Chapter Forty-five: Two Priests

"Here we are, master! Are you ready for a swim?" Big, strong Castor rested his huge paw on Titus' slender shoulder, his sweaty face looking cheerful and eager. "After a long hike in the sun, there's nothing like a bath and a massage."

"Whatever sort of a massage you'd like," Pollux added, giving Titus a wink while helping the slim young man take off his heavy shoulder bag.

"You two go ahead," Titus replied, feeling a little uncomfortable. "I'm going to sit in the shade and rest. Perhaps I'll join you later in the mountain pool."

The two big slaves ran to the water, laughing and splashing. Titus sat down under a tree, eating a bit of bread and cheese from his bag. Secretly the slim, dark-eyed slave would have loved to join them. But when he thought of removing his sweaty clothes and splashing naked into the pool Titus immediately saw the lined, wrinkled face of Rhea Sylvia.

"You must behave yourself, sweet cakes," the elderly Vestal Virgin had said, digging beneath his tunic and twisting his sweaty ball sack until he whimpered for mercy. "You must avoid temptation. You must be true to Marcus Alba!"

Titus suddenly found that he had no more appetite for the dry bread and cheese. Jumping up from his seat on the soft grass the slender youth slipped away from his two companions, moving deeper into the shady underbrush. Rhea Sylvia was right, curse her leathery old hide. There was no reason to sit and watch while the two muscular young men wrestled and rubbed against each other in the crystal waters of the pool. Titus knew that the longer he watched the easier it would be to join them, to spend the whole afternoon in the brawny arms of the two young men, stroking their bulging muscles and being rubbed and sucked and stroked in return till he lost all control and forgot all about the distinguished Roman senator he truly loved.

Titus felt hot and dirty and very sweaty after his long walk. He didn't dare return to the pool, but fortunately there was a little stream that flowed nearby. The young slave threw himself down and bathed his face in the icy water, drinking deeply and scrubbing himself all over as best he could. Afterwards he washed his rough, faded garments and hung them up to dry before stretching out beneath a tree.

Castor and Pollux were still splashing away in the distance, but the sound of their voices was muffled by all the greenery. Lying naked in the soft grass, Titus could hear bees buzzing in the branches, while a soft breeze caressed his bare flesh. Suddenly sleepy, the young slave shut his eyes for a moment, meaning only to take a short rest after the long hike up the mountain.

"You, there, what's your name? What are you doing here?" The harsh words were followed by a sharp poke with a stick.

"Huh?" Titus blinked his big brown eyes, gazing up at the stern old man with the stick. The young slave couldn't even remember where he was at first. With the sun going down and the air getting cold, the mountain now seemed dark and a little frightening. "I beg your pardon, sir! My name is Titus and I am from Rome. I'm a guest of the governor!"

"Guest of the governor, indeed," snorted the old man. He was lean and leathery, with harsh, craggy features and a bald head that shone in the setting sun. The fierce old man used his stick to take Titus' faded tunic down from the tree. "These clothes belong to a slave," he said harshly. "Are you a runaway slave, boy?"

"No, I swear it!" Titus tried to sit up but the heavy stick came down and poked him in the chest, pinning him to the ground. "Please, master! I was a slave, but my master freed me and allowed me to leave Rome under the protection of Rhea Sylvia, the Vestal Virgin. She's staying with the governor!"

"Humph," said the old man, running his stick lightly over Titus' bare and hairless chest. "Did this Rhea Sylvia give you permission to trespass on my land, swim in my pool, and eat the plums from my tree?"

"I got lost," Titus stammered, blushing and feeling furious at Castor and Pollux for leading him onto someone else's land. The old landowner with the stick was likely to beat him for their crime! But tattling on the two handsome slaves would be worse than being beaten. "I got lost and I got hungry . . . so tired and hungry and so thirsty . . ."

"He looks hungry," said an unfamiliar voice. "He also looks scared to death! Cato, my fellow priest, is there any reason to keep this young man pinned to the ground with your stick? Surely he'll be able to tell us more about himself after a bath and good hot meal in our simple country cottage."

"You two are priests?" Titus looked back and forth between the frowning face of stern, harsh old Cato, and the plump, silver-haired figure in the purple robes.

"Lucullus is a priest, I am merely his servant." Cato spoke gruffly, but his eyes lingered on his companion's gentle features in a way that made Titus tingle from head to toe.