Captain Aurelius Cassian held his breath. He prayed to Juno for a son for months after he was told of the pregnancy, and he sent incense to Jupiter for a princely fellow, Venus and Cupid for a boy of comely appearance, and Mars for a suitable warrior of Rome. He begged the gods for an heir.
Now, he waited for the result of his prayers.
He had been awoken last night to his wife screaming for the midwife and the doctor, who both came almost too late. Esther would be punished for her lagging if his child or Hadassah were compromised because of her. It had been hours, and in only a few more, the sun would appear. He had only heard Hadassah wailing as Esther and her assistants gave instructions and encouragement. Cassian was tempted, as his weathered fingers balled into fists, to enter and to be with her.
Hadassah was the only woman he ever loved truly. Despite being a Jew, she was such a regal, sophisticated woman of culture and knowledge. She was intelligent as she was beautiful, with dark eyes shining in happiness, and soft, feathery black hair. It was when she smiled - so coyly, like she knew something he didn’t - was when he fell in love all over again. The news of her carrying his child was as if the perfect world could grow more perfect.
More than perfect.
“Cassian!” came the wailing plea. “I want Cassian, please!”
Esther and the Greek doctor both calmed her.
Cassian’s heart pounded in his chest with worry and joyous expectation. Hadassah seemed to be in the most pain now, and the instructions grew louder. The commander could hardly wait any longer, not outside, standing idle as his wife begged him to be present. He had stayed beside many dying soldiers in his time as a centurion, and at this point, no one had told him she was fine or if she was in danger.
He wasn’t told how to feel.
In a small, rueful chuckle of realization, he figured that his days killing and attacking and killing again may have had a long-lasting effect on his capacity for emotion. All he could feel now was the fear he had. It boiled in him, quickly becoming a thick syrup that made it hard to breathe. The captain swallowed, feeling that in only mere moments he would drown from the concentrated toxin of fear.
But he had a happy anxiety within him, as well. It was a meeker visitor than the lion-like roar of his fear, but he could sense its calming nature. He took in a deep breath and imagined his child.
Esther’s assistant filed out of the room, scurrying by with a bundle of towels. Cassian grabbed the slave by the shoulder and she yelped as he whipped her towards him.
“How is she?” he asked harshly. “How is Hadassah, is she all right?”
The Gallic girl, eyes wide, stammered. “Miss Esther has delivered many children, Domine,” she said meekly. “Even her own son she did quite a bit. Domina Hadassah is in the best hands.”
“I didn’t ask about Esther,” he roared, digging his fingers in her arm. She whimpered as he growled in her ear, “I asked about the Domina.”
I wish you could die five times, slave, he thought, reassuring me by redirecting my question? A liar, a cheat! Where may I flay you? You mean nothing in this house acting as if you did not lie to your master!
“Domina Hadassah will be fine,” the slave whimpered, now half crying. “The labor is painful. The gods are spiteful, they are, making life feel worse than death.” His fingers dug deeper, and she sobbed. “She is healthy,” she cried, “she will live, I swear!”
The captain let go of her, and she stumbled away afraid of the master. He was prone to punishing his servants, especially if he was stressed. The captain’s life was fraught with worry, and his servants wondered what he was like while in the line of fire.
Cassian’s heart thudded against him. The servant girl, curse her for being too ambiguous.
Apollo, aid my wife, and whoever you may be… her god, do your part.
Cassian let out a breath and stormed into the bedroom.
The cry of a newborn rang in his ears.
The soldier could not remember a time feeling so faint. So frantic.
He was only a step into the room as his child appeared, screaming and wailing. Hadassah fell back, panting, but smiling. She caught sight of Cassian, and she weakly held out her hand to him.
“A boy,” the Greek doctor proudly exclaimed.
Esther wrapped the baby in a soft cloth and patted its back, making it breathe. Her green eyes were watering with emotion. “The baby is healthy,” she announced. “I’ll go clean the child up.”
The midwife left the room through the other door, patting the cloth around the calmed baby’s face.
Cassian held his wife’s hand, smiling.
“A son,” Hadassah sighed out, squeezing his hand, “just like you wanted.”
The captain chuckled and kissed her forehead. “Either man or woman would have made me proud,” he whispered gently to her. “I love you.”
“I love you, my Captain.”
Cassian looked down in his son’s cradle, observing the fine baby. He had fine, silky black hair, like his mother, and the light tan skin of his father. He was still sleeping, but minutes after his birth, he showed his eyes to be golden brown. Now it was dawn, hours after his son came to the world. His mother was resting in their room, revitalizing her spirit after the labor. The midwife was with her. Cassian was alone with his son, enjoying the silence and entertaining his dreams of his son becoming a Centurion, and perhaps, Praetor.
His Cassian Aquilus Aurelius Aetius.
Footsteps broke his concentration.
“Parate,” saluted Maximianus, Cassian’s aid-de-camp. He stood at attention in the doorway.
The captain sighed. It was always too early to return to war. Curse the Republic, he always thought witheringly, as Maximianus showed himself, in full uniform. The aid-de-camp lived in the villa too, but seeing him was like being sent back to the Scots and the Syrians, to be surrendered into their copper-bladed fingers.
“This letter came for you, Domine,” Maximianus approached, with a scroll in hand. It was small, but as he slid the string off either end, it proved to be long.
In Legate Aurelian’s pen and hand. Official purple ink, too. He grunted. It had to be important.
So importantly short.
To Captain Aurelius Cassian Favonius Marcellus
Syrians have upset northern Palestine. Captains Iupiterus and Iovus have both been overrun and their auxiliaries have not come. You are closest, ergo bring your men and auxiliaries to their aid.
Legate Aurelian Lucanus Septimus
“Call on my men,” ordered Cassian, closing the scroll. “If it’s as bad as I think, we have to move quickly.”
Maximianus nodded. “Shall you tell your wife?” he asked carefully, looking down at the little baby. A small smile flashed on his face. No one in the entire Seventy-Ninth Legion imagined Captain Cassian becoming a family man.
The officer shook his head, leaving the room quickly. “With the baby on her mind,” he said, “she won’t even notice I’m gone.”
“It must be in secret,” Hadassah whispered to the midwife, Esther. She was still weak and tired, but her mind and soul were strong and lively as ever. She gazed into Esther with deep eyes determined and carved from stone. “Cassian must never know.”
Esther frowned. “Must he never know?” she begged to compromise. “I pray your son have a long life, milady, and that will be a generation of secrecy to your husband.”
Hadassah swallowed. “If my son has any of my guile in him, then this will be doable.”
The midwife still fidgeted in her bench beside her master’s bed, unsure of the idea. “Master Cassian scares me,” she confessed plainly. “If he ever found out-”
“There is nothing for which to blame you,” Hadassah interrupted in a soft, benevolent voice. Though her face was slicked with sweat and she physically appeared exhausted, a gentle smile passed across her visage. Her black eyes sparkled. She made Esther fear nothing. “You are the midwife, and if anyone is to blame, it shall be myself.” She held the midwife’s hand in hers and drew close. “In a week’s time, you and I shall take my son to the synagogue, where he will be made a man of God’s People.”
EDIT: I rearranged the names. Traditionally Romans were called by their second name, so I had to go back and rearrange full names so that would be right.