Pompeii Passions

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 12

The Prey Is Cornered

The hunt for Tellus the runaway slave.

Sitting on horses outside the gates to Green Acres, Philandros looked to Arrius for guidance, then down the road to Pompeii, and in the opposite direction to Oplontis, a very small fishing village with a few large villas nearby.

"Where to begin, Arrius? I found Sextus just beyond the hill to the southeast...I didn't notice any tracks or anything at the time!"

Arrius looked about the landscape...villas and small farms in every direction, with Vesuvius looming to the east, and the bay sparkling to the west. He scratched his head briefly. "Was he a good rider? Would he have been able to control Sextus' horse?"

"I don't think so...Tellus was always in the house, he could drive a cart, but that was about it, I think."

"Let's assume he lost the horse then; he was probably scared and wouldn't want to be seen, so I'd say he spent very little time on the road...."

Philandros nodded...all very logical, very roman. "What if he wasn't scared – he hated Sextus!"

Arrius smiled. "Let's assume the most likely events first, Philandros. He was a slave for a long, long time...I think fear would quickly replace his anger."

"Then where do we start?" Philandros agreed, though Arrius could still hear a hint of doubt in his voice.

Arrius pointed over the hill toward Pompeii, and the five of them set off in that direction. "We will start at the scene, and spread out from there...tell me the exact spot you found Sextus."

After a few minutes, Philandros pointed to a spot on the uphill side of the road. "There! Sextus had crawled into the edge of the roadway from the ditch..."

Despite a search, no clear marks could be found to indicate a direction taken by the fleeing slave or a horse. Like most roman roads, the undergrowth had been mainly cleared close to the road, and many carts preferred the softer verge of the road to the road itself, except in rainy weather...which Pompeii had not seen for a while.

To the east, some villas could be seen, with terraces of grapes, and other small farms. To the west, below the road, the villas tended to be larger...but there were still a few old-fashioned small holdings. None were marked out as hiding a runaway slave – but Arrius hadn't expected it to be. The uphill side of the road could probably be discounted, for at this point the farms were all higher up. Below the road and stretching toward the blue bay lay dozens of possibilities.

"I'd head downslope if I was Tellus..." Arrius pointed to a small villa close by. "Let's start there."


Hylas tells Sextus he isn't ready for freedom; after the searchers set off, the two of them ride into Pompeii to do business at the Slave Market.


The sun was beginning to set, turning the bay into molten bronze when Arrius decided to call a halt for the day. The search had gone from small farm to villa rustica, to yet another small villa, all without result. No one had seen anything of a runaway slave...especially one as old as Tellus. The searching of these small places took little time, and narrowed the field to the larger estates.

Sometime tomorrow they would begin searching the first of the larger estates, which would be a trickier proposition – most of these were owned by very powerful families who liked no intrusions into their privacy by anyone – some not even excluding the emperor himself!

Since the search was still close to their villa, Arrius had decided to return there for the night, having the soldiers spend the night in the servant's wing, which had several empty rooms. If the search ran farther afield, Philandros envisioned spending the night camping under the stars...which had interesting prospects totally unrelated to the search for Tellus.

Hermes informed them that Sextus and Hylas had not yet returned from town, so Arrius decided to have a bath and a small snack while waiting for the errant prodigals to return. The bath was very relaxing, and Philandros cleaned Arrius' back, then let the roman do his own. Was it his imagination, or was Arrius becoming a bit more open now that Philandros was a firm fixture in the family?

They took their meal in the bedroom, and had barely begun when Philandros began yawning. He forced himself to eat a little more, but could not remain awake much longer – he was unused to riding recently, and was more tired than he had expected. He went over to the bed and stretched out in his loincloth, and after a few more minutes, Arrius stood up and headed toward the door.

Philandros looked hurt, and raised a hand to call Arrius back. He missed Sextus, and was feeling very unwanted just now. "Arrius...stay with me – all I want is company – nothing more."

Arrius halted nearly to the door, and turned back. Philandros looked very good in the light of the dying sun, and also very vulnerable. Now that he knew of the boy's devotion to Sextus, he found resentment of him impossible. Several times now, the opportunity for him to make a move on Arrius had come and gone untaken...and for some reason that had sparked something deep down in Arrius' mind. He had spent the night with Sextus – so why not with Sextus' lover as well? They had sworn brotherhood after a fashion...Arrius smiled, and nodded.

He removed his tunic as he approached the bed, and took the space next to Philandros' left side. The boy turned to him, and took Arrius' hand in his. "Thank you, Arrius" he whispered. Arrius found Philandros' other arm flung over his chest, idly caressing his pecs, and the greek's right leg moved to cover his as Philon snuggled up next to him. For only a moment Arrius stiffened, but relaxed again when no other action developed. As he relaxed still further, he turned slightly to face Philandros and pulled the boy closer with his left arm.

Philandros sighed, and closed his eyes, burying his head in the crook between Arrius' neck and shoulder. Within a few minutes both men were sound asleep, sharing their bodies' warmth as the evening air began to cool.

They were still wrapped up in the blanket and one another snoring away when Sextus and Hylas returned some hours later.


Arrius and Sextus talk, Hylas sleeps beside Philon, who has a nightmare about Sextus being stabbed; the search resumes next morning while Sextus and Hylas have a picnic, during which Hylas offers himself to Sextus – who refuses without Philon's permission.


Arrius and the search party started early, for doing the larger estates would take more time than the smaller ones...not just because there were more slaves, but because the owners would require more delicate handling. The best that could be hoped for was to do two, maybe three a day; at worst, one estate per day might be the norm.

As they soon found out, most owners wouldn't even see them, but just had them deal with the estate steward or major domo of the villa itself. These chief slaves were usually helpful, for the penalty of hiding a runaway slave was severe...and once they learned the slave had attempted murder...help could not come soon enough. Philandros let it be heard at each place that a reward was offered should Tellus appear, and this would further insure that news of the man would come quickly to them at Green Acres.

By midafternoon they had covered the estates north of the road from Pompeii to Oplontis, which was about half the distance to Herculaneum. "I just don't think Tellus would have walked much farther than this..." Philandros said. "He wasn't used to strenuous exercise or hard work."

Arrius smiled lazily, and nodded; such thoughts were running through his head as well. "All right then, we'll start on the seaside estates between here and Pompeii as we head back...if those turn up empty, we'll start on the ones from here to Herculaneum next. Still no word from your grandfather?"

Philandros shook his head. Solon had been shocked to hear of Tellus' activities, and put it down to the stress of a new beginning at a new house – for Philandros had mentioned nothing of his affairs with Sextus. Solon had notified the watch in Herculaneum, and circulated word to his friends as well, in case the fugitive should turn up at one of their estates. So far, no news had come from him.

The first estate they stopped at was ignorant of any runaways, the steward said, but would report and detain any who showed up...the master being up in the mountains for some relief from the summer heat. Arrius thanked the man, and they continued on to the next villa, which lay stretched like a snake along the shore.

TELLUS NARRATES:

From his vantage point atop a hill in the villa's garden, Tellus had seen some riders going along the road several times in the past day and a half. Three were soldiers, the other two a man and a youth. When he first saw them, he wondered if the search for him had begun, and this suspicion was made fact when he saw the group return to Green Acres the night before. From this hill, he could just make out the drive to that whore's estate – and his face had set into grim lines of determination when the soldiers' party left this morning to search north toward Oplontis.

So the bastard has soldiers to help now...I had not counted on such decisiveness so soon! Tellus had hoped for a week or more so he could procure the needed items to disguise himself...but it seemed his time had run out. Very well, then today is Sextus' last day!

Tellus met the boy who had been his guide the last few days as he came down toward the long pool. He asked him to pack a small lunch, and told the boy he was going to take a short walk to try and spot anything which would jog his memory. The boy nodded, and left. Within a short time, he was back with a small basket and a canteen of wine, and asked if Tellus wanted him to go too.

"No, thank you...I need some time alone – silence might be more helpful than any other distractions."

When Tellus was sure the boy had returned to the house, he changed his direction to follow one of the garden terraces – and the tool shed at its far end. He slipped inside after making sure the gardener was not around, and came out with a pruning knife which he slipped into his basket.

As he approached the road, he looked in both directions to see if the soldiers were lingering about, and saw no one...it was almost noon, and any travellers had taken refuge for the midday meal before continuing on in the afternoon. Nevertheless, Tellus walked casually as if he were one neighbor off to visit another as he crossed the road and entered the drive to Green Acres.

He left the drive before it reached the villa, and he was just in time to see two figures riding off around the house to the back of the property. He knew the hated figure of Sextus even at this distance...and the other was most surely Philandros! He skirted the villa, keeping to the undergrowth, and began to follow the trail the horses had made through the fields....

END TELLUS' NARRATIVE

So far, luck had not been on the side of the searchers...every visit to a villa revealed no word of a fugitive – or even so much as a lost cat! It was already noon, and they had been to three estates already today...and the next one looked to be the largest yet, stretching on terraces down to the bay below! It seemed the villa had once belonged to Calpurnius Piso, father-in-law of the great Julius Caesar...and was suitably large for the famous man.

They were admitted to the villa by a young man who said that the mistress had gone off to Pompeii, but that since this was official business, there would be no problem in allowing the search. As they spread out through the huge villa and its grounds, they were admonished to touch nothing, and ask for a slave to open any closed areas which might need looking into.

Arrius couldn't help comparing this to his own estates and sighed in envy. However rich he might become, he could probably never afford such a place – this came from generations of wealth, not just the purse of one single man!

Philandros found himself in the library, which as in many larger homes was divided into a greek and a separate latin section. His eyes scanned the tags as he browsed... Philodemus... Philodemus... Philodemus – was there nothing here but the works of that philosopher? His concentration wandered at seeing so many works by the same man...and he missed the entrance of a boy about ten years old.

"You're looking for some runaway slave?" When Philandros nodded, the boy went on with a smile. "Ain't hiding in those shelves...fact, ain't been no slave here – just that old man as got robbed some days back...."

Philandros' head whipped around like a striking snake. "What? What did you say?"

"Some old farmer, or something...showed up in a bloody tunic and a bump on his head – couldn't remember his name." The boy was stunned when the greek grabbed him and shook him. He listened to the greek describe the man with some fear – was he going to be punished by this mad man? When he nodded and stammered that that was the same man, Philandros pulled him close and growled angrily.

"Where is he now?"

"I, I don't know...he left over an hour ago...said he was going for a walk and took a lunch...said he might see something to jog his memory..."

An hour! So close...and to lose him now! The gods could not be so cruel...could they? He let go of the boy, and fished in his purse for a coin, and tossed it to the frightened slave. He headed for the door, calling for Arrius and the soldiers.

"You didn't see which way he went, I suppose?" he asked desperately.

The boy looked at his feet, then with a guilty look, nodded. "I spied on him...he went down the road and toward the gates of that place being fixed up by the slave dealer..."

Philandros tossed the boy another coin – a golden aureus – as he flew out the door, screaming for Arrius and the soldiers that he knew where Tellus was.

"πρς θεν...hurry! He's gone to Green Acres!" Philandros was grabbing his reins from a slave as Arrius and the soldiers burst from the villa and its gardens, out of breath.

"Where is he?" Arrius asked, less out of breath than the soldiers, who had been searching the lower terraces.

"He's after Sextus! Come on!"

TELLUS NARRATES:

Tellus soon lost sight of the horses he was following, but the trail was unmistakeable...the grasses had been bent by the passing horses, and he could still hear laughter off in the distance ahead. Whenever possible he stuck to what cover presented itself...bushes, isolated trees or fencerows. He could smell water ahead, and hear it's flowing over rocks...and he soon saw the horses tied to a tree to the side of a small clearing. He saw the two relaxing on a blanket, with the remains of a lunch between them, and could hear low voices and laughter.

Moving slowly to avoid detection, he finally got a glimpse of the picnickers – yes, one was the whore Sextus – but who was that other? Intense fury overcame Tellus as he saw the naked youth and his black hair – replaced by righteous indignation! He was right! So that bastard had already tired of his former master! Philandros was probably lying desolate and alone at home – if this prick hadn't done something worse with him! Could Sextus have murdered the innocent boy?

Tellus threw caution to the winds, and burst forth from the undergrowth, pulling the pruning knife from it's hiding place as he advanced stiff-legged into the clearing. Hylas was the first to look, and the first to get to his feet, though it was only a second later before Sextus joined him. Sextus eyed the knife, and moved slightly forward to shield Hylas from its blade. He knew from their luncheon that no weapon was at hand...except for a small cheese knife too far away to reach.

Face contorted with rage, Tellus advanced step by step. "You...you son-of-a-whore! I see you've found another poor boy to seduce now that you've had your way with my dear master! What did you do, leave his poor used body in some gutter for the libitinarii to collect?"

Sextus was watching the knife rather than Tellus, but this shook him! "You are insane, old man! I love Philandros with all my heart – in fact, he's off now searching for your miserable carcass!"

Hylas stepped from behind Sextus, but was held back by his master from advancing further. "This is Tellus? He's telling you the truth...Philandros is out even now in search...and we both love him!"

Tellus spat on the ground between them, barely missing the boy's feet. His voice was harsh, and his eyes fairly glowed with rage. "Shut up, you! I don't want to hear anything from one of his toys – or from the whoremaster either!" He advanced another few steps, waving the knife slightly to cover any moves by either of his opponents.

"Tellus, you're done for, you know. At any time now, you will be captured...and when that happens, it's the cross for you. Give up now – it won't go any easier for you, but it'll save us all some time. Besides, I don't think you've got the balls to fight a man face to face!"

The fugitive's eyes narrowed, and the knife steadied. His attention was riveted on Sextus now. "A man? You? What real man puts his dick in other guys...let alone young ones? A real man would spit in your face and swat you down like the insect you are! Now is your time, you son of a bitch – and you're not going to live this time!"

Several things happened then...none of which could be sworn to have occurred first – at least by those people involved in them. Sextus had been trying to delay events, hoping for something which would give him an advantage...and just as Tellus was ranting his last words, he thought he heard a shout, and the hoofbeats of a galloping horse...but now Tellus was striking!

Seeing the knife begin to lunge toward Sextus, some impulse took control of Hylas...and he moved to place himself between the blade and his beloved master. Zeus, let the blade take my life, rather than his!

In horrified fascination, Philandros could see the events in the clearing, but he would not reach his love in time...and it was then that Arrius' horse shot past him in a frantic charge! The ex-slave was waving a sword above his head, and screaming...hoping to distract Tellus even slightly.

Tellus' knife completed its destined path, and bit into yielding flesh before it's victim was pushed aside by strong hands...

Searing pain...agony...is this what it means to die? Darkness closed in from the edges of vision, as the victim crumpled to the ground.

Tellus' mouth gaped as he heard screaming, and just had time to turn his head before the charging horse ran him down with its iron-shod hooves. A swing of the sword wielded by Arrius nearly severed his head from his shoulders. Before his senses dimmed forever, he heard his dear master's voice shout.

"SEXTUS!!"

I am vindicated... was the last thought Tellus had.

TELLUS' NARRATIVE ENDS

Philandros had screamed when Tellus struck, fearing that the knife would pierce his love's defenseless body...and had fallen silent in shock to see Hylas break free of Sextus' grip and push himself into the path of the mad fugitive. At almost the same instant, Arrius struck a mighty blow with his gladius and ended the danger of Tellus forever. Philandros saw three bodies on the ground as he slid from his horse...Sextus was cradling Hylas in his arms, and Arrius was busily examining the cuts on the boy's left arm.

Philandros could only stare at the scene...so much blood! He took a deep breath to calm his ragged nerves and realized that most of the carnage was from the headless body and not the beautiful dark-haired greek. He joined Arrius in tending the wounds, and discovered that though they were very bloody, they weren't deep.

All this time, Hylas had said nothing, and Philandros saw that his eyes had a slightly vacant look from the shock and pain of his wounds. He then glanced at Sextus, and saw the look of agony on his face and the tears streaming from his half-closed eyes. Tears – from Sextus?! Philandros was speechless...tears were not shed by men – ever...or so his beloved had told him several times.

Just what had happened while he and Arrius were searching the countryside? And what did it bode for their own relationship? Arrius was pre-occupied with stopping the bleeding of Hylas' cuts, and did not see the sight of Sextus in tears. Philandros cleared his throat to regain his voice, and beckoned one of the soldiers to him.

"Find Arcas the veterinarian – he's probably at the barn – and tell him we have another patient for him at the villa. Hurry!" He turned to Sextus, then decided Arrius would be the better choice for the moment. "Arrius, we must take him to the house – I've sent for the doctor...help Sextus to carry him."

Sextus just stood, cradling Hylas in his arms, and resisted Arrius' attempt to assist in carrying the boy. Finally, he just gave Sextus a nudge toward the distant villa, and followed along beside in case his friend should stumble while carrying the boy.

Philandros asked the other two soldiers to gather the horses and take them up to the house, and he followed along behind the two romans on foot, deep in thought and his head bowed. He could not order his thoughts into any pattern for more than a few seconds, and however he tried to fit the pieces together, no logical arrangement could be found. By the time he was at the villa, he had only one thought running through his head, and his eyes were brimming with tears of their own – but not for Hylas.

...Sextus loves Hylas – Hylas loves Sextus...

At the villa, Hermes was flustered to see yet another attack victim, and for the moment forgot all about Messalina's warning. He ran for bandages and hot water, and the box of medicines every house kept handy. Hylas was put – in my bed – Philandros thought with resentment, and instantly reproached himself for the unkindness of that thought. Arcas pushed everyone out of the room while he worked with needle and thread, but Sextus wouldn't leave.

An hour later, Arrius found him sitting slumped in a chair in the peristyle, dried tears on his cheeks. The roman placed a hand gently on his shoulder and crouched down to look look him eye to eye. "It's alright, Philandros...Hylas will be fine – probably not even a scar, according to Arcas."

Inexplicably, he felt the youth tense beneath his hand...and was surprised to see him turn his face away sharply. Arrius stroked the boy's shoulder for a few minutes, then gently turned his face back toward him with his other hand cradling those wonderful reddish locks. He was stunned at the hollowness of those piercing green eyes...and the desolation evident on the lightly-tanned features.

Philandros saw the concern in Arrius' eyes, and the gentleness of the man's caresses was the last straw! With a cry of despair he slid from the chair into Arrius' arms, knocking him onto the paving of the colonnade – and buried his face against the roman's chest as he was wracked by sobs of greater and greater depth. His soul was pouring out of him with every tear and gasping breath, but he couldn't stop it!

After the first shock, Arrius just cradled Philandros against him, murmuring soft words into his curls as he held the greek tightly to him and stroked the reddish head resting on his chest. He felt the gasps increase for a time, but eventually it slowed, though the tears didn't stop. Philandros was trying to say something, but Arrius couldn't make out what it was, so he just held onto the grief-stricken boy tightly, occasionally kissing the top of his head in reassurance. He hadn't known that Philandros had such feelings for Hylas – or was it the relief at Sextus having come through this adventure unscathed?

Arrius would never have guessed the thought which tormented this boy so much that it caused such a breakdown:

I've lost him...I've lost him...I've lost him...

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