|Daughter of Lazarus|
Lorcis was awakened by someone prodding her in the ribs. "You, flute player," a thin, whiny voice was saying. "Wake up!" She rolled over to escape the rough treatment, but it continued. "Come on! Up you go!" A pudgy hand grabbed her arm and pulled her to a sitting position.
Her head hanging down, she opened her eyes. As she focused them she saw that her stola -- the long, loose gown worn by Roman women of all classes -- had worked itself up past the middle of her thighs. She was about to pull it down when Harmodius, eunuch and chief steward of her owner's household, jerked her to her feet. She steadied herself and cleared her vision enough to realize that she had been sleeping on a couch in the triclinium where her master had given a riotous dinner party the night before. Judging from the disarray of the room, the guests had enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Her only memories of the evening were disjointed, blurred, and slightly distasteful.
Harmodius shook her. "Are you awake?"
Lorcis slapped his hand away. She was no stranger to the touch of a man -- or of a woman, for that matter -- but this fat, oily creature was neither, and she found him repulsive.
"Yes, I'm awake," she mumbled. "What I want to know is why I'm awake." She slumped back down on the edge of the couch and yawned.
"The master says you're to go to your room and pack your things," Harmodius replied smugly.
Anxiety suddenly cleared Lorcis' head. "Pack? In the middle of the night? Why?"
"Because you don't belong here any more," Harmodius taunted her with obvious glee. "You've been sold!"
Lorcis could not have been more stunned if he'd told she had died and was now awake in the underworld. "Sold? To whom? Why?" she cried helplessly.
"Just pack and get back down here quickly," Harmodius barked. "Slaves shouldn't ask questions. Of course, you never have understood that, so I don't know why I should expect you to start now."
He had disliked the girl since the day, nine years earlier, when Encolpius had brought her back to Naples after buying her during a business trip to Antioch. Even then, at age ten, she had been willful and stubborn. He often beat her or deprived her of food or privileges. Then, at age fourteen, she became the master's favorite. Now she was clever, educated, and spirited -- spoiled, Harmodius thought -- qualities which made his task of managing her more difficult. She had never reported her mistreatment to Encolpius since she knew Harmodius was in a position to exact his own subtle but unpleasant revenge. The relationship between slave and steward constantly verged on warfare.
"You old biddy," Lorcis jeered as she left the triclinium. Entering the atrium -- the large reception hall -- she glanced up at the open skylight and realized that it was in fact morning, though very early. She knelt by the impluvium, the pool beneath the skylight where rainwater was collected, to refresh herself.
As she splashed her face, she examined it to see if there were any marks from the festivities the evening before. None were visible, but she was more aware of certain parts of her body than she liked to be. At least her blue eyes sparkled. They offset what she considered her worst feature: a slightly pointed chin. But even her chin was dear to her, for all she could remember of her mother was that she had had the same characteristic.
Running her fingers through her long black hair, which someone had unpinned and let down, she shook her head to let the tresses fall into place -- and to clear the fuzziness from last night's wine. She could not recall exactly what she'd done, especially in the latter part of the evening. From the condition of her stola and the soreness of some parts of her body, she knew that things must have gotten boisterous.
Lorcis stood up, straightened her stola, and climbed the stairs leading off the atrium to the servants' quarters. Her room was the last and smallest on the dim hall, a testimony to Harmodius' disdain for her. But she had her revenge; most of her nights were spent in the master's bedroom.
Packing wasn't difficult. Her owner, though basically a kind man by Roman standards, allowed his slaves to keep very few personal belongings. Lorcis had only one other stola, some toilet articles, and her flutes -- which she now realized were still in the triclinium. The one truly personal item she possessed was a wooden medallion about three inches by four inches, with a picture of a bearded man painted on one side and some strange markings on the other. Lorcis assumed the markings were writing but did not know what language it was. Nor did she know for certain who the man was, though she dimly remembered that her mother had made some connection between him and her real father. As a child, she had pretended that the image represented her real father; as a more mature young woman, she even created a whole personality for him, a composite of all the things men in her own life had failed to be.
The medallion was her only link to her past, to a time when she had not been a slave but a child of a family living in the city of Antioch in Syria. She had no memory of her father, who had died shortly after her birth. The only male parent she had known was her stepfather, and she could no longer recall his face.
Her bedridden mother had given her the medallion at the age of five, just before Lorcis had been sold for the first time. Her mother had been quite secretive about the object. "Don't let your stepfather know you have it," she had said. "We'll hide it and pretend we're playing a game." She had inserted it into Lorcis' favorite rag doll and had sewed up the seams carefully. "Always guard it well and it will protect you," her mother had admonished her.
Looking at the medallion, loneliness welled up in her. Where was her mother? Was she still alive? Had her mother tried to find her? What about her brother? Any time she was in the marketplace, she would study the faces of the merchants, especially those from Syria, on the chance that her brother might be among them. At those times she experienced a distinct sense of her differentness, a sense of separation from the people around her, a distance that kept her from ever quite belonging among a group of people, however popular or physically desirable she might appear to be. Now she was being cast out of the one place she had convinced herself she could at least live pleasantly, even if she never felt entirely able to let down those defenses by which she protected herself from other people. That shell had been developing since her early childhood.
Her stepfather had never been financially successful. When several business ventures failed within a few years and he became desperate for money, he had sold Lorcis into slavery. One afternoon, when her mother was too sick to know what was happening, he came home with a man and simply said to Lorcis, "Go with him and do as he tells you." She could not remember her stepfather saying good-bye or touching her -- not that he had ever shown her much affection. She had tried so hard to please -- to avoid displeasing him. But he had never shown any interest in her or her brother. As her new owner led her out the door, she had watched her stepfather count coins and put them into his money pouch.
From that childhood home Lorcis had taken nothing with her except her doll -- and she'd been able to keep that only because her none-year-old brother had run after her to bring it to her. "It's very special to her," he had said meekly to the man, who was regarding them suspiciously. Lorcis had hugged it tightly, fearing that the man would take it from her and feel the medallion inside. But he merely shrugged his shoulders and led her away, doll in hand.
As they had wormed their way through a particularly crowded street, the man had picked her up to keep from losing her in the throng. He smelled different from her stepfather; he was clean and perfumed.
"I know you don't understand what's happening, little one," he had said matter-of-factly, "but you'll actually be better off. You'll have plenty to eat and a clean place to sleep, and I don't imagine you'll have to work any harder for me than for that scoundrel Ariston."
The promise of enough food intrigued her. Because her brother was big enough to help in Ariston's little shop, he was fed first at every meal. She had seldom left the table with her hunger satisfied.
Lorcis lived in the household of this man, Evagrius, for five years, doing small jobs to assist the kitchen slaves. Once the novelty of a full stomach had worn off, however, she became a miserable child, unable to understand why her mother didn't come for her. Her unarticulated resentment of her situation gradually made her a rebel. Evagrius was a stern man who gave his steward a free hand in disciplining the slaves, and Lorcis often felt his cane on her legs and backside. Her instinct to fight back had always provoked even more punishment.
When she was ten Evagrius died, and his widow sold a number of slaves to reduce the size of the household. Since the steward considered her a difficult child, Lorcis had been included in the lot. Vividly, she still recalled being led onto the auction platform naked, as slaves were at public slaves, with her hands tied behind her back. There had been appreciative murmurs from the buyers, for the promise of her beauty was already evident. After spirited bidding, Encolpius had paid quite a high price for her.
The trip back to Naples had been the happiest experience of Lorcis' life. Encolpius was wealthy enough to hire a boat exclusively for himself, the small group of freedmen and slaves traveling with him, and the cargo of spices and luxury goods he was bringing back to sell in his shops in Naples.
They had followed the usual pattern of breaking the journey into small island-hopping segments, from Antioch to Paphos on Cyprus, then Rhodes, from there to Crete, then to Syracuse on Sicily, and finally along the coast of southern Italy to Naples. As the only child aboard, Lorcis had received more kind attention than she had ever known. She remembered wishing that the trip would go on forever so all those people would continue to be nice to her and she would never have to work again.
Her special friend had been an elderly musician named Favonia, who taught her the rudiments of flute playing to while away the hours on the voyage. She had learned to play the auloi, two reed instruments held together by a leather band passing around the player's head and played simultaneously, one as a bass drone, the other carrying the melody. Lorcis had been pleased to discover that she was good at it, "a natural musician," Favonia had said.
But Lorcis derived more than just the satisfaction of doing something new and doing it well. For the first time in her young life she had a means of expressing her emotions which had known no natural outlet since she had been taken away from her mother. The slow, mournful Lydian tunes which Favonia herself loved seemed to Lorcis but an extension of the sadness in her own soul. Playing the flutes also delighted her because it brought praise from her master, something she had seldom, if ever, enjoyed.
Yes, except for the hatred of Harmodius, life in Encolpius' house had been good; she felt it was her home. She had matured here, physically and emotionally. She had learned to read and write -- both Latin and Greek -- and had become an accomplished musician and well-known entertainer, instead of the kitchen drudge Evagrius had fated her to be. She had first known a man here and had learned a variety of refinements on that act. For nine years Encolpius had been father, lover, teacher. Since the death of his wife five years ago, she had been virtually mistress of his house. She could not believe he would sell her.
As Lorcis came back downstairs, she heard two male voices coming from Encolpius' study, which opened off the atrium. One was the familiar voice of her master, the other that of a guest at the banquet the night before. She couldn't place a face with the second voice -- there had been so many faces -- but she was certain that person would be her new owner, and she didn't want to know yet who he was. Staying close to the wall of the atrium, she made her way to the triclinium to retrieve her flutes. Harmodius was there supervising half a dozen servants as they cleaned up. When he noticed Lorcis looking around, he smiled slyly.
"Storing up some memories before you leave?" he asked in a deliberately loud voice.
Lorcis thought of several spiteful replies but decided to stick to her original purpose. Harmodius would not hesitate to damage or destroy something he knew to be precious to her. "I left my flutes in here," she replied with considerable restraint.
"Long, slender objects with holes in them?" Harmodius asked, giggling.
"Of course," Lorcis replied suspiciously.
"They're over here," the eunuch said, motioning to the floor behind him.
Lorcis crossed the room, her senses alert for any tricks or sudden moves. She knew that Harmodius, given one last chance to hurt or humiliate her, would snatch it.
But he did nothing until she reached down and touched the pipes. Then he quickly set his foot on the other end, holding the flutes down and pinning Lorcis' hand to the floor. She could not pull her hand free for fear of damaging the ivory flutes, which had been given to her by an admirer. Harmodius picked up a cup of stale wine from the table next to him and poured it on the flutes and on Lorcis' hand. When he finished, he stepped back squealing with laughter. "Don't you want them? You said you were looking for them."
Lorcis straightened up slowly. Harmodius was still giggling when she shook the flutes in his direction, spraying him with wine. As he jerked his hands up to wipe his face, she jabbed him in the stomach as hard as she dared with the ends of the flutes. When he doubled over, she brought her knee up to meet his face. The combination of blows, which she had observed in a recent scuffle between two slaves in the household, proved effective. Harmodius sprawled on his back on the floor, half-conscious, blood flowing freely from his nose and mouth.
Lorcis stooped down, pulled up the hem of his tunic, and wiped her flutes carefully. No on else in the room moved. Lorcis leaned down the steward's left ear and whispered, "That doesn't even begin to pay you back. I can still feel every blow you ever landed on my body, and if I can ever find a way to get even . . . ."
She broke off abruptly as Encolpius and another man entered the room in casual discussion. She quickly put her arm under Harmodius' neck. "Here, help me get him up," she said to a slave standing behind her.
Encolpius, startled, broke off his conversation. "What's happened here?"
"He slipped . . . on something wet," Lorcis replied before anyone else had a chance to answer. It was a typical slave's answer, not quite true but not entirely false either.
"His feet just went right out from under him," added Andreias, a new slave near her own age with whom Lorcis had become friendly during the previous year.
"I see," Encolpius muttered. "I hope he's not badly hurt." His philosophy in dealing with slaves was to pay as little attention as possible to them -- except for the pretty female ones -- as long as their work was done and order was maintained in the house. He was ready to dismiss the incident, but the man with him asked, "If he fell on his back, how did he bloody his face?"
"I believe he struck something as he fell, my lord," Andreias replied, helping Lorcis pull Harmodius upright.
The man was quiet for a moment and seemed to study something near Lorcis' knees. She glanced down to discover a bloody spot on her stola over her right knee. She turned slightly sideways so her leg became partially hidden by Harmodius' ample body.
"Yes," the man said, "I suppose there are all sorts of objects around here that could cause an injury of that sort. One should be aware of such dangers and take precautions."
His eyes met Lorcis' and held them for an instant. Then he turned to Encolpius. "Now, my friend, we need to conclude our business so I can be off to Rome."
"Yes, certainly," Encolpius nodded. "Lorcis, come with us." The two men turned and left the triclinium without waiting for her.
When Lorcis let go of Harmodius' arm he slumped to his knees, causing Andreias to stagger under the weight. She felt all eyes on her as she gathered up her bag and flutes and strode across the triclinium. She fixed her gaze on the door, however, and did not respond to the stares or to the one or two furtive waves.
When she entered the atrium, the stranger -- her new master -- was handing a bag of coins to Encolpius. "Fifty gold pieces was the price we agreed on, I believe," he was saying.
"Yes," Encolpius replied, opening the bag. "You don't mind if I count them, I trust."
"You'd be a fool not to," the stranger laughed. Lorcis thought the laugh an unpleasant sound, but it fit the man who made. He was short, overweight, with a face that showed flashes of simulated charm which quickly fell back into a natural malicious expression. Lorcis remembered from the banquet. His stories had been the coarsest, his appetite the largest.
Encolpius dumped the coins onto a small table and counted them, replacing them in the bag as he did so. When he finished, he pulled the drawstring tightly. Only then did he acknowledge Lorcis' presence.
"Well, now to deliver the merchandise," he said jauntily. "Lorcis, this is your new master, Marcus Aquilius Regulus."
Despite her inner turmoil, Lorcis bowed her head. Deference had been beaten into her so deeply that it had become instinctive. It also protected her. If she did not meet her new owner's eyes, he could not see the fear and loathing in them.
"You'll be leaving at once to go to Rome with him," Encolpius continued. "I'm sure you'll serve him with the same loyalty you've displayed toward me."
How could he be so calm? How could he talk with such detachment? Was this her home or an auction block? She would not let another man simply hand her over to someone else, as her stepfather had done, with no explanations.
"My lord," she blurted out, "could I speak with you in private for a moment?"
Encolpius jingled the bag of coins. "I'm no longer the one who gives or denies you permission, my dear." He looked at Regulus, who was watching the whole exchange from under half-closed eyelids. When Regulus nodded his consent, Encolpius looked displeased, like a man who has been caught at the last possible moment, just when he thinks he has successfully avoided something distasteful.
"All right," he said grudgingly. "Let's gop into my study."
The study was a small room, windowless -- as were most rooms in Roman houses -- to retain heat in the winter and coolness in the summer. It contained a table and shelves holding Encolpius' small library. The scrolls were laid flat on the shelves, each with a tag identifying the contents attached to one end. Several multi-volume works, such as Livy's history, were kept in small wooden buckets with lids. There were also buckets for correspondence and financial reports. An oil lamp hanging over the table provided the only illumination. Encolpius sat in the chair behind the table, forcing Lorcis to stand since there was only the one chair in the room.
"What do you wish to say to me?" he asked curtly. "And do be brief. Regulus is eager to be on his way."
Lorcis opened her mouth, but the words would not form themselves. Her pride would not let her vent the tears being prompted by the uncertainty and fear that possessed her. The worst thing that could happen to a slave had just befallen her: she had been sold by a kindly master to a man whose character she fearfully questioned. What sort of treatment would she receive at his hands? Slaves coming into Encolpius' household had told of beatings administered on the whim of a despotic master and of insubordinate slaves assigned to types of work that meant a lingering but inevitable death. What had she done to deserve being sold?
Lorcis covered her face with her hands while Encolpius remained seated, staring at the table and drumming his fingers on its surface. When she was in control of herself again, taking deep breaths to keep her voice steady, she said, "My lord, I don't understand . . . why I'm being sold. How . . . ?"
"Is that why you asked to talk to me," Encolpius flared, "to call me to account for selling you? Perhaps Harmodius is right. I have indulged you too much." He stood up; he was a tall man and knew his height intimidated people.
"Lorcis, you are a slave. Masters sell slaves at their own pleasure, just as they do anything else they want with them. They do not ask the slaves' permission or explain their actions to them. You're being sold because I've decided to sell you. It's as simple as that."
Lorcis had never known him to be so callous and imperious toward her.
"But how can you bring yourself to sell me?" she pleaded. "We have shared . . . so much over the past five years. Don't I mean anything to you? Don't you love me?" She reached out her arms to him in despair.
"Love you?" Encolpius snorted. "Do you think life is a Greek comedy, with masters falling in love with their slaves? I have enjoyed you, Lorcis. Since my wife died you've given me great pleasure. But so did my chestnut mare. This table," he rubbed his hand slowly over the inlaid table and Lorcis could feel that hand caressing her body, "gives me considerable pleasure, too. I love all these things, and in that sense I love you. But these things are all my possessions, to be used as I see fit and disposed of when and as I please."
Lorcis stepped back as though he had slapped her in the face. "Is that all I mean to you? How can you equate me with a horse? Has that horse slept with you and done to you all the things you've taught me to do?"
"I've ridden that mare quite often," Encolpius replied dryly, "but she's not the only horse I own. And you're not my only pretty slave. In the eyes of the law you are the same as a horse -- a piece of property. You're an exquisite piece, true, and that's why you bring a very high price. But I need the money now more than I need you or the mare. The eruption of Vesuvius last summer destroyed my estate outside Pompeii and the shops I owned in Stabiae. The losses have hurt me severely so I'm selling some of my most valuable possessions. I sold the mare last week, and now I'm selling you. I regret losing both of you, but it's something I have to do."
"But, my lord . . . ."
"Please, Lorcis, don't make this any more difficult than it already is . . . for both of us. You are an extraordinary young woman. I've never known anyone so sensitive, so kind." He pulled himself up to his full height, trying to regain mastery of himself and the situation.
"Please, just go." He waved his hand weakly.
Lorcis took a deep breath and steadied herself. Every nerve in her body was aching to lunge at Encolpius, to beat and scratch him. But her life, she knew, would be forfeit if she did. Besides, after what he had just said to her, she suddenly realized that she must begin to live entirely for herself from this point on.
Yes, that was how it must be. She would trust no one. Why should she? She had trusted people in the past, but no one had repaid that confidence. Her mother had been too weak to help her, her stepfather too indifferent. Now Encolpius, a man she had loved and had given herself to, was betraying her totally. Though she could not stop people like him from using her, she could keep them from betraying her if she did not trust them to begin with.
The ultimate resolution to her dilemma, she now saw, lay in getting out from under the control of other people. As long as she was a slave, she was vulnerable to this sort of cold betrayal. As she turned to leave the room, she vowed to herself that no man would ever sell her again. She would be free!