Two weeks later, Peter was standing inside the palace, meeting with his old mentor, Senator Hughes and Justinus. He also met the two princes, Titus and Domitian, and a couple more Praetorian higher-ups.
A lady appeared and Peter bowed over her hand, realising that she was the freedwoman, Caenis, that the Emperor was definitely not having a long term and very romantic love affair with. She asked to be remembered to El and then moved on, taking Domitian with her.
After a rather splendid feast that Peter enjoyed all the more for it being quite simple, the men had all discussed the way that Peter should call on them if he was capturing criminals and Vespasian informed them that Walker had ‘fallen on his sword’.
“Was he pushed, sir?” Peter asked reprovingly and received the expected blank look from the Emperor and his friend Justinus.
“Does it matter?” Hughes asked. “Man’s dead and most of his property is forfeit to the State.”
“I am very pleased with you,” Vespasian grinned and Peter bit back his anger. Vespasian was always strapped for cash and the wealthy felon’s property would be a great help. “So, I have a reward for you.”
The Emperor beckoned with his left hand and a guard pushed Neal forward, pressing down on his shoulders until he knelt. Peter gasped.
He had been searching high and low for the slave, watching sales and searching through prisons, calling in every favour he could think of, but he had been totally unable to find the man. Neal looked well, and he exchanged a cheeky glance with Peter before lowering his eyes in a show of respect.
“I didn’t think your tastes ran to masculine and pretty,” Vespasian commented with a lifted eyebrow.
Lying with other men was not exactly acceptable, but it was known to happen, especially with pretty slaveboys. Men like Peter could get away with it as long as it was known that he ‘threw’ instead of ‘caught’. Sleeping with a male slave was fine – sleeping openly with a fellow free man could be politically disastrous, unless the man further up in the social order could prove that he was the ‘thrower’.
“They don’t, sir. I like them clever and devious... and there because they want to be, not because I own them or paid for them,” Peter smiled. “My beautiful wife is my partner, but I want this slave for his mind.”
“Good! I’m not sorry for keeping him here, he had a lot of healing to do. Here, Peter, he’s yours, but beware, do not let him wander far. I would hate to have to mar that pretty face with ugly burnt letters,” the Emperor said and stood, moving away and taking his guards and other guests with him.
When all had left, saying their farewells and giving their congratulations and support as they went, Peter looked down at Neal, who was still kneeling. He had been given a stylish grey tunic, edged in gold, that almost reached his knees, and by his side there was a bundle. Still he looked up at Peter and smiled, blue eyes sparkling.
“So, now you can stop pretending you don’t speak Latin,” Peter said in his own language and Neal’s grin almost split his face.
“You’re the only one to have called me on it,” Neal answered also in Latin, his accent almost perfect.
“What is that around your ankle?” Peter asked, catching a glint of gold.
“Present from the Emperor,” Neal grimaced, standing up. He then lifted his ankle and showed his new owner.
It was a gold bangle, pinched closed around his left ankle, beaten flat and inscribed.
“He said it was this or being branded... he wouldn’t really have an F burnt on my forehead would he?” Neal shivered and grimaced.
“It’s what people usually do to slaves who run away,” Peter shrugged. “Show me your anklet. What does it say?” Peter asked, reaching out and feeling the gold band.
“That I belong to you now,” Neal grinned.
Peter didn’t say anything, but felt around the band, feeling the letters beaten into it and feeling a thrill of ownership such as he had never felt before. It made him think, strangely of Elizabeth, but he dismissed the thought and stood. Neal picked up a large bundle that had been at his feet and fell in behind him, shaking his ankle as though getting used to the band.
“At least it won’t chafe like the other one and it’s made of gold,” Neal commented, sounding pleased.
Peter muttered something about Emperors who were no better than they should be and then signalled to his escort that it was time to go home.
This is the end of the first part – there is a whole second part to the prompt which I will post as soon as I have finished it (it won’t be long…)
Please let me know if you have read it and if there are any glaring errors/typos/plot holes…!