Chapter 1: One Last Night
Melitta ruefully met Gannicus's gaze as both looked at the broken amphora of wine, a consequence of her tripping over the threshold of his cell.\
"I had thought to share drink with an old friend." Melitta said as the guard closed the door behind her. She stepped forward slowly; then knelt before Gannicus's sitting form.
"Is that all I am? Friend?" He asked quietly.
"Gannicus…let us not talk of such matters. I am sorry for shattering the amphora. It was Mulsum. A gift from Tullius for Dominus." she quietly replied.
"A boon it broke then. I do not care for honey in my wine, and even less for the man who sent it. Honey serves only to mask the bitter taste. " His reply was subdued, and his eyes shifted from her face down to the ground.
"A blessing in such moments. You are to be sold to Tullius tomorrow." ." She leaned towards him and waited until he met her eyes again. To her surprise, he nodded in acknowledgment.
"Oenomaus warned of it…should I fall to Crixus."
She was surprised at the rush of anger at hearing the words. "You let Crixus win," Melitta could hear the tremor in her voice, and hated the weakness. "Why would you do such a thing?"
His face was pained. "I cannot stay within these walls: to gaze upon you every day and be denied your touch. I have never turned from challenge…yet find myself without strength to face this one."
She looked at him, sadness overshadowing her lovely features. "Then it is for the best." He could hear the tears chocking her voice, and lowered his gaze once more, nodding in agreement. She closed her eyes, begged forgiveness from her husband, and for the first time in her life, gave in to her feelings.
Gannicus felt her shift, and looked up to see her leaning towards him. "Because despite my words," she murmured "I stand as weak."
Gannicus looked at her in shock for a few moments. Then, without hesitation, his fingers wove into Melitta's hair, as he took her mouth up in a passionate kiss.
Gannicus could feel her fingers caressing his face, and then lightly moving over his hair, neck and shoulders. The taste of her was intoxicating, as powerful as it had been during the night of pleasures. This kiss was even better, because she had come to him, willingly. There were no Roman masters here to please, no coercion. Just him, her, and this moment he never wished to end. They slowly moved to his cot, lips not parting for more than a few moments as both devoured each other greedily. Melitta fell back on the bed, and Gannicus latched onto her neck, kissing and sucking on the smooth column of flesh.
Her dress was shed in a hurry, his subligaria following soon after. Skin slid against skin, as the sounds of pants and moans filled the small cell.
I am ruined for anything after this a distant part of her mind noted, as she arched into his thrusts, white-hot pleasure skittering up her spine, Nothing can surpass …there is nothing after this.
The thought scattered as he hitched her leg over his hip and thrust harder, the new position leaving Melitta raking her nails down his shoulders, moaning in delight. Gannicus slowed down in response and she sobbed in displeasure.
"So greedy," he murmured, kissing her neck lazily. His hips were slowly driving into her, aiding in her madness. In response to his taunting, she tightened her muscles, and was pleased to hear a low moan and a hitch in his breathing.
Melitta moved her hands to Gannicus's face, locking her gaze with his. "This night is the only night we have." Her hand moved to his hips and she pushed him in deeper. He squeezed his eyes at the pleasure, and then met her gaze again. "I have a right to be greedy."
Gannicus lowered himself to her, resting on his forearms. One hand came to brush away the single tear that had escaped "Then let us indulge this one night, when we are one, so that the memory can sustain us until death welcomes."
"Gods," she moaned as he started thrusting again, "Harder!"
Gannicus rolled over, letting her on top and him as Melitta braced herself. As she straddled his thighs, she shivered at the sensation. His hands went to her breasts, strumming her nipples as she lifted herself up and speared herself onto him, hands on his shoulders, hips rolling as she took him in. He paused and then took hold of her hips to angle himself better. At the increase in sensation her head fell back with a moan.
His head fell back, eyes on her as he drove up. She was beautiful like this, a part of him thought hazily. But then he had always found her beautiful. That had been the problem.
He struck the thought from her mind as she swiveled her hips and ground down, the base of his cock teasing her clit. She squeezed once, twice, then stopped, smiling at his mischievously. This was the woman he had fallen in love with- absent weight of duties and marriage.
"Oh, who is the tease now?" he panted.
In response, she thrust down again. He moaned, then suddenly pulled himself in a sitting position, taking a nipple into his mouth and sucking. Melitta grasped his head, clenching the fine hair between her fingers. She was so close…!
A harsh knocking interrupted her thoughts, and she thought she could hear Naevia's voice, calling her name. But before she could force herself to get up, Gannicus grasped her hips and started thrusting hard and deep. Melitta tossed her head back, letting out a loud moan as the pleasure crested. She could feel his seed flooding her insides, and for a brief, mad moment hoped it took root. A tangible reminder of their love.
In the aftermath, Naevia's voice was even louder. "Melitta! Melitta! You must hurry, something terrible has happened!"
"A moment Naevia!" she shouted back, gasping in air.
Panting, she stood up, stumbling to her clothes in the corner, carefully avoiding the shattered amphora. She heard Gannicus getting up slowly as well. As she put on the dress, she felt Gannicus's hands on her, turning her around and carefully tying the knot. His gaze met hers, tears in both their eyes.
"I love you." The kiss was bittersweet and full of longing.
"And I you." A single tear slid down her cheek as their foreheads touched.
"Melitta!" Naevia's voice was hysterical.
She kissed Gannicus one more time, and then walked out of the cell, facing the crying girl.
"What has happened?" she asked urgently.
"Dominus is dead!" With those few words, the world shifted again.
Chapter 2: Shall we begin?
Melitta and Gannicus continue to make ill advised decisions...
AO3 is doing strange things with my formatting...sorry about that!
With Titus's death, uncertainty reined in the House of Batiatus. Quintus Batiatus spent the days raging and mourning, alternating between cursing Tullius and berating the gods. Lucretia was busy with making arrangements for the funeral, and Melitta stayed by her side, avoiding Gannicus and Oenomaus. For his part, Gannicus tried to stem the flow of his friend's grief, which was considerable, for he had loved the old man. Yet the thoughts of that night lingered in their minds, distracting them at inopportune moments.
To Titus's death Gannicus was indifferent. He had never liked the paterfamilias of the House of Batiatus and sentiment had been bluntly returned. Titus had never thought Gannicus should have been the champion of his ludus, and Gannicus, in turn, shed no tears for his death. His only sorrow was that his friend was so grieved for the loss of the old man.
They sat talking in Oenomaus's cell. Titus's funeral was the next day, and his friend was reminiscing about his former master.
"He was as a father to me." Oenomaus told Gannicus, refusing the wine offered. Since he learned that it was the wine that had killed Titus, Oenomaus had abstained from the drink.
"I loved him," he continued. "He gave my life meaning. A portion of my existence is over. I will never hear beloved voice again, never ask for counsel." Gannicus remained silent, letting Oenomaus talk. He paused, then continued quietly.
"He gave me Melitta you know."
Gannicus gritted his teeth. Another reason to hate the old bastard.
"Told me that he was giving me a wife. Said I deserved her most of all." Oenomaus sighed. "I will always be grateful for that. Melitta has been a companion above all others, easing mind and erasing my loneliness." He did not see the look of discomfort that flashed across Gannicus's face before he mastered the expression.
Silence reined in the cell as Gannicus tried to push past his disquiet and find words to comfort his friend.
"You should remember the times of joy then." He finally said. "And realize that he is at peace now, watching you from the afterlife." Probably criticizing his son and me even as we speak. He added silently.
Oenomaus smiled sadly, and nodded.
"Grieve today, but do not let it control you, Oenomaus. You must remember that you brought him great joy and take comfort from that fact. I content myself with the thought that at the last, he saw my worth."
Oenomaus sat up at that. "Do you know what happens now? Are you to be sold to Tullius still?"
Gannicus shrugged tension in his frame. "I know nothing. Dominus has not said a word regarding sale to Tullius."
"Surely he will not sell you now. Tullius murdered his father. Dominus will have vengeance."
Gannicus remained quiet, regarding his friend. But that creates more problems. I cannot stay here and not have Melitta. Damn the gods for this farce. What am I to do?
As if conjured by his thoughts, the cell door opened and the woman herself entered. She looked tired and sad, but to Gannicus her beauty shone even more in the drab cell. Melitta paused when she noticed him sitting on the floor of the chamber, but then turned to her husband, taking a place beside him. Gannicus felt gratified, then guilty, as she turned her face and kissed Oenomaus's cheek, instead of his offered lips.
"Apologies for not coming sooner. Madness and chaos yet reign in the villa." Melitta said, tiredly.
"How go the preparations?" Oenomaus asked.
"We are ready for the funeral tomorrow. Diona has not been found yet, and the fact upsets Domina, who worries about her welfare outside." Despite all that has happened to her at this ludus, the streets will be worse. ButDomina and I both understand why she fled…
"Little wonder she fled, after been subjected to what she was." Gannicus offered, pouring wine, offering some to Melitta. She hesitated, then took the cup. Both paused as their fingers brushed against each other. Melitta straightened hastily, and under Gannicus's gaze, leaned against the wall instead of her husband.
"I only hope that Dominus has learned not to indulge in such base activities again." Oenomaus stated, as he saw his wife sip the wine. A snort from Gannicus made him turn attention back to his friend.
"Our Dominus? Do you know nothing of the man Oenomaus? He sent a recruit to the mines for offering missio in play. That is not a man who holds high the idea of honor."
"He was blinded by his ambition. I believe he shall now honor the house and stay on the proper path, in memory of his father."
"Keep your delusions then, if they offer such comfort." Gannicus muttered, taking a deep gulp of his wine. Oenomaus frowned, opening his mouth to say more, when Melitta interrupted the budding argument.
"Let us not worry about what the dawn will bring. Why not share comfort tonight, to gain strength for the funeral tomorrow?"
"You and Gannicus share the same thoughts. He too was telling me that I should find joy in old memories."
Melitta paused, flustered, then rallied. "Well, he does have some good thoughts occasionally."
"Only on occasion." Gannicus replied angrily, frustrated with the direction of his thoughts, which continually reminded of their night together. "The rest of the time, nothing rattles in empty fucking head."
Melitta's reply was interrupted by a guard knocking on the door. "Doctore, you are summoned for urgent dealings. Dominus says it may take all night."
Oenomaus rose, and Melitta made to follow. He put a hand on her shoulder and halted her progress. "Stay. You and Gannicus have not had opportunity to laugh as you both used to. Use this time to share thoughts, but try not to indulge too much with the wine." He smiled again at Gannicus. "Despite the sorrow that permeates the walls, I am glad that the distance between us has been bridged again, Brother." He exited the cell, closing the door behind him.
Awkward silence reined in the small chamber, until Gannicus cleared his throat and broke it.
"Are we to ignore what is between us? Because if you recall, I tried to do so, and failed miserably in the attempt. So did you."
Melitta looked at the walls and the door, trying to avoid his desperate gaze. "Was one night not enough? Surely you can find someone better…you can ask Dominus for Naevia." That way the temptation is removed. And Naevia will be spared Diona's fate…right now this house is very dangerous for her because of her virtue. If she is given to Gannicus, surely she will be spared further humiliation. And I will find the strength to say no…
"She is untouched and…"
"No woman will make me forget you." He interrupted her half-hearted argument. "I told you that I tried to drive you out of my mind with wine and whores. Nothing worked, Melitta. These past few days…I cannot forget your touch…the feel of your skin…the taste of your lips. They haunt me." As he talked, he stood and walked towards where she was sitting. She made to interrupt him, but he put a finger on her lips, and she stopped, transfixed.
"If it was only base desire, then the wine and the women would have worked. But I sit in my cell and want to know your thoughts, your feelings…to hear about you, your people, to find out how you can remain so compassionate, so…clean in this world full of shit. I cannot…" he broke off, as he felt her hands on his shoulders. She seemed torn between pulling him close and pushing him away. He moved closer to her, voice dropping into a whisper.
"Oenomaus is my brother, yet I stand ready to sever that bond because what I feel for you drives me beyond all reason. The only thing stopping me is your strength." One arm went around her waist, molding her body to his, the other cupped her cheek. Her arms remained on his shoulders, fingers flexing against the flesh.
"Tell me that you do not want to continue this…tell me you that you came that night out of pity and friendship… Melitta." his voice was anguished and she let out a single sob, before moving her arms around his neck and pulling him closer, raising her head to meet his lips.
They kissed again and again, moving to the bed. Gannicus laid Melitta on the surface tenderly, and then laid his body over hers; dropping kisses on her face, pausing at her lips and neck.
She moaned softly as his hands wandered over her flesh, slowly and carefully, each caress setting her skin on fire.
Every sense in her body anticipated his lips on her skin as they traveled from her throat to her breasts, and then back to her mouth.
The scrap of clothing she was wearing fluttered to the ground, his subligaria joining it shortly thereafter. He lined himself at her entrance, and then locked eyes with her.
"You can still stop me," he whispered. In response, she lifted her hips, taking him in her with one smooth thrust. His breath hitched, in tandem with hers, as they both adjusted to the sensation. A few moments later, he stared moving, breathing heavily, and keeping his eyes locked on hers.
Melitta wanted to close her eyes, to savor each sensation, but she didn't. More than anything she wanted to know this moment was real and not a dream, and to do so she willed her eyes to remain open.
His rhythm picked up, and Gannicus drove deeper and harder into her depths, enjoying her hitching breaths and moans. No one had ever made him feel like this, and she was so warm and tight around him, he could scarcely breathe. A distant part of his mind wondered if there were guards outside, and if they would tell Oenomaus when he returned. The rest of him did not care. Melitta had acknowledged that she wanted to continue, that it was not a passing fancy- having her in his arms was all that mattered.
Melitta arched up, taking him in deeper, making tiny, desperate mewls of pleasure and need, which were captured by Gannicus as his mouth locked on hers.
Their bodies moved in tandem racing to completion, striving harder towards release. Melitta let out a loud sobbing cry as the wave of pleasure crested, and Gannicus give a last hard thrust as he climaxed as well.
In the aftermath, their breathing seemed loud, as the sweat dried over their bodies. Melitta stirred and lightly pushed Gannicus off. He nuzzled her neck and withdrew from her, grabbing both their clothing from the floor as he got up. In silence the two of them dressed, occasionally touching and kissing.
When they were both fully dressed, they sat on the bed again.
"What shall we do now?" Melitta asked plaintively, resting her head on Gannicus's shoulders.
"I do not know." He answered pensively. "I do know that I will not be able to stay in this ludus and be denied your touch. "
"Gannicus…" she made to move away, but he pulled her back, turning her to face him.
"You would take from me the peace I find in your arms…the contentment we both feel?"
"My husband is your best friend. And he would not appreciate such sentiment."
His fingers tightened. "This is not base lust. This is not indulgence. What we feel for each other is the only thing that makes sense to me in this world."
She shrugged him off, but then stilled, studying his face. "You truly love me?"
"Yes" he answered without hesitation.
"Above all others?"
"I have betrayed my dearest friend…my brother for you."
"And I have betrayed the husband I respect above all others...for you."
He studied her anguished face, then smiled softly. "So you do feel the same."
She let out a laugh that sounded like a sob, resting her forehead against his. "The Gods have cursed me with madness. Yes, I love you, you foolish man."
He hugged her, laying a kiss on her forehead. "Then we shall face challenges together." He looked into her eyes, solemn.
"Nothing will separate me from you."
Before she could protest, he sealed the promise with a kiss.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
"Do you know why Dominus wishes to see us both?" Gannicus asked Oenomaus, as the guards escorted them both to the villa. The day had been spent fighting before the funeral pyre of Titus, and Gannicus was sweaty, tired and in no mood for Batiatus's schemes.
Oenomaus shook his head in frustration. He had told Gannicus beforehand that Batiatus planned to send no one to the mines. The matter of who would place where and what to do with Dagan had taken all night. He had returned to see both friend and wife asleep. "I only know that the matter has to do with Tullius."
"If he sells me to that fuck…"
"He will not. Ease mind, our dominus will never kneel to the likes of that dog."
"For the sake of the new arena? He would suck that man's cock if it meant the primus in the opening games."
"Gannicus…" the whispered argument was shelved as they both entered Batiatus's office. The man himself looked unkempt and tired. He motioned the guards away and stood looking at the two men for some time. Gannicus shifted uneasily, while Oenomaus stood at attention.
"Do you know why you have been summoned?" Batiatus abruptly asked. Both looked at each other briefly, then turned their attention to him again.
"No, Dominus." Oenomaus answered, while Gannicus shook his head.
"This," here Batiatus gestured to a document lying in front of him, "is my father's final act. A bill of sale transferring ownership of Gannicus to Vettius."
"Vettius?" Gannicus asked, puzzled.
"Tullius's lapdog. If sale goes through, you will be transferred to his ludus in fucking Nola, and then made to fight your brothers. The greatest gladiator in the Republic, against my men! This House would fall to ruin in months. I will see cock parted from body before I allow that to happen."
"Then Gannicus is not to be sold?" Oenomaus asked quietly.
Batiatus shook his head. "I have plans for Tullius and I need your aid in dispatching the villain once and for all."
Oenomaus shook his head. "Dominus, we dishonor ourselves with this scheming and intrigue. This is not what your father would have…"
"Fuck honor!" Batiatus spat back. "Where was the honor in killing an old man? Tulllius sent the wine that carried death, and you expect me to do nothing? Do not forget your place Oenomaus." He paused, looking at the man's stricken expression, then softened his tone. "Times are going to be different now, but I would have you by my side. It is what my father would have wished."
Oenomaus nodded. "Dominus."
Batiatus turned to Gannicus. "You will be the key to my vengeance... unless you have some objections as well?" he added sarcastically.
Throughout the conversation, Gannicus's mind had drifted, until he heard the mention of wine. It was the same wine Melitta had bought for us to share. The past few days had been so chaotic the gladiator had not had time to think of the significance of that fact. If Melitta had not shattered the amphora she would have drunk the wine. Gannicus thought, horror creeping into his mind. She would have died. For that possibility alone, Tullius needed to leave this world.
Gannicus shook his head in response to Batiatus's question. "See me delivered to Tullius and I shall see your father avenged." He answered simply.
Batiatus cocked his head. "My father never favored you, yet you entreat to be the instrument of his vengeance?"
"The man has wronged me as well." Was the calm reply. Oenomaus nodded in understanding, still disturbed by the content of the conversation.
Batiatus scoffed. "Very well then. Get ready to depart the ludus in a few hours. We shall see that villain's blood on our hands soon enough."
"Dominus." Both men murmured obediently as the guards took them away. Batiatus looked at the bill of sale, plans swirling through his head.
"You should not have been so harsh with Solonius." Lucretia muttered to her husband as the slave shaved the scruffy beard off. "You treat him as a brother, and then as a slave. He will not endure it for long."
Batiatus sneered. "Solonius has the spine of a snail. I love the man as a brother, but we have always been this way. Fear not Lucretia, he will remain true."
The husband and wife were quiet for some time as the slave finished shaving off the beard, and Naevia helped Batiatus put on his clothes. Melitta stood to the side, silent, looking in concern at the girl. Since Diona's fled Naevia had grown thinner and now looked sick .Melitta wondered what she thought of her friend's escape, abandoning Naevia to the tender mercy of their masters. I must take time to speak to her, comfort her.
"Be careful Quintus." Lucretia's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Tullius is a snake, and even wounded snakes are deadly."
"Ease mind, Lucretia," her husband answered impatiently. "Our house will be avenged all its insults, and Tullius will soon be an unfortunate memory."
He stood up as the guards brought in Gannicus and Oenomaus. Her husband caught Melitta's gaze and nodded, solemn. She then locked gazes with Gannicus, who had been looking at her intently. She immediately averted her gaze, but Lucretia caught the exchange between the two.
"We are ready to leave, Dominus." Oenomaus addressed his master, a thread of distaste for the task evident in his tone. Batiatus ignored it, and turned to Gannicus.
"You are clear to your purpose?"
Gannicus bowed his head. "Dominus."
"Then let us leave. We do not have much time, and a great deal to accomplish." Batiatus turned to Lucretia, and kissed her quickly. "Ease mind." He whispered against her lips. "I shall come to you triumphant, with my father and Gaia avenged."
She kissed him back. "May the gods watch over you, and see Tullius dead."
He nodded, and then left, along with Oenomaus and Gannicus, who threw one last glance at Melitta before they exited the villa. Lucretia and Melitta watched the men go, both silent.
"Melitta," Lucretia commanded. She walked up to her mistress, wondering what she wanted.
"Bring up the Gaul, and make sure that nobody who is not necessary sees you."
"Domina." Melitta bowed and started to leave. "Wait." The command halted her in her tracks.
"Be ready…after we are done," a grimace of distaste overcame Lucretia's face, "to shave his beard and hair. If I am to lay with him, I would at least have the illusion of decency."
"I shall make sure he is pleasant to your eyes." Melitta answered dutifully.
Lucretia scoffed. "This is not about pleasure Melitta. This is because I love my husband above all others, and I will secure his legacy. The house will have an heir." She turned to look at her body slave. "I say this because I trust you, and I know you will not betray me. You are loyal to this house."
"Domina…" Melitta had no answer.
"You are a great comfort in these wretched times. The gods took mercy on me that you were not killed by the wine as well."
Melitta started at the pronouncement.
"Go." Lucretia commanded distracted by Naevia coming in with fresh wine. Melitta bowed and left to get the Gaul.
If I had not smashed the amphora, I would have drunk the wine…I thought I needed the courage to tell Gannicus my feelings. She thought. I would have died, like Dominus did. Gannicus would have died. The thought made her weak, and she leaned against the wall for a moment. The she straightened up and began walking.
I need to see him, determination coursed through her veins. The Gods gave me a second chance to live, and I will not see it squandered.
Gannicus stared at the pathetic man begging for his life. In the end, for all his bravado, Tullius was a coward, promising Batiatus anything he wanted in order to have his life spared.
This is the man who almost killed my love, he thought as Batiatus shoved his father's ashes into Tullius's mouth. This is the man who came close to parting heart from chest.
"The gods will see that you will be punished for all your transgressions! You will pay someday!" Tullius screamed he struggled to get up.
"Yes," Batiatus agreed, smiling savagely. "But not this one!" With that, he shoved a knife deep into Tullius gut, pushing the man to the ground. Gannicus took out his own knife, stabbing the bastard several times, each blow a punishment for almost taking Melitta from him.
As the nearly dead Tullius was being bricked into the walls, Gannicus turned to see Oenomaus shaking his head in disappointment. He stared at this friend, then turned to see Tullius's last moments.
But for the hand of fate our reason for living would have been lost, he thought to his silent friend. Be happy that I have removed such malignance from our lives. But he would never be able to tell Oenomaus such musings.
He knew as the days would pass the distance between himself and his sworn brother would increase as the guilt overwhelmed. Even though Gannicus knew he was betraying the one man he respected above all others, his feelings for Melitta took precedence. We are slaves, he justified to himself each day could be our last. Would the gods punish me for grasping at happiness? Surely they have better affairs to meddle with.
"Gannicus! What seizes you?" Oenomaus's voice broke into his thoughts. He turned to see the others leaving, and hastened to his brother's side.
"I was merely contemplating what Doctore had told me about hubris." He lied smoothly, turning to see the wall where Tullius resided now. "And those cunts who fall from it."
"See to it that you do not join their numbers." Oneomaus replied brusquely, still bothered by what they had done.
"Do not worry so, Brother. I have many reasons to live." Gannicus replied, solemn.
Oenomaus looked at his friend in surprise at the uncharacteristic reply, but Gannicus refused to say more as they made their way back to the ludus.
As they entered the villa and Dominus began to regale Domina with tales of how they had killed Tullius, Gannicus caught Melitta's eye as she came in with the wine. A small nod was exchanged between the two, and Melitta hid her relief at finding him safe.
"Doctore, see to the men," Batiatus ordered. "Barca was injured. I would have you look on him and see extent of injury, and how it will affect his fighting."
"Dominus." Oneomaus answered respectfully, making his way to the outside. Gannicus followed. On his way out, Oenomaus gestured to Melitta to follow him, and after a quick glance at her Domina, who nodded permission, she did.
"Are you alright?" her husband asked gently. Melitta nodded, unable to look at him, for fear he would see the guilt in her eyes.
"Yet you do not look upon me." He said.
"Apologies." Was the soft reply. "I am merely tired at the chaos surrounding us. My eyes fall because I cannot see your sorrow in addition." What kind of reply is that? She chided herself.
One that Oenomaus accepted. "Ease mind. Soon this ludus, and we, shall see better days." He lifted her chin and kissed her quickly, though she locked gazes with Gannicus during the kiss.
He made his way towards both of them. As he cleared his throat, Oenomaus ended the kiss.
"Oenomaus…I would have words with your wife."
"The escaped slave girl? Why?"
"Because I pitied her, and wonder what her fate will be. I would like to know if I could ask Dominus for her friend. To spare her the same fate." Gannicus replied, thinking quickly. He remembered what Melitta had told him about Naevia, and it seemed a reasonable suggestion. Oenomaus frowned "Very well, but I think the girl will be too busy mourning to appreciate your noble gesture." He walked away, disappearing into the darkness.
"We must speak." Gannicus turned to Melitta. "There are many topics I wish to broach with you."
"When?" she questioned.
Gannicus frowned in thought. "Oenomaus will go to see Barca tonight. Come down to the pantry and I shall meet you there. We can talk through the gates."
Melitta nodded, turning away before he gave into the temptation to kiss her.
"We tread on treacherous ground." He spoke later on. Melitta stood a few feet in front of him, facing away, arms wrapped around herself. Gannicus gripped the bars, wishing she was in his embrace instead.
"I wish we could stop." She replied plaintively. "This…what we are doing…it is like a half-life." Melitta turned to him, tears in her eyes. "Like a wound that keeps bleeding."
"If I could stop, I would." He sighed. "Oenomaus…it does not speak well of me that I am willing to betray him. But what I feel…"
Melitta stepped toward him, resting her forehead against the bars. "What we both feel. When I realized we both could have died from the wine…I do not want to squander the second chance the gods are giving us. But the danger we invite Gannicus! Pause and think again before we truly decide on this path. Is what you feel for me true? Or are you a child, fascinated by a toy that can never be yours?"
"I know the words exchanged during that night." She said, referring to when Oenomaus had been taken to Dominus and they had both given into their passion again. "You said nothing would keep you from me. But Gannicus…surely…we can…" she struggled to find the words to express the conflict between loyalty and love. What she wanted to say, even she did not know.
"The feelings did not come overnight, Melitta!" he interrupted her. She reared back in surprise, stepping away from the bars.
"What are you saying?" Melitta asked softly. Gannicus exhaled, resting his forehead against the gates.
"I am saying that these feelings are not a result of that night. All that night did was make me face what I had so deeply hidden. The truth is that I do not remember when I started loving you. What I do remember is what I felt when I heard you were to be given to Oenomaus; it was the only time I envied him."
"Gannicus." The word was half question, half plea. A plea for what, Gannicus could not guess.
"I envied him you, Melitta." He replied eyes and demeanor absent jest. Seeing her shock, he took a step forward, plastering himself in front of the bars.
"And so now you know my deepest sin. I am stripped bare in front of you." His voice was hoarse. She started at him arrested by the intensity of his eyes.
"There are no more secrets between us. Everything I am, everything I could be…it is all in front of you now. I can only pray to the Gods that you find something of note in me, and stay."
She did not smile at him, but took a step closer, putting a hand on his cheek through the barrier between them.
"Now we are truly known to each other," Melitta whispered. "I too have felt for you from the start. But loyalty stayed my heart. Now I have no secrets from you…nor do I have the strength to walk away."
He grasped her hands as she continued speaking, hushed "I would rather have brief moments with you, than live a long lifetime without." She laughed ruefully. "See what you have reduced me to?"
He smiled at her, pained and elated in equal measure. "If you are reduced, then I am nothing more than the dust beneath your feet, for I have always been below you."
"No!" her intensity took him by surprise, as she glared at him. "You have never been beneath me…no matter what you think I know you. You are a good man."
"And yet here I stand, betraying the brother who has been my lifeline in this ludus."
"We are both traitors then. And if there is punishment, we shall both suffer it. Do not think you walk this path alone. I come willingly, with eyes open."
He nodded, then moved closer to her, "So be it. Know that I am yours until death beckons, and even he shall not take me from your side." He whispered against her lips, before taking them in a passionate kiss.
Neither of them saw Naevia watching, mouth open in surprise.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Laughing, Gannicus pulled Barca to his feet, giving him a nod as thanks for a good session. Gannicus moved to get some water, scanning the grounds for another opponent.
"I would have proper contest with you." He sighed as Crixus's voice interrupted his search yet again. The young man kept pestering him for a rematch, feeling cheated of his victory. Gannicus, his mind occupied by Melitta and the upcoming games, was in no mood to humor him.
"The games in the new arena start one day hence. If you are unfortunate, we shall be paired against each other. Until them, do not pester me! I have no desire to indulge in your preening." he replied, irritated. If the others saw me beat him in a training session, questions would be raised as to why I lost in the first place. Oenomaus must be given no cause for suspicion. I must wait until the primus to prove myself again.
"Gannicus! You are summoned." The guard's voice broke up the budding argument. Gannicus gave Crixus one last smirk, then turned and followed the guard. He was pleasantly surprised to see Melitta waiting for him. She nodded as the guard opened the gate, leaving to attend his other duties.
"Dominus summons me?" he asked, drinking her in. Melitta nodded, leading him up the stairs to the villa.
"Do you know why?"
"He wishes to talk to you, regarding the opening games." She explained.
'What is there to talk about? I shall fight, win, the crowd shall cheer, Batiatus will crow…much like it used to be in the old arena."
"In the old arena, you did not fight against Vettius's champion! I have heard that he is one of the largest men to ever set foot in the arena. He holds his opponent's down and cuts the heart out their chests slowly, for his own enjoyment. He gives them ignoble, slow deaths. People are saying now he might be a match for the Shadow of Death himself! And you have not fought for some time. You must be careful…do not let hubris be your downfall." Melitta hissed, looking around to make sure nobody was listening to the conversation. Another guard trailed behind them, his attention elsewhere. No one else was in the vicinity.
He only cocked his head mischievously in reply as they reached Batiatus's door. She opened her mouth to caution him further, when she heard her name. Naevia came towards them, as Gannicus went into Batiatus's office.
"Apologies," she said, eyes going between the two of them. "Domina summons." Melitta nodded, moving to follow her, but throwing one last glance at Gannicus's retreating figure.
"What is it Domina needed me for?" Melitta asked as she and Naevia slowly made their way to the foyer.
"She wishes you to help her with the dresses and vestments for tomorrow." The young girl replied, glancing back and forth. Melitta noticed her hesitance, and wondered at the cause. Perhaps it had to do with her friend…
"Naevia," her voice was gentle. "I know you miss Diona, and wonder what has happened to her on the streets… and fear what will befall you."
"I do not." Naevia replied softly. Her strained demeanor revealed the lie.
"Naevia." Melitta sighed.
"Doctore told me that Gannicus would speak to Dominus about asking for me." Naevia hurriedly answered.
Melitta stopped short at hearing this new information. "When did he tell you this?"
"Yesterday, when I went to get wine from the pantry. I was so grateful to Gannicus that I came down later to thank him…I thought I would ask the guard to bring him to me." She hesitated slightly. "I saw the both of you together."
"Naevia…"Melitta was at a loss on how to reply. Naevia turned to her, eyes harsh in her normally gentle face.
"Is Diona's fate of such light thought that you would carelessly tell lies about mine? What if Doctore tells Dominus? What if I am given to Gannicus? Will I be party to your trysts with him? What were you thinking?" The barrage of questions was interrupted as they reached Lucretia's quarters. Both slaves went to help her decide on her clothing and jewelry. During the task, Melitta pondered on how to answer each of Naevia's questions. If Naevia told Oenomaus what she had seen Melitta had no doubt he would put a sword through her and Gannicus. And Dominus would punish him harshly, perhaps even kill him in response. No, Naevia had to be pacified, but Melitta did not have the answers she sought. She spent the whole day thinking of her response, settling on one that satisfied her and would hopefully settle Naevia.
As the day passed, Naevia managed to avoid Melitta, until the evening meal had been served. Melitta finally cornered the girl in the pantry and informed her she would answer all questions, if only Naevia would be patient and listen.
"Gannicus was not thinking when he offered his excuse. We would never draw you into this maelstrom Naevia. I know how hard this past few days have been for you and would not add you to your suffering. Rest mind, Gannicus shall talk to my husband, and tell him Dominus refused and never to mention the matter again. And I shall talk to Domina, and see favor extended so you do not share Diona's fate."
"Gratitude." Naevia sighed "Apologies for being so harsh with you in the morning. My mind is sick with worry for Diona, and so I bite each hand that reaches out to me."
Melitta hugged the girl, Naevia's silent tears falling on her shoulders. "I know how hard this life is, but we must bear it…such is the burden of being a slave."
"That is not true." Naeiva sobbed. "Diona told me that she used to pray that the next man she was given to would kill her! Death is better!"
"Shhh" Melitta soothed. "Diona's fate will not be yours…I will do all I can to prevent it."
Naevia looked at her desperately. "Will you help me escape? Like I did…" she cut her words off abruptly, but Melitta understood what she was trying to say. Oh Naevia she thought helplessly, her heart aching for the poor girl.
"Naevia, the world outside these walls is harsh, especially for a girl born and brought up in the ludus. You do not know how dangerous Capua is…to escape would invite calamity. I know why you helped Diona, but I can only pray to the Gods that she escaped disaster. A slave should not invite further danger, our lives are perilous enough as they are."
Naevia blinked in bewilderment at her words. "Then why do you court it? If Doctore found out about you and Gannicus…"
Melitta laughed ruefully. "Do you not think I have nightmares about when he finds us? I tried to resist the pull between Gannicus and I, but it proved impossible. Part of me prays you never find a love such as ours Naevia…it devours all rational thought."
"But…is it worth it? The danger…"
"We are two different people Naevia. You are far younger, and I would have you safe for sometime longer. I am resigned to whatever fate the gods see fit to grant me. But you deserve to live." Was the calm reply.
"But Melitta…should not sound advice fall to your own ears as well?"
"In this circumstance, I would ask you do as I say, not as I do."
Melitta cocked her head in thought. "How old were you when you came here?"
"You know I was born in this ludus…but Dominus's mother kept me in one of her villa's until recently."
"I came here when I was twelve years old. I saw the Roman's kill my father; my brothers were slaughtered where they stood…they raped my mother until she was naught but a broken husk. The only reason I was spared was because a legionary thought I would fetch a better price if I was untouched. His greed saved me. The last time I saw my mother, yet another soldier was getting ready to use her…I will never forget the empty look in her eyes. I swore that I would do anything to escape that fate. When Batiatus's mother bought me here, I suppressed my resentment, my hate, and strived to be the best slave possible. I was hungry for life. I even accepted this brand," gesturing to the stamp on her leg "without protest. I served Domina with unquestioning loyalty, and said nary a word when I was given to Oenomaus, like chattel." She paused for breath, Naevia listening with interest.
"Do you understand? I suppressed everything I had been to survive. Oenomaus was a good man but I could never give myself to him fully. This house is the foundation upon which I was built, he said. How could I let him know my true thoughts, when his loyalty was so apparent? I could never fully be myself- I had to be dutiful wife above all."
"And then what?" Naevia asked in the silence as Melitta shuddered.
What I feel means nothing…
It holds the world.
A whisper that placed precedence on her, a man who risked everything for her. In the end, the choice had been clear.
"And then Gannicus came…and found the woman I thought I had murdered. The one who had grown on the plains of Iberia, the one who had laughed with her family…the one who had been a reckless, mischievous, child."
It holds the world…
I catch a glimpse of you…and my world ends.
"He loves me; he loves me, for no other reason but the fact that I am myself. Not because I was a gift, not because I am useful, but because I make him happy. How could I have resisted him knowing that? How could I have not loved him back?"
"Do you not love Oenomaus?"
"I love him." Melitta replied. "He is good, kind, gentle and does not seek to rule me. I knew the day I was given to him that I could find contentment with him…it is far more than most slaves are given. I was secure because he was there to support me in the madness around us."
What must she feel for Gannicus? Naevia marveled, to give up that?
"With Gannicus…when I am with him I am whole. It is as if I've finally found my place in the world. We could spend the rest of our lives hiding, lying and feeling regret…but I would still be happier than any person has a right to be. Gannicus…reduces me to this." Melitta covered her face with her hands, making a pained moan. "I don't have the will to turn him away."
Naevia hugged the other woman, sympathetic to her plight. "What will you do now?"
"I know not. My mind is occupied with living day by day. When I think about what tomorrow might bring, fear tears breath from throat. My worriers are worsened by the fact that the opening games begin at dawn…and Gannicus fights after forced exclusion from the old arena."
Melitta's voice was hollow. "If Gannicus falls…I know not what I will do. Oh Naevia," she laid her head on the young girl's shoulders, weariness evident in every movement. "I know not what to do…"
Naevia was silent, rocking the older woman. And so the night passed, and they tried to give each other comfort as best they could. Then it was dawn, and time for to begin preparations for the opening games.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
The House of Batiatus was a hive of activity as the owners made preparations for the day. Oenomaus had the chosen gladiators chained and ready to depart as Batiatus stood on the balcony, Lucretia, Melitta and Naevia attending.
"This day is when the House of Batiatus rises to prominence once again! Let no one stand in our way as we soar! Fight for the honor of this house and the memory of my father! Win, and eternal glory is yours!" he shouted. The assembled gladiators cheered in response to his speech.
Oenomaus nodded to Melitta and turned to lead the gladiators out of the ludus. Gannicus followed his lead, throwing her a quick wink as well. She smiled back at him, but could not hide the worry on her face as she saw them depart.
"Melitta," Naevia touched her arm briefly. Melitta turned and saw Lucretia moving with her husband into the villa. Nodding at Naevia in gratitude, she followed, the other woman on her heels.
"Solonius has made all the arrangements?" Lucretia was asking, as they came upon the husband and wife.
"He said that all was well, and that Vettius proved to be most accommodating, absent his master."
"Solonius is a good friend Quintus…you must remember to treat him well and not belittle him as you did."
"Ease mind Lucretia! Solonius is true, and he is used to my jibes. He has been enduring throughout our friendship. Let us settle argument and turn thought to the glory we shall gain today on merit of Gannicus!"
"He shall fill our purse." Was the excited reply.
"To the bursting!" Batiatus laughed.
Melitta wished she had a part of her master and mistresses' confidence. Yet as she and Naevia helped them both finish getting ready, the feeling of change lingered in the air. And for Melitta, in whose life change seldom heralded good tidings, the sentiment of joy was not shared.
As the House of Batiatus made their way to the pulvinus, Melitta studied the bustling activity, hoping to catch a glimpse of Gannicus, or her husband. But both were busy with preparations, and she could not find them. Reaching the pulvinus, she looked around and shuddered. There was Varrus, and his odious friend, Cossutius. Melitta felt filthy breathing the same air as them, and she could feel Naevia trembling in fear.
Men were racing throughout the arena, and Melitta looked at them to distract herself from the conversation taking place. But she could hear the snatches regardless.
"…crown laurel of the Republic."
"When viewed from the pulvinus…"
"…Honor to be invited."
"Hard man to refuse…"
Melitta closed her eyes. Being near Varrus and Cossutius was suffocating, and she turned to see Naevia was now subtly glaring at the men. She caught the girl's eyes, and then shook her head. Naevia grit her teeth, but lowered her eyes obediently.
Suddenly Melitta saw movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned to see Vettius approaching, Solonius following with a small smile.
"Apologies." Vettius began. "Tullius regrets that he will be absent altogether. Business in Antioch. His departure was…unexpected."
"How tragic. The arena would not exist without Tullius. We would not be standing here absent his actions." Lucretia cooed.
" I can only offer apology."
"Ah never mind! Sit with me so his spirit remains." The magistrate cajoled.
"Again I must offer apologies. I must depart as well. I make preparations to depart for Antioch as soon as possible." Vettius replied calmly, though both Melitta and Naevia could see the anger in his gaze.
"What of your gladiators? Ah, do not worry! Solonius and I shall divide them between us at fair price." Batiatus smirked. The smile on his face was wiped off at Vettius's reply.
"Ease mind. I have already transferred my ludus to Solonius. And I ask you give him prominence in my stead." He addressed the magistrate, who nodded distractedly, mind already on the upcoming festivities.
"Gratitude for the consideration." Solonius smiled at a flabbergasted Batiatus. "Come let us away."
Lucretia and Batiatus exchanged a furious look as Solonius and Vettius left, and Melitta and Naevia looked at their masters in concern. Whenever their plans went awry, it was the couple's slaves who suffered the repercussions.
As Batiatus turned to follow Solonius, Lucretia grit her teeth in anger. Catching Melitta's anxious gaze, she smoothed out her expression, sitting down and gesturing Naevia to bring her some water.
Fucking traitor! She fumed. How dare you betray my husband thus! I shall make you pay for this someday Solonius you treacherous snake!
The crowd booing brought her out of her musings, and she saw people being led out into the sand.
"What stirs the crowd so?" Lucretia turned to see her husband. Although his face was calm, she could see the rage seething in his gaze.
"Executions. To prepare for the opening games and gain the gods favor." The magistrate answered genially.
Melitta turned away. She had never been comfortable with executions, and she hated the fact that the games were starting with them. Her thoughts were interrupted by Cossitus's oily voice.
"Isn't that one of yours Batiatus? What was her name?" he mused. Melitta and Naevia's eyes shot to the small kneeling figure, and horror invaded as they both realized who she was.
"Diona." Naevia whimpered as she stepped forward in a daze.
"Yes, Diona." Cossutius laughed.
Naevia glared at the monster in front of her, but her eyes were drawn back to the bruised visage of her best friend as Diona looked around helplessly. She closed hers eyes in despair as Batiatus declined to help her poor companion, and heard Melitta soft intake of breath as the executions started. Naevia opened her eyes and looked at Diona, visible even from the great distance.
Forgive me, Naevia cried silently, tears springing to her eyes. I only wanted to help you. Now I have given you over to death. Forgive me, my dearest friend!
Their eyes met, as the gladiator moved towards Diona. The girl offered Naevia a brave smile, but her trembling lips gave away her fear. Naevia felt as if she would shatter as Solonius gave the signal and the sword thrust towards Diona. It felt as if it was her heart that had been stabbed and she swayed as Diona fell forward, dead. Suddenly, a warm hand slipped into hers, fingers lacing together and squeezing comfortingly. Naevia turned to see Melitta, tears in her eyes as she shook her head, eyes moving towards Lucretia who was watching them both in concern. Naevia gripped Melitta's hand tightly as the woman gave a reassuring smile to her Domina, who turned back to the games. For one brief, mad, moment Naevia wanted to push Cossutius, Batiatus, Lucretia…all who had contributed to Diona's suffering off the balcony, but Melitta's hand anchored her to reality and she gazed upon the arena, seeing her friend being dragged away, feeling numb.
"You will face Iscedioas and Celados in the games before the primus." Gannicus turned to Oenomaus as the Doctore came to stand behind him. He nodded, turning back to study his sword absentmindedly. "Our day has been filled. Show all of Capua why you are considered such a prize," Oenomaus continued, "Fight and honor the House of Batiatus."
"There are many things I would die for." Gannicus replied. "Many things I deserve to die for…yet this House is no longer among them." I fight for Melitta and for you. And I know that I should die for betraying you, my old friend…but this house? After all this House had put us through? I would never fight for this pile of shit.
"Then fight for her." Oenomaus urged. Gannicus turned and raised an eyebrow in inquiry. Seldom did one man request another to fight for his wife, even if the men were best friends. For a moment Gannicus wondered if Oenomaus suspected, but then his friend continued. "I used to dedicate my victories to her, but am unable to do so now. But you…the lives you take and the blood you shed, she will see it and know you do so for her, at my request."
She will see it and know I do so for her, request or no. Gannicus thought. He stood up and offered his friend a smile. "Then I shall fill her eyes." He promised. Oenomaus nodded, satisfied, then turned to their newest gladiator.
"Crixus!" he bellowed. "You fight first."
As Crixus moved towards the entrance, Gannicus found himself wondering why the gladiator hair had been cut and his beard shaved. Shoving the inane thought aside, he began to get ready for his bout.
It seemed to Melitta that the fights before Gannicus's bout moved at a snail's pace. Batiatus's gladiators fought well, particularly the new recruit Crixus. Her time was spent between looking at the arena and tending to Lucretia.
When he finally stepped onto the sand, wild cheers greeted his long-awaited arrival. He was fighting Iskedios and Cenatos, and Melitta sent up a quick prayer to the gods. She need not have worried. Despite his period of inactivity Gannicus was as good as ever, the true champion for the House of Batiatus. He dispatched both combatants quickly, then bowed to the pulvinus and retreated, smiling. Melitta grinned at his theatrics.
While Gannicus's fight filled her with joy, Caburus's ruthless killing of his opponents chilled her to the core. Melitta found herself praying yet again to the Gods to show Gannicus mercy, and let him survive the day. Please she begged Please do not take from me the one true measure of happiness I have. Please do not let him fall.
Then, though Melitta had dreaded the moment, and prayed for it not to come, night fell, the torches were lit, and the primus began.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
"So at last we meet, on the sand." Crixus declared to Gannicus, who was fastening his greaves.
"Two among many." Gannicus replied, absorbed in properly attiring himself for the games. He looked up when Crixus loomed close.
"I give no shit for other men." The new gladiator declared. "I will prove myself against you, in proper contest."
"We face Solonius's men, not each other."
"Only until they have fallen. Then we shall stand alone, absent thought of brotherhood."
Gannicus stared at him in exasperation. The standoff was interrupted by Oenomaus's shout. "Gladiators, attend! The Dominus would have words."
Batiatus stepped through the gates, and looked at his assembled gladiators. Ambition burned in his eyes.
"Everything we have dreamed of, suffered, died for…the worth of those things turns upon these sands, in this single moment. We face the House of Solonius and his ill-gotten men. You stand outnumbered, but not outmatched! Only one man will claim victory this day, and let that man be from the House of Batiatus! Win and earn the title of the Champion of Capua!"
The gladiators cheered in response to the speech. As they moved to fully attire themselves, they could hear the roars of the crowd as they demanded the primus begin.
When they assembled in front of the gates, Gannicus took a deep breath. Though he had been distracted from thoughts of the arena of late, the pleasure he got from the fight, the anticipation of winning came rushing back, as if he had never left the sands. Now he fought for another cause as well. Every victory, every moment of glory, would be dedicated to her.
Oenomaus looked at each gladiator in turn, putting a hand on Gannicus's shoulders as a reminder of the promise he had made. For a moment, his guilt vanished and Gannicus smiled at his brother, determined to go and win for the woman they both loved.
The cornua rang the doors opened and the gladiators of the House of Batiatus marched out, confident in their upcoming triumph.
Melitta could not help but smile as she saw Gannicus's wild joy. The arena had always stirred something within the man, and its effects on him were profound. She was happy that he could return to the place that gave him such glee, but fear permeated her mind as well. Before, she had always worried about him every time he stepped foot into the arena, but now…knowing him, loving him, having a idea of what she would lose if he died…
From the corner of her eye, she saw the magistrate stand.
"Many have fought this day, many have died, their blood staining the sands. Yet this arena demands even more! It is a vast beast, hungering for more offerings." He declared.
"Two great houses face each other, but in the end every man must stand for himself, and himself alone." Sextus gestured to the side, and slaves carrying urns surrounded the men.
"What are they doing?" Lucretia asked.
"Matters not." Batiatus replied, puzzled himself.
"Fire burns within their breast, and it is fire that will bind them in final contest!" The magistrate announced. Melitta stifled a gasp as the slaves set fire to the oil ring surrounding the men.
"This shall be a contest the likes of which the gods have never seen!" The magistrate declared. "Fall outside the ring and depart from the primus. Fall inside and leave this world! Take position." Melitta saw Gannicus point to Caburus and closed her eyes, bracing herself for the events to come.
"Split heavens with the sound of your fury. Begin!"
Melitta had eyes only for Gannicus as the gladiators rushed towards each other. She saw him meet Caburus in the middle, and the bigger man fought him for a moment before tossing him like a fly. Melitta winced as blood flew from Gannicus's mouth, biting her lip to prevent a cry from escaping.
"First blood to Solonius!" She head Varrus exclaim. Her eyes were on Gannicus as he stood up, killing an opponent as the crowd cheered.
Her attention went briefly to the other gladiators. Crixus was doing well for himself, and the others were no small matter either. Her gaze returned to Gannicus as he engaged with two opponents. Without noticing her hands were pressing together, knuckles whitening as she prayed to the gods silently.
Batiatus cheered as Gannicus finished the other two gladiators.
"It is a pity you do not have more men in the primus Solonius…I fear you will be dispatched prematurely
His gloating was cut short as they saw two of his gladiators turn on each other.
"The fuck?" Batiatus muttered, furious.
"Batiatus's men think so little of his house that they seek to kill their brothers?" Solonius laughed. Out of the corner of her eye Melitta saw Naevia glaring at the two, and quickly squeezed her arm to comfort the girl. Naevia turned and gave her a small smile, which did little to mask the sorrow in her eyes. Sorrow that turned to concern as she saw how pale Melitta had become as her eyes returned to the fighting.
Please let Gannicus live. Naevia prayed. For Melitta's sake, let him live. We have had too much sorrow today…let there be some comfort
She was distracted by Cossutius's laugh. Looking to the arena, she saw the cause of his merriment. One of the gladiators, the one with the net, had set a gladiator of the House of Solonius on fire. Naevia cringed at the spectacle, hating the man even more that he found such happiness in another's suffering. Then again, seeing what he had done to Diona, the situation did not come as a surprise.
The primus continued until only a few men were left. Melitta saw another gladiator conferring with Crixus as Gannicus fought Caburus.
Help him! Her mind screamed. Why are you standing there? He's your brother, help him!
Suddenly Crixus slashed at the other gladiator, pushing him outside the ring of fire.
Melitta frowned as the man's measure became clear to her.
Glory she thought in disgust. That is all Crixus thinks about, and he will not hesitate to kill Gannicus to get it. Her thoughts stilled as Crixus moved to the fight, and she let out a sigh of quiet relief as he started fighting Cerebrus alongside Gannicus.
Perhaps he is not seeking glory after all? Gannicus made no mention of his measure for the man, though Oenomaus speaks highly of him. I trust my husband's judgment. Crixus wishes for a fair fight against Gannicus…but why? Could it be that he realized that Gannicus let him win? Why couldn't he wait for a better venue to seek proper contest? Not when they have to face that monstrosity!
"It appears odds have shifted!" Lucretia trilled.
So it would seem Melitta though grimly. But for how long? Crixus is a new gladiator and Caburus is a brute.
Then Gannicus threw Crixus out of the ring in the process of protecting him from Caburus's sword.
Apologies. You are a good fighter Crixus, and will be a formidable opponent on the sands one day. In the past I would have been proud to die in such a bout. But I have too much to live for now, and you are too young to accept Death's embrace. Gannicus thought, looking at a smugly sneering Caburus.
Now the two top gladiators faced each other. Melitta wanted to whimper, to close her eyes against this spectacle she had so feared. She forced herself not to. Gannicus would not want her to cower. Had she not decided that she as his, defying all others? To watch him win against that abomination would not be difficult. And he would win. He promised me she reassured herself.
For a moment Gannicus gained advantage, thrusting a short sword into Caburus's leg, then kicking him down. But the huge man would not be stopped, getting up and throwing Gannicus away. Melitta gasped as Caburus's almost speared Gannicus, only his quick thinking allowing him to put a corpse in his way preventing him from being skewered. That did not prevent him from being tossed around the ring on the other man's spear, and soon Gannicus fell to the ground.
Melitta almost fainted, but Naevia's tight grip on her arm prevented her from falling. All she could see was Gannicus's still form, lying face down on the sand. You promised! Her thoughts screamed. You promised you would not fall! Get up! Get up! As if in response to her internal screams, he stirred, looking up to the pulvinus. Even though he was far away, she could feel his gaze rest on her. As she and the others watched, Gannicus stood, turning as Caburus's thrust the spear at him. Gannicus broke off the tip, thrusting it in the other gladiator's mouth and pushing, until the jaw ripped off completely, and the lower half of Caburus's face fell away.
Silence reigned in the stadium.
Gannicus turned to the pulvinus, bowing shakily and pointed the tip of the spear at her, though no one knew it. All thought he was pointing to his master, and the crowd roared in response, chanting his name.
"Yes!" Batiatus shouted, leaping up along with Lucretia. "The House of Batiatus stands fucking triumphant! Oh Apologies." He hurriedly stated to the magistrate, who was laughing at his display.
"None required. A most magnificent showing!" Sextus replied.
"I do but honor this city, and my champion continues to do the same!"
"I have a mind to retain your man for my games." Cossutius said eagerly.
"As do I." Varrus gazed at the stadium. "See how he ignites the crowd."
Indeed, the crowd continued roaring and chanting his name as Gannicus thrust his arms into the air, shouting out his triumph. Melitta smiled shakily, thankful he was still alive, as Naevia supported her discreetly.
"Would they not forever remember this day and the men responsible for it… if Gannicus was granted his freedom?" Solonius mentioned, glancing at the magistrate in a causal manner. Melitta was too far to hear, but Naevia whipped her head, narrowing her eyes at the man. Batiatus was not much better. "Freedom?" he muttered.
"I myself planned to do the same for my man, had he won the primus."
"An excellent idea." The magistrate said enthusiastically. He turned to the stunned Batiatus. "Surely you can train another man… but opportunities like this are rare."
Batiatus laughed outwardly, seething internally. "Of course, I but honor these games, and this city."
The Magistrate stood, waiting for the crowd to quiet down. Gannicus turned and faced him, uncertain as to what was going on. Melitta shared his confusion.
"Gannicus has honored the city of Capua with his prowess. Let him be rewarded…with freedom." Sextus declared in ringing tones.
The cheers that came from the pronouncement near deafened the gladiator and the spectators seated in the pulvinus.
Gannicus was ecstatic. Freedom! What every slave dreamed of. How proud would Melitta….
The thought slammed into him, horrifying in its realization. Gannicus was now a free man. Melitta remained a slave. She was now as far removed as the earth from the sun. At the realization, the agony and the ecstasy of the night caused tears to run.
Unknown to him, Melitta wept silently as well, her thoughts torn between her happiness for Gannicus…and the sorrow which their parting was going to bring.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
"A magnificent showing, Brother!" Oenomaus embraced Gannicus, overjoyed by his good fortune. His heart had been heavy for the past few days, but Gannicus's freedom lifted it beyond measure. Melitta would be so proud of the Celt, much like Oenomaus.
Gannicus's returning smile was strained, and the expression became almost a grimace as the other gladiators came close to congratulate him. The celebratory mood was cut short as Batiatus stormed into the gates of the stockade, insisting that Doctore see to those with injury as they made ready to return to the ludus. The furious expression on the dominus's face stalled all thoughts of celebrations among the gladiators. Gannicus found it amusing that his mood was showcased on his Dominus's face, then almost laughed bitterly at the realized that Quintus Lentulus Batiatus…was no longer his master. But he remains Melitta's. was the grim thought as they set out for the return journey.
Cheers greeted Gannicus when he and the others returned to the ludus. Word of his freedom had spread quickly among the people of Capua, and the gladiators were joyous for their brother. Gannicus wished he could share their wholehearted happiness, but his own was tainted by thoughts of being separated from Melitta. I should be happy, he thought miserably. A solution to betraying Oenomaus presents itself. I can leave the ludus and Melitta and Oenomaus will find peace. That was my reasoning for losing to Crixus.
But that was before I knew Melitta's thoughts. And that was before she confessed she loved me as well. Why should I have to give up the one thing in my life that brings true happiness? She chose me…surely a solution much more amiable will be thought of?
"Gannicus! We must celebrate your good fortune!" the cheer broke him out of his thoughts. He forced a smile on his face as the throng of gladiators congregated around him.
"You must give me time to make proper arrangement Brothers. I fear Dominus will not give out the wine as easily this time around!" He jested. Oenomaus smiled and shook his head as he made his way through the crowd.
"Come." He invited. "We must have private celebration in my cell. Tonight Melitta visits and I am sure she has words for you as well."
Oenomaus blinked in surprise as sorrow flashed through Gannicus's face. The expression was gone so quickly that Oenomaus decided he must have imagined it. What cause would Gannicus have to be so unhappy?
"Forgive me Brother. The wounds from my victory need tending, and I am far too tired tonight to be good company. Tomorrow would see all burden removed, and I shall be a much better companion."
Oenomaus nodded in surprise as Gannicus walked back to his cell, stopping and talking to the men who had come to greet him.
What seizes the man? This is the hour of his greatest victory, and yet my happiness exceeds the joy that should come from him. Is he worried about how to make his way in a world outside these walls? Or does he mourn the loss of Brotherhood? Brooding on these thoughts, Oenomaus returned to his cell, waiting for his wife.
As the cell door closed, Gannicus staggered to his cot, allowing himself to feel all the aches and pains accumulated in the arena. He looked around blearily, for the first time regretting the absence of a shrine like the one that decorated Oenomaus's cell. He knew Melitta prayed there regularly, having come upon her often when they despaired of Oenomaus recovering of his wounds from the Shadow of Death. Gannicus had never had any use for such things.
He stood from his cot despite the pain, looking at the moon from the barred window above his cell door. This was the closest he could come to an altar right now. He hoped the gods would forgive the lack of offerings and heed his pleas.
Ignoring his aching body, Gannicus knelt. Bowing his head and raising his arms in supplication, he started to pray for the first time since he was enslaved. When the gods had not freed him, he had stopped talking to them, thinking they were too cruel to bother with. Now, he once again tried to speak to them, desperation coloring every thought.
Please. Gannicus pleaded, looking at the moon through the window of his cell. You have been far kinder to me than I deserve, giving me my life and my freedom. I beg you now…do not take her away. My life holds no meaning without her. I will give up my freedom…just leave me Melitta. I beg you…do not separate heart from chest. I beg… he repeated the prayer well into the night.
Oenomaus smiled in greeting as Melitta entered the cell. He noticed that her returning smile was wan, and she seemed paler in the light.
"Are you well?" he asked, concerned.
She waved away his question. "Seeing Diona…it was jarring. Apologies for being late, I was tending to Naevia. The loss of her friend was heartbreaking for the poor girl."
"Perhaps that is why Gannicus was not truly happy. I know he favored Diona before Naevia. It may be that her death was the reason for his pensive thoughts?" Oenomaus mused aloud.
"Gannicus was not joyous of his good fortune?" Melitta asked surprise evident in her voice.
"Some thought turned him from true happiness. He did not tell me what weighed on mind."
"Perhaps he needs the night to see how lucky he is. Come dawn, his demeanors will have changed." Oenomaus did not notice how Melitta's voice trembled as she said the words.
"Words of wisdom as always." His voice was warm as he took her into his arms. He moved to kiss her and was surprised as Melitta shrugged him away, moving to the cot and wrapping her arms around herself.
"Melitta? What ails you? Speak truth."
"Apologies." Now he was aware that there were tears in her voice. "Tonight my mind is filled with sorrow regarding Diona. I am not a fitting companion…I cannot believe I shall never hear her sweet laugh, her innocent questions… share jests and true thoughts…oh I will miss h-her so." She stopped herself from saying him. Oenoamus could not know that Melitta's thoughts had shifted from Diona to Gannicus as she contemplated his quickly coming departure from the ludus. Why would he remain when freedom beckoned? Surely she was not incentive enough to stay in the walls where such sorrow had befallen him. No, he would leave and she would go back to her existence as dutiful wife. It was her fate to die under Lucretia and Batiatus's thumb.
Oenomaus hugged Melitta carefully as she softly wept into his arms. So in a night where there should have been joy and celebration, sorrow permeated the walls.
As dawn came, Quintus Batiatus, for the first time in his life, had to ask to see one of his gladiators. The guards escorted Gannicus to the main office, absent chains. The two men regarded each other quietly for a few moments, and then Batiatus broke the silence.
"Do you have any plans now that you are free?" he tried, and failed, to keep the desperation out of his voice. To lose Gannicus now that he had tripled his value…the thought was too much to bear.
"Perhaps I shall leave these walls and make my fortune elsewhere. There are bitter memories here."
The lack of title stung, when the statement came from a former slave's lips.
"Why not stay and sweeten them then? There shall be great rewards in the endeavor."
"What do you offer, then?"
"Coin, a room in the villa, freedom to come and go as you please." Batiatus rattled off the list quickly.
"The villa? I would stay here?" The question seemed to hold some significance from Gannicus.
Quintus's answer was interrupted as Melitta came in with breakfast and drink. As she was pouring the wine her eyes briefly locked on Gannicus before they lowered again. Batiatus noticed the exchange.
"Yes," he replied slowly, eyes going back and forth between the two.”You would be given room in the villa."
Melitta faltered minutely, then walked quickly out. Gannicus's eyes briefly followed her before settling back on his former master.
"I will fight for you, but I have one more condition. And I want our agreement as a contract." He said slowly.
Quintus nodded, desperate.
"I want to be able to buy Melitta's freedom, when I gain enough coin."
"A house slave's freedom is expensive, and my wife is fond of Melitta."
"I will be getting the bulk of my earnings, which will be considerable now that I am so in demand. I will also be getting coin from you, to fight for the House of Batiatus. Your wife can train another. This is not negotiable Dom…Batiatus."
Quintus grit his teeth, cursing Solonius to Tartarus for his trick, but nodded. "I shall have the document drawn presently."
Gannicus nodded, then turned to go. Batiatus called him back with a question.
"What about Oenomaus? You seek to part him from that which he holds closest to his heart."
Gannicus paused, but did not turn around. His gaze was fixed on Melitta, who lingered outside, out of sight of Batiatus, gazing at him as well. The answer was as much to her as it was to his former dominus.
"I never claimed to be an honorable man." He then walked out, quickly, catching her as she turned to flee.
He tugged her into a corner, away from prying eyes.
She shrugged out of his grasp and faced him, anger marring her features.
"Have you lost mind? Freedom is in your hands, yet you stand there, holding the serpent to your breast and encouraging it to bite! You could have a free life, absent commands, and yet you stay? Gannicus!" she whispered angrily as he came close and snatched her in his arms. She struggled briefly, then became still as Gannicus spoke.
"Freedom is nothing without you to share it with me. My life had no meaning before you, and without you, it fades into muck and shit."
She paled as he continued.
"Honor, brotherhood, freedom…they all wither in comparison to what I feel for you. You know this Melitta. I would drag myself to the lowest hells, betray everything and everyone, just to be with you."
Tears were in Melitta's eyes, as she replied "Fool. You stupid fool."
Then she pushed him back and left. Gannicus closed his eyes, and punched the wall.
Much later on in the day, Melitta was summoned away from her duties by Lucretia. Wondering what ailed her mistress so late in the day, Melitta paused before entering the room. Dominus must have told her Gannicus's price. Lucretia cherished Melitta, had done so from when she entered the House as Batiatus's wife. In turn Melitta had done all she could to put her new domina at ease with her surroundings. There was bond between them, one Lucretia would be loathe to break. Gathering her courage, Melitta entered the room, standing in front of her still mistress.
"So Gannicus wishes to purchase your freedom." Domina's voice was expressionless, even to Melitta, who had served her for so long
"Apologies Domina…" Melitta began, then paused, having no idea what to say. She closed her mouth, swallowed, and tried again. "He only wishes to…he…I did not know he would ask. I thought he would…" she trailed off, lost for words.
"Leave you behind." Lucretia completed the thought. Melitta nodded, dazed. Even after her conversation with Gannicus, she still had to wrap her mind around the thought that he had stayed for her- delayed his departure, shackled himself again to Batiatus, just so he could be near her.
The depth of love he felt for her was humbling…a true gift from the gods. She only wished there was some way to avoid hurting Oenomaus.
"I could still stop the sale." As Lucretia said this, she took careful consideration of Melitta's demeanor. When she had offered, her body slave's face had drained of color, leaving her looking pale and sickly. Lucretia nodded to herself, confirming what she had known since she saw Gannicus glancing at the balcony. There were feelings there- strong and deep to risk so much.
"Domina I beg of you…please…." Lucretia raised a hand to silence Melitta's pleading. She sat on the couch and motioned Naevia to fetch wine. Melitta stood in front of her mistress, quiet and pale.
"Do you know my mother was against me marrying Quintus? My father was ecstatic that someone so above our station would deign to even look at me, let alone marry me…but my mother was hesitant. She advised me not to wed him."
Melitta stared in silence at her mistress, puzzled as to where the story was going.
"She said the marriage would destroy me, one way or another. She meant that Titus would never approve and see me out of the house. I would be left alone and destitute, and who knows what I would have to resort to." Here Lucretia paused, and took a sip of the wine Naevia had bought. She motioned the young girl away, and looked back at her most trusted slave.
"A deeper reason was that she knew the compromises I would have to make, the games, petty cruelties, and betrayal's I would have to endure, to succeed as Quintus's wife, to support his ambitions, would kill part of my soul. Gaia thought she was an old fool. She thought I deserved the world with all its pleasures." Lucretia stopped to remember her old friend. In the end, Gaia had lost her life, on the whim of a cruel monster, because she had overplayed her hand. Lucretia had seen Tullius dead, but the empty space in her soul would never heal.
"Domina?" Melitta's soft voice bought Lucretia out of her musings.
"Mother was right." She whispered. "My soul is not dead yet, but piece by piece I can feel it slipping away…here a principle, there a cherished hope." She laughed ruefully. "I have even betrayed and deceived the man I love above all others." She looked at Melitta intently. "Do you understand? Despite all that I have given up, the humiliations I have borne…nothing will entice me to leave Quintus. He is my other half, the one the Gods intended for me. I will never part from him. I see the beginnings of the same bond between you and Gannicus. That is why I am letting you go."
"Domina." Melitta bowed, overwhelmed. She felt Lucretia's fingers tipping her chin up, to face her mistress.
"Do you love him?"
"Yes Domina…above my own life."
A soft kiss was placed on her lips. "Then cherish him, and a cock in the ass to whosoever gets in the way."
Melitta nodded, turning to leave, when she heard Lucretia call her back.
"Make sure that Gannicus starts instructing Crixus in the ways of a true champion. Have your husband start focusing on the Gaul as well. I shall have a proper champion in place of Gannicus when he leaves with you. And begin instructing Naevia on her new duties as my body slave. I shall abide few disruptions when you both are gone."
"Yes Domina." Melitta bowed and left Lucretia, silent once more, in the room.
As she was making her way to her rooms, she saw Gannicus, walking with his belongings into the villa, escorted by guards. He gazed at the silently, but the question was clear in his eyes. Will you come with me? His gaze asked her.
There was only one answer Melitta's heart could give. She smiled at him, and he exhaled softly in relief. Whatever the path ahead of us, I will walk with you. Yes, Gannicus, the answer is yes.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Soft sounds echoed through Gannicus's rooms in the villa as Melitta attempted to stifle her moans. The task was made much more difficult by the fact that Gannicus loved to see her undone and so attempted to make her scream whenever he could. Propriety meant very little to her lover.
Gannicus thrust lazily into as her as she attempted to get him to move faster. He kissed her slowly, savoring her heat and tightness as her legs tightened around his hips. Melitta's head rolled back as his thrust began to gain force, and soon both of them reached their peaks.
Heat and urgency gave way to a lazy afterglow, with Gannicus placing several butterfly kisses on her throat. She laughed softly and pushed him up.
"I must go. Dawn is almost upon us."
Gannicus tugged Melitta back as she made attempt to rise. "Stay awhile."
She struggled lightly, then gave up and lay back in his arms. "I cannot tarry long. Domina awakens soon, and her needs must be attended to."
"How does she fare now that she knows you are to leave?"
"I have been instructed to teach Naevia about my responsibilities, and to emphasize how important loyalty is to Domina above all."
Gannicus smiled as he pressed a kiss to the fragrant hair "An odd concept, considering the fact that she takes another man's cock."
Melitta placed a finger on his lips, and then rose to face him, her demeanor serious. "Speak not so loudly! You know these walls retain few secrets. I told you in confidence as you wondered on Crixus's comings and goings. Even Oenomaus does not know." She smiled wryly. " Besides, Domina is not the only one guilty of such offense."
"We did make attempt to stop. It failed spectacularly as you recall." He reminded her.
She sighed. "I know. My heart overwhelmed my duty. Would that it erase these feelings of guilt as well."
"That sentiment is shared." He murmured back. "No matter how I justify it, the fact that we betray my brother remains. Even though we committed to this road, the guilt festers and wounds."
Melitta nodded sadly, tucking her face into Gannicus's neck. "I want to tell him the truth…have come close so many times. And yet, I fear that he will kill me before explanation is finished."
"Then my sword would strike him down the next moment, though I would be filled with regret and sorrow."
"It is his right." She reminded him. "He is my husband."
"That bond is not legal. He only calls you wife at the whim of Batiatus. As you were given to him at the whim of Titus and Lucretia. Without consent as you recall."
"Gannicus!" she made attempt to rise, but he pulled her back, contrite.
"Forgive me." His forehead touched hers, lips brushing the delicate cheek. "I seek to minimize the bond between you two, to lessen my guilt. I know he loves you. I've always known how much he loves you. That is why I tried to still treacherous heart. Would that it have been parted from my chest before seeing it betray such a man."
"You are not the only one who tried." Melitta whispered back. "Do you not remember what I said that night? When we decided that this," here she motioned between them, "was worth everything. This small bit of happiness we could snatch was worth all betrayals?"
"You said I did not walk this path alone. That you came with me, willingly, and with eyes open."
Melitta leaned towards him. "To that I hold. You breathe life into me; lift me from the weight of duties despair. I dream of more, of a life outside these walls because of you. I will live with the ever present guilt."
He leaned in and took a long, slow, kiss. "I pray it fades." He whispered against her lips. "When we leave these walls."
"When will that be?" she asked.
As they hurried through the marketplace the dust swirled around them. Though she was happy to out of the villa with Gannicus as a companion, the errand they were on brought Melitta no joy. With the loss of Diona and the impending departure of Melitta, Lucretia had decided purchasing a new house slave was in order. She commanded Melitta accompany her to help in the choosing. Gannicus, being one of the few gladiators not required to be escorted by Doctore outside the walls, was told to take the women through the streets. Quintus considered Barca too indelicate to carry forth such an errand. Furthermore, secrecy regarding Gannicus and Melitta had to be maintained. Happy to spend some time with Melitta without worrying about Oenomaus, he complied. As they reached the area where the slaves were being sold, they saw that a new batch had just been announced. Gannicus pushed through the crowd and Melitta and Lucretia followed until they ended up at the very front of the auction.
"They all seem disease free." Lucretia commented, looking over the stock critically. The women were naked, staring straight ahead, gazes blank as the auctioneer proceeded to announce their worth.
"None of them are virgins unfortunately." She continued, eyes darting from one form to another. Melitta turned her head away as the auctioneer pulled a woman by her chains, pushing her to the man who had bid for her. The auctions, along with the executions, had always filled her with revulsion. She hated seeing more slaves being made, seeing more poor souls being deprived of their freedom.
Gannicus's hand on her shoulder provided much needed comfort, and Melitta turned and flashed him a brief smile that he returned. As she looked back among the slaves, her eyes caught one particular woman. Unlike the others there was still fire in her gaze, and disgust exuded from her form
"Domina. What about the woman to the right?" Melitta asked, bringing Lucretia's attention to the still form.
"Her? But she does not seem docile at all!" Lucretia objected.
"Naevia is being trained for docility Domina. Surely for your second slave you need a woman who will be well versed in dealing with any…problems that might arise?" Melitta delicately commented. Since Titus's death, his son had been venturing in increasingly risky directions; inviting more and more noble Roman's to the villa and indulging in more debauchery. Though they were less grand that the spectacle that had seen Gaia dead, it was a well known secret that the House of Batiatus under Quintus Lentulus Batiatus would see to every need of its Roman patrons.
Lucretia frowned, deep in thought. Given the increasingly licentious activities that were taking place under her roof, having a slave who would help her take care of any and all issues that could crop up would be helpful. A slave like that would need a mind of her own, to be able to think for herself and not come to Lucretia for every problem that arose. She looked at the woman again. Yes, she seems to type to be able to handle herself.
"The fact that she is not a virgin means that she can be offered to guests as well." She mused out loud, not seeing Melitta's wince and Gannicus's grimace.
"A good selection Melitta. None will be as good as you," here Lucretia aimed an arch look at Gannicus, who smiled cheekily in reply, "but this one might fill some duties well."
The auctioneer stepped to forward with the woman, who looked at the crowd impassively. Gannicus caught a flash of contempt in her gaze before she lowered her eyes. Oh, she would have snared Oenomaus and lightened his heart! A pity Domina will not gift her to him after we leave. I wish there was some way to ease the burden that he shall bear. No one deserves her fate.
"What price shall the good citizens of Capua pay for Mira? This slave can cook, clean, and aid her mistress in keeping a well appointed villa! Well, good citizens? Let us begin the bidding!"
The price rose steadily higher as the bidding went on until Lucretia, who had been given considerable coin for this outing, won the woman at 50 dinarii.
"I could have bought a marvelous necklace for that price." She huffed under her breath as the girl was robed and bough to her in chains. Lucretia paused and lifted the girl's chin with a finger. "Be worth your price or I shall give you to the gladiators in my husbands ludus." She warned.
The girl stared at her impassively. In reply to such insolence, a slap rang through the market. Melitta cringed as the girl's face turned to the side from the force of the blow. The slave lowered her eyes, cheek reddening from the impact.
"Yes Domina." Came the quiet reply.
Melitta shook off her fear and smiled warmly as she took the new arrivals hand, leading her to the ludus, Gannicus taking the rear. Mira looked at her in surprise, giving a small smile back, but her eyes remained wary. Melitta wondered what had befallen the woman before the she came to the slave auction, then shook the thought from mind. Mira's life before entering the ludus would not matter. What would save her now would be an unquestioning loyalty to her masters.
I must teach her and Naevia in the short time I have left Melitta looked back at Gannicus who was trying to get away from an adoring crowd. She could not help but smile at his antics. Turning back she caught Mira's questioning stare and flushed in reply. This time the smile reached the other woman's eyes.
"Is he your man?" Mira whispered.
Melitta paused, the complicated relationships she was juggling swirling through her head. Then she shrugged and offered a simple reply.
"Yes, he is."
A few more weeks passed, with Gannicus amassing more and more coins due to the crowd's hunger for his presence. There was even talk of bringing back Theokoles to fight him. When Melitta had bought up the rumors Gannicus had laughed and dismissed them. He was no match for Theokoles. Moreover, the city of Capua had to recoup from the building of the new arena. There was no lanista who could currently afford the Shadow of Death's fee.
"Only in dire times will a fight with the Shadow be possible. And the times are not so bad for this city." He assured her.
Melitta's days were spent instructing Naevia and Mira on their duties. Mira had been surprised when Oenomaus had been introduced as Melitta's husband but had kept her cool, showing her worth in Domina's eyes. The ability to keep secrets was becoming paramount for house slaves, especially from the Doctore. Quintus Batiatus wanted his relationship with Oenomaus unchanged, which meant hiding many of the things that went on in the villa. Oenomaus was proving himself to be a skilled trainer of gladiators, and Batiatus did not want to lose his respect.
Melitta had explained the circumstances to Mira, though she did not know why. The opinion of a new slave should not matter, but for some reason, Melitta had not wanted to lose Mira's respect. She was so different from most slaves, docile on the outside, but hiding a fire within. Melitta only hoped that the passions that burned so deeply within Mira would not hurt her one day.
As Melitta toiled in the house, Gannicus continued to fight with his brothers in the ludus. He was still a popular figure, but there was a divide between him and the men, and he was not unaware of it. No amount of wine and whores could make his brothers forget that he could walk about the gates at anytime and they could not. Though there was little resentment, Gannicus could tell that the others were puzzled as to why he remained. Staying in the villa, away from his brothers, did not help foster camaraderie as well. Oenomaus had stopped him once and asked him flat out why he stayed. Gannicus had merely mentioned that he needed coin to establish himself, and fighting under Batiatus was the fastest way to amass the required amount.
In the mean time he also trained Crixus, who had risen in popularity but was eclipsed by Gannicus in the games, a fact that Gannicus knew infuriated the new recruit. He had been teaching Crixus for the past few months, and the young man was a very quick learner, picking up techniques and strategies rapidly. But Gannicus saw a hardening in Crixus, an arrogance that would alienate. His relationship with the other recruit, Ashur had been completely sundered, though neither man would tell the brotherhood what caused Crixus to injure Ashur on the day of the opening games. Batiatus had contemplated selling the crippled gladiator, but Ashur had proven his worth with numbers, showing a quick mind underneath the piss poor gladiator exterior. As a result, he was fast becoming important to Batiatus, who used him during his various errands in the city.
Gannicus's relationship with Oenomaus remained strong, though there were strains on the edges. The guilt he felt was ever present and unrelenting. Looking at his friend's strong, kind face, Gannicus would always chastise himself for betraying such a noble man. Once in a fit of repentance he had contemplated ending his liason with Melitta and leaving the ludus, but when he had gotten back to the villa and Melitta had smiled at him in greeting, the thought was blown away like dust in the wind. In the end, his feelings for Melitta overwhelmed his bond with Oenomaus. But the cursed guilt remained. Gannicus could not wait to get away from this ludus, taking Melitta and starting their new life elsewhere, away from the House of Batiatus and the rot setting within that was all too apparent.
Finally the day came that a final game would bring him to the required amount needed to acquire Melitta's freedom. Gannicus stared at the new arena through the gates of the stockade. Even though he fought here regularly, the grandeur of the arena always took his breath away. This morning he had told Melitta that this fight would be his last. She had understood immediately, and implored him to remain cautious, to fight well. Gannicus had kissed her deeply, a reminder of what he was fighting for, then left for the fight. He knew Melitta was in the pulvinus, tending to Lucretia. Batiatus had it made known that this fight would be Gannicus's last, and so the arena was packed more than usual, people climbing on top of each other, arriving all the way from Rome to witness the spectacle. He would be fighting four others, at the same time, and the amount of coin he would win would be more than enough to establish himself and Melitta far away from Capua.
Oenomaus's hand clapped his shoulder and Gannicus turned to see a smile on the man's face.
"Fight well. Your rudis awaits the names of these men. Do not let hubris be your downfall. Show the entire Republic why you were granted freedom."
"I told you long ago that you would not get rid of me so easily." Gannicus jested back.
Oenomaus nodded, face becoming solemn. "Will you to fight to honor this house?"
Gannicus shook his head. The topic was fast becoming an issue for contention for the two men. Oenomaus who did not see the antics Quintus and Lucretia were now up to, was convinced that the House of Batiatus had redeemed itself. He did not see why Gannicus would not resume fighting to honor the House that had granted him his freedom. Gannicus, who saw daily what the House had become, maintained steadfastly that he would fight to honor Melitta in Oenomaus's stead.
"Fighting for Melitta's honor is enough for me brother. You know I cannot abide too much on the subject." With that statement Gannicus got ready to enter the arena for the last time. He could hear Batiatus's speech as he waited.
"Citizens of Capua! Welcome to a most prestigious match. Today we bid farewell to one of the sand's most favored son's. He shall fight to honor you for the last time, and it shall be a spectacle of blood and glory the likes of which you have never seen!"
Batiatus paused, and in the stockades Gannicus rolled his eyes at his former master's pompousness.
"Today he shall fight four gladiators provided from the Houses of Vibiaus and Solonius. Today he shall show why the House of Batiatus stands triumphant over all others! I present to you the first champion of Capua: Gannicus!"
As the cornua sounded, the stockade gates opened and Gannicus walked into the arena, smiling and cheering with the crowd. Laughing he strolled to the pulvinus, and bowed to all assembled.
The others gladiators sneered at him, confident their numbers would win the fight. Gannicus looked forward to disabusing them of the notion.
For Melitta, this final fight seemed to go by with excruciating slow. She watched as Gannicus twirled, kicked and slashed, felling his opponents one by one. She winced everything he received a wound and smiled widely as each opponent fell.
As the last man fell to Gannicus's blade, he became aware of the crowd screaming in delight, chanting his name over and over. He turned to the pulvinus, throwing a wink at Melitta, then bowing down to the members of patriarch class who were sitting in the seats of honor. He saw one of the men who had commissioned him for the games stand and wave at the crowd for quiet.
"Gannicus has honored my forefathers with his skills today. We know this is his last fight before he sets out to greater adventures. In honor of his victories, I grant a parcel of land outside Capua for his use!"
The crowd roared in excitement as Gannicus blinked in surprise. Well, at least the problem of where to go after we leave the ludus is solved was the dry thought.
Everything was falling into place. They had the coins necessary to purchase Melitta's freedom, and now, they had somewhere to live. It was as if the Gods themselves were ushering them to leave the House of Batiatus, and being their lives. Gannicus decided that he would buy Melitta's freedom when he returned to the House.
Tonight she will be free, and tomorrow we will leave the House of Batiatus.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
The clink of coins as the pouch was tossed onto the desk caused Batiatus to look up from his work. Gannicus stood before him, looking self-assured and impatient.
"The required amount." He nodded towards the pouch. Batiatus gestured to Ashur, and the former gladiator limped forward and counted the coins quickly. He nodded to his Dominus that the amount was indeed accurate.
"So, you leave the villa to go on glorious adventures, eh? Are you sure we cannot persuade you to stay and fight on?" Batiatus asked faux-cheerfully.
Gannicus shook his head, inwardly amused at his former master's desperation. Batiatus was far too transparent at times, though he was quickly learning the ways of cunning and guile. A necessity in these circumstances, Gannicus guessed.
"This part of my life has ended. Free Melitta today, so we may leave these ways and begin our lives anew."
His former Dominus dropped the façade, moving to attack. "You leave a life filled with glory to toil in piss and shit?"
"I leave a life in which death beckons at every corner. I leave a life where the roar of the bloodthirsty crowd would decide my fate. Do not seek to persuade me. All of Capua knows that fight was my last. Free Melitta and we shall be on our way, never to trouble your musings."
Batiatus grit his teeth, frustration evident in every gesture as he motioned for Ashur to fetch Melitta. The former gladiator bowed and hobbled away. Gannicus watched him as he left.
"He shows more aptitude outside the arena that within. Crixus injuring him might have been the best for all involved. Ashur would have fallen sooner rather than later had he continued to fight."
"The man is a snake, dancing to my tune." Batiatus agreed. The quiet in the room was broken with his next statement.
"I shall tell Oenomaus what transpired here today. Unless you were of the mind to do so?"
Gannicus shook his head. "I do not wish to taint our parting with such news. Despite everything I consider the man my brother…I would not hurt him before I leave."
"Yet you would have me thrust sword in breast?" Batiatus asked incredulously.
"I do not have the strength to do so." Was the calm reply.
A quiet tinkling heralded the new arrivals. Melitta entered the room, adorned in the clothing of a free woman, Lucretia alongside. Naevia and Mira followed, faces drawn with sadness. Batiatus observed as Gannicus's face lit up at the sight, and his brilliant smile was answered in kind by Melitta as she moved to his side.
Faced with their expectant looks, Batiatus admitted defeat.
He took out a parchment from his desk and gestured to it.
"This is the contract stating that Gannicus bought your freedom. Show it to any who ask about your brand, to prove that you are now free. The sum has been paid, and you may leave whenever you wish." The last part was said ungraciously, but neither Melitta nor Gannicus paid it mind. Their attention was on the document. Melitta picked it up, trembling, smoothing over the parchment that showed the beginnings of her hopes and dreams. She wiped her tears before they could smudge the ink and turned to give Gannicus a trembling smile. He caught her lips in a desperate kiss and everyone in the room turned away from the intimate moment.
"It would be best if you departed separately. It would cause an undue scene if Oenomaus saw you both leaving. I would not have it so." Lucretia finally stated.
Gannicus and Melitta looked at each other for a few moments before reaching a silent agreement. Nodding they turned to Lucretia.
"What would you suggest?" Gannicus asked.
Lucretia smiled, pleased. "Finally, words reach ears! Melitta shall be escorted by Ashur outside the gates. We shall say it is for an urgent errand. Then you shall leave, in full view of all. She will meet you on the road outside the villa. You can walk the distance?"
"There will be no difficulties in that quarter. We have enough coin left over to make provisions. Please ease mind in that regard, Domina." Melitta piped up.
"You are free Melitta. I am your Domina no longer."
Melitta only flushed in reply. "Apologies. The tongue has yet to appreciate what the mind now knows."
Lucretia waved away the apology, turning to her husband. "We must make preparations immediately. What is Oenomaus to be told?"
"The truth." Batiatus replied, eyes gleaming.
His wife blinked, then nodded slowly. "And other preparations?"
"Are already done. We made provisions for their leaving last night after Gannicus's victory. They may depart now." Batiatus replied, leftover irritation leaking into his voice.
"Apologies. Might I speak with Mira and Naevia before we depart? I would have final words." Melitta spoke hesitantly.
Lucretia nodded, and the three women stepped away to a corner.
Gannicus turned to Batiatus and his wife, words quiet in the room.
"You will tell Oenomaus that this was not what I wanted? That heart took over mind? I do not expect his forgiveness, but I want him to understand my actions."
"Ease mind Gannicus. We shall tell Oenomaus about his wife's unexpected departure, and your role in it." Batiatus reassured his former champion. Unseen by Gannicus, Lucretia smiled slyly, clever mind already spinning several yarns that would benefit the House.
In the corner, Melitta hugged both Naevia and Mira, bestowing a warm kiss on both brows.
"Remember all that I have taught you. Become one with the shadows so your mistress does not pay you mind. Shun attention. I fear what this House is becoming, and I would have you both as unharmed as possible. Above all else take care of each other. Be the pillar of strength when the burden becomes too much to bear." Melitta said tearfully. Naevia smiled, tears sliding down her cheeks, and Mira nodded, stoic but for the telltale glistening in her eyes.
Melitta paused, taking a look across the room to where Lucretia and Batiatus were deep in talk with Gannicus. She then continued in a whisper "Obey order, but if there comes a chance for happiness, take it. It is a pitiful lot to be a slave. We must grasp the few joys we have, to better weather the sorrows."
All three women clasped each other's hands, quiet sobs permeating the room. Melitta smiled shakily through her tears, squeezing the hands in her grip one more time before taking a step back. Naevia impulsively grasped her hand again.
"I pray we shall see each other again…in happier circumstances."
Melitta nodded, clasping to hand to her chest, pressing a kiss to the trembling appendage before letting go. Gannicus stood at the entrance of the office with Ashur, and Melitta made her way towards them.
The former gladiator led them to the back door, Batiatus and Lucretia watching them go. Lucretia turned to her husband, frowning.
"You do realize we cannot tell Oenomaus the truth. He shall realize we knew of Melitta and Gannicus's trysts. What loyalty will he left to bear us then? Knowing we helped them keep him in the dark?"
Batiatus sighed. "Truth shall see all ties severed, but no ready lie springs to tongue."
"The let me whisper it to your ears." Lucretia suggested.
Batiatus turned to his wife, smiling maliciously "I await your guidance dear wife."
"This is what we shall tell him…"
"I suppose we both disappoint expectations, eh? I on the sands, and you...it is good to know even the mighty Gannicus is not perfect. Brother." Ashur stressed the affectionate term, a sneer twisting his lips as he limped alongside Gannicus and Melitta.
Gannicus frowned at him. "The others Ashur…they are influenced by those above them. Doctore declared you initiation shit and Auctus's memory was much beloved. Your treatment of Dagan did not aid your endeavors."
"I acted as I was acted against Gannicus! No one, not even your precious Oenomaus lifted a hand in welcome. You were the only one who did not jeer or mock. For that I thank you. I pay in kind." Ashur replied.
Gannicus paused, wanting to ask what Dagan's offense had been to be repaid so severely, the tale having circulated throughout the ludus, but let it go. If Ashur needed to cling to his delusions to survive, it was not Gannicus's place to dissuade him. Soon he and Melitta would wash their hands of the stink of the ludus, and he did not feel like arguing just as they were about to leave.
"As you say." He said dismissively as they reached the back doors. Melitta gave him a quick kiss, whispering "I shall see you soon, beloved."
Gannicus lifted a hand in farewell then grabbed Ashur as Melitta slipped out the door.
"That woman is my life. See to it that she remains unharmed, or I shall bring upon you a most painful death." He hissed.
Ashur squirmed in his hold. "I swear she will be safe!"
Gannicus nodded, then released him. Ashur frowned, then slid out the door as well. Gannicus made his way to his room, to collect his belongings. As he stepped out of the villa, he saw his brothers waiting for him, cheering, then chanting his name. Gannicus smiled softly, moving into the throng, accepting each man's congratulations, embracing his brothers for the last time.
"I shall join you one day, you mad fuck." Barca said, smiling widely.
"Of that there is no doubt." Gannicus replied cheerfully. He made his way to Crixus, who had his arms crossed.
"We have not had proper contest." The new gladiator observed wryly.
Gannicus grasped his arm in farewell. "Win you own freedom, then seek me out. But I warn you, I shall likely be out of practice!"
He made his way to the gates, where Oenomaus was waiting, before pausing and turning back to Crixus. Gannicus removed the necklace that had been given to him, a lifetime ago it seemed.
"Crixus." The man turned. "This was given to me when I became the champion of this house. Wear it with more honor that I have."
Wearing that necklace I have fought and killed countless men, fucked innumerable whores, and betrayed the only man I ever considered brother. I do not want to be the man who wore that necklace any more. With Melitta, I shall become a better man, one who is worthy of her love, of what she has given up for me. I cannot wear that necklace anymore, but I pray it goes to a better man that I was. Gannicus thought.
Crixus took the necklace, looking stunned and humbled all at once. His gaze promised what his lips did not say. Gannicus knew Crixus would bear the necklace with honor. Oenomaus would teach the man well.
He turned to see the man in question, holding the rudis which represented Gannicus's freedom.
Oenomaus held out the wooden dagger. "You have earned the rudis, proof that you are no longer a slave."
"A lifetime of blood." Gannicus murmured, examining the dagger which held the names of all he had killed during his time on the sands.
"And victory." Oenomaus admonished. He waited until Gannicus looked up at him, and then continued.
"It lifts troubled heart to see my brother freed. A pity Melitta is not here, she was detained by errands for Domina. But I know she will be proud."
At mention of her name, Gannicus's smile faltered. "Oenomaus…" he trailed off. What was there to say? Forgive me because I am about to part heart from chest? Forgive me that I could not be a better man? A better brother? In the end, he smiled sadly.
"Forgive me all the disappointments I have bestowed upon you. Despite everything, you have always been my best friend, my brother. Apologies, that I did not prove to be worthy of your consideration."
"Gannicus…" Oenomaus frowned, puzzled as Gannicus reached up to embrace him.
Oenomaus led Gannicus to the open gates, heart swelling in joy for his brother. Gannicus moved through the gates, throwing Oenomaus one last sad smile, before making his way down the paths.
Oenomaus moved back into the ludus, ready to begin training with the men. He did not notice his Dominus and Domina watching him, gleams in both their eyes.
Late in the night, Oenomaus waited for Melitta. He wanted to let her know that Gannicus had left, and spend the night reminiscing about his brother. He also hoped to bridge the distance that had grown between them, the cause of which he could not ascertain. It was Oenomaus's hope that after a long talk, they could resume their normal lives, absence weight of secrets.
He heard heavy footsteps instead of the soft footfalls he was expecting, and stood to see a panicked guard.
"Oenomaus! Come above, calamity has befallen!"
Shocked at the tone and the content of the words, Oenomaus hurried to the villa, the guard escorting him.
Stepping into his master's balcony, his heart chilled. Domina looked devastated, and Dominus's eyes held great sadness. Ashur stood on the side, blood staining his clothing. The man was beaten bloody, face swollen and littered with bruises.
"What has happened?" Oenomaus asked, dread filling his heart.
Batiatus shook his head. "It is Melitta. I am sure it was Solonius's thugs that accosted her and Ashur in the marketplace. Fool that I was, I thought she would be safe since she was a slave. But that treacherous fuck sunk to the pits to send a message."
"Dominus…where is she? What has Solonius done?" Oenomaus demanded.
Batiatus paused, lowering his eyes in sorrow. Ashur grimaced. Oenomaus rounded on the man.
"Where is she?" he did not yell, thought his voice rose.
"After beating me and saying that hurting a crippled gladiator would not send the proper message, the men slit her throat. I saw them carrying her body to the cisterns…we will not find her now."
Oenomaus's mind blanked, and when he came back to himself, his hands were around Ashur's neck, choking the man. Guards pulled him away, and he could feel tears running down his cheeks. His beautiful wife…! She would not even receive a proper funeral…Oenomaus would not see her in the afterlife. Damn Solonius!
"Oenomaus." Batiatus's voice seemed far away. "I know you hurt. I know heart is parted from chest. But I need you now. To beat Solonius, we must take away his power, which lies in the arena. Help me train the greatest gladiators in the republic, and see his House fall and your wife avenged."
With great effort, Oenomaus mastered himself. I will take vengeance for you. He promised Melitta. Locking glances with his dominus, and not noticing the small smile that lurked around his domina's mouth, he nodded.
Vengeance and honor would be what he lived for now.
"The farm is quite far from the city." Gannicus remarked to the guide that had been sent for them.
The man nodded. "It is a small parcel of land that my master has wanted to relinquish for some time now. Fortune see's it in your hands, and the granting of it has increased my master's standing among the plebs."
"Everyone wins." Melitta murmured. Except Oenomaus. Batiatus must have told him everything by now. Forgive me, husband, that I could not follow my duty. I pray you can thrust me out of mind and find true happiness with another.
Gannicus had met Melitta near the entrance of the city, where Ashur and the guards had been waiting for them. The two had then been introduced to the guide that would be taking them to the farm that had been gifted to Gannicus during his last fight in the arena. Both Gannicus and Melitta had wanted to leave Capua behind quickly, and after their farewell's to the crippled gladiator had made haste to get out of the city.
Now they were on the roads outside Capua, on their way to the small farm. Melitta knew nothing about farming, and Gannicus even less. However, they did have even money to buy farm slaves when they got settled, and had made plans to do so. Both were determined to make good of the life they had been given, absent regrets that would drive them mad.
The cart they were in lurched as the roads became less paved and Melitta fell onto Gannicus. He laughed and put his hand around her waist, hauling her to his side. She shook her head at his gaiety, then tucked her face into his neck, closing her eyes and inhaling his scent. He dropped a kiss on her hair, and both remained silent as the cart continued on its path and the sun slowly set.
"This is the farm up ahead, far from where bandits roam. I would advise you to find able bodied men quickly, though, in case the scum come." Their guide remarked as the dwelling came in sight.
"Gratitude, for your advice. But should they dare, they will find their ends on my sword."
The man nodded, and Gannicus and Melitta disembarked. Their guide unhooked one of the horses and led it to the stables on the side of the house.
"Another gift from my master, though this comes at the request of his wife. You made quite an impression upon her."
"He makes quite an impression on most women." Melitta remarked archly, and Gannicus grinned, ducking his head in a show of false modesty.
"Yet I am a reformed rouge, with heart and soul ready to serve." The jesting tone was at odds with the seriousness in his eyes.
Melitta turned away from the intense gaze and nodded at their guide.
"Gratitude for bringing us here. Would you like to stay the night? I have heard these roads are treacherous after the sun sets."
The man shook his head. "Much as I wish to, my master bid me to return absent delay. Ease mind, I ride quickly."
Gannicus moved forward and grasped his arm. "Let me add my gratitude to…to my wife's." Melitta turned to look at him, shocked, but his gaze remained on the man in front. "Without your aid, we would still be wandering outside Capua, lost."
The man waved away the thanks, moving to the cart. "I bid you the best in your new venture, Champion!"
"That is no longer who I am!" Gannicus yelled as the man rode away.
When the dust from the cart had faded, he turned to Melitta, who was looking at him with an arched eyebrow.
Gannicus smiled, chagrined. "It seemed better to let everyone know we were married?"
"Yet you did not ask, Gannicus."
"Would you have said no?"
Melitta huffed, secretly amused. The thrill that had gone through her when Gannicus had said wife could not be denied. She blinked as Gannicus took her hands in his, stroking the delicate skin tenderly.
"I never spoke words of love to any woman I was with. I never felt anything but fleeting pleasures until you entered sight. You made me long for a better life, one not filled with blood, sand and the roar of the crowd. You made me wish for more than those fleeting moments of glory."
He paused, swallowed. Melitta gazed at him, captivated.
"I am not a man worthy of you…but I want to be. I will work hard to become such a man. Honor me by consenting to be my wife."
"There is only one answer my tongue can give." Melitta whispered.
"Then let it speak." Gannicus moved closer, eyes locked on her lips.
"You honor me by asking this…yes, of course I will marry you!" she flew into his arms, and he spun her around, laughing merrily.
"This life…the gods have given us a chance for happiness. In this I am their humble servant, content to bask in their glory by worshipping what they have bestowed upon me." Gannicus muttered kissing her over and over, lips wandering to her neck.
"Let us get inside the house! I have no desire to rut like animals on the sands." Melitta gasped, pushing him away. They parted, breathing heavily, then made their way to the small dwelling.
Gannicus gazed at the entrance pensively, thinking. Melitta tugged at his arm, and he turned to her, solemn.
"Despite the fact that our steps take us away from the ludus, it feels as if Oenomaus and I shall meet again, and have true reckoning."
"If that is the case, let us cherish what we have now. I wish to remember each day, each moment, replay them again and again so they burn into my memory. Then when death beckons and my gods ask who it was I live and died for I can answer truthfully."
"And what shall you say?" he asked playfully, pulling her closer.
She put her arms around his neck and her whisper washed over his lips.
"You, you, always you."
He took her lips in a kiss, then picked her up and carried her into their home.
It was a new dawn, and their life was just beginning.