tagRomanceThe First Valentine: Historical

The First Valentine: Historical

bytheowlandtherose©

The First Valentine: A Historical Story

This is a historical fantasy that is hardly original. Saint Valentine is credited with the first Valentine's Card, among other intriguing works during his life in Imperial Rome. This is a work of fiction based on the life of Valentine. It is a romantic story and as such the eroticism is more subtle; please consider this if you are looking for harder fare. We sincerely hope you enjoy this (lengthy) tale...

* * * * *

It was near midnight when the hooded figures finally crossed the Tiber into the still lit city of Rome. Walking in the shadow of darkness, keeping to small alleys most of the way, the pair worked their way to the foot of the Pantheon. The taller of the two stepped into the light shining down from a nearby yellowed window and unfolded a scrawled map. Tracing a path along the parchment, he turned to point up the Capitoline Hill and they resumed their stealthy journey.

The city never really slept. Along the road, the brothels and bars hid the noise of their footsteps. Occasionally pausing to let drunk soldiers or prostitutes stagger past, the clandestine couple worked their way toward the peak of the Capitoline. Ducking into a dark arched alleyway beside an abandoned temple, they felt their way down mishewn rock stairs to a basement door. They huddled nervously listening to the muffled sounds of the city and watching for any sign that they had been followed. With a glance toward his companion, the map carrier finally stepped forward and with a deep sigh rapped quietly on the wooden door.

Minutes seemed like hours before any response arose. Just as the second knock was begun, the door opened slowly inward. The couple now in a full hug stepped back quickly as if to run away from the candlelit door. The dark figure who peered out silently contemplated them, but said not a word.

"Pardon, Father. Do you give shelter for humble servants?" The hooded man's voice trembled as he spoke but he stepped forward slightly to try to reveal his modest countenance.

"That is a popular request in these times, I must say," the quiet reply came. The stranger's voice was strong yet soothing, the voice of a counselor. "Whom do you serve?"

"The one true Master."

"Aah, but there are many of those as well, or so I've heard."

"We have the sign, Father," the cloaked man hurriedly replied. He raised his hand to reveal a small cross on a tether. The cross, and the hand, shook in the doorway.

"So you have. What does it mean?"

"A new chance, Father."

"And the wine?"

"His blood."

"And the bread?"

"His body, Father."

The door opened wide and they saw that the man inside wore a gentle smile beneath a closely cropped beard. He towered above them at just over six feet, but his peppery hair made his age impossible to guess. His dusky clothes billowed as he bid them inside.

"Come, dear friends, and congratulations." He led them to a table and offered to take their coverings. As each shed their cloaks, his smile deepened as he finally looked into the eyes of the young couple. "You are perfectly welcome here."

The fair lad was visibly relieved, and turned to hug his beautiful dark-haired companion as they whispered back and forth into each others ear. Then the petite girl slid from his embrace and faced the waiting priest. She still appeared nervous as her panting breaths sought words to ease her fears.

"Then, you are he who would help us? You are Father Valentine?"

The priest bowed slightly never taking his eyes from hers. "I am. I am Valentinius. A humble servant of God and at your service. And you, my dear child, what may I call you?"

"I am Claudia from Ostia, and this is my love, Decius." She nervously twirled her hair into curls as she began to giggle in relief, then suddenly looked gravely back up at the priest. "We have no payment..."

"And none would be taken." The priest turned to walk beyond the table, picking up the candle. "We shall begin at once, young ones. I will put your capes in the room where you are welcome to spend your wedding night, but I must ask that you bid me farewell in the morn." He place the candle on a mantle and turned to face them. "Is that acceptable?"

"Yes, we have so looked forward to this," the boy said as he reached for his love's hand and approached. They are eager, thought Valentine, that'll make it hard to sleep tonight.

"Splendid. So, tell me about yourself, Decius, and why in creation this gorgeous creature should want to marry you," smiled the priest.

* * * * *

A year earlier, Valentinius had first stepped foot into the Church of the Sacred Cross. He had walked up the Capitoline Hill from his office inside the Pantheon to meet with an influential Christian priest, Father Marius. Marius was the leader of a small church located in an abandoned temple near the palace. Valentine was eager to learn more about his new church.

Valentine had now worked at the Pantheon for several years, being considered a local scholar on Juno, queen of the Roman gods. For all of his fame and notoriety for this expertise, there were few in Rome who knew that Valentine had actually been a Christian for most of his forty years. Ruthless persecution and political hatred by Rome's elite firmly held his tongue. Yet, he actually found it easy to mingle among the scholars and virgins who frequented Roman temples. This was his one refuge inside the city from the murders and debauchery at every level of society.

Father Marius had invited Valentine to visit his church when they first met at a local wedding. Valentine had just recently been invited to be a priest of Peter by a local sect, and Marius had been outraged that a Roman cleric would be allowed to become a Christian priest. After several bottles of wine and hours of debate on all matter of topics, they soon found themselves embracing each other as they parted and promised to meet again.

As Valentine entered the old temple, Marius rushed up to him and turned him around to walk out the large doorway and into the arched stairway down to a basement apartment in the back. It was not until the basement door was closed and a candle started that Marius smiled at his confused friend and spoke.

"Spies, my friend. Everywhere these day, the Emperor's spies watch the meeting places and you would be too valuable to us to be labeled a sympathizer." Marius pulled out goblets and a dusty bottle of wine to pour for his friend as they sat by the table.

"Valuable?" smirked the handsome Valentine, "Is this why my friendship is treasured to the Church hierarchy? I am disappointed in you, Father."

Marius smiled and took a long drink. "My love for fellow Christians is endless, my friend. But the Council is unanimous that any priest who is also an influential Roman official is worth his weight in gold. Or at least his weight in Vestal Virgins, no?" He smiled and clapped his companion's shoulder. "It seems my reservations missed the mark, eh?"

Valentine smiled but looked away. "I'm not sure what help I could ever be, dear Marius. The politicians care little what the temples decry and the people use religion as escapism and depravity." He turned back to Marius, "I'm sorry friend. I didn't mean to complain."

"No, no, it's all true. You'll find that all the old Roman customs will fall away into frivolity soon."

Valentine raised himself up in his chair, his eyes now bright and blazing. "You discard the greatest society in history too quickly, dear Marius. It is not necessary to list all the benefits that Rome has granted the civilized world, but I would point out that they have perfected the state-sponsored religious holiday. This could only fill a fellow priest's heart with joy, no?" He smiled slyly.

"You have nerve to call Roman feasts perfect or even religious, Valentinius. I doubt that you could name one pagan feast which still stands for any positive virtues, even Roman ones."

Valentine downed his goblet and began to pour another. "Again you quickly dismiss your entire culture, Father. What about next month's Lupercalia for instance?"

Marius leaned forward anxiously, "That is not MY holiday, Father. Lupercalia is an orgy of lewdness, rape, and subjugation of young girls. Which of your virtues does this represent, Valentine?"

Valentine smiled and met his forward pose, wine in hand. "You are too smart to speak so foolishly, Marius. Lupercalia is the festival of Juno, of marriage, and it is truly a celebration of women. It is the eve of Juno's Day inwhich the boys choose their love lotteries. Have you forgotten? Or had you no luck with your lottery pick those long years ago?" He leaned back to eye his companion's grimace.

"I took no chance pick of another for the sake of renting her for the night. That I could do across the street for several coins and a bad case of drip."

"Aahhh, and so you are an expert on the festival, I can see. Never having participated or bothered to learn any details about it. Careful, Marius. You could be a ruling Prefect."

"And how did your pick go, Valentinius. Was it an eventful night? What will Jesus have to say about your teenaged evening of lust?"

Valentine smiled and looked longingly at the candle leaning precariously on the table. "He will applaud me for being in the company of an angel and accounting myself well. I could not imagine a better year of my life."

"Year? Did this holiday of which you speak seem to last a year?"

Valentine laughed, "Yes, yes, I suppose it did. You see, the pairing ideally lasts the year. Since Roman boys and girls shouldn't intermingle outside the family, it is a young man's first chance to appraise and court the fair beast that is a Roman woman." He poured another cupful. "If you are a good pair, but not rich enough to have arranged marriages, then you can be married after the next festival. If not, then back to the lottery pick. Either way, you've learned to understand or at least appreciate the virtue of romantic love. And that could not be evil to even your cold heart, Father."

"Well-spoken by the lottery contestant who wakes with a marble-hard scepter each morning. Sodomy and drunken advances is all the women report about the day."

"Lust is not confined to men, my friend." Valentine sighed, "Still, boys today don't care for love like they did when we were young. Most have had eight or nine whores by the time they begin Lupercalia. Of course they would then see women as expensive robes to be worn and tossed away. It is true of the whole of the Empire, I'm afraid."

Marius gazed into Valentine's averted eyes. He couldn't understand his new friend, but he could tell when a piece of the story was missing. "What happened to your year-long love, then? Were you married the next winter?"

Valentine pulled himself up in his chair uncomfortably. "No, no. By some vengeful Fate or another, it was not meant to be. But, it was my only Festival of Juno pick, and I can find nothing save the ending to besmirch the experience."

"Tsk, tsk, Father. You must forgive my fascination, but I can't let you leave the story untold. Did she turn out not to be all you had hoped? Or did she choose a man who took less time than a year to propose?" Marius tried to smile good naturedly.

"I would only add that my Julia knew my intentions the moment our eyes met, friend. And she reciprocated my love. But in the end, I was poor enough to keep the lottery choice. And she was not."

"She was given away?"

Valentine nodded. "Her parents found her a nobleman of wonderful breeding and rising fame. Our last walk together ended when we found his procession pulling up to her home to announce the pairing. Her parents hadn't the decency to tell her, and she was literally ripped from my arms hysterical. I sank down and wept as I watched her carried away. I'm not sure I've stood up since." He blinked his eyes at the dying light and sighed again.

"Who was this famous thief? Have you seen her in all these years?"

"No, never. It would not have ended well to tempt myself or her in such a way. And the thief was a calvary captain named Aureolus." He paused, his eyes meeting his astonished companion's.

"No!!! Not Commander Aureolus!?!?" Marius stood to search for another candle and bottle of wine, his shocked voice now raised in the room. "But he was tortured and butchered last year, after the rebellion against Emperor Gallienus. She has been widowed now for all this time, you must have sought her out since then? Is the love of your life too disgraced now for a lowly Pantheon priest?"

Valentine raised his chin and held back his disappointment with the cleric. "No, after the mourning month, I did endeavor to find her. For months I looked, but there was no trace, and no one would aid me. I even went to Gallienus' successor, Claudius Gothicus, who was most interested in my story. But alas, she has vanished."

Marius stood before his friend aghast. He could barely believe the story unfolding, but never doubted this most sincere of men. "How is it that you could entertain the Great Emperor Tyrant? You, my friend, are more valuable than all the Vestal Virgin's weight in gold. And even more intriguing."

Valentine forced a weak smile. "I helped him once and he was gracious enough to send men to help me in my plea."

"That's the only time I've heard gracious used along with the Consul's name. No one is safe from his filthy longings and warrior mentality. You are wise to be a quiet Christian I gather now. Or foolish to count him as an acquaintance. He wouldn't know whether to sodomize you or stick you with a spit. No pun of course."

Valentine shook his head, "You are unfair, friend. Claudius banned executions of our people months ago. He is no saint, but he has done more for us than any Consul in thirty years. Or three hundred."

Marius plopped back down, fixing the new light to the pottery. "You are confusing execution with persecution, Valentinius, of which we still have our fair share. And rumor has it that Claudius the Tyrant is in need of recruits to fill his legions against the Goths. He will ban new marriages to keep young men from having ties to keep them home, mark my word. Or worse, conscript all the Christians."

Valentine looked at his friend and shook his head again. "Never, my friend. Marriage is sacred even to the pagan leaders. Marriage produces believers and martyrs of all faiths, and more than that, it is elemental. It is the single reason I entered your brotherhood, Father. I can't imagine a Rome without weddings."

"I hope you are right, brother. But if not you'd better become handy with a sword and lance."

* * * * * * * *

The simple ceremony was nearly complete when Valentine concluded that Claudia was not all that virginal. As the young couple held hands and repeated their vows, she stole looks at Decius that were anything but innocent. Indeed, it was he who trembled and stumbled on his words, the priest noted suppressing a smile.

As they finished their prayers, the couple rose from the dirt floor and without bothering to dust themselves off, fell upon the priest with lavish hugs and words of praise. Laughing with them, Valentine insisted on feeding them and pouring the wine. The newlyweds politely declined, looking furtively at each other while backing away toward the spare room. But the priest insisted and soon all three sat drinking and sharing stories, much to the obvious dismay of the lady Claudia.

Then it is true what the Roman gods proclaim, thought Valentine, maybe women enjoy the act of love the strongest. As he thought back over the past several months, it did seem that the muffled groans and climactic swell from the now infamous spare room usually had a more feminine quality to it. However, he had always thought, as he listened from the next room, that it was more out of courtesy to the new husband than anything else.

As he stood up to indicate that the lovers could finally steal away to their chamber, a sharp knock came at the basement door. Turning to the surprised couple and waving them into their room, he turned with a bit of a scowl. Where would he sleep now with a second couple coming in at this time of night?

* * * * *

Still mourning his lost Julia, Valentine threw himself into the study of myths, history, and the goddess matron, Juno. Only months after Valentinius had accepted the prestigious position of assistant priest to the royal family, a civil war broke out when General Aureolus rebelled against Emperor Gallienus. Having only met Gallienus in person twice, Valentine was very surprised when he was called out to the royal tent along the front line of the Loyalist legions.

When he was escorted into the tent, he saw the Priest of Jove standing over the fallen leader. Gallienus was beyond speaking and appeared to have a mortal wound in the trunk and neck. As he came near, he was told that Gallienus had been murdered by treasonous guards and that a letter must go out at once to his successor to continue the fight. When Valentine paused, a parchment closed with the royal seal was place into his hand.

"You will do this for Rome, young priest. General Claudius is the only one who may open that letter and he is flanking Aureolus as we speak. You must get this to him immediately. Only a priest can carry the seal of the Emperor through contested land. Long live Rome!"

Valentine was escorted as far toward the line of skirmishers as the Praetorian Guard dared to be seen with him. As he marched across bloody fields, he kept the letter under his shirt, walking this way and that to give solace to dying men. Nearly a day later, he miraculously walked through a thicket and into a sentry patrol of Claudius' army. They begrudgingly carried him to the captain's tent, but when he produced the sealed parchment, he was born swiftly to the tent of Claudius.

Thrust into the Commander's tent, Valentine saw a truly queer sight. Claudius sat posed on a high chair with skins anointing his spectacular armor. In the foreground were captains arguing over a model made of the local landscape with tiny figurines representing combatant forces. In the tent were two aides not three feet high, two women barely clad carrying food to and fro, and a black monkey nearly the size of a man chewing on leaves and eyeing his keepers.

Valentine was rendered speechless by the display and simply handed the envelope to the General when asked to state his business. Claudius tore the seal open and read the note for a brief moment before a wry smile crept over his face. He slapped a nearby officer and bid him to hold the letter for presentation to the Senate and lept from his chair. He towered over all the others in the post, except for the young Valentine. As the two men stood face to face, Claudius finally shook the priest by the shoulders and pronounced him his good luck charm. Word spread quickly through the camp as shouts of delight rung round the new Emperor's tent.

Until the last rebel was beheaded or burned and Claudius rode victorius into Rome, Valentinius accompanied Claudius' menagerie as the newly appointed Priest of Juno. And though his head swam with the bloodletting and cruelty of it all, Valentine was satisfied that he had accounted himself well: seeing to the welfare of civilians, arranging burials, and attending to the injured masses. But when the battles were over and Valentine was forgotten by his new Emperor, he realized that deep down, he had simply wanted to witness the capture of his rival Aureolus. Perhaps it is best, thought the torn priest, that Aureolus was killed by Claudius before I arrived on the field.

* * * * *

Father Valentine opened the heavy basement door just enough to let the light fall upon the opening. As he stepped in front to look for the next pair of lovers, the door suddenly flew inward catching him in the mouth and cheek, sending him reeling back into the table and onto the floor. The pain stunned him and he just had time to look up to see Roman Praetorian Guards entering the door.

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