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Oh, Gaius, how could you!" Kyna Benigna asked her husband irritably. She was a tall, handsome woman of pure Celtic descent. Her dark red hair was woven in a series of intricate braids about her head. "I cannot believe you sent to Rome seeking a husband for Cailin. She will be furious with you when she finds out." Kyna Benigna's long, soft yellow wool tunic swung gracefully as she paced the hall.
"It is time for her to marry," Gaius Drusus Corinium defended himself, "and there is no one here who seems to suit her."
"Cailin will be just fourteen next month, Gaius," his wife reminded him. "This is not the time of the Julians, when little girls were married off the moment their flow began! And as for finding no young man to suit her, I am not surprised by that. You adore your daughter, and she you. You have kept her so close she has not really had a chance to meet suitable young men. Even if she did, none would match her darling father, Gaius. Cailin has but to socialize like a normal young girl, and she will find the young man of her dreams."
"That is impossible now, and you know it," Gaius Drusus Corinium told her. "It is a dangerous world in which we live, Kyna. When was the last time we dared venture the road to Corinium? There are bandits everywhere. Only by remaining within the safety of our own estate are we relatively safe. Besides, the town is not what it once was. I think if someone will buy it, I shall sell our house there. We have not lived there since the first year of our marriage, and it has been closed up since my parents died three years ago."
"Perhaps you are right, Gaius. Yes, I think we should sell the house. Whomever Cailin marries one day, she will want to remain here in the country. She has never liked the town. Now tell me. Who is this young man who will come from Rome? Will he stay in Britain, or will he want to return to his own homeland? Have you considered that, my husband?"
"He is a younger son of our family in Rome, my dear."
Kyna Benigna shook her head again. "Your family has not been back to Rome in over two centuries, Gaius. I will allow that the two branches of the family have never lost touch, but your dealings have been on a business level, not a personal one. We know nothing of these people you propose to give your daughter to, Gaius. How could you even consider such a thing? Cailin will not like it, I warn you. You will not twist her about your little finger in this matter."
"The Roman branch of our family have always treated us honorably, Kyna," Gaius said. "They are yet of good character. I have chosen to give this younger son an opportunity because, like the younger son who was my ancestor, he has more to gain by remaining in Britain than by returning to Rome. Cailin shall have Hilltop Villa and its lands for her dowry that she may remain near us. It will all work out quite well. I have done the right thing, Kyna, I assure you," he concluded.
"What is this young man's name, Gaius?" she asked him, not at all certain that he was right.
"Quintus Drusus," he told her. "He is the youngest son of my cousin, Manius Drusus, who is the head of the Drusus family in Rome. Manius had four sons and two daughters by his first wife. This boy is one of two sons and a daughter produced by Manius's second wife. The mother dotes on him, Manius writes, but she is willing to let him go because here in Britain he will be a respected man with lands of his own."
"And what if Cailin does not like him, Gaius?" Kyna Benigna demanded. "You have not considered that, have you? Will not your cousins in Rome be offended if you send their son back home to them after they have sent him here to us with such high hopes?"
"Certainly Cailin will like him," Gaius insisted, with perhaps a bit more assurance than he was feeling.
"I will not allow you to force her to the marriage bed if she is not content to make this match," Kyna Benigna said fiercely; and Gaius Drusus Corinium was reminded suddenly of why he had fallen in love with this daughter of a hill country Dobunni chieftain, instead of another girl from a Romano-British family. Kyna was every bit as strong as she was beautiful, and their daughter was like her.
"If she truly cannot be happy with him, Kyna," he promised, "I will not force Cailin. You know I adore her. If Quintus displeases her, I will give the boy some land, and I will find him a proper wife. He will still be far better off than if he had remained in Rome with his family. Are you satisfied now?" He smiled at her.
"I am," she murmured, the sound more like a cat's purr.
He has the most winning smile, she thought, remembering the first time she had seen him. She had been fourteen, Cailin's age. He had come to her father's village with his father to barter for the fine brooches her people made. She had fallen in love then and there. She quickly learned he was a childless widower, and seemingly in no hurry to remarry. His father, however, was quite desperate that he do so.
Gaius Drusus Corinium was the last of a long line of a family of Roman Britons. His elder brother, Flavius, had died in Gaul with the legions when he was eighteen. His sister, Drusilla, had perished in childbirth at sixteen. His first wife had died after half a dozen miscarriages.
Kyna, the daughter of Berikos, knew she had found the only man with whom she could be happy. Shamelessly she set about to entrap him.
To her surprise, it took little effort. Gaius Drusus Corinium was as hot-blooded as the Celtic girl herself. His proper first wife had bored him. So had all the eligible women and girls who had attempted to entice him after Albinia's tragic death. Once Kyna had gotten him to notice her, he could scarce take his eyes from her. She was as slender as a sapling, but her high, full young breasts spoke of delights he dared not even contemplate. She mocked him silently with her sapphire-blue eyes and a toss of her long red hair, flirting mischievously with him until he could bear no more. He wanted her as he had never wanted anything in his life, and so he told his father.
Kyna was beautiful, strong, healthy, and intelligent. Her blood mixed with theirs could but strengthen their family. Titus Drusus Corinium was as relieved as he was delighted.
Berikos, chieftain of the hill Dobunni, was not. "We have never mixed our blood with that of the Romans, as so many other tribes have," he said grimly. "I will barter with you, Titus Drusus Corinium, but I will not give your son my daughter for a wife." His blue eyes were as cold as stone.
"I am every bit as much a Briton as you are," Titus told him indignantly. "My family have lived in this land for three centuries. Our blood has been mixed with that of the Catuvellauni, the Iceni, even as your family has mixed its blood with those and other tribes."
"But never with the Romans," came the stubborn reply.
"The legions are long gone, Berikos. We live as one people now. Let my son, Gaius, have your daughter Kyna to wife. She wants him every bit as much as he wants her."
"Is this so?" Berikos demanded of his daughter, his long mustache quivering furiously. This was the child of his heart. Her betrayal of their proud heritage was painful.
"It is," she answered defiantly. "I will have Gaius Drusus Corinium for my husband, and no other."
"Very well," Berikos replied angrily, "but know that if you take this man for your mate, you do so without my blessing. I will never look upon your face again. You will be as one dead to me," he told her harshly, hoping his words would frighten her into changing her mind.
"So be it, my father," Kyna said with equal firmness.
She had left her Dobunni village that day and had never looked back. Though she missed the freedom of her hill country, her inlaws were loving and kind to her. Julia, her mother-in-law, had wisely insisted the marriage be postponed six months so that Kyna could learn more civilized ways. Then, a year after their marriage was celebrated, she and Gaius had left the house in Corinium for the family villa some fifteen miles from town. She was not yet with child, and it was thought the serenity of the countryside would aid the young couple in their attempts. Sure enough, when Kyna was in her seventeenth year, their twin sons, Titus and Flavius, were born. Cailin came two years later. After that there were no more children, but Kyna and Gaius did not care. The three the gods had blessed them with were healthy, strong, beautiful, and intelligent, even as their mother was.
Berikos, however, had never forgiven Kyna for her marriage. She sent him word of the birth of her sons, and another message when Cailin had been born, but true to his word, the Dobunni chieftain behaved as if she did not exist. Kyna's mother, however, came from their village after Cailin's birth. She immediately announced that she would remain with her daughter and son-in-law. Her name was Brenna, and she was Berikos's third wife. Kyna was her only child.
"He does not need me. He has the others," was all Brenna would say by way of explanation. So she had stayed, appreciating perhaps even more than her daughter the civilized ways of the Romanized Britons.
The villa in which Brenna now lived with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren was small but comfortable. Its porticoed entrance with four white marble pillars was impressive in direct contrast to the informal, charming atrium it led to. The atrium was planted with Damascus roses, which had a longer blooming season than most, due mainly to their sheltered location. In the atrium's center was a little square pool in which water lilies grew in season and small colored fishes lived year-round. The villa contained five bedchambers, a library for Gaius Drusus, a kitchen, and a round dining room with beautiful plaster walls decorated with paintings of the gods' adventures among the mortals. The two best features of the house, as far as Brenna was concerned, were the tiled baths and the hypocaust system that heated the villa in the damp, chilly weather. Beyond the entrance there was nothing grand about the house, which was constructed mostly of wood with a red tile roof, but it was a warm and cozy dwelling, and its residents were happy.
They had been a close family, and if Kyna had one regret, it was that her in-laws insisted upon remaining in Corinium. They liked the town with all its bustle, and Titus had his place on the council. For them life at the villa was dull. As the years passed, and the roads became more dangerous to travel, their visits grew less frequent.
Although neither Kyna nor her husband remembered the days when the legions had overflowed their homeland, keeping Britain's four provinces and their roads inviolate, their elders did. Julia bemoaned the legions' loss, for without them civil authority outside the towns was hard to maintain. A plea to Rome several years after the withdrawal of the armies had been answered curtly by the emperor. The Britons would have to fend for themselves. Rome had troubles of its own.
Then suddenly, three years ago, Gaius and Kyna had been sent word that Julia was ill. Gaius had taken a party of armed men and hurried to Corinium. His mother had died the day after his arrival. To his surprise and even deeper sorrow, his father, unable to cope with the loss of the wife who had been with him for most of his adult life, pined away, dying less than a week later. Gaius had seen to their burial. Then he had returned home, and the remaining family had drawn in even closer.
Now, Kyna Benigna left her husband to his accounts and hurried off to find her mother. Brenna was in the herb garden transplanting young plants into the warm spring soil.
"Gaius has sent to his family in Rome for a husband for Cailin," Kyna said without any preamble.
Brenna climbed slowly to her feet, brushing the dirt from her blue tunic as she did so. She was an older version of her daughter, but her braids were prematurely snow-white, providing a startling contrast to her bright blue eyes. "What in the name of all the gods possessed him to do a silly thing like that?" she said. "Cailin will certainly accept no husband unless she herself does the choosing. I am surprised that Gaius could be so foolish. Did he not consult with you beforehand, Kyna?"
Kyna laughed ruefully. "Gaius rarely consults with me when he plans to do something he knows I will disapprove of, Mother."
Brenna shook her head. "Aye," she answered. "It is the way of men. Then we women are left to repair the damage done, and to clean up the mess. Men, I fear, are worse than children. Children know no better. Men do, and yet they will have their way. When are we to expect this proposed bridegroom?"
Kyna clapped a hand to her mouth. "I was so distressed by Gaius's news that I forgot to ask him. It must be soon, or he wouldn't have said anything. Cailin's birthday is in a few weeks. Perhaps Quintus Drusus will arrive by then. I expect that Gaius has been dealing in this perfidy since last summer. He knows the young man's name, and even his history." Her blue eyes grew angry. "Indeed, I am beginning to suspect this plot was hatched some time ago!"
"We will have to tell Cailin," Brenna said. "She should be aware of her father's actions. I know Gaius will not force her to marry this Quintus if she does not like him. That is not his way, Kyna. He is a just man."
"Aye, he is," Kyna admitted. "He has agreed that if Cailin refuses his choice, he will find Quintus Drusus another wife, and give him some land. Still, I wonder, Mother, will these Roman relations be content if their son marries another girl when they have been promised our daughter? There are no young girls of our acquaintance whose families can equal or even come near Cailin's dowry. Times are very hard, Mother. Only my husband's prudence has allowed Cailin the advantages of an heiress's wealth."