For this year, I’ve penned my second short story featuring the Roman solstice festival, the Saturnalia, as part of the fabulous Rainbow Advent Calendar celebration on Facebook. One or two new, FREE holiday-themed stories by amazing mm authors are posted every day in the group until Dec. 25th. Here’s a link to the group so you can find some wonderful storytelling and perhaps discover a new author or twenty: https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowAdventCalendar
The most famous of all the Roman holidays, the Saturnalia began on December 17th. By imperial times, the festivities often lasted seven days, finally ending on December 23rd. This raucous, wine-soaked holiday honored Saturn (a very ancient Roman god of agriculture) and Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) whose birthday was on December 23rd).
Day after day of celebrations took place at temples and other public spaces, while families also celebrated at home. They would all gather to dine together, including the family’s children, slaves, and possibly freedmen (former slaves often bound to their former master as clients). The master of the house (the Dominus) would wear the floppy cap of a freedman and serve holiday food to rest of the family, including the slaves. The hierarchical rules of Roman society were relaxed, and in the case of masters and slaves, roles were temporarily reversed. While business and work were suspended, gambling and excessive drinking were allowed and small gifts were exchanged. A member of the family would be chosen by ballot to be the King of the Saturnalia, the honoree who wore a special red hat and crown and presided over the celebrations.
Ancient Romans considered the Saturnalia the ‘best of all holidays,’ although a few grumpy men, such as our dear Pliny the Younger, complained about the noise and public drunkenness.
The first Saturnalia story I wrote years ago can be found in my novella, February & December (Dominus Calendar Series 1). This novella contains two short stories, one of which features the characters, Lucius and Bryaxis, celebrating the Saturnalia in Rome in AD 106. This rather smutty mm+ novella is free right now until January 1st and can be downloaded from Prolific Works: https://claims.prolificworks.com/free/wtE5hl7UoSPEuWvFto8u
Members of our cozy readers group on Facebook, the Dominus Playroom, chose the setting for this year’s Rainbow Advent Calendar Saturnalia romp. Off we go to the Roman camp at Apulum in Dacia! This story take place during the events of Blood Before Wine (Dominus Book 3). No major spoilers. Enjoy!
© 2019, JP Kenwood/JPK Publishing. All rights reserved.
December, AD 108
Roman camp at Apulum, Province of Dacia
A large woman with shoulder-length, blonde-grey hair and an exaggerated limp shuffled out from between two wooden market stalls and grunted in Allerix’s face, “You want to put your Roman pecker in my fanny? Only three pieces of brass for you, pretty thing.”
Without hesitating, Allerix instinctively pushed her away, but she didn’t leave.
“Well, Roman? Do you want a fuck or not?”
After a few moments of stunned silence, he stuttered, “I’m… I’m not a Roman.”
The prostitute propped her hands on her ample hips and cocked her head. “You’re not? Well, what are you then?”
“I’m a Dacian.”
“A Dacian? A local lad?” She looked him up and down before shaking her head. “Nah—those Roman brutes killed all the Dacians, didn’t they? Besides, you’re too clean and neat to be a Dacian.”
Glancing down at his dull, tan winter cloak and the scuffed toes of his workman’s shoes, Alle replied, “But I am—and I’m not interested. In your offer, I mean.”
“You want to haggle over the price of my twat, eh?” Despite wagging a finger at him, she softened her brash tone. “All right, only two brass coins for a quick poke, handsome.”
As the retired centurion, Varius, approached, his towering frame gradually cast a shadow over Allerix and the whore. Alle’s ox of a warden clamped his massive paw down on Allerix’s shoulder and barked at the camp prostitute, “This lad’s not allowed to shag filthy camp wenches. Leave!”
Varius dragged Allerix over by the door of another shop where the other two domestic slaves of Gaius Fabius Rufus, Gorgas and Bryaxis, were trying their damnedest to stifle their amusement over Alle’s predicament. After shoving Allerix to stand next to Bryaxis, Varius growled, “Listen to me, you three. Commander Fabius did not permit his slaves to visit the camp markets so they could procure the services of lice-infested whores. Do not talk to those wretches.”
“I told her I wasn’t interested,” Allerix mumbled to Bry, who covered his smirk with the back of his hand.
Varius straightened his posture to adjust his heavy, hooded winter cloak. A light snow had begun to fall from the blue-grey clouds blanketing the Roman fortress and all but blocking the midday sun.
“We are here to shop,” Varius declared. “The first night of the Saturnalia is only a few days off, and I’ve been charged with securing supplies for the Commander’s official banquet.”
He pulled three, small cloth pouches from his travel purse and handed each young man a sack of sestertii. “And the Commander’s gifted each of you a few pieces of bronze to purchase a holiday gift, not to hire a hole to bury your prick. Let’s go, and stay right behind me!”
Although he’d gone shopping with Varius once before here at the legionary camp, Allerix hadn’t yet visited these markets located just outside the fort’s Eastern portal. These shops were overflowing with more dealers offering a wider variety of goods for sale, and they were more crowded as well. Alongside provincials from near and far, off-duty but well-armed Roman soldiers stationed at Apulum strolled up and down the aisles between the temporary stalls built up against the garrison’s sturdy timber walls. It seemed everyone was out searching for gifts for this upcoming Roman holiday.
Calling out prices as if singing a tune, a red-faced potter lifted and turned and flipped his ceramic vessels for the crowd’s delight and inspection. Other merchants displayed impressive assortments of fabrics, shoes, baskets, wooden trinkets, and rudimentary metal jewelry. As they passed a shop’s low plank table covered with all sorts of construction tools and implements, Bryaxis turned to Alle and said wistfully, “I remember the Saturnalia from two years ago. What a special holiday that was.”
Bry’s hoarse voice stumbled over the words before it cracked. Suspecting a melancholic nostalgic story would soon pour from the Caledonian’s melodramatic lips, Alle held his tongue and waited, hoping Bry would distract himself with a happier memory.
A memory that did not include Lucius Petronius, Bryaxis’ former master.
Gaius’s former lover.
Unfortunately, Gaius’s goddess of luck was not with Alle.
Bryaxis exhaled long and loud, and continued, “During that Saturnalia, Fabius was absent from the city and still off on campaign, so that was a fucking blessing. It was a warm December, and Lucius and I spent the holidays together on the Quirinal in Rome. His younger brother visited from the Petronii country farm, and Luc’s precocious little daughter was the queen of the party.”
Bry paused to wipe his eyes. “Lucius spoiled me that holiday with so much fucking love, and an incredibly precious gift. That was the best Saturnalia of my sorry, cursed life.”
Bry’s maudlin performances, while often tedious, could also be endearing. Surrendering to his slave mate’s emotional journey down memory lane, Alle smiled and asked, “What did your Dominus give you?”
“A gold bracelet inscribed with passionate words of devotion. It was so… romantic.” A few steps later, Bry added, “When I was searching Luc’s house for those financial scrolls Fabius wanted, I also searched for my damn bracelet, you know. I looked everywhere, but I never found it. Lucius’s venomous wife—the splattered bitch—probably sold it out of spite.”
Ahead of them, Varius came to an abrupt halt and turned to face Alle, Bry, and Gorgas. “We’ll stop here and shop. Don’t stray too far. You! Caledonian!”
Bry responded nonchalantly with a insolent lilt to his voice, “Yes, sir?”
“You are to mind the skinny charioteer. Make sure that Dacian mongrel doesn’t run off. I’ll keep the Commander’s barbarian concubine with me. When we’ve finished, we’ll meet right here. Understood?”
All three nodded before Bryaxis led Gorgas a few feet up the aisle to peruse a bookseller’s shop. Varius surveyed their bustling surroundings before turning to Alle and ordering, “Follow me.” He led Allerix to a stall’s counter piled high with stacks of heavy fabrics and furs. After rifling through the display, Varius selected a soft, chestnut-brown animal pelt and grunted, “How much for this?”
While Varius and the merchant negotiated a price, Allerix noticed a small shop three stalls down selling carved wooden objects. He spied children’s toys—a horse with wheels, a large doll, and another animal pull toy with metal wheels for feet. Small carved boxes and other curious trifles cluttered the stand. Alle wondered what other trinkets were hidden at the back of the shop.
Once he’d completed his purchase, Varius declared, “Success! I now have my gift for the Saturnalia. What do you wish to purchase, Alexandros?”
“I don’t really know, sir. Who is your gift for? Did you buy that pelt for yourself?”
Varius laughed while he guided Allerix back to the pedestrian path. “No, I didn’t buy it for myself, Dacian. This strip of fur is for my new wife. Course, I won’t be able to give it to her until long after these Saturnalia festivities are over. But when I do return to Rome, and tell her I bought this fox pelt for her from a market at Apulum, she’ll know I was thinking of her happiness even though we were hundreds of miles apart. This fur’s not all that special—by Hercules, these camp markets on the frontier have shoddy merchandise—but my gesture should be memorable. One day, she’ll look at that fluffy fur and she’ll remember how much I love her.”
Taken aback by the scarred centurion’s tender sentimentality, Allerix was speechless until he asked, pointing towards the store nearby, “Could we go to that shop, sir?”
“The toy shop over there? I don’t see why not. Lead the way, Dacian.”
Sitting cross-legged on the large bed, Allerix had only just finished wrapping the last of his presents in fabric tied with a string when the door to the private chamber of the Commanding Officer’s residence burst open. A jug of wine in one hand and a cloth sack in the other, Gaius toddled across the threshold, a broad smile dimpling his cheeks.
“You’re still awake, Alle! Splendid. Io, Saturnalia!”
Gaius wore a leather cloak trimmed with leopard fur over his embellished red and gold tunic; the heavy, fur-lined mantle was fastened at his shoulder with a silver brooch shaped like a lion’s paw. A leafy, festive wreath decorated with yellow ribbons encircled his closely cropped copper hair. As Gaius meandered to the serving table, swaying from drink and stumbling twice, two camp slaves followed him into the room. One boy carried a tray of hot food, while the other toted baskets of bread and fruit. After the nameless, mute servants departed, Gaius motioned for Allerix to join him for a cup of wine.
“A toast to shit-stinking Cronus! Blessed are the fruits of our fertile, fiendish father, Saturn. Io, Saturnalia, Alle!”
As Gaius inhaled a healthy gulp of grape, Alle replied, “Io, Saturnalia, Dominus.”
“Happy Solstice, my raven-haired beauty. The days are short and dark now, but the brilliant light of my devotion to you will brighten the bitter winter months ahead.” Gaius’s silky, seductive voice caressed Alle’s grinning face. Allerix accepted the cup from Gaius’s outstretched hand, and leisurely relished a long swallow that soon warmed his empty belly.
“Did you enjoy your posh banquet, sir?”
“By Jupiter’s fiery thunderbolt, that party was a marvelous gathering indeed, Allerix. Good food, plenty of decent wine, and the officers of the Thirteenth seemed pleased with their liberal holiday bonuses. Bloody brilliant Saturnalia celebration, considering the less than desirable circumstances.”
Gaius raised the brown bag clutched in his right hand and dropped his voice to a sultry purr. “I have a gift for you, my dear Wolf Prince. Sadly, I’ve been unable to acquire a wrapping cloth as attractive as that crimson silk I’d found for our last Saturnalia together at my wife’s lakeside estate. A plain army supply sack will have to do this year.”
“A gift? But… but you’ve already given me coins for the holiday.”
“True, but this is a bespoke present I commissioned just for you,” Gaius cooed.
When Allerix reached for the bag, Gaius jerked it away and laughed, mock scolding, “Not so fast, my dear Alle! First, we feast. I confess I’m already more stuffed than a roasted holiday duck, but you must be hungry, yes?”
“I’m starving, Dominus.”
“You’re a young man. Of course you are.”
Gaius sauntered across the bedroom and dropped the bag on the floor beside the cushioned couch. Nearby, a whisper of snowflakes drifted in through the opened shutters. At the foot of the bed proper, a toasty fire roared and crackled in the stone hearth. Gaius patted the plump couch mattress. “Come recline while I serve you, my Prince. As you no doubt recall from last year, our roles in this farce called life are temporarily reversed during the Saturnalia festivities.”
After Allerix lay down, he asked, “Why do Romans disregard the rules during this holiday, sir? Does chaos please your gods?”
“Who the fuck knows what pleases those bastards. And old, bloodthirsty Saturn is the worst of those cruel fuckers. No, I suspect the brief loosening of our laws has more to do with the unfulfilled, secret desires of men. Now relax, and allow me to please you.”
Gaius took two steps toward the side table laden with food when he suddenly stopped and said, “Wait! First, we need our hats.” He rushed over, sloppy and unsteady from too much wine, and clumsily pulled out a floppy red wool cap from the brown sack on the floor. After pulling off his festive wreath, Gaius shoved the liberty cap onto his head and retrieved a second, more elaborate scarlet hat along with a crown woven from tender pine needles.
After placing the hat and crown on Allerix’s head, adjusting the fabric until everything fit correctly, Gaius declared, “There! Now, my dearest Allerix, you are officially the King of the Saturnalia!”
“But, sir,” Alle protested. “Last year the king was chosen by ballot. I remember because Max won the most votes.”
“Were you jealous of Maximus?”
“A little bit,” Alle confessed.
“Yes, well—we have a new tradition this year. For this snowy Saturnalia, I am selecting the king, not the fickle electorate, and I choose you.”
Sporting a playful grin, Gaius flicked the tip of Alle’s nose and retrieved the platter of food. Spirals of steam rose from grilled pieces of braised pork resting in a dark sauce on a bed of steamed greens. In no hurry at all, Gaius scooped up small bites between his fingertips and offered the delicious morsels to Allerix’s waiting tongue. More wine flowed, along with pieces of fresh, crusty bread and nibbles of succulent fruit imported from Macedonia.
After sucking the mouthwatering spicy plum sauce from Gaius’s coated fingers, Alle wiped his mouth and patted his full stomach. “The food’s delicious, but I can’t eat another bite, sir.”
“Then you’re satisfied?”
“Well, I’m no longer hungry for food, sir.” Allerix flirted in turn as he slowly lowered and raised his dark, thick lashes.
“Wonderful!” Gaius tossed the dirty, bronze serving dish to the side and clapped his hands. “It’s time for presents! My favorite part of this bloody holiday!” After snatching up the bag from the floor, he shoved the sack at Alle and softly murmured, “Here, this is for you, Wolf Prince.”
Holding his breath, Alle untied the cord and pulled the cloth open. He reached inside to touch the shiny black leather. A muffled gasp of delight slipped past his lips.
“Boots?” he wondered with surprise while he lifted one from the bag.
“Hunting boots. Well-constructed and durable.” Gaius sat down beside him on the couch and squeezed Allerix’s leg just above his knee. “I had Theodorus craft those beauties months before the Emperor ordered me to leave the capital. I had intended to spend the Saturnalia with you in Rome—there’s nothing as fucking magnificent as all of Rome drunk with jubilation on Saturn’s feast—but here we are, back in the frigid, wild woods of wet, barbaric Dacia. You need better boots for this shitty weather. Slip them on. Let’s see if they fit properly.”
Alle pulled the right boot onto his sock-covered foot and then the left. “They’re a perfect fit, sir.”
“Excellent!” Gaius kissed Alle’s temple and mumbled against his skin, “I pay attention to a man’s shoes, you know, and it seems I’ve guessed the size of your feet correctly.”
“You’ve many talents. Thank you, Dominus.”
“You’ll wear those boots when we go hunting together soon. We’ll need a boar for the sacred meal to celebrate the birthday of our most revered Unconquered Sun. You do have boar in this part of Dacia, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir. Big beasts. Mean and dangerous, but tasty.”
“That promises to be a most memorable chase,” Gaius replied.
Allerix stood and rocked back and forth in his new boots before gathering up the presents he’d left on the bed. He handed the larger gift to Gaius first. “I bought this at the camp markets.”
“You were supposed to buy something for yourself with those bronze pieces, Allerix.” Gaius’s surprised, tickled smile lit up the space between them. “But instead, you bought a gift for me?”
Impatiently tugging at the twine, Gaius ripped the cloth wrapping open like an overeager child and asked incredulously, “A wooden, wheeled toy horse with a pull cord? I’m… confused. What exactly do you expect me to do with this child’s toy? Ah! Have you a new, naughty bedroom game in mind, perhaps?” Gaius waggled his auburn brows.
Alle chuckled. “It’s not for you, sir. That present is for your son. I had an animal toy when I was a little boy. I pulled my beloved metal wolf with its squeaky wheels behind me wherever I went. I thought… well, I hoped little Victor might enjoy a toy horse companion.”
“He’ll bloody adore your thoughtful gift, when he grows old enough, that is. And your generosity, my gorgeous Prince, is fucking enchanting.” Gaius placed the toy on the couch and rose to his feet. Before he could cup Alle’s face between his palms to devour his mouth, Allerix shoved another, smaller present against Gaius’s chest.
Allerix lightly kissed Gaius’s freckled cheek. “This gift is for you, Dominus. Happy Saturnalia.”
Tongue-tied and overcome with emotion, Gaius couldn’t say a word. As his initial shock slowly melted to gratitude, he wrapped his fingers around the unexpected oblong present. “What could this be, I wonder? Hmm… it’s hard and it’s long. At least eight inches, I’d estimate. A jolly, holiday dildo, is it?” Gaius asked in a silly, high voice.
Alle snorted. “Perhaps you should just open it, sir.”
Gaius carefully unwrapped the object and grinned. “A flute.”
“I’ve never played one, but I thought perhaps you knew how to play, given how much you enjoy music.”
Gaius lifted the carved birch wood mouthpiece to his lips and blew a string of pleasant notes. Gazing lovingly at the wooden instrument, he explained, “I owned a flute once—a silver one—years ago. I left it behind when my mother and I were forced to escape Rome after my father was murdered. When I finally came of age and returned to our Caelian mansion, I couldn’t find the damn thing. Domitian’s goons had ransacked our abandoned home. They likely stole my flute and had it melted down for more of the damned despot’s silver coin.”
“A silver flute? I’m afraid the camp shops only had that simple wooden one. And I only had a few pieces of bronze to spend, and…”
Gaius pressed a gentle finger against Alle’s babbling lips.
“This flute is perfect, Allerix. The best Saturnalia gift I’ve ever received. May I play a song for you?”
Alle sat back on the couch, while Gaius cleared his throat. He lifted the pipe to his lips and blew a lively but sweet melody—cheerful and celebratory. The notes echoed off the walls of the general’s private chamber and danced out the window into the streets of the military camp. Soon, a group of soldiers loitering outside the residence, pissed and loud and deliriously happy, gathered close to enjoy Gaius’s performance. But the longer the men stood by the window, the quieter their gruff conversations became until all of the men listened silently with reverence. Some soldiers closed their eyes. Others wiped away sappy, drunk tears.
When Gaius finished the last note, he marched to the window’s sill, removed his floppy red cap with dramatic flourish, and bowed to his adoring, inebriated audience. “Io, Saturnalia, lads! I’ve ordered the Camp Prefect to distribute extra wages to all soldiers of the loyal Thirteenth for Saturn’s celebration. Spread the good news to your comrades.”
“Io, Saturnalia, Commander Fabius!” they shouted in giddy but slurred unison, before staggering off, arm in arm.
Gaius leaned out of the window and hollered at their backs, “And you had all better fucking sober up before your sentry duties!”
“Io, Io, Io, Saturnalia!” one helmeted fellow dragging an amphora along the ground howled up at the starless night sky.
Gaius closed the shutters and sighed. “They’re not as talented as my men of the Lucky Fourth, but they’ve grown into a fine group of soldiers. They just needed some steady leadership and discipline.”
After turning from the window to face Allerix, he rubbed his hands and suggested, “Now that everyone has their presents, let’s you and I take a bath.”
“I thought the King was in charge tonight, Commander Gaius Fabius…” Alle teased as he approached. “Roo-fus.”
Gaius narrowed his fierce eyes at the mention of his despised nickname, but the hint of an amused smile tugged the corners of his mouth. He pulled Alle into a tight embrace and pressed his warm lips against the sensitive spot behind Allerix’s left ear. “Since it’s the Saturnalia, I’ll disregard your blatant insolence, Wolf Prince. May I—may I have your permission to worship your lovely royal jewels, oh mighty King of Saturn’s bounty?”
Allerix laughed before resting his chin on Gaius’s shoulder. His regal cap and pine wreath slipped off his head and fell to the floor.
“Io, Saturnalia, Rufus.”
Happy Holidays, everyone!