Book 3. Allerix’s POV, ~750 words.
The crunching of boots stomping across gravel grew louder until the curtains of the litter were yanked apart. With a broad smile, Gaius extended his hand. “Come with me, Alexandros. I need to speak with you before we venture into the palace banquet hall.”
“Yes, Dominus,” Alle stuttered, scrambling to gather up the lyre while wrestling with the layers of heavy fabric cocooning his body. If only for one fucking day he could wear a simple pair of trousers.
He stayed three steps behind with his chin lowered as he followed Maximus and Gaius up the broad marble stairs and through the opened massive bronze doors. Two servants waited by the entrance with towels and a basin of water. After Gaius washed and dried his face and hands, he dismissed the slaves and slipped into his cumbersome, freshly bleached toga with Max’s assistance. When Max produced his pair of bespoke, fur-topped sandals from his satchel, Gaius handed them to Alle.
“Alexandros will change my footwear. Wait for us here, Maximus,” he commanded and guided Allerix to a bench in a nearby alcove. Despite his slight grin, Gaius’s expression was deadly serious and his words gruff, as if he’d slipped on an invisible shield of emotionless armor.
Allerix knelt down and removed Gaius’s travel boots, unlacing and pulling off the thick leather shoes one at a time. After he tied the elaborate sandals onto Gaius’s feet, he looked up to see tears threatening to spill from Gaius’s eyes.
After wiping his face with his cloak, Gaius cupped Alle’s chin and whispered, “I need you to understand the importance of this evening’s festivities, Alle. With my wife close to giving birth, Emperor Trajan may use this occasion to finally designate me as his heir. We are close to the start of the Saturnalia after all. Or the old prick might tease his dinner companions with riddles and innuendo. Or Marcus might not say a fucking thing. Whatever happens, I need you to obey. No sass, no nonsense. Complete, unquestioned submission. Emperor Trajan rules everyone, including me. Do you understand?”
Allerix had tried to say his final farewell to Rufus before they’d left the Caelian but his words had felt pathetic and empty. Would this be his last chance to speak his heart to Gaius before he died?
“May I say something, sir?”
Gaius cocked a brow but nodded.
“I—I pray every day that you become the king of your people.”
“Emperor, Alle. We don’t have kings, remember?”
“I want all your desires to come true, sir. To be emperor, to be a father, and…”
Gaius’s eyes watered again.
“And I don’t hate you, sir. I’m—I’m very fucking fond of you.” The last sentence trickled off Alle’s tongue as a hushed confession. He wanted to say more, but his mouth went dry. The tender words he wanted to say out loud stuck like thorns in his throat.
Chuckling, Gaius pulled Alle up to beside him on the bench and mumbled into his ear. “That’s a good start, my dear prince. Perhaps one day your fondness will grow to passion. Perhaps, if Venus decides to shine upon us, your affection for me will swell to become love.”
Allerix realized the moment was now or it would never be. He swallowed and spoke as clearly as his shaking voice could muster, but more daft nonsense dribbled out. “I suspect that might happen, Dominus.”
His tearful eyes twinkling with expectation, Gaius lightly kissed the ticklish corner of Alle’s lips. “Although I’ve never been a romantic wordsmith, permit me to play the part of a poet. I promise to persevere through the Furies’ cruel trials because I now know that some day you might fall in love me. That knowledge will be my strength, that hope will fuel my resolve.”
A slow whisper of a moan escaped through Allerix’s parted lips.
Gaius wrapped Alle’s hands with his own and squeezed gently. “Unfortunately, tonight I am a fucking soldier, not a poet of amorous verse. This hilltop residence is our noble Emperor’s lair, and the palace praetorians lurk in every corner. Obey my orders, and I will protect you.” Gaius gingerly placed his hand on the metal shell of Allerix’s crotch cage. “Is this contraption causing you discomfort?”
“Brilliant!” Gaius pushed Allerix up and swatted his bum through the layers of rich blue cloth. “Off we go into the hornet’s nest, my dear Alexandros. May Fortuna and Deceptive Aphrodite and all the blasted shithead gods safeguard us.”
Much love to you all for your support and patience.