I awoke swinging by my ankles and wrists, bound to a pole carried on the shoulders of two men, like some fresh kill being carried home after a hunt. I was naked, my throat was on fire, and I could feel neither my hands nor my feet. As I realized my predicament a roar of incoherent rage pushed from my chest but came out of my aching throat with considerably less force than I intended. Still, it was enough to attract attention, and my captors stopped briefly, stared at me, and called out to some others in that strangely clipped tongue of theirs. After a few pokes at me and some infuriating laughter they continued their march.

Warning- what follows may be disturbing

I prepared myself for the humiliation to come. I would undoubtedly be beaten and raped, but those would be familiar degradations at least. I sincerely hoped not to be burned; I had been burned fairly badly once and that was a pain difficult to suffer through. In any case I would watch for whatever chance to escape presented itself?and though there was no sign of his whereabouts I would await my opportunity to kill that vile creature Rufus the moment he should chance my way.

When we arrived in the camp the initial humiliations were not the worst they could have been. They freed me from the pole and shifted my ropes to the high branch of a tree, leaving me dangling by my ankles, my wrists still bound together but hanging free. I noticed my hands, still quite numb, were purple and swollen. I was left to hang there for a good while as Rufus’ men poked, prodded, and mocked me, occasionally making threatening gestures, twisting my breasts or roughly grabbing at me between my legs. I bore it without responding until one of them made the mistake of letting his hand stray near my face. I sank my teeth into the meat of his hand and he howled, clawing and punching me repeatedly as he tried to pull free while his fellows laughed at his predicament. It ended when one of them kicked me hard in the side of the head. I saw stars, but managed to laugh anyhow.

I noticed a few of the tribesmen who made up my people were there in the camp, keeping a fearful distance. Even those who came close out of curiosity did not dare approach me. They were not fools. They knew the legends of the witch-goddess who could not die, and the vengeance she might wreak. But finally one of them did find the temerity to speak to me.

“Why did you allow them to capture you, great Tiwazō? Have you lost your power?”

I stared at him and said nothing, glaring upside-down into his eyes until he shifted uncomfortably and left. As he did so, I began to feel a twinge of uncertainty: though he still feared me, an unmistakable doubt had filled his countenance. It was a doubt that I began to feel stirring in my own soul, though I tried to deny it.

Angrily I thrust the feeling away when I saw Rufus himself finally approach. I noted the bandage about his right forearm, and the stiffness in his gait from the wounds to his chest. He would not soon forget that we had fought. He had obviously groomed himself after our contest and was wearing a fine white shift that hung slightly above his knees, with short sleeves and a loose rope belt. I was particularly taken with his sandals, which were intricately bound to his muscular calves. Even hanging upside-down, I noticed again just how beautiful he was. I briefly considered spitting at him, but merely waited instead as he looked me up and down carefully. Then he spoke to me again in the seafarer tongue.

“So you speak Greek, witch woman, though your accent is crude. Well, what have you to say for yourself after killing my men and giving me such a chase?”

“I spoke the seafarers’ tongue long before the goat that spawned your father was born,” I growled.

He looked at me with a half-smile and said, “Can you tell me why I should not let my men have their way with you, then cut your throat?”

“If you were not such a pathetic coward you would cut my throat now,” I rasped.

“You would rather die than be dishonored,” he said. Even as I swayed slightly in the breeze I kept my eyes locked upon his. His gaze was level but his smile stayed upon his lips. “Impressive spirit you show for a woman.”

I tried vainly to spit at him but my mouth was too choked and dry to do more than make a rude noise. “If you haven’t balls enough to kill me then let me down little man, so I can cut off the tiny ones you have and shove them down your throat!”

He smiled at that, and laughed gently. “You have a noble spirit, and might fetch a pretty price in the right market. It is a pity fate brought us to this circumstance.” He turned and spoke in the strange tongue to his men, who stared at me as he gestured and spoke firmly. I listened as closely as I could, attempting to pick up the feel of their language, but I had no time to get the gist before he turned and spoke to me again.

“Cruelty for no purpose is useless and destructive,” he said, “and I am not easily insulted by careless words. Yet by killing my men you have given me no choice. None would respect me were I to allow a woman and a barbarian to humiliate me,” he said. “I might let you go were it not for that,” he said, “but you have sealed your own fate.”

He seemed serious, but I said nothing. He looked at me some more, sizing me up, then shook his head almost tenderly as he walked away. As he disappeared into the camp, three of his men cut me down and surprisingly gently lowered me to a sitting position. One of them, a particularly weasel-faced one, squatted and showed me his knife, trying to provoke fear. I stared at him as I would a worm, and watched the disappointment on his face with some satisfaction. But then he smirked, reached for the complicated knot that bound my wrists, and with a jerk suddenly loosened it.

At first I was surprised at my good fortune, but then realized my own foolishness. Before I could stop myself an embarrassing gasp came from my lips. My hands, swollen and numb, were now on fire. As the blood rushed back into them the only sensation was raw pain. Then a foot lashed out and my head snapped to one side as I was forced on to my belly. Stunned by the blow I struck out with my useless hands but they were seized again and lashed together behind my back. I tried to rise up only to be kicked over onto my back again and another man grabbed my ankles, roughly pulling the bindings free, sending waves of pain into my swollen feet. That did not stop me from driving my heel into his crotch and the man went down with a howl, then kicks rained down on me as his fellows jumped in.

My legs were kicked apart; my ankles pinned by strong hands, and then one of them dropped to his knees and pulled up his tunic. I tried to head-butt him as he descended on me, but a foot pressed me down, grinding the left side of my face in the dirt as I felt myself violated, the men laughing as the one raping me spent himself in mere moments and another took his place.

I had stopped struggling and the fools took the bait. As a third man took me the foot lifted from my face and I waited, lying motionless as he worked himself into frenzy. When I moved it was sudden and swift, pulling my legs up to wrap tightly about his waist as my jaws lunged at him, sinking my teeth into the side of his neck. He screamed and bucked in my grip, but I bit deep, my mouth suddenly filled with a gush of salty copper as his veins tore asunder and everything dissolved in flurry of feet and fists, my eyes blurred in red and black, my body jerking from the blows until a sudden strike to the back of my head made everything numb and dark…

The world was pain and darkness, and I so desperately wanted to lie down, but something held me, pinned my arms above my head so that my feet only barely touched the ground. I was cold, so very, very cold and I felt rather than heard the moan of anguish escape from me. One eye would not open; the other offered only blurred grey ghosts. My wrists… they were afire with pain, and when I tried to move them white-hot agony lanced through them and down my arms to my shoulders and spine. I forced myself to focus, to try to sort out one pain from another.

My vision cleared slowly, the one eye I could open gazing up at two hands, my hands, crossed at the wrist with a long metal spike driven through them, fastening them to a tree. I hung suspended, my body beginning to scream at me as the agonies of my wounds fought for my attentions. I tried to move and I cried out as broken bones grated in my right leg.

Laughter drew my attention and I spied several of the men building a cage from poles they cut out of saplings outside the camp. It was small, no more than four feet long and perhaps two feet square. When it was done three of them approached me and I tried to move, but my body was beyond obeying my will and I concentrated on keeping silent as two of the men secured my arms while the third struck at the spike impaling my wrists, finally wrenching it free. I collapsed into their grasp and they dragged me over to the cage and then shoved me inside head-first and lashed it closed. They flipped it over and attached a rope to one corner, using that to hoist the cage high up in the air, hanging me from a high tree limb. I lay curled around myself, unable to move, just trying to breathe through the waves of pain wracking my body.

That cage was my home for the next six days.

From my lofty position I watched as Rufus and six others left camp the following morning, armed with spears and nothing else. Once he was gone my cage was lowered and I was given some water by a man who simply seized a handful of my hair and yanked my head back, then poured water from a jug into my mouth, half drowning me. Then it was back up into the branches of the tree to hang for the rest of the day. If I should happen to doze there was always a man detailed to stick me in the leg or the side of my chest with the point of a spear to keep me awake. During the day there was nearly constant taunting, and the men would often sport at spinning the cage or striking me with a well-pitched stone while at night the insects would be out in force. Through it all I had not a morsel of food, and barely enough water to sustain me.

My bones healed, and some of the other wounds, but my hunger was like a flame after the first day, sapping my strength to the point I could hardly bring myself to move. The sixth day was the worst. Up until that time I had retained a semblance of rationality, but as dawn broke I could hear laughter in the wind rustling through the trees. I thought perhaps the demon Loghaz had finally returned to taunt me, but it was a different sound, seemingly more gleeful and malicious. I strained for it, desperate for even the mocker’s voice, but what came to me was cold and angry in a way the trickster could only dream of. It hungered for my flesh, promising in words I could only barely comprehend to tear the meat from my bones and consume me whole, to make an end of this foolish goddess. I could hear it singing to me through the trees, a song of avarice, destruction, and appetites insatiable and horrifying even to one such as I. It overwhelmed my senses, making time itself seem to stand still.

I became vaguely aware of the commotion of Rufus returning, of his men carrying two huge boar carcasses slung upon poles. It seemed as though I was floating freely above the scene, detached, warm, and comfortable. I was dimly aware of the man below prodding at me, but I could no longer feel his spear point against my side. I looked down and saw a deep gash in my side, oozing thick blood, but I was numb to it, as if it were happening to somebody other than me. My gaze returned to Rufus, the world slowly contracting and as my sight darkened all that filled my field of vision was this magnificent, arrogant man.

He seemed to glow a radiant light, and I watched as he cast his eyes up at me. I could feel his gaze as a physical thing, touching me, almost caressing me. He shouted and a moment later the cage began to sway, settling towards the ground as my eyes finally succumbed to the aching weariness, closing and embracing the darkness.

Rough handling forced me back to awareness. The cage had been opened and I was being carried. The scent of raw male sweat filled my nostrils, a heady and intoxicating mixture of animal, leather, spice and smoke… and a taste, the taste of Rufus. I forced myself to focus on that taste, to hold to it as an anchor of awareness to keep the abyss from claiming me again. I could smell cooking meat and it set my belly afire with such a raging hunger that I nearly choked on my own spittle. But I forced the hunger down, determined to keep some measure of my dignity even as my head spun madly.

Rufus set me down upon something soft and yielding, a bed of some kind, and then he spoke some words in his clipped, savage tongue. Then a damp, cool cloth kissed my forehead and my eyes focused upon his darkly radiant, manly face.

“You have had a very difficult time of it, yes?” he asked tenderly. I simply stared at him and said nothing. My hand moved to my side, where several deep and sticky gashes were torn in my flesh, wounds that would have healed had I been given food but which were now days old, oozing and hot, and then there was the newest gash, seeping my strength into the blanket I lay upon. His eyes shifted to them, and I saw genuine concern, then anger. I remained silent.

He turned away from me, and then produced a leather bottle, uncorking it with his teeth. He brought it to my lips and I drank deeply, hardly noticing that it seemed to be water mixed with wine. Suddenly I found myself retching, but managed to prevent myself from vomiting. As I did so, he made soothing, comforting noises, and continued to wipe my face with the cloth.

“You are hungry, pretty one,” he said. “Would you like some food?”

I looked upon him impassively, calculating his behavior. What he was attempting was pathetically obvious. I had seen slaves broken many, many times before, and this was always the cleverest way: to make the new slave see you as a savior. Yet this felt almost like a dream, and he was suffused with a fire of beauty. I stared at him, exhausted, and finally nodded silently. Let him play his game.

“I will have some lessons I must teach you,” he said, “for fate has made you mine. But I have told you I am not needlessly cruel, and you should believe me”

At that moment another man entered the tent. He was older than Rufus, thinner, his head bald but for a thick fringe of white hair that spanned the back of his head from ear to ear. He was bearded, but his beard was neatly trimmed even as it fell nearly to his chest. His eyes were quite dark and yet piercing. He spoke and I saw an odd thing: the old man clearly deferred to Rufus, but at the same time Rufus deferred to him as well. Rufus called him “Marieko,” and I recognized other words as well, as I began to pick up the feel of their speech: words that seemed to mean “girl” and “hurt” and, perhaps, “heal.”

Rufus turned to me. “This man is skilled in treating wounds,” he said. “He shall tend you now.”

“Tend” is hardly the word I would have chosen for what followed. As Rufus left the tent, the old man did not deign to so much as speak to me. Instead he simply began prodding at my wounds. I felt the pain as a distant thing, almost as if it were not a part of me. Then he called out to men standing outside the tent and shortly thereafter two large warriors entered carrying a pot full of glowing coals with wooden handles. There were several long iron rods stuck in the coals. I understood instantly what he was about and I struggled to move, but the two warriors pinned me down and I was too weak to fight them. One after another the old man pressed the hot irons into my wounds as I gritted my teeth, refusing to scream. Once he was done the warriors took the pot and left the tent.

“I will enjoy watching you die, old man,” I rasped once I was able to speak again.

“You’ll need to live first, barbarian,” he laughed, the first words he had spoken to me, “and who taught you the language of the Greeks? You speak like a sailor’s whore.”

I spat dryly at him, but he did not react, and merely stepped back to the opening of the tent. Then he said, “I am the slave of Secondus Talmudius Africanus Rufus, as are you. Be certain to obtain your master’s permission before attempting to carry out your threats.” With that he turned and left.

I heard myself growling, a low moan coming from my chest, whether with rage or fatigue I could not truly tell. My head began to feel light again and I let myself fall back onto the blankets where I had been placed, feeling the darkness creep inward again even as I heard a man approaching. Rufus entered, followed by a boy carrying a large tray of meat and bread, the sight and scent of which immediately snapped me back to full awareness as my side burned, my muscles screamed, and my belly ached. The boy set the tray on a low table next to where I lay, then backed out of the tent while Rufus settled down opposite, reclining on his left side upon some cushions piled there. With his right hand he took one of the round loaves from the tray and tore off a piece, then gestured with it to me.

“As I have said, you will find I am not a cruel master unless I need to be, and for now you need food.”

I could not have refused to eat no matter how determined I might be. I attacked the feast laid before me as I looked back up at him. A tender smile crossed his lips as he watched me. I suppressed my own smile because I knew the game he played. I planned to kill him as soon as I had the chance, but for now there was the food, and the drink, and my head swam from the alcohol and exhaustion. I had a belly finally being filled after a week or more of running and fighting and then another week of torture and starvation. I could think of little but feeding.

There would be a time and a place to contemplate the destruction of this arrogant creature.

As I ate greedily, involuntary animal noises escaping me between swallows, he spoke again. “My men were cruel. They are greatly displeased with the way you murdered their comrades. They sought to punish you and I could not deny them. By all rights I should let them kill you. Now that this is all done I will see to it that they are kept from you… but only if you are cooperative. Defy me, and I shall return you to them.”

It was suddenly clear to me that Rufus had expected to return and find me dead. The past week had been some kind of test. He was watching me expectantly, but I said nothing. Let him read what he would in my silence. I continued to methodically dispatch the food and drink at hand.

After the tray was emptied and the bottle was spent, I sat back in exhaustion, and watched listlessly as he produced some iron shackles. As I looked mute daggers at him, he very casually reached for my ankles and shackled them, then did the same to my wrists. I did not resist. I needed time to rest, to heal, and to plan, but I plotted how painful I would make his death even as I silently allowed him to chain me. Then he arose to his feet and straightened his tunic.

“I shall see you again at sunset, my barbarian witch,” he said, and turned to leave.

My only reply was a glowering silence. I worked to keep my anger in place, but a slaked thirst, a full belly, and the ability to lie down and stretch worked their magic, and hard slumber fell upon me like a hammer. Still, in my dreams I felt my arms closing around him, my hands squeezing, squeezing about his throat as I screamed in rage and sank my teeth into his face, tearing, making him howl with pain….

I did not awaken until the next morning, did not even recall Rufus returning although he did. Instead I awoke and found the old Greek, Marieko, bending over me. I instantly lunged at him and looped my chains about his throat, squeezing with all my might. But I was still weak and he punched me several times in the head to make me fall away. He did not make so foolish a mistake as to allow himself into my grasp again. Still he examined me, with Rufus watching in the background. Both looked surprised but said nothing. From then on I was allowed to stay in the tent, my wrists and ankles joined by a short chain and staked to a metal pole driven deep into the ground.

Rufus fed me all my meals personally. I made no attempt to kill him, though that desire burned so fiercely in my heart. I was chained, and still weak, though now I was healing quite well. I smiled at him, talked with him; let him believe his little trap for my soul was closing about me.

And throughout it all I could not escape the realization that he was beautiful. So incredibly beautiful it took my breath away. Especially when he smiled. His brow came to just above the bridge of my nose, which seemed quite comical. All of the Romans seemed short to my eyes, yet he was shorter than most of them. Most of the men he commanded, and most of the people he owned, were at least a little taller than he. Yet a fire burned within him that all could see, and there were times when Rufus seemed to tower over men a full head taller than he.

Most of the Romans were dark-skinned, he no exception. His skin was nearly as dark as the bark of an oak. His hair and his eyes were even darker; indeed both were as black as the blackest night, yet gleamed with a fiery intensity. His strong brow had an almost delicate veneer, with thin lashes that seemed like an angry stripe across his face. His largish yet appealing nose sat like a proud hawk’s beak over thick, slightly down turned lips.

His enormous head sat, with its thick mane of black hair pulled back in a short tail, above shoulders as broad as a boar’s. The knotted muscles flowing from his enormous neck led to arms almost twice the size of mine, yet so shapely and well defined I could almost point to each bulge and name it. The whole rest of his body?his chest, his waist, his thighs, his calves, were smooth and almost hairless like a woman’s body, but hard and knotted and manly in a fashion I found almost intoxicating. Even his feet astounded me. They were almost twice the size of my own, were shaped like the curve of a pear, yet they were muscular and mannish and beautiful.

By the third day in his tent I was still weak, but both he and Marieko were amazed at how well my wounds had already healed. With plentiful sleep, and enough food and water to satisfy a small army of men, the wounds on my side had already begun to fade to mute scars. Finally I could breathe easily, and I was fully alert to my surroundings again. Still my ankles and wrists were bound closely together, and I feigned infirmity, knowing that at some point that perceived frailty might be crucial.

The fourth morning Marieko had looked upon my wounds once again, and suddenly looked upon me as if I were an unearthly thing. I laughed openly at him for he knew and I knew that he could see the truth, that I was no mere mortal like himself. I laughed at his chagrin, even as my wounds were already disappearing like the wisps of forgotten dreams. Rufus sent two boys to the tent with bowls and towels and they bathed me, an act I tolerated with ill grace, for I was certain I knew what was to follow. A choice was approaching.

Each night Rufus would come and take a meal with me. Each night I would look upon him with glowering animosity and fascination. Bit by bit I began to learn his language, but more importantly, I began to learn him. On the fourth night as he fed me again and looked at my fading wounds, he suddenly reached down, released the shackles upon my ankles, then fiercely grasped my left breast and kissed me.

Time to choose. It was not yet dark, but the gate to the palisade was closed and I doubted my ability to scale it. To kill him now would require a feat of strength, and I already knew my physical prowess was nothing compared to his. As I relaxed into his grasp, my mouth alive and eager under his I reminded myself that I had given my body to far less appetizing specimens of manhood.

Morning came and I awoke to find him already up and gone. The events of the night before were etched deep in my memory and my body tingled at the thought of them even as I steeled myself against his eventual return. He was a superb lover, as facile with a woman’s body as he was strong and swift in combat. That admission diminished my desire to see him broken not a whit, rather it strengthened it: such beauty of form and arrogance of character begged for destruction.

He entered the tent clad in his habitual short tunic, belted at the waist. He had the scent of fresh bathing and his hair was wet, but freshly combed, falling about his shoulders in a black, gleaming mane. He looked down upon me where I lay chained and a look of decision set in his face. He produced the key he always carried with him and first unlocked my ankles, then freed my wrists.

I sprang into a crouch, eyeing him warily as he turned and reached out through the tent flap to seize a wrapped bundle, and then tossed it at my feet. I glanced down and saw my bow wrapped in a leather tunic along with sandals and my knife; the very one with which I had attempted to kill him. That day seemed an age ago though it had not been more than eleven days past. He smiled and cocked his head, gesturing to the bundle before me. He was perhaps the most magnificent thing I had ever seen, even at this moment of supreme arrogance.

He drew a deep breath into his huge chest, looked down at me, and said, “So, barbarian witch. Would you like your freedom?” He paused, then turned toward the tent opening. “There it is,” he said, gesturing broadly. “Go on, take it. You want your release? Go, I offer you forgiveness for all your crimes against my men and me. I give you your freedom.”

I stared at him, seeking some hint that this was a lie, but there was nothing there but the ridiculous assumption that I would choose to remain here, his slave. It would have been ludicrous, but for the fact that I did hesitate.

Freedom or slavery? I could leave this place of my own free will, disappear into my forest certain in the knowledge that in a few short decades this man, this Rufus, would be dust and whatever existence he had beyond life would be plagued with my laughter. It would mean allowing him to live, no small price for my freedom. It would mean allowing him to walk away from this desecration of my altar, my land, and my body, believing he had won some victory over me. That was a bitter, bitter thing to contemplate- that he would die not knowing how wrong he was, how foolish and unworthy of even my contempt.

There were things I had learned from him, and from Marieko; intriguing stories of Rome and Rufus’ home in Arretium. They had gods and goddesses of their own, and a mighty City they spoke of, the descriptions of which made me laugh in disbelief yet sparked a burning curiosity. These men also had amazing order among themselves, such confidence in their own power and the inevitability of their triumphs. Most beguiling of all, I had seen Rufus scrawl some marks upon a scroll, and speak just a few words to a brace of men, then within mere hours see his will done. It was a power he wielded with astonishing ease.

And I had been ignorant of my own people, the ones I called ?mine’. They had a king, trade with far off places, temples of their own gods- I had been ignorant of all this, cocooned in my forest, toying with the odd hunter or straggler from time to time. My standing with them could have done nothing but suffer after witnessing my capture and humiliation at the hands of the Romans.

I made my choice. I fetched the bundle and unwrapped it, pulling the simple leather tunic over my head and belting it about my waist, and then fetched up the sandals, Roman sandals, like those Rufus wore. I took up my bow and my knife, moving with extraordinary care for I was boiling inside with rage and the hunger for his blood, but I knew that the time and manner of his end had to be my choice, not his. I stepped towards the tent opening.

Rufus settled his large powerful hand upon my shoulder. The touch was almost thrilling, a rush of energy suffusing me so that he nearly died at that very moment.

“We shall be here for another month,” he said, “Perhaps we shall hunt together.”

I stared at him, wide-eyed in disbelief, for he was utterly serious. I could not bring myself to even speak, but my face could not have failed to express my utter contempt at that moment. Instead I snorted, just a brief, sharp exhalation from my nose, then I slipped free of his grasp and strode barefoot out into the camp.

A commotion erupted, several of the Roman men-at-arms scrambling to their feet, reaching for their swords. They suddenly stopped as Rufus barked a command, stepping back, a look of astonished disbelief on their faces as I walked with my back straight and my head held high to the open gate. There I spied a familiar face, that weasel-looking man who had taken such pleasure at my torment.

I stopped and stared into his eyes, my face expressionless as a stone. Our gaze locked for a very long time until he shifted nervously, his hand fiddling with the hilt of his blade, and he finally looked away. I allowed myself the barest hint of a smile, and then resumed my carefully measured exodus from the camp. I could feel myriad eyes burning into my back, but one pair above all. I was shaking now, so violent were my emotions I could no longer fully contain them.

I reached the edge of the clearing and my will broke. I turned around, looking back to see Rufus standing in the opening of the gate, his massive arms folded across his chest. His face broke into a wide grin.

Suddenly it was too much to contain and I threw down my bow, my knife and the sandals Rufus had given me. I tore at the tunic, stripping it from my body, cleansing myself of all things Roman. My fists balled in rage I stared across the clearing at him and it erupted from me, unbidden and uncontrollable as I drew in a huge breath and screamed, my throat pouring forth such a sound I could taste blood in my mouth as it rose and rose as if I could never stop screaming until it had all poured from me. It ended with me shuddering with the violence thundering in my heart, my vision red and wavering, as I finally gasped for breath.

I do not believe I had ever been so powerfully aroused in all my life.

With that, I fetched up my bow and my knife, and strode into the forest. Behind me I heard laughter, the laughter of Rufus.

One Response to “Rufus”

  1. your a survivor