Gallus ignored the provocation, saying only, “I have my price—”

“Keep your coins.” Disappointed, Eucher rose and walked away.

Gallus always asked to buy his freedom. Asked every month. Like most slaves, he accumulated fees and gifts. Though he could meet the market price, he couldn’t meet Eucher’s.

Gallus was a boy, as all slaves were boys, though he was only a year younger than Eucher. His face already revealed the man. His cheeks had sprouted a beard, that brush of hair that demanded a change of life for both of them. But as with many things, what was decent to do was not what Eucher did.

“You know what happens to freedmen,” Eucher said. “They work, selling and buying like whores, all to rival their betters. Gold doesn’t buy good sense. Not even family give you that. The gods play dice with us. Besides, what would you do? I know! Haha! You’d become a monk. You! Wearing rags and preaching chastity. You wouldn’t be in the desert a week before some monk would have you warming his bed. Even Christians know what you’re good for. Get my whip!”

Gallus rose from the floor, his jaw clenched.

Eucher said, “Don’t tell me you want no penance. Of course you do.” Eucher poured more wine and watched Gallus leave the room.

As he waited, his bitter humor faded, replaced as it often was by anxiety.

Vultures circled. They had circled him since his birth. He forced the dark thoughts away. He would take pleasure from this day, from this moment, from Gallus.

 

***

 

The euphoria lasted longer than usual.

Gallus assumed his physical weakness was a sign of his moral weakness. He lay across the couch back, feeling the throbbing cuts on his back as he worked to control his breathing and tears. With his foggy perceptions, he wasn’t sure who was tending the cuts on his back, but the touch was delicate.

Gallus awoke with a start some time later. He had passed out across the couch arm. He rose, and his back stung as broken skin tried to contract. He was alone in the room. Fresh wine and fruit rested on the table in front of him. He put on his tunic and sat down gently.

He was hungry, but he wasn’t sure he should eat. He wasn’t sure what he deserved. He wasn’t sure how he could best show his love. What did God want of him?