He noticed me in the line up and winked, smiling.
Then he moved on to greet the rest of the men.
But when we returned to our fires, his equerry came, panting:
“Come son, he wants to meet you, come now.”
I’m a farm boy and I know what’s what but I was shocked
by this directness. The man didn’t seem to care about everyone
watching us, even though my compatriots laughed and jeered:
“Keep your back to the wall boy, don’t let him get behind you.”
The equerry dismissed them with a contemptuous hand, pulling
at my sleeve with the other. I burned red, but I went with him anyway
and walked through the huge throng of men, lazing in the purple evening,
swilling new wine given to them as reward for a long campaign.
Finally, we reached the main tent, as big as a Roman villa and ringed
by braziers, guards’ faces bronzed and shining in the heat of a score
of torches. He was inside, tended by slaves. I found him reclining
on a divan, chewing at a leg of rabbit:
“What’s this?” he said as we entered. “Ah yes, my fair boy. Come sit with me, eat.”
I took the couch next to his and was given wine and food, but I watched him
even as I ate. His face was tanned from the march, his eyes keen, in wrinkled
pockets of dry skin, like agates in dust. And he watched me too, curious
and enjoying the novelty.
For me, used to hard bread and barley porridge, the scent
of rabbit and olives and good wine was almost too much,
I forgot myself and my nervousness and ate greedily,
rich juices streaking my hands and my face.
After a while, filled with wine and food – then carefully
washed by his slaves – I went to work on him, sweating.
He wanted soldier’s cock, so he had mine. It was awkward
and shuffling at first and he was not interested in returning
pleasure, all he wanted was to be turned over and fucked
but we managed it. And after I did him, like a sheep,
he seemed satisfied enough.
Later, I went back to my platoon and to my pallet and slept,
but restlessly, my head was still dizzy with wine, my hands
remembering the dry and sinewy touch of him.
During that long march home, he called me back
many times and I became used to the equerry’s near-nightly
nudging to leave my comrades for my commander’s bed.
(And, you should know, in exchange for these services,
I was given money and promised more).
One night my friend Lepidus, a handsome young legionnaire
from Osteia, about my own age, was invited to join us,
so we both fucked him, slaves watching while we took turns,
the stars and moon wheeling above in the night as if in a great, black cave.
But now, home again on my mother’s farm, I wonder what the point
of it all was. I fetch water for pigs, chop wood for her poor fire and yoke
the bull to the plough and it’s as hard as ever and thankless.
He’s dead, murdered they say, by his friends in the senate,
my hopes with him. The stupid fuck, who couldn’t see
what would happen if he called himself Caesar?
1 November 2015