***

After the show, Eucher took Gallus to his father’s palace, a sprawling mansion south of the Flaminian Circus. What was a crime for a citizen and the duty of a freedman was the purpose of a slave as beautiful as Gallus.

Eucher stripped Gallus and bent him over a sleeping couch. Gallus buried his face in the cushions. His breathing was shallow and panicky. His body clenched. There was no way to make it easy for him, so Eucher never tried.

Eucher drew aside his own tunic. He was eager, and he worked his cock into Gallus’s smooth ass. As he watched his slave’s spine roll back and forth, Eucher told him how beautiful he was. After awhile, Gallus’s breathing deepened, and he took over the rhythm. He cried as he pressed his hand against his tortured bent cock.

Slaves like Arsace were eunuchs. Custom granted Illustrious families their own eunuch attendants, as well, but Eucher’s father refused to be served by a half-man in his own house. Stilicho expected a man, even a slave, to pay for his virtues, not have them given him, so he had infibulated Gallus instead. A bronze ring pierced the shaft just behind the crown and then again at the base, folding his cock backward. It refused him the full experience of manhood but never let him forget his desire.

“Good boy,” Eucher whispered as he stroked the lean muscles of Gallus’s back.

When the distance between despair and ecstasy became an exhale, and victory was lost or won in the life of a single breath, Gallus came, oozing down his leg.

The heat, bodies, and blood from the morning had been stoking Eucher’s violent lust, so he thrust deeper. He came with such force that he drooled and his fingers raked bruises into Gallus hips. Eucher backed away. Gallus rose from the couch, naked and unashamed, more Greek than Christian, as Eucher preferred him.

“You’re a magnificent boy,” Eucher said.

“Your father wanted you to have a brother.”

Eucher smiled at the diligent belief. “He’s only a man, and there’s not a man alive who can’t see what you’re good for. He knows what I do with you. All of Rome knows.” Eucher turned to the wall where a golden field of wheat flowed across the yellow stucco. “You haven’t commented on the new painting.”

A black cave rose at one end of the field. At the other end stood a small house, and on that house the footprints of Jupiter led to a window where the beautiful woman Danae sat, combing her hair. It was the moment before the lustful god transformed himself into a shower of gold and raped the unsuspecting wife. The painting was from a comedy of Terence. In his story, a young man waiting in a brothel stares at such a painting, and after considering the mythic rape, he grows hungry to taste of the immortal privilege himself.

“Such are the superstitions that we learn from your gods.” Gallus was flushed, his nostrils flaring as he studied the painting.

“I see the boy’s a hypocrite, too. Is it not yet the tenth hour and time for another prayer? Yesterday you fasted because it was the day of his execution. Today’s the remembrance of the Creation, so you feast again. Tomorrow you’ll eat his body and drink his blood. A hundred rituals rule every hour.”

Eucher tried to see the painting as Gallus did. Like all Greeks, Gallus possessed an aesthetic superior to any Roman. Eucher knew it was the single way Greeks surpassed Romans. Of course, the only value in recognizing beauty is in possessing it, which is the way Romans surpassed everyone.

Eucher said, “Do you suppose Terence had his boy learning his crime from a painting like this?” He smiled when Gallus’s eyes flamed defiantly. Adonis couldn’t have been more lovely, nor Mars more disagreeable.

A girl entered the room with two pitchers, a bowl, and a silver cup. She mixed the contents of the pitchers. Eucher sent her away and poured his own wine. “I don’t care about what should be. I care about what is, and that’s not so simple a thing as you think. Do you really think men do things for reasons? They do things because they can.”

Gallus pulled on his tunic and his body disappeared beneath the blue fabric. After he fastened his belt, a thought came to him that he hesitated to speak. Despite his efforts to the contrary, his eyes expressed every nuance of his thought, so Eucher waited.

Gallus glanced at his master warily and said, “You work at dispassion like a whore works at at lust.”

Eucher slapped him so hard he spun and fell to the ground. “And you fuck like an ugly widow, but you swear you’ve no appetite for it,” Eucher stepped back, tipped his cup, and let the remaining wine spill onto Gallus. It splashed on his face and tunic. The purple stained like blood. Drips rolled down his cheeks and puddled in his ears.

Eucher knelt above him. “You tell me your pleasure has no surface, but you’re a liar. What pleasure do you find in the mind of a god that feels as good as the skin I touch? Even with all that pain, you can’t stop the pleasure. You can’t stop the wanting.” Eucher sighed and added, “You believe in him, but does he believe in you? What’s the value in being free when you think like everyone else?” Pointing at Gallus’s head, he added, “When this isn’t free, what else matters?”

Gallus wiped wine from his forehead. Stilicho had not branded him, so his face was flawless. He wore only the iron collar stamped with the family name.