Type of Gift: Fanfiction
Title: Amor Omnia Vincit (2/5)
Summary: The tale of a great Roman centurion, the slave he would never have willingly chosen, and the greater force that brings the two of them together.
Author Notes: Late again today, alas! One of these days my family will leave me be sometime before the late evening. I do apologize. But I shall keep to my promise to update daily if it kills me! I hope you enjoy this next part! :)
The day after is stilted and strange for Ludovicus, as the consequences of his attempt at a kind deed catch up with him.
He learns later that he saved the youth in his tent from more than simply the cruel whims of a few men. He and a group of other slaves in the camp, all captured no more than two months prior, were destined to be sent west, to the very outreaches of the empire, for hard labor. This was something that, surely, one could not survive in as poor of a condition as Felicianus.
But there is so little for a slave to do here; all he can do, truly, is to attend to Ludovicus personally. And so when he leaves for the day, Ludovicus gives instructions to the men guarding his tent not to allow Felicianus to exit, but to instead instruct him to return to bed, and rest for the day.
He gives them the same orders the next day, after he comes back to discover that Felicianus has scarcely moved. He checks his injuries and his overall health, and determines that it is still the work of a long exhaustion. This time, Felicianus looks away from him.
When he returns in the evening the next day, Ludovicus finds Felicianus has gotten up, and is quietly awaiting him with a meal. He bows, his eyes still on the ground, the vaguest hints of a tremble in his hands.
“For you, Domine.”
Ludovicus frowns. “Ludovicus is fine. ‘Dominus’ will not be necessary.”
Felicianus looks up as he takes the tray from him. Much to Ludovicus’ satisfaction, his eyes seem a little less clouded, and he seems a little more present. “But the guards told me…”
“Ludovicus is fine,” he repeats, sitting and placing the food in front of himself. He divides it up equally into halves – there is more than enough for two.
He looks up to find Felicianus hovering still, uncertain. “…please, sit,” he mumbles, gesturing to the other side of the platter.
Felicianus does, though still stiff. When Ludovicus tells him that he may feel free to partake in the food, he does this as well, though still silent.
It is, surprisingly, when Ludovicus has given up hope that a soft voice breaks the silence between them.
“…are you really the youngest centurion?”
Ludovicus moves and looks at him with a certain amount of surprise. “Who told you that?”
Felicianus looks away again, but goes on. “The men outside were talking.”
Ludovicus thinks for a moment, then nods in reply. “That name has been given to me before, yes.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty,” Ludovicus replies instinctively, though he knows and has never stopped knowing that he lays claim to at least five years that are not his. But that is the youngest that centurions may be, by the law, and what he lacks in age Ludovicus makes up for in sheer talent. “…and you?”
Felicianus seems relatively surprised by his age; perhaps that explains the softness of his voice when he replies, “Twenty… and one.”
But this in turn surprises Ludovicus. Twenty-one is no youth; Felicianus appears much younger than he is. Then again, perhaps he is not being truthful either.
When he comes back from his brief musings, he finds Felicianus looking at him with puzzled eyes. He feels his face heat slightly – an old weakness, one he’d thought he’d managed to school out of himself years and years ago– and moves to explain. “My apologies. You look young for your age.”
“And you look young for yours.” The impudence of his words seems to catch up to him, and Felicianus falteringly adds, “Domi – Ludovicus.”
Ludovicus dismisses his worry with a wave of the hand and a half-smile. “You are hardly the first to say as much. It is unusual for a centurion to lack gray hair.”
“I see,” Felicianus replies, in a way that sounds as if he does not see at all. “Ludovicus?”
“…what … what am I supposed to do, exactly?”
This question leaves both of them in awkward silence.
“There’s … there’s no real work… and … what… what do your other slaves do for you, I mean.” Felicianus’ voice fades into that silence, and he looks down again.
There is something awkward there, something unvoiced that lies between the words actually spoken. Ludovicus frowns, trying to puzzle it out.
When he does, that cursed reddening on his cheeks returns at once, and he finds his voice increasingly difficult to command.
“No! No, no, nothing of the sort…” Ludovicus coughs, eyes darting away for a moment before he looks back to Felicianus. “To be honest with you… I have no other slaves. I… I never have had any.”
“…oh.” Felicianus meets his gaze almost curiously . “Well, it is my first time being a slave, too.”
A chuckle, reprehensible and utterly inappropriate, escapes Ludovicus before he can catch it. He bites his lip belatedly, berating himself as shame floods every corner of his being. He had no intention of laughing - he does not know what part of himself would even laugh at such a remark, and he moves to say as much –
But another noise beats him to his apology: an answering laugh, quiet and a little broken but still there.
When Ludovicus looks up, he finds the tiniest hint of a smile on Felicianus’ face.
The twitch at the corner of his mouth is so ludicrous – how can he joke, with this trial so close behind him, still about him?
Perhaps the disbelief on his face reflects his question, as the smile grows just a little, and Felicianus answers his tacit questions. “…if I am going to be here for a long time… well, I need to find a way to be happy.”
The words sink deep into Ludovicus’s mind, and silence his hurried apologies. He realizes, keenly and suddenly, that they share the same goal.
“I… want that,” he says simply. “For … for you to live comfortably, I mean…much more so than in your previous life here.” He intends to follow it up with some reassurance, some explanation, some clarification… but, once again, after an awkward meandering of words, Ludovicus finds himself speechless.
The little smile on Felicianus’ face grows ever so slightly. “Is that true?”
Ludovicus nods, once, adamantly, and it is all the answer that ever needs to be given.
The stiff silence of before seems to be gone. Instead, they stay up late into the night, Felicianus peppering him with questions. He inquires after his career, his life in Rome, himself, in a way that Ludovicus has not experienced in his entire life. Ludovicus answers him with utmost honesty and diligence; he explains how he only commands about eighty men, even though with the title centurion it would make more sense if he commanded a hundred; he tells Felicianus of the beautiful statues that line the streets of the capitol, so very human save for their eyes; he confesses even his desire to keep a dog (with which Felicianus heartily agrees) and his inability to do so due to his constant absence.
This night ends far differently than the ones prior; both of them slip into sleep easily, and somewhere deep in their dreams, they continue to speak.-----
More additional author's notes / so much more than you wanted to know about Latin:
Domine, Dominus - The formal title by which a slave would usually address a master, meaning, naturally, "master." The "domine" form is used only with direct address; it's part of a funny case in Latin called vocative, where the -us part of a word becomes -e.
"...how he only commands about eighty men, even though with the title centurion it would make more sense if he commanded a hundred" - This is a source of great confusion to many students of Latin - and, presumably, to Felicianus as well, since it is not his first language. The Latin word "centum" means a hundred, and has numerous English derivatives following that meaning, so logically, a centurion would command a hundred men, right? Nope. Apparently that was just an old tradition; realistically, they only had about 80 men. Oh those crazy Romans.
Tomorrow I shall shoot to update much earlier than this! You have my word!