Claudius

A story a day until there’s a sleigh! This holiday season, I’m sharing a new flash fiction piece inspired by a holiday song every day of December until Christmas. Today’s story is inspired by Christmas Valentine and accounts of St. Valentine’s martyrdom.

“Please, drink,” Claudius said pushing the silver goblet toward Valentine. He watched as the prisoner clasped the goblet with both hands his wrists bound together with rope woven from papyrus stems.

Valentine didn’t break eye contact with Claudius as he sipped–Claudius expected the prisoner thought he would be poisoned and wanted to look the him in the eye as he died. But Claudius hadn’t ordered his personal poisoner to infuse the wine with a tincture of deadly herbs.

“Why do you insist on marrying Christians against my decree?” Claudius asked.

Valentine set down his goblet on the stone table. “Love sanctified by Christ is stronger than the will of any man.”

Claudius slid closer to Valentine along the stone bench and whispered in his ear, “You consider me just a man.”

Valentine turned toward him, his lips a breath away, his face a picture of serenity. “You are but an earthly leader, and my salvation lies with Jesus Christ, the true Lord.”

The thwap of Claudius’s fist against Valentine’s cheek echoed off the walls of the triclinium. The prisoner slumped over the table knocking over the wine goblet sending its contents flowing across the stone surface. A servant rushed over to clean up the mess, but Claudius waved him back.

“Out! All of you,” he ordered. The servants and the guards retreated to the atrium.

Claudius pushed Valentine up from the table and grabbed the rope tied around his wrists and twisted it. Valentine winced in pain but didn’t cry out.

“I am your emperor, and you shall kneel before me,” Claudius said, attempting to pull Valentine to the ground in front of him, but the prisoner, blood rushing from his busted lip, resisted.

“I will not kneel before you. I will kneel with you when you repent and pray to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Claudius threw another punch across Valentine’s face. He’d honed his arms for combat over decades of military campaigns. The Goths taken prisoner had quaked in fear at the sight of him, but Valentine remained steadfast.

“You know how this ends, right?” Claudius asked. “You either recant your faith, or I recant your head.” Claudius tugged at Valentine’s ropes and pulled him close. “If you choose to give up your God, you will be well rewarded in my palace.”

“Why would I trade my heavenly kingdom for an earthly one when the rewards above are far greater?”

Claudius rewarded Valentine’s question with a swift kick to the groin, which made his prisoner howl.

“Have it your way,” Claudius said and snapped his fingers.

The guards returned, seven of them, and surrounded Valentine who’d sunk down to the floor in pain.

Claudius pulled Valentine up by the front of his frock and ran his hand along the prisoners neck commanding the guards to carry out the sentence.

“In the atrium. Where I can hear the blows,” Claudius said and then sat back down at the table to finish his wine.

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