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Historical Fiction Christian

Notes:

|Antonia = priceless one | Cezar = they are hairy | Gaius = to rejoice (possibly) | Junia = born in June | Marcus = warlike | Valentina = strength, health |

| Amadeus = Love of God | Summanus = before the morning |

Bible Reference:   

Romans 8:12-13, Revised Challoner-Rheims Version 

Place: Rome

Time: Thursday, July 19, AD 64

   Antonia fled along the narrow, dirty streets of Rome, fighting to stay on her feet amid the masses of people who were also fleeing from the fires. If she fell, no one would pause to help her, and she would likely be trampled to death. There were screams and cries all around her, as well as the roaring of the flames and the crash and thud of falling buildings. Some people ran past her with their hair or clothing on fire. An old woman fell and disappeared beneath the feet of the multitude. A young woman missing the lower half of her robe hurried past, carrying a baby. Antonia suddenly felt her feet catch on something, and she tripped, falling headlong to the cobbled street, into the churning throng. Blinded by her tears, she tried to get up, but was constantly pushed down again by the crowds.

   The 15-year-old screamed for her mother, her father, even her baby sister Valentina, though she knew that they would not answer. She had seen her father run back into the burning three-story tenement after carrying her out, and she had seen it collapse. Antonia had stood, staring with open mouth, until the stampeding crowds had rendered standing still in one place impossible, and she had begun to run with them, though numbly, and only because her body, not her mind, had desired to live, and not die - at least, not yet. 

   She curled into a ball, trying to cover her head, begging the gods to protect her. People were stepping on her, kicking her, and cursing her for being in their way. If the crowds didn’t kill her, the fires probably would. Maybe it would be better to die, she thought, now that I have lost everything. 

   A large hand suddenly gripped her arm. Antonia looked up, and saw a short, middle-aged man. He was struggling to stay upright in the crush and at the same time pull her to her feet. Finally, she was able to stand up. 

“Are you hurt?” he shouted above the din, looking anxiously into her face. She shook her head. 

“Thanks be to God,” he murmured, and then asked, “Where are your parents?” Antonia choked, and began to weep. The man’s eyes, indeed, his whole demeanor, changed and softened. He could see her pain, and he knew.

“Come with me.” He turned, keeping a firm hold on her arm, and led her back the way she had come. She resisted, trying to continue in the direction she had previously taken, and at the same time she cried out, “I just came from there! The fires are already burning!” In her own mind, however, she knew that her real reason for not wanting to go back that way was because she would have to go past the collapsed tenement that she had lived in her whole life, and she did not want to think about what was lying crushed in the rubble. 

The man only repeated, “Come with me,” and added, “I know a way.”

   The man did not lead her far, only a short ways, before he turned aside and ducked into a tiny alley, so narrow that they could only go single file. He released her arm. “My name is Gaius Summanus,” he said as he walked, but she did not answer. She only followed him, hardly knowing why, and barely able to hope for safety. 

    For what seemed hours, Gaius led Antonia through the streets of Rome. And for what seemed hours, Antonia silently followed him. He moved purposefully and untiringly, yet never at such a speed that she was left behind, and he chose his routes carefully, rarely stopping to think. Finally Antonia inquired, “Where are we going?” 

“I’m trying to get out of the city,” Gaius said, pausing at the end of yet another tiny alley, prior to crossing yet another teeming thoroughfare. “I have friends outside the city, and I am almost sure that they will be willing to shelter us,” here he broke off and chuckled, “unless, of course, there are already so many refugees in their home that they have to turn us away for lack of space.” He set off again, taking her hand in his so that they would not become separated in the crush. He did this every time that it was necessary to cross a wide street, and she accepted it willingly.

   Antonia’s footsteps were beginning to falter by the time Gaius turned aside from the main road. It was almost morning, and they had left the burning city behind them, though it was still possible to see the glow from the flames if you looked towards Rome. Gaius walked along a path that was no more than two wheel ruts leading towards a small farm. 

She had had much time to study this man. He was short, as she had noticed before, and lean. His arms were fairly well-muscled, and he had brown hair. 

He reached the small, timber-built house, and knocked on the door. After a tense moment of waiting, they heard footsteps inside, and then the sound of a bolt being drawn back. The door was opened by a tall, muscular man, very tanned, with red hair. His face was guarded, almost solemn, until the light from the candle he was holding revealed the visitor. 

“Gaius!” he said, smiling broadly and clapping a large hand on Gaius’s shoulder. “Gaius Summanus! Come in, my friend, come in! We have been concerned for you and the other brethren living in the city, and have been praying much. I am glad that you came here. But,” he said, looking past Gaius as he came through the door, “who is this?” 

Antonia stopped on the threshold. Were strangers unwelcome here? 

Gaius said in a low voice, “I think that this girl has lost her family in the fires, Marcus. She has not told me her name.”             

“I see,” the red-haired man said, looking sympathetically at Antonia. “Well, come in, and get some rest.” 

As the door closed behind her, Antonia saw the shape of a  woman coming towards her. The tall man stepped close to her and wrapped his right arm around her shoulders, saying, “Junia, my dear, I am sorry that I have woken you. We have guests. Gaius has come from the city, and I hope that he will be able to tell us what goes on there.  And he has brought a friend with him.” The woman’s features were difficult to distinguish in the flickering light of the candle, but Antonia could see her eyes gleaming. 

“Have you walked all night to get here?” Junia asked, looking worriedly at the two travelers

“Yes,” Gaius replied groggily, and then lurched, barely catching himself against the wall.

“Come, child, you need sleep,” the woman said, stepping forward and wrapping Antonia in something soft and warm. She allowed herself to be led away into another room, laid down, and covered over. She slept.

Friday, July 20, AD 64

   When Antonia woke, it was well past morning. She was lying on a low bed in a small room, with a window facing south. She could hear people in the main part of the house, moving about and talking. She got up, and found that her clothing smelled of smoke. Immediately the whole of yesterday’s experience rushed upon her, and she began to sob. The door opened slowly, and Junia’s anxious face peered around it. 

“May I come in, dear?” she asked. Antonia was crying so hard that she could not answer. The young woman sat down beside the girl, closing the door behind her, and tried to comfort her. 

“Hush now, dear, everything will be alright.” She put her arms around Antonia and began to gently rock her. After a time, the girl’s sobs quieted, and her shoulders stopped heaving. 

“There now, do you feel better?” she asked, holding Antonia at arm’s length. The girl nodded. At the same time she noticed that the woman had black hair, brown eyes, a small nose, and very full lips. Junia gently pushed the  disheveled dark-brown hair back from the 15-year-old’s face. 

“Will you tell me your name?” she asked gently. 

“Antonia.”  

“Would you like to come and have breakfast?” Antonia nodded again, so Junia stood and led her from the room. 

   Marcus and Gaius were both sitting at a table, staring at Junia and Antonia as they came through the door. They turned away, and Marcus coughed awkwardly, while Gaius began to eat, focusing just a bit too intently on the food in front of him. 

Junia seated the girl at the table, and then set about laying bread, goat’s cheese, and a bowl of goat’s milk before her. She ate slowly, trying not to look up and meet the men’s gazes, all the while knowing that they were trying not to stare at her. 

   Finally, Gaius finished eating, and both of the men stood up. Antonia hoped that they would go outside, but they did not. Instead, they knelt on the floor, facing the east wall. Marcus said,

“Lord God, we give Thee thanks for all thy benefits, and we beg Thee to protect all our brethren, Your children, and all the men who do not as yet know You. In the name of Jesus, whose Name is above every other name, we pray this. Amen.” They got up and moved towards the door, but turned back quickly when they heard Antonia’s cry of dismay.

 She was standing, and her chair had been overturned as she jumped to her feet. 

“You are Christians,” she said, trembling.  

“Yes, we are,” Marcus said, looking curiously at the girl. 

   Antonia had heard about the sect of the Christians. It was rumored that they ate the flesh and drank the blood of human beings at their ritual meals. Some people said that they kidnapped children for this practice, while others maintained that they killed the babies which their own women bore, and that most of these were a result of adulterous unions. Would they kill her? She would have run, but they were both standing in front of the door. 

   “Marcus, my dear, she is frightened.” Junia’s voice came from behind Antonia. “You have heard the rumors. I think that it would be best if I tried to explain it to her.” 

Marcus nodded, and turning, he left the house, with Gaius following. 

   Junia righted the overturned chair, and Antonia reluctantly sat down in it. Gaius, Marcus, and Junia did not look the way she thought cannibals would look. She did not think that Junia would try to kill her, and she desperately wanted to trust her. She had nowhere else to go.

“I can see that you have heard bad things about Christians. We mean you no harm. Will you tell me what you know?”

 Antonia began to cry again. “I have heard that you kill children and babies to cannibalise at your ritual meals.”

 “As a Christian, I can tell you that we do not cannibalise children, nor do we kill any person for any reason. Do you believe me?”  

“I want to.”

“Did your parents die in the fire?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have anyone who will take you in?”

“No.”

“Well, you are welcome to stay here. Marcus has already discussed it with me. We have more than enough room.”                            

Wednesday, July 25, AD 64

   Marcus and Junia had welcomed Antonia into their home, and treated her as an adopted daughter. On Sunday, she had accompanied them and Gaius to the worship ritual of the Christians, which they called “The Sacrifice of the Mass”. They did not drink blood or eat human flesh, or any kind of meat, at their Mass. They ate only bread and drank only wine. They read aloud from the sacred books of the Jews, letters written by various members of their community, and texts that they called the “Gospels”. 

Marcus and Junia had not prohibited her from praying to the national gods, though they did not do so themselves. Every day, she became more and more fascinated by their religion, and they were quite willing to instruct her. 

Monday, July 30, 64 AD

    It had been eleven days since Antonia was brought to the farm which belonged to Marcus Amadeus. No fires had glowed from Rome last night, and less smoke had been visible during the day. She had attended the Mass a second time. She was beginning to truly hope. 

   The Emperor Nero had blamed the great fire on the Christians, declaring that they were planning a coup, and intended to set up as their king either Peter, the Pope, or Paulus, one of the Christians’ greatest evangelizers and most prolific writers. At the last Mass, prayers had been offered for their safety, and her adopted parents prayed for the two great leaders every day in their own home. She had joined them the last few times, responding with Junia to Marcus’s prayer intentions. 

Sunday, August 5, 64 AD

   Antonia listened attentively to the lector, Cezar,  who was reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans:

“ . . . Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, that we should live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live. Amen.” 

“Thanks be to God,” the congregation replied. 

   She had embraced the  religion of the Christians, or “The Way”, as it was first called in Palestine, where it originated. She was longing for next year, when she would be initiated by Baptism on Easter Sunday, the anniversary of the Resurrection of Jesus, the Savior. She had already been taught many key points of their beliefs, including how to pray. One of her favorite prayers was the Our Father, which she had already memorized, and she recited it often: 

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. 

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, 

as we forgive those who trespass against us; 

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.     

Antonia was happier now than she has ever been before. The knowledge that she is loved infinitely by one just, holy, all-powerful God, who has created her for a beautiful mission that only she can ever fulfill, thrummed constantly in her mind like a sweet music. There was hope, and there was a future.  

April 17, 2021 03:51

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18 comments

01:06 Dec 13, 2021

I really like this! Watching her slowly gain hope was very encouraging to read about. You have a talent for writing; I didn’t want to put it down, even though I have to study. Very few authors do this to me, except the famous ones, like Cassandra Clare or Rick Riordan. :) I liked the historical references in this too. It made it very fun to read! :) Great job! I can’t wait to read more!

Reply

Thank you so much! Sorry that I distracted you. The authors whose books I have a hard time putting down are J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Kenneth Oppel, and Rosanne Parry. Have you read any of these people? I really enjoyed writing Antonia's story, and I'm working on writing more about Junia. I only have one more story, at least for now. I hope you like dinosaurs! And I hope I don't distract you again . . .

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02:17 Dec 13, 2021

Lol. It’s fine. I actually hated The Hobbit. We had to read it for school and I hated it. I’ve read some of cs Lewis’s stuff, and it’s not bad. I haven’t heard of the last two. Awesome!

Reply

What do you hate about The Hobbit? My Mom said that she couldn't get past the description of the dwarves' hoods. Kenneth Oppel writes fiction, I've read Airborn and Darkwing. Rosanne Parry writes animal fiction. I've read her books A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale of the Wild.

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12:08 Dec 13, 2021

I just couldn’t get through it. I didn’t like any of the characters and I felt like the plot was boring. Although it’s been a while. Maybe if I reread it. I really like the shadowhunter books by Cassandra Clare. I highly recommend those, especially if you like fantasy/mythology adventure. And drama. Especially if you like drama. :) I’ll check them out!

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Neat! I'll take a look at them.

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Very cool story! I like the points you made and how you displayed it. The story flowed really really well! Another thing I liked was how it stood up to its title, from quite literal ashes to a new hope. The girl's conversion to Catholicism was kinda cool to see. I can't believe that no one has commented on this yet. I noticed only two things, critique wise: "The tall man stepped close to her and wrapped his right arm around her shoulders, saying, ..." I saw a lot of these kind of run-on sentences, so maybe try break them up a little more. ...

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Yeah, I often have difficulties with run-on sentences. I'm working on fixing it, any suggestions? And I did forget the period. :( Something that I noticed myself was that in the last paragraph, the Tense changed from Past to Present. That happened because I wrote the whole story in Past Tense, then went through and changed it to Present Tense, then changed it again back to Past Tense.

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Just try to break stuff up. For example, your sentence could be: “"The tall man stepped closer to the woman. He wrapped his right arm around her shoulders as he began to say, ..."“ Yep, it’s often good to reread the writing before you post it for any mistakes or tense changes.

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Yep. My parents let me stay up really late to enter my first story, because I was so excited about it. I was really tired and wasn't thinking straight when I tried to re-read it, so that's probably why the tense is like that. Did the contest change since I joined Reedsy? I was pretty sure that entering stories in the contest was free when I started, but now it says you have to pay $5 to actually enter.

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Ah yeah that makes sense. You can still edit it if you’ve submitted it recently (I think for up to a week after you submit it). Yeah unfortunately they did change it. You can publish it for free on your profile, but to enter into the contest you gotta pay $5. Something about they couldn’t read all the stories and they only want people painting their best work and such.

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That's too bad about the contest change. If I write anything that seems really good I might pay to enter it, but I don't think it's very likely. I'm definitely going to keep posting stories though! I haven't posted any since this one because I haven't finished any in time for the prompt. I'm waiting for more to roll around that my already-started stories could fit under.

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