"Make this kind of prayer to the gods, without your previous lamentation, nor with wild and useless panting; for you will not escape your destiny any more." --Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes
The air twists around my lungs like a sweat-damp sheet, viscous with old candle smoke, roasted animal skin and oversweet perfume. Sometimes rooms are too crowded when I'm alone, and here it's worse. I'm crammed into this gold-plated hall where Nicomedes' courtiers stick like barnacles to green couches.
I blame that gibbering priest. He came to me late this afternoon, his hands still slick with sacrificial blood, while I sat in one of Nicomedes' chairs with the gold legs shaped like diving whales. Servants scuttled through the room armed with silk and linen, jewelry boxes or pots of scented oil. The priest in his dingy grey robe didn't belong. Young, with eyes like tombs, he swore his steaming pile of cow guts foretold my punishment by the god of war. I wanted to hit him; instead, I told him to leave.
Religion is a comedy by Plautus. I know from experience. The consul Cinna, who considers me a chess piece in his game against the more powerful Sulla, made me a priest of Jupiter at sixteen. I had to wear an apex, a fur cap with cheekguards, while only a freeman with a bronze knife could cut my hair; the snipped pieces, like my pared nails, were collected in an ivory box to be buried with me. My toenails as relics--who wouldn't laugh? I couldn't have knots in my house, see armed troops or mount a horse. My life, in other words, was castrated, castrated for a hollow god.
If you look in the temples, past Corinthian columns reaching like childish fingers to yank the hem of the Father's celestial gown, beyond a hundred gold doors, through the haze of incense and burned animal fat, you'll see plenty of former virgins, their plump thighs squeezing the paler flanks of Jupiter's servants; plenty of simony, bags of gold for a pox on a neighbor's prize oxen or a lightning storm on an enemy's wedding day; the odd prayer ("Will you deign, oh Great One, to receive this pig and grant your favor?" with the pig still shrieking through its blood-puking throat).
What you won't see is Jupiter himself, even if you pray to him every night for a year after your father dies. Sure, he's invoked whenever one of the virgins gets knocked up; she swears he came to her in the night, his eyes full of lightning and his skin hot as a coin left in the sun, and "Oh, you should have seen him. Built like a bull, and he stopped time so we could be together for three nights, and this child will be a hero." A far-sighted priest will spot him when another god's cult starts to collect more votive offerings. Standing on the Capitoline Hill, arms flapping with enthusiastically false piety, he'll say the Father appeared in a vision. Taller than a bell tower, feet like ships, Jupiter promised eternal prosperity if only the people worshipped him alone as the supreme power. And don't forget to leave your gold votive offerings before you head out.
So I know not to trust Nicomedes' priest when he warns me about Ares, and dismissed him with the threat of a beating if he bothered me again. Even if he existed, Ares has no reason to punish me; I'm in Bithynia on the business of war, to gain a warship from Nicomedes, following the governor's command. True, I've been here longer than expected, and governor Thermus' last letter sounded annoyed, but if Jupiter can stop time to sleep with a pretty girl, I can delay my return to sleep with the king of Bithynia.
I'm tense tonight only because I hate the thought of being judged by anyone, god or governor. Out there, you're always judged, always turned into something you're not by someone you don't respect. For the last three years, ever since my father's death, I've been stamped and molded, passed around so often my edges are dull as an old coin. There's my uncle Marius, plotting with Cinna, and Cinna himself, using me against Sulla, and Sulla countering their moves. Public defamation in the Senate, hand-over-mouth gossip in every corridor, with the odd satirical poem in cumbersome hexameter mocking the enemy's virility, diet and ancestry to really get your enemy where it hurts. Nothing like an accusation of doormice-eating effeminate bastardy to make a politico foam at the mouth.
The rumor is that Cinna forced Thermus to employ me by threatening to make public the governor's fondness for lark tongues soaked in honey. That Thermus liked to suck them from the ass of a senator's wife probably sealed the agreement. No surprise that he ranks me lower than a whore with the clap, which is why I'm in Bythnia, bait for King Nicomedes.
Nicomedes himself isn't like that. He's all about indulgence, although his courtiers are infected with the Roman love of scandal. Even as I ignore his other guests, he smiles at me from across the table, reclining lazily on the couch as a pretty male slave, a lion-skin wrapped around his hips, feeds him bites of a cumin-flavored pear tart. All he wants is to worship me with his tongue and would give me a thousand ships if his councillors didn't interfere. Claudius in particular, whose blood is bluer than his old man's balls, looks down his sausage nose at me, his thin patrician lips so pursed that his dislike threatens to produce a kiss.
Hungry again, I return to my plate, the tiny medallions of gazelle stuffed with chives. No need to get upset. Nothing matters in Bithynia, this quiet province to the east: not Rome, not Thermus or Cinna or Sulla. Here I'm nobody's puppet. I interrupt my rant, looking up for Nicomedes' reassuring gaze. Only his attention is on the slave, as he licks the smears of cumin from the boy's fingers, one hand on the long smooth thigh for balance.
"Looks like you'll be going home soon." Claudius, the chief councillor, stands before my couch. When a passing slaver offers him a plate of sea mussels with leeks and white wine, Sulla's favorite dish, he shakes his head in mock despair. "That's the problem with Roman food: its flavor never lasts long."
"Only when your palate's been dulled by pig swill, Claudius. Maybe if you came in to dine more often..." I shrug, suggesting it's hopeless. He's tossed one barb too many, and I'm fed up.
"Oh, is that some of the famous Roman wit we've heard so much about and heard so little of?"
"Wit needs a clever subject."
"And a clever speaker."
"A clever audience, to catch the subtleties." I've had a thousand conversations like this, here and back home. It matters less what you say than how you say it, and actions don't count except as good stories in the banquet hall. Some Romans actually carry a small abacus with them at parties to keep score of their verbal victories, and they're not above recording others', which they'll palm off as their own the next night.
"A truly witty man," he continues, "knows--"
"--when he's overstayed his welcome." I'm about to turn back to the king when Claudius clicks his tongue.
"Then, my dear Julius, we have a problem."
In a different life, I'd forget everything my father taught me and trade my wit for a sword. When he was lying cold and heartless on the floor, I'd fuck his wife on the table. Since I'm stuck in this one, I simply smile and eat my food.
To cool the air, four slaves fan the bed with dozens of peacock feathers, enough for a tail each, their actions mechanical, their faces blank as dolls. One of them is the boy from the banquet, clean of cumin. Naked, I push aside the gossamer-thin fabric to climb up beside the king.
"I've missed you." He runs his hand over my leg, which is smooth in the Roman fashion, although I wear my hair long, near to my shoulders, like his. In the blue and gold light from the candles and the summer moon, Nicomedes reminds me of my dead father. Not in looks--Nicomedes is younger, with a cat's sleek boneless body, his hair so light the grey barely shows. It's how he studies me, protective under the lust. "You looked upset at dinner. Is there anything I can do?"
The pillows are so wide and soft it's like sinking back between the thighs of a giantess. "Your priest. The gut-gazer."
"I didn't know you were a believer." He slides down a little, so that the top of his head is under my chin, and begins to lick my nipple. His gestures are always languid; I don't think he understands time.
"I'm not. I just didn't like his talk about punishment."
He doesn't ask for details. "I'll take care of him for you."
My cock stiffens as his tongue swirls over my skin. Nicomedes can spend hours on my nipples, always at the same slow pace. He says he wants to do it until milk forms so he can drink from me there. I let him, lying still with one hand flat on the sheet, the other resting on his head. So easy to shove him down, king or no king, and have him suck me hard since my balls ache and my cock is leaking all over my stomach. But then it would be over, and I've enjoyed this cocooning bed, the ease of doing nothing while he takes care of me.
Through the gauzy curtain, I watch the peacock feathers float through the air. Nicomedes' tongue imitates them as he floats kisses down between my ribs, a bare damp whisper on my skin. When he uses his hands, it's always the fingertips, and he passes one over my wet, swollen nipple in the promise of a real touch that never comes. His nail is silver and pointed like a claw, and I shudder, which earns me a kiss on my hip.
"That's it." Nicomedes' voice is rich as jasmine oil. "Relax. Let me do everything for you."
Only he won't do everything. He's very particular about that. Nicomedes won't fuck me, and I don't want him to, even though his cock is fairly small. Better to lie here and be licked to orgasm. Controlled, pure beauty, a monument or a myth. Like he's confirming this, Nicomedes finally reaches my cock to start the kiss-lick-stop rhythm that usually completes my break from reality, nudging me upward until I'm a constellation. Tonight, it's different. I'm sore from the stamp of the priest's words, from Claudius' digs. This time Nicomedes' gentle touch is driving me crazy but with a darker edge, like real madness is creeping in. "Maybe a little faster."
He gives me that benign smile, empty like the tolerant face of Jupiter on the walls of his temple. 'Gives' isn't right; it's not a gift because he doesn't really see me, this ghostly old man feeding off my cock.
"Faster," I say again, and thrust up my hips.
"Julius." A slight warning.
"I just want to come. It's been a long day." I imagine coming on his face, smearing him with my semen. Won't happen. Another of the rules. It has to be in his mouth, like I come ambrosia and he'll live forever if he drinks enough. Or maybe it's just too messy otherwise. Nicomedes does like things neat. He watches me now, and even in the faded light I see the lines carved into his forehead, along the sides of his mouth. His Highness is not amused that his come-tap is about to run dry. There's an old joke about Death as the tapster of life, and my cock starts to wilt. "Just forget it. I'm tired."
"Maybe tomorrow." He's already turning to the slave in his lion-skin.
What did I expect? A declaration? More reassurance? Like everything else, I'm a commodity. I'm on my feet, grabbing my tunic from the back of a chair. "Goodnight." I almost call him father before heading to the door. Behind me, an armful of peacock feathers whispers to the floor.
The palace breathes for me, sucking in air through shiny marble lungs. There are flowers everywhere, roses crammed in vases, and their fat red faces snuffle what's left, spewing back a toxic perfume. Lost, I wander arterial hallways until they widen to gold doors, like the gate of Elysium. The sentries don't stop me, don't even see me, as the moon darts behind clouds as the doors swing open.
"It's a ghost," one says when the doors swing open. Under the helmet that fits like a silver bowl, his eyes are sepulchral, and I remember Ares' priest.
I'm not dead, though, not yet. Already past him, I head down the hill toward the harbor, the cobblestones rough and cold against my bare feet. The moon is back, Jupiter's fist in the sky, and under it the water gleams like liquid amethyst but smells raw and salty like birth. There are armed patrols around, invisible to me and me to them, a blur of voices behind corners, down paved streets. The tide is low, the sea holding its breath, and I walk through clinging wet sand toward the arched mole that creates this artificial harbor. The rough-hewn steps gouge the pads of my feet; the water lapping the stone below will soothe them. At the top, the walkway stretches forward narrow and convex like a bridge, only there's nothing at the end, just more sea.
A ship seems to follow me as I move forward, Thermus' trireme, the one Nicomedes owes Rome. The captain stands at the prow, tall and dark, more a shadow than a man. The striped sail rustles in the breeze and the oarsmen chant a low rhythmic song while a gull laments overhead. Sometimes as a boy I'd have nightmares that felt like visions of a future straight from Pluto's realm. Mutilated bodies float in a red sea off a beach covered with tangled pieces of green-black algae like burned witches' limbs. The sky is a sickly green, and the air is cold enough to sear my lungs and turn my breath to fog. The trees grow tall but crooked, lame giants, and they hide someone, a devil, a monster with wolf's teeth and dead eyes who walks upright like a man.
My screams would bring my father, who'd sit on my bed, one leg tucked under him, his tunic bunched in a way my mother hated. Stroking my hair, he'd tell me that sleep would come if I concentrated on the noises outside my window. He said that Jupiter, who ordered the universe, arranged those sounds so carefully that they made music which I could hear if I listened hard enough. That night-music was like the lyre of Orpheus, and it would soothe you to the sleep of Elysium, what heroes slept in The Land of Joy.
That's what I hear now, the night-music of my father, as I stand now facing the sea at the mole's end. Just sky, water and music. I don't jump; instead, I let the sound carry me down to the water. It's warm and welcoming, liquid arms around me, and I let it breathe for me, my eyes closed, waiting. Then the arms tighten, not liquid anymore, strong and hotter than the water, dragging me to the surface. I fight hard, biting, kicking, clawing, then there's a pain in my head, a sharp, stinging pain from his fist, and the only sound I hear is the water breathing.
There are many stories about Orion. My mother, with her usual subtlety, used to tell me the one where Orion is blinded by his protective father and regains his sight through the rays of the sun. I'm thinking about him because the three stars that form his belt are dangling from the sky above me. They're about to fall, wavering and unsure, and I reach up to catch them, only the shadow-man gets in the way, so tall his dark hair must be brushing the stars.
"Get up," he says, and kicks my thigh.
A flower of pain, and I roll away on slippery wood. He follows. I can hear the clunk of his boots, then feel the toe again, this time against my spine. I learned rhetoric from Cato, and all I can say right now is, "Hurts."
He's not impressed with my plea. "I said, 'Get up.'" He bends down and grabs my arm, yanking me to my feet. "I didn't save your sorry ass so you could lie on my deck like a fucking dead fish."
A pirate stealing the ship. Thermus is going to be furious. "No one asked you--"
"Shut up. This is my ship now, and you don't do anything unless I say you can."
The wind catches my laugh and turns it into a howl. "What are you going to do? Kill me?"
"No. I'll keep you alive and make you regret it."
Even without the threat, I don't like the way he's looking at me, drumming his fingers on the hilt of his sword, smirking under the beard. "I want to get off the ship."
"Too bad. Besides, there's nowhere for you to go."
He's right. There's only sea over the trireme's low sides with Bithynia a dark blot on the horizon. "Do you know who I am?"
His turn to laugh. "Yes, Caesar. You'll bring a good price."
The pain's spreading, bright as the stars, and my annoyance is the only thing that keeps me standing--that, and his hand, which hasn't left my shoulder. "Only if I'm in good condition."
"You weren't in good condition when I found you."
He looks like he was born in good condition: his shoulders under the vest are mountains-wide, the muscles in his arm sharp as a statue in the Forum, and his skin is tanned and smooth, covered with the same dark curly hair that falls to his shoulders. I don't find him attractive, although thousands would. He's too hard, too rough for me, a barbarian, not a Roman.
"Like what you see?" It's an animal's smile, teeth barred, ready to rip out my heart.
"I need to lie down."
At a snap of his fingers, two men appear, red and black, hair and skin. "Take him below into my cabin. Tie him to the bed."
I try to fight them, I really do, but I'm limp, my bones soft, and it only takes one to carry me down into the dark. "Tartarus," I say.
He doesn't hear me, or doesn't care. Then I don't, and it's dark again, and quiet.
The room doesn't fit. That's the first thing I notice when I wake up. It's too big for the ship, a wide rectangle of black walls, the support beams and furniture a dark cherry red. Even the bed's too big, with a massive frame and a red ocean of sheets. I'm at the center, naked, my wrists tied above my head, the rope looped into a ring in the wall. A sacrifice.
My throat's scratchy and sore like I've been screaming in my sleep. There's a jug of wine on one of the tables, and I study it, imagining the sweet red taste of crushed grapes. Better than imagining what's going to happen when he shows up. I need a plan, but my head's cloudy. It's easier to listen to the wine sloshing against the amphora's sides and pretend this is another nightmare.
I'm picturing fountains where wine pours from marble cherubs' mouths when there's a click. I know it's the door and keep my eyes shut. If I'm sleeping, he might leave me alone. I can't take him, and this way maybe he won't take me. A second click, as he locks the door. He's stripping now, sword clanging, boots thumping. He's one of those people who don't trust silence; everything's loud and declarative, insistently him.
As the bed shifts suddenly, my eyes snap open. His naked back is to me as he sits on the pallet's edge pouring wine, his skin damp and slick, colored like polished cedar. I understand Nicomedes' obsession with licking because stupidly, perversely, that's what I want to do: lick the drop of sweat that's meandering down near his spine like it's trying to map him. His ass is whorish, the curves full and smooth, obscene somehow.
"Open your mouth," he says, turning toward me.
Apparently I haven't fooled him. Still, I don't want to give in, not even for the wine that smells so sweet and strong I can taste it. When my mouth stays shut he straddles me, still standing but on the bed now, a cup in one hand, his cock in the other. No balance there: even half-hard, his cock is long and thick, and when he spills the wine on it, a blue vein throbs like a river under the skin. He's obscene, I know now, because there's no shame, no pretense about what he wants.
"Suck it off." He rubs his wine-damp cock against my lips, which are shut tight until my treacherous tongue darts out for the liquid. That's when he rams it in, and I gasp, the head plunging roughly to the back of my throat, his balls pressed against my chin. "Bite me, and I'll give you to my men."
No air, and I'm still gasping, overfed with his swelling skin, wine trickling down my chin and chest. I smell dead grapes and him, musky like burnt wood drowned in the sea, and forget I'm bound. When I try to lunge, my wrists scrape against the coarse rope.
With his fingers tugging my hair, black eyes narrowed, he says, "Breathe. Then suck. Hard."
I do, best as I can with my lips stretched, my jaw straining. He helps, thrusting his hips, shoving himself in and out. On his right hip, a tattoo: a silver dagger like his earring, long as my finger. Watching it advance and retreat, I listen to his grunts, the wet noises coming from my own mouth. There's salt on my tongue, mixed with the wine, and I'd like to talk to him, rationalize this, maybe even scream because he's invading me, forcing me, and it's irrational and not a little disgusting to suck his big cock that tastes like the ocean. It's confusing, like being dropped in someone else's dream.
He's talking now, holding my face with his thumbs against my cheekbones, staring down at me. "Suck harder, you weak bitch. It's all you're good for."
My teeth scrape the head, and he howls. There's a slap where his right thumb was, bruise-hard.
"Do it again and I'll feed your balls to the fish."
I suck harder, so he'll come and this will end, and think ugly thoughts about my father's death and being used by everyone around me, which loops me back to him. His cock. My mouth. His balls. My tongue. He's even harder now, moaning, and wants me to watch him watching me, tilting my chin higher so our eyes are aligned like constellations, him to me and back again. What would they call this one? Raptus Caesari? Or something else, where I'm not the victim but the...The what? The lover? He and I will never be lovers. I'll suck his cock and let him come down my throat, then it's finished. So what if I'm hard? It's a lie from my confused body, that's all, a physical response to the sights and smells of sex Nicomedes taught me. At least he can't tell. Except--
"I know you love it," he says with unexpected clarity. "But you can't be a whore your whole life." And he comes, one long hard thrust down my throat and a flood--the tide coming in.
He holds my head as I cough and swallow, cupping it with his hands like I'm a bowl he's filling. This strange picture floats before me: not his tattooed hip, the dark thick hair tickling my cheeks, the flat bronze skin of his stomach, but me as an amphora with my mouth the spout, my arms the handles. My wrists are sore and so is my jaw, then my pride as he collapses onto the bed beside me and see my hard cock. I feel his laugh building and cut him off. "I pictured Nicomedes. It was the only way I could take it."
"Right. Like he could give you what I just did. Like you'd even want him to." A knife's in his hand, and he slices the rope, then kicks me off the bed.
My elbow hits the edge of a table, and I rub it, then my chafed wrists. My tunic is here, a long slit through the fabric. "Where am I supposed to sleep?"
"That's your problem."
I curl up at the foot of the bed, smarting everywhere. "You'll be sorry," I whisper. "You'll pay." I'm sick of being the world's bitch, and tonight it's going to end.
I wait until he's asleep, counting time by his slowing breaths. When they're regular and deep, I stand without moving until I've learned the trireme's sway. In the temple of Jupiter, on the back wall behind the cult statue, painted in blues, red and yellows, is the story of Jupiter's castration of his father. It's an old story that no one tells anymore; in the rewritten version, Jupiter chases his father to Latium. I think of it now as I find the sword by the oil lamp's faded light.
On my knees, the scabbard wedged between them, I ease the sword out, and the metal squeals until I find the right angle. His breathing stays steady, so I free it, then get to my feet. It's heavy, so heavy I can barely hold it upright, and I know that a man who can wield this sword will be hard to kill. When I reach the bed, he's still lying on his back, the sheets tangled at his feet, one arm draped over his face, the other at his side. Perfect.
Holding the weapon in both hands, I raise it over my head. I don't plan to hesitate; it just happens. I've never killed a man before. I couldn't even do myself in, and he looks unkillable, so huge and strong, even relaxed in sleep. Someone has to die tonight, and he's going first. I picture his smirk, his cock in my mouth, and bring the sword down hard.
The Fates, not my most ardent supporters, step in, and he grabs the blade, pushing it aside as he rolls over. "Took you long enough." The sword falls flat, and he knocks it off the bed with one casual swipe.
Then I'm flat on my back while he straddles my hips, my wrists cracking between his fingers. He wears a heavy silver ring and it's gouging my bone. "I made the mistake. I won't wait next time."
"I think they call this atonement." He reaches beside the bed and grabs a flagon of oil, pulling the stopper with his teeth. It splashes between my legs and onto my belly and his cock. Myrrh.
"No." Panicking, I try to kick him off. I don't want him there inside me. Being fucked is for whores and slaves, not for Roman citizens. Bad enough that he used my mouth, but to penetrate me...He's going to ruin me. No man lets himself be taken up the ass. "Get off me."
He tosses my legs over his shoulders and strokes his cock once or twice, coating it with the oil. "You need to learn a lesson."
His voice is a poem, full of meaning I can't quite understand. Then thought is impossible as he pushes his cock in. It's huge, not flesh and blood at all, a sword impaling me. There's pain and humiliation, equal doses, and my stomach churns. The head's barely in and it feels like a fist. "You can't do this."
"This is happening whether you like it or not."
"Because I want it." He bites the inside of my thigh for emphasis, teeth sharp and gleaming as a wolf's.
When I fight him, it hurts even more. His fingers tighten around my wrists and he penetrates deeper, flushed and sweating, his hair falling in his eyes. Not ugly, the way he should be, ugly as what he's doing to me. I'm sixteen again, praying to Jupiter for the pain to stop. Different pain, same response. Nothing. My eyes tear, blurring his face, and I start to beg. Nothing else to do. Once out, the words tangle. "Stop, please, it hurts, I'll do anything, please..."
He bites my other thigh, hard, and shoves himself in the last few inches. "Don't waste your breath."
There's none left, all hissed out, wondering if there's blood. "Don't."
"Nice," he grunts. "Tight."
More pain so far inside my body I wonder if he's pierced my heart. As he thrusts, the pain recedes and flares, recedes and flares. It's my breathing, not anything he does; it hurts less when I exhale and my body softens a little. I force myself to stay relaxed, not tightening when he slides deep, and then...Fuck. No. "What are you doing?" Because the pain is shifting, changing shape, melting into something warm and good. I can't like this. I don't.
"I'm fucking you." Another thrust, to the edge and back, smooth as water.
"I don't..." Can't admit it's good now, hot and painful, sure, but with a glutted fullness. With my legs around his neck, my body arches toward him, and my stiffening cock looks like tribute.
That's how he takes it. "Guess you don't want me to stop now."
At least I'm not thrusting back, trying to take more of him, trying to push him harder against that place inside me. At least I'm not touching my cock, jerking it off hard. Okay, I can't, because he's holding me too tight. But he knows and lets go of my wrists, pulling back a little so that only the head of his cock's inside me. Does he think I'll beg to be fucked? Because I won't. He's no lion and I'm no whimpering slave.
It gets worse. He's teasing me, and when he slides back in it's even better than before. He does it again, staying poised on the edge of my body for minutes before easing his big cock far up my ass. My temperature shoots up, and I'm sweating hard as he is, drowning in it, while my thighs start to shake.
He wants me to like it; it's getting him off. I can see it in his dark evil face. Focus elsewhere. Concentrate on anything except him. The ceiling. The ceiling is a series of square panels between crisscrossing beams, ten across and probably six times that down. The sheets are damp and slippery under my fingers like our skin would be, if I touched it. Even Nicomedes' bed doesn't have sheets this rich and soft. Other questions press like bodies in a crowd. Has he fucked anyone else in this bed? How many people have seen his face like this, his lips parted, so ready for a tongue, his lashes low on his cheeks?
A low moan interrupts me. It's mine. So much for concentration. My hands have lifted off the sheets and are holding his hips, tugging him closer, while he rocks into me, steady and controlled. He owns this fuck, will own me if I let him. That's what he wants, to own me, turn me into a tattoo on his other hip, and there's not much I can do to stop him. It's not just that he's strong; everything he does feels inevitable. He's got fate in every breath, and I don't know how that's possible.
I think he licks me, licks my thigh where he bit it before, then says, low and dirty, "That's right. Fuck me back. Give it up. Give it to me."
I am. I'm thrusting back, no will involved, all body. Just what he wants, what gets him hot as his cock in my ass. He can't win. I won't let him, and focus on my father, my dead father, lying in a coffin while the rest of my family dances around wearing the masks of our ancestors. My father's face looks like a mask, white and stiff, and...
"Yes, that's it. Come for me, Caesar. Come for me, you little Roman whore." He holds me tight, pushing the head of his cock right on that spot, not for me, for him so he can watch me lose.
Oh god, it's so good. And whatever he's doing makes it last. I can't stop coming, shooting everywhere, covering us both with it while he laughs and laughs, his thumb under my chin so he can see me clearly. Finally, when my balls are empty, he comes, too, calling something in a language I've never heard, burning my ass, flooding it, so that his come trickles down my thighs. When he's finished, he pushes me aside so hard I tumble again to the floor.
The next time I try to die, I'll do it right.
"I'm hungry." I think it's morning. The space under the door wafts in broken bits of sun and fresh ocean air. I breathe and ache. "Are you going to feed me?"
"No." He's stretching in the lamplight, and it's all play and pull of muscle, a male Galatea after an eternity in stone. His refusal, though, is firm.
"Why should I? I don't owe you anything."
"It's not a matter of owing me. It's a matter of..." Common decency? Universal morality? Somehow I don't think these arguments will sway him. They're my father's words, and I don't have his conviction. "Even slaves in the ring are fed."
"This isn't a ring, and you're not a slave."
"What am I?"
"Figure it out."
"If I starve to death, there's no ransom."
"Does it look like I need the money?" He shrugs. "Now get your ass up here and suck my cock."
When I don't move, he leaps off the bed, knocking me flat. With his knees tight against my shoulders, he feeds me his cock; trapped, I can only lie there and take it. He uses that to his advantage, forcing his cock down my throat. A few aggressive thrusts, then he comes. I choke on the rush of semen, and he pulls back, spurting onto my face.
He wipes my wet cheeks, then puts his fingers in my mouth. "Suck, since you're so hungry," he says, and does it again until I'm clean. I'm fed his cock one more time to catch a few drops hanging from the head, then he climbs off after another bone-cracking stretch. "Your technique needs work, but you'll learn."
"I didn't know you cared about technique, the way you ram it in."
"Want to try again?" Adjusting his sword, he looks over and grins.
He's just toying with me, playing a petty game, and I say nothing, even when he walks out. "I can wait," I announce to no one and drop onto his bed. The sheets smell like him, of come, sweat and the smokiness of his hair. Strange how that's familiar when I don't even know his name.
Up to now, everything in my life has been named, plotted and organized. My mother, irritated by my father's low birth and dreamy ways, took charge of my education, and with her brother groomed me for a career in politics, the petty art of screwing your neighbor before he screws you. All of these tiny steps to avenge tiny wrongs, so you need to know the rules in case Aulus Graccus sits you a place lower than your station or Marcellus Lucius offers you puke-sweet imported wine from Rhodes, not Cnidos. Maybe you're served the wrong cut of lamb or your servant is or you're passed too quickly in the forum. Maybe your neighbor coughed while you spoke or farted too loudly at dinner (a delicate fart is permitted, but a loud one suggests your meal was too heavy).
Each transgression requires a particular type of vengeance: you serve smaller portions at a public banquet (nothing like a minute helping of peacock brain to really humiliate a noble); send over a whore with a pretty face and a pox-riddled cunt; deflower his daughter or son; curse him by writing his name on a sheet of lead and burying it in a well at midnight.
My mother is cold, sharp and beautiful as a broken perfume bottle, and she'll punish me for this screw up. She spends each waking moment tabulating slights and orchestrating pay back. Before I left home, she was furious at a neighbor's wife for painting the border of her atrium the same shade of red as my mother's, and so invited the woman to dinner. Before the meal, my elegant mother went to the kitchen, hiked up the folds of her immaculate tunic, and pissed in the barley soup.
It's not that she's a bad woman. Like Rome, she has so much strength and nowhere to expend it. In another life she would have been a warrior and followed the god of war into battle. In this one, she punished my father in a thousand petty ways for his lack of ambition, all the worse because the Julii were supposedly descended from Venus. As a girl she'd loved the gods, but now blamed them for his failings and for mine. "The gods are in your blood," she'd say while a maid curled her hair. "And you've got every one of their flaws." Maybe she's right.
I sleep, drink some wine, and sleep again. Each time I wake up, I expect to see a plate of food beside me, and each time there's nothing. Kicking off the sheets, I walk to the cabinet against the far wall. It's empty. The desk on the opposite wall has ink, quills and scrolls, nothing else.
There's water in the washstand, so I clean up and feel almost human again except for the clenching of my stomach. I'm standing there with the sponge, and it's like I've washed the walls down like my own skin. They're not pure black but painted in death colors, and after filling the lamps I inspect them. Scenes from Ares' life, child to adult. He's not a god I know well; I haven't been on the battlefield yet, although I've seen death in the arena. I was seven and my father took me to see the spectacle staged by Sulla, who had a hundred lions and a small army of spearmen imported from Africa. Blood. That's what I remember. Blood everywhere, spraying the sand, the stone, the lions' fur, the men's skin. Not flecks or streaks, smooth like Aphrodite had held everything by its heel and dipped it into a red river. My father hated it even more than I did, going a sickly green. "Bastards," he kept saying. "Those cruel bastards." We never went back.
That's my first story of blood. His is different. I can tell he's young, although as in all the images his face is faded, recognizable only by the ever-present sword. Here he's smaller, narrower than the god beside him, Jupiter with white beard and crown. Behind them is a tidal wave, before them a village: it's the time during the age of Iron when Jupiter gave up on mankind and ordered Ares to deliver punishment. Ares, his head ducked, looks reluctant, positioned a little behind Jupiter, whose hand is on his back.
The next panel shows Ares trapped by the giant twins, his body contorted and so thin the bones show under his skin. To the right, Hermes, who will eventually rescue Ares, slays the Aloadae. Strange how the artist painted Jupiter on the other side of the brass jar, aware that this son is dying within but doing nothing. Ares has failed him. When the slaughter doesn't turn him into the perfect Olympian killing machine, Jupiter tries again.
The last two panels before the cabinet interrupts the story suggest that Jupiter won. In the third, bodies lie gutted on a field, as many limbs as shields covering the ground, with Ares in the middle, his face turned to watch two warriors hack each other to death. The winner wears Ares' favor, a sword-shaped tattoo on his forearm, and the god seems pleased, about to nod approval.
The cabinet's shadow nearly obscures the last one scene. By tracing the action, I figure it out: the rough triangles represent the Underworld, not Olympus. Phlegethon roars past, and the landscape is flat and scarred. Past Tisiphone, the worst of the Furies, who sits at a gate with her fistful of snakes, and down a swirling pit. The Aloadae are at the bottom, dead even for here, matching holes in their massive chests. Ares looms over them, his boot on one twin's face, his sword dripping gore, and two bloody hearts raised clutched in his hand.
An impossible fantasy of revenge. Imagine punishing anyone who had ever slighted you, ignored or hurt you? Imagine grinding them under their boot, eating their heart? I tried last night. It's not real: someone always has more power, and you can't ever escape. Not even Ares can. Zeus made him, and he wears his father's anger. Like me, Ares has the gods in his blood.
A sound at the door. It has to be my food. When no one comes and the noise repeats, I figure someone's outside, probably a guard. Life's like that: someone's always ignoring your knock. Under the crack, I think I see part of a sandal. "I want some food," I call against the wood. No answer. "Can you hear me? Someone forgot to feed me."
"No one forgot," a muffled voice says. "His orders."
"You mean..." But I don't know what he means. "You mean I can't eat until later? It's already pretty late."
"No. You can't eat at all."
"His orders," he repeats. The door shakes as he bangs it with something sharp, the butt end of a spear or the flat edge of a sword, my cue to back off.
Fine. I've fasted before during religious holidays like the one to Ceres, and I can do it again. Eventually he'll get bored of his game and feed me. There's nothing I can do for now, so I lie back on the bed and go to sleep.
I dream of agony.
I wake up with his cock in my mouth. Does he think starving me will make me hungry for him?
"Suck it," he says, his knees on either side of my shoulders. "And use your hands this time." When I'm too slow, he slaps me. "Now."
My cheek stinging, I close my hands around the base and stroke him while I wrap my tongue around the head. The dark hair is soft around it, and I release his cock with one hand to thread my fingers through it, lightly scratching. He likes that and strokes my cheek, just once so I won't get spoiled. Interesting that he doesn't let me talk, ramming his cock right in. More animal behavior, although he's smart. He planned this kidnapping, had to be watching and plotting for awhile. Why? Maybe if I play his game, I'll find out.
As he stares down at me, moaning a little, I push him back with my hands on his hips, one thumb rubbing his tattoo so he knows I'm not rejecting him and won't lash out. Then I slowly lick the head of his cock, letting him see my tongue slide over it. He growls so low I feel it in my fingertips. That's one weakness: whatever his motives for kidnapping me, gold or blackmail, he likes what I do to him. It's not just the pleasure of my mouth on his body or he wouldn't watch without blinking. Seeing matters; he learns who I am from it.
With my hands still on his hips, I shift very slowly so that I'm kneeling in front of him. He doesn't stop me, even stands so I can reach him better, although his hand never leaves my head. Why would he object? I'm a suppliant ready to worship him. If he reads my hard cock as evidence that this turns me on, fine; this new position actually gives me more control over his pleasure. My goal's to get him on his back so I'll have even more, but he's wary, so I concentrate on his cock, licking from the head along the shaft to the base, then back again. He gets even harder, and I shiver. His cock is so big and he's so powerful that I feel like a slave battling a lion in the arena.
For variety, I pause every now and then to suck the head, dark purple and shiny with saliva and the juice leaking from him. He likes to see me taste him, always moans when I do, so I squeeze until a few drops form and catch them on the tip of my tongue.
"You love it," he says in that deep voice. "You love sucking me."
There's a power in it that I never understood before. I understand it now because it's all I've got, my mouth and fingers on his body, so I use them as much as I can. Spreading his legs wider, I lick the creases between thigh and groin, the thin lines where he's joined, jerking him off slowly or rubbing the head of his cock with my thumb to keep his attention. It's his balls I want, the most vulnerable part of him in my mouth. He tenses when my tongue connects, his fingers tightening on my skull as I hold them to my mouth. They're big as roc eggs, firm under skin so soft and loose I have to suck it on its own, holding it between my lips. Then I'm swallowing his balls one at a time, barely able to fit them in. This is why Saturn swallowed his son, for the thrill of domination. Your mouth is everything: you use it to nurse, speak, eat, love. With his balls in my mouth, I become him.
"Nicomedes didn't know what he was missing."
He's trying to sound calm, but his words rumble. Besides, they're a confession: he's thought about me and Nicomedes in bed together. Once I know why, I'll have him. Reluctantly, I let his balls slide out. "Tell me what I'm doing here."
"If you survive, for the gold. If you don't, for your mouth and ass until you die."
He shrugs. "Normally I don't fuck Romans. Too uptight. A pretty one like you, who's so hungry for it, with a nice tight virgin ass--why not?"
That's not all. He wants it to be, and wants me to think it, but there are a thousand like me. "I don't have a virgin ass anymore. Does this mean I can go?"
"I'm not finished with you yet." He thrusts his hips forward, offering me his cock.
I go down on him, caressing him with my tongue, sucking gently, hating him. It gets me so hot that I rub my cock against the sheets while he moans, his breaths rushed.
"You could come from this, couldn't you, you whore? It's enough just to suck my balls. It gets your cock so hard."
It gets his cock just as hard, and when I pull off his balls and return to the head, it's slick with his salt. My heart's pounding now, and I want him on his back while I tongue him everywhere. But when I try to ease him down, he snaps, "No fucking way--you're mine," and shoves me back. There's oil, spread quickly over his cock and my ass, then he's pulling my legs open. "You want this. You want it."
Easy to blame me when he wants it so much he can't stop himself and rams his cock in. And he's so afraid I'll say it that he clamps his hand down over my mouth. That's how he fucks me, hard and punishing, his hand keeping me quiet while he chants, "You want it, you want it," over and over again, and I jerk off because he's right, he's so goddamn right.
I'm bucking now, writhing, moaning against his hand, and he's frenzied, biting my neck, my nipples, like he wants me to scream his name. Does he remember that I don't know it? Does he care? His hips are bruising mine as he thrusts in and out of my ass, his cock growing inside me, so hot that I can't stop moving. His eyes have gone, and I truly think he's changing as I watch, pushed into another form by lust and something else. It's like being fucked by an animal or a monster from a childhood nightmare, except that he's beautiful. Whatever he is, he wants to devour me. My cock explodes, and there's darkness, like I've fallen into his eyes, like I'm inside him.
"Yes," he moans, and comes then, hot and hard, deep inside me, his teeth against my throat. He holds me that way, with a bite, like the animal he is, while his body shakes and pulse after pulse of semen enters me. Overwhelmed, I tremble under him, and wonder if his come is black now, too.
When it's over, he drops beside me, panting. His half-hearted attempt to push me away doesn't do much good, and I stay there beside him, catching my breath. When my heartbeat's regular, I turn toward him. "Why won't you feed me?"
"I just did."
With his arm over his eyes, he can't see me, and I study him as he lies there, his body gleaming with sweat and oil. His flaws are all internal. Every muscle is defined, his skin perfect. Wet now, his hair is curly and longer than I thought, falling to his jaw, so glossy it looks unreal. His nipples are still hard, and my finger goes out to stroke one, then changes course, and I rub his tattooed hip instead. "When did you get this?" I don't expect an answer, but as soon as he speaks, I can tell he's proud. Another weakness.
"After I killed my first real enemies. To remember."
"To remember what?"
"How good it feels to be in absolute control."
"You can never be in absolute control."
"How would you know?"
I smooth a streak of come on his stomach. "Maybe I don't want to know."
"That's crap. You're scared. That's why you jumped in Bithynia."
"I know about control. I've lived my whole life in Rome. Power-seeking is a civic pastime."
"That's not power. That's politics. Your senators are too busy stabbing each other in the back to do anything worthwhile, anything monumental."
"They've built enough monuments to last a millennium."
"It's bullshit. With all that money and manpower, you could rule the world."
"We're not gods, only Romans. Not everyone appreciates the distinction."
"I do," he says with a smirk. "Trust me." He turns serious. "It has to be someone ruthless and smart. Someone who won't play by the rules."
My cock is getting hard. So is his. I reach down and take him in my hand. "It's a nice fantasy that won't work. Sulla's strong, but he's made too many enemies. He gives them too much power. They'll assassinate him if he's not careful."
"What would you do with all that power, Caesar?"
"Give me some food and I'll tell you."
"Have some wine." He sits to pour us both a glass from the pitcher beside the bed.
It hurtles to my empty stomach then spins through my veins. "More."
He gives me a second glass. "Now talk."
I gulp it down and feel my face flushing as we both settle back on the bed, closer now, my hand again on his cock. The unreality of the situation rushes back. I'm lying here naked, starving, drunk and horny with my rapist-captor who, after fucking my ass and my mouth, now wants to talk about world domination. It would be funny if it didn't feel like some dark depraved fantasy I've been too scared to face. "You'd need someone who wasn't too well-born. Someone who could come from behind because no one would expect greatness from him. Not a peasant. He'd need to know the right people, have the right education--someone born outside the highest circle, who hated the bastards who always reminded him of that."
I'm jerking him off too hard and slow my hand, letting it drop to his balls, cupping them, rolling them between my fingers. They're heavy, solid like he is, sensitive; he growls when I'm near them, when I'm stroking them, not quite trusting me. We're a dirty fable.
With my story stalled, he gets impatient. "Go on." He slides his arm around my shoulder to bring us closer. With his other hand he splashes oil across our thighs.
"He'd need to establish a reputation for military strength. Convince Thermus to go on the raid against Mytilene. Perform a heroic action there, like saving another man's life, to win the citizen's crown. It's a wreath you can wear on public occasions, a proclamation of your worth. My reputation would grow."
"You'd be a legend. There's a lot of power in legends." He pulls me up and over him, the head of his cock hard against my ass. "Don't stop talking, Caesar. Tell me everything."
I push back against his cock, and the head slides in. "I'd have to do something next that would gain sympathy and show strength. Maybe get myself held hostage, then crucify the men who did it." I hear my gentle father's voice, telling me to stop, but it's no contest, not when he tugs me further down.
"I like it. They need to fear you. Keep going," he adds as his cockfills me. "Tell me how you're going to conquer the world."
In this new position his cock feels even bigger, and I love riding him. "A few more battles away from home, then I'll be popular enough to be made military prefect. I'll give the people plays and combats in the arena, give them all the color and excitement they need until they love me. Then I'll be quaestor and form alliances with others like me, who are sick of the old guard. I'll marry Cinna's daughter, then bribe and manipulate--"
"And kill," he says, and thrusts up hard. "Or I'll stop fucking you."
When did I admit that I loved his cock inside me? "You want conquest? I'll give it to you." I rise off his cock until only the head's inside me, then slam back down. He howls, and I smile. "I'll form a triumvirate, solidify my power, then head to Gaul."
"You think you have the balls to take on the Helvetii?" He starts jerking me off with slow, measured strokes.
It's a test, and if I stop talking I'll fail all over his fingers. I think back to the stories I heard from my parents' Gallic slave, although when I start, the story comes out already formed, unburied, not created. "I'll assemble a huge fleet, bigger than the world has ever seen, and sail to Gaul. They'll be there, on the shore, dirty barbarians with blue-painted faces and long hair. Rows of them spreading back to the trees, each man armed with a spear or an axe, some with leather shields. They hate us."
I ride him harder, and his head goes back, his eyes closing. Then he's back with me, watching with a look so seductive, all parted lips and low-falling lashes, that I'd think it was calculated if his cock wasn't already buried inside me. "Even from the ships we can see that, in the lift of their chins, line of the backs. Dying is nothing if they can defeat us." My voice has an oracle's distance, separate from me. I sound convincing, convinced, and I know it's because I'm telling him a nightmare.
"Kill them, Caesar. Kill them all."
Because he wants blood, I withhold it. "There's only one tribe gathered on the beach, not three, and I know then that I'll win the whole goddamn country. Divide and conquer."
He's stroking me faster now, so I'll hurry the story. I refuse. If I come, he'll never hear what I'll do to these pathetic Gauls, these barbarians with their long dark hair. "I order my men into formation, and they obey, swords drawn and shields raised, the sun hitting the gold eagles. The Gauls are blinded by the glare, but they hold their ground at a command from their leader. He stands front and center, tall as a giant with black hair and beard. My scouts have told me all about him, what a strong warrior he is, how he's never lost a battle, doesn't even have a single scar."
He's close, his heart beating so hard I can almost see it under his sweat-slick chest--but I'm closer. "At another command, my men are in the water up to their knees, but they don't react. Ahead, there's a shout, then another, as the leader of the Gauls rallies his men, getting their hearts pumping."
"Is that how you feel now, Caesar, like a barbarian on the shore?"
"No. I feel like a god. Ares, leading my men into battle." When he moans, it vibrates in my balls, and it's too much. "I'm the god of war, the first one to draw blood when I ram my sword hard into the leader's gut. It showers me, hot and..." I lose, coming all over his hand, his chest. The best part's that he's right there after me, shouting something dark and wordless, and I ride him hard to the end.
Afterward, we sleep like dead soldiers on the shores of Gaul.
I dream of Tantalus and burst awake, clutching my empty stomach. Reality's not any better. He's gone, there's no food, and my body's angry, the skin pulled too tight. Worse, I've got the nagging sense that I missed something last night, a key to why I'm here. To clear my head, I wash with the rainwater that appears every morning in the basin. It's icy, and triggers my first coherent thought of the day: to get out of here.
Lamp in hand, I explore the room, looking for a hatch or another door, a window that I missed. There's nothing. My only hope is the guard. "I need food," I tell him through the door. "Now." No response, but I know he's there. "Look, I don't need much. Just some bread. Anything you've got."
"His orders: no food."
"I'll pay you. When I get back to Rome, I'll give you whatever you want. My family's rich. You can fifty talents of gold if you just give me some bread." I rest my cheek against the door, trying to stay calm. My right hand is shaking, and I lay it flat on the wood. "I won't tell him. He'll never know. You'll be able to buy your own goddamn ship." No answer. My offer's intangible, too far in the future for impact, at least coming from a ghost-voice behind a locked door. "Where is he?"
"Get him. I need to talk to him."
"He doesn't want to be disturbed."
I imagine reaching through the door and closing my fingers around his pig's throat. "This is important. I have to talk to him."
"Get away from the door," he grunts, and hits it with his spear until I recoil from the noise.
He'll feed me tonight. I'll go to sleep, and when I wake up, a feast will be waiting. Wild boar stuffed with dates. Lentil soup with fennel and coriander. Steamed lamb with onions and white wine. Shrimp with celery and green pepper. Cinnamon sweetcakes dripping with honey. After some hundred-year old Falernian wine, we'll go to bed and fuck all night.
Only I can't sleep. My stomach growls and my hands shake, while a nerve twitches under my left eye. I'm cold, too, and drape the sheet around me like a toga while I grab a lamp and head for the desk. Marble and gold, it's expensive and beautiful like everything in the room, with those clawed animal feet which always convey the vague, disturbing sense that the furniture is alive, waiting for the right moment to take its true form.
I didn't notice before, but there's a scroll with my name on it. When I unroll it, it's blank. Did he leave it here for me? Why? What does he want me to write? I've never done much writing. There's a confessional aspect to it that seems dangerous; write down your thoughts and people will use them against you. What if you lied? I decide to write the story of my capture, only in this version I'm not taking it up the ass and in the mouth like a hungry bitch.
No, I'll be dignified and strong even under torture. I'll turn my pirate into a horde, play on civic pride and tell how I walked among these Roman-hating dogs, joking how one day I would crucify them all. At the end, I'll stand below a row of crosses that stretches along the banks of the Tiber, watching my captors die. The leader will be in the middle, naked, although the others will be allowed a small cloth for modesty in death. Not him. His body will be perfect except for the nails in his feet and hands, the trickles of blood. His skin will be oily with sweat, muscles tense as he fights his destiny, and his cock will be hard, because he likes a good fight, after all.
Writing the history drains me. I bend forward, resting my head in my hands. The next thing I know, the room is mausoleum-dark, and my body is eating itself. I'm alone, and it's late, probably midnight, if the old time still counts. I stumble to a lamp, light it, then return to the bed, my sheet trailing behind me like a shroud. At least there's wine, although it burns my throat going down, then my stomach. Tastes beautifully sweet, though, and I have more. My head starts to spin or maybe the ship has stopped and I'm dazed not by the blur of movement, but by the lack of it.
At the door, I bang until my fist throbs. "Where is he?"
"Is there a problem?"
He laughs, and it's a little mean. "No problem. He likes variety, that's all." He refuses to speak after that.
So he's with someone else, rutting into some innkeeper's daughter, someone, anyone, who's not me. I settle back against the pillows and drink more wine. Lies are like oil, floating on the surface. I can see them clearly, the ones I want to tell myself about how I've won, how he's left because I matter, and he hates that. That's a story, and not a very good one. If I hadn't written my false history today, I wouldn't have known that. He's not here because I'm not who he wants me to be. I'm not a fighter or a conqueror or even a storyteller.
The jug is empty, and I wrap it in the sheet, then smash it against the wall. The fragments are heavy and sharp, and I choose the biggest, sharpest one for the job. My heart has grown, straining for food, and when it beats, my whole body shakes. That worries me, that my trembling hands will interfere. This time, I want to do it right. I've spent my life reflecting other people's truths, and it's time to claim mine.
Naked, holding my piece of destiny, I oil my ass, then walk to the door and speak to the guard, this guard who refused to feed me, who laughed at me. "He's in love with me, you know. That's why he left. Two nights with me, and he's already mine. He's ashamed. Who wouldn't be?"
"Right. Who are you kidding?"
"You don't know. You've never been inside me. I have the sweetest, tightest, hottest ass you've ever felt. All my lovers say that. I've fucked kings and whores, and him. Why do you think he locks me up? I'm only nineteen. A kid. How much damage can I do? He's scared to let you near me. He's worried you'll want a taste."
"He doesn't even leave me clothes because he wants me naked all the time, ready for him. The first thing he does when he gets here is shove his cock into me. You know. You've heard us. Once is never enough for him, either. He has to fuck my mouth, then my ass. He loves how I swallow his come, but my ass is his favorite."
"What makes you so special? Plenty of tight hot asses out there."
"It's because I want it so much. Because I love having my ass fucked. This is the first night in my life I've never had a cock in my ass, and it's driving me crazy. Not eating is making it worse. I'm so fucking hungry for it--which is why he's been starving me. I'm hungrier than I've ever been."
"You naked now?"
"I told you, I'm always naked. He won't give me clothes. My ass feels so empty right now without a cock ramming into it. I bet you'd love it, especially being away at sea like this. A hand's not substitute for a hungry whore's ass."
"This is a trick."
"What can I do to you? There's a ship full of men. Anything happens to you, and I'm dead. All I want is a big stiff cock up my ass. He'll never know. Just a quick, fast fuck. I need it so much."
"You're that good?"
"There's only one way to find out. Come on. I'm already oiled and waiting. Look, I'll go and lie on the bed with my legs spread. You just come in here, fuck me, and then go. Everyone's happy. I'm going now, my legs open wide for your hot cock." I do as I say, lying wide and open on the bed, one arm stretched out beside me, the other crooked so that my hand appears to be behind my head.
A long pause, then the door opens a crack.
"I'm waiting for you," I tell him, bending my knees to my chest.
Under the leather tunic and bronze cuirass his body is thick and meaty with a swine's juicy build. His face is full with loose cheeks that flank deep grooves from the corner of his eyes past his round nose down to his chin. It's not an ugly face or a cruel one; in another life, he'd be a farmer with a full load of children. "Nice," he says, and advances, his sword drawn. With his free hand he tucks the flaps of his tunic into his belt. His cock is very thick, with an angry purple head, and he spits on his hand, rubbing it in, in case I've lied about the oil.
"What's your name?"
"Titus." He lays the sword beside me to raise my legs higher, then slides into me. "Oh, that's good. That's sweet. You like it?"
"It's great. I love it. Now fuck me hard, Titus. Fuck me like this was your last time."
I don't think Titus has had nineteen-year old ass in ages, and he fucks me with enthusiastic vigor, occasionally reaching down to squeeze or slap my ass, while I moan and writhe and say, "Yes, that's it, love your big prick."
He's sweating hard, his eyes scrunched shut. "Does he fuck you like this?"
"No way. You're the best. I'm going to come soon. You're making me so hot." I keep one hand over my soft cock, pretending to rub it. "Fill me with your come. Pour it into me."
"I'll fill you all right." His face is shiny and red as an anemone, and he's puffing like the North wind. "Take it, you bitch." He jerks upright suddenly, his orgasm hitting him hard.
"Come for me." And I ease my hand from behind my hand and drag the shard across his throat. It's not a smooth cut because the helmet straps are in the way, so I stab hard. The blood startles me, a stinking ocean of it filling my mouth and nose, hot as his semen. He shrieks and scrambles for his weapon. I knock it to the floor and wrap my legs tight around him. Flailing, he lands a hard punch on my jaw. I refuse to let go, holding him tight. "It's destiny, Titus. Don't fight it. Your father's calling. Go to him."
His struggles fade but his blood still pours. His cock has stayed in me the whole time, and I'm proud of that; I owed him that much. Now the deal's complete, and I shove his oily body from me and strip him. Lifting him to remove the tunic is the hardest part, not only because it's tricky getting the leather from under his body. It forces me to accept what I've done, the weight of it. Weight is right: I had to balance his life against mine, and he lost. A tragedy, sure, but a necessary one.
My body knows I'm lying and my stomach spins. I sit beside him, trying not to vomit at the sight and smell, at the dead man's come dripping from my ass. His grimace bothers me. I try to rearrange his features, smooth them out to a blank mask. They're too stiff with death. His eyes are blue and angry, and their accusing expression doesn't change even when I kiss his twisted lips. Under his helmet his hair is wooly as an old dog's, and I stroke it once. His clothes are big, but we're the same height, and when the second sandal is tied and his sword in my hand, I leave my prison.
Climbing the stairs, I clutch the railing, overcome by the night's fertile smell, stronger than the blood drying with an itchy tightness everywhere on me. I must look like a demon. Even under the moon, I can see the blackness of my stained hands and know my face must be a nightmare. The rhythmic chant of the oarsmen fights the snap and rustle of the sail. The off-duty sailors sleep on pallets under it along the deck; their still bodies evoke the battlefield on the cabin's mural. As I head to the prow I count twenty-five men, none of them him. A glance down toward the rowers confirms that he's not on board.
A lantern hangs beside a bell on the prow's curved wall, and as I pick it up the beam lights the unusual figurehead: instead of a god or animal, it's a sword mounted on a shield. Turning to face the field of men, I hit the bell once with the edge of Titus' sword. At the deafening clang, the sailors scramble up, then stop dead when they see me in my full bloody splendor. Confused at first, they think I'm Titus and ask in a babble of voices and accents what I'm doing.
I let them speak, then hit the bell again. Once the noise dies away, I pull off my helmet and throw it down. "I am Julius Caesar, and I have a deal for you."
They're not that hard to convince. He's not there to stop me, and I look like a god myself, one of the dark ones you don't hear much about, maybe the one who founded the Julii line. I encourage that, because it suits me, then seduce them with my words and a passionate promise of tubfuls of gold. They're mercenaries after all, and even these barbarians know a good deal when they hear one.
Now, still on the prow, I face the half-dozen men who refuse to serve me, who stay loyal to him. When one of them, a narrow-hipped Ethiopian, tries to speak, he's hit in the stomach by Trahern, a red-haired Celt with more enthusiasm than brains. I step forward. "Let him talk."
Clutching his stomach, he staggers to his feet. "He'll kill you. They don't know him. Most of them are new, recruited a few weeks ago. I know him, though, and he'll make you sorry, and your children's children sorry, for following this Roman whore."
"He's not here right now. I am." My sword sinks into him, and there's another explosion of blood. A minute later, all six men lie in a heap, their blood staining the deck. "Now I want all the oarsmen below deck. We're going to Rome."
Poets always describe Rome as a woman, Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin, lugubrious face, heavy breasts to feed the nation, solid and reassuring in her long marble tunic. I see a man instead. At first I think it's my father standing straight for once, made strong and beautiful by death. Then I realize it's me. I realize, too, that I'm not my father's son. I tried to be like him, and it didn't work. Rome eats the hearts of old men, and my father was old from the day he was born. The city is blood and spectacle, gold and hate, choking now, a snake eating its own tail.
I'm going to change all that. It's my destiny.
Trahern helps me throw Titus overboard, wrapped in the sheets. I can't see his body as it falls in the dark, but I hear the splash. No one will rescue him. The others are already gone, and someone is mopping up the sticky red mess. By tomorrow, none of this will matter. Nothing has changed for them. They're the same men, minus a few companions. Plenty more where they came from, and Roman coins will fill any void. Almost any void. I'm not ready to think about him, their leader, about who he was and what he did for me. To me. He's gone, and that's all that matters. Maybe he never really was.
While Trahern finds me clothes and sends food to my cabin, I bathe on deck in a tub of collected rainwater. It takes a long time to get clean. Blood clings, forcing you to confront how you spilled it. Finally, my skin singing, I dress, then head back to my cabin to eat. I'm safe enough now. If the men harm me, they'll get nothing. They know this, so I can finally relax, if I can do that in this weird state of not-thinking about him.
Strange to open this door. Its wood feels like a coffin under my fingers, and I stand there for a moment, touching it, thinking of my father. When I step inside, he's there. Not my dead father. The other one. Naked on the bed, which is set with fresh silk sheets. Him. The door slams shut behind me while I stand there and gawk. "You've been here the whole time?" It's impossible. There's nowhere to hide.
He says nothing, and I look at him. He really is beautiful, and wanting him is part of who I am. I don't understand that, because tonight has been about cutting away everything that isn't me, and I should be elemental now. He's like a father or a limb. Maybe a cancer. Still watching him, I strip slowly, then take a pear from the table. When it's done, so sweet in my mouth that I could die, I eat a piece of cake dripping with honey. A pirate ship with cake? Nothing fits right in this place; it never has. The cake is all I can manage except for a drink and, still standing, I accept the cup he offers me.
I join him only when it's empty. "Lie down." My voice is rough, and I half-expect him to resist. He doesn't, only repositions himself. The danger's always there, sublimated now so that he seems relaxed with a feline languor. When he's on his back, I climb on top of him. "Don't move. Let me do what I want." At first, all I want to do is stare at him. It's like facing a mirror, except we look nothing alike. He is who I should be. He is--
"Who was your father?" A strange question, but nothing shows on his face.
"What do you mean?"
"You can learn a lot about someone from his father."
"He was everything you're not." I tilt back his head until the muscles in his neck are taut, then lick, long passes with my tongue. When his hair gets in my way, I hold it back, licking to its edge, then to the hollow. It's somewhere between cleaning and claiming him to put my tongue in these intimate dark places that taste like fire and death. It's not easy for him, and I accept that. He hates to be vulnerable, even to look it. I think he'd rather die. It's why I can't just bend down and kiss him; he'd throw me off if I treated his mouth with anything except worship. No sudden ambushes.
I approach cautiously, outlining his jaw with more licks and twisting his right nipple, rubbing my cock against his, so he won't get bored or think I'm too tender. He moans at the pain in his nipple, arching, and his mouth opens a little. His breath against my cheek is humid and fragrant with a wine I don't recognize, and I pinch his other nipple as punishment for my shiver.
His jaw is wet now, silvery in the light, and I lick up until the tip of my tongue meets his bottom lip. A small victory, like crossing a riverless bridge, then I slide my hand under his ass and squeeze hard enough to bruise. Not just a distraction; pain's a gift to him.
"What am I?"
We're so close that he speaks below a whisper. "That sounds like a riddle," I tell him, as I tease his lips with my wet fingertip.
His smile is as faint as his question. "Who do you think I am?"
"A selfish, violent prick. And strong. Incredibly strong." His bottom lip is a full curve, and I lick and suck it. When his tongue is against mine, I pull back. This is my kiss, not his, no matter who he is. And I think that finally I know who that is. "You like to plan. To control."
He lets me tangle my fingers in his hair, holding him down for my tongue. I taste my own mortality in his mouth. I'm inside the lion, under his skin, against the sharp curve of bone. I'd like to be a hunter so I could kill him, slice open his flat gold belly to see what's inside, how the pieces fit together. He'd be so beautiful, dead, lying naked on a bier. No mask, no discreet cloth, just gold and black, day and night. The flames would love him.
He's slowing the kiss to lick my tongue, and my arms go weak. He'd have to lick a thousand tongues to be this good, to catch the rhythm of my blood. I could kill them now, the other ones who have been with him before me, cut them once for every kiss then flay the skin from their bones, stretch it out on wooden stakes for the crows. Because he's not just anyone. He's--
"Yes," he says, and slides his arms around my neck, rubbing his big cock against me.
He can read my face, that's all. He's not in my head, walking from thought to thought; he only knows what I let him see, and kissing shows too much--a visual confession. I move to his nipples, licking down to the right one, wishing it would soften so I can lick it hard. But his nipples are always stiff so I suck and bite them, pinch and tug them until they have to sting, red and full with blood. What would he do if I bit through the skin? Kill me? Fuck me? My teeth are sinking in when he speaks.
"You were a priest."
"You know everything."
"It shows. You have a thing for worship."
"You think I'm worshipping you?"
"No. I think you want to sacrifice me."
"To what god?"
"Not yet." I move down between his legs, lapping at the sweat that runs over the smooth skin, refusing to rub my cock against him. Some day I'll come on him, over and over again, on his face, on his chest, and on his cock, which lies heavy and swollen against his stomach. His whole body's about temptation. "Why am I here?" I take his cock in both hands. The head's glistening, and I lick it clean.
"To suck my cock."
"So I can fuck you."
I open wide and go down on his cock. When it's a breath from choking me, I pull slowly back, my tongue trailing wetly. With the head of his cock between my lips, I suck hard then swallow him again. Around me, the muscles tense in his thighs, long corded strips under taut skin. I repeat the action until his cock is bigger than I've ever seen it. That's when I stop. "You can fuck anyone. Why me?"
He laughs, and there's more mean in it than ever. "You kill a few men and you think you're special?"
His balls are hot against my palm, wet with the saliva that's trickled down. With the tip of my thumb I trace the line between them, moving under, then down another line of skin. "Oil." Because I am special. He can send me away, drown me, but it's too late. He's here, and I'm starting to understand why. The oil spills onto his stomach, pooling in his navel. I dip my finger in while grasping his cock. "Gaul is only the start."
The shift startles him, and he moans as my finger circles, never penetrating. "I thought you blew your load in Gaul."
"I'll take five legions across the channel to Britannia. Thousands of men in eight hundred ships. We'll land at daybreak and look like gods coming out of the fog." The circles are smaller now, my oiled fingertip relaxing him while I stroke his cock. My blood won't stay still, racing from my heart to my cock, tripping through my veins, and I can hear my own half-breaths. Feels like I'll never breathe right again. "This is a harder battle than the ones in Gaul. These tribes have heard about us, know we're here to take their land, know we have the strength to do it. They use fire, chariots and javelins, and soon we're breathing blood and smoke."
"Kill them," he says, as my finger slides in.
I'm inspired by the noise he makes, by the way he feels around my finger. "I can hear them calling gods with strange ugly names. They never appear. My men also call two names. One is mine, and it makes me feel like a god."
He's rolling me over now onto my back, spilling oil everywhere. His cock is huge and hard, and I know he wants to shove it in and fuck me roughly. He doesn't. Instead, he teases me, rubbing the head against me, never quite inside. He's waiting for a sign, waiting for me to make him real. "What's the other name?"
I wrap my legs around his waist. "You know." No blinking, not now, not with the truth about to break. I've been waiting since Bithynia for this, maybe my whole life.
"Say it." The head of his cock is pushing now, stretching me without fully entering.
When I thrust up to take him, he holds me down. "Why do you want me to say it?"
"You and your goddamn questions. Just say it, Caesar, or I'll kill you."
There's no name for what I'm feeling. It's all rushing blood and heat like I've swallowed the sun and I'm dying from the inside out. Obsession, need, lust, repulsion. Worship, too, and fate, history, death and conquest. More words that fail. They're not the ones that matter. Still, I can't just say it, his name. I need to build to the admission, to the confession, to whatever the fuck it is. Destiny. "The second name, the other name my men shout while their swords cut through the Britons..."
He bites me on the thigh where the skin is still tender. "Say my name. Say it."
His name. More rushing heat, and I'm arching uncontrollably, rising and dropping, struggling to get his cock inside me. He stares down at me, his eyes so black, inhuman eyes, the eyes of... "Ares. You're Ares."
He moans and I moan, and he slams his hips down, shoving his cock deep inside me, holding me there, impaled. "Say it again." It's not for confirmation. He gets off knowing I know whose cock is up my ass. He's been waiting days for this, to see the look in my eyes.
"Ares." In my head, I'm coming, but my body hasn't caught up. All I can do is writhe under him while he fucks me. Because there's more. The answer to everything. The reason I'm here. It's not just because he's a god and he can have whoever he wants. It's why he set this up. Why I had to kill. Why he's always felt familiar, looked familiar. Why he's obsessed with me.
Then he asks it, the question that's under everything he's done. "Who's your father?"
There's only one answer. When I say it, the rush inside me shoots from my cock, and I come on that perfect single perverse word. "Ares."
He shouts, a burst of inhuman sound, and grips my thighs so hard the bones shift under the skin. Lowering his face to mine, his body shaking, he stares into my eyes. I see things there that terrify me, blood and betrayal, conquest and death trapped in his irises, painted on his pupils, monstrous and ugly, my present and my future, his eternity. My father.
"I hate you," I tell him as he comes.
Everything came true, all of those dreams of conquest. Exactly what he wanted. I stood on the shores of Gaul, the world teetering on the brink of dark. Sounds flowered around me, the screams of men as their guts spilled; the shriek of gulls and cranes ecstatic at the carcasses; the splash of water against the keels of a thousand ships; the clang of iron against iron. True night-music that carries echoes of death. That's who I am. Death.
I'd feel Ares before I'd see him, in Gaul, Britannia, Germanica. The tattoo on my hip, the one he put there that confessional night, throbs whenever my father is around. He'd be in a clearing, fighting a small army of men, his sword dripping with gore, his leathers stained with brains and blood. I'd hack my way toward him, killing man after man until my sword-arm ached, not letting the pain show. As a reward for genocide, for being a good son, we'd feast, drink Falernian wine, then he'd fuck me all night.
I've learned to let nothing show, good or bad. Ares taught me that, and now even he has trouble reading me sometimes. It's how I've managed to keep a secret from him, a deadly secret. He's going to be so goddamn furious; it's too bad I won't be around to see his face when he realizes what I've done.
I'm going to change my destiny.
Right now, I'm destined to conquer the world just like he wants. Kill more than anyone else has killed, claim more land than anyone ever will, own more, be more. But I've been having these dreams for over a year now, dreams about another man, a long-dead man who would sit on my bed after I'd had a nightmare, who taught me to hear night-music. He would've hated who I am. Because he's part of me, I hate who I am. That's why I've set up this plan. Ares might even admire it someday, and it's as much tribute as revenge. That's why it will unfold in the month of March, his month.
And afterward, every year on the Ides of March, he'll remember how I defeated him. It will be the day I die, and it will be glorious. Finally, I'll be free.