Pairing: Esca/Marcus, past Marcus/OFC and OMCs
Summary: In between the lines of a story about honour is another story about love. This is an attempt to fill in those lines and to tell that story, with all the scenes that weren't shown.
Warnings: past non/dubcon; (historically accurate?) past underage!Marcus
Word count: 7560 for this chapter
Disclaimer: The characters from the book 'The Eagle of the Ninth' belong to the estate of Rosemary Sutcliff, and the film, 'The Eagle' is the property of Toledo Productions, Film Four and Focus Features. All creative rights to the original characters and situations depicted within are held by the respective owners; any additional original material is attributable to the author, and no profit is being made from this story.
Author's note: Roman orgies were really not all that common - but since this was to mark a special occasion, I'm hoping to get away with it ;)
It was only half a month later when the days began to grow noticeably shorter, colder, as the glow of braziers filled the rooms with flickering light, and the ancient hypocaust system was tested to its limits to keep out the cold. Outside, the sky had darkened, and the last dull glow of burnished red tarried at the horizon long after the sun had set, its lingering colours reflected in the lapping water of the lake that overlooked the meadows outside Calleva.
Marcus rolled the little flattened glass disk between his fingers thoughtfully as he planned his next move. His uncle had won the last three games of Merels they'd played that evening with ease, and Marcus was determined to break the old man's winning streak. Against most other players, Marcus won more often than not – years spent honing his tactical skills in the army were not for naught. Winning the game was usually determined by Marcus planning the initial positioning of his counters calculatedly, so that his opponent would be forced to concede a shiny glass chip even before Marcus had placed all of his own on the board, putting him at an advantage. However, playing against his uncle was a different matter. The old man had laughed with unbridled glee the first time they had played, when he trounced Marcus within the space of only a few minutes. Aquila used an entirely different strategy to the one Marcus usually encountered, initially losing a few of his counters with much tutting and self-reproach, as though he was entirely green to the game. Then before he knew it, Marcus found that despite the greater number of them, his counters were thoroughly blocked, as his uncle formed mill after mill, and his chips were claimed with a quiet chuckle and a muttering of “Oh, is that another one for me? Yes; I think it is.”
He was employing the same tactic now, and Marcus made a noise of frustration as he lost another chip to his uncle's ever-growing pile. Try as he might, he knew he could not concentrate on the game, as he shifted this way and that in the hard chair, unable to get comfortable. The scabbing over the wound on his leg had all but gone now, the new skin beneath it a shiny white and pink cicatrix, like the inside of a conch shell. He felt his strength increasing daily, but the deep ache within his muscle and bone still lingered, made worse by the damp and cold of autumn, and the reduced doses of opium that Esca administered to him daily. He knew his irritability was in part due to being given ever-smaller doses of the drug, and pride would never permit him to ask for more.
“You have to think further down the line, Marcus,” his uncle was saying to him. “four, five, or six steps ahead. We've been through this. It's not just about your initial attack and defence.”
Marcus took a sip of wine, nodding vigorously. He wasn't really listening, though he knew his uncle was giving him sound advice; instead, he fidgeted in the chair again, trying to straighten his leg without drawing his uncle's attention, not wanting to make a fuss.
“You also have to be able to counter a stealth attack. You know all about that; so apply it to the game. Come, you've beaten me before. You're making it too easy for me now.”
The cramp that had been building in Marcus's leg took hold, and he pressed the heel of his hand into the muscle, inhaling sharply.
“Where is Esca?”
“I sent him to your room,” his uncle said, then fixed Marcus with a stern look.
“Marcus, I know that he is dear to you, but I have never known a man who thanks his slaves so profusely. You must not treat Esca differently to any other slave.”
Marcus opened his mouth to protest, but his uncle waved away his objections.
“Don't try to deny it,” his uncle said in a tone of gentle reprimand. “I have heard you. I have heard you say please and thank you to him, polite as anything. I know you have few friends here, but Marcus, really, you will make him forget his place if you favour him so. It is as though every day is Saturnalia in this house.”
As Marcus listened, he felt his sensibilities pricked, and blurted out,
“Did you know he was the son of a chieftain?”
Marcus knew that most people would think it was foolish that it mattered to him, but it did. It mattered that Esca, grudging as always, had chosen to share that information with Marcus. Perhaps his uncle was right to criticise, though Marcus could not quell the rebellious surge in his chest, that the small concessions he made towards Esca's behaviour had not gone unnoticed or unremarked.
His uncle sat back in his chair, gathering the wool of his toga more snugly around himself, and gave Marcus a fond, if exasperated, look.
“They're all the sons of chieftain, Marcus. There's enough tribes here for every one of them to claim noble blood. But he's a slave, now, so his lineage is of no concern to you. I know you've got all these new-fangled ideas from reading too much Seneca. Treat him with kindness, by all means – that is the sign of a good master – but do not forget that he is a slave. He needs to know that he is yours, or you risk losing him, and I know you would not want that.” Aquila drained his wine cup, and shook his head at the sullen, tight-jawed glare Marcus gave him. “You can't very well run after him if he escapes, and the rest of us are too old and too fat to chase him.”
Marcus clenched his jaw again, partly to distract himself from the pain in his leg, and partly to hold himself back from snapping at his uncle. Marcus berated himself for his poor conduct and loss of vigour quite enough; he did not need his uncle to remind him of it as well. Aquila must have seen the obvious distress on Marcus's face, for he leaned over to give Marcus a conciliatory pat on the arm.
“There, there, my boy. I meant nothing by it. Forgive me if I seem a little harsh at times. It is only that I have to keep this wretched house in order, somehow.”
Marcus nodded, if only to put his uncle at ease again. He knew the old man meant well, and despite the way his pride felt bruised, he could not feel churlish towards him. His uncle had taken him in and cared for him as if he was his own son, and Marcus was not so petulant to reject that in the face of some petty dispute. All the same, he preferred to withdraw for the evening. He did not need to look at the clepsydra to know that the hour was growing late, and the twinge in his leg still pained him.
“Uncle, by your leave,” Marcus said, awkwardly getting to his feet and propping his crutch under his arm, since Esca was not there for him to lean upon. “I am weary, and must retire to my room. I bid you good night.”
“Good night, Marcus,” his uncle said, eyes twinkling; smiling and sanguine as ever. “I do hope you sleep well.”
Marcus shuffled to his room slowly, gripping onto his crutch and tracing the fingers of his other hand along the powdery plaster of the wall for support. He paused in the doorway for a moment, wondering at the rumpled sheets of his bed piled in lumpen disarray, and noting the complete absence of his slave. He thought grimly that his uncle might be right about needing to show his authority. Then, the idea that Esca might have taken his first opportunity to run gripped him, and he felt his heart race and his skin flush with anger and something else, something like disappointment but with a keener edge.
“Esca!” Marcus barked out, leaning one hand against the doorway to steady himself. He jumped as the pile of bedsheets moved, and Esca's tousled head appeared, slit-eyed and blinking owlishly at Marcus in the low lamplight. Marcus felt a warm rush of relief, shaking his head at his own fright, and then noted ruefully how, as always, Esca looked him directly. Esca's eyes were heavy with sleep, and his small, proud mouth was set in an ornery line.
Marcus was growing accustomed to having Esca look at him with that haughty gaze. That, he could tolerate. To find him in his bed, however, unasked, unbidden, was a different matter. Marcus had never taken his slave to his bed for good reason, and it had nothing to do with not wanting him there. Marcus could not tear his eyes away from him, and he clenched his fingers around the doorframe. In the guttering lamplight, Esca's sleep-mussed hair stuck out in odd angles, like a gold wreath around his head, savagely wrought. He looked like a wild creature, one of the old, barbaric gods of the wood still worshipped in this strange country, come to Marcus's bed to ensnare him and tempt him from the ways of reason and decorum.
At Marcus's expectant look, Esca at least had the decency to say,
“Were you asleep,” Marcus asked, though the answer seemed obvious.
Esca gave him a tight nod, drawing the sheets up around him almost protectively, balling his hands into fists around the blanket.
“And why is it you are sleeping in my bed?”
“Britannia is colder than Rome at this time of year,” Esca replied with a dismissive shrug, dropping his focus to the blanket. “I was told that one of my duties was warming your bed as the nights grow longer. All night if necessary.” He spoke in a monotone, though Marcus was sure there was a bitter trace of sarcasm in his voice.
It was perfectly clear to Marcus why his uncle had sent Esca to his bed, and it was not to keep the cold at bay. It was simply the expectation that Marcus should wish to assert his right as a master, as was often done with slaves, particularly when they were young and comely as Esca was. This was the natural order laid down by Rome, that a master might use his slave, his property, as he saw fit. There was no shame in it for him. But there was, for Esca.
There should be no contention about it – Marcus knew that. Esca was no freeborn Roman, and Marcus could do with him as he wished. And yet, Marcus had long known that try as he might, he could not think of Esca as mere property. His uncle was right: Marcus was intrigued by the radical notions of Seneca, that it was chance alone that one man was made a slave to another, and that it was just as possible to see the qualities of a freeborn man in a slave, as a slave might see the signs of servitude to base passion in their master. Marcus had long ago refused to be held in thrall to his desires, choosing rather to surmount them. In his boyhood, his Athenian tutor had encouraged him to read the works of the Stoics after the death of his father, and he had found comfort in their philosophy, surrounded by the subsequent whispers and the shadow of shame that fell over his family.
These thoughts did not sit comfortably with him, though; like all Romans of means, he had been raised with slaves around him from the moment of his birth. To question the rightness of that was to question the rightness of Rome. But that did not mean he had to behave like a brute. Marcus was well acquainted with the sort of men who sought to prove their virility by lying with anything they wished, and he thought little of them. He had seen enough of that callous roughness to give him a surfeit for a lifetime in his fifteenth year, the day he took the toga virilis and became a man.
His father had a small group of friends still loyal to the Aquilas, who had taken a vested interest in him as he had grown, and who had encouraged him in his desire to pursue a career in the military. His mother had been less enthusiastic. Marcus was her only surviving child, and she made no secret of the fact that she would have preferred for him to stay with her to run the family farm. But Marcus's head was filled with thoughts of battle and glory, and he wished to follow in the footsteps of his father; most of all he was driven by the all-consuming need to wash clean the name of his family, where it had been drubbed in the mire of the Tiber by all the hands who held power and sway in Rome.
After the ceremony where he had hung up his bulla and offered the first clippings of his beard at the household lararium, he donned his white toga, and was met outside by his father's friends. They escorted him to the Forum, the bright sunlight and sharp shadows of the early morning cutting a keen edge around everything, marking the day in Marcus's memory as surely as if it was carved there with a knife. Eagerly, he climbed the hill to the Forum, and with a fierce pride, he signed his name, the name he took from his father, in the rosta of Roman citizens.
“Now it's time for your real initiation into manhood,” said Tibullus Septimus, a bull-necked ex-centurion, who had latterly taken to olive farming. He clapped Marcus on the shoulder with a grin. Marcus felt a flush of anticipation, certain of their destination, as the rest of the laughing group of men gathered around him, leading him through the streets to the place where the alleys became narrower and narrower. Finally, they reached a doorway surrounded by a group of giggling women dressed in togas, who stepped aside with smirks and winks to allow them inside.
Marcus's eyes adjusted to the guttering lamplight within, and he stared about him at the lurid paintings on the walls, depicting every type of coupling Marcus had ever imagined, and many he had never even conceived possible. The air was heavy with the smell of sex, the wet noise of skin slapping against skin, and loud, animal grunts coming from every corner; the curtains dividing the rooms from the narrow corridor afforded little privacy for the occupants. Marcus felt his cock already twitching with interest, and when a young woman stepped out of the gloom, her angular face painted a stark white and hair piled high in tumbling curls, he felt himself swell further and ducked his head shyly.
“We've got you a nice, clean girl to show you some fine filth,” said Antonius Severus, who barely came up to Marcus's shoulder. He gave Marcus an encouraging shove towards the girl. “The payment is all seen to. Go, enjoy yourself.”
Smirking, she took him by the hands and pulled him towards one of the little rooms, moving the curtain out of the way to reveal a low, narrow cot. It was spread with thinning, grubby linens, and at the time he had not dwelled on all that that implied; she was pulling off her toga to stand naked before him.
Marcus felt a small stab of anxiety as he gazed upon her, wondering if he was fully prepared to become a man. A trickle of sweat ran down the dip of his spine to pool at the small of his back as she moved towards him, the sweet, cloying scent of her perfume clouding his head. He stood very still, allowing her to undress him, and trying to quell the fear in his belly as she ran her hands appreciatively over his arms and chest. She reached a curious hand out to touch one of the wings of the carved figure still hanging round his neck, and automatically he reached up to close his hand around it, shaking his head and removing it himself, tucking it with care into the white folds of his toga.
His initial shyness left him when she gave him a delighted smile and told him that not only had Mars blessed him with the body of a warrior, but Priapus too had smiled upon him. With that, she had sunk to her knees, and Marcus remembered very little else, other than warm, wet heat and shuddering with pleasure, as she drew him down to the bed and guided him between her legs, whispering sweet words in his ear, telling him how good he was, urging him on with her thighs around his waist, and fitting his large hands around her full breasts.
When he stumbled out of her chamber, grinning broadly and dazed with the stupor of climax, he almost bumped into one of the other girls. She turned away from him quickly, slipping behind the curtain of another anteroom, but not before he had seen the dark bruise around her eye, and a cut on her swollen mouth. His protective nature was moved on instinct, and he started towards her, before a firm grip on his shoulder stopped him.
“It is good, yes, young Flavius?” Septimus said, adjusting his toga with one of his meaty hands.
Marcus smiled sheepishly and nodded, but couldn't help throwing an uneasy glance back over his shoulder, as they stepped out into the sunlight to wait for their companions to finish their own sport and join them.
The revelries continued into the evening, when they retired to the house of Lucius Apollodorus for a feast held in Marcus's honour. Marcus lay back on one of the low couches, his belly full and his head beginning to reel from the heady wine, stirred by his wakening desires as he watched the lissom dancing girls spin to the music of the sistrum and flutes. On the couch opposite him, Lucius roused himself and clapped his hands together, and the music and dancing ceased. He addressed Marcus with an amiable grin, and the other men in the room shifted expectantly.
“Now, we have one final gift for you.”
The doors to the triclinium were opened, and a slender boy who looked to be younger than Marcus himself, with the dusky skin and black-olive eyes of a Greek, wearing nothing but a leather collar around his neck, was led into the room by one of the house slaves, and brought to stand in the middle of the room.
“Does he please you?”
Marcus could not help but stare at the slave boy. He looked to be carved from the hand of Praxiteles himself, his form and proportion in exquisite harmony. Marcus could only nod, his tongue too thick from the wine to say anything other than a choked, “Yes.”
Septimus leaned forward and spoke encouragingly into Marcus's ear.
“Tonight, you are his master, and he is yours to do with as you wish.”
Septimus beckoned the boy forward, and he dropped to his knees in front of the couch where Marcus sat, bowing his head and keeping his eyes demurely on the floor. The dark curls of his hair spilled around the smooth skin of his jaw and his fine, high cheekbones, his skin smooth gold and entrancing in the lamplight. Marcus did not move, he could not, frozen in place with want and some other troublesome emotion that he could not name. He started as one of the dancing girls leaned across him, hitching his toga up around his hips. She wrapped a hand around his cock and tugged, bringing him to full hardness, and Marcus clung onto the edge of the couch, frustrated by the sudden, unmanly flush in his cheeks. The boy opened the full, pretty bow of his mouth and tilted his head upwards with his eyes closed, waiting. The flash of his tongue appeared to wet his lower lip, and Marcus bit back a gasp that he did not wish to utter in the expectant silence of the room.
“Go on,” said Antoninus, gesturing encouragement. “Show us what kind of a man you are.”
“Peace, Antonius,” said Septimus, shifting to the other end of the couch to allow Marcus some room. “Let our young eagle take his Ganymede.”