Excerpt From Novel Sabellius in Africa

Aristaeus agreed. Portia said nothing. Her mind went back to her last meeting with Plautianus. She quickly dismissed that.

“Have you heard from Sabellius, dear?” Aristaeus turned to his wife.

“No, I’m expecting something from him one of these days soon” Portia answered.

In fact, Sabellius had written his mother. The letter reached Portia several days later. The circumstances of her picking up the letter were somewhat tumultuous.

Aristaeus took Portia with him to check on the mail. They rode together down to Apollonia, making their way to the office of Demetrius the harbor master, who received all the mail from the ships or the couriers coming into Apollonia.

When the two arrived at the harbor master’s office, Hector the old servant who assisted Demetrius informed them that he did not know where the mail was, since Demetrius kept it on his desk. Demetrius was over at the inn taking his morning break.

“Let’s go over to the inn” Aristaeus said. Portia wasn’t too happy about going to the inn, since she had experienced difficulties there in the past. She did not say anything. She dutifully accompanied her husband.

The two dismounted and made their way into the inn. Demetrius was in the back drinking and playing some kind of a game with about four or five other Greek locals. From the raucous noise, Portia judged that they were drunk.

Ariston the innkeeper and Circe his waitress were up front at the bar located on the left, as Aristaeus and Portia entered.

Ariston was drunk. “Hail, Aristaeus, the Greek sea captain, and his beautiful wife!” Ariston said loudly. Demetrius and the Greeks with him looked up.

Aristaeus turned to him, and nodded curtly, not replying. He hadn’t expected such a bold, thinly veiled insult from the innkeeper. He took note that he was drunk, and said nothing.

Not to be discouraged, Ariston tried another remark. “She’s looking good today, Master Aristaeus. Still got a great figure!”

“He’s drunk dear” Portia whispered to Aristaeus. “I know” he replied quietly. “Just keep going.” As they neared Demetrius and his Greek friends, it became evident that they were in on this.

“Well, if it isn’t Master Aristaeus back from his sea travels! I see you’ve got that pretty little Roman wife of yours with you! She hasn’t found another Roman officer yet, has she?” One of the Greeks said, laughing. The others joined in. It was fairly dim back in that part of the inn, and Aristaeus couldn’t make out which one of the five Greeks had made the remark. They spoke in Greek. They had been drinking.

Portia blushed. She smiled rather bitterly, and looked down. Aristaeus got red in the face, and the color came into his neck. He clenched his fists, but said nothing.

“Demetrius, I’m looking for some mail. Your servant Hector says he does not know where it is. He thought perhaps it was back on your desk.”

Demetrius was a short, pudgy, balding Greek. He looked at Aristaeus for a moment, but said nothing.

It was amazing to Aristaeus. He could not believe the open insults that were coming his way. At one time he was a respected citizen, and he had been always courteously addressed. He realized the source of it: it was Portia’s indiscretion and Ariston’s dirty gossip. But why was it being directed at him? Probably because he was a Greek, and had not put away his Roman wife as they thought he should have done. Some of the Greeks hated the Romans. But the insults were difficult to swallow.

Biting his lip, Aristaeus spoke again. “Demetrius, we would like to pick up our mail. Hector says we have some at the office.”

Demetrius was obviously a little soused. Finally he answered. “Sure, Aristaeus. Go back and tell Hector that there are two scrolls on my desk. They are on the right hand side. I think they came in from Rome yesterday. He can get them for you.”

“She’s sure looking good today!” A voice came from the table. Aristaeus spun around.

“Are you speaking about my wife?” He spoke quietly, but firmly. It got quiet at his challenge.

A big Greek, sitting on the far side of the table spoke up. “Yes. I said she is looking good today. That’s a compliment. A Greek like you getting one of those proud Roman beauties ought to appreciate what I said.”

“Look, man. My wife’s beauty is for me to openly appreciate. She belongs to me. I don’t appreciate your big mouth.” Aristaeus was getting angry.

Portia took his arm. She said quietly, “Let’s go, Aristaeus. They’ve been drinking.”

Aristaeus continued to look at the big man across the table. The other men were silent. There was tension in the air.

The big Greek stood up. He was a little over six feet, and probably weighed about 250 pounds. He glared back at Aristaeus.

“Look, Aristaeus” he said, “I was trying to pay a compliment to your good looking wife. I could have said some other things about her. You don’t need to be upset. Now why don’t you just run along?”

“What other things?” Aristaeus said, continuing to stare back at him.

The big Greek shrugged his shoulders. He spat on the floor. “A lot of other things…like…it’s well known that your high and mighty Roman wife is a whore!” He spat the words out. You could have heard a pin drop. Aristaeus’ fists clenched. He prayed silently. Lord, please help me!

“You either take that statement back, and or I’m coming around that table to teach you a lesson.” Aristaeus was losing it. Portia took his arm again.

“Please, Aristaeus! Let it go! I probably deserve the statement. It’s not worth getting upset about. Let’s put it in the Lord’s hands!”

Another one of the Greeks, who was a short, stocky man, couldn’t resist getting involved. He had heard Portia.

“Now she wants to put things into her Christian god’s hands. I thought her god didn’t approve of running around with Roman officers while her husband is at sea!” Several of the Greeks, including Demetrius, laughed.

“Leave my Christian God out of this!” Portia couldn’t help responding. She knew better, but the excitement of the moment got the best of her common sense. Portia had invited their attention.

Now it was out of hand. “How’s your Roman lover, honey? Guess he’s out now that hubbie’s home!” One of the men jeered. Several others laughed. It was too much for Aristaeus. He stepped around the table, and took the big Greek by his clothes, twisting them and pulling him forward with his powerful arm.

“Either apologize or I’m going to make you do it. You can’t insult my wife and get away with it.”

“Aristaeus, please!” Portia cried out.

“I like how she gets excited! She has that hot Roman blood!” One of the Greeks called out, laughing. The big Greek knocked Aristaeus’ hand loose.

“Look, friend!” the big Greek cried out, “If you want to be married to a Roman harlot, then that’s your business. But leave me out of it. We’re Greeks! We’re not that fond of the Roman conquerors!” The big Greek pulled his fist back, and threw a punch at Aristaeus, missing his jaw but landing on his left shoulder. Aristaeus stood his ground and quickly shoved him backwards, causing the man to crash into several chairs, knocking them over.

Ariston ran around the bar, and quickly joined the dispute. “What’s going on here? I don’t allow any fighting…” He grabbed Aristaeus from behind, and spun him around. “Get out of my inn! You’re a troublemaker, and your wife’s a tramp! Get out!” Aristaeus pushed him back on to the table. The men sitting at the table had scrambled out of way. Ariston crashed backwards on the table, collapsing it, and scattering the chairs with ceramic mugs of beer flying and shattering.

Two of the men grabbed Aristaeus and held him. The big Greek had gotten back on his feet. He landed a punch on Aristaeus, who grunted and fell back on the two men. He wrenched himself loose from them, and lunged at the big Greek, shoving him into one of the men, who staggered backwards and fell, scattering chairs.

Portia screamed. “Aristaeus! Let’s leave, please!” Aristaeus ignored her. He had lost it. He was on “automatic pilot” now. He turned, and landed a punch on one of the Greeks. Both that man and Demetrius, who was right behind him, fell backwards on to the floor, destroying a couple of chairs.

Just then the military patrol, which had been passing by on foot out in front heard the noise, and burst in the door. The centurion in charge cried out, “Break it up! Break it up! In the name of Caesar!”

Aristaeus had one of the men in his grip, and his fist was drawn back. He turned, and looked at the centurion. He disgustedly pushed the man back, who back pedaled into another table, loudly scooting the table back, scattering chairs.

“What’s going on here?” The centurion cried out. He was a short, slender but muscular Roman. He was accompanied by two large Roman soldiers, who had their hands on their swords. The centurion looked around him. His recognized Aristaeus, and he smiled.

“Well, Captain Aristaeus! You old sea dog!” He came forward, and reached his hand out in greeting. Aristaeus was breathing somewhat heavily, but he smiled and took the centurion’s hand.

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