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“Come now, Sicarius. It is wonderful to have you returned and in such good health. I knew you would keep our dear Cassius safe.”

He moved a step to his right, carefully stacking the paintings he’d been asked to see to in an attempt to avoid her curious fingers. The large gourds of mixed paint were under the table, and he’d see to them next, lifting them for storage so the old man wouldn’t need to suffer from the strain.

“You are so strong,” she whispered softly, placing her right hand on his wrist, holding him there. Removing her palm from his wrist to flick her flaxen curls over her bare shoulder, she let her palla fall to her elbow, the top of her left breast exposed. Arching her back as she perched on the table she tipped her head to her left, narrowing her eyes at him. When he didn’t answer, she leaned towards him, her long hair brushing against his arm as she moved her lips closer to his ear. “Freedom looks quite good on you, you know. Don’t you agree?”


She jumped at the sound of the voice, turning quickly, but not quick enough. The flash of surprise on the young apprentice’s face was the only sign that he’d seen anything. It came as quickly as it went. He was an artist training under the famed Grecian painter of Italy, brought to Cuicul to study landscapes and to learn. But he was still a slave.

“I apologize, mistress, I did not mean to interrupt.”

“Of course not, Liber.” She walked closer, placing one hand on the young apprentice’s cheek, smiling lightly as she slid the sleeve of her gown back up on her shoulder from where she’d let it fall. “I was just leaving. I meant to leave word with the Grecian. He is to paint me soon.”

“And a lovely work it will be, though I doubt he could do you justice,” Liber replied. The slave had a gift for words, he would give the boy that. Though Liber preferred to use his gifts for making pictures. It mattered little to Sicarius.

“Oh, stop,” she simpered, both rows of teeth showing as she grinned at him. “You ought not to tease me, you bad thing. Sometimes I have to remember you’re just a boy.” Her hand trailed slowly down his chest before she pulled it away. “I’ll return tomorrow before I leave for Constantinople. Cuicul is growing quite boring. Tell him as soon as he returns.” Without even glancing behind her for confirmation, she strutted from the room, her backside swaying in the folds of her robe as she left. She didn’t need to. Knowing she was giving a command to a slave was enough. It made her a dangerous person to cross.

“Hmm...you’re in trouble, aren’t you?” Liber said as he looked at Sicarius and back at the doorway to make sure she was gone. “She wants more than a painting I would say.”

He said nothing. And didn’t need to. She was like all the rest of the women who lusted after the steel and blood and violence of the life of a gladiator. The ones who sat as close to the center of the coliseum as possible so they were able to see each battle. Holding their hands to their breasts in fear and anticipation. Clutching their gowns at the knees and gathering the folds inside their palms as they caught their breaths in excitement. Augustus knew what he was doing when he commanded women be given certain seating much higher and further from the gladiators they came to see. Only the Vestal Virgins were permitted to sit at the closest edges, renowned as they were for their chastity. But Sicarius had seen the open mouths and quickly rising breasts, the teeth that bit at their bottom lips, the fingers stroking at the same. The Vestals were, after all, only women. And no magic spell could prevent one from feeling something as powerful as lust.

Only he was no longer a gladiator. He was rudiarii. A gladiator who had won his freedom through hundreds of gladiator fights - and the love of the mob.