Flavius Aulus

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Chapter 6

David was barely conscious when Flavius returned to deal with him. Flavius might have forgiven if he had not lied about not having stolen anything yet. He ordered that a collar be fitted around David's neck. It was big, uncomfortable and made in the form of a hollow tube filled with lead making it extremely heavy.

David's hands were cuffed to it behind his head. He screamed as his stiff arm muscles were forced into their new position. Flavius personally tied a placard to hang over his chest. It read; "I betrayed my Master. Now my Master gives me away."

He was gagged and finally his papers were placed in a bag which was tied to his ball sac before being led to a side door.

"The next time I see you, I'll make today seem like afternoon tea."

David paused looking pleadingly at Flavius who raised the prod he was carrying. David turned and ran as fast as his tormented body would allow. Without his arms to balance him, the heavy weight around his neck caused him to stumble and fall. He only just manage to struggle to his feet before hobbling round the corner.

Flavius never did see him again. >From reports that he received David had been shunned by the towns people and forced out of town. It was probably a gang of youths or boys that finished him. They made the most of having a slave of their own for the evening and he had been left bleeding from the anus and with various cuts and wounds. He died of exposure and shock during the night.


Marcus was a sensitive boy who would rather read a book than do sport. Younger than Flavius no one considered him ready to be a member of the House of Sparta but the other boys understood what it cost him to speak with Flavius and so he was treated with warm affection. None of them thought the worse of him because he wanted to spend the day cuddled up to his father.

Titus was still in shock from discovering how his wife had betrayed him. He appreciated Flavius' efforts to keep it within the House of Sparta but accepted that it was impossible. If he had discovered the plot first he would have probably killed Octavia and admired the way that Flavius had handled it. It was not easy to accept that a fourteen year old boy was in command but Flavius was earning his respect.

When he returned to the House of Sparta, Flavius felt dirty and depressed. As the the son of a Roman noble, he was used to everything being clean and sweet smelling. Yet the acrid smell of Ty's piss coupled with the sweat and blood on David had added to the excitement he had felt as he tortured David and fucked Craig.

He had no regrets at his treatment of David. Some would have been far harsher but he was worried about enjoying it so much and he was in no mood to assume his role in the House of Sparta.

Hans sensed what was troubling Flavius. Rather than tackle it head on he asked, "Learnt something about yourself today.?"

Flavius nodded, " I need time to sort it in my mind."

"No you don't," Hans snapped back, "It's part of you and you accept it. Strip, shower and start serving our guests. That's now part of you as well. Oh and Flavius, there are other parts to you and they all add up to one glorious whole which I love dearly, even if it isn't perfect. Now stop sulking before I take a cane to you."

Flavius grinned.

"Yes Master." he replied cheekily. He missed his father and the child still in him was envious of Marcus cuddled up with Titus. Hans could not try to be a substitute father but he could take the responsibility away from Flavius for a time. Flavius had always respected Hans' calm, efficient manner and so the unexpected praise meant a lot.

Craig returned to them, flustered as his naked master showed him to a seat and offered him a drink.

"Relax and pretend you're on another world." Harold said grinning at the young man's discomfort.

Craig smiled and then looked serious.

"Thank you sir," Craig replied, "but you may think I've overstepped the mark and then I'll be back on the old one."

"Explain." said Harold.

"It's Lady Octavia's slave. I made him report to the first aider and say he has bad stomach pains. I told the medic that Master Flavius would show his pleasure if he diagnosed appendicitis so that the slave could not travel.

"Why did you do that?" Harold asked.

"He was scared, sir." Craig replied, "He sees himself as belonging to the Lady Octavia and if she had suspected that he had spoken out of turn it would go very badly for him."

"You know what His Excellency is thinking, boy." Hans said to Flavius. "Do you think Craig will be in trouble?"

"No I don't, sir." Flavius replied, "His Excellency would think it was a great idea to reassure the slave. Craig can relax and enjoy our hospitality."

Flavius was standing close to Craig who was trying to keep his hand still as it had brushed against Flavius a couple of times. He looked pointedly at Craig's hand as he spoke.

"Stop behaving like a whore, boy." Hans said sternly to Flavius.

It had been obvious that Craig was ill at ease and uncomfortable. Hans and Flavius had noticed it. Hans had followed Flavius' lead in trying to relax him.

"If he bothers you Craig, put him over your knee and spank him." Hans continued, "It'll do him good. If you're too nervous, I'll do it before Mr. Cirenson orders him to be whipped."

Craig took a few moments to digest the fact that it was not his behaviour in question. He put his hand on Flavius thigh. It could have been to push him away. When no one reacted and Flavius did not step away he let it rest there.

On Harold's instruction he began his story.

According to the slave Octavia's views were radical. She despised the softness in the modern Empire. It needed a strong Emperor who would see off the Scandinavians and take rightful control of the whole American continent. He would also deal with the egalitarian elements undermining the social order inside the Empire.

She entertained a lot on her estates and first time guests often had to sit quietly as she expounded her views. Those that agreed with her seemed to join an inner circle of friends while the others were still invited to the more public functions but never became close. She never made them feel unwelcome but they never joined smaller, more intimate meetings she held. These meetings were mixed in with a whole range of other social activities and only her personal slaves noticed anything special about them.

The slave had a good memory and produced lists of those in the inner sanctum and those who attended the show parties which Craig had brought with him.

The only name that Flavius recognised was Senator Crallus. He knew the Senator as a harsh and stupid man who bored everyone incessantly with his views.

While he had spoken, Craig had relaxed and his fingers now rested in Flavius' crack searching for his cherry. Flavius was responding quite naturally by becoming hard and erect. Craig was still soft as he concentrated on giving the information he had obtained.

"There's no doubt, now." Titus said, "We have to tell the Emperor. The plan to spoil the reception was crude enough to be Octavia's but Crallus probably planned the thing about the papers being stolen.

"Craig, you'll have to stop groping my nephew. He's about to become Governor again."

Flavius grabbed Craig's hand and held it in place.

"Maybe the Governor shouldn't become involved. Mother... I mean Lady Julia believes he should be told informally.

Flavius looked around the group.

"I'm not sure if Germanicus Susitus and Juan shouldn't be informed but apart from my mother, we are the only people who know what's happening. For Uncle Titus' sake I'd like to keep it that way."

"The other slaves know a bit about it but I don't think they know the whole story, Master. Craig said. Interestingly, he might have called Flavius master but he had not removed his hand and Flavius' cock was now pressed against his belly.

Hans tried to correct Craig about using 'Master' but Harold stopped him.

"It's not important, Hans. This split person idea can get too complicated. Flavius had just better hope that his Imperial Majesty doesn't want to use the video-phone."

Flavius blushed at the thought of appearing before the Emperor in his present turgid state but if it were possible his cock hardened even more.

"Hans, dial the number and ask whether the Emperor will speak with Flavius, slave in the House of Sparta."

To Flavius' great embarrassment the call was not only on vision but it was recorded and would probably be shown to others. Normally calls to the Emperor were voice only. It was awkward on camera because callers felt obliged to bow usually disappearing off the screen or stand leaving the Emperor to stare at their chest and stomach. Unfortunately for Flavius, the Emperor wanted to know how the son of his old friend was doing and got the chance to look him over far more thoroughly than he intended.

In time to come if Flavius had received a coin every time someone had sniggered at him being naked and erect in order to be informal he would have doubled his fortune but nobody interpreted it as a Provincial Governor formally requesting help. Not even his mother could help teasing him at how he interpreted her advice.

Ty had spent the day dreading the steps of approaching guards. Flavius' father had acquired him three years earlier in settlement of a debt. His previous owner had a nasty sadistic streak and delighted in playing mind games to torment his slaves. It would have been typical of him to reassure a slave before taking him for punishment just to make the shock all that much greater.

He could scarcely believe it when Craig arrived carrying bottles of wine followed by another slave carrying food. The cells the slaves slept in were small, just big enough for a bed and a small table. The meal covered the table and they had to sit next to each other on the bed.

Ty listened in amazement to Craig's day and Craig led the tale up to Flavius' offer and whether Ty wanted him and Craig to be married.

Ty looked at Craig, dumbstruck before throwing his arms round Craig's neck nearly sending the table flying.

Flavius had learned another lesson. Craig had groped him, making him hard and excited. Flavius had assumed that Craig intended to take it further and he had been desperately hoping it would happen. For Craig it had been a way to relax, to show him that he really was a guest. If he could take that sort of liberty with Flavius, talking freely was easy. When Craig hurried off to Ty, Flavius was left frustrated and feeling used and there was nothing he could do about it.

Hans read Flavius' emotions and smiled to himself. It was another lesson for Flavius that the world did not automatically fit in with his needs.

Flavius was tired. He'd had two stressful days and now that everything had been done a reaction was setting in but Hans set him to work serving their remaining guests while he and Steven prepared a meal for them.

Alan still knelt close to Titus and Marcus. He had hardly moved from them all day. He almost purred while Titus absent mindedly stroked his neck and shoulders but was always ready to scramble up to serve them and attend to their needs.

Germanicus and Juan arrived later and Titus told them what had happened. Juan was relieved that all the decisions had been made in his absence. So was Germanicus. As a magistrate he had he would have been in as difficult situation as Flavius but now that it was in the Emperor's hands, it was outside his jurisdiction.

"Quite a start to your Governorship, Flavius." Germanicus said.

"His Excellency would agree with you,sir." Flavius replied. "If he were here."

It was a quiet evening and the gathering broke up early. As the boys lay down on their mattress, Hans went down on Flavius taking the younger boy's cock deep into his throat. As he tensed and shot his load deep into Hans he not only felt physically spent but relieved. Hans had taken him because he wanted to not because he had to and they had both enjoyed the experience.

The following day was an anticlimax. Nothing of note happened and Harold insisted the boys be kept busy. The next major event would be the funeral and he did not want Flavius to dwell on it. Titus and Marcus returned to the main part of the palace while Harold went home. During the morning the boys were set to cleaning and tidying. Hans took them into the gym in the afternoon and had them play any game he could think of. It was not important what they played provided they were working up a sweat and panting from the exercise. Flavius, Steven and Alan thoroughly hated Hans by the time they were done but as they relaxed in the baths and showers after, they all enjoyed a feeling of well being as they helped to clean each other.

Sport and exercise were as class ridden as other parts of Roman Society. Simple games for exercise were OK and were accepted as part of a healthy lifestyle. Anything that suggested serious training was a different matter. Athletics were acceptable because they were traditional, required little or no equipment and could be seen as a demonstration of individual fitness and health. Polo was acceptable because you had to be rich to own the the horses and have the time to ride even though it was a team sport.

Football was definitely a lower class sport. The equipment was cheap. It was played on any public space and so was an entertainment rather than a demonstration of fitness.

Plenty of boys from the noble classes wished they could play in a football team but would not admit it while plenty of slaves and low class freemen would have been star athletes if they had been given the chance.

Hi-tech gyms were frowned upon because using one would seem like work. Not acceptable. The boys played games, running, climbing, skipping and the like. They were just some childish fun where the boys let off steam. Acceptable. Hans pushed the games so that the boys really had to work hard. Well it probably did them good.

What was acceptable and non-acceptable was confused and arbitrary. No one understood it completely. It was just a three thousand year old muddle.

The boys were not worried about any of this they were just tired and relaxed as they settled down to watch television for the evening.

Flavius was still dreadfully upset by his father's death and was dreading the funeral. Hans and Harold had ensured that he had been kept busy. The reception, returning to school and the trouble with Octavia had all provided distractions from his initial grief but now that things were settling down Flavius felt miserable and lost.

The rest of the House of Sparta understood and were content to be quiet and to just be there for him.

Even the controversy over his challenge to the school system died down even though one or two sons of freemen started getting better marks than the slower of the Nobles.

Rumours of an assassination attempt were rife and that Flavius had killed the slave concerned with his bare hands. Julia, Flavius' mother, had made it clear that she did not mind the idea being spread as gossip but officially she denied it saying events were badly exaggerated and would go on to talk about the party for a couple of slaves who were so deeply in love.

The spin worked. When a slave attacks an owner then the owner becomes scared and cracks down hard to make sure it does not happen again. They don't have parties that allow slave to run wild so it was obvious that there was no serious problem. The gossip was half believed and it planted the idea that Flavius could be tough when he needed to be.

The adults were worried about Flavius returning to school. They did not know how the slaves and freemen would react to the way he tortured David. If anything it helped Flavius. No one doubted that there had been some sort of attack on him, the boy who was trying to help them. Most knew how their owners would react if it had been turned into a big issue and cringed at the thought. Flavius' overall attitude had been tolerant and easygoing and as he was the leader of the community that tolerance might just influence their owners.

David was the one who had threatened them and had got what he deserved.

The only people who saw Flavius as a threat were the Imperial Security Services. It was not surprising. Security Services always regard people as guilty until proven innocent and then go on to find out who tampered with the evidence.

The case against Flavius was that he was using his Imperial Service to destroy the social structure of the Empire and use the resulting chaos to grab power for himself. He was crawling to the lower classes to build a body of supporters to form an army. His allegations against Octavia were the first step in a war against the Noble classes.

It put Flavius high on their suspicious persons lists. He would never have been arrested or questioned but it might have proved difficult to get official help or support for projects and the House of Aulus might have found its friendship with the Emperor cooling.

Flavius' interpretation of an informal phone call, naked and with a rampant hard on, had reminded the Security Services that he was just a young teenager. The recording had been examined by every analyst in the Security Services and none of them doubted that he behaved with a simple and charming innocence. Some of the names that Craig had obtained were already flagged as needing investigation and their association through Octavia was valuable information.

Apart from the suggestion that he was sabotaging one plot to further his own, there was nothing against Flavius. Flavius dropped down the lists again. If there was such a plot, it was so thoroughly buried that it would take vast resources to uncover it. He was monitored and they kept an eye out for a crack in the cover but only the most fanatical agents seriously looked for a plot.

Flavius never knew any of this. Later in life, when he looked back he was vaguely surprised at how cooperative the Security Services were towards him. He never discovered that the officials were often thinking of pictures of a very sexy fourteen year old boy.

The funeral showed another side to him. No one who saw it doubted that Flavius Aulus was the Provincial Governor and one of the richest men in the Empire. Some who had seen him walking to school simply could not reconcile the slave to the noble and dignified young lord they saw that day.

Only Hans and Steven saw the strain that Flavius was under. His mother, Julia may have seen it too but she was more concerned that the Prince representing the Emperor was treated with proper respect and she was not going to tolerate any weakness on Flavius' part.


Flavius was enjoying a sexual freedom that he had not experienced before. He had taken slaves and had enjoyed their bodies but it was always geared to him being the dominant one. In the House of Sparta the others also initiated sex and they could be quite demanding at times.

Neither could he lay back and expect the others do the work. Hans had made it clear that he had to look out for the needs of the others. He found it stimulating and helped him develop strong friendships with the other boys.

The official period of mourning for Flavius' father was a quiet one for the House of Sparta but which was just as well as everyone needed the time to adapt to the new regime.

Once or twice a week the entire House of Sparta gathered to discuss any important matters to do with the Guardianship. One evening Germanicus might explain points of law or procedures in the courts while on another Titus might be dealing with a problem in a factory.

At first the boys had kept quiet leaving such discussions to their betters as if they were in Mr Diollo's class but one of the first discussions had been about the handling of prisoners.

"A friend of mine was arrested. " Steven said, "He said the way he was treated made him feel guilty even though he wasn't. That's not right is it?"

Hans and Harold moved to silence the interruption but Flavius asked, "What about in court? Did he feel that he could have his say?"

Thereafter everyone joined in the discussions and often the adults left with a great deal to consider.

The boys still stayed naked, sat on the floor and were expected to serve the adults and occasional guests. They still kept a wary eye on Hans' tawse if they thought they were slipping up. In return they expected the adults to explain the the world to them and the adults found themselves working as hard as the boys. A deep mutual respect grew up between them all which again, had it's roots in that quiet period.

For a society which was normally so relaxed about these things it was surprising that there was no sex between the adults and the boys. Germanicus was not opposed to groping any boy who was in range and there was a bond between Titus and Alan though it had not become sexual while Hans had a bit of a crush on Harold.

Julia had taken Marcus, Titus' son and his daughter, under her wing and they were happily settling into the main part of the palace. Flavius was worried about his uncle and was pleased that he had some companionship through Alan.

It was the start of a new era for the province and for Flavius but on the whole everything was settling down nicely in spite of the drama of Octavia's treachery.

Private houses rarely had many male slaves in their teens. Female slaves in that age group were more common and it was felt that a mixture of sexes at that age caused more trouble than it was worth. If nothing else they were considered to be the age group most likely to forget about birth control.

Hans had been bought as a servant to Flavius and John was so good at avoiding attention he came in a job lot of other slaves. Most young slaves found themselves in all male environments as Alan did.

Because of his duties Hans had not enjoyed much contact with the female slaves in the household. As a result he was slightly scared of them and felt more comfortable in male company. He probably was not gay and maybe one day he could be happily married but for now he directed his energy into serving Flavius and the House of Sparta.

He was a strong and capable boy and now, he was under the authority of Harold. Harold had been been a physical training instructor in the army. On the couple of occasions Hans had phoned him for advice, Harold had proved calm and reassuring and Hans was beginning to be attracted to him. Flavius knew of the way that Hans felt about Harold and was willing to help move things along.

Although too young and inexperienced to fully understand it, Flavius was aware of a sexual tension in the meetings yet there was some sort of barrier to anything happening. In sexual matters, morality revolved around who penetrated who. Simply put juniors were penetrated and superiors did the penetrating. The mouths of nobles should be kept pure for when they spoke in the Senate. Women had never achieved full equality for the same reason.

The adults in the House of Sparta accepted Flavius' position as an escape from the grown-up pressures of his new role and that he was trying to perform some service for the Empire but they could treat his activities as a game between boys which was just about acceptable.

They were reluctant to take the step to make Flavius a genuine slave inside the House of Sparta. It was the main objection that his father had to the scheme and the adults were aware of it.

Flavius understood their concerns but he had his own needs even if he did not fully understand them. The first was something that the Emperor did understand and used it to persuade Flavius' father.

People given too much responsibility at too early an age tend to burn out and don't reach their own potential. Provincial Governors, like Emperors, wield considerable power and, as the saying goes, power tends to corrupt. There were plenty of examples in history to prove the point. Flavius needed to be allowed to grow into his position.

Flavius also had an instinctive desire to prove himself. He knew he was earning respect by his behaviour inside and out of the House of Sparta but like any young man he wanted to push the boundaries. He did not think in terms of being fucked by an adult but he had to show them that he could handle anything they threw at him.

Flavius did not consciously think about these things but they influenced his decisions.

As Flavius Aulus, Head of the House of Aulus, he arranged the party for Craig and Ty to be one Saturday afternoon and asked Hans to invite the members of the House of Sparta for an informal gathering in the evening. The slaves still called it a Wedding Feast but Flavius insisted on calling it a party.

Had he wanted to, Flavius could have taken Craig or Ty any time but he did not want to perform as part of a ritual. By calling it a party he could avoid the tradition his mother had mentioned. The word 'party' also included all the slaves and his mother wanted the event to show that the House of Aulus was safe and secure.

The idea that the event was being used by his owners for their own ends relaxed Ty considerably. There had to be a reason for their kindness and now he was learning what it was.

Craig understood Flavius' actions on all it's levels and was delighted that the party would benefit his master.

Flavius and his mother attended in formal style. The couple knelt to pledge their service to their owners, followed by the other slaves led by Matthew. Flavius proposed a toast to the happy couple.

Flavius and Julia watched as Craig and Ty started off the dancing but once the floor filled were content to watch. One slave approached Julia and bowed with an elegance that would have impressed the Imperial court.

"My Lady," he said, "Tomorrow I will see my Mistress who would whip me for this impertinence. Today I see a Lady too beautiful not to grace the dance floor."

"In my husband's time you would be whipped today for your impertinence," Julia replied, "but I think my son would allow me to accede to your gallant invitation."

The music was switched to a more formal style to suit an aristocrat as Julia stepped onto the dance floor.

The slave had been a professional dancer before being convicted of fraud and Julia obviously enjoyed herself.

"I hope your father isn't looking down on all this, Flavius." she said, "I fear a thunderbolt might strike at any moment."

Flavius grinned. "He chose the household staff carefully, Mother. We're putting our trust in his judgement as much as anything else. I hope we can prove him right."

"In that case, I think I'll call that dear boy over and try one of these lively little jigs they seem to be enjoying. I understand they're becoming popular in the Imperial court. I hope he remembers his place tomorrow so that I don't have to whip him after all."

Julia would never be completely at ease dealing with slaves but Flavius was beginning to see a happy and animated side to his mother that he had never seen before. By contrast he was beginning to see his father as a severe and autocratic man who had controlled his family as firmly as he had controlled the slaves.

They had planned on making a token appearance before leaving but Julia suddenly found herself having fun.

Flavius was not keen on dancing but he was content to watch. A slave approached him.

"I just wanted to say I meant it when I said I'm at your service." he said.

"Thank you!" Flavius said a little surprised, "I appreciate it."

"A lot of masters would have killed Craig and Ty, for getting involved with David. They would have killed me just because we were friends. David didn't think about that. He just saw a chance for himself."

"You must have seen some good points or you wouldn't have been friends."

The slave smiled quietly, "Yes, but if I told you what they were, you might regret torturing him. David was stupid and selfish. He deserved what you did to him."

Another slave had sidled up.

"That's right Master Flavius." he said, "You should have done the same to that bitch who threatened you."

He turned very pale, trembling in terror as he realised that Julia had walked up behind him. It was going too far too insult Octavia in front of Flavius but he thought he had just signed his own death warrant letting Julia hear.

"I take it all the slaves know our affairs." she said quietly.

"Something I've learned in the House of Sparta, mother." Flavius said, "People think that slaves are prevented from hearing what their betters are discussing and gossip about everything in front of them. Of course they all know what happened."

"And how many slaves think that Lady Octavia is a bitch?" Julia asked.

"Mother, that's an unfair question. How can he possibly speak for the others."

"Well I happen to think that you were too easy on the bitch and she deserved the same as you did to that slave. I just wondered how many slaves agreed with me."

"I think most would, My Lady," the slave replied carefully, wondering where Julia was taking the conversation.

"You know, after those remarks of yours, I would like to see you stripped and tied down ready for a whipping," Julia said, "On my bed and face up. What do you think?"

"My Lady, my body is yours to do with as you will."

The slave was desperately hoping that he had caught Julia's true meaning while Flavius was in no doubt. If the slave was tied down then he had no control and it could not be said that he was penetrating. Julia was not the first aristocratic lady to want a slave and as she had said, there were protocols for everything.

The party was proving far more interesting than Flavius had expected and he hoped that his evenings activities would prove just as interesting.

Chapter 7

The party for the slaves was a great success. Although lazy or misbehaving slaves still found themselves whipped or severely punished in some other way, the rest of the slaves were discovering that they could admit to not knowing something and own up to genuine mistakes.

Visitors were vaguely surprised to find that standards of service actually improved. Flavius' detractors had predicted that the palace would become a laughing stock with the slaves running riot while Flavius debased himself with them.

There was no doubt that when he was in the main part of the palace he was the Governor. Even Hans stood respectfully in the background as Flavius swept past ignoring his presence.

If he had done anything else, Flavius would have seen a disapproving stare appear on Hans' face and Flavius would know that he would be in trouble when he reported to the House of Sparta. The rest of the household saw that Flavius behaved as his position demanded and it seemed more natural for them to behave according to their own position so discipline improved rather than deteriorated.

Flavius was always relieved when he could return to the House of Sparta. Even if he was still inside the Governor's Palace, the rules changed and he could relax. Hans changed from obedient slave to head boy. They were close friends even if Hans could take a cane or a whip to Flavius' back.

On the evening after the slave's party all four boys planned a little game to move on events in the House of Sparta. After they had served the adults a meal they would entertain them with it. The adults would be asked to imagine that they had just acquired a new slave who was unused to his new status. They were asked to write down what they would do to begin his training. They were to carefully fold their pieces of paper and put them in a jar.

A second jar would hold slips with the names of the adults.

The idea was that each boy would draw the name of an adult who would be invited to draw a slip from the other jar and do whatever was written on it. There was a problem that there were more adults than boys but Matthew wanted to leave after the meal. As the most senior palace slave he was allowed considerable freedom and there was a beautiful girl waiting in his room.

What the adults would not know at first, but would probably guess was that the jar with their names was full of blank sheets. The boys had already decided who was going to who. Alan would be with Titus and Hans with Harold. Crucially Flavius would go to Juan the slave leaving Steven with Germanicus.

It was a bit unfair to put Juan on the spot. He had been a slave for over thirty years and in spite of his reputation in the markets was still uncomfortable in his role in the House of Sparta. Neither was Flavius all that interested in sex with him. He just wanted to push things along for Hans and his Uncle Titus and manipulating the odd adult in the process was a bonus.

Steven went first, gravely pulling a blank piece of paper and announcing, "Germanicus." He took the second jar and offered it to Germanicus who read from the the slip he drew out.

"Stand no nonsense, and severely punish the slightest transgression until he learns."

It had been Titus' offering but it left little scope for fun and games unless Steven pushed the point.

"Is that all, Germy?" he asked as cheekily as he could, "I thought it was going to be tough."

Germanicus rightly guessed that he was being provoked for the sake of the game.

"Put the jar back and fetch Hans' belt." he said quietly with a smile on his face.

Steven was less confident when he stood in front of Germanicus again but relaxed as Germanicus stretched his arm to grab Steven's cock and pulled him onto his lap.

He unhurriedly stroked Steven's butt cheeks and thighs allowing his hands to explore the crack between and searching Stevens hole. He felt Stevens cock and was pleased to find it becoming nicely hard.

Steven was relaxing and enjoying the the wandering hands when he heard a whistle of air and a loud crack of the the tawse striking his arse. Moments later the pain hit him and he cried out, struggling to find a way to ease the fire in his backside.

Germanicus held him lightly with one hand as the second blow landed followed by the third. Steven was struggling to stay on Germanicus' lap. The punishment might be agonising and humiliating but it would be even more humiliating if he were to run.

Germanicus returned to gently stroking Steven.

"You're comfortable there, aren't you?" Germanicus asked gently.

"No, I'm not." cried Steven.

He yelped fighting back tears as another three blows landed.

"You're comfortable there, aren't you?" Germanicus asked gently.

"Yes." Steven replied.

Germanicus landed three more blows.

"You're comfortable there, aren't you?" Germanicus asked gently.

"Yes master. I'm quite comfortable here."

Germanicus laid the the tawse down and resumed gently stroking Steven's body making sure the boy became hard again. He took a sip of his drink.

"This game has possibilities. he said, "Would someone else like to start their training?"

Matthew had known what the boys were planning and had written his own slip. It was Alan's turn and he presented the jar to Titus who drew out Matthew's contribution.

"Start tough and only ease up when the slave remembers his place without thinking about it." Titus read, "And where is your place, boy?"

Alan was visibly frightened. He was not going to provoke Titus into giving him a beating like Steven had just received but knew he should do something to push things along.

"Serving your cock, Master?" he managed to stammer.

Titus grinned remembering Alan's first comments about his size.

"Come here boy." Titus said patting his lap. He looked around the room.

"Thank you lads but I'm already the master and he's the slave. He serves me well already."

Hans went through the ritual of choosing his master and presented the jar to Harold.

Juan's first master had a simple approach to new slaves. Work them until they hurt. He was a good master once the initial training was over and Juan did not know what else to write.

Harold had watched the way his son had accepted Germanicus' handling with considerable pride. Steven seemed able to cope with the roughest treatment and was flourishing by the sexual adventures he was having. He was going to grow into a strong confident young man.

Now Hans was at his mercy and he could have his own fun. He would end up fucking Hans that night but maybe he should make the boy struggle and suffer a bit first. Normal beatings or punishments would not work. Hans was tough and he would have to risk seriously injuring the boy before he broke. Neither was there any sort of hard work that Hans could be set that night.

He decided to use Hans as a table, not kneeling, but arched over backwards. It was an uncomfortable position which stretched his muscles and was made worse because Harold wanted Hans' thighs level so that Flavius could rest a tray on them. Harold sat back unconcernedly playing with Hans' cock or just tapping his fingers on Hans' belly.

Flavius' had not been reassured by the treatment of his friends as Juan took his slip. If he was lucky he would have got Harold's suggestion which was simply 'drill'. He was ex-military so it made sense to him.

Flavius was unlucky. Juan drew Germanicus' suggestion which read 'beat him raw then fuck him. Repeat until he knows his place.'

Everyone seem to be watching Juan with bated breath making Juan more nervous than Flavius.

Flavius sensed this and contented himself with a quiet, "I'm at your service, Master."

Juan leant forwards and grabbed Flavius' cock, gripping it hard so that Flavius winced. He sat back in his chair, pulling Flavius with him. He lowered his arm to the chair rest leaving Flavius standing with bent legs spread apart, obeying Juan's order to put his hands behind his head.

"Do you like being whipped and humiliated?" Juan asked.

"If that's what my........" Flavius began but Juan squeezed his cock even tighter causing Flavius to groan with the pain.

"I asked you if like it not if you accept it."

"No! I don't like it."

"Then I should release you and ignore the instructions."

"No! Please! I mean yes, please release me. It hurts."

"No, yes, which is it?" Juan asked.

"I like being in the House of Sparta. I have friends here. Governors only have servants."

"And every trace of His Excellency is left behind when you enter the House of Sparta."


"Think about that answer, boy, and if you're a hundred per cent sure kneel down and suck my cock. If any part of the Governor is here, stand."

As Juan released the boy's cock, Flavius paused before kneeling down and undoing Juan's clothes. Flavius paused again before going down on Juan.

Titus looked at the scene approvingly. He was proud of his nephew. Juan had given Flavius a way out and he had not taken it. Flavius understood what it all meant far better than when the House of Sparta was first announced and he was still willing to commit himself completely to his plans.

Titus looked at the boy happily nestling up to him on his lap. Titus was half hard from the scenes he was witnessing but his thoughts were elsewhere.

"Do you like girls?" he asked.

"I think about them a lot." Alan replied, "but I don't know any."

"Get your tunic and we'll go and meet some. Let's see what that cock of yours can do."

By rights, Harold could have objected but there was a crash beside him as Hans muscles gave out and the boy collapsed onto the floor.

Harold had positioned Hans carefully to cause the maximum strain and was impressed that he had lasted as long as he had but Hans was unaware of this and was humiliated that he had failed to hold his position until Harold gave him permission to move. He meekly set about clearing the mess from the upturned tray wondering whether Harold could possibly have any interest in him.

Flavius was jealous that his Uncle was taking Alan to a brothel and not him. Although his mother made him uncomfortable by pushing the matter he was quite keen to start exploring the female of the species. Like the threat of war with Scandinavia it was part of the responsibilities he had as Governor but were nagging worries rather problems with solutions. He would always find it easy to relax in the House of Sparta as the problems were simple. At that moment he either gave Juan the best blow job of his life or face the consequences. His back tingled at the thought of Hans' displeasure as he focused on his task.

Realising that Harold could push him to his limits in unexpected ways increased Hans' awe and admiration of the man increased. He felt like a little boy when Harold took him through to a bedroom and began to explore his body as he stood meekly before him. The feeling passed as Harold led him to the bed and they began a long, slow and intimate love making that left them both relaxed, contented but exhausted.

Steven was left vaguely dissatisfied. Germanicus had enjoyed beating him and he had cum inside Steven as Steven had sat astride him but it was all over quickly and Germanicus ever the autocrat had left shortly after, contented but without a thought about Steven's needs. He made a phone call and a car took him to General Maximilian's quarters.

Alan had experienced an incredible evening that he would never forget. He looked adoringly at Titus who had made it possible. Titus was aware of Alan's feelings and realised just how loveless his life had been. Uncertain of where things were leading, instead of leaving Alan at the House of Sparta he took him to his quarters and they spent the night with Alan spooned up against him with his massive arms encircling the boy, pulling him close. They were both aware of Titus' cock sandwiched between them and they both knew it would be hard and desperate for relief in the morning. Titus' dreams were confused that night. Mixed in with the usual images of a tight and exciting woman there were notions of the boy beside him, offering himself freely and lovingly. Briefly, but surprisingly, Titus even dreamed of offering himself to the boy.

As the room emptied Juan sat back contented. He and Flavius talked quietly until Juan described a fantasy he often dreamed.

Flavius led Juan to the main bedroom of the House of Sparta and helped his master for the evening to undress and bathe. As Juan lay down on the bed Flavius began a slow sensuous massage. Starting with Juan lying on his front, Flavius gently rubbed oils into the man's arms, leg and back. As Juan turned over, Flavius again worked his 'master's' limbs before working down his body leaving his cock until last. Extra oil made it glisten as it became hard under Flavius ministrations before Flavius straddled Juan and and slid down the shaft. Juan's sole contribution was to buck and press down on Flavius' thighs pushing even deeper into the boy. For the first time in years he was able to shoot a second load which went deep into Flavius, then lay back exhausted. For Flavius the hardest part of the fantasy was about to begin. The slave would sleep on the floor beside his Master, ready to obey his every command but not daring to touch his own rigid and desperate manhood.

While Juan slept, happy that for once he was a Master with his own slave, Flavius dozed restlessly. First John had wanted to be a gardener more than he had wanted sex with Flavius, then Craig had chosen Ty instead of him and now Juan wanted a night not caring about anyone else's needs. It was not something that he had thought about either way but he was discovering that not everyone wanted to succumb to his charms. He genuinely wanted to make Juan happy that night. It was strange but the cost to him in frustration and disappointment seemed to make the gift personal and to mean something.

The following morning the rest of the palace became concerned that there were no signs of life from the House of Sparta apartments. For once Hans slept late and when he did wake Harold was not ready to let him go.

Juan could see Flavius' desperation. His hard erection was pressing against his stomach but Juan sent him to make a drink leisurely enjoying it as he watched Flavius waiting to attend him before making the boy take his cock into his mouth again. Finally, satisfied he gave Flavius permission to jerk off.

Juan laid back and watched as Flavius stood, stroking his cock. It was a humiliation for a Roman noble to perform like that, especially in front of a mere slave but Flavius found that particular humiliation strangely erotic and he shot string after string of cum into his waiting hand. Juan had one final command for him. Lick his hand clean. Juan was living his fantasy to the full watching Flavius. He chuckled quietly as he thought to himself that he had made the boy swallow one last humiliation.

Flavius had not exactly enjoyed his night with Juan. If he had been made to describe it he would have said 'challenging'. Juan would have agreed, impressed that Flavius had stuck to the rules of the game when he could have easily cried off. Juan would never have refused had Flavius asked to stop.

Nobody doubted the ability of Flavius Aulus, Provincial Governor and Head of the House of Aulus to carry out his ceremonial duties. Although technically General Maximilian's superior, the General answered to his military superiors in Rome. It was merely his duty to keep Flavius informed. He could preside over the Magistrate's Court but Germanicus would have to sign the documents and decisions remained his responsibility but he was being prepared for when he turned twenty one and took on his full powers.

Juan was busy dealing with the Empire and International aspects of Flavius' holdings. Sometimes Flavius would have to attend meetings in his official role but most of the real work was done in his absence. Flavius took to attending these meetings as a slave. Without that night Juan would never have had the confidence to order Flavius around in public. He even had Flavius caned on one occasion because he had failed to look after a visiting guest properly. Locals who had to deal with Juan knew the situation and learned not to be slow in punishing the boy themselves, if he slipped up on his duties, yet visitors could be puzzled because, sometimes, they took the trouble to explain something to a mere slave.

Flavius and Titus both appreciated Juan's skills and Flavius learned a lot from watching him work.

He sometimes attended Titus in the same way. On some of those occasions, Marcus, Titus' son, was also present. He was not interested in joining the House of Sparta and remained the son of a noble. He enjoyed his moments when he outranked his cousin and could gently torment him. The first time it happened Flavius spent his first night outside the House of Sparta and sneaked into his cousins quarters. They ended up in a mess of burst pillows and Flavius mercilessly tickling his younger cousin until Marcus begged for mercy. Nothing sexual happened but they became good friends and as they grew up, Marcus became the scholar of the family.

Flavius' mission to change the school system was progressing slowly, opposition had been confined to ignoring it. Everyone assumed that either Flavius would prove to be a complete degenerate ignoring everything except being abused by slaves or find his role too difficult and adopt his true position after a token protest.

If he ran yelling down the street, kicking a ball as fourteen year old boys do, he might get a clip round the ear along with his mates but not even his mother could fault the way he carried out his official duties. She had expected protests and sulkiness at having to attend the more boring events but he made people feel that he was delighted to be at any function, even if he did run off afterwards in his slave tunic to play football in the mud like any common freeman.

Flavius' challenge did not go away and the school introduced changes. The marking became fairer and more freemen applied to enter the school.

After consulting with Flavius, the headmaster saved the big changes in classroom seating for the new intake and letting them work up through the school. He had funds now to completely refurbish the school but he did not want to disrupt the students too much.

His biggest problem was an athletics event. Other schools were registering protests that he was allowing slaves to compete. Two schools had made it clear that either Flavius' school withdraws or they do.

One fellow headmaster had sneeringly said that he would be encouraging football next. Flavius' headmaster had replied that General Maximilian might be interested in using the game to introduce a lesson in tactical planning to younger students.

It was because of military service that so few nobles had withdrawn their sons to be educated at home by a tutor. It was seen as beneficial that boys start 'roughing it' with other boys even if traditionally, it was a very genteel 'roughing' with other nobles.

For a time, it was Steven who was most badly affected by Flavius' campaign. His peers still hung back out of fear that they would become part of the backlash when the Nobles resentment boiled over so he spent most of his free time alone. He could not socialise with Flavius as it would be out of character with the role he had accepted and it was something of a relief when one of the noble boys approached him and asked if he might sit.

Brutus Crevellio had watched Flavius carefully and had seen how Flavius had actually grown in confidence and self-assurance. Brutus' grandfather had been a hard cruel man and had crushed his son, Brutus' father. Where Grandfather had built up the family fortunes, Father had overseen a gradually decline because of his inability to be decisive. He could be cruel if provoked but preferred to back away from any confrontation, even with slaves. Brutus knew that his father's indecisiveness was rubbing off on him.

Like his Grandfather, Brutus was intelligent and determined, but he was also kind, admired the way Steven protected boys from bullying and approved of the stories he had heard about Flavius' treatment of slaves. He was also envious of the way that Flavius could relax and forget his rank.

Brutus' servant was a boy of about ten years old. He was enslaved because he was the son of slaves. They had tried robbing a bank, not by armed robbery but by embezzlement and had been caught. Being educated they had tried teaching their son and Brutus had helped as best he could. As the servant was so much younger than Brutus, he could only sit quietly in class watching lessons that were way beyond his ability.

Brutus had tried to get his father to enrol him in school and find him a servant boy closer to his own age. His father thought it a good idea but worried about going against accepted ideas on slave training and put off the decision.

If Flavius and Steven would accept him then they could help him with his problems. He listened in amazement at the stories Steven told about the House of Sparta and in turn described his problems. It happened slowly over a few days as both boys got to know each other.

At times Flavius came and stood respectfully as if ready to serve them. The first time it happened was effectively decision time for him. If Brutus allowed Flavius to serve him then Brutus was breaking rank with the rest of the Nobles and would be ostracised. If he refused then he would not be considered for the House of Sparta.

Harold had come up with the test after Steven had first mentioned Brutus' interest. After some hesitation he had allowed Flavius to pour him a drink. Steven was covered by the Imperial Decree and while with him, so was Brutus.

That evening Brutus walked to the Governor's Palace with Steven while Flavius trailed behind with Brutus' slave for company. Like Alan before them, Brutus and his slave, Ross, had trouble adapting to being guests in the House of Sparta.

Because of his age, he was less likely to fit in the House of Sparta and it was clear that he expected Brutus to decide for him. In the end an older Palace slave took him home and he was not asked to join.

Brutus phoned to tell his father where he was and for permission to join the House of Sparta. For once his father agreed without 'needing time to consider it'. Brutus was in the Provincial Palace as the Governor's friend. It could only be good for his family. Flavius spoke briefly with him confirming that he approved Brutus' membership to the House of Sparta. It seemed like an afterthought when Flavius asked whether the House of Crevellio had any slave training programs. Brutus' father may have lacked confidence but he was not stupid. He knew that he was being pushed to support both Flavius' reforms and his son's wish to have his slave properly educated.

He was aware of his own shortcomings and their cause. Like Brutus he could see how Flavius was thriving and he wanted, more than anything, to see that his son developed the same self-assurance. It surprised everyone that Lord Crevellio made such a controversial decision to align himself with the House of Aulus but later it would be seen as the moment that he began to take real control of his affairs and his family began to prosper again.

Neither Brutus, Flavius nor Steven were aware of any of this. They were too busy watching Brutus parade in his new House of Sparta tunic and gold slave chain. They had one other surprise to deal with.

Harold's boss and Titus were business associates who had cooperated in a couple of successful deals so it had been easy for Titus to buy Alan to act as Marcus' servant. Marcus was under strict instructions to treat Alan well and to leave any discipline problems to Titus. Marcus could see that the relationship between Titus and Alan made them both happy while his own relationship with his father had improved enormously since Titus had start proceedings to divorce his wife.

Octavia had insisted that the boys be home tutored to avoid 'contaminating' them with liberal ideas but now Marcus was starting school which meant, so was Alan. The only boy not to be receiving an education was Hans. He insisted that Matthew should train him. Running an establishment as large as the Palace was a skilled job so it was not an unreasonable alternative to school.

Being so much younger, Marcus and Alan were in a different class and at first they walked to school separately and not with the older boys. When Brutus first joined them he went to school as before with Flavius serving them both so that Ross could begin his lessons. It caused some bitter arguments between Brutus and some of the other nobles and he felt caught in the middle so he took to wearing the House of Sparta tunic, sharing Flavius' duties.

It would have left Steven on his own again if Marcus had not decided to show his support for his cousin and walk with them to school. It had been felt that Marcus had enough problems without getting involved in Flavius' projects but Marcus sought Steven out during breaks between lessons.

Mr. Diollo, the teacher who had led the opposition to the changes, resigned. Flavius' position was strengthening and was not going to go away and he refused to continue.

Brutus fitted in very well with the House of Sparta but he was wilder and less disciplined than Flavius. One Saturday Brutus, Flavius and Steven were strolling along one of the market streets when Brutus felt hungry. He did what any noble would have done, grabbing three apples off of a stall, threw one each to Flavius and Steven. Flavius instinctively caught the apple tossed to him and took a bite.

In truth, if the stall holder had complained he would have lost regular custom from people not wanting to be involved in the dispute. Had Brutus been dressed all would have been well, the stall holder would have put it down to advertising in the faint hope it would lead to order from a noble house, but all three were in House of Sparta tunics.

The incident was spotted by a rookie soldier on patrol who had been separated from the sergeant who was supposed to be training him. There was no police force. Military police were divided into service and civilian branches working closely together. The rookie had just been transferred to begin a tour of duty in the civilian division.

He saw three slaves stealing and shaming their owner who appeared to be very wealthy or important. The first Flavius or Steven knew they were in trouble was when they fell to the ground clutching their thighs in agony. Brutus found himself staring at a prod, like the one Flavius had used on David, being ordered to spread himself against a nearby wall. By the time the sergeant returned Flavius and Steven had recovered enough to be spread against the wall beside Brutus.

The soldier explained what he had done and the sergeant pulled each boy's head round to identify them.

"Congratulations, soldier." the sergeant said with a smile, "Your first arrest and you've succeeded in shocking the Provincial Governor and the General's Boy. The other one might be noble or he might be a slave but it's a good haul."

"Sir? I don't understand. They look like slaves."

"The House of Sparta." the sergeant explained, "You needn't be too scared. You're covered by Imperial Decree but General Maximilian may want an explanation in person."

"Do we let them go, sir?" the rookie asked sounding more than a little scared.

"Oh no! It was good work arresting all three. That's the problem. If you'd just warned them you could have sent them packing but since they're under arrest we have to follow procedures. Do you know what they are?"

"Yes sir. We administer six strokes of the cane and send their owners a bill for compensation."

A young man approached the soldiers.

"My father owns the stall." he said, "He says that he's more than happy to give these young gentlemen an apple each."

"There are no young gentlemen here. They're slaves of the House of Sparta and that's how they'll be treated. They took the apples without asking and without offering to pay and this soldier witnessed it. I've radioed into HQ and they're contacting someone in charge."

The situation was just getting worse for Flavius and the others and it was unfair that Steven was being treated like them. He knew Steven and had seen that Steven was about protest about their behaviour. He tried to say as much to the sergeant.

"Slaves speak when they're told and not before." the sergeant had snapped back, "He was with you. That's enough."

There was an uncomfortable wait. The boys were getting more and more nervous and the uncomfortable position, legs spread and far enough away from the wall for them to be leaning forward taking some of the weight on their outstretched arms, added to the stress.

Flavius was not sure whether to be concerned or relieved when Hans finally arrived. Hans listened to the sergeant's report. It was complete and fair even including Flavius' remarks about Steven and those of the stall holder's son.

"Are you on duty tomorrow, sergeant?" Hans asked, looking around them.

"Yes, I am."

"So far as compensation is concerned can they report to you for street cleaning duties? Work them as hard as you can. They can also organise a petition to present to His Excellency. His father increased the street cleaning budget twice but areas like this are still left. Something should be done."

"Yes sir," the sergeant replied forgetting that he was addressing a mere slave, "What about the General's Boy?"

"What about him?"

"He may not have done anything wrong. Should we release him?"

"The caning, maybe. He can work with the others, tomorrow though."

"I'm not sure if General Maximilian will like it though."

"If he thinks Steven should be caned then he can do it himself. He seems to expect a lot from Steven so I don't think he'll object to him doing a day's hard labour."

"If they were any other boys I'd think it all fair but these aren't ordinary slaves."

"So far as you're concerned, they are." Hans replied, "His Excellency knows everything, the slave Flavius knows so it'll be useful for him to understand just what goes on in these districts and he'll be happier if Steven and Brutus are supporting him. They are slaves of the House of Sparta. None of us like it when people think we're soft."

The sergeant straightened up and saluted.

"I understand, sir." he replied, "It'll be done exactly as you've requested."

By now, Brutus was bitterly regretting his involvement with the House of Sparta. He was embarrassed, dreading the punishment and not sure what all the fuss was about. He was tempted to call his father but something stopped him.

When his father learned of his intention to join the House of Sparta, he had spoken with Flavius' mother and then called Brutus into his study.

"Like all boys I made mistakes and got into trouble." Brutus' father began, "My father, your grandfather would go on about how I was letting the family down and how useless I was. He'd then use his wallet or his position to make the trouble go away. In the end I figured that if I didn't do anything I wouldn't get into trouble and that attitude's stuck.

"Flavius faces up to the consequences of his mistakes and deals with them. Now you've joined his little club you'll be expected to do the same. Follow his example, not mine. If you get into trouble, you won't disgrace the family if you learn from it and handle the consequences. Do that and we'll always be proud of you."

Brutus wanted his father to be proud of him and prayed that he had the courage to see him through the ordeal to come.

That evening the three boys stood uncomfortably on display while the adults and Alan listened to Hans' account of the incident. Welts were clearly visible on Brutus' and Flavius' backsides. The humiliation of being bent naked over a chair that someone had provided, crying at the pain from strokes of the sergeant's cane in front of so many onlookers had been worse than they could have imagined and now they faced another investigation into their behaviour.

"It seems a lot of fuss over three apples," Titus said.

"Sir, how long does it take you to earn the money to pay for them?" Hans asked.

"I don't know. It's such a small amount."

"How long does it take the stall holder? I bet he could measure the time. It's not such a small amount to him. And supposing they really had been slaves. Would it still be a lot of fuss?"

Anywhere else and Hans could be well on his way to a whipping for his insolence but, in the House of Sparta, Titus was expected to answer and he was not sure how.

"So how about this street cleaning? How do you justify that? Titus asked, hoping that he would catch Hans off guard.

Hans was quiet for a minute, as he marshalled his thoughts.

"I may have gone too far but there's something Flavius should see." he said nervously

"Go on!" Titus replied.

Hans was nothing like his usual confident self as he began his story. He was nervous and hesitant constantly looking to Harold for reassurance.

Flavius' father disapproved of any sort of education for slaves. As a result a rota of slaves acted as his son's servants at school. He had mellowed over the the years especially in the light of the Emperor's concerns but by then Hans had begun to be trained by Matthew in the running of the house. It meant that he had considerable freedom and had got out of the Palace alone, more often than normal. Matthew had sent him on errands to the poorer parts of the city instead of going himself.

He had become aware that the money that Flavius' father had allocated for the services in these areas simply was not reaching them. The town centres and places that visitors frequented were spotless and efficiently run but, the further from those areas, the less interest the authorities showed.

Flavius had used his freedom to explore the town in a way his father never could and was becoming aware of the problem as well but even he had not seen the worst of it. Hans had engineered the situation to show just how bad things were.

"So you're forcing Flavius to take on the municipal bureaucracy in the same way he's taking on the Education system." Germanicus said quietly but there was anger in his eyes.

"I can't force him." Hans replied, "The late Master was worried about disease spreading if there was a particularly hot summer, I believe that His Excellency agrees with his father and even the Emperor is worried about bureaucracy stifling everything."

"What do you say, Harold?" Titus asked, "How does this affect discipline and this punishment in particular."

"I can't see a problem but it depends on what Flavius thinks. Don't try to keep to your role, just say what you think."

Flavius shrugged, "It's not going to be a fun day but wouldn't it be great if we made a difference."

The incident of the apples had started a bigger train of events in another direction than even Titus had realised. It would affect the Empire more than they could imagine and put Flavius in considerable personal danger.

Chapter 8

Flavius had been right. The following day was not a fun day. It was obvious from the the start that rubbish had been left festering for weeks. Hans had joined the other three boys while Alan had involved Marcus and they were plotting something with Germanicus.

Marcus still preferred being mothered by Julia and reading his books. It did not mean he did not have a sense of fun or adventure but he was easily overwhelmed by the other boys. He was interested in the House of Sparta and Alan knew that he would be interested in one part of Hans' plan. The boys had a soft spot for him so he had been invited along as a welcome guest the night before when Hans' plan had been agreed.

As the four older boys went about their tasks under the watchful eye of the sergeant. As it became obvious that they were serious and it was not just a stunt, some of the local boys joined in. The stall holders and residents provided refreshments. All the boys were careful to complete a job set by the sergeant to the best of their abilities and even the volunteers glanced at his cane if they thought about shirking off and the area was transformed except for an ever growing pile of rubbish on the only open space.

And still there was no sign of the Municipal cleaners.

Towards the end of the day, Flavius slipped away to change. Originally Hans' had summonsed a van for Flavius but Flavius had become friendly with a local boy, Luke and accepted Luke's invitation to change in Luke's home.

Despite Luke's mother nearly having a heart attack at finding the Provincial Governor in her house, it gave Flavius a chance to shower and get really clean which all Romans appreciate. When he stepped outside again Hans straightened up to bow respectfully. Flavius waited while the sergeant took stock of the new circumstances and smartly saluted.

"Carry on. We'll sit at that café over there. Come on Luke."

Luke was nearly as overwhelmed as his mother but Flavius did not feel like sitting alone. They sat until it was obvious that there would be no rubbish collection that day. Flavius picked up his phone and called the Town Cleaner's office.

"We just don't have the resources to go everywhere. You say you've cleared it all into big pile. That was stupid, the wind will just blow it everywhere. You people just cause more trouble for nothing. Leave it to the those who know what they're doing. Now I'd like your name. I report troublemakers."

The official expected a panic stricken commoner to hang up in defeat.

"It's Flavius Aulus, Provincial Governor and Town Magistrate. Phone the Palace to confirm it then get your butt down here fast."

Flavius hung up before the official could respond and watched the serving girl appreciatively as she flitted between tables. Not suitable for the Governor, of course, but he could come back incognito in his slave tunic.

The official arrived arrived very quickly indeed. The palace had not only confirmed that it was truly Flavius on the phone but that he had been actively involved in the clear up and was likely to be very tired and irritable.

"Germanicus Susitus has been examining your contract." Flavius said as the official stood nervously in front of Flavius, "You're not fulfilling it."

"With respect, sir, you can't judge us on one bad day and the word of a troublemaker like him." he said pointing to Luke, "And again with the utmost respect you have a lot to learn about the complexities of Provincial affairs."

"Oh this affair is simple." Flavius replied calmly, "Either you're sacked for incompetence and threatening the Governor or you get the rubbish cleared away before you leave. Marcus, come here."

Marcus approached while the official looked on puzzled at the new turn of events.

"My cousin is holding a petition asking that street cleaning and other services be improved. Are you going to claim that every signature is a troublemaker?"

The official shook his head in defeat.

"If it's presented I promise it will result in one of the biggest investigations this town has ever seen. If you or one of your fellow bureaucrats has so much as stolen a paper clip I will find out and it will go on record. You're lucky that it will take a month before I have time to receive it and of course if there's already a marked improvement in services it may prove to be out of date.

Flavius concluded, "If I keep you from your duties any longer, you wont get home this evening."

The Civil Service was scandalised that Flavius had stepped so far from protocol but they could not figure what he had done wrong. He had accepted a punishment and had been made to clean up the area. When he had called to enquire about the collection of the rubbish, he had done so as a private citizen. He had only given his name and pulled rank when the official had threatened him.

Bureaucrats always denied that they made such threats but it was a recognised way of dealing with awkward callers. The petition had been organised by others while Flavius was busy elsewhere so they could not prove Flavius' involvement.

Instead of dealing with files, remotely in the Governor's palace they were dealing with the prospect of Flavius' hard work being left to get blown away and explaining on a very personal basis how they had insulted him in the process. Flavius had turned their methods upon them and had succeeded in making it very personal.

Flavius watched as lorries turned up to remove the rubbish and allowed the official to escape. Civil Servants were rattled enough to worry when Flavius would turn up in their departments and the fear of an investigation that they could not control hung over them. Services improved rapidly.

That night though was a time to relax. The Sparta boys were whisked away to various homes to clean up and an impromptu party started. Flavius stayed aloof from the celebrations. Taking on adult officials was an ordeal for him and he needed time to wind down. He was content to listen, along with Luke and the rookie who had started everything off, while the sergeant told some tall stories about his adventures in the army.

Someone had phoned the House of Sparta and the adults arrived not long after. To everyone's surprise Julia, Flavius' mother, also arrived accompanied by the slave she had danced with before and some palace musicians. Brutus' parents also arrived, invited by Julia. Brutus was delighted to show how his mistake had been turned round so dramatically and embarrassed because every mention of his beating caused his tunic to tent out making his reaction to the event unmistakeable.

Julia understood Flavius' mood.

"He's done something not even his father could do." she explained, "It'll have taken a lot out of him. He needs time away from the Governorship and Sparta, for a while. Give him space and he'll be back soon."

Later she said to Brutus' mother, "This is the second party I've had to attend to support my son. They're not very dignified I'm afraid but in these difficult times the Governor believes it important to show that the House of Aulus has nothing to fear. So I must do my duty."

At that point her slave grabbed her and whisked her away as a new dance tune began.

General Maximilian arrived and spent the evening talking with Steven. The General spoke briefly with Flavius after sending Steven to tell the soldiers that they should remain seated and relaxed. Given the General's reputation it was one of the hardest orders imaginable even if he did arrive with a round of drinks and contributed one or two stories of his own.

He left shortly after accompanied by Steven who would appear the next day, tired, battered and aching but with a happy smile on his face. The other boys were tired and aching but for a different reason. It had been a long day and the sergeant had not let them slack off.

The following day, Flavius chose to visit Luke. They had enjoyed each others company and Flavius wanted to see him again. He was also thinking of the serving girl he had seen yesterday but of course it was only coincidence that they lived in the same area.

Luke's mother was just beginning to get used to the Provincial Governor knocking on her door.

"He's helping his father in the shop," she said, "They're expecting a big delivery."

Without thinking she added, "They could do with a hand."

Luke's father sold cheap household goods. Even citizens used to shopping in the Forum would visit his shop if they could not find what they were looking for. His stock reply, I think I might have something like it out the back, was usually true.

Flavius grinned as he walked to the shop. The help he was usually asked for was preferential treatment in obtaining a contract or recommending some Noble's son for a post beyond his abilities. Helping to stack shelves was something of a novelty.

He saw the serving girl again and thought about speaking but his nerve failed him. He could speak to the Emperor, nowadays he could talk with his mother and he could face the punishments Hans would mete out to him but one slip of a girl scared the life out of him.

Luke's father turned out to be a kindly and well read man more than willing to treat Flavius as just another of Luke's friends. They agreed that it would be too much for his wife to if they took Flavius home for lunch so they found a bar and ate there. Flavius was relieved that it was not the one where the girl worked.

Luke had a passion for sketching and once he had finished his work at the shop, Flavius posed for him until they were joined by another friend of Luke, Joshua. Flavius had to stay in contact with the Palace and before long the rest of the Sparta boys showed up. They kicked a ball around and made their way down to the public pool for a swim.

It was the start of a school holiday and it was one of those days of freedom for Flavius that the House of Sparta had been set up to provide.

Although Flavius had become friendly with Luke he did not like Joshua but Brutus got on well with him. Things went well for a time until one day, only Flavius and Brutus were free when they met up with Luke and Joshua.

It was one of those dull wet days where it was better to be indoors and they ended up in Luke's bedroom. They had quickly got bored with the games available and began chatting and they got around to talking about dares and who would do what.

From the start Joshua pushed the conversation on. Flavius became uncomfortable, feeling that Joshua was becoming more challenging almost provoking the other boys into agreeing to do something.

Joshua began talking about tagging trains. Graffiti was a problem and Flavius knew that the authorities were going to crack down. He felt trapped as if he was caught between running with the fox and with the hounds. Luke sensed it and tried to change the subject.

"You're all wimps. Scared, your mummies and daddies might tell you off." Joshua sneered.

Brutus' cock took over. The fear, humiliation and pain of the beating, after the apple incident, had turned him on as never before and he wanted to experience it again.

"I'll come with you." he said breathlessly. "It'll be fun."

He looked at Flavius. No boy likes to be be thought a coward and it's difficult to be the only one to resist a dare.

"I'll go with you," he said, "I'm not doing any tagging though. I'll just keep watch."

"Oh no! You get your hands dirty otherwise you'll go running off to your soldier mates. What about you, Luke? You got any guts?"

Luke shrugged. Like Flavius, he was not at all happy but he felt pressured into not appearing weak in front of his peers.

Joshua took it as agreement and it was just a case of waiting until it was dark. Strangely, Joshua already had cans of paint in his bag. Later in life, Flavius would admit to seeing it as the start of an exciting adventure. It was like pretending to be a soldier in enemy territory and it stayed exciting as they crept down to the railway. It would have stayed exciting if they had not picked a night that someone had already reported boys being in the yards and there were extra men on duty. Flavius and Luke were watching Brutus enthusiastically begin his tag. Joshua stood back. Now that they were committed he was the most frightened. He saw the soldiers and slipped away unseen.

The first the other three knew about it was when someone yelled out, 'freeze'. They were handcuffed and minutes later a soldier had fetched metal neck rings which were fitted and linked with chain.

Luke was nearly fainting with terror. It probably meant enslavement for him, the proceeds going in compensation and possibly bankruptcy for his father if the Railway demanded even more compensation. They could even be accused of sabotage and that meant crucifixion.

Flavius knew he was in more trouble than the House of Sparta could handle. He was now finding it difficult to believe that he had been so stupid. It could easily cost him and the family the Governorship unless he abandoned all his principles and sought to get it covered up.

Even Brutus was too scared to be affected sexually. Like Flavius, he knew that he had gone too far and it was the second time in a few weeks that he had got his friends into trouble.

They were led from the line back to the road and dumped into the back of a truck to be driven to the barracks where they were put in a cell in the guardroom, still chained and shackled.

By this time, Flavius had been recognised and uncertain what to do, the Officer in Charge called General Maximilian who in turn contacted the boy's parents and guardians.

Normally Luke's parents would not have been contacted until morning and told when they should attend but the General had enough respect for Flavius' attitudes to call them as well.

In other circumstances the boys could have been separated and held in solitary confinement for a few days. The neck ring could have been replaced by a spoked contrivance that prevented the prisoner resting his head or sleeping. It softened them up ready for questioning.

It was bad enough being handcuffed and shackled together when they were brought to General Maximilian's office.

Flavius' heart sank further when he saw Harold and Hans there. They were responsible for his discipline and he knew that they would not be very forgiving. Luke looked at his father too ashamed to speak hoping for some reassurance but the man remained impassive.

Germanicus was also present.

"You, Smith," he said sharply to Luke, "I suppose you claim you were bullied into this as well."

"No sir." Luke replied puzzled before he understood the implication, "Is that what Joshua's saying?"

"So he was with you." Germanicus said, "They caught him on the road. He said that Flavius and Brutus bullied him into going with you but he ran off before anything happened."

"The fucking bastard." Luke spat out, so angry that no one saw fit to reprimand him for his language, "He goaded us into doing it, brought the paint then ran off when he saw you. He didn't even have the guts to wait and warn us."

"So it's all his fault, is it? He bullied you three all at the same time."

Luke did not know how to answer. He seemed to make it worse every time he spoke.

"Nobody bullied anyone." Flavius said quietly, "I decided to go. I think Luke only came along to look after me."

"I decided for myself." Brutus said, " And I didn't force anyone, either."

"Very well. There's now the matter of compensation."

Luke turned white. The moment he had dreaded had arrived.

"Flavius Aulus will pay all of it out of his private account." Flavius replied.

"Brutus can pay half. He has his own funds as well." Brutus' father said.

Germanicus nodded approvingly.

"I think the Governor's Palace can make this go away. Maybe if Flavius spoke to the Railway's chairman direct and apologised, he could make an exception about pressing charges."

"No." said Hans, "We've been careful to separate Flavius' public and private lives. You can't let this taint the Governorship."

"If it was just me, or even me and Brutus, I'd agree," said Flavius, "but it could affect Luke badly if he gets a record. What do you say, Luke?"

"I'm just relieved that you're paying the compensation. I can cope with the rest."

"I'm not sure I will. I can't imagine the court going easy on us." Flavius replied.

Luke straightened himself as best he could under the pressure of his shackles.

"I'll support my Provincial Governor. I'll stand by him." he said proudly.

Harold spoke for the first time, "Flavius has been talking about inviting Luke to join the House of Sparta. No one's objected so if he joined before the paperwork was completed he could appear before the court under that name and not his family."

Luke was too emotional to speak for the moment. He just nodded, fighting back the tears.

"What do I do about the other boy." General Maximilian asked.

"If I see the treacherous little toe-rag again, I will kill him." Flavius replied quietly but the anger was unmistakeable. "Please, keep him away from me. I'm only paying his share of the compensation to avoid any legal wrangling."

"Very well. You'll be held here, tonight, while you're processed and your official statements taken. Then you'll be transferred to another barracks until your trial. Various Houses may be able to put up bail but it's my understanding that they're not to be involved."

The boys were led back to the guardroom by the legion's centurion. The modern army was nothing like original force but names had been kept even if roles had changed. The centurion was now the senior enlisted man. A soldier did not reach the rank by being soft.

There were two soldiers present and a slave in his late twenties. Each soldier carried a prod similar to the one that Flavius had used on David. The slave released Luke from the neck iron first, before ripping his shirt off and then removing the rest of his clothes. He then made Luke kneel and then shaved his head. Luke had to stand, red as a beetroot with embarrassment, as the slave knelt and shaved his pubes. The slave then fitted ankle irons before removing the handcuffs.

Not giving Luke a chance to rub his aching wrists, he made the boy raise his arms above his head to check his armpits. At fifteen, Luke had little hair on his body so he was spared the indignity of any more shaves. After making Luke sweep the remains of his hair and clothes into a corner, the slave stood him against a wall and turned a hose on him to wash off any remaining shaved hair.

Luke was then taken to stand in front of the centurion.

"Punch me." the centurion snapped.

"What? I can't do.........." Luke broke off with a yelp as the centurion slapped his face.

The soldier waited and then slapped Luke again. Luke got the message and took a swing. He was still uncertain and and it was only a half-hearted attempt. The centurion grabbed Luke's wrist, twisting it behind his back and bending Luke over. Luke was no match for the centurion and he was easily held in the position the centurion wanted. He brought his cane down on Luke's backside making Luke scream before landing two more strokes.

"Now stand up straight and keep still." the centurion snapped, releasing Luke's hands.

All Luke wanted to do was rub the welts on his arse. It was all he could do not to hop up and down as he tried to escape the pain.

"If I say jump, all you worry about is trying to jump high enough." the centurion said quietly and menacingly, "Do any of you think you can throw a punch that would hurt me?"

The three boys stayed quiet which was just as well. Full grown recruits twice their size had accepted the challenge and very quickly regretted it.

"Good." he nodded to the slave, "Get on with it."

Flavius and Brutus underwent the same processing though they were not made to stand in front of the centurion. When they were done Brutus and Luke were put into a cell. The slave cleared away the debris and left along with the two soldiers, leaving Flavius alone with the centurion who bent Flavius over a table. He tensed ready for a beating but relaxed when he felt something seeking out his cherry and pushing. A strong hand groped underneath him and stroked his cock.

He began to relax at the slow but determined invasion. Flavius had not known what to expect once he was alone with the centurion but it should have been harsh and brutal leaving him half dead. Instead at every sign of pain or discomfort the intrusion stopped or eased back before moving forward again. It was something of a surprise when he felt the man's pubic hairs on his arse cheeks which pushed him over the edge so that he came in great convulsive jerks as he clamped tight onto the the centurions cock.

The centurion shot deep into Flavius as he came as violently as the boy.

As he withdrew he thought about making the boy lick him clean. Instead he made do with a damp cloth and a towel warning Flavius to work very gently. Flavius then had to use the soiled items to clean up his own spunk while the centurion looked on.

There was a brief moment of rapport as they looked at each other before Flavius was placed in the cell with the other two.

The centurion headed for General Maximilian's office. For once he had to wait and wait for a considerable time which was even more unusual. When he finally entered the office ,General Maximilian indicated for him to pour their nightly drinks and put the bottle on his desk so both men could reach it easily.

"So, what do you think of our young Provincial Governor?" General Maximilian asked.

"Are you sure he he's not a bit too willing to bend over for any cock in the room?"

The General smiled, "Don't underestimate him, Jim. I had to brief him on the state of our anti aircraft defences not long after he became Governor. It included possible damage and casualties together with the type of injuries that could be expected, and it shook him. It was one of few times he showed me that he's just fourteen.

"Even Steven asked me what I'd said to him when he visited next. It seems that Hans, that's the head boy in that House of Sparta of theirs, had to be beat him a couple of times before he could switch off and concentrate on his duties there. It worked though. It took him a day to get to grips with it and now we've got that civil defence exercise to monitor. That's his brainchild.

"if you fucked him as I ordered you to, you took control and that's what he needs. To be a boy with the adults in control until he has to be Governor again. Did you do the punch game?"

The centurion nodded, "I tried it on the freeman, Luke. He took it well but it made the point. What about the fourth one?"

"We're lucky. The father's ex legion and thoroughly ashamed of his son's cowardice. He's got a younger son who wants to be an engineer and Flavius' education projects has given him a chance to study. He'll sell Joshua to me for a token fee." General Maximilian smiled grimly. "Imperial Security want him. That's all he'll be worth after they've finished with him. Maybe they can save me the job of disposing of him."

"Of course! He can be sold to avoid to avoid the humiliation of a court appearance."

General Maximilian nodded, "I don't want Flavius involved in any of this. See what you can do."

The legion was based in the town as a permanent garrison and as Provincial Governor, Flavius was technically their commanding officer with only the Emperor to outrank him.

Although the soldiers came from all over the the Empire many had set up home locally and many were married with families. Their children would be the first to benefit from the education reforms that Flavius was trying to introduce. They typically lived in areas like the one that Flavius had got cleaned up and their families again benefited from the reforms that Flavius had brought about. They also respected him for the discipline and service he had submitted to.

He showed the qualities they wanted to see In their leaders and so they would support him. On the other hand Joshua was seen to be cowardly and treacherous, everything a legionnaire hated in a comrade.

Imperial Security comprised many ex soldiers who despised his treachery as much as the army.

The stripping and shaving of prisoners was a reminder of a time when lice and other infestations were prevalent. It was useful to bring home to a new detainee what his situation was, but it continued simply because no one had stopped it. It had been something of a ritual with Flavius and the other two.

Joshua's clothes had been ripped from him and he was punched or caned when he was pulled off balance until he was standing back in position. As his clothes had been ripped, his arms had been pulled, jerked and twisted against the handcuffs, almost wrenching them from their sockets. He had been shaved with a razor, so blunt that it pulled his hair out and left cuts and scrapes all over his body. He had been left standing facing a wall still wearing a collar which was attached by a short chain to a hook on the wall. A second chain hanging down his back from the collar pulled his arms up and clear of his arse.

He knew now that Publicus had betrayed him and with that realisation the terror mounted as he considered his fate. Joshua had met Flavius' cousin in a tavern and Publicus had told him of the reward for anyone who could undermine Flavius' Governorship. Joshua had not realised that Publicus had only befriended him because of contact with Flavius through Luke. Joshua had been flattered by the young Noble's friendship and promise of patronage. With his jealousy of Flavius' wealth and popularity he had easily fallen for Publicus' promises.

The Imperial Security Services had been keeping an eye on Publicus and his mother, Octavia and knew that they were planning a move against Flavius but they were not used to dealing with schoolboy pranks and petty crime so Joshua had slipped through the net.

General Maximilian had informed the ISS of his intention to buy Joshua and then to dispose of him. Imperial Security could interrogate a prisoner how they liked but had to produce him afterwards and justify their actions. If the prisoner really was involved, for example, in a plot against the Emperor then it did not matter what condition he was in but if he proved his innocence then his interrogators could end up in court. Joshua and his action against Flavius was somewhere in between those two extremes. General Maximilian had removed any protection from Joshua and he could be treated how his interrogators saw fit.

Over the next few days he screamed in agony in between giving up every detail of his conversations with Publicus. His mind was damaged by the drugs he had been given and his muscles and tendons ripped by his physical torture. His flesh was a bloody mess. He didn't find peace until he was given an injection that sent him into a sleep that he never woke up from.

Because of his rank, Publicus was questioned with far more discretion. He spent a lot of time in bars and taverns. He visited the ones in town out of defiance. His cousin had sent him and his mother away so by being in town he was getting one over on his cousin. In his turn he was befriended by a couple of agents who slipped something into his drink. He talked as well. He did not have time to say as much as Joshua but the agents left him, satisfied that the scheme against Flavius was his own idea and that he was trying to impress his mother and that he still expected to become Provincial Governor in the new order.

There was enough to arrest Publicus but it would put his mother on her guard. He was left with a colossal hangover and a headache that had him shrieking almost as loudly as Joshua and with no memory of the night before. The two agents would probably 'take him out' again when they thought that he would be able to supply some useful information.

While the extent of the threat against Flavius was being assessed, he was to be protected by the army. Ordinarily he would be informed of a plot in his role as Provincial Governor. However he was also a boy in a great deal of trouble and had enough to deal with. He was not going to have an easy time while he, Brutus and Luke were being held but, unlike Joshua, they would get through it.

No one got much sleep that night as preparations were made and the boys were interviewed and made their statements. Just before dawn they were taken to a lorry and loaded into the back. To their surprise Hans, Steven and Alan were already seated there. They were naked but unlike the other three, they were not in chains except for the gold House of Sparta chains they all wore apart from Luke. Instead of being taken to another barracks they were taken to a training ground where a couple of cohorts were on manoeuvres.

The boys were lined up while the chains securing Flavius, Brutus and Luke's ankles were released. Hans had picked up a package which had been tucked under his seat and stood behind Luke to fix a collar identical to the ones that the others were wearing. Their guards knew what was happening so when Hans began clapping, they joined in along with the boys.

Each boy was then assigned a mentor. The mentors had teenage sons slightly older than their new pupils. They were seasoned soldiers but they were also particularly level headed who knew how to push recruits to their limits without going beyond. There were a leisurely few minutes while they were issued with their kit. Between everyone involved they even had boots and fatigues that fitted and from then everything was done at the double.

They were drilled, given physical training and sent over the assault course. It seemed to the boys that they were expected to keep up with the regular troops at least five years their senior or fully developed adults but of course it was an illusion. Their mentors knew what they were doing.

If they protested or slacked off they would feel the cane or their mentor's hand. At night they were expected to clean their kit and their mentor's before they were allowed to climb into the sleeping bag beside their trainer.

They learnt a lot. Steven was even able to surprise the General the next time they got together. They understood themselves and their limitations a lot better than they had before and of course they thoroughly enjoyed their time on the shooting ranges. They impressed the men and officers of the cohorts with their performance and on the last day they were there they were shown how to drive a tank and fire the gun.

The following morning, they were due to leave. The centurion arrived and was about to fix the ankle chains to Flavius, Brutus and Luke when the commanding officer stopped him.

"They've behaved like soldiers. Treat them like soldiers until you hand them to the court." he said

Flavius had been kept out of the way for a number of reasons. It was felt that he should not be involved with Joshua's or Publicus' questioning. Joshua was dead by now and Publicus would have forgotten any suspicions he might have had about his weird night out. It also gave the authorities a chance to gauge Flavius' popularity.

There were very few elections in the modern Roman empire so public opinion was not sought so avidly as it have been but after two and a half thousand years, they had learnt that a bad Governor could lay the seeds for a rebellion and cause a great deal of unrest so they listened to people.

Octavia and her fellow conspirators were relying on the concept. A boy running wild and bringing the Province into disrepute would have to go even if the Imperial Security Services needed to arrange an accident. Unfortunately for Octavia her assessment of Flavius' popularity was made among people who thought the same as she did.

The ISS listened to a much wider spectrum of people and realised he had considerable support. The nobles allowed him his reforms because they knew to varying degrees that they were needed. They were uneasy that their own sons could find themselves in court more easily but it just meant higher lawyer's fees to get them off. The middle classes and freemen could see the benefits of his reforms so they were on his side.

Most saw the trouble he was in as stupid mischief. What else do you expect of boys. They could see how he was determined not to let it taint the Governorship and admired his courage and character. In a way it showed his daring but people were careful not to promote vandalism if they mentioned it.

Much would depend on how he was punished. Too soft and he would lose credibility. Too harsh and it might harm him.

They were appearing before Germanicus and each had their own reasons for being more than a little frightened.

Chapter 9

The boys were wearing their House of Sparta tunics when they appeared in court before Germanicus. Luke was wearing his for the first time and in other circumstances his chest would have been puffed out with pride. The chain manacled to his ankles reminded him that he faced an uncertain future.

Flavius knew this was a wonderful opportunity for anyone who wanted to get rid of him so he was worried and uncomfortable.

Brutus blamed himself for the trouble they were in and expected to be dealt with harshly.

"Behaviour like this will not be tolerated." Germanicus began, "I could order all three of you sold into slavery or a heavy flogging. Understand this, if you appear before this court again, such a sentence will be more likely. However you are each sentenced to a hundred lashes of the whip."

There was a distinction between a flogging where the lash could tear into flesh and muscle tearing it to shreds and a whipping where the skin might be scarred but the criminal would probably escape permanent injury.

"However," Germanicus continued, "Our new Provincial Governor has used local knowledge to adjust sentences to be more appropriate. I have felt obliged to follow the precedences he has set."

Officially Flavius was a magistrate like Germanicus. He sometimes sat beside another magistrate when cases were heard. His excursions into town as a slave meant that he knew more of went on. On occasion he had seen that background information that could influence sentencing was introduced. It had meant two people receiving lighter sentences while a third case had been dismissed out of hand and the accused's family had received state aid. A fourth man had received a harsher sentence much to the relief of the neighbourhood he terrorised.

"I know that two of you are of excellent character and it would appear that the third is the equal of his friends in that respect. I feel obliged to lessen the sentence on those grounds to a lightweight whip appropriate to your age.

You have all had opportunities to escape justice but have chosen to accept responsibility for your actions. It would discourage others to do the same if I did not recognise this, therefore I reduce the sentence to fifty lashes.

"You have just completed a period of military training and your records show exemplary conduct. It shows that you understand the need for discipline and good behaviour which makes this act of vandalism seem like an aberration that will not be repeated. I therefore reduce the sentence to twenty five lashes.

"Because of my friendship with the Aulus family, the punishment will be carried out under the supervision of a doctor who may arrange the punishment to be spread over a period of time. Does anyone wish to object to this display of favouritism?"

The court was silent for a time. The prosecuting lawyer considered speaking but it was not unreasonable or unprecedented so he decided not to antagonise Germanicus.

"For the period that your sentence is carried out or for one week, whichever is longer, you will be bonded to the town and carry out cleaning duties as a reminder that you are here for defacing property."

If Flavius and Brutus had been frightened by Germanicus' opening sentences, Luke had been terrified. As the only one without a powerful and influential family he had half expected to be used as a scapegoat to save the other two.

Germanicus looked at the court diary. "You will report to the court office in the Forum at nine o'clock in the morning on Saturday. In the meantime you will be kept under house arrest in the House of Sparta."

Germanicus rapped the gavel and stood up. The hearing was over. Although the boys did not realise it the brief respite before their punishment would add an extra piece to their ordeal.

While the boys had been held by the troops Harold, as disciplinarian in the Board of Guardians and the fathers of Brutus and Luke had discussed how to deal with the boys. Luke's father had found it easier than expected as Harold was roughly the same class as himself. At one meeting, there had been a conference link with the Emperor.

"I will not have one of my high officials behaving like this." the Emperor had thundered, "I don't care if he is a boy, he's gone too far."

""Your Imperial Majesty," Harold had replied, "The House of Sparta was set up to deal with his youthful misbehaviour. I agree that we hadn't anticipated it being this extreme but the basic concept is working."

"I've seen the reports but I still will not tolerate this behaviour. I advise you not to to argue further Mr. Cirenson.

There was a tense silence.

In a calmer voice the Emperor continued, "I need people with a bit of go in them and it must be unique to have three people in trouble, not trying to dump it on their colleagues. I do value people who give honest opinions but do you realise just how ridiculous this situation is? With the problems facing the Empire, I have to deal with a gang of stupid boys. If I visit the Province, will I have to wait to meet him while he attacks the Imperial train?

"That's unfair," Harold replied, angrily, "Flavius carries out his Provincial duties faultlessly."

"You've forgotten who you're talking to again. When his court appearances and prison confinement permit I want him in Rome. Bring the whole gang of six as well Brutus' and Luke's fathers."

There was a worried silence before the Emperor concluded, "Don't worry. I'm only going to put the fear of God in them. I think I'm in a position to do it more effectively than you can. The last time I summoned a Provincial Governor to Rome, he was embezzling tax revenues so I suppose it could be worse. I look forward to meeting you, Mr Cirenson."

The two fathers looked at Harold with awe at the way he had spoken to the Emperor but Harold needed to speak to Germanicus and so the house arrest was arranged to permit the trip to Rome.

It was not a happy journey. Summonses to Rome could still be one way journeys but at least they were carried in limousines from the airport to the Imperial Palace and were courteously shown into an ante-chamber leading to the the Emperor's private office. The adults were were shown to their seats and offered refreshments while the six boys were left to stand in a line.

Harold was ushered in first. After the first formal bow and promise of service Harold found himself seated in a comfortable chair opposite the Emperor chatting over a cup of coffee. The Emperor had more or less accepted Harold's assessment of the situation. The two fathers were invited in next and were more confused by the informality than by anything else. For Brutus' father it should have meant the opportunity for advancement not dealing with wayward boys and Luke's father was still convinced that all the fuss meant bad trouble for Luke. Emperors had to stop their Provincial Governors from rebelling, remove the ones that were so stupid or vicious that they incited unrest, prevent them from lining their own pockets at the expense of the state or deal with pleas for help from those struggling to do their job. As he had said earlier, dealing with a Governor caught spraying graffiti was ridiculous.

The problem was, Flavius was doing a good job. Education was already changing. As expected it was split between schools eagerly following Flavius' lead and those doggedly determined to maintain the old ways. First indications showed a definite increase in the number of lower class boys studying and businesses buying slaves with a view to training them. In an Empire that had lasted for thousands of years, a plan for the next fifty years was seen as medium term. Real results from Flavius' Imperial service, as boys completed their training, would be seen in three to five years which would be considered fast and decisive.

Flavius was also well on his way to becoming one of his most popular Governors, building a reputation for fairness and firmness. The idea behind the House of Sparta seemed to be working.

All Flavius knew when he was finally called into the office was that he was standing in front of the Emperor who had the three other adults standing beside him being told in no uncertain terms that his behaviour was completely unacceptable for an Imperial official and that he had let the Emperor, his father, the House of Aulus and the house of Sparta down. It was the 'and you the Governor' speech that he had been dreading and by the time the Emperor was done, Flavius felt like a little boy trying to hold back the tears.

Brutus and Luke were brought in next. They were reminded just as forcibly that they had failed to protect their Governor, the Emperor's representative, and that it could well go to trial in the Imperial court in Rome if anything like it happened again. The remarks about the Imperial court was aimed just as much at Flavius as the other two.

Finally the other three boys were brought in. Flavius, Steven, Brutus, Luke, Hans and Alan stood in line.

"I'm watching all of you boys very carefully. You all show promise." the Emperor said, "Just remember if you live up to that promise, I can make you. You can go."

The Emperor rarely made threats but the consequences of failing to live up their potential had been clearly implied. The meeting had lasted less than an hour and now they were on their way back home. Harold had almost been treated like an old friend and Brutus' and Luke's father had also been kindly received. Luke's father was almost as excited as the boys at seeing the Empire's capital for the first time. Only Flavius remained unhappy. He was quiet, withdrawn and almost sulky on the journey home.

Finally Hans had had enough and dragged Flavius into one of the planes serving areas after telling the flight attendants he needed some privacy. The staff knew who Flavius was and where he had been, which made Hans important enough to be obeyed.

"You wanted a boy's freedom and that's what you've got." Hans said, "Stop moping because you've been told off and remember you're getting off lightly because of your position. Without you, Luke would have been sold into slavery by now with his family facing bankruptcy. You'd better be in a better mood before we get home or you'll be in trouble with me."

Flavius knew better than to expect any sympathy from Hans but there was something else bothering him.

"What about David and Joshua. They were both tortured because of me. If I get into trouble others get hurt."

"They were tortured because they were cowards, prepared to betray you, or anyone else if they could gain by it. Your father would have cut David's balls off and then had him stitched up without anaesthetic before throwing him out. Luke and Joshua had the same opportunities. One turned out to be a good friend, the other an enemy and you had no control what happened to Joshua."

Flavius nodded. He was not sullen or resentful any more, just drained. Hans saw that he was left alone for the rest of the flight and on the drive from the airport he seemed to be back to old self.

Of all of the boys, Alan's life was changing the most. He came from a poor family and had been sold to cover the compensation for his shoplifting. He'd found himself working in Harold's office and now found himself owned by Titus. Unbeknown to Alan, Titus was considering declaring his son, Marcus, as his heir then freeing and adopting Alan. He had cautiously sounded Marcus who had been all for the scheme. Marcus was more of an academic and understood that Titus needed someone who was more physical. Titus and Alan enjoyed their visits to a brothel together far more than Marcus would. Paradoxically they happily explored each other's bodies and spent time together in bed tenderly making love but when there were females around then it was passion and sex rather than lovemaking.

Freed slaves were not allowed public office or to inherit property unless there there was no living family but he would benefit from Titus' patronage. Now he had even spoken to the Emperor or more accurately the Emperor had spoken to him.

Although he was divorcing his wife, Octavia, Titus was still considering his elder son's future. It was obvious that he was a willing ally of his mother but Titus was watching his family split in two and no one wanted to pressure him into making the final decisions.

For her part, Octavia was making the most of Flavius' predicament. She claimed inside knowledge, the implication being that it was Titus' fault that the House of Aulus was disintegrating from within. Flavius' escapade was only the first visible sign of his true behaviour. In his degenerate rush to mix with slaves he would destroy the Noble classes. Equal education? Worrying about rubbish clearing for people who preferred to live like pigs? Expecting Nobles to face court like common criminals? Her comments were interspersed with clichés like it being the 'tip of the iceberg' or the 'start of the slippery slope.

She spoke cleverly and more of the Noble classes were beginning to believe that Flavius was unfit to continue as Governor. In reality Flavius had done little to affect the Nobles but like all third rate politicians Octavia was playing on their worries and creating more fear, uncertainty and doubt.

With Titus and Publicus as second and third in line to the Governorship, if the Nobles petitioned for his removal and could show sufficient grounds then the courts could remove him in favour of Titus. If the case was strong enough and Titus continued to support Flavius, it could even pass directly to Publicus. Titus would still be Publicus' father and expected to guide Publicus but if he had a road accident, or something happened in one of his shipyards then it would seem less suspicious than the Governor being killed.

Octavia was unaware that Titus had his own plans which would affect her schemes and she was equally unaware that, by a strange quirk of fate, Flavius' escapade and punishment was leading to her own exposure and the destruction of her hopes.


Saturday arrived all too quickly for Flavius, Brutus and Luke. Flavius was sorely tempted to hide behind his position and not go to the Forum.

Surprisingly, it was his mother who persuaded him.

"Now that you're growing up, you and your father would never have got on." she said, "He wouldn't have got into this sort of trouble. He was too cautious and he would never have been able to use that street cleaning incident to shake up the town hall. I'm as proud of the way that you face up to your mistakes as I am for what you're achieving.

"I've learnt something too. My personal maid knows something about style and fashion and she's beginning to learn that I won't beat her if she disagrees with me on the subject."

Flavius managed a grim smile before setting off with the others. They had removed their House of Sparta insignia and wore simple tunics.

Like so much else of modern Roman life there was more to the whipping than simple punishment. It was a spectacle, part of the Gladiatorial culture where participants were expected to face their fate with courage and bravado. If Flavius had used his position to get out of trouble, it would have been considered normal behaviour but he would be remembered as the Governor who had sprayed graffiti. Instead, their performances would be analysed as if they were sportsmen at a major event and their crimes would be forgotten amid speculation as to how Flavius and the others had coped.

The whipping post was mounted on a platform. The post was at one end while a long hard bench stretched the width of the platform. The only form of backrest was a series of posts from which metal collars hung by chains.

There were seven to be punished that morning. Two had their hands cuffed in front of them with a strap wrapped round their elbows pulling their arms tight. When the time came for them to be taken out onto the platform, the shackled pair were led out and collared while the rest were to be allowed to walk out in a line and sit down. All were naked and in spite of a cool breeze they shone with the sweat from their nervous bodies.

One of the shackled men was struggling and whimpering. He was gagged to keep him quiet. Flavius sensed the contempt that the crowd felt for the man.

Flavius knew that he had to sit calmly. Not even Brutus was aroused by the situation and Luke was shaking but he was trying to sit as stoically as Flavius who shifted position so that Luke was between him and Brutus and held his hand. Brutus took his other hand and they waited feeling each other's support until everything was ready. The crowd liked the little display of friendship and some even clapped.

Luke was the first to be called. Flavius stood up with him and hugged him. Luke took a deep breath before striding determinedly to the post and raising his arms so that they could be secured.

The whip master whispered something to Luke before taking up position. The first blow made Luke gasp as the wind was knocked out of him. It landed across his shoulders and Flavius watched as the welt appeared and reddened. The second blow was just below the first and the whip was worked down Luke's back. By five Luke was sobbing freely, he did not have enough breath to scream and by fifteen the boy was just hanging by his arms. The doctor ordered a halt and checked Luke's pulse. He allowed Luke a brief rest before asking Luke something. Luke did not have enough breath to speak and just nodded. The doctor waited a little longer until he was satisfied and let the punishment continue.

At twenty Luke lost control of his bladder. Brutus and Flavius understood why they had been advised to have enemas that morning to really clear them out. Losing control of their bowels was a possibility and would have been too humiliating.

Finally it was over for Luke. His back, arse and thighs were covered with red welts but they were evenly spaced and none crossed. Even though some were bleeding, they would heal without scars. The doctor's slave wrapped him him in a thermal blanket and led him back to the court office.

Brutus was next. He stood waiting, hoping that Flavius would hug him as well. Flavius obliged then watched as Brutus took his turn at the post. He managed a yell at the first stroke followed almost immediately by uncontrolled sobbing. He managed to stay conscious and keep control of his bladder until the eighteenth blow. It took much longer for the doctor to be satisfied and he stopped the whipping again at twenty three. Finally Brutus recovered enough for the last two blows and he was led away.

After watching his two friends suffer, it was now his turn and Flavius desperately longed for the reassurance he had offered the other two but he was alone. For a moment he froze with fear.

There was a commotion and Marcus scrambled onto the platform. Officials rushed to intercept but the whip master held up his hand to stop them.

He hugged Flavius tightly saying loudly, "He's my cousin and I love him."

It was unusual for boys as young as Flavius to be publicly whipped. If they had committed a serious enough crime then they were more likely to be sold to cover the compensation. If they came from rich families who could afford good lawyers then they got off. So the mornings proceedings were something of a novelty item and Marcus was just adding to the entertainment.

The crowd was waiting with bated breath. There was nothing wrong with being scared providing he got over it. If he allowed his fear to turn into panic then it would never be forgotten and Flavius would lose all the respect he had earned for ever.

As Flavius recovered his composure he saw Hans, Steven and Alan in the crowd. Hans nodded approvingly. Flavius led Marcus to the edge of the platform and helped him down so that he could stand by the other three.

Seeming to be calm and relaxed he walked steadily to the post and like Luke raised his arms so that they could be secured.

The whip master spoke to him as he had to the other two.

"That was a good show. Well done. Don't be scared to react to the pain. You'll spoil it if the crowd thinks I'm going easy on you."

There was a pause before Flavius heard the whistle of the whip and the crack of the impact as his body was slammed into the post, winding him. Then the pain started. It felt like a red hot poker was lying on his shoulders. He was still recovering when he heard the whistle again and the second stroke landed. He managed eight strokes before he began sobbing uncontrollably and the doctor did not intervene until stroke twenty when his legs gave out.

"I'm not stopping it with just five strokes to go," the doctor said, "Now stand up and take the weight off your arms so you can breathe better.

Flavius kept control of his bladder but when he was released at the end of his whipping he collapsed to the ground unable to move. This time Hans, Steven and Alan all rushed onto the platform to help him.

As they left the platform there was a round of applause from the crowd. It had been a good performance which had added to Flavius' reputation.

They found Luke and Brutus lying in a cell in the court office. They did not have the luxury of beds or any other furniture so they were on the floor on their stomachs. Strictly speaking they were not allowed visitors but because of their age Hans, Steven and Alan were allowed in, to in rub in a soothing cream which Hans had brought.

They were not fit enough to walk to the barracks where they would be held while they did their week's bondage so they were waiting for transport.

Before it arrived the next prisoner to have been whipped was brought in. Although in his late twenties to early thirties he had received a hundred lashes with a much heavier whip and was in a bad way. Hans glanced questioningly at Flavius who nodded. Hans began to apply cream to the man's back who groaned appreciatively.

The doctor arrived and examined their wounds again.

"There's no point in letting them laze around feeling sorry for themselves." he said, "Start them on light duties after lunch. Call me if there's any sign of infection but the welts should be gone within a couple of weeks."

With that he was gone and moments later the boys were led out to the truck which would take them to the barracks where they were fed and fitted with collars as a sign of their bondage.

Tunics were optional and their guards decided that it would be kinder if they stayed naked for a few days, rather than have the material chafe their bodies. Of course the sight of their backs should have a deterrent effect but also it should show that they are bearing their punishment with courage and fortitude.

So, after being given some food around midday they were led to the massive flower beds in front of the railway station. The station was a large imposing structure designed to impress visitors as they arrived. Laid out around the entrance was an array of flower beds. There had been a dispute between the Town Hall and the Imperial Railway over who should maintain them with the result that they been left untended and were now an eyesore.

As Governor, Flavius had suggested the Town Hall start the restoration of the beds and bill half the costs to the IRW. His reputation for successfully tackling bureaucracy was growing and his suggestion was taken up before he could stir up more trouble. The Town Hall felt a quiet satisfaction that Flavius was labouring away at the work he had ordered.

Over the week the boys were worked hard from dawn to dusk, clearing, digging and planting. They were not allowed to slack off and by night time all they wanted to do is sleep.

Small incidents interrupted their routine. One that Flavius remembered for the rest of his life happened on the first day. An old soldier walked past Flavius as he worked. As the soldier drew close to Flavius he straightened up holding the cane he needed to walk with under his arm looking every inch the centurion he once was and waited for Flavius to acknowledge him. Flavius was filthy. Sweat ran in rivulets through the dirt and he had never felt less like the Provincial Governor. Nevertheless he straightened up as he stood in front of the veteran.

"I just wanted to say that it would be an honour to serve under you, sir." the old soldier said.

"Thank you, but I don't think anyone would want to serve me at the moment."

"Naked like a slave or in your Governor's robes, it doesn't matter. It's the same strength, character and integrity. That's what I see."

The soldier grinned and continued, "You're a good looking boy. I'd also serve you something with you under me. If I could still get it up for long enough, that is."

Flavius laughed with him. "I must get back to work before I get another beating. Thank you, I appreciate what you said."

His brief moment at attention had tired the old soldier and he leaned even more heavily on his cane as he hobbled off. Flavius received other words of encouragement during the week but the old soldier affected him more than anything.

The second major incident of the week involved Brutus. An obvious visitor strolled out of the station looking lost. It was obvious that he was a high ranking noble from Rome. Brutus, still not fully understanding what it meant to be a slave, approached him asking if he needed assistance. He was polite and respectful and many people would be only too pleased to get help, overlooking the slave's impertinence.

Not this visitor, for moments later Brutus was picking himself off the ground with a large bruise beginning to form on his cheek. The visitor was oblivious to the angry looks from passers by as they subconsciously began to close around Flavius and his friends in a protective cordon. It was nothing obvious and as the stranger moved off the rest went about their business. It is unlikely that a casual observer would have noticed anything; the stranger certainly did not.

Flavius had recognised the man as Prince Ignatius. He was known as a cruel man who resented the fact that his distant cousin was Emperor and not him. He had completed military service with some success. Everyone agreed that he had earned his rank of colonel. Those in the know also agreed that any further promotion would take him beyond his abilities. It was obvious to Flavius that Prince Ignatius was trying to travel incognito. Normally he insisted on wearing full military dress with his aides never far away.

Had Prince Ignatius dressed down to look middle class and accepted Brutus' offer of help, Flavius would probably have not recognised him. He knew enough about Prince Ignatius' politics to be worried by his arrival.

Brutus had been left unattended to recover. A guard would soon be yelling for him to get back to work and normally Flavius would not have dared to go to his aid. He dropped his tools and ran to Brutus.

"I'm all right." Brutus gasped, "Get back to work before you're punished."

"I need to speak to the guard, on the quiet." Flavius whispered, "Act a bit dazed."

The guard came running over, grabbed Flavius' ear and lifted him to his feet.

"Get back to work, now. I don't want to punish you but I will if I have to." he said.

"Get someone to follow that man. Get a report to the Governor on where he goes and who he sees. Don't let him know who I am."

Flavius had his back to Prince Ignatius and had spoken quietly.

"Don't be so bloody insolent. Get back to work." the guard yelled pushing him on his way. He landed a sharp blow on Flavius' rear as he turned his attention to Brutus who was already scrambling up.

As Prince Ignatius walked away, irritated by the slack treatment of the two slaves and the crowd began to carry on with it's own business, the guard managed to pass Flavius' instructions on to a fellow soldier who had been passing. The guard got a few angry looks for his treatment of Flavius but he was doing his job and Flavius accepted it, so maybe it was all right. The crowds main anger was still directed at Prince Ignatius' departing back.

A little later the guard was standing over Flavius as he worked, The guard was swatting his hand with his cane, threateningly. It should have been thoroughly intimidating Flavius.

"Sorry about the cane," the guard was saying, "but he was watching and I didn't know what else to do. I've someone following him though."

"Good. As long as he doesn't know I've recognised him. I need to see the head of the Secret Service, General Maximilian and Hans tonight. No one else can know though."

The guard almost jumped to attention and saluted but remembered just in time.

"Just get on with it." he snapped, "You've got a barracks to clean before you eat."

Flavius grinned at the coded acknowledgement. In the military, high ranking visitors mean spit and polish and he was the one on punishment.

It did not matter what the circumstances, there were times when no one doubted that Flavius was in charge. In spite of him being naked and with an iron collar round his neck, the General and the the Secret Service chief deferred to him and it began when General Maximilian dismissed the guard.

"He should stay." Flavius snapped, "He's seen enough to guess what this meeting's about so there's little point in excluding him from the security point of view and I may need his help. God, I wish I hadn't been so fucking stupid over that graffiti."

Both Hans and the guard stepped forward to deal with Flavius' language then stopped as they realised what was happening, grinning sheepishly.

"Prince Ignatius arrived today and it looked as if he was trying to be incognito." Flavius began, "I know he has dealings with Senator Crallus and Aunt Octavia. Father used to say that he wanted the throne."

"Do you know why he's here?" he asked the Secret Service chief."

"We can't interfere." he replied, "You've killed any investigation into Octavia stealing confidential papers. For the rest if they can get enough support to impeach you then it's perfectly legal. We know Ignatius plans to overthrow the Emperor and if we ever get enough evidence we'll deal with him."

Flavius thought for a while before turning to his guard.

"Handcuff Hans and me, please, then give Chief Williams your gun."

Puzzled the soldier obeyed.

"Shoot me and Hans. You can say I went mad and shot the soldier while Hans was trying to break me out. In the confusion we were accidentally killed as well. Even Uncle Titus will be discredited for the way he supports my behaviour. Octavia will have her chance to get Publicus made governor and Ignatius will have a powerful base to work from. Is that what the Empire needs right now?"

"Of course not, sir. I'm loyal to you and the Emperor." Chief Williams replied, "You've made your point and you're right. It does look as if they're planning something. Prince Ignatius has visited Scandinavia a few times recently and this province is of vital strategic importance in the event of war. But even we need some proof before we can act."

"My office says that only about a quarter of the Nobles hate my reforms enough to actively come after me. Would you agree, Chief Williams?"

"I'd put it at fifteen to twenty per cent at present. You're not the spoiled brat that boy rulers tend to be and even the nobles can appreciate that."

"In which case we'll hold a reception. Say a week after I finish here. Chief Williams, General Maximilian, find an excuse to keep Ignatius here. Maybe he'd drop his cover if he was to take a parade or something. Hans, tell my mother and Matthew to start organising it.

He paused as he collected his thoughts. "There's a slave at the palace, John. All he wants is, to be a gardener and we could do with his knowledge when it comes to planting. He could come and go freely and as act as a messenger if I need one. It was only luck that Private Black here saw a friend who could follow Ignatius."

Flavius yawned. "I'd like to get some sleep, please. The bloody guard's going to have me up before dawn."

The others grinned at his jibe at Private Black and the meeting broke up though the soldier had orders to report back to the office.

When Private Black returned, he was alone with General Maximilian; the others had gone.

"Pour yourself a drink and sit down, son." the General said, "How are you getting on with our Provincial Governor?"

"Er.... It's an honour to........" Private Black tailed off unsure how to answer.

The General chuckled, "He's no tactician. If he organised an ambush he'd have the troops shooting each other in the crossfire but he's been learning about strategy since he learned to talk. If you were going to say that it's an honour to guard him then I agree. He's trying to salvage his reputation after an act of gross stupidity and his courage is impressive. Are you planning on fucking him?"

"No! Of course not, sir."

"Why not? He's a slave even if he is only bonded and he'll probably enjoy it. Have you noticed, when he needs to be Governor there's no mistaking it but there are other times he needs to be a boy. He's a tough boy so don't do him any favours but when you've finished with him, let him be a child and cuddle him so he feels safe and protected."

"It's easy for you to say, sir." Private Black said. The drink had made it difficult for him to keep up with the jumps in General Maximilian's conversation and his guard had slipped. "He offered to have me shot tonight just because I was here. Privates don't get on the wrong side of Provincial Governors."

"General's don't, either, son." General Maximilian laughed, "You betray him and he'll cut out your intestines then strangle you with them. If you support him he'll support you and it won't do your promotion prospects much harm either. You're a fit, tough young soldier and you excelled at basic training. You want to please Flavius then expect him to measure up to your standards. By the way, didn't you recognise that little piece of melodrama?

Private Black shook his head.

"It came from a film that was on television a few weeks ago. Dreadful thing but Flavius must have liked it. Chief Williams wanted to help and just needed Flavius to say that he thought the plot would harm the Empire. Flavius was adult enough to see the argument and juvenile enough to use that corny scene.

The soldier nodded. "It is an honour to serve a man like Governor Flavius. It's just that I was trained to do it by aiming a gun at the Empire's enemies, not looking after some wonder kid."

"Pour us another drink and make sure yours is a double. You're going to need it." General Maximilian said, mock seriously.

"When the two men were seated again he continued, "Promotion through the ranks does happen especially in time of war but there's the same sort of opposition as there is in the education system. There's a vacancy coming up on an officer training course and I'm going to recommend you and ask His Excellency to sponsor you."

As the soldier stared not sure that he had heard right, "You know he's trying to open up the education system as his Imperial Service. I'm going to back him by saying that officer training is education. You've an excellent record and you show initiative. That's why you were chosen for this particular guard duty. How do feel about serving His Excellency now?"

"It's not what I expected. May I ask a personal question, Sir?"

The General nodded.

"It's about your boy, Steven and what you said earlier. Is that how you treat him?"

The General smiled, "Steven's got a warm loving family. I think I need a bit of Tender Loving Care more than he does. He'll get fed up with me and my games before long and move on but I've had a chance to learn about him and find out what Flavius sees in him. I'm impressed. He'll always have my backing and support as if he were my son."

The conversation continued until the bottle was empty and the Private staggered off to his quarters. He had seen guarding petty criminals while they worked out a sentence as beneath him and some sort of unofficial reprimand. Since he had discovered who he would be guarding, he had begun to realise that the opposite was true and the stakes were still being raised. He just hoped he did not let anyone down.

Chapter 10

During the course of the next day, Private Black watched Flavius carefully. The slave, John showed up and supervised the planting of the flower beds. He was nervous, still unwilling to see Flavius as anything except his master. At one point, Flavius had looked annoyed and as the soldier approached he heard Flavius say in an exasperated voice, "You know what's going on. I'm more likely to get whipped than you are if this goes wrong so just tell me how deep to plant these fucking things."

Private Black decided that he had not heard heard Flavius rudeness as it seemed to steady John who gradually gained in confidence. Flavius and the others followed John's instructions while in his turn John had been lent a mobile phone and shown how to use it so that he could call the head gardener at the palace for advice or pass on messages from Flavius.

That night he took Flavius to his quarters.

"I'm entitled to a personal servant and you're my first choice while on this duty. You're good looking, use your initiative and you're tough." the soldier said, "General Maximilian has the idea that you would sponsor me for officer training and after the Emperor you're my commanding officer, yet I'm supposed to see you as just a slave that I can fuck if I feel like it. It's crazy."

"If you wanted the Governor's sponsorship, shouldn't you have been nice and kind to him so that he thinks of you as a friend?"

"Maybe. However I treat you I'm trying to get something out of it. That's what worries me. I heard you swear at that slave this morning and just then you forget to call me, sir. Do I let you off because I'm sucking up to you or because you helped calm John."

"The Emperor says that he can't trust a man who says that doesn't want anything from him." Flavius grinned cheekily, "The Governor would like you to let me off this time providing I'm not rude again, sir and I would like to be your servant. Slaves don't have to worry about plots, wars and politics, sir."

Private Black might have hesitated longer but there was a knock at the door and like a good servant Flavius went to answer it.

The visitor was Private friend, the one who had followed Prince Ignatius the day before. He was vaguely surprised to see that Private Black had a slave but he thrust a bottle of Scotch into Flavius hands, telling him to open it and fetch a couple of glasses.

"Reg, can you tell the boy to vanish." the visitor said, "I've got something to tell you about that guy you had me follow yesterday."

Reg grinned, "It's true what they say then, people never look at slaves."

Reg's friend turned to look at Flavius but as he did so there was another knock. General Maximilian had arrived with Steven.

"Relax. I don't normally invade my soldiers time off but Steven here would like to talk to Flavius."

Reg was getting used to dealing with his superiors in unusual situations and merely stood long enough to greet the General and offer him a seat. His friend was less relaxed trying to stand at attention holding a glass of whisky.

"Joe, sit down." Reg commanded, "You're behaving like a rookie fresh out of basic training. Now! What were you going to say about yesterday?"

"That guy you asked me to follow. It's Prince Ignatius but he registered as Julius Mobius. I recognised him though. He's Commander in Chief of my old legion before I transferred here. He was talking to some Lady in the Hotel Britannia."

"OK son, I'm going to stop you there. It was a good try but you got in the way of a secret service agent. He saw the Lady Octavia. Do you know what's going on."

"Only the gossip, sir." Joe replied, "Some of the Nobles are planning a coup. They talk in front of slaves and it leaks out. Are you trying to stop them, sir."

"Flavius?" General Maximilian said.

"Yes, we're going to stop them." Flavius said angrily, "If it wasn't for a promise, Octavia would be dead by now. They're trying to do it legally for now but when they try something I can get them for then I'll make this week seem like a health spar."

Joe thought back to the General's remarks about traitors being strangled with their own intestines and suddenly believed him. He also understood how Flavius was clear on who his friends were and what he expected from them.

"This week isn't over yet so how about attending to your duties and filling our glasses."

Everyone except Steven looked startled. He was just amused thinking it could have been Hans speaking. Flavius jumped as Reg swatted his backside and he hurried to obey.

"Joe. We'll have this drink and head for a bar." Reg said, "The General has business to deal with."

"Excuse me sir, these are your quarters." Flavius said, "The Governor thinks you're an ally and doesn't see why you should leave."

Private Black glanced at his General who shrugged, "Unless you've got state secrets, Steven, let's have your news."

"It's nothing much, sir." Steven replied, "The lady Julia has started on the reception. She wants to know who's going to help with your speech."

"Speech?" Flavius asked.

"She says that you need to clear the air. Play down this graffiti business and explain your plans for the future. Say that you're going to review the role that the House of Sparta plays in your life and that you'll remember your position in the future. That sort of thing."

"I suppose it's a good idea. I'll think about what I'm going to say. Anything else?"

"Should she invite Octavia and Publicus? Maybe a public reconciliation would make it harder for them to back an impeachment."

Flavius stumbled. He had worked a long exhausting day and was still acting as a servant. He was almost too tired to think.

"Invite them as members of the Noble classes. We can always greet them as family at the time but I need time to think."

"Unless there's anything urgent, that's enough." Reg said firmly, "Flavius go lay on my bed. I'll be there later. Be ready."

Joe stared at his friend. Surely he was going to be in big trouble for the way he was treating Flavius.

"You've taken my advice then," General Maximilian said, "I told you he was tough."

"Yes sir. Perhaps your boy could fill our glasses again. Joe looks as though he needs one."

General Maximilian grinned, "I do apologise for bursting in like this but Steven often spends a night with me so it's not unusual for him to be in the barracks."

"So he can carry messages to and from the Palace." Joe said brightly.

"If you'd like to stay and help finish this bottle off, sir, you'd be very welcome." Reg said, "And then I'm going to chuck you all out. I've got to be up early and I need some sleep."

When Reg finally staggered into bed he fell asleep with Flavius spooned into him and his arms wrapped round the boy. He awoke the next morning to a gentle shake, just before dawn. Flavius stood beside the bed with Reg's breakfast on a tray.

He was sporting a full blown hard on which refused to go down. Reg's cock, already half hard, stiffened in sympathy. As Reg ate he wondered how Flavius would cope being 'on display' while he worked and how long it would before it deflated through tiredness caused by the hard work.

Reg wanted his own relief and depriving Flavius of his chance would be too cruel. Telling Flavius to put the tray down and straddle him, Flavius guided Reg's cock up inside himself and gradually sank down until he could feel Reg's pubes against his arse. He began riding up and down the shaft impaling him as Reg grabbed his cock and stroked it with increasing intensity. Flavius came first shooting wads over Reg's chest. As Reg felt Flavius clamp tight around him, he shot deep into the boy.

Flavius' face screwed up with pain and he cried out. Briefly Reg was scared that he had ripped the boy internally but it dawned on him that he was still holding his cock and in the intensity of the moment had squeezed it hard. As he let go Flavius relaxed but made no attempt to move. Only Reg's softening cock separated them.

"Have you eaten, yet?" Reg asked.

"Yes sir," Flavius replied, "We were taught how to behave at the training camp."

The remaining days of his punishment followed the pattern that had been set except Reg did not have visitors very often. While Brutus and Luke slept or played with each other, Flavius would serve Reg -- cleaning his equipment, washing his clothes, preparing food as well as having his hole filled whenever Reg wanted it. Reg tended to stay naked and often, being bent over the sink, ironing board, chair or wherever he was working, was the first warning that Flavius had that he was about to be penetrated.

Flavius fell asleep the second he was allowed to lay down yet he always managed to be firmly nestled into Reg's hard, muscular and comforting body.

Even when he was working on the flower beds, clearing brambles, digging ready for planting he felt safe when he knew that Reg was nearby. He might earn the occasional lash when he slacked off but Reg seemed to protect him from the bigger dangers he was facing.

When his sentence was completed he slept for nearly a day. His extra duties serving Reg left him drained and weary. Even Hans was concerned about his gaunt appearance when he returned to the Palace but Flavius was strangely content and missed Reg.

Whenever he lived in his own quarters there would a steady stream of flunkies wanting to hand over responsibility to him. They made the decisions when he was unavailable but seemed unable to do so when he was present and inevitably he retreated to the House of Sparta. He managed to rest for a day with Hans keeping everyone away.

Hans had even managed to stand up to Flavius' mother, Julia, and ensured that she did not bother him about the reception.

When he was feeling like his old self he summoned Germanicus and they worked together in his office for an afternoon preparing his speech. The following day he went over it with General Maximilian and Chief Williams. He spent that evening in the House of Sparta with his friends. Brutus and Luke were fully recovered and although Luke was unused to his new companions and being part of the Palace household he grinned happily when he saw Flavius.

Alan was his usual cheerful self, kneeling between Titus and his son, Marcus. Hans and Steven concentrated on serving Germanicus, Juan, Matthew and Harold, the Board of Guardians looking after Flavius' interests.

Conversation centred around the reception. In particular, Luke's parents who had been invited. Flavius had been as surprised as anyone that Julia had included them along with Steven's mother and father. Although not yet fully comfortable with her son's egalitarian attitudes she was aware of the respect that the House of Sparta was gaining and she wanted to show her support.

The reception itself followed a similar pattern to the previous one until Flavius began his speech. He looked around the hall. Octavia, Plubicus and Prince Ignatius were standing with Senator Crallus and a small group of Nobles. There seemed to be a gap between them and the rest of the crowd but it was narrow, almost invisible.

"I made a stupid mistake a little while ago." he began, " My excuse is that I'm a boy, my friends are boys and we make boyish mistakes. However, I put my Governorship at risk, left the province a little less stable and so I let the Emperor down. As a boy I have a lot to learn and I have learnt many lessons from my experiences, especially about trust.

Flavius paused and glanced around the room. The crowd was listening, fascinated by what he was saying.

"My guard, from the House of Sparta. is made up of all ranks from slaves to Nobles. In various ways they have all proved their loyalty to me and my service to the Emperor and I see them all as noble." Flavius paused looking for his cousin, "Marcus, come and stand by me."

Marcus stepped hesitantly forward.

"It is my wish that Marcus be recognised as my heir until the birth of my first son. Should anything happen to me I ask that the Board of Guardians and the House of Sparta support him until his twenty first birthday."

Marcus looked stunned and Flavius waited until his guests had settled down again.

"Some of you think that I should be impeached because of my recent behaviour. If that is your honest opinion so be it. I expect you to be true to yourself and you will still be welcome at the House of Aulus. My defence is that I behaved little better than a slave, I was punished as a slave and I deserved it. I did not plead the protection of the House of Aulus nor the Governor's Palace and my back assures me that I did not receive it."

Flavius glanced round the room again as the chuckles died down. The gap between Octavia's gang and the rest of the audience seemed a little clearer and the gang seemed smaller.

"I must stress that the office of Governor had no part in my activities."

Flavius sensed that he had made his point and it was time to move on.

"This province is loyal to the Emperor and will remain so for as long as I'm Governor. When I put it's stability at risk it was through stupidity and I was punished. If anyone does so out of treachery then they can expect punishment appropriate to their crime. I will not show leniency when I did not expect it for myself."

Flavius paused again. His last line had been a cue for Reg and Joe to enter the hall in full uniform and approach Octavia's group.

"Publicus Aulus. You are under arrest for being drunk and disorderly, criminal damage and using insulting language. Come with us, please."

Publicus was too stunned to protest but a babble of excited conversation built up as guests absorbed what had just happened.

Flavius raised his hand asking for silence and looked directly at Octavia. "I made a promise to protect someone from harm. I can only keep that promise for another twenty four hours. After that time, anyone in this province involved in plots against the Emperor will be arrested, irrespective of rank. It will not be a witch hunt. The evidence will be genuine and substantial but it might not have anything to do with treachery."

Octavia, Senator Crallus and Prince Ignatius were now alone and Flavius had been looking in their direction while he spoke. The noise from the floor fell silent again as the crowd realised that Flavius was waiting for a reaction. The tension became physical as the entire room stared at the gang of three.

"I'm a Prince of the Imperial family. How dare you try to humiliate me like this." Prince Ignatius roared out.

"You attacked a slave when you first arrived. That is damaging municipal property. You arrived in town as Julius Mobius and that is the name on your invitation. Don't forget that I have experience in not embarrassing noble houses over petty crimes. General Maximilian, if you please."

The General spoke into a small handset and four more soldiers entered the hall. Still obviously furious Prince Ignatius fumbled inside a pocket. Instantly there were four guns pointing at him. He stopped then very slowly withdrew his hand holding the gun between two fingers. At a nod from Flavius, General Maximilian arrested Prince Ignatius under the name of Julius Mobius who was then led away by the four soldiers.

Octavia had assumed that her invitation had been because of Flavius weakness and a need to come to terms with his enemies. She had been deluded enough to think maybe she could control him the way she planned on manipulating Publicus. She did not realise it yet but she was about to lose everything. Titus had planned on giving her estates to provide her with an income after their divorce. In the meantime she was living on credit and Flavius had just destroyed any influence she might have. Titus no longer felt that he could support her in any way and withdrew his promise of the estates so that, not only would she be unable to borrow any more, she would be unable to pay back her loans.

Flavius still felt obliged to honour his promise to Marcus and persuaded Titus to transfer the estates to his son. Marcus then paid his mother a pension for the rest of her life. He would also pay off her debts. Her creditors only had to ask. Of course if they did ask they would be implicated in her plotting.

All that would be in the future. For now Flavius had the rest of the reception to get through. For rest of the evening he circulated among his guests. Those associated with Octavia were ignored. One or two had supported his impeachment but not the plotting. Flavius greeted them formally and made them feel welcome. Others, he greeted warmly, treating them like friends. Reg and Joe returned, standing stiffly to attention as they reported to General Maximilian. Flavius spoiled the military effect by hugging Reg then insisting on fetching the soldiers a drink. His demeanour was a caricature of an obedient slave which had everyone laughing. He spoke with Luke's parents putting them at ease as well as with the Cirensons. The rest of the Sparta boys took turns in guarding him. There were always two standing just behind him. Except for Alan and Hans they all had a chance to spend time with their parents. Alan was able to stand with Titus and Marcus for a time and Hans was called over to Julia.

"All of Flavius' friends seem to gaining something except you." she said, "Even the other slave seems to have a new family. So what do you want?"

"I don't know My Lady," Hans replied, "I'm used to being a slave. Master Flavius is no ordinary owner and I like serving him."

"Sit down, boy and have a drink."Julia commanded, "I'm sorry. I should have asked, not ordered but I'd like you to sit down and relax. Flavius is showing the world how he deals with his friends, and his enemies. Let them see that you're a friend."

She called Flavius over.

"While you're showing your gratitude to your supporters, you're forgetting your oldest ally. Have you considered giving him his freedom?"

"You've changed, Mother." Flavius laughed, "You seem to cavort with slaves more than I do nowadays."

"Maybe." Julia acknowledged, "but it's part of Roman culture that slavery's not natural. There's always been manumission and laws on the treatment of slaves. I'm beginning to understand why. Now why is Hans here the only one not being rewarded for your success?"

"Hans and I have talked about it. I owe him and when he wants something he'll get it. In the meantime, if I neglect my duties tonight I'll be in trouble with him when we're back in the House of Sparta."

Julia saw the conspiratorial grin the two boys shared.

"In that case I shall consider it my motherly duty to get him a little drunk so that he doesn't notice all your mistakes." Julia said lightly trying to match her son's mood.

Some time later, Marcus approached Flavius.

"What's going to happen to Publicus?" he asked.

I haven't decided yet." Flavius replied, "Joshua was promised a reward for getting me into trouble so your brother succeeded in betraying him and me. I don't like that."

"Neither do I." Marcus replied, "He's still my brother though so I've got to ask. Will you go easy on him? Mother pushed him."

"If he wants to be a lapdog then I'll make sure he spends the rest of his life walking on all fours with a collar and leash. I'm sorry Marcus but there's a price for going up against me."

Marcus shrugged, "He got me into trouble often enough. If you hadn't gone along with Joshua he'd have tried something else and kept trying until you slipped up. It's his way to make himself out the angel and me the devil. I mean this time it was you."

The reception began to wind down and Flavius was able to escape to his bed. For once he slept in his own quarters in the Palace. Julia had kept her promise and Hans was in no fit state to look after Flavius. Luke volunteered to act as servant.

He spent the night asleep on the floor beside Flavius' bed and the morning laying beside Flavius with Flavius' cock firmly impaling him. Flavius had found the previous night emotionally exhausting and he needed to rest. As General Maximilian pointed out he needed the comfort that a warm body provides and he slept until past noon wrapped around Luke.

The only business he conducted that day was a conference between himself, Titus, Marcus and Germanicus. Flavius had destroyed any opposition against him. With Marcus, his ally, declared heir and Publicus arrested for drunkenness there was no credible replacement for Flavius. At least none that Octavia could manipulate. She was now useless to any rebellion and completely dependent on the family she had betrayed. It was Germanicus who suggested that Marcus have estates and administer his mother's pension. And, it was Germanicus who suggested that it be enough to allow her a small cottage in a remote village and a single servant.

Prince Ignatius was transferred to Rome. His treatment at Flavius' hands swung between amusement and annoyance. To have been outwitted by a boy had destroyed his credibility as a leader of a rebellion. Being arrested on such a trivial offence made him a laughing stock. Flavius had used his own arrest and trial, which had avoided using his role as Governor, as a precedent. Prince Ignatius had the choice of involving the Imperial family in a petty crime or facing the charge incognito. On the other hand he was a member of the Imperial family and Flavius should have treated him with more respect.

The Emperor ruled that, since the case was against Julius Mobius, if Julius Mobius and all his aliases, ceased to exist then so did the case. The ruling meant that Prince Ignatius could be arrested if he ever travelled incognito again and so all his movements became part of the Imperial record. It made his position as a leader of a rebellion harder to sustain.

The evidence against Octavia and Prince Ignatius was flimsy and the time was long gone when they could have been quietly assassinated so humiliation and isolation were very useful substitutes.

Publicus' trial came up a couple of days after the reception. He looked relieved when he saw Flavius and Marcus in court but fear showed when no one offered to help with his defence. He could only stand and agree with the list of trouble he had caused when it was read out. Flavius had ordered that an investigator look into Publicus behaviour as far back as possible and he gasped when the total bill for compensation was read out and showed real terror when it became obvious that no one was going to pay it for him. He had received a generous allowance from his parents which he had spent but he had no savings.

The court ruled that he be enslaved and sold. It was then that Flavius stood up.

"Your Honour, this slave used to be a part of my family. It could be that an unscrupulous buyer might try to take advantage of the fact. I would therefore like to make the purchase directly. I'll match the full asking price which I believe to be above the market value."

Flavius was right. At seventeen he would only be bought as a labourer and Publicus was chubby and unfit. The court agreed with Flavius and the deal was done. Publicus still hoped that Flavius would save him but he was beginning to dread his future.

Publicus was taken to a cell and a collar fitted to his neck with iron bars and cuffs for his wrists. Once in place his arms were held in line with his shoulders but wider apart. A chain hanging from the ceiling was attached to his collar so that he had to stand upright.

It seemed an age before Flavius arrived for him still accompanied by Marcus.

"Am I glad to see you." Publicus said as he saw Flavius. "Look what these idiots have done to me."

Flavius drove his fist hard into Publicus' solar plexus. He tried doubling over with the pain but the chain held him up. Flavius slapped his face hard.

"You will show respect to your betters, boy." Flavius said sharply, "Get used to your new situation."

Flavius took a knife from a slave, slipped it under Publicus' clothes and sliced. The clothes fell away leaving Publicus naked; the slave removing Publicus' shoes.

Flavius might not deign to kneel to deal with Publicus' footwear, but he was making Publicus' humiliation very personal. He was dressed in expensive, smart but informal clothes, appropriate for his brief speech in court while stripping Publicus of every shred of dignity. Flavius began examining Publicus body. He handled it, feeling for muscle tone, opening the new slaves mouth to check his teeth and examining his eyes. He ordered the slave serving him to wash Publicus genitals and crack before checking those regions.

Flavius was not being deliberately sexual but the thrill of destroying and humiliating his defeated enemy was a definite turn on. Publicus could only stand and accept whatever Flavius chose to do, learning that his body was now merely property for his Master's use. He thought of asking for Flavius' mercy but did not dare risk further punishment. Sooner or later his Mother would rescue him and demand some sort of compensation for his treatment.

"You can have whatever's left over when I've finished with him," Flavius said to Marcus, "You can free him if you like. It won't matter because he'll only be a Freed Man.

Publicus had lost all rank and status at his enslavement. Variations of laws dating back to the earliest times of the Empire prevented him from gaining any other rank other than Freed Man although his children could go higher. Marcus was a noble and therefore, legally, he was Titus' only surviving son and heir. Titus was thinking of adopting Alan. If Marcus died then Titus' heir would jump to Alan's future children if he ever married. If, afterwards, Titus re-adopted Publicus then legally his children would be junior to Alan's. Once Marcus married and had his own natural son then that boy would be heir. It was all very complicated but in law Publicus had lost all title in the House of Aulus and most importantly it was impossible for him to succeed Flavius.

Allowing Publicus to be enslaved had been a shrewd suggestion by Germanicus and Flavius relished in the destruction of his enemies.

Publicus was beginning to understand what had happened to him and that he was now useless to his Mother. Flavius attached a leash to the ring on the front of Publicus collar before releasing the chain.

"You can hold the leash, Marcus, "Flavius said, "Let's get him home and then we'll start on his training."

Centuries ago victorious generals would parade through Rome in a Triumph. There was a trace of that ancient custom in Flavius' progress back to the Palace. He led the way followed by Marcus leading Publicus, still naked and in irons. Flavius would stop, greeting friends or nobles, sometimes including Marcus in the conversation. Publicus could just stand, his body completely exposed to inspection. Given his lack of fitness the appraisals led to ridicule and scorn. He was tainted by the word, treachery and no one sympathised with his situation.

At one point Flavius and Marcus had sat outside a tavern enjoying a drink with a Noble who was openly opposed to his education reforms. They argued the issues and Marcus could see that the Noble was impressed with some of the points that Flavius had made. The friendliness that Flavius showed to a Noble who openly opposed him, made Publicus' situation even worse, emphasising the deceit and back stabbing activities of Publicus and his mother.

Back at the Palace a slave greeted Flavius and led Publicus down to the slave's quarters into the room where Flavius had tortured David. Like the court house Publicus was left standing with his collar clipped to a chain hanging from the ceiling.

Flavius had called a meeting of the Board of Guardians and included the fathers of Brutus and Luke. They met in his office while the other Sparta boys served refreshments.

"I've been talking to the Emperor. He's not happy that I've humiliated a member of the Imperial family but since he insisted on describing Ignatius as the family idiot I don't think it's too serious."

He paused while the others chuckled at his remarks.

"Prince Ignatius' plot was regarded as a low grade risk. The Imperial Palace reckons that it would have taken about five hundred years before it became a real threat. The plan was simple; stir up unrest in a province, the Governor then makes concessions to the Prince's people so that they get a little bit more control.

"Prince Ignatius seemed to believe that there'll be a critical point where they've got so much influence they'll be able to go for the Imperial Throne. He's enough of a megalomaniac to believe that the crisis could be any day. Because I'm a boy I was seen as weak and vulnerable. This Province is of vital strategic importance and he has interests in Scandinavia. I wasn't told what they are but we became a prime target. The theft of papers was the start of their campaign and they had a list of other tricks ready to try and undermine my Governorship.

"My stupidity in going along with Joshua was a bonus. They saw my fraternising with the lower ranks as weakness and completely underestimated the loyalty of all my friends. They also grossly over-estimated their own intelligence and the support they truly had. Most were hangers on who thought the wind was blowing in their direction.

"We might not have saved the Empire but we have stopped a major irritation. Prince Ignatius was an embarrassment. No one thought of having him arrested under his alias before but it does keep the Imperial Family out of the records. His defence will argue that Brutus was rude and deserved a far worse punishment so the charges won't stick and the case will be quietly buried.. The real point is, if I can do it and not be called to Rome, then so can any Governor. My own trial and punishment has set a precedent and now has Imperial approval. If Ignatius tries his tricks again Imperial lawyers will unofficially advise governors on possible charges. He could spend an awful lot of time in police cells."

The others chuckled again. They had all known that something was going on but it had never been very clear, so it had been good to have the bigger picture explained.

"Uncle Titus. I'm sorry about Aunt Octavia and Publicus but they were plotting against me." Flavius said, "I can't ignore that."

"No! You can't." Titus replied, "I'm not happy at you involving Marcus though. I'd rather hand those estates over to you."

"If you did that, she'd starve by Winter." Flavius replied, "Marcus spoke up for them and he can look after them. I'm going to give Publicus to him but first I'll see that he's properly trained so that Marcus can manage him."

"Supposing I give him his freedom back?" Marcus asked.

"What will you do with him? Send him away. There's a shortage of gardeners. He could train with my slave John. Whatever happens he's no longer your brother and he can't claim any family titles. He's downstairs waiting for me and I'm going to make him sorry he tried to cross me. I've told before, you're only going to get what's left."

Flavius pressed a buzzer on his desk and Craig, who had been summoned earlier, entered. Craig was the slave who had been involved in the stolen papers.

"There's a new slave in your quarters." Flavius said, breathing heavily, "Start his education. Show him what happens when he betrays me. I'll be down later so just soften him up and let him know what to expect."

Craig looked shocked. There was a fire in Flavius eyes that he had never seen before and it scared him.

"Please, Master." Craig cried out, "It sounds as if you want me to torture him. We don't do that to new slaves."

Flavius leapt up, leaning across the desk to slap Craig hard across the face.

"How dare you tell me what I do and don't do. I'll have skin off your back as well. Get down there and wait for me."

Flavius had run from behind his desk with his hand raised to strike Craig again. Suddenly his arm was grabbed and he was yanked back. He turned to Harold glaring angrily at him.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Harold yelled, the fury evident in his voice, "You do not treat anyone like that or is everything you've achieved so far a sham?"

Flavius relaxed, the colour draining from his face as Harold let go of his arm. Without warning his legs lost all their strength and he would have fallen if Craig had not grabbed him.

As Flavius regained regained consciousness he wrapped his arms round Craig, sobbing uncontrollably. Craig looked confused not knowing what was happening or what to do.

Harold pointed to a chair and Craig sat down carefully pulling Flavius onto his lap.

"What's wrong with Flavius?" Marcus asked worriedly.

"He's learning something about himself," Hans said quietly, "He's got all those adult responsibilities and he's discovering how good it feels to have all that power over people. The House of Sparta exists so that he can learn to control it all. Let him cry all the fears and worries of the last few weeks out of him.

Hans was talking to Flavius as much as anyone.

"Would everybody else go through to the House of Sparta, please. The boys will look after our guests."

Hans looked at Titus, "Should we call his Mother?"

"Not yet." he replied, " Alan, stay here and look after them. Get Craig anything he wants."

Once they were settled in the House of Sparta, Germanicus said, "It must be difficult for you, Titus, knowing what your nephew and your wife and son are trying to do to each other.

Titus nodded miserably, "I feel like I'm going to burst. What do you think, Harold? Do you think that was just a reaction to everything?"

Harold shrugged.

"I don't know for certain but I would think so. He's probably still grieving for his father and so much has happened since the funeral. He needs a rest. Hans send someone to see how Publicus is doing. I don't know what Flavius is going to do but there's no point in accidentally damaging him."

Titus nodded gratefully. He was ashamed of his son's treachery and sympathised with Flavius' anger. He was also disappointed with Publicus' weakness. He blamed himself for letting his wife, Octavia, decide on his upbringing. But, Publicus was still his son and Titus wanted to help him. The room fell silent, everyone lost in their own thoughts.

Craig could not move. Flavius had fallen into a deep sleep, arms wrapped tightly around him. Harold was right, Flavius was exhausted. He had only slowly come to realise that the troubles of the last few weeks were finally past him and a reaction had set in.

Hans looked in the office every so often to check but did not disturb anyone. Finally Titus went and spoke to Flavius' mother, Julia.

To Be Continued