Lucius and Callistus
Slaves to Love #1
Capua, Italy. 73BC
Quintus Tullius, my father, died one month before the slave rebellion led by Spartacus, the gladiator. We, his family, were still in mourning, the household gods still draped in black, my mother and sisters still paying a daily visit to my father's tomb. And I? I did not mourn, for in my eyes my father had been a cold and distant figure, uncaring of his children, indifferent to his wife.
I did not miss him for one moment, my thoughts by that time consumed by another. A man I had met but once. Not met really, observed rather. For when I first saw him, he was caged. A prisoner of Rome, a slave on his way to gladiator school, a Gaul, the sworn enemy of the Roman Republic. All of that meant nothing to me as I stared at him through the bars confining him.
He was tall, wide of shoulder, slender of waist and hip. His hair, the color of ripe corn, hung about his shoulders in thick waves. His legs, I could not see, being encased in trews of a rough material, but I imagined them strong and muscular like his arms, now folded across his chest in a display of seeming indifference. He stared back at me, with eyes as blue as the azure sky. I felt my breath catch in my chest as I acknowledged the overwhelming power of his presence. A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. My mesmerized gaze amused him, I realized, turning away quickly so he could not see my embarrassment.
My friend Turio, with whom I had come to the slave market, chuckled quietly at my side. "That's a dangerous one, I bet," he said, moving closer to read the slave's name inscribed on a board fastened to the bars of the cage. "Callistus, it says," he informed me as I turned back to look at the man again. "From Gaul-captured in battle."
I had a sudden vision of him holding firm against the press of soldiers around him, battle axe swinging with deadly precision, his shield warding off the blows of the short swords, his naked body glistening with sweat, his expression one of determined defiance.
"Lucius!" Turio punched my arm. "For Juno's sake, stop staring at him like that. He'll think you want to take him on, and you're no match for that barbarian."
"I was not thinking of fighting him, Turio."
"Oh, that..." Turio's mouth turned down in disapproval. Turio does not like men as I do, and although we have been friends since childhood, he has never learned to understand my affinity for virile masculinity. "Well, you can forget about that too. He's for the ludo-and you know what that means. He'll be dead in a matter of weeks."
Capua, the place of my birth, was famous for its ludii where men were trained to become gladiators, fighting for the pleasure of the populace. I, like most Capuans, visited the arena regularly to see these well-trained men risk their lives in the hope of attaining some glory and popularity, if only for a brief time. With very few exceptions, even the most successful gladiator's life was a short one.
"Perhaps," I murmured, my eyes once again studying the Gaul's handsome figure. "He has the look of a fighter."
"He's here, is he not?" Turio snorted. "He was beaten in battle."
I moved a little closer to the cage. "But against what odds? How many men did they need to take him down?"
The Gaul unfolded his arms, and stepped forward. His hands gripped the bars of his prison, and I felt my heart tremble as his eyes bored into mine. By Jupiter, but he is beautiful. I wondered what his thoughts were as he stared so hard at me. What did he see? I felt as though he was looking beyond my dark eyes, and into the deepest recesses of my mind where I kept hidden from all others, my very secret longings.
"Come on, Lucius." Turio's patience was at an end. "Those doe-eyed looks will get you nowhere with that one. Let's go. We'll be late for supper at Dido's."
Reluctantly, I nodded and began to follow Turio as he strode away through the slave market. I could not resist my urge to turn for one last look at the Gaul, and I was slightly taken aback to see that he was still staring after me.
All through supper, and for the rest of the evening I could not quite erase the vision of the Gaul from my mind. Even Dido's fast-paced jests failed to bring me completely into the lively conversations and banter that pervaded the dining room at her home.
Dido was Turio's betrothed, older than he, not classically beautiful, but an unusual woman in as much as she had been married previously, had thrown her errant husband out, and had petitioned the courts for an annulment to their marriage. Such an action by a woman was unheard of, and at first, no one would entertain even listening to her petition. Undeterred, she took her cause to the streets, rallying support from the people, until a judge finally consented to listen. Amazingly, he granted her request. Once a free woman, she wasted no time in hooking Turio to her side. They made a handsome couple, and seemed very much in love, though I had heard it whispered that Turio was only in it for the money. Whether he was or was not, I did not know. I doubted it, for he was my friend-but we did not talk of such things.
Dido, her face flushed from the wine, turned her twinkling eyes on me and gave my thigh a playful squeeze. "Turio tells me that you have become enamored of a gladiator-slave, Lucius. Is this true? Surely you know he would rather cut off your dick than suck it."
"Dido." I felt my face grow hot with embarrassment, and I cast a deadly look in Turio's direction. "Turio's tongue is the flesh that should be cut off. I have no illusions as to a gladiator's intentions should I ever be alone with one. The Gaul caught my eye it is true. He is remarkable, but as I said-"
"We are jesting, my dear!" Dido interrupted me with a light laugh at my discomfort. "With your looks, you have no need to sink to such depths. Gladiators are animals, good only for fighting, and for our entertainment in the arena."
Later, as I took the short walk to my home, I thought of her words, but somehow, the Gaul did not appear as an animal to me. Rather, there had been something noble in his bearing-majestic even.
"Juno," I muttered to myself, pushing open the courtyard gates outside my home. "Now I am becoming overly fanciful." Still, all night his face haunted me, giving me only a few hours restless sleep.
× × × × ×
On awakening the following morning, immediately my mind was seized by thoughts of Callistus, the Gaul. My mother was not in the best of moods, she too having been kept up all night due to my father's sickness. I excused myself as quickly as I could, and headed back to the slave market-this time alone.
My head throbbed from my mother's complaining, and the smell of sickness in the house. I know I should have stayed to help, but the desire to see the tall barbarian again was too strong to resist. Perhaps, if the price was not too steep, I could save him from his fate as a gladiator. My father was dying. I would have the money my grandfather had left me, enough surely to buy one slave. My thoughts were clouded, and my logic sadly askew as I strode through the wakening streets on my way to the slave market.
With a sinking heart, I stared at the empty cage that only yesterday had held him captive. I looked around for the slave master, and found him busily engaged bartering over the sale of two lovely young girls with ebony skin, and frightened eyes. Patiently I waited until he had concluded his business, and the two lovelies were led away.
"What can I do for you, young sir?" the slave master asked, eyeing my patrician bearing and good clothes. He could smell money.
"The Gaul who was in that cage over there yesterday -where is he?"
"Gone, early this morning. He was taken to the ludo for training. A good gladiator he'll make, if he can survive the first few go-arounds." He gave me a sly look. "Like that kind, do you? I can show you another-"
"No! I'm not interested in buying another slave." I walked off quickly, and headed for Dido's house. She and Turio would no doubt be having breakfast at this hour, and would not mind my sudden appearance at their door.
Dido greeted me with a smile as her personal maid ushered me into their bedchamber. "Lucius, up and about so early. What business can have been so pressing at this hour?"
Turio peered at me with sleepy but knowing eyes. "You've been to the slave market again, haven't you? Well, did you buy him?"
"The ludo owner has him," I said, perching on the edge of their bed.
"A good thing too..." Dido offered me a bunch of grapes. "You really are too good for that kind of man, Lucius."
"You didn't see him." I pulled a grape from the bunch and popped it into my mouth.
Turio rolled his eyes. "By the gods, Lucius," he grumbled. "Are we to be subjected to that long face of yours from now on?"
Dido chuckled. "Of course not. He'll be over this infatuation quick enough. What's the point of hankering over what you cannot have? Besides," she added, "he won't last long in the arena."
I shuddered at the thought of him impaled on the end of a trident, or having his brains bashed out by a hammer.
"Oh, I don't know." Turio gave me a long look. "He's a big one. Might be able to look after himself in the arena-for a time, anyway."
"I think I might go watch him train," I said. "Cassius says he has an in with the lanista, Lentullus Batiatus, the ludo owner. Perhaps we could all three go together."
Dido giggled."I'm game. I'd like to see what you're so horny over."
"I'm not horny," I protested. "I just found him attractive, that's all."
Both Dido and Turio hooted at my remark, and I have to admit I felt somewhat irked by their obvious pleasure in my discomfort.
"Well..." I slid off their silk covered bed. "I'll leave you both to your merriment-and whatever else you do together."
"Oh, don't pout, Lucius." Dido ran her hands over Turio's chest. "You can join us, if you like." She nudged Turio.
"Right," he said, not very convincingly.
I shook my head.
"Thanks, but I think I'll go and see if Cassius can arrange for
us to go to the ludo, later this week." By the time I reached
the door, they had forgotten I had been there.