Written by Kayla Hays.
Graphic by Ashley Mireles.
To my dearest Aemilia,
For an hour I have sat with pen to parchment, and yet not a single word flows. Your last letter left me with too many thoughts—now they all exist inside me, fighting for equal space granted to none. But I will say that which has been plaguing my mind the most:
I love you.
When my most trusted slave brought me your letter, I was forced to hide my smile from my husband lest he discover the truth. I feigned an illness that night at dinner, and while the villa was occupied I retreated into my quarters to read every word of yours by candlelight. There are no words to describe the unrelenting joy which fills my limbs, nor the way my heart pounds when I see my name scrawled in your writing. Sometimes I allow myself to trace the letters with my fingertips, thinking of how you once touched the very parchment I hold, thinking of how our fingerprints brush together now despite the thousands of paces between us.
Though it might bring heat to your face, I attempted the other night to compose my own poetry; it is in the style of Catullus, of whom I often see fragments while my son learns from his grammaticus. The grasp of the meter escapes me still, yet I hope that my verses delight you.
May blazing suns, my Aemilia, rise for us,
let us embrace in the shadowy night
where only blinking stars can see.
How many kisses will they witness?
As many as flowers in sunlit meadows,
as many as words spoken by Aeneas
to Dido, the queen struck by Venus.
Not quite enough to make me renowned across the entire Mediterranean, much less Rome herself, but I think it is worthy for your eyes. My hope is that it brings a smile to your lips.
I was informed yesterday that we will not be returning to our villa in Rome for at least another month; my husband wished to have a longer break from conducting business in the city. And it is in times such as these—times in which I am away from you for a long period—that I find myself recalling the first day we met, and every day afterward.
I could scarcely believe my eyes when I found you and your husband outside our villa, a new addition to the flock of clients who come to us every morning. Your face was cast down, though visible still was a subtle beauty desirous to any man. I wanted to reach out and hold your cheek in my hand; I wanted to hold you in an embrace in such a way that all dangers would wash out of your trembling body, out of your earth-stained stola.
Even when we met at the baths, or at your home when your husband was long absent, or on the streets to peruse the shops, your downcast face remained. I would have thought it etched into your face like a statue if I had not brought my lips to yours and thus wiped it away from your face. Your smile I will never forget. Although your eyes sparkle with life and your voice drips with honey, your smile is the part I love the greatest; for in that moment it is mine only to keep.
Alas, it is the wicked man my father chose me to marry who chains me to this country home for months on end. If only I were not shackled by him—or else I would remain in your warm embrace. It is always men who argue, who meet each other on the battlefield and wage inane wars for the sake of money and power and land. It is heroes who fight for the sake of women. And for you, my Helen, I would siege the walls of Troy for millenia, with more force than any man.
If only we lived in a world with no men who fought inane wars or created inane laws. Perhaps then we could live together in peace, instead of in secrecy; perhaps then I would not live in fear of exile from Augustus himself, as he ordered onto his own daughter. But remember this, my Aemilia—I would sooner fight the entire Roman army than allow myself to be punished for following the inerrant path of my heart.
Until then, I hope that you will be strong. I might not be able to convince my husband to return home sooner, but often I can influence his money. I am due to return to Rome on the fifth day before the Kalends of October—let us arrange to meet soon after that. My heart will be waiting.