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Every inch of his body screamed as if he was being stabbed with a hot poker. -Damn, that Atticus, if he didn’t get me on one of his ‘innocent’ drinking excursions. Not only was his head killing him, but the new found cuts, bruises and various abrasions he knew covered his body were certainly no help in making him feel better. -And I had promised Ma I would stay out of so-called ‘altercations.’ From under the bed a familiar sounding moan made its way upward toward Claudius’ ears. Following was first. a filthy foot that shot up and outward, and then a hand that reached for the edge of the cot; presumably to help in the task of extraditing itself from beneath it. Claudius tried to sit up, head pounding cymbals between his ears, glanced downward and found himself staring into two bright red eyeballs surrounded by what could only be described as ‘the two damndest black eyes he’d ever seen’. A little lower to the left was a smile of accomplishment and then an immediate episode of barfing last night’s remains. -Oh, by the gods. Thought Claudius. Merda!1! Don’t tell me! That bastard Atticus had something to do with this. I know it. -I think I’m gonna be sick again.’ Signed Julius**. He dashed out to the garden and upon return he was not quite as green-faced, but those two enormous black eyes even glowed in the daylight. -Julius, what the hell are you doing here? I promised Ma I wouldn’t take you out drinking. How are we going to explain those eyes?’ Agh! By the gods it hurt to talk. Claudius groaned and laid back down hoping that it would all just go away. Julius grinned and tried to explain the best he could with a bit of pantomime, but it wasn’t working too well. The only reason Claudius understood the hand signals at all was because he had known Julius since they were both about five years old. Julius could hear, but he had not uttered a word since childhood. Sometimes a type of low soft purr would spontaneously come from him, but it was rare. Only Claudius had ever heard that wonderful soft sound. Following the death of Julius’ mother, first an old woman had taken in Julius when he was about three. She treated him as well as she could, seeing that he was fed and clothed, but she died suddenly and next Julius found himself a slave in the soap merchant’s house. Though only five he carried what seemed huge containers back and forth from the merchant to the customers. He tried to run away once too often. As his master caught up with him, with whip in hand, Julius tried to flee. He ran into a wine shop, but slipped as he tried to hide behind a large urn.
Shit! **Note: Julius is mute. All conversations are interrupted through sign language and/or pantomime by yours truly.
When he began to fall his chin hit the edge of an old bronze shield the owner kept in the corner. His teeth came down hard on his tongue. His tongue fell on the floor, he fell in a pool of blood, and his master no longer seeing the necessity of the whip doubled over in laughter thinking the whole scene was that of a huge farce. The soap merchant grabbed him by the back of the neck, pulled him up; stuffed a dirty rag in Julius’ mouth, ignored the weeping boy and hauled him back to the shop for his afternoon deliveries. Julius did survive both the loss of his tongue and the several beatings that followed over the years, but never spoke another word, I met him for the first time when he made a delivery to our house, shortly after the accident. Because of his missing tongue he had difficulty eating and was nearly all skin and bones. His tunic was filthy, ragged and hung nearly in strips on his skinny body. His face was swollen and had a blackish glaze to it. I wondered who the ‘ugly boy’ was. I tried to talk to him, but was unaware of his having no tongue, and because he didn’t answer my questions, I thought he was just being arrogant and rude. He came again the following month and the one after that. Slowly his features returned to normal, and I realized that he was actually quite beautiful after all, and the ugly boy had disappeared. He had dark brown hair that turned golden in the right sunlight; dark brown eyes that leapt out at you, and an infectious smile. The smile didn’t happen very often, but when it did, it could not be ignored. I also learned from Ma why he did not speak and was backhanded for ‘being a brat’ to him. On his next delivery I apologized; I saw Ma watching to make sure I did, and asked if he would like a piece of honey cake? He nodded ‘yes’, and quickly stuffed it into his mouth and ran out the gate with his hands saying ‘thank you’ as he ran. At least that’s what I think he was saying. As time went on we developed our own sign language and I would walk with him on his deliveries. We had to be careful to make sure the soap merchant did not see us thinking Julius was not doing his job and get a beating for it. As we grew up we became best friends. Ma would order extra soap just so Julius could have a decent meal now and then. By the time we were 16, I was of average height and weight, dull brown hair with blue eyes, nothing special, but I did have a knack for thinking up schemes and generally getting away with them. Julius on the other hand was tall and slender, but with a sculptor’s grace and beauty, and beautiful brown eyes. Damn him! Ma and I were constantly trying to figure out how to get Julius away from the clutches of the merchant. Of all people, Ma came up with the idea that finally freed Julius. At least now I know where my cunning and mischievous mind came from. And where was my father all this time? Who knows? Ma said something once about a sailor lost at sea, but that was the end of the conversation.
I heard in a whisper once about her being ‘a tough old bird’. It was said late at night, in a very dark corner and with great respect from one of our more colourful clientele. She did well at her trade of taberna2 owner and was known throughout the city as loud, rude, obnoxious, and honest. -I’ve got it! Ma suddenly yelled. Both Julius and I fell backward and off the bench, and cracked our heads on the back wall. Ma paid no attention to this little act. -We’ll kill him off! That’s it!’ She turned to us. ‘What do you think? ‘ -Ah...Ma, isn’t that a bit extreme? I said. We want him free, not dead. -No, you idiot, not really dead, just pretend dead. -Oh...good. I like that idea better. Mimed Julius. -Yes, yes. Now come on boys. Let’s get down to details. Well, the plan worked, and now Julius is free. According to the official records…: The slave, one Julius, aged about 16, was run over by a horse cart in the early morning hours of the ides of Februaris, 17 C.E., while trying to escape. The owner of said horse cart, a Claudius Manlius and his mother Rufinia were returning home from a relative’s wedding feast. Because of poor visibility, and t he slave’s erratic behaviour, it has been termed an ‘unavoidable accident resulting in the slave’s death. The body was taken to the local gravedigger and left outside the city. The following day the owner came and confirmed by visual means as to t he identity of his former slave. Case closed. Julius hid in and out of the house for nearly two years. We dyed his hair and dressed him as a singer of songs; thank the gods he could sing. He kept a low profile and we watched over him carefully. The identified body? The man in charge of the public graveyard owed Ma some favours. Something about dice games. I didn’t ask. A suitable body was found, a debt repaid. I never thought much about ‘the ugly boy’ who became my brother. But as we got older we became closer and closer, and eventually intimately close. By the time we were 18, Ma knew what was happening, but never said anything nor acted like anything was different from when we were five. We knew she knew, but we didn’t say anything either. Things went on like this for almost eight years. We stayed with Ma, but paid rent and the house was such that Ma had her own privacy as did Julius and I. We both helped out at the taberna; Julius becoming very popular as the cook, he had a flair for sweets and cakes, and I as bartender, and
bouncer when needed. Ma ran the place and also dealt with the customers, especially any complaining customers. She had a way about her that once her mind was made up that settled the argument. An uninitiated patron learned the difficult way. Ma had decided the customer had no real complaint concerning a bar and food bill. As far as Ma was concerned that was the end of it, he was to pay what was owed. He said he would not pay for ‘food not fit to feed to the dogs!’ Ma smiled sweetly and with one graceful motion grabbed and swung the frying skillet smack across his face, leaving a somewhat flattened nose and ripped ear. He dropped like a stone. I was instructed to extract the exact amount of money owed us, and toss him out the door. I promptly did as she said. Anyone who knew Ma, knew not to argue about money. She was very strict. She never cheated anyone, and she expected the same in return. Time passed and Julius and I grew apart. He became more refined and wanted more things and a better life. I on the other hand was beginning to find my way into the seedier part of town. A black eye here, a cut lip there. The more we grew apart, the more we fought until finally one night Ma came in. She had had enough of this bickering and was tired of hearing things crashing all the time. -So...who’s leaving? It ain’t me! It was not a question, but it demanded an answer. -We will. I said. Julius signed ‘yes’ as well. -Fine! You’re out by noon tomorrow, OK? We nodded in the affirmative. She hugged us both, told us she loved us and to visit often. We were out before lunchtime, standing in front of the door to the house not knowing which way to go. Together? Alone? Just before we went our separate ways, out popped Ma’s head from the gate…’and don’t either of you be late for work tomorrow neither!’ Instinctively I went left and Julius right. We still saw each other at work and acted like nothing had happened, but we both were hurt and felt empty. I ended up living in the back of the taberna for some time. I transformed an old storeroom and there was almost enough room to live comfortably. Julius took a room not far from the palaestra3 on the Shoemakers Street. It was small, nicely furnished with two large windows and only a three storey walk-up. Ma and I were invited for dinner after about two months. At first I did not want to go, but Ma insisted and told me to stop being an idiot. -Claudius’, said Ma, ‘if one is insulted as a child it hurts, but is soon forgotten. If insulted as an adult, the hurt just festers and grows.’
-Ok, Ok, I’ll go.’ I said. Out of guilt more than anything, but I refused to think of it as going to be a good time. As usual I was wrong. We did have a good time. The food was great; the weather perfect, the wine superb and the company was relaxed. Things between Julius and myself eased up after that. We were more comfortable and began to tell of new friends that we had met. I met Atticus one night in a drunken stupor not long after the parting of ways with Julius. Don’t ask me why, but after several drinks, I told him all about Julius and Ma and the father I’d never seen, and the wine bill I owed and the wart on my left toe and on and on and on. During this entire dissertation of my life he sat in one of two ways; glumly looking stupefied and philosophical at the same time, or bent double laughing and demanding more drinks. I wasn’t quite sure when he was doing either. I kept seeing first two and eventually three of him, and then I unceremoniously passed out I woke up in some strange alley covered with old rags and cloth stinking of cat urine and donkey dung. I raised one eyebrow and then two. With the effort of the second eyebrow my brain began to pound the Saturnalla4 anthem out against the sides of my skull. At first I couldn’t feel my feet, but soon realised that was because my newly acquired ‘best friend’ had cut off the circulation with his elbows laid across and digging into my ankles, and snoring so loud I thought the earth was shaking. I casually hit him over the head with a piece of wood I found nearby, but he barely moved. Slowly the further pile of rags slowly began to move and I heard mumblings of curses and complaints in both Latin and Greek. -Hmm, I thought. An educated thug, that could come in handy. He finally sat up and for the first time I actually saw what he looked like. Taller than most, black hair and twinkling eyes (or would be once the alcohol haze wore off). Decent build, but on the slim side; long arms and legs (an advantage in any fight), quite well dressed, and a black eye and split lip newly acquired. Wonder if that was before or after that last round of drinks? He opened his eyes, glanced my way and started to laugh, or tried to anyway. Where I had hit him with the board his torn lip had started to bleed again, not to mention the lump as big as an apple just above the right ear. I thought, ‘what are you laughing at?’ He should look at himself first. Then it occurred to me that I looked even worse. Suddenly I was afraid to move anything, thinking something might fall off. I finally opened my mouth to ask, ‘What in Hades are you laughing at?’ When a sudden throbbing in my nose almost made me pass out. I slowly raised my hand and ever so gently started to feel around the general area of where my nose was suppose to be. It seemed to have moved quite a bit from its original position towards my left ear. It also gave the impression of growing much wider than I remembered.
Week long holiday in late December when the patricians served the slaves and it was a time for frivolity.
There was dried blood from my nose to lip that I began tenderly to try and scrap off. My upper front tooth had a definite looseness about it as well. Other damage that may have occurred I do not know, but would soon discover once I looked in a mirror. It was not pretty. -Oh, shut up Atticus! So I’m not as beautiful as yesterday. You should see yourself. -Oh, come on. If we look like this and we won the fight, can you imagine what they look like? -Fight? What fight? I don’t remember any fight. I said. -Well, I’m not surprised about that, but you were the one who started it. Atticus said with a smile. -Me?! Why did I do that? -Something about the wild woman at the Equus Rostrum5 Taberna down in the ‘old quarter’. You said “she was not a miserly old vulture” and started swinging. I, of course, could not let you get beat up all alone so I helped. We got three of the four, the fourth took off. By the way, do you know this so-called, “vulture ”, or were you spoiling for a fight? -Yeah, I know her. She’s my mother. Quite a lovely personality really, you’ll meet her soon enough and you’ll see. -I can’t wait! Said, Atticus. We managed to extract ourselves from ‘this is a fine mess you’ve gotten me into’ situation, and half walked, half limped our way towards the Subura.6 It was Ma’s day off so I knew she would be home. Since I had become a little more ‘active’ in the evenings’, Ma had patched me up more than once. She always yelled at me about being careful and ‘watch that left hook (sucker punch) son. In the next breath it was ‘when are you going to grow up, settle down and stop all this nonsense?’ It seemed a rather long time between the alley and our courtyard door, but we finally made it. My nose screamed, ‘help’, with each step! -Ma, are you here? I sounded funny, like I had a bad cold or a mouthful of rags. -What in Hades7 name do you want, and why are you talking so funny?’ As she came out of the shed where her two beastly mules; Flavius and Florus reined supreme. Atticus instinctively took a step back. The description of the “vulture” had not been kind, and in his imagination she was huge, muscle bound with piercing black eyes, and a heavy piece of metal that she would flaunt like it was a feather. In reality she barely reached five feet, 45kg., and stood her ground like a scrawny little hen. But it was the eyes. Those searing, piercing eyes that always did it. There wasn’t a person alive who wouldn’t blink before she did and she knew it.
‘The Horse’s Mouth’ Taberna Working class area in ancient Rome 7 Ancient Greek reference to the Underworld
-I said what in Hades do you...she nodded towards Atticus while looking him up and down,...and you’re friend want? She was always suspicious of my associates these days, but I could tell she liked him. She always fell for the ‘scoundrel-look’, and that, Atticus definitely had. Atticus felt like he’d just been undressed. Interesting woman he thought, but a little scary considering her reputation. He was ready to run if necessary. -Well, I see you’ve been up to no good again. Is it your fault, his fault or their fault? Pointing toward Attcicus. -Mine, I guess. Someone said something I didn’t like. -Well, you’re an asinus8 if that’s all it was, and he’s a bigger arse for helping you. Atticus flinched and subtly moved back another step. -Look at the two of you. And, the stink! Both of you strip. I’ll bring some water and something to kill the smell, and then we’ll fix you up. Take your time. It’ll hurt just as much later as now. I’ll get you some clean clothes. ‘You!’ Pointing at Atticus, I expect payment for services rendered. Atticus just nodded, but was wondering exactly what services she had in mind. She turned and went back into her domus9 -Claudius, you sure this is Ok bringing me home and such? She doesn’t seem too happy. -Atticus, relax. We’re lucky we caught her in a good mood. I smiled with a mischief smile. -You, nothus10! If she kills me, it’s on your head. -She already likes you, I can tell. Just watch where, and when, you bend over. It hurt, but I was grinning from ear to ear! -Damn, not only is the son crazy, but the mother’s a raving lunatic! What have I got myself into? A smile tickling the side of his mouth. -Atticus, she’s really a lovely person. I tried to keep a straight face! -Well, I hope so. Dying by the hand of a small diabolical female was not in the latest readings of the auger11! Said Atticus with an unconvincing grin. We went to the corner of the courtyard that Ma had indicated; would we dare go anywhere else; and stripped as instructed. She returned with the water and herbs and told us to ‘get busy.’ We were looking over our various cuts, abrasions and bruises and at the same time carefully trying to clean
ass house, home 10 bastard 11 reader of the future.
ourselves up. Neither of us found it very easy to scrub as thoroughly as the ‘vulture’ had instructed, but we tried, and slowly the ‘stink’ disappeared as well It wasn’t the warmest time of the year, and in fact the slight wind blowing was definitely raising goose-bumps and with the wash down with cold water other things began to shrink automatically. As Atticus turned to reach for a cloth to dry himself he found Claudius’ mother standing there with clothes in hand and a smirk on her face. Her eyes reached from his head to his toes. She was taking it all in! His manhood had already shrunk from the cold, it now shrunk to almost invisibility with the scrutiny of this small, but incredibly intimidating woman. -Relax, youngster. You ain’t got nothing I ain’t seen before...and in this weather, I’ve seen bigger leftovers! Her eyes crinkled with sarcasm and mischief. -Well, that made me feel much better. Said Atticus as he turned to me. Ma ignored the comment and tossed both Atticus and I some old clothes she had kept of mine. I had outgrown them years ago. They were too tight and not very comfortable, but at least they were clean. Atticus being taller than me really looked ridiculous. The tunic was at least a foot short and barely covered his behind. Both Ma and I looked at each other and then him and started laughing. At first Atticus seemed to take offense and then he looked at himself and laughed harder and louder than either of us. The laughing took a toll on our bodies. My ribs were hurting like Hades and I was not looking forward to Ma doctoring us. If we had had a choice I would have rather gone to the local blacksmith, but I still owed him money from last month’s races. I also knew Ma considered herself a better healer than the locals. Unfortunately I had to agree. I always did heal faster when she took care of me, but it was that nasty little grin she always had plastered on her face when someone was yelling from her salves and such. That same grin was once again asserting itself. Ugh! ... I hurt more already! Atticus was lamenting his decision to come with Claudius. He could see the ‘vulture’, he had since found out her name was Rufinia, gathering her instruments of torture, and he was not looking forward to this. And what was that funny little grin she had on her face? Strange. Ma sat down on the small round stone she kept in the garden for all of her little endeavours such as this. She placed her clean rags, thread and needle, herbs and salves next to her. She always has a good supply around, ‘just in case’ she says. She sent me one day for some herbs to this old grizzled woman. I later found out that old woman was more well known for her poisons that any herbs she sold. -Right! Who’s first? She said as she grinned. Both Atticus and I looked at each other and anywhere else, but not at Ma. I spoke up, ‘because your the guest Atticus, please go first. I waved him forward gleefully.
-No, no, you go first, it’s your house. -You! Pointing her long demanding finger at Atticus. Sit! -Yes, Ma’am. He sat. -Now, let’s see. Hmm. She started poking and prodding a cut here, a bruise there, a loose bit of skin around the lower left lip. All and all it was rather fast and seemed pretty painless. At least he only screamed twice and his lip only started bleeding again, once she put a couple of stitches in it. That’s when he fell off the old log he’d been sitting on. Mother threatened to pull the stitches out and start again if he didn’t hold still. No more wiggling around, he just sat quietly with a low constant whimper. -Ok, you’re done. Ma said. ‘Now go sit over there.’ She pointed to the bench by the well. He did. She pointed at me. ‘Claudius, come sit down.’ I got up and kind of staggered to where she was. I sat, but not very willingly. I knew this was going to hurt. My nose was repositioned in a place it wasn’t suppose to be, and Ma had that determined look of setting things straight. First she skirted around the nose; feeling here and there. Cleaning the dried blood from my left ear, scraping (gently, I might add) the already formed scabs from around the cuts on my lips. Somewhere along the line I had acquired a bald spot on the left side of my head, just above the ear. It was just about the size of a hand and I surmised someone was walking around with parts of my scalp. Ma fixed that up too with some herbs and awful smelling salve. Now all but my nose was done. Without me realising it Ma had signaled Atticus. He walked around me, and suddenly he grabbed my arms and pinned them behind me. In this small altercation we ended up with Atticus on his back, me on top of him and Ma sitting on my chest, humming loudly with that smile of hers becoming wider and wider. I could barely breathe much less move when Ma grabbed my nose with her right hand and pulled toward the middle of my face. With her left palm she pushed it toward the center as well. When it was where she wanted it, she held onto it with one hand and grabbed a long thin piece of cloth proceeding to wrap both my nose and head securely. I later learned this was her second attempt at nose surgery. The first was unsuccessful. I, of course, was screaming bloody murder and decided I would kill them both if I didn’t die from the pain first.
A month has gone by; Atticus’ cuts and bruised and stitches are healed, and I have to admit Ma’s nose surgery turned out pretty good. My nose is firmly planted in the right place. You can only see it lean a little to the left when ‘that certain light hits it’. All other parts have healed or are healing nicely. My bald spot is nearly grown back, but I doubt if my nose will ever forgive me.
Following Ma’s attentions and demands of checking up on us, Atticus came and stayed at my place, helping out at the taberna. Though Julius and I had been apart for some time now he was not happy about this but then realised we were just friends, and he actually started flirting with Atticus. I soon found out Ma was flirting with him too! I felt like I was on the outside looking in at a love triangle. When Julius wasn’t flirting, Ma was. I just stood around and shook my head in amazement. Needless to say both Atticus and I were the brunt of many jokes that month. The customers especially like some of the more brightly coloured cloths Ma managed to enclose my nose in. I’ve never been much on pastels, but I was not about to argue with Ma. And I know, she did it on purpose! After work Atticus and I would usually go back to my all inclusive, one room five story tinderbox of a walk-up with balcony. I had since moved out of the taberna. The tiny balcony qualified it for that extra five copper coins per month. However, you did not dare to set foot on it. It leaned even more than the insula12 itself, and in the opposite direction. The first day I moved in I innocently put a small food pot outside and it immediately felt through, down the five stories and just missed, Moussa, the laundry owner. Atticus’ line of work, when he’s working is a ‘procurer of slaves’. More precisely, run-away slaves. Said he’d been at the business for about five years. “Not the most profitable, but it’s a living, and it does have its perks. He said. “Perks?” I asked, “and what would they be?” “Slaves are 90% of my business, but every once in awhile my clientele expands. For example, now I’m looking for a runaway wife. Slaves usually disappear for good, but sons, daughters and wives I can usually find without too much problem. Everyone knows everyone when it comes to the upper classes, but slaves don’t really exist. It’s much easier for them to disappear.” “So tell me about this missing wife. Who is she? Why is she missing?” I was bursting with curiosity, and Atticus was being a real bugger about it. He was deliberately putting me off. “Well, if you must know...You are aware of the Praetor13 Gabinius Lucius Murcellus, chief mentulla14 and know-it-all? Atticus smile faded as he continued. “Murcellus used to beat his wife nearly once a fortnight. Never in the face of course. Just as the cuts and bruises would heal, he’d have another go at her. They had been married only three years and she had already had two miscarriages, because of the beatings. It’s now rumoured that he may divorce her on grounds of being childless! “He paid me very handsomely to begin the search. Of course it was more to keep my mouth shut then anything. A wife running away from her husband, and from one of the Murcellus family! Oh, the disgrace!” A toothy grin appeared.
12 13 14
magistrate, responsible for the administration of justice
roughly translated as ‘prick’
“Fancy family or not, I demanded half of my fee up front. I did not trust the nothus15 and that was before I knew how he treated his wife. “First I went in the direction of the Forum16 and then the Palantine17. “Why there first?” I asked. “Most of my reliable informants are there sometime during the day, and also everyone travels through one or the other nearly every day. I was hoping someone had seen her. Within three days my local spies told me Livia’s servant had been seen talking to the kitchen servant of the Equestrian 18 Gauis Marcus Lividius. Together they took a rather circular route making sure they were not being followed, but of course they were. They ended up at the Pons Aemillia where they met a very well disguised Livia Antonia Mursellus. I’m told she could easily have passed for a Thracian fortune teller and in fact that is what my spies thought she was at first, until the two servants visibly began to defer to her and that seemed very odd indeed. It was then that my spies decided to pay very close attention to the threesome as they gathered up several bags scattered around and made their way toward the Esquiline Hill19. Finally after half an hour they entered the Lividius household through the kitchen. The family had been hiding her from the beginning. The wife, Julia, had been her best friend since childhood and now was keeping her safe. More than once she had told Livia to get a divorce, but Livia would not think of it, out of fear of disgrace. She always talked about ‘family responsibilities and such. It was the last beating which caused the last miscarriage, and she finally decided to leave. From the beginning Livia had been staying there, nearly a month, when I was finally retained to find her. The Praetor had tried everything he knew: promises of money, threats of violence, anything to get information about his wife. But no one would say anything. There was not a whisper as to her whereabouts. Though the Praetor preferred to think of his behaviour as his own, all of Rome knew and despised him for it. Deserved beatings were one thing. Uncalled for cruelty was another. He was by nature a thief, a liar, and a vicious woman beater, and had been since very young. It made it all the more enjoyable to see his ego suffer the humiliation of his wife running away. There were many vices tolerated by some, if not all of Roman citizenry, but the Praetor was always crossing the line. It was bad for all Patricians20 not just the Marcellus name. More than once his despicable behaviour had been talked about and the general consensus, though never said out loud, was that it would be very pleasant ‘not to have him around anymore’.
17 18 19 20
bastard political and religious centre in ancient Rome. Also, everyone went to, or through the Forum in their daily travels. one of Rome’s 7 hills. Next to the Forum. class beneath the Patricians. Usually involved in business. area in Rome, one of the 7 hills. upper Senatorial class
I came on the scene unaware of the Praetor’s proclivity for nastiness. I arrived at his domus in late afternoon. The servant that answered the door looked like a scared rabbit. I waited in the outer atrium21 while I was announced. The Praetor came from his study in what appeared to be a cloud of dust and disorder. He was followed by two servants, both looking like they wished they were somewhere else. He never stopped for a second, while pretending to pay attention to me. He was attaching his seal to several tablets and shouting orders. He seemed a very busy man. However, I had seen it all before, and nothing much impressed me anymore. I found that people acting with such vigor in their own domus, and especially in front of visitors, was just putting on a show to prove how important they were. “Alexandros, I presume? You’re the man that Rufinius Gauis Pulcher recommended.” He stated this more as an insulting sneer than a question. “Yes, that’s right. I understand you have a runaway slave?” I knew that was not true, but I already decided I didn’t like him. I wanted him to have to say what he wanted. No niceties. Strictly business with him. The Praetor looked at me from head to foot, undoubtedly thinking me a bit on the seedy side. “I assume you will be discrete about this affair? I will pay you very well, but this must be done in a very quiet manner. “ He eyed me cautiously. “Of course. But I was unaware runaway slaves was so unusual these days.” He began to sweat. “Well, it’s not really a slave, it’s my wife, and she is missing, she has not runaway. She has been missing for nearly one month now. I’ve tried everything I can think of and questioned all those I know. She went missing and her servant with her. Of course I tortured the house slaves, but...it did no good. They all deny knowledge of where she went. No wonder they all look scared to death! I thought. While he was telling me his story I glanced around the atrium and watched the slaves reactions. Slaves speak with their eyes, never with their lips, and these slaves were telling me they would never tell, torture or not. While he was still talking I interrupted, something he was not use to by the look on his face. “Yes, well, when was the last time you saw her. What was she wearing, had you recently had problems, or to put it another way...” He didn’t like that problem question, he began to turn red with anger. I continued, “Why would she have gone missing, do you think? “I don’t know. It was a month ago on the Nones22 of November I left early in the morning on an errand for the upcoming Games23. Therefore, I do not know what she was wearing, and how would that make a difference anyhow?”
open area in the center of the house and leading off to the other rooms. There was usually a small shallow pool In the center. the 5th of the month. open to the public, conprised of races, gladitorial contests, etc.
“Just routine questions. You never know what women are thinking. She may still be wearing the same items, and if they were something in particular that would point her out that could be important. “Oh. I see.” He did not, but I did not expect him to. “The answer to your second question is no, we were not having any problems that I was aware of. I knew he was lying. Though he looked me right in the eye, he was still lying. He must be a real nothus to be able to lie with such a straight face. “I really can’t think of why she would do this to me.’ He said, without realizing it just told me she had runaway, not ‘gone missing. ‘I’ve given her everything a wife could want. The only thing I can think of is that she was ashamed, and wanted to spare me the embarrassment.” “Ashamed? Ashamed of what?” “Not being able to give me children. That was the most important thing for her; to start a family. She always talked about having many children and how happy we would all be.” “So, she never got pregnant?” “Oh, that wasn’t it. Actually, she was with child twice, but because of some kind of ‘female problems’, she always lost them. She was terribly distraught. Each time was worse than the last. The last miscarriage she locked herself in her rooms and would not come out for nearly a fortnight. That was about six weeks ago.” The nothus knew this was all a lie and he was the one responsible for the lost children, but of course he wasn’t about to tell me, and I did not find out the truth until the next day when one of his pretty, little house servants pretended to bump into me in the street at the arranged time and place. While helping her pick up the spilled fruit basket she whispered the truth of the beatings and miscarriages. She also said the mistress was well and I should just leave well enough alone. She thanked me loudly, turned, and disappeared into the crowd. I never did find out who she was, or why she trusted me. Before I knew the truth I told him I would take the job, but my fee was double the usual because of the ‘subtlety’ of the case. I was to be paid for daily expenses and any travel necessities I might incur. He agreed without a blink. I should have known better and quit there and then. It was all too easy. I demanded half the fee up front, which he gave; another warning sign, and again, ignored. He slave was showing me out, but just before I got to the door, he whispered for me to be “at the candle makers shop on Pharoahs St at lunchtime tomorrow. I said nothing, not being surprised by anything in this household. I only nodded and left.
At the street I turned left, down the hill and straight to the Canis et Bove24 Taberna. It was on my way home, I could pay my neglected bar tab, and once again get in the good graces of Lina, the brothel owner. A few denarii25 will make a good friend of anyone. “So,” Claudius broke in. “This was turning into more than a mere runaway case?” “It most definitely was, and I was not quite sure yet what a mystery it would turn out to be. That night I didn’t really care. I was enjoying myself a the Canis et Bove and for once I had enough money to be entertained by Lina herself. It was quite a time. You know, it’s said she learned her trade from Aphrodite 26 herself. After that night, I believe it. It was magnificent!” “Yeah, yeah. So after this incredible night of mad sex what happened with the case?” “Listen, it’s getting late, and I’m tired. I’ll tell you more tomorrow.” “Tired from what! Between Julius and my mother your days are spent flirting at the taberna. I do all the bloody work. You’re tired from beating off all that attention. By the way, who has the best chance, hm?” Julius or Ma? The situation was so silly I started to laugh. Atticus grinned too, and said, “I’ll never tell, but I can tell you, it won’t be you, you senseless Tarquinian 27ape! “Insults now, huh? Well, go to Hades. You aren’t what I’d want in a lover either, no matter what Julius and Ma think of you. Hmpf! We looked at each other and started to laugh. It was later than we thought, because even the drunk across the road started yelling for us to ‘shut the Hades up!’ So vigorously in fact that he almost fell off his balcony from four floors up. He was waving his arms and flapping his jaws like crazy. All this of course just made us laugh all the louder. It wasn’t long before both our faces were red and streaked with tears. After we had worn ourselves out we settled down and started to doze off. Almost made it too, until the drunk heard a dog bark and started his whole tirade again. This time he did take the four story plunge. Lucky for him, he hit the softest and largest pile of Bove stercus 28 in the city - face down of course. Only one broken arm, but it took five men to pull him out of the muck! The dog kept barking. Morning came way too early for my taste. What is that noise? It sounds like a small bear snoring. It wasn’t Atticus. I had gotten used to his roar. No, it was something else. I finally managed to open my eyes and felt my neck pop in three places as I perused the room. I even managed to half way sit up and peer around the room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Same
24 25 26 27 28
Dog and Ox Small silver coin. About a day’s wage. Greek goddess of Love Ancient Etruscan city Cow shit
pigsty as usual. Clothes on the floor, pieces of moldy bread crumbs on the floor, empty wine cups in the corner. But the noise was still there. Where was it coming from? Suddenly I saw movement in the corner nearest the window. Next the sound that I heard came from under one of our dirty tunics on the floor. I dug an elbow into Atticus’ ribs, with a feeling of glee I must admit, but the only reaction I got was a wild swing over my head. Guess he’s not ready to get up yet! I slowly got to my knees and crawled ever so cautiously toward the movement. First over to the snoring tunic and then to the mysterious moving wine cup. I had one hand on each fearing it was rats. I hate rats! I took a deep breath and counted, unus, duo, tres and flung the tunic and cup away. I immediately saw two pairs of eyes, one bright yellow, the other a quiet green peering up at me. The yellow eyed one hissed and arched and pretended to be 10 times its size. The quiet green eyes, the ‘bear’ was obviously a very busy snorer and had been sound asleep. Though his eyes were open he looked at me with disdain for disturbing him, and would I please just go away again. He curled back into a ball of fur, and went back to sleep. I leaned back with great relief. They were not rats! Exactly. I grabbed the tiny yellow eyed kitten. She bit and clawed with every breath; I put her in my lap and scratched her behind the ears. Within moments she was purring a new tune. The green eyed one soon started his snoring symphony again. This calm and quiet went on for about ten minutes while I wondered where they came from. I felt like I was being watched and looked up. On the window was the biggest cat I had ever seen. She looked half my size and twice as mean. She sat quietly, but intently watching me, with what was obviously, her kittens. She was a rather pale yellow with a patch of black on her left cheek, the tips of both ears and all four feet. Besides her size, it was her eyes you noticed; very large, very intense and oh yeah, just below the eyes, gigantic, perfectly formed, fangs! She glanced once at the snorer on the floor, but was obviously use to his demeanor and again turned my way. I watched and waited. I was beginning to think rats would have been preferable. With rats it was strictly kill them and toss ‘em. Now, I was beginning to wonder just who was going to do the killing. Atticus of course was still asleep and there was to be no help. It was just me and the mother cat. She shifted and stiffened. She started to groom herself, and I started sweating more than ever. She never took her eyes off of me, not even for a second. Because I had stopped scratching and petting the kitten she was now demanding attention. She kept making little kitten noises and rubbing up against my hand. At first I was conscious of the kitten doing this, but soon forgot concentrating on what the mother cat was going to do. I eventually realised I’d better keep the kitten entertained, and soon the scratching and purring took on a life of its own. The mother cat just watched.
Another five minutes of this stare down, and she suddenly stood up, glanced at the snorer, her other purring child, then walked slowly to the window and left. Macula29 and her two kittens; Rufus30, the male and Flos31, the female moved in. The kittens were always making a mess; They were in, under, up and over everything. Both Atticus and I; and later Julius and Ma all took a liking to the new family. Ma was the one that named them all the first time she saw them. They were well fed and soon Ma had bonded with Macula, a mother thing I guess, or Ma just wanted a guard dog! Once the kittens were weaned Ma took Macula home with her and for years they kept each other company. Atticus and I also kept each other company, but only on a part time basis now. After about six months he said he needed to return home to Samos32 and take care of a few things. I didn’t really ask. I figured he’d tell me when he got around to it. He’s been gone about four months now and I’d never tell him this, but it’s been kind of nice having the place to myself. Sure, lot less crowded. I can bring home the occasional overnight guest without the usual antics and jokes about my taste in this one or that one. All in good fun I know, but still rather boorish at times. Speaking of guests, I’ve actually only brought home this little cutie I call Mus33. Been to the place now three times in all. Soft brown eyes, silky light brown hair and three freckles just at the end of his cute little nose. By the gods, I must be getting soft in the head...what’s this cute stuff?! Mus looks to be a few years younger than me, which is isn’t hard any more. He came into work about three months ago for his evening meal. I served him and later we got to talking. Then talked some more at my place and he ended up staying. Ma couldn’t care less of course. Claims as long as I’m happy, that’s all she can ask for. Julius on the other hand is pissed! ---------Note from author: The following conversation is in pantomime and the heretofore mentioned sign language Julius and I invented as children. As you will soon realise, Gallicus also joins the conversation with Julius. For whatever unknown reason Gallicus seems to have an uncanny ability to pick up on communicating with Julius. ---------One day last week when Julius and I were opening the doors for business he cornered me in the kitchen. He wanted to know ‘what in Hades is going on?” “None of your business.” I said. “We aren’t together anymore, remember?”
29 30 31 32 33
Blemish Red Flower Greek island in the North Aegean sea Mouse
“Yeah, I remember.” He said sadly. “Besides haven’t you got that centurion34 wrapped around your little finger?” “What’s that got to do with anything? Julian said, while putting his hands on his hips and scowling darkly at me. “It has everything to do with this. We haven’t been together for two yeasrs. I didn’t say anything about that tall Thracian 35 merchant last year or the scrawny Gaul36 a few months ago. And now you’re with this giant centurion that looks like he wants to kill and eat me every time he comes in. “I just thought you didn’t care anymore. I didn’t know it upset you Claudius.’ We slowly made our way out of the kitchen and into the outer area. We sat at one of the tables across from each other. “Of course it upsets me. I love you. I’ll always love you, but it’s different now and our lives, we...have changed. It’s just something that we both have to get use to. I tried to explain. “Yeah, I’ve heard all this before.” Julius sadly agreed. “Yes, but you did not listen. Pay attention this time. Yes, I love you, and no we will never be together again together. I want to be your friend Julius. That’s all we can be now.” I hated to say it but its true and he knew it. “Fine, but why him?” Julius said. “Why him, what?” “Why Marcus?” He said. “Marcus who?” “Oh, come on! Marcus, your boyfriend.” Julius wrinkled his nose like something smelled badly. “Is that his real name?” I better be careful here. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know his name.” Julius looked at me unbelievingly. “Ah, yeah, I knew. I just forgot.” I tried to explain lamely. “Hmm.” With eyebrows raised. I didn’t dare say I had a nickname for him. Julius would have killed me. “Truce?” “Ok, fine. I’m happy for you. There, I said it. At least I’m trying. “Hey, wait a minute, it’s not like Marcus and I are building a villa together or anything, we’re just enjoying each other company.”
34 35 36
Professional army officer. Equivalent to approximately Captain in rank. Area of modern Bulgaria Inhabitants of Roman France
“I said fine. What more do you want me to say.” He slapped his hand on the table. Just as I began to try and calm Julius down, in strode Rufus Gallicus. Julian’s date of the month. Gallicus stood a half head taller than most men. Had arms and legs the size of tree trunks and his name reflected his head and beard colour, copper red. There was a nasty looking scar that ran from under his left ear, around the back of his neck and disappeared into his right shoulder. The small finger on his left hand was also missing, but I doubt that it had any effect on his fighting ability. He was known as a hard man who gave no quarter. Excuses were not accepted, but fair he was to his men. He made a decent living as a centurion and it was rumoured that he was partners with his brother-in-law, the pottery merchant. Only two more years until his retirement, and then his plans were to start a small import-export business south of Pompeii37. Other than his monstrous size and looks, his biography I learned from Julius’ lunchtime gossip and general conversation. Listening to him, Gallicus almost sounded normal. Me, I’m not so sure. He scares me half to death. Gallicus stood before us like an elephant ready to charge. First he looked at me and then Julius. He had that dark menacing look in his eyes. Then he turned toward Julius, and I swear, I saw his eyes soften and his cheeks turn pink. By the gods, he was blushing. Julius looked up at Gallicus and giving him a soft, kind smile he said, “Come, we must talk.” Julius reached over and gently took the giants rough left paw and led him over to the far corner. Gallicus followed quietly. Ma had come in just as they were making their way to the table. She walked up to me and said, “Isn’t he the sweetest thing?” “Who? Julius?” I stood there bewildered. “Of course not. I mean Gallicus. Such a sweet boy. And he really loves Julius you know.” I stood there dumbfounded. I looked at her like she had just gone mad. I glanced in the corner and the two lovebirds were cuddling, and Julius was stroking the back of Gallicus’ neck. I wanted to puke! Ma danced away whistling some tune or other. I stood like an idiot with my mouth open and lower lip dragging the floor. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m crazy. Believe it or not, that day was a turning point in the relationship between Julius, Gallicus and myself. Julius and I tried to stop being jealous of others, Gallicus no longer felt threatened of Julius’ and my previous relationship, although he did threaten castration (mine) if he ever found me and Julius alone again. I laughed, and he grinned showing me a full set of seriously sharp teeth.
City on southwestern coast of Italy, destroyed in 79 CE by Mt. Vesuvius.
When Gallicus was off-duty he now spent his time at Julius’ domus. Strangely enough he seemed to enjoy all the neatness and ‘little things around’ I could never tolerate. Must have been all those years with his face in the mud. Next Chapter The boy was laid out flat. Blood and foam oozed from his ears and mouth, his right knee wasn’t quite the way it was supposed to be. It kind of looked like it was upside down and backwards. Ouch! Atticus and I had chased this damn dog into the ally after it decided to abscond with our lunch. We chased it down the street and then into the alley. Dog got away, with our lunch, through a crack in the wall, but just as we were huffing and puffing and cussing the dog out, we saw the boy. We went over, bent down on hands and knees, looked at each other, sighed, and then shrugged. It was always a decision for us. Should we help, or ‘just get the hell out of there’? This time we stayed. The boy looked to be about 10 years old and was nothing but skin and bones. Atticus picked him up and we started to take him to Ma’s, but then we realised she had left two days ago for her sister’s in Napoli,38 and would be gone a fortnight. In case anyone is wondering, Macula, the monster cat from hell, is staying with Julius and Gallicus. “Now what in Hades are we going to do?” “Macula!” I said. “What? Macula what? The stupid cat can’t take care of the boy.” Atticus now looked at a loss. Children was a word not in his vocabulary. “No, you idiot. Macula is with Julius and Gallicus. We’ll take the boy there. If Ma trusts them with her cat, they can sure in Hades take care of a small boy.” “Good idea, let’s go.” He had this very relieved look on his face. The panic began to subside in his voice, but the pace of his feet did not. I almost had to run to keep up. We were only ten minutes from Julius’ which was good for the boy, and very good for me. I thought I was going to pass out those last hundred meters, nearly having to sprint up the hill. I knocked and waited. Atticus began kicking at the door. “What are you doing?” “What’s taking so long? The boy doesn’t look too good.” The boy’s condition hadn’t changed at all, but Atticus was beginning to panic again. I kept thinking he was going to faint. The world is a funny place. Here’s a man who could twist your ears off and break you leg, all at the same time, and have a very good time doing it, and yet the idea of a helpless child or animal is intolerable. He feels helpless and panic strikes.
Major Roman city and port in south-western Italy, just north of Pompeii
Finally we heard movement. A kind of shuffling boulder, getting louder and louder. It was Gallicus who opened the door I’m sorry to say. He filled the entire entrance. Now I know why the shuffling boulder came to mind. I was standing in front of Atticus so Gallicus could not see the boy. When he saw me his face began to turn red, and his one brow began to furrow across his entire forehead. “What do you want, we’re busy.” He growled. While thinking about that answer, I glanced at him from head to foot. I could not see in the room, his bulk blocking the view. I did notice he looked neater and cleaner than usual. More baths I suspect. I also saw that his hair was neatly trimmed and his nails clean. My, my, we are changing. But the thing I noticed most were his feet. Sandals they were, but of a pale blue colour and some kind of decoration on the straps I couldn’t quite make out, but they looked rather cute. I almost thought of laughing until I looked up and saw him watching me. I straightened up, conscientiously keeping as blank a look on my face as possible, and said, “Atticus and I found this boy and he’s hurt and Ma’s out of town and well...since she trusts you with Macula, we figured we could bring him here and...” There was this sudden roar---“Julius, caritas39, come here quick!” I nearly fell over from the wind gust! Thank the gods, he was never my centurion, I’d be deaf! And what was this caritas? “What is it luv?’ “Your ex, and the other one is here, with a hurt boy.” Gallicus always referred to Atticus as ‘the other one’. Other one what? I was always curious about that. But not so curious as to have the nerve to ask. “What? Yes, yes, I’m coming.” Julius came in only a moment’s time. Macula following closely behind. Macula took up her post directly behind and to Julius’ left. Macula hated missing anything. Julius looked good. Very good actually, and certainly happy. Finally found someone who could appreciate the finer things in life, even if he was a huge, ugly brute! “Who’s hurt? There’s a boy? Where is he? Gallicus finally moved from the doorway and Atticus followed me inside. “I’ve got him. Where should I put him?” “Here. I’ll take him.” Said Gallicus. I just watched with amazement. I was afraid he would crush him, but he held the boy like a delicate flower. The boy all but disappeared behind Gallicus’ forearms as he held him as if he were a newborn baby. He peered downward with worry on his face.
Dearest, love, affection
“Gallicus, put him here.” Pointing to the couch in the corner. What happened Claudius? Where did you find him? Who did this?” “We don’t know what happened. We found him in the alley behind a taberna. We don’t know who he is, or who did this. When he gets better he can tell us.” “As I was talking Julius was checking the boy over. “His knee is broken, I can’t fix that. Atticus go get that Greek, Lysias, or Tiro, or whatever his name is. He’s always at the Baths trolling. Look in the frigidarium40 first. He’s from Athens. Everyone knows him. Tell him it’s a favour to me...and, Atticus, don’t say anything other than necessary. Tell him to be discreet, and to hurry. We all looked curiously first at each other and then in unison at Julius. I said it first, “Discreet? Why discreet? You know something we don’t?” “Not exactly, but I do have some ideas. Two things are a possibility. One, a ship of slaves shipwrecked two days ago and the slave buyers have been going crazy looking for those who got away, and two, just a runaway boy who got himself into a lot trouble with someone.” “Your amazing.” Said Gallicus, with pride in his voice. “We haven’t left the house for days and yet you know all the news and gossip.” Julius blushed. I was getting sick! I didn’t like that thing about ‘not leaving the house’. Damn him! Although which one I’m angry at I’ not sure. They are both irritating. “Can I leave now?” “What?” Julius replied to my mumbles. “Nothing.’ I said. Julius went out of the room coming back with hot water, cloths and jars of salves from the store room. I recognised some of the salves from their horrid smell and my broken nose; which by the way still hurts when I sneeze the wrong way. The boy still hadn’t moved and was as limp as a rag. Julius had stripped him and cleaned him up. Now only some scrapes and a couple bruises showed, except for his knee showed any damage. Atticus and ‘what’s-his-name’ came in a few minutes later. Atticus had finally calmed down enough to return to his normal colour, but I could see from his eyes, he was still on the near-panic side of the line. The Greek looked like all Greeks. Average height, longish hair, long beard, well dressed, snooty attitude; and this one had a young slave about twelve following behind with his bag of ‘cures’. “I came as soon as I knew you had sent for me. Where is the patient?” “I found him just where you said Julius.” Atticus sneered. The Greek ignored him. “He’s here on the couch. Thank you for coming so quickly.” The Greek nodded and sauntered over to the boy. He looked at, and felt around the leg and then checked the rest of the boy’s bones.
At the Baths, the cold water pool.
“I’ll need two straight sticks about a half meter long; not too thick, not too thin; a small amount of concrete, about a liter I should think, and cloth strips about this wide. He indicated the width of his hand. We all stood there. “Well, what are you waiting for?” Julius immediately took over. “Gallicus, the concrete. There’s a new wall going up on the other side of the laundry. Atticus the sticks; if I remember there’s a new building east side of the Esquiline. Plenty of wood there. They both practically ran out the door. The domus got quiet. As soon as they were gone Julius and I started tearing strips of cloth. The Greek kept a close watch on the boy, while Macula was still at her post taking it all in. I asked, “How are things? Everything ok?” “Fine...everything is fine. You? “Good, good. No complaints. Hmm...so you think this thing with Gallicus will work out?” Julius looked a little uneasy, and I felt terribly uneasy myself, but... “He’s not what I pictured as the love of my life exactly. I had more in mind of tall, dark and handsome.” I laughed, but not too much. “Well, you got two out of three! The handsome part is a bit lacking.” Julius smiled. “Yes, well he is rather rough around the edges, but he’s good hearted and he loves me.” “So Ma says. She thinks he’s a right sweetie.” We looked at each other and both had to laugh at that one. We were laughing so hard we didn’t hear Gallicus come in. “Shh! Said the Greek. “I’m trying to hear his heart. “ He turned his head to the boy’s chest again. Gallicus had come in and seen us laughing, but it didn’t really register with me I guess. He said nothing and immediately went over to the doctor. “Is this enough? I can go get more if you need it.” Gallicus put the sack down on the floor next to the couch. “No, that’s fine,” Barely glancing at the sack. “Now go sit down and be quiet.” Gallicus did as he was told, but his eyes never left the boy. Atticus came in with his sticks and was told to join Gallicus in silence. Finally all was ready. The sticks, concrete and strips of cloth. The Greek had us all come over to the couch and gave us new instructions as to how to help the boy. We went to work. Julius held the boy’s head; Atticus his arms, Gallicus helped the Greek pull and straighten out the knee and I held his other leg down. If the boy woke up we didn’t want him thrashing about.
The procedure only took a few minutes. The Greek with a quick twist and pull, put the knee back the way it’s suppose to be, then he wrapped the leg loosely with cloth, then put the sticks one on each side of the knee, wrapped the sticks with the rest of the cloth and then encased the whole thing in concrete. Then we waited for it to dry. The Greek said this new way of treating broken limbs was invented by Greek physicians (of course!) Says it works every time. Leave the thing on about three months and then its right as new. Makes life a bit difficult to walk and such, but well worth it. “By the way,” Said the Greek, “The boy’s got one broken rib and two cracked ones. He won’t even think about his knee for awhile. The Greek was right about the boy forgetting his knee. He finally woke up after three days of going in and out of consciousness. He asked a few times where he was, but never stayed awake long enough to hear the answer. Strangely it was Gallicus who was there each time the boy woke up. It’s most likely what also put him back to sleep. He probably fainted from fright each time he opened his eyes! Atticus and I looked in every once in awhile; we even managed the boy a new tunic. Ok, ok, so we bought it second-hand, but the boy won’t know, and it’s the thought that counts, right? Besides, we were short on money that week. Ma came back by the time the boy was sitting up and was fussing around, and saying how ‘those damn Greeks’ were always taking credit for things she knew we (Rome’s glorious masses) had invented. The boy didn’t talk much. Besides being in a houseful of crazy strangers, it hurt to even breathe with his ribs and moving about was extremely painful. He never complained, but I know it hurts like Hades. When that Thracian dog cracked a couple of mine, it took months for them to stop hurting. I did not envy the boy. Between his ribs and the concrete block on his leg, he was going to have a tough time for awhile. He finally said his name was Lucius, his father was killed by some bandits, and he never knew his mother. That was the end of the conversation. One life story in a very short sentence. After Ma returned from her sister’s, Macula of course went home with her, but each time she went to Julius’, Macula followed right along. No one ever knew how she did it, but she instinctively knew when Ma was going and where. Ma tried to trick her once or twice going to the market first but when she arrived at Julius’, there she sat on the doorstep. Ma smiled, called her some ridiculous endearment, patted her on the head, and then in they went. Macula went over to the boy, jumped up on the couch, settled in and started purring. The boy reached over and began unconsciously to stroke her head. Next Chapter It’s been about a month now. Atticus and I are working at Ma’s as usual and drinking and whoring whenever we have the time. Gallicus is off on a short stint training new recruits. I pity those poor
recruits. Not his usual duty, but says it’s because it’s getting near his retirement. Ma told me the real reason is the boy. This duty allows him home every few days and that way he can see both Julius and Lucius, making sure all is ok on the home-front, so to speak. Ma and I were at work one day in the late afternoon with only the odd customer. I asked why she thought Gallicus was so worried about the boy. Julius wouldn’t tell me if he knew, and Julius told Ma everything. “Ok, Ma, what’s up with Gallicus and the boy? When we brought him to the house, he snatched him from Atticus the moment he saw him. He’s watched over him like a newborn puppy, now he’s gone and changed his whole life, just so he can be with him. What’s going on?” “I’m not supposed to tell.” This said with a mischievous glint in her eyes that nearly blinded me. “Oh, come on. Your whole life has been the neighbourhood storyteller. Why stop now?” “Because, I promised.” “Promised? Promised who?” I was beginning to worry that it would be one of those times when she really did keep her promise. “I promised Julius.” “He don’t count, he’s only my brother. Come on...tell.” “I gotta go home now, it’s beginning to rain and I left the shutters open, and...” “Stop trying to change the subject. Come on, give.” I said. “Ok, but say nothing to no one. Ok?” Her voice changed from matronly to one of a strong hint of conspiracy. She bent down as if to fix her sandal. I followed the motion. We looked like two people waiting for the goat to give us both a heads up the arse! “Did you know Gallicus was an orphan?” She said. “No. Why? Why would I even think to care?” I said. “Well, that’s what’s behind all this.” “What, you mean is he thinks he’s looking at himself when he looks at Lucius?” “Well, yes and no.” Ma was being patient with me I have to admit. “Now what in Hades does that mean? Yes and no?” “Did you know he had a son about the same age as Lucius?” “What!” “Ma, how would I ever know that. I only know he’d kill me with pleasure if he could. We’ve never exactly had a conversation, and we aren’t on very friendly terms.”
“Oh, Claudius. He’d never hurt you. He’s a sweet boy. “Stop saying that! What does everyone, at least the female population; and Julius see in him. He’s just a gigantic, muscle-bound, red-headed monster, who happens to love Julius and now seemingly the boy.” “Oh!...(crack) Oh cacat41! There goes my back again. Ma said. I’ve got to sit up. Here, help me. Mine was killing me as well. Thank the gods she blinked first. It always seemed a contest between her and me, and I usually lost the battle of wills. I helped her straighten herself out, and poured us both a good measure of spiced wine. “Alright, here’s the story, and don’t interrupt!” She said, as she looked both ways, making sure no one else was listening. No one else could be listening, the place was empty! Ma should have been an actor! “Fine, just start!” I was getting frustrated. “Gallicus’ father was a soldier killed in Gaul, thus his name Gallicus. His mother was a slave who borne him in secret and then gave him to a freed-woman so he would be free. She raised him as her own. His real mother died soon after. When Gallicus was five years old the freedwoman was killed in an accident. He was then shuffled from one relation to another. Finally he was taken to a goat herder and his wife that needed help with their goats. He was only seven, but as you can guess, big for his age.” I opened my mouth to say something, but she refilled my glass and said, “just shut up and listen!” “He was treated kindly by them enough, but they also worked him very hard.” “When he got to his seventeenth year, he enlisted and has been in the army ever since. After several years he was stationed in Germania and met a woman who gave birth to his son Titus. He, the woman and his son stayed together three years when he was transferred to Transalpine Gaul. The woman and son stayed in Germania. He tried to keep communications open, but after two years the letters stopped. Rumour had it she drowned while trying to run from some thieves. The last anyone saw of the boy he was floating down the river holding onto a pick of wood. No one knows what happened. Lucius is about the right age, blond, blue-eyed and with that same dimple in his chin. “Now may I speak?” Treading ever so carefully. “Yes, yes, of course.” As she took another drink. “Gallicus hasn’t gone crazy and believes that Lucius is his son does he?” “Of course not. He knows the odds to that. But I guess seeing Lucius just brought back all the memories.” “Well, now what do we do?”
“We, do nothing. It’s up to Julius, Gallicus, and Lucius. The three of us think he is probably from that shipwrecked slave ship. So as long as Lucius stays with Julius and Gallicus as their son, no one can prove different.” “No one except everyone that knows they haven’t been together long enough to hardly make a commitment, much less have adopted a son.” “Yes, well that’s really no problem, because you see: your poor Aunt Tivia, from your father’s side, had a daughter who has a son. The daughter recently died and left the boy an orphan. Since I’m the only living relative, and I’m getting on in years, I decided that the boy would best be suited with Julius. He arrived a year ago last Febriarius. At first he stayed with you and Atticus for three months, six months with Macula and me and now that Julius and Gallicus have their own place the boy now lives with them. “Do I even have an Aunt Tivia?” “Yes, but I never liked her. She was the worst gossip! My eyebrows shot up so far they very nearly disappeared into my hairline. It took all I had not to laugh! “I must say I don’t remember the boy very well, I hope Atticus does.” “Don’t worry. I’ve already discussed it with him.” “I see. Yes, I’m sure he’s fine with it. You could have told me before you know.” I felt left out and ignored. “You never asked.” A smile upon her lips. “I’ll remember that the next time I have some juicy gossip.” A smirk proudly on my face. “No, you won’t. You never do.” She was right. I never did remember. Well, at least one mystery is solved. Damn, and I thought it would be more juicy. Well the gods must be generous at the moment. Gallicus loses one son, but finds another. They must be grateful for all those years, wounds, and scars he has contributed over the years. Seems he will have a good life from now on. Months went by. Julius started working as cook at the taberna once again. Gallicus continued to train recruits, Lucius began with a tutor in the morning, and in the afternoon worked in the taberna running errands and such. Atticus and I still worked there too, usually the evening shift. Oh...and Macula...she presented Ma with three beautiful new kittens this last autumn. Two like her and one black with four white paws. They grew and grew and soon were off on their own. Macula seemed quite relieved once they were off, and I for one, certainly don’t blame her.
Next Chapter Atticus managed a cart and off we went early in the morning. It took us about an hour to cope with the road, but the time went quickly so we never even noticed the gigantic ruts that kept knocking us about. The only one who seemed to readily complain was Macula. Every once in awhile she would enlighten us with a terrifying scream that made us all go stiff for moment while the ringing in our ears stopped. Finally we reached our picnic area. We all hopped out and started unloading the cart and deciding where to arrange things. O course it really didn’t matter what anyone said. As usual we all put our two sesterius42 in, but it was Ma who decided. I have to give Ma credit though; this time around she actually asked Julius for his opinion, not that it really mattered. It was a beautiful day for a picnic. It was early spring, blue sky with a few fluffy clouds here and there floating gracefully about. A breeze so slight only your nose hairs noticed. We were all in good spirits and ready for a day’s relaxation. We were making our way to the picnic area at the river. Ma, Julius, Gallicus, Lucius, Atticus and myself-oops, almost forgot...and Macula, who was hidden in a basket on Mom’s arm. It was safer this way in case a stray dog came round. Outta sight, outta mind, so to speak. The taberna was closed for the day, Gallicus was off duty and Ma had deemed today to be Lucius’ birthday. It was one year ago today we found him in the alley. Not only had he changed physically, but his presence had changed all our lives. Well, not so much Atticus’ and mine, but everyone else’s. He had gained about ten kilos and grown two inches. In Lucius’ wanderings about, he had found a nice, relatively secluded spot under a large tree near the river not too far, and he and Gallicus began fishing for our lunch. Ma and Julius set out the blanket and other things, and Atticus and I went down the river bank to ogle the cute little nymphs as they swam about in their nothingness. We watched and made obscene gestures, they giggled and waved. I hope you do not think of us as hopeless perverts. We are actually quite respectable perverts. We don’t flirt with just any naked bodies we lay our eyes on. We know these luscious individuals from the Baths, and any self-respecting red-blooded Roman male would have to be crazy or a eunuch not to enjoy the company of good friends. While Atticus and I spent time with a couple of our ‘friends’, Gallicus and Lucius had been successful in their fishing expedition and were now cleaning them. Gallicus was the perfect father to Lucius, but in the beginning there had been some problems. It had been a few months before Lucius stopped flinching or covering his head with his arms every time Gallicus raised his voice, or made hand gestures. The first few days with them, he would weep each night when Gallicus would come home in uniform. Julius was the one who realised what the problem was, and so Gallicus began to change before coming inside.
Small silver coins
Another night after work Gallicus was going on and on about how “they (the recruits) just don’t make soldiers like they used to”. Though barely able to move, Lucius got so frightened of Gallicus that they finally found him hiding outside with the dog. Lucius understood Latin and so he knew Gallicus was not angry with him, but he had lived like an animal for so long he began to react as they did. Words meant nothing, it was the tone and volume. After this Gallicus was much more careful around the boy. He saved his real yelling for the new recruits! The two of them sat quietly while Gallicus proceeded to instruct the boy on the refinements of fish cleaning. The boy kept rapt attention. The bond between them grew stronger each day. Julius was very happy for this turn of events. He loved Gallicus more each day and the boy was working his way into his heart as well . As far as Ma was concerned Lucius was already her grandson and she was thrilled with the idea. Ma turned to me and said suddenly, “I’ve no reason to believe I’ll get any grandchildren from you!” This was not a question. Pointing her finger accusingly and quite nearly taking my left eye out. For my part, I just shrugged and smiled. What else could I do? She was right as usual. With that, she stood up, Macula directly behind her, turned and walked to where Gallicus and the boy were. Though Lucius was now only 11, he was taller and heavy than Ma. No matter. She reached down, pulled him to his feet and hugged him so hard I though his eyeballs would pop out. He couldn’t respond. Both arms were pinned against his body and he had this funny look on his face like, “what is this crazy person trying to do to me?” She finally let go, but still had her hands on his shoulders. She smiled widely then said, “Happy Birthday, Lucius. Welcome to the family.” “Thank you. I really like it here, he said weakly, not quite knowing what to do. Gallicus was grinning from ear to ear. Julius had more than one tear in his eye. Atticus stared blankly, me...I was in shock! I’d never heard Ma say anything like that before. Maybe she needs that Greek head doctor I’ve heard about. Ma smiled and nodded at what Lucius had said, patted him on the head and then made her way back to us. She came and sat down to where she had been before, straightened the wrinkles from her clothing, and yelled...”So, where’s lunch. I’m starving! Macula agreed with another hair-raising screech. Back to normal. The rest of the day was spent in leisure; eating, sleeping, talking of nothing in particular, but especially not that earlier scene. Shadows were getting pretty long by the time we loaded the cart and made our way home just before dark. A most enjoyable day indeed.