The Nature of the Beast
He crept along the dim corridor, listening carefully for any indication that an errant servant might be following him. No one must know, could ever know, the goal of his errand tonight.
Iphicles thought he had all the answers. "It's no big deal, Caesar. So you like it. Why would anyone care?" His whisper over the main course at dinner tonight was a drawling serpent that slithered into Caesar's ear, and that lazy smile -- that lazy, knowing smile -- squeezed the Roman's heart with its nonchalance.
And why should the man give a shit? After all, he was responsible for the creation of the lion that roared in Caesar's breast. The deep vibration of hunger had an undertone of craven need that mewled pathetically, like a kitten in search of its mother's teat, and Caesar hated hearing it inside himself as much as he enjoyed the sound of it in someone else.
He pressed himself flat against a door frame recessed into the wall, his heart pounding in time with the padding steps that approached him. With any luck, it would be an illiterate servant, and he could make do with taking the wretch's tongue. He waited until the steps receded away down a side corridor before sheathing his dagger and taking a cleansing, albeit shaky, breath. With a careful glance back down the way he had come, he continued toward his destination.
It burned and growled inside him, this bestial addiction that screamed to be fed. It was maddening, a gnat that buzzed through his vitals and fluttered up to tickle his dry throat, and when he tried to swallow he heard a dry click. He forced himself to stop, clenching his hands against the insidious craving. This is ridiculous, he told himself. Are you not the one who quelled the attacks of the falling sickness, by power of will alone? Yet he stood helpless -- he, Julius Caesar -- powerless to stop himself from surrendering, again this night, to the hunger.
Iphicles waited, confident of the siren's call of it to draw him down that hall. Damn him! And didn't the king take delight in Caesar's weakness? Oh, yes: he wrapped it around himself like a fur cloak, luxuriating in the warmth of the Roman's lion of lust, chortling in glee as he held out the bait that brought the beast, once again, to thundering life. Iphicles had seduced him with calculated skill, and was responsible for bringing Caesar to this sorry state, and he gloried in his power. Caesar knew that, and hated Iphicles for having that power.
Almost as much as he longed for that golden sweetness to fill his mouth. Oh, the sweetness of it! Caesar bent double, his breath coming in harsh gasps at the unjelled feeling in his midsection, and laid his hot face against the cold stone wall. It made the blood sing in his limbs and his heart pound like a mallet against an anvil. He wanted to swim in it, drown in it, and his mouth began to water in anticipation of the fullness of it inside him, once again. Yes, he would take it from Iphicles, wrapping his fingers around it with careful pressure. And Iphicles would chuckle slyly, his eyes gleaming, and urge Caesar to take it, take it all!
As he had last night. And the night before that. Five nights of indulgence in sensual gluttony with the king of Corinth, their eyes glittering in the candlelight, and Iphicles whispering, "Take some more -- just reach out and take it." Caesar swayed drunkenly and grabbed for the support of the wall behind him.
Then, last night. Iphicles laughing nastily and dangling the prize just out of Caesar's reach. Taunting him, making him beg, not satisfied until Caesar had pursued him from one end of the room to the other. Bile rose in a burning wave at the memory of how he had dropped to his knees like a supplicant in front of the laughing king. Iphicles had patted his head gently as he swallowed, and chuckled softly when Caesar whimpered for more.
"I've arranged for something special," the king had murmured, his smooth fingers caressing the stem of a wine goblet during the last course at the formal dinner tonight. "I think you'll enjoy it. I will, at any rate."
"More than last night?" Caesar kept his voice carefully neutral by focusing on the geometric configuration of the tiles that formed the archway into the large dining hall.
"You'll weep, Julie. Tears of joy." Iphicles smiled slightly and rose, signaling the end of the meal.
"I'll own you, Caesar. Lock, stock and cock, as they say." Caesar steeled himself against the light hand that gently squeezed his shoulder. "Later, my lord."
It would stop, he decided. This night it would stop. He could not yet again endure the torture of self-recrimination and loathing that had been his waking companion for the past five mornings. He would return to his quarters and inscribe a scroll to the king which would form a terse apology for the emergency in Rome that had necessitated his taking leave in the middle of the night, and he would ride like a majestic wind away from the flea-bitten beast with the mane of tawny gold that screamed in his vitals for satisfaction. Yes, he thought with renewed strength, I will go, and by going, will tame and render that lion impotent and toothless. He took a deep breath, feeling steadiness replace the quivering in his belly.
A line of illumination began to glow beneath the oaken door in front of him. Then the scent wafted through the air. I'm lost, he thought, his heart thudding twice, and his hand moved of its own volition to turn the door latch.
"Look what I have for you," Iphicles said softly.
His breath catching in his throat, Caesar watched Iphicles' fingers stroke and press sensuously along the smooth surface, and a small moan escaped his throat as thick wetness welled up and bathed the fingertips that were now offered to him. He sucked the essence from the fingertips, feeling a thumb firmly stroke his throat as he did so.
But the flavor was different, richer somehow, and his eyes widened in a silent question.
"Cinnamon. A hint of bitter chocolate," Iphicles murmured. "And creamed coconut." He stepped back and waited, his smile insidious. "Come and get it, Julie."
His hand reached out, blurred in the speed of its betrayal, and grasped the large triangular thickness of the baklava dripping with honeyed fruit and nuts.
And the lion roared in triumph.