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With None But Thee

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[Takes place some time after Act I, scene viii. Martius pays a visit to the newly conquered town of Corioles.]

 

A room in Corioles. Aufidius sits at the edge of a bed, bare to the waist. A knock, and Martius enters from a side door.

Martius: Are we at peace?

Aufidius: Do I draw breath? Then no.
Go take thy gloating elsewhere--let me be.

Martius: I have not come to gloat upon the spoils;
A different errand brought me to the town.

Aufidius: If you were but one-tenth as good at lies
As with a sword, no man would doubt your word.
You came for me.

Martius: Perhaps, but not to fight.

Aufidius: I cannot think what else you mean to do.

Martius: We are not fit to fight each other now.
Our wounds are still too fresh. My motive was
To see that you are well, and nothing more.

Aufidius: [rubbing his throat] Aye, well enough, though I've seen better days.
Your arm?

Martius: Dressed well, and not by half so bad
As first it seemed to be on my return.

Aufidius: [bitterly] The blood not thine, but of my countrymen.

Martius: All those that met their end upon my blade
Did fight full well and valiant, pressed me hard--
And made themselves a truly noble end.

Aufidius: That eulogy will chilly comfort be
To mothers and to wives they leave behind.
But worst of all, I think upon their sons,
Half-orphaned ere they scarcely drew a breath.

Martius: These would have made an orphan of my son
Had one good blow struck home.

Aufidius: And what of that?
You spend more time in campments than in Rome.
What age has he? How many of those years
Were spent at war? How many in your home?
Your son knows you in stories, not in flesh.
What's there to mourn, when he would be hard-pressed
To pick his father's visage from a crowd?

Martius rushes him. They grapple; Aufidius pins Martius and straddles him.

Aufidius: [laughing] Thou liest upon thy back, and yet thou stand'st
Upright as any soldier on his watch.
Who'd think the man, who all of Coriol
And her surrounding fields did overstride,
Did so much long to be himself o'erstrode?

Martius: Pray let me rise.

Aufidius: No further than your knees.

Aufidius stands and Martius kneels before him. Aufidius circles him slowly.

Aufidius: One day I'll best thee not in privacy,
But on the field, for all the world to see
That Rome's great hero kneels before my blade.

Martius: If that be all you seek, I'll do it now
And kiss that steel which stands before me proud.

Martius opens Aufidius' trousers and kisses his cock.

Aufidius: Thy lips are warm--!

Martius: Thy blade is hotter still.
Good blacksmiths know that when the steel glows red
It must be quench'd, to give it better strength.

Martius takes Aufidius' cock in his mouth.

Aufidius: Thou know'st thy trade.
But softly now! Thinkst thou to temper me?

He pushes Martius back. Martius looks up at him, his mouth wet and red.

Martius: I am yours--what will you have of me?

Aufidius: [considering] Methinks I like thee best upon thy knees.

Martius rises and kneels on the bed. Aufidius kneels behind him and strips off Martius' trousers.

Aufidius: Thou'rt vanquished, my dear Roman, wilt thou yield?

Martius: As eas'ly as your city did for me.

Aufidius strikes Martius' ass with the flat of his hand.

Aufidius: You'll keep a civil tongue.

Martius: A civil tongue?
You like me most uncivil, I have found.

Aufidius slaps him harder; Martius moans.

Aufidius: Then hold your tongue, keep still and let me take
What you have offered, not unwillingly.

Aufidius sheathes himself and begins to thrust, but gently.

Martius: Are all your horses ridden with such care?

Aufidius: Your wounds--

Martius: Are scratches only, heed them not.
If battle did not break me, nor will you.

Aufidius begins to move forcefully. He catches hold of Martius' hair and pulls him back, baring his throat.

Aufidius: I would that I could see thee thus bestrode
Each night, upon your knees or on your back,
And wake to see the marks I made on you.
A pity that it cannot be--oh gods!
My end is near, I cannot hold, and yet
If I must fall, I would not fall alone.

Aufidius strokes Martius' cock; they come together and collapse onto the bed.

Martius: [after a moment] There's none who knows me quite the way you do,
Nor puts that knowledge to such keen a test.
At times I wonder what the gods could mean,
To set us both on earth, and yet at odds
For all our days. It seems to me a waste.

Aufidius: And if we were allied, what stone had we
To rasp, and stroke, and hone ourselves against?
No, noble Caius, we were made for war.

Martius: [laughing] Speak not of stroking now, I am done in.

Aufidius: Ask no more why the gods made us oppos'd--
It could be only thus. The world would shake
If we were ranged in any other wise.
If we did stand together on a side
Of some great war, our valor'd acts would make
The gods themselves turn jade with envying.
The pair we made would shame the band of Thebes.

Martius: You've thought on this.

Aufidius: In idle times, perhaps,
But thought will never spur itself to deed.
You would no more abandon Rome for me,
Than I would leave my Volsces for your sake.

Martius: You have it right. Our honor sets our course
And binds us both with duty's iron chains.

Aufidius: When next we meet in battle on the field...

Martius: I'll not show mercy for what happened here,
But nor, I think, will you.

Aufidius: You know me well.
Our mercies mark us great in times of peace,
Yet have no place in war. If I must die,
I could but wish none other for the deed.

Martius: In only that, I think, we are agreed.
For any other man upon the earth,
I would not deign to fall.

Aufidius: Leave off this talk,
Too grave it is by half. Let's speak no more,
Be deaf and dumb and blind until dawn breaks
To put our rest to end.

Martius: [rising from the bed] I cannot sleep.

Aufidius: You can, you must, you shall.

Martius: Oh, no more 'shall'!
Think you, for what was done tonight, you may
Command me now? Go you and hang your 'shall.'

Aufidius: Even bold Achilles took his ease
From time to time, beside his Patroclus.
And you are mortal-born, despite your gift
To wield your sword in fury like a god.

Martius: Have done, I will not hear your flattery.

Aufidius: I do not flatter--flattery is lies
Worth no more than the breath they're spoken on.
Though I may fight a hundred wars arrayed
Against thee, no--I will not lie to thee.
[reaching out] Though you be proud, submit to my request:
Come thou to bed, my nemesis, and rest.