Decimus is dying. Phoebe sends for Marcus and Julia, and tells the servant she sends for Julia to make sure Hadassah comes too.
Marcus arrived first and went in to his father. When Julia arrived, Phoebe was relieved to see Hadassah beside her. Julia went in, but stopped when she neared the bed. It had been weeks since she’d seen her father, and the devastation of his illness shocked and repulsed her. With a strangled cry, she fled the room. Phoebe quickly caught up with her. “Julia!”
She turned and spoke as she walked backwards. “I don’t want to see him like this, Mother. I want to remember him the way he was.”
Julia runs off and Marcus goes after her and talks to her. Rivers doesn’t tell us what he said, but he did convince her to try again.
Marcus brought Julia in. She had gained control of herself, but the moment she saw her father again, she began to cry. When Decimus turned his sunken eyes on her, she cried harder. He lifted his hand weakly. When she hesitated, Marcus gripped her shoulders and pressed her forward. He pushed her down into the chair beside the bed, and she covered her face with her hands and been forward, weeping profusely. Decimus laid his hand on her head, but she shrank from his touch. “Julia,” he rasped and reached out to her again.
“I can’t,” Julia cried out. “I can’t bear this.” She tried to push past Marcus.
“Let her go,” Decimus said weakly, his hand falling limply to his side.
People react in very different ways to the deaths of their loved ones. Julia’s reaction here may not be ideal, but her feelings are likely conflicted to begin with. Her relationship with her father wasn’t perfect—he married her off to a 50-year-old man against her will when she was 14, for crying out loud. And despite that, she still loved him. She bought a healing crystal for him, and tried to talk him into some sort of mental New Age healing mantra. But here, at his bedside, she can’t take it.
And Rivers faults her for it.
Oh and by the way—handsy Marcus is growing only more handsy. What is with him literally pushing Julia into the room and then shoving her into a chair right next to their father? Maybe if she’d had a little more space she wouldn’t have bolted so quickly.
When Phoebe called for Hadassah, after Julia leaves the room, Julia is surprised. “Why does he want to see her?” Julia is not very observant—although, to be fair to Julia, Hadassah did live with her parents for some time while she lived with Caius, and it was during that time that Decimus grew most used to Hadassah singing to him and telling him stories.
“Go,” [Marcus] commanded Hadassah and turned to Julia. “Perhaps he needs more comfort than you do, and he knows he can get it from her,” he said, unable to keep the edge from his voice.
Smooth, Marcus, real smooth.
I mean for goodness sake, Marucs was the one who wanted to keep Hadassah at his parents house close by him when Julia wanted her back, toward the end of her marriage to Caius, even though Marcus knew that Caius had mistreated Julia and that Julia certainly needed Hadassah’s comfort more than he did—when all he wanted to do was take her to his bed. In fact, it was Decimus who had to give him a talking to at that point, pointing out that if Hadassah hadn’t been there to intervene when Caius had tried to kill Julia, Julia would be dead, and that just maybe Julia needed Hadassah more than he did.
Hadassah goes into the room where Decimus is dying and converts him. No really—she seals the deal, lock stock and barrel. Even in this success, she’s humble and unsure of herself. “Oh, please, God, give me your wisdom, forgive my lack of it,” she prays at one point. Humble Hadassah is ever humble. And then, after Decimus’ conversion, this happens:
“Marcus…” His breathing rattled in his chest. Marcus leaned down on the other side of the bed.
“I’m here, father.” Marcus grasped his father’s other hand. Decimus took his son’s hand weakly and placed it over Hadassah’s. He put both his hands over theirs and looked at his son.
“I understand, Father.”
And then he dies. No really—the last thing Decimus did before dying was arrange a marriage between his overbearing, entitled son and the girl this son has been trying for months to rape. WTF is wrong with the men in this book.
Scene change. Julia is back with her friends, fretting over her father’s death. She feels bad that she wasn’t in the room, but Primus and Calabah tell her that she shouldn’t let her family feel guilty, and that it was wrong of them to expect her to be there to begin with. I don’t like Julia’s friends. While some of what they say is true—for example, Calabah was right when she advised Julia that Atretes was possessive and violent and that she would lose her freedom if she married him—Rivers is right that neither of them seem to actually care about her. Instead, they care about what they can get from her.
Calabah frets over Julia’s pregnancy and wishes she’d gotten an abortion, but Julia says that it’s Atretes’ child. Calabah asks if she still expects Atretes to come back to her, and Julia says she does, and that she has actually just sent Hadassah to Atretes to entreat him.
“He loves me. Once he’s thought things over, I’m sure he’ll be back.”
“He’s had several months to think things over Julia, and you have heard nothing from him.”
She turned away. “I’ve sent Hadassah to him. She’ll make him see the child is his.”
“And you think that will make any difference?”
“I’m surprised you trust that treacherous little Jew,” Primus put in, full of hate for the slave girl.
“Hadassah isn’t treacherous,” Julia snapped. “She knows I was never with another man after I was with Atretes. She’ll tell him. Then he’ll come back and beg me to forgive him.”
“She’ll probably try to steal him from you the way she’s trying to steal my Prometheus.”
“Hadassah isn’t the least bit interested in your catamite!” Julia said in disgust.
“You don’t think so? I saw her sitting in that alcove with Prometheus, and she was holding his hand! Tell me now she’s innocent!”
Calabah smiled faulty, her dark eyes glowing with feral pleasure. “Perhaps the boy is tiring of you, Primus,” she said, fanning his jealousy into hotter flame. “You did find him when he was very young, before he had yet tasted all this world had to offer him.”
Primus’ face paled.
“The suggestion is ridiculous,” Julia said hastily. “Hadassah’s a virgin and will stay that way until she dies.”
“Not if your brother has any say about it,” Primus says.
And it goes on like this. Primus tells Julia that he saw the way her brother looked at Hadassah when he last visited, and “the look on his face was a sight to behold.” Calabah reminds Julia that Decimus asked for Hadassah when he was dying. “You’ve sent a viper to your lover,” Primus says. “She’ll sink her fangs into Atretes and fill him with poisonous lies.”
From here on out, both Primus and Calabah put a lot of effort into turning Julia against Hadassah, but at least some of what they say is true. Marcus is in love with Hadassah—whatever exactly that means. Decimus did call for Hadassah. Phoebe has made Hadassah into a sort of substitute daughter. No one in Julia family—Decimus, Phoebe, Marcus—has spent much time trying to understand her, but they have all become entranced with Hadassah. Hadassah has become a wedge in their family.
Primus and Calabah aren’t wrong about the risk in sending Hadassah to Atretes, either—at least not fully. Hadassah never fully stayed on message all those times Julia sent her to get Atretes for her. She followed Atretes around the city and proselytized him, at one point—something Julia certainly never authorized her to do. There is a lot in Hadassah’s activities that Julia does not know.
Hadassah stood in the burned-out ruins of the villa Atretes had purchased for Julia. “He’s not here,” a man standing nearby told her. “He’s out there in the hills somewhere, completely mad.”
Hadassah walks the hills until she finds him.
His hair was like a mane, and he wore a loincloth and a bearskin cape. A deadly looking spear was in his hand. His blue eyes glared at her coldly as she came up to him.
Atretes tells Hadassah to go away but she sits down next to him anyway. Finally, as it gets dark, he stands and walks into a cave, where he starts making a fire. That’s right—he’s living in a cave in the hills. Hadassah follows him. She begins proselytizing him but he stops her and starts telling her about how many people he has killed. He laughs, and tells her that he may be free, with an ivory pendant around his neck stating he can go where he pleases, but he’s not free at all.
“Their yoke is still around my neck, choking me. I’ll never be free of what Rome has done to me. She used me for her pleasure. She adored me because I set her blood on fire. I fulfilled her lust. She had only to command, and I performed.” He looked up at Hadassah standing at the mouth of the cave, her face so gentle, and smiled bitterly. “Rome. Julia. One and the same.”
He’s not wrong—about any of that. He needs some serious therapy and will probably always have PTSD after what he went through. Also—he’s not wrong about Julia. Even now she expects him to come and apologize to her. To grovel, probably. Julia doesn’t get it. Now—Atretes doesn’t either. He did expect her to become his obedient little wife, his possession. And after her first two disastrous marriages, she wasn’t going to do that—she couldn’t. But after his own experiences, Atretes also wasn’t ever going to come at Julia’s beck and call—and Julia is Roman through and through, with the sense of entitlement that comes with that.
This was not a match made to last.
Next, Hadassah tells Atretes the entire gospel story. Again, this was not authorized by Julia. I’m not saying Hadassah has to obey Julia completely—slavery is an abomination. But when Primus and Calabah are telling Julia that Hadassah isn’t acting just for her, that other things are going on, Julia’s actions here render them not wrong. Atretes isn’t entranced with Hadassah’s god, however—he declares him weak, to allow his son t be crucified. Hadassah tries again, but doesn’t get through.
He glared back at her. “You can have your weakling god. He did Caleb [a Jewish gladiator] no good. Tiwaz is my god. A god of power!”
“Is he?” she said softly and rose. She walked to the mouth of the cave and looked up into his eyes, which still burned with anger. “Is he powerful enough to give you the peace of mind you need?” She put her hand lightly on his arm. “The child is yours, Atretes.”
He jerked his arm away from her touch. “If Julia laid it at my feet, I’d walk away and never look back.”
Hadassah saw he meant it. Tears filled her eyes. “May God have mercy on you,” she whispered; then she walked out into the night.
So technically Hadassah did what Julia told her to do—Atretes definitely seems to have believed the baby was hers. But Hadassah did a bunch of other things too. She’s finally started to get over her fear of sharing the gospel, but she’s done so in a way that isn’t exactly designed to make Julia pleased with her. And then there are Primus and Calabah both whispering in Julia’s ears—and neither of them much like Hadassah.
Oh, and then there’s the whole thing where Decimus basically gave Hadassah in marriage to Marcus on his deathbed. Fun.
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