Sextus ran his hand along the binding of the book. “My father says I need to learn close to all languages if I am to be a good patron.” The boy sighed and perched himself on the edge of a stool. “I never wanted to be patron. I know father hates me for it,” he pulled at the edge of his yellow tunic, “but I can’t help it.” He looked up and pointed at the pouch of lavender on the bed. “I’m ill you see. Since I was little. The lavenders supposed to help me, but to father I will always be his weak, insolent eldest son. He hates me.” His head dropped.
Amicus suddenly felt uncomfortable, and whispered, “Um… Sir… what should I do?” Amicus had decided to play nice for a few days, to obey orders, and gain trust. Then he would escape with Sorex.
“I always wanted to be a musician,” Sextus’ face lit up. “I want to be a musician, you see. Mother always used to say I was nearly as good as Apollo, the god of music! But she was only teasing. I am quite good though. I always wanted to perform to the emperor himself, in Rome!” His eyes turned dreamy, and Amicus shifted his feet.
As if pulled back to reality, Sextus shook his head and smiled. “And you, you will be my slave. I’m not like my sisters; I shan’t hurt you or shout, because I know what that is like. Instead we shall be friends, but you must still do as I say. Can you write?” Amicus shook his head. “What is your name?”
“Don’t have one.”
Sextus frowned. “Well then, first things first. Go and clean my sandals.” Amicus bowed and sloped off to the balcony. There on the blazing marble lay four pairs of bronze sandals, tarnished and full of sand.
Sextus appeared beneath the shroud. “I always like to walk on the beach. We shall go later, I need an escort you see. Until then, press my tunic and then your lessons will begin.” Amicus’ brow furrowed. “Why, I can’t have you not understanding what I am saying! I must recite Greek everyday!” Amicus groaned, and Sextus laughed.
* * *
“Amicus! Over here! Quick!” Amicus raised his head and unearthed his feet from their sandy prison. The sand was rough, but warm, and Amicus had never felt it before. He ran across the beach, leaping over rocks and pools of seawater, his bare feet bronzing in the evening the sun.
He had spent the afternoon relentlessly polishing sandals and pressing tunics, pouring watered wine and reciting Greek verbs to his new master, forever wondering the fate of his friend Sorex down in the slave quarters. Now, as a reward and further lesson, Sextus had lead the boy down the marble steps leading from the outer garden down to a hidden cove, sheltered from view by startling black cliffs. As the sun settled on the horizon, Sextus taught Amicus the names of creatures found in the sand and had left the boy at the head of the beach to find more specimens.
He leapt over a large rock riddled with shells and weeds and sank down beside his new master. Sextus was clutching a small crab by it’s claw, and giggled. “This my friend, is a Cancer Magista. Isn’t it wonderful?” Amicus reached out to touch the creature and coiled back, yelping in pain. Sextus frowned.
“Perhaps I should have told you earlier. The Cancer Magista has large claws, and if threatened they will impulsively clamp on your finger! Now hurry boy, go dip your finger in the sea. The salt water will sooth it,” he nodded, “In fact…” Sextus looked at Amicus. “Can you swim?” Amicus nodded. “Well then, off you go and relax. You have done well today… but don’t tell my father!” He added sharply, and with that, Sextus put down the crab, and shuffled further down the beach, wriggling his toes in the sand. Every few seconds he would dive to the ground and sift through the sand with his fingers, unveiling several vulnerable shellfish.
Still clutching his swollen finger, Amicus sloped to the sea edge. The rippling water crept up the beach towards him, enveloping his feet in foamy waves. Amicus stepped further and further out to sea, until only the top half of his body could be seen. The blue water surged around his waist, and Amicus could feel the cooling rocks beneath his feet. Seaweed strung and twisted itself around his ankles and the sun beat down on his dark head. Amicus smiled. His faced redeemed the glow of a full stomach and a good nights sleep. Maybe he would stay a little longer.
Amicus tilted his head forward, took a deep breath and dived out towards the open ocean, until he was out of sight.