them. “You deserve so much. Soooo much,” he thought.
Crooking his finger under her chin, he said, “Look at me.” Her eyes remained downcast as she resisted his attempts to raise her head. He swallowed and said, his voice hoarse, “If you want me, I’m here.”
He was rewarded with the beginnings of a radiant smile as she bent to kiss him. He hugged her and together they lost themselves in their passion……
Much later a man and a woman, exhausted and very happy, cuddled together under the covers. Lucilla rested her head in the soft spot between his shoulder and neck, while Maximus caressed her back.
“Are you fine?” she murmered.
“Uhm hmnm” he nodded contentedly.
“May I ask you something?”
“Why did you stop two weeks ago, in the forest?”
“I was afraid.” He’d whispered so softly that she’d had to strain to hear him.
She raised her head and looked him in the eye. “Afraid? Of what?”
Maximus seemed to search for the right words. “Do you remember what happened many years ago after we first made love?” he asked, suddenly very serious.
She shook her head, too tense to speak.
“Our relationship began to deteriorate. You began to distance yourself from me as if…as if you had obtained from me all you wanted and you no longer needed me.” He looked away.
Lucilla shivered, remembering that time. Maximus was right. After they became lovers, she HAD started to distance herself from him. She’d allowed herself to be persuaded into thinking that she’d received all the handsome young soldier had to offer. He was of humble birth, so she’d accepted the courtship of the noble Lucius Verus. Only much later, when she could do nothing about it, did she realize she’d committed the greatest mistake of her life.
“You were afraid it would happen again,” she said, feeling guilt at having hurt him so deeply.
“It won’t happen again Maximus. I promise you that. That stupid girl has learned her lesson well and she won’t repeat the same mistake.”
“I really hope so because I’m not so sure I’ll be able to stand it.” He turned his head away as his voice died.
“Maximus?’ she called softly, feeling him tremble in her arms.
He looked at her and she saw the tears in his eyes. “I’ve already lost one family. I can’t lose another.”
Lucilla realized he was referring to Lucius and herself. Tears came to her eyes. She took his face in her hands, caressed his cheekbones with her thumbs and stared intently into his eyes. “You won’t lose us Maximus. I promise it.”
“How can you do it?” He seemed almost like a child in need of reassurance.
She continued to stare at him. “If I could promise you eternity, I would do it at once, but I can’t. No one in this world can. But I swear that I will never willingly leave you. Is that enough for you?”
“Yes,” Maximus whispered, smiling. “I never met someone as strong willed as you.”
Lucilla returned his smile and they kissed slowly and sweetly, sealing the promise. Then she settled down in his arms, her head on his chest. He laid his cheek atop her hair and hugged her tightly.
A few moments later, the storm in their hearts calmed down and they went to sleep.