19 June 20XX +1
My Dear Lucilius,
Young Xerxes came by this afternoon. An expedition is being mounted and they are looking for volunteers.
He was vague about the overall concept except that someone has apparently located The Locusts and now has them under observation. They are close, much closer than anyone would like, to the northernmost town of our small association in the Garnet Valley. Better to strike them now, the thought runs, than to wait until they move again – as they only have one way to go at this point, and we lie directly in that path.
A time of our choosing instead of theirs, as it were.
For us, here, it would be a hike of about 30 miles one way – add another 20 miles at the outside for the town beyond ours. Apparently someone has offered up some store of gasoline to at least get the volunteers there.
I am assuming he knows more – loose lips and all that – but he had two questions for me. The first, of course, is would I consider volunteering. Of course, I responded – although I am not quite sure what value I might add, I can at least shoot straight, be a backup, and (at my age) may be less of a loss than someone younger.
The second was if I would stand for him at his marriage. Which is now happening tomorrow – or so he proposed; he was going back to Statiera’s house to talk to her again and would I be willing to come with him?
As if somehow my presence would make everything easier.
I went, of course – I owe Young Xerxes more than that at this point. The relative bustle in the town as we walked suggested I was not the only one to that had a request of me; there was a steady stream of people entering and leaving the old post office as we walked by. Young Xerxes did not say much as we walked; he just looked sad and grim all at once.
Arriving at Statiera’s and Pompeia Paulina’s, we found the same sort of bustle. Statiera hugged Young Xerxes as soon as he walked in, then started crying, then starting telling him something about not going, then started crying again.
Pompeia Paulina and I discretely stepped outside.
It is the best sort of early evening here, the sort of evening that even a year ago I would have rejoiced in and perhaps even grilled some sort of meat. The sun cast its rays up and down the Garnet Valley and sky was the sort of cerulean blue one only seems to imagine that one can find in one’s imagination. We sat there for a while in the yard, trying very hard not to listen to what might or might not be going on in the house.
“Did Young Xerxes talk to you?” Pompeia Paulina finally asked.
“He did”. I studiously looked up at the mountains, the sky, viewing anything but who was next to me.
More silence as the birds chased insects along the grass line. “Are you going?”
“I expect that I am”. For such short sentences, this made for a very uncomfortable conversation.
“I don’t suppose I can talk you out of it.”
I shook my head. “It makes logical sense. Worst case is that I take the place of someone younger and stronger that has a life left to live. I would not be the biggest loss, although….” I sat and thought on something that had been in my mind for some time, but crystallized as Young Xerxes and I were walking over.
“Look” I said, turning to face her. “With me going off and
all, it does worry me a bit that in the event...something happens,
the rabbits and quail and bees are going to be on their own. This is
going to sound a bit awkward – indeed, very awkward – but would
you consider...marrying me?”
I rushed to fill the silence. “Merely a matter of legal convenience of course. If I...do not make it back, I would at least rest easier knowing everything was settled. And what I have there should go to you and Statiera – you have been very good to me the last few months and...well...it has meant a lot.”
There, it was out.
The wonderful thing about being solitary and old, Lucilius, is that you can simply do things like this and if they go awry, you can merely blame it on being “mad as a March hare”. For better or worse, this was off my chest. If she said no, at least I had tried and I would write a will saying the same thing (although who administers such things these days is a question).
I was ready for a laugh, a sharp denial, even a shaking of the head. What I was not ready for was her taking my hand, looking at me, and saying “Yes”.
Truly, that was unexpected.
So apparently I am getting married tomorrow in what is now a dual ceremony. I assured Pompeia Paulina that my real intent was nothing but trying to care of the animals under my care and make sure that my things were put to the best use.
Really. Just a convenience and tying up the loose ends of my life.
I have almost convinced myself that I believe that. Judging from her reaction, there apparently is a great deal more under the surface than I am aware of.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca