Copyright © 2015 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Another letter was waiting for me when I arrived at my family’s mansion in Rome.
I didn’t need to read it to know my father was angry. He was preparing for a military expedition to the East, where he planned to steal back the throne from a boy. The curious thing was not that he pursued a dream best left buried with Theodosius. What was odd was that he wanted me with him while he did it.
My father had been Master General of the Western Empire for most of my life, but mine was not a military post, nor even an important one.
I tossed the letter aside, and my attention wandered to Gallus.
I dismissed my other slaves, along with the morning’s sour melon, and drew Gallus down beside me. My gold ring ground into the knobby protrusion of his wrist. He pried at me—his hands inarticulate, weak, warm for the nails.
“Another summons,” I told him, my grip not loosened by his struggle. “Seems the Patrician has grown impatient with his tribune.”
I watched Gallus watching me. His caution was gratifying but not altogether acceptable.
“Another summons from your father?” he asked.
“There’s no talking him out of anything. An expedition to Constantinople will leave Consistory unwatched. Oh, but he doesn’t bother with politics! He thinks fear will keep the Senate in line and gold will keep Alaric across the Rhine.”
Gallus nodded but seemed concerned less with my father’s intentions than with mine. My hand moved to rest on his thigh. I obliged his fear by pushing him to his back and reminding him that what is soft makes men hard, what runs draws their chase.
“Animals are like that,” he said. “Wolves.”
“Rome is full of wolves.”
I touched the damp beard that streaked his cheek. His hair was dark as Egyptian granite, slick from days under the tortuous summer sun. We had yet to visit the baths since our return from Africa, so I called for a wine girl and a fan to make the morning more pleasant. He took the opportunity to put some distance between us.
The anxiety haunting me resolved itself in a moment of prurient clarity. “Throw the bones. We’ll see if the gods abide our obscenity this morning.”
He left the couch, opened the silver box on the table, and removed three ivory dice. As I nodded, he let them tumble to the floor. Twenty. I gathered the dice and shook them a long time in my hands before dropping them at his feet. Sixteen. I shrugged. “Never defy the gods.”