The Trident

The Trident The Trident

Status: Finished

Genre: Historical Fiction

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary

Love, sex and death in ancient Rome.

Summary

Love, sex and death in ancient Rome.

Chapter1 (v.1) - The Trident

Author Chapter Note

Love, sex and death in ancient Rome.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: May 31, 2010

Reads: 1857

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: May 31, 2010

A A A

A A A

The Trident

by ©


(Age of Decadence)

Lies and deceit leading on,
the maelstrom swirls us back.
We return to where we began.

PROLOGUE:

Mucia Faustina was seated on the third level of the amphitheater, the maenianum summum, the section allocated to women. On the roof above her the poor, the pullati, stood to watch the games. Fortunately she was in the first row of seats above the balteus, one of the steep walls that separated the three levels of Rome's Flavian amphitheater, giving her a clear view of the oval arena without having to look over someone's shoulder. Though she would have preferred to be on the podium just above the arena where she could see all the action up close. But, then, she couldn't complain. The late emperor Nero, it is said, even in his privileged box, had been forced to use a cut emerald to see all the action having had poor vision.

And she certainly couldn't complain about the weather. A balmy breeze kept down the stench of animals that had been slaughtered by the bestiarii during the morning hunt. And banks of white, fluffy clouds cut down the heat and glare of the sun. It had been such a pleasant a day so far that there had not been any need to unfurl the velarium to provide shade for the spectators.

Soon the noxii, prisoners and other antisocial types, would be brought out for the noon executions. Normally this was when many people would take a break for meals or to relieve themselves, but not today, for today the amphitheater was jam-packed. Over 50,000 people took up all the seats while another 25,000 stood shoulder to shoulder in the passageways that encircled the three levels above the arena. No one wanted to leave and take a chance of not being able to get back in, for Rome's greatest living gladiator, Thanatos, a retiarius, was scheduled to fight two secutors that afternoon on the Bridge of Death.

A canvas tarp hid the bridge sitting in the middle of the arena waiting to be unveiled when Thanatos would make his grand entrance later that afternoon. Mucia Faustina squirmed on her wooden seat in anticipation. Thanatos was her idol. Many nights she had lain awake feverish with sexual excitement as she recalled his hard, young body and handsome face. All the women were hot for Thanatos. On all the walls were graffiti extolling his sexual magnetism by female and male fans: "Oh, Thanatos, sheath your mighty dagger in me." . . . "One night with me, Thanatos, and you'll never desire another.". . . "You are the heartthrob of all women, Thanatos."

Mucia felt the excitement rise in her as the trumpets blared and the first noxii were escorted into the arena by men armed with spears and whips. Mucia glanced at her program of events purchased from a hawker for a quadrans. These were Christians who would not declare Domitian their God. They always held themselves up as being better than others. Mucia had no sympathy for people disloyal to Rome. Especially Christians who everyone knew conducted lewd orgies, engaged in incest and practiced cannibalism as part of their obscene rituals.

Whatever punishment they received in the arena they deserved.

Mucia felt her heart race as a nude woman was shoved onto her knees into a circle of muscular men wearing only loin cloths and armed with whips. As she rose up one of the men lashed her naked flesh; even as high up as she was Mucia could hear the woman's scream and the crack of the whip. All around her spectators shouted their encouragements.

"Give it to her!" "Rip her!" "Make the blood flow!"

Catching the fever, Mucia rose to her feet shouting her own imperatives with clenched fists raised above her head. When she sat down the woman next to her placed a hand on her thigh. Mucia glanced at her and saw the events of the moment distorting her face with raw lust. Her hand, smooth and warm, trembling, moved up under Mucia's stola and up the inside of her thigh. Mucia gasped as she felt the tip of the woman's fingers touch the shaved surface of her cunt.

Below the screams of the noxii rose to the highest levels of the maenianum. When the naked woman had been reduced to a bloody pulp two men dressed as ancient demons rushed out with red hot irons which they placed against her flesh. She made a feeble motion indicating that she was still alive. Seeing that, one of the men slit her throat with a dagger, then they dragged her off toward the Portal of Death by poles fixed with sharp hooks in her heels. Other noxii were impaled on spears and forced to crawl around until they bled to death while the crowd roared with laughter at their frantic struggles.

Mucia watched the blood flow, the screams of the dying feeding her libido. The woman's fingers were working in her. The seat became wet beneath her, then a delicious delirium engulfed her as the woman clutched her tit and forced a wet tongue in her mouth.

Chapter I

"One thing I know, and it's this: all the works of mortal hand lie under sentence of mortality: we live among things doomed." -- Seneca

Loud claps of thunder followed brilliant tributaries of lightning on a rainy night as two youths in their mid teens walked down the Vicus Farbricii to where it terminated in the Via Sacra. Flashes of lightning revealed the gilded statue of the late emperor Nero looming one hundred and twenty feet high and the Flavian amphitheater to the right.

Moving beyond they entered a cluttered section of Rome called Subura located between the Viminal and Esquiline hills. The buildings here bordered a dreary warren of narrow winding streets and alleys as dark as the roiling clouds overhead. Fortunately the heavy rain would soon wash all the foul-smelling offal thrown from windows into the streets down drains to empty eventually into the Tiber.

The two youths moved warily now, for it was dangerous to walk the streets of Subura at night due to roving gangs of robbers and murderers who preyed on the hapless. They carried stout sticks for protection and for light lanterns, but there were no street signs or house numbers to guide them.

"Now tell me again, my dear friend, why we are risking our asses to be here."

From underneath the dripping wool hood of his cloak Gaius Antonius Saturninus turned his head and grinned with smooth, gleaming teeth at his hawk-faced companion, Lucius Horatius Calvus.

"You've seen my stepmother, amicus; isn't that enough reason?"

Lucius raised a judicious eyebrow. "Perhaps, but I think you're headed for a world of trouble.

"No doubt, but I've got to have her. She's like a goddess, so beautiful.

"What about your father?"

"As you know, all he delights in is governing Judea. Besides, I've asked Venus to give me a sign if what I wanted was wrong; I've received nothing."

"That's because the void does not speak to us, Gaius."

"Humph, I detect Epicurus, or one of those, speaking through you. If the gods are indifferent, then what does it matter what we do?"

Lucius grinned, water dripping from the tip of his nose. "That's a conundrum I'll have to bring up with my instructor and get back to you. But he did say once, I believe, that a stiff dick lends itself to a perverse youth."

"And was he speaking from experience?"

After a few minutes they came to a fork and paused.

"Are you sure you know where the fuck we are?" Lucius asked.

Gaius stroked his chin. "Hmm, I think we go to the right."

They walked on for several more minutes, hunched against the wind and rain, before coming to an intersection. On a corner diagonal to them was a tavern emitting a dim, amber glow from an open doorway sheltered by an extended arch with embedded Corinthian columns on either side.

They paused for a heavy gush of wind to pass, then stepped from the raised gravel-surfaced sidewalk down into the calf-deep rushing water of the cobblestone street. Refuse swept past them; a human fetus was revealed monetarily in the light of their lanterns. Certainly no petcocks would have to be opened to clean the streets for several days hereafter.

They hurried into the tavern lowering their hoods and shaking water from their cloaks. The sour smell of stale urine and vomit permeated the air. A bronze cock with a grinning human head hung from the ceiling with several lamps dangling on chains. Two men were playing dice at a small table, clay cups of wine at their elbows. Although gambling was illegal except on the Saturnalia or for athletic events the prohibition was rarely enforced. An older woman and a younger woman, both heavily made up, sat at another table next to a counter where a burly man, with a brutish, sly face, reclined in a chair, arms folded across his chest. His eyes followed them as they took their seats at a table near the doorway.

The older woman gave the younger one a nod, and she rose and came over. She may have been pretty, for she had a well shaped oval face, but too much makeup made it hard to tell what lay beneath. Her eyebrows had been plucked and dark, artificial ones painted on with exaggerated arches like the wings of a raven taking flight. Her eyelids were rubbed to a dark brown and her lips and cheeks reddened with lees of wine, or perhaps blood.

She looked over the two youths, a hand on hip. One had curly, black hair over a hooked nose, angular face and close set brown eyes like a raptor. He would be the scholarly one, no doubt, but the other youth was much more to her liking. Handsome beyond belief. The face of a Greek god. Blond with piercing blue eyes that chilled her in exciting ways. Adonis. Adonis. Oh, to be his Aphrodite. His wool cloak hid the shape of his body, but the broad, sloping shoulders and the muscular neck hinted at a body to die for.

"What can I do for you?" she asked, focusing on her Adonis. She slid her hand down the curve of her hip slowly, seductively.

Gaius gave her a narrow stare. "We need to see Bagus."

"Anything else you want?"

"Maybe."

"Hmm, I'll be waiting -- Bagus," she called over her shoulder, then with swaying hips went back to her table.

"Gods be damned," Lucius murmured. "Has there ever been a woman you couldn't have?"

Gaius chuckled. "My stepmother."

"I bleed for you."

The burly man got up slowly and came over to them.

"You wanted to see me?" His voice was gravelly. A jagged red scar circled his throat. He had the unmistakable military bearing of a former soldier that never rubs off after twenty years of mandatory service. He stood with both feet firmly planted on the tile floor, weight evenly distributed, hands down by his side, a defensive stance that he'd probably assumed many times in combat, and which had become by now unthinking second nature.

"We want to see Merlo," Gaius said.

"What makes you think I know anyone by that name?"

"A friend of mine got knocked up. She needed a remedy. She told me you could put me in touch with him."

Bagus sized them up for a moment then pulled a chair over and sat down. Two rich kids dressed like commoners in coarse woolens.

"Okay, but keep your voices down." He glanced over his shoulder toward the two customers playing dice, but deep in their cups they were too engrossed in their game to pay them any attention. Slowly he rubbed the back of his neck with a beefy calloused hand.

"I might be able to help you, but it will be expensive. This man Merlo is reclusive; a mystic from the Lake Fucinus region, who worships Angitia, the Marsi's goddess of healing, especially snake bites --"

"Witches, warlocks, necromancers," Lucius murmured.

"Yes, many are, but they know more of the legitimate healing art than all the doctors and herbalists in Rome."

"Can you take us to him?" Gaius asked.

"Tonight?"

Gaius nodded.

"For a price." He glanced toward the arched doorway, where rain splattered loudly against the concrete walls, as if to say the price would be higher on such a night."

"Twenty-eight sestertii," Gaius offered. "A week's salary."

"Fifty," Bagus countered. "That's nothing to one of your class. Besides, I risk a lot if we're caught; it is death to consort with a necromancer."

Gaius, shrugged, "Not much chance of that. Thirty-five."

Bagus nodded reluctantly, then excused himself, returning in a few minutes wearing a hooded cloak and carrying a lantern. Gaius noticed a sword hanging from a baldric. Only the frumetarii, the secret police, and the emperor's praetorian guard were allowed to carry a sword within the pomerium, the sacred boundary of Rome.

"Come on, gentlemen. We've got a long, wet walk ahead of us," Bagus said, pulling his hood up and stepping outside.

"Take care, Lucius," Gaius whispered. "I'm betting he knows how to use that sword. Don't let him get behind you."

As Gaius started to follow Lucius out a voice stopped him.

The younger woman.

"You are coming back, aren't you?" She stepped up to him and placing a hand on his upper arm felt an impressive bulge of hardness.

"Do you doubt it, my Princess?"

"You won't regret it. I'll do anything you ask."

She reached down between his legs and squeezed another impressive bulge.

Outside, Bagus turned to Lucius as the rain beat down upon them.

"Your amicus is good with women, isn't he?"

Lucius grinned at the bulldog face. "He can get more pussy in a day than most men will get in a life time."

"If they're all like my daughter I'd say you're right about that."

Before Lucius could reply Gaius lurched out the doorway quickly raising his open mouth to fill with rainwater, then with a disgusted gag spit out a mouthful.

"What the fuck?" Lucius asked.

"That filthy bitch almost made me swallow her rancid tongue."

Y

Bagus led them up Clivus Suburanus, a hill-street that went up into the Esquiline past high walls encircling the villas of the rich. Water rushed past them and down the street cleared now of garbage.

As they reached the top of the hill the villas thinned out to be replaced by lush gardens and nymphaeums, water temples -- marble buildings, set in park complexes, filled with fountains and sculptures open to the public.

Up until the beginning of the empire this area of the Esqiline had been full of deep pits used as the mass burial ground for tens of thousands of slaves and the poor as well as a dumping ground for dead animals and garbage. Under Augustus' reign these dumps and mass graves were ordered filled in and beautified. But the dumping continued beyond the Servian wall.

As they reached the eastern edge of the Esquiline they could see the lanterns of wagoneers waiting at the gate to enter the city and haul out the dead and other refuse to dump 400 hundred feet beyond where a series of black stones marked the legal limits.

Passing by they saw crucified criminals, naked, hanging from crosses, some still alive moaning in agony. Others were impaled on long spikes and sent up loud screams and wails of pain as their bodies slowly descended down the bloody shafts. Beyond them was a dumping ground where the bloated bodies of humans and animals lay mixed together in tangled heaps of garbage. Huge rats, eyes red in the lantern light, brazenly munched on the dead, lurching up inside the bodies which moved as if of their own volition in a danse macabre.

"Damn, the smell," Lucius said.

"Bah, it's nothing compared to the battlefield," Bagus replied.

Members of the cohorts II, the urban police, stood guard; some under a makeshift tent cast dice. Three were holding down a man while another nailed his wrists to a cross beam. They then lifted up the beam with the man hanging from it and placed it on top of a seven foot pole sunk in the ground. Then a cohort nailed his feet to the pole.

"That'll keep him," he said, patting a leg.

Gaius had moved closer to the man hanging from the cross. Blood welled from his wounds and was instantly washed away by the rain.

"What was your crime?"

"Hah," the cohort interjected with a contemptuous grunt, shoving the handle of the hammer under his leather belt. "He's a baby killer, one of those fucking Christians who deny the divinity of the Emperor."

Abruptly from the cross the man spoke in gasps. "My only crime... was... to love the Christus. Please, plunge...a dagger in my heart... end my suffering."

"Hah," the cohort railed, "you haven't begun to suffer yet, asshole; if you have anymore crap to spew out you'd better do it now; in a few hours you won't be able to speak when your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth and your bones start popping from their sockets."

As they walked on, Lucius turned to Gaius. "It's a shame that some people will die needlessly for a myth."

They followed after Bagus on the Via Labicana lined with the towering, ostentatious tombs of the wealthy mingled among those lesser ones of the middle class and the poor.

Along each side of the stone-paved road flashes of lightning revealed in silhouette a vast monument-strewed city of the dead fixed against a purple drapery of clouds.

Turning off the road they made their way through a series of narrow muddy passageways among the tombs. The farther they went the more dilapidated and ancient the tombs became. Stucco had sloughed off many revealing crude brick underneath. Once pristine marble now showed cracks or had fallen away under the crumbling grip of vines. Some had roofs that had caved in centuries before. Others had become rubble, the names of the deceased as long vanished as was their days of glory.

"Here it is," Bagus said, stopping before a ramshackle brick structure.

Gaius peered in the doorway, his lamp revealing what was left of a rectangular room. To his left a stairway led down to an underground chamber and was sheltered from the rain by an overhang of what remained of cross vaulting. Where the roof was open to the sky rain beat down on the broken and overgrown tile floor with a hollow splattering sound.

Moving to the head of the stairs he could see a faint glow at the bottom of what was a columbarium.

Bagus moved next to him.

"Merlo, it's me, Bagus; got a couple of customers for you."

After a moment there was a scuffing sound and a mutter.

"We'll handle it from here," Gaius said.

"Perhaps I ought to stick around," Bagus answered. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"I don't think so."

Bagus' eyes narrowed slightly and moved from Gaius to Lucius and back to Gaius. Gaius saw his fingers tighten on the hilt.

"Ho, if I wanted to kill you two punks nothing would stop me."

"Since you don't you won't mind leaving, will you?" Gaius shuffled some coins out of his purse and laid them in his meaty hand.

Bagus stood motionless for a moment working his tongue against the inside of his cheek, then lower lip. He shrugged finally, and without another word stalked off.

"Phew, I thought we were going to get into it there," Lucius said, after letting out a breath of air. Relaxing, he loosened his grip on his stick.

"We almost did, but I don't think he wanted to engage us by lantern light. I'll go down and see Merlo; you stay up here. Put out your light and wait by the doorway. If he comes back he'll put out his light, too, so be careful. He's an old veteran who probably knows more tricks than a weasel. If he does come back give a whistle and haul ass through the open section of the wall that's crumbled away."

With his lantern before him Gaius made his way down the stone steps. At the bottom was a darkened hall. The smell of incense came from a dimly lighted chamber at the end. Along the walls were rows of dusty, square niches from floor to ceiling containing urns holding the cremated remains of the centuries' dead. Some of the niches held busts of the deceased and underneath each was a small plaque giving names and dates, some with brief testaments.

All was quiet now, the sound of the rain muffled by the thick covering of stone overhead. Someone moved in the chamber, and as Gaius came to the entrance he saw a tall man in a black robe, dark hair pulled back in a knot. The head was narrow with a pointed chin, the nose abnormally long giving his face a feral look.

Several lamps pushed a tarnished light about the vaulted room. Smoke clung in layers. Here urns had been removed from their niches and junked in a corner. In their places were dozens of wire cages. In one something gold and coiled unloosened with a slow gliding motion and stretched its long neck to the top. A forked tongue darted out. Slithering things moved about with faint hissing sounds. Other cages contained mice who made squeaking sounds.

On a crude table at the end of the room were piles of scrolls and books.

The man was barefoot, a gold ring around his toe.

Gaius paused before a niche that contained the bust of a woman that had been spared.

"You have an eye for beauty," Merlo said in a quiet voice. "It is a representation of my goddess, Angitia. Do you seek her help?"

"If she can concoct a potion that will innduce slumber without memory upon awaking, yes."

There was something snake like about the man with his penetrating dark eyes. The tip of his tongue moved for an instant between thin lips, the face as impassive as a marble bust.

He moved to a shelf that contained an assortment of clay and glass bottles. Dozens of dried herbs hung from strings; pieces of bone as well as human skulls filled several shelves. He sorted through several bottles before deciding on a pale green one.

"This is what you need." he said, the thin lips curled into a cunning smile. It contains the juice from the leaves of the Thorn Apple. Three drops will give you the desired result."

A price was mentioned and Gaius placed a silver coin in his palm as cold as mountain snow.

Y

The rain dropped to a drizzle on their way back.

"What would you have done if Bagus had come back?" Lucius asked.

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Yeah, aren't you philosophers always saying don't worry about those things you have no power to alter?"

"Stoics say so." Lucius placed his stick under his armpit and made a fist, with his thumb poked between his first two fingers, and flipped it up and down from the wrist: a silent fuck you.

As they neared the gate they saw a couple of cohorts whipping the Christian to double his pain.

Making their way down the Suburanus a gang of toughs on a corner eyed them passively. Nearing Nero's statue Gaius paused and shown his light on a wall with an advertisement for a gladiatorial troop from the province.

* *

On the Kalends of May
the honorable Valerius Catullus Messallinus
is hosting a dozen gladiatorial combats
featuring the Thracian Sophrus
who has seven kills with no ties or losses.
There will also be plenty of wild beasts hunts
with the most dangerous of animals,
savage Numidian lions, ferocious Asian tigers
and fierce Syrian bulls
pitted against men armed with only swords.
At noon there will be the execution of noxii,
prizes and other entertainment for your amusement.

* *

"Sophrus has quite a reputation for someone who is only seventeen." Gaius said. "They say he started training when he was fifteen, before the legal age, and was so prolific that he had his first fight in only three months."

"A prodigy," Lucius said.

"We'll have to go."

"I doubt my tutor would approve."

"Why? You will see men die without fear; isn't that what your philosophy is all about?"

Before Lucius could respond a blonde-headed urchin darted up to Gaius and grabbed at his purse. Gaius dropped his stick with a curse and jerked the young girl up by her hair. For a moment her face was outlined in the glow of his lantern, then a knife blade flashed, and Gaius doubled over losing his grip on her.

Lucius swung his stick at her, but she rolled under it and disappeared down a dark alley.

"Did she get you, Gaius?"

"Little bitch; she kicked me in the nuts."

"I thought she knifed you."

Gaius felt around, doubled up on the sidewalk.

No, but she got my purse."

Slowly, he stood back up leaning against the wall with one hand, his lantern lying extinguished on the ground.

"She got the potion; hope the little bitch strangles on it."

"Can you walk?"

"Yeah, let's go. Ach!"

"Hurts, huh?"

"Only when I breathe."

When they got to the foothill of the Caelian they parted company.

Gaius gave a pull on the bell rope of his father's townhouse and Gaipor, the porter, opened the gate after a moment. In his bedroom Gaius unshuttered his window that looked out upon the peristyle. The rain had picked back up and spattered rhythmically on the tile walk of the colonnade.

He took off his wet clothes and lay down on the bed naked. Soon the ache in his groin eased off and he slept.

Chapter II

Lament for Orpheus

Pale Orpheus,
where is your lyre?
Why aren't you singing?
What has happened
to stop the flow
of your beautiful words?

Ah, such words, such music.
A tongue of gold,
and, yet, now silent.

Orpheus:

The universe ends
on the most beautiful note;
and that note is silence.

And words,
no matter how beautifully sung,
become dust in the mouths
of singers.

Time has turned us to stone.

Y

When Gaius awoke, Ajax, his personal slave since childhood, a muscular black who had once been a boxer, was standing by his bed holding a silver bowl of water and a towel. A snow white tunic with purple hem lay on the trunk at the foot.

"He who parties all through the night awakes to regret the morning light."

"Thanks for that pearl of wisdom, aged one, but I wasn't partying. A little bitch almost rerouted my nuts."

Ajax chuckled softly.

Gaius kicked the cover back and sat up. Sinking his hands in the cold water he splashed it onto his face several times briskly, then wiped himself dry with the towel. Tossing it to Ajax, he gave a nonchalant wave of his hand for him to leave, then put on the jasmine scented tunic.

Barefoot he walked to the window and leaned out to gaze upon the garden. Messalina, his stepmother, was setting at a round, ivory-legged table with green marble top that stood next to the ornamental pond. A life-sized, bronze statue of Priapus stood in its center with a stream of water coming from his enlarged cock.

Crystal drops clung to shrubs, a memory of last nights heavy rain -- that and a crisp loamy smell. The rising sun had begun to cast off its rosy glow for brilliantly lit clouds billowing up like rolls of golden fleece on the horizon. White doves cooed from the scrolled top of a column. A balmy air stirred about seeding his young soul for adventure.

"Gaius, come sit with me for breakfast," Messalina called out.

With a nimble leap through the window, Gaius joined her wading through the fish pond.

She gave an order to a young slave with shoulder length hair waiting attendance, and he disappeared.

"Fabius is such a good boy, eager to please," she said smiling. She was wearing a short, blue tunic of thin silk that left one shoulder bare. The other held a gold fibula. She took a sip of wine from a double-handled cup and, setting it down, gave him a wry look.

"You were out late in the rain."

"Yes, mother."

"Hmm, don't call me that, Gaius. I'm not your mother. I'm not all that older than you, and I'm not being nosy, just making conversation."

"Well, I was with Lucius trying to find a good game of dice."

Her dark hair was parted in the middle and arranged in buns over her ears. A necklace of square carnets and emeralds set in gold hung around her slender neck. She wore no makeup except for her lips and needed none. Several gold rings decorated her fingers.

"Did you find one?

"No, not really; I lost more than I gained."

Two slaves returned, Fabius with a tray containing plates of honey buns, figs, dates, nuts, cheeses, and salted black and green olives. A girl, slave, Helvia, poured a rare, soft, sweet Caecuban into a Greek cup and waited until Gaius waved her away. Fabius, in a light brown tunic, moved off to a discreet distance to await any further orders.

"Pity."

She picked up an olive and slowly licked the coarse salt off before chewing it and spit the pit into her palm placing it on her plate.

"You men are so lucky. You can come and go doing whatever you please while we women are stuck in our homes and expected to be content spinning wool and supervising the household."

Gaius laughed. When have you ever seen a spindle?"

Messalina shrugged.

"If you're really bored there's the bath," Gaius plopped a fig in his mouth, then went on. "The theater and the circus. Then, of course, the amphitheater. There are various athletic events --"

"But the atheletes are nude," she replied demurely. "So Domitian has forbidden women to attend. So silly when you consider that mimes, with both men and women, are routinely acted out in the nude."

Gaius scratched at the back of his neck. "Yes, but Domitian has banned them; however, they are performed privately as are boxing matches where the contestants fight in the nude. Women go to these."

"That's all too brutal for me," she whispered, holding an olive against her pursed lips. "Besides I'm not comfortable going out in public by myself."

"You could go with me to the theater. Paris will be entertaining."

Her face became brilliant like the sunrise.

"Oh, Gaius, that would be wonderful. You can't imagine how bored I get just sitting around."

When they had finished eating Messalina snapped her fingers and Fabius scurried up.

After wiping her hands with his hair, she said, "Give this to the lares," she said, nodding at the food still on the tray.

As he started off she touched his shoulder. "Hold off a moment."

She tore a crumb from a honey bun, then waved him on, tossing the crumb into the pond. A series of splashes followed as several goldfish fought over it.

"Even Neptune needs propitiation sometimes, too, as well as the household gods," she laughed, flashing firm, white teeth.

As Fabius exited into the atrium, the porter, Gaipor, came out and handed Messalina a letter.

"Mistress, this was lying on the floor beneath the mail drop when I got up this morning."

"It's from your father," she said, breaking the seal. She read in silence for a moment.

"He sends you his love and says he admired greatly your poems that I sent to him but hopes you will not abandon your legal studies for the life of a poet."

Messalina set the letter down.

"In a previous letter your father told me how proud he was to have a son who is becoming one of Rome's prominent young poets, but you must understand he is a warrior from the senate class and naturally wants his only son to follow in his footsteps."

"Yes, I understand, but there will be no problem. I'm thinking of giving up poetry. There are more important things in life perhaps."

"Oh, no, you mustn't do that, Gaius; you are so young, and yet what a wonderful gift you have."

Gaius shrugged.

She sighed and picked the letter back up, read silently for a moment, then frowned.

"He says, 'I am angered that Domitian did not complete the conquests of the Chatti begun by his father, Vespasian, and instead began a defensive line of roads and fortifications along the border while plundering insignificant tribes, under treaty, above the Danubius to win prestige. While there, I'm told, the emperor -- and I use that word loosely -- spent all his time in drunken orgies -- not at the front with his troops as he should have, and, as I hear, has returned to Rome triumphant as if he had accomplished great victories while, the fact is, he did so poorly that he had to give his soldiers an increase in pay to maintain their loyalty--' "

"By the gods, I hope father's messenger was a safehand. If those words were ever to be read by the emperor he would be executed."

"I will destroy it," Messalina said, slipping the letter in the top of her tunic.

Gaius started to rise.

"You're not going yet, are you?"

"I should find the courier."

She patted the space next to her. "Oh, he's long gone. Gaipor was up over an hour ago. Don't worry; the letter still had your father's official seal intact. Come, sit here and recite some of your poems for me."

Hesitant, he sat next to her feeling the heat of her body and smelling the scent of rose petals.

She moved slightly bringing her thigh against his.

He cleared his voice. "I call this one From Her Paramour:

I cover your breasts with wine-colored kisses.
From your navel I draw sweet nectar as from a flower.
A thousand kisses press upon your bruised lips
and a thousand thousand more uncountable
until swooning you guide my passion deep as yours,
flesh locked in flesh through surging night
'til dawn finds us distilled in sweetest light
embracing each like honeydew on the leaf."

Chapter III

Gaius started down the Vicus Cyclopis glancing in several taverns on the off chance that the courier might have stopped in one for a drink after having delivered the letter, but he saw no one in regimental dress with a satchel that army couriers carried their mail in, and by the time he reached the Via Triumphalis he had seen no one that looked the part. It was pointless anyway. If someone had read the letter, who wasn't supposed to, it was too late to do anything about it . . . but, still, he would have liked to know for sure one way or other. Seals could be counterfeited.

Pausing he glanced down a way street and stared at the outline of the amphitheater and without thinking turned in that direction, the courier forgotten as an image of someone else came to mind.

When he got to where the blonde urchin had attacked him he turned toward the alley she had disappeared into. He hadn't gone far down the narrow, cobblestone passageway when a fat man with thick lips and numerous gold rings on his chubby fingers stepped out of a doorway to confront him.

"Looking for a little pussy, young Master?"

"I like them young and blonde."

The fat man closed his eyes, pushed his lips out and tilted his head to the side slightly for a brief instance to indicate the request was easily supplied.

"I've got one who's a real blonde," he said, idly adjusting a ring on a finger. "No dyed-ass bitches for me; I deal only in quality. And she's young, virgin, not a hair on her pussy. How long do you want her?"

"Depends. I'd have to see her first."

"Of course, of course," the fat man said, "but as I said she's a virgin so it will cost you considerably more."

"And worth every as if she is all you say."

"Oh, do not doubt it, my young prince; she will give you the finest fuck of you life -- or she'll get a taste of my whip."

Without more words the fat man led him down a corridor, stopping in an office area to light a lamp, then proceeded on past several closed doors, stopping before one near the end and opened it.

The room was small, pale light coming through a window. A small figure lay curled on a cot, with straw poking from the ticking, next to a lamp stand.

The fat man ordered her to stand up, slipped off her tunic and held the lamp to her."

"Uh, is she not as I told you? Prime pussy."

"Indeed," Gaius murmured.

He took four denarii from his purse, about four times the usual fee for a quality lupa, to forestall any bickering and placed them in the fat man's doughy hand, then dismissed him with a wave. The fat man placed the lamp on the stand, bowed and backed out of the room clenching the silver coins in his soft fist.

When the door was closed Gaius picked the lamp up and held it close to her face.

"We meet again, don't we?"

"No."

"Oh, yes. You kicked me in the nuts and stole my purse."

"You're rich; I'm not."

"Smart ass, aren't you?"

"I do alright."

"Not very from the looks of it."

"Are you gonna do me or talk me to death?"

"You're too scrawny."

"Not too or you wouldn't have come looking for me."

"What makes you think I came looking for you?"

"You're here, aren't you?"

"An accident."

"Yeah, just happened to stumble down the alley I ran into, didn't you?"

"Maybe I wanted my purse back."

"Beggars carry more change than you."

"And you would know."

"Or was there something else in your purse?"

Gaius moved toward the door.

"Where are you going?"

I'm going to buy you; you'll be good for laughs."

"Hah, it'll cost you a fortune."

"I doubt that; he'll probably pay me."

Gaius didn't blink an eyelid at the fat man's exorbitant price, but merely signed a promisory note for the agreed amount and told him a messenger would be sent with payment later that evening.

The tunic she wore was shabby and stained, her hair unkempt as she walked next to him in barefeet.

"You won't run off, will you?"

"Why would I? You'd have me hunted down and stomped to death if I did. Besides you wouldn't be out anything, would you?"

"Hah!"

She smiled.

At the townhouse Gaius sent for the overseer. In a few moments a stout woman with graying hair entered the atrium.

"What's your name?"

"Justina."

"Porcia take care of this runt for now. I want you to soak her in the bath for a couple of days, groom her and give her something decent to wear -- and see that she gets something to eat; she's as boney as an old alley cat."

"Yes, Master."

"And I don't want to see her again until she looks human if that's possible."

Chapter IV

"You bought the little urchin who stole your purse?" Lucius asked.

"Yep."

"Has anyone ever told you you're a blade short of having a sword?"

They were almost at one of the public entrances of the drum-like amphitheater. They could hear the vibrant roar of the crowd echoing through the twenty foot wide entrance ways. An attendant stood back when he saw their purple hems.

"Maybe we should have worn togas," Lucius said. "Domitain passed a decree stating that all but slaves had to wear them to the games."

"Don't worry no one enforces it."

"Domitian has fed people to the lions for less."

Gaius grinned.

"Aren't you philosophers fond of saying that the short and happy life is preferable to the long and miserable one?"

"Stoics do, but I'd like to try for long and happy."

With Ajax escorting they made their way to the seating section reserved for the upper classes next to the Emperor's box. Ajax placed two cushions down for them in a block owned by Gaius' father -- prime seats at the very edge of the podium overlooking the arena.

"Father has twenty seats," Gaius said. "I rent them for thousands of sestertii a piece when family, guests or clients aren't using them."

"Who handles your father's clients while he is in Judea?"

"My uncle Marcus."

"When will Sophrus make his entrance?"

"Not until the last to increase the suspense. And to that end the college of food servers have a say in the format since they want as many people as possible to stay and buy their snacks."

Gaius glanced around at the crowded levels. The passageways were thronged with the lower classes. The smell of blood filled the air. A retiarius and a secutor were going at it in the middle of the arena. The crowd was vocal in their desire to see one or the other lying dead in the sand. Roars rose and fell like the undulation of the sea, then swelled into a deafening backdrop when one or the other gladiator scored a telling maneuver. The whole amphitheater vibrated with the intensity of blood lust. An orchestra gave musical accompaniment, emulating in pitch and volume the dramatic intensity of the spectacle.

Suddenly it was over. The retiarius was gutted. In stunned disbelief he stared down at his entrails spilling from his belly into the sand. The secutor advanced on him and with one swing of his sword lopped off his head which rolled a dozen feet away like a ball. Blood hosed from the neck twenty feet into the air as the retiarius' body staggered about in a macabre spastic gait, then fell down twitching.

Silence, laughter, then pandemonium broke loose. Money rapidly changed hands as bets were collected.

Two burly men raced out with a gurney and placed the body and head of the retiarius on it while four youths with a bucket cart shoveled up the bloody sand and smoothed out the surface with rakes until all traces of combat vanished.

Cleared of traffic, the arena was ready for the next event. New bets were hurriedly placed. Anticipation was a palpable thing in the stale air as attendants walked about spraying a mist of perfumed water on spectators.

A man leaned forward toward Gaius.

"Care to make a real wager?"

"What have you got in mind?"

"My wife, your ass."

He motioned to the third level where a pretty woman stood up, nervously looking away.

The next combat was to be between two pros, a Thracian and a mirmillo.

"I'll take the Thracian," Gaius said.

"Done."

"Now I know you're crazy," Lucius said. "What if you lose?"

"Silly question."

Trumpets blared. The Gate of Life opened and two veterans came out. Stunned silence followed, then rose in a ripple of cheers and whistles to foot stomping.

"I'll be damned," Lucius said. "They're women."

They had their helmets off, carried under their arms, their hair chopped short. Escorted by two referees, carrying staffs, they were led to the center of the arena where they put on their helmets and were handed their swords. Both were nude except for triangles of gold cloth covering their genitals and tits. Only their undersized shields distinguished the types of fighters they were supposed to represent. The small square shield was the mirmillo; the round shield was the Thracian.

A shrill whistle sounded and the two gladiatrices squared off.

At first they merely held their stances sizing each other up. Slowly the Thracian began to sidestep around her opponent, occasionally feinting thrusts, leaping back before her opponent could retaliate.

The mirmillo rushed forward blocking the Thracian's hacking blows with her square shield. The Thracian, rocked back, managed to block a sword thrust with her shield, but the blade was deflected down and sliced her thigh.

"You've got her now!"

"Kill the bitch!"

The Thracian made a series of nimble steps back on the balls of her feet and assumed her fighting stance before glancing at her wound to calculate how bad it was. Blood streaked down her leg to her foot.

"You've had it, bitch," the mirmillo taunted. "You'd better raise your little pinky and hope the editor grants you mercy before I finish you."

"Fuck you!"

"She won't last five minutes the way she's bleeding," the man said.

The Thracian started on the run and screamed so loudly that some spectators flinched. The mirmillo wavered her stance unsure how to defend against such a suicidal attack. She thrust out her sword only to have it knocked away by the Thracian's shield; she was propelled violently backwards as the Thracian rammed against her at full speed. Both women sprawled together on the ground. The mirmillo grabbed at her sword frantically and stabbed it into the Thracian's buttock but too late. The Thracian brought her sword around and buried it in the mirmillo's neck, yanked it out and stabbed her in the chest.

Standing up, she raised her bloody sword high in the air. The spectators cheered wildly, drowning out the orchestra.

"Whatever you do to my wife let me watch," the man said.

Y

The editor, Valerius Catullus Messallinus, was all smiles. He stood up, arms extended, and with a dramatic flourish held up a silver bowl, dipped his hand in it and let silver coins trickle down between his fingers. He gave the bowl to a Nubian who hurried down marble steps, through a bronze door that opened onto the arena, and handed the bowl to the gladiatrix along with a palm branch, the symbol of victory.

These she held up and turned about for the crowd. Attendants rushed to help her onto a gurney, taking her to the sanitarium where she would receive expert medical care. The dead mirmillo was gathered up on another gurney and taken to the spoliarium where her throat would be slit to ensure she really was dead.

If no one claimed her body it would be dumped in the Tiber. If she had been a noxii her body would have been food for the meat eating animals.

As attendants cleaned up the bloody mess and spread fresh sand, trumpets gave a strident, imperial salute. All eyes turned to the imperial box where a portly young woman, in a gold stola, entered from a rear passage. She was escorted by an entourage of slaves and nobles, in snow white togas, and half a dozen Praetorian guards, dressed in white formally cut tunics with palliums and swords hanging from brown leather baldrics.

Messallinus, an ex-consul who was blind, turned and held out his hands to hers giving a slight tip of his head.

She was the nineteen year old Julia Flavia, some called Titii, the niece of Domitian. Slaves ushered everyone to their seats, Julia taking a prominent one next to Messallinus. A male slave rushed to hold a blue, silk umbrella over her. Another slave brought her a drink cooled with snow.

"Had I known you were coming, dear Julia, I would have had the velarium deployed." Messallinus leaned toward her, his breath falling on her cleavage where her low cut stola left one shoulder bare.

"No matter, the umbrella will serve as well."

"I trust your uncle is well today?"

"Yes, but concerned with the business of state as usual."

"How blessed we are to have such a great pilot at the helm."

"Yes, consul."

"I'm so pleased that the emperor allowed me to put on this show in honor of my son Opius. He will soon be of age to run for praetor and a good show will serve him well in the opinion of the people."

"Truly, consul. My uncle values your service to him."

"And I am well pleased to give it."

Julia let her gaze drift idly over the empty arena and recalled stories she had heard how Nero had had the sand of the Circus sprinkled with chrysocolla to give it a greenish color. She wondered at such extravagance.

As cruel as he was extravagant she recalled the stories of how he had smeared pitch over Christians and used them as torches to light the Circus at night. Her uncle had a hatred of Christians, too. However, his passion for night events was for showing women scantily dressed fighting dwarves.

Such passions infused her being, too. Often she wondered what it would be like to kill someone. The thought intrigued her.

She gazed farther to her left to where the senatorial section was. A low wall separated the emperial box from it. As she did, her eyes came to rest on an incredibly beautiful young man with curly blonde hair like threads of gold. If an Olympian god had come to earth he could not have been more gorgeous.

She motioned with her ivory fan for her personal slave, Aurelia, who seemed to have an inexhaustible knowledge about things, and whispered in her ear.

"Who is that incredible youth, Aurelia?"

"Mistress, that is Gaius Antonius Saturninus, the poet, son of the govenor of Judea, wealthy Lucius Antonius Saturninus."

"He is divine, and, of course, he is a poet. What else could such a beauty be?"

"Yes, my lady," Aurelia replied, with a knowing smile. "But caution, my lady, one so beautiful is bound to be a heart breaker.

"Already my heart is breaking . . . to know him."

"Would you like me to arrange an introduction, my lady?"

Julia pondered for a space.

"No, if it is meant to be the gods will arrange it."

"And I'm sure they will, my lady."

"See that they do."

Y

A blare of trumpets signaled the final event of the day that everyone had been waiting for: the combat between the rising new star, Sophrus, against the older veteran Ares, a lauded mirmillon of eighteen combats. Both men came out together, Ares a head taller and a good fifty pounds heavier than Sophrus. Behind them their retainers carried their glittering helmets and weapons, followed by two referees with stout staffs.

Ares was an ugly, thick set man with a bald head; a gruesome scar slithered down from his left eye to his chin making more hideous the already grim face with its blunt nose and protruding lower lip. Seemingly oblivious of the crowd, he marched with the determined steps of a man with a singular purpose in life.

Next to him, a study in contrast, was the handsome, trim, muscular Sophrus, with thick, black hair hanging to his broad shoulders. Serene, gazing up occasionally at the packed circle of spectators, he walked with the relaxed, self assured gait of a young prince coming to claim his kingdom.

Their fight was to be to the death, munera sine missione. No quarter given.

They proceeed to the center of the arena while from the orchestra came the rhythmic beat of drums, like signals from a giant pulse: ta tum . . . ta tum . . . ta tum . . . ta tum . . .

The two gladiators were handed their helmets. Sophrus, half lifted his, then hesitated and gazed up at the sky; a telling moment, as if he was thinking this might be the last time he would see the world without looking through the eyeholes of a helmet.

As the two took their positions, some nine feet apart, they were handed their razor sharp swords: the sica, with its curved blade, to Sophrus and the gladius, with its double edged straight blade, for Ares.

Both men made practice swings, then crouched into their protective stances.

The referees looked to the imperial box where Messallinus, informed by a slave, casually lifted his hand. A shout rose and the fight was on.

Yells and shrill whistles erupted from the crowd to egg on the fighters who held back cautiously at first.

Sophrus had the advantage of a much lighter shield and taunted Ares -- whose shield weighed a hefty twenty-five pounds--with a series of feints to draw him out and exhaust him. But Ares was too experienced to fall for such a ploy.

"Do you think I'm a fucking amateur, boy?" Ares said contemptuously.

Sophrus didn't answer, for he knew Ares was trying to trick him into talking in order to distract him.

"Look at you; cat got your tongue, you little, chicken shit pussy?"

Sophrus ignored him and concentrated on his game, for it was a game where death decided who was the winner.

He did a quick study of Ares' technique, but found no flaws. Ares always maintained his scutum at its proper height, at the top of his greaves and level with his eyes so that his whole body was protected behind it. He kept his sword hand behind the shield, too, with the tip of the sword pointed out ready to strike. And instead of taking the fight to Sophrus he held his ground, conserving his energy and forcing Sophrus to close. And Sophrus would have to, for if he didn't a referee would pummel him with his staff.

Most gladiatorial combats lasted only ten to fifteen minutes, any longer and fatigue began to take its toll. Therefore it was normally incumbent upon a fighter to inflict a serious wound on his opponent as soon as possible, and under ordinary circumstances a wounded fighter could hope for mercy, a missio, and have his life spared. But this was a fight to the death. There would be no mercy, so one took more time on deciding when to engage. The man with the most endurance was the one most likely to win.

Sophrus was noted for startlingly brilliant ploys, and the spectators were eager to see what clever thing he would do, for all knew nothing in the routine fighting manual would defeat a pro like Ares.

Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty. Sophrus seemed unable to bring Ares out, and for Sophrus to engage the man would be suicidal, for experience, weight, physical strength and reach were on Ares' side.

The referees were shouting for Sophrus to close, threatening with their staffs. The fickle spectators, wanting to see blood, grew restive and began to jeer and boo, stomping their feet.

Ares smiled, certain that victory would soon be his. The weight of his shield was beginning to tell, but he was strong and could endure it. Soon, he knew, Sophrus would have to engage, and at close quarters his physical superiority would be the deciding factor.

Then it happened!

Sophrus charged. Ares swung his sword stepping forward with his right leg, making the mistake of putting all his weight behind it. Sophrus blocked with his shield. Off balance, Ares stumbled forward with his left foot and shoved out his heavy shield attempting to knock Sophrus off his feet. Instead, Sophrus dropped his shield, grabbed the top of Ares' shield and, putting his whole weight behind it, rammed it down on Ares' barefoot.

Ares gave out a bellow of pain, but before he could rally, the more dexterous Sophrus brought the curved end of his sword over the shield and buried the blade in the base of Ares' neck were it met the shoulder.

Blood frothed from the intricate filigree of Ares' face plate. Dropping his sword he staggered several feet, then dropped to his knees. Sophrus followed and thrust his sica into Ares' back between the shoulder blades severing his spine.

Ares toppled over, face down, dead.

The fickled crowd were on their feet, once more, lauding the fighter they had moments before ridiculed.

If Sophrus noted the irony it was unapparent. He raised his arms and turned for the crowd. Trumpets blared; flutes, organs and drums did a stirring redition of a triumphal march as Sophrus leisurely strolled to the area in front of the imperial box.

Messallinus stood and held up his arms for quiet. Looking about at a world he could no longer see, he spoke in a loud voice that carried to the top most levels owing to the acoustics of the amphitheater.

"You have had a great victory today, Sophrus, over a most formidable opponent. And you have more than lived up to your rising reputation as a superb gladiator. I wish not only to reward you with one hundred thousand sestertii and the laurel crown, Rome's highest honor, but also with the rudis and declare you a free man hence forth."

There was loud acclamation. Neckerchieves floated in colorful waves mixed with enthusiastic shouts and thunderous applause.

Sophrus received his awards and did a victory lap around the arena before disappearing into an exit.

Chapter 5

"I can watch?"

"You can watch," Gaius said.

They were in a small room on the second floor of a whorehouse in Subura.

The man who called himself Cassius and his wife Junia were seated on the bed. She was shy, her cheeks red with shame. Cassius' eyes glowed with lust.

"Take your clothes off," Gaius ordered, looking at Cassius. After a moment, he motioned for Junia to come to him.

She hesitated until Cassius nudged her.

Iron eyebolts were fixed into thick wood beams overhead. Two ropes hung down. Gaius made her step up on a footstool and tied the ropes around her wrists.

Cassius watched from the bed, his bloated cock pulsing against his belly.

When he was done, Gaius kicked the stool out from under her. She cried out as the weight of her body was suddenly concentrated on her delicate wrists.

Taking up a knife, he cut away her stola and undergarments, ripping them off, leaving her naked. With her weight stretching the ropes, her toes barely brushed against the floor.

She had a beautiful body with firm full breasts. Unlike Jewish women, who didn't shave their body hair, Junia was clean shaven all over, even her cunt.

Gaius took his clothes off and moved up against her, placing his cock against her ass. Her flesh was warm and supple. He held her relishing the feel and smell of her. His hands slid up from her hips and cupped her breasts. He tweaked the pebble-hard nipples with his thumbs and forefingers and heard a gasp escape from deep in her throat.

Her thighs trembled as he moved them apart and thrust his cock up her cunt. She was tight and wet. He moved in her rapidly hearing encouraging sighs.

On the bed, Cassius masterbated, his eyes half rolled back in the sockets, the head of his cock purple and swollen.

"Whip her," Cassius gasped. "She likes that."

Gaius withdrew his cock, and stepping back, picked up a braided leather whip off the lamp stand.

"I intend to."

The woman looked back over her shoulder, her eyes filled with fear and longing. She bit her lower lip as she felt the sting of the first lash. More lashes followed, and her nude body danced about wildly, legs splaying about, like a crazed marionette.

"Make her bleed."

Fluid from her cunt, streaked her thighs and dripped onto the floor. Red, swollen welts covered her body, even her tender breasts. When he had covered every inch of her, he threw the whip down and with the knife cut her down.

Unable to stand on her trembling legs, she sank to her knees, her lips brushing against his swollen cock. She opened her mouth and greedily sucked the head in, then engulfed half the shaft, moving back and forth.

Settling to his knees, Gaius motioned for Cassius to entered her from behind, which he eagerly did.

"I'm going . . . to come in her," Gaius gasped, "but you . . . must not, for the game . . . is not over."

Gaius grabbed her head with both hands and shoved his cock fully down her throat forcing her to swallow his gushing ejaculate.

He called for Ajax, who was standing in the narrow hall.

"The husband is yours."

Chapter V

"I can't have sex with you, Gaius."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm married to your father."

"That would make it better."

"Not if we're caught."

"There are ways."

"Not with a hundred slaves in the house."

Gaius studied her for a moment. Unlike the typical woman of the patrician class Messalina was modest in dress and manner. Even though they were getting ready to go to the theater, she wore only a simple, but tasteful, pale green stola. Instead of hair elaborately curled and piled high on the head, with a wire foundation, as was the current fashion, she wore hers parted in the middle and fixed in buns on the sides. She kept her jewelry to a minimum: a gold necklace conservatively arranged with stones of this or that and one or two small rings on her slender fingers. She wore no make up except from the lees of wine to color her lips.

It was this modesty of appearance, along with her beauty and marital status that intrigued him and made her so sexually appealing. To have sex with her would be like ravishing a vestal virgin: something taboo and dangerous, therefore exciting.

Their litter was carried by eight Nubians. A canopy of silk kept off the noon sun while a gauze border shielded them from idle eyes. Gaius recalled that Nero was reputed to have had sex occasionally with his mother, Agrippina, in a litter.

At the theater they were deposited near the rear entrance and were escorted inside to where, backstage, Paris was being feted by a small select party of patricians. Gaius recog


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