Lucianus sat upon a couch reading through some of his patron's correspondence. He was interrupted by the sound of a man clearing his throat.
"Yes," he looked up at the slave in front of him.
"My apologies, Lucianus, but there is a man in the atrium. I think he's one of Quintilius's freedmen."
"But the young master has given strict orders that no one should be allowed."
"Shall I send him away?"
"Quintillius's freedman you say? I think I had better talk to him."
The master's office opened directly into the atrium. On most mornings there would be a crowd gathered to see him. Most days Lucianus wouldn't have attended; he ran a school for young nobles which required his attention in the morning. With his patron's problems, though, he had cancelled school, much to the delight of his charges, to tend to affairs.
The atrium was large, and surrounded with gleaming white columns of marble. Lucianus's patron was one of the wealthiest men in the city. A lone man stood in front of the pool. It took Lucianus a second to recognize him.
"Josephus Verus," he called, "Have you been here long?"
"A few minutes," he replied.
"I'm sorry to tell you that the young master isn't seeing anyone today. Didn't the nomenclature tell you?"
"No, he said that the master was taking select visitors. He said that I was to ask about his mistress."
"I'm afraid that the nomenclature is in need of a flogging then," said Lucianus with a sigh.
"I see, no master and no mistress either."
"You could say that. Yes, I should say you could say that. That is indeed what ails the young master."
"Even King David had problems with women."
"I'm sorry, but who?"
"It's not important; can you pass something along to him?"
"Well, yes, but of course. What should I tell him?"
"Say that Quintillius has plans for a shipment of spices from the east. The rewards are huge, but our finances…"
"I understand quite;" Lucianus paused, "This emperor…"
"Many senators are worse off than we are. This could restore his fortunes."
"I shall gladly speak to Marcellus on your behalf."
"Thank you, Lucianus."
Lucianus walked through the atrium and into the family rooms. His master sat on a couch, stylus in hand staring down at a tablet.
"Are all my clients gone?"
"Yes the nomenclature did keep everyone out, except for Quintillius's freedman, Josephus Verus."
Marcellus groaned at the name.
"He and Quintillius have a plan for importing spices from the east. I recommend that you consider it."
"Spices, that's all I need. Don't talk to me of spices, or profits, and especially not Quintillius, not today."
"Young master this behavior is not at all conduct becoming of you. I am sure taught you better than that."
"You did, you did, but I don't care about that either. I just keep thinking about her, that smile, those eyes..."
"Young master, she is hardly the only woman in the empire. There are many other women, or men, or boys throughout this city."
"Not like Claudia. There's no one like Claudia. I can't go on without her. I want you to do it."
"Young master, we talked about this."
"You talked about it; but I need you to do it. Buy me a witch."
Lucianus wove his way through the city until he came to Trajan's forum. As the newest forum it had the most splendid markets. No market for slaves was more splendid than Valens. He had the most valuable slaves in the west; tutors, gladiators, and the most handsome of youths and maidens. His success was largely due to being a thoroughly reputable seller. There were no Gauls made up as Germans or any other chicanery. Most of his wares were sold at auction, but the wealthiest clients could buy beforehand.
Valens was in the front office talking to some of his staff when Lucianus walked in. He quickly excused himself and greeted the newcomer.
"It is good to see you, Lucianus… is it Lucianus Navarro now?"
"Why yes, it has been a long time, hasn't it? The new master freed me upon his father's death."
"I suspected he would," said Verus slyly. "Has your new master taken on the ways of his father?"
"Him, no not yet, nor do I think he will."
"But you are looking for something special?"
"Why, yes, that's why I have come to you," he said. "Do you have a woman with red hair?"
"Strange that you should ask; the wife of Quintilius was looking for the same thing. She bought my last redhead about a week ago. I can send word to my buyers in Britania if you're able to wait."
"It doesn't necessarily have to be a redhead. Do you have anything exotic?"
"We have many women from the east; captives in the wars, maybe one of those will suit your master's taste."
"Perhaps, I should like to see them."
Verus led Lucianus into a large chamber with guards on either side. A number of women sat on the floor; most didn't look up when the men entered. Lucianus walked through carefully considering each one. "Now that one is interesting," he nodded at a young woman with dark hair and bright blue eyes.
"Her? I have instructions to sell her to a brothel."
"Oh, I see, then she's a prostitute."
"I don't think she was. She comes from the household of Publius Verrilius."
"And he demands that she be sold to a brothel?"
"Those were his instructions. He didn't say why, and she doesn't say much at all. I would guess that she was his concubine and she betrayed him."
"That is indeed odd, especially since his wife just died. Today has been a day of strange portents; but tell me, do you know where she's from?"
"From what little she has said I'd place her in the east. Probably a Parthian captive."
"Parthia," Lucianus mulled the term over. Yes, I think that will do, in fact I think that is splendid. I can pay you more coin than any whore master would," he held up a gold coin.
The slave merchant's eyes lit up at the sight, "Yes, I think that will do. Who knows one day you may start your own brothel."
"Only the gods know, though I fear I should be quite bad at the task." said Lucius, "Can you tell me what her name is?"
"Publius called her Parsi."
The young master looked a good deal more chipper. He got up from his couch when his old tutor entered. "Lucianus," he clasped the older man's hand in greeting, "I've heard that you have good news."
"Yes, young master, here she is," he held his hand up and a couple slaves escorted Parsi in.
"Splendid, splendid indeed," he checked her over, "Yes, she is exactly as Marcus said." He addressed the young woman. "My name is Alius Marcellus Navaro and I'm your new master. Please call me Marcellus. What is your name?"
She glared at him in silence.
He turned to Lucianus, "But doesn't she speak Latin."
"I speak well," she replied with a growl.
"Oh, good, yes I see you do. There's no need to be so angry. I'm not your first master, after all."
"No you're not. I know what you want me for."
"You do?" he seemed taken aback.
"You want me as your whore. Fine. We don't need to talk for that. I can lie on my back without being pals."
"My er… whore?" he was flabbergasted. "Did you tell her that, Lucianus?"
"Of course not, young master" he replied. "I hardly spoke to her at all."
"You don't want me to be your whore?"
"No, not at all," replied Marcellus
"Why not, am I ugly?"
"Er… no," he stammered, "It isn't that your ugly. In fact in your own way you're quite fetching, I mean, but, well you see, there's this matron. I don't know if I could do her justice. She has long blonde hair and these beautiful blue eyes…"
"And she likes women? I am bait?"
"Uhm, no, no that's not it at all. The reason that I bought you is, well, you see, from the way that you talk I suspect you are from Persia."
"I was captured by legions in Susa."
"But from what I've seen Persians don't have blue eyes."
"No, it is rare."
"So, then, can I assume that you're a witch?"
She glared at him again, "In Persian we say, 'Enchantress.'"
"Witch, enchantress, splendid, simply splendid, you are exactly what I need. You see despite those lips that were made to be kissed, and that hair that was meant to be caressed, the gods played a horrible trick. She's one of these women of ice, and I need a spell to melt her. Can you do that?"
"Yes; I do know how to make charms," she said as her sullenness evaporated. "Be sure, magic doesn't always work the way you want. Why not tell her your love?"
"Oh that's of no use; I can't even get close to the subject with her."
"Have you tried sacrificing a goat to your Venus?"
"Goat, rabbit, ox and chicken. Nothing has worked."
"How about a dog?"
"A dog?" both Marcellus and Lucianus said together, aghast.
"We don't eat the flesh; just char it all the way through."
"But a dog, dogs are so friendly. Are you sure it has to be a dog?" asked Marcellus.
"You want her?"
"Oh I do, very well," he sighed, "Avens," he called. A slave walked into the room. "Go to the market and get us a dog."
"What sort of dog?" asked Avens.
"Strong, black, big" said Parsi. Marcellus nodded and Avens left.
"This will take a while, perhaps Parsi would like a chance to settle in," said Lucianus.
"Oh right, quite right, could you take her to her quarters?"
"Yes, it would be my pleasure" said Lucianus and they left for the slave quarters.
As they walked through the house, Parsi asked, "Is the woman the master loves beautiful?"
"Many men seem to think so, but really I shouldn't be able to say."
"You don't approve?"
"I don't approve of women."
"Oh, you are a philosopher."
He chuckled at that. "You are very clever. Yes, I was the young master's tutor. I taught him that Aristotle said that women are deficient men."
"But the master did not listen."
"They never do. Alexander didn't listen to Aristotle either," Lucianus sighed.
"Plato thought women could govern like men."
"They could hardly do any worse, though I see you are educated."
"You do not approve."
"It is not the Greek custom."
"If a woman were educated she would not be so deficient."
"An interesting theory, perhaps I will be able to test it one day. For now, these will be your quarters." He showed her a large open room. A small crowd of women had assembled there to see the new comer. Turning to them he said, "I present you Parsi. She's a witch, so if you mistreat her she'll turn you all into swine."
The servants all stared at her as she sat down on a couch. They waited in uncomfortable silence until one had the nerve to speak.
"Is what Lucianus said, true? I mean are you really a witch?"
"I look like one?"
"I'm not sure," the young girl hesitated. "I don't think that would be polite to say. Though I really don't know how a witch is supposed to look. Well is the other thing Lucianus said true? Can you really turn a man into a swine?"
"Men turn themselves into swine; no magic needed."
The young girl giggled, "I like you, you're quite witty. My name is Faustina. I'm here because, well because my dad got deep into debt and had to sell me. Fortunately the master's latifundia was near our farm and he took pity on me. How about you?"
"I was captured in the wars."
"That would be even worse; I'm glad the legions keep us safe. I mean, I guess they didn't keep you safe," Faustina tripped over her words.
"It's okay," said Parsi.
"I did go to school when I was young and we read about the Carthaginians and what they did to captured women. Oh!" she shuddered. "I know I don't need to tell you about that. Still you have ended up with a kind master; well, things may change if he ever takes a wife. Did you meet him?"
"I suppose he would have to; I wouldn't keep a witch waiting. What did you think of him?"
"He is cute, but foolish."
"He is a good man, though, you won't find a better master; and you met Lucianus."
"Yes, he bought me. He is full of himself."
"Really? Oh, I think he's marvelous; and so daring."
Faustina lowered her voice and said "He's the one who brought the master out."
"Brought him out?"
Faustina blushed, "Oh you know, when a boy gets to be a certain age and there's an older man and… well you know."
"They make love?"
"Yes, that's it, that's it exactly."
"But he is a freedman."
"Oh no, it was worse than that. He wasn't even a freedman at the time; he was still a slave."
"No!" Parsi was shocked and then both women broke into giggles.
"It was madness, utter madness," said Faustina. "It's a good thing he doesn't like women, or there would be a lot of broken hearts."
"You want your heart broken?"
"Me? Of course not. I'm sure that I would be the lioness he couldn't tame," and again both women broke into giggles.
The dog was brought and chained to a pole in the Atrium, according to Parsi's specifications.
"Are you certain that we need to be present?" asked Lucianus.
"Not you, only the master," replied Parsi, "But a philosopher should want to see this."
"So be it," said Lucianus.
"Still he looks so friendly. Why does it have to be a dog?" asked Marcellus.
"For the daevas it works best," replied Parsi.
"What are daevas?" asked Lucianus.
"You call them…" she paused trying to think of the right words, "Chthonic gods."
"Oh, yes, of course," replied Lucianus.
She stepped back int the moonlight and began chanting and lit the pyre. Then she took a bronze knife, spun around three times and broght the blade down between the dogs shoulders. He slumped over without the wimper. She sliced through the rope and hurled the carcass upon the pyre. She raised her hand and recited a long series of unitelligble words with only occasional utterance of something that sounded like Marcellus or Claudia.
"You've done this before," said Marcellus.
"Mother was a powerful enchantress. She used this spell to attract a number of lovers."
"Remarkable," said Lucianus.
"How will I know if it works?" asked Marcellus.
"Her eyes will follow her everywhere. She will be interested only in you. When will you see her?"
"There will be a feast at her house tomorrow, I plan on going."
"That is good. This charm does not last long."
Claudia's palace was nowhere near as opulent as Marcellus's, but it occupied a choice position on the Palatine hill; not far from the ancient palace of Augustus. A small retinue of slaves welcomed him and washed his feet. As they were doing their tasks a man walked up, Marcellus recognized him as one of Qunitilius's freedmen.
"Alius Marcellus? I am Josephus Verus Quintilius."
"Oh, yes, I say, you called on me the other day."
"Yes, my patron has something he would like to discuss."
"Oh that, that will have to wait; you know I can't keep your charming matrona waiting."
"Perhaps after the party."
"If time permits," he said and was led into the main chambers. Claudia sat at the head of the table, her husband was away on business and her mother in law had to put in an appearance at another party. Marcellus was shown special favor by sitting next to Claudia; he took that to be a good sign.
"It is good to see you this afternoon, Marcellus."
"Thank you, Claudia."
"Of course you know I have to say that everybody."
"Oh, I know, a hostesses duties and all that."
"And all that, but I am actually glad to see you. Have you been to the Flavian Amphitheater for the games?"
"The amphitheater, no, I haven't; not in some time."
"You are fortunate."
"I shouldn't think so; it's my business keeps me away from the games."
"I have to for the most important of reasons; our family needs to be seen. I plan to have a model of me carved out of wax and place it there. She can look just as bored as I do."
"I'm sure you don't mean that."
"I do, well there's one gladiator there I've got a huge crush on. He's from Crete so they call him the Cretan, have you heard of him?"
"The Cretan, no, I shouldn't say so," he replied, this wasn't going well.
"I've forgotten, you prefer the studious, philosopher types."
"Oh, that was a while ago. I haven't thought of men like that lately."
"Oh, me neither, not since I got married," and she winked and continued to tell about her life and the theater throughout the dinner. The witch was a fraud, Marcellus realized; he would have her flogged and send her to work on his farm.
The party came to the end as the sun was beginning to set. Claudia said her goodbyes and then added in a low voice, "My brother has asked for a private meeting with you."
Marcellus was surprised, but went to the appointed room. Quintus was sitting on a couch; fidgeting a bit.
"Qunitus, it's been a long time," said Marcellus.
"And you too, sir."
"Oh, now you don't need to call me sir; we've known each other for years. Besides you'll be a Senator one day after all; but your sister said you wanted to see me."
"Well, yes, well, that is… I'm just about to run 14 and it's about time for me to enter society."
"Oh, yes, that's true."
"And, well, you've always been a good friend to my sister and our family, and well, this is embarrassing, but I've been thinking about you a lot lately. I was, well you know, hoping you could bring me out."
"That witch," thought Marcellus, flogging was too good for her. "I'm sorry, but, I can't," he said quickly.
"Don't you think I'm handsome?"
"Of course, but you know we're of different ranks."
"What? A slave brought you out."
"He did and all of Rome still talks about it. You should learn from my mistakes."
Claudius sighed, "I know you're right; but maybe we could have a clandestine affair."
"There's someone else," Marcellus admitted.
"Oh," Claudius was crestfallen.
Marcellus had not been raised for a career in trade; yet he had shown remarkable talent in the field. It was said he resembled his grandfather, the founder of the family, in that respect. He was still young, and relied on Lucianus's advice, though it was becoming obvious to Lucianus he needed it less and less. Lucianus still worked over the young master's letters and correspondence in the afternoons. He was doing so as Parsi and Julia entered the master's office. He looked up from the couch at them.
"I have found your pupil," said Parsi.
Lucianus eyed Julia up and down, "Please, turn around," he said.
"Turn around? Why?" asked Julia feeling his eyes drill into her.
"I need to make sure you don't look too much like a woman."
"Oh," she said and complied.
"Yes, I thinks so. So long as you don't go to the latrina you will fool the boys. You'll have to cut your hair and wear a toga.
"A toga?" said Julia, "I couldn't do that, only whores wear togas."
"My child, you have to if you want people to think you're a young man."
"Oh, I could never do that. My father would never approve."
"Your father sold you," said Parsi.
"To pay gambling debts," added Lucianus.
"Well, perhaps, do you think I would look good in a toga?"
"Let us ask the master," said Parsi as Marcellus entered.
"Ask me what?"
"Parsi has told me that females re not defective males and that women could be educated just as well as men," said Lucianus.
"I don't see why not; in fact I should say that the males are defective with the foolish things we do" said Marcellus.
"So you're saying Aristotle is wrong, young master," said Lucianus.
"Oh, this again, you're always the schoolmaster. Well, if anyone can teach a woman you can."
"I am impressed by your faith in me."
"Just don't go easy though, teach her as you taught me."
"I don't think I should do that, young master," said Lucianus as Faustina turned red.
"You know I didn't mean that, just make sure that she gets a good education."
"Yes young master."
"And you too…"
"Faustina, yes, study hard."
"You look mad, master" said Parsi, "Did not the spell work?"
"Oh it worked all right, but it worked on the wrong person. Her brother wanted me to bring him out."
"Well that is good news; you accepted of course," said Lucianus.
"I told him how people still talk about the two of us."
"But think of the status this would afford your family."
"And the shame for his. He'll thank me later."
Parsi sat thinking as the men talked. "What is he called, her brother?" asked Parsi.
"Quintus, Quintus Claudius."
"Claudius, Claudia, are similar the daevas must have been confused. You Romans should give women their own names."
"Well that's not up to me," he sighed, "But Claudia was still so beautiful, could we try again?"
"It would not go differently, master."
"Well, then, do you have anything else?"
"A different charm, yes. Do you have her blood?"
"What, of course not, why would I have her blood?"
"How would I know. How about her hair; do you have some hair."
"No, not that either."
"Could you steal some?"
"I think she'd notice."
"What if she was asleep?"
"Do you have a spell to put her to sleep?"
"No, you wait until she is asleep and then cut her hair."
"Oh, that, I couldn't get close to her. Their palace is heavily fortified."
"What if you were invisible…"
"I say you're quite a millenary," said Marcellus as Parsi busily sewed away.
"A person who makes hats."
"Mother taught me. She had nothing. She told me you cannot catch a man with money if you are wearing rags."
"But she was a witch."
"Enchantress. Magic cannot do everything, master," she said as she pulled the last thread and handed the hat to him.
"And you say this hat will make me invisible."
"And you've never tried to run away?"
"Last mistress would never have given me enough gold to make a hat."
"No, I suppose not. I say, Lucianus said that Verilius demanded that you be sold to a brothel."
"But what could you have done?"
"I put a curse on him."
"I was his wife's slave and I just worked as an attendant. She was sad because Verilius liked whores."
"Oh yes, he knows all the pimps; but I heard he calmed down in his maturity."
"No, the mistress was so sad that I felt bad. I told her I knew about charms. I could make one that stopped him from getting hard for other women."
Marcellus glanced down uncomfortably, "And you did that?"
"Yes, it is just a simple lead tablet with some writing and a goat sacrifice. He stopped seeing whores after a few times, but they fought harder. She laughed at him not being hard and told him about the curse."
"He was mad. He said he would butcher me. She said not while she was alive. She died but he said I could live if I undid the curse. I did but he was still mad."
"So he wanted you sold to a brothel."
"Yes, you rescued me. You are not a bad master."
"Well if this works I'll find you a husband."
"What if there is another woman?"
"There won't be, not now, not ever."
"No," she said with a smile. "Now take this charm," she showed him a piece of velum with strange writing on it, "Put it in the hat," she demonstrated "And there it is," she said as the hat disappeared. "To be invisible," she said, "Just put it on your hat." She did and faded from sight.
"But I can still see your clothes," said Marcellus.
"Yes, it does not make your clothes invisible."
"Well then this is worthless, how am I going to sneak into their palace if everyone can see my clothes?"
"Don't wear any," said Parsi as she took of the hat and reappeared slowly.
"You mean naked, but then everyone will see my manhood."
"They will not see anything. You will be invisible."
"Oh, yes, yes you're right."
"To make the hat appear, pull the charm out," she demonstrated, and the hat reappeared. "To make yourself visible take off the hat. It is easy."
Marcellus cursed a bit, of nights to be in the nude it had to be one as windy as this. He went with his hand on his hat most of the way. He came to the gate of Julia's estate. The guards stood looking about occasionally, but otherwise they were still. He lightly stepped between them. They stood motionless.
He stepped through the main doors to the atrium. He had never been to the private rooms but knew her room would be second, the one after the senator. Slowly he pushed against the door; it opened without a sound. There was a figure sleeping on the bed, he could make that much out in the dim light. He got close and saw her long hair. He took off the hat and pulled out the pair of scissors he had placed there; the only place they would be invisible. He felt for a piece of hair suitable to cut, but as he cut he saw a pair of eyes. He finished cutting and ran as she began to scream. He realized then that he had dropped his hat. He cursed as he leapt through the window out onto the garden. A lamp was lit, and then a second. He held the lock in his teeth, leapt up and vaulted over the walls.
"You there," shouted one of the sentries. Marcellus cursed again and ran away from him. There were only ruffians and streetwalkers at this time of night; they laughed and cheered as he ran past. He heard footsteps far behind him, but slipped into a side door on his own estate, and locked it as he heard a crowd pass.
"How did you talk the young master into such a crazy stunt?" asked Lucianus.
"You have done foolish things for love?" replied Parsi.
"Well, yes, you know that I did."
"Everyone does. How is Julia at her studies?"
"She has done you credit. I will admit she is better than some of the boys."
"Perhaps most, she has enthusiasm and seems eager to learn. Most of the boys are there because their parents have forced them to be. "
Marcellus entered, gasping for breath.
"You are a well proportioned man," noted Parsi.
"Well thank you," said Marcellus, "I was a champion at the javelin."
"Yes, I see."
Perhaps you should put a toga on young master," suggested Lucianus.
"Later, later, You see I've got a lock of her hair," and he held it out to Parsi.
"Amazing. It is very blonde. It is almost white."
"Like platinum, purest platinum" said Marcellus. "I can hardly wait for the next dinner party. There's a poetry recital at Scipio's house this week. She'll be there."
"I'll get to work right away," said Parsi, "But you had better get dressed."
"Oh, yes, quite right," said Marcellus. Parsi and Lucianus remained.
"I see why you liked him," said Parsi, slyly.
"Oh, that, well, you see, I was the older man and…"
"I see. I think he is handsome," said Parsi and she began to work
"Oh yes, quite," agreed Lucianus.
Parsi fashioned a little doll of wax with Claudia's hair. She then had Marcellus hold it in his hands while he was out in the sun. That, she assured him, would make her heart melt like wax.
Several days later he went to Scipio's house for the party. Claudia was already there.
"Claudia, you are as much of a delight as ever," he said, waiting for the magic to take hold.
"As delightful as an asp; or that's how I've been feeling. I've worried sick for the past few days."
"You have been?"
"Something terrible happened. A naked man burst into my mother in law-s room and cut her hair. The worst part is that we didn't catch him. Somewhere out there that pervert is still running about. I would have had our slaves string him up by his manhood and left him at the gates for the whole world to see."
Marcellus winced at that, "Your mother-in-law, you say?"
"Hmmn? Oh yes, she's been terrified; she only left the house today to come here. Mother?" she called, "You said you wanted to talk to Marcellus."
Marcellus's heart sank as she walked up with a ravishing smile. "Marcellus Navarro; how good it is to see you, Marcellus. I say how you've grown into a handsome young man."
"And you Julia Quintilius. I've heard you have had some excitement," he said, as he silently wished the ground would swallow him up.
"Oh, there's no level these plebeians won't sink to. Can you imagine that they're allowed to run free throughout the city? I have been worried sick since that day. My son has asked me to go to our villa in Naples. Naples, as if the lower classes don't live there too. Still, it has to be better than Rome. Do you have a villa there?"
"No, my father always wanted to stay in the city. He told me that villas were a waste of money."
"What nonsense, I should say. You must come and see our villa; it is right on the bay."
"I don't think I could, with business...",
"Oh, but you must, I shall be all alone with only my slaves to protect me in a strange city full of ruffians. Why I've even got a room set up for you. It's a magnificent room; the second best one in the villa and it's right next to mine."
"Yes, but, I don't think that…"
"Really it's opulent and it has an enormous bed," she said with a wink. "While we're together you could show me how to hurl a javelin."
"And she wrote a collection of verse about me," Marcellus said glumly as he put the papers down." Lucianus, Faustina and Parsi were gathered in his office. Parsi picked up the scroll and began to read.
"She changed your name," said Parsi and she handed the scroll to Lucianus.
"Oh, that, well, everyone knows it's about me, you just change Julius to Marcellus and it all fits."
"What do you think of the verse," Lucianus asked Faustina.
Faustina frowned for a moment as she read, "I think she has talent, but the javelin metaphor is a little too obvious and she uses it far too often."
Marcellus groaned again.
"You do have the ear for Latin verse, my child" said Lucianus, "But I'm afraid your Greek lags far behind."
"I'm sorry; I shall try harder."
"Oh, who cares about that now," said Marcellus. "Who cares about anything. How is it that cupid's arrows keep hitting the wrong targets. I want something different this time, something foolproof, something like…"
"How about a poiton," suggested Faustina.
"Yes, like a potion," said Marcellus, "Can you do that?"
"A potion," Parsi sounded aghast, "But master…"
"She loves wine, just mix up something that tastes like wine and she'll drink it."
"But potions are so strong, and last a long time," said Parsi. "What if you do not like her anymore?"
"Not like her? I'll always like her," said Marcellus, "Make it for me."
"You must, you have to do it; do you want me to suffer? Do you want me to die of a broken heart?"
"No master," Parsi sighed, "Potions are expensive, master, I'll need a purse full of gold."
"Then you shall have it, that and more. Take all the gold you need."
Parsi went through the purse of gold and then some. She went through the catacombs and had midnight meetings at the crossroads. At the end she produced a small flask of a ruby colored liquid.
"And you say this tastes like wine?"
"Exactly like wine, master."
So the stratagem was set. He was to visit the house for a private meeting.
"Your letter was quite unexpected," said Claudia.
"Oh, I expect, was it unwelcome?"
"Of course not, if it was unwelcome I would have suffered from a terrible headache, or other feminine malady," she smiled, "But this gift."
"One of my slaves is from Persia, and we got to talking. She said she knew people who could get the strong wine from India," said Marcellus.
"Like what Alexander drank" said Claudia.
"Rather, you always talked about that, so it seemed like a thing to share, but there's not enough for a party," he held up the flask.
"Fascinating," said Claudia, "I'll have a slave fetch water for it."
"Oh not for this, this you drink it straight."
She giggled, "How wicked, you must promise me that won't tell anyone."
"Oh you know I would never."
"The cups, Annerix."
"Yes, mistress," a red-haired slave replied. She returned in a moment with a pair of matched silver cups each embossed with Venus and Adonis. She set them down and left again. Marcellus removed the stopper from the flask and poured the wine. They raised their glasses and Marcellus pretended to sip his. She took a healthy draught and closed her eyes to savor it.
"I'm sorry to bother you," a voice called. Marcellus turned round in fright and saw her husband.
"Uxor?" she said as she looked up.
"Like I said, I'm sorry my dear. It's just that one of the slaves said that young Navarro was here." He turned to Marcellus, "Good morning, Alius Marcellus, I have some business that I believe you could help me with. I know it's vulgar for a senator to talk of such things…"
"Then let's not talk of them," she said and smiled brightly at her husband as she got up; "Let's talk of something else."
"Yes, my dove, I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"You didn't bother me, not at all. In fact there's something that I need you to help me with."
"There is? Why I'd be happy to, what do you need?"
"You'll see," she said and winked broadly as she walked up to him.
"But our guest."
"I'm sure that… that…"
"Alius Marcellus?" he said.
"Yes, Marcellus won't mind" she grabbed his hand and led him out of the room.
He sat in silence for a few minutes and then heard her giggle. Her laughter was interrupted and he heard the creaking of heavy furniture.
Annerix came back in in blushing, "My apologies, my mistress is feeling," she paused for a moment, "Overcome," she said.
Marcellus heard Claudia start to moan. "Perhaps it would be best if I came back at another time."
"Yes, that would be best," the slave agreed. After Marcellus had left she picked up the cup and sniffed; a curious smile played upon her face.
"And there's no way to reverse that potion?"
"No, my master."
Marcellus groaned "How long do the effects last?"
"At least a lifetime, my master."
He groaned again. "And do you have a cure for a broken heart?"
"Yes master, find another girl. Every schoolboy knows that."
"But there's never going to be another Claudia. No one in the empire, no one among the barbarians no one across the seas."
"No, but there are other women."
"But there won't be, not for me."
"Are you sure, master?"
"Yes, I…" he paused at Parsi, "I say were your always this blue?"
"Yes, do you like them?"
"Well, yes, I mean" he stopped and they started to kiss.
The morning sun struck Parsi on the cheek. She was still next to Marcellus. She snuggled up to be closer to him.
"Mmm," she replied.
"Did you, by any chance, put a spell on me?"
She opened her eyes and turned over to face him, "Yes master, I put a curse on you to make you stare at my boobs all the time."
There was a pause and they both burst out laughing.
"No, I did not," she said. "I told you not using magic is best."
"Oh," they were interrupted as Lucianus entered. "I'm sorry, but the nomenclature said you were dressed and taking guests.
"The nomenclature is in need of a flogging" said Marcellus.
"Don't leave," said Parsi as he tried to back out.
"Now I know what you're going to say about women, but…"
"No, young master, I was planning to say something different. You see, my efforts to teach Faustina Greek were coming to fruition and she became fascinated with Plato's Symposium. A few nights ago she suggested that we hold our own symposium. I got an amphor of wine and some entertainers; and then we discussed love as Plato and Aristophanes had done. Well she had some of the most intriguing ideas on the subject and we decided to put them into practice."
"For curiosity," said Parsi.
"Naturally, as a philosopher, you know; but I discovered her ideas held a great deal of value. So I would like to buy Faustina from you, young master. She's the most intriguing student I've ever had; and I'd like to teach her for the rest of my life."
"Perhaps I've become foolish in my age."
"Oh, I don't think so, no, I should say you haven't. In fact I'll free her this afternoon."
Lucianus thanked him and left abruptly. The happy couple burst into laughter again, but then he grew solemn.
"You know I can't marry you; even if I freed you we couldn't…"
"If you bring a wife home I shall turn her into a sow."
"Well then I'll just have to bring men home."
"Then you must share. I get to go first. I would not want that thing in me after he shoved it up your bum."
"My you've got quite a mouth."
"You did not buy me to make jam."
"No, and I didn't buy you to make children either; but here we are."
She blushed for a moment, and then smiled. "Promise you will adopt them all, even the girls."
"I swear," he said and kissed her fiercely.
Claudia sat before her silver mirror. Her slave, Annerix, carefully put up her hair.
"I wonder why I never noticed how handsome my husband was before," mused Claudia.
"I should not say, mistress," replied Annerix.
"And imagine that silly school girl crush I had on Claudius. I feel so foolish about that now. I'm glad your curse didn't work."
"But mistress I am sure it did. I could see it in his eyes."
"You could? Then destroy that tablet right away."
"I already destroyed it mistress. Now that you have no more need of me…"
"No need of you? I need you twice as much now. I want you to turn every woman that looks at my husband into a cow."
"And an ugly cow at that; I don't want him getting any ideas at all. I know women and their wiles."
"You do, mistress?"
"Well, not from first hand experience, but I can imagine.
"I'll free you so long as you do that for me."
"That is fair."
"I wish I could find you a husband, but with your red hair…"
"Some men prefer redheads mistress. In fact one of your husband's freedmen and I have a private engagement tonight. I think you know Josephus."
"Really? Well there's no accounting for taste."
"No, mistress, he became intrigued when I told him I had found some rare wine."
"Oh how you slaves love to drink. No matter he'll be fabulously wealthy with the deal that he, Marcellus and Uxor have put together."
"Now, that's time enough apart from uxor," she said and got up.