The Journey Begins


The Dream

The only empty seat was between two women I vaguely knew, and directly opposite Alexis. My stomach was telling me it couldn’t wait. I took the seat, stone still warm. He started before I’d settled down.

“You look terrible. I bet it was that dream again. She’s not letting you get any sleep.”

“You found a wife then?” The woman to my right said. I think her husband was in politics. She was a few years older than me and heavy with perfume to disguise her toilet.

“He keeps having this dream of holding a beautiful woman.” Alexis answered for me.

“My daughter is looking for a good husband.” A woman further along said.

“Crispina darling.” Alexis said, in the tone he reserved for those in his close circle, “Dan here must be the only single man in the city Aphrodite hasn’t tried yet.”

“You could always go to the slave market.” The woman to my left whispered.

“He’s too proud to buy a slave.” Alexis said, ever alert. “He’s looking for love like the poets. Souls entwined forever. All that sort of nonsense.”

“Don’t let them bully you. I’d adore love like the poets.” The woman alongside said, looking closely at me.

“He’s not a poet, he’s got a thing about owning slaves.” Alexis said.

“We know you haven’t.” A loud male voice said from my right.

“He’s got five that I know of.” The woman alongside me said quietly, then more loudly in Alexis’s direction, “How do you handle that many. Assign them different days?”

“They keep me warm during the cold nights.”

“He gives them numbers and allocates each number to different hours of the night.” Crispina said.

“And the day.” Alexis added.

“One would think with all that exercise you would have lost more of that tummy.” Crispina said.

“They keep me well fed. They know I need my strength.”

“A group of friends are organizing a few weeks at the beach. You should join them.” The woman alongside me said.

“My daughter is going.” Crispina joining in again.

“Your daughter goes anywhere for single men.” Alexis said.

“You should think about it.” The woman alongside said. “They’re leaving the day after tomorrow.”

“Hurry up. It’s a lavatory, not a gossip shop. We’ll have a new Caesar by the time some of you lot are finished.” A gruff man’s voice from the door. It had a result. Within a few moments, everyone had finished and was getting up. Clothes arranged. Alexis was by my side as we left, his arm around my shoulder and his mouth in my ear.

“Seriously now, speaking as your friend and financial adviser, you really need to find yourself a women. Go to the slave auctions. I know you can afford at least two. That villa is much too big for you alone. Two slaves would make it a real home. You might even put on a bit of weight. It’d suit you. I wouldn’t bother with that beach party. With Crispina’s daughter there, you’ll need to buy tickets to get your turn.”

“Why do I need two?” I asked.

“You know women. Well maybe you don’t, but every while they need to sleep outside for a few days. With two or more, one will always be ready for you. Keeping up with them will put more colour in your face than when that women called you a poet. You! A poet.”

We were outside his villa now. He released me and headed for his door.

“Auctions for you. By tonight you could be happy.” Alexis said over his shoulder, his hand on the door latch. As he opened it, I could see a woman inside, waiting his return. I walked the rest of the way to my home, alone.

There was no one waiting behind my front door. Breakfast plate prepared in dismal silence, then eaten mechanically.

“It wouldn’t hurt to look” I said to myself, nothing else planned for the day. I retrieved a handful of coins and prepared to venture out once again.

I knew where it was. Knew, so I could avoid it. I took a back path, past some of the lesser homes. Stepping careful, trying to keep my sandals clean. This area not so safe and peaceful. Children running and fighting and yelling. Animals scattering at my approach. The smell rising the further I venture away from where I know.

“Copper for an old soldier.”

A bunch of rags slumped against a wall.

“Just a copper to help an old soldier.”

Gaze averted. Eyes on the road ahead. Around a corner. There’s more. It was a mistake to come this way. Urchins watching from the shadows. Watching in case I drop my guard. Ready to run past. My coins theirs. Change of route. Move back towards the area I know. It’s not much further. Always the same place. A small square behind the palace, just far enough to be out of sight but still close enough for easy access. I’m early. Preparations starting with the stock still in cages, others inspecting, trying to be first to pick the best. I join them.

- - -

“Haven’t seen you here before.”

I remembered the face but couldn’t put a name to it.

“Marcellus. We were in the same class for script. I used to sit behind you.”

So you could stick your foot in my backside I finished for him. “Alexis has been trying to get me to buy a couple of slaves.”

“Alexis. Yes, he’s one of my better customers. Always looking for the best of the best. I suppose you want the same?”

“I’m just looking. Is this your business?”

“Yes. They said at school I’d never amount to much. Ha. I showed them. Look at me now. These are my markets.” His arms swept around for effect. “Great little earner. Even sold one to my old teacher. Charged him extra for the grief he gave me. I won’t do that for you though. You get a good look. Any one you fancy, come back to me. I’ll look after you.”

I was here, I might as well look. There were three cages on wheels arranged in a line with two battle-scarred minders patrolling. The first cage had men, then children, then women. I tried not to look at the children, but I could still hear the crying. The women seemed foreign. From some distant outpost of the empire no doubt. Ragged clothing and not really presented for sale.

“We’ll have them tidied up in a hour or so. They’ll look great then. That one on the back corner. She’s a real looker. She’ll get top coin. For an old school friend, if you took her as is, I could do her for twenty.”

He’d come up behind me.

“No, make it nineteen. Just for you, I’ll cut my commission today only.”

“I’m just looking for now.”

“They all say that the first time. I’ll leave you to look some more. Nineteen. You won’t do better.” He said accompanied by a nudge in my side from his sharp elbow.

I looked at the woman he’d pointed to. Her eyes glued to the middle cage. There was a child at the other end of her gaze. Five or six. A boy by the look. Streaks down his grubby face. He was staring back through red eyes. Hands gripping the cage bars.

I’d had enough. Trying not to run. Trying to blend in. No deviations. Straight to the sanctuary of my home. Retreating to my bed and trying to keep the bile from exploding. I didn’t belong here. I’d known it a long time. I’d made excuses. Turned my head away. But I’d known. I’d always known.

- - -

The rugs pulled over, I lay curled, trying not to think. The dream came to me. She was my special one. Every night she came. My fingers felt the silky warmth of her skin as they moved along her side and around her front. So smooth. She always liked me to cuddle her from behind, my arm over her body, holding her to me. The perfume of her hair pleasuring my nose. She started to turn. She always started to turn. I felt her muscles rippling under my touch, her body exerting itself to turn to face me. My pleasure rising with expectation, anticipating her eyes encountering mine. Her lips close for my kiss. Her smile to give me strength to face another day.

Today is different. The dream doesn’t end. Not here where it always ends. Leaving me. Today she keeps turning so I see her face for the first time. She’s looking into my eyes. Not just looking, peering deeply. Searching into my soul. Her luscious lips part.

“Your time has come.”

Every word totally clear in my mind. Engraved as though chiselled in stone. I can’t remember her face, it’s gone, as is she. Only her words remain for eternity.

I lie thinking. Part of me knows exactly what she means. Part doesn’t want to know, but that part is shrinking, letting the possibilities flow. It’s early evening when I finally settle on my plan. I decide to celebrate with supper out.

The best place in town is opposite the palace. The most expensive food, but simply delicious. An outside table for two, me and my dream woman, though I only order for one. I relax, watching the citizenry pass, enjoying the city sights for the first time in ages. My meal arrives, preceded by an aroma that has juices welling inside my mouth.

“My mother said you might be looking for a good wife?”

Food put on hold for a moment. I Know her. Crispina’s daughter. She’s rather pleasing on the eye.

“Can I sit with you a while?”

She moves the chair back herself. Holding her red dress up while she gracefully settles into the seat. Dress rearranged. Arms on the table.

“Would you like something to eat?”

“I’ve had supper, but one of their special sweets would be so nice.”

I wave my hand to attract a waiter.

“The lady will order.”

The waiter knows her well. Order taken and delivered as though they had it ready, anticipating her needs. My eyes surveying her. She did look good. Really good.

“That’s so kind of you.” She said when the waiter had gone. “Mum said you were a sweetheart. She said you’d make a wonderful husband. You do have that big villa still?”

“Yes. I’ve still got my parent’s villa.”

“It must be lonely with just you. A place that big should be filled with people. How many slaves have you got now?”

“No slaves.” I said.

“I heard you were at the markets today looking. I can help you there. If we went together, I’d show you how to pick the good ones. Big muscles. Strong bodies. Good workers. We could get some girls for you too. I could get that villa of yours back to being the centre of the scene.”

“I’m not sure I want to be in the centre of the scene.”

She hadn’t touched her sweet yet.

“Of course you would, you’d want me to be happy too. We’d both be incredibly happy. I think we’d make a great couple. I could sort out your wardrobe to bring you right to the peak of fashion. Make our place the centre for all the important people. You’d like that. Why don’t I come back with you after and we can talk about it some more.”

She finally took a spoon to the dish. A delicate portion raised to her mouth. Spoon held tightly between her lips and then slowly withdrawn, exiting with a small pop. Her eyes locked on mine, watching the effect.

“We’d have a great time, just us two for the night. We could come back here for breakfast, since you don’t have any slaves yet, and let everyone know we’re together. I think mum was right for once. We’d be a perfect couple.”

In that very moment, my mind was held in the grip of her temptations. One night couldn’t be too bad. Only a moment though.

“Maybe not tonight. I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow and I need to start early.”

“Work! I thought you had money. I thought you wanted a wife. I can see now why no one’s married you.”

Chair pushed back, she was up, turning her back to me and striding away without a single glance over her shoulder. If she had of looked, she would have seen me smiling. Not at her. Well not completely.

“Thank you.” I whispered to my dream woman. I swear I felt her smile back.

Best sleep in years. Awake at dawn and fully alive with passion in my heart as I set off to find my future. Looking in places I had never dared look before. Walking for miles. Referred from one place to another. Strangers offering advice. Every lead followed until by mid afternoon, I found it.

Absolutely perfect.

“Ideal for your needs.” The farmer said.

We were standing alongside a wooden wagon. Not one of those everyday open freight wagons, even though it had the same four wheels. This was a house on wheels. Well it would be with a little more work. The whole wagon covered with a grey cloth fitted over a wooden frame to keep the weather out. Each end had a curtain, and there was a driving seat out front.

“With these curtains closed, you have complete privacy for sleeping, and even better, it’s got a lot of storage underneath for your things.” The farmer said. “See here.” He lifted one of the loose boards that formed the floor of the wagon and I peered into the gloom. Underneath was completely open. “There’s plenty of room here for all your clothes and provisions for a long trip. You’ll find it hard to get a wagon with this much storage anywhere else.”

“I’ll need a horse too.” I said.

“Have I got a deal for you.” He said, eyes aglow. “These will be perfect for your plans. You came at just the right time, any later and they’d been gone. It must be your lucky day. Come and take a look at these beauties.”

I followed him up a rise in the land and could see over a stone wall into an enclosed field. White horses. Pure white. Never had I seen any like this, not that I’d taken much notice before, but these really did look magnificent.

“I can see you’re impressed. You should be, these are a very rare breed. They come from exotic lands far to the east. Magnificent beasts, aren’t they? Picture them pulling your wagon. You’ll be the smartest traveller on the roads. They’ll really turn heads, and the women will love them.”



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