*Attn Previous Chapter One Readers: Chapter one was updated 3/11/04, if you have not read the updated passage you may be lost.*

Chapter 2: Rome circa 89 BC

The day Sextus Valerius set off towards the East, his only daughter watched him go. The setting sun faded behind him as he marched the beginnings of the well-worn route called the Silk Road.

His daughter, Valeria, observed him and his party move swiftly along the hills toward the trade route. She couldn't remember how many times she saw him trek off into the Orient for silk, spices, and incense. But he always looked the same - and it is as such she remembered him now.

She closed her eyes and imagined him in his weather-beaten palla, its blood red wool fabric draped regally over his broad shoulders, his pressed toga, gleaming almost as white a starched Senate candidate's. She remembered his unkempt blonde head of hair that never failed to look a bit unfashionably long, but still juvenilely thick despite his middle-age. Everyone said he looked more like a Julius, the Caesar gens, with his full head of golden hair.

Everyone remarked how alike Valeria looked like her mother, a Marcia Porcia, with the ancestors' flaming red hair. Valeria liked to think her own locks were of half-Porcia legendary red, and a more sedate brown, perhaps culminating to create a more russet tone. Her brother, the elder Lucius Valerius, teased her mercilessly when they were young, to the effect that she was now called affectionately by her peers "Bloody Marcia". He even went so far as to claim she was not descended from Valerius stock, but from one with a Glaucia cognomen, as she possessed bright gray-green eyes.

Of course she never took such teasing lying down, she had merely retorted that his own lineage was of Greek slave, for his hair was raven black and he had muddy brown eyes. He would laugh at such a joke, and point to his properly bumpy Roman nose, and mention her equine-straight appendage.

They both knew such fooling was jest, and never went so far as to make people believe their claims. Any who looked upon the two Valerius children knew where they inherited their characteristics from - Lucius received his raven hair from his mother's uncle Marcus Livius, and Valeria had inherited her gray-green eyes as a combination of her father's shadowy blue orbs and her mother's olive green ones.

Young Lucius Valerius and even younger Valeria had to be told of such characteristics of their mother by their father, as she had passed during childbirth, giving life to Valeria.

That is, they were told by their father everyday until he did not return home from his latest trip to the East.

Valeria recalled the day when she heard the news well.

It had been a placid summer afternoon; the scorching sun beat down upon the family's brick home, creating a stifling indoor atmosphere. Valeria fanned herself with a flopping hand, waiting for her father to return. It had been three months since his expedition into the interior, and he vowed to only trade on the outskirts in order to be home in time for her sixteenth birthday.

She heard the footsteps of a solitary traveler outside the door. With excitement, she leapt up to rush to the noise, expecting her father's crinkled smile to be directed at her.

As she arrived at the door, she made out a dipping black head; squinting even further she discerned the navy blue cloak that enveloped the sole passerby. A bumpy Roman nose came into view. Valeria finally recognized her brother Lucius, who had been at sea for six months. She never knew when he would return home, as the life of an ocean merchant depended upon the sea and how willing it was to propel them anywhere. She was pleased, nonetheless, and rushed out, in a very unladylike way, to jump upon her returning brother.

"Greetings, Lucius! Made it home at last, I see." She stood upon the tips of her toes to peck him on the cheek.

A dour expression remained on his face. His naturally vibrant and cheerful personality ceased to be seen as he looked listlessly forward. No words of hailing or happiness were exchanged. This was when Valeria knew - she just knew - something was very wrong. As his hulking frame crumpled over, and he sobbed violently, Valeria knew her world had forever changed - she felt as if her soul fluttered above her own physical body, as she saw the husk of herself stare stoically forward, watching the strongest of her family fall.

* * *

It had been six months since.

She had learned later that Lucius discovered of their father's disappearance around the Italian coast. He had been returning from a trip to Ostia, collecting grain for the Senate. Hailed by a messenger he had stopped, and been told of Sextus Valerius' lost expedition. No word had been heard from the entire party, and the outcome of this lack of communication was predicted to be terrible. They would forever be lost in the barbaric steppes of Asian territory.

But there was still hope.

It was to this hope that Valeria clung to covetously. She delicately planned what her next step should be: search for her missing father alone or nurse the stricken Lucius until he could join her?

For, Lucius continued to sulk, refusing to move from the family home to command the next ship to Alexandria. He had not moved but from his chambers to the dinner table. He lived like a hermit, indoors so long that his tanned skin had faded to a sickening pallor, and his thoughts so private and intentions so depressed, he only sat straight at his chair and never uttered a single syllable.

It was now at the dinner table that Valeria thought sadly at how her brother used to be, laughing compulsively and jesting lightly. He was now reduced to a crabby mute.

Even though determined, Valeria saw what difficulty it would be to transform her brother in to his former self and soon.

A little push might help though. "I heard that King Mithridates had constructed a ship so large it could carry 10,000 modii of grain!" A good query to gamble with, as Lucius favorite subject was the sea merchant trade.

She heard a favorable sniff at her question. "Or was it 100,000 modii? Hm, I forgot which I was told."

An audible exhale of breath could be heard, for Lucius was desperate to respond. She saw how he struggled not to reply. But the topic of conversation was too alluring, even for one so content at being taciturn. "Why, everyone knows that the largest ship can only carry 50,000 modii of grain." At this burst of speech, Lucius covered his mouth, but also cleared his throat at the familiar and welcome sensation.

Valeria would come to regret her previously tempting subject. Lucius continued to rant, "But those sizes of ship are few and far between. My own ship, the 'Artemis' can haul 10,000 modii, being that it's on the smaller side of hull volume. Now that may not be much, but she sails like a dream, very maneuverable and swift. Why, just the other day, I took her about to the Ostian port -" Here he paused, for 'just the other day' was six months ago.

"It's quite fine, Lucius." Valeria patted him on the back. "I know it's hard to think about then. I pray to the Gods every night that father is alright and will return home soon. It is one thing to pray about it, but it is entirely another to take action."

Lucius looked up, his eyebrows furrowed, for he knew what she was about to say. "Please sister, enough. I wish that father was still here, but we have to confront the fact that, more than likely, he is not going to return."

Angrily, Valeria pouted at her brother's cowardice. "Is it better to have him wander the Earth as a shade? Is it far nobler to confront the fact that he may be rotting in some heathen land, while his offspring do not lift one finger? Lucius, he needs a proper Roman burial, with funerary masks of his ancestors parading him to his resting place. Do you not see it? He deserves more than your soggy contentment!"

Her brother shook his head, his burdened shoulders sadly sagging. "There is nothing I can do. What if he is alive? Or what if he is rotting, eaten by carrion birds? What can I achieve? Roam foreign lands with my solid sea-legs? I am no courageous explorer, bound for paths into the wilderness. I am but a lowly seaman."

"You're choosing to hide behind your inadequacies as a land-traveler to make peace with the fact that your father will never reach afterlife. Lucius Valerius, if even the name of Valerius you should have the honor of being called, you are the most spineless son any Roman could have! You disown your father, and you shame your family!"

Lucius slumped even further into his chair at the table. "No, Valeria. I am just realistic."

Valeria, poison daggers shooting from her eyes, responded with anger. "If that is what you resign yourself to be, than so be it. I shall honor the Valerius name - alone!"

Later, as the Valerius household settled into slumber, Valeria made up her mind. "I must travel alone to the East. I must rescue father, or bury him properly. I must either pursue his captors or exact revenge on his murderers. I must, I must, I must." So many goals floated around her groggy mind as she waited for pitch-black night to creep over Rome. The last thought in her head before she drifted to sleep was, "I hope I was not terribly hard on Lucius. It was for his own good."

Valeria startled awake, she had been dreaming. She shook the weariness out of her head. She couldn't quite remember what her dream had been about, only that she must fulfill it. A burning desire to reach an unknown objective filled her chest until she was afraid she might burst.

She crept out of bed, only to gather the necessities of a hard trek. Her clothes, togas with an extra stolla to keep warm; a flagon of water, a hard lump of bread, and a dagger were all neatly tucked away in a bundle which she tied to the family's mule.

The trip began as the sun started to rise in the East, and Valeria followed the glowing sphere as a marker to her destination. The old mule trotted along, jiggling Valeria at a staunch pace. Disguised as a man, in order to keep trouble away, the Roman helmet sitting upon Valeria's head, bundling in her red hair, began to bobble as well and was precariously about to fall off her small head. She held it firmly on with a dainty hand that if any bandit saw was sure to unravel her disguise. Otherwise, Valeria looked every inch the Roman soldier, with a leather breast plate and bronze shin- guards. Not one would suspect her to be a woman, only a small-framed scout.

So, Valeria rode on towards the Eastern sky. As she followed the Silk Road gravely, the image of her father reverberated in her head - his golden hair, crinkling dark blue eyes, broad shoulders - - -