The boy’s eyes shot open. Amicus shrugged the meaty fist off his shoulder and fell forward. A man grumbled something in hurried Greek, and reached to pick Amicus up. The boy was to exhausted to resist. He felt the large clammy arms enclose him in an iron hold, and felt the small judders as the man began to walk out of the shady alley. Amicus’ eyes flickered. He caught a glimpse of his opponent, who was striding next to his captor. He had overheard his name. Adrastos. He didn’t know what it meant.
Amicus saw how large the Greek’s muscles were and how young he was. How could he have been so stupid? He knew he couldn’t win. Amicus cursed under his breath. A pain shot through his shoulders where he had been pinned to the floor. He didn’t know where they were taking him, but he could guess. Where else did they take small beggar boys who picked fights? The slave market.
Amicus uttered a disgusted laugh and gently lifted the arm of his mud-brown tunic. He had his mark from his old owner. The brand of a farmer, whose slaves were as important as his livestock. Amicus shuddered. He supposed he could always run away again. He wouldn’t be so stupid next time. He would keep on running.
* * *
Amicus didn’t dare open his eyes a second time. By the sounds that engulfed him he knew he had reached the market. In stuttered Latin his opponent – Adrastos – and his henchman (the man that was clutching him in a breathless hold) shouted at him.
“You go be sold now little fighter!” Laughed the henchman, known to only Amicus as Plumbeus, because of his idiotic laugh and lopsided grin. Adrastos growled and struck the man with the back of his hand. Plumbeus cowered back, dropping Amicus to the stony floor. For the first time he took in his surroundings. He was in Pompeii’s main forum; the sand-white buildings towering over the red brick roads seemed more than familiar to him. Higher still was a luscious green mountain that dominated the horizon. Vesuvius, covered with scattered vineyards and farms that fuelled the surrounding towns. Behind him lay the turquoise water of Napolis and Herculaneum, and the red roofed houses of Stabia. If he squinted far enough across the bay he could spot the great town of Misenum – whose alleys and public houses were his true home since he had escaped the farm in Cumae, further in shore. Nearer to Pompeii lay the cities of Puteoli and Neapolis, and closer still was Oplontis and Surrentum.
Amicus grinned. He had feared to be taken further north, to Rome or Ostia. This was his territory. He knew every side road and alley in the Bay of Neapolis.
Abruptly he felt a choking sensation around his neck, as he was lifted by the collar until his bare feet left the ground. He gaped right into the blood shot eyes of Adrastos. He could smell olives and garlic on the giant’s breath, and the sickly sweet scent of saffron, masking the urine the tunic had been bathed in. Adrastos’ nostrils flared as he snarled “ You will pay little boy for humiliating Adrastos Eneas! I am son of wealthy Greek lawyer! I not beat by little boy! Enjoy you being slave, turpis!” He emphasised the last word by spitting at Amicus. The boy gulped and cursed. For the first time in his short life Amicus felt a stab of fear in his heart, which knocked the breath out of him. He began to wheeze, and Adrastos dropped him again, sending him sprawling over the cobbles.
Amicus tried to crawl away but was dragged to his feet by Plumbeus, who gripped his arm tightly. The henchman bent to reach Amicus’ ear and whispered menacingly, “ don’t want damaged goods. Worth more when not beat. But if you run, little fighter, I make exception for you.” Amicus hissed back, “ I’d like to see you try Plumbeus”. The henchman seemed puzzled, as he had never heard the name before, and spoke little Latin. Amicus chuckled as he heard the men conferring in Greek. He caught the word Plumbeus in numerous sentences.
His laughter soon ended as he found himself being shoved through the forum to the market place. He passed stalls selling offerings, statuettes and pottery. Pallas and togas were draped over large wooden frames, and tunics were lying in vats filled with stale urine ready to be pressed to a pulp. Fishes and shells were laid out on weak wood benches, seaweeds and coral crowning each stall. Meat hung from hooks, with goats, sheep and chickens in small cages to shield from thieves preying eyes. Amicus drooled as he caught the scent of chickpea pancakes, beans and hot bread and the sweet smell of spiced wine. He eyed the food greedily, but was swept away but his captors. He grumbled, “I have no money anyway,” yet this gave his cowering stomach no consolation.
The forum was packed with sweaty Pompeiians screaming prices and buying goods. Amicus shuddered – he would soon be one of those goods. The demoralizing sight of the slave stall crept into view, making Amicus’ heart sink. He had forgotten the humiliation of being sold. His thoughts would soon be recollected.
Adrastos stepped forward and frowned at the dealer. “I have boy for your selling. Good fighter. Looks feeble, yet can work on field easy.” He laughed, his mouth shaped into a demeaning grin. “ Good price for me, yes? Buy two places on boat back to Greece, yes?” As he spoke, the dealer grabbed a wax tablet and scrawled down what Adrastos had said and eyed Amicus. The boy wretched in disgust. The man’s blue tunic was stained and stretched beyond recognition over his bulging bulk of a body, revealing patches of sickly yellow skin. His head was bald and shiny with sweat, yet a matted brown greasy beard hid his face. Like Plumbeus, half his teeth were missing, resulting in an annoying lisp that accompanied every word.
“ Of cause Sir. Why perhaps…. 300 Sestertii?” The dealer dribbled. Adrastos growled, and the dealer leapt back in alarm, clutching his tablet as a shield.“ Perhaps a little hasty…400?” The man readied himself for another snarl. Adrastos eyed the man. “600. I want 600. Take or leave.” The dealer frowned and scribbled something on the tablet. “Deal!” He squeaked, grabbing Amicus with one hand and throwing his moneybag to Adrastos with the other. Adrastos smiled, counting the bronze coins that lay in his hand. “Pleasure sir is mine I think. Now I leave you.” He bent down to Amicus.
“ Once again boy, Ego Vinci…” Amicus snarled and pushed his face into Adrastos’. “ I know, I know. You win.” Adrastos rose to his full staggering height and laughed. His laugh shuddered through the forum, echoing off the whitewashed buildings and alleys. Abruptly he turned and strode away through the crowd, leaving a trail of his fetid scent behind him.
Amicus was about to let out the breath he had been holding when Plumbeus came into view. “So, little fighter. You call me stupid? I not got caught and sold! You Plumbeus little fighter! You not want to find me again! Master Adrastos, he say no beat! Don’t catch me alone, I will beat.” And with that he turned and ran after his master. Amicus ached. He was so hungry and tired. The dealer thrust the tablet over his head and tied it with string. The sign now hung from his neck. He was property again.