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Remmy Meggs 

Grapes of Italy Chapter 14

Sixteen-year-old Horace could not contain himself as the slave master whipped Horace's thirteen-year-old slave, who was hanging from a post, "That was a good one Boris!" He yelped.

The slave master stopped and looked at Horace, "That is ten master if I continue he will not have a dick to play with."

Horace fumed, "He shouldn't have one anyway, and the last thing I want is for him to play with it again. All right, cut him down. He can crawl back to the room when he has the strength. Maybe mama might spare him some rags." Horace di Francesco was visibly upset. "Who is next?"

The guards pulled a boy of about ten summers out of the group, "This one is yours master." The two men bent the boy over a log and tied his hands and feet.

Horace frowned, "Oh Si I remember, you looked at me. He should get ten especially since it is a strap on his butt instead of a whip on his ass!"

"It is three Master Horace." The slave master cautioned.

Horace did not like it but he grinned when the slave master hit the bare behind of the stretched out boy. He smiled brighter with each scream from the boy. When they released the boy, he fell on the ground. Horace walked over and kicked him, "Stop your crying, go to my mamma and have her give you rags for Nino." The boy stood up running. Horace looked at Nino, "I will have my own villa soon, and a witch for a wife. You play with that again without asking me then I will have it cut off and put you in the fields with the other trash. There you can starve along with them."

"Horace it is time for dinner dear, tell your friends playtime is over and for them to go back to work." Horace's mother called out to him.

Horace fumed, "Mama I want to see the slaves get punishment!"

"You watch them every week, you come in and clean up and dress, and we have visitors." His mother replied.

Magnus di Francesco stood ranting at his brother at the dining table, "The boy is too young to have his own casa, and you promised it to me for all the work I have done these years!"

Don di Francesco looked at Horace as he came into the room, "He is a man, sixteen now, and he is getting married. He needs his own home. His mother wants him close by, what is wrong with you Magnus? You can have the Romano or the Moretti villas, or any of the others. We have plenty of empty ones."

"Si, and they are all surrounded by rotting corpses." Magnus fumed.

"Then take some slaves and clean the bodies up Magnus, burn them! Why are you so upset at dinner time?"

"Because it is the only time I can get close enough to you to talk. You are always busy with the pagans, and those uppity Romans, and the disgusting Greeks of all things, but no time, no time for your own son Horace, or me."

Horace sat watching the exchange wondering why his father just did not kill Magnus and throw him in the lake. That is what a sane man would do. There was no need for a subordinate of any level to get away with treating the villa owner so badly.

Di Francesco swung his legs over the divan and stared at Magnus, "Magnus my brother, we have guests. I do not want them offended. Just have a seat and we will discuss this tonight."

Magnus threw up his hands and sat, "I do not mean to offend anyone." He said while looking at the guests, "We have forty men other than you fine Sabine warriors, and those forty are supposed to protect twelve haciendas... Excuse me, villas, he promised the closest villa to me brother so we could be together. So what does do? He gives the di Gotti villa to Horace. Please understand my disapproval."

Horace spat out, "That is my villa, and I will have you dead before you go near it."

The oldest Sabine warrior looked at Magnus, "Si, I do understand, but I also understand you are whimpering and whining over some of the most beautiful lands around. Each one of those villas is worth a fortune at harvest. So I have a problem with why you are so infuriated."

"I am upset because we do not have enough protection for so many villas. Common outlaws could come in and kill my family and we would not have a chance." Magnus explained, "I wanted to be close to my brother, he promised that. Now I will be a day's ride away if I take one of the others.

"You are upset because you don't get your way Magnus, you always want everything your way." Horace smirked.

"Shut up you spoiled brat before I knock some sense into your white skin." Magnus pulled back threateningly.

Afraid of being hit, Horace pulled back and ducked. The old soldier smiled, "Then if you want more protection, then all you had to do is ask. You tell me how many guards you want for the property. I will send a man to some of the villages for older boys to come to your call. They have all been in battles, but they need safer work until they are older. Does that please you?"

"How old are those men?" Magnus asked.

"Well I would guess sixteen to twenty summers." The Don Varro said, "And they are completely outfitted with clothing and weapons." He added.

Magnus smiled, "Then I accept. I am sure Don di Francesco would like guards here."

"Then after we eat we will decide how many guards you want. Personally, my men are for attacking more villas. Get rid of the Roman aristocrats and their spoiled children and make it a safer place for our people. If we take over enough of the farms, then the Romans won't have the manpower to come this far south, which will make this Sabine land again. That would make Don di Francesco the governor and our army can move in and protect the new territory that was ours in the first place." The warriors applauded and laughed. The old man continued, "Salute to Don Di Francesco for making us a partner in his venture that makes us all rich."

Di Francesco stood up, "It is a pleasure to work with such fine men. The profits from this venture will enrich us all one hundred fold. Si, I would like guards here and at Horace's villa. We can't have bandits killing us all in the middle of the night. That was a very good idea Magnus, and thank you Don Varro for suggesting your villagers. We will be more than happy to have them."

The Sabine leader, Don Varro smiled, "Si I will send a man in the morning to start gathering your guards."

Even with Don Varro's light skin he claimed came from the merging of the Celt, Gaul, and Lacedaemon, more specifically Spartans. The men and women dressed more like the northern barbarians, with little wool and more furs. Don Varro and his army were belligerent, egotistical, did not spend money on the finer things in life and easy to start a fight with.

Di Francesco's family was Iberian, which liked finer things in life. Influenced by the Egyptians and Greeks, the Iberians loved art, and architecture. Di Francesco was a harsh tyrant, with his family, his slaves, and men he dealt with. Although he had personally never killed anyone, he had others kill, men, women and children that did nothing to deserve it. His son Horace however, was becoming a worse nightmare than his father was.

Don Varro saw the Di Francesco family as weak, about as weak as a family could be. There did not seem to be one of them with any backbone. Yet Di Francesco was a schemer, a planner and he knew what he wanted. If he were to succeed in his plan to take the lower half of the Roman State, then Don Varro would help him, kill him and his entire worthless family, and take over as King. That of course was saying that Di Francesco was right and the Romans would be too weak to attack for several years. That would give Don Varro the time to build his own Sabine State with the help of the Greeks and Carthaginians.

The Greeks and Carthaginians did not recognize Rome after over seven hundred years. Romans were Etruscans by their standards, and not much of a threat to either. After all, the Etruscans were at war with the Gaul and others since before time itself. With the Greeks at the high end of the matters of war, and the Egyptian Carthaginians at the second level, Rome fell to the bottom of the rung, with a few battles won, but mostly drawn, over their existence.

It did not take much for the Greeks and Carthaginians to create settlements and build trading routes along the coasts of the future Spain and Italy. They stayed relatively peaceful with the aboriginal people, and they tried to keep things orderly between themselves, after all, they profited from each other. The little settlement of Rome was nothing to them. It took Rome seven hundred years to have enough land and people to call themselves a State at all. Rome had no real exports, but they paid for about anything that landed on their shore.

Some of the more powerful people like Don Nico and Don Fedele had farms in other countries. From Rome, they helped artisans, farmers; sheep and cattle men begin businesses or expand them in those countries. Sometimes they helped their own as well. A slave who had a talent did not remain a slave very long. Usually the master would see it, use it to his advantage and free the slave in return for part of the profits.

Many Romans mixed and intermarried with the Latin aboriginals and other nationalities on their borders. They were wiping themselves out without a war. Don Nico and many others of the senate balked many times about intermarrying, but it was to no use. They were however, for the most part, able to keep their own families in line, to keep the blood Roman, and to keep the language. It was a necessity to learn Latin, Greek and other languages. This is what irked the Sabine tribes about the Romans. You could not find fault with what they did, but it was a sign of weakness to allow another cultures language to overtake your own.

Don Varro and others like him seemed to overlook the fact that their leaders had to do the same things to know what was going on around them. However, Don di Francesco was not as dumb as Don Varro believed. He had his own plans. For one he was tired of paying Don Varro's men plus offering them a percentage of the villas' profits each year. He needed them to go to war with the landowners, and do it without charging. He had his own plans about how to do that.

Di Francesco thought that everyday life was war and not something you fought on a battlefield. Too many died that way. Brain to brain, and may the weaker man always lose in any war, you did not need a battlefield. With that in mind, his mind set out to deal a thousand scenarios not with just Don Varro and the Sabines, but with Don Nico Praetorio, the wealthiest Roman to the South of Rome.

"Don Varro, how would you handle Don Praetorio? Do you think we should try and deal with him, or just kill him like the others?" Di Francesco asked.

Horace paid close attention, to Varro's answer, "To take on a family so large, and an Army General I would think diplomacy should come first, then again you tried that with the others and failed. The Romans do not bend well to ideas not their own. I think it would be best just to kill them off. If what you say is true and he leads the southern Army, he would suspect foul play if you did not get your way the first time. If he is dead, then they have no commander. That gives us weeks to bring in Sabine soldiers, and make a stronghold on the area. As weak as the Romans will be after this war, they will have to sue for peace."

He smiled, "Of course the easiest way to do this is to keep what you have and not go further north at all. Moretti is the Don that controls the business in this area, but if you go further north you may hit on the man Praetorio works for, and suffer their wrath. I do not think a man like Praetorio will be easy on any dealings. Now if it were that Don Bichi up north, he would be so afraid of you that he would do anything to get you out of his house."

Horace became overly excited, "If we catch any boys or girls alive, I would like to have them to play with for a little while at least." He pretended to have a knife and twisted it in his hand as he plunged into the air.

Varro smiled, "I am sure you would love to torture them, but you get carried away and do it too fast and kill them. You should practice on men captives more. They will give you an idea of how long the children will last. A man can last a good week to even months, but a child will normally give up life after a few days."

Horace frowned and sat, "I have noticed that."

"Si, and it is costing me a fortune in slaves because he isn't happy with most of them I buy for him." Di Francesco sighed.

Magnus shrugged, "If you did not allow him to kill and mutilate them, they would last years."

Horace fumed, "No, that is not the point of having toys is it? I want to have fun too!"

Di Francesco laughed, "It's late Magnus, don't aggravate him now, let him sleep well."

Magnus raised an eyebrow, "He sleeps well. I have to keep one eye open so I don't end up on his chopping block!"

The group broke up and headed to their chambers for the night. Horace began smiling again, and said aloud, "As long as I have toys uncle, you won't have to worry. Keep that in mind."

Horace pulled the shear drapes closed on his room and laid on the divan. He smiled to himself thinking the torture and rape of all his victims. Each one was special and each one died a different way, but it took months, a few took a couple of years to die. The nine-year old girl he tied out on an anthill was one of his highlights. It took a week for them to eat enough that she died, and three weeks for them to eat everything but the bones. She was still out in the field somewhere. No one would miss her.

It did not matter to Horace if it was a girl or boy. They were sex objects and toys to play with. Killing them was just as fun for Horace. Of course, they got out of more torture by dying, which always bothered Horace. Horace was a murderer, a criminal with his heart and soul. He did not even know he was bad, evil cannot see itself for what it is. That was just the tip of the horrors the boy inflicted on children, men and women.

As he lay there in bed falling asleep, he wondered if his father would ever turn over his uncle. He smiled, imagining the looks of horror and screams his uncle would give. Eventually he knew that his uncle would infuriate his father and Horace smiled to himself, "Si you are mine."

In two years, out of the many Horace had tortured to death, only one he killed gave him a fright. It was a fourteen-year old Roman boy, whose last breath was `Vengeance is mine.' The boy died but the words still shook Horace occasionally. Horace settled in and as he thought of his gruesome acts, he began to rub.

** *

Don Nico was not in shock, but the sight in front of him more than confused his feelings. To him Lothario was just a baby, he would not know about sex. He had not even dropped his grapes, much less be ready for something so adult. He wanted to lash out at Ettore, but then again it could have been several aristocratic boys, that taught Lothario such things. Ettore could afford the boys or girls of the night, why did he pick his Lothario?

Ettore, thick and hot inside Lothario could not move even though Lothario wiggled slightly, which was not helping. Don Nico frowned, "So this is how you repay me, by sticking your dick into my baby?"

Lothario slowly lifted his head of Ettore's shoulder. His glazed eyes turned toward his father, "Hello papa, I have missed you so much. No he wasn't sticking me, we were making love. Ettore said so."

Nico shook his head, looking at Fedele, "He will be a man soon and need to marry." He looked at the boys, "They will both need to marry." He turned to the boys, "As soon as you can break away from each other..."

Nico threw his helmet on the divan, "Very well, you have an hour to break away and get cleaned up for a meeting in this house. Summerland and the gods know you have awoken everyone in the cohort with your moaning, whimpering and yelling."

From a corner, Roman giggled. Nico grumbled, "You are not any better whatever your name is; you have been sitting there playing with yourself while you watched them." He turned to the wide-eyed Emilio, "And you of all people allowed this to happen! Shame, shame, someone has to pay for this outrage!" He turned to Fedele, "Once the meeting is over, you take care of this problem. That boy needs to lose at least one of his heads."

Ettore turned and glared at Emilio. Fedele pointed a finger, "Don't you blame him, it was you that kept him up." He smacked Ettore's behind, "As soon as you are free then?"

Ettore, completely embarrassed, nodded, "Si General."

"Great." Then he reached between Lothario's legs and felt Ettore's big ding, "Doesn't that hurt Lothario? He is so little."

"Si, but I am very careful, I don't go all the way in." Ettore turned red not wanting to participate in such a conversation.

Fedele looked at Nico, "He is only about half way in. Lothario is surely not feeling any pain, look at the angel's face."

Nico grumbled, "I know the angel's face by heart, and I can see he had more than enough fun. I am going to send for all the Centurions and the other Tribune, and I hope they aren't stuck together."

Ettore's ding started to wilt. He could feel it. The idea of seen by two Generals both of who would tell his mother was enough to soften him. Not to mention one of the Generals was the father of the boy he loved. He was not going to pull out while they were watching.

When the two men left, the naked Cyrus jumped up and got a cloth and clean water for Ettore, "Now you have done it. I warned you. They will cut off your ding, your head, or both, if they don't tie you from a stake and let everyone watch. Then the buzzards will eat you alive, if you're alive and they start with your eyes."

"My mama won't let them do anything. They didn't seem that upset either. Papa is good he will try to stop Fedele, I think. On the other hand, maybe Fedele will try to stop papa. There is a good chance they won't do anything to my Ettore." Lothario mused.

Ettore looked at him, "What makes you think you are safe? He just saw you letting me do it!"

"You forced me?" Lothario laughed.

"I am glad you think it's funny. Now let me clean you up so you can get dressed." Ettore insisted.

"We are not done!" Lothario groaned.

"Si we are! They wilted me. Now lay down so I can clean up your behind."

Lothario grumbled about it but did lie down. All the boys dressed and headed through the house to the main hall. Several other officers were there and shook hands with Ettore and Lothario. One looked at the slaves, "Where is your boy Lothario? What is his name?"

"Anthony, but he is not well. The bugs got to him on the trip home." Ettore answered.

The officer looked at the two boys and smiled, "I see, it is Ettore that speaks for the great Lothario now?"

Ettore blushed, "My apologies."

Lothario who was still in a daze barely noticed the exchange, "The physician says if he doesn't heal soon he will have to cut his grapes and his dingy off. I hope it doesn't come to that."

"Ouch, that would not be good at all. I hope all goes well for him. What I wanted to ask you Tribune is if you have an opening in any of your cohorts for an officer, I would like you to consider me. General Fedele said it would be alright if you agreed."

"Why would you want to be in our cohort?" Lothario asked.

"Because you know, most the officers..." He leaned over and whispered, "Have no imagination when it comes to winning a battle. You do, and I have ideas myself. Under your command, I can prove myself. The other cohorts, even your fathers are quite boring."

Lothario grinned as he slapped away Ettore's hand form his behind, "Of course, but I have no openings at the time Centurion Daize. When I do I will send for you." Lothario finished as Esta brought him and Ettore grape juice. Lothario smiled, "Esta the boys can help you."

"Thank you Master." She turned to Cyrus and Emilio, "Follow me."

Lothario frowned, "I meant the other boys Esta, Emilio and Roman are free now, and Cyrus has duties for Ettore."

Esta giggled, "Sorry Emilio, Roman I forgot. Cyrus, you got lucky! I will get the other boys together."

"All of you take your seats, it is time to start." Fedele said as General Nico sat on his chair.

Nico put out a large map on the floor and had slaves step on the edges so it would not roll up. The officers drew in closer, some leaving their seats to see it. "We know the enemy has attacked everything from the mountains here, to the sea here. We also know they have not come this far north so far. We may have an entire army, but how to get to each villa without destroying it is impossible. They may have hundreds of men at one, and none at all at another." He glanced over at Ettore whispering to Lothario. He turned back to the rest of the men, "My idea is to split the forces into four groups. North South, East and West, and we have runners, or equestrians ride back and tell us where to put our forces, while the armies take out the least of the resistance. Then we can go in together when we find the central point."

The officers began talking and arguing the plan, General Moretti was the one most verbal, with Don Romano fuming at some of the things said. Nico looked at his son and Ettore once more. He leaned over to Lothario, "Is there something more important than getting back our property?"

Lothario frowned and stood up, "Papa thinks I am not paying attention. All of you can argue as much as you want, for months if you want, just like the senate. By then Rome will no longer exist." He was red faced and pointed to himself, "I AM ROME, every child here IS ROME, every adult and slave here is ROME. I say we get rid of di Francesco immediately and before any others, then the head of the serpent is cut off. When we find out what villas have been overtaken we split up the forces, and then attack them, we will know how many there are and where. We should also have shock troops at the western and southern borders to keep the scum from retreating."

Nico and Fedele looked up at the boy as the room went dead quiet. Then an old man started clapping his hands, "Very good Lothario, you have learned well." His Greek teacher smiled.

Fedele sighed, "Now you are under house arrest old man, you shouldn't have even been near here."

Lothario smiled, "Thank you teacher, and you are not under house arrest." Lothario went and hugged the teacher and introduced him to Ettore, Emilio, who the man had met when Emilio was still a slave, and then Romano and Cyrus.

As the soldiers talked behind them the old teacher smiled, "It will be nice to have new students." He turned to Lothario, "I am sorry for your losses, wars always take the ones closest to us."

Nico sat there thinking as well was the other officers. Finally, Don Romano stood up and quieted everyone, "I am sure Don Moretti and I would both like to be the first to get our property back, but Lothario's plan is excellent. It makes sense, di Francesco will know what villages and villas they attacked, and so will his family and henchmen. Then we can kill them all."

The room fell silent again. Nico nodded, "Very well, now we lay the plans for the attack."

Lothario was not into the plan at all. He was so out of it that when Nico said his cohort would return to Rome instead of being a part of the attack, Lothario said nothing. Ettore wanted to say something and he tried to get Lothario's attention to no avail.

Lothario and the boys spoke with the Greek teacher. The other men talked about the upcoming battle until the group said their goodnights and left. Nico looked at the boys and the teacher. "All of you get to bed. You will have a long day tomorrow except for Ettore and Lothario. We need to talk."

Hesitantly the boys left. Ettore fidgeted as he sat on the floor. Lothario looked at his father, who he loved. The love Lothario showed for his father beamed forward as much as his different love of Ettore. Nico looked at his son's big brown eyes and cringed. Whatever he said to the boy he was going to regret it. "Fedele, your mother and I have discussed what we saw earlier tonight. We had to make some hard decisions."

The boys looked at each other nervously but stayed quiet and looked back at Nico. "In the morning the both of you will have time to mourn your losses. After that we will ride to di Francesco's villa and try and reason with him. While we do that the second cohort will be surrounding the house. If we do not get the answers we need, then we will have a problem. We will find out then, if they have attacked Ettore's family. If they are still safe, then the two of you will have a choice to make. If they are not safe you and Ettore will take your troops to his villa and seek your retribution."

"Now for what you have been doing the past few weeks or more, at least from what we saw tonight, you have two choices. Choose wisely. The first choice is some of the soldiers can drag you to the prisoner's area, and Fedele will have the slave master cut off Ettore's ding while you watch Lothario. We will have the doctor there to keep him from dying to quickly. Then you will learn that if it happens again what will happen to the next boy."

The eyes on both boys were as big as cow eyes, they were so wide open. "Or you can go to Rome and get married, which will keep you apart for the most part. You can remain friends the rest of your lives. You can take both the first line cohorts and go back to Rome and join your third cohort with Fedele. I will run the army here. Those are the two choices you have."

"I guess you will have to cut if off then, because I want to be with Lothario all the time." Ettore stated as he looked at Lothario, as he explained, "It is just enough to be with you, I don't need that."

Lothario shook as his eyes widened even further, "If you hurt him at all I will drink poison."

"So the choice is to cut it off? That makes things much easier." Nico stated with a straight face.

"Wait!" Lothario screamed like a little girl, "No I want him to keep it in one piece. We will do what you want."

"Very good then." Nico smiled thinly, "You will be going back to Rome."

Ettore cocked his head, "Why are we going back to Rome?"

"If it is not enough that Lothario needs to be on the senate debates, he and you have to take care of your men, you also have to make a show for the people. They see your cohorts as winning the battle with the Latin's and Etruscans, and more importantly the two of you as the heroes. So it is imperative that you have a grand parade. Although I will not be there, the entire armies that participated will be there along with the northern generals that participated." He hesitated before he continued, "Acting on behalf of your father Ettore, Fedele will find wives for you and Lothario. Once he does you will both marry them and return to your own villas."

Lothario who was looking at the floor looked up at his father and grinned, "Even though we are too young to get married papa, it won't keep us apart."

Lothario's mother came into the room and smiled, "We do not expect that it will keep you away from each other, but hopefully cool things down, and with a wife, maybe it will give you something to do with your lust."

Even though Lothario was giggling, Ettore was not. He sensed they were not joking about getting married. He crossed his legs and looked at Don Nico, "How soon are we talking about getting married?"

"Well first Fedele will have to find suitable wives. At your age most Roman girls look beautiful, so to find one that is cute should not be too hard. Then there is the courtship that could last for weeks or even months, and then the mothers will plan the wedding. So let's say before the end of summer." Nico answered wryly.

Lothario was still giggling, for some reason he was not grasping the situation. "It is a long ride over to Ettore's villa. I will have to spend the night, or he will have to spend the night here."

"You will be busy and have your hands full with your villa, wife, slaves, and business. Neither of you will have much time to see each other." His mother nodded.

Lothario lost his smile, "You are serious?"

Fedele coughed, "They are serious, but they are not trying to keep you from each other, so don't think that. They want you to have the good things in life, not just sex."

Lothario's mother grumbled. Fedele backed up, "I didn't mean that in a bad way."

Nico stood, "Your mother and I don't agree on this matter, but I have made my decision. Believe me it was a lot better than the alternative."

"Alternative?" Ettore asked.

"Not that it matters now Ettore, but I was going to have Fedele take you out beyond the property to the slave area and have you emasculated. Lothario's mother talked me out of it. She said to leave you both alone and you will grow up and marry. I agree with that, but I am afraid the two of you will enjoy each other's company too much. I don't want you to get sick of each other. Right now you have no idea what I mean, but later on in life you will." Nico stood and walked out of the room with his wife.

Ettore and Lothario looked at Fedele. Fedele shrugged, "It won't be that bad, you will see each other all the time, a lot more than you think you will, right now."

"Was he really going to cut off my ding?" Ettore asked.

Fedele shrugged again, "His first reaction was to tie up Lothario and cut yours off Ettore, and watch you both yell and scream. His second reaction was to nail you to a post, cut it off, skin you alive and let you bleed to death. Then I told him that making you both get married at twelve summers would make you more miserable, which it won't, but he believed it. The other things, like living in your own villas, learning to run your businesses, taking care of your duties in the Senate were all ways to keep you apart, but not to keep you from being close friends."

Lothario stood up and walked around, "It won't work."

Fedele smiled, "Si Lothario, it will not work."

Lothario looked puzzled, "You already know this?"

"Of course I do, and so should Ettore, who doesn't seem quite comfortable right now." Fedele raised his eyebrows.

"It is not the two of you that came so close to losing your ding and dying." Ettore grimaced.

"How did you know it wouldn't work?" Lothario demanded.

"They tried to separate your father and me when we were your age. It didn't work then. Remember they are not trying to split you apart, they want you to be apart for a while, that is two different things. You didn't hear them say you are not to see each other again." Fedele smiled showing his teeth, "You will both be well and together, I promise you that. Now I want you both to go to bed, it has been a long day for all of us."

"Fedele what did you two do that made them want to separate you?" Lothario pleaded.

"I lost my father when I was young, and being an aristocrat my mother let me do what I wanted. We didn't wear as many clothes back then as we do now, but I wanted to run around naked and have your father with me, we were always best friends. We were always getting into trouble. So they sent your father to Greece to learn their language and other studies. It took me months, four bodyguards and a Roman ship before my mother let me join him. We were both very upset, and we were happy to be together again. The two of you seem to get yourselves in trouble too, but when you add that to what your father saw tonight, well you can't blame him."

Lothario sighed and grabbed Ettore's hand, "Well they can't do that to us we already have a Greek teacher."

"Don't be so sure of yourself. There is always Egypt, Africa, and China he could have you deal with." Lothario frowned as Fedele laughed about it. "Seriously Lothario, you will both have good times together, and I will teach you how to deal with your new wife."

Ettore looked up, "You are teasing us about that right?"

"Well, no. Once we see to your family, then I take you both to Rome. Then I will find some beautiful girls your age to marry and you will be happy the rest of your lives." Fedele explained as he stood up.

"But... Lothario still has little grapes, why does he need to get married?" Ettore fussed and stood up.

"To keep his mind on other things, other than you that is. His `grapes' as you call them will grow soon enough as well has his branch." He laughed. He followed the boys to Lothario's room and left them there.

After checking on a miserable Anthony, the boys went to bed. It seemed as if they just fell asleep when Esta went around the house yelling for everyone to get up to give thanks to the gods. Lothario thought the blanket was over his head. It was dark. When Cyrus lit an oil lamp Lothario and Ettore sat upright immediately. Lothario gasped, "It's not even daylight yet!"

They bathed and dressed. Si they would give thanks to the gods and after mourn and pray for their losses. Lothario and Ettore had many losses, but not any more than others. The house was quiet as everyone was fed. The signal was given, and each person was handed a lit candle, and they walked out onto the veranda. Everyone could see hundreds of little candles making their way behind the house to the Shine of the god Mars. The two hundred in the household started up the path to the shrine.

Lothario had seen the statue of Mars since he was a small child, but his eyes were not ready for what he saw as they walked up to it now. The stairs leading up to the statue always had a small line that he presumed was for water, but now they were filled with oil. So each stair around the statue was lit up, just a little bit, so you could see the immense outline of them. The twelve pillars that were about as tall as Lothario all were lit with polished brass oil basins. The taller pillars, about the size of the villa roof posts were also lit up. This made the statue seem bigger and more lifelike than he had ever seen it before.

Men brought wheat, olives, the best oil, barley, grapes, wine and other things from the farms and put them on the altar. Once everyone was gathered, Don Nico spoke softly but loud enough for everyone to hear him. Lothario and Ettore listened to every syllable of what the man said. Then he lit up the altar with a torch and the gifts to Mars were burned.

"Now we start a day of mourning. In each battle, in each war, men women and children die needlessly. War is something none of us want, but it is necessary to keep those at home safe and secure." Then suddenly the fires around the Shrine went out instantaneously, leaving only those with candles lighting up a small area where they stood. Don Nico announced that if anyone lost someone in the war they should mourn for the day, everyone else should go back to work.

Lothario, Ettore, Emilio and many others went to the mausoleum where the bodies had been stored waiting for their internment. These were just the bodies of the friends and families of the Praetorio family. So Ettore's father, Dino, Paolo, Giulio and others awaited burial. Paolo and Giulio would have a nice grave where the slaves were buried with honor. Dino and Ettore's father would be taken back to their own villas once Don Nico had secured them and given the land back to the land owners.

The sun was just coming up when the small group sat, or knelt in front of the mausoleum. When the light hit the gilded doors it was bright. That is when Ettore and some of the others noticed the two golden dogs, as if they were guarding the building, sitting one on each side of the structure. Maybe it was just the gold coming from the door shinning off the dogs, but the dogs definitely looked golden yellow.

Lothario was on his knees. For weeks he had fought a mental battle of what happened the day his beloved slave boys died. He blamed the bodyguard for his cowardice. He blamed himself for not taking the initiative and killing the soldiers. Yet inside at that precise moment, he knew that if he ran, Paolo and Giulio would have a chance to live. Yet he felt he was to blame. Captured, he could have kept them alive and his father would have come and saved them all. If he would have been a little faster, Dino would still be alive.

He started crying. The crying became bawling, and no matter what Ettore said or did, it continued. Ettore cried for his father, and others cried for their own reasons. Lothario's horses picked up on the boy's crying and started running across the fields to find him. The two dogs sitting next to the building cocked their heads and looked at the group in front of them. Cyrus went to get towels and met Anthony on his way out of the villa, towels in hand, for Lothario. He was pale but when Cyrus offered to take the towels Anthony smiled, "I will take care of him, even if I am to die, he is still mine."

The horses bolted passed several officers, almost knocking them to the ground. Don Nico watched as they rounded the building, "Now what are they up to?" He asked no one, but he started to follow the horses. Ettore had enough. He stood and forced Lothario to his feet, "We need to go inside."

Anthony walked up to them slowly and handed Lothario a towel, "Here master, I heard you crying."

Ettore had a weak smile, "Cyrus, help Anthony back to bed. Anthony we can take care of him for a few days more."

Suddenly Lothario grabbed Anthony and held him tight, "Don't you ever leave me!"

Esta who was holding back the best she could with Lothario's heart, broke down at that moment, realizing how his loss was greater than anyone had imagined. Ettore pried Lothario's arms away from Anthony and pushed Lothario back, "Come, we will put him back to bed Lothario."

Then the horses turned the corner and stood with ears back looking at Lothario and the group that was near him. Mars stomped his feet and pushed his head between Lothario and Ettore and then turned it sideways knocking Ettore away. Mars then rested his head on Lothario's shoulder. Lothario looked at the horse, he sighed, and turned to everyone, "I am sorry for my outbreak, I will go now and mourn in solitude."

Don Nico stood watching as he realized his son would never be without anyone around him. For there, as the boy left with Anthony in hand, and Ettore on the other, people followed him, horses followed him, and even the dogs that came out of nowhere followed him. Don Nico was saddened by the hurt in his son, but there was nothing that could quell the hurt. He walked over to Don Romano, "How are you holding up?"

"Like a grandfather, my heart is sick. Lothario though, he is having a rough time of it. For weeks he hasn't said a thing about the battle, and now this. I am afraid it might be too much for him Nico." Romano offered.

"Si and the boy Roman, I think that is his name, looks identical to Giulio but a couple of years older. I am sure that is not helping him to see that constant reminder." Don Nico patted Don Romano on the shoulder, "I will leave you in peace."

Don Nico walked away a few steps and turned to the mausoleum. There he prayed. He prayed for the friends he lost, for those who helped him, and for those whose lives ended not because of his actions, but because of pagan armies. As he cried silently his wife came up to him, "Husband, I am worried about this nonsense with this Don di Francesco."

Nico turned toward her, "I will keep Lothario out of danger."

She cocked her head, and then she squinted her eyes, "Not about that! He will do just fine whatever you have him do. I am referring to the man's family. I have overheard Moretti and others taking. They do not plan on leaving anyone alive. They are not going to show compassion even for women and children."

"You heard Don Gotti's son, those people showed no compassion for those they stole from, murdered, tortured and butchered like sheep. What would you have me do?" Don Nico asked.

"Let Lothario lead his men for the attack. He will protect the family who are innocent." She pleaded.

Don Nico frowned, "I think you would be mistaken to think that. Didn't you hear what our son did while he was away? There were hundreds, many who dropped their weapons in fear of him, they are all dead. You think after he heard that boy talk he will be forgiving?"

"Maybe he won't forgive them, but he is the best chance they have." She answered.

He took her arm and walked her away from the others. "My plan was to send Lothario directly to Ettore's villa to be sure things are safe there, then to work his way north and back east, home. With three of his cohorts with him, if he does run up against the mountain people, he would be safe. Now you want me to have him lead those same men to a villa we know is full of murderers and hope things work out well?" He stopped and studied her face, "I know he is too young to be in the business of men. Darling the gods willed this, not me. He did something we would spank him for when he was little, charging into friends like that, but he did it, what he did can't be taken back. His men rallied behind him, and they broke the backs of the Etruscans. Summerland knows how, but he did it. The people gave me no choice. But I am not sending him into a battle that I would, could, regret either, we only have one son. All these others have dozens of children. I can't chance it. Moretti, the Gotti boy, and others have the right to storm that villa and take revenge. I know revenge is a crude Greek custom, but in one hundred years we will all be speaking Latin or Greek instead of Roman. My hands are tied. Lothario will not be going to the di Francesco villa."

"Then there is no hope at all for those poor people." She declared.

"They have no hope at all." He agreed.

There were no banquets per say, or parties that night. Food was sat outside on long tables for people to snack on if they wanted, with plenty of fresh water, wine and grape juice. It was not for the soldiers, but only the members of the household and their guests. The soldiers had their own food down in the valley along with the common slaves. Even the slaves who were normally quite noisy were silent. It was a deathly quiet the entire night.

Lothario woke at the break of dawn. He looked over the edge of the bed as his eyes adjusted and saw the two golden dogs sitting there looking at him. He sat and stretched; as he did the dogs began wagging their tails. He fumbled around and found his urinal and relieved himself as the dogs nosed around his body. Regardless of what he did they kept looking at him. He smiled, "Who are you two? What are you doing here? Why are you looking at me? I have no food to give you."

Amused, Emilio sat and looked at Lothario, "You won't believe me but I have been watching them all night."

"You should have slept and not watched the dogs." Lothario giggled.

"Seriously Lothario, I thought it odd that they came almost out of nowhere. To come from behind the mausoleum like that is creepy. No one here and probably anywhere else in Rome has seen dogs like this."

"So what are you getting at?"

"I think the gods sent them to you." Emilio said as he stood. He leaned over and woke Cyrus gently, then Roman. "It is something about the way they act. Do you believe in reincarnation?"

"Teacher talked about that. It's not something you believe or disbelieve. It is just there. Just like god. You know he is there. You just accept it. So to with reincarnation, it is all the same really. Even our history has stories about it." Lothario smiled. "Who do you think they are then?"

"You won't like my answer, but I think I can prove it, before you start yelling, ranting, raving, and gnashing your teeth." Emilio frowned waiting for Lothario to say something.

"I don't think your game is very funny." Lothario answered as he slowly stepped into the warm water of the bath, "Cyrus, wake up, Roman wake up." He looked at the sleeping Ettore, "Ettore wake up we have a long day ahead of us."

"Permit me Master to test my theory?"

"No." Then Lothario changed the subject, "I have decided that our teacher will accompany us from now on." Lothario stated, He is old, and he will have to be carried. He is wise, and regardless of the future, as long as he lives I want you all to learn from him. He will teach you to read and write in Latin, Roma and Greek."

Ettore sat in bed looking at him, "What are you talking about? Teach slaves to read and write? Are you out of your mind Lothario? What have you done while I slept?"

"You need to bath and get ready to ride." Lothario stated.

Roman and Cyrus looked confused, "We are leaving this morning? What about Anthony?" Roman asked.

"Father said the family will go to Rome, where we will meet up with them. Anthony is better, I think, he will travel with them." Lothario answered, "For us, we will have a few more battles before we return to Rome. Maybe someday we will go against the world, because we cannot be stopped."

"A little country against the world, Lothario, have you gone mad?" Ettore asked as he stepped into the water.

"Father says one day the whole country will be ours, and we will all speak Latin. I think he is right, all of us speak Latin, some more than others, but we all speak it. Fewer and fewer speak Roma, and even our household slaves do not understand us sometimes."

Ettore sunk his head under the water and came back up. He began washing his hair. The two dogs edged nearer and nearer to Lothario, maybe looking for attention. One finally barked at Roman. Roman jumped up, "What did I do?"

"Nothing." Emilio answered, "He wants you to take care of his master. I suggest getting his tunic, sandals, armor for a start." As he said that the other dog went to the chest, opened it, and brought out a towel. He held it in his mouth and sat next to Lothario.

Lothario looked puzzled, everyone's mouth hung open except for Emilio, "Which one of you is Pablo?"

The golden dog that barked at Roman ran over and sat in front of Emilio, then barked. Emilio smiled, "I thought so, the bossy one." The dog barked again. "When I learn to write better, I will write about my life. I will write about this world, and I will write about the exploits of Lothario and Ettore, and their friends." He looked at the dog, "I will write about you and Giulio, and you will go down in history to forever be known to the world. I may come from a slave, but I am free now, and so are you. You do not have to follow Lothario. I know you will because you loved him before, and you will continue to love him, until he is gone."

"You are not funny Emilio." Lothario said getting more irritated by the minute.

Ettore frowned, "You are going to make him upset, he cried enough yesterday, he has been crying since they passed Emilio, you know that why are you trying to hurt him? You are free, he arranged that. You have been adopted into a fine family, all because Lothario loves you. Then you do something like this. What is wrong with you?"

Emilio did not look up, "They do not believe me. They probably won't believe me for some time to come. I need you to go get Mars and the others, show him you understand everything he says or asks, show him who you are."

The dog stood and looked at Lothario. He walked over and licked the boy on the cheek, then ran out onto the veranda. Lothario blushed, "Kiss or not, that does not prove it is Paolo."

The other dog whined and started talking. No one knew what he was saying, not yet anyway, but he began talking as if Lothario should understand. Ettore grumbled, "Maybe they are part of those Carthaginian allies from the east. You know those dog people we hear of east of Africa. They say they can talk like a human. Not that anyone could understand them."

Lothario picked up the towel and dried off. Roman helped him dress, as did Cyrus with Ettore. Emilio got into the bath and began washing as Roman tried to fix Lothario's hair. Cyrus took over showing the older boy how to do it. The darker of the two dogs returned with the horses following him. Emilio smirked, "They understand everything they say."

Roman grinned, "Maybe they are just trained well."

"In the Roman language?" Emilio asked.

"Funny, they probably belong to someone and got lost. It seems they are following you instead of Lothario." Ettore explained.

"Si, because I am the only one that knows who they are. Test them, I bet they both know where everything is at, even if they can't get it." Emilio grinned while he washed, "I will need a towel too if it is not too much trouble Giulio."

The dog went to the trunk and got a towel and dropped it on the marble floor next to Emilio. Emilio grinned, "Now I know you can't lift the grape juice jar, but can you get Lothario's cup?"

The dog went to the shelf, and out of twelve cups, he picked Lothario's and set it gently on the floor. "Si well trained, but they both know where everything is at." Emilio knew the others did not believe him. It did seem impossible, but it made sense. Those few months the boys were with Lothario they swore they would never leave his side. The dogs appeared out of nowhere, and had not left his side yet.

With his hair just right, and dressed, Lothario stood. He seemed to ignore anything Emilio said, "I have to take care of my horses. I suggest the rest of you do the same. Emilio you need to travel with your father, Don Romano would expect that, wherever he is going. Roman, Cyrus, get your selves ready. Wash behind your ears too."

Ettore and Lothario walked to the meeting a few minutes before it started. Don Nico and Fedele were already in the hall when they arrived. The horses stayed outside but the dogs followed the boys inside. Nico looked at the dogs, "I suppose you expect me to feed them meat three times a day."

"I hadn't thought about it papa. They seem well trained."

"Have you thought about anything Lothario?" Don Nico asked.

"Si papa, I have thought about a lot of things, but the dogs are new, I haven't had time to consider them." Lothario answered.

Nico looked at Ettore, "What about you?

"I am really worried about mama and Dante, not to mention the rest of the household. I know, if they are alive, they are worried about me." He started tapping his foot, "Thank you for not killing me. Fedele says everything will be okay, but I am afraid of the changes. I hope you understand."

"I wanted to hurt you Ettore, not kill you. However, hurting you would have hurt Lothario. That is why you were spared any harm. Don Fedele came up with an alternative, and we accepted it. This way you two are not hurt, you are still best friends, lovers if you wish, but you will be apart sometimes." Nico explained, "But you will marry and take care of your families, and you will have children."

"The horsing around and playing you do, the trouble you get yourselves in will stop sooner or later, but during the months your units are active it has to stop." Don Nico stopped speaking when Don Moretti and Don Romano came into the villa. They were followed by the higher ranking officers.

Esta came into the room and looked at Lothario, "Do those dogs belong to you?"

Lothario looked around the room and the dogs were gone, "Have they done something wrong?"

"They are sitting at the slave table as if they belong there, they won't give up their seats and they seem to be waiting for me to feed them." She fussed.

"It's breakfast Esta they are probably hungry." Lothario answered as goose bumps ran up the back of his neck and arms.

"Don Nico, can Lothario come with me, I need him to see this." Esta asked.

Nico nodded. Lothario and Ettore followed her outside. "Look, they are sitting..." She began crying.

Lothario swallowed hard, "They are sitting in Paolo and Giulio's seats. I know this will sound strange Esta, but serve them the same as everyone else, and the same amounts you would children."

The dogs turned to Lothario and started wagging their tails. Esta looked at Lothario as if he lost his mind, "But master, those seats are for Cyrus and Anthony."

Ettore grinned, "The two of you will have to eat on the floor like any other dogs, at least for now. At least you aren't getting scraps. Now behave and pretend to be dogs."

The dogs jumped off the seats and sat on the floor looking at Esta as the slaves started taking their places, most staring at the two new dogs. Esta frowned, "They understand what you are saying?"

"They will understand you." Ettore said, "Someone trained them well. We are not sure where they came from yet."

Esta looked at the household slaves, "Start eating, Roman you feed the dogs the exact same amount as you eat, no more no less. When Anthony is well he can feed them, if you will." She turned to Lothario, "They are dogs, not humans, they need to be treated like dogs, or I just might cook them in a stew for the household."

Lothario sighed and walked back to the meeting. Ettore put his hand on Lothario's shoulder, "Those dogs are shaking you up. You can't let them get to you like that. Emilio put a silly idea in your head and you are letting it get to you."

They sat and listened to the plan Nico laid out. At the end he asked if there were any questions. Lothario was fuming, "What about my troops? We were to lead the attack on di Francesco, now you have Don Moretti leading it, and did not mention us at all!"

Nico raised his eyebrows at the outburst but stayed calm, "You and your troops will be going east to the coast where Ettore's family villa is at. Once you have seen to his villa and family you will sweep north, crossing all the villas until you reach the Rome crossroad, With Fedele's troops as a backup you will stay outside of Rome while Fedele makes arrangements. I told you this for two days, what part didn't you understand Lothario?"

Lothario still fuming, "I missed the part where my troops didn't attack the di Francesco villa!"

Fedele stood up, "Lothario, show respect to the Consul."

Lothario stood, "This is not fair, this isn't right. Moretti will kill everyone regardless of what happens. You changed the plan and left us out completely!"

Fedele flew across the room, grabbed Lothario in a flash and threw him out on the veranda. From there he pushed him into the side yard. Both of them were yelling. Nico shot a warning look to Ettore, then to the rest of the group, "Don't move, this is between them, and the boy needs to learn his place in this command."





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