CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Shower of Gold

"Now wait just a minute, Titania," growled the African king Jurmama. "Are you trying to tell me that all this is Senator Marcus Alba's fault?"

"Well . . . I don't mean to say that I blame him for wanting me . . . or for sending you to rescue me. It's just that Marcus has never really taken the time to ask me who I really am . . . or what I really want."

"And this is who you really are? This is what you really want?" The black king's ostrich-plume headdress tilted to one side as he nodded towards the sordid goings-on in the filthy backstreet tavern in the slave-trading port of Aternam.

"Well . . . I like some parts of my new life. I like being Titania." Titus felt a hot blush rising to his cheeks as he pronounced the new, feminine name that slave-trader Rufus Rubio had given him after their first night together in bed.

The truth was, he hated his new life. He hated dancing for drunken men in the smoky tavern. He hated being pawed and pinched by men who poured showers of gold coins into Rufus Rubio's fat purse. He even hated the hot, sweaty nights in the fat Greek's bed. No matter how good it felt to forget Titus and become Titania, there was no way to forget Marcus Alba. Cunning Rufus might have mastered his body, but even when he was moaning with pleasure Titus only had to close his eyes in order to imagine that it was really Marcus making love to him. That brought him off like a thunderclap every time. Yet afterwards, there was always sadness. For Marcus would never see him dance, or admire his new female finery, his gowns, wigs and jewelry. He would never know Titania, or even speak her name!

"They've turned you from a man into a slave," Jurmama was saying, his deep voice breaking into Titus' wistful fantasies. "And you like it. This I find hard to understand."

"Not from a man into a slave," Titus replied, with a serene smile. "From a man into a woman."

"A woman," the African king grunted. He bared his dazzling white teeth in a grimace of disgust. "Is this what you think it means to be a woman? To be powerless. To be mindless. To be the plaything of other men. It's worse than slavery – it's living death!"

"But I've never felt more alive," Titus contradicted, with the same mysterious smile. "I know Marcus Alba wants to help me. He feels guilty because it was his desire that first awoke me to my true nature – to my true self. But don't you see, good Jurmama, that when the Senator talks of making me a free man, a landowner, a citizen – all he's doing is piling more and more weight upon my back. I can't be the man he wants me to be. I don't want to be the man he wants me to be. I want to be . . ."

"A woman," Jurmama finished for him. The king's ebony features were rigid, like grim black stone. "But it seems to me, young man, that you have chosen to become a very unpleasant kind of woman. The kind of woman who runs from trouble instead of meeting it head on."

"I didn't run away," Titus objected. "I was taken by force."

"But you've become comfortable with your situation here. Why? Because it's easier to be a whore to men you don't care for than to tell Marcus the truth? What are you afraid of, you young fool? That Marcus might not like the real you? How will you ever know unless you give him a chance?"

Titus squirmed in his seat. "You don't know me," he mumbled, fumbling for his wine goblet and then draining it. "You don't know how it feels to be powerless. To be a captive is worse than being a woman. There are things that have been done to me that have changed me forever!"

"You wish," King Jurmama said darkly. "Always you seek an excuse for what you have become. Always you seek to put the burden on others. I don't think Rhea Sylvia would behave that way. And she is most definitely a woman!"

"You don't know anything about it," Titus mumbled. His painted lips pouted, but he knew the African spoke the truth. When he looked down into his empty wine goblet, he saw Rhea Sylvia's wrinkled features. So proud, so strong. Titus missed her. And he knew she was worried about him. Suddenly all the young slave wanted was to go home.

"Let's get out of here," Jurmama rumbled, getting Titus' feelings exactly right. "Marcus Alba is in Rome – at this very moment he's forcing the Senate to change the ancient laws that prevent poor Romans from voting or serving in the army. Apparently the Senator believes that every man has the right to choose his own destiny."

"I don't want to see Marcus now," Titus stammered, his heart hammering in his chest at the very thought of stern, manly Marcus seeing him in his new, feminine attire.

"If not now, when?" The African king helped him to his feet, taking Titus by the arm like a gentleman escorting a lady. As they made their way to the exit, the young slave was smiling, imagining the scolding that Rhea Sylvia had in store for him.

"Just a minute, Blackie." Two of Rufus Rubio's gladiators stood blocking the door, there huge forearms crossed over their massive chests. "No-one takes Titania off the premises. If you want to take her upstairs, it'll cost you in gold."

"Here is your gold," Jurmama growled, tossing a handful of bright Numidian coins high in the air. Already the African king was drawing his sword. But the guards were ready. The flashing shower of gold was the last thing Titus saw before everything went black.