laeria: Implied-Parisian lamp post, Eiffel tower, people embracing, all meshed together and looking golden-autumny, um. (Default)
[personal profile] laeria
This is what happens when an awesome book gets combined with exam-season procrastination. I MAKE A DEADLINE. This has never happened to me before and is very shocking. (It is an amnesty deadline, mind, but still. I willcan have a new card!)

I solemnly present -

The Eagle of the Ninth fic, written for [community profile] hc_bingo and betaed by the magnificent [personal profile] jessalae

It is PG-13 master/slave whipping schmoop. Nothing particularly warning-worthy beyond that.

Legate Placidus - far too young for his position, and far too cruel to wield such power - was demanding retribution, and Marcus didn't know what to do.

“Centurion, please forgive me for causing offence to your guest,” Esca said, when they were finally alone, in a low and stiff voice he hadn’t used in months. He made an aborted sort of motion, like he was going to drop to his knees, but changed his mind halfway. “I did not expect it would cause you such trouble.”

“I did not expect it either,” Marcus replied grimly. It was as much his fault as it was Esca’s - he had smiled at Esca’s subtle taunting of the Legate, had given his implicit approval of Esca’s behaviour several times during the hunt. “If the Legate were my guest, we would have no issue at all - but he is my uncle’s, and as a guest I cannot make another guest feel unwelcome.”

“I understand,” Esca said, then asked hesitantly: “Am I to be executed for the offence?”

Marcus stared at him, baffled and horrified.

“If so,” his slave continued quickly, “I apologise for losing you your property, just as the Legate had said I would.”

“Esca,” Marcus choked out. “Esca, have I ever - you cannot think I could do that to you.” But, he realised, Esca had no way of knowing for certain what he’d do. For better or worse, his life was in Marcus’s hands. “I would sooner leave my uncle and seek employment with my aunt’s porkish husband.”

This earned him a thin smile.

“I shall talk with my uncle, and apologise to the Legate. I may turn it all into a jest still.” He squeezed Esca’s shoulder, mustering all the confidence of a young man of war. “We will have forgotten all about it in a week.”

-

In the evening, after a short and distraught exchange with Cottia, he found Esca awake, stroking Cub with a strange sort of self-containment.

“I have talked to them all,” he said, dropping to sit beside his slave on the cot. “We’ve agreed on a whipping, in the courtyard tomorrow morning.” His throat was constricted. He wished he could drown his thoughts away with wine, but he needed a clear head in the morning.

Esca nodded. He seemed neither relieved nor frightened.

“You must believe me,” Marcus implored, “if it wasn’t for politics, I would never inflict this on you.”

“Of course,” said Esca, sounding quite empty, “the Centurion has always been kind to spare his slave from punishment, even when the slave deserved it.”

Pain washed over Marcus, as if someone were twisting a spear around in his heart.

“Esca,” he said. “I will understand if you cannot forgive me for this betrayal. When the Legate is gone, I can sell you if you wish it. Or,” he jumped up, startled. “Mithras! I am a fool, the biggest fool alive! I can free you. I can free you right now, Esca, and we needn’t go through with this.”

Esca tilted his head, like Cub did when confronted with a new and baffling game.

“If my Master freed his slave now, the Legate would see it as a personal offence.” There was no denying this. Marcus felt a bolt of pain run through his leg - his penalty for jumping up quite so carelessly. He slumped back on the cot.

“I cannot care much right now,” he said, quieter but defiant. “My uncle will be lacking one unpleasant ally, and I one excellent bodyslave - but you, my friend, you will have your freedom.” Remorse washed over him. “I should have given it to you a long time ago.”

Esca looked at him, reading him as he would read a hunting-trail.

“I should stay for my punishment,” he said, slowly, finally, “to appease the Legate. Then, when he is gone back to Rome, and if the Centurion had not changed his mind - he could free me.”

Marcus wanted to protest, but Esca’s gaze was too steady.

“That is - a serviceable plan.” He swallowed. “Thank you, my friend.”

Esca lowered his head, more in weariness than submission, it seemed.

Marcus put a hand on his arm. “Come. We must both get our rest. If we keep them waiting for us, it will likely cause another incident.”

-
The first thing Marcus did in the morning was to lock Cub in the stables. Cub had grown into a formidable size, and they could not risk him charging in to protect his beloved Esca. He had explicitly forbidden Cottia to come - he wasn’t sure he could bear the disappointment in her eyes, because she understood well that he was hitting a friend rather than a slave.

Esca was stripped to the waist, as he had been in the arena, but there was no spark of fear in his eyes today. This heartened Marcus. As he tied his friend’s hands to the whipping post, he whispered, “After this, you are free”. He thought he saw a shadow of a smile in return.

His uncle handed him the whip - a thin but cruel thing, used sparingly in the household - and couldn’t quite hide his relief. He had probably expected Marcus to decline giving Placidus the satisfaction. A surge of resentment ran through Marcus, but he repressed it, resolved to think only of the task at hand.

“Shall we begin?” asked the Legate, sounding bored. “We have yet to break our fast.”

Marcus took a deep breath and lashed across Esca’s narrow shoulderblades. Silence followed the crack of the whip, broken only by Cub’s throaty barks in the distance.

Resolved to finish as quickly as possible, Marcus landed several strokes across Esca’s back. They left red marks but didn’t draw blood. An awkward, hurried lash landed on Esca’s chest, and it drew a short grunt.

“Your slave is quite proud, my friend,” commented the Legate, “but then, I suppose that is what landed him in trouble in the first place.”

It had been agreed that the whipping would continue until the Legate announced himself satisfied. His remark implied this would happen faster if Esca were to beg for mercy. But Esca knew this too, of course. Still he stayed silent.

Marcus could feel the sweat running down his own back as he hit Esca again and again. Slowly, blood was appearing amid the welts, trailing down to the dust in thin streams. Surely the Legate would be content now.

But Placidus said nothing.

Esca’s breathing was ragged, as if on the verge of sobbing. Marcus was torn between hoping his friend’s pride would remain intact - and hoping he would break down and end the torture by begging.

“I think that is enough,” said the Legate, when a few more bitter strikes failed to draw a cry. “Your barbarian is clearly used to pain. Perhaps, if we were to choose another method of punishment - “ Marcus dropped the whip and crossed his arms in defiance. “But no matter,” Placidus finished silkily. “I am satisfied. Although, for your sake alone, I advise you to get a more docile bodyslave.”

“I might do just that, sir,” Marcus said, chillingly polite. “With your leave, we shall retire now.”

Placidus nodded and left to search for breakfast, Aquila in tow.

Rapidly, Marcus untied Esca’s hands - chafed but not bloodied - and positioned himself to catch his friend if he were to stumble. But Esca remained upright.

“We are done,” he said in Celtic.

“Yes,” Marcus agreed. “Will you allow me to tend to your wounds, as you had tended to mine?”

“Let us go see Cub.”

In the stables, finally, Esca stumbled, but didn’t fall - Marcus had a firm hold on him. He lowered him onto the hay and knelt beside him. The wolf was near but keeping a weary distance.

“I have not lost too much blood,” Esca said, almost annoyed. “I do not understand why I feel so weak.”

“You had not eaten last night,” Marcus very nearly scolded. “Or you might have heat-stroke.” He pulled Esca’s hair out of the way to check for a fever. Esca grabbed his wrist.

“What will happen now?” he asked.

“I will take you to your cot and send Stephanos to take care of your wounds when I am tending to the guests. When that adder - that fish-hearted coward - the Legate leaves, I shall write up your manumission. You will be free.”

“Free.” Esca closed his eyes, perhaps in exhaustion. “What shall I do then?”

“You can stay until you’re fully healed, of course. If, if there is an infection - there shouldn’t be, once Stephanos sees to your back, but if there is any, I shall send for a medicus. And then, when you are healthy and when your heart needs it, you can leave. I shall give you a horse of your choosing - and some necessities, for the road.”

“Where shall I go?”

Marcus didn’t know. “Wherever you wish. Wouldn’t you return to your own people?”

“Does the Centurion want me to leave him?”

“What I want no longer matters,” Marcus struggled to explain. “You will be free to make y -”

“I know,” Esca broke in, startling him into silence. “But if I want to stay - I couldn’t, as a free man.”

“Stay here?”

“As your armour-bearer, your hunting-master - though I would do it for free, you would have to pay me, if I were freed. Your uncle could not afford it. Nor would he want to.”

“I don’t understand -”

“If you want me to stay with you, you cannot free me.”

Marcus closed his eyes. “I promised I would,” he said. “Do you think of me as a man who breaks his promises?”

“No. I think of you as a man who is being dense on purpose.”

Marcus snapped his eyes open, shocked, and saw Esca smiling. “I want to stay. If you want me to stay too, you shouldn’t free me.” Then an expression of uncertainty passed over Esca’s face. “Do you?”

“I do. Of course I do.” He noticed his hand was in Esca’s hair, though he didn’t remember when it had settled there. “But I cannot risk something like this happening again.”

“This?” Esca frowned incredulously, even as blood was still seeping from the cut on his chest. “This was nothing. The bite of a fly.”

“Nevertheless.” For a few moments, Marcus thought it over. Here was a friend who had taken a whipping just to protect Marcus’s good name. What could he offer in return? Only the meagre luxury he had grown tired of anyway. “I know what we shall do. When you are healed, we shall take our leave from my uncle and head north. We will live off hunting beyond the wall, as your people do. If we do not have luck enough to find a way to live on the road, we shall return south, and I will work as a secretary, for my aunt’s husband. It will earn me enough to keep us fed.” He smiled for the first time since the incident in the forest. “I shall have no armour, but you can bear my pens.”

Esca’s eyes were alight with possibility. “If we stay for a week or two, we could train Cub to run with our horses. He could hunt alongside us, beyond the wall.” He halted. “What of Cottia?”

“We shall see her when we return.” A hazy picture entered Marcus’s mind - a household of his own, alongside Esca, with every comfort though few luxuries. Maybe that was something he could offer her, when she was grown.

“I need to talk with my uncle,” he said finally. “And you need to rest, my friend. I will bring your manumission presently.”

Esca nodded, and didn’t thank him - and that was exactly as it should be.
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laeria: Implied-Parisian lamp post, Eiffel tower, people embracing, all meshed together and looking golden-autumny, um. (Default)
Laeria

October 2012

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