Here’s more from this chapter-in-progress. This chunk of words picks up close to where the previous snippet left off, with brooding Allerix having been ordered to Gaius’s master chamber. Unedited and subject to change. Full chapter coming soon.
“My dear Alexandros.”
Unguarded affection colored Gaius’s smooth voice as the words washed over Allerix, relaxing his taut muscles. Across the room, perched on an elegant ivory stool with his back to the door, Gaius gazed into a mirror. The reflection of his bright grin softly said, “Sit on that chair by the door while I finish preparing for our adventure.”
Gaius fiddled and fussed with his over-sized, unbelted tunic, but he didn’t turn around. Beside him on a low wooden stool, the dancing whore named Delia patted his cheeks and lips with the tips of her fingers. She flashed Alle a friendly smile before returning her full attention to Gaius. When he lifted his hand and nodded, she offered Gaius a strip of leather he used to tie his crimson curls into a loose knot atop his head. A few strands fell free and rested on his shoulders.
“What adventure, sir?”
“I want to share something with you. Something… fun. Entertaining.”
Allerix remained quiet, squinting and craning his neck in hopes of catching another glimpse of Gaius in the dark bronze mirror.
“The Emperor is sponsoring spectacles this afternoon in the great circus. Have you ever witnessed chariots racing down a track, Alle?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve driven chariots, sometimes in races.”
“Have you, then?” Gaius’s silky tone caressed Alle’s ears.
“Not on a formal course, sir, but through the fields before the grasses grow too high. Racing carts was part of my training, Dominus. And it is fun.”
Lifting a cup to his lips, Gaius didn’t respond except to dismiss the girl with a flick of his fingers. After Delia shuffled out of the bed chamber through the second, smaller door leading to his private bath suite, Gaius asked, “Are you still seated, Alle?”
Why wouldn’t the bastard turn around and look at him?
“Yesterday while you and Simon were enjoying your Greek lessons, I visited the archives at the palace. I managed to secure the documents I was searching for, but not without first enduring a few moments of impromptu banter with our esteemed Emperor. It seems our noble ruler has heard I own a Dacian lad with a mellifluous singing voice. He demanded you perform at one of his fucking dinner parties.”
“At the palace?”
“Presumably.” Gaius paused to enjoy another slow sip. Lamplight bounced off the polished silver cup, its reflection flashing bright in the mirror. “I should have done more to prevent this predicament. Neither my grandmother nor our dear Pliny knows when to keep their damn tongues quiet. Cackling chickens, the both of them. And I fucking knew their weakness for gossip, and yet I put you in jeopardy.”
“I don’t understand. How am I in danger, sir?”
Gaius dropped his voice. “Emperor Trajan knows you exist.”
“I’m nothing more than a wretched peasant, sir. A barbarian slave. Wouldn’t it be considered a great honor for you if your Dacian boy were to sing well during a command performance at the palace?”
Gaius grunted a reluctant affirmative but still didn’t turn around.
After studying the room to be sure they were alone, Allerix scooted his chair forward and whispered, “I bear no royal tattoos and there’s no record of my capture. We burned the papyrus in that fire on your beach. Other than you, Dominus, everyone who knew or knows my birth name is either dead or hiding in far-off mountains.”
Gaius waved his hand through the air. “An unpleasant task for another day. But you are correct. Considering the circumstances, the risk is minimal. And that is why today, my dear Alexandros, we are going to spend a leisurely afternoon at the races. Of course, I have no fucking intention of tempting the Fates by sitting in the imperial box and being forced to listen to Marcus or my dear Greekling prattle on and on while they ogle my Dacian Orpheus. No, no, no. On this glorious day, I shall be the performer for our date at the circus, and you will be safe to enjoy the races with me.”
Gaius finally turned around on his stool and sat still, all the while smiling with his burly arms crossed and his defiant dimples deep. The sight knocked the breath from Allerix’s chest. He inhaled sharply and covered his mouth to smother a bewildered gasp.
“By all the mad spirits of the forests,” Alle finally managed to mutter, unable to tear his gaze away from Gaius’s face.
“Am I so beautiful that you have no words save exclamations to the cruel gods?” Gaius’s smile broadened before he laughed and snatched a hand-held mirror from the table. “Too heavy with the coal, but this green powder complements my brown eyes, don’t you think?”
His entire face had been coated with an opaque, pale cream while his cheeks and lips had been stained obscenely red. His auburn eyebrows were darker and drawn together. When he puckered his lips, Gaius transformed into a memorizing but slightly terrifying harlot-Gorgon creature. Mischief sparkled in his coal-lined, golden eyes. Allerix couldn’t look away.