Send Comment Card

Please Send This Author Comments!
This page last viewed: 2017-10-21 and has been viewed 1784 times

When in Rome…

Author: HannibalFan'52 (with a lot of input from Jullian Gray)

 

Rating: NC-17

Summary: What if the A-Team had existed in Ancient Rome?

Warnings: Slash - H/F; mild graphic sex

Notes:

    1. An appendix containing a glossary of Latin terms used, as well as other background information, appears in a separate post

    2. The actions described for Hannibal's horse are among the 'Airs Above the Ground' performed by the white stallions of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, which are actual battle tactics.  Xenophon wrote a treatise on how to train horses, including how to train them to do what comes naturally, but on the rider's command.

    3. Plautus' play 'The Braggart Soldier' (Miles Gloriosus) is one of three plays that inspired the musical 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum', by Stephen Sondheim, Larry Gelbart (of M*A*S*H fame), et.al.

    4. My thanks to Alayne Alexandra Nyvern Nightwatcher [mka Pam Parisi] for her help in finding a period-correct substitute for Hannibal's cigar.

    5. If anyone knows a better Latin translation for the last line in the story, please let me know.

Disclaimer: The canon characters are, of course, the product of Stephen J. Cannell's fertile imagination. I can only hope I've done justice to his creation.

 

**********

 

Germania - Summer of 50 AD

 

            It was a 'trophy' like many others: two of the enemy's spears stuck point-down in the ground, helmets set on the butts, with a third spear set across the top, like the lintel of a door.  It was under this archway that the opposing soldiers were being forced to march, as a symbol of their defeat, while their women-folk wept.  

            Gaius Aurelius Cartagenia, called 'Hannibal' for his skill in strategy, watched the proceedings from the back of his white horse.  Beside him stood Sextus Aurelius Bosconius, his Legion's aquilifer, wearing the lion-skin mantle to which his position entitled him.  Hannibal had nicknamed the large black man 'Scipio', inspired by the successful Roman commander Scipio Africanus, who had defeated the original Hannibal several centuries before.

            He smiled when he thought of how the big man had been when he was first conscripted into the Roman Army - bad attitude, ready to fight anything that moved, and with a total lack of respect for authority.  He had been on the point of being executed for insubordination when Hannibal had claimed him for one of his centuriae, having seen the potential in the young African.  Under his guidance, Scipio had become a decurion, and later a centurion in his own right.  Now he was Hannibal's right-hand man, and the only one he trusted with his horses.  Scipio had trained them lovingly, so that they responded to the slightest touch of reins or heels.

            As Hannibal watched, centurions passed among the defeated warriors, offering them a chance to pledge allegiance to Rome and become auxiliaries in the Roman Army. For those who agreed, their families would be allowed to return to their villages and live in peace.  For the rest, the only options were death or a life of slavery.  He saw many nod reluctantly, accepting the life of a warrior in the service of Rome.  

            As he touched the reins to his horse's neck, a commotion broke out.  Looking up, he saw a young blond man, his beard half-grown, spit in the face of a centurion, who backhanded him.  Grasping his staff of office, the officer drove it broadside into the man's stomach, watching as he collapsed to his knees, winded, his arms wrapped around his mid-section.  Seeing him subdued, the centurion continued his interviews.

            As the centurion walked away, several captives gathered around the young man, offering help, but he waved them off.  Forcing himself to his feet, he glared after the officer who had knocked him down.  Even from this distance, Hannibal could see the hate-filled look in his eyes.

            'Boy has courage, Hannibal,' Scipio ventured.

            'He certainly does,' Hannibal agreed, nodding.  Turning his horse, he added, 'I want you to keep an eye on him.  See if he relents.  I would hate to see such spirit destroyed.'

            'Yes, sir,' the standard-bearer replied, his right fist striking his chest in salute as his commander rode back to his tent.

 

*****

 

Several Days Later


            Scipio turned away, shaking his head.  The young man had just endured a savage flogging without uttering so much as a whimper.  He doubted it would curb the blond barbarian's desire to escape.  It looked like his friend was doomed to be disappointed. Frankly, he couldn't understand Hannibal's fascination with a mere captive.

            As he turned, Aulus Marius Mento came trotting up.  He fell in step with Scipio as he headed back towards the officers' tents

            'Still checking up on the wild boy?' he asked with a lop-sided grin.

            'Yeah,' the aquilifer sighed.  'To tell you the truth, I think the boy's more trouble than he's worth, but Hannibal's interested in him for some reason.'

           'He told me he's seen defiance like this before, when you two were serving in Britannia.'

            'Yeah,' Scipio said.  'The Britons tattoo themselves with blue pigments.  That way, they believe, they may lose their clothes, or even their lives, but they can never be stripped of their dignity.'

            'You've got to admire a people like that,' Mento mused.  'As for what Hannibal sees in him, I think I can guess.  He's tired of all the flattering whores who approach him when he's on leave, as well as the overbearing Roman matrons pressuring him to choose a wife, preferably their own daughters.  As a member of the upper-class himself, from a family of good standing, he'd make a good catch.  Even the Dominae Amatia and Tullia were pestering him the last time he was home.  He's had enough of such squabbling, but he's still a lonely man.  Maybe he's hoping he's finally found someone to fill that empty space in his life.'

            Scipio mulled that over, and had to agree.  For Hannibal's sake, he hoped the young man would come to terms with his fate.

 

*****

A Week Later


            Two decuriones trudged back to camp, the blond captive struggling between them as they held his manacles.  No matter what the guards did, he always managed to find a way out.  They couldn't fathom the man's unrelenting desire to escape.  It seemed he would never learn that he couldn't escape his fate.

            Dragging him up to the centurion in charge, they saluted and waited to be acknowledged.
            'You again?' Cassius sighed as he turned.  He grabbed the blond's hair and forced his head back.  'Learn this, barbarian!' he said through gritted teeth.  'One way or another, your life belongs to Rome.  I swear by Mithras, you will either accept that, or you will die.'  With that, he let go, and turned to walk away.

            The blond stood there a moment, his chest heaving, before he exploded into action.  Breaking free of his guards, he charged the officer.  Slipping the shackle chain around the man's neck, he fell backwards, taking the centurion down with him.  Once on the ground, he pulled the chain taut, the officer's eyes bugging as he struggled to breathe.  

            Instantly, the guards were on the pair, pulling them apart.  

            'That's enough!' the centurion yelled as he scrambled to his feet.  Drawing his sword, he advanced on the snarling youth.

            'Wait a minute, sir,' said one of the decuriones, holding up a hand.  'He's not bad-looking for an animal.  Why don't we have a little fun with him before you kill him?'

            The look in their eyes told the young man what they had in mind.  Howling in panic, he fought like a demon as they pulled his braes from his body, leaving him naked. But as hard as he struggled, there were too many, and he was soon forced to his hands and knees.

            'Hold!'

            At the sound, everyone froze.  

            'What's going on here?' Hannibal demanded, his voice furious.  He waved off the salutes, staring at Cassius.

            'We were about to execute the barbarian, sir,' the officer answered.  'He escaped again, and when he was returned here, he attacked and nearly killed me.'  He touched the red marks on his neck for emphasis.

            Hannibal looked at the young man, and saw the fear in his eyes.  Immediately, he understood what had been about to happen.  He gestured to Scipio, who approached the young man and, taking off his cloak, wrapped it around him.

            'You will release him to my custody,' Hannibal said sternly, glaring at the other soldiers.  'I claim him as part of my share of booty.'

            'But, sir!' said one man, 'he's an animal!  He can't be tamed!'

            Hannibal grabbed the man by the front of his tunic.

            'A horse has many times the size and strength of a man,' he said, his voice tight, 'yet the Greek general Xenophon proved that they can be trained to man's will with gentleness and patience.  If he still proves intractable, then, as my property, he will be mine to deal with, understood?'

            'Yes, sir,' the legionnaire answered shakily.

            'Good.  Remember that.'

            Letting the man go, Hannibal turned on his heel and stalked away, Scipio guiding the young blond with an arm around his shoulders as they followed behind.

 

***

            Mento caught up with them as they reached Hannibal's tent.  Holding open the door flap, he followed the others inside.

            Sitting in the chair by his campaign desk, Hannibal indicated that Scipio should remove the cloak from the young blond.  Looking at the naked man, he could see that his new slave was shaking like a leaf, despite the warmth of the late summer afternoon.  Even so, there was a look of wary defiance in his eyes.  Hannibal was not surprised when he made a break for the tent's door, and Scipio easily moved to block the exit.  

            Backing away again, the young man looked wildly around the spacious wall tent.  A soft voice pulled his attention to Hannibal.

            'I know you don't understand me,' Hannibal said, holding up his hands, palms out, 'but we don't want to hurt you.  Please, we only want to help.'  Raising a hand, he made a twirling motion with a downward-pointing finger.  'Turn around.  I want to see your back.'  At the slave's puzzled frown, he gestured to Scipio.

            The large black man approached slowly, his hands also raised.  He could see that the young man was torn between fighting and fleeing, and was glad when he was able to put his hands on the young man's shoulders.  Gently, he turned him so his back was to Hannibal, who nodded grimly.

            'I was afraid of that,' he murmured.  'Mento, go get a medicus.  On your way out, tell a couple of guards to set up my bath behind the tent.  He's filthy, and those wounds are infected.  The healer can't treat him while he's like that.'

            With the efficiency for which the Roman Army was famous, it wasn't long before the wooden tub was filled with gently steaming water.  As Scipio led him into the sunlight, Hannibal could see that the smaller man was also malnourished, his ribs clearly visible.

            Hannibal beckoned him forward, but the slave pulled back, only to bump into Scipio behind him.  He looked up at the massive black man, then back at Hannibal, and shook his head violently. 

            Guessing what was bothering the young man, Hannibal reached into the tub, holding his arms in the water to show that it was safe.  Then he wet a rag and rubbed it on his own skin before pointing to the youth. 

            The blond held up his wrists questioningly, and Hannibal nodded, gesturing for Scipio to remove the shackles.  Once that was done, he took a few hesitant steps towards the tub before exhaustion, pain, and fear overwhelmed him, and he passed out.  Scipio caught him before he hit the ground.

            Shrugging out of the top of his wide-necked tunic, Hannibal let it fall to his waist, caught by his leather cinculum, leaving his upper torso bare.  Taking the unconscious man from his friend, he gently placed him in the warm water.

            'Hannibal!' Scipio protested, 'that's a job for a common miles. Or, better yet, a fellow slave!  Not a member of the equestrian class, let alone a tribune in the Roman Army!'

            'I know, my friend,' Hannibal said, 'but most soldiers would resent the task, and the captives are too far away.  Besides…' he smiled as he tried to brush the long hair off the younger man's face, '…I want to show him that he can trust me.'

            The blond's eyes fluttered open, and he sat up suddenly, slopping water over the sides of the tub.  As he stared around himself, puzzled to find his head above water, Hannibal could see that his eyes were a beautiful shade of blue-grey.  He smiled, hoping to put the young man at ease before starting to clean as much grime off the youth's body as he could with the rag.

            'These sores are too tender for the pressure I'd have to use with a strigil,' he said, half to himself and half to Scipio.  'I'll have to use soap to treat them.  Once this campaign is over, and we get him back to Rome, we'll teach him proper bathing procedure.  After all, he's got to know if he's going to attend me in the baths.'

            'True enough,' Scipio replied. 

            Hannibal kept talking gently as he handed the rag to the young slave, putting his hand over the boy's to guide him as he washed.  He wasn't surprised that the younger man panicked as he poured water over his head, his hands in a death-grip on the sides of the tub, but smiles and a calm tone of voice reassured him as Hannibal washed and untangled his hair.

            Once he was as clean as possible, the tribune took the cloth back.  Gently pushing the lad forward, he started to clean the infected whip-marks, soaking the scabs free to allow the pus to drain.  Satisfied they were as clean as he could get them, Hannibal assisted his slave out of the tub, and dried him off with a wide linen cloth.

            Just then, Mento arrived with the healer.

            'Ave, Tribune,' the man said.  'How may I have the honor of serving you today?'

            'Welcome, Junius,' Hannibal replied.  'It's my new slave.  He was beaten badly before I claimed him, and his wounds need more tending than I can give him.'

            Junius frowned; he'd heard about the incorrigible barbarian, and didn't appreciate wasting his talents on such a creature.

            'Surely the legion veterinarian would do for an animal such as this?' he sniffed indignantly.  No sooner were the words out of his mouth than he realized his mistake.

            'He may be a barbarian,' Hannibal said, his eyes narrowed, 'but he is now the property of a citizen of Rome.  I'm not like those masters who treat their slaves like animals and work them to death.  History has shown that such treatment breeds unrest and revolt.  Remember Spartacus!  No, he will be treated fairly, and I expect he will give me many years of good service in return.'

            'As you wish, Dominus,' Junius replied, sorting through his salves to see which would be best suited to the task at hand.

            Scipio turned the blond man around, but he jumped at the first touch from the healer.  The aquilifer held him gently, but firmly, as Junius spread salve over each welt and cut, and he could feel the youth slowly relax as the pain subsided.

            When he was finished, Junius turned back to Hannibal.

            'Here is some more of the same salve,' he said, handing the pot to Hannibal, along with a capped pottery flask.  'The flask holds a sleeping draft.  He will need a lot of rest as he heals.  But use it carefully.  One drop in a cup of water will be enough to help him relax; three drops will help him sleep. More than that, and you risk killing him.  If you need anything else, send a runner, and I will come at once.'

            Bowing, he made his way back across the compound.

            'I think we could all use some food, Scipio,' Hannibal said as he led the way back inside his command tent. 

            'I took the liberty of sending for vespernum for all of us,' said Mento, motioning to the table set with bowls of soup, bread, cheese, and dried fruit.

            Scipio finished tying the linen cloth around the barbarian's waist and sat him on the ground near Hannibal's chair, then passed him a bowl of soup before taking one himself.

            The blond sniffed the bowl's contents suspiciously before putting it on the ground, once again shaking his head.

            Scipio picked up the bowl and handed it back to the young man, indicating that he should eat.  Again, it was pushed away.

            'Let me try something,' said Hannibal.  Taking the bowl, he ate some of the soup, then ate from his own bowl.  Catching on, Scipio and Mento ate from their portions.  Finally, Hannibal put all four bowls in front of the blond, and motioned for him to choose for himself.  

            Warily, the youth watched the older men, finally choosing the bowl that had been Hannibal's.  Hugging it to himself, he ate quickly, as if afraid it would be snatched from him.  He started when he felt a hand touch him, and looked up to find Hannibal smiling down at him, his fingers stroking the long blond hair.  The tribune's ice-blue eyes sparkled merrily, and he allowed himself to relax just a bit.

            Taking the empty bowl, Hannibal traded it for bread and cheese.  Breaking them in half, he held both portions out, again allowing the prisoner to choose.  He smiled when the grab was less frantic, and the consumption of the food a little less guarded, and chewed thoughtfully on his own share.

            When it looked like the young man had eaten his fill, Hannibal had an idea.

            'Mento,' he said, 'you're my best spy.  Do you know their language?'

            'Enough to get by,' the brown-haired man replied.  'What do you want to know?'

            'Ask him his name.'

            After a brief murmured conversation, accompanied by more head-shaking, Mento looked up at his commander.

            'He was reluctant to tell me - some superstition about it giving you control over him - but says his name is Aldwyn,' he said.  'From what I know of their language, it means "noble friend".'

            'Aldwyn,' Hannibal repeated, rolling the unfamiliar combination of sounds around on his tongue.  'Not bad-sounding, if a bit strange.  How old is he?'

            'Twenty-two summers, he says.'  Hannibal nodded; the young man's claim tallied with his own estimate.

            'It's an interesting language he speaks; perhaps I'll learn it some day.  However, he needs to learn Latin if he's going to accompany me to Rome when I retire.  I put you in charge of teaching him, my friend.'

            'Done!' Mento grinned.  'And I can improve my own vocabulary at the same time.  If I have to infiltrate their villages and hunting parties, I need to know as much as I can.'

            A hint of cooler air drew Hannibal's attention.  Looking outside, he saw that the sun had gone down, and cook-fires were lighting the camp.  Returning his attention to his new slave, he could see that the youth was struggling to keep his eyes open.  

            'I think it's time we all turned in,' he said, yawning himself, 'and gave my parum barbarus a chance to rest.  It's been an exhausting day for all of us.  Mento, warn him against attempting to escape.  I don't want to have to restrain him unless absolutely necessary.'
            Nodding, Mento turned to the boy.

            'Aldwyn,' he said sternly, holding up one finger.  Once he had the young man's attention, he pointed to the door of the tent, shaking his head as he quietly spoke in the Germanic tongue of the local tribes.  Pulling the young man to his feet, he guided him towards the door.

            As soon as they were through it, the guards outside blocked their passage.

            Mento pointed to them, continuing to speak quietly.  A nod from the young blond indicated that he understood, and Mento brought him back inside.

            To stress the point, Scipio held up the manacles Aldwyn had been wearing earlier, his eyebrow raised questioningly.  Aldwyn shook his head; they didn't need to chain him for the night.  The black aquilifer nodded, though he still had doubts.

            Once his friends had taken their leave, Hannibal turned Aldwyn.

            'Puer,' he said, 'I'm going to trust you not to run.'  He pointed to a straw pallet at the foot of his bed, and mimed sleeping.  'That is where you will sleep.  I expect to see you there when I awake in the morning.'

            So saying, he guided Aldwyn to the pallet, and sat with him, stroking his hair, until the young man fell asleep.

 

***

Midnight

 

            Aldwyn's eyes snapped open.  Listening carefully, he could tell that most of the camp was asleep for the night, and guard activity was minimal.  Quietly, he got to his feet.
            He looked down at the silver-haired man asleep on his bed.  Since his capture, this man and his friends were the only ones who had shown him any kindness.  He was truly sorry to leave them, but he could not stay.  He had to get back to his village.  His parents were old, and it was his duty to defend them against the invaders.

            Carefully, he pulled back the door-flap of the tent.  The guards were about five paces away, their attention on the approaches to the tent.

            Without a sound, he slipped out into the night.

 

***

            The sounds of a scuffle brought Hannibal wide awake in an instant.  As he sat up on the edge of his bed, the tent-flap parted to admit his two guards, Aldwyn struggling between them.

            'Your pardon, Tribune,' said one, 'but we caught your slave trying to escape.  He only made it ten feet before we spotted him and gave chase.'

            'It's all right, Marlinus,' Hannibal said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.  Rising, he approached the young blond, and took his face in his hands.  

            'Aldwyn,' he sighed, 'I'm very disappointed in you.  You gave your word.  But I understand.  In your place, I would have done the same.'

            Though he couldn't understand Hannibal's words, Aldwyn could understand his tone of voice.  Seeing the disappointment in the ice-blue eyes, he looked away, but Hannibal turned his head so that their eyes met.

            'I want to trust you, but now I will have to take steps to prevent you from leaving.'

            Beckoning the guards, Hannibal retrieved the shackles Scipio had removed earlier, placing one end around the youth's ankle, and the other around the main tent-post. That done, he pulled the pallet-bed over to the post, and sat him down on it.  Pouring water into a flat-bottomed horn cup, he added one drop of Junius' potion and held it out to Aldwyn.
            Fear in his eyes, Aldwyn shook his head violently.

            Smiling, Hannibal knelt by the slave, and showed him how much water was in the cup before taking a large sip himself.  

            When it was held out again, Aldwyn could see that the water level had dropped considerably.  This time, he accepted the drink, and let Hannibal lay him down on the straw-filled mattress.  As he drifted off to sleep, he could feel Hannibal's fingers carding through his hair, and a gentle kiss on his forehead, and he considered how different this Roman was from the tales he had heard.  It seemed as if he really cared about him, his health, and his comfort.

            Hannibal stood when he was sure Aldwyn was asleep.  Turning to the guards, he handed them a bronze sestertius apiece.

            'Thank you for returning him unharmed,' he said.  'I will send a written commendation of your vigilance to your centurion.  You may return to your post.'

            Dismissed, the guards saluted and left the tent.

            Hannibal sat on the edge of the bed, and looked at the young man curled up on the thin mattress.

            'What am I going to do with you, my little barbarian?' he sighed.  He couldn't understand why he cared so much about the young man.  He admired his courage and determination, but there was more than that.  Whatever it was, though, there was much the young man had to learn about his new life.

            Lying down, Hannibal let the effects of the sleeping draft catch up with him.

*****

Two Weeks Later


            Hannibal stood in the bright early-autumn sunshine, running his fingers over the whip-marks on Aldwyn's back, and smiled when he didn't flinch at the touch.  The wounds were healing well, but they would leave scars that would last the rest of the young man's life.  Satisfied, he decided it was time for the next stage in Aldwyn's transformation.

            'All right, Scipio,' he said, fingering the ends of the blond hair, 'I think it's time he had his hair cut.'  Using his fingers, he mimed cutting the young man's hair, so that he would know exactly what Hannibal had in mind.  'Not too short, though.  I want him to look nice, not severe.'

            'Know what you mean, Hannibal,' Scipio agreed.  

            Hannibal turned to go into his tent, then turned back.

            'Oh, and Scipio?'

            'Yeah, Hannibal?'

            'Might as well shave his beard while you're at it.  No slave of mine is going to look like a barbarian, even if he was born one.'

            Laughing lightly at his own joke, Hannibal left Scipio to his work.

            'Me, acting as barber to a slave, 'stead of the other way 'round,' Scipio grumbled to himself, picking up a pair of scissors that looked like small sheep shears.  Aldwyn looked at him, concerned by the tone of voice.  

            'Don't worry, parum frater, ' Scipio reassured him, motioning for him to sit on a nearby log.  'Ain't mad at you.  It's just funny, is all.'

            Aldwyn watched warily as the scissors came closer, but sighed in relief when the first of his long locks fell to the ground.  It felt odd to have his hair end at the nape of his neck, rather than below his shoulders, but he had to admit that it felt good.  He closed his eyes and relished the warmth of the sun while he could.  Colder weather was not that far away.

            A soft susurration of sound penetrated his drowsiness.  Looking over to where Scipio stood, he could see the aquilifer's hand moving in a circular pattern, matching the sound of metal on stone.  His eyes widened when Scipio turned back to him, the sunlight glinting off the sharp edge of the bronze tool in his hand. 

 

***

            Hannibal looked at the reports on his desk.  Sometimes he wished he was a simple soldier, concerned only with following orders.  Being a tribune had its perks, but they were earned with a constant flow of reports on everything under the sun.  It seemed the Empire ran on the stuff.

            He chewed thoughtfully on a thick reed stuffed with dried colt's-foot as he perused his secretary's report about the latest battles the Legion had won, numbers of barbarian auxiliaries recruited, and tallies of booty of all kinds.  Satisfied, he reached for stylus and ink, and signed it, affixing his seal with the iron ring he wore.  Rolling it up, he tied it securely and added it to the dispatch pouch destined for the Imperator's attention.

            A yell of fear brought him to his feet.  Running outside, he found Scipio struggling with Aldwyn.

            'What's going on here?' he called.

            'Dunno!' Scipio grunted, barely keeping his grip on the young slave.

            'Nin!  Bitt', nin!'

            It was all Hannibal and Scipio could do to force him back to the log, sitting him down as Mento arrived post-haste from a neighboring tent.

            'What's the matter?' he panted.

            'Got me!' Hannibal replied as Aldwyn looked alternately at his handlers, his eyes wild with fear.  'He's babbling in that strange tongue of his, and I can't make out a word.  I thought you were teaching him Latin.'

            'I am,' Mento told him, 'but fear can make a man forget new things, and he'll slip back into his old ways.' 

            He knelt in front of the youth, taking his hands and murmuring softly.  Hannibal could tell Aldwyn was begging Mento about something, but couldn't make out what.  He watched as Aldwyn pointed to Scipio and the ivory-handled razor he had retrieved from the ground.

            Suddenly, Mento burst out laughing.

            'What is it, fossor?' Scipio growled.

            'You were about to shave off his beard, weren't you?' Mento asked, his lips curled in a grin.

            'Yeah.  So?'

            'He thought you were about to slit his throat as a sacrifice to the gods!  He thought that was the only reason you helped him get well, so that he'd be a worthy offering.'

            'And the rest?' Hannibal asked.

            'He was begging to be allowed to die honorably in battle,' Mento said more seriously, 'so he could join his warrior-gods, instead of being slaughtered like an animal.'

            'Tell him we're not going to hurt him.'

            Mento passed on Hannibal's words, but Aldwyn was adamant in his plea.

            'He doesn't believe me, Hannibal.  Says we're trying to trick him.'

            'Hmmmm,' Hannibal mused, putting a hand to his chin.  Feeling the roughness of his own incipient beard, he had an idea.

            'Mento, you're looking a little scruffy.  Let Scipio shave you to show him we mean no harm.'

            Mento nodded, and explained what Hannibal had said.  Aldwyn frowned and shook his head firmly, and pointed to Hannibal.

            'Let me guess,' Hannibal said with a smile.  'He'd rather have me demonstrate.'

            'You got it.'  Mento smiled in return.  Sighing, Hannibal sat on the log next to Aldwyn, patting his leg to reassure him.  Taking the young man's hand, he ran it over his chin, letting him feel the stubble.

            'All right, Scipio, do your worst,' he smiled.

            'Aw, Hannibal, you know I'm the best barber in this camp!' Scipio groused as he wet down his friend's cheeks and chin.  'And outta six thousand men, that's saying something!'

            Carefully, he scraped the bronze razor against the Hannibal's face, periodically wiping the stubble onto a rag.  Within minutes, he was finished.

            'Nice, Scipio,' Hannibal said as he ran a hand over his chin.  He looked at Aldwyn and pointed.  'Your turn.'

            With trepidation, Aldwyn nodded, preparing himself for the worst.  He flinched badly at the first touch of the razor, but his fear turned to curiosity as it glided over his skin, slicing only the dark blond hair.  

            When Scipio wiped the last of the fuzz from the young man's face and helped him to his feet, Hannibal gasped quietly.  Never before had he seen a young man so beautiful. The emotions he had felt when he first took custody of the youth became stronger.

            He was jolted out of his reverie when he heard Mento speaking to the younger man.

            'Tunica,' Mento was saying as he handed Aldwyn a grey linen tunic with narrow red bands at the sleeves and hem, and helped him into it.  Next, he held up a wide leather belt.  He pointed to Aldwyn, then crossed his wrists as if bound.  'Mancipium,' he said, pointing to the new slave.  Pointing individually to several slaves nearby, all wearing similar wide belts, he repeated the word 'mancipium' each time before pointing to Aldwyn again.

            'Mahn - kip - i - oom,' Aldwyn repeated carefully.  Hannibal could see that he was pleased and saddened at the same time.

            'Magister,'   Mento said, pointing to Hannibal.

            'Mah - gi - stair,' the young man duly repeated, smiling at Hannibal shyly.

            Hannibal gave him  a broad smile in return.  Putting an arm around his shoulders, he looked at Mento.

            'I've been thinking, my friends.  He's too beautiful for such a barbaric name.'  Turning his attention to the blond by his side, he pointed at him.

            'Aldwyn,' he said, shaking his head as he did.  The pained look in the younger man's eyes nearly stopped his heart.  

            'Artorius,' Hannibal added, nodding and placing a hand on the slave's cheek.  'Artorius,' he whispered again.

            'Ahr - tor - i - oos?'

            'Mento,' Hannibal said without looking around, 'tell him that a beautiful man deserves a beautiful name.'

            When his words were duly translated, the newly-named Artorius looked up at Hannibal, nodding in acceptance.  He sighed, knowing that his old life was over forever. But, being a practical man, he also knew that he could have fared much worse when it came to masters, and he vowed to make Hannibal and his friends proud.  Standing straight, he looked Hannibal in the eye.

            'Gra - tias ago vos, Magister.'

 

**********

        Scipio watched in disbelief as Mento headed towards the main gate of the camp, followed by two slaves pulling a wagon loading with a feathered contraption of some kind, and a couple of legionnaires.  He tapped Hannibal on the shoulder and pointed, and together they looked on as the little procession passed the guards on their way out.

        'Hey, fossor!   What you doing?' he called.

        'Trying again, of course!' Mento yelled back.

        'Man can't fly!'

        'If Daedelus could do it, so can I!  I just have to stay far enough away from the sun!'

        'Crazy fossor gonna get himself killed!' Scipio muttered under his breath.

        Hannibal just grinned as he listened to the exchange.  His two friends were oil and water, but when it came down to brass tacks, they worked well together, and that was what mattered..

        They watched as the little procession reached a six-foot-high earthen mound the soldiers had created at Mento's request.  The slaves helped Mento into a rope-and-leather harness, then attached the wings - complicated structures of linen fabric stretched over a light wooden framework, then covered with goose feathers attached with beeswax.

        Mento stood for a minute, moving his arms up and down, back and forth, testing wind resistance.  Once he was satisfied, he moved to the foot of the gently-sloping ramp of the mound.  After a couple of minutes of looking like a great, gawky bird preparing for a foot race, he began running for all he was worth up the incline.  When he reached the summit, he leaped into the air, flapping his winged arms as hard as he could.  He actually managed to hover for a few seconds before he crashed to the ground.

        Slaves and soldiers raced to his aid, gently loading him and his crumpled wings into the cart.  Then the procession made its way back to camp.

        'But they were designed like hawks' wings!' Mento was moaning as the cart passed the spectators gathered around the gate.  'What went wrong?'

        'Take him to Junius,' Hannibal told the escort, chuckling as he did.  'He should be just fine in a couple of days.'

        Shaking their heads, they headed back to Hannibal's tent to see how his parum barbarus was doing.

 

*****

A Few Weeks Later


        Artorius stood by the side of the road, looking down into the valley.  The pull was strong.  Though he couldn't see it, he knew his village - his home - lay in that direction.  He was so tempted.

        Tucking a linen bag into his belt, he turned at the sound of tramping feet and jingling metal, and saw a decurio returning from patrol.  Just as they were about to pass, the decurion halted his men, and stalked up to him.

        'What are you doing here, slave?' he demanded with a snarl, pushing the young man backwards a step.  'Planning to run away, are you?  Plotting your best route away from here?'
        A surge of anger went through Artorius, but he controlled his temper.  He could not disappoint Hannibal by lashing back, no matter how great the temptation.

        'No, sir,' he replied as calmly as he could.  

        'Lying slave!' the decurion snarled, backhanding him.  'I don't trust you a pace.  Let's see what your master has to say about your escape plans.'

        'Vitus!' called his optio, noting the writing on the young slave's belt..  'Better be careful.  He belongs to Aurelius Cartagenia.'

            'I don't care who he belongs to, miles!  He has no business being out here.'  Tying Artorius' hands in front of him, so tightly the slave winced in pain, he signaled his men to form up, then led the way back to camp.

 

***

            Hannibal was sitting at his campaign desk, which had been set up outside, when Vitus approached with Artorius and the rest of his decurio.  He looked up as Vitus saluted.  His eyes narrowed as he took in the scene, noting the red mark on his slave's right cheek, and his bound hands.

             'Vitus, isn't it?' he asked.

            'Ave, Tribune Cartagenia.  Yes, I'm Vitus, and I'm returning your slave.  We found him wandering outside the camp.  It looked like he was trying to run away, sir.'

            'Untie him,' Hannibal said sternly.  When Vitus hesitated, his optio stepped forward and removed the bonds.  Once he was released, Artorius stood proudly, meeting his master's gaze, not cringing like a guilty man.  Hannibal noted this, and returned his attention to the soldiers before him.  'I have given Artorius the freedom of the camp, decurion.  What makes you think he was trying to escape?'

            'He was standing at the rim of the valley, just outside the camp.  When I accused him of plotting to run away, he denied it.  But then, any slave would deny it, for fear of punishment.'

            'Did he try to run from you?'

            'No, Tribune.'

            Hannibal looked at the young blond.

            'Were you trying to escape?' Hannibal asked calmly.  'Was I wrong to give you the run of the camp?'

            'No, Master,' Artorius said simply.

            'You tried it once before.'

            'That was before I accepted my fate.  As much as I miss my former life, I will not betray your trust in me.'

            'Then why did you go outside the walls?'

            Taking the bag from his belt, Artorius handed it to his master.

            'Chestnuts?' Hannibal said, opening the bag and pouring out the nuts with their dark, shiny shells.

            Artorius blushed slightly.

            'Yes, Master,' he whispered.  'They grow abundantly here, and…I thought you might like some.'

            'Hmmm...,' Hannibal mused.  'Very useful things, chestnuts.

            'Decurion,' he said, coming to a decision.  'You will never lay a hand on my slave again.  A slave is his master's to punish, if he deems it necessary. As a result, I am assigning you and your men to chestnut-collection duty for the next week.  You will deliver the nuts to the cook-tents, and the leaves to Junius and his healers for  their fever and cough syrups and other remedies.'

            'But, Tribune!  The barbarians...!'

            'You will not go unarmed, and I will assign another decurio as escort, in case of attack.'

            'Yes, Tribune,' Vitus grumbled.

            'You are dismissed.  And if I hear one word of any retaliation against my slave or anyone else, you will be stripped of your rank!'

            'Yes, Tribune!'  Vitus saluted smartly.  As he left, Hannibal could hear the satisfied mumbles of the men assigned to the overbearing decurion.

            When they were gone, he turned his attention to his young barbarian.

            'When I gave you the run of the camp, puer, I didn't mean you could go outside the walls,' Hannibal said.  He held up a hand before Artorius could say anything.  'However, I didn't specify that, and I know it.  Under the circumstances, I can't fault you.'

            'Thank you, Master.'

            'I guess I'm going to have to give you leave to go outside the walls.  However, for your protection, come to me each time, and I'll give you written permission to carry with you.'  Reaching out, he gently caressed the red handprint on the young man's cheek, and the marks where the rope had bitten deeply into his wrists.

            'Master, I did lie,' Artorius said quietly.

            Hannibal looked at him, puzzled.

            'So you were planning to run?'

            'No!'  Artorius shook his head vigorously.  'I was...homesick.  I just wanted to see the valley where I grew up.  When I saw the chestnuts, I remembered how sweet they taste when roasted.  But I told the truth when I said I was bringing them for you.'

            Hannibal smiled, and clapped him on the shoulder.

            'Then I accept your gift, and we'll have some tonight,' he said with a smile.  'But you won't have to go without them.  I have a farm not far from Rome, and we grow chestnuts there, too.  Have you ever had bread made from chestnut meal…?'

 

*****

            Returning from the evening inspection of his cohorts, Hannibal nodded to the guards and ducked into his tent.  By the dim light of the hanging oil lamp, he crossed to his desk, taking off his hooded red woolen paludamentum and tossing it on his bed as he passed. He stretched, easing his tired shoulders, then unbuckled the leather cinculum from his waist, laying it carefully on his desk so that the hanging leather straps in front weren't tangled.
            He sat wearily on the edge of his bed.  Bending, he unlaced his hobnailed caligae, kicking them off his tired feet and sighing with relief.

            He looked over to where Artorius lay shivering under his thin linen blanket.  He ran a hand over his wolf-pelt-covered bed, and smiled as an idea formed in his mind.

            Kneeling by his slave's pallet, he gently shook him awake.

            'M – master?' Artorius said sleepily, then sat up abruptly.  'What's wrong?'

            'What's wrong is that it's far too cold for you to be sleeping on the ground like that,' Hannibal, smiling reassuringly.  'Mento, Scipio, and I spent a lot of time helping you recover from that beating, and I'm not going to throw that away for the sake of formality.'  Rising, he pulled the young blond to his feet.  'I want you to join me in my bed – strictly for the sake of warmth.'

            'Truly?'

            'Truly.'

            'Thank you, Master!' Artorius whispered, not believing his good fortune as he was guided to his master's bed.

            When they were both settled, Hannibal pulled Artorius closer, so that the blond's back was nestled against his chest, then pulled his long woolen cloak over them as a blanket.  His body stirred, having the smaller man so close to him, and he felt him stiffen in his arms as his hardness nudged the younger man's buttocks.

            'Relax, my little barbarian,' he whispered, his smile evident in his voice.  'I admit I have feelings for you, but I won't force myself on you.'

            'Thank you, Master,' the younger man said gratefully.  Ever since his rescue from Cassius, he'd been dreading another attack.  As a slave, he would not have been allowed to defend himself, which, having been a warrior, was hard for him to accept.  But his master was protecting him, and for that he was grateful.  Contented, he snuggled down into Hannibal's  warm and secure embrace, and allowed himself to drift off to sleep.

 

**********

            'Scipio!' Hannibal yelled, 'hang onto my saddle-cloth!'  Turning to the right, he slashed downwards at the Triboci who were attacking from all sides.  His cohort had been sent out to put down a minor rebellion near Argentoratum, but several smaller tribes had banded together before they got there, and resistance had been stiffer than expected.

            From his vantage point, Hannibal could see that his men were slowly gaining the upper hand, and some of the warriors on the outskirts of the battle were fleeing.  But here, in the thick of things, matters were very different.

            Scipio defended himself as best he could.  As aquilifer, it was his duty to protect the legion's eagle standard; if that were lost, the entire legion would be disgraced.  With his back protected by Hannibal's horse, he used the standard as a quarter-staff, keeping the enemy from Hannibal's flank in turn.

            Shouting a warning to his friend, Hannibal lightly touched his heels to his horse's flanks, at the same time giving a gentle touch on the reins.  In response, the horse rose on its hind legs, and hopped forward several times.

            Instantly, the attackers fell back, afraid of the thrashing front hooves.  

            Pressed by the milling fighters behind them,  they moved forward again, trying to attack the horse's flanks.  One man, wielding an axe, swung at the horse's rear leg in an attempt to hamstring it.  He missed, but the axe bit deep into Scipio's calf.  The black man fell to his knees, determined to protect the standard at all costs.

            Seeing his friend fall, Hannibal grew angry.  Another signal, and the horse leaped into the air, kicking backwards like a goat.  One hoof connected with the axe-wielder's face, killing him instantly.  This time, when the warriors fell back, they kept their distance.
            Hannibal circled his horse around and around Scipio, making sure the enemy warriors stayed away, until his own legionnaires broke through and beat them back.  After that, it wasn't long before the last of them broke and ran for the deep forest.

            Hannibal leaped from his horse and knelt by his friend.  Looking at his calf, he saw a deep slice that bled freely.  He nodded, knowing that it would be fairly clean.  With his sword, he cut strips from the hem of his tunic, and bound it snugly, but not too tightly.

            As he finished his chore, a centurion ran up and saluted.

            'Tribune!' he said briskly.  'Most of the enemy have fled.  My men are searching the field to collect our dead and wounded.  What should we do with any survivors among the enemy?'

            Hannibal nodded, accepting the report, then looked around at the captives that were being rounded up.

            'It will be such a waste,' he sighed, 'but the legate is going to want us to make an example. Decimate them, and then send the rest back to their villages to tell of how they were defeated.  Hopefully, they won't try to rebel again.'

            The centurion saluted, and turned away.  Hannibal watched as the prisoners were jostled into line, and the centurion went down the row, telling off every tenth man for execution.  Sighing again, he turned his attention to Scipio, gripping his hand tightly.

            'Homo! that hurts!' he groaned, his face contorted in pain.  'How...?,' he gulped.  'How bad is it, Hannibal?'

            'It's deep,' Hannibal told him, 'but it looks worse than it is.'

            'You ain't lyin' to me?'

            'I wouldn't do that to you, Scipio,' Hannibal reassured him.  'We'll get you back to camp, and Junius will have you up and about in no time.  Thanks to Artorius, he can make a chestnut-leaf poultice to clean out the wound and help it heal quicker.'

            'Yeah,' Scipio grinned through the pain.  'I wouldn't have believed it, but you made a good choice taking him under your wing.  Parum frater's really makin' himself useful.'

            'I think so, too,' Hannibal agreed.  'Now, you just relax.'  

            Calling a soldier over, he directed him to arrange carts to carry Scipio and the rest of the casualties back to camp.

            When they were ready to leave,  Hannibal had to smile as Scipio refused to give up custody of the eagle standard he had so nearly died to protect.  He ordered Scipio's cart to the front of the line, so the eagle could lead them home.

            As he rode next to the cart, the wheels in Hannibal's head started to turn.  He was getting tired of life on the outer reaches of the Roman empire.  Perhaps it was time for a change.  He looked down at his friend.

            'Scipio, I've been thinking.'

            'What about, Hannibal?'

            'That maybe I've had enough of fighting in Rome's defense.  That maybe it's time to look to my own needs.'

            'Gonna miss you, homo!.'

            Hannibal grinned.

            'You don't have to.'

            'What you talkin' 'bout?'

            'We've known each other for a long time.  My family sponsored you when you became a Roman citizen.  You've done your obligatory twenty years' service in the army. Why not retire as well, and join me?'

            'What about the fossor?'

            'Well, since he's not a soldier, and not strictly attached to the army, he can leave any time he wants.  And since our families have been friends for generations, I can ask him to join us.'

            'Yeah,' Scipio mused.  'Sounds like a plan, Hannibal!'  

 

*****

            Having made sure Scipio was safely being tended by Junius himself, Hannibal made his way back to his tent.  He stopped outside, and looked through the tent-flap without making himself known.

            Artorius sat on a small folding stool, his master's parade armor at his feet, the helmet in his lap, the polishing rag in his hand.  But though the armor gleamed, the slave moved as if his heart wasn't in his work.  Hannibal's heart ached when he saw how miserable the young man looked.

            Mento had told him that the blond had been depressed during his absence, refusing to eat, and worrying about what would happen to him should Hannibal be killed.  He had bequeathed him to Mento in case neither he nor Scipio returned, but he knew Artorius would grieve long and hard before coming to terms with belonging to another, even as caring a person as Mento.

            'Artorius!' he called softly.

            A loud crash sounded as the helmet fell onto the bronze cuirass when the slave leaped to his feet.

             'Master!'  Blue-grey eyes shone with joy as he ran to Hannibal, who clasped him in a tight embrace.

 

*****

A Few Weeks Later


            Hannibal grinned as he read the dispatches that had just been delivered.  Seeking out Scipio, he found him discharging his duties as legion paymaster, dispensing silver denarii, gold aureii, and small bags of salt to the soldiers waiting for their pay.  Finding a seat near his friend, he waited for a break.

            'Good news, my friend,' he said as Scipio paid the last man in the centurio, before the next one lined up for their pay.  'Imperator Claudius has accepted our resignations.  Not only that, he commends us for our good service.  We're going home!'

            'Homo, I never thought I'd live to see the day,' Scipio sighed.  'It'll be good to get back to good food, hot baths, and no slogging through swamps, peering through the bushes for enemies.'

            'Oh, there'll still be enemies,' Hannibal sighed, 'and they won't be as obvious as the barbarians.  But it'll be good to settle down, and go places only because we want to go there, not because we're ordered.'

            'That's gonna be nice,' Scipio grinned.  'I can't wait!'

            'So, is your optio ready to take over?'

            'Piso?  Yeah.  He's a damn good fighter; trained him myself!  Besides, his father's a merchant, so he knows how to keep the accounts.'

            'Good!  When will you be ready to leave?'

            'Ain't got much to pack.  I'll be ready when you are.'

 

*****

A Few Days Later


            Several wagons bounced along the wide forest trail, loaded with the impedimenta of the travelers returning to Rome.  Two decuriae had been assigned as escort until they reached the nearest paved road, the first leg of the journey to Rome.

            Artorius rode on the bench of the lead wagon, Mento beside him.  His attention was on the wax-filled tabula Mento held, pointing at little groupings of things called 'letters', and attempting to pronounce them.  When he got them right, he was rewarded with a smile and a clap on the back; his mistakes were greeted with a smile and a gentle correction of his pronunciation.  Mento had even said that, once they were in Rome, he would be taught how to make these markings himself!

            He looked up at the silver-haired man on the white horse, riding next to them.  He found it hard to rationalize his feelings for the man who owned him.  He had been brought up to hate the 'Roemer', and he had fought fiercely against them.  His life as a captive had been brutal until this man had claimed him as his property.  Since then, he had never been treated with anything less than respect, and he respected Hannibal and his friends in return.  

            Artorius smiled shyly.  He knew that his master had special feelings for him, feelings he had not expected a man to have for another man.  He'd lain with several of the girls of his village, but now he found himself feeling the same way about Hannibal as he did about them, and that confused him.  He just did not understand why he should be drawn toward this man with the laughing ice-blue eyes and disarming smile.  

            Hannibal smiled as he rode beside the wagon, watching as his slave studied reading under Mento's tutelage.  He was pleased that the young man was catching on so quickly, and noted that he was eager to learn.  He knew that the savage warrior still remained inside the slave, but he had been tamed by gentle treatment.  Hannibal was satisfied that Artorius had accepted his new life, and he was glad to have the younger man by his side.  For the first time in his life, he was truly content.

            Without warning, a spear flashed through the air.  It missed Hannibal by inches, and buried itself in the dirt of the road.

            Seeing that the track was too narrow for mounted combat, Hannibal barked a command as he slid from his horse, and the legionnaires ran to line the sides of the road.  Mento and Artorius ran to help Scipio from the second wagon, since his leg was not completely healed, and they all took shelter underneath, as did the wagon drivers.

            Artorius peered out from under the wagon.  He couldn't see much, only the feet of the combatants as they fought.  His heart was in his mouth, fearing for his master's safety. He felt he'd rather die than belong to anyone else, no matter how kind.

            A pair of red caligae decorated with bronze lion faces backed past his vision, hard pressed by two pairs of sewn leather shoes.  Knowing by the boots that it was Hannibal under attack, he scrambled out from under the wagon, shrugging off the two pairs of hands that tried to hold him back.  He snatched a pilum from a wounded legionnaire, and looked around for the tribune, spotting him as he was pulling his sword from the body of his second attacker.

            'Master!'

            Hannibal froze at the sound, then leaped back as the pilum whizzed past him.  He was about to snap at his slave when a berserker fell beside him, Artorius' javelin piercing his chest.  Looking up, he smiled at the blond, holding his thumb in the air in praise before turning back to the fight.

            As Artorius bent to retrieve a sword, intent on fighting at his master's side, a pair of black hands grabbed him and pulled him back towards the wagon.

            'What you think you're doing, homo?' Scipio snapped.  'You crazier than the fossor!'

            'He's my master,' Artorius yelled, struggling to get away.  'I have to protect him!'

            'Puer!  Go!' Hannibal yelled over his shoulder.  Sighing, Artorius let Scipio guide him back to safety.

            'Why you want to go out there?' Scipio demanded.

            'I'm…I was…a warrior,' Artorius said simply.  'He saved my life.  I wanted to protect him.'

            'He's got you there, Scipio,' Mento said with a laugh.

            Scipio just scowled, but nodded in acceptance.

            Within minutes, the attack was over, and they were being called out of hiding.  Artorius found himself clasped in a bear-hug.

            'You risked your life for mine, when you didn't have to,' Hannibal whispered in his ear.  'Gratias.'

            Artorius pulled back and looked his master in the eye.

            'If you hadn't taken me in when you did, I would have dead and dishonored by now.  As your slave, it was my duty.'

            Hannibal smiled.  What the younger man said was true, but the look in his eyes told him that there was more to his actions than he was willing to admit.  Giving him another hug, he turned to survey the aftermath.  All the attackers were dead or fled, while there were three soldiers with superficial wounds.  

            'Titus!  Galba!' he called, and the decuriones came running.  'Your men did well, and deserve a rest.  Take them back to the camp.   We're only a couple miles from the Roman road,' he pointed to a rough milestone, 'and I don't think we'll have any more trouble.'

            'Yes, sir!'  Titus saluted, then turned away to organize the return.

            As the men regrouped, Hannibal walked among them, greeting each in turn, sharing memories and commending their service.  When they were in formation, they saluted as one, then turned and marched back to camp.

            Hannibal waited until they were out of sight before turning back to the wagon train.  When he did, he saw Scipio holding the halter of his horse.  With a smile, he mounted, and ordered the caravan to move on.

 

*****

            They reached the well-paved Roman road without further incident.  Once on the smooth roadway, they were able to make another twenty miles before stopping at a way-station for the night.  In the morning, Hannibal hired a post-rider, sending him ahead to inform his household staff of his return, and to  have his villa on the Palatine prepared for his arrival.

 

*****

            Like a south-flowing river, one road fed into another, until at last they joined up with the Via Aurelia, which led directly to Rome.  The ever-decreasing inscriptions on the polished marble milaria gave Artorius a further chance to practice his letters and numerals.

            Artorius was curious about everything he saw.  He'd never been so far from his village before.  The trees and plants changed with every province they traversed, and the manners and customs, so different from his own, piqued his curiosity.

            At night, when he lay next to Hannibal at a way-station, he wondered about the feelings he had for his master.  This warrior, veteran of scores of battles, could so easily have been a brutal, uncaring man, yet he was gentle and patient.  The protective arms around him spoke of love, and he found his heart opening to the older man.

            As they traveled, Hannibal noted that the young man was looking healthier every day, the hollows in his cheeks filling out.  He gave the credit for that to the nourishing diet he'd been encouraging the blond to eat, including chestnuts from the store they had brought with them from Argentoratum.  He had to admit that he was enjoying them, as well.

            Hannibal sighed with relief when the sparkling waters of the Tiberis Flumen finally came into sight.

 

*****

            Artorius was wide-eyed in wonder as they approached the Pons Aemilius.  His wooden-palisaded village had not prepared him for anything so magnificent. 

           Soldiers stationed at the entrance to the bridge crashed to attention and saluted in honor of Hannibal's rank, and he acknowledged them graciously.

            As the wagon train wound through the Subura, the young blond was fascinated by everything he saw: buildings made of stone, not wattle-and-daub, with tile roofs instead of straw, many of which stood two stories and more!  Marble and bronze statues.  Opulent palaces, temples, amphitheaters, and arenas.  Courtyards with signs depicting a snarling dog, and the legend Cave Canem.  And never in his life had he seen so many people jostling in the streets and agorae!

            'Master?' he said, his voice trembling.

            'You'll get used to it, my little barbarian,' Hannibal smiled.  He reached out and cupped his slave's face in his hand, giving him a warm smile.  'I promise you.'

            Artorius just nodded, not sure if he ever would.

            Finally, they made their way up the Palatine, and stopped in front of an elegant house covered in sky-blue stucco.  As Hannibal dismounted, the door below the portico opened, and several household slaves hurried out.

            'Master Gaius!' called the middle-aged slave who seemed to be in charge.  He signaled others forward to take charge of the wagons and lead them to the stables behind the house.  'It's so good to have you home!  It's been too long, Master!'

            'Lucius!' Hannibal said delightedly.  'So my family has assigned you to be my chief atriensis?!  I couldn't have asked for better.'

            'I was pleased to accept the position, Master Gaius,' Lucius told him.  ' Now, your messenger arrived in good time, and we have everything prepared for you.  I'm sure you and your guests are weary after your journey, so the baths are ready, and rooms have been assigned.  When you are ready, Aemilia has your evening meal prepared.'

            'Aemilia, too?!'  Hannibal looked around eagerly, and clasped an older woman in his arms, giving her a kiss on the cheek.  'You were always my favorite cook!'

            'Oh, Master Gaius!'  Aemilia said, blushing.  'I gave your sister no peace until she agreed to let me come.  And my staff is hand-picked, so you'll have no reason to complain of indigestion.'  She squealed with delight when he gave her an extra hug.

            'Now, Lucius,' Hannibal said, stepping back, 'this is Artorius, of the Germanii.  He will be my personal slave.  I trust you to teach him everything he'll need to know about the household.'

            'Most assuredly, Master,'  Lucius said, turning his attention to the newcomer.  'Welcome to the House of Aurelius.  I hope you'll feel at home here.'

            'Thank you,' Artorius said quietly, with a glance at Hannibal.  'I know I have much to learn, but I'll do my best to fit in.'

            'I know you will, puer,' Hannibal said, putting an arm around his shoulders.  'I know you will.'

            He led the way into the house, pouring wine for the lares and penates in thanks for their safe arrival.

 

*****

            Hannibal sighed with contentment as he sank into the warm water of the tepidarium, settling next to Artorius.  At first, the chief bath slave had objected to treating a fellow slave as he would a master, but had to agree that, if Artorius was going to be Hannibal's personal slave, the best way to learn something was to experience it.  So he had duly rubbed the young blond with olive oil, and later scraped it off with a strigil, before he'd accompanied his master through the first two areas of the baths.

            Artorius had been amazed by the large amounts of hot water, and the heated mosaic floors, and when Mento had explained about the hypocausts, he'd been intrigued by the system that circulated the hot air generated by the large furnaces under the house.

            The four spent some time luxuriating in the warm water and chatting about Argentoratum, the trip home, and anything else that crossed their minds.  Mento had noticed that a revival of a play by Plautus, called 'The Braggart Soldier', was being performed at one of the nearby theaters, and they agreed it sounded like fun.  Hannibal noticed, though, that his slave said little, and then only in response to a direct question.

            After a while, Scipio decided he was getting hungry, so Mento helped him out of the tub and into the next room.

            'Shouldn't we be going, too?' Artorius asked.

            'We have a little time yet,' Hannibal told him.  'Scipio's leg isn't completely healed, so that will slow them down a little bit.'  He smiled, having his blond barbarian to himself at last.  He slipped an arm around his waist, and pulled him closer.

            'Master?'

            'Shhhh,' Hannibal said quietly.  Laying a hand on the young man's cheek, he leaned forward and kissed him gently, feeling the shudder that ran through his body.  He was glad when Artorius didn't pull away.  Deepening the kiss, he slid a hand down the lean body to caress his genitals, and was rewarded when the blond moaned in his mouth.  

            Feeling the slave tremble against him, Hannibal broke off the kiss.  Looking deep into the blue-grey eyes, he saw the young man's mixed emotions.

            'Do you trust me, puer?' he whispered against the soft lips.

            'Yes, Master,' was the equally-soft reply.

            'Ah, but do you trust me as a slave must trust?  Or do you trust me because you want to trust me?'

            'I want to trust you, Master.'

            Hannibal smiled as the young man's arms slid up to encircle his neck.  He kissed the smaller man again, and was surprised to feel the lips part to admit his tongue.  He explored every part of the blond's mouth, tasting the sweetness of chestnuts and wine, while his hand fondled the youth's balls and stroked his penis.

            Soon Artorius was lost in a world of sensations he had never imagined, and he let himself drown in them.  Before he knew it, Hannibal's rhythm had brought him to the point of orgasm.

            'Give in to release, puer.'

            Throwing his head back, he screamed with pleasure as his semen spilled over Hannibal's hand and mingled with the water.  Exhausted, he felt himself wrapped in a secure embrace while Hannibal stroked the hair from his eyes.  As he recovered, he looked up into the sparkling blue eyes of his master.

            'Did you enjoy that?' Hannibal asked with a smile, already knowing the answer.

            'Very much, Master.'  Artorius gave him a shy smile in return.

            'I'm glad,' Hannibal said, kissing him one last time.  'But we'd better catch up with Scipio and Mento.'

            As they climbed out of the bath, Artorius noticed that Hannibal still had an erection.

            'Master...?'

            'It's all right, puer,' Hannibal told him.  'You're not ready, and I won't rush you.'  He smiled as the younger man blushed.  'Now, let's see what Aemelia has prepared for us.'

 

***

            Ab ovo usque ad mala was the saying, and even for a light vespernum, Aemelia had outdone herself.

            Under the guidance of Lucius, Artorius learned the niceties of serving at meals, and Hannibal was pleased with his progress.  Expecting to have a bowl of gruel in the kitchens afterwards, Artorius was surprised to find that in Rome, slaves actually ate with the family.  He felt it was an honor to sit on a stool next to Hannibal's lectus, eating from the same dishes.  To Hannibal's amusement, he blushed when it was announced that it was his chestnuts that were being served with the meal.

 

***

            The light was fading as Hannibal guided Artorius into the colonnaded gardens within the rear portion of the house.  The young man had never seen a garden dedicated to decorative plants before, and was amazed by its formal symmetry centered on a fountain that splashed gently in the still air.  He inhaled deeply, enjoying the mixed scents of flowers and herbs.  Hearing the sound of chimes, he looked up into the trees, and was startled to see winged bronze phalluses decorated with bells that tinkled in the breeze.

            'What...?'

            Hannibal laughed at the look on his slave's face.

            'They're good luck charms, puer,' he chuckled.  'They invoke good fortune, health, and - yes - fertility.  I imagine, though, that such things are different in Germania.'

            Artorius nodded.  'My personal god is Thor,' he said, 'the god of thunder.  When the Aesir fight the Jotuns - the giants - he uses his war-hammer, Mjollnir, to make lightening and thunder to defeat them.  His devotees wear a charm that represents Mjollnir.'

            'What does it look like?'

            Squatting, Artorius found a bare patch of earth and drew a rectangle that looked like a low, squat house, with a stem ending in a loop on the side opposite the 'roof'.

            'Did you have one?'  

            Artorius dropped his head and nodded. 'It was taken from me when I was captured,' he whispered.

            Hearing the loss in the blond's voice, Hannibal pulled him close.

            'The agorae have traders from all over the Empire,' he said soothingly, 'including Germania.  We'll see about getting you a new one.'  His heart swelled when Artorius hugged him tighter.  He barely caught the whispered thanks.

            'It's time we returned to the house, puer,' Hannibal said, noting how dark it had become.  He pointed out the kitchen, laundry, latrine, and other areas of the house as they went.

            Passing through the two-story atrium, they climbed the stairs, walking along the balcony that overlooked the hall until they reached Hannibal's room.  

            Artorius already knew much about helping Hannibal prepare for bed, but had to learn the proper way to fold and store clothes when not in use.  Though his master had always been neat, a military camp was very different from an upper-class home in the heart of the Roman Empire.  

            Leaving a small oil lamp burning, Hannibal pulled Artorius to him as they snuggled under the covers.  It had been a long, eventful day, and he smiled as the exhausted youth drifted off to sleep in his arms.

 

**********

Several Months Later


            Artorius woke at first light.  Slipping out of the bed he shared with his master, he donned a woolen tunic and sandals and quietly left the room.  There was a slight chill to the air, but it was a lot warmer than his former home in Germania Superior.  It was one more reason to thank the gods.

            Leaving his master's bedroom, he reflected on his new life.  He had learned that Hannibal truly cared about everyone in his domus, from his friends down to the lowest slave.  As for himself, in the months since his initial sexual experience in the baths,  his master had taught him many paths to ecstasy, all of which were for mutual pleasure.  But he had yet to take the slave, and Artorius found that puzzling, especially since his feelings for Hannibal were growing.  He sighed and shook his head.

            Heading to the kitchens, he greeted Lucius and Aemelia, who smiled in welcome. They were dipping bread in watered wine and eating it as they discussed the household activities for the coming day.  It amazed Artorius that the slaves in the House of Aurelius ate better than some of the poorer Roman citizens.

            Under Aemelia's watchful, but twinkling eye, he gathered the elements for his master's morning meal.  Jentaculum, the cook had called it.  

            Pulling a wedge from a large round, eight-sectioned loaf of bread, he placed it, a small dish of salt, and another of olive oil on a tray.  He added several hard-cooked eggs from the geese that wandered the gardens, acting as intruder alarms for the household.  A plate of dates, two beakers, and a pitcher of beer completed his preparations, and he presented it to Aemelia for her approval.

            'Well done, Artorius!' she smiled.  'You've come a long way since you first joined us.  You are a credit to the House.'

            'Gratias, Aemelia,' Artorius said.  'I hope I will always be.'

            'I think you will,' said Lucius.  'I know it's hard for a warrior to get used to serving like this, but there's no shame in it.  Keep on the way you have been, and Master Gaius will have no cause for complaint.'

            'You and the others have made it easier to accept, Lucius,' Artorius replied, 'and I thank you for your guidance.'

            'That's all well and good,' Aemelia sniffed with mock severity, 'but Master Gaius will be awake any minute now, so you'd better get yourself upstairs so he can break his fast.'
            Laughing, Artorius grabbed the tray and made his way back to his master's quarters.

 

***

            Hannibal was sitting on the edge of the bed, stretching, when Artorius returned.  He watched as the slave set the tray on a small table, poured two beakers of beer, then pulled up a folding stool and sat opposite his master.  Taking a plate, Hannibal tore off a chunk of bread, sprinkled it with salt, and popped it in his mouth, washing it down with beer while motioning for Artorius to eat.

            'Well,' he said, swallowing, 'what shall we do today?'

            Artorius considered.  So far, Hannibal and his friends had shown him the Temple of Saturn, where he'd seen the Miliarum Aurem, the Golden Milestone which marked the beginning of every road in the Empire.  They'd visited the theaters and the chariot races, as well as athletic competitions, and so much more.  The one thing they had avoided was the gladiatorial games.  Having been on the outer fringes of the Empire, they had engaged in enough killing themselves to want to see any more.

            'Rome is so far beyond what I'm used to, Master,' Artorius said, 'that I don't know what to say.  And I know we've barely scratched the surface.  I leave it up to you, Master.'

            Hannibal nodded.

            'All right, then,' he replied, a smile curling his lips.  'I suggest we visit the thermae.    If you think the baths here are nice, wait until you see the public baths!'  When the younger man agreed, Hannibal continued.  'I have some errands to run this morning.  I'll leave word for Scipio and Mento to meet us there when the baths open for men this afternoon.  I'll send an extra slave ahead to wait for us.  He'll watch our belongings, as I want you to attend me.'

 

*****

            Artorius walked by his master's side, fingering the Thor's Hammer Hannibal had presented him with during the Saturnalia three months before.  He still couldn't get over how much there was to see.  His village would have been dwarfed by the smallest temple here, and his valley would have been too small to contain all of it.  He shook his head, bemused.
            He clutched the charm tighter as they passed one of the smaller slave markets, shuddering when he saw the men and women displayed on a slowly-revolving turntable while dealers and customers haggled over prices.  That so easily could have been his fate.

            Hannibal, seeing his distress, put an arm around his shoulders.

            'Don't worry, parum barbarus,' he said gently.  'Your god smiled on you the day I first saw you, and I knew I wanted you by my side.'

 

*****

        The slave Numerius awaited them as they reached the front gates of the baths, standing near a black chariot to which two black geldings were hitched.  Hannibal looked it over, taking in the V-shaped red stripe that ran from the bottom center of the front to the top of the rear opening, as well as the red spokes on the wheels.  Hannibal whistled, impressed.

            'I take it this is the new chariot Scipio was talking about?' he asked.

            'Yes, Master,' Numerius replied.  'He was kind enough to bring me along, so I would not be late in meeting you.'

            Hannibal nodded, and beckoned the slaves to follow him.  He paid his quarter-as fee as they entered the palaestrum.  Looking around, Artorius could see attendees running on tracks, swimming in a large pool, playing various ball games, lifting weights, and engaging in many similar activities.

            'Scipio!' Hannibal called.

            The black man carefully set down his weights before coming over and greeting Hannibal, clasping his arm just below the elbow, as Hannibal did in return.

            'I see you've been to the goldsmith's again,' Hannibal said, looking at the numerous rings that gleamed against the dark skin. He shook his head, thinking of how many times he reminded his friend that custom dictated that a Roman male wore only a seal ring as jewelry.  But the black man had returned that he had not been born a Roman citizen, and was following the fashion of his homeland.

            'Yeah,' Scipio grinned.  'Getting double pay as aquilifer is allowing me to indulge in things I never thought I'd get a chance to own.  'Sides, it's safer with me.  Don't trust no bankers, homo.

            'Nice, Scipio.'  Hannibal looked around.  Where's Mento?'

            'Dunno where the fossor is.  Inside somewhere.'

            'We'll find him,' Hannibal smiled, clapping his friend on the shoulder.  'Come on.  I'll bet you're ready to relax for a while.'

            'Yeah, guess so,' Scipio agreed.  Grabbing his tunic from a marble bench, he accompanied the others to the apodyterium.  There, Hannibal had Artorius change into a light-weight linen tunic, while he wrapped a linen loincloth around his waist, as Scipio  already had, before proceeding to the baths proper.

            'Numerius, you know what to do?' Hannibal asked..

            'Yes, Master.'  

            Nodding, Hannibal led the way out.  Artorius followed, carrying a bag of hygiene supplies, including soap, a strigil, and a stoppered flask of olive oil.

            Artorius was wide-eyed as they passed food stalls, shops of all kinds, groups of men discussing everything under the sun, poets reciting their verses to cheers and cat-calls, acrobats performing, prostitutes plying their trade, even libraries.  They eventually found Mento discussing the possibilities of human flight with a fellow enthusiast.  When they hailed him, he excused himself and joined them.  

            Proceeding to the caldarium, Hannibal stripped, allowing Artorius to coat him with olive oil, Scipio and Mento receiving the same treatment from hired bath-slaves.  They then passed the time in lively conversation until they were ready to have the oil scraped off, followed by a lathering with the expensive soap they'd brought with them.  After this was sluiced off, they proceeded to the tepidarium.  

            Realizing they'd missed their cena, they sent Artorius for snacks and drinks.

            'Get something for yourself as well, puer,' Hannibal said, sorting through the coins in pouch the blond carried, and handing some to him.  'But don't go far, and return quickly.  You've been getting some interested looks, and I don't want anything to happen to you.'

            'Yes, Master,' Artorius replied.  

            Hannibal smiled as he watched the young blond go.  He couldn't blame those who sent envious looks in the slave's direction.  If he hadn't owned Artorius himself, he would have felt the same way.

 

***

            Artorius approached the nearest food vendor who had something he knew Hannibal would like.

            The stall-holder looked him over, practically drooling as he took in the handsome features.  As he started gathering the food Artorius had requested, an idea occurred to him.
            'How would you like a new owner, boy?' he said.  'If I had you working the stall, people would buy just to get a look at you.'

            'No, thank you, sir,' Artorius told him.  'I am loyal to my master.'

            'I like that in a slave,' the vendor said, reaching out to touch the young man's face and running a thumb over his cheek.  'If you were mine, I'd treat you well, I promise.'

            It was all Artorius could do not to step backwards out of the man's reach .  

            'Tell me, boy, who's your master?  I'd like to buy you from him.  I'd make many times your price from those who appreciate male beauty.'

            'I don't think my master would sell to you, sir,' the young man said, jerking his head away from the unwelcome contact.

            'Give me your master's name, pretty boy,' the man snapped angrily.  'I'm sure he'd like to know of your insolence.'

            'He's Aurelius Cartagenia,' Artorius said with an almost-invisible smile.

            'The tribune?!'  The vendor gathered up the food and shoved the tray into the slave's hands.  'Here - take it!  No, never mind paying me.  Just go!'

            Artorius paused, counting out the coins, glad that Mento had taught him to add.  

            'No,' he said, placing the proper amount on the counter.  'I won't be accused of thieving.'  So saying, he took the tray and returned to the tepidarium.

 

***

            After a refreshing plunge in the pool in the frigidarium, Hannibal and his friends decided it was time to head back to the Palatine.  Still overwhelmed by everything he saw, Artorius was only half paying attention as he accompanied his master back towards the apodyterium.  He was pulled up short by a snatch of conversation.  He looked around, being careful not to appear obvious.  Spotting two men deep in conversation, oblivious to the goings-on around them, he slipped behind a pillar, fussing with his sandal as if the laces were loose.

            'He attends a dinner party on the kalends,' said a thin-faced man with brown hair.   'And he never stays past midnight.'

            'Do you know his route?' asked his snub-nosed companion.

            'Along the road by his host's house near the Flavian theater on the Caeline Hill, past the Temple of Apollo to his own house on the Capitoline Hill.'

            'How many guards?

            'None.  Only a couple of slaves to light the way.  And the soldiers patrolling the area have been bribed.'

            'Then my men should have no trouble.  They'll slit his throat, then take his bursa, making it look like the work of a common footpad.'

            'Kill the slaves, too.  '

            'I could sell them outside Rome.'

            The first man shook his head.  'No witnesses,' he said.  'Even if you were to cut out their tongues, they could still tell what they saw.'

             The second man nodded.

            'Done,' he said.  'I will expect payment by sundown after my men complete the task.'

            'Agreed.  Now, we'd better not meet again until after this is finished…'

 

***

            'Where's Artorius?' Hannibal said, looking around

            'He was right behind us a moment ago,' Mento told him.

            'Think he ran?' Scipio asked, doubtfully, though he didn't really believe the blond would.
            'No,' Hannibal replied, 'but he was attracting more attention than I like.  Let's see if anything's happened to him.'

            They split up, Mento going back the way they'd come, the others taking different directions.

***

            As Mento reached the tepidarium, he saw Artorius leaning against a pillar, tying his sandal-thong.  He was just about to hail him when the slave caught his eye and shook his head slightly.  Puzzled, he nodded and busied himself at a stall while keeping an eye on the young man.

            A few seconds later, two men came around the pillar.  Seeing the blond, they started, then one grabbed him by the front of his tunic and slammed him back against the pillar so hard his head bounced off it.

            'What are you doing, loitering there, slave?'  

            Artorius looked at him, wide-eyed.

            'Nothing, Master!  Nothing!'  He pointed to his sandal.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hannibal join Mento.  'It's my sandals.  They're cast-offs that my Master gave me, and they were pinching, that's all!  I swear!'

            'Lying slave!'  The thin-faced man raised a hand to strike Artorius, but his wrist was grabbed in a steel-like grip.

            'What are you doing, threatening my slave?'

            The man looked up into the thunderous gaze of the silver-haired tribune.

            'He was loitering here, eaves-dropping on the conversations of respectable citizens.'

            Hannibal arched an eyebrow.  'Is this true?'

            'No, Master!  I swear!'  The blue-grey eyes pleaded with Hannibal for support.  'The sandals you gave me, they pinch.  I only stopped for a moment to ease the pressure.  I would have rejoined you in a moment.'

            Hannibal looked at the two strangers, his eyes memorizing their features.

            'It's true.  I did give him some old sandals of mine.  I just haven't had time to see about fixing them.  I'll take care of it in due time.'

            'Then take your slave out of here and teach him better manners,' the thin-faced man snarled.

            'Don't worry,' Hannibal said solemnly.  'He'll get what he deserves.  Come, slave!'  With that, he turned his back and walked away, followed by a very meek Artorius.

            As they left, the thin-faced man turned to his companion.  Hannibal's striped tunic denoted his status as a member of the equestrian class.  Possibly a dangerous adversary.

            'Do you really think he heard anything?'

            'Probably not,' replied the other.  'But you'd better go.  We've attracted more attention than I like, and I don't want anyone thinking that this is more than a casual encounter.  If I have news, I'll send for you.'

            The thin-faced man nodded, and they parted.

 

*****

            On their return to the apodyterium, they found Numerius playing at knucklebones with the other slaves.  At Hannibal's call, he scrambled to his feet.  

            'All's well, Master,' he assured them.  'No one even came near your cubicle.'

            'Well done, Numerius,' Hannibal said, after double-checking.  'Head back to the house and tell Aemelia we're on our way.'

            'Yes, Master,' the slave said, and hurried out.

            When they had finished dressing, Hannibal turned to look for Artorius, only to find him sitting on the floor, his head in his hands.

            'What's wrong, puer?' he asked, dropping down beside him.

            'My head hurts, Master,' the blond groaned, wincing.

            'Before you came,' Mento said, 'that weasel-faced one pushed him against the pillar, and he hit his head.'

            Hannibal seethed internally at the fact that someone had hurt his property.  No, he thought; over the past several months, the young blond had become much more to him than that. Though he was fuming, he turned a calm face towards the slave.  Running a gentle hand over the back of his head, he found a good-sized lump hidden by the long blond hair.  More troubling, however, was that his fingers came away covered with blood.

            'We need to get you home, puer, now!' Hannibal said firmly.

            'I can get him there quick in the chariot, Hannibal,' Scipio said.  'It's big enough for all four of us.'

            'Let's go,' Hannibal said, helping Artorius to his feet.

 

***

            Scipio urged his horses into a quick trot, keeping to the left-hand side of the road, so that the whip in his left hand could not reach charioteers going in the opposite direction. As they passed Numerius, Mento hopped off to let the slave know what was happening, and keep him company on the rest of the trip back.

            By the time they reached the House of Aurelius, Hannibal had Artorius seated in his office, and was applying a poultice Aemelia had made to stem the bleeding and ease the pain.

            'How's that?' Hannibal was asking as Mento joined them.

            'Better, Master,' Artorius said.  'Thank you.'

            'Now, my little barbarian, would you mind telling me what that little performance at the baths was all about?'

            'Forgive me, Master, but it wasn't safe to talk there.  I was eavesdropping, but only by accident. Those two men - I think they're planning an assassination.'

            'What makes you think that, homo?' Scipio asked.

            'One mentioned someone who will be attending a dinner party at the kalends,' the young man said.  'They discussed the victim's route home, and how many guards he'd have with him,.'

            'Do you remember the answers?' Hannibal asked.

            Artorius nodded, and quickly regretted it as pain flared through his head.  

            'He'll be traveling from his host's house near the Flavian theater on the Caeline Hill, past the Temple of Apollo to his own house on the Capitoline Hill,' he repeated verbatim.  'No guards, only slaves to light the way.  They plan to kill the victim and his slaves, too.  Oh, and he said that the soldiers patrolling the area have been bribed.'

            Hannibal nodded, sitting at his desk and fiddling with one of the colt's-foot reeds he kept handy.  Absent-mindedly, he lit it in the flame from the oil lamp Artorius held out to him.

            'The kalends,' he said, leaning back in his chair and blowing out the smoke he'd drawn into his mouth.  'That's two weeks away.'

            'Gives us some time to ask questions,' Mento added.  

            'Hopefully it will be enough time to find out what's going on,' Hannibal said thoughtfully.  'Artorius, that was a nice piece of work you pulled off.  Do you think you're up to some more?'

            'I'll do my best, Master.'

            'We'll need to know who near the Flavian Theater is giving a dinner party on the kalends.  Do you think you can find out?'

            'If I've learned anything in my time here, Master,' Artorius told him with a smile, 'it's that if you want to learn anything about a household, ask the slaves.  They know all the gossip.'

            Hannibal burst out laughing, and Mento and Scipio grinned.

            'You're a quick learner, puer,' Hannibal said with a grin.  'See what you can find out!'

 

**********

            Meto stepped out of the house of his master, Pontilius Bibulus, to sweep the portico.  At the sound of moaning, he looked around, and saw a young blond slave crouched by the side of the road.

            'Hey!  What's the matter, amicus?' he said, sitting beside him..

            Artorius looked up and moaned loudly, hoping he'd finally found the right house.  It was the fourth one he'd tried in as many days.

            'My master's cook fetched me a good clout with a saucepan,' he groaned, touching the knot on the back of his head.  'She wasn't happy with the quail's eggs I brought home for a dinner party my master's having in a few days.'

            'Where'd you go for them?'

            'Musca's stall in the agora near the Temple of Saturn.'

        'Homo, you've got to be crazy to go to Musca for anything.  He always buys the cheapest stuff, and it's never fresh.  Listen, my master's giving a party in about a week.  We always get our quails' eggs from Quintilius near the Temple of Diana.  We get all our special stuff from him.  And it's more important than usual this time.  We've got Gordianus Poplicola, the senator, attending.'

            'Thanks! I'll try that.  In fact, I'll go there right now.'  Artorius climbed to his feet, swaying a little for emphasis.  'Maybe the cook'll forgive me when I show up with eggs that get served to a senator!  She's very proud of her skills, and doesn't want to disappoint our master.'

            'You do that,' Meto said.  'Well, I've got to get back to work.  If I don't have that portico swept by the time my master's ready to leave, our atriensis will have my hide!'

            'Then I'll let you get to it,' Artorius said.  Stumbling off, he made for the subura.  Once he was out of sight, he doubled back and headed for Hannibal's house.

 

*****

            'Who did you say?'   Mento was dumbfounded.

            'Gordianus Poplicola,' Artorius said matter-of-factly, not understanding the import of what he'd just said.

            'Homo, he's gotta be one of the most important men in Rome!' Scipio ventured.  'And one of the few who really care about the people.'

            'Well, now we know who, and we know how,' Hannibal said.  'The only thing we don't know is why.'

            'And there's only one way we're going to get that information,' said Mento.

            Hannibal nodded.  'Let's go.'

 

*****

            'Master?'

            'What is it, Decius?'  Gordianus Poplicola, dressed in an unbleached woolen tunic, looked up from the scroll he was studying.

            'Visitors, Master,' said the brunette slave, who wore the house livery of a white tunic with blue bands.  'They ask to speak with you.'

            'Do I know them?'

            'I don't recognize them, Master, but one is wearing an equestrian's tunic, and gives his name as Aurelius Cartagenia.'  Decius hesitated.

            'Cartagenia?  The tribune?' Gordianus said, stunned.  He ran a hand through his iron-grey hair.  'His exploits in Germania have made him famous!  What can he want with me?'

            'I don't know, Master, but they said it was important.'

            'All right, show them in. And bring wine!'  Gordianus nervously straightened his tunic, and looked around for his toga.  Before he could find it, however, Decius returned with three men and a slave.  

            'Welcome, gentlemen,' he said, clasping arms with Hannibal and his friends.  'How may I be of service?'

            'I am Gaius Aurelius Cartagenia,' Hannibal said, introducing his friends, 'and I rather think we may be of service to you.'

            'To what do I owe this honor?'

            Hannibal beckoned Artorius forward.

            'My slave here overheard an assassination plot in the baths the other day.  With his help, we were able to narrow down the list of possible victims.  I take it you are due to attend a dinner party at the House of Pontilius on the kalends?'

            'Yes,' Gordianus said, puzzled.  'But how...?'

            'Let's just say that Artorius has many talents,' Hannibal said with a smile as he accepted wine from Decius.  'Now, do you have any enemies?'

            'Half the Senate and their hangers-on, I'd say.'

            'Hmmmmm...' Hannibal mused.  'Would you recognize a thin-faced man with brown hair? keeping company with a snub-nosed man with sandy hair?'

            'These are the men you saw in the baths?'

            'Yes.'

            Gordianus nodded.  'If they were frequenting the local thermae, the first one sounds like Hostilius, a publican from the region around Ostia.  He's one of several publicani who connive with Asinius Lurco to cheat the Imperator of tax revenue, thereby cheating the people of Rome.  The other sounds like Silo, a contractor of assassins, thieves, and other such criminals.'

            'Do you have any idea why any of these men would want you dead?'

            Gordianus nodded grimly.

            'My opposition to corruption is well known.  If I hear even a whisper, I make it my business to investigate.  Several corrupt officials have been exposed due to my efforts, and several more are running scared, Lurco among them.'

            'Have you any proof?'

            'Some,' Gordianus said, opening a chest near the door to his study.  He took out several scrolls and laid them on the table.  Hannibal noted that some were carefully tagged with a blue label, and others with red.

            'These are copies of the most recent census rolls for the Ostia region,' he said as he spread them out.  'The ones with red tags are from the Imperial Archive; the ones with blue tags are from a private census I had done a few months ago.  As you can see, the figures are very different.'

        Hannibal compared the two scrolls, and saw that the official records showed a population two-thirds smaller than the true figure.  Stepping back, he let Mento and Scipio have a turn.

            'And what is your deduction based on these scrolls?' he asked.

            Gordianus sighed.  

            'As you know,' he said, 'publicani are corrupt to begin with, extorting more than the official amount and pocketing the difference, but their power to do so is limited.  Lurco, on the other hand, being a censor, has much more opportunity for graft. Unless I miss my guess, he takes the official census returns, makes new copies that shows a much smaller population, and sends the smaller amount of money to the Imperial Treasury.  And Ostia is just one area for which he's responsible.'

            'And what made you suspect him?'

            'The Asinius gens is an old one, but their heyday is long past.  The family fortune was squandered several generations back, and they've been surviving on past glories.  In the past year or so, Lurco has been spending ever larger amounts of money - first to repair the family house, then for renovations and additions, and acquiring a farm outside Rome to replace the one that was sold by his grandfather.  He's bought dozens of slaves over the past year, bought new palanquins for his wife and himself to get around Rome, and fancy carriages for when he travels abroad.  His dinner parties are now the talk of the town, and he's even sponsored a team of charioteers.'

            'It certainly does sound suspicious,' Hannibal agreed, as his friends nodded.  'But why try to have you assassinated?'

            'Apparently, he suspects that I know what he's been doing.  To protect himself, he needs to eliminate me, and destroy the evidence I've gathered.'

            'Is there anyway you can excuse yourself from this party?' Mento asked.

            Gordianus shook his head.  'It's not just a social gathering.  Pontilius and the others who will be attending are also alarmed at the amount of corruption currently extant in the government.  However, they haven't stirred the pot as much as I have, so apparently I'm the only target so far.'  He sighed.  'I don't like it, but I guess I could hire a couple of bodyguards.'
            'Homo, that'd just let them know you've been informed of the plot,' Scipio put in.

            'They'll just back off, and try another time.'

            'So what can I do?'

            Hannibal grinned.

            'I have a plan...'

 

**********

The Kalends - Midnight


            Pontilius Bibulus stood on the portico of his house, bidding his guests farewell.  As each finished saying good-bye, he left for home, attended by lantern-bearers and bodyguards, moving off in many different directions.  The last to leave was Gordianus Poplicola.
            'I hope you know what you're doing,' Pontilius said.  'You are too important to the people of Rome to put yourself in danger like this.'

            'You are the only one who knows the plan, my friend,' Gordianus told him.  'Don't worry; I'll be perfectly safe.'

            'As you wish.  I only hope you're right.'

            'The people of Rome have been good to me, as they keep re-electing me to senatorial offices.  If my life is the cost of doing the right thing for them, then so be it.  But I don't think it will come to that.'

            Pontilius sighed.  'I know.  Too few have your courage and dedication.  It would be a shame to reduce that number.  But, as you say, if it exposes corruption, then no price is too high.  Good luck, my friend.'

            'Thank you,' Gordianus said, clasping arms with his host.  'I'll be all right.  You'll see.'  He turned to his lantern-bearers.  'Come, slaves.  It's time we were home.'

            Bowing, the slaves moved off, staying a few paces ahead of their master.

            The full moon was so bright that there was hardly a need for the lanterns, but better safe than sorry, Gordianus thought.  He shivered little in the chill air, and pulled his woolen toga closer around him.  The dark, hooded cloaks worn by the slaves protected them well as they walked.  

            Gordianus shivered again, but this time it was with nerves.  It wasn't that he was afraid, though he was; any man worth his salt was afraid when it was appropriate.  He just hated being a sitting duck.  Put a sword in his hand, and give him an enemy he could see, and he could face Death with a smile.  But this was very different.  Even though he knew that Mento and the slave Artorius, clad in black, were following in the shadows, the barely-audible footsteps behind him couldn't allay his fears.

            It was when they were going past the New Temple on the Capitoline Hill, passing through the deepest shadows, that the attack came.

            There was a soft sound of blades being drawn, and a padding of bare feet, and suddenly Gordianus and his companions were surrounded by four assassins.  They circled warily.  At a word from their leader, they rushed their victims, intent on slitting their throats.
            Hannibal and Scipio dropped their lanterns, drawing their swords as they threw off their cloaks.  Immediately, they were engaged by the two largest of the assassins, the other two lunging for Gordianus.  The clang of metal on metal rang through the night air as Hannibal and Scipio forced their antagonists backwards, away from Gordianus. Hannibal's opponent, having a longer blade, took a wild swipe at the tribune, managing a deep cut on his bicep; angered now, Hannibal bore down on the hired assassin.

            At the same time, Gordianus dropped back as Mento and Artorius rushed forward to block the last two attackers.  Mento' sword swung fiercely, forcing his opponent to leap backwards out of its reach.  The man crouched, waiting for an opening, then sprang forward, trying to get under Mento's guard.  But the spy was too quick, and a slash across the man's forearm made him drop his dagger.  At the same time, Artorius brought his cudgel smartly down on his opponent's hand, breaking the bones, before swinging it into the man's stomach, then bringing it down on his head as he doubled over, leaving him sprawling on the cobblestones.  

            Gordianus looked around, and saw that Hannibal and Scipio had their attackers against the wall of the nearest house, the tips of their swords pressed deeply into the soft flesh under the jaw.  Terror shone in their eyes, and their daggers clattered to the ground.        Reaching out, Gordianus pulled the hood from the man's face.  In the light of a rekindled torch, he saw the rust-colored hair and snub nose of Rome's master of assassins.

            'Silo!' he hissed.  'I didn't expect you be getting your own hands dirty in a venture like this.'

            'Well,' Silo told him, 'for the amount of money I was getting, I like to give my patron the personal touch.'  He looked askance at Hannibal, recognizing him as the tribune from the thermae.

            'So, who hired you?  And why does he want me dead?'

            'I don't know.'  Hannibal pressed the point of his sword deeper into the tender flesh.  'I swear I don't know!  I was contacted by a middle-man!'

            'Hostilius, I'll bet.'  Silo stayed silent.  'Wasn't it?!' Gordianus asked again.

            'Encouraged' by Hannibal, Silo admitted it.

            'Yes, it was Hostilius!  But I don't know who sent him to me.  That's the truth!' he insisted, trying to pull his head away from Hannibal's sword.

            'All right, then.  Where does he live?'

            'I don't know.  I swear!'  Silo gulped.  'Any time he needed me, he'd look for me at the thermae.'

            'And when were you to be paid?  Hmm?!'

            'At - at sundown tomorrow.  In the same place!'

            Hannibal nodded.  'Artorius!' he called.

            The blond slave came hurrying up, carrying the weapons he'd retrieved after the fight.  When he saw the blood flowing down Hannibal's arm, he dropped them in shock.

            'Master!'

            'It's all right, puer.  I'll be fine,' Hannibal reassured him.  

            'You!' spat Silo, struggling to get away.  'You're the slave from the baths!  I knew you'd heard too much!  Hades take you for informing on free citizens!  If you were mine, I'd flay you alive!'

            'Then it's good thing he's mine, not yours, and I approve of his actions,' Hannibal growled.  'Artorius, the soldiers Gordianus notified - you know where they're stationed?' Artorius nodded.  'Good.  Fetch them, so they can arrest these men.'

            With a nod, Artorius raced off.  It wasn't long before he was back with a decurio.

            'Soldier,' Gordianus said formally, 'I charge these men with attempted murder. Take them to their homes, and keep them there until charges can be brought against them.'

            'Yes, Senator,' the decurion said as he saluted.  He gestured to his men, who took the four assassins into custody.  He smiled as Silo was pulled away from the wall where Hannibal had been holding him.  'Silo, I was just hoping it would be you.  You've been a thorn in my side for too many years.  I look forward to being shut of you.'  At his command, the soldiers marched away, taking their prisoners with them.  The decurion saluted again, then followed his men.

            Gordianus turned to Hannibal.  'Now, what?' he asked.

            'Now,' he said, his eyes gleaming, 'it's time to climb the ladder, so to speak.


*****

 

The Next Evening

 

           Hostilius sighed with contentment as he lay on the marble bench while a bath slave massaged his back and shoulders.  By now, Gordianus Poplicola should be dead, and he'd get a handsome reward from his employer.  That thought put him in an expansive mood, and he decided to give the slave a quarter-as tip for his good work when he headed for the tepidarium to wait for Silo.

            He heard a slight gasp, and felt the slave's fingers leave his back, but the touch returned in a moment.  Thinking nothing of it, he continued to enjoy the massage until the pressure got harder and harder.  Before long, it was actually painful.  He attempted to sit up in order to berate the slave, but his movement was halted before he got very far.  He caught a glimpse of a pair of steely blue eyes before he was slammed face-down on the massage table, his arm forced up behind his back.  He gasped in pain.

            'We've got your pet viper,' Hannibal hissed in his ear.  'Now all we need to know is who wanted Gordianus dead.'

            'I don't know what you're talking about,' Hostilius insisted, and gasped again as Scipio forced his arm higher.

            'Are you sure about that?' Hannibal grinned.  'You're already in trouble for graft and extortion in Ostia, and we know you've been aided by someone here in Rome.  Why should you suffer banishment and allow a greater threat to Rome to go unpunished?  I mean, extorting extra taxes from the people is one thing, but cheating the Imperator?'  He shuddered dramatically.  'I'd hate to think of what the Imperator would do to anyone who conspired to cheat him of his rightful taxes.'

            The publican considered.  He'd heard the stories about Tiberius and Caligula, and what they'd done to people for slights real or imagined.  He decided it was time to cut his losses.

            'All right!' he said urgently.  'It's Asinius Lurco.  He was scared Poplicola was going to expose him.  He told me to contact Silo to have him murdered.'

            'Is this the first time he's done this?'

            'No,' Hostilius said quickly.  'I know of at least three more, and heard rumors about others.'

            'All right, Scipio; let him go.'  Hostilius was relieved when the pressure on his arm disappeared, and he sat up, rubbing his aching muscles.  He was just contemplating a hasty visit to the country when Hannibal spoke again.

            'I wouldn't plan any trips outside the city limits, if I were you,' he said.  'The magistrates won't take it kindly if they send for you as a witness, and you're not available.'

            With that, Hannibal and Scipio walked away.  Hostilius watched as they met up with two other men.  He groaned in despair when he realized that the blond was the slave who'd overheard his conversation with Silo two weeks before.  He shook his head, knowing there was nothing he could do.

            'Hey, homo,' Scipio asked, 'why're you letting him go like that?'

            'Simple,' Hannibal told his friends with a grin.  'Lurco isn't the type to accept punishment easily.  He's going to make sure all his accomplices suffer, too.  When he gives his testimony, he'll name each and every one of them.  Now, let's go get our mastermind.'

*****

            Asinius Lurco sat in his study, going over his accounts.  He nodded with satisfaction over the sales of the previous autumn's fig, olive, and barley harvests, and the fine wool and linen fabrics spun and woven by his slave-women.  The income from his various farms, together with his other sources of 'revenue',  combined to make him extremely wealthy.  His chubby face was creased by a self-satisfied grin.

            His dreams of avarice were interrupted by a loud banging at the door, and he frowned.  At the sound of raised voices, he heaved his considerable bulk from his chair, and went to investigate.

            Arriving in the atrium, he blanched when he saw Gordianus Poplicola, who was accompanied by three men he didn't know.  The slave he didn't recognize, either  The senator was speaking sternly to the slave who had answered the door.

            'What is going on here?  Servilius?'

            'Soldiers, Master!' the brown-clad slave said, bowing obsequiously.  'They won't let anyone leave the house!  And I was just coming to announce the arrival of the esteemed Senator Gordianus Poplicola...'  He glanced sideways at the politician, hoping that the delay hadn't angered the visitors.

            'Outrageous!' Lurco blustered, turning a deep shade of purple.  'What is the meaning of this?'

            Gordianus gestured to Mento and Artorius, who disappeared inside the house, then drew himself up to his full height, and looked down his nose at the puffed-up bullfrog of a man.

            'Asinius Lurco,' he announced formally, 'you are hereby charged with graft and corruption, including the willful diversion of Imperial tax revenues to your own use. Soldiers have been posted at every door of this house.  Your slaves may come and go on their daily business, but you yourself may not set foot outside on pain of death.'

            'I - I won't stand for this!  It's lies!  All lies!'  He shoved Servilius aside, and tried to attack the senator with his fists, only to be stopped by Hannibal and Scipio.

            Gordianus only smiled as Mento and Artorius returned with a basket full of scrolls.

            'If the accusation is false, then you should have no objection to the authorities going over your account records.  Or talking to your bankers.'  Lurco paled at his words.

            'I would send a messenger to your friends among the advocates, and see if anyone will defend you in the Rostra,' Hannibal said.  'In the meantime, vale, citizen.'  Chuckling, he led the way back to the street.

            Asinius Lurco sat heavily on the edge of the fountain in the atrium, and stared out the open door.  Two soldiers stood outside, their crossed pilae blocking the door.   He sighed, knowing that his future was extremely uncertain...

         
**********
 

            'Well, how do things look?' Hannibal asked at supper a few nights later.  Gordianus looked at him thoughtfully.

            'I think our case looks pretty good,' he said.  'I'm working with Gellius Nerva, and he's one of the best advocates in Rome.  He's confirmed the discrepancies in the census data, and the amount of money Asinius Lurco appropriated for himself.  Needless to say, the Imperator is very concerned about the problem of corruption in Rome, and he knows it. In fact, he tried to sneak out of his house, disguised as one of his own slaves.  As you can imagine, he didn't get very far.'

            'And I thought Mento was crazy!'  Scipio just shook his head, then grinned when Mento tossed an olive in his direction.

            'As for Hostilius, he's going to be charged with conspiracy to defraud the Empire; we might even manage to round up others of the more corrupt publicani.  The Imperator's vowed to work to eliminate corruption in politics, as far as humanly possible, at least.' Gordianus smiled slightly.  'We'll never eliminate it altogether.  Roman society lives on bribes; it's our way of life.  But perhaps we can do something about the more egregious individuals.'

            Hannibal nodded.  'And Silo?'

            'A tougher nut to crack, perhaps.  But I think that, in the long run, he'll be lucky not to be thrown off the Tarpian Rock for his part in the proceedings, especially if we can prove he's behind several of the mysterious murders that have been committed over the past several years.'

            'Well, we'll do everything we can to help.'

            Gordianus nodded in grateful acceptance, then looked over towards Artorius, seated next to Hannibal.

            'You have served your master well, and I, too, appreciate your efforts.'  He beckoned the young blond over.  'Without your sharp hearing and quick-witted actions, I would not be alive now.  With your master's permission,' he glanced over at Hannibal, who nodded, 'I would like to reward you for your service.' He took Artorius' hand, and placed a coin in it.  Artorius looked at it, stunned.

            'A silver denarius!' he whispered.  'Thank you, Master Gordianus!'

            'It's little enough, considering it's the price of a man's life.

            'Now, I have a very important question to ask you,' Gordianus went on, his tone serious.  'Would you be willing to testify?'

            'Of course, Master Gordianus,' Artorius replied, then noted the looks on the faces of the others in the room.  'Why?  What's wrong?  Don't you want me to?'  

            'Yes,' Gordianus said guardedly, 'but you should know that you would have to give your evidence under torture.  On the rack.'

            'Master?!'  He turned quickly to Hannibal.

            'It's all right, puer,' Hannibal said, seeing the fear in the blond's eyes.  'I won't let anyone hurt you.'  He pulled the smaller man close, wondering why anyone should have to suffer when he was willing to give evidence freely.  

            'Don't know how Rome can consider itself so civilized when it has laws like that,' muttered Scipio.

            'I think I understand the reasoning, my friend, though I like it as little as you do.  However, I have a solution,' he continued, gesturing to his friends.  'I've had this in mind for a while, but I can't think of a more appropriate time.'

            Artorius was startled when Mento removed the heavy belt from around his waist, and Scipio placed a red cap with a forward-curling point on his head.  When they were finished, Hannibal took him by the shoulders and turned him to face the company.

            'Because of his exceptional service to this House, to Rome, and to his master, I call on you to witness that the slave Artorius, formerly of the Germanii, is no longer slave, but libertus!'

            Everyone broke into applause, even Lucius, Aemelia, and the rest of the household slaves.  To their delight, Artorius blushed a deep red.

            He crossed to Lucius and Aemelia, hugging each in turn.  

            'It'll be strange calling you Master Artorius now,' the cook said, tears of joy in her eyes.
            'I can't thank you enough for all your help,' Artorius told them.  'Even if Master hadn't freed me, I would have been content in your company.'

            'Go, enjoy your new life,' Lucius told him.  'You've earned it, and we're proud of you.'
            When Artorius returned to Hannibal's side, he started to sit on his accustomed stool, but Mento and Scipio forestalled him, pushing him down onto the lectus, next to Hannibal.  He blushed again, acutely aware of the heat of Hannibal's body next to him.  Hannibal nudged him, encouraging him to eat, but when he reached for a date, he nearly lost his balance and fell to the floor.  Only Hannibal's intervention prevented it, and he smiled gratefully.

            'Relax, puer,' Hannibal whispered, kissing him gently.  'You'll get used to it.'

            The party ended not long after, and Gordianus took a reluctant leave of his new friends.  They watched him as he disappeared from sight, accompanied not only by lantern-bearers, but - at least for the time being - a couple of bodyguards.

 

*****

Midnight

            Once Gordianus had left, everyone retired for the night.  In Hannibal's room, Artorius started to help Hannibal prepare for bed, but the tribune stopped him.

            'You don't have to do that anymore, Artorius.'

            'I know, but...I like doing it.  Besides,' he said, stepping closer and searching the older man's eyes, 'I - I don't want you to send me away.  Replace me with a new slave.'

            'Why would I do that?' Hannibal asked, his eyes serious.  'It is for me to worry that you would want to leave.  To strike out on your own, or even return to your home in Germania.'
            'It's true, I wasn't born a slave, but as much as I hated being a slave, at least at first, it was an important experience, and one I'll never forget.  So no, I don't want to leave,' Artorius said as he folded Hannibal's tunic and put it away before removing his own. 'My parents are old, but our village takes care of those who need help.  And maybe I can send them some money someday.'  He sighed wistfully.  Turning back, he looked the silver-haired tribune in the eye.

            'I -  I love you, Mas - Gaius,' he whispered shyly.  He was unused to addressing his former master by his name.

            'I know you do, puer,' Hannibal said, crossing to him and putting his arms around his waist.  'And that is the other reason why I gave you your freedom.'  He kissed the younger man deeply.   'I am so very much in love with you, but I cannot have a slave as my lover.  He would be despised for pandering to his master's lust.  No, the man I love must be free, and my equal as a Roman citizen, and stay with me of his own free will. That's why I never consummated our relationship. Tomorrow, we'll go before the magistrate for the formal ceremony, so everyone will know you are free.  Then, the only thing you won't be able to do is run for elected office, though any sons you may sire would have that right.'

            Artorius smiled.  'If I have any sons,' he said, reaching up and kissing Hannibal again before drawing him towards the bed.

            Nestling together, they fell asleep, exhausted by the events of the past few days.


*****

 

Several Weeks Later


        Artorius fiddled nervously with the placement of his woolen toga.  He'd never thought to be wearing one, and everything he'd learned from helping Hannibal with his went right out of his head.  Fortunately, his lover was there to help him, not wanting to let a slave help this first time.  

            His mind was a-whirl with the sudden rush of events.  At his manumission ceremony, Hannibal had transferred ownership of one of his smaller farms to the former slave.  Being a property-owner made him a full citizen, entitled to wear the cumbersome garment.

            He gave a half-hearted protest when Hannibal took his Thor's Hammer from him, but knew that his lover was right.  If he was going to be a Roman citizen, he might as well conform to tradition.

          He was escorted downstairs to find the entire household waiting to see him wearing his new finery for the first time.  Everyone complimented him on how dignified he looked.

            'And now, friends,' Hannibal announced, 'it does not do for a citizen of Rome to go anywhere without the one piece of jewelry that custom dictates a man may wear.'  So saying, he pulled from his bursa an iron ring, which he slipped onto the blond's right middle finger.

        Artorius looked at it, and gasped in pleasure.  There on the bezel was engraved a representation of Mjollnir.  When he used it to seal documents, there would be no doubt as to their authenticity.

        Hannibal's heart swelled when he saw the glow on his lover's face.

        'Artorius Aurelius Germania!' he announced, gesturing towards the door.  'It's time to make your debut as a Roman!'

 

*****

            They traveled to the Forum in a litter carried by four burly slaves.  When they arrived, they found Gordianus waiting for them on the prosecutor's bench near the Rostra in front of the Senate house, where the trial was being held.  They watched the proceedings as the advocates questioned the accused and the witnesses, and the seventy-five senators who had been selected as judges considered the evidence presented.  As the day wore on, Artorius began to pace.  He knew the trial had to be over by sundown.

            Finally, he heard his name called.  He started, looking nervously at Hannibal, who smiled reassuringly.

            'Go on, puer,' he said.  'Hold your head high, as befits a citizen of Rome.  When asked, remember to put your hand on your testicles and swear to tell the truth before you answer the questions of the advocates.'

            Artorius gave him a wan smile.  'I will,' he promised.

            'Good luck, parum frater,' Scipio said.

            'You'll be fine,' Mento told him.

            Flashing them a brilliant smile, he turned and walked to his place, accompanied by Gordianus.

 

**********

 

Epilogue - That Evening


            Hannibal and Artorius sat in the garden, enjoying the sunshine of a late spring afternoon, while Mento was studied the birds that flitted from branch to branch.  Scipio was just coming in from the stables, where he'd been good-naturedly badgering the slaves who cared for his prized horses, when Lucius entered to announce a visitor.

            'Gordianus Poplicola wishes to pay his respects to Gaius Aurelius Cartagenia,' he announced formally.

            'Show him in, Lucius, by all means!  No need for the good senator to stand on ceremony,' Hannibal said.  'You are hereby authorized to admit him without delay any time he calls.'  Lucius bowed in acknowledgement, and returned shortly with their guest.

            'Gaius!' he said enthusiastically, clasping arms with his host and the other members of his household.  This being a social call, he shed his purple-edged toga and handed it to Lucius, who carefully folded it and laid it aside.  'I've just come from the Forum.  I have great news!'

            'What is it?' Hannibal asked, as the others gathered around.

            'The judges have voted.  Asinius Lurco has been found guilty of corruption and abuse of his position as censor, and is to be banished to Sicily for the rest of his life.  If he returns to Rome, his life is forfeit.'

            Hannibal smiled as slaves, under the guidance of Lucius, set out extra chairs and small tables, and set out cups of wine and bowls of dried fruit, and a special jug of goat's milk for Scipio.  Other slaves hung oil lamps in the trees to light the garden in preparation for the evening.

            'Please, Gordianus, join us,' he said, waving the senator to a seat.  

            Gordianus sat, helping himself to wine and a few dates.  'I'm sure you can guess,' he said, 'that this isn't purely a social call, though I assure you that I do enjoy your company.'  He looked over at Artorius.  'It's your young libertus I've really come to see.'

            'Me?'  Artorius looked stunned.

            'Yes, my young friend.'  Gordianus smiled.  'As you may guess, I've had enough excitement for a while.  Therefore, I've decided to relinquish my office of praetor and become an advocate, much like Marcus Tullius Cicero in the latter days of the Republic, under the dictator Sulla.  To that end, because you seem to be so good at ferreting out hidden truths, I would like to hire you to be my investigator for any cases that may require it.'

            'I - I don't know what to say,' Artorius stammered.

            'The answer is no,' Hannibal said, an inscrutable look on his face.  He could see the disappointment in his lover's eyes.

            'Why not?' Gordianus asked, bewildered.  'You did a wonderful job protecting me and gathering the evidence to prosecute Lurco and his cronies!  I couldn't have prosecuted them successfully without all the work you did.  By Hades, I probably wouldn't even be alive.'
            'For one thing, he has become my wizard of the accounts, and I need him to help me manage the reports from my farm in Etruria,' Hannibal said with a hint of a smile. 'For another, yes, it was Artorius who discovered the plot against you, but all of us were involved in making sure it failed.  

            'Scipio, Mento, and I have been together for a long time now, and even though Artorius is a relative newcomer to our ranks, he has proved himself invaluable.  Therefore, you cannot hire one of us without the others.'

            Gordianus looked around at the little group.

            'Scipio,' he asked, 'what do you say about it?'

            'Well,' he mused, 'as much as I like being out of the army, life in Rome is getting a bit boring.  It's one long round of entertainments, dinner parties, and other social events.  Yeah, I'm willing, if Hann - Gaius is.'

            'And you, Mento?

            'Where they go, I go,' he said, grinning.  'Even if it means putting up with the ugly limus-combibo.'  Scipio growled threateningly at that, though the twinkle in his eyes belied the scowl.

            'All right, then,' Gordianus sighed in mock defeat.  'I would like to retain your team as my official investigators.  What do you say?'

        Hannibal accepted a lit colt's-foot reed from Artorius.  Moving it in a circular gesture, he grinned at his companions.

            'Diligo ustas a intentio adveho in una!'


       

 


Finis

 

 

 

**********

*************************************************************

 

DO NOT READ BELOW THIS LINE UNTIL AFTER YOU FINISH THE STORY!!

 

*************************************************************

 

 

 

Diligo ustas a intentio adveho in una!: I love it when a plan comes together!

 

**********

 


When In Rome by HannibalFan'52
When In Rome--Appendix by HannibalFan'52

 

 


Send Comment Card

Please Send This Author Comments!