Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.
Rating: R (for adult themes and violence typical for that era)
Warnings: Historicity is unknown in this story.
Author's Notes: This is an AU romp, but it does contain one scene of violence that requires an R rating. That scene of violence is not representative of the characterization of the players in the rest of the work. Questionable characterization of another player is explained within, if you'll only wait for it. The work is very old, having been undertaken in Season 3, when I saw Warriors as the first episode. An element from Switchman is repeated, but it was GMTA, there, rather than an informed choice to copy it; I didn't see Switchman or read anything online about such a scene, and cannot find a way to change the device and advance the story without it. Any other similarity between this and anyone else's work is likewise a matter of GMTA, and I apologizes if I seem to be following in anyone else's shoes. Now, on with the story!
Book One: Chapter 1
The Centurion walked briskly through the vias of Roma and if anyone were watching him, and many were, they would have seen a scowling man of thirty or so years, tall and dark, with piercing eyes like Hyacinthos', who was warier than any other person in the marketplace.
As well he might be. Centurion Felix Elias Gregorius was a man with a reputation and a horde of enemies. He had retired from Julius' army after the defeat of the Gauls, with a hero's welcome and a nice pension from the state for the services he had provided; all his men had fallen to ambush by enemy warriors and he alone had gotten to and held the stockade at Paruventum.
Being an honourable man and one without any claim in politics, he had the trust of the Caesars, who saw him as a useful string to their bow if the ever again needed another army to conquer the world. Right then, though, he was an angry and dangerous man to cross, and even the Caesars gave him wide berth. War had changed him. The loss of his father, brother and so many of his friends in the war had all but frozen his heart. Then, when his wife, Carolina, took her marriage portion and left for the sunnier climate of her father's house, having their marriage declared void in the Senate, Gregorius had kept the villa on the hill with its lovely second story view of the Mediterranean, and he hardly ever left it. But when he stood on its balcony, what he saw in the night sky no man could tell.
That day, in the warmth of the midday summer sun, he was out walking through the city he so seldom ever visited. Gregorius was in a slight temper, angry with himself without knowing the reason. He did not like the city as cities go. He loved Roma, and was as dedicated to her ideals of justice and well-being as any man, but the market place stank, and the people pushed rudely against him even when they tried to stay their distance, and the sounds were so loud.
Sounds! That was it, why he was here. No, a sound. Where was it coming from? Gregorius stopped short, turned in a complete circle, concentrating on the foreign echo, and eventually changed course abruptly enough to break into a run. The sound was coming from the slave markets, and anything at all might be happening there. Whatever was happening, was not good. Somehow, Gregorius knew it. He sped toward the open circle, dais in the centre raised to show off the human merchandise, slaves available for purchase and their owners in a semi-circle around the back and sides, an ugly little man with a vicious whip displaying the wares before sale, the front filled with palanquins, horses, soldiers and buyers of all kinds.
Gregorius stopped short. The worse sty of all sties and he had walked, no, run right to it. He pinched the bridge of his nose as one of the horrible headaches he had been having of late started to throb. But the throbbing, the throbbing, was the sound. Gregorius shook his head lightly, frowned even more forbiddingly than usual, and forced himself to stroll past the slave coffles, looking at none, listening to each.
There it was, in the corner, behind the cage, the echo that had brought him down out of the hills! Strong and hard, and very rapid as a slave's heart naturally would beat while Fortuna chose his lot in the slave forum. His? Yes, his. Gregorius could hear the voice too, a young voice, low, and of all things, comforting. Gregorius picked out a side of a tent, leaned against a tent pole and watched the owner of the voice and the heartbeat, who stopped his tale for a minute, as if listening for something, before going on.
The boy was on the edge of medium-sized and wiry, well enough built but on too small a scale for hard labour or soldiery. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, a dusky tangle of long brown curls falling over his face, he clasped manacled hands in his lap and spoke. His tones were soft enough not to attract attention from the drivers, and at first glance Gregorius could see why this man was hidden out of sight with the other slaves on the coffle.
He, with his huge sapphire eyes, bee-stung lips and breadth of shoulders tapering to narrow hips, shown artfully in a specially designed short toga with a blue cloisonne clasp matching two hoops in one ear, he was going to be one of the big final attractions of the day. All the slaves in his group were beauties in their own way. Most were female, and they hung on every word of the stories the young man told to while away the minutes calmly until their destinies fell upon them. Gregorius looked around and thought he could identify the group as the slave-holdings of one of the oldest and richest women in Roma, Claudia Aprinca Vidalos; she must have died, and her family was selling her belongings.
Hard the good-looking brown-haired slave, so naturally attractive that the handlers had not bothered with the usual Egyptian cosmetics, been one of Claudia's playthings? Surely she had been a little old for that? Maybe a pet, instead.
The brown-haired slave looked up for an instant, peering around. Gregorius found himself drawing back into the shadows. What had drawn the slave's attention?
But there was no more time for thought. The menacing slave driver had stormed back, obviously displeased at how little the last lot of merchandise had brought in. Gregorius snorted to himself. Dump a very wealthy woman's entire human holdings on the market on the same day and what do you expect but a glut? Nevertheless, the driver wasn't blaming himself. He was blaming the slaves.
"You there! Pretty boy."
The butt of the whip was thrust up under the brown-haired slave's chin. The young man's deep blue eyes filled with a terror Gregorius had seen before. Had caused before. It was the look of a man who expected to die. But almost as soon as he had recognized it, Gregorius saw the expression on the open face change to deep anger. The slave, face held at the whip's edge, stared furiously into the eyes of the driver.
The heartbeat was so fast that Gregorius could barely stand to hear it.
"You're next. But you won't go as a scholar, oh, no, scholars aren't worth the salt those lovely blue eyes are. There's a certain buyer out front, a big man, a gladiator, who sometimes like to vary his diet in slave meat. he won twice yesterday. You get to be the reward."
The brown-haired slave's face writhed, and the trundled slave whip came crashing across his cheekbone. As his head snapped back, his hands were snatched up and freed from the iron gyves, then the slave driver dropped to unlock the ankle manacles the Centurion had noticed before.
"And if you even think about running again, this time we'll cut your hamstrings."
The driver started to rise, but the slave beat him to it, bringing both hands up together, at once, under the driver's chin, laying him out flat, and bouncing up to run like Mercury.
Straight into the Centurion.
Hopeless eyes looked up into the seething ice blue ones. Gregorius had grabbed the slave by the upper arms, and in the huge soldier's grip, the much slighter runaway slave hung limp. It was to be hamstringing, then, cutting the Achilles tendons in his calves just about the ankles. And then the gladiator. Long, curling lashes covered the tears.
Gregorius looked down at the younger man who had brought him to the slave market with theecho of the heart within his rib cage. The one who spent his time trying to give some measure of comfort to the equally vulnerable female slaves in his group, by telling them stories. The one who had fought for a chance at freedom, knowing the consequences might be imprisonment within his own body for life. Gregorius made a choice. No, this man was not due to be crippled that day. Never loosing his grip, the Centurion glanced over at the slave driver, who had by then recovered and was approaching.
"Hail, Citizen," the subhuman said, his eyes flashing red at the boy. "Thank you for your timely assistance with this troublesome slave. (I am going to slit your ankles myself, and I may just take you first, lover-boy, or maybe after, or both.) He's a good-looker and we had high hopes of him, but he's just too spirited and he was pampered by his last owner. We haven't had him long enough to break that spirit, but the owners want him sold."
"Consider him sold, then."
The slave opened those gentian eyes and stared, astonished, at the man who held him so tightly. Just what was going on?
The slaver turned toward his apparent supporter. "But Citizen, he's already..."
"If anyone wants to inquire, this slave can be found at the Gregorius villa. You do know where that is?"
The slave driver looked as if he had been gifted by all the gods with every grace imaginable. Brown eyes flashed a strange yellow colour, filled with golden dreams. "Oh, yes, everyone knows the Gregorius villa. The price, Lord Gregorius?"
"What do you think he's worth?"
"Well, he's the best-looking boy in the shipment, if you're thinking of a bedwarmer, for yourself or as a gift to a friend." No one could have said it more salaciously.
The compact body shuddered once, and the Centurion steadied the slave. The eyes as blue as the Mediterranean blinked at him searchingly and dropped again.
"Was, perhaps. Look at that bruise."
The whip had left one side of the young man's face entirely purple.
"It will fade."
"But I was thinking of tonight."
There was a small whimper of fear when the gentian eyes flashed up again, and the Centurion gave the slave a little shake.
"No, please. Oh, no, please." The words were little more than a whisper of agony.
But the heartbeat was stronger, calmer than it had been since Gregorius had first heard it. The big man frowned more fiercely.
"And what is he doing in a 'toga', anyway? Togas are forbidden for slaves by law."
"Well, it's not really a toga, Centurion, is it? It's too short to be a toga. It's just... draperies."
"I don't like it."
"I could strip him. Or you could..."
The slave moaned, trembling piteously, but still the heart beat strongly. Gregorius did not know what to make of it all.
"I could strip him, I suppose," the big man said dubiously. "At home. It would be indecorous to do so in the streets."
The slave shuddered, his face screwed up as if in pain, but unlike the slaver, the Centurion could tell that the quivering was sheer mockery. This was interesting.
The slave manager smiled maliciously, rubbing his sore chin. "Don't like that idea, do you, pretty thing? Might just break his spirit yet, Centurion. You're the man to do it, by all accounts."
To his utter surprise, Gregorius heard the start of a chuckle (soon stifled) deep in the chest of the young man. Did this slave actually know that he, Felix Elias Gregorius, was just playing the game to drive the bargain down? How could he? He must have expected to be sold for his sexual value. Gregorius looked more closely at him, and the remarkable blue eyes dropped. The slave went still and hung limply again.
"Has he any skills to offer?"
"Yes, Lord Gregorius. He's a scholar, learned in many fields, an excellent storyteller, and, I am told, a fine cook. He has travelled the world over, they say, and learned something interesting, something new, everywhere."
"I need a cook." There it was again, that nearly inaudible laughter. How did the slave know? How could he, Gregorius, hear it? No matter now. Finish the deal. "Send to the villa. The jewelry goes back. I will pay the going rate for a cook."
"A runaway, soon-to-be-hamstrung, over-spirited, bruised cook in an illegal toga."
The coldness in the Centurion's tone could have glazed the slaver's blood.
"Sir," the trader gave way at last. At least the slave with the girl's curls would not enjoy what he had coming to him. The slaver turned back to make a profit on the other wares he had for sale.
So for a few minutes in the middle of the via, the Centurion and the slave stood alone, unseen by anyone. The Centurion eyed the downcast head, the stooping body, and said, "It's all right. You can come out now."
The slave snapped up, his keenness of eye and the smile wider than the Tiber astonishing the Roman citizen. So open-faced, this one, so much spirit! Did he have any idea how much trouble he could be in? How could he laugh into the eyes of the man who had just bought him, body and soul, a man he had never seen before and whose nature was by all accounts cold, angry and dangerous to know?
"That was nearly fun," the slave noted. "Wasn't it?" He threw back his head and laughed out loud then, a peal of glee.
And the sound drilled through the Centurion's ears as if a crossbow shaft had been thrust into his head. The Centurion slumped, taking his hands from the slave's arms, covering his head, turning from the source of the pain. If the slave wanted to run, now was the time to do it.
But he didn't. "Centurion?"
There were wiry arms at his waist and shoulder, lending the soldier surprisingly strong support, and the words had gone honey-soft, as if the slave knew what had caused the pain. The Centurion shook himself out of the young man's grasp and put a large hand in the silky dark curls. The Hyacinthine eyes had grown as cold as the snows on Mount Aetna. He had to get out of Roma fast.
"You come with me." The soldier marched steadily along the via, ignoring gasped hisses of pain as the smaller man tried to keep up, tethered by his own hair, and when they had cleared the outskirts of the city and had found a country lane deserted but for the shade of olive trees by the wayside, the Centurion finally looked at his slave once more.
Oh, Gods and Goddesses. The Centurion stared down in silence as he realized what that quick march out of Roma had cost the young man. Of course he was barefoot, and of course a house slave would not have become used to going sandalless if he were sold straight from a house on the open market. The slave was cut and bleeding, limping now that the Centurion could see it for what it was. He had thought it intransigence that kept the pace at his side stumbling, but it had been pain.
Even worse, the Centurion could see blood seeping through the sides of the 'toga' and down the slender legs.
"They flogged you before sale?"
"I tried to run." The young man shrugged and winced sharply.
"Hmm. Let me see."
The brown-haired slave looked at the set face of the man who had bought him and turned around without a word. The cloisonne clasp undone, the straps of the toga slid away and revealed very new, very bloody cuts overlaying faded white stripes from older, healed wounds. The slave started and shivered as a strip of cloth torn from one side of the 'toga' was used to staunch his bleeding. Then a second piece of cloth was rent in two, and the slave looked around in astonishment.
The Centurion had torn his own short cloak for a binding fibre and was fitting it around the slave's cut back.
"Centurion?" The brown-haired slave's question was amazed.
"He should have told me you'd been flogged. You should have told me you'd been flogged."
"I would have if I'd thought you'd want to know." Still amazed.
"I bought you. You're mine. I want to know everything important about what's mine."
"'Custodio.'" There was much scholarly satisfaction in that conclusion.
"What?" The Centurion wheeled the bandaged body to face him again, needing to see the eyes.
"'Custodio'." The gentian eyes looked up clearly and honestly. "That's your house's watchword, isn't it? 'I watch; I guard; I keep what is mine.'" You can't if you don't know, can you? You have to know, to see, to hear, to know. Felix Elias Gregorius. The man whose chosen watchword is 'Custodio.' That's who you are right? The hero of Paruventum."
The expressive face that met the Centurion's glare was a trifle puzzled about the importance of so minor an observation.
The voice went on, gentle still, and trying to make sense of the Centurion's interest. "That's why you're so alert, always looking around, always listening for the newest sounds. You cannot watch or guard unless you do. So you want to know everything about what you own. Including me, I gather. Did I say something wrong, Centurion? Did I mistake you for someone else or quote another's watchword? I'm sorry if I did; I thought I had it right."
"No, you had it right." And knew more about what had made the man Felix Elias Gregorius than ever his father, brother or wife had done. All in about an hour. This young man, whose heartbeat resounded in his ears from the other side of the greatest city on Terra.
Continue on to Chapter 2
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Page last updated 8/15/03.