Updated: Dec 23, 2020
The first THREE chapter from Maxim.
Noncon/dubcon in this part (drugged sex)
Violence (gladiators fighting)
The noncon doesn't continue for the duration of the novella.
Currently written in British English.
Cassius squeezed his eyes shut and tightened his hands into fists.
It didn’t help, the swish of a whip still carried to him, and the iron-like taste of blood slipped past his parted lips.
He’d given up breathing through his nose, the scent made him dizzy.
The blood poisoning his palate wasn’t his own, but the gladiator beneath being sliced and split for the entertainment of the crowd.
A meaningful thud joined the ruckus. The gladiator had succumbed to the brutal beating and fallen. Cassius opened his eyes and fixed his gaze to the man lying face up on the sand. Covered head to toe in blood, he still had the strength to raise three fingers, and ask for mercy.
“Let him live, let him live.” Cassius side-eyed his dominus, Rickous, leaning forward on his seat, tugging at his lip, repeating the same three words. “Let him live.”
They waited with bated breath for the decision to be made.
Rickous’s wish was granted.
The gladiator had fallen, but wasn’t to be killed at the hand of The Slasher.
Rickous shifted back into his chair. He ran his hand through his hair, usually golden, grease and grime had dulled it, and glued it to his head. “At least he’s still alive.”
“He’s going to die, they always do.”
The domina’s words were blunt. She stroked her plaited hair with a grimace before slipping it beneath her nose. She gave it a sniff, but one inhale wasn’t enough, she sucked up the stench of her scarlet strands then flicked her hair away.
“It’s rare these days…”
Rickous looked at her. “What is?”
She gestured to the bloody sight in front of them. “That something smells worse than my hair.”
“Our luck will change. The gods will favour us soon. Julius will recover and fight again. He’ll come back fitter, and stronger.”
Cassius grimaced at the optimism in his voice. Rickous believed it, despite Julius leaving a bloody trail behind when they dragged him from the arena.
Julius, who only an hour before, had strutted in the holding cage, full of confidence and life. Julius who, with a twinkle in his eye, told Cassius he was going to be the one to kill The Slasher.
“I’ll be amazed if he survives the night.”
Cassius glanced at his domina, Antonia, still playing with her hair.
She preferred her scarlet hair to be free flowing, but the past few months had not been fruitful for the Ludus, and Antonia’s hair had long stiffened. At least in the plait, Cassius was able to attach flowers, and recycled jewels from her broken bracelets.
The white gown she wore had started to yellow, and the belt around her waist was fraying, but the smaller details were only noticeable if paying close attention. Antonia still looked beautiful despite their dire situation.
Rickous murmured through a gap in his lips. “Here he comes.”
“Do we have to congratulate him?” Antonia spoke the same way back to him.
“Yes, friends, remember?”
Octavius strolled into view with his arms spread wide. He spoke to Rickous, but his eyes, like always, found Cassius. His smile stretched from ear to ear, creasing his skin and giving off predatory vibes.
“Congratulations on your win.” Rickous said, forcing joy into his voice. They kissed on both cheeks, before Octavius stepped closer, performing the same greeting to Antonia.
“Your man lasted thirty minutes, that’s more than most.”
His small eyes found Cassius again. He looked down the hook of a nose while wetting his dry lips with a serpent like tongue. Cassius tried to hide his shudder with a shuffle and looked away. Octavius smirked. He knew he was the cause of Cassius’s unease, and liked it. A black rope wrapped around his storm-grey tunic, resting on his bloated belly. On closer inspection, Cassius realised the rope wasn’t made of woven threads, but hair.
Fear crept up his spine. Another reaction Octavius somehow sensed. He twitched his eyebrows and stroked the rope.
Rickous pointed at the crowd. “The Slasher has a lot of support.”
Octavius clenched his fist, and shook it at Rickous. “He has the roar. Gladiators don’t get far without the roar. Your man, Julius, he only had a kitten’s meow.” Octavius barked a laugh and squeezed Rickous’s shoulder.
His eyes lingered on Cassius again, and he risked a glance, regretting it immediately. A desire to do cruel things swirled in the depths of Octavius’s cold eyes.
“How many gladiators have you got left, Rickous?”
Rickous clutched the back of his neck. “Three.”
Another bout of laughter came from Octavius. “And you say you run a gladiator school. Who do you have left?”
“Ah, yes, Felix. He’s past his day isn’t he? How old is he?”
“Forty-five, but still fit and strong—"
“Worn and weathered more like. Who else?”
“Justus.” Octavius shook his head. “Felix’s son, right? Too young, and inexperienced to get you far. Who’s the third?”
Rickous licked his lips, stealing a glance at Antonia for courage. “Maxim.”
Octavius tipped back on his heels with another gloating grin. “The one who hasn’t shown himself on the sand. I heard you bought him for 600 denarii. I heard you were shouting at the heavens, that you’d just bought a god.”
“I think he could go far.”
Cassius snorted. No chance of that.
“I also heard you can’t make him fight.”
“Who told you that?”
Octavius shrugged. “I hear rumours here and there.”
“I assure you; those rumours are false.”
“You described him as a god,” Octavius shook his head. “Maybe the gods are punishing you because you made such a foolish claim.”
Rickous smiled tightly.
“Or maybe it’s because your wife has been deceiving you.”
Antonia’s jaw dropped open, she shook her head, choking on a denial, but Octavius got their first, stripping back her secret for her gawping husbands ears.
“I offered 800 denarii for Cassius, did you know that?”
Rickous’s eyes shone with betrayal. “No. I didn’t.”
“Your ludus suffered needlessly.”
“I won’t sell him to you.”
The surge of gratitude towards Antonia left Cassius lightheaded. He kept his face schooled with indifference, but beneath the surface his heart swelled.
“Think of the gladiators you could buy. Think of the baths, and food.”
“Cassius doesn’t belong to Rickous. He’s my slave.”
Octavius’s lips spread in another huge smile. “The one you stole from me.”
“I didn’t steal him. I outbid you.”
Rage flittered across Octavius’s face. “I wanted that boy.”
Cassius shrunk back. His heart thumped into his throat, threatening to choke him.
“He’s not a boy anymore.”
“He’s turned out to be quite the handsome young man. I still want him for my collection.”
Antonia shook her head. “I’ll never let you have him. I’d die first.”
Rickous held up his hands. “Let’s not spoil what’s been an entertaining day. Let’s not sour our friendship. It was a good fight, enjoyed by all.”
“Except you I imagine.”
“It was a privilege to watch The Slasher in action, but a shame my gladiator was the recipient of such skill.”
“Flesh and blood soaring through the air. My son caught Julius’s ear from the stands, kept it as a memento.” He sighed. “My boys taking after me.”
Cassius’s stomach turned over at the fondness in Octavius’s expression.
“Before I forget.” He held out his hand to Rickous. “To compensate your dead gladiator.”
“He’s not dead.”
Octavius grinned, and dropped the coins into Rickous’s palm.
“I look forward to seeing you again.”
The words weren’t meant for Cassius’s masters. Octavius bowed at them both before squeezing past. Cassius stiffened at the hidden hand stroking his arse through his tunic. He made no sound or hint, and Octavius moved on.
“Bastard.” Antonia spat.
“Why didn’t you tell me about his offer?”
“I won’t let them have Cassius.”
Rickous widened his eyes. “We barely have enough food for ourselves, let alone our slaves, and gladiators. I can’t keep this ludus going if my wife keeps secrets.”
“Do you know what Octavius will do to him?” she took a step closer to Rickous, and whispered by his ear. “Do you know what he wants from him?”
Cassius heard her despite her hushed tone. His eyes burned, and he blinked back the sting.
“I know you’re fond of Cassius—"
“Well then, you’ll know that I’ll never sell him, or let a creep touch him.”
Cassius’s lips twitched with a smile. Antonia turned to him, and caught his expression. She smiled too; a flash of affection Cassius was blessed to have. Her expression tightened, and she whirled back to her husband.
“And you’re one to talk about lies. You told me Maxim cost 400 denarii.”
“I had to go higher.”
“He doesn’t even fight, Rickous.”
“But he will.” More optimism shone in his eyes. “I just need to get through to him.”
“Sell him to be torn apart by the beasts. All that muscle and flesh, we’ll get a good price for him, and once the crowd knows he’s a traitor—
“Shhh, Antonia,” he checked around himself, but no one spared him a thought. Every one was slowly leaving the amphitheatre.
“But he is. People will pay a high price to watch him die. We might make back our money.”
“I’ve put more money into his food and water. Death by beast is our last resort. Give me more time.”
A forced cough made them all jump. Rickous shared a startled look with Antonia before turning to the cloaked stranger.
“Can I help you?”
The figure slipped back his hood, revealing his face, a mosaic of wrinkled skin, and thinning hair. He was older than the dominus and the domina, older than both their ages combined.
“Brutus?” Rickous gasped. He pulled him into an embrace, Brutus responded with one hand. His other held onto a walking stick, keeping him upright. “You still come to watch the fights?”
“Just because I’m a retired ludus owner, doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy the arena. I’d heard so much about The Slasher, I had to come and see him for myself. I’m sorry about your gladiator.”
“He’ll recover. He’ll get stronger, and return to the sand.”
Brutus’s thin eyebrows lowered over his eyes. He cast Antonia a confused look before attempting a small smile. “I guess there is always hope.”
Rickous gazed at the sky. “Yes, there is.”
Brutus hummed. “I couldn’t help overhearing about your troubles.”
“You have a man that refuses to fight for you.”
Antonia sighed. “I keep telling Rickous to execute him for the crowds. Tie him to a post, let the beasts rip him apart.”
Brutus rubbed his chin, considering. “But Rickous disagrees?”
“When I saw him that day at the market, the clouds parted, the sun shone on him, and I knew he was the one who could get me far. He was the one that will bring me glory.”
“Us glory.” Antonia corrected with a hiss.
“I’d like to meet him tomorrow.” Brutus said, nodding as if he’d finally decided something.
Rickous itched the back of his head. “Meeting him is a bit of a stretch, but I’ll let you see him.”
“Yes, tomorrow. Come to my villa.”
Antonia growled in the back of her throat. “Our villa.”
“Yes, come to our villa, and I’ll let you see him.”
“Does he speak?”
Rickous swallowed. “No.”
“He doesn’t speak our—
“He does, he just refuses.”
Cassius had been a witness to Rickous’s efforts trying to get a word out of Maxim. He didn’t speak, he snorted, grumbled, growled, but he didn’t waste words on his new master.
“How interesting. What’s his name?”
Rickous bit his lip. “His name?”
“If you want my help, I need to know his name.”
Brutus’s eyebrows shot up, bunching up the lines on his brow.
“You know him?”
He crowded closer. “Don’t speak his name aloud again, understand?”
Rickous nodded. “I understand.”
“I know of him, but I’ll find out more about him today, see if I can help you with his performance anxiety.”
They both laughed, Antonia rolled her eyes.
“Why are you helping us?” she asked.
Cassius had been wondering the same.
“I am the most successful ludus owner there’s ever been from Capua. It’s more than gladiators and fights, but an art form to respect, and my predecessor leaves a lot to be desired.”
Brutus flicked his gaze towards the arena. Octavius and his sons hunted the sand for gory mementoes. They held up stretches of skin while laughing, and his youngest boy, Taron, yelped and bounced up and down with glee. He held one of Julius’s fingers, pointing it at the sky as he beamed at his find.
“Someone needs to challenge Octavius.”
“The Slasher is unbeatable.” Rickous shook his head. “Julius is our best fighter, and he didn’t get close enough to swing his sword.”
“Then let’s hope when the heavens shone upon Maxim, the gods were giving you a sign of glory, not predicting your downfall…Tomorrow.”
Brutus tugged the hood over his head, and hobbled away.
It was a stupid idea, the worst idea.
Cassius didn’t know what he was going to say or do, but he still went along with his plan.
He still sneaked across the villa in the night.
A leaf crunched under his foot. He widened his eyes, and stared at it, crisp and in two. The plants of the villa had been the first victims of their misfortune. Cassius swept the floor each day, but it didn’t matter. They dropped down from the ceiling and from the tops of the pillars where he couldn’t reach, reminding everyone of their dire situation.
He paused by Lithia and Cleo’s sleeping quarters, and listened. Cleo’s brown hair spread out on the pillow like a tangled spiders web, and Lithia had her thumb firmly in her mouth. Despite their hungry bellies, they’d still managed to fall asleep. They’d curled up together on the same bed, Lithia’s thin arm hung over the side.
Cassius released a slow breath, and kept going.
The villa suffered the consequence of their poor luck. The lion mosaic he tiptoed across had dulled under marching dry feet. They could no longer spare water to bathe in let alone wash the floors. Months ago vibrant green vines had coiled around the pillars and flowers had added pops of colour in the blandest of corners. The villa had screamed life, but as Cassius rushed as silently as he could towards the ludus, he couldn’t help but notice the dust spinning in the moonlight.
The faint sounds of coughing from the other slaves.
Death stalking close by.
Cassius crouched, and peeked around the corner. Tarquin had slumped on the floor, helmet low over his eyes. He didn’t need to wear it at night, but he insisted, Cassius now knew the reason why. It hid his eyes. His rhythmic snores carried over. Not the best night guard. He’d be punished if anyone found out, but so would Cassius for moving across the villa in the dead of night.
Cassius stepped lightly on his toes as he passed. The passage to the ludus stretched before him, illuminated by lamps flickering on the walls. It led to a staircase, and at the bottom, a huge metal gate stood between Cassius and the gladiators.
His plan came to an end.
He hadn’t envisioned getting further than the gate. He fidgeted his fingers as he moved closer, staring into the dark abyss. The only light came from the other side of the ludus, a flickering lamp. A groan of pain came from that direction, and he shivered.
The Medicus’s quarters.
Julius hovered on deaths door but stubbornly refused to pass over. His agonised wails terrorised the wind. The entire journey back he’d whined, and groaned. Rickous had whispered in Antonia’s ear that they couldn’t afford any more medicine. Julius was left to suffer, with Rickous vowing he’d pull through, his heart was strong enough to save his body.
Cassius bit his lip, pushed aside his pounding heart, and whispered into the darkness.
His voice juddered, and he tried again, a little louder.
Cassius swallowed the lump in his throat and waited. His heart leapt beneath his ribs at the sound of slapping feet. Bare on the hard stone outside. They got closer, and louder, and Cassius scrambled back, scraping his heels on the bottom step.
Maxim appeared from the shadows, rubbing his eyes.
A loincloth hid his modesty, but Cassius’s cheeks burned at his bulge. He skimmed his gaze higher, but his chest was no better, his skin barely looked capable of containing his muscles. Thighs like pillars, and defined calves. He didn’t walk with a stoop or lower his head. He powered up to the gate with confident strides.
Cassius didn’t know the colour of his eyes, but they were dark and left behind an imprint of coldness. Maxim’s skin had a hint of gold, but his hard features cast shadows over his eyes and on his top lip. His matted long hair looked wilder in the dark, and the patches in his rugged beard were more obvious. He had a crazed look about him, and Cassius resisted the urge to run.
Maxim’s tired eyes fixed on Cassius and he fought off the desire to flinch. The intensity of his gaze robbed Cassius of all thought, and his mouth flapped helplessly as he tried to remember why he was there.
“I want to know why you won’t fight?”
Maxim checked behind Cassius, and he looked too. No one stood behind him, the villa was quiet.
“What a question…”
Cassius jumped at the reply. Maxim’s gravelly voice made Cassius want to turn and bolt, but he stayed pressed against the bottom step, heels stinging. He pulled together his escaping courage, and stared at Maxim’s mouth in wonder, willing it to answer him.
Maxim raised his brow. He reached for the top of the gate, stretching out his impressive body. There wasn’t a part of him that wasn’t muscular and toned.
“Will you punch and kick the answer out of me?”
Cassius shook his head, then glanced down at himself. “Do I look like I could?”
Maxim snorted. “No, but it would be amusing to see you try.”
Cassius stepped forward, but stayed far from reach. “Please, we need you to fight.”
“I don’t want to fight.”
“If you don’t, if you die, the Ludus will fall.”
“Let it fall.” Maxim snapped.
“The younger slaves will—
“Do you think I haven’t killed the young? Children? Women?” His knuckles tightened around the bars. “I have no loyalty to your villa or your masters.”
“My Domina is kind, kind to all—"
“You are a slave, she would trade you for a new gown, or a pearl necklace in a heartbeat.”
Cassius looked away from Maxim’s savage smile. “You’re wrong. She wouldn’t.”
“You may be her favourite, but your still just a pet. You have a price, and one day you’ll realise that. I’m my own man, even if I’m a soulless one. I won’t kill under their say so. I won’t let anyone lead my choices again.”
“It’s no less than what you did in Rome’s name.”
Maxim growled, and struck the bars with his fists. “You know nothing of Rome.”
“I heard Rickous talking.”
“I know you used to be a respected soldier, and now you’re…this.”
Maxim bared his teeth then stepped back from the bars shaking his head. He turned to leave, but Cassius surged forward and gripped his forearm through the bars. Maxim stopped, his arm stiffened, Cassius felt the strength beneath his taunt skin. He yanked his hand back, but it was too late, Maxim caught him, and squeezed him against the bars. His chin smashed into the metal gate and he yelped.
“You’re a brave pet.”
“Let me go.”
He crushed the air from Cassius’s chest then released him. He stumbled back and collapsed against the steps, panting. Maxim turned away, intent on retreating into the darkness.
“I don’t want this villa to fall. I don’t want the slaves, gladiators or my masters to suffer. You were bought as a gladiator, fight as one, reclaim your honour.”
Maxim spoke over his shoulder. “How can a pet know of honour?”
“It’s respect for yourself—"
He spun around to Cassius, yanking his hair. “Look at me. I have no respect for myself.” He raked his nails down his cheek. “I don’t care if I die. I welcome death with open arms.”
“So you’re a traitor and a coward then?”
“Come closer and say that.”
Cassius didn’t move.
Maxim snorted. “Come on, brave pet.”
His teeth gleamed in the lamplight.
“Now who’s the coward?” He chuckled.
Maxim’s eyebrows climbed higher before slamming down, framing his angry eyes. “Run along, go back to the villa. Go back to your masters. Go back to your naïve little world where you think you understand honour and self-respect. Where you sit at your master’s feet and look down on everyone thinking you’re their equal. Thinking they care for you, or the slaves of this villa, or anything but themselves.”
Cassius exhaled through his nose. “You’ll be in the amphitheatre one way or another. As a gladiator to fight, or a traitor to be torn apart. One respected, one ridiculed.”
“I won’t fight. There’s nothing worth fighting for.”
“The lives of the slaves in the villa—
“They’re not my responsibility.”
“Death it is then.”
“Death is why I live.”
“I came down here thinking I could convince you, that somewhere in that emotionless shell there stood a man, but there’s nothing.”
“There’s anger. You’ve made me pretty angry brave pet.”
“Good. I will enjoy watching that lion chomp on your bones.”
Cassius turned and ran back up the stairs with Maxim’s gaze burning into him. He felt it long after he was back in his quarters, laying in bed, staring at the cracks forming in the ceiling.
That had been no plan at all.
Brutus hummed as he inspected Maxim. He cast a look at Rickous, and Antonia, then hummed again. His lips pressed so seamlessly together they lost all their colour.
“This is what you meant by see, not meet?”
Maxim growled around the gag in his mouth. He’d been tied to a pillar, ankles and wrists all secured by thick chain. He tested them at odd intervals, Cassius held his breath, waiting for them to break or for the pillar to come crashing down.
“It takes all my guards and Felix and Justus to move him around the villa.”
“He’s certainly impressive.”
“He’s that all right,
“Does he train well with them?”
“I can’t risk it, he might kill them.”
Brutus sighed. “What have you offered him?”
“Glory, wine, women, silk, food. He doesn’t want any of it.”
“I’ve had him whipped, and beaten but he’s unaffected. He still won’t fight.”
“What about his family? Have you found them, torture is always—"
“The emperor got there first. They’re all dead.”
Maxim growled again. His eyes reddened with fury, and he clunked his chains, attempting to escape them. More leaves and vines dropped down from the ceiling and burst into dust when they hit the floor. They covered the roaring lion mosaic, the emblem for the ludus.
Rickous’s eyes watered, and he sobbed into his hands.
Antonia watched him for a moment, then yawned. She had sprawled out on a lounger, her arm up with a cup leaning towards Cassius. He had a jug at the ready filled with watered down wine. Rickous hoped to appease Brutus by offering him good hospitality, but it hadn’t been received well.
Brutus had wrinkled up his nose and spat the wine back into his cup, but Antonia continued to drink it, by the bucket load.
“Something smells strange.”
She sniffed her hair.
“I need a bath.”
Rickous spun around to face her. “We can’t have baths unless we earn coin. Unless Maxim earns us coin.”
Antonia rolled her eyes. She turned to Cassius, flashing her eyes up and down his body. He didn’t fidget from her gaze, but stood with his back straight, and his chin lifted. The same shade as her hair, his tunic showed the world he belong to her, and he wore the colour with pride.
“Cassius needs a bath too.”
Rickous huffed. “Enough with the baths.”
Brutus eyed them. “Surely your slaves needs come last.”
“It’s not uncommon for masters to be fond of their slaves.” Antonia gave Cassius a fond smile.
He threw a dirty look at Maxim who growled something beneath the gag. He didn’t care what the brute mumbling and dribbling in the middle of the room thought, Antonia did care about him. She cared about all of the slaves.
“How much do you know about Maxim?” Brutus asked.
Rickous gestured to him. “He was an Imperial Legate chosen by the emperor. He turned traitor, and instead of execution, they made him a slave. That’s what the man who sold him told me.”
Brutus rubbed his chin, watching Maxim with a critical eye. “I did a bit of research on him. Maxim, skilled with the sword who could kill any foe. Maxim who led thousands into battle again and again. Maxim who was well respected by his men. A great strategist, a great fighter, a great man.”
Maxim stopped growling. His gaze fell to the floor.
“Maxim who abandoned his men, abandoned Rome. Why did you desert your men, and Rome?”
He didn’t answer. No growl. No rattle of chains. Silence swept through the villa as they all waited for Maxim to react. Cassius leaned forward expectantly.
A tray crashed to the floor followed by a thud. Lithia had fallen, the tray of shrivelled grapes she’d been holding splattered on the ground. Cassius rushed over to her, and picked her limp body off the floor.
Antonia spoke through her fingers. Her eyes widened with shock as he held Lithia close.
Rickous pointed at the mess on the floor. “Cleo, deal with this.”
Cleo jolted into action, wiping up the mess, but kept darting looks at Lithia, weak in Cassius’s arms. He stroked back the golden hair on her face then got to his feet. He mouthed that Lithia was okay to Cleo, she nodded, and turned her attention back to her duties.
“Take her to the Medicus.”
Cassius glanced at Maxim. He expected to see compassion or pity in his eyes, but he just looked bored, unaffected by a child fainting from hunger.
He really was a brute.
Lithia stirred in his arms as he carried her down the corridor to the ludus. She blinked up at him, and her arms crawled up his chest until they wrapped around his neck. Her weak hold ached his heart, and he gave her a sad smile.
He squeezed her. “Don’t be.”
Cassius was careful on the steps, and once he got to the gate, an awaiting guard nodded him through. He strode across the courtyard and into the Medicus’s quarters.
The stench of death smacked him in the face. Lithia’s nose twitched, and her eyes grew round and worried. “Is that…Julius?”
“He’s dead.” The Medicus announced, sauntering forward. He hadn’t even bothered to cover up Julius on the bed, his gory wounds gaped in front of them, like yawning wet mouths. From head to toes he was covered in the deep lacerations, all of them screamed.
Cassius took Lithia to the other side of the room before placing her down on a bed.
“It’s cooler here. Rest.”
Her eyes didn’t find his, they were fixed on Julius, and the Medicus poking around his dead body. He hit something, and a gush of yellow and red ran down Julius’s side. The smell leaked into the air, and rolled Cassius’s stomach.
Cassius inwardly scolded himself. Why did he have to ask?
“The skin around his wounds has discoloured. Can you see?”
Cassius darted a look at the curled back skin the medicus had cleaned. His sickness worsened at the sight of flesh turning purple.
The medicus poked his finger in Julius again. “Nasty.”
Cassius turned back to Lithia. She’d turned from pale to green.
“Enough.” He snapped.
Cassius yanked a blanket from another bed, and laid it over Julius.
“There’s a lot I can learn from his body.”
“Learn it when a seven-year-old girl isn’t watching.”
The Medicus shook out his hand, blood splattered across the floor in big drops. “What’s wrong with her?”
Cassius frowned. “She didn’t feel hot.”
The medicus ambled over to Lithia and felt her forehead with his blood covered hand. She shuffled away, horrified.
“No fever. Some water and some rest and she’ll be out of here in no time.” He turned to Cassius. “I need you to go back up there and tell Rickous about Julius.”
He nodded. Lithia’s hand shot out and grabbed his fingers. “Don’t go.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Try to get some sleep.”
Lithia’s hand slipped away, and she blinked slowly. Cassius eased her down, then hurried to return to the villa.
Silence still hung heavily in the room, his footsteps were the only sound.
Antonia rushed up to him. “How is she?”
“She needs water and rest.”
She touched his shoulder. “She’ll be okay, Cassius.”
The warmest brown eyes connected with his and he dared to describe her smile as motherly. It flooded his chest with warmth and disbelief. She cared about them, and wasn’t heartless like Maxim described her. Stupid brute.
He took a deep breath and looked at Rickous. “Dominus, Julius didn’t make it.”
Antonia hung her head in sadness, rubbing his shoulder. Rickous spun around and kicked over a table with a roar. He stamped on the lions face, and let loose another bellow to the ceiling.
“Fuck. Why do the gods hate me?”
“How many gladiators have you got left?” Brutus asked.
“Three.” Rickous said. He gestured at Maxim. “But two if you count the ones who are actually fighting for me.”
“There must be something he wants.”
Maxim’s brow knitted together. It was the biggest reaction Brutus had gotten out of him.
He tilted his head, assessing the change. “Is there something?”
Maxim’s eyes darted to Cassius. Fear lept from his chest into a splutter. He caught it with his hand, but Antonia noticed.
“Then tell us.” Brutus stepped towards him, but Rickous ushered him back.
“I wouldn’t get too close. Cassius, removed the rag from his lips.”
He nodded, and stepped up to Maxim. His dark eyes fixed to Cassius’s as he dug his nails under the rag. His nail caught on Maxim’s lips, Maxim bit Cassius’s finger in retaliation. It all happened so fast, and completely out of sight of their masters.
“Come here.” Antonia said, waving Cassius to her side.
He eagerly went to her and avoided Maxim’s eyes.
“What is it you want?” Brutus asked. “What will make you fight?”
Maxim flexed his lips, grimacing and wincing. He nodded towards Cassius. “I want him.”
Rickous gasped. “Finally you speak.”
Brutus barked a laugh. “You offered him women, but not men—"
“I don’t want men, only him.”
Antonia shook her head. “Absolutely not.”
“That’s my price.”
Rickous darted looks between Antonia and Maxim. He groaned, and pinched the top of his nose. “What exactly do you want?”
“I want him bathed, and brought to my cell after every fight I win. I’ll let you have him back at sunrise.”
“And what is it you want him for?”
Maxim licked his lips, staring straight at Cassius. The look nailed him to the floor and pushed a dagger of terror into his chest.
“I’m going to fuck him.”
Cassius’s heart boomed in his ears. He tried to concentrate on drawing air in and out through his nose, but he knew he was struggling when he started to tilt. He didn’t want to end up like Lithia, sprawled on the floor, but it felt inevitable.
A ragged breath caught in Antonia’s throat. She backed away, sliding into Cassius, jolting him away from the call of unconsciousness. “No.”
“That’s my price. What’s worth more, your need for coin or your slave’s wellbeing?”
“I won’t allow it.”
Rickous released an exasperated sigh. “We need this Antonia.”
He strolled to her and pulled her aside. They had a hushed conversation out of Cassius’s earshot, and while waiting, he peeked a look at Maxim. Glee spread his lips in a vicious smile, and his pleased eyes shone like flames. ‘You have a price.’
Rickous broke off from his wife. “You’re not going to kill him.”
“I won’t, but he might wish I had when I’m done.”
Cassius struggled to breathe. Antonia couldn’t even look at him, she turned and fled through the villa. His stomach dropped, and he reached out for the pillar next to him.
“Then we agree, win—
“Win and win well.” Brutus added. “Make the people remember you.”
“And I’ll have Cassius bathed, and sent to you.”
Maxim nodded and saved his last words for Cassius. “Maybe there is something worth fighting for…to punish a naïve slave.”
The cruel glint in Maxim’s eyes reminded him of Octavius.
The days didn’t linger like Cassius wished they would and the moment he’d been dreading arrived. He picked his nails, stood behind Antonia. Both of them stared at the arena below waiting for Maxim.
“He might lose.” Antonia whispered.
They’d both watched him training with Felix and Justus. He wasn’t going to lose.
He’d stolen glances at Maxim when he stood with Antonia on the balcony. It hung over the Ludus’s courtyard where the gladiators trained. Whenever Maxim looked up at him, he backed off, chilled by his glare.
The amphitheatre filled fast around them. The first stand was for the more elite members of society, followed by the men, then finally the women and children at the top. The arena in front of them was dusty and unmarked by blood.
Maxim and his opponent were the first fight. The warmup act to get the bloodlust pumping through the crowd for the more favourable gladiators.
The Slasher was the main attraction that day.
Cassius shivered, and thought of Julius.
He’d fallen to The Slasher’s whip and his defeat had been a bloody spectacle. The crowd had roared at his death.
The bustle and excited chatter of the people increased. The sound buzzed like bees in his ears. Cassius just wanted to swat them away but couldn’t.
Antonia sat beside him, and Rickous and Brutus were on her other side. Their heads tilted towards each other as they whispered back and forth.
Antonia gripped his hand. “Let’s hope he falls.”
Her words roused Rickous who twisted towards her. “He better not.” His eyes settled on Cassius. “And you better please him in his cell later. We can’t have him disappointed.”
Cassius’s guts twisted. He didn’t want to be sent to Maxim’s cell at all, and now he was being ordered to fulfil all Maxim’s twisted needs. He shuddered, and clung on to the hope that Maxim would die. But the Ludus would suffer. His gut tightened another notch.
Cassius’s red tunic frayed at the edges, and his sandals were falling apart. Antonia had gripped his hair before they left for the amphitheatre and complained about it being too long. Rickous had growled and cursed before ordering her out.
He thought she was too fond of him. Cassius suspected he was right.
She looked at him, and touched the gold chain around his neck. Antonia had sold much of her jewellery in their time of need, but kept a few favourite pieces. She told him the chain suited him, it brought out the golden tint in his brown eyes. She had slipped around it his neck when she bought him, a welcome home gift she’d called it.
Maxim stepped onto the sand. The amphitheatre erupted at the sight of him. His face couldn’t be seen, but his tangled hair poked out from the bottom of his helmet. When the sun struck him, his armour dazzled. His leg guards came up to his knees, and the guard on his left arm stretched from his wrist to his shoulder, the metal plates gleamed and sparkled.
For a sport so deadly and brutal, the gladiators started off beautiful.
Straps cut into his muscular body, securing his armour in position.
He banged the heavy shield he carried into the floor of the stadium. The crowd responded to the sound, cheering every time he struck the floor. The excitement built up around Cassius but he inwardly shrivelled.
He was expected to entertain the brute below, or more accurately, he was expected to endure being fucked and abused for his entertainment.
Maxim swirled his gladius.
It shone bronze in the sun.
Another cheer erupted.
He turned to where Cassius and his masters sat. The helmet hid his eyes, but Cassius felt them on him, he could practically feel his smug smile too.
The retiarius appeared, and the crowd hooted and stamped their feet. Maxim took his time turning to face the man wielding the trident. He stood the same height as Maxim but wasn’t as muscular. In one hand he held the trident, three sharpened points desperate to sink into flesh, and in the other hand, he held a net to trap, and capture. He had little armour to help him move quickly and evade the slashing motions of the gladius.
The fight began.
The retiarius danced around Maxim, light and quick on his feet. He dared come a bit closer, before backing off fast. Maxim seemed to just watch him, and his athletic display as he bobbed and weaved around the arena.
“Come on.” Rickous hissed. “Do something…”
His voice didn’t carry to Maxim, but he surged forward, all strength and power, and speed too. The retiarius tripped in his eagerness to get away, and fell to the sand. Maxim slashed his chest open but didn’t finish him off.
He moved away, allowing the retiarius to get to his feet. The diagonal slit went from his hip to his shoulder and gushed dark blood.
Maxim charged him again.
He smashed his shield into the trident, sending it flying across the arena. Another slice to the retiarius’s chest, but the opposite direction, blood caught the sunrays and sparkled as it fell.
Maxim had slashed an X across his opponents’ chest.
He breathed as calmly as he could, but when the scent of blood wafted towards him, he changed to breathing through his mouth to avoid smelling it. The bloody x on the retiarius’s chest poured onto the unmarked sand. He held three fingers up, begging for mercy.
Rickous pulled his lip as he waited and hiss out a ‘yes’ when the decision went against the fallen gladiator. Maxim went for the retiarius again, the slash wasn’t for his chest, but his throat. Blood sprayed across the arena and covered Maxim’s chest.
His opponents body twitched and convulsed at his feet.
The cheer of the crowd deafened Cassius, and he slapped his hands over his ears. It died down once the retiarius was dragged away, and Maxim moved from view.
“A victory.” Brutus remarked.
“A fucking easy one.”
“There will be harder fights ahead, but for now, celebrate that you’ve got money.”
“I’ve got money!” Rickous clapped and stomped his feet. “The crowds will love him.”
“As long as you keep his identity a secret they will.”
“A name, a name…I think I’ll call him the… The Breaker.”
Brutus shook his head. “Have you forgotten? The Breaker already exists. He’s in Rome crushing skulls with his bare hands, and biting through entrails.”
“Yes, of course.” He hit his head. “What then?”
“The Brute.” Cassius muttered.
Antonia looked at him. He shouldn’t have spoken without being asked to, but she didn’t chastise him. She rubbed her chin, and turned to her husband. “The Brute.”
Rickous nodded. “I like that.” He leaned around Antonia and looked at Cassius. “Remember what I said, make sure he’s satisfied.”
Cassius swallowed, and nodded.
The return to the villa seemed to happen in a blink. Maxim strolled in with his chin lifted, and Cassius cowered behind him, eyeing the ground. The villa sighed in unison at Maxim’s return, so much awe sparkled in Lithia’s and Cleo’s eyes, Cassius had to avert his gaze. Even when Lithia ducked to meet his eyes, he looked away.
Maxim spoke over his shoulder in a tired tone. “I want him washed, and brought to my cell.”
“It might take a little time.” Antonia said.
Maxim spun around to face her. The guards drew their swords, but they shook in the men’s grip. The sudden tension pulled tight, and they all froze, waiting for Maxim to react.
“Don’t go back on your word.” Maxim warned.
“We’re not.” Rickous said. His laugh came out strained. “It’ll take time for the water to be warmed.”
Antonia matched Maxim’s glare. “We can get you any other man you desire.”
“I desire this one.”
“Any.” She shouted.
Antonia flared her nostrils. “You’ll force him—"
“Yes. He is a slave to you, just as I was a slave to Rome. He has to follow his orders, even if he hates what he has to do, he must do it.” He turned to Rickous. “And what have you ordered him to do?”
Rickous looked away. “I told him to make sure you’re satisfied.”
“And he agreed?”
Cassius felt Maxim’s eyes but didn’t look at him. He nodded.
“Then I’ll see him in my cell in an hour.”
Antonia shook her head. “That’s too soon.”
“An hour.” Maxim snapped, walking away.
Antonia prattled on about nothing in particular, but Cassius didn’t hear her. She always talked lots when she was apprehensive, but he was too nervous to keep up.
With each minute that passed, he got closer to being forced in with Maxim.
Locked in the ludus overnight.
He’d put up the best fight he could muster, but he knew it was hopeless, Maxim would force him.
He’d washed, shaved, and Cleo had cut his hair back to Antonia’s desired shortness. The black strands looked stark compared to his pale skin. The thought of being with Maxim drained the blood from his face and left him faint. Antonia slipped his red tunic back over his head, and opened her mouth to carry on filling the room with static, but a knock at the door silenced her.
The medicus held out a jug.
“Ah, the wines here.”
Cassius’s stomach dropped. She’d be sipping wine in the villa while he bled in the ludus. Antonia took the jug from the medicus, and he hurried away.
“Drink, it’ll settle your nerves.”
Cassius frowned. “You want me to have some, domina?”
“Yes.” She grabbed a cup off the side table, and poured him some wine.
“I don’t know if I can—"
He sighed and took it from her. Antonia watched him expectantly, before sighing, and putting her hands on her hips. “Don’t make me order you to drink it.”
Cassius lifted it to his lips and tipped it back. The bitter taste clawed his tastebuds, and he gagged. That wasn’t her usual wine.
“Down in one.”
He startled at her firm voice and did as she said. Cassius showed her the empty cup, and she smiled.
“Good…now come. Let’s get this over with.”
Cassius crashed his shoulder into the side of the corridor. A fog dropped over his mind, and the ground he walked on seemed to be turning. The stones slipped from beneath his feet, and he tripped into the other wall. Antonia gripped his arm, and pulled him along.
“Let it do its thing.”
His mind whirled with confusion as his heart rate soared.
He plodded down the staircase with her help. The flames on the walls got brighter, then duller, brighter, then duller.
Antonia squeezed his hand. “Relax.”
He didn’t know how to relax. His heart was trying to beat itself out of his chest. His skin pinched tight with tingles, and the cold air of the Ludus made him shiver.
“Have you drugged me, domina?”
“Yes. Don’t fight against it let it take you away.”
He spied Maxim through the bars of the gate, head tilted and frowning.
“Open it.” Antonia ordered.
The gate clunked, and whined as it opened.
“Come Cassius.” Antonia whispered. She pulled his arm, and he stumbled forward into a solid wall of muscle. Strong arms captured him. He sighed, breathing in the scent of hot sand and sweat.
“What’s wrong with him?” Maxim asked.
The gate closed. The key turned in the lock. Cassius heard both but couldn’t put any significance to either.
“Nothing.” Antonia said.
She sounded far away, the other side of the villa.
Pressure bit into Cassius’s chin. Maxim tilted his head back, away from the wall of muscle he rested against. Dark hungry eyes searched his, Cassius blinked blearily.
Maxim snorted, and released his head, it smacked back into the warm muscle without any control from Cassius.
“You’ve given him something.” He growled.
Cassius smiled at the vibrations of his chest. The heat against his cold cheek was nice. “What were you hoping for? I’d see him like this and suddenly care.”
“He’s barely awake. He won’t remember what you do to him. I’m giving you his body and sparing his mind.”
“He’s still awake right now though.” The arms around Cassius’s back tightened. The crushing squeeze was too much, he protested, and beat weakly at Maxim’s back. “He can still react, and feel.” Maxim tipped him back, and stared into his eyes. “How are you feeling brave pet?”
Cassius’s spiralling mind slowed enough for him to murmur, “Fuck you.”
Maxim’s narrowed eyes sprung open in surprise. His laugh boomed off the walls as he scooped Cassius off his feet and turned away from the gate.
“Sunrise.” He shouted.
Cassius eyed the ceiling as Maxim carried him through the ludus. There were no smooth stones, and slabs, they all looked rugged and sharp. The tunnel got darker the further they went until they waded through pitch black.
“Don’t fall asleep.”
He forced his eyes open.
“Did you enjoy my victory?”
Cassius fought against his weighted eyelids, and glared at Maxim.
Don’t answer, give him nothing.
“I wanted him to stick you right through the belly.”
The words leaked out despite him trying to stop them. Maxim’s eyes rounded again, and he laughed. How could a brute have such a nice laugh?
“That’s not very nice. I won for you. I fought for you.”
“So you can fuck me.”
Maxim snorted. “Eventually.”
He turned. Cassius’s head spun. Flames flickered in the room, four lamps in each corner. Maxim set him down on the floor, but kept hold of him, stopping him falling.
Without thought, Cassius leaned up on his tiptoes, shoved his face into Maxim’s neck, and took a deep breath. He didn’t know why he did it, but he didn’t regret it.
Maxim stiffened around him. For a moment they stood frozen, then a gruff sound escaped Maxim. He fisted Cassius’s hair, and yanked him back. Pain itched at his scalp, rushing through his body. The pain morphed into something else low in his belly. He squirmed, Maxim tightened his hold, releasing another strange wave of sensation.
The moan slipped past his lips before he could help it.
“What was that?”
He didn’t know. It took Cassius a few seconds, but he focused on Maxim. His expression dark, and confused. His nostrils bellowed; his forehead creased. He curled his fingers into Cassius’s hair again, and the wave rushed through him faster, assaulting an immediate moan from his body.
Maxim blinked. His tongue sneaked out to wet his bottom lip.
“I wasn’t expecting that…”
He marched into Cassius, forcing him back until he knocked into something. Maxim pushed him down on something soft, but he missed the warmth of his muscles and the hold on his hair as soon as he stepped away. He reached out his hand to find him again.
“I have rope.” Maxim mumbled. “I thought you’d kick up more of a fight, and I’d have to tie you down, but here you are, clutching the air trying to touch me.”
Maxim appeared in front of his face, not angry, but confused. His brow bunched together, and he tilted his head. Cassius tried to slap him, but ended up dragging his hand lazily across Maxim’s pectoral. He stiffened, watching the hand slowly fall off of his body.
“What did she give you?”
He closed his hand around Cassius’s wrist, and moved it above his head.
“I don’t want you to touch me.” Maxim tied Cassius’s wrists together above his head. “It’s me that’ll do the touching.”
Cassius wriggled his hands, but couldn’t pull them free. His arms were too heavy to even bring to his chest, let alone beat Maxim away.
“She hopes you won’t remember, but you will.”
Cassius doubted it. He could already feel his mind drifting away. Maxim patted his face. “Don’t fall asleep.”
Without thought, he pressed his face into Maxim’s hand, sighing at the warmth. Maxim snatched his hand away, but it returned to Cassius’s cheek again, tugging at his skin to get his eyes open.
“Have you fucked anyone?”
A blush warmed his cheeks, he wanted to not answer, but he found himself compelled to. “No.”
“And has anyone fucked you before?”
Maxim hummed. “Red’s a good colour on you.”
“It’s the Domina’s colour.”
“It’s mine too.”
Cassius’s body tugged and lifted, he frowned with his eyes shut, wondering what was happening. He heard the fabric tear. Maxim gripped the tunic and tore it in half from the neck all the way to the hem. The cold air of the ludus lashed Cassius’s skin, and he shivered, pushing his chest out with a groan.
“I can see them; you don’t have to show me. They’re very… cute.”
Cassius deepened his frown.
Fingertips tiptoed his skin, leaving behind burning patches. Cassius’s breath hitched at the hands wandering his flesh, stroking him, touching him. They kept stroking, and exploring, and there were other sensations too. A soft brush of hair tickled his skin. Maxim’s long strands draped down at he leaned over Cassius.
“You like this don’t you?”
He wanted to scream no, get your hand off, but instead, he breathed out a shaky yes. The touches were hypnotic, and intoxicating, and the strange fog in his head kept building.
He’d been drunk before, but this was different.
Something warm and wet touched his skin, a noise joined it, a small moist smack. Maxim was kissing his chest, and each lingering touch buzzed. Even his beard was soft against him, and added to the spongy floaty feeling in his head.
Cassius gasped and shifted.
Maxim’s mouth felt good, and when he closed his wet heat over Cassius’s nipple, he groaned, and trembled. The mouth kept latching on him, coming back for more. It tormented his nipple, sucking and licking. The fog kept building, and he waded through it blind, relying on sensation alone.
“You definitely like that.”
He shivered as he whispered the word, yes. A secret admission, but he shared it with the owner of the hands and mouth. He’d forgotten who they were, where he was. A voice in the back of his mind screamed at him to protest, but he ignored it.
“See, I think she’s got it wrong.”
Cassius had no concept of she, the words were confusing, and odd and distracted him from the mouth. It closed on his nipple again and gave the smallest suck.
Cassius gasped, and wriggled. Something sticky slapped against his belly.
“If you came in here with your mind, you’d have fought me, you’d have resisted, and cursed me, and bled, and left at sunrise knowing you hated every second of it. You’d still have your dignity, even if I ripped away your self-respect, but like this…”
The voice paused and blew on Cassius’s nipple. It tightened painfully, and he whined.
“You’re going to give yourself to me and love every second of it. That’ll kill your self-respect better than I could.”
The roaming hands moved lower, sliding between his thighs. He opened them without being told to, and when a soft touch grazed his balls, he pressed his chest out again, stretching out like an animal, and presented his nipples to be toyed with.
Another slap hit his abdomen, spitting drops of heat onto his skin.
“You’re leaking for my touch.”
He didn’t know what that meant. But he ached. He ached so badly he whined, and shifted his hips, wagging his ache from side to side. The movement offered him no relief, he sobbed, biting his lip.
“I just wanted to fuck you. Fuck you bloody to teach you a lesson, but this…this could be enjoyable. Something to look forward to while I wait for death.”
When a hand closed on Cassius’s ache he released his lip with a silent cry. The bed shifted, warmth pressed against his side, and the voice spoke above his head.
“I want to see your face when I make you come.”
The hand started moving up and down, squeezing moisture from him. It didn’t stop, or slow, it kept going until Cassius’s legs trembled, and he failed to pull a breath into his lungs.
“Open your eyes.”
He didn’t want to, but did. The hand stopped. Tears burned in Cassius’s eyes. He silently begged and pleaded to the black pits watching him. The skin around them crinkled with a pleased smile, but he didn’t look at the mouth, he looked into the mans blown pupils.
“Are you asking me to jerk you off, Cassius?”
His cock pulsed. The cage of flesh and bone around him tightened, and rubbed.
Cassius licked his lips, and sobbed at the dark eyes. “Please, jerk me off.”
“This is going to be much more satisfying than forcing you.”
The voice laughed, and Cassius hated the sound. He wanted to punch the lips it had escaped from, but once the hand started moving, he didn’t care about anything, except what it pushed him towards.
He wasn’t allowed it easily.
The hand stopped and started.
He begged to the dark eyes.
Sweat ran rivers down his sides. The trails burned his skin. He waited for relief with his mouth open, slack and quivering as he watched the black eyes watching him.
“You love being my brave pet, don’t you?”
Cassius whimpered, and the eyes on him shone with excitement. The harsh lines surrounding them softened, a warm breath ghosted his cheek.
The speed of the hand increased, not stopping. It pushed Cassius over the edge. He gasped as the orgasm tightened his stomach, and swept him away on a wave of bliss. Something hot splattered his skin, it came in rushes, then dribbles and drops. The rush of pleasure had been almost too intense for Cassius to handle. His heart took an extra hard beat to compensate for it briefly cutting out as ecstasy hit.
The dark eyes were half hidden by drooping eyelids, and the voice spoke to him with extra grit.
“What a good pet...”
The dark eyes opened fully again, something wet brushed against the side of Cassius’s leg. It left a trail of lava, and prodded him.
The last thing Cassius heard before he dropped into darkness was his own shaky voice, gasping out, “Yes.”