CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Damsel In Distress

"Yes, yes, I know all that!" Titus pulled away from the two pretty girl slaves who were helping him into his new attire. "I know Marcus Alba set me free. But I don't feel like I'm free – I feel like I'm in a cage!"

"Well, what are you going to do about it, baby?" Rufus Rubio watched with a gleam in his eye as the Roman youth paused to admire himself in the mirror the girls held up to him. In addition to a beautifully made wig with long black tresses, slim, dark-eyed Titus was now wearing rouge, eye shadow and the filmy draperies of a goddess. Rufus Rubio owned several theaters in Rome, and he managed dozens of actors. So he always had plenty of extra costumes on hand.

"I want to run away." Titus took a deep breath as he approached the older man, his heart pounding in his breast. The two slave girls slipped silently out the door. "You could train me as an actor – you could teach me to play women's parts on the stage! You said yourself I was a natural . . ."

"I wasn't talking about the stage." The fat, wealthy Greek reached up to stroke the Roman youth's smooth cheek. For a moment the two of them simply gazed at each other.

"I'm very flattered, Rufus. But I can get that kind of instruction from Senator Marcus Alba." Titus felt like crying, but he put on a bright smile as he sat down on a soft couch. "How else can I persuade you to train me as an actor?"

"Gold is always good," the fat Greek joked, his black eyes lingering on the boy's slender form. "I'll do anything for money."

"Money?" Titus asked. "Where would I get money? The poor farmers on my estate can barely pay their yearly rent!"

Rufus shrugged. "Well, if you care more about the peasants than your own freedom, maybe you should just stay on and care for them. I'm sure the Senator will reward you suitably."

"I'm sure he will, too." Titus rested his chin on his hands, staring morosely at the pile of fancy costumes in the corner. "Marcus could have had me when I was his slave, but I turned him down out of pride. I wasn't born a slave. Then Marcus set me free and rewarded me with land of my own. Now I want him to be my lover, but it's not the same. A Roman master can do what he wants with his slaves, but if two Romans love each other, it's a crime worthy of death!"

"You Romans lack the logical thinking of Greeks," Rufus Rubio joked, sitting down beside Titus on the couch. "You could be my lover, and no-one would care. I have no position to maintain in Rome, and no family but my sister." He ran his plump brown hand knowingly up Titus' slender thigh.

"I said no, Rufus!" Titus sprang from the low, soft couch and began hurriedly casting off his female garments. "You lured me here just for this purpose, didn't you? You don't want me to become an actor. You don't care about me at all!"

"I'm afraid you're right, Titus. But Senator Marcus Alba cares about you a great deal." The fat Greek clapped his hands, and two fresh slaves appeared in the doorway. These weren't pretty young girls, however. They were armed men. "Put the young lady's clothes back on," Rufus ordered. "We leave for the coast immediately. Let's see if the Senator cares enough about true love to throw away his career to rescue a damsel in distress."