She was broken. Almost. He had all but defeated her hours ago and still he would not let her be.
She resisted him. Not to be denied, however, he twisted and turned and fought as if to make her pain go on. But she was strong. Spirited. Just as dawn sliced and warmed the room, so did she resolve that she would free herself from him. She bore down.
They had no means other than the soothsayers and thrown chits of bone and shards of glass to confirm that they would have a son. Still, they shared no doubt. As luck would have it, the coin toss of life was kind to their foolish druthers. Palpitus, son of Gallus, Prefect of the night watch and Lucretia, good woman of Rome, was born.
In the hall outside the bedchamber, Gallus ceased rubbing his forehead into the damp plaster and heaved and settled into the wall, relieved at last to hear his wife Lucretia’s shuddering wails replaced by those of his newborn babe.
They would name their firstborn Palpitus after the great gladiator who had saved Gallus deep in the catacombs of what seemed another lifetime. Palpitus, the gladiator who had been like none other. Palpitus…gone now. How Gallus had despaired that he could not have been there to return the favor when his savior found himself in need.
Too often Gallus suffered to relive the horrible exchange where The Little Death had saved him. Perhaps it was another life. Perhaps not even mine. Or so he had tried to settle his vexed mind on those mornings that found his beautiful Lucretia still deep in sleep and plump with child beside him.
Waking to find him troubled, and knowing his mind, she’d pulled close and said, “All men die.”
He retorted with a sigh of resignation, “But true men live.”
“And so you shall.” She had said and placed his hand on her fruitful belly. “And so shall he.”
Gallus had feigned satisfaction with their conversation that morning, but in his heart the Prefect was resolved that he had failed the man once known as The Little Death, the renowned gladiator, Palpitus. And such a slight was not one to pass without a thrice-fold price to pay. That was the decree of destiny. Or so the Prefect of the Night Watch, Gallus Florio Secundus, was certain.
And there was no escaping it. In the baths, in the halls of the Cohort, on the streets, in the bright of day and shadow of night, he could not help but overhear the rumors of how the man, the Little Death, had died. They never seem to tire of speaking of his grisly end. Voices from every corner wrangled and jostled in competition to prove they knew better the tale and thereby possess the Little Death’s legacy. And so that clinging mass of mostly idiots proved to be a nail forever picking at the scab of Gallus’s wounded spirit. The Prefect struggled. His were many a cruel misery of fevered dreams and troubled days. For, wherever he passed in Rome, as sure as his shadow, so followed the news…. Palpitus is dead.
Stroking her ruby-fresh babe’s dimpled chin, Lucretia spoke. “He is born to honor the man, his namesake, Palpitus. And he, our son, will be the light of life, not a memory of death. The light that fine man brought to you when you were lost in a dark place. And so shall that light shine on.”