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The portly slave walked with purpose as he moved through the halls of the house. He was round in the middle and his hairline was decidedly receded, but he was still an attractive man. His sharp features and expressive brown eyes gave him the look of a man blessed by Apollo, very alluring to women with his sensitive and warm eyes.
Of course, that was merely the outward appearance of Phoebus and not reflective of the man within. While he was beautiful and a natural draw for women, he was a hard man when it came to running the affairs of his master. Everything needed to be perfect and accurate; his master would accept nothing less.
Phoebus was getting the kitchen slaves ready for the evening meal when the main entrance door slammed loudly. All slaves stopped what they were doing and turned to Phoebus with fear in their eyes. They had heard the door slam like that before and knew what it meant; not from the master, but from his chief slave, Phoebus.
Phoebus hurried down the hall and found his master slumped on one of the benches in the main room. Castimus had knocked over a vase on the small table next to the bench. He was average height, weight, and build. He didn’t stand out at all, but blended expertly into any crowd. He even blended into the background when completely alone. There wasn’t any real outstanding feature about him. Even his straight brown hair and green eyes marked him as typical. Perhaps the only thing that singled him out of a crowd was the fact that he was paler in complexion. No scars, no deformed appendages, no visible birth marks. Castimus was a plain man.
He heaved a deep sigh as Phoebus entered the room and brought him a cup of lemon water.
“How did the meeting go, Dominus?” Phoebus asked, already knowing the answer but playing his part to subdue the emotional tide of his master.
“About as good as I’ve ever had”, he reluctantly replied. “All I want to do is make a difference.”
“Political life comes with great pressure and responsibility. Surely some minor compromises can be beneficial to the people. Are they asking for leaders of integrity?”
“And what would a slave know of political responsibility?” he shot back.
“Of course, Dominus”, Phoebus said while bowing low.
“Phoebus, if the people can’t trust their authoritative figures, how can there be any real prosperity and peace? If I lie to the people or take advantage of them, how can I ever earn their trust? How can I help them? If I give them a loaf of bread in one hand and take three times the cost of it in the other, how am I helping?”
Castimus wanted to rest easy knowing he was making progress in changing the landscape of his family for the better. Whatever he would have to do, he had to feel good about his choices. And being the emotional creature he was, he could not consciously get that job done. No, Castimus would not survive in public life. He did not have the strength for it.
“That is an excellent point”, Phoebus chimed in. The chief household slave knew that he was calmed by his own understanding of the governmental system.
Castimus took off his belt and tossed it on the floor in front of Phoebus. “My father couldn’t get a position in office. His father wanted to be a successful lawyer and he did nothing of any importance. Who am I trying to fool? They were conspiring against him and they are conspiring against me. I should just open a shop like everyone else”, he sighed again.
“Dominus”, Phoebus began. “It would not do well for any of your own children to have your family name further diminished by becoming a merchant in the Forum with the commoners. You would never forgive yourself as a laborer.”
Castimus knew most patrician class Romans thought it vulgar to earn a living through labor. Plebeians and freedmen could work, but patricians and those of the equestrian order were called to a higher cause, without manual labor. The equestrian order evolved to the aristocratic class from cavalry during the Roman Kingdom years.
“If only I had any children to curse in such a way”, he added dejectedly.
He looked at the death masks along the wall. The masks of his ancestors, a constant reminder of his family’s spiraling social status, were illuminated by candles behind them. Would there ever be a glowing mask for anyone beyond himself?
Phoebus moved in such a way that would capture the attention of his master. The pouty movements and resigned gestures always pulled Castimus’s focus away from himself so that he could help others.
“What?” he demanded.
“Who am I to question the thoughts of my master? But since you asked, Dominus, your situation is greater than any pleb or slave I can think of. You are well. You have a loving wife. You should take comfort in that.”
“Perhaps”, he mused.
A woman’s voice bellowed for a slave from the depths of the house. Phoebus snapped his fingers and two slaves tending to the plants in the atrium jumped out of the room in the direction of the woman.
“I don’t understand, Phoebus”, Castimus whispers. “Why does she hate this place so much? Is it really that bad here?”
“I do not know her opinion”, Phoebus said while slinging Castimus’s belt over his shoulder. “Perhaps she has always been in this mood.”
“What is his game?” he said after a few moments.
“Senator Aurelius. I should have a station somewhere by now. I married his only daughter. He owns her till death. He should have me in some responsible position for the sake of her status. What is he doing?” he said, pulling his fingers up to his lips.
Phoebus did not answer, but left to check on the slaves in the kitchen. He shortly returned.
“I’ve got it”, Castimus said as he stood and removed his toga to reveal his under tunic.
Before Phoebus could ask exactly what his master meant, an ear-splitting scream issued from deep within the house, intense and full of venom. The woman could be heard cursing the slaves and demanding they let her be.
“What is it that you have, Dominus?” Phoebus had one ear to Castimus and the other to the woman of the house.
“I know why the senators think I am foolish and undeserving”, he said while continuing to remove his clothing and walking out of the atrium. As he did so, Phoebus followed behind him picking up his clothes. “I don’t yet understand the proper way in which to align myself on political matters. I still don’t have the cleverness to maneuver people, with integrity.”
“I’ll go to the Curia to do some studying. I’ll do what is proper in protocol.” He left the central, open air atrium and entered one of the many halls in his villa.
The Curia was the heart of the Roman government. It was the location of the senate, near the Temple of Saturn where the treasury and archives were housed.
“Shall I send for more escorts, Dominus?”
“No, I’ll go by myself, after I bathe.” Castimus had a habit of traveling out in the city without a slave escort. While this was efficient for the young nobleman, it defied class etiquette. It was a sign of status.
Phoebus smiled. “I believe the bath is free now, Dominus.”
“This is my bath as well!” bellowed the woman.
Castimus walked into the room and immediately entered the bath. His wife, Aurelia, watched with piercing anger. He sat uneasy, knowing that he needed to calm his wife down; appease her in some way. He wanted her father to give him a public job.
“I hate you and your silent arrogance.” Aurelia stomped out of the room followed by her attending slaves. Castimus’ tension followed her. He calmed quickly.
The room was white with marble walls and reflected the light coming in through a high window. The lush plants that decorated the bath seemed greener because of the white walls. The fact that he had a bath in his home was evidence of the wealth upon which he sat. Perhaps one in a hundred homes in Rome contained a private bath. Most Romans ventured to the public baths where they could find cool and hot baths, steam rooms, and saunas.
“I shall have everything ready for your trip to the Curia”, Phoebus said as he moved out of the bath area. Castimus sighed into the warm water, relaxed and motivated.
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Genre – Urban Fantasy
Rating – PG13
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