by Cimorene Ross
Roman Gaul: Lucius Valerius Carus isn’t naturally impulsive; when he suddenly and unexpectedly buys a slave at a market it’s because he feels sorry for a man who has obviously been maltreated in the past. However he’s taken on far more than he bargained for with Keret – intelligent, educated, and a great deal stronger than he looks. Roman society wouldn’t think twice about Lucius using Keret for his sexual pleasure – indeed, it would be astonished if he didn’t – but it’s likely to be horrified if it ever learns that Lucius has started to respect his slave, and absolutely disgusted if it discovers that he’s gradually beginning to fall in love …
100,000 words/318 pages
Publication 1 August 2013
“…for sure an original Gay romance…”
Review by Elisa at Reviews and Ramblings 18 May 2014
“…I liked the idea and the story and the era and God those Pannonians…”
Review by Thommie at MM Good Book Reviews 5 September 2013
“…the writing is expressive, the author eloquently conveying the characters’ thoughts and feelings…”
Advance review by Josie Goodreads at Mrs Condit Reads Books 29 July 2013
(Site no longer available, but review appears on Goodreads)
“I must be mad, spending my last day at home helping you buy a slave,” decided Lucius Valerius Carus, coming to a halt in the middle of the market-place and glowering at his cousin and fellow-officer, a Romanised Gaul like himself. “I can think of far better things to do.”
“I’m leaving Cavillonum tomorrow, too, and I’ve got further to travel” replied Flavius, not in the least perturbed by either this complaint or the scowl, long since inured to both. “Besides, you promised to go with me.”
“That was before I knew where you wanted to go.”
“You should have asked. That’s your trouble, jumping in with both feet without bothering to think. I need a good body slave – I had to get rid of that boy I got in Mediolanum, so ham-fisted you wouldn’t believe. But Settius says he’s good with horses, and it doesn’t matter that he’s clumsy.”
Lucius eyed him up and down, struck speechless by his cousin’s ability to ignore his own shortcomings, before he finally said, “Since when did you ever think? Why couldn’t you have done something about it before now? How do you know your new slave won’t be as useless as the last?”
Flavius grinned cheerfully and said optimistically, “My luck’s turning; didn’t I win sixty denarii last night? And the lad’s not useless, he’s just better working the horses than looking after me.”
Lucius snorted and refrained from any further comment. He ought to have known better than to accompany Flavius on any unnamed errand -he’d been caught too many times before – but at least it was broad daylight and there was little chance of them winding up blind drunk in some low tavern on the outskirts of town like the last time. He never did find out how Flavius had evaded his parents’ wrath, but suspected that Settius had come to the rescue as usual – just as Nennius, his own steward, had been waiting for his return home. Fortunately his mother was visiting his sister, so Nennius had poured him into bed with the familiar harangue of his childhood; he had a strong suspicion that in Nennius’s eyes he would always be ten years old and in need of rescuing from both the stable roof and his mother’s anger.
He was drawn back to his present predicament when he followed Flavius into the market-place, weaving through the crowds buying meat, fruit and vegetables to find that several slave merchants had set up blocks at the far end, where there was room to exhibit a wide variety of merchandise.
“Remember, no dancing girls,” he said hurriedly, as his cousin’s attention seemed captivated by the gyrations of a black-haired Syrian girl clothed in nothing but hair and bangles.
“Body slaves,” snapped Lucius, frog-marching his cousin to the next trader’s booth. “Young, healthy and ugly. You dare take a blond beauty to Raphaneae and you’ve got trouble.”
“You’re right. I’ve got enough troubles already without making it worse. You’d think it would be easy; all I want is a competent body slave,” he added, waving a hand at the naked youths on offer, all wearing tickets of origin and some with the white chalked feet of the newly captured. “Remember when Quintus wanted something exotic for his bed and there wasn’t a damn’ thing? Now look!”
Flavius sounded aggrieved and Lucius couldn’t blame him. Acrobats, bath boys, dancers – if you wanted it in your bed, this trader could provide it.
“Let’s try another merchant, there must be someone with household slaves for sale. How about over there?” Without waiting for a reply, Lucius pushed between a pillar of the colonnade and two loudly-dressed citizens arguing over a slave girl. “Seen anything you fancy?” he asked, once Flavius had caught up with him.
“Yeah. How about that redhead over there?”
Lucius swung round following his gaze, took one look at the sultry green eyes and voluptuous figure, and pounced on his cousin. “Keep your mind on body slaves and away from women for a while. The one thing you don’t need in Raphaneae is another dancing girl; from all accounts you’ve got enough of those already.” Lucius knew that he should never have left the house, and that going anywhere with Flavius was bound to end in disaster.
Flavius treated him to a disarming grin. “Yes, sir!” He gave a mock salute and schooled his face into the wide-eyed innocence that always fooled his female relatives. Lucius merely grabbed him by the arm and hustled him past the girls, depositing him in front of a line of sturdy, nondescript youths.
To annoy his cousin, Flavius looked everywhere but at the slaves, searching the crowded market-place for people he knew. One familiar face he could quite do without. “Hey, look, isn’t that Siccius Niger?”
Lucius turned round and saw the solid figure of Decimus Pilus Prior Siccius Niger inspecting some of the merchandise on a nearby stall. “That’s all I need! I’m still hoping we’ll go north and leave the Twentieth behind. There’re three legions in Britannia, so why do we have to be attached to the one with him in it?”
“You still having trouble with him? I thought we’d jumped on him enough at school?”
“That’s probably the reason he hates us. Hurry up, Flavius, we haven’t got all day. We’re supposed to be looking at horseflesh, not body slaves.”
They turned back to the stall to find the portly merchant standing beside them rubbing his hands together, an ingratiating smile creeping across his face as he recognised a potential sale.
“He wants a good body slave, suitable for an army officer.” Lucius broke into the merchant’s standard selling speech before the man had barely opened his mouth, and added, “Stay here, Flavius, I’ll see what they’ve got over there.”
Which serves him right, he thought as he moved away. Flavius could choose his own slaves. A good decision, he reflected as he saw the condition of the merchandise on the next stall. Starving, maltreated and filthy; which made it something of a mystery why Siccius Niger was inspecting each one so assiduously. He couldn’t think of any reason why the other man would be in need of field slaves; his family were merchants, not farmers.
His introspection was broken when he found himself staring into a pair of violet eyes; then long lashes fanned down and Lucius focussed instead on a slender body covered in many layers of ingrained dirt and blood, matted brown hair now hiding the face from view.
“I’ll have that one,” he said – and pulled himself up in horror, but it was too late. A wiry man in a stained tunic appeared at his side, a hand poised over the collection of chains fastening his wares to the stall.
“One thousand denarii. Which one, sir?”
“Four hundred. That one.” Lucius stepped forward and touched the young man on the shoulder. He could see Siccius Niger approaching and realised he hadn’t much time to haggle the trader to a sensible price.
“Eight fifty. He’s a good lad, very willing.” The stall holder couldn’t believe his luck; a customer with more money than sense and eager to part with both.
Very willing, thought Lucius, with scourge weals down his back. I must be mad. “Five hundred and you have a sale.”
“Five hundred,” agreed the merchant, recognising that there would be no further bargaining, and relieved that his customer was producing a money pouch.