As soon as they arrived home, Jason ran back to the kitchen and started pouring flour into a mixing bowl. Philip, his hands on his waist, gave Jason a serious stare. “What do you think you are doing?
“Making bread for the Famulus,” Jason said, not aware of Philip’s warning look.
“Jason, the period of morning is over, the markets have been open for days now. The Famulus do not need you to bake their bread for them.”
“But...” Jason protested weakly, his face already covered with a
fine layer of flour.
“Whatever am I going to do with you?” Philip laughed. “How about we only bake a dozen rolls for the Famulus elders?”
“Alright...” Jason said, with a slight pout on his face.
Wanting to cheer the young man up, Philip went behind Jason and wrapped his arms around his waist, letting Jason lean back against his body. “After you finish here I want you to go to the baths with Alex.
“Do I smell bad?”
“You smell worse than you did back in Qul Tos.” Philip laughed as he let go.
“I’m...” Jason tried to apologize but was stopped by Philip covering Jason’s mouth with his hand.
“Shhhhhhh... no more being sorry. You are going to bake the rolls, I will see that the elders get them, and you will go clean yourself up. That is unless you can think of something else you would rather do.” Philip said, receiving a nod in return. “While you do all this I never want to hear the word ‘sorry’ pass your lips. Do you understand?”
Jason nodded his head. He did not know if he could but he would try. In the Tower everything had been his fault. He had always had to say he was sorry. Now his rescuer was asking him to stop being sorry. Forgiving himself was not so easy.
When Jason awoke the day after the trial, he found himself warm and snuggled up against both brothers. Philip was spooned up against his back, while Alex rested in his arms. He tried to get out of the bed, but as soon as he moved both brothers hugged him tighter and gave out complaining moans. So Jason remained in their arms even while his stomach grumbled. Then, starting with Alex, both men began kissing him, Alex on Jason’s chest and Philip on the back.
“Morning, Jason,” Philip said between kisses.
“Morning,” Jason sighed as he felt himself harden, poking against Alex.
“MORNING!” Alex nearly shouted when he noticed what was poking at him.
“What?” Philip asked confused.
“Ummmm.” Alex blushed.
Philip, curious, reached over and found both Jason and Alex hard. “I think I will leave you two to take care of yourselves.” Philip chuckled. He got out from under the quilt, exposing himself as he headed out of the room.
“Why did he leave?” Jason asked confused.
Alex chuckled, enjoying how Centurion traditions were giving him an edge against his brother when it came to Jason. “Custom... Philip is an adult. An adult Centurion cannot be in the company of uncircumcised men whose manhoods are...
“Manhoods are what?
“Are erect while still having their foreskins.” Alex chuckled.
“Why?” Jason asked curious.
“It is seen as unclean. A Centurion can face serious punishment if he is found doing so.”
“Would they kill him?” Jason asked nervously.
“No... but he could face exile and have his marks removed.”
“How can they remove his tattoos?” “Simple enough, they cut the skin off.”
“But won’t that kill them!” Jason asked panicked.
“You forget, we are fast healers.” Alex laughed.
“Yours is not cut?” Jason asked, curious.
Alex grinned and turned around so his back was facing Jason. “Do I have that mark?”
“No,” Jason admitted. “But if I want to be with Philip, will I have to get cut?”
Alex struggled hard to hide the jealousy Jason’s question stirred in him. “So you want to sleep with him?”
Jason saw the flash of anger on Alex’s face and it made him nervous. “I don’t know. I know Philip would like for us to when I am older.”
Sighing with relief, knowing that he had some time, Alex’s face relaxed. “Alright... then you might have to be circumcised.”
The thought of getting cut scared Jason. “But won’t I bleed to death?”
“That is where powdered Centurion bones come in handy. It is very expensive but they can stop a Legatio from bleeding to death.”
“What do Legatio bones do?” Jason asked, curious.
“Yes, if Centurion bones can heal, what can my bones do?”
“Jason... you might be a Legatio but to say such a thing is near heresy,” Alex said shocked.
Jason did not understand why his question was taboo. “Why?”
“To mutilate a Legatio body is considered a crime punishable by death, one’s names removed from the songs, and more importantly, your skull shattered after your death so nothing will remain to remember you. Fewer than 30,000 Legatio have ever died and their bodies are kept in the Tomb of the Second Warrior under the Senate.”
“I see... sorry.”
Alex laughed... he could see why his brother would get annoyed with Jason always saying he was sorry. He would apologize for almost anything. “Don’t be. You have not had a chance to learn our ways. You don’t know what is forbidden.”
Jason, on hearing his stomach grumble again, tried to stand up but was stopped by Alex grabbing his loincloth, pulling it off.
“Why did you do that?” Jason asked embarrassed. “I just thought...” Alex blushed looking down. Jason noticed it as well, the blood rushing into his midsection.
Alex looked at Jason with pleading eyes... so he gave Alex a gift, another
piece of a childhood held too long. Any normal Centurion would have laughed at their awkward attempt to make love but still the love was clearly evident in every action they made.
“Is this bonding?” Jason asked as felt his whole body tingle as Alex’s hands explored him.
“Of course it is,” Alex grunted to hide that he did not know what he was doing either.
Regardless of their inexperience... both found their way to being sated. Alex rolled over so Jason was on top of him, stomach to stomach, the young Centurion’s chin resting on the top of Jason’s head while his hands played with the Legatio’s hair. Both boys’ anima glowed on contact with each other’s bodies, blue to red. Alex felt his mouth drool, so he wiped it clean but was surprised to find what came away was blue... anima blue. Shocked, he jumped off Jason and ran out of the room before Jason had a chance to see or respond to his sudden departure.
Alex knew what it meant. Somehow he had stumbled on the secret of how to transfer his anima to Jason. What remained a secret was how did a Legatio pass his to a Centurion. Alex soon went from excitement to dread. He knew that Philip wanted to be the one to bond with Jason. He wanted to do the same... Yet, was it fair to take the chance away from his brother. If the situation had been a duel the answer would have been no. The rules of conduct were clear; one did not perform sneak attacks. Another issue was that Alex had not seen red anima fluid on the lips of Jason. Could a bond form with only one person exchanging their anima fluid? Did something else need to happen to trigger the release from Jason? The only ones who knew that were the Field Marshals. Alex would have to be careful. He did not want to give his vital anima fluid to Jason if he would not receive Jason’s in return. Once the fluid is transferred he could not get it back. He could be left weaker with nothing to show for it.
“Alex... are you alright?” Jason asked, interrupting Alex’s thoughts.
“Yes, I’m fine. Sorry if my leaving worried you,” Alex said seeing Jason’s handsome reflection in the mirror.
Jason blushed as he put as warm hand on Alex’s shoulder. “You scared me a little. I was afraid you didn’t like what we did.”
“I... I enjoyed it!” Alex laughed nervously. “You?”
“I liked it too.” Jason smiled before kissing Alex on the lips.
Alex grinned, but only kissed Jason on the cheek, least his bond be passed to Jason. “Time for some breakfast,” he changed the subject.
Naked, the two of them went to the cool cellar and took out a slab of salted pork and a pair of onions. These they brought to the kitchen and cooked them with a pound of dried beans. While breakfast was cooking, Philip came into the room with an arm wrapped around a redheaded man.
“I hope the two of you do not plan to remain undressed?” Philip laughed.
“Sorry...” Jason said embarrassed, turning his face down to the ground.
“No more being sorry, just get dressed,” Philip chided. After they returned from the master bedroom dressed, they went back to the kitchen but stopped at the door when they heard moaning coming from inside.
“I think we should stay out,” Alex warned.
“Philip is...?” Jason asked curious.
“Yes... can you blame him? We made him leave in an awkward position.”
“Who is he having ‘sex’ with?”
“Most likely one of his men. He has had sex with almost all of them at least once. It is expected because he is an officer.”
“I see. Will you do that when you are an officer?” Jason asked.
“That is why I don’t want to be an officer. If I become one, I will have to sleep with my men.”
“Because I would be their leader and as their leader it would be my job to see to their needs are met, including their physical ones.”
“I don’t understand?” Jason asked as he leaned against the pine door.
“It’s to increase their loyalty and trust, you see,” Alex explained.
“And why don’t you want to do that?”
“You will laugh,” Alex sighed.
“No I will not,” Jason said, already giggling.
“It is considered a Famulus custom... which means it is looked down upon by most Centurions.”
“I don’t know anything about Centurion, Legatio or Famulus customs, so how would I know if it is wrong or not.”
“True...” Alex grinned, hesitating before speaking, but when he did he had a dream-like smile on his face. “The Famulus have a custom called marriage... where one man marries one woman. I don’t know why, but it seems so right to me. I understand when my brother tells me that I can be attracted to more than one person, but love? Love I feel should only be given to the one person you love most and loves you just the same.”
Jason sighed with relief. At least a subject came up that he felt he knew more about than the person he was talking to. “I know about marriage. My mother always told me I would have to marry for political reasons, whether I loved her or not”
“I know that happens in other lands. People marry for position, wealth, and power. It is supposed to be about love, however. I want to find the one man who will devote his whole life to me and me to him. I
don’t want other men to be part of that.” “What does your brother think?”
Alex’s face took on a frown. “He thinks I’m selfish... Philip feels that love should be freely given. It is the responsibility of an officer to love his men. How else can one expect his men to follow him even to death if they feel the man leading them does not care about them?”
“So you want to be a private,” Jason guessed.
“Yes, but my teachers believe I will make a better officer. In the end it is not my choice. If the Field Marshals think I am needed as an officer, an officer they will make me.” Alex sighed.
“Will you love your men?” Jason asked.
Alex did not answer for a few seconds, his brow furrowed deep in thought. “I will take care of them... that is a form of love.”
“But not like your brother?”
“No... my brother loves his men. When he sleeps with them he is expressing that love. If I became physically involved with them it would only be because I know they need to think I love them.”
“I see,” Jason replied.
Deep in these thoughts, the boys did not notice when the kitchen door was opened by the bright redheaded man with a silly grin on his face. As all Centurions and Legatio had either black or blond hair, his appearance made him stand out like a red flame.
“Hi.” The man blushed.
“Who are you, Famulus?” Alex demanded, angrier that he let himself be surprised than at the man’s presence
“I am Commander Philip’s new major domo.” The man grinned.
“Major domo?” Jason asked confused.
“Chief servant... runs the house for Philip,” Alex explained, still giving the man a suspicious look.
“With your mother sadly gone, the Famulus Elders felt Commander Philip needed someone to run his house. They offered me the job. I just finished my interview.” The red-haired man blushed even deeper.
Knowing quite well what Philip must have just done, Alex struggled not to show his disgust with his brother’s sexual exploits. “And your name?”
“Erik.” The man grinned.
“Erik... what region do you come from?” Alex asked not recognizing the name.
“I don’t know. All I know is that my mother was captured by Jadoorian slavers when she was pregnant with me or at least that is what my first owner told me. She was sold off soon after I was born. I was then trained to be a servant with special attention given to the running of a household. On my 17th birthday my training changed, adding the skill of bed-warmer.”
“Bed-warmer?” Jason asked, having never heard the term.
“A prostitute.” Alex smirked.
“No...a companion. Mostly it is the wives or husbands who called me a prostitute, not my owner.” Erik sighed, seeing Alex was not going to warm up to him. “Sooo... what are you gay men up to today?”
“Gay?” both Alex and Jason asked confused.
“Gay, men who sleep with other men. Is that not what all Centurions are... a giant gay army?” Erik laughed.
“Love is Love... who cares if it is with a man or a woman,” Alex grunted. Actually he felt that the only real sex was between men. To him and most Centurions, lovemaking with a woman was only for breeding.
“Hey, I agree.” Erik laughed. “I think sex between men is better. A Duchess who once owned me had me do things I would not wish on any man. You have to admit though; Domus is just one big gay fest.”
“Still, I don’t understand why there is a word for what we men do with each other. Is there a name for what men do with women?”
“Yes... they call it straight.”
“Straight... I don’t understand,” Jason said, confused, not understanding all of the redhead’s dialect.
“Well, the joke is that your personality has to be a little ‘bent’ to
want to sleep with someone of the same sex,” Erik laughed “It must be some weird Jadoorian belief,” Alex said, as if that
explained it all. “Western humor has always been a little primitive. They worship their mothers after all.”
Erik burst into laughter. “They worship THE MOTHER, not their mothers. The Mother is their primary goddess. When it comes to being weird though, trust me, Westerners feel the same thing about you gay Centurions.”
“And what do you think?” Alex asked, getting a little annoyed
with the term “gay”.
Erik burst into laughter. “Hey, when I was finally sold to the Centurions it was like a dozen birthdays crammed into one... all those men and all of them gay!”
“So I take it you are happy here.” Alex sighed, wishing the man would lose his wide smirk. He was also starting to wish he could sell Erik back to the Jadoorians.
“Yes I am, and I promise to run your house to the best of my ability.”
“Fine... one rule though,” Alex said, about to give up on getting rid of this clown. “Yes,” Erik said eagerly.
Alex, moved in closer to Erik, letting his voice drop an octave, “I never want to hear the word ‘gay’ pass your lips ever again.”
“Yes sir!” Erik said with an elaborate bow.
Having had enough of Philip’s new servant, Alex grabbed Jason’s hand, dragging him into the eating area, a pit filled with pillows and a low wood bench to place plates and cups on. “Come on, Jason... I think my brother hired a jester instead of a steward. Time we knocked some sense into him.”
In the kitchen was Philip, lying naked on the table, a satisfied smile on his face. “Have fun?” Alex smirked.
“He is definitely different,” Philip said with a silly grin. “He is definitely something,” Alex agreed, not hiding the fact he was not happy with his brother’s behavior.
“What can you expect? He is a wilder from beyond the frontier. I can’t even tell what country he comes from,” Philip said in Erik’s defense.
“I told him I didn’t want him saying the word ‘gay’ ever.” Alex grunted.
“Ahhhh... I see you are getting your first taste of the outside world,” Philip said knowingly.
“So you have heard the word gay before?” Alex asked, wanting to know how much more his brother knew.
Philip raised his back off the table, propping himself up. “You will soon find out that it is the Empire that is unusual, not the other nations. In a few countries outside our influence it is actually forbidden for two men to share a bed. I am sure that not a few of our Western and Eastern neighbors would do the same if we were not to prevent it.”
“Are you sure?” Alex said, surprised.
“They will teach you all about how the outside world sees us in your last year at the Academy,” Philip said as he slid off the table, back onto his feet.
“I see...” Alex said, now feeling a little unsure about how the world really worked.
Philip went to the basin, picking up the washcloth next to it to wipe himself clean. “Come, breakfast will be ready soon. I want all of you to help in selecting our new Famulus servants. Because of Jason, some of the best in the city are going to offer their services.”
With breakfast over, Erik came in dressed in a black tunic with a white sash across his chest. “Master, I have gone through the candidates and have selected the ones I felt would fit this household best,” he said with a bow and a formality he had not shown before. “Let’s see them.” Philip grinned as he stood up from the table.
In the courtyard was a line of men dressed only in black loincloths. All of them looked to be in prime condition. Starting on the left, Erik began describing their roles. The first was a brown-haired man, 6’2” in height and as well muscled as Philip. “This is Claude. He comes from one of the Western Isles. He is to be your body servant, dressing you, bathing you, and tidying your bedroom. He gives excellent massages and has very good taste in clothes.
Claude gave a bow and a wink of the eye before stepping back.
The next person was older, with gray hair but still had a body like a horse. “This is Caleb... from the Eastern Kingdom of Qul Tos. He was captured early in the war when the palace fell. As the palace’s chief chef, he is skilled in several styles of cooking, including native Domus dishes.”
“Can he be trusted?” Philip asked, concerned.
“He was the personal chef for General Issa before he was replaced by General Darius.”
“Fine, but...” Philip said, not fully convinced.
Caleb, noticing his new master’s wariness bowed again before speaking. “Sir... I have no ill feelings for what happened to my home. The Lady Regent was running the kingdom into the ground. My loyalty was always to his majesty.” Caleb finished his little speech with a bow to Jason.
Jason, remembering Caleb from the baths in the Legatio quarter, blushed on seeing the man again.
“Next.” Philip waved, saving his judgment for later.
“Here is Gerick... from the Northern Wastes.” Erik pointed to the blond man. He is a blacksmith and not a bad carpenter. His job will be to do repairs on the house, make furniture, and maintain the household armory.”
Gerick, with his large arms, flexed them in front of everybody.
“That’s my boy!” Erik laughed to the frowns of both Philip and Alex.
Next was a dark-skinned man with black hair and hazel eyes, Herrick, from the southern tribal lands of Qopo, across the Inner Sea; he was to be the house gardener. After him was a very pale man, Kristen, with green eyes but a well-built body; he had been captured as a child by slavers. He almost looked like a Legatio. He was to be the housekeeper. “Finally, I can certify that every single one of these men is gay... I mean... are open to a little bonding,” Erik corrected himself when he saw Alex’s hard glare.
“Good...” Philip grinned. He walked over to his new servants, squeezing each of their asses through their loincloths. Then as if on cue, all of the new servants circled around Philip and began to undress him.
“Come, Jason... let’s go practice,” Alex sighed as he dragged Jason toward the stairs.
“What is happening?” Jason asked. He could not take his eyes off the men as they undressed.
“Introducing themselves to Philip,” Alex grunted as he took two steps up at a time, totally sick of his brother’s hedonism.
“Uhmmm, I think they are having sex,” Jason corrected. “They seem to know what their doing at least.”
“It is how some Famulus chose to introduce themselves to their masters. They think it will prevent them from being sent away,” Alex said as he walked across the second floor balcony to the ladder that led to the roof.
“What about Jonathan?” Jason asked.
“Jonathan is not owned by Philip. He is your servant. He can live here or your house in the Legatio quarter.”
Jason then remembered the killing rampage... ”Why did he leave Jonathan alive?”
“Because he is your property not his own. It would have been stealing for him to kill Jonathan.” Alex explained. “Do not worry, Philip would never have killed him. That would have been like killing our mother... she was a Famulus as well.”
“I did not know that,” Jason replied.
Alex chuckled at Jason’s naiveté. “She wore black, didn’t she?”
“Yes... I just thought that as your mother she was a Centurion.”
“No... You are Centurion, Legatio, or a Famulus. All women are Famulus, so all women are part of the servant class. As a Legatio you are part of the nobility, while we Centurions are the warriors. We each have our specific roles,” Alex explained.
By this time they were on the roof, but even that high they could still hear moans coming from the courtyard.
“Why can’t he find himself a wife?” Alex sighed as he made his way to the practice platform.
“What is so wrong with what Philip is doing?” Jason asked innocently.
This time Jason’s lack of knowledge was annoying instead of endearing to Alex, “There is nothing wrong with it... at least by Centurion standards. I just wish he would one day bring someone home that he is in love with.”
“Alright...” Jason said, still not understanding.
Seeing that his point was not being made, Alex decided to be more blunt. “I mean... he did bring you home so I guess he has, but he still sleeps around like a slut.
“That’s mean!” Jason protested.
“I’m sorry, Jason. I know you look up to my brother. I just feel that there has to be more to a Centurion than how many men he has killed or slept with.”
“How good a lover he is, how well he raises his children, how faithful he is to his partner... There are no marks for that. Instead, it is how early you make your first kill, how soon you sleep with a woman or a man... nothing about how good a person you are.” Alex sighed.
Thinking Alex was saying his brother was not any of those things, which Jason felt he was, came to Philip’s defense. “Philip is a good person.”
“Yes, he is... I never said he wasn’t. He is a little hedonistic but
he is a good person.”
Just on cue there was a loud moan coming from below. Jason, curious, began to move toward the railing so he could look down into the courtyard but Alex pulled him away.
“What?” Jason said, looking annoyed.
“Don’t go looking, Jason... please,” Alex said in a begging voice.
“Alright...” Jason agreed, letting Alex lead him to the practice platform.
“Let’s duel,” Alex said as he tossed Jason a staff.
“But I don’t know enough yet.” “Yes you do...” Alex encouraged. “Don’t worry. I’ll even use my left hand.”
“I would appreciate that...” Jason laughed, not sure if he believed that it would make much of a difference.
The two went to opposite corners of the platform. Alex bowed and held it till Jason did the same before rising back up. Jason at once took up a guard position but did not move forward, as if he expected Alex to leap across the room to attack him.
Seeing Jason almost cowering in the corner, Alex decided he would have to guide the Legatio through the whole process. “Jason... move to the center. You will have nowhere to fall back to if you stay in the corner.”
Jason nervously took a few steps forward.
Deciding that Jason was not going to move in any closer, Alex closed the distance between them in a side-step fashion. With a sudden swing, he made to strike Jason against his left thigh but made such a show of it Jason was able to react in time and block it.
“Good... now try to hit me,” Alex said encouragingly.
Jason stalled for a second, his eyes darting all over Alex’s body. Alex knew that it was a habit of Jason’s he would have to break. An opponent could read his eyes and know where to block. But as this was Jason’s first time, Alex held back his criticism. Finally Jason’s eyes froze on his opponent’s right arm and Alex moved quickly to block it... a little too quickly. Jason had not been holding his staff tightly nor did his attempted blow have any real force behind it. As a result Alex’s block knocked the staff right out of Jason’s hands.
“I’m sorry,” Alex quickly apologized as he went to pick up Jason’s weapon.
Jason blushed, a little embarrassed. “I’m ok.”
“You need to hold the weapon firmly and strike hard,” Alex said as he handed the staff back to Jason.
“I didn’t want to hurt you,” Jason explained.
“Trust me, Jason, you will not be able to hurt me.”
“You’re that good or am I that bad?” Jason laughed.
“No... I will show you,” Alex explained as he went to the weapon rack and picked up a dagger. “Watch,” Alex said as he ran the knife down his left arm
Jason watched in shock as Alex cut himself, blood dripping down his arm. Then he watched amazed as the wound healed itself up.
“See?” Alex grinned.
“That is why Centurions are so hard to kill?” Jason asked, remembering what Philip had told him.
“One of the reasons,” Alex grinned. “But still I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Here... we need to get you used to hitting hard,” Alex said as he took up a guard position with his staff
“What do you want me to do?”
“Hit my staff.” Alex smiled encouragingly.
“Alright...” Jason said, but when he hit it, it was more like a tap. “Harder, Jason... you would not have even hurt a squirrel with that blow.” Alex laughed in hope of rising Jason’s anger.
“Grrrr...,” Jason grunted. He hit harder, but still the hitting of the staffs only made the noise of a loud handclap.
“HARDER!” Alex shouted.
“Using both hands, Jason raised the staff over his head and slammed it down on Alex’s making a thunderous sound. He hit it so hard that the staff slid down and rammed onto Alex’s fingers, causing Alex to drop his.”
“OUCH!” Alex shouted, sucking on his injured fingers.
“Are you alright!” Jason asked worried, quickly standing up.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Alex grunted. “Good job... not the best style I have ever seen, but you are improving.”
“So do you want to practice more?”
“Not right now... I think I see what the problem is... You are not strong enough yet to hit hard consistently. Let’s go to the gymnasium. I think we need to work on strengthening your body. That is if Philip is done with his fun,” Alex said as he looked down in the courtyard.
“Well?” Jason asked when Alex came back.
“I don’t see my brother down there. It looks like first introductions
are over. Let’s go before it starts up again.”
Jason agreed. They headed to the ladder only to be stopped by Jonathan, who had been watching them. “You did a good job back there.”
“Thank you.” Jason blushed as he continued to the ladder.
As soon as he was on the second floor, Jason looked down into the courtyard. It was littered with black loincloths, Philip’s white tunic, and two men lounging in the fountain. When both Alex and Jason reached the bottom the two men looked up, the gray-haired one getting out of the water.
“Your majesty.” The gray-haired man bowed.
“Ummmm?” Jason said, not remembering the man’s name.
“The cook,” Jason remembered. “You were also teaching me how to swim at the Legatio baths.”
“Yes...” The man actually blushed, the water running down his chest to stream off his body.
“Please don’t call me your majesty. I’m not really a king.”
Caleb raised his eyebrows on hearing that. “You were crowned... were you not?”
“Yes I was, but I still don’t feel like a king.”
“Then I think you will make a good one.” Caleb chuckled softly.
“Thank you.” Jason blushed, not sure what Caleb meant.
“Come Jason... let’s go to the gymnasium,” Alex said as he pulled Jason to the gate.
“You two are leaving?” Caleb said concerned.
“Yes...” Alex said warily.
“Before you go both of you must pick which of us will be your body servant.” Caleb insisted.
“We can take care of ourselves,” Alex insisted.
“We Famulus would take it as an insult if you didn’t,” the second Famulus, Kristen said.
“Can’t my brother choose?” Alex sighed.
“He has chosen for you Alex. I’m to be your servant.” Kristen said.
Alex arched an eyebrow. “You?”
“You’re brother said you are attracted to men with green eyes,” Kristen chuckled, batting his emerald eyes at Alex, causing the Centurion youth to blush.
“Why did Philip pick Alex’s and not mine?” Jason asked confused.
“You are both a Legatio and a king. It would not be right for him to make such a decision for you,” Caleb replied.
Scratching his head Jason became flustered. “But I don’t know
who to pick.”
“I would like to offer myself then. Like you I am a Tosian. If you are to rule there is much you will need to know about your people, things your mother wouldn’t have wanted you to know. Also, if I remember, you didn’t mind my swimming lessons.” Caleb finished with a wink.
“Swimming lessons?” Alex frowned, suspiciously.
Seeing Caleb standing naked and wet in front of him Jason felt that inner stirring that had become frequent ever since he had left the Labyrinth Tower. “What would be your duties?”
“To dress and feed you, bath you, and run any errands you might need done. I’m also to be your bed warmer.”
“Bed warmer?” Alex asked outraged.
“That is the Legatio custom. Unlike you Centurion, Legatio tend to be cool blooded. From the day they are born until the age of five they are kept in their parent’s bed. After five they are given their first bed warmer, usually a Famulus boy who is also five.”
“You and Jason are not the same age.” Alex pointed out. “None of the servants are. I am not trying to force myself on the
young man. I am only offering my services. The choice is his.”
“I still don’t understand what the purpose of a bed warmer is,” Jason said.
“It’s simple really, as a bed warmer it is my duty to see you never become cold at night.” Caleb said while puffing up his hairy chest.
“You mean sleep with me?” Jason guessed.
“If that is what you desire. I can also watch the fire in your room and see it never goes out.” Closing his eyes Jason tried to imagine what it would feel like to be held every night in Caleb’s arms. While Alex seemed to find the idea disgusting, Jason thought it sounded like a very good idea, so long as he didn’t embarrass himself with his inner stirring. “I accept you as my body servant Caleb.”
“You will not regret it your majesty,” Caleb swore before making a deep bow.
“I’ll be keeping an eye on you,” Alex threatened.
“And I’ll be keeping an eye on you Master Alex.” Kristen said, batting his eyes, causing Alex to blush again.
Seeing that they were not going to be allowed to leave without being escorted, Alex waited for the two body servants to get dressed. This did not take long as all the clothes they had were their black loincloths and sandals. Together, all four of them left the house, Caleb marching proudly in front, while Kristen walked in the back. Alex looked totally embarrassed, thinking they looked like some rich Legatio parading their wealth around. Jason felt nervous as well. He did not understand why Alex was so upset.
The Centurion gymnasium was a multipurpose building, serving both as an exercise yard and a bathhouse. Columns of smoke and steam were coming from the many chimneys poking out of the red tile roof.
When they arrived, Alex was finally able to get Jason away from their two supervising adults as the Famulus had to go through a separate entrance. As soon as they passed the curtain, Alex hugged Jason tight.
“Curse Erik and my brother!” Alex said clearly upset.
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked.
“Kristen... My brother knows I find pale skin and green eyes attractive.”
“I have pale skin and green eyes,” Jason said.
“I know... but Kristen has them as well and he is so... almost Centurion in strength.”
“Yes...” Jason agreed, looking at his scrawny arms.
“I’m sorry, Jason... it’s just that I had a crush on a Legatio who looks a little like you. My brother knows that.”
The idea that Alex had been in love before triggered a smile on Jason’s face. “I did not know you had been in love before.”
“His name was Felix... he knew how I felt but took advantage of me.”
“He had me fight a friend, Gideon.”
“Why did you do that?” Jason said, not understanding.
“Felix had been with Gideon for a long time. I was jealous and Felix knew that. One day he took advantage of that knowledge. He came into my room telling me that Gideon had raped him. Believing him I went right up to Gideon and challenged to a duel,” Alex said... stopping to take a deep breath.
“Did you kill him?” Jason asked nervously.
“No... but it was bad. I was like an enraged animal. From my first blow to my last he was barely able to block me. In my final blow I struck him so hard his sword broke, and my blade sliced off his arm at the elbow.”
“...” Jason remained silent, finding it hard to see Alex as brutal.
“When I saw what I had done and heard Felix’s hysterical laughter I knew I had been used. It turned out that Gideon had caught Felix with another student and had ended the relationship. Felix was never raped. He had used my skill with the double-bladed sword to get revenge. Now that Gideon was maimed, Felix has no need for him or me.”
“Alex...” Jason sighed as he hugged him.
Alex could feel the tears growing in his eyes. He hated being so weak. “Nobody likes me... they all think I’m a madman.”
“You’re not,” Jason whispered as he rocked Alex in his arms like Philip had done with him.
“Thank you, Jason... I think you will be my only friend when we go back to the Academy.”
“They will forgive you, Alex,” Jason said encouragingly.
“I don’t know... eight students issued challenges to me, but the Commandant put a stop to them. You are not supposed to kill or maim in a challenge until you are a full adult. As a result I was lashed as punishment for what I did to Gideon. But it made no difference to the other Centurion students; they still hate me.” “Then I guess it will just be you and me.” Jason smiled, giving Alex one final squeeze.
“Yeah...” Alex said, unsure. After Alex regained his composure, they dressed in white shorts before heading into the juvenile area of the gymnasium. The very moment he entered, his face went pale.
“What is it?” Jason asked confused but Alex did not respond.
Jason, on following where Alex’s eyes were looking, saw a young blond man, around 20 in age, lifting a dumbbell with his left hand. Jason could not see what could have upset Alex until the young man walked over to the weight stand, revealing his right side. Compared to the massive muscles of his left arm, the right look thin and weak. It was also cut off below the elbow. Looking up and seeing them, the young man began to make his way over.
“Gideon?” Jason asked taking hold of Alex’s shaking hand.
“Yes...” Alex sighed.
“Do you want to go back home?”
“No... he has seen us. I won’t run away from him.”
“Alright...” Jason said, giving Alex’s hand a squeeze.
“Legatio...” Gideon bowed to Jason, completely ignoring Alex.
“Centurion Gideon.” Jason returned the bow.
“Hahahahahaha...” Gideon burst into laughter. “You’ve not been a very good teacher, Alex, if he thinks the son of Agamemnon is supposed to bow to the son of a senator like me!”
“He has a lot to learn,” Alex said through closed teeth.
“Well, I think he needs someone who can really teach him,” Gideon said as he tried to pull Jason away from Alex.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Alex demanded.
Gideon looked at Alex for the first time since approaching them, giving Alex a hateful glare. “Getting him away from a mad demon like you.”
“Alex is not insane!” Jason shouted as he pulled away from Gideon.
“Do you see this?” Gideon said as he waved the stump of his right arm in front of Jason.
“Yes... Alex told me. It was an accident.”
“Yes, an accident...” Gideon snickered before turning around to show his back to Jason. “You see the mark on my left shoulder, the one of a broken spear. Do you know what that means?”
“No...” Jason said, knowing it can’t be good.
“Tell him, Alex! Tell him what the sign of the broken spear means!”
“It means...” Alex began at a whisper. “It means he is a cripple and can’t serve in a legion.”
“It means that I am almost a Famulus. Yes, the Commandant is letting me finish at the Academy, but what’s the point? I will never be selected by a legion and enter manhood. I will forever be treated like a child... all because of you, Alex!”
“I’m sorry,” Alex said, looking down at the ground.
“What was that?” Gideon mocked.
“I am sorry!” Alex said louder, but still looking down.
For Gideon, Alex saying he was sorry did not pay back a fraction of what he felt was owed him. “Alex... son of Dosa Helios is sorry! I’m sure my arm will now grow back on hearing that!”
“Stop it!” Jason shouted, having heard enough. “Can’t you see that Alex is sorry? He was tricked into dueling you. What if someone you were in love with told you he was raped? Would you stand by and do nothing about it.”
“I never raped Felix!”
“We know that now, but how was Alex supposed to know back then!” Jason said, speaking more forcefully then he had in his life.
“My arm!” Gideon repeated again, waving it like a bloody banner.
“You lost your arm, but you are still alive. Everyone I grew up with is now dead. Do I hate the Centurions for killing all of them? Do I keep on reminding Alex and Philip how they destroyed my world? No, I don’t!” Jason said, very upset over the whole affair.
Gideon looked like he had been struck before speaking. “I... I’m sorry, Jason. I respect you, and not just because you are the son of Agamemnon, not just because you don’t act like all the other Legatio, but for what you tried to do for the Famulus. If you want me to forgive Alex, I will, but don’t ask me to be his friend again.”
“Please forgive Alex,” Jason said in a near begging tone.
Gideon looked back at Alex, without the anger in his eyes. “Alex... I... I forgive you.”
“Thank you,” Alex said with a deep bow, rising up to face Gideon this time for a brief moment before lowering his eyes again.
There was a moment of awkward silence before Gideon spoke again. “I’d better leave. I’m late for my writing lessons. I have to get my penmanship up to par before going back to the Academy,” the blond man said before leaving.
“Alex?” Jason asked after the young Centurion didn’t raise his head even after Gideon had left.
“I’m fine... thank you, Jason. I’m not sure if the others will be as forgiving, but at least Gideon will stop cursing me.”
“Do we still want to exercise?”
“Yeah... it will help me work out some of my frustration.”
Jason looked at Alex with a weak smile, staring into his gray eyes until Alex returned the smile. “So let’s get to work.”
Before they started, a pair of Famulus servants came with jars of olive oil and coated their skin with it. Leaving the servants, Alex took Jason to a heated sand pit, where he led him through a series of stretches to relax his muscles. He then took Jason over to the weights, where he greatly overestimated how much the thin Legatio could lift. When Jason swore that he could not lift another thing, Alex took him outside to a dirt field where several men were wrestling. Jason was already tired, but Alex insisted on throwing him to the ground a few times while teaching him a few moves and holds.
By this time their bodies were caked with dirt, oil and sweat. At the door to the wading pool, a Famulus servant scraped the dirt and oil off their bodies using a small, dull, bronze strigil. They then went swimming in the common pool where they met up with Caleb and Kristen.
Caleb led Jason through his swimming exercises until Jason was able to swim from one end of the shallow pool to the other without stopping. Caleb rewarded Jason with a deep kiss on the lips that both excited and terrified Jason, for he did not understand why the Famulus stirred such feelings inside him.
At this point Alex pushed Caleb aside. There was no jealousy in Alex’s face, only the look of a hungry wolf. He too kissed Jason deeply but he also let his hand slip under the water to stroke Jason’s maleness. By this time Jason was too tired and relaxed to return the favor... but that had not been Alex’s goal. To give and not receive was considered a gift when done willingly. Alex, however, found the calm smile on Jason’s face a gift in itself, for it helped confirm how deeply in love he was already.
Caleb lifted Jason out of the water, and the group made their way to the steam room, where the marble massage tables also stood. Caleb placed a towel on the table and then lifted Jason on top of it. “Lay down please.”
Jason lowered himself onto his stomach, resting his head on his arms. Soon he felt Caleb’s large, but smooth hands rub his back and shoulders. For the first ten minutes both of them remained silent, but eventually Caleb spoke up.
“I have to tell you something, Jason, but you have to promise to keep it a secret.”
“...” Jason said nothing, unsure.
“Jason, please...” Caleb begged and he rubbed deeper into the young man’s shoulders, but Jason still refused to answer. “Fine... but understand, your majesty, it is my life in your hands. I was not just a cook at the Qul Tos palace, at least that was not the role I was born into.”
“What role was that?” Jason asked as his muscles tensed up.
Caleb stepped to the end of the table and lowered his head to the young king’s so he could whisper into his ear. “I was the crown prince of Qul Tos... your mother’s brother-in-law, Calebos.”
“...” Jason did not know how to respond other than fear.
“Do not worry, Jason, I have no resentment against you. It was my father and younger brother I hated, and thanks to the Centurions I had my revenge.”
Jason body shook with fear. “Why did you not become king?”
Caleb remained by Jason’s side as his hands massaged out the soreness from his biceps. “As I said I was the crown prince. When my father caught me sleeping with one of his captains, he put me in prison and had the captain killed. The people were told that the captain had assassinated me. Not until the day of my father’s death was I allowed out of my cell. My brother, the only person left who still knew who I was, gave me a choice... be his cook or be killed. I chose to be his slave. I think it amused him knowing that his older brother, the rightful king, was the one polishing his shoes and preparing his meals. He also selected the son of the captain I had been in love with as his food taster. How could I dare try to poison my brother? Then my brother finally died at the Battle of the Gate, with your father’s sword beheading him. I hoped then that I could make claim to the throne, however Eleanor announced she was pregnant. So I was blocked again.
Jason tried to remain tense, but it was hard, with Caleb working constantly to relax his muscles.
Caleb continued... “But then General Agamemnon, your father, came to claim his child, you. I knew at once that the girl the Regent had me cook meals for could not be the real heir. Agamemnon would not be interested in a girl. It was also clear that you could not have been the son of my brother. That meant that I was the only one with the right to wear the sapphire crown. I knew Eleanor was aware of this as well. I had to go into hiding until the palace finally fell.
“When I was captured I was an angry man whose only goal was to claim the throne. General Issa taught me otherwise. He dressed me in black and declared me his Famulus servant. I was rebellious and arrogant. I burned his food on purpose, but he still kept me by his side. Every night he would ask me to join him in his bed but I always refused. That is how it was for five years.
“I don’t know when I fell in love with him but one night he joined me on the floor where I slept and I cried like a child. He lifted me up and took me to his bed where he made love to me. I climaxed three times but he never did once. His only goal had been to help me. I became his lover that night and remained so for the two years of life he had left.”
“I did not see you at the camp,” Jason said, trying to think of all the faces he had seen on the journey to Domus.
“No, I was not there. After Issa died, I was taken to the capital.I helped raise his two Legatio children. They didn’t care for me verymuch, but I tried to teach them about their father. After they finishedat the Academy and took positions as ambassadors in Freen and Tal Sith, I offered my services at the Legatio bathhouse. I was there until I learned that Qul Tos had finally fallen, and that you were alive. You might not be my brother’s son, but you are the closest thing I have to connect me to my past. When the elders came to me offering a job in your household, I accepted eagerly.”
“What are you going to do to me?” Jason said, scared.
“I’m going to try and take care of you as if you were the son of the captain that had been my lover,” Caleb said in a warm voice.
“But what about the throne?” Jason asked, still unsure.
“I do not care about that anymore. What would be the point of ruling a people who would think my sexual preferences are a perversion? I would have to worry about assassination all the time. I actually love being a Famulus.”
“Alright,” Jason said, still unsure.
Sensing that Jason was still uncomfortable, Caleb went down on his knees so he could look into his “nephew’s” green eyes. “Jason... how can I prove to you that I wish you no harm.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said as he rolled onto his side so he could return Caleb’s gaze. There was longing in Caleb’s hazel eyes but also pain. Jason could sense the man greatly desired his approval.
“There is something I can tell you that might work.” Caleb sighed.
“What is that?”
“There is a plot to have you killed.”
“I don’t know who is involved, but I was approached by a fat Famulus named Horace. He is master of the baths in the Legatio quarter,” Caleb said rapidly as the others looked in his direction.
“I know who he is,” Jason said, dread growing in his heart.
Seeing that he didn’t need to describe the type of man Horace was, Caleb continued. “He offered me a small fortune if I would kill you.”
“Why!” Jason sat straight up. This being the second time Jason shouted, Alex and Kristen rushed to his side.
Caleb looked like he wanted to shut up, but Alex pressed forward. “What is going on?”
“Caleb?” Jason asked.
Caleb took a deep breath before answering, knowing that doing so could mean his life... but that was how important earning Jason’s trust was to him. “A person has paid me to kill Jason.”
“I knew it, an Eastern Confederacy plot.” Alex said as he tried to tackle Caleb.
“I was never going to harm him!” Caleb struggled.
“How can we believe that?” Alex demanded. Caleb easily outweighed him, making it very difficult to pin him down.
“Would I tell you about it if I really intended to kill my nephew!” Caleb let slip.
“Nephew!” Alex said shocked into releasing him.
Caleb took advantage of Alex’s surprise to push Alex off him. “I am Calebos, the former crown prince of Qul Tos.”
“Is this true, Jason?” Alex asked.
“It is what he has told me and I believe him,” Jason said as he got off the massage table, making his way between Alex and Caleb. “Why are you telling me this and why did you accept the offer,” Alex asked Caleb, “I am telling you to gain your trust. I accepted Horace’s money so that I would know the plans the conspirators were making. Better they hire me, one you know and who will never do you any harm, than someone you don’t know who will.”
“I see your point,” Alex agreed. “Jason, what do you think?”
“I don’t know... I want to trust you, Caleb.”
“But you don’t,” Caleb sighed.
“Not yet,” Jason admitted.
“Then I will just have to do more to prove it. If I find out who is really behind the attempt to kill you, will that be good enough?” Caleb offered.
“It would help. Should we tell Philip about this?” Jason asked.
“If I tell Philip I know what will happen. He will run off and kill Horace before I learn who is really behind the plot,” Caleb warned.
“HORACE! That piece of horse dung!” Alex shouted, causing other people in the steam room to look at him strangely.
“Shhhhhh!” Caleb said, bringing a finger up to his mouth.
“I don’t know who is behind the plot, but if Horace is part of it I bet a high-ranking Legatio is pulling his strings,” Alex hissed.
“You are probably right. The Famulus who work in the Legatio quarter consider themselves better than the rest of the Famulus population if not the Centurions themselves. So I doubt this is a Famulus plot,” Caleb agreed.
Having met the Famulus Elders and seen the respect the other Famulus had for them, Jason asked a question. “Do the Famulus Elders have any influence over their people in the Legatio quarter?” “No, they don’t.” Kristen spoke up for the first time.
“How do the Legatio hire Famulus?” Jason asked.
“They go to the market and pick them out themselves,” Kristen replied.
“Is there anyway we can get a spy into one of the prominent households?” Alex asked hopefully.
“It would be hard to do... The Legatio indoctrinate their servants before they let them actually serve,” Kristen warned.
“Alright... we will have to think about it then. What do we do about you though?” Alex pointed to Caleb.
“Let me protect Jason. Unlike most Famulus I have training with weapons.”
“You could also use that skill to kill Jason easily,” Alex said, suspiciously.
Caleb was starting to get angry that no one trusted him, even in the face of the information he gave them. “I would never do that. How can I convince you?”
After a long moment of silence Alex spoke. “With which arm do you hold a sword?”
“My right,” Caleb said.
“Follow me then,” Alex said as he went over to one of the heated walls.
Not knowing what Alex had in mind made Caleb nervous. “What do you want me to do?”
“Put your right hand here,” Alex ordered, pointing to the marble wall.
“What?” Jason said, thinking what Alex had just asked as insane.
“Put your hand on the wall,” Alex ordered again.
“Fine...” Caleb agreed.
The moment he put his hand on the heated wall he tried to jerk away but Alex and Kristen were ready. While Alex used both of his hands to slam Caleb’s right hand back on it, Kristen put Caleb into a bear hug, lifting him off his feet. Caleb screamed in pain but still Alex held it against the burning hot wall.
When Jason saw a small red puddle grow on the floor, he pushed into Alex, forcing him to let go of Caleb’s hand. “Why!” Jason demanded.
“I had to be sure he will not hurt you,” Alex said sternly.
“But you hurt him,” Jason said. Caleb was now on the floor staring at his burned, blistering hand.
“It’s ok, Jason,” Caleb said through gritted teeth.
“No, it’s not!” Jason shouted. “Jason, listen to me... I only had two choices, burning his hand or cutting it off. If I cut it off it would have raised Horace’s suspicion.” “But why burn his hand in the first place.”
“So he cannot kill you!” Alex yelled into Jason’s face.
“But he said he wanted to help,” Jason insisted.
“And why should I believe him. You should be happy, Jason, that I did not have Philip kill him!”
“But...” Jason said as he went over and hugged Caleb.
“Jason, I am a Centurion... the only person’s word we accept is that of one of our own because we know if we lie our lives are forfeit. No Famulus or Legatio, not even you, Jason, are taken completely on their word, because unlike us Centurions, your life does not depend on trusting others.”
“Yes it does!” Jason said, now shouting into Alex’s face. “I had to trust Melissa to get me food. I had to trust Philip that he was not going to kill me when the tower fell. I had to trust you, Alex, that you really wanted to be my friend. I have had to trust a lot of people, and so far I have been right in giving my trust.”
“So you say you trust Caleb?” Alex asked... disbelieving.
“I trust that he wants to help protect me.”
Alex sighed, frustrated that Jason trusted so easily. “Jason... you are too important to risk.”
“Alex... I trust Caleb. I want you to trust him as well.”
“I will, but under strict conditions. I want us to switch body servants. Kristen will take care of you while I keep an eye on Caleb.”
Jason thought about this for a second. “Alright... as long as you promise not to hurt him anymore.”
“Jason... if it ever comes to me hurting Caleb again it will be to kill him.
“Don’t kill him without asking me first,” Jason demanded.
“Jason, you will never agree to kill him. Just as you want me to trust Caleb, I want you to trust me.”
Seeing he had no choice, Jason nodded. “I will.”
“Now let’s get back home before my brother sends out a search party,” Alex said as he made his way to the final series of baths. “What about Caleb’s hand?” Jason asked as they left the steam room.
“I will say it was part of a bet,” Caleb replied.
“Good idea,” Alex agreed.
“If it is a bet what did you win?” Jason asked, seeing a hole in Caleb’s idea.
“Switching masters. Of course I lost.” Caleb sighed.
“Sorry.” Kristen blushed.
“Don’t worry about it,” Caleb said as he cradled his hand, as he lowered himself into the hot water.
Kristen took a sea sponge to scrub Jason’s back. Caleb did the same for Alex, keeping his burned hand high above the steaming water. After scrubbing their bodies, the body servants went over to the side of the pool and grabbed bars of soap made from animal fat, which they used to wash their masters’ hair and body. When done, all four of them left the hot bath to take a final dip in a pool of cold water. Caleb left his hand in the water to soak, giving off a sigh of relief as it helped with the now acute swelling.
“We need to get Caleb to a healer,” Jason said as he squirmed while Kristen dried him.
“I’ll take him to one as soon as I get you home,” Alex said as Caleb struggled to dry him off with one hand. Eventually Alex had enough with Caleb’s fumbling attempts and took the towel away from him. Jason, embarrassed by all the attention Kristen was giving him, tried to do the same but each of his attempts to take the towel away from Kristen was met by fierce resistance. He was not able to get free of his tormentor until after Kristen wrapped the towel around his waist and gave him a pat on the rear.
“Go get dressed now, master.” Kristen smiled at Jason. “Or do you want me to help you with that as well.”
“No... I can dress myself, Kristen.” Jason blushed, hurrying back to the changing rooms.”
“Cute boy.” Kristen giggled. “A very innocent child,” Caleb agreed. “You better take good care of him.” “I will, sir...” Kristen bowed as if his fellow Famulus was one of the three Field Marshals.
“Why you!” Caleb shouted, squeezing his right hand into a fist before realizing what he was doing. “Ouch!” “Come, Caleb, let’s get the children home so you can see a healer.” Kristen grinned. It turned out that Caleb did not need to walk all the way to the Famulus district. Erik was not only skilled at managing a household but was a healer as well. After examining Caleb’s hand, Erik went to his room and brought back a black case. From it he took out an ointment, some bandages, and two small capsules.
After wrapping up Caleb’s hand he took the two pills in his hand as if it were difficult to part with them but in the end he handed them over to Caleb. “I want you to take one now and one after dinner.”
“What is it?” Caleb asked suspiciously, sniffing the two red capsules “You would not understand even if I told you. Let me just say it will prevent your hand from rotting and falling off.” Erik grinned.
Caleb, impressed, took one of the pills and swallowed it dry. “I don’t feel any different.”
“It will take some time.” Erik laughed. “But I recommend you get some food in your stomach.”
“Alright,” Caleb said a little unsure. “You didn’t just poison me?”
“No... now get into the kitchen and get something to eat. You might as well get working on lunch when you are done.” “Yes sir!” Caleb saluted with his now bandaged hand. “Get out of here,” Erik laughed.