Rome, February 14, 269 A.D
The rain had stopped hours ago but for some reason the earth was refusing to take in the water. The soil was soaked in puddles and the sounds of the people and horses walking in formation towards the gallows were muffled. A man of usual height was walking ahead of them, his hands bound tightly and his robes, now tattered, would have shown wonderful brilliance on a better day but were now covered in grime. Penalties of sitting and sleeping for days on the cold stone floor of a prison cell. Penalties towards a man sentenced for treason against Rome.
The crowd was silent where only days earlier they participated in a hanging with screams of torturous afterlife sentences and the use of rotten food thrown against the body of the accused. Today the only sounds were that of tears and hushed words.
The jailer Asterius led the bound man up the creaking wooden steps of the gallows to the rope and turned him to face the crowd and the window to the castle. The sun now shining down on the face of the priest convicted of sneaking couples away for their forbidden wedding ceremonies. Emperor Claudius II stood tall, safely tucked away and surrounded by guards. “Priest, Rome needs an army, protectors from her enemies. And the weaknesses of married men have no place in her army, a law that you intentionally disobeyed. Therefore you have been convicted of treason which is punishable by death. Do you have anything to say for yourself?” The whispers and sobs of the couples surrounding the courtyard drowned the words of the priest.
Claudius gave one nod to Asterius and the man reluctantly guided the priest to his rope. Afterward the gallows were littered with flowers and letters. Letters of friendship to the priest whom had secretly married couples against the laws of Rome. Letters from the now married woman who would have lost their new husbands to the forced services of Claudius II.
Asterius watched his daughter as she knelt in the muddy water nearby. Her soft breath coming out in long and quiet sobs. Her left hand did it’s best to hide her tears from the world as it covered her face as her right hand tightly held a piece of parchment close to her heart. The tail end sticking out under her hand unintentionally read “With love, Your Valentine.”
For all the Men in Woman of Rome and the sacrifice one Man made for love. Happy Valentine’s Day.