“Well, go ahead, then! Tell me about this Claressa. Was she the one you married while I was away on my campaign in Gaul?”
“She’s the one.”
Herod reached once more for the goblet. “And, as I remember, you were divorced by the time I’d returned.” He took another sip. “I never did find out what happened. You weren’t too keen on talking about it at the time, as I recall.”
“Well it’s been quite some time now. I had espoused my belief in non-conformity, but was not yet bold in proclaiming it. Then I met her. I first saw her at the marketplace. Her strange beauty and air of aloofness caught my attention immediately. She had just finished her shopping and was loaded down with packages. I offered to relieve her of her burden by carrying them to her carriage. She informed me that she had no carriage, but had walked thus far, and could, as well, walk back. But I could see that she was tired, and, after some pointed persuasion on my part, she gave in and allowed me to drive her home. There was something strange about her. Somehow her manner and bearing bespoke one of noble Roman birth, although her dress was not exactly the latest style, and it seemed a bit odd that she should be without conveyance. She first remarked of the strangeness of my appearance and that of my chariot, but I wanted to turn the conversation back to her. ‘And you are dressed rather strangely for a person of nobility.’ She started. “‘You are from a noble Roman family, aren’t you?’ I ventured.
“‘Why, yes. Actually, I’m a senator’s daughter. But, however could you tell?’
“‘Oh, there’s just something about you. I’m from a royal family myself. Royalty and nobility are closely aligned and should be able to recognize one another. But why would you be without a carriage? And why are you dressed in this way?’
“My heart suspected– yes, hoped for– the answer, and I was glad when it came. ‘I voluntarily gave up some of the luxuries of the empty noble life. You might call me a non-conformist.’
“My ears perked up and my heart began to pound. ‘A nonconformist! How interesting! How interesting, indeed! For I myself do aspire to the same. Thus, my strange appearance and that of my chariot. I still find it necessary to have a carriage, but I figure it might as well be as different as possible.’
“‘Well, it certainly is that,’ she agreed. Then her eyes lit up as she said: ‘I hold to the principal of non-conformity with all my heart, although I’m not as bold as I should be at times in standing for it.’
“‘One does need boldness,’ I ventured, ‘especially in times like these.’
“My heart was gladdened that I’d finally found someone to share my persuasion – and someone so sweet and nice as she. I went to the market place every Wednesday, when she did her weekly shopping, and offered to drive her home. She readily accepted, and we soon got to know each other quite well, or so it seemed, through our conversations on those trips. Then, I asked her out for dinner a few times, and before I knew it, we were getting serious. She told me she had given up years ago on trying to find someone to share her nonconformist views. And now, here I was.
“Within a year, we were married. Claressa, aside from being the joy of my life, was a great help to me. It was she who taught me how to really stand up to people and tell them what I thought. Oh, she did the standing up herself for a while, but I soon caught on, and though I floundered a little at first, with her at my side, improvement came quickly and easily.
“We had a great life together, Claressa and I, for a brief span of two years. Then, I don’t know exactly what happened, but somehow, the relationship began to deteriorate. I guess our respective individual traits kept coming through more and more, and we began getting on each other’s nerves. I guess we should have realized it would never have lasted with two people who were so strongly individualistic. Nothing I did would please her, and the declining state of my finances didn’t help either. Finally, after another half year of miserably attempted togetherness, we were divorced.”
“That’s sure sad, Manaheem,” said Herod, staring into the now empty glass.
“Yes it is. But one good thing came out of it. She taught me to stand on my own, and I’ve stood ever since. I never found anyone else like her, and I know I never will.”
“It’s a very touching story, Manaheem. Are you sure you won’t have some wine?”
“Well, perhaps one glass would help. I’m glad you appreciate my story, Herod. I doubted that you would.”
Herod rang again for Linus. “And why should I not appreciate a touching love story like that?”
“Why, because of the element of non-conformity.”
“Oh, that? I paid it no attention.”
“But that was the whole point. I am a non-conformist, made a little stronger in my non-conformity by dear Claressa. You, dear Herod, are a strict conformist, just like our father. Sometimes, to think about it makes me sick
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