The Phoenician is brought into the Ludus at spear-point. He’s chained and his body is host to a thousand bruises and yet the guards are still wary. They look as if they would piss themselves if their captive stumbled a foot closer. That pleases Auctus. The guards are all Roman shits.
Already the men are talking of the Phoenician’s feat in the arena, they say it was hours he spent warring against his own father. They say that, at the end of it, he showed no mercy. They say the Dominus spent more coin than ever before in recognition of his skill. Auctus sees Oenomaus sizing him up. Is this the man who will challenge Oenomaus’s position as Champion? Perhaps.
Most men enter this Ludus weighed down by the burdens of their past lives. Some embrace their new life, this gift of cheating death, others never do. Rarely can it be predicted. Auctus loves to gamble but he never assumes he knows the outcome. And this man looks a rare beast.
He has a form that Auctus admires. He is of a height that will serve him well in the arena and win over a crowd. He has strength from head to foot - even his long braids could serve as weapon. Yet there is a delicacy to his movements, slowed as they are now with obvious pain. He walks lightly. Under all the blood and swelling and Ludus gossip, what kind of man is this?
Auctus is left to wonder for a further three days as the Phoenician is taken directly to the medicus. He is known as Barca and Auctus listens as the legend of his prowess swells in his absence. Barca emerges scraped and sleek on the fourth day, placing steady feet on the sacred sand. Dottore gives him the speech and Barca tells him, “I will fight, as I have always had to.” He chooses a spear.
He fights well. His height combined with the spear give him deadly reach. Auctus can see Oenomaus is forced to fight harder than he is usually pushed to in training. Barca doesn’t win though. Oenomaus was formed in the pits. Wherever Barca trained, it was not more deadly than that. It never matters how hardened a warrior a man was before he was captured, he is still humbled on the sand as a recruit. Auctus has seen it a hundred times; barring his own death, he will see it a hundred more.
At the midday meal Auctus performs his tried and tested piss-in-their-soup joke. Barca spits out the food and stands up while all the brothers fall about laughing. Barca stares over at Auctus, the threat clear in his eyes and Auctus’s laughter dries up a little. Just as his smile falters, Barca bursts out laughing.
“Fuck, that’s disgusting,” he says, “Perhaps you should have the medicus check your piss for diseases, the stench is rotten.”
Auctus laughs again. He likes him.
They fight each other the next day. The Dottore pairs them up, spear on spear, and Auctus schools Barca in the advantages of the hoplomachus style. Barca laughs when he lands a blow on Auctus but even more so when Auctus bests him. He laughs again when he lands on top of Auctus, allowing Auctus to wrestle him off. Auctus finds himself sat astride a more than comfortable Barca, whose chest heaves with both his laughter and the exertion of their fight. Auctus experiences a lurch of lust. His eyes catch on Barca’s, whose face sobers up as he registers Auctus’s interest. He smirks briefly and then throws Auctus sprawling across the sand.
“You crazy fuck,” Auctus shouts but Barca’s only response is a final leer before he is off challenging Rabanus.
They fuck for the first time that night. Auctus lingers in the baths and keeps his eyes on Barca. He watches as Barca scrapes off the sand and rubs oil into his muscles. Eventually they are alone.
“Your intent is clear,” Barca observes. Auctus’s cock is doing the talking for him.
“I command your attention then,” he replies. He feels a little breathless with the anticipation. He desperately wants to be fucking already. He could swear Leviticus was lingering over his ablutions just to aggravate him. He’s so hard just from looking at Barca.
Barca swoops in and suddenly they’re kissing and it’s eager and their bodies are slick against each other. Barca feels magnificent. There is such a wealth of him to touch and play with that Auctus feels spoilt by the luxury of him. Barca groans as their cocks clash rudely between their bodies, Auctus echoes him. It feels so fucking good.
“Not laughing now, then,” he teases.
Barca grins, predatory. “Not laughing, fucking,” he grates out, as though pressed for breath. He leans back in and bites at Auctus’s neck. The sharpness of it enlivens Auctus, as though tuning him to Barca’s touch. It’s a wild scrabble of a fuck as they claw greedily at each other until they climax, come mingling with the oil on their torsos. Auctus rubs it into his skin with shaky fingers as he comes down from his orgasm. Then Barca laughs.
“Now if you’d put this in my food, I might have been able to swallow it.” Barca drags a finger through the mess then sucks delicately on it, to emphasise his point.
Auctus is delighted by the inference. “At the next opportunity then.” He levers himself away from the wall he’s ended up leaning against and gently pushes Barca aside, his hand lingering on Barca’s chest and shoulder as he moves past. “Now, sleep, please gods.” He says as he ducks out of the baths, spent now and desperate to lay down on his cot.
The next day, like all days, starts early on the sand. Auctus stretches his body. He knows how to care for it, to build himself up so that he can reach ever further. He has done this every day since he was a boy. He has only ever had that freedom which he can gain within himself. He follows command into the arena but once there, he fights for himself. Not for the glory of the crowd, but the glory he feels when his body knows what to do, with barely a command; when he can respond to every challenge set against him, when he can feel within himself the power to defy death. He trains his body because to do so gives him the only freedom he has ever known.
He loves to fight against a skilled partner, and a known one. He loves the back and forth, each action a response. It is a dance to Auctus. One where the steps are known but the order is forever changing so you have to be present in the dance at all times. There is never a moment to think of anything but the fighting. It requires all of him and he loves that. His mind and his body are so well attuned now, after these long years on the sands, that he revels in it, and he feels glorified by it.
Auctus remembers his brother, his first partner, Augustus. Their father’s legitimate son. Auctus’s body has become a far greater weapon since those days when they learnt to fight together, but at his core, the framework is the same. They studied technique, balance and observation together. They learned to fight as one, so when they fought they were equal. Auctus grew up in counterpoint to Augustus, and they shaped each other, as brothers always do. He doesn’t think about that past life so much these days but it’s still true that Auctus barely knows any other way to be known, except through fighting.
Now, he trains with Barca, and so begins to learn him. He attacks Barca’s body, and his mind, he discovers quickly what feints Barca is susceptible to and learns that nothing works twice against him. Unlike some of these dumb fucks who he can lead down the same false paths every time. He studies the way Barca moves, weighted at the hips, of course: he leads with his cock. His body curls in sinuous movements, leaning far over to the side or back, well beyond where balance should be kept. His fists land like rocks, punching grooves into Auctus’s side. Auctus never allows one to go unanswered.
It’s fair to say, Barca knows how to dance.
By the day’s end Auctus’s body hums with emerging pain. He places himself close to Barca in the baths this time, teases him with sotte voce groans as he rubs oil into the bruises Barca has painted. His flesh is raw with the burn of the sand but he knows Barca’s is too. As the bath empties Auctus lowers himself onto a bench. Barca remains standing above him, huffing a little in a manner that smacks of impatience. Eventually he gives way to it and growls, “Fuck off,” at the remaining gladiators. Unmarked recruit or not, they obey the command of the Beast of Carthage. Barca’s hands land on his shoulder. Gripping only lightly, appreciating the sensitivity of Auctus’s skin. His palms are well-greased and they slide easily down his chest as Barca leans over him.
“We fought well today, we learned much,” Barca says between kisses. He breaks off to move over the bench and then he lowers his naked body to kneel before Auctus, kissing his breast again where he’d just left off. “We will fight even better together.”
“Yes,” Auctus acknowledges, the more used to each other’s fighting they become the better they can fend off attacks together. “A team of hoplomachus from the house of Batiatus.” It sounds as if it could draw a crowd. Auctus is slightly seduced by the idea of them, their bodies moving as one. Although it could just be Barca’s current position that is doing the seducing for him. Barca gives Auctus his crafty smirk again, the one Auctus already associates with coming his brains out, and then Barca bends his back further and lowers his mouth in line with Auctus’s cock. His tongue reaches out to curl around the head and his lips follow. He swallows around Auctus’s cock, sliding slowly down. His hands hold Auctus in place and Auctus decides to yield ground, just this once, and let Barca have his way. In a fight he would call it letting your opponent show their hand. He wants to see what decisions Barca will make, what skills he will demonstrate before he commits himself to the tussle.
Barca’s mouth is as deep as it is wide. To Auctus it feels all-encompassing. Auctus yields and yields and yields until there is no more left to give. Just when he feels himself nearing the moment of release, Barca’s nails scrape suddenly over his hips and ass, down his thighs. The sharp tingle of the pain spikes into his orgasm, sending him higher before flinging him back into his body.
He comes back to himself, panting harder then he has all day. Barca stands up, leaning casually into Auctus, he palms himself lazily, his cock in Auctus’s face, Auctus can barely do more than breathe over it, praising it with his gaping lips. Barca tugs hard a few times before he comes. Barca leans down again, his braids tickling Auctus’s shoulders, and mouths kisses over Auctus’s cheeks and ears and mouth, cleaning him up.
It’s Barca’s sixth day at the Ludus. It’s the second day in a row Auctus has gone to sleep feeling bone-deep satisfaction.
Soon, he catches himself thinking as he collapses onto his pallet, he will request permission for Barca to be moved into his cell. He’s fairly confident Dottore will tell him yes but perhaps only once Barca has earned the mark. Auctus knows that day will come quickly. He is mostly asleep but as he drifts off he pictures a life where he fights and sleeps beside Barca. He can sense, already, how good it will feel. It’s a fierce life here, one that he’s embraced, having known very little else. He knows it’s not much, and maybe not for too long, but all he can think is, he hasn’t had a brother in so long.