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For my post to celebrate the 12 Days before Christmas MM Historical Fiction Blowout, I’ve decided to share something new. Here’s a draft snippet from July (Dominus Calendar Series II). Let’s go back a few years to the day our dear Nicomedes became a member of Gaius’s family.
(image source: https://www.ancient.eu/image/2113/)
100 AD, Neapolis, Campania
Dominus had been irritable all morning, and the scorching, late July sun roasting their backs was only aggravating his master’s short temper. Gods, the markets were packed with more shoppers than Max had seen all month long. Vegetable sellers and fishmongers hollered the day’s bargains from their wooden stalls lining both sides of the path through Neapolis’ portside square. Discarded, dried cabbage leaves mixed with straw and broken seashells crunched beneath Max’s sandals. Wafting through the breezy salt air blowing in off the bay, whiffs of freshly-baked breads and honey cakes fought with the pervasive scents of perfumes.
“We’re searching for fabric!” Dom barked through the cacophony of negotiations and gossip. “Expensive, ‘forgive my brutish behavior’ fabric, Maximus. A consolation gift to assuage my new uninvited bride.”
Marriage sat awkwardly on Dom’s shoulders. Perhaps he’d grow accustomed to his new status in due time. It had only been a little more than month, after all. Shortly after the nuptial formalities had concluded, Dominus gathered up his travel bags and fled Rome, abandoning his new bride in his ancestors’ cavernous, haunted mansion with a crew of slaves and freedmen she’d barely met. Max remembered her astonished look of anger and betrayal as she watched Dom mount his horse in the hilltop estate’s courtyard for his surprise escape to Campania. And away from her.
Dom hadn’t wanted the union—not with Marcia Servilia—but being the honorable military officer he was, he eventually surrendered to duty and obeyed the orders of Emperor Trajan. The marriage ceremony in the palace gardens had been lavish but traditional, or so Max had heard. Barbarian bed warmers, even the groom’s favorite African catamite, were not allowed to attend posh patrician weddings at the imperial palace.
“The cloth sellers are two aisles over, sir.” Max pointed to his left, as if he could see through the hoards of shoppers crowding the temporary stalls. “Closer to the basilica, you’ll find a good selection of fabrics. There’s a silk merchant, I believe, and a man who offers a wide variety of Egyptian cotton, Dominus.”
“How many fucking times have you visited these markets, pet?” Dom asked, a teasing grin momentarily warming his tightly pressed lips.
How many times had Max visited this place?
Ever since he’d first laid eyes on that beautiful boy with the sad smile, he’d pounced on any opportunity to leave the villa to visit the dockside markets in Neapolis. To catch a glimpse of the flaxen-haired lad working at the tableware shop. Max travelled to the city for Plautus’ cooking supplies every few days in early summer. And he accompanied Callidora whenever she shopped in the port’s narrow alleys to purchase strange oils and other bizarre witch shit. He swore he would visit these markets as often as he could until Dominus brought him back to Rome when the weather cooled. Max’s summer obsession with his golden faun was fated to end. He wondered if the nameless blond slave would still be here next year?
Max evaded Dom’s direct question with a shrug and sweet smile.
“You come here that bloody often, hmm?” Dom affectionately squeezed Max’s bicep and then extended his hand. “Lead the way to the fabrics, my dear Maximus. I have a costly apology to purchase.”
They wound their way through the maze of market aisles, passing through clouds of smoke and smells: pungent spices, braised pork, briny fish, and garlands of fragrant flowers. Across the aisle from the silk trader’s table, three stalls down, the blond’s pottery stand was busy. A crowd of women and children huddled around the display table, picking up cups and bowls, arguing over prices. When they finally dispersed, Max moved closer for a better view.
He spotted the bald boar who owned the shop, but where was the boy?
“Maximus! Come here and tell me your thoughts.”
Exhaling his disappointment, Max approached the colorful display of fabrics and peered over Dom’s shoulder.
“I know fucking nothing about Marcia’s tastes in dresses. Do you think our new Domina would care for this pricy rag?” Dom asked, holding up a folded square of deep red silk.
“It’s a bold color, sir, but perhaps too dark. Our noble mistress seems to prefer lighter, brighter colors. Perhaps that softer blue fabric there, Dominus,” Max suggested.
“You’ve been paying attention to my new wife’s frock habits, have you?” Chuckling, Dom picked up the length of sky blue silk and gently rubbed the fabric between his fingers. “Thank the heartless gods one of us is perceptive, my dear Max. Good work! This expensive cloth should appease Marcia’s disenchanted heart.”
While Dom negotiated with the fabric dealer, Max glanced at the tableware stand.
There he was, dressed in a brown tunic with his flaxen hair pulled back and braided in a thick plait. The boy was tall, but not too tall. Slender and graceful. He moved like a dancer as he carefully rearranged a selection of cups on one of the shop’s shelves. The mysterious blond with those hypnotic blue eyes lined with charcoal cosmetics, eyes that Max had only seen up close one time because the slave habitually kept his gaze focused on the ground…
Max’s heart threatened to burst from his broad chest. Gods, the boy was the most breathtaking creature he’d ever seen.
When the poorly fitted tunic slipped from the boy’s shoulder, Max ambled closer, weaving his way through the crowd, until he stopped and gasped. The lad’s back was covered in scars; some lashes raw and fresh while other stripes appeared old and faded. How long had he suffered under his owner’s savage flogger? As the young slave pulled up his tunic, his elbow accidentally knocked a red ceramic vessel off the shelf. Despite his valiant efforts to catch the cup in midair, it fell to the ground and shattered into pieces. Without hesitation, the blond crouched low and covered his head with his arms but said nothing. Not a scream or a word of protest while his repulsive master caned him and cursed him and kicked him.
Max’s whole body shook with rage. And desperation. Helplessness. And then a hand rested on his shoulder.
“Do you know that clumsy slave, Maximus?”
Max swallowed and clenched his fists to control his trembling. “Yes, sir. I’ve seen him here at the markets several times.”
Dom handed Max his fabric purchase bundle before crossing his burly arms. “Even from this distance, I can see he’s quite attractive. What’s his name?”
“I—I don’t know, sir. I suppose I don’t know him all that well.”
“That’s a pity. Shall we visit that shop and make our introductions?”
“I don’t understand, Dominus.”
“I need a new fancy cup or two. Well, I don’t actually require more tableware, but I do require other necessities before I head off on campaign.”
“There will be another war, Dominus?”
“There’s always another blasted war, my dear Max. I’ll return to Dacia soon after the first crocuses emerge from beneath the frosts of bloodthirsty Mars. There’s a damn good chance I’ll celebrate my thirtieth birthday in that dreadful barbarian wasteland. May blessed Fortuna grant Rome a quick, decisive victory, and may the Fates allow this to be my last fucking campaign in that wretched, rocky wilderness.”
“Am I accompanying you, sir?” Max asked as he watched the boy rise to his feet to resume his stall duties while his sweaty pig of a master chatted with another gathering of customers. A steely determination to survive washed over the blond’s tear-streaked, expressionless face.
“No, not this time, Maximus. You’ll stay safe down here in Campania with Atticus and Theodorus. Tell me—given your frequent visits to this market, do you happen to know if the cruel bastard who owns that blond boy sells silverware?”
“I once spotted a few silver vessels on display in the back of the stall, Dominus.”
“Excellent.” Dom rubbed his hands together. “We’ll return to the villa with posh cups for me and a beautiful cock warmer for you to train during my absence. I want you to enjoy the comfort of a companion while I’m away, and judging by that sparkle lighting your gorgeous eyes, that blond faun appeals to you, yes?”
Max couldn’t speak. He gulped air and finally replied in a whisper, “Yes, he does, sir.”
“Wonderful. A shitty morning has turned into a fortuitous day after all.” Dom clapped his hands and laughed. “Gifts for everyone! Including protection under my roof for that lovely lamb.”
Wiping away his tears, Max could barely utter the words. “Thank—thank you, Dominus.”
Dom marched towards the shop with his shiny auburn curls bouncing in the sunlight when he suddenly turned around, motioning for Max to join him. “Hurry up then, Maximus. Let’s offer our greetings to that poor, abused lad and, by the grace of vengeful Juno, grant him a better life at my villa.”
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of the second volume in the Calendar Series. Please tell your friends to grab the eBook of February and December (Dominus Calendar Series I) for only .99 cents/pence/euros on Amazon worldwide. Or gift copies to your friends as Saturnalia presents; February and December is much cheaper than a greeting card from now until Christmas. And if you’ve already read the first novella in the Calendar Series, please leave a review on Amazon. Reviews truly do help authors get the visibility needed to sell and write more books. 😀
Now discover a new author. Find a new book to read.
Click on the “website” links to read the authors’ posts. All posts will be live by December 12th. Each book cover is a direct link to purchase these great m/m historical stories on sale for a limited time!
February and December (Dominus Calendar Series I)
Era: Imperial Rome
Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee
Simon and the Christmas Spirit (Victorian Holiday Hearts series)
Christina E. Pilz
Fagin’s Boy: The Further Particulars of a Parish Boy’s Progress
On Wings of Song
Era: WWI – 1920
Era: Early 20th Century New Orleans
Era: American Revolution
Era: pre-Civil War Key West, Florida
Man & Monster
Era: 1799, America
Ganymede: Abducted by the Gods
Era: Bronze Age, fantasy, alternate myth
Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I)
Medieval – 12th century