***Summarized text by my co-authors.
***Sextus and Philon ride back to Pompeii; they discuss the idea that Tellus will inform Solon that Philon is seeing an older man. Philon states he doesn't care--his grandfather can accept him or not, his mother will love him no matter what.***
Despite the urgency of his business, Philandros couldn't help letting himself succumb to the kiss Sextus gave him. He momentarily molded his body to the slightly taller Sextus, then broke off with great reluctance. "Do you wish to join me in the tablinum, Sextus?"
The roman looked about for a moment, taking in the paintings and small statues which were scattered about. He saw Tellus scowling as he passed through the atrium on some errand or other, and shook his head 'no'. "I'll just look at the garden, and the artwork, if that's all right?"
Philandros smiled warmly. "Of course, love. This won't take long." He turned to Tellus and his voice was coldly firm. "Into my office, now!"
When the door shut behind them, Philandros took a seat on the corner of his work table, and regarded Tellus coldly. It was difficult for him to maintain his calm...but he had promised Sextus. Nevertheless, he felt his hands tremble slightly with the anger coursing through him, and clasped them in his lap to hide it.
"You will not speak. I know of the letter from Sextus you destroyed...idiot! I was going to his villa--how could I not find out? It is only through the intercession of Sextus that I don't sell you to the mines this very day!"
Tellus mumbled something under his breath which sounded like 'fellator of a donkey'...but did not repeat it at Philandros' demand.
"The moment you leave this room, you are to pack your belongings and return to my grandfather's house in Herculaneum..."
* * * * * * * * * *
Having seen most of the rooms which were public, Sextus found himself in the garden, where Grumio was planting violets around a statue of Pan. He looked at the central fountain, and dipped his fingers in the cool water, and looked to the channel which led from it to a cascade of steps at the far end of the garden. A very pretty place...he thought. A rustle behind him from the northeast corner of the colonnade made him turn.
"Master Sextus! What a surprise! No one told me you had returned! Would you like some wine...some nice honey rolls?" The smile on the old cook's face was kindly and genuine. Sextus struggled for a moment to recall her name: Corellia...no, but similar...Corinna! "Do you know if the young master wishes anything?"
What was the relationship between her and Tellus? Should he mention Philandros' conversation with her? "Just a little wine, Corinna...I must be on my way shortly--I have a business to run, after all!"
The old woman nodded and left, returning shortly with a crystal glass filled with amber wine. A local vintage, Sextus wondered. From the estate of Philon's grandfather perhaps? The wine was welcome on his tongue, with a slight bite beneath the fruity taste which he found to be a nice surprise.
The closing of a door caused him to turn toward the atrium again, and he saw Tellus stalking toward the kitchens, followed by his lover. Philandros caught sight of Sextus in the garden, and joined him...taking his hand in his own, which was now still but sweaty.
"How was it? Are things settled?"
Philandros took a small sip of the wine before answering. His voice was calm and resigned. "It is done...he leaves at once for Herculaneum--alone. If the gods see he gets there, well and good--if not, it's no concern of mine."
Sextus mused for a moment. "Alright. Done is done. Shall we go looking for a new steward now?" He raised Philandros' hand to his lips and kissed it.
From the kitchens, a sob could be heard from Corinna, then silence. Philandros turned to see Grumio pause in his planting, staring from his master to the kitchen, and back again. He went back to his planting.
"Any comments, Grumio?" Philandros' tone was cool.
The man stuck his trowel into the brown earth, and wiped his forehead with the back of one hand, rising to his feet as he did so.
"Master Philandros...as I see it, a man does what he does because it is his fate. I leave the gods to the priests--the earth is my concern, nought else." His gaze shifted to Sextus, taking in his appearance slowly, then returned to his young master. "Since you ask, what you do is your concern and not mine--an he treats you well, it's good with me...your great uncle Timon was a fine man--you could do worse."
Philandros gave a small laugh and squeezed Sextus' hand. "Let's go find a steward...it's almost the third hour!"
As the two men left the house, the form of Tellus could be seen leaving the side street and heading for the Vesuvius gate, staff in hand, and a small pack on his back.
***Walking to the Slave Market, they talk about Sextus' past, he states that he has no further interest in women, an not interest in other men. Sextus wants to return to Green Acres to see how Arrius fared fixing the problem with Messalina.***
Philandros halted, taking in their location: they were passing a line of bakeries not quite half-way to the Macellum at the north end of Pompeii's main forum. It would be only a short walk back to his domus, where the horses had been left. He put a smile on his face, and met Sextus' gaze with his own green eyes.
"No Sextus, I don't mind...let's head back to my place for our...your horse. I hope that Messalina is found to be safe!" Philandros did his best to be cheerful...you could not be in the presence of your god forever!
Grumio had put their horses in the stable, surprised to see the two back so soon...they had barely been gone a quarter of an hour! From their conversation, he gathered Sextus was worried by something, and wanted to go check on it, with his master agreeing this would be best.
Standing at the corner of the house in the Cardo Maximus behind the Central Baths, Philandros grabbed Sextus' hand and gave it a quick kiss. His lover smiled and bent down to kiss his forehead and tousle his reddish hair gently. "I'll be back as soon as I can...we'll find you a steward then--at a special rate for the delay!"
Philandros watched his horse ride up the street, and turn left on the Decumanus Superior to reach the Herculaneum Gate. Once he was out of sight, the boy slowly turned and walked back to the house. Grumio was the only one who saw the tears appear in his eyes, quickly wiped away lest they be seen by passing neighbors. The caretaker finished sweeping the vestibule and walk, and followed his master into the domus, locking the door behind them.
As Grumio headed to the kitchen, he saw Philandros go into the study with his head bowed. He smiled at Corinna, who had recovered from the dismissal of Tellus--silly old man--she had told him! Never interfere in other people's business--especially where the heart is concerned!
"Corinna, can ye fix something special for the master? He feels poorly, being parted from master Sextus..."
The old woman nodded, showing him the sausages she had laid out. "I'll do these in pastry after they've been grilled...just the thing for him!"
***On the road out of Pompeii, Sextus sees Tellus walking, he tries to get the old man to see reason but with no luck. In talking, Sextus offers him a ride, and Tellus accepts, then stabs Sextus in the back with a concealed dagger! Philon finds Sextus lying in the road, covered in blood.***
Had Philandros not seen the figure attempt to rise, he would have thought him already dead, so great was the amount of blood staining the tunic. As he cradled Sextus in his arms, he saw the pallor of his cheeks but was reassured to feel him breathing still. His hand brushed at Sextus' curls, and he bent close to his ear, whispering reassurances and endearments as he kissed his temple gently. He was not ashamed at the tears which coursed down his cheeks!
He looked around in desperation for some assistance, but for the moment, the road was empty...as were the nearby fields. I must get him home! he thought, looking around again. It dawned on him that Green Acres was close...if he could get Sextus on his horse....but how? Philandros tried several different positions to hoist the heavier man into a standing position, and eventually managed the task--but getting him onto the horse was impossible!
"Love...you must help...I can't do it alone! Please try...if you can just hold onto the horse's neck, I can swing your leg over...." Somehow, the desperation in his voice reached through the darkness, and he saw Sextus grasp the horse's mane with both hands...and even attempt to raise his right leg! With even this slight assistance, Philandros found the strength of Hercules, and with a mighty effort, he had Sextus astride the horse. Wasting no time, he jumped up behind his lover, putting an arm on either side of him and grasping the reins tightly.
With a crack, the horse jolted forward, and Philandros kicked it into a faster pace for the gates of Green Acres to the northwest. He had to slow the pace of the horse once, as the jolting seemed to cause the bleeding to start again...the greek tore off part of his chiton and stuffed it inside Sextus' tunic where the blood seemed to be seeping from, praying to Apollo and Asclepius for their mercy.
After crossing two hills, Philandros saw Green Acres ahead, and turned the horse off onto the path leading to the villa's central block. At his urgent calls several slaves appeared, and eased Sextus down from his encircling arms. Philandros followed, and ordered them to carry Sextus to his room, and get hot water, some herbs and honey, and fresh linen for bandages.
"Is there a doctor here?" he asked the boy Hermes. He had to ask a second time before the boy responded, eyes wide in shock.
"There's Arcos, the veterinarian...and...a midwife on the next estate....will he be alright, sir?"
Philandros looked at the pale, bloodied form of Sextus, and was not sure. Sextus had such vitality, such assurance, that the gods must surely mean for him to live! But there was a lot of blood..."Get the vet--hurry!" Hermes hurried out, and Philandros gestured to one of the slaves standing near..."Help me turn him onto his stomach...and get those supplies in here!"
Philandros climbed onto the side of the bed...had it been only yesterday that it had held them both in happier circumstances?...and began carefully lifting the bloodied cloth from Sextus' back. Once it was free of the wound, he ripped the cloth away, leaving the entirety of his love's body bare. The arrival of basins of hot water and cloths allowed him to start cleaning the dried blood away, revealing the extent of the wound. It doesn't seem too large, but how deep is it?
With two fingers of each hand, Philandros probed the area around the wound, checking for signs of swelling, where blood might be flowing internally, and felt none. Several gasps from the form below him nearly made him stop, but he knew it was for the best. Where was that vet?
"Get me some poppy juice, and some wine...it'll be best if Sextus can sleep through this." One of the slaves started to leave, but stopped. "What kind of wine, sir?"
The voice of an older man cracked through the air like a whip. "It doesn't matter, you idiot...just mix it three to one with the poppy extract here...and be quick!" A grey haired deeply tanned figure knelt on the other side of the bed, surveying the wound, and the cleansing Philandros had done. "Good thinking, lad! Any swelling?"
Philandros shook his head, and the man--Arcos--nodded, his own fingers repeating the procedure again to be sure. "Right...this is recent--that is good; less chance of infection this way. How deep is the wound?" Regretfully, Philandros shook his head again. "I don't know...there was a lot of blood on his clothes, but it was mostly stopped when I found him less than a half hour ago."
The veterinarian pulled a small probe from a case, and dipped it in the flame of a nearby lamp, then as gently as he could, inserted it into the stab wound on Sextus' back. As the probe touched skin, Sextus writhed and a gasp escaped from his tightened lips. Though not fully conscious, he could still react! "Hold him down!" Several slaves came forward, taking hold of their master's arms and legs, and Arcos tried the probe again...more successfully.
The slave returned with a goblet of wine and poppy extract, which he tried getting Sextus to drink. Even half-conscious, the roman tried to speak..."Tellus...Tellus..." Arcos took the cup, and at the next attempt to speak, poured most of its contents down the patient's throat. Several gasps and coughs followed, but gradually Sextus relaxed, breathing becoming smooth and regular in sleep.
Arcos met Philandros' gaze over the expanse of mattress and pale flesh. "It's not too bad, son...some stitches, then a coating of honey and fresh bandages several times a day...Sextus Manlius will be up again good as new!" He reached for something in his case, and came up with a large curved needle. This too, he held over the lamp's flame before attaching a length of fine thread to it.
Philandros closed his eyes as the needle worked its way into the flesh next to the ragged stab which Tellus had inflicted. Tellus...if you ever turn up--it's the cross for you!
***While Sextus has a restless sleep, Philandros seethes over Tellus' actions, contemplating the man's slow death when caught. In his sleep, Philandros hears Sextus mutter something which sounds like `Arrius'.***
Send comments to email@example.com
Please donate to Nifty so they can continue to publish gay fiction.