Chapter Fifty-Two: Back in Rome

"Where am I?" Titus moaned as he felt the big bump on his head.

"Hush," said Rhea Sylvia. Gently the old woman stroked the young man's throbbing head with a cool cloth soaked in water.

"You're aboard my private galley," said a rough male voice. "I had you carried aboard after you attacked me down at the docks."

"Marcus?" Titus couldn't remember much about the fight. He'd lunged for the older man's purse and had got knocked out cold.

"Senator Marcus Alba has purchased you as his slave," Rhea Sylvia explained. The old woman spoke softly, putting her finger on Titus' lips. "You're safe now from that awful Strabo and those other men at the slave market. The Senator is taking us back to Rome on his own ship. We'll be there soon. But you must rest."

"Marcus, I didn't mean to run away! I didn't mean to disobey." Titus felt tears welling up. He tried to rise from the couch, but the silver-haired woman pushed him back down against the cushions.

"The Senator was furious when I told him that I'd sold you," Rhea Sylvia confided, putting a golden goblet up to Titus' trembling lips. "Here, drink some of this. Marcus will look in on you later."

"But I don't . . . I didn't . . ." Titus couldn't make out where the older man had gone. The young slave wanted to talk to Marcus, to explain how he'd felt inside when he foolishly ran away. But Rhea Sylvia was gently coaxing him to drink from the gold goblet.

"There, that's better. And now it's time for a little sleep. You'll be good as new by the time we get back to Rome!"

"Are we going to stay at your place?" Titus yawned, remembering Rhea Sylvia's home. It was a run-down villa in a quiet street.

"Not a chance!" The old woman laughed and Titus frowned, feeling that he wanted to shake her and demand the truth. Instead he closed his eyes, and the strong wine made him sleep.

It took three days for the long, sleek galley to complete the journey across the blue Mediterranean and arrive at last in Rome. Senator Marcus Alba had plenty of time to tutor his young slave in the art of pleasing a master with his soft lips and willing hands. The strenuous lovemaking was hard work, yet Titus was eager and willing and he learned quickly. The young slave was resting in his master's cabin when Rhea Sylvia excitedly clapped her hands.

"Titus, we're here! The big city awaits us. It's Rome at last!"

"Is Marcus going ashore?" Titus had slept naked. This was his master's cabin, and as he sat up and began rubbing his eyes he realized he had nothing to wear.

"Don't be silly," Rhea Sylvia replied. "The Senator went ashore hours ago, when we first docked. Here, put these on at once."

"Huh?" Titus didn't understand. The rough, scratchy tunic and sturdy leather sandals were fit for a common slave. But Marcus Alba had caressed him for hours, and promised him a life of silks and perfumed baths and hours and hours of pleasure in Rome!

"Ooh, the look on your silly face!" Rhea Sylvia laughed. She could read his thoughts. "Titus, don't worry. You've pleased your master, or should I say he's pleased you. But this morning we had a little talk, and he agreed to lend you to me for a few weeks. You see, I've got a job for you to do."

Titus got busy pulling on his new clothes. He didn't care what the job was. He just wanted to get the work done quickly and get right back to his master.