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The Bow of Heaven

Blood of Eagles


Ten years in the making! A virtual cast of thousands! Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott in deathmatch for rights!


At long last, The Bow of Heaven trilogy will be off the bucket list with the release of Blood of Eagles. I admit, it took a bit out of me. Here is a picture of what I looked like when I began writing this 1,400 page saga in 2004:

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And this is what I look like now:

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Sometimes, I even look like this, especially in the morning (ask Steph):

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Pre-orders are now being accepted
here for a December 6 release.

More good news. The first book in the trilogy,
The Other Alexander, will be available for free beginning November 26 until Blood of Eagles goes on sale.

So, you're probably thinking, that's it for Alexandros and company. Andy's had it up to here with togas and swords and bows and arrows. No duh. Having said that, a prequel entitled
Melyaket, a Tale of Ancient Parthia, is planned for release either in 2016 or 2017, depending on how quickly I record the audiobook for A Mixture of Madness.

Wait, what? It's true, I'm going to give it a shot. The
first audiobook is doing quite well, so I thought I'd try my hand at this voice acting thingy. It could be fun, although the only place that is even remotely soundproof in our house is our clothes closet. Claustrophobia, here I come.

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Spam I Could Learn to Love

This email was in my inbox this morning. I wondered why Alexander had suddenly shot up to number 64 in Historical Mysteries.


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The Slager Interview

Doesn't that title sound serious and august? Good, that's what I was shooting for. Below is an interview I did recently with Carrie Slager, The Mad Reviewer, in which I talk about motivation and some background for writing Bow, self-publishing versus the traditional route, and other soap-boxy things. You can find Carrie at http://carrieslager.wordpress.com.

1.  Why did you choose to focus
The Bow of Heaven on Marcus Licinius Crassus?  Out of all the figures in Roman history, why him?
I think Crassus may have gotten a bad rap. Rome hated nothing more than a loser, and in the eyes of historians like Plutarch and Cassius Dio, he was right up there at the top. Crassus lost the standards of his seven legions to the enemy. It took Octavian (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus) 27 years to negotiate their return, and the day they were returned to Rome there was a celebration as great as if Caesar had earned a triumph.

There are two reasons historians put forward for Crassus' ill-fated war: greed and jealousy of Julius Caesar and Pompey. There may be some truth to each of these, but in my opinion, not enough to leave the life of Riley he was living. Crassus was one of the most respected, honored elder statesman of Republican Rome. He was known as “the richest man in Rome,” so to me, the greed argument doesn’t fly. As for his generalship, if not for Crassus, Sulla’s overthrow of Marius and Cinna would have failed, and Pompey stole the “glory” of the victory over Spartacus when it was Crassus who deserved the credit. Still, I can see where, as a Roman thing, he might have wanted one more shot at military success. But of those two explanations of why he went to war, he already had plenty of one and a sufficient amount of the other. Plus, he was
so old.

The average lifespan for a Roman was around 35-40 years. Let’s call it 50 if you’re wealthy and have a good HMO. Crassus was
60 when he led a host of 50,000+ (including non-combatants) on a 1,500 mile trek across the Adriatic, over Asia Minor and into the wastelands of Mesopotamia.

By the way, Roman politicians were divorcing and remarrying almost as often as they changed clothes. Marcus Crassus was married to his wife, Tertulla, for 35 years, and whatever japes may be found in the historical record, there is nothing that says they were not happy together. (There was a report Crassus was after the property of a Vestal virgin – Plutarch puts this in the very
first paragraph of his Life of Crassus. Suspicious? I think so.) I believe history’s take on Crassus may be ill-founded, that the negative taste left in our mouths is the result of spurious attacks meant to demean the man who lost the standards.

There had to be something else to jolt him into leaving an idyllic, powerful, wealthy, happily married life, and I believe there was. It’s in the book.

One last point. I began writing in the third person, but quickly came upon the idea that Crassus' story would be much more interesting if it were told by one of his countless slaves. The story of Alexandros and Livia is a foil for Crassus and Tertulla, and I hope gives the novel some balance and symmetry.

2.  What would you say are your biggest writing influences?
Unfortunately, I had to toss my biggest influences out the window to write this series. Imagine this kind of narrative told in the style of Woody Allen, Tom Robbins or Kurt Vonnegut? I’ve tried to give Alexander the dry, sarcastic kind of wit I learned when I lived in England my junior year of high school. There was another choice, however.

The voice that sang to me in dulcet, sweet refrains, that urged with wily japes and introspection, to turn my narrative Elizabethan, till perforce all language lost its comprehension. Nope. ‘Didn’t go down that route either, writing as if I held a quill in my inky hand and was married to Anne Hathaway. No, the other one.

3.  Where did the idea for The Bow of Heaven come from?

This is going to make no sense at all. When I saw Ridley Scott’s Gladiator with Russell Crowe, it rekindled a long-standing puzzlement over how a society as advanced as the Romans could also harbor such a wide barbaric streak. I read books, watched BBC videos and quite by accident came across Crassus, “the unknown triumvir.” What on earth was he up to? And why? The result: not a single gladiatorial combat takes place in The Other Alexander. I guess I got sidetracked. There will be none in A Mixture of Madness, either, but none will be necessary, I promise you. If I can get through it without crying, it will be a miracle. I hope my readers will hang in there with me, because the urge to enter the arena will probably overwhelm me by book three.

You can’t think ‘gladiator’ without ‘slave’ following close behind. In addition to discovering the ‘truth’ about Crassus, I also wanted to explore the nature of the relationship between slave and master. In Rome, everyone who was anyone had at least one or two. What must that have been like? How did they survive the trauma of losing everything? How could they find love and keep it when their lives were not their own?

4.  Why did you choose to self-publish?  What was the self-publishing process like?
Years ago, when Bow was three books jumbled all into one, I did make the rounds and kept at it until I had been rejected by every single English-speaking agent in the known world who handled historical fiction. I’m nothing if not a glutton for self-punishment. Truth to tell, they were right – the book was a mess.

I suppose I could have gone back and been successful going the traditional route once the book was revised (for the 12
th time). But having control, retaining all the rights and mostly, knowing that my work need never go out of print, those are some heavy weights to throw on the independent side of the scale. And no, I didn’t throw ‘making more money’ clanging into the balance, because let’s face it, nobody who loves to write these days can be in it strictly for the money. There just aren’t that many disappointed, self-obsessed, embittered writers out there. Wait a minute ….

Smashwords made the process, in spite of their name, almost painless. Caveat: get a good cover. One of my reviewers called mine “bizarrely hideous.” Oh, the shame.

Join AiA, the Association of Independent writers (http://www.independent-authors.org/). They have an Authors Resource Guide with people who can help with every aspect of the process from A to W. Sorry, if you need something from X, Y or Z, it’s not there.

5.  Would you encourage other writers to go along the same route?
I would say keep your options open. Everybody has their price (he said with dripping cynicism). I would write for the love of writing. Self-publish, and if you’re very lucky, the big boys and girls will find you. Then you’ll be in the enviable position of having to decide what it’s worth to give up complete autonomy. If you self-publish first, you won’t have to wait on pins and needles for the mail to arrive – you’ll be out there, published. So if your goal is for people other than the bedridden maiden aunt living next door to read your work, do it yourself. It’s not that hard.

Now I’m going to say something that would make Dan Poynter and Joe Konrath and dozens of other publishing gurus turn over in their graves. If they were dead. I agree that to increase the odds of becoming successful as a writer you need to market your own work, whether you’re with the big six or going it alone. But enough is enough. I didn’t start writing so that I could hop on Goodreads and Shelfari and spend my days posting on Facebook and Twitter talking up my work. (I
know that’s what I’m doing right now, but did you have to point it out, right here, in front of all these people?)

Yes, that’s what’s happened, and until recently, I found myself spending more time blogging and posting than actually writing. So I’ll keep my website, post a blog every week or so, talk to nice people like Carrie, but do my very best to spend most of my time working on that next book. If I don’t move as much product, so be it. I’m not in it to win it, I’m in it to pen it. Not even close, I know. But you see where I’m going.


6.  So who is your favourite figure in Roman history and why?
I guess we’re talking after Crassus, since he will be ahead by about 1,000 pages by the time I’m done with him. I guess I can’t say Colleen McCullough. Or Ray Stevens (he played Titus Pullo in HBO’s Rome). This is hard! I can’t go beyond Octavian, because all my research has been within a very narrow time frame, from 90 BCE to 20 BCE. Pompey, no – he was power hungry, but when he got it he couldn’t handle it. Cicero, no again. He was brilliant, but politically his principles and positions waffled more than _________ (enter the politician of your choice, from either party). So I’m going to go with Publius Crassus, Marcus’ son. In Gaul, Caesar trusted him to lead legions, conquer less than cooperative tribes, make political decisions, all without any help from the great general - at an age when today he’d just be getting out of grad school. Hail, Publius!

If we can go a little farther afield, let’s hear it for Sappho as well. I wish more of her poetry had survived. She must have been something to be remembered through the millennia, chosen as one of the nine lyric poets in a world dominated by men.

7.  Do you have any other projects planned for after you finish The Bow of Heaven series?  If so, can you give us a hint as to what they might be?
I may work on a spinoff that looks at the war and its aftermath from the Parthian point of view. Or a paranormal, time travel romance with werebies (zombie wolves), if I actually want to sell anything.

8.  What advice do you have for any aspiring writers out there?

Publish more than once. If I could change one thing about my writing style, it would be to type faster. Okay, I have a day job, too, so there is that. But I do believe that letting your readers know you are in it for the long haul will help you sell more books. Oh, and when you’re just about to release that second gem, give the first one away for free.

Get someone other than the bedridden maiden aunt next door to proofread your work. Well, get her if she’s any good, but get at least one other person who knows what she’s about. And if you’re self-publishing, which you should be unless you’re Ryan Gosling with an urge to write your memoirs, you need an editor. Someone you trust, who understands your vision. One pair of eyes just isn’t enough. We’re all too close to our own work to see what might be some awesome suggestions.

Are there any gorillas in the Amazon? Maybe they should have named the company Uganda. Anyway, Amazon is the silverback of publishing, and they have changed the world of writing forever. Although their policies are, at times, let’s be nice – dictatorial, the market they can reach is unrivalled. Publish there.

Definitely give Smashwords a try, too. It’s free, and they have great tools for vetting your work so that it will display correctly in e-readers. They will also distribute to just about everyone (silverbacks excepted for the most part). I also recommend publishing a trade paperback edition of your book. It adds credibility, and there are still 14 people out there without e-readers. You want to sell to them.

Lastly, thank you, Carrie, for giving me the opportunity to talk with your followers. I can always be reached at andrewlevkoff.com or at alevkoffatgmaildotcom. Now can somebody please tell me why email addresses are being written like that? I’m clearly out of the loop.

http://carrieslager.wordpress.com
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It's a Movie! (in my head)

Go to the home page and click on the Movie Music link. When James Cameron calls me, this is what I'll suggest for an opening scene. Then I'll wake up.
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Chapter IX

81 BCE - Spring, Rome

Year of the consulship of
Marcus Tulius Decula and Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella


Over the next several months a change came over the house. Many profited by it, others suffered. I refer, you understand, to everyone excluding the family. Crassus, his wife and children never faced anything more troublesome than a boring houseguest or a hangnail. Both the start and the culmination of this transformation were each marked by an absence. The first was cause for celebration; the second spurred me to an unthinkable confrontation. It all began with Nestor’s bed.
Some days life was easier to bear than others. This had been one of the difficult ones. It was near the end of Martius and Livia had been reclaimed by Boaz that morning. After a week’s stay helping to prepare for and then cleaning up after the festivities surrounding little Marcus’s fourth birthday, we were just getting used to having her around. I’m not much of a drinker, but that night I had four cups of lora. I might have shown more restraint had not the mistress herself set two pots of honey out for us, surplus from the party. With this nectar, the wine was made less bitter, but not I. Euripides said “wine is the happy antidote for sorrow,” yet I retired both foul of mood and stomach. I doubt a libation as insipid or as astringent as lora had ever passed the playwright’s lips.
So it was that late that night I rose to relieve myself and perhaps find a scrap of bread to sop up the choppy seas of my gut. Nestor was snoring lightly. Down the hall in the opposite direction from Pío’s room lay the female servant’s wing. Midway between, running at right angles was the short hallway leading to the men’s latrine on the right, women’s on the left. A trench four inches wide and almost as deep ran down the middle of that floor; you could hear the gurgle of fresh water from the aqueduct running through it as you approached. Crassus’ Palatine villa was richly appointed: normally such luxury was reserved for the master suites.
Sleeping in a sitting position on his small cushioned bench at the intersection of the two hallways was our young guard. An oil lamp stanchioned in the wall flickered above his head. Malchus had a room to himself, but when he wasn’t patrolling he preferred to rest here. The hallway was so narrow no one could get past without stepping over him. He woke at my approach.
“Salve, Malchus,” I said quietly so as not to wake the rest of the house.
The lanky soldier wiped his mouth and looked up at me appraisingly. “Too much lora,” he said. It wasn’t a question. I nodded. “I’ll join you if you promise you won’t puke.” I told him life held few guarantees. He shrugged, stood up and took the lamp out of its holder. Stretching and yawning, he left his short sword by the bench and followed me to the toilets. The small room was divided by the fresh water channel and fed from a spout extending a foot off the floor of the far wall. On either side of the trench were two benches with hinged lids; each had two holes on top for sitting and two smaller openings on the front for cleaning. On the floor were two large covered buckets and two taller, narrower ones with long handles protruding from their open tops. Malchus lifted each covered bucket by its handle to test its weight.
“This one’s full,” he said, tapping it with his foot. He opened the other one and we urinated into it together. I finished first; when Malchus was done I closed and latched the lid. Malchus reached up under his tunic, pulled down his subligatum and took a seat on the bench nearest him. “So what’s troubling you, translator?”
I sat down across from him, letting my bad leg stretch out before me. The limp was barely noticeable now. “Why should anything be troubling me? Troubles are for adults; children need only obey. I am a carefree child.”
“You know, my friend, your face won’t shatter if you manage a smile once in awhile. I see you, don’t think I don’t, moping around the house all day. That’s not going to make things any better.”
“Why didn’t I think of that?” I said, smacking my forehead. “I simply have to look happy to be happy. Genius.”
“Think about it – your lot could be a lot worse.”
“Really?” I felt myself beginning to mope, but didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing it. The best I could manage was a crooked, tepid smile.
Malchus, however, was the type who would grasp at any sign of encouragement, even a false one. “That’s better,” he said. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the place in time. Crassus is a good man. I’ve been with him since he came back from Hispania, going on three years now. Betto and I joined up when he passed through Perugia, our village.”
“He’s never around. Do you think he even knows what goes on in his name?”
“Oh, so that’s it. Can’t you just stay out of Prick Pío's way?”
“As easily as I can avoid the air. It’s not just for me, you know ...”
“Dominus owes Pío a debt of honor. Hang on.” Malchus’ face glazed with concentration, then relaxed. There was a soft, wet thud beneath him. “Ahhh ... a thing of beauty. Where was I. Pío. Yes. Unless he murders someone, my friend, Crassus will never give him up. Pass me the spongia, will you?” I pulled the dripping sponge stick out of the cask of fresh water and gave it to Malchus, handle first. He turned it around, inserted it through the small hole between his legs and cleaned himself.
“You could help us, if you’d a mind to.”
“No chance. Pío’s shit, my friend, if you’ve ever had the luck to be in here when he’s about the business of making one, smells like mountain laurel and columbine. And he knows it. I’m not saying I’d do the same as him in his place, but you know the old saying: swing a big cock and somebody’s gonna get fucked. That’s just how it is.”
“So you do see how he treats us, then?”
“I see it. And do you see it’s got nothing to do with me?” Malchus stood, dropped the spongia back in its receptacle and rearranged his clothes. He saw the look on my face and said, “Look, it’s rotten luck, but let me tell you something my father taught me. The world is always changing, right under our noses, even if you think it’s not. Most of the time it happens so slow you’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention. That’s the trick, see. You’ve got to pay attention so you know when something’s changing.”
“An interesting theory, but what use is it to me?”
“I wish I could help you, translator, but I’m just a sword for hire. I’ve got a skill and I get paid to use it. You’re smart, you’ll think of something. Hey, it’s the ones who can think that come up with most of the change, right? Just make sure when you go mixing things up you leave me out of it. I like my job; Things are fine just the way they are.”

***

In the servants’ kitchen, I found half a loaf of something under the breadbox. It was fresh enough for me to tear off two chunks, one of which I chewed upon thoughtfully as I padded barefoot back to our sleeping quarters. I turned into our wing, passed Pío’s and my room and found Malchus back at his usual post on the bench in the hall. He had covered himself with his cloak; his head was tilted back against the wall and his mouth hung open. I dropped the other hunk of bread into his lap. He opened one eye, grinned and said, “You’re a good man, translator. From now on, I’ll ignore what everyone says.”
“It heartens me,” I replied, “to know we are so well protected by the alert and ever-vigilant Malchus. Brigands, blackguards and thieves beware!”
“Don’t let this come as a shock,” Malchus said, his mouth well-stuffed, “I’m not guarding you, I’m guarding you, if you follow.”
“You’re doing a superlative job either way,” I said, heading back to my room. When I turned aside the curtain and slipped into bed I realized that I was alone. Nestor was gone.

***

Indeed, over the coming weeks it seemed as if I had the room to myself at night. Nestor continued to behave as if our recent paths were not literally chained together, as if his claim to this place was somehow greater than mine. If it were mine to give, he’d be welcome to it. I would have welcomed his friendship, but that tree was obviously not going to bear fruit.
There was, however, a direct correlation between Nestor’s absence and Pío’s demeanor. Dare I say it? The man’s disposition was becoming almost sunny! The more time they spent together, the less the Spaniard preyed upon the rest of us. Food rations were no longer withheld, sexual blackmail vanished and the household in general brightened several shades. It was spring, and Pío and Nestor were in love.
But no good thing comes without a price, and it was Sabina and her daughter who paid it. With the house settled back into a normal routine, there was no need for extra help; Pío refused the “coin” with which Sabina had paid him so that she and Livia could be together as much as possible. True, happiness had tamed his more repulsive habits, but it had also made him faithful. And as bad luck would have it, Crassus took Pío to task over the house accounts. Not that there was any lack of funds, but to the master, “more” was always better than “enough.” Livia came to us no more.
I could not bear the sight of frustration and heartbreak in Sabina’s eyes. While I lacked the courage to stand up for myself, it welled up of its own accord on behalf of my friend. Malchus had said something about being a sword for hire; that gave me the kernel of an idea. And so it was I found myself standing alone before the master in his tablinum.
“You wished to see me?” Crassus chose an apple from a bowl and offered it up to me. I declined gracelessly, only able to manage a grunt and a head shake. He shrugged and bit into it himself. What was I doing here? Was I mad? Before I could get my vocal chords to function he saved me by asking, “How are you settling in?”
“Well,” I managed.
“And how goes it with Marcus? Give us a progress report.”
“Well ...” I repeated. Do I tell him the truth? I don’t see what choice I have. “He’s keen on mathematics. At least, that is, he understands that when I take two blocks away from three he is left with only one. It, uh, is easier for him to grasp the ... conceptual aspects once he stops crying.”
“I see.”
I had no choice but to forge ahead. “He’s quite entertained by some sections of The Iliad. I’m afraid his favorite part - I’ve had to repeat it to him almost every day this month – is the death of Hector.” Crassus smiled at that. “He’s learning his Latin letters, but truth to tell, dominus, Greek is as yet beyond him.” I waited, but Crassus was silent. “We’ve started with a little history, the Punic wars, but forgive me, lord, I cannot hold his attention for more than a few minutes.”
Crassus stroked his chin. He let out a long breath and I could have sworn he was about to send me to the mines. Instead, he said, “I suppose, then, we’ll have to leave oratory and the Epicureans till he’s four.”
“That might be, I mean to say, four is perhaps ...”
“I am in jest, Alexander. Let him play.”
“Dominus?”
“I was wrong to start him so young. Does he like you?”
“I think he tolerates me. He loves his mother, and Sabina. And you, of course.”
“Alexander!” he snapped. My sandals almost left the floor. “You are not a client. And I am not your patron. Patronize me again at your peril.”
“Yes, dominus.”
“You’re a good man, Alexander,” he said with softer tone. “I know, because my son knows. You cannot fool a child. I note you have omitted Marcus’ progress with his riding lessons.”
“Dominus?”
“Your hands and knees must be raw, from what he tells me.”
“Oh.”
“Oh indeed. Continue as you see fit. He’d miss his time with you were I to postpone his “lessons” for another year. Now what’s this you say about Sabina?”
“My experience with children is quite limited, dominus. Limited, indeed, to myself. An only child. No playmates to speak of. Sabina has been a great help with Marcus. Which, if I may ....”
“What is it?”
Now we’d come to it. I felt as if the past few minutes had helped my cause, but I was too nervous to see anything objectively. By the Dog, curse my trembling, perspiring body. I did my best to ignore my uncooperative physical self and concentrate on my ideal, non-corporeal self. “I have a proposition, dominus.”
Crassus hoisted the semaphore of a raised eyebrow. Was this permission to proceed, or a manifestation of ‘how dare you?’ His next utterance would tell. Remember, don’t patronize. Like a barrel rolling downhill, I plunged on, waiting for the moment when my staves would explode. “It is an idea that will unite a family, bring good to many in your name and procure another able body for your house at no cost to you. I would humbly beg that you allow Sabina a peculium.”
I paused for a response. “If you are finished,” Crassus said, “then my answer is ‘no.’”
“Finished? No! Out of politeness, I merely wanted to give you the chance to voice your initial thoughts.”
“You just heard them. Never let manners stand in the way of making your case. The great orators barely take a breath between sentences to frustrate any chance of interruption. Plow on, Alexander. I don't have all morning.”
“Here it is, then.” I took a breath and expectorated my argument as quickly as my pasty tongue would allow. “Livia, Sabina’s daughter, was sold by her father to pay his gambling debts. She is owned by Boaz who on occasion leases her to this house. Sabina is a trained healer whose talents go tragically unused. Purchase Livia for the sum of 8,000 sesterces; Sabina will contribute 2,300 of the cost. The balance she will repay from the profits from her peculium – as a healer. Livia will be reunited with her mother, both will become your property and your reputation as a sage and canny patrician will increase.”
“Qualities by which I am already known. I thought you said it would cost me nothing.”
“Eventually.”
“How did she come by such a sum?”
“She sold herself to Boaz.”
Crassus nodded. “Would that all Roman mothers acted as nobly, when Roman men succumb to their failings.”
I could not help myself. “Sabina is Greek.”
Crassus eyed me. “And no less noble for it. Why does Boaz sell the girl so cheaply – she could fetch twice his asking price.”
“This I cannot explain. I think he likes the mother.”
“I will not have strangers with gods know what sores and ailments tromping through the house. I will not allow any such unfortunates near my children or my wife. She may not ply her trade here?”
“The empty apartment that faces the street could be used as a taberna. It has its own entrance and is used only for storage. It's completely separate from the main building by at least two hundred feet of garden.”
"I know where it is; it's my damn house!"
“You could charge her rent,” I said in as small and unobtrusive voice as possible.
“I would charge her rent. But tell me, Alexander, has your convoluted scheme considered this? What citizen would make the trek up the Palatine when there are plenty of doctors, male doctors, throughout the city?”
“A well-placed word or two from Crassus would push the stone from the hilltop. Word of mouth would soon cause an avalanche. In reverse, so to speak.”
“I see. More work for me. Next I suppose you will tell me that you yourself are living proof of her skills. You needn’t bother. I began looking for your replacement the moment the fever came upon you. Few survive its grip. She has a gift, without doubt.”
I held my breath. At last Crassus spoke again. “The plan has merit. Get the money from Pío and see that the girl is here by nightfall.”
“Dominus!”
“So help me, Alexander, if you fall to your knees or begin to blubber, I shall strike you. Get some backbone in you. I have no use for cowards. You belong to a noble house; best you act the part."
There is a nasty miniature of me that lives inside, a small but persistent voice that would spoil any triumph, sour any accomplishment. How it came to reside in my head is a mystery. I would excise it if I could; and yet I do enjoy arguing with it. Since coming to the house of Crassus I have given it a name. I call it Little Nestor. Well, here was a perfect opportunity for the daemon to be heard, and he did not disappoint. In that instant of my master’s acquiescence, I experienced real joy, a feeling that had eluded me since my abduction. Little Nestor could not let that go, and I heard him whisper: his words are free, but you are not. Act the part, he says. As long as you remain here, like an actor never allowed to leave the stage, you will never be yourself. So act the part. Slave.
That day, I managed to ignore him, enough to say, “Dominus, I am very pleased. And on Sabina’s behalf, I offer gratitude. There is but one thing more; actually two. Please do not tell her this was my idea. Take credit yourself, or perhaps give it to domina, whatever you think best.”
“Why would we do that? Your suggestion is an act of kindness she will not soon forget.”
“First, the act is yours, not mine. Second, she is my friend; I want no debts between us. Lastly, Sabina is proud almost beyond measure. This would sit better coming from the master of the house.”
Crassus rose from his seat. “Stay here. I must fetch my wife.” He walked back toward the atrium and I heard him call for Tertulla. In a moment, the two returned, followed by Sabina, who led a wobbly, grinning Publius by the hand.
“Columba, a word. Sabina, if you wouldn’t mind, take Publius for some air.”
“Yes, dominus.” Sabina left, looking back over her shoulder to fling a nervous ‘what’s-going-on?’ face at me. I replied with a look of feigned innocence and hoped that it appeared genuine. I was never much good at dissembling.
“Alexander! What have you gone and done now?” Tertulla took both my hands in hers and held them while she spoke. Her smile was so broad and genuine I felt my face redden. “He’s so good with Marcus, husband. How's the leg, Alexander?”
"It heals," Crassus answered for me, sounding slightly irritated. He bade Tertulla sit in his chair and began to recount the details of my proposal. He stood next to me, so close I could smell his perfume. I hoped that my own scent did not offend. If only I could step further away unnoticed. I am most comfortable on the outskirts; being at the center of anything unnerves me, the center of attention in particular. To endure, I composed my features into one I hoped gave the impression of self-abasing, modestly proud interest. No mirror presented itself, so I attempted to breathe normally and instead let the vision of my mistress consume me.
Tertulla’s hair was long in those days, and as black as any Nubian’s. She wore it piled at the back of her head, held with gold butterfly pins. Two long tresses escaped this binding and fell down either side of her neck. It was a style that made her look regal, yet utterly feminine. Her sleeveless peplos, pinned at the shoulders with more gold butterflies, was pale blue, a foil to the darker seas of her eyes. She left one shoulder bare by draping her palla as a long, diagonal sash. Her toenails were painted to match her peplos and her long-laced sandals were gold. She was nineteen, five years younger than I; precisely the sort of girl who wouldn’t give me a second look or a first chance back in Athens. She was as beautiful as Phaedra, my youthful infatuation at the Academy, but where Phaedra was a siren, Tertulla was Venus.

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