“Do you watch them every day?
“No, not every day. Well, frequently. Almost every day.”
“Boredom? Habit? You know, it is fascinating to see the different techniques they use, the way they handle themselves, the looks on their faces. Some of them are obviously ‘somewhere else’ when they are doing it. Some are very concentrated on the moment. Some look at the others, perhaps for inspiration, perhaps in lust. I don’t know.”
The afternoon was pleasant. Here, at The Villa Pervine, Philodorus felt almost as at home as at his own home. Tully’s place was smaller, more compact, but no less sumptuous. The rooms were airy, full of light, and the servants were almost invisible, and all young. Except for the cook, a old man stooped with tending hearths and ovens, and his wife who supervised, all the servants were at least 10 years younger than their master. Philodorus was surprised that he had never noticed that before.
“And they play games. For example, the last one to fill the phial is beaten.”
“Yes, for being last.”
“Yes, and he willingly takes it. Or almost willingly.”
“Is it always the same one?”
“No, though some more frequently than others. Some almost never. For example, Franconis, a bull of a man, spurts very quickly, almost at once. I don’t think he has ever been flogged. And at least one of them, a German giant, Alabanas… I think he delays and tries to be last some times. I think he likes the whip.”
“Hmmm, interesting. I would like to see that.”
“What, Alabanas holding off?” Philodorus’s face slid into a sly smile.
“Well, yes, but the entire process….. and the flogging. They use a whip?
“Yes.” Philodorus laughed. “They even named it… Thrysis, because it has three goads, I suppose.”
“It is interesting to watch a man take a flogging. It tells you a lot about him.” Tully’s gaze was as far off as the hills he seemed to be watching.”
“Well, ‘flogging’ may be an over statement. It isn’t anything cruel. Just three strokes across the ass by each of the men. More to tease and mock than to hurt.”
“Still, 3 strokes from each of 11 men….. that’s almost the traditional ‘40 less 1’ of a Legion scourging.”
“If you want to watch, be there some morning, before the third hour. It is at the third hour that they are summoned.”
A young man came in with a tray of olives, pickled onions, lemons in oil, cheeses and some bits of roast sausage. The men stopped their conversations. He left and then retuned with a flagon, presumably of wine. As he placed it on the table, a knife slid from the tray to the floor, and he bent to retrieve it. As he did so, his chiton parted on the side exposing one round firm buttock. It was crisscrossed with deep purple lines. This slave had been beaten! And recently.
Philodorus glanced at Tully and then back at the slave, who had by now stood up straight and was leaving the room. Tully was still far off in the distance. He did not notice Philodorus’s leer at the slave’s linen-covered bottom. Nor did he notice the gentle tenting of the skirt of Philodorus’s own tunic. Or did he?
“Well, tell me, has all of this produced any results? I mean, er, are you ‘responding’ any more than before?”
“Why? Are you afraid paying the doctor is a waste of money?”
“No, Philip! I just want to know that you are healing. Getting better. Getting….. stronger.”
“I’m strong enough for you, Tully, that’s for sure.” Philodorus sprang to his feet, set them shoulder apart, the left somewhat ahead of the right, his shoulders down and his has open the classic wrestler’s stance.
Tully stifled a laugh and got up. They circled for a few moments. Then ducking his head, Tully moved forward suddenly. Philodorus grabbed his shoulders and twisted to one side. The men laughed as they tested their strength one against the other. Philodorus’s superior height and weight gave him the immediate advantage, but Tully’s youth and more active life made him a fit opponent.
He fell to the floor with a grunt, and Philodorus was on him. Tully rolled, but did not get away, and Philodorus half pinned him to the ground. At the last moment, Tully’s twist to one side unbalanced his friend, and they rolled over and over, chest to chest, laughing, good naturedly, knocking over a chair.
“You’ll not get me that easily, Philodorus Pompey.”
“What makes you think I want you at all, Drusus Lentillus?”
The commotion brought the servant back. When he saw his master and the guest wrestling on the floor, he made no sign of interest, but merely righted the chair. He moved the untouched tray of food to the center of the table, and the flagon to a niche in the far wall. He turned and left.
Philodorus glanced up from the floor and tried to look up the servant’s tunic, to see the marks again, but could not accomplish it. The young man stood against the wall, next to the flagon.
“Get up you old fool. The servants will think we don’t want this food.” Tully stood and pulled the chair to one side of the table, laughing. “Well, my friend, perhaps I will call on you some morning, early, say, tomorrow?”
They sat on opposite sides of the small table that held the food. Philodorus facing the servant who leaned against the wall, his hands between his bottom and the stucco. “Tomorrow would be fine.” He moved to hide the growing under his tunic. Tully followed Philodorus’s glance over his shoulder to where the servant stood. He picked up a olive and shot it at his friend. It hit his chest, and fell into his lap. Tully laughed, pretending not to notice the meaningful wrinkles in his friend’s tunic.
“You’re right Philip. The doctor is worth his money, isn’t he?”
Philip retrieved the olive from his lap and popped it into his mouth, and too polite to speak with a full mouth, said nothing.Next chapter